crisis of capitalism
After oil prices went negative for the first time ever last month, they are now starting to rise again as lockdowns imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually lifted. US crude is now back to nearly $30 a barrel. But this is less than half what the price was a year ago, and a third what it was a dozen years ago. Iraq, OPEC's second-largest producer, is at the forefront of the cartel's effort to squeeze supply to consumer nations, as part of its recent deal to curb output. Baghdad just announced a 30% cut of exports to Asia. But it remains to be seen if such measures will jack up prices and ease the economic pain that has led to a remobilization of anti-regime protests, despite pandemic fears. (Reuters, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera)
In countries across the world, the impoverished are in the paradoxical position of being disproportionately impacted both by COVID-19 and by the police-state measures imposed in response to the pandemic—and consequent economic pain. In Lebanon, which had been in the midst of a national uprising before lockdown orders were imposed in March, protests have been re-ignited just as the lockdown is being eased—and with far greater rage. Violence escalated April 28 in the northern city of Tripoli as residents angered by the country's economic collapse set banks on fire and met volleys of tear-gas from security forces with barrages of pelted stones. The outburst came at the end of a massive funeral procession for a young man who died the previous day, apparently after being shot in a street clash with army troops. Mirroring a similar incident in Venezuela last week, mourners dubbed the deceased "Martyr of the Hunger Revolution." (WaPo, Foreign Policy)
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
President Donald Trump on April 22 signed an executive order suspending the admission of new permanent residents into the United States for the next 60 days, with an option for renewal, citing "a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand." The order bars the entry of several categories of immigrants who are currently outside of the US and do not already have a valid immigrant visa to enter the country. This includes those seeking green cards for work, with certain exceptions, as well as the spouses and children of legal permanent residents or green-card holders, and the siblings, parents and adult children of US citizens.
For the first time since Chile was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic a month ago, protesters on April 21 gathered in Santiago's Plaza Italia—which had been renamed "Plaza Dignidad" during last year's popular uprising. Demonstrators were opposing President Sebastián Piñera's call the previous day for the country to return to work under a "new normality," in spite of the COVID-19 threat. The protesters wore masks, but were nonetheless quickly dispersed by the Carabineros, with 14 arrested. Gatherings of more than 50 continue to be banned nationwide.
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)
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.
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)