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Keep It In The Ground : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

Thanks in large part to cratering oil demand brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and global shutdowns, state regulators in Texas are considering doing something they haven’t done in nearly 50 years: limiting the amount of oil they allow companies to pump from the ground.

It’s a measure of the pain the industry expects from the historic slump, which has already led to layoffs and a massive glut of oil. The crash was made worse by a Saudi-Russian price war that helped pushed gasoline to under $2 a gallon.

The state agency that regulates oil and gas — called the Railroad Commission of Texas because of its origins — held a day-long virtual hearing Tuesday.

Commissioners heard some unusually candid assessments on the state of the industry, from companies on both sides of the proposed plan. The debate was often framed in terms of free market principals, with different voices offering wildly different perspectives.

“Texans fundamentally believe that the government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” said Todd Staples, head of the Texas Oil and Gas Association a group that opposes production limits.

Larger companies with assets to survive the downturn, and the ability to store massive reserves of oil, are generally opposed to mandated production limits. But smaller, independent Texas producers are more vulnerable to low prices and likely to support the plan, seeing it as a way of sharing the pain of the industry downturn.

Scott Sheffield, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, echoed others when he said that the notion of an oil and gas free market has long been a myth.

“After 35 years as a CEO I’ve never seen a free market,” said Sheffield. “Many of the companies speaking after me are asking for government debt bailouts, tariffs, carbon tax credits. Is that a free market? Those companies could care less about the small or medium producers”

The debate comes days after OPEC+ countries reached their own historic agreement to cut output by 9.7 million barrels per day for the next two months.

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Noam Chomsky: In Response to Coronavirus, “You Can Do Something”

In a new interview, Noam Chomsky gives his thoughts on the coronavirus pandemic, the depravities of capitalism, and the urgent need for a new era of solidarity and labor struggle.

Noam Chomsky speaks in Boston in April 2015. Cancillería del Ecuador / Flickr

For decades Noam Chomsky has been a leading intellectual troublemaker. His books and speeches have helped to explain how a world run by corporations and billionaires has led to endless war and catastrophic climate change. Now he is helping to explain how corporations and billionaires are actually making the coronavirus pandemic worse by pursuing savage policies that benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else.

Chris Brooks interviewed Professor Chomsky on April 10 to learn more about how we got into this moment — and what it will take to get us out of it.

Chris Brooks

I wanted to start out with getting your thoughts generally on the unprecedented moment we’re in. We’re obviously in the midst of both a global pandemic and a global recession and right now millions of people in the United States have found themselves both unemployed and uninsured while our health care system is overloaded and lacking anything close to the number of hospital beds and ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) that we need. We could spend the whole half-hour on this question alone, but in brief strokes, could you outline for us how to understand the current moment we’re in and the political choices that led us here?

Noam Chomsky

Well, first of all, we should recognize that unless we get to the roots of this pandemic, it’s going to recur, probably in worse form, simply because of the manipulations of the capitalist system which are trying to create circumstances in which it will be worse, for their benefit. We can see that in the stimulus bill, among many other things.

Now, second, because of the global warming which is going on and puts all of this into the shadow, we will recover from this at severe cost. We’re not going to recover from the ongoing melting of the polar ice sheets. And if you want to understand how contemporary capital is looking at this, take a look at Trump’s budget. It’s true that this is a pathological extreme of the normal capitalist systems and maybe it’s not fair to use it as an example, but that’s what we’re living with.

So, on February 10 while the epidemic was raging, and going to get worse, Trump came out with his budget proposals. What were they? First point: continue the defunding of health-related elements of the government. Throughout his term he’d been cutting back on funding of anything that doesn’t benefit private power and wealth, corporate power. So all the health-related parts of the government had been increasingly defunded. He killed programs, all sorts of things.

February 10, let’s continue with it. So further defunding of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health-related parts of the government. But there were also compensating increases in the budget, more subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. So, let’s not only to kill as many people as possible now, but let’s try to destroy all of society. That’s basically what the words mean. Of course, there was more funding for the military and for his famous wall.

But these two things stand out very brightly as an indication of the criminality that is first of all endemic but is highlighted in the sociopathic White House; brings it out radically. But, of course, Trump can’t be blamed for all of this. It goes back, and we better think about it.

After the SARS epidemic in 2003 — also a coronavirus — it was well understood by scientists that other recurrences of one or another coronavirus was going to come, probably more serious. Well, understanding is not enough. Someone has to pick up the ball and run with it. Now there are two possibilities. One is the drug companies, but they follow normal, capitalist logic. You do what makes profit tomorrow. You don’t worry about the fact that in a couple of years everything’s going to collapse. That’s not your problem. So, the drug companies essentially did nothing. There were things that could be done. There was plenty of information circulating. Scientists knew what to do. There could have been preparations. Somebody’s got to pay for it. Not the drug companies. Well, in a rational world, even a capitalist world prior to Ronald Reagan, the government could have stepped in and done it.

That’s pretty much the way polio was eradicated, through a government-initiated and -funded program. When Jonas Salk discovered the vaccine, he insisted that there be no patents. He said, “It’s got to be public, just like the sun.” That’s still capitalism, but it’s regimented capitalism. That was ended at a stroke by Ronald Reagan. Government’s the problem, it’s not the solution. Let’s legalize tax havens. Let’s legalize stock buybacks costing tens of trillions of dollars to the public in pure robbery.

Government is the solution when the private sector’s in trouble, that’s understood. But if it’s just when the public needs something, government’s not the answer. So, going back to 2003, government couldn’t step in. Actually, it did to a slight extent step in, and it’s very revealing to see what happened. Obama, after the Ebola crisis, recognized that there are problems. We have to do something.

Obama did several things. One of them was to try to contract for ventilators. Ventilators are the big bottleneck in the system right now. That’s what’s forcing nurses to decide who to kill tomorrow. There aren’t enough of them, but the Obama administration did contract for the development of high-quality, low-cost ventilators. The company was quickly bought up by a bigger one which sidelined the project — it was competing with their own expensive ventilators — and then turned to the government and said they want to get out of the contract, it’s not profitable enough.

That’s savage capitalism. Not just capitalism, but neoliberal capitalism. It gets worse. In January and February of this year, when US intelligence services were pounding at the door of the White House saying, “Hey, there’s a real crisis. Do something.” Couldn’t do it. But the Trump administration was doing something, namely it was exporting ventilators to China and other countries to improve the trade balance. That went on into March.

Now the same manufacturers and shipping companies that were sending them out are bringing them back, double profit. This is what we’re living with. It can easily go on. So, if you look back over the whole thing, at the base is a colossal market failure. The markets simply don’t work. It can work for selling shoes sometimes, but if anything significant happens, it’s none of their business. You have to operate as Milton Friedman and others pointed out: just by greed. You do things for your own welfare, wealth, nothing else. It’s a built-in disaster. We’ve had so many examples; I don’t have to review it. So, at the beginning is a market failure. Then comes the extra hammer blow of savage capitalism, neoliberalism, which we’ve been suffering from over the world for forty years, goes beyond ventilators.

Hospitals in the United States have to be run on a business model. So, no spare capacity. It doesn’t work even in normal times. And plenty of people, including me, can testify on that in the best hospitals. But it kind of works. However, if anything goes wrong, you’re sunk. Tough luck. Maybe that’s okay for automobile manufacturing. It doesn’t work for health care. Our health care system altogether is an international scandal. But the business model, of course, just makes it a built-in disaster.

And some of the other things that went on are just too surreal to discuss. USAID had a very successful program detecting viruses that are in animal populations, wild populations that are getting to closer contact with humans because of habitat destruction and global warming. They were identifying thousands of potential disease viruses, working in China as well. Trump disbanded it. He’d been defunding it, but then he disbanded it with exquisite timing in October.

I could go on and on. This is the picture you get. A bunch of sadistic sociopaths in the White House intensifying deep market failures that go much farther back. And now intensifying it further. The rich are not waiting to see how to build the next world. They’re working on it right now, making sure it comes out the right way. Further subsidies to fossil fuels, destroy EPA regulations that might save people but harm profits, this is all going on right in front of our eyes and the question is, will there be counterforces? If not …

Chris Brooks

Before we move on to the discussion maybe of popular movements and how to fight back in this, in the discussion of market failures, they seem to be combining as well with the legacy of institutional racism in the United States and we see this playing out in the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus is having in black communities. In your view, how should we understand this?

Noam Chomsky

We can understand that by going back four centuries to when the first slaves were brought. I don’t want to have to run through the whole history, but the most vicious system of slavery in human history is the basis, large part of the basis for US prosperity.

Cotton was the oil of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. You had to have cheap cotton. You don’t get that by following the rules they teach you in the economics department. You get it by vicious, brutal slavery. That’s laid the basis for manufacturing, textile manufacturing, finance, commerce, retail, obviously, that went on through much of the nineteenth century. Well, finally, slavery was formally ended for about ten years during the Reconstruction period. Then there was an agreement with the South that they could go on exactly the way they were before. So, you get one of the best books on the topic called Slavery by Another Name, measures taken to essentially criminalize the black population. So the black guy standing on a street corner, they fine him for vagrancy. He can’t pay the fine. Okay, you go to a chain gang.

The end result was this great manufacturing revolution of the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century, largely built on, it wasn’t called slavery, but ownership of the black population by the state. It’s much better than slavery. If you have slaves, you have to keep them alive. Well, if you put them in prison, the government has to keep them alive. You just get them when you need them and there’s no question of a lack of discipline or protest or anything like that. This went on almost until the Second World War. At that point there were jobs. People had to work.

But then comes new forms of imposed slavery. So well into the late 1960s, federal housing laws required segregation. There was a lot of public-supported housing going on in the 1950s: Levittowns and so on, but for whites, no blacks. Liberal senators voted for this, hated it, but they voted for it because there was no other way to get any public housing passed.

The United States had anti-miscegenation laws — so severe that the Nazis refused to accept them — into the 1960s. Then it takes other forms. The Supreme Court just essentially did what the government did back at the end of Reconstruction, told the Southern states, you can do whatever you like. They eliminated the Voting Rights Act. We’ve just seen this a few days ago in Wisconsin. Incredible. If you want to see democracy simply crushed, take a look what happened days ago in Wisconsin.

The Democratic governor sensibly wanted to delay the primary and extend absentee voting. I mean, nothing could make more perfect sense. There is a Republican-dominated legislature that had a small minority of votes, but gerrymandering gave them the largest number of seats in the Republican legislature. They called a session. I don’t think the Republicans even bothered to show up. The Majority Leader simply called the session and closed it. Didn’t consider the governor’s proposal, supported by the Supreme Court.

This is designed to ensure that poor minority voters, people who can’t get the polls easily — mostly Democrats — won’t vote. The rich, the traditional base of the ones who did all this, they vote. It’s an open way, not even concealed, to try to ensure that no matter what the public wants, the most reactionary policies will be maintained permanently.

[Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell is the evil genius behind this. He’s been doing it beautifully. Make sure that the judiciary is stuffed with young, mostly unqualified, ultra-reactionary justices. That ensures that whatever the country wants in the future, they’ll be able to kill it. Just like the Roberts Court, the majority is able to do it now. Republicans know that they’re a minority party. There’s no way to get votes on their actual programs. That’s why they have to appeal to so-called cultural issues — gun rights, abortion, and so on — not their actual policies, which are fill the pockets of the rich. That’s the actual policy. Trump is a genius at this; you have to admire him. With one hand he says, “I’m your savior, I’m working for the poor working guy.” On the other hand, he’s stabbing him in the back. It’s pretty impressive. He’s most certainly the most successful con man in American history, ever.

I presume it’ll explode sometime, but so far, it’s maintaining itself. They’re trying very hard to dismantle whatever elements of democracy there are. There are models elsewhere, [Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán in Hungary is doing the same thing. In fact, it’s kind of interesting, it’s pretty hard to identify a coherent geopolitical strategy from the chaos in the White House. But there is one that comes out with considerable clarity: form an international of the most reactionary states in the world, then let that be the basis for US power.

So [President Abdel Fattah el-]Sisi in Egypt, the worst tyrant in Egypt’s history, the family dictators in Saudi Arabia, in particular MBS [Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud], the biggest killer. Israel, which is going way to the right, is now at the center of it. Former tacit relations between Israel and the Arab states are now becoming open. [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi in India, what he’s doing is simply unspeakable. He gave four hours’ notice for the total lockdown. Most of the population in India is informal workers. They don’t have anywhere to go. They can’t stay home. There’s no home. So, they’re trekking on the highways, maybe a thousand miles to some village somewhere, dying on the way. It’s impossible to imagine what this is going to do. But since they’re mostly poor and many of them are Muslim, who cares? So he’s a major part of this reactionary international. Nice guys like Orbán in Hungary and the like. They love them.

[Former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo] Salvini in Italy, one of the worst gangsters around. In the Western hemisphere the main representative is [President Jair] Bolsonaro in Brazil, who’s vying with Trump to see who can be the worst criminal in the world. Trump easily can beat him because of US power, but the policies are not much different and that’s harming not just Brazil but the whole world. Current predictions in scientific journals are that in about fifteen years the Amazon will shift from being a net carbon sink to a net carbon CO2 emitter. That’s a disaster, and all the result of extended gifts by Bolsonaro to the mining industries and agribusinesses. So there are guys trying to create the next world. They’re working hard. They always do. Their relentless, constant class war never stops and if they’re allowed to win, we’re toast.

Chris Brooks

And along those lines, you’ve said it’s really valuable to read the business press because they’re often very frank about what they think of the world and what they’re doing, what their plans and schemes are. From our viewpoint, we’re seeing a lot of rank-and-file activity in the United States right now. Strikes are taking place in many locations. Workers are organizing in response to the coronavirus and being encouraged to work in unsafe conditions. Are the employers talking about that and are they worried about it?

Noam Chomsky

Oh, boy, are they. In fact, as you know, every January, the guys who modestly call themselves the “masters of the universe” gather in Davos, Switzerland, to go skiing, talk about how wonderful they are, and so on and so forth. This January meeting was very interesting. They see that the peasants are coming with the pitchforks and they’re worried about it. So, there’s a shift. You look at the theme of the meeting, it’s, “Yeah, we did bad things in the past. We now understand it. We’re now opening a new era in capitalism, a new era in which we aren’t just concerned with the stockholders, but with the workers and the population and we’re such good guys, so humanist that you can entrust your faith to us. We’ll make sure everything’s fine.”

And it was pretty interesting to see what happened. There were two main speakers. This should be played in every classroom in the country. Trump, of course, gave the keynote speech. Greta Thunberg gave the other speech. The contrast was fantastic. The first speech is this raving buffoon, screaming about how greedy he is, and we can’t even count up the number of the lies. The second speech is a seventeen-year-old girl quietly giving a factual, accurate description of what’s happening in the world and looking these guys in the face and saying, “You’re destroying our lives.” And of course, everyone politely claps. Nice little girl. Go back to school.

The reaction to Trump was particularly interesting. They don’t like him. His vulgarity and crudity are interfering with the image they’re trying to project as dedicated humanists. But they love him. They gave him a round of upstanding applause and couldn’t stop cheering. Because they understand something: this guy, no matter how vulgar he is, knows very well whose pockets to fill and how to fill them. So, he can be a buffoon. We’ll tolerate his antics as long as he continues with the policies that count. That’s the Davos men.

They didn’t bother pointing out that we’ve heard this tune before. Back in the 1950s it was called the soulful corporation. Corporations have become soulful. Now they’re just overflowing with kindness for working people and everyone else. It’s a new era. Well, we’ve had some time to see how soulful they were, and this will continue.

So, either we can be taken in by the con and let it go, or you can fight back and create a different world. It’s a very good opportunity for it now. The strikes that you mentioned, protests all over the world. There are community self-help groups forming in poor neighborhoods, or people helping each other trying to do something for the elderly who are cooped up. Some of them are astounding.

So, go to Brazil, where the president is just a monstrosity. For him, the whole pandemic is just a cold. The Brazilians are immune to viruses. “We’re special people,” and so on and so forth. The government’s doing nothing. Some of the governors are, but not the federal government. The worst of this is going to be in the slums, the impoverished areas, the indigenous areas. In the worst slums like the favelas in Rio, washing your hands every couple of hours is a little difficult when you don’t have water, or separating yourself when you’re crammed into one room. But there is a group that came and tried to impose some reasonable standards as well as possible under these horrible conditions. Who? The crime gangs that have been terrorizing the favelas. They’re so powerful, the police are afraid to go in. They organized to try to deal with the health crisis.

It tells you something, just like the nurses on the front line. There are human resources there and they can come to the fore in some of the most unexpected places. Not from the corporate sector, not from the wealthy, not from the soulful corporations. Certainly not from governments, particularly pathological ones like this. Others are doing better. But from popular action, that’s the hope.

Bernie Sanders, when he gave his withdrawal speech, emphasized this. He said the campaign may be ending, the movement isn’t. It’s up to especially his young supporters to put some meat onto that, that it can be done. No matter what happens. If Trump’s reelected, it’s an utter tragedy. If Biden’s elected, it won’t be wonderful. But either way you’ve got to do what’s possible, and it’s not out of reach.

Chris Brooks

Do you think most people are going to emerge from their homes after the quarantine is over with their political opinions changed or intact?

Noam Chomsky

We’ll see. It’s certainly a time for reflection about the kind of things we were just talking about. Why are we in this situation? What we were just talking about is not profound. It’s on the surface. It’s not quantum physics. Think about it a little. It’s obvious. So maybe people will do it or maybe they’ll stay mesmerized by the con man in office. I get letters from poor working people, who say, “You goddamn liberals are bringing all the immigrants to steal our jobs and Trump is saving us.” Okay. Maybe it’s possible to break through to them. It’s not easy.

These guys are tuned to Fox News all day. That’s the echo chamber. If you’re looking at it from outer space and you’re not suffering from it, you think, what’s going on? This maniac in the White House comes out and says whatever he says, and the opposite the next day. It’s all repeated with fervor in the Fox echo chamber. Meanwhile, he’s looking at Fox News every morning to figure out what to say. It’s his source of news and information. And then you get the intelligent guys like Mike Pompeo who says, “God sent Trump to earth to save Israel from Iran.” That’s the sensible guy. It’s some ironic joke being played. Let’s say there is a God, maybe. If so, he decided that he made a bad mistake on the sixth day and he’s now going to end it with humor. Just watch these people destroy themselves. That’s what it looks like.

Chris Brooks

Is there the chance that the United States could build up a culture of solidarity and a labor politics coming out of this like the United Kingdom did after World War II, that could lead to something like the National Health Service, recognizing all of these market failures, recognizing the inefficiencies and the complications that are created when you’re competing rather than coordinating resources? Is it possible for the United States to move in this direction?

Noam Chomsky

Sure. We’ve done it before. I lived through the Depression. That’s why I have this long white beard. But in the 1920s the labor movement was totally crushed. Take a look at David Montgomery, a labor historian, one of his great books is The Fall of the House of Labor. He’s talking about the 1920s. It was crushed by the liberal Wilson administration, the Red Scare and all the rest. In the 1930s it began to revive. The CIO organizing sit-down strikes, a great threat to management: next thing that’s going to come to their heads is, “We don’t need the bosses. We can run this place ourselves.” And then you’re done. It’s a very fragile system.

Well, that led to reactions. There happened to be a sympathetic administration, which is critical. A very good labor historian, Erik Loomis, has studied case after case of this and he points out that moments of positive change have almost always been led by an active labor movement and the only times they succeeded were when there was a relatively sympathetic administration, or at least a tolerant one.

Well, you don’t happen to have that now, but actually if Biden came in, it’s not great, but he could be pushed. If the labor movement revives, the Sanders movement — which is very significant, he’s achieved great successes — if that can take off, we once again could get out of the capitalist crises as was done in the 1930s.

The New Deal didn’t end the Depression, the war did with massive state-directed production, but nevertheless it was much better than today. I’m old enough to remember it and my extended family were mostly first-generation working people, mostly unemployed, living under poverty that is much worse than the working class today. But it was hopeful. There weren’t depths of despair. There wasn’t a feeling that the world’s coming to an end. The mood was, “Somehow we’ll get out of this together, working together.” Some of them were in the Communist Party, some were in the labor unions. I had a couple of aunts who were unemployed seamstresses, but they were in ILGWU [International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union], which gave them a cultural life, meetings, a week in the country, theater activities that were being carried out.

You can do something. We’re together. We’ll get out of it. That could be revived.

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Trump Halts U.S. Funding for World Health Organization As U.S. Plans Review Into ‘Mismanagement’ of Coronavirus

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that the U.S. government would suspend funding for the World Health Organization while his administration conducts a review to determine whether the organization “covered up” the initial spread of COVID-19.

Trump, who on January 24 praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his government’s “efforts and transparency” in containing SARS-CoV-2 and claimed that “it will all work out well” because of Xi’s efforts, said the reason he was suspending funding to the organization because officials opposed the partial travel ban he imposed on foreign nationals coming from China in late January, and because WHO officials “defended the actions of the Chinese government even praising China for its so called transparency.”

“The world depends on the WHO to work with countries to ensure that accurate information about international health threats is shared in a timely manner,” Trump said, adding that the organization “must be held accountable” if it did not “independently tell the truth about what is happening.”

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

US President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 14, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan
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Democrats tread carefully with Trump amid fears of retaliation

Even as many Democrats move cautiously, they have panned the White House for failing to deliver crucial supplies in their home states and districts. They’ve criticized the Trump administration for failing to fully invoke the Defense Production Act amid a shortage of medical equipment. And they’ve lashed out when Trump removed the watchdog in charge of overseeing trillions in coronavirus funds.

Some Democrats have even claimed that the Trump administration has been delaying or withholding much-needed medical supplies to their states — charges the White House denies.

In a letter to Pence this month, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wrote that “there remains a serious and damaging perception” that medical supplies and personal protective equipment aren’t being distributed based on threat, “but rather based on political or personal motives.” He pointed out that Connecticut — a solidly blue state — had received only 14 percent of its request for protective gear and noted news reports that Florida, whose governor speaks to Trump on a regular basis, received the supplies it requested.

Murphy has also tried to reach out to White House adviser Peter Navarro, but was instead directed to a Department of Defense official.

“The only meaningful thing the administration is doing is holding daily press conferences,” Murphy said in an interview. “The only federal response has been from Congress. … I think it’s absolutely stunning how little the administration has done and how little they are willing to do.”

“People are fearful that they are going to be retaliated against if they ask tough questions about what’s happening and what’s not happening and how we can make progress. That’s a problem,” added Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

Pence’s call with Senate and House Democrats last week also left some members dissatisfied and prompted House Democrats to send a follow-up letter Monday.

The White House did not comment for this story, but Republicans defended the administration’s handling of the crisis.

“When you look at the fact that we continue to lower the estimate of the number of people who will lose their lives, the response has been very successful,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of GOP leadership. “The fact that we’ve from gone 1.5 [million] to 2 million projected deaths to less than 100,000 is a direct result of the response of the administration and the American people.”

Some Democrats warn that their party needs to be aware of the tone of any message right now.

“If we disagree with somebody, we’ve got to do it in a very careful way,” Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, a conservative Democrat who is close to the Trump administration, said in an interview. “You’ve got to be careful you don’t attack the president in a certain way, because the public is going to say, ‘Hey what are you doing, you’re supposed to be working together.’”

Democrats have turned in recent days to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin amid frustration with Trump. For instance, Mnuchin spoke with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) about the disbursement of funds to his state. And Mnuchin is once again serving as the point man for negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the terms of the next relief package that will be at least a quarter trillion dollars.

Those talks between Mnuchin and Pelosi have partly substituted for the lack of communication between Pelosi and the president, who haven’t spoken directly since October. Pelosi is now ripping Trump’s “failures to adequately plan for an outbreak on U.S. shores.”

Other top Democrats are also unflinching in their criticism: House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) called Trump’s response to the crisis an “unmitigated disaster.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) warned that Trump might try to use the relief money to “reward his own businesses.”

And there is a heightened sense of concern among some Democrats in the hardest-hit regions who don’t trust Trump not to play politics with the response in their states.

“It’s certainly something that we all think about,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has watched Trump spar with his home state Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, amid rising caseloads of coronavirus.

“His instincts have always been about how any decision reflects on himself, and not whether it’s the right decision,” Kildee said. “But we genuinely want him to succeed, because him succeeding is saving American lives.”

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Obama endorses Biden as the best leader for ‘darkest times’ – Boston Herald


WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden on Tuesday, giving the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee a boost from the party’s biggest fundraiser and one of its most popular figures.

“Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery,” Obama said in a 12-minute video in which he argued the coronavirus pandemic reinforced the need for better leadership.

The endorsement marked Obama’s return to presidential politics more than three years after leaving the White House. He didn’t mention his successor, President Donald Trump, by name and instead sought to bridge the ideological divide among Democrats.

Obama commended Bernie Sanders, who was the leading progressive foil to Biden during the Democratic primary. The Vermont senator ended his campaign last week and threw his support behind Biden on Monday.

The former president called Sanders an “American original” and backed his frequent call for “structural change.” But he also said that while Democrats “may not always agree on every detail,” they must unify to defeat Republicans.

“The Republicans occupying the White House and running the U.S. Senate are not interested in progress,” he said. “They’re interested in power.”

Sanders reiterated his support of Biden on Tuesday, saying it would be “irresponsible” for his own supporters not to back the former vice president.

“I will do everything I can to help elect Joe,” Sanders said in an interview. “We had a contentious campaign. We disagree on issues. But my job now is to not only rally my supporters, but to do everything I can to bring the party together to see that (Trump) is not elected president.”

Elizabeth Warren is the only former Democratic presidential candidate who hasn’t yet backed Biden. The Massachusetts senator is expected to do so soon, according to a person familiar with her plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss her thinking.

Two other prominent Democrats who have yet to publicly back Biden are former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee. Hillary Clinton has been in regular touch with Biden, including several times since Sanders dropped out of the race, according to an aide.

Obama avoided intervening in the Democratic primary, but followed the race closely from the sidelines and is eager to take a more active public role. He’s expected to headline fundraisers for Biden and public events in key swing states, if such gatherings can still be held given social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

After his endorsement was released, Obama sent a fundraising appeal to Biden supporters, asking for donations ranging from $5 to $100.

The endorsement will test whether Obama can transfer his personal popularity to Biden. While the former president is seen favorably by a wide swath of Democratic voters, he was also a deeply polarizing figure during his two terms in office. During his presidency, Democrats lost about 1,000 legislative seats around the country, starting with disastrous 2010 midterms that also cost the party control of the House and many statehouses.

In 2018, he campaigned for some winning Senate and gubernatorial candidates, like Sen. Jacky Rosen in Nevada and Gov. Tony Evers in Wisconsin. But his influence seemed less powerful in other places such as Florida.

The Trump campaign noted that Obama tacitly discouraged Biden from running for president in 2016 and said the former president is only backing him now because everyone else has dropped out of the primary.

“Now that Biden is the only candidate left in the Democrat field, Obama has no other choice but to support him,” Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

Though Obama stayed out of the primary, Biden frequently pointed to their time together in the White House. Biden often spoke of the “Obama-Biden” administration when talking about various accomplishments and referred to himself as an “Obama-Biden Democrat.”

But he also insisted he was running as his own man, telling anyone who asked that he urged Obama not to endorse him out of the gate or even in the thick of the primary.

Obama’s tenure became a sort of punching bag for some presidential hopefuls in a primary fight that early on was defined by a debate over the need for generational and systemic change versus a return to normalcy after the Trump era.

Julián Castro pushed Biden repeatedly on whether he argued with Obama privately over deportations overseen by that administration. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke jabbed Biden – and by extension, Obama — by suggesting the party shouldn’t “return to the past.” Sanders and Warren said the 2010 Affordable Care Act hadn’t gone far enough.

But Biden was a staunch defender of that legislation and called it “bizarre” for Democrats, even faintly, to attack Obama’s record.

The conversation around Obama’s presidency shifted as the primary wore on. By the time voting began, Buttigieg was almost explicitly comparing his youthful bid to Obama’s 2008 campaign, and progressives were framing their health care proposals as a way to build on Obama’s legacy.

For his part, Biden leaned even more heavily into Obama as primary voting began. Aiming at Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist, and Bloomberg, who’d been elected New York City mayor as a Republican, Biden said in a Feb. 21 interview that “they’re not bad folks. They’re just not Democrats.”

Campaigning before increasingly diverse audiences in Nevada and South Carolina, Biden ramped up his recollections of when Obama tapped him for the ticket in 2008. Biden recalled Inauguration Day 2009, waiting for the train in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, “for a black man to pick me up … for the two of us to be sworn in as president and vice president of the United States.”

Often drawing nods and vocal affirmation from his audiences, Biden said he had thought of that day as a national victory over institutional racism. Now, in the Trump era, Biden calls that conclusion a mistake.

“I thought we could defeat hate,” he said, but “it never goes away.”


Barrow reported from Atlanta. AP writer Steve Peoples in Montclair, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

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Coronavirus frees Yosemite bears, reveals ‘World Without Us’

Skies have cleared over the smoggiest urban centers, wildlife runs free in parks, streets and plazas, flowers rise from the cracks of formerly well-trodden sidewalks and birdsong replaces the more motorized score of modern daily life. With much of the world’s population on COVID-19 lockdown, nature has never seemed more gloriously present — sublimely indifferent to human anxieties, eager to run riot over all the places in which it was once controlled, to return to the spaces from which it was expelled.

Meanwhile, in his Massachusetts home, environmental journalist Alan Weisman is getting many calls from people in many nations who all want to know the same thing:

Are we beginning to see the world without us?

“The World Without Us” is Weisman’s 2007 book, which imagines how the Earth would adjust should humans simply vanish one day. How long before the cities would return to meadows, the suburbs surrender to forests? How long before the bridges fall and the monuments crumble — before animals repopulated, some from the brink of extinction, and all trace of human progress vanished?

Not, in many cases, as long as you’d think. Which is why so many people want to know if the explosion of bears in Yosemite, the miraculously clear skies and the cacophony of birdsong everywhere mean that his thought experiment is coming true.

“I have been inundated by people sending me pictures of swans in the Venetian canals, or wild turkeys in the streets,” he told me. “A journalist who lives in Gurugram, which is No. 1 on the list of the world’s most polluted cities, just told me she is seeing blue skies. I even got an email from a nuclear physicist in Chernobyl, who I interviewed for the book, saying that whole towns look like Chernobyl now, silent and full of plant growth.”

In the last two weeks, Weisman had done interviews with outlets in India, Denmark, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Iran.

“People are suspended between terror and wonder,” he said. “They’re terrified that this is all so fragile, but they also realize there are things we have been missing — the birdsong everyone is noticing, the beautiful skies — and that those things are important.”

For the record, Weisman does not think that COVID-19 will bring about the kind of scenarios he imagined in “The World Without Us,” but he does see parallels, in both reality and metaphor. One section of the book that many people have mentioned to him lately is a scene in which Jerry Del Tufo, a structural engineer who manages the bridges that link Staten Island to the mainland, explains how, without human vigilance, nature could vanquish even a model of modern design like the Bayonne Bridge.

“Every connection is vulnerable,” Weisman writes, and though he is describing a bridge, he is also describing the world with us.

“A lot of people realize that we are in this situation that looks so powerful, our economy, our society,” he said, “and now this one little infection comes out of one animal in one marketplace in one part of Wuhan and it can explode across the world that fast. It’s not even that lethal and yet look how it has brought us to our knees.”

At the same time, he said, “people talk to me about how it’s so peaceful and the streets look so nice when they’re not clogged. … People are just moving back and forth between feeling really scared and feeling oddly exhilarated.”

Weisman, who has spent much of his life writing about the complicated and crucial relationship between our growing population and our increasingly battered environment, hopes that when humans emerge from our coronavirus quarantine, we do so with a greater appreciation for nature. And not just because of heart-lifting birdsong or the awesome beauty of Yosemite without lines of traffic.

Natural spaces, he said, provide barriers between humans and the microbes and diseases that exist in the wild. “National parks are so important because without them, and without all the forests and the jungles, we will be coming into more contact with viruses like COVID-19.”

Likewise, if we continue to push species to extinction, “well, the viruses have to go somewhere.”

Indeed, Weisman followed “The World Without Us” with “Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” — a 2013 L.A. Times book prize winner that examines the perils of global population growth and the many ways it pushes us toward the chilling scenario of “The World Without Us.”

One of those ways is, obviously, a pandemic. Like many, Weisman hopes that this coronavirus will serve as a wake-up call to prepare for the possibility of a more lethal virus in the future.

More important, however, he hopes that the speed with which COVID-19 literally spanned the globe proves once and for all that we are all part of the same ecosystem and it is our personal and collective responsibility to protect it.

“We are living in the middle of a metaphor,” he said. “Anything that can happen anywhere can have an impact on us. We are 7.9 billion people so tightly bound by our travel and trade that a small, relatively weak virus can reach all of us in a matter of months. So it doesn’t matter if the smokestacks are in L.A. or Beijing or Tehran. The atmosphere does not care where it started.

“But information can travel just as fast as the coronavirus, and maybe now people will understand. A virus is invisible but deadly; climate change is invisible and even deadlier.”

Alan Weisman is at work on a new book about the future of life on Earth, “Hope Dies Last.”

(Alan Weisman)

When COVID-19 hit, Weisman was at work on a book about climate change; he should be in the midst of a very ambitious itinerary of international research trips that he will reschedule as soon as it is safe.

“I’m 73,” he said, “so why am I doing all this traveling? Because my species is facing a crisis. Because if we get past two degrees [increase in global temperature], the younger generations may not even get a chance at a full life cycle even without a pandemic.”

The book, he says, will look at reasonable expectations for the future, the obstacles that need to be overcome and the people who continue to work for a future in which everyone realizes the lesson of the coronavirus: That there is no us and them, there is only us.

The title of the book? “Hope Dies Last.”

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Eased coronavirus restrictions in Spain change workers’ lives

It was the first day back at work in more than four weeks for Alberto Menendez, a construction company owner in the northern Spanish city of Gijon.

But Monday was hardly a normal day on the job.

In its first tentative move to ease coronavirus restrictions that were imposed last month across much of Europe as the outbreak took hold, the Spanish government has begun allowing construction and factory employees to go to back to work under strict safety guidelines.

It was a small first step toward restarting a national economy devastated, like others around the world, by the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

As part of the leading edge of Spain’s partly reconstituted workforce, Menendez — like others across the country and continent — confronted unexpected obstacles as he sought to bring his shuttered business back to life.

Scrambling to find a construction crew on only a few hours’ notice, he was able to mobilize only half of his usual 10 workers on Monday. To get to the site of his current job, an office building renovation in the city center, he had to pass through two security checkpoints and show documents proving his company was legitimate and his work was qualified under the slightly- relaxed new rules.

Construction workers return to their job remodeling an office building in Gijon, Spain.

(Alberto Menendez)

The center of normally bustling Gijon, a vibrant coastal city of more than a quarter-million people that is the hub of the northern region of Asturias, was all but deserted. Accustomed to the flow of pedestrians and roar of vehicle traffic, Menendez found the stillness a little unnerving.

“It doesn’t feel normal,” he said.

At the site, his workers quickly realized they didn’t have all the tools and building materials they needed. A nearby building supply store was open, but it had long lines and limited stock.

“It’s a real mess,” said Menendez, who has been in the building trade since 2005. “You come back, but you have no materials, and there are problems in the supply lines.”

Spanish authorities’ actions are being echoed, albeit on a small scale, elsewhere across Europe.

In hard-hit Italy, a few types of shops previously closed as “nonessential” — with wares including books, stationery and children’s clothing — were allowed to open on Tuesday. In Austria, shoppers in face masks were able to patronize garden centers and hardware stores.

But with Spain still shocked by the scope of its coronavirus ordeal — more than 18,000 dead as of Tuesday, with hundreds still dying daily — some worried that the government was moving haphazardly, and perhaps too quickly for safety.

“They have planned all this badly,” said David Gallego, head electrician at Vital Álvarez Buylla Hospital in the city of Mieres, about a half-hour’s drive from Gijon. “Maybe we can get out little by little, but it’s too soon.”

As Gallego headed to work, police officers stopped cars and offered face masks to anyone approaching — but also demanded proof of motorists’ reasons for being out.

Even with the limited new signs of activity, Gijon still had an eerily empty air. There were few people in what would normally be a crowded light rail station, patrolled by police and volunteers.

Two friends who met at the station were reprimanded for standing too close while talking, despite loudspeaker warnings about maintaining distance.

Esther Cabazos, a caregiver for an elderly woman, said she was afraid of being out in public, but she needed her livelihood.

“Fear? Well, yes, but if the virus doesn’t kill us, we’ll starve to death,” she said.

Spain Begins To Ease lockdown As Coronavirus Infection Rate Slows

Police officers distribute face masks among the Metro passengers on April 14, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Spain is beginning to ease strict lockdown measures to ease its economy, people in some services including manufacturing, construction are being allowed to return to work.

(Ely Pineiro/Getty Images)

Even with this limited easing of confinement rules, most Spaniards are still sheltering at home, and across the country, transportation links are sparse.

At Oviedo airport, signs warned that only essential travel was allowed, and flights connecting the Asturias region to the population centers of Madrid and Barcelona were grounded until May.

In Gijon, Menendez wondered when the lively city he knew would return to some semblance of itself. The shelter-at-home rules that still apply to the vast majority of activities will continue at least until April 26.

So, for at least that long, he and his construction crew will continue to find themselves nearly alone in the heart of the city.

“It’s the closest thing to a curfew,” he said.

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Kentucky Church Arrives to Easter Services Greeted by Nails, Police in Parking Lot

State and local governments in Kentucky are working to protect citizens from the coronavirus pandemic, but apparently they are willing to trample the First Amendment rights of their citizens to freely assemble and practice their religion in the process.

On Easter Sunday, about 50 members of the Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville Kentucky gathered at their church which held its holiday service in defiance of state orders, according to the Courier Journal.

They were greeted by troopers from the Kentucky State Police, who recorded license plate numbers and placed notices of mandatory 14-day quarantine orders on attendees’ vehicles, with their names being reported to local health departments.

“Kentucky State Police are at Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville, taking down license plates and placing notices on cars of people inside for today’s service,” tweeted Rose McBride, a journalist for WHAS-TV.

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Worshippers also had to contend with nails littering the parking lot exits. Although it is not clear where they came from, Jerrica Valtierra of WAVE-TV tweeted photos of nails strewn on the pavement.

“At the Maryville Baptist Church my photog & I spotted theses nails scattered around in the exit lanes. Not sure if someone dropped these intentionally or why they’re there,” Valtierra wrote.

The row over religious services began on March 19 when Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear formalized a ban on large gatherings, including “faith-based” events. Subsequent orders closed businesses that were deemed “not life-sustaining” while allowing pharmacies, grocery stores, hardware stores, banks, and others to remain open.

Maryville’s pastor, the Rev. Jack Roberts, was determined to hold services even as Beshear upped the ante by issuing the orders for state police to record worshippers’ license plate numbers and place the notices for any congregants who disobeyed.

As tensions mounted and Easter approached, Louisville’s Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer barred religious groups from even holding drive-in services during the week of Passover and Easter, according to the Courier Journal, as it was “not really practical or safe” in their more populated, urban community.

According to Kentucky Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, urged Fischer in a letter to allow for the drive-in services in a letter. However, that letter was simply ignored despite the fact that drive-in services would be a reasonable and safe compromise.

To his credit, though, it should be noted that Fischer did condemn the nails in the parking lot as an act of vandalism, according to the Courier Journal.

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The news of Roberts’ service being targeted was shared by Republican Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator.

“Taking license plates at church?” Paul asked rhetorically in his tweet about the incident with an accompanying account. “Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here.”

The outrage is justified. While the coronavirus is a serious threat, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution specifically guarantees the right to freely assemble as well as practice religion.

There is something tyrannical and perhaps even diabolical about choosing a church parking lot as a place to have governments make their stand against “social distancing” violators.

Do you think Kentucky unfairly targeted Christians in its effort to enforce “social distancing” measures?

Surely there are also shoppers at grocery stores who don’t follow the letter of the law as they shop for comfort food, or customers who make a run to a hardware store for a nonessential home improvement project.

Furthermore, a strong case can be made for the need to hear the word of God in troubled times, and few times are more troubled than when a potentially fatal virus is stalking the country.

The safety and health of citizens during the pandemic is no small matter for sure, but how those restrictions are enforced cannot unfairly target religious activities.

It may be dangerous to the body to ignore quarantine orders, but it is equally dangerous to liberty for the government to use force or the threat of force to stop Christians from worshipping God as they see fit.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

The U.S. Capitol is viewed as a kite flies at the National Mall in Washington earlier this month. Both the House and Senate delayed their return to Washington and leaders are now saying Congress is not expected to return before May 4.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

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Jose Luis Magana/AP

The U.S. Capitol is viewed as a kite flies at the National Mall in Washington earlier this month. Both the House and Senate delayed their return to Washington and leaders are now saying Congress is not expected to return before May 4.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the full Senate will not plan to return to the Capitol before May 4 — a delay from a planned return next Monday.

McConnell said the decision to change the schedule was made “following the advice of health experts” and in consultation with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

McConnell, R-Ky., stressed that Congress continues to work remotely to respond to the economic impact of the coronavirus.

“As Senators continue working together from our home states, we must stay totally focused on fighting this pandemic and strengthening our nation. The coronavirus does not take days off and the United States Senate must not either, wherever we are,” McConnell said in a written statement on Tuesday.

The move follows a similar announcement a day earlier from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., informing members the House would not return until May 4.

Both leaders indicated that if Congress needed to act quickly on something, members would be given at least 24 hours’ notice.

McConnell and the White House are pressing Democrats to agree to add another $250 billion to a program Congress recently created to help struggling small businesses, and are warning the program could run out of money this week. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want to add to that another $250 billion for hospitals and state and local governments, and to increase food assistance aid.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged Democrats at a White House briefing Monday to agree to approve the small business money this week and put off the debate about other programs until later. So negotiations appear to be stalled for now. He said about $220 billion of the $350 billion already approved for small-business grants had been used up — and that the Treasury needed to get more funding from Congress to address growing demand for relief.

“We think there is a likelihood we will need more money,” Mnuchin said.

Also Tuesday, the Architect of the Capitol released a statement making face coverings mandatory for those still working in the main Capitol and surrounding office buildings.

“During this pandemic, we will continue doing our utmost to protect the health and lives of our employees by following the guidance of the CDC and [the Office of the Attending Physician], which is evolving as they learn more about the virus and the disease it causes,” it announced, adding that masks were needed “while on campus, and in public spaces, as an enhancement to social distancing and personal hygiene practices.”