"End of the world as we know it" news & updates thread

Putin delays vote on controversial amendments that might keep him in power till 2036

INTRO: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that a vote on controversial constitutional amendments that could extend his tenure as president for years will be delayed because of the coronavirus.

One amendment would reset the terms a president could serve, possibly allowing Putin to serve until 2036. The amendment had already been approved by the Russian lawmakers and the Constitutional Court.

The vote was originally scheduled for April 22. Putin did not say when a new vote would take place. "I believe that the vote needs to be postponed to a later date," Putin said. "We will see how the situation unfolds in the regions and in the country on the whole and will make a decision on a new date based on expert opinion.

"You know how serious I take it and I will definitely ask you to come and voice your opinion on the matter, which is key and crucial for our society," Putin said. Putin said next week will be designated as a national paid holiday and residents should stay home to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus... (MORE)

Turkey charges 20 Saudis, including MbS aides, over 'monstrous' Khashoggi murder

INTRO: Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday charged 20 suspects including two former top aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the brutal 2018 murder of Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi. Prosecutors accuse Saudi Arabia's deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court's media tsar Saud al-Qahtani of leading the operation against Khashoggi and giving orders to a Saudi hit team.

Khashoggi, 59, a commentator who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed after he entered the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018, to obtain paperwork for his wedding to Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz. The Saudi insider-turned-critic was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials... (MORE )

Netanyahu ally resigns, deepening Israeli political turmoil

INTRO: Israel's parliament speaker has abruptly resigned, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deepening the country's political turmoil as the embattled leader tries to cling to power amid a fast-spreading outbreak of the coronavirus and a looming corruption trial.

The resignation of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday clears the way for the opposition to move forward with efforts in parliament to topple Netanyahu. But by resigning, Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, also defied a Supreme Court order to hold a vote for his successor, throwing down a new obstacle that could delay the opposition from proceeding with its agenda for several days... (MORE)

Trump administration urged to free migrants as virus surges

INTRO: Pressure was mounting on the Trump administration Wednesday to release people from immigration detention facilities where at least one detainee has tested positive for COVID-19 and advocates fear tight quarters and overall conditions could cause rapid spread of the virus.

The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention. Detainees and advocates say many are vulnerable because of age and pre-existing medical conditions, and because they are often held in open rooms, beds 3-feet apart, and without adequate supplies of masks or other protections.

“It’s impossible to stay calm,” said Marco Battistotti, an Italian who is among 170 people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts. “People are panicking. People are in fear.”

The 54-year-old Battistotti was among about 100 detainees at the county jail near Cape Cod who signed a letter released by a local immigration lawyer detailing conditions inside. They asked to be released to await decisions on their immigration cases.

“I don’t want to die in an ICE jail,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Why can’t I fight my case on the outside?”

The agency, which reported the positive test of a 31-year-old man from Mexico held in Bergen County, New Jersey, on Tuesday, has announced steps to protect detained migrants and staff from the virus, but hasn’t said whether it plans to review cases for possible release because of the outbreak. It did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the complaints about conditions from the detainees and their advocates.

The administration has tried to balance its overall hard line on immigration, a signature policy of President Donald Trump, and its response to the outbreak, with ICE announcing previously that it would “temporarily adjust” operations to focus on apprehending people who pose a risk to public safety or are subject to mandatory detention because of a criminal record.

Immigrant advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are filing lawsuits in California, Maryland, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, seeking court orders for the immediate release of people in immigration detention, especially those at risk because of their age or medical conditions.  (MORE)
People with COVID-19 who won't self-isolate should be killed, says president of Chechnya

EXCERPT: People who fail to self-quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 should be killed, said Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya said during an interview with local state-run media [...] The threat by the Chechnya leader is credible because of Ramzan Kadyrov's long history of allegedly murdering people who displease him. Coronavirus victims have already been forced to confess on Chechen TV. Kadyrov's security forces have previously jailed, beaten, and killed LGBT community members.

[...] Russia has been reporting a bafflingly low number of cases, which has left many critics openly speculating about under-reporting or a cover-up. Chechnya, however, has taken aggressive measures to contain the deadly, fast-spreading virus despite only recording three cases so far. ... it was the passing reference to murdering infected people who refuse to self-isolate that has raised the most attention... (MORE - details)
Bunker with a bowling alley: How the rich are running from coronavirus

INTRO: . . . as the coronavirus spreads, the rich are investing in a much more extreme way to ward off the disease: bunkers. Inquiries and sales are skyrocketing for bunkers and shelters across the country.

Most come equipped with special air-filtration systems, which buyers believe will come in handy to keep out a virus that can reportedly linger in the air for several hours. And for those fearing a broader societal collapse down the road, a secure safe room with a year’s worth of food can provide peace of mind.

Bunkers are nothing new; tens of thousands of Americans built private fallout shelters as Cold War tensions rose in the early 1960s. Tornado country provides a steady demand for wind-resistant shelters — above or below ground — that typically cost about $3,000 to $11,000, according to HomeAdvisor.com. But with a new virus fueling social anxiety, manufacturers are pumping out safe spaces with amenities usually reserved for mega-mansions.

Gary Lynch, general manager of Texas-based Rising S Bunkers, said the phone has been ringing nonstop since last week. “As unpopular as coronavirus is, it’s getting the publicity of a Backstreet Boys hit in the ‘90s,” he said. “People have an infatuation with it.”

One of the first people to call in bought a bunker the same day. Soon after, a customer from Japan ordered 1,000 of the company’s custom-made NBC air-filtration systems. At $3,000 a pop, it was a $3-million sale... (MORE)

US bunker business is booming as people try to sit out coronavirus: The underground shelter market is going through a period of unprecedented growth thanks to the new coronavirus, industry representatives say. [...] a bunker can serve as an effective protection against the coronavirus because you don’t make contact with anyone in it. However ... one shouldn’t neglect health recommendations: social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and no face-touching. [...] David Davis, director of marketing at North Carolina-based US Safe Room, believes that Americans are increasingly realising that safety, whether it be amid a natural disaster, a nuclear or a biological threat, is a “necessary precautionary measure” for every family.... (MORE)
Banks under fire for coronavirus loan tactics (UK)

INTRO: Banks have been criticised by firms and MPs for insisting on personal guarantees to issue government-backed emergency loans to business owners. The requirement loads most of the risk that the loan goes bad on the business owner, rather than the banks. It means that the banks can go after the personal property of the owner of a firm if their business goes under and they cannot afford to pay off the debt. Their main home would be protected but the bank could go after other assets. (MORE)

Nurses In Australia Issue Plea To Stop Violence, Theft Of Sanitizer And Masks

EXCERPT: . . . "Please do not treat nurses, midwives and other health workers like they are infectious," the union said, adding bold text for emphasis. "These trained professionals should be respected and must not be abused, spat on or assaulted as they move through our communities, to and from their workplaces."

The message comes Thursday as police in New South Wales issued an appeal for information in an incident in which a woman wearing a nursing uniform was approached by another woman, who allegedly coughed on her, verbally abused her and then punched her in the face, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

In addition, the union said, there had been many instances "where community members have been stealing bottles of hand sanitiser, face masks and other vital resources from hospital wards, leaving nurses and other hospital staff exposed." (MORE - details)

Man planning to bomb Missouri hospital killed, FBI says

INTRO: A man suspected of planning to attack a hospital treating coronavirus cases in the US state of Missouri died after a shootout with the FBI, officials say. The confrontation happened as agents tried to arrest the 36-year-old in the city of Belton as part of a domestic terrorism investigation, the FBI said. Officials said the man was motivated by racist and anti-government beliefs. He had allegedly considered a range of targets before settling on the hospital because of the current outbreak. (MORE)
Flatter or fight? Governors seeking help must navigate Trump

EXCERPT: At first, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tried to play nice. He limited criticisms of the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and asked for medical supplies through official channels.

But nothing came, so he went on television. The first-term Democrat blasted the Trump administration on Sunday on CNN for failing to help states obtain masks, gloves and other protective gear.

It got President Donald Trump’s attention. After a Twitter feud and some mudslinging (Pritzker compared Trump to a “carnival barker”), the two got on the phone Monday, and Trump promised Illinois 250,000 masks and 300 ventilators.

Facing an unprecedented public health crisis, governors are trying to get what they need from Washington, and fast. But often that means navigating the disorienting politics of dealing with Trump, an unpredictable president with a love for cable news and a penchant for retribution.

Republicans and Democrats alike are testing whether to fight or flatter, whether to back channel requests or go public, all in an attempt to get Trump’s attention and his assurances... (MORE)

Trump camp threatens local TV stations over Democratic ad

RELEASE: President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is threatening legal action against local TV stations in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin if they don’t pull a Democratic anti-Trump commercial that uses clips of the president talking about the coronavirus outbreak. The campaign says the ad is false.

Priorities USA Action Fund, the Democratic super PAC that created the 30-second spot and supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, responded by soliciting financial contributions to keep the ad on the airwaves.

Trump’s campaign said the commercial contains the “false assertion” that Trump called the coronavirus a “hoax.” The ad strings together audio of recent comments by Trump in which he attempts to minimize the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak, including a snippet in which he says “this is their new hoax.”

Trump’s campaign said Wednesday that it had delivered “cease and desist” letters to the stations demanding that they pull the ad or face legal action. The stations were not named in a news release announcing the action or in a copy of the letter accessed by a hyperlink included in the emailed release.

Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, tweeted Wednesday that Trump wants to block the ad “because he doesn’t want Americans to know the truth.” He included a link for donations to pay to keep the ad on the air. Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among states where Trump’s is spending heavily in his bid to win a second term.
Couples urged to think carefully before having baby during coronavirus crisis

INTRO: Couples with “time on their hands” during the coronavirus lockdown should consider using contraception, Scotland‘s chief medical officer says. The need for maternity services cannot be paused, and people should ask themselves whether the time was right to have a baby, Catherine Calderwood said. Pregnant women are more likely to become severely ill with flu when they are pregnant, according to the New Scientist, partly because pregnancy suppresses the immune system, and because in the later stages, the foetus can squash organs, including the lungs... (MORE)

Royal Navy shadows seven Russian warships in the Channel and North Sea

RELEASE: As the Royal Navy prepares to help the NHS and other government departments deal with the response to the coronavirus outbreak, nine British ships have been shadowing seven Russian vessels in waters around the UK. The Navy has completed a concentrated operation to shadow the Russian warships after unusually high levels of activity in the English Channel and North Sea.

Type 23 frigates HMS Kent, HMS Sutherland, HMS Argyll and HMS Richmond joined Offshore Patrol Vessels HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey along with RFA Tideforce, RFA Tidespring and HMS Echo for the large-scale operation with support from NATO allies.

Lieutenant Nick Ward, HMS Tyne’s Executive Officer, said: “As the Armed Forces are helping the NHS save lives in the UK, it’s essential the Navy continues to deliver the tasks we have always performed to help keep Britain safe. This is very much part of routine business for HMS Tyne and represents one of the many roles our patrol vessels perform in support of the Royal Navy’s commitments. This is our core business and represents an enduring commitment to uphold the security of the UK.”

As the Navy’s logistics specialists and military planners work with the wider Armed Forces to help the coronavirus response effort, Royal Navy sailors and aircrew were monitoring every movement of the Russian ships using state-of-the-art radar, surveillance cameras and sensors, allowing them to track their course and speed as they passed the British Isles.

They were supported by Merlin and Wildcat helicopters of 814 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons.

Portsmouth-based HMS Tyne spent more than a week working in the English Channel, in often challenging seas, keeping a close eye on the Russian vessels as they pass the south coast.

Three Steregushchiy-class corvettes, two Ropucha-class landing ships and two Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates were observed during the operations, plus their supporting auxiliary ships and tugs.

HMS Sutherland, fresh from a demanding period of Arctic training on Exercise Cold Response, watched over the Russian presence as part of her duties with NATO’s Standing NATO Maritime Group One – a very high readiness task group made up of frigates and destroyers which patrols northern European waters to provide a reassuring presence.

Help is coming for gig economy workers and small businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis (UK, US, Europe)

EXCERPT: Workers in the gig economy are finally getting government support to help them cope with the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus crisis.In the United States, the federal government is poised to extend unemployment insurance payments to gig economy workers for up to 39 weeks, and top them up by an extra $600 a week, as part of a $2 trillion economic stimulus package.

The UK government on Thursday unveiled what finance minister Rishi Sunak described as "one of the most generous" support programs anywhere in the world for Britain's 5 million self-employed workers. The plan mirrors wage subsidies promised last week to people in regular employment, providing the self-employed with a cash grant of 80% of their average monthly profit, up to £2,500 ($3,000) a month, over the next quarter.

Millions of people who don't have full-time employment or who own businesses that rely on people getting together — such as taxi drivers, food delivery workers, builders, hairdressers and cafe owners — have been left unable to earn an income as governments shut down non-essential services and introduce strict social distancing measures. In many cases they face an impossible choice: break lockdown rules, or stay home and earn nothing. Before Thursday's announcement, self-employed workers in the United Kingdom were only getting tax relief and £94 ($114) a week through the benefits system.

[...] Governments across Europe have already announced measures to help their self-employed workers, although they vary widely in scope and generosity... (MORE - details)
National salute to NHS staff as thousands take to balconies to express thanks (video at bottom)

INTRO: The royal family and the Prime Minister joined people all over the UK who flocked to their balconies and windows to applaud the NHS staff battling the coronavirus pandemic. The national round of applause came after the unveiling of a £9 billion package of support which will see the Government give millions of self-employed people a grant worth up to £2,500 a month. People took to their balconies and doorsteps to clap and cheer, while vehicles sounded their horns at 8pm on Thursday evening as a gesture of thanks to frontline healthcare heroes.

Boris Johnson was joined by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak outside 10 Downing Street as they took part in the national salute. And a video posted on the Kensingtonroyal Instagram account showed Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis clapping to thank all those healthcare staff “working tirelessly” to help those affected by Covid-19. The "Clap For Carers" campaign, which started online, was staged because “during these unprecedented times they need to know we are grateful”, according to the organisers. (MORE - videos)

Mexicans demand crackdown on Americans crossing the border

INTRO: Mexican protesters have shut a US southern border crossing amid fears that untested American travellers will spread coronavirus. Residents in Sonora, south of the US state of Arizona, have promised to block traffic into Mexico for a second day after closing a checkpoint for hours on Wednesday. They wore face masks and held signs telling Americans to "stay at home".

Mexico has fewer than 500 confirmed Covid-19 cases and the US over 65,000.

The border is supposed to be closed to all except "essential" business, but protesters said there has been little enforcement and no testing by authorities. The blockade was led by members of a Sonora-based group, Health and Life, who called for medical testing to be done on anyone who crosses from the US into Mexico. (MORE)

Experts alarmed as recipes for homemade hand sanitizer proliferate online

INTRO: Recipes for homemade hand sanitizer concoctions have been multiplying online but experts are warning that many of the DIY solutions are ineffective — even harmful.

"You don't want anyone making up their homemade hand sanitizers that might have a component that's going to lead to some kind of toxic reaction on their hands," said Dr. Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and a member of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology. "We don't need any more people in the hospitals right now." (MORE)

Medical experts warn against claims by Winnipeg acupuncturist advertising 'coronavirus prevention tea'

INTRO: Medical experts are warning Canadians not to believe the hype after a hidden camera investigation revealed a Winnipeg acupuncturist was selling an herbal tea that he claims can prevent COVID-19. In an email blast to clients last week, Guojian Huang, an acupuncture therapist and specialist in traditional Chinese medicine, said drinking a blend of six herbs in a tea over six days would keep people safe. [...] A Facebook post from the same day made a similar claim.

"This is quite outrageous," said Cedric Cheung, the national president of the Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Association of Canada, when told about the claim. "You cannot make a statement that can possibly mislead a patient."

Health Canada has not approved any product to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. "Selling unauthorized health products or making false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 is illegal in Canada," a Health Canada spokesperson said in an email to CBC News. (MORE)

China's censorship and distortions are a threat to the globe

EXCERPT: For years now, Beijing has tried to position China under the Communist Party as the champion and leader of a new, emerging, post-American global order. [...] China has assiduously asserted influence in global institutions, especially United Nations bodies, where Chinese nationals lead four of 15 specialized agencies. In his speech at the special summit of G20 leaders on March 26, Chinese president Xi Jinping showed his determination to build his own image as a world leader.

For him to succeed in his long march through the international community, he needs to have a reputation for success at addressing challenges such as COVID-19. [...] China must set an example for the rest of the world to follow. The long-term plan hit a large speed bump with revelations about the regime’s malfeasance in covering up COVID-19, and the Communist Party’s efforts to turn the story around, making itself heroic, are well documented. But the plan could run aground if a second outbreak, which some experts warn is inevitable, occurs in China. In this situation, the regime is turning reflexively to traditional Communist tactics: propaganda and the control of information.

China has expelled reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, sources it cannot control. The regime has clamped down increasingly on independent journalists as its domestic practices have become increasingly inhumane, especially with respect to its repression of religious minorities, including Uighur Muslims, who have been subjected to mass internment.

China ranks low in international measures of press freedom. [...] Of course, China also extensively censors new media. A Harvard University study found that Chinese authorities block as many as 18,000 websites, including many standard, independent sources of international news. Among the terms censored on the Internet are “human rights,” “oppression,” and references to Tiananmen Square and the dissident and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. The BBC, which had often reported critically on the Chinese government, is blocked in China. All books published in China are censored. The extent of censorship and control over the media by the CCP cannot be better described than by Xi Jinping himself, who in 2016 said, “All the media must bear the Party’s surname.”

The Zero campaign depends on censorship and makes it a universal political obligation for Chinese citizens to collectively deny their own public-health crisis. That China’s health statistics are manipulated for the Communist Party’s political benefit is not news. Local officials, medical personnel, and, indeed, the entire society need to participate in the deception....

The government, which claims that virtually no new COVID-19 cases have appeared recently in Wuhan, has begun to relax the lockdown in Hubei Province. But while the Chinese regime tries to control perceptions of events inside the country, widespread anger and intensified distrust at the government’s moral and administrative failures is giving rise to a groundswell of citizen journalists [...] The evidence they present about COVID-19 contradicts official narratives. Stories on Chinese social media, censored or removed almost as soon as they appear, reveal how local governments cover up new cases and how hospitals are ordered to report new cases as normal flu or pneumonia.

The stories indicate that Hubei Province, far from moving toward normality, is being locked down again by people and police in the surrounding provinces who know the real situation in Hubei. [...] In the past, the Chinese Communist Party’s restrictions on the free flow of information seemed to Americans and others in democratic countries to be a matter mainly concerning the freedom of the Chinese people, important as a matter of upholding the universal right to freedom of expression. But the regime’s distortions of the truth are now more than abstract problems for the international community. They are threats to global public health — indeed, matters of life and death... (MORE - details)

Covid-19: a glimpse of the dystopia greens want us to live in

EXCERPT: Greens just can’t help themselves. As the rest of us do what we can to tackle or withstand the Covid-19 crisis, they treat it as a sign, a warning from nature, a telling-off to hubristic, destructive mankind. The speed with which they have folded this pandemic into their misanthropic narrative about humanity being a pox on the planet has been shocking, but not surprising.

Right from the top of the UN, they have been promoting their backward belief that this virus is a reprimand from nature. [...] Of course nature is doing no such thing, because nature is not a sentient being, however much the new religion of environmentalism might fantasise that it is. [...] A group of scientists ... describe Covid-19 as a ‘clear warning shot’ from nature, telling human civilisation that it is ‘playing with fire’. This is the political exploitation of a horrible disease to the end of winding back human industry: what a low trick.

Britain’s chief bourgeois misanthrope, George Monbiot, was hot on the heels of the UN’s eco-medievalists. He says Covid-19 has shattered humanity’s self-serving myth that it has achieved ‘insulation from natural hazards’. There is a grotesque glee in the way Monbiot describes what Covid-19 has unleashed – ‘the membrane has ruptured’, he says, and ‘we find ourselves naked and outraged, as the biology we appeared to have banished storms through our lives’.

Monbiot also views this pandemic as a lesson from nature. [...] what is the content of nature’s violent lesson to disgusting mankind? It is to remind us that, for all our arrogance, we are actually ‘governed by biology and physics’.

There is something profoundly ugly in this. Monbiot and other greens seem to view Covid-19 as a disaster that will have an upside: it might roll back the Enlightenment-era belief that humankind can exercise dominion over nature and remind us that actually we are at nature’s mercy. They hope this disaster will restore nature’s power over the humanised world... (MORE - details)

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