5 Ways to Demand Justice During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A banner reads “Human needs before corporate greed”

Photo from before the pandemic. Credit: Jerry Donhal [ID: A sign sitting in a bush reads “Human Needs before corporate greed”]

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest global crises of the century. In many ways, this pandemic has lifted the veil on the social inequities that have existed for a long time — with some of the most vulnerable people being the most at risk of losing their lives and livelihoods.

The choices that we make today will shape our society, economy, health, and climate for decades to come. That’s why it’s as important as ever to demand justice during this crisis.

Our activism might look different than it usually does, but we must act nonetheless. Together we can ensure that justice is front and centre as we respond to COVID-19, and work towards repairing and rebuilding our world and economy after the pandemic ends.

1. Demand a moratorium on rent, mortgage, and bills before April 1st.

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People can’t stay home if they’re scared of being evicted for not being able to pay rent without an income! People can’t stay home if they don’t have a home! @aoc said it best: “Payment suspensions keep people indoors. Bills bring them outside”. First: a shoutout to @gruneram, a tenants rights expert (and my friend) who wrote out and helped me understand a ton of this info. The first thing we need to understand is what we’re asking for when we say cancel rent. There have been a few terms going around including a rent freeze, a rent strike, and rent suspension. A rent freeze means a freeze on rent increases – rent can’t go up during the freeze, but it can still be collected. A rent strike is a coordinated, political effort among tenants to withhold rent (this option carries the most risk for tenants, including the risk of eviction, and tenants should have legal support lined up). A rent suspension/moratorium means a temporary ban on collecting/charging rent, or rent forgiveness for a set period of time. I am advocating for *rent suspension* (and also back rent forgiveness). We need a national suspension of evictions and rent and mortgage payments. If it doesn’t happen on the national level, it needs to happen on the state level. DC residents: the DC council has already passed legislation that prohibits evictions and utility shut offs during the COVID emergency. This is a good first step but it’s nowhere near enough because it still allows rent obligations to accumulate. The Tenant Union and mutual aid groups are working on demands around rent suspension in DC – I will update in my stories with more info on that when it’s available. Let’s get some things out of the way – 1: landlords needing to pay their mortgages is not a reason to not provide rent relief – I am not interested in hearing about the plight of landlords 2: people struggling to pay rent is not new, even if it’s new for you 3: also suspend student loan payments. Suspending rent is not a catch phrase, it’s a real tool that can be used to protect and uplift people. #thesweetfeminist #sweetfeminism

A post shared by Becca Rea-Holloway (@thesweetfeminist) on

[ID: a cake with white frosting is decorated with pink icing spelling out “cancel rent”]

With more people sick or out of work every day, there is widespread anxiety as April 1st rapidly approaches. Despite some relief offered to people who are out of work by the federal and provincial governments, millions of people across the country are living in fear that they will lose their housing in the middle of a pandemic. Sign this petition hosted by our friends at LeadNow to demand that the government halt all rent, mortgage, and utility bills until the pandemic is over.

Already, over 60,000 people have signed their name, and our friends at LeadNow plan to digitally deliver these names to the government on Monday. You can also fight for a rent moratorium by calling your Member of Parliament (find their number here). If your workplace is unionized, consider calling on your union to make a public statement in support of this — like this one from BCGEU.

2. Demand that COVID-19 response leaves no one behind.

[ID: A graphic reads “Migrants & Workers need a just crisis response: status for all, worker protections, healthcare for all, support the community, those that know, lead. Sign, share, learn: http://www.migrantrights.ca/Covid19%5D

Migrant, poor, and racialized communities are already facing the biggest barriers to response measures, even though their health and jobs are most at risk.

Sign this petition hosted by the Migrant Rights Network to call for a collective response that leaves no one behind, including migrant workers, undocumented people, low-waged students, poor people, and refugees. That means healthcare for all, worker protections, no migrant detentions or deportations, and supporting vulnerable communities. Calls for justice for incarcerated and detained people have been echoed worldwide. The Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project is currently leading the campaign to contain COVID-19 and not people — sign their letter here.

You can also use this one click call system set up by Migrant Rights Network to call cabinet ministers and demand income supports for migrants.

3. Stand in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

[ID: A graphic reads “Shut down CGL: Constructing pipelines without the proper permits or consent is not an “essential service””]

Even in the middle of a pandemic, construction on the Coastal GasLink pipeline is continuing business as usual without the consent of Wet’suwet’en land defenders. In fact, TC Energy is sending in more workers to site everyday. This increases the health risk for Indigenous communities close to the construction sites and it is unacceptable. Follow the instructions in this Instagram post by Tapioca Starch to call on Coastal GasLink to put an end to man camps during the pandemic.

We can also take action in this moment to stop the flow of money to this destructive fracked gas pipeline. KKR — an NYC private equity firm — is planning to purchase 65% of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Tell KKR to divest from the Coastal GasLink project. Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, is also considering lending millions to this project. Tell EDC that public money should never go to a pipeline that doesn’t have Indigenous consent.

4. Demand investment in our communities during the COVID-19 crisis and a just transition as we come out of it.

[ID: A graphic displays the 5 principles of a just recovery listed below]

The last thing that we need right now is billions of dollars of taxpayer money going towards corporations. People across the country are struggling to stay afloat in this crisis and it’s critical for the government to center people over corporations. Sign our petition to demand that the federal government reject a bailout for Big Oil and invest in people instead.

We must center justice as we recover from this pandemic and a commitment from governments around the world to build a better future. That’s why tens of thousands of people, organizations, and groups around the world are standing behind these 5 principles of a just recovery at all levels of response:

  1. Put people’s health first, no exceptions.
  2. Provide economic relief directly to the people.
  3. Help our workers and communities, not corporate executives
  4. Create resilience for future crises.
  5. Build solidarity and community across borders — do not empower authoritarians.

Add your name in support of the 5 principles for a just recovery.

5. Practice community care.

[ID: Volunteers at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House in Vancouver prepare free meals to go for the community.]

Doubling down on individualism will only make this crisis worse for people who are most vulnerable. That’s why we can’t just demand justice in this moment, we must all practice it by participating in community care.

All across the world, people are responding to this pandemic with radical acts of kindness. People are buying groceries for complete strangers. Chefs are delivering free meals in their cities. Therapists are offering free online services. Artists are holding digital concerts. There is so much we can do in this moment to hold our community members up. Here are some of our suggestions for practicing community care:


Oil sands producers in the red as blended bitumen dips below $4 per barrel

An oil worker holds raw sand bitumen near Fort McMurray, on July 9, 2008.

CALGARY – Oilsands producers are likely losing money or barely breaking even as prices for Western Canadian Select bitumen-blend crude dipped as low as US$3.82 per barrel on Monday, analysts said.

Realized prices for bitumen likely crossed into negative territory as they tested new record low levels late last week after deducting the cost of the lighter oil blend required to allow the sticky bitumen to flow in a pipeline, said Michael Dunn with Stifel FirstEnergy in Calgary.

“Given the current futures market for differentials and FX (exchange rates), we estimate the majority of non-upgraded bitumen production in Alberta (1.5 million barrels per day in 2019) requires high-US$20s per barrel WTI to cover variable costs, and an additional approximately US$2 to US$5 higher if we include sustaining capital requirements,” said Dunn in a report.

“With WTI prices below this threshold, we expect industry to be curtailing output significantly in the coming weeks.”

U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil traded as low as US$19.85 per barrel on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, analyst Matt Murphy with Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. said his numbers show bitumen realizations were still slightly positive on Monday — albeit barely, at a little less than a dollar per barrel — because the price of condensate that many producers use as diluent has also tumbled.

Neither set of calculations include the cost of transporting the crude — Murphy said just the cost of sending the oil by pipeline from its source in northern Alberta to the Hardisty marketing hub in central Alberta would put almost every barrel in the red.

As much as 20 per cent or 340,000 barrels per day of thermal oilsands production could be shut down, Murphy said.

Dunn estimated the curtailments will total a “few hundred thousand barrels per day,” but the technical hazards of shutting down and restarting steamed oilsands wells means operators will have to continue to produce bitumen at a slower rate.

The reduction of demand for oil in North America means Western Canadian crude storage is rapidly filling, he said.

The situation is made worse by deferrals of planned spring maintenance shutdowns at some oilsands mine upgraders to avoid adding maintenance staff to the workforce due to COVID-19 transmission worries, he added. SOURCE

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2020.


Could Coronavirus Forever Alter the Fossil Fuel Era?

Wall-to-wall coverage of the Covid19 crisis is obscuring a once in a generation punctuated equilibrium event that will forever alter the energy landscape.

This event could lead to a wave of bankruptcies that accelerate the arrival of peak fossil fuels. Or It could lead to dramatic state intervention that papers over the glaring weakness’ in the fossil fuel industry creating a zombie industry forever dependent on state aid for survival. It could even lead to a wave of nationalization of key companies and sectors opening the door to a managed transition. But how we got to this moment, and more importantly where we go from here, depends on the decisions taken in the days and months ahead. Decisions that could very well seal the fate of the fossil fuel era as we know it.

Billions in junk debt

Coming into the crisis the corporate world was sitting on trillions in debt it had issued in a time of easy money and high leverage. Estimates late last year put the debt pile at $10 trillion in the US alone. When the crisis hit, debt markets that companies had become so reliant on seized up, making a once easy task — pay the debt or roll it over — suddenly a life or death event.

Fossil fuel companies were particularly over-leveraged. Take the US shale industry which has 27 fracking companies with over $26 billion in debt coming due this year. Debt that was considered high risk (and thus high yield) a world ago will be nearly impossible to refinance today. Add to that a once in a lifetime combination of oil war induced negative pricing (negative!) coupled with demand destruction and it’s obvious why the industry is worried there won’t be takers for their junk bonds this time around.

The euphemism for what the US frackers are experiencing is a liquidity crisis. But that implies a healthy business proposition unable to tap debt markets that are under crisis. The truth is fossil fuel industries like US shale producers weren’t healthy to begin with. This shock has just laid bare how sick they really are.

Disaster induced opportunism

That’s why almost immediately fossil fuel industries began lining up for bail outs in a fit of disaster induced opportunism that was truly breathtaking to behold. First the US shale industry — a financial house of cards if ever there was one — began demanding handouts. Then the US coal industry handed the Trump administration a wishlist of regulatory rollbacks. Not to be left out, global banking lobbyists began a concerted blitz to rollback financial regulations including the baby steps progressive regulators like Bank of England had announced to deal with, ironically enough, the systemic financial risks posed by climate change. These industries saw an opportunity to strike in the midst of a crisis and they seized it.

But the real game for the fossil fuel industry was revealed in a telling line from the coal industry wishlist which explicitly sought ‘relief from divestment pressure and access to credit.” Because without a steady flow of finance these industries can’t operate.

Pre crisis that steady flow of money and easy access to credit was under severe pressure with the coal industry alone facing restrictions on access to finance from 126 globally significant institutions. This financial exodus was driven by mounting concerns over climate change, stranded assets and a steady erosion of industry growth by clean energy insurgents. All of which conspired to make one of the most pressing problems for the fossil fuel industry before the crisis, a truly life or death threat when things fell apart.

Which makes access to finance the game right now. Those able to tap debt markets in particular may be able to ride this storm out. Those that fail will see bankruptcy. The bell is tolling for the fossil fuel industry, the Great Shakeout has begun.

Access to finance, life or death decisions, and stealth bailouts

But while the shakeout has begun, the ultimate impacts could be delayed by dramatic moves central banks around the world are now making. They’ve rushed to put in place emergency Quantitative Easing (QE) programs to flood the system with liquidity (debt) and save vulnerable companies. That makes quantitative easing programs seeking to issue new debt or buy existing debt in fact stealth bailouts for the fossil fuel industry.

At least that’s what it looks like today. Because despite past calls to screen fossil fuels from QE programs leading progressive regulators have not made clear these programs will indeed be ‘green.’ Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, for instance publicly stated the desire to ‘decarbonize’ the European Central Banks asset purchasing programs before the crisis as did Andrew Bailey the head of the Bank of England. Commitments that if in place now would prove tremendously significant for the fate of fossil fuel companies.

Then of course there’s the Trump administration which never met a fossil fuel company it didn’t love and wouldn’t be caught dead screening them from these programs. Which is why environmental groups are raising the alarm bells over two new programs announced by the Fed that will, for the first time ever, allow the institution to buy corporate debt (historically it’s only bought government debt and mortgages).

There’s a twist to this story, however. These programs will ironically be managed by BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, who recently made a historic shift that made climate change central to its financial decision making. If BlackRock applies that same climate lens to the management of these programs — and it appears they do indeed have discretion over what is purchased — they could turn out to be one of the most important climate related actors in this unfolding drama.

The BlackRock program is a great example of the upshot during the bailout and stimulus era — the ultimate impact of QE programs is far from certain, the details matter, and now is the time to pressure regulators and key financial actors like BlackRock to make good on their commitments to decarbonize. Because there will be a moment post crisis when central banks around the world step back and reassess whether these programs should continue, adjust, or be removed. Fights now serve to highlight the long term climate impacts of these programs and set up the all important decision point down the road.

Bailouts or buyouts? Time for permanent retirement

Ultimately, even if vulnerable fossil fuel companies are able to tap emergency credit at best it’s delaying the inevitable. For instance when investors return to the market they won’t have missed the bloodbath suffered by fossil fuel companies (Exxon and Peabody Coal are down a stunning 70% compared to just 30% for the broader market) nor oil companies pending decisions to cut dividends the bribe that has until now kept them at the table. The financial house of cards is set to crash and the impacts will be plain for all to see. All in all a significant win for climate — or is it?

The problem is that in capitalism companies don’t die. They become zombies stripped of financial liability that screw over workers and lose future shareholders money. This is especially true in the fossil fuel sector, where even if a company goes bankrupt, its fossil fuel infrastructure — oil wells or coal mines, pipelines or power plants — all remain. All it’s waiting for is another reckless owner to turn it all back on. It’s a cycle that companies like Peabody have repeated endlessly. So while a shakeout will cull the fossil fuel herd it doesn’t serve our ultimate end goal of removing them from the landscape. It’s a Pyrrhic victory that wins a battle but loses the war.

Unless we find a way to make this shakeout permanent. Enter bailout money.

Separate and apart from QE programs are the bailouts (euphemistically called stimulus despite the fact you can’t stimulate an economy on lockdown) handed out by governments around the world. Nowhere is this handout as active as the US where a $500 billion corporate slush fund is fueling concerns that the US oil industry in particular will be first in line for a bailout. A fear Donald Trump all but guaranteed is reality when he tweeted that oil and gas were central to our national security, a direct reference to the $17 billion earmarked for industries critical to national security in the US stimulus bill.

But what if bailouts were the ultimate opportunity? What if instead of a bailout, we made it a buyout? If governments around the world took a public stake in key companies and industries in exchange for a Paris compliant business plan (or in many cases a managed decline in production) we could have the opportunity to make the shakeout permanent.

During the last crisis for instance the Obama administration used this leverage to secure agreement from leading automakers like GM on fuel efficiency standards and an acceleration of EV investment. What if this time around we used investments in coal and oil companies to manage their decline? If we did, the price tag for a buyout has never been cheaper.

Take Peabody. It’s trading at two dollars a share and has a total market cap of $280 million. That’s less than half what Michael Bloomberg has spent on the US Beyond Coal campaign. Instead of letting the Peabody zombie continue to wreak havoc, what if the US government (or a high profile philanthropist) instead bought them out and permanently retired not only their carbon but their political influence?

This won’t work with all companies. Neither utilities nor oil majors are vulnerable enough to justify a total buyout with market caps still in the hundreds of billions. But what if we leveraged their need to secure cheap debt to secure accelerated coal plant retirements in exchange for debt relief? A version of the coal plant retirement idea has been floated by both RMI and Michael Liebreich founder of BNEF.

Last but not least let’s not forget the banks. While banks are not the central actors in this crisis in the way they were in 2008 it’s still clear they need to be stabilized and are central actors in the plumbing of the financial system. Why don’t we condition increased liquidity and support on credit guidance that puts an absolute cap on fossil fuel finance?

Regardless of the ultimate path chosen to drive fossil fuel company retirement, it’s clear this time has to be different. We can’t default to pre-Covid strategies reliant on free market dynamics, voluntary commitments and a theory of change predicated above all else on clean energy becoming cheaper than fossil fuels alone. That’s already happened and we’re still not shifting the global economy fast enough to solve climate change. We now need aggressive state backed intervention.

With a series of bailout and stimulus packages and a US election looming large the fate of the fossil fuel era hangs in the balance. The key lesson from the Obama era stimulus programs that helped birth the modern solar industry is that we can’t let a crisis go to waste. With Covid we were just handed a once in a lifetime opportunity to fundamentally alter the energy landscape. Now we must seize it. SOURCE

Delay is deadly: what Covid-19 tells us about tackling the climate crisis

Australian fires. Photograph from State Government of Victoria handout / EPA

The coronavirus pandemic has brought urgency to the defining political question of our age: how to distribute risk. As with the climate crisis, neoliberal capitalism is proving particularly ill-suited to this.

Like global warming, but in close-up and fast-forward, the Covid-19 outbreak shows how lives are lost or saved depending on a government’s propensity to acknowledge risk, act rapidly to contain it, and share the consequences.

On these matters, competence and ideology overlap. Governments willing to intervene have been more effective at stemming the virus than laissez-faire capitalists. The further right the government, the more inclined it is to delay action and offload blame elsewhere. International comparisons suggest this could be making infection and death rates steeper.

Take the US, where Donald Trump is only now acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic after weeks of claiming fears were exaggerated. Until recently, his government put more money into shielding the oil industry than providing adequate testing kits. He reportedly ordered officials to downplay early warnings because he did not want bad news in an election year. The US now has one of the fastest rising numbers of new cases in the world.

In Brazil, the ultra-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, is equally reckless. He claimed the risks of coronavirus were overblown, until 17 of his aides and security detail tested positive after a trip to the US. Last weekend, he ignored his own government’s advice and chose to shake hands and pose cheek-to-cheek for selfies at a mass rally of supporters. As cases and deaths surge, his support has plummeted.

In the UK, Boris Johnson acknowledged the risk, but did little about it. Though not as extreme in his denial as Trump or Bolsonaro, Johnson’s government first dithered, then dabbled with a policy of “herd-immunity”that was reportedly driven by Dominic Cummings’ desire to protect the economy, even if it cost pensioners’ lives. The UK has since shifted tack and enforced a lockdown, but its controls are still haphazard. Last week, daily deaths in the UK were reckoned to be on a steeper upward curve than Italy was at the same stage.

By contrast, more interventionist governments – generally but not exclusively those which are centrist or leftwing – have acted more quickly and shared the burden of risk more widely. Norway, Denmark and Sweden already appear to have flattened the coronavirus curve. Spain and France implemented lockdowns at around 200 deaths, which the UK and US have far surpassed.

In Asia, China initially attempted to hide the problem from the public when the virus emerged in Wuhan, then mobilised huge public resources to enforce a strict lockdown and provide extra hospital beds. South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand also appear to have turned the corner thanks to different combinations of extensive testing, quarantine measures and public health education.

Other factors are at play. Asian countries with prior experience of the Sars epidemic appear to have been better prepared. Italy, one of the worst affected countries, has one of the world’s oldest populations. In Japan’s case, the relatively flat curve of confirmed cases may also be a result of the government’s unwillingness to do widespread testing because it could jeopardise the Olympics.

Similarly, the relatively low number of cases in the global south has raised hopes that warmer weather might slow the disease – but this is far from certain. A comparatively low number of coronavirus cases could be the result of a lag caused by distance from the origin of the disease, relatively lower levels of international traffic, and fewer resources for testing.

Delay is deadly: what Covid-19 tells us about tackling the climate crisis

This pandemic has amplified the importance of assessing and controlling risk before it gets out of hand. But the political champions of the neoliberal right, such as Trump and Bolsonaro, are more inclined to deny and delay, as climate politics have shown us in recent years.

When it comes to a pandemic like Covid-19, that position is untenable. No leader can deny the science, nor can they endlessly delay action as they have done on global heating. Muddling through until the next election is not an option; leaders will be judged on deaths next week, not emissions reductions in 2050.

The demographics are also completely different. Unlike the climate crisis, the virus predominantly threatens the elderly – the right’s core support group – rather than millennials. So far, the worst affected regions are also closer to the centre of economic power: the cool industrialised north rather than the warmer developing south (though the latter may suffer more in the future due to weaker healthcare systems).

For the right, this makes the pandemic a greater political threat than the climate crisis has ever been. Unless they can quickly get on top of the disease, they will lose any claim to being champions of national security. It is entirely possible that the effects of this pandemic could be one of the most catastrophic failures of free-market capitalism.

This should also be a lesson for the left. If state intervention and scientific advice is effective in dealing with the virus, the same principles should be applied more aggressively towards the still more apocalyptic threats of climate disruption and the collapse of nature. Until now, the left has recognised these dangers, but done little to act on them because economic growth has always taken precedence.

The pandemic has proved that delays are deadly and expensive. If we are to avoid a cascade of future crises, governments must think beyond a return to business as usual. Our conception of what is “normal” will have to change. We’ll need to invest in natural life-supporting systems such as a stable climate, fresh air and clean water. In the past, those goals have been dismissed as unrealistic or expensive, but recent weeks have shown how quickly the political compass can shift.

First though, we need to accept – and share – risk. Instead of deferring risks to future generations, weaker populations and natural systems, governments need to transform risks into responsibilities we all bear. The longer we hesitate, the fewer resources we will have at our disposal, and the more risk we will have to divide. SOURCE

Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders stands onstage at a rally for Medicare for All.

Bernie Sanders’s policy proposals are especially apt now, when the coronavirus crisis is revealing an economy organized around production for the sake of profit, not need.Photograph by Justin Sullivan / Getty

The debate over the role of government in addressing income inequality, housing insecurity, debt accumulation, and health care continues, now against the grim backdrop of the raging coronavirus. It is difficult to articulate the speed with which the U.S. and, indeed, the world, has descended into an existential crisis. We are experiencing an unprecedented public-health event whose diminution and potential resolution rests with a series of prescriptions, including settlement-in-place orders, that will annihilate the economy. The deadly spread of covid-19 demands enclosure as a way to starve the searching virus of bodies to inhabit. The consequences of doing so removes workers from work and consumers from consumption; no economy can operate under these conditions.

American life has been suddenly and dramatically upended, and, when things are turned upside down, the bottom is brought to the surface and exposed to the light. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath ravaged the Gulf Coast, it, too, provided a deeper look into the darkness of U.S. inequality. As the actor Danny Glover said then, “When the hurricane struck the Gulf and the floodwaters rose and tore through New Orleans, plunging its remaining population into a carnival of misery, it did not turn the region into a Third World country, as it has been disparagingly implied in the media; it revealed one. It revealed the disaster within the disaster; gruelling poverty rose to the surface like a bruise to our skin.”

For years, the United States has gotten away with persistently chipping away at its weak welfare state by hiding or demonizing the populations most dependent on it. The poor are relegated as socially dysfunctional and inept, unable to cash in on the riches of American society. There are more than forty million poor people in the U.S., but they almost never merit a mention. While black poverty is presented as exemplary, white poverty is obscured, and Latinos and other brown people’s experiences are ignored. As many as four in five Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck. Forty per cent of Americans say that they cannot cover an unexpected four-hundred-dollar emergency expense.

This is a virus that will thrive in the intimacy of American poverty. For years now, even in the midst of the economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, rising rents and stagnant salaries and wages have forced millions of families to improvise housing; nearly four million households live in overcrowded homes. This is the cruel irony of the San Francisco Bay Area’s shelter-in-place mandate: the region is at the epicenter of the U.S. housing crisis, as exemplified by its growing unsheltered homeless population. How do you practice social isolation without privacy or personal space? There are the crowded public offices that poor people congregate in to navigate access to services and income. There are the emergency rooms that function as primary health-care providers—not to mention the county jails and state prisons.

Economic inequality is exacerbated by racial injustice, both held in place by a threadbare social-safety net. Black and brown populations are particularly vulnerable to infection because poverty is a fount of underlying conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, pulmonary disease, and heart disease, that make it more likely that the virus will be deadly. They are also more vulnerable because greater rates of poverty and under-employment have hindered access to health care. In Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the U.S., where black unemployment is four times the rate of white unemployment, the majority of diagnosed coronavirus cases are middle-aged black men. And as anyone who has ever had to wonder how they will make their rent payment knows, the stress of economic uncertainty is corrosive, eating into the capability of the immune system.

But the danger of contracting the coronavirus will hardly be the problem of the poor and working class alone. Those who, because of poverty and insecurity, are most vulnerable to infection also have disproportionate contact with the broader public, through their low-wage retail and service work. Consider the plight of the home health-care worker. Millions of such workers attend to a largely elderly and homebound population for meagre hourly wages and often without health insurance. In 2018, home health-care workers, eighty-seven per cent of whom are women and sixty per cent of whom are black or Latino, made an average of about eleven dollars and fifty cents an hour. These workers are the sinews of our society: they must work to insure that our society continues to function, even as that work poses potential threats to their clients and the general public. Their insecurity, combined with the failure of meaningful action by the federal government, will make the suppression of the virus nearly impossible.

Thus far, the Trump Administration has predictably bungled the response to the coronavirus. But the Democratic Party’s response has been hampered by its shared hostility to unleashing the power of the state, through the advance of vast universal programs, to attend to an unprecedented, devolving catastrophe. About half of American workers receive health insurance through their employer. As job losses mount, millions of workers will lose their insurance while the public-health crisis surges. In the last Democratic debate, former Vice-President Joe Biden insisted that the U.S. doesn’t need single-payer health care because the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy proved that it doesn’t work. Strangely, he simultaneously insisted that all testing and treatment of the virus should be free because we are in crisis. This insistence that health care should only be free in an emergency reveals a profound ignorance about the ways that preventive medicine can mitigate the harshest effects of an acute infection. By mid-February, a Chinese government study of that country’s coronavirus-related deaths found that those with preëxisting conditions accounted for at least a third of all covid-19 fatalities.

Dismissing the necessity of universal health care also shows an obliviousness to the power of medical expenses to alter the course of one’s life. Two-thirds of Americans who file for bankruptcy say that medical debt or losing work while they were sick contributed to their need to do so. The costs of medical treatment become a reason for postponing visits to the doctor. A 2018 poll found that forty-four per cent of Americans delayed seeing a doctor due to its cost. Already, half of Americans polled have said that they worry about the costs of the testing and treatment of covid-19. In a situation like the one we are in, it becomes easy to see the ways that encumbered access to health care exacerbates a public-health breakdown. N.B.A. players, celebrities, and the wealthy have access to the coronavirus test, but attending nurses and frontline health-care workers, community health centers, and public hospitals do not. Health-care inequalities are problems that have been left unattended, creating so many small, imperceptible fractures that, in the midst of a full-scale crisis, the structure is collapsing, shattering under its own weight.

…The case has never been clearer for a transition to Medicare for All, but its achievement clashes with the Democratic Party’s decades-long hostility to funding the social-welfare state. At the heart of this resistance is the pernicious glorification of “personal responsibility,” through which success or failure in life is seen as an expression of personal fortitude or personal laxity. The American Dream, we are told, is anchored in the promise of unfettered social mobility, a destiny driven by self-determination and perseverance. This ingrained thinking evades the fact that it was the New Deal, in the nineteen-thirties, and the G.I. Bill, in the nineteen-forties, that, through a combination of federal work programs, subsidies, and government-backed guarantees, created a middle-class life style for millions of white Americans. In the nineteen-sixties, as a result of prolonged black protest, Lyndon Johnson authored the War on Poverty and other Great Society programs, which were intended to lessen the impact of decades of racial discrimination in jobs, housing, and education. MORE


Canadian heavy oil collapses another 28% to under $5 as oilsands face shut-ins

Canadian heavy crude now costs less than the price paid to ship it

Pipelines run to Enbridge Inc.'s crude oil storage tanks at their tank farm in Cushing, Oklahoma.

Pipelines run to Enbridge Inc.’s crude oil storage tanks at their tank farm in Cushing, Oklahoma.Nick Oxford/Reuters files

CALGARY – Canadian heavy oil prices plunged to a new low on Friday that could force domestic oilsands sector to shut in production to survive the historic collapse, according to a new report from Wood Mackenzie.

The price of Western Canada Select, the domestic heavy oil benchmark, followed up a brutal 30 per cent plunge on Thursday with another 28 per cent fall on Friday to reach US$4.58 per barrel — just a fraction of other price benchmarks.

The global Brent benchmark fell 7 per cent in midday trading to US$24.39 per barrel, while the North American benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell 5 per cent to US$21.46 per barrel.

Energy research firm Wood Mackenzie believes higher cost oil-producing formations around the world would need to shut in production amid the oil price rout, unlike in 2014 when sub US$35 per barrel Brent oil prices lasted for only one quarter.

These prices are well below the break-even cost for the Canadian oilsands producers, which risks posting massive losses this year as low prices persist.

“Canada’s oilsands are at the upper end of the (cost) curve, even in a benign price environment,” said Fraser McKay, vice-president, upstream at Wood Mackenzie, in a report released Friday.

He noted that if the Brent crude oil benchmark averages US$35 per barrel over the course of 2020, “we would expect corporate cash flow from the sector to be US$17 billion in the red,” and the Alberta government would also forego $2 billion in royalties.

Canada’s oilsands are at the upper end of the (cost) curve, even in a benign price environment

Fraser McKay

“The sector will do everything it can to trim costs first,” he said.

Wood Mackenzie isn’t the only firm predicting oil production cuts in Canada.

On Monday, Rystad Energy warned that oil production cuts in Canada “are imminent as storage is days away from full capacity.”

The Oslo, Norway-based firm predicted that Canadian oil producers would cut 440,000 bpd of production as oil storage tanks in Alberta are reaching their peak capacity of 40 million barrels of storage.

Scarecrows, used to deter birds from landing, stand in the Syncrude Canada Ltd. tailings pond in the Athabasca Oil Sands.
 Ben Nelms/Bloomberg files

However, Canadian oil producers also have access to their own storage, including storage tanks at their own operations in the oilsands, IHS Markit vice-president, North American crude oil markets Kevin Birn said in an interview.

In reality, he said, when field storage and merchant storage is counted together, Alberta is capable of storing 80 million to 85 million barrels of oil.

However, he said, inventories are high everywhere and are believed to be between 65 million and 70 million barrels in storage.

“Canada is full. We were full going into this. But the reality is that Canadian producers will store in the United States,” Birn said, noting that some Canadian oil companies are moving their barrels to storage in the U.S., where there is more space available.

Some of the largest oilsands producers, such as Suncor Energy Inc. and Athabasca Oil Corp., have been forced to react to benchmark crudes hitting historic lows, and have limited or shut down operations.

About 125,000 barrels a day of production is currently shut-in and nearly all oilsands operations are underwater, which “will likely trigger additional production shut-ins,” TD Securities said in a note.

“We are expecting most operators to revert to some form of dynamic storage for in-situ projects in order to defer bitumen sales while simultaneously maintaining reservoir integrity,” TD said.

Currently, Canadian heavy crude now costs less than the price paid by a company with long-term contracts to ship it down Enbridge Inc.’s Mainline and Flanagan South systems to Texas.

That’s a problem for producers such as Cenovus Energy Inc., which has commitments to ship 75,000 barrels a day down the system. MEG Energy Corp., another heavy oil producer, has contracts to ship 50,000 barrels a day and has plans to expand to 100,000 barrels a day in the second half of 2020.

Enbridge charges between about US$7 to a little over US$9 a barrel to ship heavy oil to Texas, excluding additional charges such as for power, according to tariff documents. Cenovus declined to comment and MEG didn’t return an email for comment.

The S&P/TSX Capped Energy Index was down 8.65 per cent on Friday, taking its year-to-date decline to nearly 65 per cent. SOURCE


TC Energy to start work on Keystone XL pipeline after $1.1B US Alberta investment

Pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily from Western Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast

This November 2015 photo shows the Keystone Steele City pumping station, into which the planned Keystone XL pipeline is to connect, in Steele City, Neb. (Nati Harnik/The Associated Press)

TC Energy Corp. said on Tuesday it would proceed with the construction of the long-delayed $8 billion US Keystone XL pipeline project after getting a $1.1 billion US equity investment from the Alberta government.

The investment from the province would substantially cover planned construction costs through the end of 2020, TC Energy said.

The remaining $6.9 billion US is expected to be largely made in 2021 and 2022 and funded through a credit facility and an investment by TC Energy, the company said.

In a statement, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the project was essential for the province’s future prosperity.

“This investment in Keystone XL is a bold move to re-take control of our province’s economic destiny and put it firmly back in the hands of the owners of our natural resources, the people of Alberta,” Kenney said. “The Government of Alberta is confident that this is a wise investment.”

TC Energy, which used to known as TransCanada Corp., expects to buy the Alberta government’s stake once the pipeline is in service. It also plans to raise about $1 billion US by selling some of its shares.

Kenney said the provincial government will be able to sell its shares for a profit once the project is finished.

The company, which had planned to start mobilizing heavy construction equipment in February, said last month that there was too much uncertainty to commit immediately to the project.

The pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels per day of crude from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest, has been delayed for more than a decade by opposition from landowners, environmental groups and Indigenous groups. The project was also rejected by former U.S. President Barack Obama. SOURCE

COVID-19: First Nations leaders urge Coastal GasLink pipeline to ‘stay home’

B.C. First Nations leaders are urging the province to halt construction on the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, in light of COVID-19 concerns for local communities. JASON PAYNE / PNG

B.C. First Nations leaders are urging the province to halt construction on the Coastal GasLink pipeline in light of COVID-19 concerns for local communities.On Monday, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued an open letter urging federal and provincial governments to hit pause on the construction of the northern B.C. pipeline during the ongoing health crisis.

“We urge you to act swiftly to protect the public’s health from the heightened risks of COVID-19 transmission posed by ongoing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project,” reads the letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Premier John Horgan and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“Most vulnerable to the spread will be frontline health-care workers, project workers, and local Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities forced to shoulder the consequences for any disregard for health and safety.”

The letter notes that while the Northern Health Authority currently has the fewest confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in B.C., there are concerns that the continued construction is accompanied by the movement of people which the leaders believe is contrary to what health officials have recommended.“B.C. and Canadian health officials have urged the public to stay home. The expansion of economic enterprises cannot be considered essential when it directly endangers the health and wellbeing of every one of us,” the letter reads.

“The threat is too great to northern communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, whose access to health care and necessary resources for containing COVID-19 are already limited.

“We urge you to tell Coastal GasLink to stay home.”The letter is signed by the UBCIC executive, including president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, vice-president Chief Don Tom, and secretary-treasurer Kukpi7 Judy Wilson.

In a prepared statement, Coastal GasLink spokesperson Suzanne Wilton said the company had suspended travel and ordered all non-essential work to be done from home.

“No new people are being introduced into workforce sites and most crews are local with only critical work is being completed, such as environmental monitoring,” Wilton wrote.

“We recognize the need for protective measures and are working closely with health officials as well as our employees and contractors and following all directives. Our people live and work in the communities where we operate and we take their safety, along with that of the community very seriously.”

The First Nation’s letter comes just days after Dr. David Bowering, former chief medical officer for Northern Health issued his own open letter, calling on B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to issue a shutdown order to industrial work camps, such as those working on the Coastal GasLink pipeline.“The camps are and will be COVID-19 incubators, placing the workers, the host communities, and the home communities of the workers at unacceptable risk,” Bowering wrote.

The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline is set to extend from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, and has the support of 20 elected band councils along the route. Each of the councils has signed benefit agreements with the company ensuring proceeds that would help each band become less reliant on federal funding.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs, however, say the pipeline cannot proceed without their consent, as they assert title over a broader 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory that is crossed by the pipeline’s route, whereas the elected band councils control smaller reserve lands.The pipeline project was the subject of a number of blockades and occupations earlier this year, a result of Wet’suwet’en supporters standing against the pipeline’s continued construction.



COVID-19 Carelessness: Which Canadians say pandemic threat is ‘overblown’? And how are they behaving in turn?

Those most skeptical of the outbreak least likely to engage in hygiene and distancing actions

COVID-19 Carelessness: Which Canadians say pandemic threat is ‘overblown’? And how are they behaving in turn?

March 30, 2020 – Since the novel coronavirus took root in Canadian communities, opinion about the threat it poses has evolved: from initial curiosity and skepticism to widespread acceptance and anxiety of the power and speed with which it spreads.

But even as the number of cases in Canada exceeds 6,000 and now touches almost every part of the nation, one in every eight adults is of the view that the threat of a coronavirus outbreak is “overblown”.

Now, a new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute shows this cohort – more cavalier in their approach to the virus that has ground Canadian society to a halt and caused an economic crisis – differs significantly from those who say they take the risk seriously, especially when it comes to distancing and hygiene.

Those who say the attention and worry around COVID-19 is undue are less likely to be staying away from others, from public spaces, or to be regularly washing their hands.

More Key Findings:covid19 canada

  • Those who say the threat of COVID-19 is overblown are less concerned about personally contracting the virus or it happening to someone in their household than those who say the threat is serious
  • Political partisanship correlates with opinion on the seriousness of the pandemic: those unconvinced are far more likely to have voted for the CPC in the 2019 federal election
  • Those who see threat of the COVID-19 outbreak as overblown are also likely to say things will get “back to normal” more quickly than those who say the threat is serious


Which Canadians think it’s overblown?

To better understand who comprises this group of Canadians unconvinced of the seriousness of the pandemic, the Angus Reid Institute oversampled these Canadians, beyond their natural size in the general population. This sample size, 385, allows for more detail and analysis than the 195 in the original survey.

While this group’s education and income demographics are similar to those of the general population (see detailed tables)there are considerable differences in age and gender. A key characteristic of this group is its likelihood to be male and over the age of 34. Both groups of men, those 35 to 54 years of age and 55 years and over, are overrepresented compared to their standard distribution in the general population:

covid19 canada

Regionally, British Columbia and Alberta are disproportionately represented in the group who say the threat of outbreak is overblown:

covid19 canada

But the starkest difference is this group’s past voting history: it is vastly more likely to have chosen the Conservative Party in the 2019 federal election. Two-thirds (64%) of those who say the crisis is overblown supported the CPC.

covid19 canada



Jasper Morse/Flickr

Canadians across the country, and of all ages and political stripes, support federal government assistance to an oil and gas sector facing record-low oil prices in the midst of a global pandemic. But there’s no indication in survey results released last week by Abacus Data whether anyone wants to see the money directed to Alberta fossil companies and their shareholders.

The online survey of 2,309 Canadians asked whether federal support should focus on “maintaining household incomes and government revenues until prices rise” or “diversifying economies in those provinces,” Abacus reports. It showed 63% support for the first option, 37% for the second.

The Ottawa-based agency notes that only 18% of respondents opposed federal assistance to the sector, while 43% supported the idea and 39% said they could accept it. Support ranged from a high of 90% in Alberta to a still-decisive 70% in Quebec, and from 89% among voters who backed the Conservative Party in last fall’s election to 58% among Bloc Québécois supporters.

Support for an economic diversification package for Alberta’s fossil sector came in at 42% in both Alberta and British Columbia and 39% among all 2019 voters—except for Green Party supporters, only 33% of whom backed the diversification option.

”Health anxiety and economic trauma have created a new normal in terms of policy preferences—and very rapidly. Gone are sharp regional and party lines around oil and gas, replaced by a desire to see one another get through this challenging time and to expect governments to intervene as needed to help,” Abacus Chair Bruce Anderson said in a release.

“What is probably unique about support measures to deal with the collapse of oil prices is some uncertainty about what is the best way to support Albertans, and whether the solutions should feel like a bet on a product that can be volatile and may have a challenging future, even when the COVID crisis is behind us,” he added. “There’s a slight warning signal to policy-makers contemplating support—the public will want measures that help people, and not necessarily steps designed to help shareholders or bet on the long term future of oil.”

Abacus didn’t respond to a weekend email asking whether respondents had a chance to weigh in on a direct bailout to fossil companies. (We’re glad if that means Abacus staff got a weekend away from email, and we’ll update this story when we hear back.) SOURCE