Planet Watch
air pollution

UN climate talks delayed one year by COVID-19

International climate negotiations will be delayed by a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UK government announced. The next summit, dubbed COP26, was due to take place this November in Glasgow, but has now been put off to November 2021. Delaying the talks could encourage governments, industrial concerns and financial institutions to adopt recovery plans with high climate costs—such as a bailout for the oil companies. The postponement is particularly critical given the failure of last year’s summit, held in Madrid, to reach any agreement. (Photo: Ralf Vetterle, Pixabay)

Watching the Shadows
Kremlin

Kremlin in new drive to co-opt US ‘alternative’ voices

In a truly surreal irony, CounterVortex chief blogger Bill Weinberg got e-mail from RT.com editor-in-chief Igor Ogorodnev, saying he’s impressed with our website and extending an invitation to contribute to RT. This is evidently part of a concerted push by RT—a direct organ of Russian state propaganda—to appropriate dissident and alternative voices in the American blogosphere ahead of this year’s elections. The strategy here is clear: Wth Fox News playing to the right and RT playing to the left, the Putin-Trump agenda will control both sides of the debate. It is imperative that progressives do not take the RT bait. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Planet Watch
warplane

Trump tears up arms control treaties

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the United States is formally withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure that allows the US and Russia to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others’ territories. Having last year withdrawn from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, the White House is now threatening to similarly abandon New START, the 2010 agreement that limits the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Syria
Idlib ruins

Amnesty sees Russian-backed ‘war crimes’ in Syria

A report by Amnesty International finds that the Syrian government, supported by Russia, committed a series of war crimes in the northwest of the country in late 2019 and 2020. The report states that “attacks from the air and the ground repeatedly struck residential areas and crucial infrastructure” in opposition-held areas of Idlib, Aleppo and Hama provinces. The report documents 18 attacks on schools and medical facilities, calling them “serious violations” of international humanitarian law. (Photo: White Helmets)

Watching the Shadows
Kremlin

Kremlin propaganda machine weaponizes Tara Reade

You don’t have to dismiss Tara Reade’s claims of sexual assault by Joe Biden to note how they are being exploited, and by whom. It is hardly surprising that her accusations are widely touted by Kremlin propaganda outlets like Sputnik. Nor that Douglas Wigdor, a prominent Trump donor, has been named as Reade’s attorney. Of greater interest to followers of Moscow propaganda efforts on behalf of Trump is a second attorney now working for Reade: William Moran—a Sputnik veteran editor who Sputnik star contributor Max Blumenthal sicced on the Southern Poverty Law Center two years ago to get them to suppress researcher Alexander Reid Ross’ exposé of Russian-lubricated fascist entryism on the American left. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Syria
syria occupied

Has Assad outlived usefulness to Putin?

The Russian International Affairs Council, an official diplomatic think-tank, issued a report predicting that Russia, Turkey and Iran will soon reach a joint agreement to remove Syrian dictator Bashar Assad from power, replacing him with a transitional government including members of both the regime and opposition, as well as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Russian news agency TASS suggests that Moscow fears a repeat of the “Afghan scenario” in Syria if it continues to back an unpopular regime. (Photo via Syria Call)

North America
Oilsands

Negative oil prices slow tar sands production

Despite a new agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to end their price war, the oil market remains in free-fall amid the virtual shut-down of the world economy by the COVID-19 pandemic. The price of the main US and Canadian oil benchmarks have now fallen below zero—the first time oil prices have ever turned negative. Canada, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has already started slashing oil sands output. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2.5 billion in aid to the industry, and Trump is now also pledging a bail-out. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Syria
White Helmets

UN panel: ‘highly likely’ Assad bombs hospitals

A report by a special UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry ordered by the Secretary-General finds that it is “highly probable” that the Bashar Assad regime and allied forces have bombed hospitals and other civilian targets in Syria. The report cited air-strikes last year on a hospital, a clinic, and a childcare facility in opposition-held areas of Idlib and Hama provinces. All three were on a “deconfliction list” of protected sites that the UN had provided to Damascus. The Board of Inquiry also found it “plausible” the regime targetted another healthcare center. Yet the report failed to specifically mention Russia, which has also been engaged in the air-strikes, referring only to “the Government of Syria and/or its allies.” The Assad regime has claimed that the targeted sites were being used by “terrorists.” (Photo via EA Worldview)

Planet Watch
#QuedeteEnCasa

Worldwide police-state measures in face of COVID-19

With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary’s parliament voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree. The Russian parliament has approved an “anti-virus” package that includes up to seven years imprisonment for serious violations of quarantine rules. Israel has joined South Korea in authorizing use of personal cellphone data to track the virus. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has declared a “state of catastrophe,” sending the military to public squares recently occupied by protesters. Military patrols are also enforcing the lockdown in Peru, Italy, Romania and South Africa. “We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close on the heels of a health epidemic,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. (Photo: Peruvian army demonstration video, via YouTube)

Syria
Syria prisoners

Demand urgent action to protect Syrian detainees

The Syrian regime has announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country after weeks of denial, and advocates in the diaspora believe the real number of cases is likely higher. The UK-based Syria Campaign writes that an outbreak in Syria could mean “horror beyond imagination.” Thousands of displaced families living in overcrowded camps cannot self-isolate. Health infrastructures in the country have collapsed due to the systematic targeting of hospitals by the regime and Russia. Especially vulnerable are the nearly 100,000 detainees and forcibly disappeared, many of whom are held in cramped underground centers where they are exposed to horrific conditions including torture and deprivation of proper food, water, hygiene, and medical care. These cells are already perfect breeding grounds for viruses and illnesses, and if coronavirus spreads containment will be impossible. (Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Planet Watch
Aleppo ruins

UN calls for ‘global ceasefire’ in response to COVID-19

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives… Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

North America
refinery

Will COVID-19 mean oil industry bailout?

Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in “free-fall,” now predicted to lead to the largest “annual contraction in history.” Canada’s federal government is preparing a bailout package for the oil and gas sector, with a possible value of $15 billion. Among the proposals is a share buyout along the lines of the US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for banks and automotive companies during the 2008 financial crisis. (Photo: kris krüg)