Saturday Snippets: Workers fear holiday shoppers but need paychecks; humpback whales stage comeback
Saturday Snippets is a regular weekend Daily Kos feature.
• White House’s rush to open up Arctic wilderness drilling isn’t stirring any takers: The Trump regime is eager to get some Arctic leases signed before the Biden-Harris administration takes over Jan. 20. It’s going to be a tight squeeze. Jennifer A. Diouhy reports that both oil companies and banks view drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve as too risky, at least right now. Said Ben Cushing, the head of Sierra Club’s financial advocacy campaign: “Smart money is staying away from this kind of development in the Arctic.”
Leases can be had for as little as $5 an acre, but beyond that, oil development in a remote wilderness with no existing infrastructure is extremely costly. The break-even point for the oil the companies would extract from the Arctic could be as much as $80 per barrel, according to Rystad Energy. The last time oil was that high was October 2018, and it doesn’t appear to be getting back there any time on the horizon. Anyone bidding now would need outside financing that banks don’t want to provide. One big reason: their image. Environmental advocates and some Alaskan Native tribes have worked to persuade lenders that their investments are at risk from climate change. So is their reputation underwriting Arctic drilling given that 70% of American voters oppose such development. Activists have supported divestment of public portfolios that include fossil fuel investors. Five major U.S. banks—Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JP Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley—have already decided they won’t support drilling in the refuge. Bank of America Corp. is the only major that hasn’t given up. Two weeks ago, activists sent a similar warning was sent to the world’s top insurers. Divestment is no idle threat. Institutions associated with Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access oil pipeline lost $4.4 billion in account closures and divestments in 2017, according to research from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
• Oklahoma becomes a hot cannabis-growing market. Passage of the state’s medical marijuana law in 2018 has led to a boom in growing weed and a new nickname for the Sooner state: “Toke-lahoma.”
• Don’t let the downtick in holiday reporting of Covid-19 cases and deaths fool you: On weekends and holidays since the pandemic began 10 months ago, doctors’ offices are closed and public-health departments may be short-staffed and sometimes closed. That means fewer tests being conducted, fewer positive cases being identified, and information about fewer of those that are conducted and identified making their way into the databases of those tallying the coronavirus’ toll. That means reporting on the following Sunday and Monday and around holidays typically show a count several percentage points below the counts during the rest of the week. So a lower number of cases and deaths may be reported in the coming days, and there may continue to be an undercount for weeks. Said Ellie Murray, a Boston University epidemiologist, the bulk of Thanksgiving-related COVID-19 deaths will likely come around Christmas. She pointed out that at this time of year, people working in the systems that track these numbers typically take time off just like the rest of the population. “That could potentially delay the reporting even more,” she said. “We may not really have a full picture of what happened post-Thanksgiving until sometime in January.”
• Bloomberg asks 41 heavies what Joe Biden should do on climate change: While a couple of climate hawks, like R.L. Miller, get included on the list, it’s mostly the take of those with modest goals supporting mild tactics to meet them and dissemblers like the Breakthrough Institute and the American Petroleum Institute who have trashed renewables or the whole idea of the climate crisis in their propaganda.
Many Wampanoag hoped that the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing would be a galvanizing event to remind people that the Wampanoag still exist, but many of the commemorative events have been cancelled, postponed or moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wampanoag to whom TIME talked all expressed a feeling of “eerie” déjà vu, marveling at how much hasn’t changed in 400 years in some respects. The tribe is in the midst of a fight for survival on two fronts: fighting to survive during a global pandemic and fighting to maintain control of their land.
• Project Censored’s State of the Free Press 2021 has been released: The project began 45 years ago with Its primary purpose being, as founder Carl Jensen said, “to explore and publicize the extent of news censorship in our society by locating stories about significant issues of which the public should be aware, but is not, for a variety of reasons.” Each year Project Censored highlights stories that have gotten little or no coverage in the traditional media and adds another in its state of the press series that takes a deeper look at what’s happening but not getting the attention it should. Paul Rosenberg at The American Prospect summarizes each of this year’s Top Ten from the project: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; Monsanto “Intelligence Center” Targeted Journalists and Activists; U.S. Military—a Massive, Hidden Contributor to Climate Crisis; Congressional Investments and Conflicts of Interest; Inequality Kills: Gap Between Richest and Poorest Americans Largest in 50 years; Shadow Network of Conservative Outlets Emerges to Exploit Faith in Local News; Underreporting of Missing and Victimized Black Women and Girls; The Public Banking Revolution; Rising Risks of Nuclear Power Due to Climate Change; Revive Journalism with a Stimulus Package and Public Option.
• Humpback whales had been hunted nearly to extinction. They’re back: It’s estimated that in 1830, the humpback population was 27,000. By 1950, there were only 450 of them left. Now, according to a new study published by the Royal Society, decades of protection has boosted the population to about 93% of its pre-exploitation size. Here, Daily Kos staffer David Neiwert plugs us into a humpback symphony.
• Retail lobby wants stores open for the holidays: The National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association, is pushing to exempt retail from the label of “essential” and “non-essential” businesses. A top executive told Nicole Karlis at Salon that stores are making a “significant investment” to be ready for in-person shopping during the season in which most retailers make their biggest sales. Without holiday purchases, in fact, many retailers would never make a profit. But 4.6 million retail workers are at risk. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), issued a statement on the matter this week: “Workers are in public-facing jobs; and they interact with larger numbers of customers during the holiday season, risking their own exposure to COVID-19 as well as possibly bringing it home to their families.” Workers at Walmart, Amazon, Kroger and Petsmart want their employers to reinstate hazard pay. It’s a tough situation: not being able to pay the rent or catching the coronavirus. One unnamed PetSmart employee told NBC News: “The [Black Friday] deals are enticing … But this is life and death for a lot of people. Having the luxury to go shopping on Black Friday is great when it’s not a pandemic. When it is, it’s important to think about people other than yourself.” As it turned out, the ranks of Black Friday shoppers have been thin.
• Meanwhile, many worker COVID-19 deaths not reported: The regulations given employers broad discretion on whether to report worker deaths to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Many have chosen not to. Kaiser Health News scrutinized 240 deaths of healthcare workers who were profiled on the Lost on the Frontline project and discovered that employers had not reported more than one-third of them to a state or federal OSHA office. Many of these employers based their decisions on the view that the deaths were not work-related—conclusions reached without an independent review.