Links August 2020

August 7, 2020

On Tuesday, August 5, a huge explosion devastated Lebanon’s capital Beirut, when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored in Warehouse 12 at the docks, beside the massive grain silos, blew up when an adjacent firecracker depot went up in flames after welding work at a door.

The whole city was shaken by the blast and a mushroom cloud spread over the port area. The explosion was felt even 240 km away on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, with people there believing it was an earthquake. 

The blast destroyed most buildings in the dock area, overturned cars, and blew out windows and doors more than 10 kilometers away. It killed at least 200 people and injured more than 6,000, though the casualty numbers will probably rise. Among the killed and missing are many firefighters, soldiers, and first responders.

Some ships at the port caught fire, people were thrown into the sea, an entire wharf disappeared, replaced by a deep crater which is now filled with water. The facade of most buildings facing the port is damaged as far as 5 kilometers from the site of the explosion, 

Experts estimate that the explosive power was equivalent of 2 to 3 kilotons TNT, roughly 1/10th to 1/5th of the Hiroshima bomb. This put it in the range of tactical nuclear bombs like the US’s B61-12.

Beirut hospitals, already overstretched by the coronavirus pandemic, saw scenes of panic and chaos, as wounded were treated in hallways, blood was all over the floors, staff was overwhelmed by the constant arrival of ambulances with critically injured, and relatives were desperately searching for loved ones begging hospital staff for information about them.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said, that Lebanon’s health sector was short of beds and lacked the equipment necessary to treat the injured and care for patients in critical condition. With Covid-19 infections on the rise, hospitals were already struggling to cope. Now, they have to treat thousands of injured people with reduced capacity, because the explosion has left three hospitals unusable and two others with substantial damage. All together the equivalent of 500 hospital beds has been lost.

The story of this catastrophe began in 2013, when a shipment of ammonium nitrate from Batumi, Georgia, destined for Biera, Mozambique, ended in Beirut, because the vessel, named MV Rhosus and sailing under the Moldovan flag, had technical problems and the owner Igor Grechushkin didn’t want to pay port fees. Ammonium nitrate is used in agriculture or as an explosive, it could have been either intended for mining operations or as fertilizer.

Igor Grechushkin, a Russian national living in Cyprus, not only abandoned the ship, he also left his sailors stranded with wages unpaid for nearly a year. In 2014 the ship’s captain sent a letter to Russian journalists complaining about being “held hostage” on board the ship. He wrote that the Beirut authorities “don’t want an abandoned ship at port, especially with a cargo of explosives, which is what ammonium nitrate is. That is, this is a floating bomb, and the crew is a hostage aboard this bomb.”

Cypriot police on Thursday questioned Igor Grechushkin about the vessel and its cargo. According to a senior Cypriot official he gave credible answers to all the questions that were sent from Beirut and Lebanese authorities have not asked for any legal action to be taken against Mr Grechushkin.

There were reportedly also problems between the factory in Georgia and the importer. Anyway, the factory abandon the shipment, the ship owner abandoned the ship, and the port authorities decided to offload the cargo and store it in Warehouse 12. In a grotesque twist, someone reportedly then decided to store fireworks next to the bags with ammonium nitrate.

The dangers of this chemical are well known. The deadly risks of storing it in a port were tragically confirmed in 2015, when a series of explosions killed 173 people and injured hundreds more at a container storage depot in the Chinese port of Tianjin. In 1947, a ship carrying 2,000 tonnes of the chemical exploded in Texas, killing 581 people.

Despite several investigations and orders to remove the chemical from the warehouse, nothing was done. An unnamed official familiar with the first investigation said, “It was negligence,” adding that the issue of safely storing the powerful chemical had come before several committees and judges and “nothing was done” to order the material removed or disposed of.

Documents circulating online show that customs officials sent letters to the judiciary seeking guidance at least six times from 2014 to 2017. A team that had inspected the material six months ago warned it could “blow up all of Beirut” if not removed, and Lebanon’s customs chief told journalists, that the Lebanese cabinet was warned by a security agency that a stockpile of explosive chemicals stored at the port was dangerous

20 officials at the Beirut port and customs authorities are reportedly detained or under house arrest. The central bank has frozen accounts belonging to the head of Beirut’s port, the director of Lebanese customs, and five other officials.

The material damage in Beirut is estimated at 10 to 15 billion US$ and some 300,000 people are now homeless, A two-week state of emergency has been declared. 

Lebanon’s 6 million people, including 2 million refugees, have already been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and a crippling economic collapse, caused by corruption and incompetence of the ruling parties, but also by harsh US sanctions and an undeclared economic war because of Hizbollah and Lebanons economic connections with Syria. US sanctions are officially only targeting Hizbollah connected businesses and persons, but because of Hizbollah’s social and political influence and because of the strong economic ties with Syria, the sanctions impact the whole Lebanese economy.

The destruction of the countries biggest port has the primary channels for imports and exports closed.

An estimated 80 percent of the country’s grain, mostly stored in silos beside the warehouse, was destroyed, and food shortages could transform into a significant health crisis in the months ahead. The destruction of the silos has left the country, which imports more than 90 percent of its grains, with less than a month’s reserves. 

The economic crisis has seen food prices double in recent months. To prevent price gouging, the “Supreme Defense Council” has declared control of all remaining wheat reserves in the country, and will sell it to bakeries only.

Last November, well before the pandemic, the World Bank estimated that 45 percent of Lebanon’s people live below the poverty line, up from 33 percent before September, with 22 percent living in extreme poverty. It predicted, that the country’s impending bankruptcy would lead to a further rise to 50 percent in 2020.

The damage to the port is likely to cause shortages of essential items such as food, fuel, and medical supplies, as the country imports most basic commodities. The port handles 60 percent of Lebanon’s imports, which the northern port of Tripoli is ill-equipped to replace, under conditions where the country is bounded by war-torn Syria, and Israel, with whom it is officially in a state of war. There has been recent tension on the border with Israel, which said last week that it had thwarted an attempt to infiltrate Israeli territory by Hezbollah.

A protest movement against corruption, sectarianism, and mismanagement has seen thousands on the street, and Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government, brought to power after last October’s massive protests, was already before this catastrophe subject to repeated demands to stand down.

It remains to be seen who will help Lebanon’s people with more than token gestures, as any substantial economic help would clearly violate the sanctions imposed by the USA.

The slogan ”Hezbollah’s Ammonia burns Beirut” is trending on social media platforms in a number of countries. Many of this messages are retweets of Saudi-based accounts.

There are even calls for the former colonial power France to take over Lebanon again and claims that French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to run the country if the current leadership hasn’t sorted out the crucial issues by September.

During a hastily organized visit to Beirut Macron indeed warned that Lebanon will continue to sink if the government does not push ahead with much-needed reforms and he put Lebanon’s political elite on notice that he wouldn’t give “blank checks to a system that no longer has the trust of its people.” He called for the creation of a “new political order.”

As public anger mounts, many Lebanese hope for outside intervention. One woman shouted at Macron, “You are sitting with warlords. They have been manipulating us for the past year.” He replied, “I’m not here to help them. I’m here to help you.”

Macron denied that he’s seeking to pull the strings in Lebanon and revive France’s colonial-era influence. When he was asked by local leaders and by people in the street to “return to the mandate” (when the region was a French protectorate), he firmly dismissed the idea and told the crowd: “You can’t ask me to substitute for your leaders. It’s not possible. And in any case, it would not be a solution.”

None of Lebanon’s top politicians have dared to tour residential areas damaged by the blast, though President Michel Aoun and others did visit the port. Hours after Macron left, Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm tried to visit, only to be driven out by protesters.

Resign, you criminal! Would you accept anything less if your sister were among those killed?” one protester shouted at her. As she was about to respond, another sprayed her with a water hose. She left as protesters chanted, “Revolution!” and “Resign.”

After Macron left Lebanon, dozens of protesters held an angry rally in central Beirut on the roads leading to the government building and the parliament, pelting security forces with stones, setting tires on fire, and shouting against the political elite. The security forces pushed them back, eventually firing a few rounds of tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Feline news:

https://www.boredpanda.com/mother-cat-takes-her-sick-kitten-to-hospital/ Must read!

Against all odds:


Environmental news:

The New York Times writes (probably just to placate critics): A quarter of Bangladesh is flooded and millions have lost everything. The country’s latest calamity illustrates a striking inequity of our time: The people least responsible for climate change are among those most hurt by its consequences.

Even if we transform our economies, stop burning any fossil fuels, stop the production of “throw away plastic” and poisonous chemicals, put the brakes on the disaster of animal agriculture (it consumes half the world’s arable land and uses 80 percent of the world’s fresh water supply) and industrial agriculture in general, stop clearcutting forests, overfishing, and invasive mining, by mid-century parts of the inhabited earth could still occasionally surpass 50 degrees Celsius in summer, coastal cities will be submerged, island nations will drown, megastorms and category 6 hurricanes will still devastate coastal regions, droughts will displace tens of millions of people, and wild-fires will empty places like California and much of Australia.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53415297 Heatwave in the Arctic.
https://www.ehn.org/bpa-effects-on-human-health-2646417888.html New evidence against BPA.
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53415298 Summers could become too hot for humans. So what?
https://earther.gizmodo.com/obesity-infertility-and-low-iq-are-just-some-of-the-w-1844460126 Household chemicals threaten our health.
https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063611707 Earth will more likely warm 4.5°C.
https://apnews.com/be099434a414a0cb647640ce45f8e6fc It’s official: The rich pollute more.

Economic news:

The stock market and the real economy have parted ways. It’s a FOMO (fear of missing out) market now, as more and more investors become concerned that they will never have an opportunity to put cash to work at attractive prices. 

Overall, a grand total of more than 54 million US-workers have filed new claims for unemployment benefits during the last 19 weeks. US GDP is down 32.9 percent on an annualized basis last quarter. That officially makes last quarter the worst quarter in all of US history.

Walmart Inc. is joining the ranks of Macy’s and L Brands in eliminating hundreds of corporate jobs in order to cut costs. If Walmart executives truly believed that the US economy was going to be returning to normal, they would not have made such a move.

More businesses,, including big corporations, are going to fail, more workers are going to be laid off, and the financial dominoes are going to start to fall at a breathtaking pace.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-53416206 Sweetheart tax deals for Apple and other big corporations.
https://www.rt.com/news/494854-nord-stream-unfair-competition Bullying, raw power, yet, in a larger sense, any sanctions against pipelines or other fossil fuel projects hinder consumption and help the environment. So, one should hope for counter sanctions and counter-counter sanctions.
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/14/debt-j14.html Corporate debt binge. “More debt, more liquidity, more asset reflation.”
http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/07/financialization-tackling-virus/ The disease of financialization will hopefully be cured by the coming economic crash.
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/21/econ-j21.html Growing signs of deep and prolonged global recession.
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/22/euro-j22.html EU gives 750 billion Euros to banks and corporations.
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/08/03/euro-a03.html European economy collapse.
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/08/06/gold-a06.html Gold surges, as investor confidence in the US dollar and in government bonds disappears. Must read. 

Media and technology news:

Once you realize that corporate power is US’s real government, it becomes clear that corporate media is state media and that is has the main function of brainwashing the populace with propaganda.

A Washington Post headline and subhead: “Trump muses on whether Epstein was killed in custody. The comment puts the president at odds with his own attorney general and the New York City medical examiner, who have both said the multimillionaire sex offender died by suicide.”

There are compelling reasons to doubt the suicide explanation of Epstein’s death, and it is a clever move of Trump to add to this doubts.

https://stuartbramhall.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/meet-the-israeli-intelligence-linked-firm-using-ai-to-profile-americans-and-guide-us-lockdown-policy/ Israeli surveillance in the USA to track coronavirus infections and who knows what else.
https://domainnamewire.com/2020/07/16/fadi-chehade-is-now-co-ceo-of-ethos-capital/ Who controls the internet? ICANN or some shady investors?
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/08/01/dhsi-a01.html The Department of Homeland Security assembled intelligence reports on US journalists covering Portland protests.

Imperial news:

Food insecurity for US households reached its highest reported level since the Census Bureau started tracking the data in May, with almost 30 million Americans reporting that they’d not had enough to eat at some point in the seven days through July 21.

In the Census bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, roughly 23.9 million of 249 million respondents indicated they had “sometimes not enough to eat” for the week ended July 21, while about 5.42 million indicated they had “often not enough to eat.”

https://www.state.gov/unalienable-rights-and-the-securing-of-freedom/ Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo tell us why the USA is so great.
https://truthout.org/articles/study-shows-5-4-million-have-lost-insurance-amid-pandemic Five million US workers lost their health insurance this spring,
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/16/pand-j16.htm White House in disarray.
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/27/ohio-j27.html Corruption in the shining city on the hill.
https://www.zerohedge.com/political/americans-are-buying-guns-record-numbers-washington-post-isnt-pleased  Gun sales have skyrocketed during the past three months, and a record-breaking 80.2 percent increase in sales was reported in May compared to last year, according to the shooting foundation. April’s data showed a 71.3 percent increase from 2019, and there was an 85.3 percent increase in March, according to information previously released by Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting.

Imperial conquest news:

https://thegrayzone.com/2020/07/14/bribery-scandal-courts-corrupt-forces-guaidos-coup/#more-27132 This is the incredible gut wrenching story about the despicable criminal machinations of Western oil corporations, US courts, the World Bank, and Venezuelan traitors to loot the international assets of Venezuela’s PDVSA oil company.
https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/turkey-iraq-kurds-fear-pkk-operations-lead-turkish-presence.html This is about the Ottoman empire.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/07/22/time-is-not-on-our-side-in-libya/ Ottoman empire + NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2011.

Pandemic news:

Europe scrambles to avoid a second coronavirus wave as infections rise. Virologists had warned that successful reopening was dependent on citizens remaining vigilant with mask-wearing and distancing measures. There are signs adherence has been slipping.

US colleges are racing to reconfigure dorms, expand testing programs, define quarantines,  and establish detailed social distancing rules.

Insiders from at least 11 US companies working on COVID research have sold shares worth more than $1 billion since March.

Some facts we have learned about the virus suggest the possibility we may not be able to control it completely without the tremendous economic cost of adopting new ways of living. Immunities to the virus, as in recovered patients, only last a limited time, a couple of months, and you can be infected more than once. The virus continues to mutate and, already in the recent past, produced a stronger strain.

A small study of an inhaled form of a commonly available drug, interferon beta, suggests it could reduce the odds of patients becoming severely ill.

There’s anecdotal evidence that 35 percent of people are not back to normal after the assumed recovery period of two weeks and ailments can last for month.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-06067-8 Masks may reduce the virus dose and lead to more mild or asymptomatic infections.
Sensationalist headlines read: “With Coronavirus Antibodies Fading Fast, Vaccine Hopes Fade, Too,” stoking people’s greatest fears, which is that there will be no clear end in sight to their completely upended lives.
Yet, the situation is not completely hopeless, since the human immune system uses both B cells and T cells, and the cited studies only look at the B cell response. It may be that a T cell response does not require as many antibodies to be effective. There’s evidence that people can have potent T-cell responses without detectable levels of antibodies. There are also memory B cells that can be triggered by a second infection and begin producing antibodies.
https://arxiv.org/abs/2005.10720 We knew it before, but now the scientific confirmation: FFP2 KN95 masks without exhalation valve are most effective.
https://www.newsweek.com/russia-got-right-coronavirus-covid-19-share-world-1517541 That Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, is allowed to write in Newsweek is astonishing. Maybe the editors of Newsweek wanted to drastically show their disapproval about Trumps coronavirus policy.
https://www.outbreakobservatory.org/outbreakthursday-1/7/9/2020/zero-covid-19-deaths-in-vietnam Outdated as Vietnam struggles to contain a rapid resurgence of COVID-19.
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/08/03/viet-a03.html The new outbreak is becoming worse than Vietnam’s first wave of infections. It’s a cautionary tale.
https://voxeu.org/article/what-do-if-covid-19-here-stay Waning immunity would mean that the disease becomes endemic (with no possibility to be eradicated).
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/12/immunity-to-covid-19-could-be-lost-in-months-uk-study-suggests No longtime immunity means that vaccination will not help much.
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3093162/coronavirus-antibodies-may-not-help-cure-after-dutch-study-sees Plasma therapy may be dangerous because of poisonous antibodies.
https://www.treehugger.com/rural-property-sales-are-soaring-in-u-s-and-canada-5071234 Everyone with money moves to the countryside.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/15/revealed-the-inside-story-of-europes-divided-coronavirus-response Once there was solidarity and compassion…
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/08/01/ment-a01.html Psychological impacts of the pandemic.

2020 is the year the coronavirus pandemic virus brought more and more awareness to how insane it is that the most powerful nation on earth lacks a public healthcare system and the basic social safety nets that are afforded to most people in most major countries on earth.

A privatized profit based health system cannot be a “health care system,” it is better defined as an “exploiting sickness system.”

A profit oriented health system is incompatible with compassion, benevolence, care, and the Hippocratic Oath, which implies that a physician has to provide the best possible treatment to his patient regardless of the particular circumstances.

Hippocratic Oath 1964 version:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will protect the environment which sustains us, in the knowledge that the continuing health of ourselves and our societies is dependent on a healthy planet.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

WW III news:

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/29/pers-j29.html Aiming for regime-change in Beijing.
This writes the BBC (!): According to the results of a survey released recently by Harvard, the satisfaction of the people with the central government was as high as 93.1 per cent in 2016, and, in particular, the approval rating of the anti-corruption drive doubled to 71.5 per cent in 2016, from 35.5 per cent in 2011 before Xi came to power. Meanwhile, Xi has also stepped up efforts to prevent corrupt officials from moving ill-gotten money abroad and initiated an aggressive drive to pursue those who have fled overseas.

Armageddon news:

August 6 and 9 mark the 75th anniversaries of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Uncategorized news:

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53409521 Fertility rate drops worldwide.
https://asiatimes.com/2020/07/brazils-money-laundering-scandal-from-hell/ How to subjugate a sovereign nation by other means than open war.
https://aeon.co/essays/the-enterprise-of-philanthropy-does-well-out-of-doing-good Upholding current social structures and norms by carefully placed handouts.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16941-y Scientists’ warning on affluence.

News from cat land:

Rita disappeared for three days and I was desperate, fearful that the hunters had got her. But then, at 4 AM in the early morning, I was woken up by her signature sound “gru gru.”  I instantly got out of the bed and rushed down the stairs to find her hungry and dripping wet from the rain. After I dried her with a towel she got food and then she slept the whole day in her basket right below the computer desk (where she is also right now as I type in this text).

Princess Min Ki has sprained her right front leg and is limping, but it’s getting better and we don’t have to go to the vet.

Wendy appears to have teamed up with the hedgehog to dig up the garden, which causes some damage to the strawberry plants. She knows exactly that I don’t like it and now always runs away and disappears into the forest when I work in the garden.

Lucia mostly sleeps on a pillow beside the computer desk. She is very intelligent and aware of all what goes on around her. She is the smallest cat and that troubles her, she probably dreams to be a tiger, a lion, or at least a lynx. I try to make clear to her that I will always protect her and support her when she needs to stand up against her fellow cats.

Feline relations are as complicated as human relations and one always has to proceed cautiously and thread a fine line.


  1. I’m glad Rita is OK. Hope you’re doing well, too. We are safe and sound at home. Thanks for the monthly news!


    • Glad to hear from you! There is so much work to do in the garden and I have reduced my computer use to two hours a day. I would have many ideas what to write, but turning them into a well composed, easely readable text would take more time that I have at the moment.


  2. […] Links August 2020 […]


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