Joseph Mallord William Turner Norham Castle, Sunrise 1845
Oh, c’mon man, he lied about sending out the checks “immediatedly”. At least have the guts to call him on that. You may be on his side, but your credibility is at stake.
• Dems Threaten To Exclude Families Crushed By Pandemic (DP)
The nation’s biggest business lobby is pushing Democrats to slash COVID relief checks for middle class families, despite new census data showing that nearly half of those families have lost income because of the pandemic. Top Democrats are now reportedly considering excluding millions of those families from the checks, and President Biden himself has said he is willing to negotiate with Republicans on limiting eligibility for the checks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $82 million lobbying in Washington last year, sent a letter to the White House and Congress on Tuesday urging them to consider “targeting any additional stimulus checks based on income, loss of employment, or similar criteria.”
The corporate lobbying group — whose members undoubtedly benefit from a desperate workforce — attempted to twist census data showing broad economic devastation to make the point that families earning more than $50,000 don’t need new survival checks. “While the pandemic induced recession has created near unprecedented levels of hardship, the impact has not been universal,” the Chamber wrote. “The Census Bureau Pulse survey indicates that while a majority of households with less than $50,000 in income have experienced a loss of employment income, a majority of household with more than $50,000 in income — including those between $50,000 and $150,000 — have not experienced any loss in earned income.”
This is a misleading way to frame the census survey results. Recent census data shows that 45 percent of households earning between $50,000 and $150,000 have experienced a loss of employment income since March 2020 — including 48 percent of households earning between $50,000 and $75,000. Nearly a quarter of households earning between $50,000 and $150,000 say they expect to lose employment income over the next four weeks. The Chamber is adding its voice to a chorus of pleas in the Beltway to limit who’s eligible for COVID relief checks. The campaign was first kicked off by discredited austerity economist Larry Summers and columnists at the Washington Post and Bloomberg News, which are owned by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Mike Bloomberg respectively.
President Biden’s COVID relief plan would send full $1,400 survival checks to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has repeatedly demanded the relief checks be more “targeted.” Senate Republicans on Monday proposed that Congress limit full stimulus checks to individuals earning up to $40,000 and couples earning $80,000 — a move that would deny checks to an additional 80 million people, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“Immediately” now has a whole new meaning. See you in summer.
• Senate Approves Budget Process For Passage of $1.9T COVID19 Stimulus (JTN)
The Democratic-led Senate voted on Tuesday in favor of starting the budget reconciliation process for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus proposal. The vote on the budget resolution was 50-49 with Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona voting with the Democrats in favor of the resolution. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey was not present for the vote. The use of budget reconciliation would allow Democrats to pass their coronavirus relief plan without relying on any votes from Republicans.
Senate Republicans have criticized Senate Democrats for proceeding with reconciliation instead of seeking bipartisan input on additional COVID-19 stimulus funds. Large-scale coronavirus relief bills were passed last year with votes from Republicans and Democrats in the GOP-led Senate when former President Trump was in office. GOP senators like John Barrasso of Wyoming said on Tuesday the reconciliation move conflicts with Biden’s message of unity during his inaugural address. Senate Democrats are tying a $15 per hour federal minimum wage to the coronavirus stimulus bill.
Hiw own brother’s network turns on him. That part is sort of interesting. Other than that, he’s as out of his depth as 95+% of politicians.
• Criticism Piles On Cuomo After Week Of Blunders (F.)
Starting with last Thursday’s report from the New York Attorney General’s Office that accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration of underreporting nursing home deaths tied to Covid-19—potentially by as much as 50%—the Democratic governor has consistently found himself at the center of harsh bipartisan criticism over the past week regarding his pandemic leadership. The report renewed outrage over Cuomo’s early policy to send recovering Covid-19 patients back to nursing homes, which the attorney general’s office said may have led to excess deaths—a possibility Cuomo brushed off on Thursday by saying the patients would have died either way, there or in a hospital: “Who cares? 33 [percent]. 28 [percent]. Died in a hospital. Died in a nursing home … they died.”
The report, coupled with Cuomo’s reaction, drew sharp criticism from both sides of the aisle and both state and federal officials, with Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim (Queens) saying there are serious talks underway about stripping Cuomo’s emergency powers, which are in place until April and can be revoked by a joint resolution from the state’s Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly. “We’ve seen this governor prioritize his ego over the best interests of New Yorkers time and time again,” Democratic state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (Bronx) said Monday. Another round of scrutiny came on Monday after The New York Times reported that at least nine of New York’s senior health officials left their positions in recent months amid a rift between the governor and experts, who he poked at during a Friday news conference, saying: “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust experts … because I don’t.”
Cuomo was sharply criticized in light of the reporting and his press conference rhetoric, with CNN anchor Jake Tapper labeling Cuomo’s statement “wildly irresponsible” and the network’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta saying he was “really quite stunned,” adding, “If you start to take away the credence of these experts I think that’s really, really harmful, especially now.” When asked about the staff departures, a spokesperson for Cuomo directed Forbes to the governor’s response at a Tuesday press conference, in which he attributed turnover in the New York State Health Department to the “highly stressful, highly challenging, highly exhausting, highly fatiguing” nature of the pandemic.
The governor continued to stir controversy into Tuesday as he spontaneously announced the expansion of vaccine eligibility to NYC restaurant workers after calling demands for this group’s immediate inclusion “a cheap, insincere discussion” a day prior, and as a New York Times report highlighted his announcement about bringing back indoor dining last week had cited misleading data about test positivity rates in the city.
This piece is actually more about AZ doing its own peer review..
• France Raises More Questions About AstraZeneca Jab (ZH)
The latest update on the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID jab was released Tuesday afternoon in a report from the University which offered more insight on exactly when vaccine-induced immunity begins, and how effective the vaccine can be after its first dose and after its second. Unsurprisingly, the data offer a more optimistic read than the batch released by AZ and Oxford the first time around. But they also suggest that the vaccine is actually more effective overall if doctors wait roughly 3 months before inoculating patients with the second dose, which provides support for “current policy” in the UK. However, in the US, the FDA-recommended vaccination dosing schedule is 21 days, which has endured despite logistical problems and other issues that have caused delivery delays in NYC and elsewhere (so much for the consistency of the “science”).
And the new AstraZeneca vaccine might be able to fix all that. According to the research team, the first dose alone offers 76% protection from symptomatic COVID 22 days post-vaccination. But the jab successfully offers sustained protection through a 3-month period, even without receiving the second dose, a data point that has already been transformed into a marketing opportunity by AstraZeneca. Prof Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator of Oxford Vaccine Trial and co-author of the paper, said in a statement: “These new data provide an important verification of the interim data that was used by more than 25 regulators including the MHRA and EMA to grant the vaccine emergency use authorization.”
“It also supports the policy recommendation made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination & Immunisation for a 12-week prime-boost interval, as they look for the optimal approach to roll out, & reassures us that people are protected from 22 days after a single dose of the vaccine.” The new data, which are culled from cases extended through Dec. 7, purportedly show the optimal window for the second booster dose could be up to 14 weeks. That means it’s less risky to give patients the AstraZeneca shot, because even if there are supply delays, patients won’t be badly harmed. After the second dose, immunity rises to 82.4%, according to data taken from cases throughout the 3-month interval window. The research team offered the data with a 95% confidence interval of 62.7% – 91.7% at 12+ weeks
In another “unprecedented” update, the data suggest the vaccine helps prevent transmission of the virus, with 67% reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated” “However, overall cases of any PCR+ were reduced by 67% (95%CI 49%, 78%) after a single SD vaccine suggesting the potential for a substantial reduction in transmission,” the authors of the paper wrote. Officials likely hoped the report would help cement public support for the AstraZeneca vaccine, (at least in Europe, its primary market, where it has inked deals for billions of doses). The AZ vaccine is, notably, also less effective than Russia’s “Sputnik V” vaccine, according to data published by the Lancet a few days back.
Unfortunately, its release was timed with more “problematic” comments from French President Emmanuel Macron and the French authorities. Specifically, French health authorities have approved the vaccine, but they have also warned that the AZ-Oxford vaccine should only be given to people aged under 65, after the initial preliminary reports on AZ released late last year suggested some adverse health reactions in older patients.
Close your borders?!
• P.2 Coronavirus Variant From Brazil Found In California (LAT)
A coronavirus variant from Brazil has been detected in a sample from the Bay Area, underscoring the urgency of ramping up inoculation efforts as researchers try to learn whether it, as well as others circulating in California, could undermine the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Researchers at Stanford’s Clinical Virology Laboratory screened nearly 1,000 specimens during the last two weeks and found one case of the Brazilian variant, P.2, said Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, the laboratory’s medical director. They reported the finding to public health authorities on Jan. 25. The researchers also identified four cases of a variant from the U.K., B.1.1.7, that appears to spread more easily, may be more virulent and is already known to be circulating in California, Pinsky said.
And they found that about 29% of the specimens had the L452R mutation, a feature of a homegrown variant that has been increasingly detected across the state and may have helped drive the most recent case surge. “It’s definitely possible that they already contributed to the humongous surge we’ve seen over the last six weeks or so,” said Dr. Edward Jones-Lopez, an infectious diseases expert at USC. “And it could get even worse if these strains are indeed fitter than previous strains and people lower their guard and we are not very logistically efficient in delivering vaccines. “When we put those two factors together, it might still be a rough next two to three months.”
The P.2 variant is distinct from another detected in Brazil, P.1, that was linked to an abrupt resurgence in cases in Manaus that took place after much of the population was already believed to have been infected. But the variants share a mutation that appears to help the virus evade antibodies generated by either a previous infection or vaccine, Pinsky said. And there are at least two examples of people being infected with the P.2 variant after they had been infected by another strain, a feat that has been demonstrated by P.1 and multiple other coronavirus strains. That finding has led researchers to theorize that P.2 may have similar properties as the P.1 variant, he said. “There’s a lot less known about the Brazil P.2 strain, so that’s one to keep an eye on,” he said.
A carefully orchestrated pantomime.
• WHO Team Visits Wuhan Virus Lab At Center Of Speculation (AP)
World Health Organization investigators on Wednesday visited a research center in the Chinese city of Wuhan that has been the subject of speculation about the origins of the coronavirus, with one member saying they’d intended to meet key staff and press them on critical issues. The WHO team’s visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a highlight of their mission to gather data and search for clues as to where the virus originated and how it spread. “We’re looking forward to meeting with all the key people here and asking all the important questions that need to be asked,” zoologist and team member Peter Daszak said, according to footage run by Japanese broadcaster TBS.
Reporters followed the team to the high security facility, but as with past visits, there was little direct access to team members, who have given scant details of their discussions and visits thus far. Uniformed and plainclothes security guards stood watch along the facility’s gated front entrance, but there was no sign of the protective suits team members had donned Tuesday during a visit to an animal disease research center. It wasn’t clear what protective gear was worn inside the institute. The team left after around three hours without speaking to waiting journalists.
Following two weeks in quarantine, the WHO team that includes experts in veterinary medicine, virology, food safety and epidemiology from 10 nations has over the past six days visited hospitals, research institutes and a traditional wet market linked to many of the first cases. Their visit followed months of negotiations as China seeks to retain tight control over information about the outbreak and the investigation into its origins, in what some have seen as an attempt to avoid blame for any missteps in its early response.
They don’t have that kind of clout yet.
• Will WallStreetBets Send The VIX Soaring Next? (ZH)
One week ago, the Reddit crowd – then numbering 2 million users- sparked a historic squeeze among the most shorted Russell 3000 stocks (led by Gamestop) which inflicted hundreds of billions of losses on some hedge funds (while making other hedge funds that much richer), and launched a deleveraging VaR shockwave which forced even non-shorting hedge funds to unwind some of their biggest (and most popular) positions. Then, this Monday, the same Reddit crowd – now having tripled to 7.5 million users – managed to spark the biggest surge in silver prices since the collapse of Lehman, and even though there were not nearly as many shorts here, the move was sizable enough to unleash another major VaR shockwave across markets, and forcing even unlinked assets to selloff amid another degrossing wave.
What the two episodes had in common is that any outlier event – and last week’s “most shorted vs most popular” slamdown was a 7 sigma event, which nobody had anticipated, with Goldman writing that Tuesday “was the worst day for GS HF VIP longs vs GS Most Short in our records (-7.7%)”… stood to unleash a cascading sequence of adverse events due to just one thing: leverage. It’s the record level of leverage in the system that prompted Morgan Stanley’s chief equity strategist to warn that the short-squeeze shake out is not yet over and that the correction is “likely to get worse”:
“Third, the aggressive short squeeze strategies employed by a certain group of investors was the spark. These targeted squeezes forced the leverage to come out of the system starting with hedge fund gross exposures. Initially, it didn’t have much of an effect on the major indices but last week that all changed. The forced reduction of gross leverage via short covering led to a reduction in long exposure and net leverage. Major averages traded lower by 3-5% with many stocks down 10% or more.”
But that’s just to serve you better…
• White House Reporters Say Biden Team Wanted Questions In Advance (JTN)
The Daily Beast on Monday published a rather scathing piece about the new Biden White House and its press operation. “White House Reporters: Biden Team Wanted Our Questions in Advance,” blared the headline. “If you’re a reporter with a tough question for the White House press secretary, Joe Biden’s staff wouldn’t mind knowing about it in advance,” said the lead. “According to three sources with knowledge of the matter, as well as written communications reviewed by The Daily Beast, the new president’s communications staff have already on occasion probed reporters to see what questions they plan on asking new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when called upon during briefings.”
Pretty damning report. The Fourth Estate is protected in the Constitution and its job is to demand answers from America’s political leaders, without fear or prejudice. The idea that the media, already viewed as liberal and supportive of Democrats — from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama to Biden to congressional lawmakers — could be colluding with the White House provoked alarm. “The left demands 100 percent loyalty from the press, not the 99 percent they already get,” Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor told Fox News. “In today’s cancel culture, journalists don’t dare be open in their criticism, so that’s why this story is all whispers,” said Gainor.
The Beast’s report drew other questions, though. Was the White House simply trying to find out what reporters were interested in on any given day, or asking for the exact questions they would ask the press secretary in the daily briefing? Citing anonymous sources, the Beast said it was the latter. “[T]he press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want,” one White House correspondent told the website. “That’s not really a free press at all.” Biden’s press team “did not deny that staffers had solicited questions from reporters,” said the Beast. “But the White House contended that it has tried to foster a better relationship with the press corps than the previous administration, and has tried to reach out to reporters directly in order to avoid appearing to dodge questions during briefings.”
• Florida Gov. DeSantis, Lawmakers Plan To Take Action On Big Tech (JTN)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a Tuesday news conference discussed plans for the Sunshine State to pursue legislation pertaining to big tech companies. “The message is loud and clear: When it comes to elections in Florida, big tech should stay out of it,” Gov. DeSantis said. “We can’t allow Floridans’ privacy to be violated, their voices and even their livelihoods diminished and their elections interfered with.” Among the various moves that the governor and state lawmakers have planned is a fine for deplatforming political candidates during an election. “Under our proposal if a technology company deplatforms a candidate for elected office in Florida during an election, a company will face a daily fine of $100,000 until the candidate’s access to the platform is restored,” he said.
“Further, if a technology company promotes a candidate for office against another, the value of that free promotion must be recorded as a political campaign contribution enforced by the Florida Elections Commission,” he said. The governor, who previously served as a lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, said that tech businesses will face fines if they utilize “content and user-related algorithms” to boost or depress access to material pertaining to a candidate or cause that is up for a vote. “Florida consumers deserve protection for their privacy,” DeSantis said, noting that “with the help of our legislative partners we’re gonna stand together in support of Floridians and put a stop to big tech’s practice of preying on consumers.”
Tucker De Santis
There you go.
• Academic Media Censorship Conference Censored by YouTube (MPN)
An academic critical media literacy conference warning of the dangers of media censorship has, ironically, been censored by YouTube. The Critical Media Literacy Conference of the Americas 2020 took place without incident online over two days in October and featured a number of esteemed speakers and panels discussing issues concerning modern media studies. Weeks later, however, the entire video record of the conference — estimated at around 24 hours of material — disappeared from YouTube. Organizer Nolan Higdon of California State University East Bay, began receiving worried messages from other academics, some of which were shared with MintPress, who had been using the material in their classrooms, noting that it had all mysteriously disappeared.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” said Mickey Huff of Diablo Valley College, California. “My initial reaction was ‘that’s absurd;’ there must have been a mistake or an accident or it must have got swept under somehow. There is no violation, there was no reasoning, there was no warning, there was not an explanation, there was no nothing. The entire channel was just gone,” he told MintPress. Huff is also the director of Project Censored, an organization that sponsored the event. Higdon suspected that it was the content critical of big tech monopolies like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter that was the reason why the channel was deleted. “Each video was a different panel and every panel had different people from the other ones, so it is not like there was one theme or person or copyrighted content in all of our videos; this seems to be an attack on the conference, not on a singular video,” he said.
The organizers were careful to avoid copyright infringement, with the large majority of their videos in lecture format, essentially a recorded Zoom call. Speakers included some of the best-known names in media studies, with the event sponsored by institutions like Stanford University and UCLA. “This wasn’t a keg party with Parler users: it was an academic conference,” Huff said. These are pioneering figures in critical media literacy scholarship. It’s mind numbing that all of this was just disappeared from YouTube. The irony is writ large…This is part of a potentially algorithmic way of getting rid of more radical positions that criticize establishment media systems, including journalism.”
Ha ha ha. “The bull was covered in a blue tarp to prevent further vandalism.”
• NYPD Deploys Counter Terrorism Unit To Protect Wall Street (MPN)
The Charging Bull statue in Manhattan’s Financial District has become the sight of protests amid a wider financial rebellion happening online. On Friday, a handful of activists were seen in Bowling Green Park, posing with the bull, and holding signs that said “Tax Wall Street Trades.” A thin band of tape was also placed on the statue’s head and rear end, featuring slogans like “Hold the line” and “WSB” — both allusions to the GameStop insurrection against hedge funds organized by Reddit’s “Wall Street Bets” community. A similar fate befell the new Fearless Girl statue, which faces the New York Stock Exchange building. Both the bull and the girl are meant to symbolize the power, bravery and daring of the city’s financial traders.
In response, the New York Police Department (NYPD) mobilized its anti-terrorism unit, sending masked, blad clad police officers wearing armor and carrying assault rifles to protect and secure the area. “The Stock Market has had an interesting week to say the least. We are happy to report that the Wall Street Charging Bull is secure and continues to preside over Bowling Green for the foreseeable future,” it announced. The bull was covered in a blue tarp to prevent further vandalism. The decision to deploy counter-terrorism officers on the streets of Manhattan was not well appreciated, at least judging by replies left on the unit’s official social media pages. “Perfect example of how police exist to protect private property and not people,” was the highest rated response. Other popular replies included, “You brought out the automatic rifles and body armor… for tape,” “Good ad for defunding the police right here,” and, “If this was a shot in a movie, I’d think it was too on the nose.”
A summit hosted by Boris will not protect the planet, but the rich. It’s like the Paris accord, designed to let them continue to control the topic. And make a lot of money of painting stuff green.
• Economics’ Failure Over Destruction Of Nature Presents ‘Extreme Risks’ (G.)
The world is being put at “extreme risk” by the failure of economics to take account of the rapid depletion of the natural world and needs to find new measures of success to avoid a catastrophic breakdown, a landmark review has concluded. Prosperity was coming at a “devastating cost” to the ecosystems that provide humanity with food, water and clean air, said Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, the Cambridge University economist who conducted the review. Radical global changes to production, consumption, finance and education were urgently needed, he said. The 600-page review was commissioned by the UK Treasury, the first time a national finance ministry has authorised a full assessment of the economic importance of nature. A similar Treasury-sponsored review in 2006 by Nicholas Stern is credited with transforming economic understanding of the climate crisis.
The review said that two UN conferences this year – on biodiversity and climate change – provided opportunities for the international community to rethink an approach that has seen a 40% plunge in the stocks of natural capital per head between 1992 and 2014. “Nature is our home. Good economics demands we manage it better,” said Dasgupta. “Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them. It also means accounting fully for the impact of our interactions with nature. Covid-19 has shown us what can happen when we don’t do this.” Sir David Attenborough said the review was “immensely important”. In a foreword, he said: “If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk. The review at last puts biodiversity at the core [of economics]. It shows how we can help save the natural world at what may be the last minute, and in doing so, save ourselves.”
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who will host the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, said: “This year is critical in determining whether we can stop and reverse the concerning trend of fast-declining biodiversity. I welcome the review, which makes clear that protecting and enhancing nature needs more than good intentions – it requires concerted, coordinated action.” Humanity’s impact on the natural world is stark, with animal populations having dropped by an average of 68% since 1970 and forest destruction continuing at pace – some scientists think a sixth mass extinction of life is under way and accelerating. Today, just 4% of the world’s mammals are wild, hugely outweighed by humans and their livestock.
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