Feb 052020
 


Max Ernst Inspired hill 1950

 

Hi, it’s me again, with more virus stories. I know you may think it’s enough now, but I do want to do this one. Actually, I haven’t written all that much about it, just two essays, 2019-nCoV and The Party and the Virus, but the topic has become a staple of my daily Debt Rattle news aggregators lately. So much that I find I need to remind myself all the time that it’s been a news item for only two weeks, going back to January 20 or so.

Through those two weeks, I’ve seen a number of studies, simulations, models, of where the virus can be expected to go going forward. And I want to take a look at some of them. I said early on that I didn’t like people talking about the economy as soon as the first people died, but 2 weeks later, given the growth of the epidemic, that doesn’t appear avoidable anymore.

People are starting to wonder what’s going to happen to society at large, and in “the markets” -or what’s left of them after central bank manipulation- if and when the virus remains an issue for an X amount of time. I think I can explain some of the parameters, though I want to make clear predicting what viruses do is, even for virologists, crystal ball material, and I ain’t got one of those.

 

China injected $242.74 billion into the markets via reverse repos on Monday and Tuesday, and stocks seem to have made up for their $445 billion losses on Monday. But what exactly is that optimism based on? Is it that “investors” think the PBOC will have their backs no matter what? Is it the reports of companies like Gilead testing possible solutions, vaccines?

I’m not an expert, but I do know it takes a sophisticated drug company about a year to develop a drug/vaccine for a novel disease, as “WuhanCorona” is. From what I can gather, the Gilead drug (co-)tested by the Chinese is basically an anti-viral developed with Ebola in mind, which may or may not work. Ebola is somewhere related to “WuhanCorona”, in a third cousin twice removed kind of way, but that’s it. HIV drugs could also perhaps work to some extent, but that’s a big question.

So what the optimism in the “markets” is based on, you tell me. Are people so afraid of what might be coming that their minds switch off, are they afraid to get informed, or do they genuinely think it’ll all soon be over? Me, I hope it’ll turn out fine, but I wouldn’t put any money on it. And that’s based on what I’ve been reading.

 

When reporting on the Wuhan situation started for real in the west, let’s say January 20 (that’s just 16 days ago!), there were 291 registered infection cases. There are 27,648 now, and 564 people have died. Those are “official” Chinese numbers, and there are plenty doubts about their accuracy (see today’s stories about Tencent posting 10x higher numbers), but let’s roll with the official ones for the moment. I’m going to hop through time a little, but please bear with me, there is a logic.

First, there’s this from January 28 in the SCMP (South China Morning Post), a major Hong Kong news outlet owned by -very Chinese- Alibaba. Zhong Nanshan is a scientist working for the government. My first reaction when I saw this was: it looks like he’s doing damage control for the CCP.

 

Chinese Experts Say Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak Will Not Last

One of China’s top experts said the Wuhan coronavirus infection rate could peak in early February. “I estimate that it will reach its peak in around the next week or 10 days, after that there will be no more major increases,” said Zhong Nanshan, the respiratory disease scientist who played the pivotal role in China’s fight against the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) coronavirus epidemic in 2002-03.


[..] Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention [said] he was “optimistic” that the outbreak’s “turning point” could arrive by February 8 if current disease control protocol is maintained.

3 days earlier, January 25 (that’s just 11 days ago!), the SCMP ran this piece on the same Zhong Nanshan, which reinforces my image of him a bit more. One might argue that Beijing has become more transparent recently, but the facts remain that for instance the WuhanCorona virus can be traced back to early December if not earlier, and that after the first death on December 9 no testing at all was done in Wuhan for a week.

Just to name a few things. So for a scientist to claim that “Beijing has no secrets to hide” and “has not held back information in reporting the outbreak in Wuhan” is at the very least over the top.

 

China Has Been Transparent About Wuhan Outbreak, Virus Expert Zhong Nanshan Says

Chinese officials have been transparent in handling the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and the participation of a Hong Kong professor through the process indicates that Beijing has no secrets to hide, said one of the country’s leading experts on communicable diseases. Dr Zhong Nanshan, whose team is advising the leadership on how to handle the crisis, told a news conference in Guangzhou on Tuesday that China had not held back information in reporting the outbreak in Wuhan, which has sickened more than 300 people across the country since early December.

But also on January 25, there was this Zero Hedge piece about British scientist Jonathan Read, who had completely different ideas about the outbreak. Note: both predictions focus on Feb 4.

 

UK Researcher Predicts Over 250,000 Chinese Will Have Coronavirus In Ten Days

[..] in 10 days time, or by February 4, 2020, Read’s model predicts the number of infected people in Wuhan to be greater than 250 thousand (with an prediction interval, 164,602 to 351,396); [..] Read estimates that only 5.1% of infections in Wuhan are identified (as of Jan 24)..


[..] Read’s model alleges that Beijing was woefully late in its response and that recently imposed “travel restrictions from and to Wuhan city are unlikely to be effective in halting transmission across China; with a 99% effective reduction in travel, the size of the epidemic outside of Wuhan may only be reduced by 24.9% on 4 February.”

Very different. Remember his “travel restrictions from and to Wuhan city are unlikely to be effective in halting transmission across China”, it’ll come in handy later. Now, I’ve been posting a few math sequences, Fibonacci and otherwise, and those are way too negative, or at least would seem to be.

Problem with that is, as with many facets of the whole thing, we don’t know. There are simply too many scientists who state that real infection- and fatality numbers are much higher than what Beijing reports. They do that based on models, simulations etc. Not because they want The Party (CCP) to look bad, but because the models tell them.

An example: SCMP reported early Tuesday that the mortality rate for the city of Wuhan has reached 4.9%, while the mortality rate for Hubei province as a whole is 3.1%. They added that the mortality rate is predicted by doctors to drop, because extra medical attention is available etc. But we know that extra attention threatens to be overwhelmed by too many patients, shortages of beds, equipment, test kits, protective clothing etc. Nice try, but…

 

All this just to get to why I started writing this, which is a report published at The Lancet on January 31, from Hong Kong University (HKU). I have cited previously that it estimated 75,815 people had been infected in Wuhan on January 25, a far cry from the 1,300 official number at that point. And yes, I do want to use the discrepancy to cast at least some doubt on the official numbers.

But there’s something else that I would like to focus on. The same report also says that the epidemic -or episode, pandemic- would end “around April” 2020, so between, say, mid-March and mid-May, 6 weeks and 14 weeks from now, if certain conditions are met. And that’s just Wuhan. Add another 2 weeks “across cities in mainland China”.

The full name of the paper by Prof Joseph T. Wu, PhD, Kathy Leung, PhD and Prof Gabriel M. Leung, MD is “Nowcasting and forecasting the potential domestic and international spread of the 2019-nCoV outbreak originating in Wuhan, China: a modelling study”

It says: “We estimated that if there was no reduction in transmissibility, the Wuhan epidemic would peak around April, 2020, and local epidemics across cities in mainland China would lag by 1–2 weeks.”

[..] In this modelling study, we first inferred the basic reproductive number of 2019-nCoV and the outbreak size in Wuhan from Dec 1, 2019, to Jan 25, 2020, on the basis of the number of cases exported from Wuhan to cities outside mainland China. We then estimated the number of cases that had been exported from Wuhan to other cities in mainland China. Finally, we forecasted the spread of 2019-nCoV within and outside mainland China, accounting for the Greater Wuhan region quarantine implemented since Jan 23–24, 2020, and other public health interventions.

Figure 2 summarises our estimates of the basic reproductive number R0 and the outbreak size of 2019-nCoV in Wuhan as of Jan 25, 2020. In our baseline scenario, we estimated that R0 was 2·68 (95% CrI 2·47–2·86) with an epidemic doubling time of 6·4 days (95% CrI 5·8–7·1;).

We estimated that 75 815 individuals (95% CrI 37 304- 130 330) had been infected in Greater Wuhan as of Jan 25, 2020. We also estimated that Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, had imported 461 (227–805), 113 (57–193), 98 (49–168), 111 (56–191), and 80 (40–139) infections from Wuhan, respectively.

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen were the mainland Chinese cities that together accounted for 53% of all outbound international air travel from China and 69% of international air travel outside Asia, whereas Chongqing is a large metropolis that has a population of 32 million and very high ground traffic volumes with Wuhan. Substantial epidemic take-off in these cities would thus contribute to the spread of 2019-nCoV within and outside mainland China.

 


Figure 2 – Posterior distributions of estimated basic reproductive number and estimated outbreak size in greater Wuhan
NOTE: a zoonosis is an infectious disease that can spread between animals and humans. FOI = force of infection

 

Figure 4 shows the epidemic curves for Wuhan, Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen with a R0 of 2·68, assuming 0%, 25%, or 50% decrease in transmissibility across all cities, together with 0% or 50% reduction in inter-city mobility after Wuhan was quarantined on Jan 23, 2020.

The epidemics would fade out if transmissibility was reduced by more than 1–1/R0=63%. Our estimates suggested that a 50% reduction in inter-city mobility would have a negligible effect on epidemic dynamics.

We estimated that if there was no reduction in transmissibility, the Wuhan epidemic would peak around April, 2020, and local epidemics across cities in mainland China would lag by 1–2 weeks.

If transmissibility was reduced by 25% in all cities domestically, then both the growth rate and magnitude of local epidemics would be substantially reduced; the epidemic peak would be delayed by about 1 month and its magnitude reduced by about 50%.

A 50% reduction in transmissibility would push the viral reproductive number to about 1·3, in which case the epidemic would grow slowly without peaking during the first half of 2020.

However, our simulation suggested that wholesale quarantine of population movement in Greater Wuhan would have had a negligible effect on the forward trajectories of the epidemic because multiple major Chinese cities had already been seeded with more than dozens of infections each.

The probability that the chain of transmission initiated by an infected case would fade out without causing exponential epidemic growth decreases sharply as R0 increases (eg, <0·2 when R0>2).

As such, given the substantial volume of case importation from Wuhan, local epidemics are probably already growing exponentially in multiple major Chinese cities.

Given that Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen together accounted for more than 50% of all outbound international air travel in mainland China, other countries would likely be at risk of experiencing 2019-nCoV epidemics during the first half of 2020.

 


Figure 4 – Epidemic forecasts for Wuhan and five other Chinese cities under different scenarios of reduction in transmissibility and inter-city mobility

 

Ergo: reducing mobility is ineffective because too much mobility had already happened prior to the lockdowns. That ship has sailed. Not that one shouldn’t try to limit mobility, but it can’t stop the disease from spreading. The HKU team doesn’t say much about how they would see transmissibility lowered, but that seems to come down to more, and intense, lockdowns.

There’s a cruise ship floating off Yokohama where everyone is ordered to stay in their cabin because of the virus. Think along those lines: ordering people to stay in their homes. Sort of like the Black Death plague in 14th century Europe.

Perhaps there are anti-virals that can lower transmissibility somewhat, but that is by no means sure. The discovery ofasymptomatic transmitters doesn’t help either. You can’t very well test everyone, you test those with symptoms.

Chinese health authorities have identified a number of patients who have become carriers and transmitters of the coronavirus despite showing no outward symptoms of the disease. Li Xingwang, chief infectious diseases expert at Beijing Ditan Hospital, said most of the “dormant” carriers were related to and had caught the virus from patients with symptoms.


“These [carriers] have the virus and can transmit it. The amount of virus correlates to the severity of the illness, which means these patients carry less of the virus and their ability to transmit disease is weaker,” Li said.

 

Lunar New Year holidays have been extended everywhere across China, except in a few rare places. Major cities are under full lockdown. Western companies are scrambling to find alternative suppliers. Just 2 weeks into the epidemic. What happens when the factories stay closed for 6 or 16 more weeks?

Where will Chinese and western stocks be then? Xi Jinping has declared the WuhanCorona virus the number 1 threat. How can he order the factories to re-open before mid-April at the earliest then, when the peak of the epidemic hasn’t even been reached? But at the same time, can he afford to order all production shut for 2-3-4 months?

Thing about such peaks is, you can only see them in the rearview mirror. But you can bet that in 2-3 weeks max, people will solemnly declare the peak is here. Because the existing but especially potential economic damage will be so great. Bur declaring a peak too soon, let alone the end of the epidemic, is too much of a risk.

The way things are going, pretty soon there won’t be any westerners left in China, other than those who wish to stay permanently. Many if not most factories will be closed. No Chinese will be allowed to visit the rest of the world, while Chinese products will not ship there.

The big lockdown has just begun. Because once you start it, you can’t go back until you can prove that everything is safe. And that will in all likelihood take a long time, months. When will absolutely everybody have faith that everything is safe? When nobody falls ill anymore, when nobody can infect other people anymore.

But that’s a long way away. April, May, or later? And that in an economic system built on just-in-time delivery? Chinese oil demand is allegedly down 20% already. How can oil prices not fall if that is true? Since those prices are linked to the US dollar, what will happen with the currency?

There are too many questions that nobody can answer, or even try to. That’s complex systems for you. And I really really hope I’m wrong, but the way out of the lockdown is not clear at all.

The world cannot afford the risk of consciously helping to spread a lethal pandemic. And the only way to prevent it may be the big lockdown. Unless there’s a vaccine. But there isn’t one right now.

Overly alarmist, you say? Let’s hope so.

 

 

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Oct 022019
 


Salvador Dali Bather 1924

 

The US and UK are both at risk of severe legal challenges and hence “barrelling down towards great troubles” as I wrote yesterday in Twisted Pair 1 – US. The reasons are not exactly the same in both cases, but they’re close. It’s about who holds the ultimate power.

Before moving on to the UK’s specific issues, I want to share this from the BBC, one of many pieces yesterday that discuss President Trump talking to foreign leaders, and that all accuse him in one way or another of wanting to ‘dig up dirt’ about Joe Biden (something that could just as well be defined as trying to find out how Russiagate started).

This one is about Trump asking Australia for help because obviously there’s a strong connection to the country in the person of former Australia High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer, who claims Trump ‘aid’ George Papadopoulos told him in May 2016 that Moscow had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos has always denied saying it.

But it appears the world media have made it their task to vilify Trump’s efforts to investigate Russiagate, so expect much more of it. The article for instance also mentions Bill Barr talking to Italian and British intelligence. Yeah, they’re serious about wanting to find out what happened. I’d suggest you get used to that. But here’s what I want to share:

[..] while the Ukraine call is linked to the serious issue of potential influencing of an upcoming US election, the Australian one refers to events around a past election. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley suggested this was uncontroversial. “I’m old enough to remember when Democrats actually wanted to find out what happened in the 2016 election,” he said.

I thought that was pretty good. But on to Albion, where the legal mess is likely much bigger than in the States, because its laws are so opaque. Sure, NOW people are clamoring for a written constitution, but NOW is a tad late. I read the other day in a Dutch paper that Queen Elizabeth had asked her advisors if she could sack Boris Johnson, and couldn’t find coverage of it in any UK paper. Still can’t. Isn’t that curious? We’ll have to do with yesterday’s New York Post: “It was the first time in her 67-year reign that the Queen asked for clarification on how to dismiss a British prime minister, the report claimed.”

The Queen didn’t actually look to fire Johnson, she simply didn’t know the laws surrounding the topic, she wanted to know what her legal position is. And that seems to typify the entire situation unfolding in the country. Nobody has any idea who has the -ultimate- power to execute any far-reaching policies and decisions. That would appear to be a very dangerous conundrum, because it may allow the loudest, -physically- strongest and perhaps even most deceitful to prevail.

There was someone in a recent Automatic Earth comments section who listed all 11 UK Supreme Court judges and concluded they were all “Remainers”. That is a slippery slope too many. Because if you intend to disqualify the highest court in a country, you invite in anarchy. Now, you may favor “Leave”, but that kind of thing will surely come back to bite you in the face.

Besides, the Supreme Court decision to declare Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful was the only one a highest court could possibly have made. Because Britain, like so many other western nations, is a parliamentary democracy. The only thing I’ve seen that looks like a constitution there says in eight words that parliament is senior to the monarch. That means it is senior to the executive branch as well. It has to.

 

Whereas a Scottish court ruled a few weeks ago that the prorogation decision was justiciable, and declared it unlawful, a lower UK court said it was non-justiciable, that is was up to Parliament, and that Parliament could “sit” whenever it wanted. But Parliament hasd just been prorogued, and therefore could NOT sit whenever it wanted. That lower court even contradicted itself: “Parliament is the master of its own proceedings. It is for parliament to decide when it sits. Parliament can sit before and after prorogation..”

So they have to make up their minds. It would be demonstrably silly if the Queen could fire the Prime Minister. It would be much less silly if Parliament could do it, though. Which would also be less silly than the Prime Minister being allowed to shut down Parliament with impunity in a parliamentary democracy. You have to look at the legal implications.

Now, the world is increasingly divvied up in antagonistic (i.e. twisted) pairs. In the US, if you don’t hammer Trump ten times a day and twice on Sundays, you get accused of effectively supporting him. In the UK, if you question Boris Johnson’s quest towards Halloween Brexit, you’re against ‘the people’, and their will. And that’s why we have laws. It’s just that British laws are terribly vague, and that’s why the courts became involved (as I predicted they would for a long time).

Today, Boris Johnson is sending a ‘plan’ to Europe that he has labeled ‘take it or leave it’. Which leads many to question his desire to reach a deal at all. More importantly, the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019, aka the Benn Act, was passed by parliament last month and requires the government to ask for an extension until 31 January 2020 if no deal is agreed.

Boris has suggested he will ignore it. But that would mean the executive branch is effectively senior to the legislative branch. It would also mean the end of the parliamentary democracy that Britain has been for what is it, 400 years?! I have no horse in this fight or dog in this race, but that to me looks extremely dangerous. Be careful what you wish for.

 

The UK Supreme Court is in for the by far busiest time of its existence. And by the way, you can criticize the court, but only really by criticizing the way the judges on it are appointed, and then take action to change that way. If you try to question its credibility, however, you destroy the credibility of the entire judicial system, all of it.

Again, be careful what you wish for. It’s not hard to understand why and how people point to the 2016 Brexit referendum to justify a Brexit strategy, but they too will still have to follow the rules and laws, or they will create mayhem. That goes for both sides, of course, but for Boris Johnson to try and take the UK out of the EU in violation of the Benn Act would unleash a lot of disorder that he and his people may not fully comprehend yet

And there’s something else going on in the UK that I wrote about recently in “The Will of the People”, but which still doesn’t generate much interest. That is, this whole issue is no longer about Leave vs Remain, there is a third group, Leave But With A Deal. Ironically, the Leave side seeks to group these people in with the Remainers, which is both not honest and may not serve their own interests.

That is because Leave But With A Deal may well be the largest group out there. There are Tories and Labour supporters in it, plus independents and some LibDems, and they’re there for the taking for Boris. Only, they insist on a deal with the EU being in place. If there’s no such deal on October 19, they automatically become Boris’s opponents. But why would he let them? Why not get a serious deal on the table?

Johnson will attempt to blame the failure of his latest proposal, plus all previous ones, on the EU. But has Brussels been all that unreasonable in the negotiations? I’m no EU fan, but it’s an honest question. They have one large issue: Ireland. The Good Friday agreement is sacred for them, because it is for Ireland. And Boris today allegedly proposing some kind of border infrastructure regardless will not fly.

 

A difficult topic, for sure, but then we’re 3,5 years on from the referendum, and what has the UK done since then? London gives the impression that peace in Ireland is less important for them than it is for Brussels, and that is not wise. As former Northern Ireland negotiator Jonathan Powell said in a video I posted earlier today, what will happen is easy to predict:

Even if you just put in a camera on the border, the dissident Republicans will shoot at it. Then you put in police to protect the camera, they’ll shoot at the police. Next up is the army to protect the police, and so on and so forth. Perhaps a unified Ireland is a solution, though that will take time, but a hard Brexit certainly is not. But Boris appears to play games with this, suggesting there will have to be customs facilities some way or another: “Each of the IRA campaigns started as a border campaign”, says Powell.

Summarized, we have this third group, not Leave or Remain but Leave But With A Deal, and they are being ignored and/or labeled Remain. Whereas they could be key to Johnson and his supporters’ desire to Leave. Look, Boris has no majority in Parliament anymore, not even if the DUP he apparently sucked up to vote with him. He needs something else but is running out of time.

Then again, Boris has pledged to Leave by Halloween. Now his personal credibility is at stake, and it’s become more important than the credibility of his party, of Parliament and even of the entire court system. Next up: the Queen. Who didn’t want to sack him but was royally miffed about him advising her to prorogate which put her in a very not amused position when her own Supreme Court declared her decision unlawful.

It would appear to be in Johnson’s own interest, if he wants to carry through Brexit, for him and his team to do a lot more homework. He’s already mightily miffed the Queen, the Supreme Court has accused him of attempting to push through an unlawful act, and he’s lost his party’s majority in Parliament.

Boris’s support may seem solid in his own party conference in Manchester today, but let’s hope he doesn’t get even more blinded by that than he already is, because the consequences could well be catastrophic. And of course I see, and understand, all the people who want the result of the referendum honored, but there’s a whole new ball game underway today, and it would be foolish to ignore that.

You can still go for Brexit, but Good Friday is a giant and unnecessary leap too far to achieve it. As is trying to make the executive branch claim seniority over the legislative one, or the Supreme Court, to achieve your goal. You can wish, but beware.

 

 

 

 

Jan 152019
 
 January 15, 2019  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Ivan Aivazovsky Moonlight c1850

 

May Faces Crushing Brexit Defeat Despite Last-Minute Plea To MPs (G.)
100 Of May’s Own MPs Set To Vote Against Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit Means ‘Social And Economic Catastrophe’ -Banks (Ind.)
Brexit Preppers: ‘I Don’t Trust The Government To Look After Me Or My Dog’ (G.)
Global Economy Fears Grow As China And Eurozone Slump (G.)
Hunting for Golem (Jim Kunstler)
FBI Investigation Of Trump As National Security Threat Is A Serious Danger (GG)
Trump Reportedly Said He Wanted To Pull The US From NATO (CNBC)
WikiLeaks Starts Suing Guardian Over Assange-Manafort Fake News Story (RT)
Antarctic Losing 500% More Ice A Year Than In 80s – NASA (Ind.)
Wildlife: The Real Crisis At The US-Mexico Border (PI)
98% Of Ground Insects Vanish From Puerto Rican Rainforest In 35 Years (G.)

 

 

““We have an instruction from the British people to leave and it’s our duty to deliver on that..”

May Faces Crushing Brexit Defeat Despite Last-Minute Plea To MPs (G.)

Theresa May appears to be on course for a crushing defeat in the House of Commons as Britain’s bitterly divided MPs prepare to give their verdict on her Brexit deal in the “meaningful vote” on Tuesday. With Downing Street all but resigned to losing by a significant margin, Guardian analysis pointed to a majority of more than 200 MPs against the prime minister. Labour sources said that unless May made major unexpected concessions, any substantial margin against her would lead Jeremy Corbyn to call for a vote of no confidence in the government – perhaps as soon as Tuesday night. But since Conservative MPs are unlikely to offer Corbyn the backing he would need to win a no-confidence vote, he would then come under intense pressure to swing Labour’s weight behind a second referendum.

Cabinet ministers have not yet been told how May plans to keep the Brexit process on track if her deal is defeated – and they remain split on how she should proceed. Leavers are convinced that the prime minister should return to Brussels and press for fresh concessions, while remainers hope she will seek a compromise with Labour. On Monday, May issued one final call to parliament to back her, urging MPs to “take a second look” at her deal and stressing that it was the only option on the table that could deliver an “orderly” exit from the EU. But there was little evidence of movement after her speech.

[..] There is growing speculation at Westminster that whichever course May pursues, she will be forced to announce that she will ask the EU27 to extend article 50. The prime minister refused to rule out doing so categorically on Monday, saying only that she didn’t believe it should be necessary. “We’re leaving on 29 March. I’ve been clear I don’t believe we should be extending article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum,” May said. “We have an instruction from the British people to leave and it’s our duty to deliver on that, but I want to do it in a way that is smooth and orderly and protects jobs and security.”

Read more …

Her own party turns against her, but May’s plans when she loses: fly to Brussels. She should leave and never come back.

100 Of May’s Own MPs Set To Vote Against Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May has made a desperate last-ditch plea begging her own MPs to back her Brexit plans in the face of an expected historic defeat. The prime minister beseeched Conservative MPs at a closed meeting to think of the future of their party and compromise, with around 100 of them considering voting against her. But Brexiteers still left the meeting determined to reject her plans, while Ms May also now faces up to 12 separate attempts from rebel and opposition MPs to re-shape her strategy before the final vote on Tuesday. She gave no indication as to her course of action if she loses, but Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn spoke to his own MPs in a room nearby restating his determination to call a motion of no confidence and trigger an election.

After 19 months of negotiation, a dozen EU summits and countless hours taking questions at the despatch box, Ms May will finally put her Brexit deal to a vote of the Commons on Tuesday. With her final chance to address all MPs coming shortly before the vote due after 7pm, she held a private gathering of Tories on Monday night to try to win over rebels. [..] Much of the opposition to her deal to focuses on the hated “Irish backstop”, which would come into play if no future trading arrangement is in place by December 2020, and could keep the UK in a customs union indefinitely. [..] On Monday night, Ms May’s deal suffered its first official parliamentary defeat in the House of Lords as peers voted by 321 votes to 152 to reject it.

Read more …

Every possible outcome will mean chaos.

No-Deal Brexit Means ‘Social And Economic Catastrophe’ -Banks (Ind.)

A no-deal Brexit would be an economic and social “catastrophe”, a senior banking industry leader has warned. Stephen Jones said leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement could lead to a 1930s-style economic depression, with widespread job losses, homeowners unable to afford their mortgages, and mass defaults on loans. “A no-deal Brexit on 29 March, where we crash out of European Union, is a catastrophe,” the head of the UK Finance trade body told Channel 4 News. “It’s a social catastrophe, it’s an economic catastrophe.” The devastation caused by a disorderly exit would not just hurt the banks’ bottom lines, but hit ordinary people, he warned. “I don’t wish to be labelled a doom mongerer… but if our economy contracts by 10 per cent that’s 1930s-style contraction,” he said.

“That is a massive increase in credit card losses, mortgage losses, vehicle loan losses. “This is about jobs, this is about people not being able to pay their mortgages, not being able to pay back their loans, and that’s really bad news and it’s an outcome we can avoid.” Mr Jones, who leads the British banking sector’s lobby group, added: “I think there is a real risk of No Deal happening by accident… if the prime minister’s deal is voted down, we are in totally uncharted territory.” Asked if he backed Mrs May’s deal to prevent a no-deal scenario, Mr Jones would only say he backed a “solution that avoids a no-deal Brexit”. He added: “It’s not a great deal, there’s an awful lot of money being paid for a political declaration, which quite frankly is not worth the paper it is written on.”

Read more …

People unsure whether epilepsy drugs for their children will be available.

Brexit Preppers: ‘I Don’t Trust The Government To Look After Me Or My Dog’ (G.)

[..] it’s not just about food for Elgarf and her family. One of her four-year-old twins, Nora, who has been sitting happily on her mum’s lap as we talk, has a rare brain condition called polymicrogyria. She has lots of prescriptions, but without two of them – Epilim and Keppra – for her epilepsy, she would have multiple seizures a day. “She can’t do without them,” says Elgarf. Both Epilim and Keppra are imported. If she could stockpile these medicines, she would. But they are controlled, and she can only get a month’s supply at a time. “It should be all right,” she has been told by doctors and the pharmacists. But when it’s your daughter’s life that’s at stake, “it should be all right” isn’t good enough.

Many of the people who join the Facebook group have concerns about medicines, Elgarf says. There are a lot of diabetics and coeliacs among them. What they need is some reassurance. “We need to know for certain they have got a proper plan in place for anybody who depends on meds.” She has heard rumours that the most critical medicines may have to be collected from central hubs, which would be stocked on the basis of lists provided by GPs. [..] Helena, who has a politics degree and works for a charity, doesn’t come across as crazy. None of the people I speak to do. Informed: tick. Cautious: tick. Organised: tick. Very organised, in Helena’s case: she has – and shares with me – a spreadsheet, colour-coded according to what is fully purchased (eg tinned tomatoes and loo paper, alongside a note that the average person uses 110 rolls a year), part-purchased (eg cereal), waiting delivery (powdered coconut), or pending testing (dried falafel mix).

Falafel! I’m going straight round to Helena’s. She also has booze and biscuits. Brexit party in Cardiff on Friday 29 March, everyone. And she’s got makeup! We’re going to be looking good as the good ship Britannia goes down. Helena is not just prepping for herself. She is doing it for her dog, Charlie, too. And while she has about three months’ worth of supplies for herself, she is looking at more like a year for the dog, as she doesn’t see that pet food will be a priority. “I don’t really trust the government to look after me; I certainly don’t trust them to look after my dog,” she says. As well as dog food, there are treats and toys on the spreadsheet. Charlie is going to enjoy a hard Brexit.


Helena’s dog, Charlie, with his Brexit stockpile. Photograph: Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

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Brexit will shake the markets.

Global Economy Fears Grow As China And Eurozone Slump (G.)

Fears are growing over the state of the global economy after China recorded a shock fall in exports, while European factory output declined by the biggest margin in almost three years. In a sign that the worldwide slowdown is gathering pace, official figures showed Chinese exports were down 4.4% in December – the largest fall since 2016 – on the back of faltering demand in most of its key markets. Imports fell 7.6% to reflect waning domestic demand. The unexpected downturn for the biggest global exporter of manufactured products came as eurozone industrial output shrank in November.

The EU statistics office, Eurostat, estimated industrial production slipped 1.7% in November compared with the previous month, and 3.3% on the year, reflecting the struggles facing several European economies in recent months. The latest snapshot confirmed disappointing readings of industrial output in several major eurozone nations, raising the prospect of some of the EU’s biggest economies, including Germany and Italy, slipping into recession in the second half of 2018. Several major European economies, including the UK, have struggled with faltering levels of car production in recent months as factories adjust to handling new vehicle emissions tests introduced after the VW scandal.

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Link to transcript of Lisa Page’s testimonies is here.

Hunting for Golem (Jim Kunstler)

As another president once remarked in a different context — LBJ speaking to a hanger full of grunts in Vietnam — “go on out there, boys, and nail that coonskin to the wall!” That was around the time the war was looking like a lost cause, with 1000 soldiers a month coming home in a box and even the Rotarians of Keokuk, Iowa, starting to doubt the official story of what exactly we thought we were doing over there. It was also, arguably, around the time America stopped being, ahem, “great” and commenced the long, nauseating slide into idiocracy and collapse. The news media has taken LBJ’s place in today’s Wile E. Coyote phase of our history, cheerleading the congressional hunt for the glittering golden scalp of You-Know-Who in the White House.

[..] The CBS 60 Minutes Show took its turn last night with a puff piece on Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), incoming chairman of the House oversight Committee, which, CBS interlocutor Steve Kroft delighted in pointing out, “can investigate any [old] thing.” And so, Rep. Cummings will be the ringmaster of this new “Greatest Show on Earth,” aimed at climaxing in an orgasmic impeachment operation. Mr. Kroft could hardly contain his glee onscreen. The facts say something a bit different about the actual reality-based Russia Collusion case, namely, that it’s been a two-year smokescreen to cover the collective ass of a rogue leadership in the Department of Justice and its step-child, the FBI, who deliberately and repeatedly broke the law in dishonestly pursuing a way to annul the 2016 election result.

It also reflects darkly on the Obama White House and its participation in all this huggermugger. Wads of information around this matter also came out in the past week — which you can be sure the news media would not touch — including congressional testimony from last July with former FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, revealing that the traffic controller for the so-called Steele Dossier was one John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General at the time, and formerly then-FBI Director Robert Mueller’s chief-of-staff. Ms. Page herself characterized Mr. Carlin as “a political appointee.” Was he Mr. Mueller’s clean-up man?

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Glenn Greenwald makes a valid point comparing the Trump probe with those of Henry Wallace and George McGovern by Hoover. What he misses out on, though, is how they differ: unlike in the cases of Wallace and McGovern, the FBI is now used not just to smear a politician, but to try and oust a president.

FBI Investigation Of Trump As National Security Threat Is A Serious Danger (GG)

It is not difficult to understand what is so ominous and even tyrannical about the FBI investigating domestic political figures whose loyalties they regard as “suspicious,” and whose political career they regard as a “national security threat,” simply because those politicians express policy positions about U.S. adversaries that the FBI dislikes or regards as insufficiently belligerent. It’s the FBI’s job to investigate possible crimes under the law or infiltration by foreign powers, not ideological sins. If a politician adopts policy views that are “threatening” to U.S. national security or which is unduly accommodating to America’s adversaries or “enemies,” that’s not a crime and the FBI thus has no business using its vast investigative powers against a politician who does that.

That’s why it’s so easy to see that Hoover’s investigative scrutiny of Henry Wallace, and George McGovern, and an endless array of domestic dissenters, was so anti-democratic and dangerous. If a politician adopts “threatening” policy views or is too subservient toward or accommodating of a foreign adversary, it’s the job of the American voting public or Congress in its political oversight and lawmaking role to take action, not the FBI’s job to criminalize policy differences through investigations. It should not be difficult for a rational brain free of partisan muck to see this same principle at play when it comes to the FBI’s investigation of Trump on the ground that he may be, in the eyes of FBI officials, a “national security threat.”

Even if you’re someone who hates Trump’s overtures toward Russia or even believes that they are the by-product of excessive subservience to the Kremlin, the dangers of having the FBI take on the role of investigating that rather than the political wings of the U.S. political system should be obvious – as obvious as they are in the case of Henry Wallace and George McGovern. [..] The person elected by the U.S. electorate to make foreign policy for the United States and to determine “America’s interests” was Donald Trump, not the FBI. It’s the role of elected officials in the White House and Congress, not the unelected police agents who report to them, to decide what is and is not in “America’s interests.” If Trump’s foreign policy is misguided or “threatening,” that’s a matter for the Congress and/or the American public, not the FBI.

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More so-called revelations. It’s never been a secret what Trump thinks of NATO in its present form: he thinks the US pays too much. But now the NYT presents this as some dark conspiracy story.

Like the Guardian, the New York Times has moved beyond caring about its credibility: both think there are enough people swallowing everything they get served up.

Trump Reportedly Said He Wanted To Pull The US From NATO (CNBC)

U.S. President Donald Trump privately said several times last year that he wanted to withdraw his country from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, The New York Times reported on Monday. The newspaper’s findings, which cited unnamed senior administration officials, are likely to resurface worries of a breakdown in the military alliance that was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada and some European nations. Those concerns were first sparked last year when the U.S. leader hinted that he could leave the 29-member defense bloc without Congressional approval. At the time, Trump was pushing member countries to increase spending. Since then, however, the Republican has backtracked on that threat.

After a chaotic NATO meeting in July 2018, Trump claimed that allies had committed to his request and said that U.S. withdrawal from the organization would be “unnecessary.” Responding to the New York Times’ report, a White House official repeated some of Trump’s remarks from July when the president said Washington’s commitment to NATO is “very strong” and the alliance is “very important.” As the Times notes, a weakened NATO is thought to be a major geopolitical goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s dislike for participation in international organizations is well known to global leaders by now. Early in his White House tenure, the president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and a massive Pacific trade pact.

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If the Guardian, or another British paper, runs an entirely false story like this about you or me, we would need to raise a similar amount just to defend ourselves from such smear.

WikiLeaks Starts Suing Guardian Over Assange-Manafort Fake News Story (RT)

WikiLeaks says it has collected enough funds to file a lawsuit against the Guardian for publishing an uncorroborated story about alleged meetings between former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Julian Assange. The whistleblowing website has thanked all its supporters who contributed to its GoFundMe campaign, launched on November 27 following the publication of an article by the Guardian, which claimed that US President Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort had held secret talks with Julian Assange at least three times in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where the Australian has been holed up since 2012.

The donations have recently hit the $50,000 threshold, enabling the whistleblowing site to formally launch proceedings against the renowned British newspaper, WikiLeaks said, calling on its supporters to keep the money flowing. “Legal action will now commence (but more is required to complete),” it tweeted on Monday. When it launched the campaign, WikiLeaks set up the ambitious target of $300,000. It has so far raised $51,749. WikiLeaks seeks to challenge the Guardian in court over its source-based ‘bombshell,’ co-authored by its former Moscow correspondent Luke Harding, alleging that Manafort had traveled to London three times over four years prior to the publication of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) email leaks.

The report relies on Ecuadorean intelligence sources and documents provided to the Guardian by the country’s intelligence agency. In its GoFundMe appeal, WikiLeaks suggested that the intelligence agency might have deliberately fed the British publication false information, which it was happy to take at a face value. WikiLeaks also noted that it was not the first time the Guardian put out a false story about Assange.

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Just the tip of the iceberg. Happy driving.

Antarctic Losing 500% More Ice A Year Than In 80s – NASA (Ind.)

The Antarctic ice sheet is losing six times as much ice each year as it was in the 1980s and the pace is accelerating, one of the most comprehensive studies of climate change effects on the continent has shown. More than half an inch has been added to global sea levels since 1979, but if current trends continue it will be responsible for metres more in future, the Nasa-funded study found. The international effort used aerial photos, satellite data and climate models dating back to the 1970s across18 Antarctic regions to get the most complete picture to date on the impacts of the changing climate. It found that between 1979 and 1990 Antarctica lost an average of 40 gigatonnes (40 billion tonnes) of its mass each year.

Between 2009 and 2017 it lost an average 252 gigatonnes a year. This has added 3.6mm per decade to sea levels, or around 14mm since 1979, the study shows. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” Professor Eric Rignot from University of California, Irvine and lead author of the study published in Nature Geoscience. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.”

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“..the wall “may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot … and other species”..”

Wildlife: The Real Crisis At The US-Mexico Border (PI)

While debate swirls around the border wall — whether it’s immoral, whether it even works — one huge impact, while understood, is just not being discussed: The wall is already an ecological catastrophe, devastating rare and endangered species, carving up critical habitats, exacerbating flooding, even worsening climate change. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the wall “may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot … and other species” in America. This is tragic, as the 2,000-mile border, stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico along the Rio Grande, passes through three mountain chains, North America’s two largest deserts, and the Tijuana Estuary, a salt marsh that offers habitat for 400 species of birds.

An astonishing 25 million acres of protected public lands lies near the border on the American side, including wildlife refuges, national parks, and wilderness areas with large refuges on the Mexican side as well, all created by the long, hard work of many organizations and agencies aiming to protect land that is biologically unique and fragile. It’s a diverse area, too: A 2011 study documented 134 mammal, 178 reptile, and 57 amphibian species living in the wall region; 56 of these species that already been hurt by the wall, including five that are at risk for extinction, one the jaguarundi, a small cat.

The jaguar, that cat’s bigger cousin, is the poster child for the wall’s ecological impact. Once hunted to extinction in the U.S., jaguars in northern Mexico have been spotted moving back into Arizona. Protected both here and in Mexico, its U.S. recovery plan — written by the federal government (!) — calls for free movement of these 300-pound predators across the border. The few cats that have reclaimed their American habitat will not recover if they cannot return to Mexico to find mates.


Fernando Llano / AP

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And there’s no panic. There’s hardly any concern. The web of life is disappearing and we watch TV.

98% Of Ground Insects Vanish From Puerto Rican Rainforest In 35 Years (G.)

Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished “We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.” His return to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years was to reveal an appalling discovery. The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming.

“It was just astonishing,” Lister said. “Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after 12 hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.” “It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest,” he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result.” Earth’s bugs outweigh humans 17 times over and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon”. When Lister’s study was published in October, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”.

The Puerto Rico work is one of just a handful of studies assessing this vital issue, but those that do exist are deeply worrying. Flying insect numbers in Germany’s natural reserves have plunged 75% in just 25 years. The virtual disappearance of birds in an Australian eucalyptus forest was blamed on a lack of insects caused by drought and heat. Lister and his colleague Andrés García also found that insect numbers in a dry forest in Mexico had fallen 80% since the 1980s. “We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet,” Lister said. “It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”

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Jun 192018
 
 June 19, 2018  Posted by at 12:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Why are you angry? 1896

 

Yes, you have every right to be outraged at the disgraceful treatment of children on America’s borders. But that does not give you the right to NOT be outraged by what America has done and is today still doing to children in, just to name a few places, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Be outraged, but don’t make it an echo chamber issue. Because if you do, you, too, are in a cage.

So if you see the wives of former presidents speak out about the child separation policies, ask yourself where they get the moral authority to speak out on such issues, after their husbands have bombed the crap out of many countries, killing many many children in the process. And don’t let’s get started about Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

Presently in Yemen, 20 million people depend on humanitarian aid, and the US are helping Saudi Arabia et al bomb the only port left through which that aid can reach them, to smithereens. 8.5 million Yemenis are already starving, and some 3 million of them are children. Where is your outrage over that?

Where is the outrage over the American and international treatment of Julian Assange, who has been in the Ecuador embassy in London for six years today? Where is it?

Don’t get coaxed into selective outrage by your news media, who like nothing better than to tell you what to be outraged by, and what not. If you allow that to happen, you have lost your freedom and your independence. Ask why they tell you a certain story at the moment they tell it. Ask why they tell it the way they do.

Yes, it has come to this. Every single story you read or hear needs to be scrutinized. Because there’s an agenda behind all of them, left, right or middle. And because the media have figured out that constantly driving you from one selective outrage to another is very profitable for them. Critical thought is not.

Yes, there are sociopaths in the Trump administration. But that’s nothing new. There have been sociopaths in every administration. It’s how our political systems work. Sh*t floats to the top.

Yes, US border policies have intensified. But whatever you think of that, migrants and refugees are not a new issue. Nor are the reasons why people flee their homes and communities. Whether it’s Africa or Central America, people flee because of what western governments, military and intelligence services have done to their homelands.

And until we stop doing that, they will keep coming. So much of our prosperity and power is derived directly from other people’s poverty and despair. So much of our wealth has been stolen from other people’s resources. If you want to be outraged at something or someone, start with yourself. Start thinking.

What is happening today is awful. But so many awful things happened in the past that you never showed outrage about. And yet these things are all inextricably linked. One leads to another.

America shouldn’t be outraged about Trump without being outraged about its entire political system, and all of its actors. Without that, outrage about Trump has no meaning, and will lead to nothing at all. Or rather, it will lead to a more divided country, full of people played for profit and political games.

The US invasion of Vietnam ended to a large extent because of protests in the streets. Perhaps that is what is needed once again. But the underlying issues, the ones that had led to the invasion in the first place, were not solved then. And that is what it is all about.

Nor is it an American problem per se. Europe is just as culpable. Children drowning, children in cages, what’s the difference, in the end it all comes from the same mindset. Which needs a radical reset. But what are the odds of that happening?

Our cultures are based on exploiting other peoples and nations, and then telling ourselves we deserve what we have. How are you going to change that? The only way to resolve the global refugee problem is to make sure people have a future where they are born. And the only thing we actually do is to make that impossible.

Yes, be outraged.