Jun 192020
 


NPC “Largest electric locomotive and Congressman John C. Schafer” 1924 (he’d be in an electric car today)

 

Mainland China Reports 32 New Coronavirus Cases, 25 Of Them In Beijing (R.)
Mexico Posts Record Number Of New Coronavirus Infections (R.)
AMC Theaters To Reopen, Say Face Masks A “Political Controversy” (V.)
John Bolton’s Bad Reviews Don’t Stop Him Topping Us Book Charts (G.)
Bolton, Pelosi Agree: Trump Unfit To Be US President (R.)
Japan’s Deflation Gathers Momentum As Prices Extend Declines (R.)
Fed Chair: Keep Private Entities Out Of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CD)
EU Car Sales Crash 57% In May As Europe Amid Inventory Glut (ZH)
Australia Sees China As Main Suspect In State-Based Cyberattacks (R.)
Report Reveals CIA Incompetence To Blame For Vault 7 Breach (RT)
Americans Are Unhappiest They’ve Been In Nearly 50 Years (Ind.)
Indian Primate Jailed For Life After Carnivorous Rampage (RT)

 

 

Happy Juneteenth!

I made sure to check quite a few times, but it is what it is: according to Worldometer data, over the past 24 hours global new cases went from an almost record 141,872 on June 17 to an all-records shattering 177,168 on June 18. Maybe something’s off, but right now I couldn’t say what.

 

Worldometer reports new cases for June 18 (midnight to midnight GMT+0) at + 140,528. Third consecutive day above 140,000.

My count 6AM EDT to 6AM EDT based on Worldometer numbers is much higher today at 177,168.

 

 

 

 

New cases past 24 hours in:

• US + 29,180
• Brazil + 23,050
• Russia + 7,790
• India + 13,827
• Mexico + 5,662

 

 

Cases 8,602,359 (+ 177,168 from yesterday’s 8,425,191)

Deaths 456,802 (+ 4,994 from yesterday’s 451,808)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-:

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunan we have a problem.

Mainland China Reports 32 New Coronavirus Cases, 25 Of Them In Beijing (R.)

Mainland China reported 32 new coronavirus cases as of the end of June 18, 25 of which were reported in the capital city Beijing, China’s National Health Commission said on Friday. This compared with 28 confirmed cases a day earlier, 21 of which were in Beijing. Local authorities are restricting movement of people in the capital and stepping up other measures to prevent the virus from spreading further following a series of local infections. Another five asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, those who are infected with the coronavirus but show no symptoms, were also reported as of June 18 compared with eight a day earlier. China does not count these patients as confirmed cases.

Read more …

Did we close the borders yet?

Mexico Posts Record Number Of New Coronavirus Infections (R.)

Mexico’s health ministry reported on Thursday a record 5,662 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 667 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 165,455 cases and 19,747 deaths. The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Read more …

“AMC Theater CEO Adam Aron says their cinemas won’t require masks upon reopening because they didn’t “want to be drawn into a political controversy.”

Is testing also a political viewpoint? How about COVID19 treatment at hospitals? Can we deny that to people who have political issues with facemasks?

AMC Theaters To Reopen, Say Face Masks A “Political Controversy” (V.)

AMC Theatres, the world’s largest exhibitor, has unveiled plans to re-open after coronavirus forced it to close its more than 600 venues in the U.S. for nearly four months. The company is expected to resume operations in 450 of those locations on July 15 and expects to be almost fully operational by the time that Disney’s “Mulan” debuts on July 24 and Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” bows on July 31. As part of that process, AMC is reducing its seating capacity in order to help people social distance, it is implementing new cleaning procedures, placing hand-sanitizing stations throughout its theaters and encouraging contact-less and cash-free concessions. “We didn’t rush to reopen,” AMC CEO and president Adam Aron said in an interview with Variety.

“There were some jurisdictions in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, that allowed people to reopen theaters in mid-May. We opted to remain closed, so we could give the country time to get a better handle on coronavirus. We wanted to use this time to figure out how best to open and how to do so safely.” AMC’s competitors Regal and Cinemark announced their own plans to resume business earlier this week, targeting a similar mid-July timeframe for when they expect to be fully operational. [..] Prior to coronavirus there was a great deal of consolidation in the exhibition space, much of it made possible by debt financing. AMC’s decision to acquire rivals such as Odeon Cinemas, UCI Cinemas and Carmike Cinemas left it heavily leveraged with more than $5 billion in debt. In recent filings, AMC acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic could push it into bankruptcy. [..]

AMC will not mandate that all guests wear masks, although employees will be required to do so. Nor will AMC perform temperature checks on customers, though it will monitor its employees’ temperatures and have them undergo screenings to check for signs of coronavirus. The situation will be different in states and cities that require residents to wear a mask when they’re in public, but Aron said that AMC was wary of wading into a public health issue that has become politicized. “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” said Aron. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”

[..] the theater chain said that it is going to lean heavily on technological solutions such as deploying electrostatic sprayers, HEPA vacuums and upgraded MERV 13 ventilation filters, which would eliminate airborne particles and reduce the chance that COVID-19 will spread. Other procedures being implemented include cleaning auditoriums between each showtime and allowing extra time between screenings for disinfection; blocking out every other row of seats to decrease congestion; pushing guests to use online ticketing and kiosks to limit interactions with staff, and designating various points within theaters for one-way foot traffic.

Read more …

“Orange Man Bad” beats Black Lives Matter.

John Bolton’s Bad Reviews Don’t Stop Him Topping Us Book Charts (G.)

John Bolton’s damning indictment of the Trump presidency is soaring up online charts in the US a week before its release, despite withering reviews describing it as “bloated with self-importance”, as the Trump administration makes a last-ditch attempt to prevent its publication. In the teeth of a series of critical assessments from papers including the New York Times and the Washington Post, Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened is currently No 1 on Amazon’s US charts. Its sales are just ahead of another scathing take on Donald Trump, this time his niece Mary Trump’s forthcoming Too Much and Never Enough, which is subtitled How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Bolton’s book, which is out on 23 June, and Mary Trump’s, scheduled for 28 July, have knocked anti-racism titles by authors including Ibram X Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo and Robin DiAngelo off the top spots.

As the US justice department on Wednesday sought an emergency order to block publication of Bolton’s memoir, copies of the book were leaked to news outlets which revealed a series of explosive claims from the former national security adviser. According to Bolton, Trump pleaded with China to help him with his 2020 re-election campaign, praised China’s president Xi Jinping for his country’s internment camps, and was willing to halt criminal investigations to “give personal favours to dictators he liked”. Trump also weighed in, claiming on Twitter that the book is “made up of lies & fake stories”. Early reviews of the book have not been favourable. The New York Times said the memoir was “bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much”.

Filled with “minute and often extraneous details”, the review continued, it “toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged”. The Washington Post said that “for a memoir that is startlingly candid about many things, Bolton’s utter lack of self-criticism is one of the book’s significant shortcomings”, while NPR found that Bolton “clearly does not expect to attract the casual reader, or anyone else unable to digest sentences such as this one on the third page: ‘Constant personnel turnover obviously didn’t help, nor did the White House’s Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all)’.”

Read more …

Bolton, Pelosi Agree: Trump Unfit To Be US President (R.)

President Donald Trump came under attack from both sides of the American political spectrum on Thursday as liberal Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and former White House aide and conservative hawk John Bolton both declared him unfit to lead the country. “President Trump is clearly ethically unfit and intellectually unprepared to be the president of the United States,” Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, told a news briefing. In a new book, Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, has accused the Republican president of sweeping misdeeds, including explicitly seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aid to win re-election in November. “I don’t think he’s fit for office,” Bolton told ABC News in part of an interview aired on Thursday.

“There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s re-election.” Pelosi told a weekly news conference she was consulting with her fellow Democrats on whether to subpoena Bolton about the allegations in the book, which has not yet been distributed. If Bolton testifies before Congress, it could revive the issue of Trump’s competence as he faces a stiff challenge on Nov. 3 from Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, and fends off criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and protests over racial injustice and police brutality. Bolton refused to testify in the House’s impeachment probe last year and threatened to sue if subpoenaed. He offered to testify in the subsequent trial in the Senate, but the Republican-controlled chamber did not take him up on the offer.

[..] Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment inquiry, sharply criticized Bolton as unpatriotic for withholding information from the probe. The new allegations are “further proof” that Trump’s actions in Ukraine were part of a pattern of abusing his power and the U.S. government for personal political gain, Schiff said in a statement.

Read more …

Abenomics will die with Abe’s political career regardless.

Japan’s Deflation Gathers Momentum As Prices Extend Declines (R.)

Japan’s core consumer prices fell for a second straight month in May, reinforcing deflation expectations and raising the challenge for policymakers battling to revive an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. The data will likely complicate the Bank of Japan’s job of restoring growth and inflation, with a raft of recent indicators suggesting the nation is in the grip of its worst postwar economic slump. Several BOJ board members warned that stronger monetary support and closer policy coordination with the government were needed to prevent Japan from returning to deflation, minutes of the bank’s April meeting showed.

“With the pandemic hurting the economy, there’s a good chance Japan may slide into deflation. Downward pressure on prices will likely persist throughout this year,” said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil but excludes volatile fresh food prices, fell 0.2% in May from a year earlier, government data showed on Friday. That compared with market forecasts of a 0.1% fall and followed a 0.2% drop in April, which was the first year-on-year decline since December 2016. The BOJ kept policy steady this week after expanding stimulus in March and April. But governor Haruhiko Kuroda conceded that inflation would remain well short of its 2% target for years to come.

[..} Some BOJ policymakers were concerned that bolder steps are needed to prevent the country from slipping back to sustained period of damaging price declines, the April minutes showed. “Japan is now facing the risk of deflation, so it’s possible to further enhance coordination between fiscal and monetary policies,” one BOJ board member was quoted as saying.

Read more …

“The private sector is not involved in creating the money supply, that’s something the central bank does.”

Fed Chair: Keep Private Entities Out Of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CD)

Private entities aren’t needed to build central bank digital currencies, said the head of the U.S. central bank on Wednesday. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, speaking before the House Financial Services Committee, said the idea of a digital dollar – a blockchain-based version of the current world reserve currency – is complex, and one that the Fed takes seriously, but also that the idea needs to be studied further before one can be created and implemented. However, in response to a question from Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Powell said he believed private entities did not have a role in designing a digital dollar.

“I do think this is something that the central banks have to design,” he said. “The private sector is not involved in creating the money supply, that’s something the central bank does.” Emmer was asking specifically about a recommendation from the Digital Dollar Project, which was launched earlier this year by former Commodities Futures Trading Commission Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo, Chief Innovation Officer Daniel Gorfine and Accenture Director David Treat. The project suggested a digital dollar be issued by the Fed but designed in partnership with the private sector and accessible through a two-tiered banking system similar to the one in place in the U.S. today.

Powell said the general public may not be receptive to the idea of private employees being responsible for the money supply because they’re not accountable to “the public good.” Still, the idea is apparently being examined. A group of central banks have gotten together to discuss and better understand the concept as well as evaluate the implications on financial inclusion and concerns around cybersecurity, he said. “If this is something that is going to be good for the United States economy and for the world’s reserve currency, which is the dollar, then we need to be there and we need to understand it first and best,” Powell said. “So we’re working hard on it.”

Read more …

A guy I know said he was driving from Holland to Germany this week to pick up a car he bought, an 8-month old BMW at half the new price.

EU Car Sales Crash 57% In May As Europe Amid Inventory Glut (ZH)

New car sales in the EU plunged in May, falling 57% to 623,812, as Europe grapples with the same problem that the U.S. has had for weeks: a glut of inventory, despite re-opening some factories and re-starting production in certain areas. All 27 EU member states posted double digit declines in new car sales, with the U.K. falling an astounding 89%, according to MarketWatch. Production coming out of the EU remains “well blow” pre-crisis levels but the lack of demand continues to contribute to a growing inventory problem. This, in turn, has created a slowdown in an industry that’s already moving at a crawl to begin with. Jobs and profits are both threatened from the glut, in addition to the monumental threat they both still continue to face from the ongoing global pandemic.

Unsold cars on dealer lots are “at least 30% above normal” according to industry analysts, while unsold inventory in Germany alone was about $17 billion worth. Antje Woltermann, managing director of the ZDK industry group: “Unsold stocks are climbing, and on the other hand vehicles are not leaving the lots.” While Europe is struggling, many have looked to China, where sales were up 6% in May, for signs of optimism. For example, Stephan Wöllenstein, chief executive of Volkswagen Group China said: “The return of these kinds of figures is encouraging and gives us continued cautious optimism going forward.”

But those numbers don’t account for the recent second wave of lockdowns, including in Beijing, that China now faces. Countries like France and Germany continues to try and spur sales with government incentives, but Germany is focusing primarily on EVs while the glut is in traditional ICE cars. Recall, in May, we were ahead of the curve when we noted that European car registrations had plunged 76% in April. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, the number of new cars sold fell from 1,143,046 to just 270,682 YOY in that month.

Read more …

Australia is but a lap dog.

The story changed overnight to name China as the main “suspect”. Of course what would be really suspect is if China DID NOT spy on Australia.

Australia Sees China As Main Suspect In State-based Cyberattacks (R.)

Australia views China as the chief suspect in a spate of cyber-attacks of increasing frequency in recent months, three sources familiar with the government’s thinking told Reuters on Friday. The comments came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a “sophisticated state-based actor” had spent months trying to hack all levels of the government, political bodies, essential service providers and operators of critical infrastructure. “We know it is a sophisticated state-based cyber actor because of the scale and nature of the targeting,” Morrison told reporters in the capital, Canberra, but declined to say who Australia believed was responsible.


Three sources briefed on the matter said Australia believed China is responsible, however. “There is a high degree of confidence that China is behind the attacks,” one Australian government source told Reuters, seeking anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media. Australian intelligence has flagged similarities between the recent attacks and a cyber-attack on parliament and the three largest political parties in March 2019.Last year, Reuters reported that Australia had quietly concluded China was responsible for that cyber-attack. Australia has never publicly identified the source of that attack, however, and China denied it was responsible.

Read more …

Russiagate revisited.

Report Reveals CIA Incompetence To Blame For Vault 7 Breach (RT)

According to a just-released internal CIA report, “CCI had prioritized building cyber weapons at the expense of securing their own systems. Day-to-day security practices had become woefully lax.” “Most of our sensitive cyber weapons were not compartmented, users shared systems administrator-level passwords, there were no effective removable media controls, and historical data was available to users indefinitely,” the report goes on to say. The heavily-redacted document actually dates back to October 2017 and was only made public Tuesday by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), in an effort to pressure the new Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe into imposing new security measures. While the CIA ineptitude is the obvious takeaway, no one seems to have noticed the real bombshell: the timing of the breach and its implications.

The report says the CIA “did not realize the loss had occurred until a year later, when WikiLeaks publicly announced it in March 2017.” Now, what all was happening between March 2016 and a year later? You guessed it: Russiagate! Even as his own cyber arsenal was getting swiped from under his very nose, CIA chief John Brennan was obsessing about “Russian hackers” of the Democratic National Committee, or Hillary Clinton’s emails, or something – and pushing the bogus ‘Steele Dossier’ alleging Donald Trump’s collusion with Russia, which eventually made it into the infamous ‘Intelligence Community Assessment’ that accused Moscow of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. It gets worse. According to the report, “Had the data been stolen for the benefit of a state adversary and not published, we might still be unaware of the loss—as would be true for the vast majority of data on Agency mission systems.”

So if the mythic bogeymen ‘Russian hackers’ had actually wanted to harm the US, they could have just used the CIA’s own, unprotected cyberweapons to stage false flags and wreak havoc across the world? None of which happened, obviously. Yet Brennan and his confederates have been telling everyone for years that the Kremlins wanted to “hack our democracy” by publishing some Democrat emails and posting memes on social media! [..] As for how Vault 7 got to WikiLeaks, the jury is still out on that. Joshua Schulte, the employee charged with leaking the files, is being prosecuted again after a hung jury at his first trial in March. His lawyers have argued the CIA security was so lax, anyone else on the team, or even outsiders, could have done it. The next time the media report some incendiary claim based on US intelligence “assessments,” try to keep all this in mind.

Read more …

How cann you be lonely when you have a TV set to keep you company?

Americans Are Unhappiest They’ve Been In Nearly 50 Years (Ind.)

Happiness among Americans has fallen to the lowest level in nearly five decades during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll. The Covid Response Tracking Study, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), found that morale was at the lowest point it has ever been since tracking emotional health trends began in 1972. The number of people who described themselves as very happy fell by 17 points to just 14 per cent in 2020. The previous record low – seen shortly after the 2007/8 Financial Crisis – was 29%. For the first time in 48 years, more people said they were unhappy than very happy. More than 60 per cent of Americans reported being “pretty happy”.


Interviews of the 2,279 US adults that took part in the survey took place between 21-29 May, while large parts of the country were under some form of lockdown designed to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Feelings of loneliness have also increased as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, with half of all respondents saying they felt isolated either very often, often or sometimes. When asked the same question two years previously, less than a quarter of respondents said they experienced feelings of isolation.

Read more …

An alcoholic pet monkey…

Indian Primate Jailed For Life After Carnivorous Rampage (RT)

An alcoholic pet monkey has been locked up for good in Uttar Pradesh after a terror spree that left 250 people injured and one dead. Efforts to rehabilitate the animal were scrapped and zoo doctors affirm he’s a menace to society. The six-year-old monkey, named Kalua, received a life sentence of solitary confinement at India’s Kanpur Zoo this week after repeated attempts at normalizing his behavior left zookeepers and other monkeys much the worse for wear. Zoo doctor Mohd Nasir told local media the savage simian would harm people wherever he went if set free, explaining “he remains as aggressive as he was” when first brought to the zoo three years ago.

Kalua formerly belonged to an occultist in Mirzapur district, who fed him a diet of meat and copious alcohol. When his owner died, the grieving pet apparently went into withdrawal, becoming vicious and attacking locals. By the time forest and zoo teams succeeded in apprehending the aggressive creature, he had bitten over 250 people, including 30 children. One of his victims died of the injuries, while others – Kalua apparently has a thing for attacking women and girls – were left in need of plastic surgery. While the zookeepers had hoped to calm Kalua down, substituting a vegetarian diet for the human flesh he’d apparently come to rely on, they didn’t have much luck. The carnivorous creature has stayed hostile, especially toward female zookeepers, and plans to release him back into the wild a changed monkey have been shelved.

Kalua’s misbehavior predates the coronavirus outbreak, but he’s not the only monkey in Uttar Pradesh to make the news in recent weeks. A gang of monkeys attacked a lab technician in Meerut last month, stealing several blood samples taken from Covid-19 patients and running off with them in a scene that seemed lifted straight out of a Hollywood pandemic film.

Read more …

 

 

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May 012020
 


René Magritte L’avenir (the future) 1936

 

Wall St. Caps Best Month In 33 Years With Broad Sell-Off (R.)
Dr. Fauci Says Developing A COVID Vaccine By January Is ‘Doable’ (SAC)
Hydroxychloroquine Has About 90% Chance of Helping COVID-19 Patients (AAPS)
Turkey Claims Success Treating COVID-19 With Hydroxychloroquine (CBS)
WHO ‘Not Invited’ To Join China’s COVID-19 Investigations (Sky)
Sweden Forced To Admit Significant Under-Counting Of Coronavirus Deaths (Wsws)
Russian PM Mishustin Tests Positive For Virus (BBC)
American Airlines, Delta, United To Require Facial Coverings On US Flights
Ten Reasons Why A ‘Greater Depression’ For The 2020s Is Inevitable (Roubini)
Deflation Fears Creep Back In Japan (R.)
UK Factory Output At Risk Of More Than Halving (R.)
ECB Prepares For More Stimulus, Hints At Junk Bond Buys (R.)
Trump Says He Could Bring Back Fired Ex-National Security Adviser Flynn (R.)
Sidney Powell: More Evidence Shows FBI Set Up Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (SAC)

 

 

• According to Johns Hopkins University there are at least 1,069,534 cases of coronavirus in the U.S.; at least 63,001 people have died in the U.S. from coronavirus.

• On Thursday, JHU reported 29,625 new cases and 2,035 deaths.

 

 

 

Cases 3,323,935 (+ 90,943 from yesterday’s 3,232,992)

Deaths 234,471 (+ 5,951 from yesterday’s 228,520)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-

 

 

From Worldometer – Among Active cases, Serious/Critical fell to 2%

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

50 million Americans unemployed and Wall Street has a record month. What is wrong with this picture? Why would we want to re-open this system?

Wall St. Caps Best Month In 33 Years With Broad Sell-Off (R.)

U.S. stocks lost ground on Thursday as grim economic data and mixed earnings prompted investors to take profits at the close of the S&P 500’s best month in 33 years, a remarkable run driven by expectations the economy will soon start recovering from crushing restrictions enacted to curb the coronavirus pandemic. While risk-off selling pulled all three major U.S. stock averages into the red, the S&P 500 and the Dow posted their largest monthly percentage gains since January 1987, with the Nasdaq having its best month since June 2000. The three indexes remain well within 20% of record highs reached in February, having quickly rebounded since shutdown efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic brought the economy to a grinding halt.


The five-week tally of unemployment claims topped 30 million and consumer spending has plummeted, according to the latest round of dismal indicators providing another snapshot of the crushing economic effects of the widespread shutdown. “We’ve had a tremendous run but we’ve had the worst economic data since the Great Depression,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago. “Business and earnings might not be snapping back as quickly as the v-shaped recovery on Wall Street would imply.” The Federal Reserved announced that it would broaden its “Main Street Lending Program” by lowering the minimum loan size and expanding eligibility. “Wall Street is liking all the programs that the government and the Fed are putting together,” Nolte added. “So Wall Street is doing fine but Main Street is going to be a longer process.”

Read more …

Does he have info we don’t? If not, this is a crazy statement.

Dr. Fauci Says Developing A COVID Vaccine By January Is ‘Doable’ (SAC)

The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie Thursday that developing a vaccine to combat the coronavirus outbreak by January is “doable.” “What the plan is right now is, as I mentioned to you a couple of times on this show, we’re in the early phases of a trial, Phase 1. When you go into the next phase, we’re gonna safely and carefully, but as quickly as we possibly can, try and get an answer as to whether it works and is safe,” Fauci said.


He added, “And, if so, we’re gonna start ramping up production with the companies involved. And you do that at risk. In other words, you don’t wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing. You at risk proactively start making it assuming it’s gonna work, and, if it does, then you could scale up and hopefully get to that timeline. So we want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it’s safe and it’s effective.” The Trump Administration announced “Operation Warp Speed” to accelerate the development of a vaccine, Bloomberg News first reported Wednesday. The report states. “The project’s goal is to have 300 million doses of vaccine available by January, according to one administration official. There is no precedent for such rapid development of a vaccine.”

Read more …

Perhaps when the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons speaks, we should pay attention?

Hydroxychloroquine Has About 90% Chance of Helping COVID-19 Patients (AAPS)

In a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) presents a frequently updated table of studies that report results of treating COVID-19 with the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ, Plaquenil®). To date, the total number of reported patients treated with HCQ, with or without zinc and the widely used antibiotic azithromycin, is 2,333, writes AAPS, in observational data from China, France, South Korea, Algeria, and the U.S. Of these, 2,137 or 91.6 percent improved clinically. There were 63 deaths, all but 11 in a single retrospective report from the Veterans Administration where the patients were severely ill.

The antiviral properties of these drugs have been studied since 2003. Particularly when combined with zinc, they hinder viral entry into cells and inhibit replication. They may also prevent overreaction by the immune system, which causes the cytokine storm responsible for much of the damage in severe cases, explains AAPS. HCQ is often very helpful in treating autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Additional benefits shown in some studies, AAPS states, is to decrease the number of days when a patient is contagious, reduce the need for ventilators, and shorten the time to clinical recovery.

Peer-reviewed studies published from January through April 20, 2020, provide clear and convincing evidence that HCQ may be beneficial in COVID-19, especially when used early, states AAPS. Unfortunately, although it is perfectly legal to prescribe drugs for new indications not on the label, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that CQ and HCQ should be used for COVID-19 only in hospitalized patients in the setting of a clinical study if available. Most states are making it difficult for physicians to prescribe or pharmacists to dispense these medications. As the letter to Gov. Ducey notes, “Many nations, including Turkey and India, are protecting medical workers and contacts of infected persons prophylactically.

According to worldometers.info, deaths per million persons from COVID-19 as of Apr 27 are 167 in the U.S., 33 in Turkey, and 0.6 in India.” After Morocco and Algeria began using HCQ, a trend break and sharp reduction in their COVID-19 case fatality rate occurred. Vaccines and results of randomized double-blind controlled trials of new drugs are at best months away. But patients are dying now, while affordable, long-used drugs would be available except for government restrictions, AAPS states. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) has represented physicians of all specialties in all states since 1943. The AAPS motto is omnia pro aegroto, meaning everything for the patient.

Read more …

The FDA “cites an observed risk of heart complications”. Okay, okay, but let’s see the reports on heart complications among 70 years of malaria-, lupus-, and RA sufferers.

By the by, HCQ was never a controversial drug until Trump mentioned it.

Turkey Claims Success Treating COVID-19 With Hydroxychloroquine (CBS)

Turkey has the biggest coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, with more than 117,000 confirmed infections. More than 3,000 people have died. But the government claims to have a lower fatality rate than the global average estimated by the World Health Organization at over 3%. The Turkish government imposed weekend-only lockdowns and banned only those under the age of 20 and over 65 from leaving their homes during the week, in an effort to limit the economic impact of the pandemic. Turkey’s Ministry of Health says the relatively low death toll is thanks to treatment protocols in the country, which involve two existing drugs — the controversial anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine touted by President Trump, and Japanese antiviral favipiravir.

“Doctors prescribe hydroxychloroquine to everyone who is tested positive for coronavirus” Dr. Sema Turan, a member of the Turkish government’s coronavirus advisory board, told CBS News. Hospitalized patients may be given favipiravir as well if they encounter breathing problems, she said. Turan said the combination of drugs appeared to “delay or eliminate the need for intensive care for patients.” But it’s important to note that Turkey’s use of the drug is not a clinically controlled trial; there’s no control group of patients not given the medication to compare the results against. Clinical trials have been underway in the U.S. and elsewhere, but the results aren’t yet clear. Preliminary studies on hydroxychloroquine have yielded uninspiring results thus far.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus patients, but has warned it should only be used in clinical trials or under the close observation of doctors, citing an observed risk of heart complications.

Read more …

They refused entry to the WHO team for many weeks in January-February. Anyone remember how long, and what dates?

WHO ‘Not Invited’ To Join China’s COVID-19 Investigations (Sky)

China has refused repeated requests by the World Health Organisation to take part in investigations into the origins of COVID-19, the WHO representative in China has told Sky News. “We know that some national investigation is happening but at this stage we have not been invited to join,” Dr Gauden Galea said. “WHO is making requests of the health commission and of the authorities,” he said. “The origins of virus are very important, the animal-human interface is extremely important and needs to be studied. “The priority is we need to know as much as possible to prevent the reoccurrence.” Asked by Sky News whether there was a good reason not to include the WHO, Dr Galea replied: “From our point of view, no.”

The Australian government has said that an independent public enquiry should be held into the origins of COVID-19, a measure EU countries are reportedly considering publicly endorsing. China has reacted angrily, saying that the investigation into the virus should be a matter for scientists. Dr Galea also told Sky News that the WHO had not been able to investigate logs from the two laboratories working with viruses in Wuhan, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan CDC. “From all available evidence, WHO colleagues in our three-level system are convinced that the origins are in Wuhan and that it is a naturally occurring, not a manufactured, virus,” he said.

Nevertheless, according to Dr Galea, the laboratory logs “would need to be part of any full report, any full look at the story of the origins”. Dr Galea defended the WHO’s role in the early days of the novel coronavirus outbreak. “We only know what China is reporting to us at that period in time.” From 3 January to 16 January, Wuhan officials reported no new coronavirus cases beyond the 41 already published. “Is it likely that there were only 41 cases for that period of time? I would think not,” Dr Galea told Sky News. [..] The WHO has been criticised for a tweet it posted on 14 January, saying “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”. The same day, in Geneva, a WHO official said there had been “limited” human-to-human transmission.

Dr Galea told Sky News that, at the time, the “WHO was increasingly worried and convinced, suspecting strongly there would be human-to-human transmission. But as yet the cases that had been presented to us and the investigations had not yet confirmed that 100%.”

Read more …

The difference between underestimated and undercounted.

Sweden Forced To Admit Significant Under-Counting Of Coronavirus Deaths (Wsws)

Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare released figures Tuesday revealing that the death toll from the coronavirus has been underestimated in public figures. This came as total infections in the country of 10 million passed 20,000 yesterday, with almost 2,500 deaths. The discrepancy is due to the Public Health Agency’s policy of only counting deaths following a positive COVID-19 test confirmed by a laboratory. However, the National Board of Health and Welfare noted that as of 21 April, only 82 percent of the deaths it linked to coronavirus had a positive lab test. Assuming that this difference has persisted over the last week, there would have been approximately 400 more deaths from the virus than the 2,462 officially recorded yesterday by the Public Health Agency.

This significant under-counting of deaths is not to be explained by an error, but is the direct product of the Swedish government’s “herd immunity” strategy. Unlike its Nordic neighbours and other European countries, Sweden avoided imposing a general lock-down and even delayed for some time the issuing of limited social distancing guidelines. Gatherings of up to 50 people are still permitted, and shops, restaurants, schools, and non-essential businesses of all types remain open. As a result, the population has been subjected to a reckless experiment that some scientists have likened to playing “Russian roulette.” Even taking the lower official death toll as a point of comparison, the death rate in Sweden dramatically exceeds neighbouring countries.


In Norway, for example, which has a population approximately half the size of Sweden’s, 7,660 cases and 206 deaths have been recorded. Sweden therefore has a death rate more than five times higher than its neighbour per head of population. The refusal to impose strict social distancing measures is stretching the health care system to its limits. At Tuesday’s daily briefing, Johanna Sandwall, crisis manager at the National Board of Health and Welfare, stated that across the country, intensive care units have 30 percent spare capacity. However, she acknowledged that in some areas, there was zero spare capacity. Asked where these were, she refused to answer.

Read more …

Putin doesn’t meet anyone outside his closed quarters anymore.

Russian PM Mishustin Tests Positive For Virus (BBC)

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has gone to hospital after he was diagnosed with coronavirus. His positive test came on the same day that Russia recorded a record 7,099 cases, taking the total number of infections above 100,000. Mr Mishustin was given the role of prime minister in January and has been actively involved in Russia’s handling of the epidemic. Russian TV showed him telling President Vladimir Putin of his diagnosis. “I have just learned that the test on the coronavirus I took was positive,” the prime minister said during the video call.


Mr Mishustin suggested that First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov should take his place and Mr Putin agreed. Mr Mishustin will now go into self-isolation. “What’s happening to you can happen to anyone, and I’ve always been saying this,” Mr Putin told him. “You are a very active person. I would like to thank you for the work that has been done so far.”Despite the sharp rise in cases, the Moscow-based coronavirus headquarters says 1,073 people in Russia have now died of coronavirus, a relatively low number for Russia’s size. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia’s reaction to the pandemic has enabled it to avoid an “Italian scenario”.

Read more …

American Airlines, Delta, United To Require Facial Coverings On US Flights

Three of the largest four U.S. airlines said Thursday they will require passengers to wear facial coverings on U.S. flights, joining JetBlue Airways in taking the step to address the spread of the coronavirus and convince reluctant passengers to resume flying. United Airlines, Delta Air and American Airlines, along with the smaller Frontier Airlines, which is owned by private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC, announced they will require facial coverings next month. Delta and United’s new rules start May 4, while Frontier’s start May 8 and American’s requirements begin May 11. The policies exempt young children from wearing masks or other facial coverings.


Many U.S. airlines are also requiring pilots and flight attendants to use facial coverings while on board aircraft. Airlines in the United States have seen a nearly 95% drop in U.S. passengers and have slashed flight schedules. They are now working to reassure customers about the safety of air travel by instituting new cleaning and social distancing procedures. Some airline unions and U.S. lawmakers have urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to require facial coverings for all passengers and crew. United said it will provide complimentary masks to passengers. Southwest Airlines), one of the largest U.S. airlines, has not required facial coverings.

Read more …

Dr. Doom should feel right at home in today’s world.

Ten Reasons Why A ‘Greater Depression’ For The 2020s Is Inevitable (Roubini)

After the 2007-09 financial crisis, the imbalances and risks pervading the global economy were exacerbated by policy mistakes. So, rather than address the structural problems that the financial collapse and ensuing recession revealed, governments mostly kicked the can down the road, creating major downside risks that made another crisis inevitable. And now that it has arrived, the risks are growing even more acute. Unfortunately, even if the Greater Recession leads to a lacklustre U-shaped recovery this year, an L-shaped “Greater Depression” will follow later in this decade, owing to 10 ominous and risky trends.

The first trend concerns deficits and their corollary risks: debts and defaults. The policy response to the Covid-19 crisis entails a massive increase in fiscal deficits – on the order of 10% of GDP or more – at a time when public debt levels in many countries were already high, if not unsustainable. Worse, the loss of income for many households and firms means that private-sector debt levels will become unsustainable, too, potentially leading to mass defaults and bankruptcies. Together with soaring levels of public debt, this all but ensures a more anaemic recovery than the one that followed the Great Recession a decade ago.

A second factor is the demographic timebomb in advanced economies. The Covid-19 crisis shows that much more public spending must be allocated to health systems, and that universal healthcare and other relevant public goods are necessities, not luxuries. Yet, because most developed countries have ageing societies, funding such outlays in the future will make the implicit debts from today’s unfunded healthcare and social security systems even larger. A third issue is the growing risk of deflation. In addition to causing a deep recession, the crisis is also creating a massive slack in goods (unused machines and capacity) and labour markets (mass unemployment), as well as driving a price collapse in commodities such as oil and industrial metals. That makes debt deflation likely, increasing the risk of insolvency.

Read more …

Those fears should be global.

Deflation Fears Creep Back In Japan (R.)

Consumer prices in Japan’s capital city fell for the first time in three years in April and national factory activity slumped, data showed on Friday, increasing worries the coronavirus pandemic could tip the country back into deflation. The darkening outlook in the world’s third-largest economy is already heightening calls for bigger spending, even after parliament approved an extra budget to fund a $1.1 trillion stimulus package to cushion the blow from the pandemic. “The government will work with the central bank to ensure Japan absolutely does not slip back into deflation,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a news conference on Friday.


Core consumer prices in Tokyo, a leading indicator of nationwide inflation trends, slipped 0.1% in April from a year earlier, government data showed, dashing expectations for a 0.1% rise and following a 0.4% increase in March. It was the first year-on-year decline since April 2017. While the drop was largely due to slumping energy costs following the collapse in the crude oil price, it has consolidated expectations that Japan will see consumer prices fall in coming months as the economy feels a sharper hit from the pandemic. A separate business survey on Friday confirmed Japan’s factory activity shrank at its fastest pace in more than a decade in April, as the coronavirus hurt output and new orders.

Read more …

As the government keeps bumbling its actions.

UK Factory Output At Risk Of More Than Halving (R.)

British factory output risks falling by more than half during the current quarter after 80% of manufacturers reported a collapse in orders due to the coronavirus, trade body Make UK said on Friday. Make UK said a survey of 297 members, conducted from April 20-27, showed that more than three quarters had already suffered a drop in sales. Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility said on April 14 that factory output could fall by 55% in the second quarter, as part of a scenario for the broader economy that showed a 35% plunge in total output if lockdown restrictions stay in place. “The extent of the collapse in demand is such it means that the recent OBR forecast could be an underestimate unless there is a quite remarkable turnaround which, to be frank, just isn’t going to happen,” Make UK chief executive Stephen Phipson said.


A separate survey from the Confederation of British Industry showed that private-sector activity fell by the most since July 2009 during the three months to April, and that output expectations were the weakest on record. Britain’s government ordered non-essential businesses to close to the public on March 23 and urged staff to work from home if possible. It is due to review the measures on May 7 but officials have said it is too soon for a major easing. Some 87% of manufacturers are still carrying out some operations, but more than a third had put staff members on leave under a government wage guarantee scheme which was likely to be needed beyond its planned end-June closing date, Make UK said.

Read more …

ECB Prepares For More Stimulus, Hints At Junk Bond Buys (R.)

The European Central Bank tweaked policy around the edges on Thursday but kept the door wide open to further stimulus — including potentially controversial purchases of junk debt — to help an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Facing an unprecedented recession, the ECB said it would make loans to banks even cheaper but kept the terms of its hallmark asset purchase scheme unchanged, disappointing investors who had bet on even more money-printing. Lockdowns in place across Europe to curb the spread of the virus have already cost millions their jobs and governments are borrowing record amounts just to keep their economies going until restrictions on businesses and households can be eased.


ECB President Christine Lagarde made clear the central bank for the 19 countries that use the euro currency would do its part but said political leaders must agree on more ambitious and coordinated action, a goal that has so far eluded them. “The euro area is facing an economic contraction of a magnitude and speed that are unprecedented in peacetime,” Lagarde told a news conference held via webcast. Speaking to an empty press room, Lagarde said the euro zone economy could shrink by 5 percent to 12 percent this year and may contract by 15 percent in the second quarter alone, a rate that would far outpace any decline during the global financial crisis a decade ago.

[..] As part of Thursday’s moves, the ECB said it would allow banks to borrow long-term funds for rates as low as minus 1 percent and it would set up a new shorter-term liquidity operation. Even if markets were disappointed with the measures, Lagarde made clear the ECB would do its job, a signal that more action is coming, perhaps as soon as June. She said the ECB could increase the size of its Emergency Pandemic Purchase Scheme (PEPP) and even extend it beyond 2020. When asked if the ECB could buy bonds below investment grade, she hinted at flexibility. “We have been very clear … we will not accept fragmentation of monetary transmission in the euro area or any pro-cyclical tightening of financing conditions,” Lagarde said. “With these two principles in mind, we will adjust as and when needed.”


The hint at future junk bond purchases is significant as Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy, is rated in the lowest investment-grade bracket and seen at risk of downgrades that could lose it access to ECB help just as it needs it most. Letting go of Italy would be politically unacceptable, however and the ECB’s recent decisions to temporarily buy Greek debt and accept bonds recently downgraded to junk as collateral from banks were seen as a way of preparing the ground.

Read more …

Obviously.

Trump Says He Could Bring Back Fired Ex-National Security Adviser Flynn (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would consider bringing his fired former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a key figure in the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, back into his administration. The president’s comments, the latest in a string of remarks about Flynn, go beyond prior suggestions by Trump that the retired general could be in line for a presidential pardon. “I would certainly consider it, yeah. I think he’s a fine man,” Trump told reporters, without specifying which role he might give to Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements in a charge brought by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He is now insisting he did not lie and wants to back out of the plea.


Internal FBI documents turned over by the Justice Department on Wednesday showed FBI officials debated whether and when to warn Flynn that he could face criminal charges as they prepared for a January 2017 interview with him in the Russia probe. Trump blamed Flynn’s predicament on “dirty cops” and said the documents show Flynn was a victim. “He’s in the process of being exonerated. If you look at those notes from yesterday, that was total exoneration,” Trump said.

Read more …

To be continued. People will go to jail.

Sidney Powell: More Evidence Shows FBI Set Up Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (SAC)

In another dramatic twist of events 15 documents unsealed Thursday show that the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team and senior FBI officials had worked diligently behind the scenes to target former National Security Advisor for President Trump Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has withdrawn his guilty plea and is fighting for his case to be dismissed by the courts. Further, the text messages reveal that there was an original 302 interview with Flynn that was never turned over to the defense. In those text messages between former FBI lovebirds Attorney Lisa Page and FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok, they discuss the interview that was conducted with Flynn at the White House and allude to the alteration of the document.

Those explosive documents suggest that the FBI was planning on closing the case on Flynn because there was no proof that he committed any crimes. In fact, the case against Flynn was closed on January 4, 2017 but reopened, according to text messages unsealed and obtained by Powell. The documents, which reveal his FBI code name ‘Crossfire Razor,’ expose that the Department of Justice withheld large amounts of exculpatory evidence from his defense team and, according to his attorney Sidney Powell, reveal egregious government misconduct. “To be clear, we now know by the production of new text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok that there in fact exists an original 302 document created by SSA 1 from his own notes of the January 24, 2017 ambush interview of Gen Flynn,” said Powell.

“Further, we know in fact that SSA 1’s original 302 document went to Stzrok who rewrote it substantially, but tried not to “completely re-write it so as to save [redacted] voice” and then was shared by Stzrok with a “pissed off” Page who revised it substantively yet again, crafting the narrative to charge Gen Flynn with a crime he did not commit.” She noted that as repugnant as this conduct is on its face, “the travel of this vital document establishes continuously – and until this day – the original FBI agents, the prosecutors, and FBI management’s determination to withhold exculpatory evidence required under Brady, among other violations of Gen Flynn’s civil rights. They withheld it not only to try to convict an innocent man, but to hide their own crimes.”

Read more …

 

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Apr 162020
 


Dorothea Lange Richmond, California 1942

 

Coronavirus Testing Hits Dramatic Slowdown In US (Pol.)
Antibody Tests For Coronavirus Can Miss The Mark (NPR)
The Coronavirus Is Particularly Unkind To Those Who Are Obese (LAT)
New York Taps Mckinsey To Develop ‘Trump-Proof’ Economic Reopening Plan (R.)
New Zealand PM: Many Restrictions To Be Kept In Place When Lockdown Ends (R.)
Investors Are Underestimating The Economic Shock The World Is Facing (AEP)
Trump Threatens To Adjourn Congress Over ‘Scam’ Preventing Appointments (R.)
US Coronavirus Small-Business Program Funding Nearly Spent (LAT)
Real Time US Labor Market Estimates During 2020 Coronavirus Outbreak (Bick)
Overcapacity/Oversupply Everywhere: Massive Deflation Ahead (CHS)
US Opposition Seen Stalling Major IMF Liquidity Boost (R.)
We Scientists Said Lock Down. But UK Politicians Refused To Listen (G.)
Inception (Ben Hunt)
The Golden Rule (Ben Hunt)
Major Blow To Keystone XL Pipeline As Judge Revokes Key Permit (G.)
FBI Repeatedly Warned Steele Dossier Fed By Russian Misinformation (Solomon)

 

 

We are facing prolonged discussions and chaos about testing. Everyone wants to reopen their economies, but that is not feasible if there is no testing. Nobody wants to go to a bar or an office or factory floor if they can catch a deadly virus there. Very few people will volunteer to sit on, or work on, a plane or train under such conditions, and few countries would welcome travelers anyway.

But from what I gather, testing facilities and capacities are few and far between, other than perhaps in Wuhan or maybe maybe Seoul. Testing 1% of people doesn’t get you anywhere, not with 15-50% of people being asymptomatic carriers infecting others around them.

Many countries claim they don’t need to do more testing, and most do that only because they can’t. And then you get into antibodies testing, and you find the mess and uncertainties are even bigger there. The entire situation screams for one thing: lockdown, minimize contact, but that’s what they all want to get away from.

 

• US records nearly 2,600 #coronavirus deaths in 24 hours – a new record and the heaviest daily toll of any country, Johns Hopkins University reports.

• The total number of US deaths is now 28,326 — higher than any other nation

 

 

Cases 2,094,884 (+ 80,884 from yesterday’s 2,014,000)

Deaths 135,569 (+ 7,977 from yesterday’s 127,592)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close- (Note: Brazil and Russia are climbing fast)

 

 

From Worldometer – NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases remains at 21% –

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

How accurate is it anyway?

Coronavirus Testing Hits Dramatic Slowdown In US (Pol.)

The number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in the U.S. plummeted by more than 30 percent over the past week, even though new infections are still surging in many states and officials are desperately trying to ramp up testing so the country can reopen. One reason for the drop-off may be the narrow testing criteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last revised in March. The agency’s guidelines prioritize hospitalized patients, health care workers and those thought to be especially vulnerable to the disease, such as the elderly. Health providers have been turning away others in part due to shortages of the swabs used to collect samples.

It’s not clear whether demand has peaked among the groups on the CDC’s priority list. But after being overwhelmed for weeks, commercial labs say they are now sitting with unused testing capacity waiting for samples to arrive. The continued glitches in the U.S. testing system are threatening to impede attempts to reopen the economy and return to normal life. Expanding testing as much as possible is essential so officials have enough data to determine when it’s safe to lift social distancing measures and allow people to go back to work. Continued testing beyond that point will help officials detect — and stamp out — sparks that could set off new outbreaks. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told POLITICO on Tuesday the White House Coronavirus Task Force is continuing to discuss whether changes to the testing criteria are warranted.

“This is part of an ongoing discussion that we’re having,” he said. “People are working overtime on that one.” Hahn’s comments came as the American Clinical Laboratory Association reported that the number of samples commercial labs handle each day fell from 108,000 on April 5 to 75,000 by April 12. The group’s members, including commercial giants Quest and LabCorp, analyze about two-thirds of all coronavirus tests in the U.S. “ACLA members have now eliminated testing backlogs, and have considerable capacity that is not being used,” ACLA President Julie Khani told POLITICO. “We stand ready to perform more testing and are in close communication with public health partners about ways we can support additional needs.”

Read more …

You couldn’t create a bigger mess if you tried with all your might.

Antibody Tests For Coronavirus Can Miss The Mark (NPR)

Dozens of blood tests are rapidly coming on the market to identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus by checking for antibodies against it. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t set standards for these kinds of tests, but even those that meet the government’s informal standard may produce many false answers and provide false assurances. The imperfect results could be a big disappointment to people who are looking toward these tests to help them return to something resembling a normal life. First of all, it’s not clear whether someone who has antibodies to the coronavirus in their blood is actually immune. Your body produces these antibodies within about a week of infection.

In many other diseases, people do have a period of immunity after they have been exposed to a microbe and recover from illness. But that has not been demonstrated yet with the coronavirus. Another problem is that test results are wrong much more frequently than you might expect. While tests may truthfully say they are more than 90% accurate, in practical use they can often perform far below that level. [..] Dr. Jeremy Gabrysch runs a mobile medical service in Austin, Texas. He got a supply of antibody tests made by a major Chinese manufacturer and says he has tested several hundred people in the last few days. “We offer the test for people who may have suspected they might have had coronavirus back in February or March when testing with the nasal swab [and PCR diagnostic test] was very limited,” he says. The charge: $49 a test.

Gabrysch says he only tests people when he has other evidence they might have been exposed. “If they had an illness that sounds like it could have been coronavirus and they had a positive antibody test, then it’s very likely that this is a true positive, that they indeed had COVID-19,” he says. The test he’s using, produced by Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech in China, boasts a specificity of 99%, which means it only falsely says a blood sample contains antibodies against the coronavirus 1% of the time. But despite that impressive statistic, a test like that is not 99% correct, and in fact in some circumstances could be much worse.

That’s because of this counterintuitive fact: The validity of a test depends not only on the technology, but how common the disease is in the population you’re sampling. “It is kind of a strange thing,” admits Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who studies issues surrounding tests and screening. “An antibody test is much more likely to be wrong in a population with very little COVID exposure.” This is a result of statistics, rather than the technology of any given test.

Read more …

But not those above 65. A very curious finding.

The Coronavirus Is Particularly Unkind To Those Who Are Obese (LAT)

America’s obesity epidemic appears to be making the coronavirus outbreak more dangerous — and potentially more deadly — in the United States, new research suggests. For younger and middle-aged adults in particular, carrying excess weight may significantly boost the likelihood of becoming severely ill with COVID-19. The evidence for this comes from thousands of COVID-19 patients who sought treatment in emergency departments in New York, and it’s prompting alarm among doctors and other health experts. In the U.S., 42.4% of adults have obesity, which means their body-mass index, or BMI, is 30 or more.

In one of two new studies released this week, COVID-19 patients who were younger than 60 and had a BMI between 30 and 34 were twice as likely as their non-obese peers to be admitted to the hospital for acute care instead of being sent home from the ER. They were also 1.8 times more likely to require critical care in a hospital’s intensive care unit. More severe obesity posed an even greater risk to COVID-19 patients in this under-60 age group. When these patients had a BMI of 35 or higher, they were 2.2 times more likely than their non-obese peers to need standard hospital care and 3.6 times more likely to end up in the ICU. “Obesity appears to be a previously unrecognized risk factor for hospital admission and need for critical care,” wrote the authors of the study published this month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

But that only applies to relatively younger patients; among those ages 65 and older, there was no link between obesity status and hospital care. The authors, from New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, suggested that the country’s high prevalence of obesity might be nudging rates of severe illness and death higher in the U.S. than in South Korea, China and Italy, where obesity rates are lower. The results also give doctors a new way to predict which COVID-19 patients who are not yet senior citizens run a higher risk of hospitalization and critical illness. “Unfortunately, obesity in people <60 years is a newly identified epidemiologic risk factor,” wrote the researchers, who included 3,615 patients in their study.

Read more …

We need more Wall Street.

New York Taps Mckinsey To Develop ‘Trump-Proof’ Economic Reopening Plan (R.)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has hired high-powered consultants to develop a science-based plan for the safe economic reopening of the region that can thwart expected pressure from President Donald Trump to move more rapidly, state government sources told Reuters on Wednesday. Cuomo, along with many other U.S. governors, shut his state economy to limit the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus and has warned that he is are prepared to keep businesses shut – perhaps for several months more – unless he can assure public safety. Governors from seven East Coast states formed a coalition on Monday, led by New York, to develop a joint reopening plan. Three governors from the West Coast formed a similar plan. The 10 states, mostly led by Democrats, together make up 38% of the U.S. economy.


As part of Cuomo’s effort, McKinsey & Company is producing models on testing, infections and other key data points that will underpin decisions on how and when to reopen the region’s economy, the sources said. Cuomo has also recalled three former top aides: Bill Mulrow, a senior adviser at Blackstone Group; Steven Cohen, an executive vice president and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Inc; and Larry Schwartz, a deputy Westchester County executive. Deloitte is also involved in developing the regional plan, a source said. The goal is to “Trump-proof” the plan, said an adviser to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “We think Trump ultimately will blink on this, but if not, we need to push back, and we are reaching out to top experts and other professionals to come up with a bullet-proof plan,” to open on the state’s terms, said a Cuomo adviser.

Read more …

Please don’t claim you’re about to eliminate the virus. Ramp up testing as of your life depended on it.

New Zealand PM: Many Restrictions To Be Kept In Place When Lockdown Ends (R.)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that significant restrictions would be kept in place even if the country eases the nationwide one-month lockdown enforced to beat the spread of the coronavirus. New Zealand introduced its highest, level 4 lockdown measures in March, under which offices, schools and all non-essential services like bars, restaurants, cafes and playgrounds were shut down. A decision on whether to lift the lockdown would be made on April 20. The measures were tougher than most other countries, including neighbouring Australia, where some businesses were allowed to operate.


Ardern said if New Zealand moves to the lower level 3 of restriction, it would permit aspects of the economy to reopen in a safe way but there will be no “rush to normality”. “We have an opportunity to do something no other country has achieved, eliminating the virus,” Ardern said at a news conference. New Zealand reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the total to 1,401 in a nation of about 5 million people. There have been nine deaths. Ardern said under level 3, some people could return to work and businesses reopen if they are able to provide contactless engagement with customers. Shops, malls, hardware stores and restaurants will remain shut but can permit online or phone purchases.

Read more …

It’s been a while since I saw a piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Very much stuck in business-only mode.

Investors Are Underestimating The Economic Shock The World Is Facing (AEP)

Investors are repeating the mistake they made all through February and early March. They are again underestimating the immense economic shock of COVID-19. Can there be any parallel in market history to the surreal clash of narratives we saw this week? Global bourses soared even as the International Monetary Fund painted a series of scenarios ranging from dire – the most violent slump since the Great Depression – to catastrophic, with all the potential chain-reactions spelt out in its Global Financial Stability Report. Yet Goldman Sachs tells us that COVID-19 is under control and the worst is over. “The number of new active cases looks to be peaking globally, projections of cumulative fatalities and peak healthcare usage are coming down,” it says.

From this breathtaking premise, Wall Street’s fashion leader argues that we should “look through” the Great Lockdown to sunlit uplands ahead, anticipating a further 8% rise in the S&P 500 index by the end of the year. We can disregard normal bear market rules. This time we will avoid the textbook sequence of events in recessions: a swift crash followed by a torrid buy-the-dip rebound, and then a slow downward grind over months as reality hits home, ending only in capitulation at far lower levels. Authorities have spared us such a fate by rescuing everything immediately. “The Fed and Congress have precluded the prospect of a complete economic collapse,” it says.

I agree that $5 trillion of central bank QE, vast fiscal packages (10% of GDP in the US), and blanket guarantees, have averted disaster. They have – in a disjointed way – bought time and given us a chance of emerging from this global sudden stop without irreparable damage to the productive system. What is surely wrong is to imagine that this pandemic is a one-off shock lasting three months or so, followed by an early release from lockdowns and a swift return to near normality. The first glimpses of antibody data – such as Denmark’s test on blood donors – show that we are nowhere near the safe threshold of herd immunity.

They confirm fears that the mortality rate is at least 1% of infections and that therefore no democracies can let the virus run its course without overwhelming their health services and destroying their political legitimacy. The supposed trade-off between lives and the economy is an illusion. The most certain way to turn this crisis into a depression is to give up too soon, as Spain is already doing, and Donald Trump is itching to do. We would end up in the worst of all worlds, with multiple waves, and another forced closure of the economy to avert a winter tsunami, requiring trillions more in fiscal relief. [..] “We need a vaccine. Until we get one, the stock markets are in cloud-cuckoo land,” says professor Anthony Costello from University College London.

Read more …

That wouldn’t be wise.

Trump Threatens To Adjourn Congress Over ‘Scam’ Preventing Appointments (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Wednesday to shut down Congress so he could fill vacancies in his administration without Senate confirmation, saying he was frustrated lawmakers were not in Washington to vote on his nominees for federal judgeships and other government positions. “The current practice of leaving town, while conducting phony pro forma sessions, is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis,” an angry Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus crisis. “It is a scam that they do. It’s a scam and everyone knows it, and it’s been that way for a long time,” Trump said. No U.S. president has ever used the authority, included in the Constitution, to adjourn both chambers of Congress if they cannot agree on a date to adjourn.


It was not immediately clear if Congress’ current absence from Washington because of the global pandemic could be classified as being due to a failure to agree on an adjournment date. The Senate and House of Representatives have both announced plans to return to Washington on May 4, and had been scheduled to be out of Washington for two weeks in April for their annual Easter break even before the coronavirus crisis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed nominations with Trump on Wednesday and promised to find ways to confirm those “considered mission-critical” to the pandemic, a McConnell spokesman said. “However, under Senate rules, that would take consent from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer,” the spokesman said.

Read more …

It was obvious before it started that it would be a mess.

US Coronavirus Small-Business Program Funding Nearly Spent (LAT)

Democrats and the Trump administration were at a stalemate Wednesday over how to resupply the popular Paycheck Protection Program, which helps small businesses cope during the coronavirus pandemic and is due to run out of money as soon as Wednesday night. The standoff came as Senate Democrats pushed the administration to lay the groundwork for how the nation may reemerge from social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Republicans and Democrats agree they need to provide more funding to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain their payrolls amid the deep economic fallout from the coronavirus. But the GOP balked at additional Democratic demands, such as tagging some of the funding for businesses that don’t have an existing relationship with a bank that supply the loans.

Participating banks have largely given preference to their current customers. As of 9 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, the Small Business Administration had approved 1.5 million applications totaling more than $324 billion of the $349 billion that Congress authorized in last month’s $2.2-trillion coronavirus relief package, according to the agency. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over small business, said that the program is expected to “grind to a halt” Wednesday evening as it hits its spending limit. “Now 700,000 small business applications are in limbo & no new loans will be made until the game of chicken in Congress ends,” Rubio said on Twitter. “Inexcusable.”

[..] The standoff over the funding program comes as Democrats on Wednesday released a national coronavirus testing strategy, arguing that they’re filling a void left by the Trump administration, which hasn’t released a plan to scale up COVID-19 testing to allow Americans to return to work and school. “The U.S. lags the world in testing and we lead the world in COVID-19 cases,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “We are raising the alarm bells.” [..] Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairmen of two Senate committees responsible for health policy and spending, have said they want to make COVID-19 antibody testing free to all Americans. They acknowledged the need for widespread testing before people will feel comfortable resuming normal activities outside their homes. But Alexander said the money Congress has already authorized should be used to ramp up testing — not new funding.

Read more …

It takes weeks for jobs numbers to come out. That is too long in virustime. These guys try to fill the gap.

Real Time US Labor Market Estimates During 2020 Coronavirus Outbreak (Bick)

Labor market statistics for the United States are collected once a month and published with a three week delay. In normal times, this procedure results in timely and useful statistics. But these are not normal times. Currently, the most recent statistics refer to the week of March 8- 14; new statistics will not be available until May 8. In the meantime, the Coronavirus outbreak has shut down a substantial portion of the U.S. economy. More timely and frequent data on the impact on the labor force would surely be useful for both policy makers and the broader public. Our core survey closely follows the CPS, which allows us to construct estimates consistent with theirs. The first wave of our survey covers the week of March 29-April 4. Our findings reveal unprecedented changes in the US labor market since the most recent CPS data were collected:

1. The employment rate decreased from 72.7% to 60.7%, implying 24 million jobs lost.
2. The unemployment rate increased from 4.5% to 20.2%.
3. Hours worked per working age adult declined 25% from the second week of March. Half of this decline is due to lower hours per employed as opposed to lower employment.
4. Over 60% of work hours were from home, compared with roughly 10% in 2017-2018.
5. Those who still have their jobs are working fewer hours; 21% report a decline in earnings.
6. Declines were most pronounced for workers who were female, older, and less educated.

Effective policies require timely and accurate data on the scale of the downturn, yet traditional data sources are only made available at a significant lag. For example, the March 2020 Employment Situation report by the the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only reflected labor market outcomes from the week ending Friday March 13, which precedes most major developments related to the outbreak. The April 2020 Employment Situation report will reflect labor market outcomes from the third week of April, but is not scheduled for release until May 8. The gap between the data needs of policymakers and the time lag of traditional data sources has left policymakers “flying blind” to a significant degree. The goal of this project is to help fill that void. [..]

Our major findings for the last week of March are as follows.
1. Dramatic reductions in employment. (a) We find an employment rate of 60.7% during the first week of April, compared with 72.7% in the second week of March, implying 24 million fewer workers. (b) We find an unemployment rate of 20.2% during the first week of April, compared with 4.5% in the second week of March. One positive note is that over half of the unemployed reported being temporarily laid off, suggesting that many could return to work quickly if conditions improve.

2. Even larger declines in aggregate labor supply than implied by employment alone. (a) Hours worked per working age adult declined 25% from March. In the first week of April, individuals worked 20.4 hours on average, compared with 27.5 weekly hours in the second week of March. (b) Hours worked per employed declined 12% from March. Even those who are still employed are working 4.5 fewer hours per week, a reduction of over half a day of work. This implies that just under half of the decline in hours per working age adult were due to reductions in hours worked per employed, and are therefore not reflected in changes to the employment rate.

3. Unprecedented increase of the share of hours worked from home. (a) We find that 63.8% of work hours were from home during the first week of April, compared with roughly 10% in the Spring of 2017 and 2018.

4. Lower earnings even for individuals still working the same job as in February. (a) We find that 21.9% of workers still working the same job as in February experienced a reduction in their earnings last week compared to February. About half of these reported that their reduction in earnings was 50% or larger. (b) At the same time, 11% of workers with the same job as in February report higher weekly earnings last week compared with February. 5. Disparities in labor market outcomes by sex, age, education, race, and hourly status. (a) Although negative effects are widespread, they are more pronounced among workers who are female, older, and less educated.

Read more …

Charles is right. Restart the whole circus now and there will be no buyers.

Overcapacity/Oversupply Everywhere: Massive Deflation Ahead (CHS)

Oil is the poster child of the forces driving massive deflation: overcapacity / oversupply and a collapse in demand. Overcapacity / oversupply and a collapse in demand are not limited to the crude oil market; rather, they are the dominant realities in the global economy. Yes, there are shortages in a few high-demand areas such as PPE (personal protective equipment), but across the entire spectrum of global supply and demand, there is nothing but a vast sea of overcapacity / oversupply and a systemic decline in demand as far as the eye can see. Here’s a partial list of commodities that are in Overcapacity / oversupply:

1. Overvalued assets 2. Overpriced income streams (as income craters, so will the asset generating the income) 3. Labor: low-skill everywhere, high-skill in sectors experiencing systemic collapse in demand 4. AirBnB and other vacation rental properties 5. Overpriced flats, condos and houses 6. Overpriced rental apartments 7. Overpriced commercial office space 8. Overpriced retail space 9. Overpriced used vehicles 10. Overpriced collectibles

I think you get the idea. Should China restart its export factories, then almost everything being manufactured will immediately be in oversupply, as the global export sector was plagued with mass overcapacity long before the Covid-19 pandemic crushed demand. Incomes will crater as revenues and profits crash, small businesses close their doors, never to re-open, local governments tighten spending, and whatever competition still exists will relentlessly push the price of labor, goods and services lower. Globalization has generated hyper-specialization in local and regional economies, stripping them of resilience. Fully exposed to the demand flows of a globalized class of consumers with surplus discretionary income, regions specialized in tourism, manufacturing, commodity mining, etc.

All these regions are now facing a structural collapse of global demand, and they have no diversified local economy to cushion the blow to jobs, incomes, profits and tax revenues. Thousands of small business that could barely squeak through a 20% decline in revenues are facing a 50% or more decline as far as the eye can see. With costs such as rent, labor, fees, taxes and healthcare at nosebleed levels, an enormously consequential number of small businesses globally cannot survive more than a modest, brief drop in revenues, as their costs remain high even as their sales plummet: costs are sticky, profits slide quickly to zero and beyond.

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No, I don’t like Soros being involved, and no, I don’t like the US squeezing Iran in virustime.

But most of all, all countries should think twice before letting the IMF have anything to do with their money supply. It doesn’t come free.

US Opposition Seen Stalling Major IMF Liquidity Boost (R.)

U.S. opposition is expected to prevent the International Monetary Fund this week from deploying one of its most powerful tools to help countries fight the coronavirus: creating a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights. The move, akin to a central bank “printing” new money, has been advocated by economists, finance ministers and non-profit groups to provide as much as $500 billion in urgently-needed liquidity for the IMF’s 189 member countries. SDRs, based on dollars, euro, yen, sterling and yuan, are the IMF’s official unit of exchange. Member countries hold them at the Fund in proportion to their shareholdings. The IMF last approved a $250-billion new allocation of SDRs in 2009, during the last financial crisis, boosting liquidity for cash-strapped countries. Doing so again now could provide more flexibility to the 100 countries that have already sought IMF emergency loans and grants, and allow new lending to countries with “unsustainable” debt burdens, such as Argentina.


An SDR expansion has attracted some celebrity advocates, such as investor George Soros and U2 lead singer Bono’s ONE anti-poverty organization, along with trade unions and faith-based groups. Finance officials will debate the issue during this week’s virtual IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings, but multiple sources familiar with the Fund’s deliberations say the United States, the IMF’s dominant shareholder, actively opposes such a move. The Trump administration opposes providing countries such as Iran and China with billions of dollars in new resources with no conditions, two of the sources said. [..] The U.S. Treasury Department would prefer to see the IMF focus on using its $1 trillion in existing resources, including $100 billion in emergency loans and grants, to aid countries’ health responses to the crisis, the sources said.

Read more …

You would think this should wake up Britain. But what are the odds?

We Scientists Said Lock Down. But UK Politicians Refused To Listen (G.)

In mid-February a colleague mentioned that for the first time in his life he was more concerned than his mother, who had been relatively blase about the risks of Covid-19. It felt odd for him to be telling her to take care. We are both professors in a department of infectious disease epidemiology, and we were worried. Two months on, that anxiety has not gone, although it’s also been joined by a sense of sadness. It’s now clear that so many people have died, and so many more are desperately ill, simply because our politicians refused to listen to and act on advice. Scientists like us said lock down earlier; we said test, trace, isolate. But they decided they knew better.

Am I being unfair? The government assures us that its decisions and timing are based on science, as if it is a neutral, value-free process resulting in a specific set of instructions. In reality, the science around coronavirus is in its infancy and developing daily, with researchers across the world trying to understand how the virus spreads, how the body responds – and how to treat it and control it. The speed at which our knowledge has increased is impressive, from the sequencing of the virus in January through to having candidate vaccines in early February.

Mathematical models are being refined to predict the extent and speed of spread and estimate the impact of control methods. My own group is studying the response of communities, showing how the epidemic is amplifying existing social inequalities. People with the lowest household income are far less likely, but no less willing, to be able to work from home or to self-isolate. But while scientists carry out observations and experiments, testing, iterating and discovering new knowledge, it is the role of policymakers to act on the best available evidence. In the context of a rapidly growing threat, that means listening to experts with experience of responding to previous epidemics.

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Ben Hunt is angry enough to start a revolution. While he’s also running a program delivering masks and other PPE to medical workers.

Inception (Ben Hunt)

The past few months are not a litany of errors and honest mistakes by the institutions we have charged with protecting us from disease and ruin. They are a litany of betrayals, and their Answers – their False Stories – have been revealed as lies. First we’re going to vaccinate ourselves to their Answers, to their False Stories, so that we think for ourselves again. Without this, we will inevitably fall back into the patterns of crony capitalism and obscene financialization that got us here in the first place. It’s a vaccine that we don’t administer anymore … an intentional decision by the high-functioning sociopaths and political entrepreneurs who rule us, of course.

Like all effective vaccines, it mimics the virus itself in its ability to trigger a physiological response in us. They want to nudge you into allegiance to a policy or a vote or a party. We want to un-nudge you into independence of spirit and thought. They want to infect you with an Answer. We want to innoculate you with a Process. The Process is one of the Old Stories. It is, in fact, the Oldest Story of what makes for a good and just human society. It is a narrative that has directly motivated hundreds of millions of people to organize themselves in hundreds of thousands of beneficial social forms, large and small, for thousands of years. We’re going to use that incepted Process to burn down these systems of iniquity from within and below.

We’re going use that incepted Process to build something better together, as brothers and sisters exercising our birthright – our autonomy of mind. I’m going to tell you exactly how we’re going to develop millions and millions of doses of the Old Story vaccine, and I’m going to tell you exactly how we’re going to administer them and exactly how we are going to change the world from below and from within. And you won’t believe me.

I mean, this happens all the time. I will sit down with someone and walk them through the entire plan … how we’re developing the science of what Isaac Asimov called “psychohistory”, how that gives us the ability to not only measure the narratives of social control that oligarchic institutions broadcast but also to design effective jamming narratives of our own, how we create a decentralized epistemic community of distributed trust and mutual support that we call the Pack, how we burn down these oligarchic institutions from below by jamming their Answers and from within by replacing the current sociopathic leadership with members of the Pack … and it is literally as if a switch goes off in their head and their eyes go dim. But then I’ll say “yada-yada-Trump” or “yada-yada-Biden” or “yada-yada-the-Fed” or “yada-yada-Bitcoin” and they’ll perk right up again!

Read more …

I’m cheating a bit. This is part of the article above, Inception. But the article is long and this is a very good bit.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.”

The Golden Rule (Ben Hunt)

It’s the Golden Rule. It’s the Oldest Story of fundamental human ethics. You can find it in ancient Egyptian stories, preserved in papyri from the Middle Kingdom. You can find it in the ancient Sanskrit epic “Mahabarata”, as the way in which dharma manifests itself in human affairs. You can find it in the ancient Greek writings of Thales and Pythagoras. You can find it in the ancient Persian texts of Zoroaster. But here’s my favorite: A gentile came before two teachers, Shammai the strict and Hillel the tolerant, and to each in turn said, “I will convert to Judaism if you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away. But Hillel said to the gentile, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.” The rest is commentary.


The Golden Rule is all you need to know to organize a good and just society. Everything else, all of the rules and principles and books and words and laws that engulf us … ALL of it … is just commentary. The Golden Rule is the vaccine. The Golden Rule is the simplest and most powerful form of the idea of reciprocity, ready and primed for inception in every human dreamer. The Golden Rule is the formal description of empathy. The Golden Rule is the only law of the Pack. The Golden Rule IS the full hearts of Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. The Golden Rule is the meme that we’re going to inject in a mass-customized way straight into everyone’s veins with the Narrative Machine. And then YOU are going to burn down the current system of oligarchic iniquity from below and within. And then YOU are going to change the world. All on your own. With no centralized organization and no Answer imposed from above.

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Note that this takes place as the world is fast running out of space to store oil reserves in. I’m waiting for numbers of fully loaded tankers floating off ports for weeks or months.

Major Blow To Keystone XL Pipeline As Judge Revokes Key Permit (G.)

The controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been dealt a major setback, after a judge revoked a key permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers without properly assessing the impact on endangered species. In a legal challenge brought by a coalition of environmental groups, a federal judge in Montana ordered the Army Corps to suspend all filling and dredging activities until it conducts formal consultations compliant with the Endangered Species Act. The ruling revokes the water-crossing permit needed to complete construction of the pipeline, and is expected to cause major delays to the divisive project. Keystone XL is a 1,179-mile pipeline which would transport around 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, eventually heading to refineries on the Gulf Coast.


Campaigners welcomed Wednesday’s ruling as a victory for tribal rights and environmental protection. “The court has rightfully ruled against the Trump administration’s efforts to fast track this nasty pipeline at any cost. We won’t allow fossil fuel corporations and backdoor politicians to violate the laws that protect people and the planet,” said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin of environmental group 350.org Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizer Alliance, said: “The revoking of the permit is a victory for treaty rights and democracy. Tribal nations have a renewed opportunity to exercise our legal and inherent rights to protect the water of the Missouri river bioregion for all who live, farm and work on the land.”

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Prepare to hear much more about this from Horowitz. Someone will do a major write-up.

FBI Repeatedly Warned Steele Dossier Fed By Russian Misinformation (Solomon)

The FBI received repeated warnings dating to 2015 that Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy it used to build a case against President Trump, had concerning contacts with Russian oligarchs and intelligence figures that might call into question the credibility of his intelligence reporting, newly declassified documents showed Monday. The suspect sources included a person described as a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a Russian intelligence figure under separate counterintelligence investigation by the FBI, the memos show. And the red flags included a warning that Russian intelligence appeared to be aware as early as July 2016 that Steele was working on a U.S. election-related investigation, making him susceptible to misinformation.

The revelations are found in newly declassified footnotes from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December, 2019 report about failures in the Russia probe that included using false evidence to secure a FISA warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016. Some of those red flags were raised prior to the bureau’s decision to rely on Steele’s dossier as key evidence in seeking the FISA warrant targeting the Trump campaign in the final days of the 2016 election, and nearly all were raised before Special Counsel Robert Mueller opened his probe in spring 2017.

For instance, FBI officials urged in 2015 that Steele undergo a re-evaluation as an informant (a “validation review,” in spy parlance) after the bureau’s transnational organized crime office learned that he had received contact from five Russian oligarchs, all of whom wanted to have contact with the bureau. “The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity,” one footnote stated.

Read more …

 

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US Bureau of Prisons:

 

 

 

 

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Apr 102020
 


Edward Hopper Burly Cobb’s House, South Truro 1930-33

 

Doctors Alarmed After Some COVID19 Patients Test Positive After Recovering (RT)
Doctors Say Ventilators Are Overused For COVID19 (Stat)
Pay Cuts, Furloughs, Layoffs For Doctors, Nurses, Healthcare Workers (BI)
New York Has More Cases Than Any Country (BBC)
Trump: Widespread Testing ‘Would Never Happen’, Not Needed To Reopen US (NW)
UK Gov’t: Keep Economy Running, We Will All Get COVID-19 Anyway (Nafeez Ahmed)
Ex-IMF Head Economist: Western Economies Slow To React (BBC)
Americans In Lebanon Decline Repatriation Offer: ‘It’s Safer In Beirut’ (CNN)
US Shouldn’t Bail Out Hedge Funds, Billionaires – Chamath Palihapitiya (CNBC)
WHO Chief And Taiwan In Row Over ‘Racist’ Comments (BBC)
Japan Will Pay Its Firms to Leave China, Relocate Production (N18)
China Factory Gate Deflation Deepens (R.)
How Greece Flattened The Coronavirus Curve (AlJ)
Saudi Energy Minister Says OPEC+ Oil Pact Hinges On Mexico Joining (R.)
US Banks Prepare To Seize Energy Assets As Shale Boom Goes Bust (R.)
Chicago Jail Reports 450 Coronavirus Cases Among Staff, Inmates (R.)
Assange Not Infected But Says Many in Belmarsh Are (CN)

 

 

US records 1,783 virus deaths in past 24 hours: Johns Hopkins
April 7: 1,939, April 8: 1.973

 

 

Cases 1,615,049 (+ 85,971 from yesterday’s 1,529,078)

Deaths 96,791 (+ 7,380 from yesterday’s 89,411)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-

 

 

From Worldometer – NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 21% ! NOTE 2: the number of active cases that are critical or severe is going down. 4% now.

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID2019Info.live:

 

 

 

 

We keep seeing articles that depict how poor our understanding of the virus is. Sometimes I even wonder how many people died from that, instead of the virus itself.

Doctors Alarmed After Some COVID19 Patients Test Positive After Recovering (RT)

Troublesome results from South Korea and China, showing some of the patients who recovered from the coronavirus test positive again, could throw off widely accepted strategies for battling the virus, from shutdowns to vaccines. After about 50 recovered patients in the city of Daegu tested positive for Covid-19 again, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) launched an investigation into whether they were somehow reinfected, or if the virus had made a comeback. “While we are putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause, we are conducting a comprehensive study on this,” said KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong, as quoted by Bloomberg.

While reinfection would be problematic, reactivation is a more troubling prospect. In addition to raising questions about post-recovery immunity to the virus, it would pose a major challenge to mitigation strategies adopted around the world. If there is a high risk of Covid-19 reactivating among the people considered cured, that would mean longer quarantines and delays in reopening businesses and public spaces. Other possibilities include false positives, if the tests pick up residue from the initial infection, or prolonged “shedding” of the virus load missed by the tests at discharge because the levels were just under the limit.

South Korea has often been cited as one of the success stories of the pandemic, keeping the total number of infections to 10,400 and the death toll to 204, through strict quarantine, widespread testing and contact tracing measures. Further troubling news comes from China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected in December last year. A team of scientists at Fudan University analyzed blood samples from 175 patients discharged from a hospital in Shanghai and found that almost a third had “unexpectedly low” levels of antibodies, and in at least ten cases, no antibodies at all.

“Whether these patients were at high risk of rebound or reinfection should be explored in further studies,” the team said in a preliminary research paper released on Monday. While it has not been peer-reviewed or evaluated, the authors say they did the world’s first systematic examination of antibody levels in recovered Covid-19 patients. All of the people examined had recovered from mild symptoms, and most of those with low antibody levels were young, in the 15-39 age group. By contrast, the 60-85 age group had three times the amount of antibodies, the scientists said. If some patients do not develop antibodies, this could have serious implications for both vaccinations and “herd immunity.”

Read more …

More poor understanding.

Doctors Say Ventilators Are Overused For COVID19 (Stat)

Even as hospitals and governors raise the alarm about a shortage of ventilators, some critical care physicians are questioning the widespread use of the breathing machines for Covid-19 patients, saying that large numbers of patients could instead be treated with less intensive respiratory support. If the iconoclasts are right, putting coronavirus patients on ventilators could be of little benefit to many and even harmful to some. What’s driving this reassessment is a baffling observation about Covid-19: Many patients have blood oxygen levels so low they should be dead. But they’re not gasping for air, their hearts aren’t racing, and their brains show no signs of blinking off from lack of oxygen.

That is making critical care physicians suspect that blood levels of oxygen, which for decades have driven decisions about breathing support for patients with pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, might be misleading them about how to care for those with Covid-19. In particular, more and more are concerned about the use of intubation and mechanical ventilators. They argue that more patients could receive simpler, noninvasive respiratory support, such as the breathing masks used in sleep apnea, at least to start with and maybe for the duration of the illness. “I think we may indeed be able to support a subset of these patients” with less invasive breathing support, said Sohan Japa, an internal medicine physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I think we have to be more nuanced about who we intubate.”

That would help relieve a shortage of ventilators so critical that states are scrambling to procure them and some hospitals are taking the unprecedented (and largely untested) step of using a single ventilator for more than one patient. And it would mean fewer Covid-19 patients, particularly elderly ones, would be at risk of suffering the long-term cognitive and physical effects of sedation and intubation while being on a ventilator. None of this means that ventilators are not necessary in the Covid-19 crisis, or that hospitals are wrong to fear running out. But as doctors learn more about treating Covid-19, and question old dogma about blood oxygen and the need for ventilators, they might be able to substitute simpler and more widely available devices.

An oxygen saturation rate below 93% (normal is 95% to 100%) has long been taken as a sign of potential hypoxia and impending organ damage. Before Covid-19, when the oxygen level dropped below this threshold, physicians supported their patients’ breathing with noninvasive devices such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP, the sleep apnea device) and bilevel positive airway pressure ventilators (BiPAP). Both work via a tube into a face mask. [..] because in some patients with Covid-19, blood-oxygen levels fall to hardly-ever-seen levels, into the 70s and even lower, physicians are intubating them sooner. “Data from China suggested that early intubation would keep Covid-19 patients’ heart, liver, and kidneys from failing due to hypoxia,” said a veteran emergency medicine physician. “This has been the whole thing driving decisions about breathing support: Knock them out and put them on a ventilator.”

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Obvious no. 1 for the government to prevent.

Pay Cuts, Furloughs, Layoffs For Doctors, Nurses, Healthcare Workers (BI)

Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston started temporarily laying off 900 workers this week, a move it expects will last through June. Salaried employees are facing a 15% cut, and hourly workers who don’t care for patients will be working fewer hours. The hospital confirmed that workers won’t face cuts if they are treating patients with COVID-19,. Though some hourly workers already had reduced hours due to lower volume, they won’t see more cuts if they’re moved onto the COVID-19 response team, said hospital spokeswoman Heather Woolwine. The cuts at MUSC came as the hospital saw a 75% drop in surgeries, 30% fewer patients arriving at the hospital, and 70% fewer patients arriving there by ambulance. Without staffing changes, it projected a $100 million loss through June 30.

In Oklahoma, Hillcrest HealthCare System announced it is putting about 600 employees on an estimated 90-day furlough, which is a temporary layoff without pay, though some might be called back sooner if they’re needed. The furloughs affect workers in administration, surgery, and outpatient care, where patient visits have gone down, said Rachel Weaver Smith, spokeswoman for Hillcrest. About 20% of staff are facing furloughs, reassignments, or reduced hours or pay, but the changes don’t extend to staff treating people with COVID-19, Weaver Smith said.

[..] There’s no central place where hospitals are reporting all of their layoffs or how much money they’re losing. The American Hospital Association, which represents more than 5,000 hospitals, has sounded the alarm about the industry’s financial difficulties and said that quickly distributing funding from the CARES Act would help facilities keep their doors open. About $30 billion will go out in the coming days, according to Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but it’s not clear when or how the rest will be distributed.

Read more …

There are some 20 million people in NY State. Much less than in Spain, Italy etc.

New York Has More Cases Than Any Country (BBC)

New York state now has more coronavirus cases than any other country outside the US, according to latest figures. The state’s confirmed caseload of Covid-19 jumped by 10,000 on Thursday to 159,937, placing it ahead of Spain (153,000 cases) and Italy (143,000). China, where the virus emerged last year, has reported 82,000 cases. The US as a whole has recorded 462,000 cases and nearly 16,500 deaths. Globally there are 1.6 million cases and 95,000 deaths. While New York state leads the world in coronavirus cases, its death toll (7,000) lags behind Spain (15,500) and Italy (18,000), though it is more than double the official figure from China (3,300).


Photo: Reuters- Lucas Jackson

Photos have emerged of workers in hazmat outfits burying coffins in a mass grave in New York City. Drone footage showed workers using a ladder to descend into the huge pit where the caskets were stacked. The images were taken at Hart Island, off the Bronx, which has been used for more than 150 years by city officials as a mass burial site for those with no next-of-kin, or families who cannot afford funerals. Burial operations at the site have ramped up amid the pandemic from one day a week to five days a week, according to the Department of Corrections. Prisoners from Rikers Island usually do the job, but the rising workload has recently been taken over by contractors.

Read more …

Imagine you’re a country that has imposed a 2-3 month lockdown on its people, and you’re slowly getting out. Would you then invite mass numbers of untested Americans?

Trump: Widespread Testing ‘Would Never Happen’, Not Needed To Reopen US (NW)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said a widespread COVID-19 testing program to assess whether workers can safely return to their workplaces is “never going to happen” in the United States. As he addressed reporters during the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Trump touted the fact that 2 million Americans had been tested for the virus as a “milestone” in the U.S. fight against the global pandemic caused by SARS-Cov-2. The 2 million tests that have been administered so far represents a high water mark after weeks of problems in obtaining and administering tests caused by the Trump administration’s rejection of a test developed by the World Health Organization. However, that number means only .61 percent of the 330 million U.S. population has been tested for COVID-19.

That’s a paltry number compared to many other countries which have implemented testing programs. Italy, for example, has administered tests to approximately 1.4 percent of its population, and South Korea, which flattened its infection curve with widespread testing, has reached .9 percent of its population. Most public health experts have stressed the need for the U.S. to significantly expand its testing program, both with currently available tests to determine whether a given person is infected with SARS-Cov-2, and with so-called “antibody tests” to determine whether a person has successfully fought off the virus and is therefore immune to it.

Both varieties of test, experts say, must be administered in far greater quantities than currently being done in order to allow Americans to return to work without fear of infection, though Trump has repeatedly suggested that the U.S. could begin to emerge from social distancing measures within a few weeks. But when asked how his administration could discuss “reopening” the U.S. economy without an adequate testing program in place, Trump claimed that such a program was not just unnecessary, but was something that was simply not in the cards. “Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes,” Trump said.

Read more …

Long piece by Nafeez. I don’t know, when people spell Government with a capital G, I scratch my head.

UK Gov’t: Keep Economy Running, We Will All Get COVID-19 Anyway (Nafeez Ahmed)

Leaked recordings of a Home Office conference call on Tuesday, exclusively obtained by Byline Times, reveal that the Government has all but given up in its fight against the Coronavirus and is intent on simply finding “a method of managing it within the population”. The recordings show Home Office Deputy Science Advisor Rupert Shute stating repeatedly that the Government believes “we will all get” COVID-19 eventually. The call further implied that the Government now considers hundreds of thousands of deaths unavoidable over a long-term period consisting of multiple peaks of the disease. While urging the importance of reducing the burden on the NHS by staying at home, Shute downplayed the risk of people contracting the virus at work.

He said: “It’s perfectly okay to carry on around your business. And it’s vitally important that you do as there’s a whole bunch of supply chains and the economy that needs to continue running… So carrying on with your normal work is not putting you in harms way anymore so than staying at home or going out shopping. So I keep coming back to this point that we are all going to get this at some point. And it’s about making sure that we have a really strong NHS there to support us when we do get sick.” The policy being communicated by the Home Office privately among Government staffers is at odds with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement at a press conference three weeks ago that the next 12 weeks could “turn the tide of this disease”.


[..] A fuller analysis of leaked recordings obtained by Byline Times reveals that the Government remains committed to the idea that the vast majority of the UK population will contract COVID-19, making a minimum number of deaths inevitable, albeit over a longer period of time. Using the Government’s own lowest estimate of a fatality rate at around 0.5%, this confirms that it has resigned itself to the expectation that some 264,000 Britons will inevitably die in ensuing months and years from the disease. The recordings provide a sobering insight into how the scientific advice feeding into Government policy is evolving – without, however, being meaningfully communicated to the British public or being subjected to external scientific scrutiny.

Read more …

Western politicians focus on the economy, and only miles after that see anything else.

Ex-IMF Head Economist: Western Economies Slow To React (BBC)

The coronavirus was “taken a little more lightly” by western economies compared to those in Asia, says a former IMF chief economist. Raghuram Rajan said western economies are facing a drop in economic growth by as much as 6% this year. The widespread closure of businesses is having a huge financial impact as governments prevent the virus spread. His comments come as the IMF warns the global economy faces its worst crisis since the 1930s depression. “I think in the west, partly because there hadn’t been a direct experience of a serious epidemic, it was taken a little more lightly,” Mr Rajan told the BBC’s Asia Business Report on Friday. “This is something happening in faraway lands, it’s not going to be serious here.

“It’s all too easy to point fingers after the fact but what I’m saying is that the countries in East Asia that had the experience of previous pandemics, which didn’t quite rise to the level of pandemics I should say… but previous epidemics, they took this seriously right from the get-go.” Mr Rajan, a former governor of India’s central bank, praised South Korea and Singapore as two Asian economies that have handled the virus outbreak well. For his native India, he warned that it had “limited tools” given how densely populated the country is. “It’s hard to do social distancing anywhere in the normal course. Your markets are chock-full of people. Your dwellings are chock-full of people. And so I think the government is trying to attempt to reduce the pace of increase with this lockdown.”

His said it was necessary to send the message to people to take this pandemic seriously. “This is not fun and games, this is really about life and death, and if it really explodes in India, we really don’t have the resources to deal with that.” The economist, who is a finance professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, gave a bleak forecast for western economies as he expects them to shift from expansion to contraction. “At this point, we’re probably thinking of western countries seeing a shift in GDP growth from about 2 percentage to 3 percentage points, to negative 4 or 5 percentage points. “Each country is going to lose 5 to 6 percentage points of GDP at the very least over this year. So cumulate that, that’s significantly more than $2 trillion”.

Read more …

When Iran became a major case, there were fears for Lebanon as well. But so far it’s done well.

Americans In Lebanon Decline Repatriation Offer: ‘It’s Safer In Beirut’ (CNN)

Carly Fuglei was with a group of Danish friends in Beirut last month when she first considered moving back to the United States. They were preparing to leave Lebanon amid fears of a major coronavirus outbreak there, and tried to convince her to do the same. But the 28-year-old humanitarian consultant from Montana decided to stay. After Lebanon closed its borders on March 19 to stem the spread of the global pandemic, she began furnishing her rooftop terrace. Her time in Beirut, she realized, would be indefinite. “I made that decision for a combination of personal reasons and calculations about the virus that we’re all making,” says Fuglei. “I think that I am probably safer here.”

It’s a decision that several US citizens in Beirut who CNN spoke to have echoed, citing skyrocketing cases in the US. When the US government last week said it would fly its citizens and permanent residents to the US on a chartered flight for $2,500 per person, some Americans took to Twitter to publicly decline the offer. “And no, Mom, I’m not going,” Beirut-based freelance journalist Abby Sewell wrote in a tweet about the US embassy announcement. Responding to her tweet, a Lebanese journalist said: “For once I’m like no America is not safer than here.” Sewell’s mother, Meg Sewell, replied: “Actually, for the moment I might have to agree.” Sewell tells CNN she never considered taking the US embassy’s offer.

“From everything I’m reading, the situation is worse in the US, in terms of the number of cases, prevention measures or lack thereof, and how overburdened the health system is,” she says. “Also, since I’ve been living overseas for years, I don’t have health insurance in the US now, so if I did go back and then got sick, I would be looking at paying thousands of dollars out of pocket.” [..] Just under 12,000 tests for coronavirus have been carried out so far in Lebanon. That equates to around 0.1% of the population (by contrast, roughly 0.3% of the population in Britain, and 1.1% of the population of Germany have been tested). As a result, the ministry of public health believes it is underestimating the scale of its outbreak. It has urged more people to get tested. Lebanon’s ministry of public health has vowed to boost the number of screenings to as many as 2,000 a day. It says anyone with mild to severe symptoms is entitled to be tested.

Read more …

It will take pitchforks to change this.

US Shouldn’t Bail Out Hedge Funds, Billionaires – Chamath Palihapitiya (CNBC)

Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of investment firm Social Capital, told CNBC on Thursday that the U.S. shouldn’t be bailing out billionaires and hedge funds during the coronavirus pandemic. “On Main Street today, people are getting wiped out. Right now, rich CEOs are not, boards that have horrible governance are not. People are,” Palihapitiya, an early Facebook executive, said on CNBC’s “Fast Money Halftime Report.” “What we’ve done is disproportionately prop up poor-performing CEOs and boards, and you have to wash these people out.” “Just to be clear on who we are talking about. We’re talking about a hedge fund that serves a bunch of billionaire family offices, who cares? They don’t get the summer in the Hamptons?” he said.

“These are the people that purport to be the most sophisticated investors in the world.” Palihapitiya also said he was concerned that the Federal Reserve’s plans to support to economy during the COVID-19 crisis are going to have consequences. The Fed earlier in the day announced a slew of new moves aimed at getting another $2.3 trillion of financing into businesses and governments, including its Main Street business lending program and market interventions. The central bank said its loans will be geared toward businesses with up to 10,000 employees and less than $2.5 billion in revenues for 2019. Programs would total up to $2.3 trillion and include the Payroll Protection Program and other measures aimed at getting money to small businesses and bolstering municipal finances with a $500 billion lending program, it added.

But Palihapitiya said it would have been better to just give more money to Americans. “I’m not disagreeing with what the Fed has to do. What I’m saying is it’s creating a land mine, and it’s creating a bill that will have to come due,” he said. “It would be better for the Fed to have given half a million to every man, woman and child in the United States,” he added.

Read more …

“For years, we have been excluded from international organisations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated..”

WHO Chief And Taiwan In Row Over ‘Racist’ Comments (BBC)

A row has erupted after the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) accused Taiwan’s leaders of spearheading personal attacks on him. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had been subjected to racist comments and death threats for months. But President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan opposed any form of discrimination, and invited Dr Tedros to visit the island. Taiwan said it had been denied access to vital information as the coronavirus spread. The WHO rejects this. Taiwan is excluded from the WHO, the United Nations health agency, because of China’s objections to its membership. The Chinese Communist Party regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and claims the right to take it by force if necessary. The WHO has also been criticised by US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to withdraw US funding to the agency.


Dr Tedros said he had been at the receiving end of racist comments for the past two to three months. “Giving me names, black or negro,” he said. “I’m proud of being black, or proud of being negro.” He then said he had received death threats, adding: “I don’t give a damn.” The WHO chief said the abuse had originated from Taiwan, “and the foreign ministry didn’t disassociate” itself from it. But Ms Tsai said Taiwan was opposed to discrimination. “For years, we have been excluded from international organisations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated,” Reuters news agency quoted her as saying. “If Director-General Tedros could withstand pressure from China and come to Taiwan to see Taiwan’s efforts to fight Covid-19 for himself, he would be able to see that the Taiwanese people are the true victims of unfair treatment.”

Read more …

Many countries will follow. Big shift.

Japan Will Pay Its Firms to Leave China, Relocate Production (N18)

Japan is willing to fund its companies to shift manufacturing operations out of China, Bloomberg has reported as the disruptions caused to production by the coronavirus pandemic has forced a rethink of supply chains between the major trading partners. As part of its economic stimulus package, Japan has earmarked $2.2 billion to help its manufacturers shift production out of China. Of this amount, 220 billion yen ($2 billion)is for companies shifting production back to Japan and 23.5 billion yen for those seeking to move production to other countries. China is Japan’s biggest trading partner under normal circumstances, but imports from China have slumped by almost half in February due to lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus hitting manufacturing and the supply chain.


Shinichi Seki, an economist at the Japan Research Institute, predicted that there would be a shift in the coming days as there already was renewed talk of Japanese firms reducing their reliance on China as a manufacturing base. “Having this in the budget will definitely provide an impetus,” he told Bloomberg. Companies, such as car makers, which are manufacturing for the Chinese domestic market, will likely stay put, he said. The Japanese government’s panel on future investment had last month discussed the need for manufacturing of high-added value products to be shifted back to Japan, and for production of other goods to be diversified across Southeast Asia. More than 37 per cent of the 2,600 companies surveyed by Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd. in February had also said they were diversifying procurement to places other than China amid the coronavirus crisis.

Read more …

Someone mentions the D word!.

China Factory Gate Deflation Deepens (R.)

China’s factory gate prices fell the most in five months in March, with deflation deepening and set to worsen in coming months as the economic damage wrought by the coroanvirus outbreak at home and worldwide shuts down many countries. The world’s second-largest economy is trying to restart its engines after weeks of near paralysis to contain the pandemic that had severely restricted business activity, flow of goods and the daily life of people. Friday’s data from the National Bureau of Statistics suggested a durable recovery was some way off, with China’s producer price index (PPI) falling 1.5% from a year earlier, the biggest decline since October last year. It compared with a median forecast of a 1.1% fall tipped by a Reuters poll of analysts and a 0.4% drop in February.


Headline consumer inflation also eased somewhat last month, partly led by government control measures, while core prices remained benign, leaving more room for monetary easing, some analysts said. The overall decline in the factory gate gauge was exacerbated by a slump in global oil and commodities prices, which filtered through to crude oil, steel and non-ferrous metal industries, the statistics bureau said in a statement accompanying the data. “The issue of having more supply than demand, and persistently low oil prices, will intensify deflationary pressures,” said Yang Yewei, a Beijing-based analyst with Southwest Securities.

Read more …

3 different articles on “How Greece Did It” today, This one from Al Jazeera, others are the Independent and an op-ed at Bloomberg.

How Greece Flattened The Coronavirus Curve (AlJ)

When Greece cancelled carnival celebrations in late February, many people thought the measure excessive. In the western city of Patra, which hosts Greece’s most flamboyant carnival parade, thousands defied the ban and took to the streets. “The government has ordered an end to all municipal activities … but this is a private enterprise. No one can shut it down,” said a jubilant reporter for the local Ionian TV in front of a crew dressed up as 17th-century French courtiers. “They’re gathering here on St George’s Square, where the [Greek] revolution began in 1821, and that’s symbolic,” he said. Greeks quickly put their revolutionary spirit aside, however, and largely heeded government advice to remain indoors. The result has been a remarkably low number of deaths – 81 by Tuesday, compared to more than 17,000 in neighbouring Italy.

Even adjusted for population sizes, Italy’s fatality rate is almost 40 times greater. Compared with other European Union members, too, Greece has fared better. Its fatalities are far lower than in Belgium (2,035) or the Netherlands (1,867), which have similar populations, but a much higher GDP. “State sensitivity, co-ordination, resolve, swiftness, seem not to be matters of economic magnitude,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently told a pared-down session of parliament. “Our schools closed before we had the first fatality. Most countries followed a week or two later, after they had mourned the loss of dozens,” he said.

George Pagoulatos, a political economist who heads the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), a think-tank, agrees that the government displayed “a very professional, managerial approach early on”, albeit largely dictated by inherent national weaknesses. Greece had very shallow resources with which to tackle a large outbreak. A decade of austerity saw its national healthcare expenses cut by three-quarters. Its intensive care beds numbered just 560 last month, though the government has now raised that to 910, and hired more than 4,000 extra doctors and nurses. Another weakness is that at least a quarter of Greece’s population is over 60, and elderly patients have been deemed particularly at risk from coronavirus.

All this has meant that a forward line of defence was Greece’s only real defence – but it has paid off. Greece is using only a tenth of its ICU beds, and has plenty of capacity left over.

Read more …

Put pressure on Mexico but not the US. BAU.

Saudi Energy Minister Says OPEC+ Oil Pact Hinges On Mexico Joining (R.)

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Friday that a final OPEC+ oil supply pact to reduce 10 million barrels per day (bpd), which was agreed on Thursday, hinges on Mexico joining in the cuts. OPEC, Russia and other allies, a group known as OPEC+, outlined plans on Thursday to cut their oil output by more than a fifth, but said a final agreement was dependent on Mexico signing up to the pact after it balked at the production cuts it was asked to make. Discussions among top global energy ministers will resume on Friday. “I hope (Mexico) comes to see the benefit of this agreement not only for Mexico but for the whole world. This whole agreement is hinging on Mexico agreeing to it,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Reuters by telephone.


Global fuel demand has plunged by around 30 million bpd, or 30% of global supplies, as steps to fight the coronavirus have grounded planes, cut vehicle usage and curbed economic activity. The kingdom will host an extraordinary meeting by video conference at 12.00 GMT on Friday for energy ministers from the Group of 20 major economies. Asked about other countries such as the United States, Canada and Brazil joining the OPEC+ cut pact, Prince Abdulaziz said: “They will do it in their own way, using their own approaches, and it is not our job to dictate to others what they could do based on their national circumstances.” [..] The planned output curbs by OPEC+ amount to 10 million bpd, or 10% of global supplies, with another 5 million bpd expected to come from other nations, according to sources, to help deal with the deepest oil crisis in decades.

Read more …

Shale outdid subprime in sheer craziness.

US Banks Prepare To Seize Energy Assets As Shale Boom Goes Bust (R.)

Major U.S. lenders are preparing to become operators of oil and gas fields across the country for the first time in a generation to avoid losses on loans to energy companies that may go bankrupt, sources aware of the plans told Reuters. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup are each in the process of setting up independent companies to own oil and gas assets, said three people who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The banks are also looking to hire executives with relevant expertise to manage them, the sources said. The banks did not provide comment in time for publication. Energy companies are suffering through a plunge in oil prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a supply glut, with crude prices down more than 60% this year.

Although oil prices may gain support from a potential agreement Thursday between Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut production, few believe the curtailment can offset a 30% drop in global fuel demand, as the coronavirus has grounded aircraft, reduced vehicle use and curbed economic activity more broadly. Oil and gas companies working in shale basins from Texas to Wyoming are saddled with debt. The industry is estimated to owe more than $200 billion to lenders through loans backed by oil and gas reserves. As revenue has plummeted and assets have declined in value, some companies are saying they may be unable to repay.

Whiting Petroleum Corp became the first producer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 1. Others, including Chesapeake Energy Corp, Denbury Resources Inc and Callon Petroleum Co, have also hired debt advisers. If banks do not retain bankrupt assets, they might be forced to sell them for pennies on the dollar at current prices. The companies they are setting up could manage oil and gas assets until conditions improve enough to sell at a meaningful value.

Read more …

A whole bunch of scared people together in not very much space.

Chicago Jail Reports 450 Coronavirus Cases Among Staff, Inmates (R.)

Some 450 inmates and staff have tested positive for coronavirus at Chicago’s largest jail, county corrections officials said on Thursday, representing one of the nation’s largest outbreaks of the respiratory illness at a single site so far in the pandemic. The surge of cases at Cook County Jail marks the latest flare-up of COVID-19 at jails and prisons in major cities across the United States, where detainees often live in close quarters. The situation gained national attention earlier this week when inmates posted handmade signs pleading for help in the windows of their cells overlooking a public street. “Sheriff’s officers and county medical professionals are aggressively working round-the-clock to combat the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic,” the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said in a written statement on Thursday.


Those measures include opening an off-site 500-bed “quarantine and care facility” for prisoners, an effort to move as many inmates as possible from double to single cells, and the opening of a testing site at the jail. “Front line” staff members were being checked for fever at the start of each shift and issued protective equipment if they interact with inmates, according to the sheriff’s department.[..] In Monroe, Washington, inmates at a minimum-security prison vandalized the facility in a protest on Wednesday evening after officials announced that six prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Washington state’s Department of Corrections. State and local police and corrections officers quelled the disturbance at the prison 24 miles northeast of Seattle using pepper spray, sting balls and rubber pellets, the corrections department said.


Signs made by prisoners pleading for help in a window of Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., April 9, 2020 REUTERS/Jim Vondruska

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“More than 150 Belmarsh guards are in self-isolation and the prison is barely functioning..”

Assange Not Infected But Says Many in Belmarsh Are (CN)

Julian Assange has told a friend in a telephone conversation on Wednesday that he is living in a prison in which the coronavirus is “ripping through” the population. He told photojournalist Vaughan Smith, founder of London’s Frontline Club, that he is isolated 23 1/2 hours a day and spends 30 minutes in a prison yard packed with other inmates. More than 150 Belmarsh guards are in self-isolation and the prison is barely functioning, Smith said. Assange did not show up for a video link to his case management hearing at Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday. A court official was overheard by three people present in the courtroom saying that Assange was “unwell.” He is not infected with Covid-19, but Vaughan says his life is threatened by it in prison.

Read more …

 

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Jul 202019
 


 

‘Looking to Break Status Quo,’ Iran Seizes UK Tanker (Defense One)
Deflationary Bust Baked in the Cake (Mish)
Fed’s Rosengren Doesn’t See The Case For A US Rate Cut (R.)
Market Needs Deep Rate Cut To Prevent Earnings Recession – Bianco (CNBC)
After Williams “Misguidance”, Fed Leaks No 50bps Rate Cut This Month (ZH)
Airlines Delay Boeing Max 737 Return Until November (G.)
Kids Could End Up In Foster Care Over Unpaid School Lunch Bills (USAT)
In a Crisis of Democracy, We Must All Become Julian Assange (Hayase)
Jim Acosta Won’t Condemn Espionage Act Being Used Against Julian Assange (CF)
Trump Was Oddly Reasonable About Plastic Straws (G.)
Germany’s Forests On The Verge Of Collapse (DW)

 

 

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, knows exactly what’s going on, and only narrowly shies away from blaming US and UK for the problems:

“They’re not looking to do something that is going to spiral out of control because war is not what they’re looking for.. But at the same time, their decision calculus is they’ve gotta do something in response.”

‘Looking to Break Status Quo,’ Iran Seizes UK Tanker (Defense One)

Iranian forces have seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, heightening the uncertainty in the region amid the disintegrating Iran nuclear deal and reigniting fears that simmering tensions with Iran could flare into conflict. A Liberian-flagged tanker was also seized, British officials said Friday. None of the captured crew are British citizens and it was not immediately apparent whether there were any casualties. Iran has protested the July 4 British seizure of one of its tankers in Gibraltar, which the U.K. said was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

Asked on Friday whether Friday’s incident was a likely retaliation for the detention of their ship, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that Iran typically looks for “things that are proportional in nature” to respond to actions from other nations that it considers a threat. Broadly, Iran is seeking to “break the status quo” of the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign of stifling sanctions, Ashley said. “They’re not looking to do something that is going to spiral out of control because war is not what they’re looking for,” Ashley told a small group of reporters at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “But at the same time, their decision calculus is they’ve gotta do something in response.”

The Trump administration has warned since May that Tehran is carrying out an intensifying campaign of provocative actions. Last month, President Trump ordered and then canceled airstrikes in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone that Iran said was flying in its airspace. (The United States says that the drone was flying over international waters.) On Thursday, U.S. Marines destroyed a drone that the White House said was Iranian (Tehran denies it) and which Pentagon officials said was closing in on an amphibious assault ship operating in the region.


If the United States hadn’t ordered airstrikes in June, this latest episode might not have drawn as much attention, said Mara Karlin, a Brookings Institution fellow and former defense official. But now, she said, Trump’s flirtation with airstrikes in June makes it almost impossible to predict how the White House, which has made constraining Iran a key pillar of its foreign policy, might respond to the seizure of a ship flagged to its closest ally. “We’re now in a totally different landscape,” she said, where both Iran and U.S. allies like the U.K. don’t understand Trump’s “escalation ladder.”

Read more …

Rate cuts no longer matter, says Mish.

Deflationary Bust Baked in the Cake (Mish)

A number of Fed governors and economic writers want a big cuts for insurance purposes. These people are economic illiterates. Rate cuts now as economic insurance is like trying to buy insurance on your car after you wrecked it. The bubbles have been blown. Rate cuts cannot unblow economic bubbles any more than they can unblow a horn.The bottom line at this point is an economic recession is baked in the cake. The global economy is slowing and the US will not be immune. It’s possible the US is in recession already, but consumer spending does not point that way, unless it’s revised. It’s all moot. The Fed has been fighting the deflation boogeyman.


Yet, the BIS did a historical study and found routine deflation was not any problem at all. “Deflation may actually boost output. Lower prices increase real incomes and wealth. And they may also make export goods more competitive,” stated the study. In the Fed’s foolish attempt to stave off consumer price deflation, the Fed sowed the seeds of a very destructive set of asset bubbles in junk bonds, housing, and the stock market. The widely discussed “everything bubble” is, in reality, a corporate junk bond bubble on steroids sponsored by the Fed. A 50 or even 100 basis point cut won’t matter now. It’s too late to matter. The debt deflation horn has already sounded.

Read more …

But if rate cuts no longer matter, then neither does the Fed. Can’t have that.

Fed’s Rosengren Doesn’t See The Case For A US Rate Cut (R.)

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren on Friday pushed back against expectations for an interest-rate cut when Fed policymakers meet later this month, saying the U.S. economy does not need a boost the way some other countries might. “It makes sense that if I was in Japan or if I was at the ECB (European Central Bank) that I would seriously be thinking about easing,” Rosengren said in an interview with CNBC. “The U.S. economy is not at that point, the economy is actually quite reasonable at this stage. So, if that were to change, I’d be happy to ease that point. But I don’t want to ease if the economy is doing perfectly well without that easing.”


In a separate interview, conducted Thursday and published Friday, Rosengren told the Wall Street Journal that economic data had improved since the Fed met in June, when it held rates steady. On Thursday, comments by New York Fed President John Williams stoked expectations that the U.S. central bank would cut rates by a half-percentage-point when it meets on July 30-31. But those expectations were deflated just hours later when a New York Fed representative said the comments were not meant to signal policy actions at the upcoming meeting. The Fed is widely expected to cut rates for the first time in a decade at its July meeting. Friday was the last day that investors will hear from Fed officials until they release their policy statement at the close of the July meeting.

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Imagine seeing your self as a ‘market guy’, but failing to see there is no market left.

Market Needs Deep Rate Cut To Prevent Earnings Recession – Bianco (CNBC)

Market researcher James Bianco believes Wall Street is teetering closer to an earnings recession. Unless the Federal Reserve intervenes with a bigger-than-expected 50 basis point cut, he’s worried that year-over-year earnings growth rates for the second and third quarters will go even lower. “The estimates for the third quarter are somewhere just below zero. This is not earnings growth. This is just struggling to stay at zero,” the Bianco Research president told CNBC’s “Trading Nation ” on Wednesday. Bianco is building his case on an ominous trend in the current quarter’s S&P 500 earnings expectations.


“The estimates have just gone negative in the last week or so,” said Bianco. “They’re only down a couple of 10ths, but they are negative. And, they’ve been in a downtrend of several months.” Bianco, who calls himself a “market guy,” has been firmly in the rate-cut camp. He has been calling for the Fed to slash rates four times over the next 12 months. He is concerned the longer the 10-year and 3-month U.S. Treasury yields are inverted, corporate profits could sustain more damage. “It’s telling you that money is too tight for four or five months,” Bianco said. “Better to go 50 [basis point cut] now and you can raise rates later.”

Read more …

I see a bunch of spoiled, undereducated and overpaid kids shouting out to hide their ignorance.

After Williams “Misguidance”, Fed Leaks No 50bps Rate Cut This Month (ZH)

How do you put the monetary genie back in the bottle? That is what the Federal Reserve is scrambling to figure out today after a day of unprecedented miscommunication by NY Fed president John Wiliams, who as we reported on Thursday, not only singlehandedly repriced market expectations for a 50bps rate cut on July 31, but went so far as to hint that ZIRP is coming back. The fact that even uber dove, St Louis Fed president James Bullard, afterwards said they were expecting 25bps at best, was their desperate attempt to reset market expectations back to 25bps, but by then it was too late, and as of moments ago, the market was pricing in roughly 40% odds of a 50bps rate cut in two weeks, down from 70% yesterday. In retrospect, Williams made a massive communication mistake.

As Bank of America explained earlier today in a note from chief economist Michelle Meyer titled “The 50bps head fake”, in which she wrote that “on Thursday NY Fed President Williams gave a speech titled “Living Life Near the ZLB” arguing for monetary policy to be proactive and aggressive when confronting an “adverse” outlook. He argued that when short-term interest rates are close to zero, policymakers shouldn’t “keep their powder dry” and that they could not afford to take an “`wait and see’ approach to gain additional clarity about potentially adverse economic developments.” Shortly after, in a TV interview, Vice Chair Clarida strongly argued that it is prudent to take preventative measures with monetary policy when close to the zero lower bound (ZLB). Together, these comments moved markets closer to a 50bp cut at the end of the month.”


However, in an unprecedented move, the NY Fed subsequently released a statement stating that President Williams’s speech on Thursday afternoon was not intended to send a signal that the Fed might make a large interest rate cut this month but rather it was “an academic speech on 20 years of research.” Why did the NY Fed do this? Simple: as BofA explains, “the FOMC was uncomfortable with the market moving toward a 50bp cut and wanted to push the market back to a 25bp baseline.” In other words, as Meyer puts it, “Williams unintentionally misguided the markets”.

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Like they have any say in the matter.

Airlines Delay Boeing Max 737 Return Until November (G.)

The swift return of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft to the skies was put further in doubt this week with airlines signalling that they do not hope to operate the plane any time soon. With more than four months already elapsed since the plane was grounded by regulators, Southwest and American, two of the jet’s main US operators, followed United Airlines in saying they would be taking the Max out of their schedules until November. Ryanair, Europe’s biggest short-haul carrier, also announced it would have to curb expansion plans pinned on the arrival of its 737 Max orders and that some airport bases would have to shut as a result. Making the announcement on Tuesday, its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said he remained committed to the plane: “We’ve described them as gamechangers – and they remain gamechangers.”


But O’Leary admitted even its biggest customers – Ryanair has ordered 135 models – have little visibility on its immediate future: “We’re still operating in the realms of considerable uncertainty … there are no guarantees.” [..] Elsewhere this week, it became clear that restoring trust among passengers could take longer than fixing the plane. In Washington, relatives of passengers who died in the Ethiopian disaster told Congressional hearings that Boeing had focused on profits “at the expense of human life”. In a blistering attack on the manufacturer and the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), Paul Njoroge, who lost five family members including his wife and three children in the crash, warned that, without change, “another plane will dive to the ground, killing me, you”.

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“After complaints, district officials announced they plan to send out a less threatening letter next week.”

Kids Could End Up In Foster Care Over Unpaid School Lunch Bills (USAT)

A Pennsylvania school district is warning children could end up in foster care if their parents do not pay overdue school lunch bills. The letters sent recently to about 1,000 parents in Wyoming Valley West School District have led to complaints from parents and a stern rebuke from Luzerne County child welfare authorities. The district says that it is trying to collect more than $20,000, and that other methods to get parents to pay have not been successful. Four parents owe at least $450 apiece. The letter claims the unpaid bills could lead to dependency hearings and removal of their children for not providing them with food. “You can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child’s right to food. The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care,” the letter read. After complaints, district officials announced they plan to send out a less threatening letter next week.

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This is good.

In a Crisis of Democracy, We Must All Become Julian Assange (Hayase)

The framers of the constitution wanted to have power over people. As a testimony to this, the original draft of the constitution did not have a Bill of Rights. They were added to the constitution as amendments. This didn’t come about without a struggle. The proponents of the Bill of Rights demanded them in order to safeguard individual liberty and challenged those who seek to preserve levers of control. Even after the constitution was ratified with a Bill of Rights, the existence of this unaccounted power was never truly addressed. The wording of the First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Here, the First Amendment was aimed to restrict the governmental power. It was specifically addressing what Congress can’t do. However, the constitution didn’t ensure that corporations would not be able to circumvent laws and restrict freedom of speech. This lack of oversight made the system of governance vulnerable to corruption, as was observed by Thomas Jefferson, when he warned American people about a time when the American system of government would degenerate into a form of “elective despotism”.

The managed democracy relies on secrecy and deception to control the will of the populace. With the infiltration of commercial interests and the consolidation of media, the big business class has found a way to regulate free speech on their terms. The establishment of corporate media turned journalists’ First Amendment protection into a privilege that they can use against the public. Journalists, who have now become a new class of professionals, no longer share interests with ordinary people. They serve the agendas of the powerful state in maintaining an illusion of democracy, by restricting the flow of information and controlling narratives. For instance, the New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sends some of its stories to the US government for approval from “national security officials” before publication.


With the merger of the state and corporations, the power of private companies to influence governments and erode civil liberty has increased. Transnational corporations can now revoke and restrict basic rights at any time, crossing the judicial boundaries on the borderless cyberspace. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter censor free speech online and, without warrant, spy and invade the privacy of users.

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Cassandra.

Jim Acosta Won’t Condemn Espionage Act Being Used Against Julian Assange (CF)

CNN talking head, and resident White House activist, Jim Acosta refused to condemn the Espionage Act being used against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange at an event where he was attempting to portray himself as a defender of the free press. Acosta’s book is titled, “The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America,” but do not let that headline fool you into thinking that he supports the freedom of the press. Acosta was asked about his thoughts on the subject by YouTuber Matt Orfalea at an event at the Newseum over the weekend titled, “The President and the Press: The First Amendment and the First 100 Days.”

The question asked by Orfalea was simple, “what do you think of the Trump administration’s use of the controversial Espionage Act to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified information in the 2010s that exposed war crimes, informed the public, and didn’t harm anyone?” Assange has been charged for his release of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs which were provided to him by Chelsea Manning. He is not currently charged with anything related to the 2016 election, but that did not stop Acosta from trying to make a case for why he wants to see him punished for the 2010 release as payback for the completely unrelated publication of the Democratic National Committee emails.

“I am probably not gonna give you a satisfactory answer,” Acosta correctly began, “but I’m gonna do the best that I can. “I do think, and forgive me if you don’t agree with me on this, I do think what happened with us and my press pass case is slightly different than what happened with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks,” Acosta said. The CNN pundit was correct here, as Assange has published world changing information and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on seven occasions. Acosta simply attempts to insert himself into news cycles to go viral and keep his face on television.


“My understanding about the Julian Assange situation is that, you know, he is being charged not just for trying to speak truth to power, and trying to reveal things. He’s in trouble for other things. What we’ve seen during the 2016 campaign where there were contacts between WikiLeaks and Russian operatives — that I think takes WikiLeaks and Julian Assange into sort of a different category than just a straight news organization — straight publisher of news around the world,” Acosta stammered on, as if he himself is part of a “straight news organization.” Acosta added that he is not “rendering a verdict on Julian Assange” and that he should have his day in court.

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The Guardian struggles to agree with Trump on anything at all.

Trump Was Oddly Reasonable About Plastic Straws (G.)

[..] it was the question from a reporter who piped up after Trump had stonewalled a question on his felonious former fixer that was the last, well … “Are you in favor of banning plastic straws?” the reporter asked. “I do think we have bigger problems than plastic straws,” Trump responded. “You know, it’s interesting about plastic straws: so, you have a little straw, but what about the plates, the wrappers, and everything else that are much bigger and they’re made of the same material? So, the straws are interesting. Everybody focuses on the straws. There’s a lot of other things to focus on. But it’s an – it’s an interesting question.”

Trump’s response is largely remarkable for how reasonable it is. Straws are an interesting question that have garnered disproportionate focus, and other single-use plastics, such as cups, plates and wrappers, do need to be part of efforts to address our unsustainable addiction to plastic. [..] Plastic straws only make up about 1% of the plastic waste in the ocean, according to Jim Leape, co-director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. And while plastic straw bans alone will solve neither climate change nor plastic pollution, they have also been criticized by advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, who often need straws to drink. Kim Sauder, a PhD student in disability studies, has described such bans as “environmental theater”.

[..] Trump’s response is also surprising because, for once, he eschewed fanning the fire of a culture war that his campaign has been attempting to stoke. Plastic straw selfies were a mini-Maga meme last summer, with various rightwing pseudocelebrities photographed themselves wasting plastic for no reason other than to “own the libs” who care about sea turtles and sustainability. This week, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale attempted to recapture the meme magic with a tweet comparing the efficacy of paper straws to “liberal progress”. “This is exactly what they would do to the economy as well,” he tweeted. “Squeeze it until it doesn’t work.”


The campaign website is also selling packs of 10 plastic straws “laser engraved” with Trump’s name for $15, with the tagline: “Liberal paper straws don’t work.” But if the campaign message was supposed to be “Vote for Trump because the libs are coming for your straws”, Trump himself failed to get the memo.

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Didn’t need the sensationalist headline. Issues are bad enough.

Germany’s Forests On The Verge Of Collapse (DW)

Germany’s forests are undoubtedly suffering as a result of climate change, with millions of seedlings planted in the hope of diversifying and restoring forests dying, warns Ulrich Dohle, chairman of the 10,000-member Bunds Deutscher Forstleute (BDF) forestry trade union. “It’s a catastrophe. German forests are close to collapsing,” Dohle added in an interview with t-online, a online news portal of Germany’s Ströer media group. Low rainfall last summer saw Germany’s rivers reach extreme lows, with some waterways still struggling and forests prone to fire. “These are no longer single unusual weather events. That is climate change,” said Dohle.

Helge Bruelheide, co-director of Germany’s Center for Integrative Biodiversity, warned: “if the trend prevails and the annual precipitation sinks below 400 millimeters (15.7 inches) then there will be areas in Germany that will no longer be forestable.” Lüdenscheid, a densely forested area in central Germany, was no exception, Bohle added. Its precipitation had slumped from one-meter (3.2-meters) in 2017 to only 483 millimeters last year. Catchments in central Europe collected only 10% more rainfall in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018, a trend exacerbated by uneven wet-then-dry months,Germany’s Institute of Hydrology (BFG) reported Thursday.


Low river levels “remain unchanged” in many parts of Germany, the BFG said, with only the Rhine River currently carrying sufficient water for shipping. It’s expected to fall in the coming weeks as dry, warmer weather returns. What Dohle of the forestry trade union termed “dramatic tree deaths” began with winter snow dumps in early 2018 which broke branches, weakening the trees’ natural defences and letting in fungal infections, “followed by drought and bark beetle infestation” that killed off European spruce trees. One million older trees have since died — not only heat susceptible spruces, but even Germany’s prized European Red Beech which had been widely planted over the past decade in the hope of creating climate stable forests, Dohle added.

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Picture Zero Hedge used with my article yesterday:

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 302018
 


Giovanni Bellini St. Francis in ecstasy 1480

 

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)
Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)
UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)
Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)
Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)
Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)
Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)
Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)
Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)
Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)
EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)
People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

 

 

“China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity.”

Will China be 2019’s big story? Is the PBOC even more powerless than the Fed?

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)

Just about every economic measure is trending down in China, and not surprisingly, deflation fears are mounting. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released Dec. 27, reported that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring all fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. A much-weaker 2019 appears to be in the offing for China, but it’s not solely due to trade tensions with the United States. The domestic economy was already on weak footing and the CBB argues that government support is unlikely. The CBB is a research service that speaks to thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter. It contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation.

“Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” said Shehzad Qazi, CBB managing director, in an interview. While lower prices look good for consumers, policy-makers don’t like deflation for a number of reasons. With prices falling, companies produce less, often lay off workers, and reduce investment, leading to a vicious circle of sorts. While the trade war hurts export-sensitive regions, local orders have now weakened for two straight quarters. Hiring fell for the first time since early 2016. Worse still, the fall was concentrated in services and retail, two sectors being counted upon to pick up the slack left by manufacturing’s woes.

Also, debt—of which China has plenty—becomes more problematic under deflation, as its value adjusted for inflation rises. And it’s an issue for central bankers, who typically target 2 percent inflation for price stability. Rate cuts to spur the economy and inflation are less effective, since the real interest rates are higher when accounting for deflation. “China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity. Appearances by inflation should be cheered,” according to the CBB Q4 preview. “They are also rare.”

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No effort needed.

Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)

The European Union is not trying to keep Britain in and wants to start discussing future ties the moment the U.K. parliament approves Brexit, partly to focus on its own unity ahead of May elections, the head of the bloc’s executive said. “It is being insinuated that our aim is to keep the United Kingdom in the EU by all possible means. That is not our intention. All we want is clarity about our future relations. And we respect the result of the referendum.” Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in an interview. Juncker said the EU was ready to start negotiating a new deal with Britain right after the British parliament approves the divorce deal. A vote is now due in the week starting Jan. 14.

He also said Britain should get its act together. “And then tell us what it is you want,” he said. “I am working on the assumption that it will leave, because that is what the people of the United Kingdom have decided,” he added, refusing to be drawn into whether Britain would hold a second Brexit vote. “That is for the British to decide.” [..] He said he felt EU citizens were increasingly growing apart, another problem to tackle ahead of Europe-wide parliamentary elections in May. “We have to ensure that these rifts do not become too deep,” Juncker said. “We must not imply that the populists are right … they are just loud and do not have any specific proposals to offer on solving the challenges of our time.”

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They want more delays.

UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)

Britain’s trade minister Liam Fox said there is a “50-50” chance that Brexit may be stopped if parliament rejects the government’s divorce deal with the European Union next month. “If we were not to vote for that, I’m not sure I would give it (Brexit) much more than 50-50,” Fox, a leading supporter of leaving the EU, told the Sunday Times newspaper. With three months left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, May’s Brexit deal is floundering, opening up a range of possibilities from a Brexit without a trade deal to calling Brexit off. Earlier this month, May pulled a planned vote on her deal after admitting parliament would reject it. Lawmakers are set to vote on the deal in the week starting Jan. 14.

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But a delay of a few months?! What good will that do?

Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)

Senior Tory and Labour MPs are planning to force the government to delay Brexit by several months to avoid a no-deal outcome if Theresa May fails to get her deal through parliament in January, the Observer has been told. Cross-party talks have been under way for several weeks to ensure the 29 March date is put back – probably until July at the latest – if the government does not push for a delay itself. It is also understood that cabinet ministers have discussed the option of a delay with senior backbench MPs in both the main parties and that Downing Street is considering scenarios in which a delay might have to be requested from Brussels.

One senior Tory backbencher said: “I have had these discussions with ministers. They will not say so in public but of course the option of a delay has to be looked at in detail now. If we are determined to avoid a no deal, and the prime minister’s deal fails, we will have to ask to stop the clock, and that will give time for us to decide to go whatever way we decide thereafter.” The Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he believed that even if May got her deal through, there would probably be insufficient time to push all the necessary legislation through parliament to allow Brexit to happen smoothly and that a delay might well be necessary. But if her deal were voted down, the need to take up the option of a delay would become a “certainty”.

He said: “I think that if she does not get her deal passed, a delay would be inevitable to give more time to avoid a no deal, and also there is the possibility that there would be a referendum, so this would allow for that.” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said that parliament would need to discuss all options, including a possible delay, if and when May failed to get her blueprint through the Commons. “If the prime minister’s deal is voted down in early January, then we will be just nine weeks away from the date we are due to leave the EU,” Starmer said. “If the deal is rejected, parliament will need to have a very serious debate about how to protect the economy from a no-deal scenario and at this stage nothing should be ruled out.”


Brexit options. Click to enlarge

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“..if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters…”

Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)

In your book, you criticise the way parallels have been made between Brexit and the 100 years war. What is the main problem? A single word: vassalage. What on earth is this word doing in political discourse in the 21st century? I was struck by its re-emergence. It comes originally from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, this mad idea that somehow the 100 years war shows the English capacity to throw off feudal vassalage. It’s a ludicrous misunderstanding of history. The war was more like Charles Taylor in Sierre Leone – a hideous crime against humanity. To go back to that as the only thing you have to express what English freedom might mean in the 21st century shows how demented it is.

You also write about the long English tradition of clinging romantically to heroic defeat. What do you ascribe this to? George Orwell wrote about this in the early 1940s. He said that it was extraordinary that if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters. It’s Scott of the Antarctic, it’s the Charge of the Light Brigade, it’s Gordon of Khartoum. That tradition of heroic failure was great when you were ruling the world as it was a way of saying we’re not really a nasty imperial power. But in a post-imperial age you get a farcical version. Because originally the thing that characterised heroic failure in the English imagination was not self-pity, but Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity.

You describe a false caricature of Germany, put about by Brexiters, of an expansionist nation. You also say that the EU, and especially Germany, had a need to severely punish debtor countries. Is Germany the glue that holds the EU together or a controlling villain? There’s no doubt that Germany is the major power in Europe, and that’s one of the things going on with Brexit. It’s this idea that this country we defeated twice in the 20th century is now seen as the dominant power. That leads to fantasies that Britain really lost the war and we’re being taken over insidiously by the Germans. The real problem with the Germans isn’t that they’re trying to take over Europe. It’s that they’ve promulgated a very heavy austerity that is deeply ingrained in the German mentality. The irony is, it’s exactly the policy that the Tory Brexiters themselves were pursuing.

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Not quite UBI.

Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)

Italy’s parliament has approved a revised budget for 2019, amid opposition complaints that it was dictated by the EU. The country’s populist government had originally vowed to push through costly campaign promises including a universal basic income. But in October, the European Commission raised concerns about the impact of such spending on Italy’s debt levels. Rome was told to revise its budget, or face fines and disciplinary action. Under a deal struck with the Commission last week, Italy lowered its planned budget deficit from 2.4% of GDP to 2.04% – less of a reduction than European officials had hoped for. The value of its concessions is understood to be a little more than €10bn. The deadline for passing the budget was 31 December, after which the government would have been forced to continue with the 2018 budget on a monthly basis.

[..] Italy’s coalition government, made up of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League, has pledged the following:
• A new income support scheme known as the “citizens’ wage” will pay €780 a month to 1.7 million of Italy’s poorest families. The measure is forecast to cost €7.1bn.
• The retirement age will be cut from the current 67 to 62, for workers who have paid into the pension system for 38 years.
• More than a million self-employed workers earning under €65,000 a year will see their taxes cut to 15%.

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Watch for New Year’s Eve.

Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)

Protesters in France have marched on the headquarters of various French media organisations, with groups taking to the streets in small groups in Paris and across the country. Now in its seventh week, the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests have shrunk somewhat but hundreds of demonstrators, some chanting “fake news” and “journalists – collaborationists”, and others hurling stones, descended on the offices of TV network BFM and the state-run France Televisions. Police in riot gear intervened, leading to skirmishes, with officers eventually using tear gas to disperse those on the streets and making a number of arrests. Despite a lower turnout than at previous protests demonstrators still caused havoc, with some setting fire to a number of cars in central Paris leaving streets choked by fumes.

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Damn foreigners!

Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)

A cyber-attack has caused printing and delivery disruptions to major US newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun. The attack on Saturday appeared to originate outside the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported. It led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of the Times, the Tribune, the Sun and other newspapers that share a production platform in Los Angeles. Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Sun, as well as the New York Daily News and Orlando Sentinel, said it first detected the malware on Friday.

The west coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were also hit, as they are printed on the shared production platform, the Los Angeles Times said. A Tribune Publishing spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias, said the virus affected back-office systems used to publish and produce “newspapers across our properties”. “There is no evidence that customer credit card information or personally identifiable information has been compromised,” Kollias said. Most San Diego Union-Tribune subscribers were without a newspaper on Saturday as the virus infected the company’s business systems and hobbled its ability to publish, the paper’s editor and publisher, Jeff Light, wrote on its website.

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“..when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.”

Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)

The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global U.S. military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon. But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.

By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use U.S. troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria. In a March rally in Ohio ostensibly about health care reform, Trump suddenly blurted out, “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon—very soon we’re coming out.”

Then in early April 2018, Trump’s impatience with his advisors on Syria boiled over into a major confrontation at a National Security Council meeting, where he ordered them unequivocally to accept a fundamentally different Syria deployment policy. Trump opened the meeting with his public stance that the United States must end its intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly. He argued repeatedly that the U.S. had gotten “nothing” for its efforts, according to an account published by the Associated Press based on interviews with administration officials who had been briefed on the meeting. When Dunford asked him to state exactly what he wanted, Trump answered that he favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and an end to the “stabilization” program in Syria.

Mattis responded that an immediate withdrawal from Syria was impossible to carry out responsibly, would risk the return of Islamic State, and would play into the hands of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, whose interests ran counter to those of the United States. Trump reportedly then relented and said they have could five or six months to destroy the Islamic State. But he also made it clear that he did not want them to come back to him in October and say that they had been unable to defeat ISIS and had to remain in Syria. When his advisors reiterated that they didn’t think America could withdraw responsibly, Trump told them to “just get it done.”

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New Knowledge. Defenders of freedom. Geez…

Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)

The co-founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge warned Americans in November to “remain vigilant” in the face of “Russian efforts” to meddle in US elections. This month, they have been exposed for doing just that themselves. Ryan Fox and Jonathan Morgan, who run the New Knowledge cybersecurity company which claims to “monitor disinformation” online, penned a foreboding op-ed in the New York Times on November 6, about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections. At the time, it struck me that Fox and Morgan’s reasoning seemed a little far-fetched. For example, one of the pieces of evidence presented to prove that Russia had targeted American elections was that lots of people had posted links to RT’s content online.

Hardly a smoking gun worthy of a Times oped. Morgan and Fox, intrepid cyber sleuths that they are, claimed in the article they had detected more “overall activity” from ongoing Russian influence campaigns than social media companies like Facebook and Twitter had yet revealed — or that other researchers had been able to identify. The New Knowledge guys even authored a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s alleged efforts to mess with American democracy. They called it a “propaganda war against American citizens.” Impressive stuff. They must be really good at their job, right? This week, however, we learned that New Knowledge was running its own disinformation campaign (or “propaganda war against Americans,” you could say), complete with fake Russian bots designed to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore as a Russia-preferred candidate when he was running for the US senate in Alabama in 2017.

The scheme was exposed by the New York Times — the paper that just over a month earlier published that aforementioned oped, in which Fox and Morgan pontificated about Russian interference online. New Knowledge created a mini-army of fake Russian bots and fake Facebook groups. The accounts, which had Russian names, were made to follow Moore. An internal company memo boasted that New Knowledge had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”

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How popular do you think it would be if we pay people to not kill off orangutans? Lions, hippos?

EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)

The European Union is phasing out the use of palm oil in transport fuel, triggering criticism of trade protectionism and threats of retaliation from major producersIndonesia and Malaysia. The European move comes after years of activist campaigns about the vegetable oil associated with rampant deforestation and labor abuses, highlighting how consumer concerns about sustainability are increasingly influencing businesses. According to Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations co-founded by the World Wildlife Fund, the large Indonesian island of Sumatra lost 56 percent of its 25 million hectares (250,000 square kilometers, or bigger than the size of the U.K.) of natural forests over 31 years.

The palm oil industry, with its national epicenter on that island, is thought to be one of the biggest drivers of that loss, the coalition said. France and Norway have become the first few countries to start curbing use of palm oil in the last month, driving fears in major Southeast Asian producing countries, where the cash crop has powered economic growth. Indonesia and Malaysia together produce over 80 percent of the world’s palm oil. More broadly, the EU agreed in June to phase out the use of palm oil in transport fuel from 2030 as part of a broader plan to increase the share of renewables in the bloc’s energy production. The EU is one of the world’s top consumers of palm oil, which is used in a wide range of products from baked goods to detergents.

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All of a sudden the UK creates a frenzy over refugees in the Channel.

People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

Tech companies are failing to crack down on people-smugglers using their platforms to lure migrants “to their deaths” with promise of safe passage to Europe, the UN has warned. Companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp are “enabling criminal activity” by traffickers who entrap victims who are unaware of the dangers they face, according to the UN’s migration agency. The warning comes amid a surge in migrants attempting to reach the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats, with almost 100 people intercepted by both British and French authorities while attempting to reach the UK from France since Christmas Day. [..]

Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said migrants were being “lured to Calais” over the internet as smugglers operate via social networks “without any real oversight” from the companies controlling them. He said that while tech firms had taken measures to curb other exploitative activities such as child pornography, efforts to prevent people-smuggling has been “microscopic” compared with the damage it causes. [..] Charities on the ground in northern France meanwhile cautioned that irregular migration was not the result of social media but of the persecution faced by migrants in their home countries. But they said failure by European governments to inform refugees of their right to seek asylum and how to do so had enabled criminal gangs to “fill the void”, often through online social networks.

Mr Doyle told The Independent: “People like to point fingers over the migration crisis, but a big part of it must be that the guy or the girl in the village with nothing but a cracked smartphone can actually meet a smuggler in a heartbeat. “This person will often have no prior knowledge, no sense that this is a trap, no sense that this is going to end up in their prostitution, their slavery, their murder, their drowning. “But the tech companies that have done so much to bring technology to its current place are not investing in civic communication to help counter-balance the nonsense people get from social media.

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May 162018
 


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)
US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)
Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)
Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)
Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)
Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)
Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)
New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)
US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)
Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)
Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)
UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)
Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

 

 

Deflation.

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)

What if the entire world of money is preparing for the wrong disaster — which would be a disaster in and of itself? Since the financial crisis, Wall Street, central-bank heads, economists, and policymakers have been waiting for the return of inflation. At the beginning of this year, they thought they had found it. It came, so they thought, in the form of a weak dollar, wage growth, economic stability in China, and steadily rising interest rates. So here in the US, the Fed started talking about the importance of preparing to fight runaway inflation. In fact, it’s obsessed with the idea. According to Deutsche Bank analyst Torsten Slok, the Fed is talking more about inflation now (in its minutes and in its reports) than it did in 2006 when the economy was actually overheating, right before the crash.

This, even though personal-consumption expenditures haven’t grown by the Federal Reserve’s 2% target since the financial crisis. There’s a lot of noise, from data revisions and Trump tweets, trade-war threats and hopes of growth from tax policy, a wobbling stock market, and rising interest rates. But when it comes down to it, the things that everyone is saying will be sources of inflation may not be sources at all. Meanwhile, the weak dollar, wage growth, and a stable China elixir that got markets high in January have since faded. That should be a warning. If we play our cards wrong and pay attention to all the wrong signs, we may still be in a world tilting dangerously closer to our old enemy, deflation.

[..] As Slok said, aging can’t fully explain why wage growth has been suppressed, but he has other ideas too. “One important reason why the expansion since 2009 has been so weak is that wealth gains have been unevenly distributed (see chart below). A decline in the homeownership rate and the number of households holding stocks has dampened consumer spending growth for the bottom 90% of households,” he wrote in a note to clients back in March.

The deflationary impacts of economic inequality and an aging population are not going away with the flick of a wrist or the push of a button. They are long-term challenges that require imaginative, difficult policy solutions. It’s hard to see that coming from the Trump administration or an increasingly polarized, uncooperative world. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we waiting for the wrong disaster?

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That’s the end?!

US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)

A sharp sell-off in the bond market is sending mortgage rates to the highest level in seven years. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed will likely end the day as high as 4.875% for the highest creditworthy borrowers and 5% for the average borrower, according to Mortgage News Daily. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, started the year right around 4% but began rising almost immediately. They then leveled off in March and early April, only to begin rising yet again. Tuesday’s move follows positive economic data in retail sales, suggesting that newly imposed tariffs would not hit sales as hard as expected.

Rates have been widely expected to rise, as the Federal Reserve increases its lending rate and pulls back its investments in mortgage-backed bonds. But mortgage rates have reacted only in fits and starts. “The bottom line is that the writing on the wall has been telling rates to go higher since at least last September,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Rates keep looking back to see if the writing has changed, and although there have been opportunities for hope (trade wars, stock selling-sprees, spotty data at times), it hasn’t. Today is just the latest reiteration of that writing.”

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10% unemployment.

Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)

Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%. The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s. The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.

Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks. If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%. Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.

These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR. The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4percentage points. If those potential workers reflected in the difference between the 2018 and 2000 LFPRs were added back to the unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate would be close to 10%.

[..] Another serious problem is illustrated in Chart 1 below. This shows the U.S. budget deficit as apercentage of GDP (the white line measured on the right scale) compared with the official unemployment rate (the blue line measured on the left scale). From the late 1980s through 2009, these two time series exhibited a fairly strong correlation. As unemployment went up, the deficit went up also because of increased costs for food stamps, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending and other so-called “automatic stabilizers” designed to bring the economy out of recession. That makes sense. But as the chart reveals, the correlation has broken down since 2009 and the two time series are diverging rapidly. Unemployment is going down, but budget deficits are still going up.

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Too late to get a new government?

Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)

In financial markets, memories can be short. Last year, Argentina sold 100-year bonds, joining a select club of countries with the confidence to borrow for such an extended period. Yes, the same Argentina that has defaulted on its debt eight times in the past 200 years, including the largest sovereign default in history in 2001. Not long before investors decided it was a good idea to lend to the South American nation for 100 years, it was largely shut out of international capital markets. In June 2017, Argentina sold $2.75 billion of US dollar-denominated 100-year bonds at an effective yield of 8%. The history of defaults seemed to be forgotten—nearly $10 billion in bids were placed for the bonds.

The sale came at a time when investors were hungry for high-yielding debt, but it also showed confidence in president Mauricio Macri and his program of pro-market reforms. Less than a year later, Macri has asked the IMF for a $30 billion loan to help it combat a currency crisis and limit further damage to the Argentinian economy from a dangerous outbreak of market turmoil. What went wrong?

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Not sure it’ll be all that slow. Turekey has borrowed in dollars up the wazoo.

Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)

Turkey’s economy is overheating and if the government doesn’t act then the country is in trouble, according to several analysts. “The government has no intention of tackling imbalances or overheating,” Marcus Chevenix, global political research analyst at TS Lombard, said in a research note this week. “It is this unwillingness to act that leads us to believe that we can now say that Turkey is entering a slow burning crisis.” The Turkish lira is at a record low against the dollar, and is ranked among the worst-performing currencies this year. After comments this week by Turkish President Recep Erdogan promising to lower interest rates after the country’s June election, the currency tanked to its lowest point yet against the greenback, hitting 4.4527 on Tuesday mid-afternoon.

The dollar has appreciated by around 18% against the lira so far this year. The reason? Erdogan has been sitting on interest rates, opting for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling its double-digit inflation. Turkey’s growth rate reached an impressive 7.4% for 2017 and leads the G-20, but at the expense of inflation, which has shot up to 10.9%. Market sentiment has driven much of the lira’s sell-off, as investors worry about government intervention in monetary policy and central bank independence. Investors have been hoping for a rate rise by the bank, but that now appears unlikely.

Erdogan plays an unusually heavy-handed role in deciding his country’s monetary policy, and many observers say he keeps the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s (TCMB) hands tied. The bank finally raised its rates for the first time in several sessions in late April, moving its late liquidity window rate (which it uses to set policy) up by 75 basis points to 13.5%. The lira temporarily jumped on the news. But Erdogan aims to bring the rate back down, saying it must be done to ease pressure on Turkish households and drive the growth needed to create jobs for Turkey’s youth. “I’m seriously concerned about the Turkish lira,” Piotr Matys at Rabobank told CNBC via email. “Is Turkey the domino the market expects to fall next? It’s got all those problems — high current account deficit, government borrowing in other currencies.”

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He went to the City for this?!

Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)

“Shock and disbelief” – that’s how global money managers reacted to an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to re-assure foreign investors about his economic management as the lira went into tailspin. Fund managers who met Erdogan and his delegation in London on Monday, part of a three-day visit to Britain, were baffled about how he plans to tame rising inflation and a currency in freefall – while simultaneously seeking lower interest rates. Some said that while Erdogan has crushed his domestic enemies, he would find taking on international financial markets with policies that defy economic orthodoxy much tougher.

A resurgent dollar, rising oil prices and a jump in borrowing costs have caused havoc across emerging markets in recent weeks. However, Turkey has been among the worst affected due to its a gaping current account deficit and growing puzzlement over who exactly holds the reins of monetary policy. Erdogan’s comments that he planned to take greater control of the economy after snap presidential and parliamentary elections next month deepened investors’ worries about the central bank’s ability to fight inflation, helping to send the lira to a record low on Tuesday.

Rampant inflation dogged Turkey for decades before 2000 and has been back in double digits since the start of 2017. But Erdogan has styled himself as an enemy of high interest rates, defying orthodox monetary policy that prescribes tighter credit to keep a lid on prices. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the meetings, investors told Reuters they were flabbergasted by his stance and willingness to go into battle with world markets at such a fragile time.

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A suggestive and tendentious piece by the Guardian, which seems to prepare us for a justification of Ecuador throwing Julian out. Other articles in today’s paper have titles like “How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy” and “Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy?”

Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)

Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin. Other guests included hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists.

[..] Documents show the intelligence programme, called “Operation Guest”, which later became known as “Operation Hotel” – coupled with parallel covert actions – ran up an average cost of at least $66,000 a month for security, intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to “protect” one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives. An investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveals the operation had the approval of the then Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, according to sources. [..] Worried that British authorities could use force to enter the embassy and seize Assange, Ecuadorian officials came up with plans to help him escape.

They included smuggling Assange out in a diplomatic vehicle or appointing him as Ecuador’s United Nations representative so he could have diplomatic immunity in order to attend UN meetings, according to documents seen by the Guardian dated August 2012. In addition to giving Assange asylum, Correa’s government was apparently prepared to spend money on improving his image. A lawyer was asked to devise a “media strategy” to mark the “second anniversary of his diplomatic asylum”, in a leaked 2014 email exchange seen by the Guardian.

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Force them to open the books.

New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)

New York’s City Council is plotting a crackdown on Airbnb, the largest home-sharing platform in the world, as the hotel industry and its unionized workers push lawmakers in some of the nation’s biggest cities to blunt the $30 billion company’s growth. New York City’s push resembles a legislative effort underway in Los Angeles, and comes months after San Francisco passed a measure mandating that hosts of short-term rental platforms register their homes with the city, leading to a decline in listings. The coastal cities are among Airbnb’s largest markets in the United States.

The Council is crafting a bill that would require online home-sharing companies to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the addresses of their listings — a potential blow to Airbnb if its users are revealed to be turning rent-regulated apartments into business enterprises in a city starved for more housing. The move is coming two years after New York’s state Legislature first took aim at Airbnb with a bill that banned the advertising of illegal short-term rentals — but ultimately did little to hurt the company. The New York push comes amid a well-funded advertising and lobbying campaign by the hotel industry, which has run ads supporting a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer that was critical of Airbnb, and is accusing the company of reducing the amount of affordable housing in cities.

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What’s taking so long?

US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)

Litigation against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is intensifying as six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales. U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids. “It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.

Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. [..] Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. The privately-held company in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers. Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits.

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And on and on and on…

Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)

The tug of war between the IMF and Berlin over the Greek debt issue is threatening Greece’s successful bailout program exit in August. Germany insists on granting Greece gradual debt relief under the condition that it will be approved every year by the Bundestag. For its part, the IMF disagrees with Berlin’s insistence on reviewing the measures every year and is threatening to leave the Greek program. If the IMF were to leave the program because it thinks that debt relief measures are inadequate to secure the sustainability of Greece’s debt, the country’s access to international market funding will be cast in doubt. This means that, inevitably, the government will have to resort to precautionary credit to shield itself from complications.

The chasm between Berlin and the IMF was clear during Monday’s session of the so-called Washington Group – representatives of Greece’s creditors as well as the governments of Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the biggest eurozone economies. Poul Thomsen, the head of the IMF’s European Department, who attended Monday’s meeting, countered that Berlin’s conditions were not acceptable. Thomsen said Tuesday that the Fund wants to activate the program for Greece but warned that time is running out and asked for final decisions on the matter by the next Eurogroup on May 24.

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Speed up deportations and appeals, restrict freedom of movement. Lovely

Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)

Greece’s parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey. Under the new law, staff will be added at the office that handles asylum requests, the appeals process for rejected applications will be shortened and travel restrictions can be imposed on asylum-seekers who are moved from the Greek islands to the mainland. Currently, restrictions on asylum-seekers are mostly limited to five islands near the coast of Turkey, where strained refugee camps are trying to cope with up to three times more residents than planned.

More than 16,000 people are stuck there. A group of 13 Greek human rights organizations, however, has accused the government of ignoring refugee rights. The number of newly arriving migrants and refugees has risen sharply this year at the islands and Greece’s land border with Turkey, prompting the change in policy. Police cleared out two abandoned factory buildings used by migrants in the city of Patras in western Greece early Tuesday. More than 600 people will be moved from there to refugee camps on the mainland, police said.

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Have we lost the ability to frame everything in anything else than monetary terms?

UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)

Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear. This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the market, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations. Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”.

The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge”. Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth. The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract. This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns.

Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives. A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter, have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

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Make a fresh bed every day.

Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

Chimpanzees have much cleaner beds – with fewer bodily bacteria – than humans do, scientists have found. A study comparing swabs taken from chimp nests with those from human beds found that people’s sheets and mattresses harboured far more bacteria from their bodies than the animals’ beds did from theirs. The researchers say their findings suggest that our attempts to create clean environments for ourselves may actually make our surroundings “less ideal”. More than a third – 35 per cent – of the bacteria in human beds comes from our own saliva, skin and faecal particles. By contrast, chimps – humans’ closest evolutionary relatives – appear to sleep with few such bacteria.

“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” said Megan Thoemmes, lead author of the paper. The researchers collected samples from 41 chimpanzee beds – or nests – in Tanzania and tested them for microbial biodiversity. At 15 primates’ nests, researchers also used vacuums to find out whether there were arthropods, such as insects, spiders, mites and ticks. “We also expected to see a significant number of arthropod parasites, but we didn’t,” said Ms Thoemmes. In addition, the team were shocked to find very few fleas, lice and bed bugs – ectoparasites – in the chimp nests.

“There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at. And that’s four individual specimens, not four different species,” said Ms Thoemmes, a PhD student at North Carolina State University. She believes chimps’ beds are cleaner because they make them freshly in treetops each day.

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Apr 092018
 


Keith Haring Retrospect 1989

 

Longtime and dear friend of the Automatic Earth, professor Steve Keen, wrote an article recently that everyone should read (that goes for everything Steve writes). It’s hard to select highlights, but I’ll give it a try. Steve explains where our housing markets went off the rails, what (short-sighted) interests politicians have in subverting them, and, something rarely addressed, why housing markets are unlike any other markets (the turnover of existing properties is financed with newly created money)

He then suggests some measures that might counter this subversion, with a twang of It’s a Wonderful Life nostalgia thrown in. That nostalgia, which will be seen by many as outdated and a grave mistake in these ‘modern times’, instead makes a lot of sense. We might even say it’s the only way to get back on our feet. It resides in the idea that money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks should be in charge of the housing market.

Because it’s not supply and demand that rule the market today, it’s available debt (credit). And banks can, and will, always create more debt at the stroke of a keyboard. That is, until they can’t, and then house prices must and will of necessity fall off a cliff. In Steve’s words: “..mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down. And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income.

Still, it left me with a big question. But I’ll ask that at the end; here’s Steve first.

 

The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There?

[..] the UK data is remarkable, even in the context of a worldwide trend to higher levels of leverage. Between 1880 and 1980, private debt in the UK fluctuated as a percentage of GDP, but it never once reached 75% of GDP. But in 1982, both household and corporate debt took off. In 1982, total private debt was equivalent to 61% of GDP, split equally between households and corporations. 25 years later, as the global financial crisis unfolded, private debt was three times larger at 197% of GDP, again split 50:50 between households and corporations.

The key changes to legislation that occurred in 1982 is the UK let banks muscle into the mortgage market that was previously dominated by building societies. This was sold in terms of improving competition in the mortgage market, to the benefit of house buyers: allegedly, mortgage costs would fall. But its most profound impact was something much more insidious: it enabled the creation of credit money to fuel rising house prices, setting off a feedback loop that only ended in 2008.

Building societies don’t create money when they lend, because they lend from a bank account that stores the accumulated savings of their members. There’s no change in bank deposits, which are by far the largest component of the money supply.

However, banks do create money when they lend, because a bank records a loan as their asset when they make an identical entry in the borrower’s account, which enables the property to be bought. This dramatically inflates the price of housing, since, as the politicians themselves acknowledge – housing supply is inflexible, so prices increase far more than supply.

The supply side of the housing market has two main factors: the turnover of the existing stock of housing, and the net change in the number of houses (thanks to demolition of old properties and construction of new ones). The turnover of existing properties is far larger than the construction rate of new ones, and this alone makes housing different to your ordinary market. The demand side of the housing market has one main factor: new mortgages created by the banks.

Monetary demand for housing is therefore predominantly mortgage credit: the annual increase in mortgage debt. This also makes housing very different to ordinary markets, where most demand comes from the turnover of existing money, rather than from newly created money.

We can convert the credit-financed monetary demand for housing into a physical demand for new houses per year by dividing by the price level. This gives us a relationship between the level of mortgage credit and the level of house prices. There is therefore a relationship between the change in mortgage credit and the change in house prices. This relationship is ignored in mainstream politics and mainstream economics. But it is the major determinant of house prices: house prices rise when mortgage credit rises, and they fall when mortgage credit falls. This relationship is obvious even for the UK, where mortgage debt data isn’t systematically collected, and I am therefore forced to use data on total household debt (including credit cards, car loans etc.).

Even then, the correlation is obvious (for the technically minded, the correlation coefficient is 0.6). The US does publish data on mortgage debt, and there the correlation is an even stronger 0.78—and standard econometric tests establish that the causal process runs from mortgage debt to house prices, and not vice versa (the downturn in house prices began earlier in the USA, and was an obvious pre-cursor to the crisis there).

None of this would have happened – at least not in the UK – had mortgage lending remained the province of money-circulating building societies, rather than letting money-creating banks into the market. It’s too late to unscramble that omelette, but there are still things that politicians could do make it less toxic for the public.

The toxicity arises from the fact that the mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down.

And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income. Once that stops happening, demand evaporates, house prices collapse, and they take the economy down with them. That is no way to run an economy.

Yet far from learning this lesson, politicians continue to allow lending practices that facilitate this toxic feedback between leverage and house prices. A decade after the UK (and the USA, and Spain, and Ireland) suffered property crashes – and economic crises because of them – it takes just a millisecond of Internet searching to find lenders who will provide 100% mortgage finance based on the price of the property.

This should not be allowed. Instead, the maximum that lenders can provide should be limited to some multiple of a property’s actual or imputed rental income, so that the income-earning potential of a property is the basis of the lending allowed against it.

 

Two smaller points first: Steve doesn’t mention the role of ultra-low rates. Which is a huge factor leading the process. Second, he says his proposals will “..transition us from a world in which we treat housing as a speculative asset rather than what it really is, a long-lived consumption good”. I wonder if perhaps we should take this a step further.

We don’t see land as a consumption good either, or water sources. They are assets that belong to a given community. Or should. So shouldn’t buildings be too? A building society (or some local equivalent, It’s a Wonderful Life style) in a community can’t, won’t lend out money to build homes that serve the interests of the owner, but hamper those of the community. But now I sound even more commie than Steve for many, I know.

 

On to my main point: if you return mortgage lending to money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks, who’s going to create the money? Don’t let’s forget that a huge part of our present money supply comes from those banks, and much of that from the mortgage loans they issue. Steve may well have thought about this (was he afraid to ask?), and I’d be curious to see his views.

Inflation/deflation is a function of money supply x money velocity (MxV). There are multiple ways to define this, and discuss it, but in the end this remains valid.

This is what the US money supply (stock) has done over the past 30-odd years

 

 

And here is the Case/Shiller home price index for the US over roughly that period. The correlation is painfully clear. Except maybe for that drop in 2008, but the Fed caught that one. Can’t let the money supply fall off a cliff.

 

 

And why can’t we afford to let the money supply fall off a cliff? Because money velocity already has:

 

 

How dramatic that fall has been is perhaps even clearer on a shorter time-frame.

 

 

We can say that MV = GDP, or we can make it a bit more complex with MV=PT, where P is prices and T is transactions (or national output), and people can say that this is just one of many ways to define inflation, but when you have a drop in velocity as steep as that one, and you combine it with the rise in money supply we saw, the danger should be obvious.

We have made our economies fully dependent on banks creating loans out of thin air. Which is a ridiculous model, and as Steve says: “That is no way to run an economy”, but we still have. And if and when home prices start to fall, and fewer people buy homes, the money supply will first stop rising, and then start falling, and we will have the mother of all deflations.

If you take the MV = GDP formulation, GDP will go down right with the money supply, unless velocity (V) soars. Which it can’t, because people are maxed out on those mortgages. They can’t spend. If you go with MV=PT, then if money supply falls, so will prices. Unless transactions (output) is demolished, but that will just kill off velocity even more. Why many people see inflation in our future is hard to gauge.

 

We could, presumably, get our central banks to pump ginormous amounts of money into our societies, but where are they going to put it? Not into our banks(!), which wouldn’t create all those loans anymore, as It’s a Wonderful Life takes over that role, taking the banks and their present role down with it.

Because it’s starting to get obvious that the present ‘system’ is set to go down big time, since as Steve put it:the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income, and we all know where that goes, we can advocate a version of controlled demolition, but who would lead that?

The banks are the most powerful party at the table right now, and controlled demolition of what we have today, as sensible as it may be for society at large, is not for them. Which makes this not only a financial problem, but a political one too: where does power reside. Down the line, it doesn’t even seem to matter much who gives out the loans, there will be very few takers.

Let’s just say we’re open to suggestions. But they better be good.

 

 

Dec 182017
 
 December 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Russell Lee Sign Along the Road Near Capulin New Mexico 1939

 

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)
Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)
Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)
China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)
Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)
UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)
Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)
Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)
Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)
Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)
Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)
If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

 

 

Shaky, but give it time before deciding.

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)

Update: Bitcoin and Bitcoin Futures have collapsed since the futures opened…

Dropping over $2200 to converge with spot…

Both CME and CBOE Bitcoin Futures contracts opened above $20,000 this evening (with Bitcoin spot hovering around $19,000). However, as soon as trading started, Bitcoin futures got hammered lower.

Those expecting a surge in futs volumes on the CME vs the CBOE will be disappointed: In fact, spoting actual trades in the first few minutes of trading is not heavy to say the least. Obviously Jan is seeing all the volume… And March not so much… (let alone the $1200 bid-offer spread).

The lack of trading will likely be a surprise to those who were expecting a more “vigorous” futures launch on the CME, such as Brooks Dudley, vice president of risk in New York at ED&F Man Capital Markets who told Bloomberg that “CME’s bitcoin contract may not be first, but they are a larger futures clearinghouse and we are looking forward to our clients trading their product on Sunday evening. Not all market participants have been able to short the Cboe bitcoin futures. We have allowed our clients to go long or short to take advantage of dislocations between the futures and the underlying spot market.” For now, nobody appears to be taking advantage of anything.

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This seems to be a reasonable fear.

Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)

This chart shows a seven-day average of the total number of minutes it takes to confirm a bitcoin transaction, since May 2016. Like the price of bitcoin itself, transaction time has been rising as the months go by. At the time of writing, it took four-and-a-half hours to confirm a bitcoin trade, on average:

If you are holding bitcoin, and you’re worried that the price is a bubble – it cleared $17,000 last week – then bitcoin transaction times should really start to scare you. The price of bitcoin is shifting up and down by hundreds or thousands of dollars each day. No one knows what the price will be one hour from now, except that we know it will be very, very different. The schedule for the world’s largest ICO, the $500 million Dragon casino offering, has been pushed back two weeks, the company says, “due to the extreme congestion on both the Bitcoin and Ethereum Networks, [in which] ICO investors or contributors have faced significant challenges when transferring their Bitcoin and Ethereum to participate in the Dragon Pre-ICO.”

The transaction time is built into the system. Each transaction must be confirmed by six bitcoin miners, and that takes time. There is a finite number of miners, and the more transactions they have to confirm, the longer it takes as their network bandwidth gets filled. Worse, they charge for transactions and prioritise transactions based on price. Those who pay more get processed first. Imagine how bad this is going to get on the day some negative news hits the wires and the really significant holders of bitcoin decide, “I’ve had enough of this. I’ve made my money. I am bailing.” The majority of bitcoins are held by a tiny percentage of the market. 40% are held by 1,000 people. Those few major holders can crash the market whenever they want.

As anyone who remembers the market crashes of 2000 and 2008 knows, these things happen fast. Billions get wiped off the market in minutes. People who need to cash out now, but who are an hour or so behind the news, can lose their shirts. It is brutal. And blockchain just isn’t equipped to deal with it. Part of the increase in transaction time has, no doubt, been caused by the recent arrival of new, less knowledgeable investors who are coming into the market only because they have seen the headlines about the price of bitcoin going up, up, up. That gives us an idea of just how congested it will be on the way down. It will also be expensive. By some counts, transaction fees are doubling every three months. Ars Technica reported that fees reached $26 per trade recently.

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Abe’s going to have to force his people to spend at gunpoint. And then find out they can’t.

Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)

Japanese exports accelerated sharply in November, yet again pointing to growing momentum in the world’s third-biggest economy. There was just one catch: inflation remained stubbornly low and well off the central bank’s 2% target. The combination of steady growth and benign consumer prices mean the Bank of Japan will lag other major central banks in exiting crisis-era monetary stimulus, with analysts widely expecting BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda to keep the liquidity tap wide open at a meeting later this week. “Inflation expectation is in a gradual recovery trend, but a gap between firm economic indicators and weak price indexes remains wide open,” said Yuichiro Nagai, economist at Barclays Securities.

Indeed, a BOJ survey on Monday showed companies’ inflation expectations heightened only a touch in December from three months ago, despite a tight labor market and business confidence at over a decade high. The persistently low inflation – with core prices running at an annual pace of 0.8% – was also hard to square off with the robust performance of Japan Inc., which has benefited from booming exports thanks to upbeat global demand. Separate data from the Ministry of Finance showed exports grew 16.2% in the year to November, beating a 14.6% gain expected by economists in a Reuters poll and accelerating from the prior month’s 14.0% increase, led by a stellar sales to China and Asia.

[..] “The BOJ will likely be forced into cutting its price projections once again in its quarterly outlook report in January. That will highlight a distance to an exit from the BOJ’s monetary stimulus,” said Barclays’ Nagai. The BOJ quarterly “tankan” survey on corporate inflation expectations survey showed companies expect consumer prices to rise 0.8% a year from now, slightly ahead of their projection for a 0.7% increase three months ago. The marginal nudge up in expectations underscored why inflation is still well off the BOJ’s target, with firms expecting consumer prices to rise an annual 1.1% three years from now and 1.1% five years ahead, unchanged from three months ago, the survey showed.

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They’ll all go to the same places though.

China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)

Over the past few weeks, people here in Beijing have been riveted by the so-called migrant “clean-out” – the government’s attempt to evict tens of thousands of migrant workers from their homes in the poorer parts of the city. What’s not being discussed, however, is how the crackdown could threaten one of the government’s other main priorities: managing debt. In China, mobility is legally restricted according to a household registration system, called the hukou. Chinese citizens receive an urban or rural hukou which officially identifies them as residents of a specific area and which allows them to live and work only in that area. Few if any of the migrant workers affected by the current sweep possess a Beijing hukou. Previously, this didn’t really matter.

For the past three decades, during the period of China’s furious economic growth, the country’s fastest-growing regions were desperate for cheap labor to fill factories and build infrastructure. With local government officials graded in large part on their ability to generate rapid growth, they largely ignored hukou restrictions and made migration into their cities easy. Hundreds of millions of workers traveled from their hukou areas to wherever there were jobs, in particular big cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai. The attitudes of local authorities may be changing now as the economy slows and officials become more concerned about unemployment and tensions over access to schools and other social services. One of the easiest tools the authorities have to manage both problems is to enforce the hukou rules that are already on the books.

In Beijing, the campaign is broadly popular among legal residents, who complain about overcrowding and rising rents. If it spreads, however, the crackdown could carry a significant macroeconomic cost. Enforcing the residency system nationally could severely limit labor mobility in China. This would in turn constrain monetary policy, which is critical to minimizing the cost to China of what’s likely to be a very difficult adjustment after decades of deeply unbalanced growth. How exactly would this happen? It’s important to remember that while China is a huge economy with a great deal of variety across different regions, it can nonetheless operate effectively with a single currency because it has most of the characteristics of an optimum currency area. In the 1960s, Columbia University’s Robert Mundell argued that four conditions were required to establish such an area.

They include high levels of labor mobility, high levels of capital mobility, a system of transfers that shares risks across the region, and coordinated business cycles. If labor mobility in China slows dramatically, growth rates in different parts of the country would diverge even more than they have already, rather than converge. As a result, monetary policies aimed at restraining credit growth overall might end up being too tight for some regions, leading to accelerating bankruptcies, and too loose for others, fueling out-of-control credit growth.

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Inevitable.

Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)

Price cutting by homeowners desperate to shift their property in a slowing market has reached the highest levels in six years, according to an analysis by website Zoopla. Just over 35% of the homes marketed on the site have marked down their price in the hope of achieving a sale, with the biggest discounts in the London property market. The 35% figure compares with 29% just before the EU referendum in 2016, although it is below the levels recorded in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Sellers in Richmond and Kingston upon Thames in south-west London, both relatively prosperous areas, are among those to have made the deepest reductions in sale prices. Zoopla put the average mark-down by sellers in Kingston at £84,244.

It added that around half of all the properties for sale in Kingston and other nearby locations such as Mitcham and Camberley in Surrey have been reduced since their first listing, indicating that sellers are having to significantly readjust their hopes in the light of the Brexit vote. Lawrence Hall, at Zoopla, said it was good news for first-time buyers trying to get on the property ladder. “A slight rise in levels of discounting is to be expected at this time of year when house-hunters are likely to be delaying their property search until activity picks up in January,” Hall said. “Those on the look-out for a bargain should consider looking in Camberley or Kingston upon Thames in the south, or areas of the north-east – home to some of Britain’s biggest discounts.”

The average asking price reduction across the country currently stands at £25,562, according to Zoopla. The property website said towns in Scotland and northern England have proved more resilient to discounts. About 16% of homes in Edinburgh have been reduced in price, followed by 19% in Salford, 22% in Glasgow, and 25% in Manchester – all below the national average. In London, 39% of property listings have recorded a price reduction, up from 37% in July.

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Banks want to be no. 1 consideration.

UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)

Britain’s banks have written to Theresa May and Philip Hammond warning that a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU post-Brexit is not ambitious enough and that alignment with EU rules on finance is crucial. The open letter from UK Finance, which represents major banks and other financial institutions, said the government must place the City at the centre of Brexit trade talks or risk dealing a major blow to the economy. “Ceta [the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada] is an interesting template, but given the UK and the EU 27 start from a position of regulatory convergence that the UK and Canada didn’t have, we should seek to be far more ambitious,” said the letter.

The banks congratulated May on successfully negotiating a move to the second phase of withdrawal negotiations with the EU, which it called the first substantive evidence that a final deal could be agreed. But the trade body called on the government to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit and broker a smooth transition by focusing on alignment with Europe. “Pragmatic decisions to align the two regimes from a regulatory perspective … should be seen not as concessions, but as mechanisms to maximise benefits and choice within a deep regional capital market for the benefit of citizens and our economies,” it said. The alternative is “an unnecessary loss” of GDP, it added.

“A high degree of mutual cross-border market access is fundamental to the continued success of our financial services sector – and to the success of the economies and citizens which our sector serves in the UK and the EU 27,” UK Finance wrote.

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Stimulus instead of austerity.

Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)

[..] polling shows that the British people are disillusioned with the privatisation of key sectors, and favour nationalisation. They seek protection from the impact of deregulated market forces on their lives and livelihoods and on their children’s prospects. Business leaders have been made aware – by the IMF, the OECD and the Bank for International Settlements – that the Conservatives’ dependence on what David Cameron called his government’s “monetary radicalism and fiscal conservatism” has gone too far. There is now real concern about the long-term impact of quantitative easing which, coupled with austerity, has led to rocketing asset prices, falling wages and rising inequality. Those with access to central bank largesse have been enriched as the prices of assets have risen; while those without assets and dependent on earnings have suffered as incomes have fallen in real terms.

Falling incomes and spare capacity have not been good for business. While the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent watchdog, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a thinktank, have obsessed over supply-side issues, politicians have been persuaded by economists to sit on their hands, as Britain’s economy falters under huge, unused capacity. Howard Bogod, who runs a business with a turnover of under £20m, wrote recently: “Economic models have failed to explain why wages have not increased as unemployment has fallen so low. These same models are incorrect in their conclusions about productivity growth – indeed these two failures are linked. My conclusion based on observing actual businesses is that if nominal demand were to continue to grow then both productivity and real wages would start to grow more quickly, and economists would again be left scratching their heads.”

There is, nevertheless, anxiety over the scale of Labour’s public investment plans and their impact on the UK’s credit rating. But Labour has a record, in key respects, of being more fiscally conservative than Conservatives. For example, a review by economists at Policy Research in Macroeconomics of current budget deficits or surpluses (that is, excluding public investment) for the whole period before the global financial crisis, from 1956 to 2008, reveals that Conservative governments had an average annual surplus of 0.3% of GDP, while Labour governments had an average annual surplus of 1.1%.

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“Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week. ..”

Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)

In October 1517, an unknown Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther changed the world when he grabbed a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation started there. The tale of how the 95 theses were posted is almost certainly false. Luther never mentioned the incident and the first account of it didn’t surface until after his death. But it makes a better story than Luther writing a letter (which is what probably happened), and that’s why the economist Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week.

Keen and those supporting him (full disclosure: I was one of them) were making a simple point as he used Blu Tack to stick their 33 theses to one of the world’s leading universities: economics needs its own Reformation just as the Catholic church did 500 years ago. Like the mediaeval church, orthodox economics thinks it has all the answers. Complex mathematics is used to mystify economics, just as congregations in Luther’s time were deliberately left in the dark by services conducted in Latin. Neo-classical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats anybody who challenges the creed of self-righting markets and rational consumers as dangerous heretics. Keen was one of those heretics. He was one of the economists who knew there was big trouble brewing in the years leading up to the financial crisis of a decade ago but whose warnings were ignored.

The reason Keen was proved right was that he paid no heed to the equilibrium models favoured by mainstream economics. He looked at what was actually happening rather than having a preconceived view of what ought to be happening. Somewhat depressingly, nothing much has happened, even though it was a crisis neo-classical economics said could not happen. There was a brief dalliance with unorthodox remedies when things were really bleak in the winter of 2008-09, but by late 2009 and early 2010, there was a return to business as normal.

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“.. invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body.”

Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)

As she fights for her political life Soon-to-be-ex-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel will go down swinging against her stiffest political opponents in the European Union, the Poles. Merkel and French President Emmanual Macron publicly agreed to back Article 7 proceedings against Poland for refusing to comply with EU immigration quotas and changes to its judicial system. Immigration quotas, I might add, that are becoming harder to defend as the war in Syria is mostly over and the flow of refugees from there has slowed to a trickle. But, those brought in and stranded in camps in Italy and Greece apparently need to go somewhere else. But, no one wants them. And the rest of the EU is trying to bully Poland and the rest of the Visigrad countries – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – into taking on their ‘fair share.’

The problem with this is that Merkel made this decision unilaterally and foisted it on the rest of the EU. And she is determined not to lose this fight to Poland, not because this is any kind of humanitarian issue at this point. No, this is about the primacy of EU diktats being enforced at the expense of logic and political cohesion. And, as I’ve been warning about all year, Merkel will put the EU before any practical consideration and bring Article 7 proceedings against Poland. Because she has to. Immigration and the destruction of individual European cultures is the guiding principle behind the EU’s biggest benefactors. This policy is part of the long-term strategic goals of the EU. It has created an army which will be used to quell secessionist movements in the name of ‘continental security.’ Because despite the fevered dreams of a few hundred Latvians, the Russians are not invading Europe anytime soon.

And I have to wonder who will staff this Grand Army of the Oligarchy? After impoverishing an entire generation of people thanks to a decade-long banking system bailout, you shouldn’t be expecting the crème de la crème of the vanishing European middle class. You can expect a number of these newly-integrated immigrants that Merkel invited at everyone else’s expense will be in their ranks. And only the most politically-acceptable members of the current armies of each country will be invited to positions of authority in this new EU army. Their loyalty will be to the EU first and their homes second. The very definition of a Vichy gendarme for the 21st century. Poland and the rest of the Visigrad Four – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – are headed for a collision course with the rest of Western Europe over this issue and many others.

And invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body. While at that same time not allowing Poland free access to international trade because it will not be an independent nation at that point. Any move to extricate itself from the EU politically or practically will be met with the most strident opposition. Look no further than Brexit talks and the brutal put-down of Catalonia’s independence movement to see Poland’s future.

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They have that in common with Germans.

Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)

Greeks love cash: Not only do they make most of their payments in cash – more than in any other eurozone country – but they also use it to pay their regular monthly obligations, such as utility bills, rent and even their taxes. The main reason for this proclivity for paper money is not an inherent aversion towards electronic payments, but that the vast majority of Greeks, far more than in other eurozone member states, still get paid in cash. This is evident in the recent European Central Bank survey on cash use in eurozone households, which showed that 57% of Greeks are paid in paper. Cyprus and Slovenia come a distant second, with a rate of 28%, while in the other eurozone countries the share of people getting paid “cash in hand” ranges between 5 and 20%.

Behind this particularly high rate of people paid in cash in Greece lies the large number of small or family owned enterprises and freelancers who work for cash. This also serves to illustrate the extensive tax evasion in this country, which tends to be focused on a series of professional categories, mainly among freelancers. The above figures concern 2016, while banks estimate that this picture has started changing considerably after the compulsory payment of salaried workers via a bank account from early 2017. The ECB figures show that the cash culture is not a strictly Greek phenomenon, as 79% of transactions in the eurozone – with great variations from country to country – are conducted with coins and banknotes.

Yet contrary to European habits, Greeks use cash for a series of transactions that are regular every month: 40% of Greeks pay their taxes in cash against just 9% in the eurozone, 50% use paper to pay for their insurance against 10% in the eurozone, and 70% pay for their medicines in cash against 31% in the eurozone. Similarly, electricity and phone bills are paid by 60% of Greeks in cash, compared to 16% in the eurozone, and 30% of rents are covered by cash against just 6% in the eurozone. ECB data also revealed that Greeks hold an average of 80 euros in cash on them, against the Spaniards’ 50 euros and the Italians’ 69 euros, while the Portuguese like to keep just 29 euros at hand.

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In a system as overwhelmed as it is, this does not spell a lot of good.

Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)

In a bid to ease growing pressure on overcrowded refugee camps on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the government is drafting a law to accelerate the process of granting asylum to refugees with a bill expected to go to Parliament as early as this week. Arrivals of migrants from Turkey radically dropped after Ankara signed an agreement with the European Union to crack down on human smuggling over the Aegean. But the influx has picked up in recent months. Also the process of returning migrants to Turkey, as foreseen by the pact, is very slow, partly due to the influence of critics of the deal within leftist SYRIZA. “The only way to deal with the problem on the Greek islands is for the EU-Turkey agreement to be effectively enforced and for there to be a significant number of returns to Turkey,” an official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini.

Since the deal was signed in March 2016, around 48,600 migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, according to the United Nations refugee agency. During that time only some 1, 500 people have been returned to Turkey. Thousands of asylum applications are pending, chiefly because migrants generally appeal rejected claims. At a summit of EU leaders last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to bolster Greek efforts to accelerate the asylum process and to help increase the presence of Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, at the country’s frontiers with Turkey and Bulgaria, Greek officials said. Meanwhile, there are concerns that a decision by the government to move migrants from cramped island camps to the mainland could encourage smugglers to bring more migrants to Greece.

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“There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever.”

If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

Ask a woman right now how her Christmas is going and she will almost certainly unfurl her to-do list before your eyes, from the turkey to the costumes for the kids’ concerts. They should call it the Season of To-dos. For women, anyway. Christmas is the one time of the year when the gender pay gap is an open festering wound. Most of women’s work goes unvalued, unpaid, unseen by the patriarchal valuing system we call money. It’s invisible to money but it’s also pretty invisible even to ourselves. For a woman, it’s just what you do. For men, it’s stuff that just… happens. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give up being Santa. I love it, I’m good at it, and I still do it for my kids even though they’re way past believing. That doesn’t mean it’s not work and it’s not worth something. People love their work and still get money for it.

(A little aside: isn’t it interesting that the man behind Santa is almost never a man? It’s almost like the patriarchy wants to take the credit for all of women’s work at Christmas time.) But whoever coined the term “holiday season” was clearly a bloke. It ain’t no holiday. For women, it’s the busiest time of the year. There’s something really broken about a valuing system that doesn’t recognize how much important work goes into bringing up children, socially integrating the tribe, bonding with each other and appreciating the beauty of each individual in the family and all the gifts they bring. A valuing system that doesn’t recognize the gains of having good-natured humans brought up in solid, loving environments that are closely networked in the goodwill economy. A family that will look after each other.

There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever. There’s something deeply sick about a valuing system that only knows how to pay people to make more problems, more sickness, more work for themselves. Invent a problem, and then sell your “solution” to it. That’s pretty much every business model ever. Libertarians will tell you earnestly that all our valuing decisions should be left up to “the markets.” If left to its own devices, the intelligence of money is meant to somehow create a handsome retirement savings package for a hardworking single mom of six. It’s somehow going to pay people to reuse and redistribute goods that they don’t need and fill all the unused houses with house-less people. It’s going to reward leaving minerals in the ground and pay for people to be healthy and live simply and for the environment to flourish and sustain life.

Read more …

Dec 102017
 
 December 10, 2017  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Robert Frank Motorama, Los Angeles 1956

 

Peak Fantasy Time (David Stockman)
Deflation Remains Biggest Threat As Lofty Stock Markets Head Into 2018 (F.)
Global Powers Lobby To Stop Special Brexit Deal For UK (G.)
The US Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages (GG)
Principles of Political Economy: The Opening Lines (Steve Keen)
Half A Salary, Half A Job, Half A Life (K.)
Erdogan, Tsipras Strike Secret Deal On Refugees (K.)
Refugee Arrivals in Greece Offset Decongestion Efforts (K.)
Super Rich Shown To Have Grown Out Of Ancient Farming (G.)
India Gov. Files Suits Against Monsanto et al Over Bollworm Cotton Attack (VoI)

 

 

Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.
-Frank Zappa

The decline in quality of jobs -and compensation- is as horrible as the jobs reports’ attempts at hiding that decline.

Peak Fantasy Time (David Stockman)

If you want to know why both Wall Street and Washington are so delusional about America’s baleful economic predicament, just consider this morsel from today’s Wall Street Journal on the purportedly awesome November jobs report. “Wages rose just 2.5% from a year earlier in November—near the same lackluster pace maintained since late 2015, despite a much lower unemployment rate. But in a positive sign for Americans’ incomes, the average work week increased by about 6 minutes to 34.5 hours in November…. November marked the 86th straight month employers added to payrolls.” Whoopee! Six whole minutes added to a work week that has been shrinking for decades owing to the relentlessly deteriorating quality mix of the “jobs” counted by the BLS establishment survey.

In fact, even by that dubious measure, the work week is still shorter than it was at the December 2007 pre-crisis peak (33.8) and well below its 2000 peak level. The reason isn’t hard to figure: The US economy is generating fewer and fewer goods producing jobs where the work week averages 40.5 hours and weekly pay equates to $58,400 annually and far more bar, hotel and restaurant jobs, where the work week averages just 26.1 hours and weekly pay equates to only $21,000 annually. In other words, the ballyhoed headline averages are essentially meaningless noise because the BLS counts all jobs equal – that is, a 10-hour per week gig at the minimum wage at McDonald’s weighs the same as a 45 hour per week (with overtime) job at the Caterpillar plant in Peoria that pays $80,000 annually in wages and benefits.

In fact, what has been the weakest expansion in history by far may now be finally running out of gas. During the last several weeks the pace of US treasury payroll tax collections has actually dropped sharply – and it is ultimately Uncle Sam’s collection box which gives the most accurate, concurrent reading on the state of the US economy. Some 20 million employers do not tend to send in withholding receipts for the kind of phantom seasonally maladjusted, imputed and trend-modeled jobs which populate the BLS reports.

Yet we we are not close to having recovered the 4.3 million goods producing jobs lost in the Great Recession; 40% of them are still AWOL – meaning they are not likely to be recovered before the next recession hits. Stated differently, the US economy has been shedding high paying goods producing jobs ever since they peaked at 25 million way back in 1980. Indeed, we are still not even close to the 24.6 million figure which was posted at the turn of the century.

By contrast, the count of leisure and hospitality jobs( bars, hotels and restaurants), or what we have dubbed the “Bread and Circuses Economy” keeps growing steadily, thereby filling up the empty space where good jobs have vacated the BLS headline total. Thus, when goods-producing jobs peaked at 25 million back in 1980, there were only 6.7 million jobs in leisure and hospitality. Today that sector employs 16.0 million part-time, low-pay workers..

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“.. the Fed has erroneously predicted 2% inflation for 66 months and continues to tell us that the low levels of inflation are “transitory.“

Deflation Remains Biggest Threat As Lofty Stock Markets Head Into 2018 (F.)

In the two weeks running up to the passage of the Senate’s version of the tax bill, the equity markets moved significantly depending on how any particular Republican senator intended on voting. Then, when the Senate finally passed the bill on the next business day, markets made new intra-day record highs, but then reversed course. Given the current sky-high market valuation levels, the tax benefits are already priced in. Economist David Rosenberg examined market reaction to the five major tax bills of the last 70 years. He found that, on average, the S&P 500 rises 14.3% (median 18.9%) in the year leading up to the passage of the tax legislation. In the year following, on average, the index falls 7.5% (median 13.1%). It could be he is on to something.

If it has been historically easy money that has propelled the U.S. and every other major stock market to record heights over the past few years, then it is noteworthy that the last 12 moves from the world’s central banks have been tightening moves. We know that the Fed is certain to tighten next week at its December 12-13 meeting. This, despite the fact that the Fed’s governing board is deeply divided on the outlook for interest rates and inflation. According to their own minutes, some Fed-governing members continue to hold to the academic view that the Phillips curve (i.e., inflation always rises when the unemployment rate is low) is alive and well. Under this view, inflation is just around the corner and the Fed had better be pre-emptive, lest inflation get ahead of them.

The other view is that today’s economy exhibits behaviors that are significantly different from those that dominated the 60+ years of post-WWII America, and that inflation is no longer the threat it used to be. In fact, deflation may be a bigger threat, especially given the high and rising debt levels. Regular readers know that I have espoused the latter viewpoint. I have pointed out several times that the Fed has erroneously predicted 2% inflation for 66 months and continues to tell us that the low levels of inflation are “transitory.” Fed Chair-Elect Powell espoused this viewpoint in his confirmation hearing, so, there is not much hope that they Fed will back off.

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US, Canada et al don’t want any special treatment for Britain. But that’s not their decision.

Global Powers Lobby To Stop Special Brexit Deal For UK (G.)

Theresa May’s hopes of securing a unique post-Brexit trade deal with the EU were under threat on Saturday night as Brussels said it was coming under international pressure to deny Britain special treatment. After a week that saw May reach a deal with the EU that will allow Brexit talks to move forward on to future trade relations, EU officials insisted a bespoke deal more favourable to the UK than other non-EU nations was out of the question. One EU source close to the talks said: “We have been approached by a number of [non-member] countries expressing concerns and making it clear that it would constitute a major problem for them if suddenly the UK were to get better terms than they get.”

The official said that once the UK is out of the single market and customs union in March 2019, there could be no replication of the terms of the current trading relationship, or anything close to it, and no special treatment. “It is not just an indication of some strange rigid principle. It is because things won’t work,” he said. “First and foremost we need to stick to this balance of rights and obligations, otherwise we will be undermining our own customs union and single market. Second, we cannot upset relations with other third countries,” the official said. “If we were to give the UK a very lopsided deal, then the other partners with whom we have been engaging and who entered into balanced agreements would come back and question those agreements.”

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Julian Assange on Twitter: “Is the fake news story about @WikiLeaks yesterday the worst since Iraq? It’s a serious question. Three outlets, CNN, NBC and ABC all independently “confirmed” the same false information. Has there previously been a serious triple origin fake news story? i.e not just re-reporting.”

The US Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages (GG)

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened. The spectacle began on Friday morning at 11:00 am EST, when the Most Trusted Name in News™ spent 12 straight minutes on air flamboyantly hyping an exclusive bombshell report that seemed to prove that WikiLeaks, last September, had secretly offered the Trump campaign, even Donald Trump himself, special access to the DNC emails before they were published on the internet.

As CNN sees the world, this would prove collusion between the Trump family and WikiLeaks and, more importantly, between Trump and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence,” and therefore, so does the U.S. media. This entire revelation was based on an email which CNN strongly implied it had exclusively obtained and had in its possession. The email was sent by someone named “Michael J. Erickson” – someone nobody had heard of previously and whom CNN could not identify – to Donald Trump, Jr., offering a decryption key and access to DNC emails that WikiLeaks had “uploaded.”

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Steve is busy introducing economics to energy. Another thing the entire field entirely overlooked.

Principles of Political Economy: The Opening Lines (Steve Keen)

Labor without Energy is a Corpse; Capital without Energy is a Statue

Economics went astray from the very first sentence of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776: “The annual labour of every nation”, Smith asserted, “is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always, either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.” This paragraph mimicked the structure, and even the cadence (though not the brevity), of the opening sentence of Richard Cantillon’s 1730 treatise Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (which Smith read). However, Smith made one crucial substitution: he asserted that “Labor … is the fund” from which our wealth springs, whereas Cantillon asserted that it was Land:

“Land”, Cantillon began, “is the source or matter from which all wealth is drawn; man’s labor provides the form for its production, and wealth in itself is nothing but the food, conveniences, and pleasures of life.” (21) Both these assertions are strictly false. The true source of the wealth that humanity has generated from production is neither Labor nor Land, but the Energy that humanity’s production systems harness and turn into useful work (now known as “Exergy”). However, Smith’s assertion is irredeemably false, whereas Cantillon’s merely needs generalization to make it consistent with the fundamental laws of the universe known as the Laws of Thermodynamics. These Laws are still poorly known by economists, which in part explains why economic theory has managed to be in conflict with them for so long. Illustrating why this is so, and why it is crucial, will take time, and effort on your part too to understand them (if you do not already).

But the fact that no theory that contradicts them can be taken seriously, was stated eloquently by the physicist Arthur Eddington in his 1928 book for lay readers The Nature of the Physical World: The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observations—well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation. (37)

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Life in Greece. Every day gets worse.

Half A Salary, Half A Job, Half A Life (K.)

Two in three Greeks fail to pay their bills on time, mainly because they don’t have the money. Three in 10 private sector workers, meanwhile, work part time and get paid a salary of 407.15 euros a month, on average. The first case puts Greece at the top of the list of EU countries in terms of citizens that don’t keep up with their bills, according to the European Consumer Payment Report 2017, with the main reason being the lack of money. In the rest of Europe, the main causes of delays are simple absentmindedness or forgetfulness. The second case is something entirely different. In one sense, it can be interpreted as a reduction in unemployment, which dropped to 20.5% in September. Basically, unemployment falls as part-time work rises, with 30.6% of employees in the private sector working such jobs.

Is this something to be glad about? Should we welcome it as an improvement in the country’s economy? Flexible forms of labor that bring in a pittance of a salary strengthen the ranks of the nouveau pauvre, but at the same time bring down unemployment – albeit dragging down every index that points to a normal life along with it. This is the new normal. But how can 400 euros a month possibly be considered normal? We are beyond the viral videos of the first months of the crisis, of frenzied officials claiming that children were fainting of hunger at school, of images of people rummaging through trash cans looking for food, of pensioners falling over each other for a bag of free potatoes and other such dramatic scenes, real or contrived, that appeared on screens all over the world, and which the present government is quick to claim no longer exist.

Today, some really “lucky” Greeks are insured and have a daily wage of 51 euros, adding up to 1,193 euros a month. But the majority, the less fortunate – yet still fortunate enough to have a job – need to make do with 400 euros a month. It is a conundrum that requires a good deal of math. This month you’ll pay the water bill but not the electricity, you’ll limit your purchases to the bare essentials and you’ll adapt your diet to your budget. What’s left after that? A constant knot in your stomach that you have to learn to put up with. You won’t faint in the street, but each day will be a struggle. You will die a little bit inside, but this is not a measurable reaction and the indices don’t care. Neither does the government, whose slogan when it was in the opposition was that there are real people behind the data. Now the only number it cares to talk about is the shrinking unemployment rate.[..]

The line that defines normal is constantly being shifted and with it the definition of poverty.

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Erdogan was in Greece the past week and tried to stir up as much shit as he could. Refugees remain his main weapon.

Erdogan, Tsipras Strike Secret Deal On Refugees (K.)

As pressure due to overcrowding continues to build at reception centers for migrants on the islands of the eastern Aegean, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted a request by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Turkey take back migrants from the Greek mainland as well as the islands, Kathimerini understands. During a joint press conference with Erdogan on Thursday, Tsipras declared that “new measures have been agreed for cooperation in the context of the European Union-Turkey agreement,” referring to a deal signed between Ankara and Brussels in March 2016 to curb human trafficking across the Aegean. Tsipras’s comments spurred much speculation about what those measures might be. It appears that they would involve triggering the return of migrants to Turkey, a process that has largely halted as new arrivals often lodge applications for asylum, a lengthy process.

Thousands of migrants, particularly those deemed to be the most vulnerable such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, have already been transferred from cramped facilities on the islands to the mainland. But conditions remain overcrowded at the island camps amid a constant stream of new arrivals from neighboring Turkey. What remains unclear is whether officials in Brussels have approved the deal; as it stands, it would basically undermine the basis of last year’s EU-Ankara agreement, according to which migrants should remain on the islands until a decision has been reached on their status (whether they are considered to belong to vulnerable groups meriting priority treatment, to be granted asylum etc). In recent comments, Dutch Ambassador in Athens Caspar Veldkamp expressed concerns about the prospects of mass relocations to the mainland if returns are not being made to Turkey, noting that this could undermine the EU-Turkey deal and encourage human smugglers rather than averting them.

For the leftist-led government, however, moving migrants from cramped facilities to mainland camps would appease those in the party concerned about inhumane conditions on the islands. As winter looms, and hundreds of migrants continue to live in tents around the reception centers, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has conceded that he could not rule out the risk of people dying from hypothermia. In an interview with Der Spiegel that was published on Friday, Mouzalas said that authorities were making preparations to ensure that island camps are ready to deal with plunging temperatures. Everything should be in place by December 15, he said. “The key though is the number of new arrivals,” he said, adding that if there is no large increase in numbers “then we are well prepared.” Authorities might reserve some rooms at local hotels if necessary, he said.

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Haven’t heard this one before, and it feels like an ominous sign: “Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Germany’s Spiegel Online that he cannot guarantee that no one will die in the camps with the onset of winter.”

Refugee Arrivals in Greece Offset Decongestion Efforts (K.)

The effort to improve the living conditions of refugees and migrants stranded at overcrowded reception centers on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos by transferring some of them to the mainland will fail to yield the desired result as long as flows from Turkey continue. In its latest report, the UNHCR said that 17,764 people were transferred from the islands to the mainland in the period from July 2016 to November 2017. UNHCR sources clarified, however, that the number of those removed from the islands is significantly higher than the official figure. Many of the people who have completed the necessary procedures or are deemed to be vulnerable, and as such are allowed to depart for the mainland, do so at their own cost, the same sources said.

They also reckoned that in 2016 around 40% of transfers were conducted by the UNHCR but the%age rose to 80% in 2017 after a request by the Migration Policy Ministry. At the same time, however, in the period between early April 2016, when Ankara and Brussels reached a deal to limit migrant flows into Europe, until late November, some 48,600 people arrived in Greece. In November, 3,800 people arrived on the Greek islands from Turkey, while 2,128 asylum seekers were transferred to the mainland in the same month. The Migration Policy Ministry on Saturday dismissed rumors on Chios that there are plans for the immediate removal of some 1,000 people from the Vial hotspot. It said that removals will take place gradually.

Meanwhile, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Germany’s Spiegel Online that he cannot guarantee that no one will die in the camps with the onset of winter. “What we can do,” he said, “is try the utmost to prevent death.” Moreover, the German newspaper Bild said that an increasing number of refugees in Greece are trying to get to other European Union countries using forged passports.

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There are multiple pieces coming out lately that prove the obvious: once mankind started gathering surpluses, hierarchies developed, and so did inequality.

Super Rich Shown To Have Grown Out Of Ancient Farming (G.)

To measure relative wealth in a society, the team worked with archaeologists studying 62 different societies in Europe, Asia and North America. Some of these were up to 10,000 years old and included digs in ancient Babylonia, Catalhoyuk (now in Turkey) and Pompeii. Researchers analysed the sizes of houses at these sites and used these as indicators of the variations of wealth that existed there at any one time. “House size gives a very good indication of wealth,” said Smith. This point was backed by Kohler. “We consider house size to be a proxy for wealth.” The figures produced by these analyses provided the team with an indication of a particular society’s wealth. The greater the diversity in house size, the greater the inequality. In turn this disparity was measured using a system based on the Gini coefficient.

“Gini coefficients range from zero for societies in which each person has exactly the same amount of wealth to a society in which a single person owns the resources of an entire society. Such a society would have a Gini coefficient of one,” Kohler said. The team found that ancient farming societies had an inequality with a coefficient of around 0.35. That is a higher level of inequality than the level that is likely to have existed in earlier millennia when humans lived as hunter gatherers and shared many resources. “However, this inequality among these, the first farmers, is an awful lot less than the inequality you find in the US today,” said Kohler. “Here we have a Gini coefficient of around 0.8 today.” In the ancient farms of the New World, inequality stayed more or less the same. However, in Eurasia it started to climb over time until it reached levels of around 0.6 a few thousand years ago. This rise coincides with the introduction of oxen and horses and their exploitation in the ploughing of fields.

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More. Monsanto. Mayhem.

India Gov. Files Suits Against Monsanto et al Over Bollworm Cotton Attack (VoI)

The Maharashtra government on Friday announced that it would file police complaints against seed companies like Monsanto, which supplied seeds of BT Cotton, the crops from which were destroyed in a large-scale bollworm attack. Maharashtra’s Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil said on Friday more than 70% of the cotton crop in Vidarbha has been destroyed due to the bollworm attack. He added that companies like Monsanto had provided the BT Cotton seeds with the promise that they were immune to attacks by the pest. The Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission, a state government body, has estimated that the output of cotton in Maharashtra would fall to 43.10 lakh quintal as compared to 78.61 quintals in December 2016.

The opposition parties are however demanding that the Maharashtra government pay compensation to cotton farmers on the lines of the ongoing farm loan waiver extended to cultivators. The Nationalist Congress Party is demanding that the government provide a compensation of Rs 25,000 per hectare for farmers whose crop has been destroyed in the bollworm attack. NCP leader Dhananjay Munde said his party would hold protests in the cotton-growing areas of Vidarbha to force the government raise compesation to farmers. With the opposition parties likely to paralyse the state legislature during the Winter Session to be held in Nagpur from Monday, Chief Ministre Devendra Fadnavis’s government on Friday asked revenue officials to carry out panchnama of crops destroyed in the bollwork attack. “We are working on a compensation package for farmers,” Patil told reporters.

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Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.
-Frank Zappa