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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jan 242020
 


John Vachon Window in home of unemployed steelworker, Ambridge, PA 1941

 

Chinese Hospitals In Chaos As Lockdown Spreads To Affect 33m People (G.)
Four ‘Generations’ Of Spread Seen With Virus In China (STAT)
Cases of China’s Viral Pneumonia Surge Exponentially (ET)
Wuhan Virus Will Shape China’s Smart City Vision (R.)
Doomsday Clock Moves Within 100 Seconds Of Midnight (NPR)
The House Impeachment Case Vs The Law of Attempts (Turley)
Fed’s Repos Drop to Oct Level, T-Bills Surge, But MBS Fall (WS)
Turkey Demands Greece “Demilitarize” 16 Aegean Islands (ZH)
Assange May Not Get First Amendment Protection (AAP)
Go to Gaza and Cry ‘Never Again’ (Haaretz)
America’s Radioactive Secret (Rolling Stone)

 

 

Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year. 450 million Chinese plan to travel to see family. 41 million are now under lockdown. 850 cases of “coronavirus” have been confirmed. 26 people have died, the elderly and vulnerable. But there are many reports of actual numbers being much higher.

Only 23.8% of Chinese doctors have a bachelor degree or higher. There are 60,000 licensed general practitioners in a country of 1.3 billion people.

Meanwhile, the Chinese “eat everything on four legs except for the table”.

“..the race to build a new 1,000-bed hospital in just six days began on Thursday night..”

Chinese Hospitals In Chaos As Lockdown Spreads To Affect 33m People (G.)

Hospitals in the Chinese city of Wuhan have been thrown into chaos and the movement of about 33 million people has been restricted by an unprecedented and indefinite lockdown imposed to halt the spread of the deadly new coronavirus. At least ten cities in central Hubei province have been shut down in an effort to stop the virus, which by Friday had killed 26 people across China and affected more than 800. The World Health Organisation described the outbreak as an emergency for China, but stopped short of declaring it to be a public health emergency of international concern.

In the city of Wuhan, where most cases have occurred, the race to build a new 1,000-bed hospital in just six days began on Thursday night. Diggers and bulldozers beginning work on the site of a holiday complex once intended for local workers, according to Chinese media. The hospital, which is due to open next week, is similar to those established in Beijing in 2003, when the city faced a Sars outbreak that killed almost 800 people and reached nearly 30 countries. During that crisis, 7,000 workers in Beijing built the Xiaotangshan hospital in its northern suburbs in just a week. Within two months, it treated one-seventh of all the country’s Sars patients, the Changjiang Daily said.

“It created a miracle in the history of medical science,” the paper added. It said the new Wuhan hospital “is to solve the shortage of existing medical resources”. People who sought treatment in Wuhan this week told the Guardian they had been turned away from hospitals, which have been inundated with patients. Facilities are reportedly running out of beds and diagnostic kits for patients who present with fever-like symptoms. [..] A series of additional measures were announced on Friday to prevent the spread of the virus, including a call from The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist party’s main newspaper, for people who have recently been to Wuhan to isolate themselves at home, even if they don’t have symptoms. The cities of Wuhan, Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhijiang, Jingmen and Xiantao have all been placed under lockdown.

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It’s advanced up to a point where it can no longer be ignored. That’s China for you.

Four ‘Generations’ Of Spread Seen With Virus In China (STAT)

Emerging data on the new virus circulating in China adds to evidence there is sustained human-to-human transmission in the city of Wuhan, and that a single case was able to ignite a chain of other infections. The World Health Organization reported Thursday that there have been at least four generations of spread of the new virus, provisionally called 2019-nCoV, meaning a person who contracted the virus from a non-human source — presumably an animal — has infected a person, who infected another person, who then infected another person. It’s not clear from a WHO statement whether transmission petered out after that point, or whether further generations of cases from those chains are still to come.

The WHO said the current estimate of the reproductive rate of the virus — the number of people, on average, that each infected person infects — is between 1.4 and 2.5. To stop an outbreak, the reproduction number has to be brought below one. “That gives me no comfort at all that anything that’s happening right now is going to bring this under control any time soon,” Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said of the data the WHO released. “And I think that as long as the virus is circulating in China as it appears to be, the rest of the world is going to be constantly pinged with it, as a result of people traveling to and from China in the near future,” he said.

To date, nine other countries, including the United States, have diagnosed cases of this new illness in tourists who traveled to Wuhan or residents who returned from there. Dr. Allison McGeer, who has firsthand experience with outbreaks caused by coronaviruses — the family to which 2019-nCoV belongs — also expressed concern about prospects for containing the outbreak. McGeer, a researcher at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, noted that the city’s SARS outbreak took off when fourth-generation cases were infected in the city’s hospitals. McGeer contracted SARS during that outbreak.

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No place in the hospital.

Cases of China’s Viral Pneumonia Surge Exponentially (ET)

It started with a light cough. He burped constantly, and complained of shortness of breath. Family members thought it was no big deal. The doctor said he seemed to have heart problems and suggested him to stay in the hospital. He appeared healthy except for a minor infection in one lung area. Two weeks later, he was dead, with both lungs infected and organ failure. His doctors at the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital determined the cause of death as “unknown pneumonia.” It was days before Chinese health authorities identified the cause of the new viral pneumonia as 2019-nCoV, a coronavirus that first emerged in December in the commercial city of Wuhan, his home city.

As of press time, the virus has since sickened more than 540 people across China and around the world, with confirmed cases in South Korea, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States. Much remains unclear about the virus that has sparked fear around the world and cast a cloud over the upcoming Lunar New Year festivities, a major traditional holiday when millions of Chinese travel to their hometowns or go on vacations abroad. Experts say the mass movement of people could accelerate the disease’s spread. The virus has already spread across the country to 17 provinces and regions.

To the man’s family, his death is far from the end of their sorrows. Among his relatives, five have fallen ill: one is under emergency rescue at a Wuhan hospital; his niece and nephew-in-law also have lung infections but doctors turned them away, saying there’s no space for them at the hospital; two others are also experiencing pneumonia-like symptoms. Buying one dose of medicine means waiting for hours in line. His sister, currently in Norway, told The Epoch Times that she was being “silenced” by Chinese authorities and not allowed to post anything about his death. The man is not listed on the authorities’ official death toll, because he did not show any signs of fever, his sister said. She has requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

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Never let a good crisis go to waste. Surveillance is good for you!

Wuhan Virus Will Shape China’s Smart City Vision (R.)

An epidemic will shape China’s vision of intelligent cities. The metropolis of Wuhan, with a population of 11 million, is under unprecedented quarantine as a deadly virus, believed to have originated there, spreads around the world ahead of the Lunar New Year when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel. Big investments in healthcare, artificial intelligence, and even surveillance could help curb future pandemics and cushion some institutional weaknesses. [..] The future may be less grim: President Xi Jinping has pushed to upgrade the country’s rickety healthcare system, enlisting technology giants including $474 billion Tencent and insurance group Ping An.

A unit of the latter has partnered with local governments in Shenzhen and Chongqing to develop an algorithm it claims can predict the transmission of influenza and other infectious diseases with 90%-plus accuracy. Elsewhere, the likes of $50 billion video-surveillance specialist, Hikvision, are helping Beijing develop high-tech, digitally-connected urban areas. More than 500 so-called smart cities are already being built across China, according to government figures, equipped with sensors, cameras, and other gadgets that can crunch data on everything from traffic and pollution, to public health and security.

That market could top 103 billion yuan ($15 billion) in revenue by 2023, according to research commissioned by facial-recognition startup Megvii. Until now the push has focused on automating political surveillance, including ugly applications in restive ethnic minority regions like Xinjiang, with little regard to human rights or privacy concerns. But there’s a potential public good if the tech can be re-deployed to detect unusual numbers of feverish people in train stations, for example, while simultaneously cross-referencing healthcare history, travel records and weather patterns. After Wuhan, the pressure to deliver health security, not just political security, will be higher.

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Meat for sale in China (without the bats used for soup):



Doesn’t feel like that for me.

Doomsday Clock Moves Within 100 Seconds Of Midnight (NPR)

In 1953, months after the U.S. tested its first hydrogen bomb and as the Soviet Union was about to do the same, the Doomsday Clock was also set within two minutes of midnight. The minute hand was moved back gradually as nuclear arms control agreements reduced the threat of global catastrophe. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended in 1991, the clock was set at an unprecedented 17 minutes to midnight. It has moved closer ever since. “What you’re hearing,” said former California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who appeared at the event as the Bulletin’s new executive chairman, “is really the voices of the prophets of doom. Speaking of danger and destruction is never very easy — if you speak the truth, people will not want to listen, because it’s too awful and it makes you sound like a crackpot.”

The clock’s minute hand was moved forward after the August 2019 collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and Russia. The demise of the pact frees both nations to deploy land-based missiles over ranges that leave little time for a response. There were also growing signs in 2019 that the Trump administration was aiming to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows the U.S. and Russia to observe one another’s military installations through closely monitored overflights. And Iran increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and added new and improved centrifuges last year in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawing from a multination nuclear pact with Iran that was forged during the Obama administration.

“I have to admit [that] we set the clock in November,” said George Washington University research professor Sharon Squassoni. “This was before recent military actions by the U.S. and Iran, Iran’s statement or threat that it might leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and North Korea’s abandonment of talks with the United States.” A growing number of disasters linked to global climate change resulting from the continued consumption of fossil fuels was another factor cited for moving the clock even closer to midnight. “We’re in it, it’s dire, but we’re not there yet,” said Brown. “We can still pull back from the brink, but we have to do what we’re not doing. Whatever we’ve done to date, it is totally inadequate.”

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Close to thought crime.

The House Impeachment Case Vs The Law of Attempts (Turley)

With the start of the impeachment trial, the Senate (and the country) will soon be faced with what the late Yale professor Arthur Leff described as one of the law’s most “lovely, knotty problems.” Leff was speaking of what is loosely called “the law of attempts,” a category of crimes where someone is accused of contemplating, but not actually carrying out, an unlawful act. The Trump trial could be the first time the Senate considers charges that amount to allegedly conceiving, but then abandoning, an abuse of power. While it is certainly true that there was a temporary act of “nonfeasance” in withholding the aid to Ukraine, it was ultimately released over two weeks before the deadline under federal law.

The Trump administration will argue that there was no quid pro quo between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine; that the military aid to Kyiv, though authorized by Congress, was never withheld; and that the White House always intended to release the aid by the end of September. (It was released on Sept. 11, two days after a whistleblower complaint about the alleged bargain sparked congressional inquiries and, according to critics, was the reason that Trump decided to release the aid.) The question for the Senate is whether an attempt to cut the deal qualifies as a high crime or misdemeanor. The law of attempts has long been debated, and has often favored defendants in securing lesser punishments or outright acquittals.

When, in 1879, an Alaska man sent an order for 100 gallons of whiskey from California, he was charged with illegally attempting to “introduce spirituous liquors” into Alaska. A court dismissed the charge, writing, “There are a class of acts which may be fairly said to be done in pursuance of or in combination with an intent to commit a crime, but are not, in a legal sense, a part of it, and therefore do not, with such intent, constitute an indictable attempt.” That helps explain why such attempted crimes are generally punished less severely. The California Penal Code Section 664 stipulates, for example, that most attempted offenses are punishable, at most, at a level half that for a completed offense. Of course, the Senate cannot “half-remove” a president. But one of the more knotty problems facing the Senate is whether a president can be saved by what Leff called the “luck” of an alleged plan that never actually played out.

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Can be restarted in a heartbeat. By killing the markets, the Fed has made itself a prisoner.

Fed’s Repos Drop to Oct Level, T-Bills Surge, But MBS Fall (WS)

The Fed had doused the market with $410 billion in liquidity between September and January 1 through its repo operations and its T-bill purchases. Market hype had expected this blistering pace of money-printing to continue, but wait… While T-bill purchases continue, the repos on the Fed’s balance sheet are getting unwound, its mortgage-backed securities (MBS) continue to fall, and total assets on its balance sheet fell to the lowest level since mid-December. Under these repurchase agreements, the Fed offers to buy Treasury securities, MBS, and agency securities from counterparties with an agreement to sell those securities back to the counterparties at a set price on a specific date, such as the next day (overnight repos) or in 14 days or some other period (term repos).

When a repurchase agreement matures, the Fed takes back the money it had handed out and returns the securities to the counterparties. This zeros out that particular repo on the Fed’s balance sheet. When the Fed buys securities under a repurchase agreement, the amount it pays adds liquidity to the market. When that repo unwinds, and the Fed gets its cash back and returns the securities, it drains this liquidity from the market. Every day, old repos unwind. And every day, the Fed offers new repos. This is a constant in-and-out. The balance changes every day, but it has been on an uneven decline since the peak on January 1.

The total amount of repos on the Fed’s weekly balance sheet as of January 22, released this afternoon, has now fallen by $70 billion from the peak on January 1 ($256 billion), to $186 billion. This is below where it had first been on October 16. The $43-billion drop in repos over the past seven days was largely due to a 32-day $50-billion repo, dating from December 16, that unwound on January 17. It was not replaced by another 30-day repo, and there are no more 30-day repos on the Fed’s repo schedule or balance sheet.

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Erdogan wants to redo the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. He has little to lose, and much to gain domestically. But he has Putin against him.

Turkey Demands Greece “Demilitarize” 16 Aegean Islands (ZH)

At a moment tensions are soaring over Turkey’s expansive East Mediterranean claims, and after starting early last summer it began sending oil and gas exploration and drilling ships off Cyprus’ coast, Ankara is demanding that Greece “demilitarize” its islands in the Aegean Sea, reports Bloomberg. The demand from Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who formally requested Greece move to withdraw armed forces and weaponry from 16 Aegean islands near Turkey on Wednesday, is rich given it’s Turkey that’s been provocatively sending warships and military jets to accompany illegal gas drilling in the area, something lately condemned by the EU.

“Greece, arming 16 out of 23 islands with non-military status, in violation of agreements in the Aegean sea, should act in accordance with international law,” said Defense Minister Akar, cited in state-run Anadolu Agency. “We expect Greece to act in line with international law and the agreements it has signed,” he added. Though becoming increasingly internationally isolated over the drilling issue in EU-member Cyrpus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Turkey has remained unmoved and at times is positively boastful about it.

Not shying away from admitting Turkish maritime claims now stretch from Cypriot waters all the way to Libya (based on a controversial recent maritime boundary ‘deal’ signed with the Tripoli Government of National Accord), Akar further had this to say according to state media: In addition to the fight against terrorism, Turkey’s activities are ongoing in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, off Cyprus, and Libya, Akar said, adding that they are carried out in accordance with international law and the territorial integrity of the countries. Turkey is a guarantor country for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and is committed to fulfilling its responsibilities, he said.

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Let’s see a few countries apply this to Americans.

Assange May Not Get First Amendment Protection (AAP)

Julian Assange faces the prospect of being denied press protections under US law if he goes to trial there, WikiLeaks says, citing evidence submitted for his London extradition case. The 48-year-old WikiLeaks founder is set to face trial in the UK next month to determine whether he should be extradited to the US, where he has been charged with 17 counts of spying and one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The charges related to allegations Assange tried to help former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning protect her digital identity as she accessed classified Pentagon files on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. WikiLeaks helped publish thousands of those files, including some that revealed US war crimes in both countries.

His case is widely viewed as a litmus test for the protection of journalists’ sources. WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson says a new affidavit provided by US government lawyers this week for Assange’s upcoming extradition trial states that foreign nationals, like Assange, are not entitled to press protections under the US Constitution’s First Amendment. Mr Hrafnsson revealed the development outside Assange’s case management hearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates Court on Thursday. “On the one hand they have decided that they can go after journalists wherever they are residing in the world, they have universal jurisdiction, and demand extradition like they are doing by trying to get an Australian national from the UK for publishing that took place outside US borders,” he told AAP.

“But then at the same time they are not granting any foreign journalist the protection of the First Amendment. “That’s extremely serious. That’s of grave concern to all journalists. “We are seeing this incremental approach, a darkness flowing over journalism from that country, and it’s about time that journalists really united in resisting this.” Assange appeared by video link from prison at Thursday’s hearing, and did not speak except to say his name and birthdate for the court. Judge Vanessa Baraitser reluctantly agreed to split his trial into two segments with the first week to begin on February 24 and the final three weeks to be held from May 18.

Her ruling came after prosecutors flagged timetabling issues and the defence pleaded for more time to deal with an ever-expanding pile of evidence coming from the US. Mr Hrafnsson says the delay may give Assange and his legal team more time to review mounting evidence, as they have only been permitted four hours together since his arrest on April 11. But he admitted it would also further extend Assange’s time behind bars. “A maximum security prison for a non-violent person like Julian, who is a free man basically, who is on remand, is outrageous,” Mr Hrafnsson told AAP. “It’s totally unacceptable.”

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Commemorations vs political games.

Go to Gaza and Cry ‘Never Again’ (Haaretz)

It’s very important to remember the past; no less important is to be cognizant of the present without shutting one’s eyes. The dozens of statesmen who arrived in Israel yesterday may remember the past, but they’re blurring the present. In their silence, in their disregard of reality while lining up unconditionally alongside Israel, they not only betray their roles, they also betray the memory of the past in the name of which they came here. To be the guests of Israel without mentioning its crimes; to commemorate the Holocaust while ignoring its lessons; to visit Jerusalem without traveling to the Gaza ghetto on International Holocaust Remembrance Day – one can barely think of any greater hypocrisy.

It’s good that kings, presidents and other notables came here in honor of this remembrance day. It’s deplorable that they’re ignoring what the victims of the Holocaust are inflicting on another nation. The city of Yerevan will never witness such an impressive gathering to commemorate the Armenian holocaust. World leaders will never come to Kigali to mark the genocide that happened in Rwanda. The Holocaust was indeed the greatest crime ever against humanity, but it was not the only one. But Jews and the state of Israel know well how to sanctify its memory as well as using it for their own purposes.

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, world leaders are the guests of an Israeli prime minister who, on the eve of their visit, called for sanctions – believe it or not – on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is a legacy of the courts that were set up to judge the crimes of World War II. On this Remembrance Day, world leaders are coming to a prime minister who is trying to incite them against the court in The Hague. It’s hard to think of a more galling use of the Holocaust, it’s hard to conceive of a bigger betrayal of its memory than the attempt to undermine the court in The Hague only because it wishes to fulfill its role and investigate Jerusalem. The guests will hold their silence on this issue as well. Some of them may be persuaded that the problem is in The Hague, not in Jerusalem. Sanctions on the court instead of on the occupying state.

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“Ten or 15 years down the road, if I get sick, I want to be able to prove this.”

America’s Radioactive Secret (Rolling Stone)

In 2014, a muscular, middle-aged Ohio man named Peter took a job trucking waste for the oil-and-gas industry. The hours were long — he was out the door by 3 a.m. every morning and not home until well after dark — but the steady $16-an-hour pay was appealing, says Peter, who asked to use a pseudonym. “This is a poverty area,” he says of his home in the state’s rural southeast corner. “Throw a little money at us and by God we’ll jump and take it.” In a squat rig fitted with a 5,000-gallon tank, Peter crisscrosses the expanse of farms and woods near the Ohio/West Virginia/Pennsylvania border, the heart of a region that produces close to one-third of America’s natural gas.

He hauls a salty substance called “brine,” a naturally occurring waste product that gushes out of America’s oil-and-gas wells to the tune of nearly 1 trillion gallons a year, enough to flood Manhattan, almost shin-high, every single day. At most wells, far more brine is produced than oil or gas, as much as 10 times more. It collects in tanks, and like an oil-and-gas garbage man, Peter picks it up and hauls it off to treatment plants or injection wells, where it’s disposed of by being shot back into the earth. One day in 2017, Peter pulled up to an injection well in Cambridge, Ohio. A worker walked around his truck with a hand-held radiation detector, he says, and told him he was carrying one of the “hottest loads” he’d ever seen. It was the first time Peter had heard any mention of the brine being radioactive.

The Earth’s crust is in fact peppered with radioactive elements that concentrate deep underground in oil-and-gas-bearing layers. This radioactivity is often pulled to the surface when oil and gas is extracted — carried largely in the brine. In the popular imagination, radioactivity conjures images of nuclear meltdowns, but radiation is emitted from many common natural substances, usually presenting a fairly minor risk. Many industry representatives like to say the radioactivity in brine is so insignificant as to be on par with what would be found in a banana or a granite countertop, so when Peter demanded his supervisor tell him what he was being exposed to, his concerns were brushed off; the liquid in his truck was no more radioactive than “any room of your home,” he was told. But Peter wasn’t so sure. “A lot of guys are coming up with cancer, or sores and skin lesions that take months to heal,” he says. Peter experiences regular headaches and nausea, numbness in his fingertips and face, and “joint pain like fire.”

He says he wasn’t given any safety instructions on radioactivity, and while he is required to wear steel-toe boots, safety glasses, a hard hat, and clothes with a flash-resistant coating, he isn’t required to wear a respirator or a dosimeter to measure his radioactivity exposure — and the rest of the uniform hardly offers protection from brine. “It’s all over your hands, and inside your boots, and on the cuticles of your toes, and any cuts you have — you’re soaked,” he says. So Peter started quietly taking samples of the brine he hauled, filling up old antifreeze containers or soda bottles. Eventually, he packed a shed in his backyard with more than 40 samples. He worried about further contamination but says, for him, “the damage is already done.” He wanted answers. “I cover my ass,” he says. “Ten or 15 years down the road, if I get sick, I want to be able to prove this.”

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From Suzie Dawson:

 

 

 

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