Jul 132020
 


Berenice Abbott New York City at Night 1932

 

Florida Sets Record For Single-Day Covid19 Cases As Disney World Reopens (DL)
Who When Where: No Word On WHO Experts’ Coronavirus Trip To China (SCMP)
One In Three South Korean COVID19 Patients Improve With Remdesivir (R.)
Looming Evictions May Soon Make 28 Million Homeless In US (CNBC)
“Too Big To Fail” Banks face Their Worst Quarter Since The Financial Crisis (ZH)
Coronavirus Brings Record $1 Trillion Of New Global Corporate Debt In 2020 (R.)
Tesla Slashes Model Y SUV Price Four Months After Launch (R.)
Coronavirus Has Shown us How to Stop a Climate Disaster (BT)
American Collusion: Weaponizing Media, Big-Tech, & Government (ZH)
That Kind Of Memory Hole Is A Nightmare (Higgins)

 

 

The WHO says yesterday set a new world record. They’re two days behind Worldometer. But bad enough anyway. Florida is something else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Hunt

Ben Hunt Fauci

 

 

“This is an American tragedy.”

Florida Sets Record For Single-Day Covid19 Cases As Disney World Reopens (DL)

Even as Disney World reopens and the Florida state government was being pushed to host in-person classes for the fall school semester, the Sunshine State is setting new records for COVID-19 cases. The Florida Department of Health reported 15,299 new coronavirus cases Sunday. That’s the highest total for any state since the pandemic started. Florida holds the dubious record for second-highest as well, coming in with 11, 434 new cases on July 4, per Johns Hopkins University. Florida’s test positivity rate is a whopping 19.60%, Johns Hopkins said.


Florida Rep. Donna Shalala said the virus is “out of control,” and said it’s likely a second economic shutdown looms. “It’s out of control across the state because our governor won’t even tell everybody to wear masks. At least in Miami-Dade county, everyone must wear a mask when they’re outside,” she told CNN Saturday night. “This is an American tragedy.” About 40 hospitals across Florida have no ICU beds available, according to state data.

Read more …

What should we expect from this? Water under the bridge.

Who When Where: No Word On WHO Experts’ Coronavirus Trip To China (SCMP)

A World Health Organisation advance team is in the Chinese capital this weekend but few other details have been released about a mission that could lay the groundwork for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO said last week that two experts – an animal health specialist and an epidemiologist – would start work on Saturday but by Sunday evening there was still no word on the name of the specialists, the schedule of the trip, and their agenda. Chinese authorities did not make a statement about the visitors on the weekend and the Chinese media did not report their arrival. And no Chinese institution, including the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed that it had or would confer with the WHO experts.


Associated Press reported that the two experts were in Beijing on Saturday and Sunday. Their mission is to work with Chinese health officials and scientists to prepare for a larger WHO-led international task force at an undisclosed date. The mission is widely seen as a way to bring more transparency and cooperation to the search for the animal origins of the virus, first identified in Wuhan in central China late last year. But the origins of the pandemic are mired in politics. Some senior members of the US administration have blamed China for the pandemic, including making unsupported claims that the virus could have emerged in a Wuhan laboratory. Chinese officials have pushed back, defending the country’s handling of the outbreak and saying the identification of the virus in China does not mean it originated there.

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This is an ad. It’s about the headline. Read the article and there’s nothing there: “More research was needed to determine if the improvement was attributable to the drug or other factors..”

One In Three South Korean COVID19 Patients Improve With Remdesivir (R.)

One in three South Korean patients seriously ill with COVID-19 showed an improvement in their condition after being given Gilead Sciences Inc’s (GILD.O) antiviral remdesivir, health authorities said. More research was needed to determine if the improvement was attributable to the drug or other factors such as patients’ immunity and other therapies, they said. Remdesivir has been at the forefront of the global battle against COVID-19 after the intravenously administered medicine helped shorten hospital recovery times in a U.S. clinical trial. Several countries including South Korea have added the drug to the list of treatment for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. There is no approved vaccine for it.


In its latest update on the drug, Gilead said on Friday an analysis showed remdesivir helped reduce the risk of death in severely ill COVID-19 patients but cautioned that rigorous clinical trials were needed to confirm the benefit. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Saturday results from a first group of 27 patients given remdesivir in different hospitals. Nine of the patients showed an improvement in their condition, 15 showed no change, and three worsened, KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing. The result had yet to be compared with a control group and more analysis was needed to conclude remdesivir’s benefit, Kwon said.

Read more …

This is not a fantasy, it’s set to happen. The bottom is falling out.

Looming Evictions May Soon Make 28 Million Homeless In US (CNBC)

Emily Benfer is the chair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force Committee on Eviction and co-creator of the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. CNBC: How does the eviction crisis brought on by the pandemic compare with the 2008 housing crisis? Emily Benfer: We have never seen this extent of eviction in such a truncated amount of time in our history. We can expect this to increase dramatically in the coming weeks and months, especially as the limited support and intervention measures that are in place start to expire. About 10 million people, over a period of years, were displaced from their homes following the foreclosure crisis in 2008. We’re looking at 20 million to 28 million people in this moment, between now and September, facing eviction.

CNBC: You study the intersection of housing and health. What will all these evictions mean for people’s health during the pandemic?

EB: Eviction negatively impacts the trajectory of an individual’s life, and it can do that in a permanent way. Studies have demonstrated that eviction causes increased mortality and causes respiratory distress, which in the Covid-19 pandemic can put people in even greater peril. It results in depression, suicides and other poor health outcomes. And the primary response to Covid-19 has been to shelter in place. If there’s an increase in homelessness [one economist estimates homelessness could rise by more than 40% this year], that could spread the virus.

CNBC: You’ve been keeping track of what states are doing to protect tenants, mostly through eviction moratoriums. How do you feel the efforts have fallen short?

EB: Some of the moratoriums are limited to different segments of the population, and in their duration. They were also not coupled with financial assistance to ensure that renters don’t accrue this backed-up debt and are stabilized enough to stay in their unit. Another issue is that in some states, landlords were allowed to go forward with a hearing on eviction, and even receive an order of eviction, and it was only forestalled at the execution stage. That means that there are a number of evictions that are just waiting for the sheriffs to execute. The moment the moratoriums lift, all of those families will be immediately put out. And right now, 29 states lack any state level moratorium against evictions.

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As millions of Americans will be evicted, the banks will be bailed out.

“Too Big To Fail” Banks face Their Worst Quarter Since The Financial Crisis (ZH)

U.S. banks could be setting up for their worst quarter in more than a decade as loan loss provisions and the pandemic are set to wreak havoc on bottom lines. Next week, many of the “too big to fail” banks are set to report earnings and are likely going to show that a drop in consumer spending and higher loan losses were not offset by better trading gains. Loan-loss provisions should reach their highest levels since the financial crisis, Barclay’s predicts. Kyle Sanders, an analyst at Edward Jones, told Bloomberg: “We’ve got a full three months of the pandemic coming through the numbers now. The first quarter was rough, but it really only reflected a couple of weeks in March.”

Loan losses are expected to rise as spiking unemployment has left many unable to service, or pay back, their loans. New loans have also dried up as banks tighten their belts. Service charges and credit card fees are also likely going to fall, as large portions of the American economy were shut down for months, suffocating economic activity. And while many banking stocks have recovered somewhat, the S&P 500 Financials index is still down 26% since last December. Wells Fargo alone is down 55% this year and is expected to announce a dividend cut. Bloomberg has predicted that despite increasing provisions in the first quarter of the year, banks are still going to have their worst quarter in a decade when they report this upcoming week.


Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer John Shrewsberry commented last month that the bank would likely set aside more for bad loans in Q2 than the $4 billion it set aside in Q1. Banks will be looking to trading and underwriting to help try and salvage the quarter. Stock and bond trading was likely up about 31% in Q2 according to estimates. JP Morgan is expected to post the largest increase of about 50%. Citigroup Inc.’s Richard Zogheb, global head of the debt capital-markets division, said he thinks there will be record volumes in trading for the quarter. This stands at odds with previous cyclical downturns, where investment banking and trading revenue would fall as much as 30%.

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Free money. Much of it will also be bailed out, so why worry?

Coronavirus Brings Record $1 Trillion Of New Global Corporate Debt In 2020 (R.)

Companies around the world will take on as much as $1 trillion of new debt in 2020, as they try to shore up their finances against the coronavirus, a new study of 900 top firms has estimated. The unprecedented increase will see total global corporate debt jump by 12% to around $9.3 trillion, adding to years of accumulation that has left the world’s most indebted firms owing as much as many medium-sized countries. Last year also saw a sharp 8% rise, driven by mergers and acquisitions, and by firms borrowing to fund share buybacks and dividends. But this year’s jump will be for an entirely different reason – preservation as the virus saps profits. “COVID has changed everything,” said Seth Meyer, a portfolio manager at Janus Henderson, the firm that compiled the analysis for a new corporate debt index.


“Now it is about conserving capital and building a fortified balance sheet”. Companies tapped bond markets for $384 billion between January and May, and Meyer estimates that recent weeks have set a new record for debt issuance from riskier “high yield” firms with lower credit ratings. Lending markets had slammed shut for all but the most trusted firms in March, but have been opened up wide again by emergency corporate debt buying programmes from central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan. Companies included in the new debt index already owe almost 40% more than they did in 2014, and growth in debt has comfortably outstripped growth in profits.

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“..the first time in the company’s 17-year history that one of its new vehicles turned a profit in its first quarter..”

Tesla Slashes Model Y SUV Price Four Months After Launch (R.)

Tesla cut the price of its sport utility vehicle Model Y by $3,000, just four months after its launch, as the U.S. electric carmaker seeks to maintain sales momentum in the COVID-19 pandemic. The reduction follows price cuts in May on Tesla’s Model 3, Model X and Model S. The company headed by Elon Musk this month posted a smaller-than-expected fall in car deliveries in the second quarter, resilient results despite the pandemic that hit the global auto industry. The Model Y now starts at $49,990, down nearly 6% from its previous price of $52,990, according to the carmaker’s website.


Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The company started deliveries of the Model Y in March, promising a much-awaited crossover that will face competition from European carmakers like Volkswagen rolling out their own electric rivals. In April, Tesla had said the Model Y was already profitable, marking the first time in the company’s 17-year history that one of its new vehicles turned a profit in its first quarter.

Read more …

So we’re going to stop the climate disaster through sheer incompetence?

Sorry, but these sort of things bring out the skeptic in me like little else. I get that they mean well, but…

Let’s begin with scrapping terms like zero carbon, zero emissions and green energy. They are misleading nonsense.

“..for the first time ever, a group of intellectuals associated with Extinction Rebellion (XR) lay out a post-COVID-19 vision for the policies that could deal with the multiple crises we now face — and how a renewal of democracy is essential to save us from future health and ecological disasters. This statement is published exclusively in Byline Times by the XR ‘Brains Trust’, a group of thinkers including David Graeber, Illona Otto, Rupert Read, Jason Hickel, Steve Keen, Steve Melia, Henry Muss, George Barda and Rebecca Bowers.

Coronavirus Has Shown us How to Stop a Climate Disaster (BT)

According to economic textbooks, the role of finance is to allocate economic resources towards best meeting future needs. In the process, we are always told, this guarantees freedom, happiness, and well-being. Global financial markets are, therefore, a kind of superior, planetary substitute for state systems of central planning. But if so, it’s hard to imagine how they could do a more disastrous job, careering from crisis to crisis, requiring endless bailouts, while concentrating most of the world’s wealth in a tiny number of hands, wiping out species after species, and, immanently, rendering large swathes of the planet uninhabitable.

The only plausible explanation is that the economic textbooks are wrong. Global financial markets aren’t really ways of directing resources towards future benefit. They aren’t even really markets. They are power arrangements, which mainly operate by colluding with Governments to extract rents, largely, by creating public and private debt. In these areas, the public and private sector become so closely entwined that it’s difficult to even distinguish them. For instance, the crisis has made clear that Governments with their own currencies are perfectly capable of creating money at will, simply by getting the Central Bank to buy bonds from the Treasury. This can either be done directly, or via the contrivance of selling them first to the finance sector and then buying them back.

So, it follows, the same resources now devoted to keeping destructive industries afloat could simply be redirected to do the opposite. There is no reason not to allow fossil fuel, air travel, and much of current construction to simply collapse for lack of subsidy; redirecting the money instead to green projects, retraining, and a basic citizen’s income. The only way to guarantee humans are protected from future catastrophe then is to ensure a dramatic shift of power relations. Do we expect Governments to just go right ahead and implement this? Obviously not.

Governments are ultimately answerable to their citizens, and one thing citizens clearly don’t want, is to go back to how things were before. A recent survey found only 9% of British citizens want to return to life as it was pre-COVID-19. We can be certain there will never again be such reliance on air travel or commuting. And it’s unlikely citizens will ever again blindly accept ‘there’s just no money’ as an argument for failing to invest or to help the poor. The magic money tree was found, after all, this April.

Read more …

“..de facto gatekeepers of information..”

American Collusion: Weaponizing Media, Big-Tech, & Government (ZH)

In late October 2016, Jason Sullivan – then chief Twitter strategist for Roger Stone, used a data-mining tool he created, Power10, to peer into the public sentiment of the election. Outgunning the antiquated polling surveys that got it so wrong, Sullivan witnessed candidate Hilary Clinton catch up to Trump two weeks before the election in real time. He then saw, a few days later, how FBI Director James Comey gave Clinton a temporary boost that helped her overtake Trump when he announced the bureau would reopen the investigation into her email scandal. Since that time, Jason Sullivan hasn’t told his story about what happened behind the scenes leading to the biggest presidential upset election in more than a century. He wasn’t able to.

That’s because the FBI swept Sullivan up in a dawn raid in early 2018, after intimidating other members of his family. The FBI hauled him off to testify under oath of perjury before the Mueller team. Surviving the FBI interrogation, Jason Sullivan retreated from the social media spotlight. That was until this June when he saw the establishment’s coordinated effort to tilt the 2020 election against President Trump, again. The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns gave blue states cover for an all mail-in paper election. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa protests, looting and riots further shut down cities across the United States. Some posed the theory that funds donated to BLM flow through ActBlue, another political front company, and into the DNC.

The biggest lever in tilting the election this year, however, emerges with the collusion between the mainstream media and the tech giants as de facto gatekeepers of information. They wield tremendous power to determine what can and cannot be said, seen, shared and posted. They include Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube, among others. All this boils down to one objective: Censorship. Surviving the Mueller interrogation, Sullivan developed a strong opinion on both censorship and what transpired during the last presidential election. “On November 8th, 2016, all the laws of gravity were completely defied, and the legitimacy of every last one of the traditional political polls were utterly destroyed and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be completely inaccurate in what went down as the single biggest political upset in modern-day history,” Sullivan said.

“The DNC, Hilary Clinton, the Obama administration, all the Democrats, all the leading newspapers and publications, the establishment Republicans and the RINOs were ALL completely caught flat-footed! If any one of the traditional polls were remotely accurate, candidate Trump did not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the presidential election.” Sullivan concluded his first salvo, stating, “There is no one today who will argue that Donald Trump won the presidency because of social media … not even President Trump. But social media is what allowed candidate Donald Trump to completely circumvent the mainstream media and get his message out directly to the people.”

On Twitter shadow-banning, Sullivan observed the “systemized censorship that if Twitter staff members didn’t like a user’s tweet, they would zap the user’s account, for a period of time. Meaning, everything the user would post would not show up on any of his followers news feeds. It’s like getting hit with a digital stun gun.”

Read more …

Orange Man Bad is a profit machine for left and right.

That Kind Of Memory Hole Is A Nightmare (Higgins)

Liberals are losing their minds over the Lincoln Project, a political action committee made up of a coalition of Republican strategists and admen who raised $16.8 million this past quarter to continue their mission of making commercials and posts aimed at upsetting Donald Trump. The group has been regularly praised for its “fearlessness” and the “powerful” content of its ads, liberals say, deeming the anti-Trump commercials “MUST WATCH” because “they are driving him crazy.”

A recent example used the coronavirus pandemic to make the case that Trump is an existential threat to the country. “If we have another four years of this, will there even be (big dramatic pause) an America?” asks a passably Ronald Reagan-imitating voice actor as somber music plays in the background in the punny “Mourning in America”-titled ad that came out this week. It was celebrated by Politico’s Joanna Weiss as a “masterful nugget of compact filmmaking.” Unsurprisingly for a group of former aides to Republican campaigns and party attachés who have run in the same circles for decades, the Lincoln Project is made up of exactly the kind of people who liberals profess to loathe: a collection of right-wing ghouls dominated by angry white men with bigoted, racist views that they’ve seldom been shy about sharing.

The group is reportedly little more than a slush fund for its members. A study on the Lincoln Project from the Center for Responsive Politics in May found the group’s finances suspect, at best, and that the organization was acting as a funnel for what The Atlantic called the coalition’s “motley crew” of leadership by directing the PAC’s cash to the interests and businesses of its directors and staff. “The Lincoln Project reported spending nearly $1.4 million through March,” the Center explained. “Almost all of that money went to the group’s board members and firms run by them.”

The Lincoln Project’s Team is led by eight founders and ten senior advisors, but the group’s core four is made up of George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson. The quartet self-importantly announced the formation of their PAC in a tedious opinion piece for the New York Times last December, claiming that Trump represents some great departure from American conservatism (beyond saying the quiet part loud) and concluded the piece by likening their consultancy-trough-feeding and make-work organization to the Union forces in the Civil War.

Read more …

 

 

We try to run the Automatic Earth on donations. Since ad revenue has collapsed, your support is now an integral part of the process.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

The man’s making a very good point.

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime.

 

Jul 032020
 


Theodor Horydczak Washington Monument 1933 (soon to be renamed)

 

US Economic Reboot Menaced By Bug In The System (R.)
Florida Shatters Records With Over 10,000 New COVID19 Cases In Single Day (R.)
China Didn’t Alert WHO To Coronavirus Outbreak — The Internet Did (DC)
House Dems, Liz Cheney Restrict Trump’s Planned Troops Withdrawal (Greenwald)
Gilead Is Profiteering Off A COVID Drug We Already Paid For (Sirota)
Ghislaine Maxwell, Longtime Jeffrey Epstein Associate, Arrested (NYP)
Virginia Giuffre, Alan Dershowitz Both Lose In New Court Ruling (NYPost)
The Strategies of Dementia Politics (NR)
FedEx Asks Washington Redskins To Change The Team’s Name (NBC)

 

 

It’s Julian Assange’s birthday today. Light a candle.

 

 

Again, both the world and the US set new highs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Fauci shot his credibility:

 

 

Is a virus a bug?

US Economic Reboot Menaced By Bug In The System (R.)

Like a computer suffering from a pesky virus, the U.S. economy has been shut off and turned back on. This reboot seems to be working. The economy added almost 5 million jobs in June, on top of the roughly 3 million added in May, bringing the unemployment rate down over two percentage points to 11.1%. But as frustrated tech users know, short-term fixes are usually just that. Beyond the decent headline numbers, the labor force participation rate also increased to 61.5%, and around two-fifths of the job gains were in the hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics actually revised the net jobs added over the previous two months upwards to 90,000.

But the root source of the economic woes – Covid-19 infections and deaths – is also moving northward. The U.S. reported almost 50,000 new cases on Wednesday, the fifth daily record in a little over a week, according to the New York Times. Texas hit a whopping 8,000 new daily cases. What these relatively decent jobs numbers may actually show is an economy that reopened too quickly. In fact, recent JPMorgan data from around 30 million of its credit- and debit-card holders shows that increased spending in restaurants appeared to be correlated with a rise in new infections three weeks later.

So the fragile recovery could easily crash – or at the very least, freeze. The virus spikes are prompting states and cities to stall or reverse reopenings. Texas has closed bars and limited restaurant occupancy. California shut down bars and indoor dining in 19 counties. And even New York City, which has dramatically reduced infections, decided on Wednesday to delay bringing back indoor dining at restaurants, which had been slated to restart next week.

Ultimately, it’ll be impossible to assess the depth of the lasting economic damage until reopening is mostly complete. In the topsy-turvy world of 2020, jobs numbers are not the best way to predict how the economy will perform. Until the bug is removed from the system, or brought under control, medical statistics will provide perhaps the most important information. With almost 2.7 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 128,000 deaths, and rising, these numbers aren’t looking good.

Read more …

Time for a holiday…

Florida Shatters Records With Over 10,000 New COVID19 Cases In Single Day (R.)

Florida shattered records on Thursday when it reported over 10,000 new coronavirus cases, the biggest one-day increase in the state since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally. Outbreaks in Texas, California, Florida and Arizona have helped the United States break records and send cases rising at rates not seen since April. In June, Florida infections rose by 168% or over 95,000 new cases. The percent of tests coming back positive has skyrocketed to 15% from 4% at the end of May. Florida, with 21 million residents, has reported more new daily coronavirus cases than any European country had at the height of their outbreaks.


To contain the outbreak, Florida has closed bars and some beaches but the governor has resisted requiring masks statewide in public or reimposing a lockdown. Only one other state has reported more than 10,000 new cases in a single day. New York recorded 12,847 new infections on April 10, three weeks after the state implemented a strict lockdown that closed most businesses. While the state has relaxed many measures, it requires masks in public and mandates anyone arriving from 16 other U.S. states with high infections self-quarantine for two weeks. Once the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic, New York saw cases rise by about 6% in June – the lowest rate in the entire country.

Read more …

Let’s see how this plays out.

China Didn’t Alert WHO To Coronavirus Outbreak — The Internet Did (DC)

China didn’t alert the World Health Organization (WHO) to the coronavirus outbreak, a new timeline released by the WHO shows. China’s propaganda machine has claimed that China quickly reported the viral outbreak to the WHO, a claim that the WHO’s initial timeline supported. But the WHO found out about the outbreak from the internet, not from Chinese officials contacting them, according to the new timeline. The updated timeline, which was released June 29, says the WHO “picked up a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission from their website” and also picked up a report on an American website, though it doesn’t say in what order those two events occurred.

The WHO doesn’t link to the Wuhan health commission’s media statement that it says tipped the organization off to the outbreak. Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed skepticism that the statement even exists. “Even if the Commission posted something on their website – which we have seen no proof they have – the CCP still did not report the outbreak to the WHO as required by the International Health Regulations,” McCaul said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “As the updated WHO timeline clearly states, WHO staff ‘picked up a media statement…from their website’ – it was not sent to them by any officials in China,” the Texas Republican continued.

“I have repeatedly requested information from the WHO about what they knew and when they knew it, and I would welcome any clarity from them on this. But, so far, they have refused to answer any of those requests,” McCaul added. Dr. Michael Ryan, a top WHO official, previously said in an April 20 news conference that the American website, ProMED, gave the WHO its first indication of the coronavirus outbreak. “On 31st December information on our epidemic intelligence from open-source platform partners, PRO-MED, was received indicating a signal of a cluster of pneumonia cases in China. That was from open sources from Wuhan,” Ryan said.

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As I was saying yesterday. How did we ever come to see such acts as normal? I have no doubt that a vast a majority of Americans want to bring the troops home.

House Dems, Liz Cheney Restrict Trump’s Planned Troops Withdrawal (Greenwald)

Last night, the House Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment — jointly sponsored by Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado and Congresswoman Cheney of Wyoming — prohibiting the expenditure of monies to reduce the number of U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan below 8,000 without a series of conditions first being met. The imposed conditions are by no means trivial: for these troop reductions from Afghanistan to be allowed, the Defense Department must be able to certify, among other things, that leaving Afghanistan “will not increase the risk for the expansion of existing or formation of new terrorist safe havens inside Afghanistan” and “will not compromise or otherwise negatively affect the ongoing United States counter terrorism mission against the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and associated forces.”

The Crow/Cheney amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last night passed by a vote of 45-11. The NDAA was then unanimously approved by the Committee by a vote of 56-0. It authorizes $740.5 billion in military spending — roughly three times more than the world’s second-highest spender, China. President Trump throughout the year has insisted that the Pentagon present plans for withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan prior to the end of 2020. Last week, reports indicated that “the Trump administration is close to finalizing a decision to withdraw more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan by the fall.” Trump’s plan “would reduce the number of troops from 8,600 to 4,500 and would be the lowest number since the very earliest days of the war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001.”

In February, Trump announced an agreement with the Taliban to end the war completely. Shortly after those White House withdrawal plans were reported, anonymous intelligence officials leaked a series of claims to the New York Times regarding “bounties” allegedly being paid by Russia to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops. Those leaks emboldened opposition to troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on the ground that it would be capitulating to Russian treachery. It was that New York Times leak that Liz Cheney, along with GOP Congressman Mac Thornberry, cited in a joint statement on Monday to suggest troop withdrawal would be precipitous:

“After today’s briefing with senior White House officials, we remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces. It has been clear for some time that Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan. We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces. Congress has no more important obligation than providing for the security of our nation and ensuring our forces have the resources they need. We anticipate further briefings on this issue in the coming days.”

[..] The NDAA that was approved last night by the Committee also imposed restrictions on Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Germany. Trump’s plan called for the removal of roughly 9,500 troops from German soil, reducing the number of U.S. troops in this extremely prosperous and rich European nation from 34,500 to 25,000. But by an overwhelming vote of 49-7, the Armed Service Committee approved an amendment to the NDAA that “bans the administration from lowering troop levels below current levels until 180 days after Pentagon leaders present a plan to Congress and certify it will not harm U.S. or allied interests.”

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Never let a crisis go to waste.

Gilead Is Profiteering Off A COVID Drug We Already Paid For (Sirota)

This is a story of cause and effect — a tale of repeated and calculated public policy decisions that have now led to a predictable outcome. This story begins 25 years ago, when the Clinton administration rescinded a rule that required pharmaceutical companies to charge Americans reasonable prices for medicines developed at government expense. Some progressive lawmakers tried to reinstate the rule, but Republicans and Democrats joined together to halt those initiatives. In the ensuing years, the Obama administration refused Democratic lawmakers’ demand to invoke existing federal laws to force down the price of critical medicines.


Meanwhile, the GOP also blocked legislation to let Medicare use its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs All of that reflected the lobbying, campaign contributions and indomitable bipartisan power of the pharmaceutical industry in Washington. And it led to a result that this newsletter has been warning about, as Gilead just announced that it will charge privately insured Americans more than $3,000 each for a 5-day COVID treatment that was developed with financial support from the government. That’s a $3,000 price tag for a government-sponsored drug treatment that experts say the company could offer at $10 and still make a profit.

Read more …

Wonder what happened to make it happen at this particular time. She seemed safe holed up in Paris.

Bookmakers are now taking your bets on her suicide.

Ghislaine Maxwell, Longtime Jeffrey Epstein Associate, Arrested (NYP)

Longtime Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested Thursday on a six-count indictment charging her with grooming young girls for sex. The British socialite, 58, was arrested by the FBI in New Hampshire around 8:30 a.m., authorities said. The just-unsealed indictment charges stem from Maxwell’s role “in the sexual exploitation and abuse of multiple minor girls by Jeffrey Epstein” as early as 1994, court papers say. “The victims were as young as 14 years old when they were groomed and abused by Maxwell and Epstein, both of whom knew that certain victims were in fact under the age of 18,” the indictment says.


She is specifically accused of grooming three underage victims for sex with Epstein in places including his Upper East Side townhouse, Florida, New Mexico and London. Maxwell is charged with six counts — conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and two counts of perjury. Prosecutors also accuse Maxwell — a one-time girlfriend of Epstein’s — of repeatedly lying about her involvement in the financier’s sex trafficking ring during a 2016 deposition.

Read more …

From Wednesday, before Ghislaine was arrested. I’m thinking there is probably a connection, but I don’t know which.

There’s a curious line in here:

“The 13-page ruling said Cooper & Kirk “has not, from what the Court can tell, been actively working on the case.”

She has to destroy all the evidence because her lawyers were not working? What?

Virginia Giuffre, Alan Dershowitz Both Lose In New Court Ruling (NYPost)

Attorneys for alleged Jeffrey Epstein “sex slave” Virginia Roberts Giuffre were ordered Wednesday to destroy evidence from her case against Ghislaine Maxwell — as lawyer Alan Dershowitz was also denied access to the potentially explosive information. Manhattan federal Judge Loretta Preska said she was “troubled” to learn during oral arguments last week that Giuffre’s lawyers, from the firm of Cooper & Kirk, had been given sealed records from her since-settled suit against Maxwell, who Giuffre claims recruited her to have sex with Epstein and his pals while she was underage.

The other men allegedly include Dershowitz, whom Giuffre is suing for defamation over his public denials of her accusations, including calling her a “certified, complete, total liar,” and who is counter-suing Giuffre for causing “serious harm … to his reputation, his business and his health.” “As a practical matter, the Court would be surprised — shocked, even — if Cooper & Kirk was not in some sense ‘using’ the Maxwell discovery in its representation of Ms. Giuffre in her action against Mr. Dershowitz,” the judge wrote.

Preska also rejected claims by Giuffre’s lawyers that they were entitled to the evidence, obtained from her former attorneys at Boies Schiller Flexner, because they’d been hired to represent her in the Maxwell case. The 13-page ruling said Cooper & Kirk “has not, from what the Court can tell, been actively working on the case.” Preska directed the Cooper & Kirk lawyers to destroy the evidence, along with “any material, including work product, derived from” it, and to submit an affidavit afterward.

Read more …

I know I’m not supposed to quote right wing media, but this is just too funny. And it raises a valid point: they can’t keep Biden hidden from view forever, and now when he does come out, he’ll be nervous.

The Strategies of Dementia Politics (NR)

Stoke chaos, obstruct economic recovery, and hide Biden in the basement till Election Day.

Joe Biden is tragically suffering a mental eclipse and sliding away at a geometric rate. Understandably, his handlers have kept him out of sight. He stays off the campaign trail on the pretext of the virus and his age-related susceptibility to COVID-19 morbidity. I say “pretext” without apology. Quarantine should not have otherwise stopped Biden over the past three months from doing daily interviews, speeches, and meetings. But each occasion, however scripted, rehearsed, and canned, would only have offered further daily proof that Biden is cognitively unable to be president or indeed to hold any office. Often Biden cannot finish a sentence. Names are vague eddies in his mind’s river of forgetfulness.

He is in a far more dire mental state than a physically failing FDR was in his 1944 campaign for a fourth term. The earlier career of a healthy Biden illustrates that he was not especially sharp even when in control of most of his faculties. We recall the former sane/nutty Biden of Neal Kinnock plagiarism, his “put y’all in chains” demagoguery, the studied racism of Biden’s riffs about a “clean” and well-spoken Obama, and the sane/insane Corn Pop stories. All are the trademark of a once fool Joe Biden, who was at least alert when compared with his current catalepsy. If Donald Trump can be ungrammatical, Biden is agrammatical — he simply streams together half-thoughts without syntax and then abandons the sentence entirely.

If Trump repeats vocabulary, Biden increasingly searches for words, any noun, whatever its irrelevance to the point he is making. Biden seems to suffer dyscognitive seizures, in which for moments he has no idea what he is doing or saying or where he is — a tragic, nearly epileptic condition. In scary episodes, the pale, scaly, and frozen visage of Biden appears almost reptilian, like a lizard freezing and remaining stationary as it struggles to process signals of perceived danger. Inserting memorized answers into rehearsed questions, as if the entire con was spontaneous, only reveals how his once episodic dementia has become chronic as he loses his prompt and place. It was understandable that his handlers saw opportunity in secluding Biden during Trump’s tweeting, alongside the contagion, the lockdown, the recession, and the rioting that in voters’ minds had equated fear of chaos with the culpability of the current commander in chief.

Read more …

Redskins was always a problem. But while you’re toppling Washington statues, you want to keep his name linked to the team, the city? Can anyone explain the logic?

FedEx Asks Washington Redskins To Change The Team’s Name (NBC)

FedEx has asked the Washington Redskins to officially change their name, long condemned as an anti-Indigenous slur. The shipping company has communicated to the team a request that it change its name, FedEx confirmed Thursday in a statement to NBC News. FedEx owns the naming rights to the Maryland field where the team plays, and its chief executive, Fred Smith, owns a minority stake in the team. FedEx’s request comes a day after Adweek reported that 87 investment firms and shareholders worth $620 billion sent a letter urging FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo to stop doing business with the team until the name is changed.


In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks, which helped the team get the Redskins trademark back in 2018. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board had canceled the registration as offensive to American Indians. [..] Mayor Muriel Bowser said last month on Washington radio station WTEM that the name has been an obstacle in getting the city its own stadium. “I think it’s past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people,” Bowser said. “And this is a great franchise with a great history that’s beloved in Washington, and it deserves a name that reflects the affection that we’ve built for the team.” [..] Dan Snyder, the team’s majority owner, told USA Today in 2013 that he would “never change the name.” “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps,” he said.

Read more …

 

 

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Mar 292020
 


Joseph Mallord William Turner The Fifth Plague of Egypt 1800

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m under the impression that President Trump yesterday wanted to quarantine New York City but let himself get talked out of that by, among others, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo went as far as calling such a measure not merely “un-American”, he said it would be “preposterous” and “anti-American”.

Obviously, Cuomo is not just of the belief, like most Americans, that a country with less than 5% of the world population is really special and superior, but also that a city with less than 4% of that country’s population is even more special than the rest. All pigs are equal, but…

There doesn’t appear to be another explanation for labeling attempts to keep New Yorkers from spreading the coronavirus around the entire country “anti-American”. Still, it would be anti-New York at best, and probably not that either. After Wuhan, China and Lombardy, Italy, New York City has become the third consecutive epicenter for the virus. Cuomo is well aware of this.

Still, he pontificates: “Then we would be Wuhan, China, and that wouldn’t make any sense..” Actually,. it would. Just look at the numbers. But: “..this would cause the stock market to crash in a way that would make it impossible for the US economy to “recover for months, if not years”.

This is possible. But that’s what Wuhan and Milan also experience(d). No stock markets there, true, but both the Italian and Chinese markets have been hit hard nonetheless. In the end it’s a trade-off. You let people die while trying to prop up markets, or you put people first. Cuomo made his choice.

Trump Backs Away From New York Quarantine

Speaking to reporters earlier on Saturday about the situation in New York, Mr Trump said: “We’d like to see [it] quarantined because it’s a hotspot… I’m thinking about that.” He said it would be aimed at slowing the spread of the virus to other parts of the US. “They’re having problems down in Florida. A lot of New Yorkers are going down. We don’t want that,” he said. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded by saying that quarantining the state of New York would be “preposterous” and “anti-American”.

“If you said we were geographically restricted from leaving, that would be a lockdown.” He said New York had already implemented “quarantine” measures, such as banning major gatherings and ordering people to remain at home, but that he would oppose any “lockdown” efforts. “Then we would be Wuhan, China, and that wouldn’t make any sense,” he told CNN, adding that this would cause the stock market to crash in a way that would make it impossible for the US economy to “recover for months, if not years”.

“You would paralyse the financial sector,” he said. He added later: “I don’t know how that can be legally enforceable. And from a medical point of view, I don’t know what you would be accomplishing. “But I can tell you, I don’t even like the sound of it.” Mr Cuomo also said he would sue nearby Rhode Island if the authorities there continued targeting New Yorkers and threatening to punish them for failing to quarantine.

And of course Trump made his choice, too, no two ways about it. He’s as close to literally fiddling while Rome burns as you can get in the 21st century. But when he’s trying to limit the damage with a quarantine, the folks who criticize him hardest for not doing enough, protest the loudest.

The idea that it is Trump who killed off the US health care system is tempting for media and politics alike, but it is utter nonsense. Even Fareed Zakaria agrees with me on that one just now on CNN, and that’s so rare I can’t help taking note.

At the very latest starting with Reagan, the idea has been that government is America’s enemy. And now the country needs its government, which is full of people who agree with Reagan’s ideas. So no, this is not going to go well

It’ll be something to behold what happens going forward, with 150,000 Americans infected today, moving towards 1 million by next weekend. Blame it all on Trump? Well, they’ll try. Here’s a little map of flight movements dated March 28, maybe that gives you an idea of how this disease pandemic is spread stateside:

https://twitter.com/flightradar24/status/1244003511098134529

Just about every country has stalled just about any movement of planes, but not the US. And if it’s up to Cuomo, that’s not going to happen either. Not being able to spread the disease is “anti-American”, after all. Sounds like Cuomo should agree with Trump who says: “They’re having problems down in Florida. A lot of New Yorkers are going down. We don’t want that..” Cuomo apparently does not agree.

 

A letter originating from the Henry Ford Health System was published (leaked?) online over the past week that perhaps provides a better definition/description of what is “anti-American” than a NYC quarantine. You be the judge. This is the best version I could find, it was published on Scribd, but later removed (wonder why). Pray tell: is publishing the letter anti-American, or is removing it? It’s still obvious enough.

 

 

The letter was sent to multiple hospitals and deals with the situation that would ensue if and when the health system become overwhelmed, something that’s hardly hypothetical anymore. It describes the practice of “triage” in the world’s richest nation: doctors removing patients who don’t improve fast enough, from equipment such as ventilators, and giving them painkillers to soothe their way into a certain and imminent death. “The other Cuomo” explains in this video:

 

 

But New Yorkers should still be allowed to fly -or drive- to Michigan, right? See, maybe that’s even better. C’mon Manhattanites, drive to Detroit. Support the US automobile industry, they’re having such a hard time.

Meanwhile, hundreds of doctors and nurses have already been infected, as have similar numbers of policemen- and women, and thousands more of each will follow. But that’s all perfectly pro-American.

 

PS: the funniest thing in all this is perhaps that normally Trump would agree with Governor Cuomo’s “exceptionalism” ideas, for both America and New York, but he no longer can, he has a tsunami coming straight at him. Still, doesn’t that mean that maybe Cuomo should drop those silly notions too?

 

 

It must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

Thanks everyone for your wonderful and generous donations over the past few days. The rest of you: don’t be strangers.

 

 

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Mar 292020
 


Dorothea Lange Kern County, California 1938

 

Trump Backs Off Threat Of Coronavirus Quarantine For NYC Area (NYP)
Florida Coronavirus Cases Are Growing Fast. Here’s What That Means. (TBT)
Rhode Island Door Knocks in Search of Fleeing New Yorkers (AP)
700 N.J. Police Officers Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus (NJ.com)
More Than 500 Members Of The NYPD Have Coronavirus (NYP)
Italy PM Adopts New Measures To Help Coronavirus-Hit Economy (R.)
Home Confinement In France Extended To April 15 (SA)
UK Coronavirus Death Toll Under 20,000 Would Be ‘Good Result’ – Health Chief (R.)
UK To Turn Birmingham Airport Into Mortuary (BBC)
UK Broadband Providers To Lift Data Caps During COVID-19 Lockdown (G.)
“There’s No Gold” – COMEX Report (ZH)
Biden Consolidates Support, But Trails Badly In Enthusiasm (ABC)

 

 

Lost an hour overnight because Europe finally went to Daylight Saving Time. That one hour extra/less between the two sides of the ocean always throws me off-rhythm. The missing hour also shows up in the numbers, but we’ll make that up tomorrow.

Since the US is now the world no. 1, it’s inevitable that much of the news switches there as well. I AM unpleasantly surprised to see the numbers of police officers infected, and I would like to know how that happens. Trump’s notion of a NYC lockdown seemed to make sense, but “wiser” voices prevailed. As NYC has turned into not just the American, but the global center.

 

 

Cases 672,086 (+ 63,819 from yesterday’s 613,829)

Deaths 31,737 (+ 3,508 from yesterday’s 28,229)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 18% –

 

 

From SCMP: (Note, SCMP numbers have done a little sprint, their US deaths are even higher than Worldometer now)

 

 

From COVID2019Live.info:

 

 

 

 

Did Trump get talked out of it by the likes of Cuomo? As NYC is turning into the global epicenter? Cuomo keeps calling for equipment, but refuses to ponder measures that could make that less important.

Trump Backs Off Threat Of Coronavirus Quarantine For NYC Area (NYP)

President Donald Trump on Saturday night backed off a daylong threat to lock down NYC and the tri-state area — a proposal that had thrown three governors for a loop. “A quarantine will not be necessary,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets Saturday night, reasoning that a travel advisory would suffice. “On the recommendation of the White House CoronaVirus Task Force, and upon consultation with the Governor’s (sic) of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, I have asked the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to issue a strong Travel Advisory, to be administered by the Governors, in consultation with the Federal Government,” Trump tweeted.


Trump had told reporters outside the White House earlier Saturday that he was considering a regional lockdown to stop the spread of the disease, to the dismay of the tri-state’s governors. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he and Trump spoke just a day before, on Friday, and the idea wasn’t brought up. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wouldn’t even know how such a lockdown would be instituted. “I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable and from a medical point of view don’t know what you would be accomplishing, but I can tell you I don’t even like the sound of it,” he told reporters Saturday.. He appeared on CNN later, where he likened the concept to starting a “Civil War,” and called it “preposterous.”

Read more …

Still photos of full beaches.

Florida Coronavirus Cases Are Growing Fast. Here’s What That Means. (TBT)

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida is doubling every three days, putting the state on a trajectory to see tens of thousands of infections in the coming weeks, a Tampa Bay Times analysis shows. No rigorous model has been calculated for Florida to predict the disease’s spread in detail. Those usually take months to create. But at this point, experts say the math is simple. The number of cases is already past the point of easy containment and infections are growing faster and faster, at what statisticians call an exponential rate. Without dramatic steps, they worry that the epidemic will balloon across Florida and place an unprecedented strain on hospitals and health clinics.


Thomas Hladish, a University of Florida research scientist who specializes in disease modeling and has been advising the state on the outbreak, said that while epidemiologists might disagree on the nuances of their projections, they all agree on the main point. “We do understand the math and the models well enough to say with great confidence that Florida is going to have a huge public health crisis,” Hladish said. “And we are just at the beginning of it right now.” By 11 a.m. Saturday, Florida had reported more than 3,700 cases — an increase of nearly 1,000 in 24 hours. Florida remains one of the few states with a large outbreak not to issue a statewide order to keep residents at home. Several counties across the state, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, issued “safer at home” orders in the last week.

Some public health experts say it will take the more extreme step of shutting down the state to halt the disease’s rapid spread in Florida. Nine hundred Florida healthcare workers had signed a petition by Friday asking for the same thing. The effects of the intervention wouldn’t be apparent right away. The same is true for the smaller steps that have already been taken in Florida, like social distancing or closing restaurants and fitness studios. “We are not going to see the benefits for a few weeks, which is frustrating to everyone,” said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Florida International University.

Read more …

If not the craziest thing around, a solid contender.

Rhode Island Door Knocks in Search of Fleeing New Yorkers (AP)

The Rhode Island National Guard started going door to door on Saturday in coastal areas to inform any New Yorkers who may have come to the state that they must self-quarantine for 14 days while Gov. Gina Raimondo expanded the mandatory self-quarantine to anyone visiting the state. Raimondo also ordered residents to stay at home, with exceptions for getting food, medicines or going to the doctor, and ordered nonessential retail businesses to close Monday until April 13 to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. She also directed realtors and hotel operators to include new requirements that any out-of-state residents must quarantine for 14 days in their purchase agreements.

State Police set up a checkpoint on I-95 in Hope Valley on Friday where drivers with New York license plates must stop and provide contact information and were told to self-quarantine for two weeks, WPRI.com reported. If New Yorkers don’t comply, they face fines and jail time, Raimondo said, adding that that’s not the goal. “I want to be crystal clear about this: If you’re coming to Rhode Island from New York you are ordered into quarantine. The reason for that is because more than half of the cases of coronavirus in America are in New York,” Raimondo said, adding that it’s not meant to be discriminatory.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the order “reactionary” and unconstitutional, saying he’d sue Rhode Island if the policy isn’t rescinded but believed they could “work it out.” “I understand the goal … but there’s a point of absurdity, and I think what Rhode Island did is at that point of absurdity,” said Cuomo, a Democrat. “We have to keep the ideas and the policies we implement positive rather than reactionary and emotional.”

Read more …

Insane. How did this happen?

700 N.J. Police Officers Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus (NJ.com)

About 700 New Jersey police officers have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Saturday. “There’s more than 700 police officers quarantined at home, and there’s about the same … number that have tested positive from all 21 counties,” Col. Patrick Callahan, acting superintendent of the State Police, said in Trenton during the state’s daily coronavirus press briefing. that amount is far higher than previously known. Newark, Jersey City, NJ Transit, the Port Authority, Fanwood, Hazlet and the State Police have all reported cases. Two officers that were in “serious condition” are now stable, Callahan said. None have died. Testing sites in Bergen and Holmdel were only testing symptomatic first responders Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy previously said.


There are about 36,000 full-time officers in the state, according to recent State Police data, and experts said the public should not be concerned about a looming officer shortage. “If you have the right officers and you have the right supervisors … we are good,” said Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Crime has also dropped in the state, officials have said, which could help departments cope with any short-staffing, according to Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who teaches at John Jay. [..] New Jersey has at least 11,124 known cases of the virus overall, including at least 140 known deaths, officials announced Saturday.

Read more …

Seriously, how? Are they infecting each other? Like at the stations?

More Than 500 Members Of The NYPD Have Coronavirus (NYP)

Nearly 200 more NYPD cops tested positive for the coronavirus in less than a day — causing the number of infected department members to soar above 550, officials said Friday. According to a spokesman for the NYPD, 486 uniformed officers and 71 civilian employees have now contracted COVID-19. Late Thursday, 294 cops and 57 civilians were positive. Friday’s figures — the largest daily increase in confirmed cases on the force — come a day after the NYPD lost its first employee to the coronavirus, Dennis Dickson, 62, a civilian cleaner at police HQ, and Deputy Commissioner John Miller was hospitalized in critical condition with severe COVID-19 symptoms.


The potentially deadly virus has been sweeping through the department over the past week, leaving the NYPD without at least 11 percent of its patrol officers, who called out sick. About 375 more cops called out sick Friday. According to the NYPD, 4,111 officers were out ill — nearly four times the average number of cops out sick.

Read more …

Italy is finally free to do what it wants financially, the EU is silent.

Italy PM Adopts New Measures To Help Coronavirus-Hit Economy (R.)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday he had approved a new package of measures to help those worst hit by the coronavirus emergency, including supplying shopping vouchers and food packages. Conte said in a news conference that €4.3 billion ($4.79 billion) would be made immediately available to mayors to deal with theirs citizens’ needs and another 400 million would be provided in a special fund for “people who don’t have the money to do their shopping.” Italy, the country that has suffered most deaths from the coronavirus epidemic, already approved a 25 billion euro stimulus package earlier this month and has promised another one of at least the same size in April.


Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri, speaking at the same news conference, criticized the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for appearing to dismiss the need for issuance of common debt by European Union countries. “The commission president’s words were a mistake and I regret that she made them,” he said, adding that Europe would need “a great Marshall Plan” to relaunch its economy after the coronavirus emergency is over.

Read more …

What an unsympathetic term.

Home Confinement In France Extended To April 15 (SA)

The Covid-19 home confinement period will be extended for “at least two weeks” beyond the initial two-week period, the French prime minister has announced this afternoon. The obligation to stay at home, with limited exceptions, started at noon on Tuesday March 17 and was scheduled to last until Tuesday March 31 at least and until further notice. Now Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has confirmed it will definitely be extended and will not end before Wednesday April 15. “It is clear that we are only at the beginning of the wave of this epidemic,” he said specifying that the same rules, such as needing a form to go out of the house, will continue to apply.


He said the period could be extended further again if the health situation makes it necessary. On Tuesday, the official scientific committee advising the government said an extension to the confinement period was essential and pleaded for a period of six full weeks from its implementation i.e. until Tuesday April 28. A new extension could be decided “if and only if the health situation requires it,” said Mr Philippe. “Those who do not respect the rules of confinement are few in number and will be severely punished, because the health of everyone is at stake, especially the most fragile among us,” the prime minister added while praising citizens “for their civic-mindedness, patience and solidarity” during this period.

Read more …

Prepare to die. Just don’t dare blame Boris.

UK Coronavirus Death Toll Under 20,000 Would Be ‘Good Result’ – Health Chief (R.)

The United Kingdom will do well if it manages to keep the coronavirus death toll below 20,000, a senior health official said on Saturday after the deadliest day so far of the outbreak saw the number of fatalities rise to more than 1,000. Stephen Powis, the medical director of National Health Service England, warned the public against complacency and said everyone had to play their part in hindering the spread of the virus. The number of confirmed cases stood at 17,089 on Saturday morning. The death toll rose by 260 in a day to 1,019, the seventh highest toll in the world behind Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States.


When asked if Britain was on the same trajectory as Italy, where the death toll has passed 9,000, Powis said that if the public adhered to the nationwide lockdown the total toll could be kept below 20,000. “If it is less than 20,000… that would be a good result though every death is a tragedy, but we should not be complacent about that,” he said at a news conference in Downing Street. Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first leader of a major power to announce a positive test result for coronavirus on Friday. He is self-isolating in Downing Street but still leading the UK response to the crisis.

Read more …

1,500 bodies? How small is that airport?

UK To Turn Birmingham Airport Into Mortuary (BBC)

Work to turn part of Birmingham Airport into a mortuary able to store at least 1,500 bodies has begun. Bosses previously said discussions were under way, but West Midlands Police confirmed the project had started. An airport spokesperson said it was working to provide land and a hangar for the temporary morgue. Police said there was “scope to expand” the starting capacity of 1,500, as the region prepared for a predicted rise in coronavirus deaths. The force said regional mortuaries may close as staff were transferred to the new facility, which could eventually accommodate all deaths across the West Midlands. This would include those unrelated to coronavirus, it said.


The force said it would do everything possible to accommodate religious requirements and that it was “vital” to give people “the utmost dignity and respect” at all times. Senior coroner for Birmingham, Louise Hunt, said: “We understand that it is a very difficult time for everyone and we will do all that we can to make sure bereaved families understand what is happening to their loved ones and to release them for funeral as soon as we can.” Assistant Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine said public sector agencies and their partners were working together “to better deal with this challenge… at a critical time of need”.

Read more …

It’s essential that Boris talk to you.

UK Broadband Providers To Lift Data Caps During COVID-19 Lockdown (G.)

All data allowance caps on current fixed broadband services will be removed in a deal struck by the government and telecommunications companies to help vulnerable people stay connected through the pandemic. It is among a range of immediately effective measures agreed by major internet service and mobile providers including BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM. The companies have pledged that anyone who is struggling to pay their bill due to the pandemic will be treated fairly and appropriately supported, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.

The firms have also agreed to offer generous new mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. These could put users in line for packages featuring data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile. Vulnerable customers or those who are self-isolating, who are faced with priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines which cannot be carried out, should be given alternative methods of communication wherever possible, the companies said.

The digital secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time. It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home.” Watchdog Ofcom’s chief executive, Melanie Dawes, said: “We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment. So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important.”

Read more …

Tik tok.

“There’s No Gold” – COMEX Report (ZH)

While the demand for gold has been soaring as a safe haven asset amid the multiple global crises we are currently facing, forced paper gold liquidation (as leveraged funds scramble to cover margin calls) and unprecedented logistical disruptions created a frantic hunt for actual bars of gold. Specifically, as Bloomberg details, at the center of it all are a small band of traders who for years had cashed in on what had always been a sure-fire bet: shorting gold futures in New York against being long physical gold in London. Usually, they’d ride the trade out till the end of the contract when they’d have a couple of options to get out without marking much, if any, loss. The real price.. for real gold? Nearer $1,800. If you can get it.

“There’s no gold,” says Josh Strauss, partner at money manager Pekin Hardy Strauss in Chicago (and a bullion fan). “There’s no gold. There’s roughly a 10% premium to purchase physical gold for delivery. Usually it’s like 2%. I can buy a one ounce American Eagle for $1,800,” said Josh Strauss. “$1,800!” “The case for gold is simple,” says Strauss. “You want to own gold in times of financial dislocation and or inflation. And that’s been the case since time immemorial. And gold behaves well in those cases. In those cases stocks behave poorly. It’s a great portfolio hedge. Gold does poorly when you’ve got strong economic growth and low inflation. Tell me when that’s going to happen. Gold held its value during 2008 and after all that money printing it tripled over the next three years.”

And in case you doubted this, the cost of an American Eagle one ounce coin at the US Mint is now $2,175…

Read more …

Really bad theater.

Biden Consolidates Support, But Trails Badly In Enthusiasm (ABC)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has emerged as Democrats’ top choice for the presidential nomination in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, but with only bare majority support within his party and a massive enthusiasm gap in a November matchup against President Donald Trump. Indeed, strong enthusiasm for Biden among his supporters – at just 24% – is the lowest on record for a Democratic presidential candidate in 20 years of ABC/Post polls. More than twice as many of Trump’s supporters are highly enthusiastic about supporting him, 53%. Trump’s still-strong rating on the economy is another challenge for Biden. So is this: Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who prefer Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the nomination, 15% say they’d back Trump over Biden in the fall.

In the nomination contest, 51% of leaned Democrats now prefer Biden vs. 42% for Sanders. That’s a vast 34-point gain for Biden since mid-February, with other candidates having left the race and endorsed him. Sanders gained 10%age points. Yet even as he’s advanced in his party, Biden’s slipped against Trump in a November matchup. The two are locked into essentially a dead heat among registered voters, 49-47%, Biden-Trump, after a slight Biden lead, 52-45%, in February. Biden does better vs. Trump among all adults (Democrats are less apt to be registered), 50-44%. That’s a slight lead, but it was more solidly significant in February, 52-44%.


Perhaps the Democrats’ biggest risk is under the surface, in Trump’s big advantage in backers who are “very” enthusiastic about supporting him. Strong enthusiasm for a candidate can help boost turnout on Election Day, a must-have particularly for Democrats, who rely more on motivating less-frequent voters to come to the polls. While trailing Trump by 29 points in high-level enthusiasm, Biden makes up some of the difference with those who are “somewhat” enthusiastic. But he still trails Trump by 12 points in the combined measure, 74 vs. 86%.

Read more …

 

It must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

Thanks everyone for your wonderful and generous donations over the past few days. The rest of you: don’t be strangers.

 

 

 

 


Jennifer Baer

 

 

Support us in virustime. Help the Automatic Earth survive. It’s good for you.

 

Sep 022019
 


Strongest storm ever to threaten Florida east coast

 

 

‘Get Ready for Brexit’: Government Launches Information Blitz (G.)
Johnson’s Brexit Gambit Puts Queen in a Tight Spot (Spiegel)
Leaked No-Deal Report Says Lorries Could Face 48-Hour Delays At Dover (PA)
Irish Border After Brexit – All Ideas Beset By Issues Says Secret Paper (G.)
Many US Firms Already Have Ditched China, More On The Way (CNBC)
Hong Kong Students Boycott Classes As Chinese Media Warns ‘End Is Coming’ (G.)
Why Has The U.S. CEO-To-Worker Pay Ratio Increased So Much? (Colombo)
In The Era Of Neurocapitalism, Your Brain Needs New Rights (Vox)
Hollywood Reboots Russophobia For The New Cold War (Parry)
A Black Hole So Big It Shouldn’t Even Exist Is Baffling Scientists (RT)

 

 

After carefully making sure there were no needy people left in the country, and no children were going hungry, the new UK gov decided to spend £100+ million on an advertising campaign. They’re going to absolutely bombard, if not strangle, you with this stuff. You won’t be able to escape it.

‘Get Ready for Brexit’: Government Launches Information Blitz (G.)

The billboards have been unveiled, the branded mugs have been ordered and the adverts will soon start following you around the internet after the government launched what it claimed to be the largest ever public information campaign in an effort to prepare the British public for leaving the EU. The Get Ready for Brexit campaign went live on Sunday, stating that the UK would be leaving the EU on 31 October and urging the public to visit a new website to check what they needed to do to prepare for a no-deal exit. The slogan appeared for the first time on a giant advertising screen next to a John Lewis store at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London, looming over visitors.

Downing Street has previously briefed that the taxpayer-funded advertising campaign will cost up to £100m, although doubts have been raised over whether the government will realistically be able to spend that much on a campaign lasting just two months. One leading advertising industry source pointed out that this figure was substantially higher than the amount spent on traditional advertising in the UK by major consumer brands such as Amazon, Tesco and Asda in the whole of 2018. This suggests that either the government is overstating the amount it intends to spend in an attempt to draw extra attention or that Downing Street really is launching an advertising campaign that will be unequalled in its ubiquity.


Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of no-deal planning, said: “Ensuring an orderly Brexit is not only a matter of national importance, but a shared responsibility” as he launched the adverts by referring to government polling that showed only 50% of the population thought it was likely the UK would leave the EU on 31 October. The same research found that 42% of small- to medium-sized businesses were still unsure of how they could prepare for Brexit and just a third of the British public have looked for information on what they will need to do, suggesting large-scale ignorance of what Brexit will involve with less than two months to go until the expected departure date.=

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View from Germany: “..the last intact pillar of the United Kingdom: its queen…”

Johnson’s Brexit Gambit Puts Queen in a Tight Spot (Spiegel)

[..] the anger of the masses isn’t being directed solely at the man in Downing Street. One of the last taboos for many Brits has also been broken: blatant criticism of the queen. “The. Queen. Did. Not. Save. Us,” tweeted Labour Party politician Kate Osamor, and hinted at the abolition of the monarchy. Her party leader Jeremy Corbyn asked the queen in writing for a personal meeting to protest against Johnson’s coup. Jo Swinson, the head of the EU-friendly Liberal Democrats, also wrote to the queen asking for an “urgent meeting.” After three years of the country beating itself up in the Brexit debate, Johnson is now leading Britain into the last round of the ordeal – an unprecedented showdown between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, which, incidentally, threatens to damage the last intact pillar of the United Kingdom: its queen.


It’s impossible to predict what will ensue in the coming weeks – aside from chaos. But there is much to suggest Johnson wants precisely that, and at any cost, in order to deliver the main promise he made to become British prime minister – to lead his country out of the EU on Oct. 31, with or without an agreement. After the G-7 summit in Biarritz, Johnson may have praised the EU’s willingness to compromise, he may have put the chances of no deal at “one in a million,” and the majority of Brits and their elected representatives may be against leaving the EU without a deal, but no one in the betting crazy UK is now likely to bet on there being any agreement between London and Brussels in the end.

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Blame France.

Leaked No-Deal Report Says Lorries Could Face 48-Hour Delays At Dover (PA)

Leaked government documents which reportedly say there could be 48-hour delays at Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit have moved hauliers to warn of the “clear and present danger” to the UK supply chain. Sky News said it had seen documents which suggest vehicles could face a two-day delay at the Kent port in a no-deal scenario, and the revelation has led to industry insiders saying the government has “failed to deliver”. Rod McKenzie, the managing director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said it came as absolutely no surprise to him that such a document existed, adding that there was still no sign of a new customs process with just weeks left before the UK is expected to leave the EU.

He had not seen the Department for Transport documents (DfT), but said he understood they were more recent than the leaked Operation Yellowhammer files which contained predictions of a three-month “meltdown” at ports in the event of no deal. “The Road Haulage Association has been saying this for quite literally years now that if there is a no-deal Brexit, there will be very substantial queues at the border,” McKenzie said. “We have got a very, very serious problem with the UK supply chain if there is a no-deal Brexit on 31 October from where we are now. “This is a clear and present danger to the supply chain on which we all depend, and we are calling on the government in the clearest terms to make it clear what traders have to do to trade with the continent. This they have failed to do so far.”


Sky News said on Sunday night that analysis commissioned by the DfT suggested that on the first day of a no-deal Brexit, the worst-case scenario would be a two-day maximum delay for freight and vehicles at Dover, and an average wait of a day-and-a-half. McKenzie said any delay at the ports would cause a “very, very substantial traffic jam”, adding: “What we are saying is that we urgently need clarity from this government, having not had it from the previous government, we urgently need clarity from this government of what traders have to do to get ready for a no-deal Brexit.”

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Troubles.

Irish Border After Brexit – All Ideas Beset By Issues Says Secret Paper (G.)

All potential solutions to the post-Brexit Irish border are fraught with difficulty and would leave smaller businesses struggling to cope, experts have said, as leaked government papers outline major concerns just two months before Britain is due to leave the EU. A report summarising the findings of the government’s official “alternative arrangements” working groups concluded that there are issues with all the scenarios put forward to try to replace the backstop arrangement. There are also specific concerns over whether any technological solution could be delivered to monitor cross-border trade. Critics said the paper, seen by the Guardian, should “ring alarm bells” across government over how likely it is that alternative arrangements to the backstop will be found.

The dossier marked “official-sensitive” prepared for the EU Exit Negotiations Board is dated 28 August. It details how the findings of all advisory groups informing the government on the Northern Irish border are being kept deliberately under wraps to try to avoid hampering Britain’s intended renegotiation of the backstop agreed to by Theresa May. Alternative systems to avoid a hard Northern Irish border after Brexit have become the central tenet of Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy. He sees this as a way of unlocking a new deal with Europe and has claimed that there are “abundant solutions”.


However, the damning report shows there is no single deliverable solution at present, despite the fact Johnson is almost a third of the way through the “30 days” target that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, gave him to come up with a fresh border proposal. The report said: “It is evident that every facilitation has concerns and issues related to them. The complexity of combining them into something more systemic and as part of one package is a key missing factor at present.”

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This will take a long time.

Many US Firms Already Have Ditched China, More On The Way (CNBC)

President Trump rattled Wall Street when he demanded U.S. firms move production out of China. But many have already taken steps to do so, and, in earnings calls just over the past month, dozens of chief executives have signaled plans to further diversify their supply chains amid the intensifying trade war. On Aug. 23, Trump took to Twitter, ordering American companies to “immediately start looking for an alternative to China” and urging them instead to start making their products in the U.S. In doing so, he cited the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) — passed in 1977 to deal with an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” [..]

Trump doubled down on Friday, attacking General Motors for its significant presence in China and questioning whether the automaker should move the operations to the U.S. “Sometimes you’ve got to take stern measures,” White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the sidelines of the G-7 meeting in France. Kudlow added that American companies should heed the president’s call to leave China. No U.S. president has invoked the law as leverage in a commercial dispute, let alone to sever commercial ties with one of its largest trading partners. Indeed, over the past century, U.S. administrations have mainly deployed the IEEPA to prosecute drug trafficking or financial terrorism through sanctions or other economic penalties.


[..] in an annual survey conducted in June by the U.S.-China Business Council, nearly 30% of the 220 respondents said they have already delayed or cancelled investments in China or the U.S. due to mounting trade uncertainty. Though just 13% said they had plans to specifically move operations out of China, that’s steadily increased from 10% in 2018 and 8% in 2017.

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Peace please.

Hong Kong Students Boycott Classes As Chinese Media Warns ‘End Is Coming’ (G.)

For the last 13 weeks, protesters have come to the streets to demand the formal withdrawal of a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China, which critics fear will be used by Beijing to target those who criticise the ruling Chinese communist party. As the protests have dragged on, they have taken on new forms and other demands including instituting democratic reforms and conducting an independent investigation into police behaviour. On Sunday, demonstrators attempted to lay siege to the airport, prompting a swift response from riot police. On Saturday, riot police stormed a metro station, attacking trapped protesters with batons. Monday’s class boycott was accompanied by a call for a general strike. It followed two days of mass protests where demonstrators paralysed links to airport, and clashed with police outside government buildings and in MTR stations.


Several editorials in Chinese state media on Monday condemned the protesters as “crazy and vicious” for bringing “catastrophe” upon the Hong Kong economy. An editorial on the website of the state-run news agency Xinhua warned “the end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong”. The shift of the protests to school campuses is comes after Chinese officials have blamed the protests on the city’s liberal education curriculum. In recent weeks, Beijing has criticised teachers and parents for not instilling patriotic values in students and called for an overhaul of Hong Kong’s education system, which includes topics like the Chinese military’s violent crack down on democracy demonstrators on 4 June, 1989.

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Is capitalism itself at fault or just the excesses it allows for?

Why Has The U.S. CEO-To-Worker Pay Ratio Increased So Much? (Colombo)

MarketWatch recently published a piece about the soaring U.S. CEO-to-worker pay ratio, which hit 278-to-1 in 2018 (up from just 58-to-1 in 1989 and 20-to-1 in 1965) –

“CEO pay has increased 1,008% between 1978 and 2018, while typical worker pay has edged up 12%. [..] In 2018, CEOs in the country’s top 350 businesses were paid $17.2 million on average. Employees working in those industries — ranging from retail to technology and manufacturing — typically earned $64,500, researchers said. Overall, there’s a 278-to-1 pay ratio between workers and CEOs. In 1989, the compensation ratio was 58-to-1 and in 1965, it was 20-to-1. Stock awards and cashed-in stock options averaged $7.5 million of CEO pay in 2017 and 2018, the study added. Incorporating stock in pay arrangements is one way to incentivize CEO, and rising salaries illustrate the market for talent in the C-suite, some observers say.”


Left-leaning economists, politicians, and other commentators frequently use the soaring CEO-to-worker pay ratio as an example of why capitalism is inherently flawed and always leads to the rich getting richer, but my research has found that it is a byproduct of central banking and fiat (i.e., “paper”) currency rather than capitalism. To make a long story short, the Federal Reserve has excessively inflated the financial markets in its attempt to create an economic recovery from the Great Recession. This excessive asset price inflation has pushed U.S. household wealth far out of line with its historic relationship to the GDP, as the chart below shows. The wealthy have been the greatest beneficiaries of this asset price inflation because they own a disproportionate share of the assets that have been inflated by the Fed, which are stocks, bonds, and high-end real estate.

The Fed’s inflation of the U.S. stock market is the primary reason why the CEO-to-worker pay ratio has increased so much. The CEOs of public corporations usually receive stock options as part of their compensation packages, which means that they can benefit greatly when their stock prices rise. As the chart below shows, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio surges during asset bubbles, but falls back down when the bubbles burst (it correlates with the chart above). The current asset bubble is no different and the excesses will be corrected in the form of a strong bear market, just like they always are.

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Elon Muck can’t even produce a decent electric car. How big a threat is he?

In The Era Of Neurocapitalism, Your Brain Needs New Rights (Vox)

“Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” That’s from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, published in 1949. The comment is meant to highlight what a repressive surveillance state the characters live in, but looked at another way, it shows how lucky they are: At least their brains are still private. Over the past few weeks, Facebook and Elon Musk’s Neuralink have announced that they’re building tech to read your mind — literally. Mark Zuckerberg’s company is funding research on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that can pick up thoughts directly from your neurons and translate them into words. The researchers say they’ve already built an algorithm that can decode words from brain activity in real time.

And Musk’s company has created flexible “threads” that can be implanted into a brain and could one day allow you to control your smartphone or computer with just your thoughts. Musk wants to start testing in humans by the end of next year. Other companies such as Kernel, Emotiv, and Neurosky are also working on brain tech. They say they’re building it for ethical purposes, like helping people with paralysis control their devices. This might sound like science fiction, but it’s already begun to change people’s lives. Over the past dozen years, a number of paralyzed patients have received brain implants that allow them to move a computer cursor or control robotic arms. Implants that can read thoughts are still years away from commercial availability, but research in the field is moving faster than most people realize.


Your brain, the final privacy frontier, may not be private much longer. Some neuroethicists argue that the potential for misuse of these technologies is so great that we need revamped human rights laws — a new “jurisprudence of the mind” — to protect us. The technologies have the potential to interfere with rights that are so basic that we may not even think of them as rights, like our ability to determine where our selves end and machines begin. Our current laws are not equipped to address this.

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Russiagate, the sequel.

Hollywood Reboots Russophobia For The New Cold War (Parry)

In the Cold War, Tinseltown played an important role in the cultural battlefield against the USSR and anti-Soviet paranoia was an ever-present theme in American cinema for decades, from the McCarthy era until the Berlin Wall fell. Contemporaneously, a revival of geopolitical tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation — which many have dubbed a second Cold War — has seen the return of such tropes on the silver screen. Most recently, it has resurfaced in popular web television shows such as the third season of Netflix’s retro science fiction/horror series Stranger Things, as well as HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, which dramatizes the 1986 nuclear accident in Soviet Ukraine.

It was a famous cinematic work that many believe ominously foreshadowed Chernobyl in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 science fiction film, Stalker, less than a decade prior to the calamity. It is unlikely that HBO would have been as interested in green-lighting a five-part program on the disaster without the current hysteria surrounding the unproven allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and ‘collusion’ between Moscow and the Trump campaign. ‘Russiagate’ has become a national obsession and suddenly the very idea of corruption and intrigue has been made synonymous with the Kremlin. Hollywood liberal figures have been some of the hoax’s biggest proponents, including the show’s writer, Craig Mazin.


It is equally as hard to imagine Americans themselves being as captivated by a re-enactment of the nuclear accident without the current political climate of fear-mongering bombarding them every day in corporate media. From the perspective of the U.S. political establishment, what better way to deflect attention away from its own sins than onto a manufactured adversary?

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The black hole’s mass is 100 times greater than that of the sun.

M87* is an example of a black hole that is 6.5 billion times as massive as the Sun.

A Black Hole So Big It Shouldn’t Even Exist Is Baffling Scientists (RT)

Scientists may have spotted a black hole that is so enormous, it shouldn’t even exist, although they aren’t quite sure if it even does. The black hole’s mass is 100 times greater than that of the sun. The potential black hole, which is twice as large as what physicists had believed was possible, was detected by the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors at the European Gravitational Observatory. A black hole is usually formed when a star collapses after it runs out of fuel, but this only happens when the star’s core is less than 50 times the mass of the Sun, Quanta Magazine explains. Stars with larger masses, between 50-130 times the mass of the Sun, either shed matter until they are small enough, or destroy themselves in a powerful explosion, meaning this new potential black hole defies what scientists understand to be possible.


Black holes that are larger than 130 solar masses can also form when their core’s collapse is too strong to stop. M87* is an example of a black hole that is 6.5 billion times as massive as the Sun. Scientists are scratching their heads trying to figure out how this newly spotted potential large black hole came into being. According to Qanta, they suspect that the black hole could be the result of smaller black holes colliding and merging into one gigantic one. They think it is possible that somewhere in a dense area of the universe, a 30 and 50 solar mass black hole could have merged and that the new black hole then combined with another one, which could explain the signals they detected.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 112017
 
 September 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Edward Hopper Gas 1940

 

Irma Weakens But Continues To Batter Central Florida (NPR)
Reinsurers Will Largely Be Writing the Checks to Pay for Irma Damage (WSJ)
Insurers Ache For Qualified Inspectors After US Hurricanes (R.)
Elon Musk Magically Extends Battery Life Of Teslas Fleeing Irma (ZH)
US Earnings Recovery Remains An Illusion (F.)
Cracks In China Inc’s Rosy Earnings Reveal A Patchier Picture (R.)
China Said to Ban Bitcoin Exchanges While Allowing OTC Trades (BBG)
Australian Banks Sitting on A$500 Billion of ‘Liar Loans’ – UBS (BBG)
Canadian Gold Company Suspends Investments In Greek Mines (AP)
Plastic Fibres Found In 83% of Tap Water Around The World (G.)
Sea Salt Around The World Is Contaminated By Plastic (G.)

 

 

Even hurricanes run out of energy eventually. And water.

Irma Weakens But Continues To Batter Central Florida (NPR)

Irma has weakened since beginning its push up central Florida, but is still a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 85 mph and higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center. Its center is about 25 miles northeast of Tampa and continues to move toward the north-northwest. The NHC says Irma is expected to turn northwest later today and further weaken to a tropical storm. Irma’s hurricane force winds extend at least 80 miles from the storm’s center and tropical storm force winds extend as far as 415 miles. The hurricane is forecast to reach the southeastern United States later tonight. The NHC warns coastal areas could see rising water moving inland over the next 36 hours. “This is a life threatening situation,” it said in a bulletin issued at 2 a.m. ET.

Hurricane Irma had touched land again as a Category 3 Sunday afternoon, hitting Marco Island on Florida’s southwest coast, after it plowed through the Florida Keys as a Category 4 earlier in the day. Miami International Airport announced it will remain closed to passenger flights at least through Monday, though some airlines will fly personnel to the airport in preparation for reopening. The airport’s director, Emilio Gonzalez, said via Twitter that the airport had endured wind gusts near 100 mph and “sustained significant water damage throughout.” “The interaction with the Florida Peninsula along with strong southwesterly shear should cause significant weakening, but Irma’s large and powerful circulation will likely maintain hurricane strength until Monday morning at the earliest,” according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast.

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The industry works from Bermuda.

Reinsurers Will Largely Be Writing the Checks to Pay for Irma Damage (WSJ)

A global array of reinsurance companies will bear the financial brunt of Hurricane Irma’s damage to potentially millions of homes across Florida. Irma’s winds are expected to leave tens of billions of dollars in insured damage. And when the insurance money arrives for many homeowners, much of it will be via reinsurance companies—not the carrier on their contract. Reinsurers play an especially large role in Florida’s home-insurance market. Andrew, Katrina and other severe hurricanes from 1992 through 2005 devastated the state’s insurance marketplace. Most brand-name national home insurers sharply reduced their presence. Picking up the slack today is a state-run “insurer of last resort,” Citizens Property Insurance, and some 50 small to midsize home insurers.

Those carriers all are required to buy ample amounts of reinsurance to help ensure they have money for their policyholders, because they don’t have the fat capital cushions of the national carriers. These reinsurance firms are specialty insurers that take on the risk of some of the policies sold by primary insurers. They send insurers money to help pay claims once claims reach contractual, designated levels. As a result, the reinsurers “might end up holding the bag” for much of Irma’s damage to residential properties, said Taoufik Gharib, a senior director at Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings. In addition to reinsurance, the U.S. government’s National Flood Insurance Program will face payouts to those homeowners who hold its policies. Under standard homeowners contracts, insurers cover wind damage but exclude flooding.

Much of Irma’s damage is expected to come from storm surge. The use of so much reinsurance introduces a few worries into the marketplace. The home insurers are exposed to potential disputes with their reinsurers over claims payments, industry analysts note. It also ties the home insurers’ fates to the financial health of their reinsurers. Irma’s arrival is well-timed from one perspective: The global reinsurance industry is awash in capital. As of March, it had a record $605 billion capital cushion, which was built up thanks in large part to relatively few major natural disasters in the U.S. since 2005. “Every company in Florida has reinsurance,” said Joseph Petrelli, president of Demotech, an insurance ratings firm with a specialty in Florida’s homeowners market. “They buy reinsurance for multiple storms, and it is across the entire season.”

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Good luck to all who need it.

Insurers Ache For Qualified Inspectors After US Hurricanes (R.)

Insurers are scrambling to find inspectors in Texas and Florida after fierce hurricanes battered the states one after the other, causing tens of billions of dollars’ worth of property damage in less than two weeks. Although insurers maintain some number of inspectors, known as claims adjusters, across the U.S. year-round, they must redeploy staff from other areas or hire contract workers to fill gaps when catastrophes like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma strike. The speed with which they can do so is critical to residents and business owners awaiting insurance payments. “The one-two punch of Harvey and Irma is no question challenging to the industry,” said Kenneth Tolson, who heads the U.S. property and casualty division of Crawford, which provides claims adjusters and staff after disasters.

Adjusters investigate claims on behalf of property insurers like Travelers, Hartford, Allstate, State Farm and Farmers Insurance. Many other policies are backed by federal or state flood insurance programs. Texas and Florida together have more than 340,000 licensed adjusters, according to state agencies, but it was unclear precisely how many were on the ground. Insurers and industry groups said thousands were headed to affected areas from other parts of the United States. [..] Insurers have been put to the test before. After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012, it took months for many property owners to receive payouts, partly because there were too few adjusters with the needed expertise. Novice errors like not pulling off drywall to inspect for hidden damage, or not being familiar with software used for loss estimates, can reduce or delay insurance payments, adding to hardships residents are already facing.

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This is the craziest thing. You pay an arm and a leg for a car and then the maker pre-cripples it.

Elon Musk Magically Extends Battery Life Of Teslas Fleeing Irma (ZH)

In what is either a generous act of charity or an unnerving example of the control Tesla exercises over the vehicles it producers, or perhaps both, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has magically unlocked the batteries of every Tesla in Florida to maximize the distance that people fleeing from Hurricane Irma can travel before stopping to refuel at one of the company’s “superstation” charging centers. Typically, these types of over-the-air upgrades can cost thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars. But Musk is temporarily offering full battery capacity to all owners of Model S/X 60/60D vehicles with 75 kilo watt battery packs, according to Electrek, a blog that covers electric vehicles. The upgrade will surely help Floridians who are still rushing to escape as the now category 3 storm makes its second landfall near Naples. The upgrade will last through Saturday.

As a Tesla spokesperson explained to Electrek, the company decided on the mass-unlocking strategy after a customer called and asked if the company could upgrade his battery because he was trying to flee the storm. Tesla’s Supercharger network is fairly extensive in Florida and most owners should be able to get by even with a Model S 60 (the shortest range option). A Tesla Model S 60 owner in Florida told Electrek that his Tesla was getting 40 more miles without a charge after Tesla had temporarily unlocked the remaining 15 kilo watts of the car’s software-limited battery pack. “The company says that a Tesla owner in a mandatory evacuation zone required another ~30 more miles of range to optimize his evacuation route in the traffic and they reached out to Tesla who agreed to a temporary access to the full 75 kWh of energy in the battery pack, an upgrade that has cost between $4,500 and $9,000 depending on the model and time of upgrade.”

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“..market trend of rising valuations and falling economic earnings..”

US Earnings Recovery Remains An Illusion (F.)

While analysts hail “the best earnings season in 13 years,” the market has delivered a solidly lackluster response. Over the past month, the S&P 500 is down roughly 1% despite a string of earnings beats. With valuations this stretched, the market no longer appears willing to reward companies merely for beating quarterly expectations. Perhaps more investors now understand that GAAP net income numbers omit valuable information. They include non-operating items, are subject to manipulation, and don’t account for the cost of capital. GAAP earnings don’t drive valuation. What investors should focus on are economic earnings, which make adjustments to exclude non-operating items and account for all sources of capital, both on and off the balance sheet.

My analysis of the latest 10-K and 10-Q filings for the S&P 500 shows that the GAAP earnings growth in the market has not translated to an increase in economic earnings. Through the first two quarters of 2017, GAAP earnings are up $61 billion from their 2016 levels, while economic earnings have declined by $28 billion. Figure 2 shows the source of the discrepancy between GAAP and economic earnings comes mostly from invested capital growth that has outpaced growth in NOPAT. Companies are generating more operating profits, but they require an ever-larger invested capital base to do so. In other words, companies are growing their balance sheets faster than they are growing profits.

Figure 3 expands upon the trend shown in Figure 2. Companies are earning more profit for each dollar of revenue, but they’re also having to invest more capital to earn that revenue. When investors such as Jeremy Grantham argue that margins are higher today than in the past, they miss the balance sheet side of the story. Declining capital turns more than offset the rise in margins.

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Everybody has trouble with their earnings.

Cracks In China Inc’s Rosy Earnings Reveal A Patchier Picture (R.)

At first glance, China Inc’s earnings are off to a roaring start to 2017: first-half net profits surged by nearly a quarter, helped by healthy expansion in the world’s second-largest economy. Last year, the rise was a mere 6%. Robust profits have been a key factor in pushing the benchmark Hong Kong index .HSI to three-year highs and its Shanghai counterpart .SSEC to its strongest levels in 20-months. But the corporate investment and M&A that is driving those earnings is being fueled by growth in debt that is too rapid for comfort, analysts say. Frequent use of one-off gains to lift results and unhealthy fundamentals in some sectors may also give investors pause for thought.

Total debt at some 1,200 firms listed in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong as of end-June grew 13% from a year earlier, Reuters calculations show, much faster than the first half of 2016 when the rate was 7.5%. Profits were not used to retire debt in significant quantities over the period and cash levels at those firms, selected for the survey as they have reported earnings for at least two years in a row, shot up 12%. All in all, debt-to-equity ratios were little changed from last year, an indication that hopes of a broad deleveraging for Chinese firms, widely seen as having worrisome debt levels, seem premature. “These earnings improvements are credit driven and I have doubts about the sustainability,” said Andrew Kemp Collier at independent research firm Orient Capital.

China’s property developers have led the way in debt creation, and even if some of the most heavily burdened like China Evergrande did cut back, others kept borrowing. Acquisition-hungry Sunac saw contract sales almost double and gross profit climb 86%, but its total borrowing also jumped, up 60% to nearly $28 billion. “The picture is not as rosy as shown by rising earnings – credit is accumulating faster than nominal growth,” said Natixis Chief Economist Alicia Garcia Herrero, also noting that very short term debt is not captured in conventional leverage ratios.

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“Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high.”

China Said to Ban Bitcoin Exchanges While Allowing OTC Trades (BBG)

China plans to ban trading of bitcoin and other virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, dealing another blow to the $150 billion cryptocurrency market after the country outlawed initial coin offerings last week. The ban will only apply to trading of cryptocurrencies on exchanges, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information is private. Authorities don’t have plans to stop over-the-counter transactions, the people said. China’s central bank said it couldn’t immediately comment. Bitcoin slumped on Friday after Caixin reported China’s plans, capping the virtual currency’s biggest weekly retreat in nearly two months. The country accounts for about 23% of bitcoin trades and is also home to many of the world’s biggest bitcoin miners, who use vast amounts of computing power to confirm transactions in the digital currency.

“Trading volume would definitely shrink,” said Zhou Shuoji, Beijing-based founding partner at FBG Capital, which invests in cryptocurrencies. “Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high. This will definitely slow the development of cryptocurrencies in China.” While Beijing’s motivation for the exchange ban is unclear, it comes amid a broad clampdown on financial risk in the run-up to a key Communist Party leadership reshuffle next month. Bitcoin has jumped about 600% in dollar terms over the past year, fueling concerns of a bubble. The People’s Bank of China has done trial runs of its own prototype cryptocurrency, taking it a step closer to being the first major central bank to issue digital money.

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One third lies on their loans.

Australian Banks Sitting on A$500 Billion of ‘Liar Loans’ – UBS (BBG)

Here’s something else for policy makers to worry about as they attempt to engineer a soft landing in Australia’s property market. The country’s lenders could be sitting on A$500 billion ($402 billion) of “liar loans,” or mortgages obtained on inaccurate financial information, according to an estimate from. A survey by the firm of 907 Australians who took out a mortgage in the last 12 months found only 67% stated their application was “completely factual and accurate,” down from 72% the previous year. The most common inaccuracies were overstating income and understating living expenses, the survey found. These findings “suggest mortgagors are more stretched than the banks believe, implying losses in a downturn could be larger than the banks anticipate,” analysts including Jonathan Mott wrote in a note to clients dated Sept. 11. UBS is underweight bank stocks. And “liar loans,” the analysts say, was a term coined in the U.S. during the financial crisis. An ominous moniker for Australian lenders.

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Just go away.

Canadian Gold Company Suspends Investments In Greek Mines (AP)

Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold, one of Greece’s largest foreign investors, said Monday it planned to suspend investment at its mines in Greece following what it said are government delays in the issuing of permits and licenses. Eldorado, which runs Greek subsidiary Hellas Gold, operates mines in northern Greece that have faced vehement opposition from parts of local communities on environmental grounds, with protests often turning violent. Eldorado said in an announcement it would continue maintenance and environmental safeguards but would make no further investment in three mines in the Halkidiki area of northern Greece and two projects in the northeastern province of Thrace.

“Despite repeated attempts by Eldorado and its Greek subsidiary, Hellas Gold, to engage constructively with the Greek government, the Ministry of Energy and Environment … and other government agencies, delays continue in issuing routine permits and licences for the construction and development of the Skouries and Olympias projects in Halkidiki, northern Greece,” the company said. “These permitting delays have negatively impacted Eldorado’s project schedules and costs, ultimately hindering the Company’s ability to effectively advance development and operation of these assets.” [..] the Halkidiki mines have been mired in controversy for decades, with Eldorado’s predecessors facing similar protests. Many in the local communities are vehemently opposed to the development of the mines on environmental grounds, saying local forests would be decimated and groundwater could be contaminated.

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“If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

Plastic Fibres Found In 83% of Tap Water Around The World (G.)

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health. Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres. The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe. The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood. “We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. “If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

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The revenge of carbon?!

Sea Salt Around The World Is Contaminated By Plastic (G.)

Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets. Following this week’s revelations in the Guardian about levels of plastic contamination in tap water, new studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the US. Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibres and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7m tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations.

“Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment,” said Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the latest research into plastic contamination in salt. Plastics are “ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use – plastics are just everywhere”. Mason collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota to examine microplastics in salt, beer and drinking water. Her research looked at 12 different kinds of salt (including 10 sea salts) bought from US grocery stores around the world. The Guardian received an exclusive look at the forthcoming study. Mason found Americans could be ingesting upwards of 660 particles of plastic each year, if they follow health officials’ advice to eat 2.3 grammes of salt per day. However, most Americans could be ingesting far more, as health officials believe 90% of Americans eat too much salt.

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Sep 102017
 
 September 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Irma gets closer

 

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)
Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)
Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)
Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)
Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)
China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)
China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)
How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)
Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)
Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)
British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)
Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)
Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)
Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

 

 

But it looks like things could have been much worse. Still, do spare a prayer.

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)

Florida faces the “most catastrophic” storm in its history as Hurricane Irma prepares to unleash devastating force on the state, including 120mph winds, life-threatening sea surges that could submerge buildings and an advance battery of tornadoes. “You need to leave – not tonight, not in an hour, right now,” Governor Rick Scott commanded in a press conference, 12 hours before the cyclone was expected to make landfall on Sunday morning. “This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.” The US national hurricane centre said in its 8pm Saturday update on Irma that “heavy squalls with embedded tornadoes” were already sweeping across south Florida. The US National Weather Service later said the first hurricane-force wind gust had been recorded in the Florida Keys, a low-lying island chain off the state’s southern coast.

Irma dropped to a category three hurricane but could regain its category four intensity as the bathtub-warm seawater of nearly 32C (90F) will enable the storm to build strength. It was forecast to hit the Keys first, then again near Cape Coral or Fort Myers, and then a third time near Tampa Bay on its path up Florida’s west coast. Weather stations in Marathon, a city in the Keys, reported sustained winds of 51mph (81kmh) with a gust to 71mph (115kmh) on Saturday night. In Florida’s south-west, officials expected sea surges as high as 15ft (4.5 metres), which can rapidly rise and fall. “Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house,” Scott said. “Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down. The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you.” He said at least 76,000 people were without power as the 350 miles (560km) wide storm unleashes winds and rain on the state. Officials said the window for people in evacuation zones was shutting, with gas stations closing and bridges blocked off.

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Eerie.

Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)

Footage from the Irma-hit Bahamas freaked out social media users on Saturday as it emerged that seawater was missing from a bay as far as the eye could see. The scene turned out to be a rare natural occurrence tied to the outgoing hurricane. “I am in disbelief right now… This is Long Island, Bahamas and the ocean water is missing!!! That’s as far as they see,” @Kaydi_K wrote on Twitter. The eerie scene was shared over 50,000 times in one day and it spooked web users, many of whom suggested it resembled the sucking away of water before a tsunami. However, weather experts analyzing the scene put the blame on Hurricane Irma, which had just left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean and was about to land in Florida. The ominous-looking occurrence was in fact caused by a combination of low tide, low pressure and strong winds in the right direction, which literally pushed the water away from the long narrow bay. The phenomenon has been dubbed “reverse storm surge” by some of those explaining it online.

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“..homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.”

Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)

Angry Houston residents shouted at city officials on Saturday over decisions to intentionally flood certain neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey, as they returned to homes that may have been contaminated by overflowing sewers. A town hall grew heated after City Council member Greg Travis, who represents parts of western Houston, told about 250 people that an Army Corps of Engineers official told him that certain gauges measuring water levels at the Buffalo Bayou – the city’s main waterway – failed due to a decision to release water from two municipal reservoirs to avoid an overflow. Travis’ words inflamed tensions at the town hall, held at the Westin Houston hotel, as the region struggled to recover from Hurricane Harvey, which dropped as much as 50 inches (127 cm) of rain in some areas along Texas’ Gulf Coast, triggering historic floods.

More than 450,000 people either still do not have safe drinking water or need to boil their water first. On Aug. 28, the Army Corps and the Harris County Flood Control District opened the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in western Houston to keep them from overflowing. They warned it would flood neighborhoods, some of which remained closed off two weeks later. Travis said the Army Corps official said they kept releasing water without knowing the extent of the flooding. “They didn’t understand that the bathtub effect was occurring,” he said. Residents attempting to return to flooded homes may have to contend with contaminated water and air because the city’s sewer systems overflowed during the floods. Fire chief Samuel Pena said people returning home should wear breathing masks and consider getting tetanus shots.

“We couldn’t survive the Corps – why should we rebuild?” Debora Kumbalek, who lives in Travis’ district in Houston, shouted during the town hall. Scattered heaps of discarded appliances, wallboard and mattresses can be still seen throughout the city of 2.7 million people, the nation’s fourth-largest. There were no representatives from the Army Corps at the town hall. The Corps released water at an intended maximum rate of 13,000 cubic feet (370 cubic meters) per second to keep those reservoirs from overflowing. However, preliminary data from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that on at least two days, the average release rate exceeded that 13,000 level.

Many residents face lengthy rebuilding processes, and the majority do not have flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Administration will contribute a maximum of $33,000 per home in assistance to cover damages, a FEMA official said at the town hall, though for heavily flooded homes, damages will likely exceed that amount. Fire chief Pena said homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.

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From JPMorgan. Central banks set prices for everything. But the impulse has turned negative.

Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)

Notwithstanding all the discussion of balance sheet reduction and tapering, the developed market central banks in aggregate are still very much in expansionary mode, with the G4 balance sheets still growing by more than $1 trillion per year on an annualized pace (see Chart). The strength of asset prices in the face of fundamental challenges serves as an enduring reminder for me of the importance of this positive QE flow. The link between QE flow and asset prices makes intuitive sense. The world’s stock of savings is held in two places: cash and everything else (“financial assets”). QE, by its nature, increases the supply of cash in the world, and simultaneously decreases the supply of non-cash financial assets, by removing government bonds, corporates, and in some cases equities from circulation.

Those securities are replaced in the financial system by cash of equivalent value. So, QE increases the ratio of cash to financial assets worldwide, and that ratio reflects the relative abundance or scarcity of cash available to purchase each unit of assets. QE’s influence on that ratio drives up the price of financial assets, all else equal. This rationale suggests that it is the flow of QE, i.e. the speed with which cash is injected and financial assets are removed, that influences the change in asset prices. Flow is positive, asset prices go up; flow is negative, asset prices go down. However, despite this simplicity (or maybe because of it) the relationship between balance sheets and asset prices is still a matter of intense debate.

Some clever analysis yields a compelling case that the impulse, rather than the flow, of global central bank balance sheets is likely to be the primary driver of asset prices. Whereas the “flow” of QE is the speed of balance sheet increase, the “impulse,” is its acceleration. If the speed of balance sheet growth is slowing down, impulse is negative. A carefully constructed dataset shows a remarkably good fit between QE impulse and change in spreads and stock prices. Unfortunately the fit is so good historically that it almost looks like data mining, and recently, there has been a material breakdown: global central bank QE impulse has already turned negative, most demonstrably back in Q2 of this year, and asset prices have continued to remain buoyant.

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Do low rates kill growth?

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)

You don’t have to look very hard to see a rising number of signs that suggest the “Trump Trade” has come to its inevitable conclusion. Following the election, this past November the financial markets rallied sharply on the hopes of major policy reforms and legislative agenda coming out of Washington. Eleven months later, the markets are still waiting as the Administration has remained primarily embroiled in Washington politics with a divisive, Republican controlled, House and Senate. While there are still “hopes” the Administration will pass through tax reform, the failure to “rally the troops” to repeal the Affordable Care Act leaves permanent tax cuts an unlikely outcome. That hopeful outcome was further exacerbated with the deal cut between President Trump and leading Democrats to lift the debt ceiling and fund the Government through December.

That “deal” has effectively nullified any leverage the Republicans had to strong-arm a deal on taxes later this year. The markets are figuring it out as well. If you want to know where the economy is headed over the next few months, you don’t have to look much further than interest rates. Since interest rates are ultimately driven by the demand for credit, and that demand is driven by economic growth, their historical correlation is no surprise.

But like I said, if you want to know where GDP is going to be in the months ahead, keep a close watch on rates. I suspect, before year-end, we will see rates below 2.0%. As a reminder, this is why we have remained rampant bond bulls since 2013 despite the continuing calls for the end of the “bond bull market.” The 3-D’s (Demographics, Deflation & Debt) ensure that rates will remain low, and go lower, in the years to come. Think Japan.

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China’s too late.

China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)

As a flood of unregulated cash swirls through the Chinese economy, Beijing has been taking aim at the trust companies whose unrestrained lending practices are worrying regulators. The trusts, at the heart of a vast shadow banking industry, are being pressured to step up compliance and background checks, and are being pushed towards greater transparency. But the fast-growing 20 trillion yuan ($3 trillion) industry, whose lending operations are cloaked behind opaque structures, will be tough to rein in, according to employees at some trusts. A regulatory sanction against one trust, Shanghai International Trust, and a legal case against another, National Trust, offer rare insights into the industry, and reveals just how hard it will be to police it. Shanghai Trust was fined 200,000 yuan for selling a product that violated leverage rules, according to a regulator’s notice in January.

Under these rules, property developers are only allowed to borrow up to three times their existing net assets. According to two people with direct knowledge of the case, an unknown sum was loaned by China Construction Bank through Shanghai Trust to Cinda Asset Management Company. Cinda then invested the cash. One of the sources said Cinda used the cash to acquire land, a sector rife with speculation that regulators have singled out as a “risky” destination for trust company loans. [..] The case against National Trust, which had revenue of 655 million yuan in 2016, involves wealth management products linked to the steel industry. The trust was sued in June this year by eight investors who allege it misrepresented the risks involved in products it sold them and failed to adequately assess the guarantor’s creditworthiness.

The trust skirted restrictions on loans to the steel industry by using the products to raise money to lend to a subsidiary of Bohai Steel Group, according to Tang Chunlin, a lawyer at Yingke Law Firm, who is representing the investors. The plaintiffs invested different sums in the wealth management products, which National Trust promised would deliver an annual return of over 9 percent. National Trust lent the money collected to a Bohai subsidiary, Tianjin Iron and Steel Group. National Trust has now defaulted on the product, according to Tang and Gongyu Zhou, one of the eight investors, because Tianjin Iron and Steel is unable to pay back its loan.The products were also illegally sold via third-party non-financial institutions, Tang and Zhou said.

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Let me guess. When lithium prices go to the moon?

China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)

China has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing comments by the vice industry minister, who predicted “turbulent times” for automakers forced to adapt. Xin Guobin did not give details on when China, the world’s largest auto market, would implement such a ban. The UK and France have said they will ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. “Some countries have made a timeline for when to stop the production and sales of traditional fuel cars,” Xin, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, was quoted as saying at an auto industry event in the city of Tianjin on Saturday. “The ministry has also started relevant research and will make such a timeline with relevant departments. Those measures will certainly bring profound changes for our car industry’s development,” he said.

To combat air pollution and close a competitive gap between its newer domestic automakers and their global rivals, China has set goals for electric and plug-in hybrid cars to make up at least a fifth of Chinese auto sales by 2025. Xin said the domestic auto industry faced “turbulent times” over the years to 2025 to make the switch towards new energy vehicles, and called on the country’s car makers to adapt to the challenge and adjust their strategies accordingly. Banning the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars would have a significant impact on oil demand in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer. Last month, state oil major China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) said China’s energy demand will peak by 2040, later than the previous forecast of 2035, as transportation fuel consumption rises through the middle of the century.

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As Hillary’s starting a book tour attacking Bernie, he’s gathering Democrats around him.

How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)

First, consider this: It’s the summer of 2019 and a dozen Democratic presidential candidates are gathered onstage for a debate somewhere in the Midwest. The network moderator concludes her introductions and tees up the opening question. “Who here tonight supports moving the United States toward a single-payer, or ‘Medicare for all,’ taxpayer-funded health care system?” Pause it there and rewind to January 2016 in Iowa. The caucuses are days away, and Hillary Clinton is fending off an unexpected challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders. The discussion turns to single-payer, and Clinton balks. “People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have a theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass,” she tells voters in Des Moines, explaining her campaign’s focus on preserving and expanding Obamacare, while dismissing the progressive insurgent’s more ambitious pitch.

Go back even further now to the last contested Democratic primary before that, in 2008, and recall the lone and lonely voices in favor of single-payer care. They belonged to Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel. The pair combined for a delegate haul of precisely nil. Back to the present – a decade on – and after a chaotic months-long push by Republicans to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the prospect of Sanders’ “Medicare-for-all” program has emerged as the hot-button centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s roiling public policy debate. After a summer that has seen so many of the party’s most ambitious officials and brightest prospects line up in vocal support of what was so recently a fringe cause, consider again how the single-payer question will be received on a Democratic debate stage. Here’s a hint: Expect to see a lot of hands.

[..] .. in mid-July, Sanders returned to Des Moines, Iowa, for the first time since the 2016 election to water the grassroots. “Our immediate test,” he said, was to defeat the Republican plan. “But as soon as we accomplish that, I will be introducing legislation which has gained more and more support all across this country, legislation for a Medicare for All, single-payer system.” Robert Becker, Sanders’ 2016 Iowa campaign director, was in the hall that day. Between cigarettes, and before his old boss arrived on the scene, Becker sat back and diagnosed the bubbling dynamic. “Every time Paul Ryan, or someone who is trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, steps to the podium and starts talking about insurance rates and premiums getting higher and higher and higher, they’re actually making an argument for a single-payer system,” he said. “You don’t hear people on Medicare and Medicaid complaining about their co-pays.”

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But the feeding frenzy will continue.

Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)

The United States shows the world such a ridiculous face that the world laughs at us. The latest spin on “Russia stole the election” is that Russia used Facebook to influence the election. The NPR women yesterday were breathless about it. We have been subjected to ten months of propaganda about Trump/Putin election interference and still not a scrap of evidence. It is past time to ask an unasked question: If there were evidence, what is the big deal? All sorts of interest groups try to influence election outcomes including foreign governments. Why is it OK for Israel to influence US elections but not for Russia to do so? Why do you think the armament industry, the energy industry, agribusiness, Wall Street and the banks, pharmaceutical companies, etc., etc., supply the huge sum of money to finance election campaigns if their intent is not to influence the election?

Why do editorial boards write editorials endorsing one candidate and damning another if they are not influencing the election? What is the difference between influencing the election and influencing the government? Washington is full of lobbyists of all descriptions, including lobbyists for foreign governments, working round the clock to influence the US government. It is safe to say that the least represented in the government are the citizens themselves who don’t have any lobbyists working for them. The orchestrated hysteria over “Russian influence” is even more absurd considering the reason Russia allegedly interfered in the election. Russia favored Trump because he was the peace candidate who promised to reduce the high tensions with Russia created by the Obama regime and its neocon nazis—Hillary Clinton, Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power.

What’s wrong with Russia preferring a peace candidate over a war candidate? The American people themselves preferred the peace candidate. So Russia agreed with the electorate. Those who don’t agree with the electorate are the warmongers—the military/security complex and the neocon nazis. These are democracy’s enemies who are trying to overturn the choice of the American people. It is not Russia that disrespects the choice of the American people; it is the utterly corrupt Democratic National Committee and its divisive Identity Politics, the military/security complex, and the presstitute media who are undermining democracy. I believe it is time to change the subject. The important question is who is it that is trying so hard to convince Americans that Russian influence prevails over us?

Do the idiots pushing this line realize how impotent this makes an alleged “superpower” look. How can we be the hegemonic power that the Zionist neocons say we are when Russia can decide who is the president of the United States? The US has a massive spy state that even intercepts the private cell phone conversations of the Chancellor of Germany, but his massive spy organization is unable to produce one scrap of evidence that the Russians conspired with Trump to steal the presidential election from Hillary. When will the imbeciles realize that when they make charges for which no evidence can be produced they make the United States look silly, foolish, incompetent, stupid beyond all belief?

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The UK needs a national government. Or else.

Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)

Wales and Scotland will formally lay down a challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit plans this week, warning she risks a constitutional crisis if changes are not made. Governments in both nations are expected to officially submit documents confirming their intention to withhold consent for the Prime Minister’s approach to EU withdrawal unless it radically alters. Conservative ministers have admitted to The Independent that pushing on without their backing could hold up Brexit, while politicians outside England warn it will strain the UK at the seams. The devolved governments claim Ms May’s key piece of Brexit legislation will see London snatch authority over key policy areas and give Conservative ministers unacceptably-strong powers to meddle with other laws.

It comes as MPs are expected to approve the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at its first Commons hurdle on Monday, but the Prime Minister faces a rebellion later on because even Tories want changes to the same clauses that are angering leaders in Cardiff and Edinburgh. On Tuesday the Scottish and Welsh administrations will officially start their drive to force concessions, by submitting ‘legislative consent’ papers in their assemblies that set out how the bill must change. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told The Independent Ms May’s bill will allow Whitehall to “hijack” powers during Brexit that should be passed to Cardiff. He said: “The UK Government is being rigid in its approach. It’s saying there is only one way. It’s acting as if it won a majority at the election in June. It didn’t.

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It needs a national conscience too.

British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)

UK arms manufacturers have exported almost £5bn worth of weapons to countries that are judged to have repressive regimes in the 22 months since the Conservative party won the last election. The huge rise is largely down to a rise in orders from Saudi Arabia, but many other countries with controversial human rights records – including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Venezuela and China – have also been major buyers. The revelation comes before the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair at the Excel centre in east London, one of the largest shows of its kind in the world. Among countries invited to attend by the British government are Egypt, Qatar, Kenya, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Campaigners called on the government to end arms sales to the United Arab Emirates in light of its record on human rights.

They accused the government of negotiating trade deals to sell the Gulf state cyber surveillance technology which the UAE government uses to spy on its citizens, and weaponry which, they allege, has been used to commit war crimes in Yemen. The Saudis have historically been a major buyer of British-made weapons, but the rise in sales to other countries signals a shift in emphasis on the part of the government, which is keen to support the defence industry, which employs more than 55,000 people. Following the referendum on leaving the EU, the Defence & Security Organisation, the government body that promotes arms manufacturers to overseas buyers, was moved from UK Trade & Investment to the Department for International Trade. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, would spearhead the push to promote the country’s military and security industries exports.

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What’s going to happen to Tsipras when Greeks find out he can’t deliver?

Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)

Greece will exit successfully its bailout program in 2018 helped by strong growth, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday, vowing to support workers, young Greeks and small businesses as the economy recovers. Addressing a Greek public worn out by austerity and skeptical after years of reform efforts have failed to fix the country’s woes, Tsipras said his leftist-led government would do whatever it takes to end lenders’ supervision next year. “The country, after eight whole years, will have exited bailouts and suffocating supervision. That’s our aim,” Tsipras said in his annual policy speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “We are determined to do everything we can.” Greece’s current international bailout, worth 86 billion euros, expires next year. Tsipras’ term ends a year later.

Tsipras said Athens would continue to outperform its fiscal targets and fight endemic tax evasion to create fiscal room for tax cuts that would alleviate the burden on businesses and households, long squeezed by the debt crisis. Greece has received about 260 billion euros in bailout aid from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund since 2010 in return for draconian austerity which has wiped out a quarter of its output and cut tens of thousands of jobs. Unemployment stood at 21.2 percent in June, the euro zone’s highest, with young Greeks the hardest hit. Greece’s economy is expected to grow by about 2 percent in 2018, a sign that sacrifices are bearing fruit, Tsipras said outlining initiatives to boost employment and fight a brain drain.

A march of thousands of workers was largely peaceful outside the venue where he spoke. Tsipras said the state would give financial incentives to employers to hire more younger workers and spend 156 million euros to subsidize social security contributions of employers who will turn contractors into full-time staff. Unregistered work and contract jobs have increased during the debt crisis, as businesses are desperate to cut costs. The government will also pay 100 million euros to subsidize unpaid workers in struggling sectors and businesses, he said, promising to fight labor law violations.

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In a country that has no jobs for its own people.

Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)

Authorities are preparing measures to integrate between 25,000-30,000 asylum seekers who are not entitled to relocation under the existing European Union program, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has said. Speaking to Ta Nea newspaper over the weekend, Mouzalas said that a three-pronged scheme is under way to integrate newcomers, involving a new registration process and the issuing of tax identification and social security numbers; school enrolment for children; and access to the local labor market. Asked about Greece’s recent decision to take back a small number of asylum seekers in line with the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, Mouzalas said that Athens had only accepted returns “from countries who helped us by consenting to up to 17,000 relocations and 7,000 [family] reunions.”

The minister said that a new agreement is currently in the works because the Dublin system is “dead.” Meanwhile, more than 350 police officers took part in a pre-dawn operation on Saturday at the Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesvos to transfer an unspecified number of migrants to the pre-deportation center. These individuals, who have all received a final rejection of their asylum application, will be returned to Turkey. Moria has been rocked by riots twice in recent weeks in protest at the slow pace of registration and asylum processing for certain nationalities, as well as crowded conditions.

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Interesting mystery. No answers so far.

Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

If you understand how stars work, you can observe the physical properties of one of them and extrapolate its age, and know when it had to have been born. Stars undergo a lot of changes as they age: their radius, luminosity, and temperature all evolve as they burn through their fuel. But a star’s lifespan, in general, is dependent on only two properties that it’s born with: its mass and its metallicity, which is the amount of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium present within. The oldest stars we’ve found in the Universe are nearly pristine, where almost 100% of what makes them up is the hydrogen and helium left over from the Big Bang. They come in at over 13 billion years old, with the oldest at 14.5 billion. And this is a big problem, because the Universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old.

You can’t very well have a star that’s older than the Universe itself; that would imply that the star existed before the Big Bang ever happened! Yet the Big Bang was the origin of the Universe as-we-know-it, where all the matter, energy, neutrinos, photons, antimatter, dark matter and even dark energy originated. Everything contained in our observable Universe came from that event, and everything we perceive today can be traced back to that origin in time. So the simplest explanation, that there are stars predating the Universe, must be ruled out. It’s also possible that we’ve got the age of the Universe wrong! The way we arrive at that figure is from precision measurements of the Universe on the largest scales.

By looking at a whole slew of features, including: • The density and temperature imperfections in the cosmic microwave background, left over from the Big Bang, • The clustering of stars and galaxies at present and going back billions of light years, • The Hubble expansion rate of the fabric of the Universe, • The history of star formation and galactic evolution, and many other sources, we’ve arrived at a very consistent picture of the Universe. It’s made up of 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, 4.9% normal matter, about 0.1% neutrinos and 0.01% radiation, and is right around 13.8 billion years old. The uncertainty on the age figure is less than 100 million years, so even though it might be plausible that the Universe is slightly older-or-younger, it’s extraordinarily improbable to get up to 14.5 billion years.

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Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

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How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

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Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

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“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

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“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

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Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

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Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

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Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

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Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

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It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

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Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

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Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

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It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

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The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

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