Feb 052020
 


DPC Pine Street below Kearney after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire 1906

 

China Applies For Drug Patent, Virus Death Toll +65 To 492 (SCMP)
Cruise Ship Carrying 3,700 Quarantined In Japan After 10 Test Positive (G.)
China’s Airlines Told Not To Axe Global Flights As Thousands Cut (R.)
Cathay Pacific Asks All 27,000 Employees To Take 3 Weeks Unpaid Leave (SCMP)
Trump-Pelosi Feud Erupts During SOTU As Impeachment Trial Nears End (R.)
Ocasio-Cortez Among 10 Democrats Planning To Boycott State Of The Union (G.)
Joe Biden Flopped In Iowa. And So Did The Democratic Party’s Reputation (G.)
The Big Tech Money Behind The App That Brought Chaos To The Iowa Caucus (F.)
Oil Flips Into Contango, Indicating Months Of Surplus (R.)
Britain To Ban New Petrol And Hybrid Cars From 2035 (R.)
Tesla Shares March Toward $1,000 (R.)
Musk’s Tesla Stake Worth $30 Billion After Electrifying Stock Surge (R.)
Council of Europe Sides With Julian Assange (IA)

 

 

Here we go again. The WuhanCorona virus continues on its record-setting path.

• Total cases 24,542 (+3872)

• 4,105 new cases in China (record daily high)

• 492 deaths (+65, also a record daily high)

• 185,555 cases under medical observation

Note: this pic below comes from a SCMP app that constantly updates. Numbers in articles do not necessarily. Therefore, they don’t always “add up”.

Note also the addition of recovered cases.

 

 

A few pics I picked up. How stark would you like it?

 

Here someone is trying to make the argument that the mortality rate is falling. That would be great, but I’m not sure it is true. Many factors have changed since the count began.

 

 

 

Gilead’s remdesivir looks like a Hail Mary. Not sure what the new patent application entails. A general anti-viral that came out of Ebola research?!

China Applies For Drug Patent, Virus Death Toll +65 To 492 (SCMP)

Daily deaths caused by the new coronavirus have reached yet another record high in China, with 65 fatalities – all in Hubei province – confirmed in overnight figures released by health authorities. The newly reported fatalities took the death toll in mainland China to 490. According to data released on Wednesday morning by China’s National Health Commission (NHC), confirmed cases around the country rose by 3,887 – also a daily record high – to 24,324, the majority of which were in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak. Cases of the novel coronavirus in Hubei rose by 3,156 to 16,678, according to provincial figures as of midnight on Tuesday. Almost 2,000 of those new cases were confirmed in Hubei’s capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated at a seafood and meat market.

China has applied for a new patent on an experimental drug to treat the coronavirus. Wuhan Institute of Virology said in an online notice that a patent application had been filed on January 21 for the use of remdesivir, a drug developed by biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. The drug has not been approved or licensed anywhere in the world, but has been rushed into trials in China after showing signs of effective use on coronavirus patients. Chinese scientists have found remdesivir – and chloroquine, an 80-year-old malaria drug – “highly effective” in laboratory studies aimed at thwarting the coronavirus, they said in a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Cell Research.

The two drugs’ effect on humans required further clinical tests, the Wuhan institute said in the online notice. It made the patent application in the national interest and would not exercise its patent rights if foreign pharmaceutical firms worked with China to curb the contagion, it said.

Read more …

The only people that can get off the ship are the ones that are confirmed infected. Hell on water.

One 80-year-old tested positive After leaving the ship. Then 273 were tested. When the first 31 results came in, 10 tested positive. That leaces 3,300 untested?

Cruise Ship Carrying 3,700 Quarantined In Japan After 10 Test Positive (G.)

Thousands of people face spending the next fortnight stuck on a luxury cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama, after initial results showed 10 passengers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The Diamond Princess, with more than 3,700 passengers and crew onboard, had been prevented from sailing on Monday after an 80-year-old passenger who had travelled on the vessel late last month tested positive after he arrived home in Hong Kong. Of a further 273 people on board who have since been tested following health screenings, 31 results had come back – and of those 10 were positive, according to Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato. It is not clear if more tests will be carried out.

Also on Wednesday, health checks began on 1,800 passengers and crew on a second cruise ship docked in Hong Kong, after 30 staff members reported symptoms including fever, according to Reuters. Hong Kong’s health department said that 90% of the passengers were Hong Kongers and no mainland Chinese were on board. Previously, three mainland Chinese that had been on the ship between 19 and 24 January, and were found to have contracted the virus. No passengers have been able to leave the World Dream ship, operated by Dream Cruises, without permission. David Abel, a British passenger who has been on the Diamond Princess for more than two weeks, said that people were now being confined to their cabins.

“We’re not even allowed to open the cabin door to go down the corridor. They bring the food to us – it’s a knock on the door. For the first time ever the crew are masked up,” he said. [..] Two Australians are among the 10 people who have tested positive, the cruise company Carnival confirmed. The other people infected are three Japanese, three from Hong Kong, one American and one Filipino crewmember. The patients, who are reportedly aged in their 50s to their 80s, were being removed from the ship by the coast guard and taken to local hospitals. The ship’s owner, Princess Cruises, said 3,711 people were aboard the ship, consisting of 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew. About half of the passengers are from Japan, with 223 Australians on the vessel.

Read more …

They’ll be stopped soon enough. There are no other options left.

China’s Airlines Told Not To Axe Global Flights As Thousands Cut (R.)

China’s civil aviation authority has urged domestic carriers to continue flying international routes as they consider cuts in response to a drop in demand due to the coronavirus outbreak, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday. Airline capacity is being axed in the world’s second largest aviation market with “the most dramatic change in schedules”, OAG Aviation Worldwide Ltd said, adding that more than 25,000 flights to, from or within China will be canceled this week. The coronavirus epidemic, which has killed more than 400 people in China, has resulted in bans or restrictions on travel to and from China imposed by countries including Singapore and Italy. The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had said travel bans were unnecessary.


The Civil Aviation Administration of China’s appeal to the country’s airlines was reported on Xinhua’s account on Chinese messaging app Weibo. Data from aviation statistics provider VariFlight showed 41 Chinese carriers canceled nearly two-thirds of the 16,623 planned flights for Tuesday as of 10:30 a.m. Beijing time (0230 GMT). In addition, 10 regional airlines from Hong Kong and Taiwan had canceled 162 flights, while 37 airlines from other countries canceled 168 flights on the same day, VariFlight said. It also said that some 90,000 flights were canceled between Jan. 10 and Feb. 3, and that about 10,000 planned flights on average have been scrapped each day since the start of February.

Read more …

But Hong Kong’s airline is not listening…

Cathay Pacific Asks All 27,000 Employees To Take 3 Weeks Unpaid Leave (SCMP)

Cathay Pacific is asking all of its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave over the coming months, the company’s CEO told staff on Wednesday, as Hong Kong’s flagship carrier reels from the devastating impact of the deadly coronavirus on air travel. “I am appealing to each and everyone one of you to help,” said Augustus Tang Kin-wing in a taped video recording. “The situation now is just as grave.” On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier unveiled massive cuts to flying schedules, by 30 per cent worldwide for two months, including in mainland China which would see 90 per cent of its capacity cut during that period.

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Grace, Nancy. It has a place. You lost your gamble, and the way you take your losses tells people a lot about you.

Trump-Pelosi Feud Erupts During SOTU As Impeachment Trial Nears End (R.)

A bitter feud between U.S. President Donald Trump and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi boiled over at his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with Trump denying her a handshake and Pelosi ripping apart a copy of his remarks behind his back. Trump avoided the subject of his impeachment drama in a pugnacious 80-minute speech, but the raw wounds from the battle were evident with fellow Republicans giving him standing ovations while rival Democrats for the most part remained seated. The Republican-led Senate was expected to acquit him of charges he abused his powers and obstructed Congress during a vote beginning at 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday.


How some Republicans watched SOTU

Seeing Pelosi, the U.S. House of Representatives speaker, for the first time since she stormed out of a White House meeting four months ago, Trump declined to shake her outstretched hand as he gave her a paper copy of his remarks before starting to speak. Despite having not spoken to Trump since their last meeting, Pelosi appeared to be taken aback. She avoided citing the customary “high privilege and distinct honor” that usually accompanies the speaker’s introduction of the president to Congress. “Members of Congress, the President of the United States” was all she said in introducing Trump.


When his speech ended, Pelosi stood and tore up her copy of the remarks he had handed her, later telling reporters it was “the courteous thing to do, considering the alternative.” Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, said of Pelosi: “Her hatred for @realdonaldtrump has blinded her to the repulsive nature of her smug, elitist behavior.” After the event, Pelosi tweeted a photo of her with her hand reaching out to Trump and said, “Democrats will never stop extending the hand of friendship to get the job done #ForThePeople. We will work to find common ground where we can, but will stand our ground where we cannot. #SOTU”

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Preaching only to her own little crowd, empty virtue signals. Same as Pelosi: grace has its place.

Ocasio-Cortez Among 10 Democrats Planning To Boycott State Of The Union (G.)

At least 10 Democrats have said they will boycott Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night on the eve of a Senate impeachment trial vote that is expected to acquit him. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, said she would not be attending because she did not want to normalize Trump’s “lawless conduct” and “subversion of the constitution”. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts issued a statement explaining her decision, saying: “The State of the Union is hurting because of the occupant of the White House, who consistently demonstrates contempt for the American people, contempt for Congress, and contempt for our constitution – strong-arming a sham impeachment trial in the Senate. This presidency is not legitimate.”


“On the eve of Senate Republicans covering up transgressions and spreading misinformation, I cannot in good conscience attend a sham State of the Union when I have seen firsthand the damage Donald J Trump’s rhetoric and policies have inflicted on those I love and those I represent.” Both women attended Trump’s State of the Union speech last year just a month after taking office, but have since been the target of his racist attacks. The two other members of “the Squad” of progressive freshman congresswomen who were also subjected to those attacks, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota confirmed they would attend the address.

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Biden is gone. Buttigieg is suspicious. It’s not about the party’s reputation anymore, it’s about the Party itself.

Joe Biden Flopped In Iowa. And So Did The Democratic Party’s Reputation (G.)

If you’re the type of person who thinks the Democratic party is a creaking, incompetent entity whose leadership needs overthrowing, the Iowa caucuses certainly validated your point of view. None of us knew who would win, but we had at least expected a result. We didn’t get one, at least not on caucus night. State Democratic party officials announced that due to “quality control” issues, release of the result would be indefinitely delayed. On a conference call with representatives of the candidates, party officials hung up the phone when asked when the totals would be released. So what do we know? Well, one thing we can say confidently is that “frontrunner” Joe Biden flopped.

There were places where Biden didn’t even meet the 15% threshold needed to maintain viability from the first round to the second round – at one caucus site, the attorney general of Iowa had to switch from Biden to Buttigieg when Biden was disqualified. It explains why Biden’s surrogate John Kerry was heard on the phone the other day asking whether it would be possible for him to enter the race at the last minute to save the Democratic party from being conquered by Sanders. Internal numbers released by the Sanders campaign, showing results from 40% of caucus sites, showed Sanders winning with approximately 30% of the vote, Pete Buttigieg coming in second with 25%, Elizabeth Warren third with 21%, and Joe Biden a very distant fourth with 12%.

If those numbers match the ultimate totals, they are great for Sanders and absolutely horrific for Biden. Sanders will have kicked the crap out of the frontrunner, Barack Obama’s former vice-president and the man most favored to win the nomination. It would be a stunning upset. But Biden caught a lucky break. With the party not releasing the actual result, his campaign sent a letter demanding that the result be suppressed until such time as the “quality control issues” were resolved. If it takes long enough to get the official count, Biden may hope that Iowa is old news, or that the issues surrounding the caucus are discussed far more than the actual result. (That’s one reason we need to make sure we don’t get bogged down too much in talking about the procedural issues rather than the actual outcome.)

[..] If you’re a Sanders supporter, you have reason to be suspicious. We had already seen the Des Moines Register suppress the results of its “gold standard” poll on the eve of the election, after a complaint from Buttigieg. And with 0% of caucus results in, Buttigieg declared himself “victorious”, praising the “incredible result” and saying Iowa had “shocked the nation”. The only thing that had shocked the nation at this point was Iowa’s total inability to perform the relatively simple task of counting people’s votes. But Buttigieg, good McKinseyite that he is, was getting a head start on deploying the PR spin.

Read more …

“..cutting-edge technology to stymie a Trump re-election..”

The Big Tech Money Behind The App That Brought Chaos To The Iowa Caucus (F.)

The smartphone app that caused a major delay in reporting results during Iowa’s Democratic caucus was funded by both Democratic presidential candidates and Silicon Valley veterans anxious to use cutting-edge technology to stymie a Trump re-election. The app that was supposed to count and report caucus results was created by Shadow Inc., a for-profit tech company cofounded in February 2019 by former Google engineer Kirsta Davis and Gerard Niemira, an engineer who worked at San Francisco microlender Kiva.org. Both later worked on Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign.


Washington D.C.-based Shadow was acquired last year by Acronym, a nonprofit also based in D.C. and founded in March 2017 by former journalist Tara McGowan to advance “progressive causes through innovative communications, advertising and organizing programs.” It has an affiliated political action committee called Pacronym. Silicon Valley heavyweights make up the liberal-leaning roster of Pacronym’s backers. One supporter is billionaire Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, whose net worth of $4.1 billion stems from his early bets on Google, LinkedIn and PayPal. According to Federal Election Committee data, he gave $1 million to Pacronym, or 12.8% of the $7.8 million that it has raised since early 2019.

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Mighty OPEC loses to tiny virus.

Oil Flips Into Contango, Indicating Months Of Surplus (R.)

The oil market looks set for at least four months of depressed demand because of China’s coronavirus outbreak, with a large crude surplus not expected to clear at least until August, analysts and traders said. Fears of a virus-related slump in global energy demand have flipped the market into contango this week – a structure in which longer-dated oil futures trade at a premium that encourages traders to keep crude in storage for more profitable resale in the future. Brent crude has not been in contango since July 2019. On Tuesday the benchmark was in contango for as much as $0.40 a barrel between prices for closest trading month April and August. For U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude the contango between March and July prices was $0.60 a barrel.

The structure of the market has significant implications. Besides encouraging storage of oil, contango also hurts financial investors who have to pay a premium every month they renew a futures contract. [..] Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, said the flip of time spreads into contango is consistent with the physical market suddenly shifting into a large surplus. “While deferred Brent time spreads are too discounted in our view, evidence that Chinese refiners are pushing back on crude shipments and Atlantic loadings points to ongoing weakness for nearby Brent time spreads,” Goldman said in a market note. China has been the main driver of global energy demand growth in recent years and ING Bank said the market is clearly worried that Chinese refinery demand will retreat.

“The issue for the market is if travel restrictions continue for an extended period … demand loss will become increasingly difficult for the market to swallow,” ING said, adding OPEC+ could come under increasing pressure to cut output by more than laid out in their existing supply pact.

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Until you have been explained exactly where the electricity will come from, this is nothing but a swindle. Do you like being swindled?

Britain To Ban New Petrol And Hybrid Cars From 2035 (R.)

Britain will ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035, five years earlier than planned, in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of reliance on the internal combustion engine. The step amounts to a victory for electric cars that if copied globally could hit the wealth of oil producers, as well as transform the car industry and one of the icons of 20th Century capitalism: the automobile itself. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking to use the announcement to elevate the United Kingdom’s environmental credentials after he sacked the head of a Glasgow U.N. Climate Change Conference planned for November known as COP26.


“We have to deal with our CO2 emissions,” Johnson said at a launch event for COP26 at London’s Science Museum on Tuesday. “As a country and as a society, as a planet, as a species, we must now act.” The government said that, subject to consultation, it would end the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans in 2035, or earlier if a faster transition was possible. Countries and cities around the world have announced plans to crack down on diesel vehicles following the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal and the EU is introducing tougher carbon dioxide rules. The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025. France is preparing to ban the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2040.

Read more …

Trading hot air.

Tesla Shares March Toward $1,000 (R.)

Shares of Tesla Inc surged 20% on Tuesday to hit $940, extending a stunning rally that has more than doubled the company’s market value since the start of the year as more investors bet on Chief Executive Elon Musk’s vision. The latest surge was partly fueled by Panasonic saying on Monday its automotive battery venture with Tesla was in the black for the first time. “Investors are now starting to believe that Tesla can make mass-volume electric vehicles, and automakers, battery makers and suppliers can make money from EVs,” said Cho Hyun-ryul, analyst at Samsung Securities. Some analysts have attributed the rally to short covering as well. Short interest in Tesla stood at 13.8% as of Jan. 30, according to Refinitiv data.


Shares of heavily shorted companies can at times get pushed higher as traders rush to buy stock to cover their short bets, triggering what is known as a “short squeeze”. Panasonic shares closed up 10%, while those of Tesla’s Asian suppliers South Korea’s LG Chem and China’s CATL also closed higher. Tesla’s surge on Tuesday valued the company at nearly $170 billion, nearly double the combined market capitalization of General Motors and Ford Motor. Tesla last week reported a second consecutive quarterly profit and said it would comfortably make more than half a million vehicles this year. Billionaire investor Ron Baron, whose firm holds a nearly 1% stake in Tesla, said he will not be selling a single Tesla share, adding he believes the carmaker could hit $1 trillion in revenue in 10 years.

Read more …

Fridges for Inuit.

Musk’s Tesla Stake Worth $30 Billion After Electrifying Stock Surge (R.)

Tesla is making Elon Musk a lot richer without paying him a dime. A blistering stock rally has bolstered the value of CEO Musk’s 19% stake in the electric car maker by $16 billion since the start of 2020, to $30 billion. Tuesday’s steep climb in the share price could sweeten Musk’s payday under his record-breaking compensation package, which is built on stock options that rely on market value targets. Two milestones have now been achieved that could see Musk unlock options worth $1.8 billion. The controversial chief executive, who is also the majority owner and CEO of rocket maker SpaceX, recently testified that he did not have a lot of cash as he successfully defended himself in a defamation lawsuit. He previously has taken loans using his Tesla shares as collateral.


Musk does not take a salary, choosing instead a risky options package that envisions the stock market value of Tesla rising to $650 billion over 10 years, a prospect that was derided by some investors when the deal was announced in 2018. That target now looks less crazy. Shares of Tesla have rallied over 50% since the company posted its second consecutive quarterly profit last Wednesday, which was viewed as a major accomplishment for a company competing against established automotive heavyweights including General Motors Co and BMW. Tesla shares have climbed about 400% since early June, helped by the company’s better-than-expected financial results and ramped-up production at its new car factory in Shanghai. [..] Musk’s Tesla stake worth $30 billion after electrifying stock surge

Read more …

Now apply the Force.

Council of Europe Sides With Julian Assange (IA)

The attitude of European institutions is changing after years of silence. In this case, it was Andrej Hunko and Gianni Marilotti that convinced the European Assembly to speak up. The moment that press freedom advocates have been waiting for so long has finally arrived. The European institutions are starting to officially state that they don’t want Julian Assange to be extradited to the U.S. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has become the first one to step in and call for Assange’s immediate release, joining the call of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, who some months ago clearly stated that Assange should walk free.

The call was made on the 28th of January, 2020, when the PACE was debating on a resolution for the Member States included in a report on Threats to Media Freedom and Journalists’ Security in Europe. Drafted by the Labour member of the British House of Lords, George Foulkes, the document opens stating that the Council of Europe and its Assembly are firmly committed to strengthening media freedom in all its aspects, including the right to access to information, the safeguard of editorial independence and of ‘the ability to investigate, criticise and contribute to public debate without fear of pressure or interference’. Several amendments to the report were proposed inside the PACE Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, and Lord Foulkes, who is part of it, was happy to accept the one on Assange.

Lord Foulkes said: “UK colleagues supported it because we don’t want to see him extradited by the UK Government to the United States and facing centuries in prison.” The Council of Europe is the continent’s leading institution on human rights and includes 47 member states, 28 of which are also part of the European Union. What this Parliamentary Assembly, made up of members of national legislatures says about freedom of the press is something civil society should take notice of. In this light, you would hope that the work of Wikileaks and his founder can hardly be forgotten. Or maybe it could — it seemed to be surprisingly off the agenda until some weeks ago, but January 2020 seems to have marked a change of course.

Read more …

 

Every color is home to 1 billion people. Find Wuhan on the map.

 

 

 

Please donate what you can.

 

Jan 092018
 


Thomas Abercrombie Beirut 1957

 

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)
US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)
Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)
The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)
Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)
iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)
‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)
The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)
Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)
Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)
US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)
Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)
Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

 

 

A nation of expendables. To think how hard earlier generations fought for health care.

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)

As tax season approaches, some consumers are waiting for their refund checks to spend on a long-delayed purchase – a visit to the doctor or dentist. U.S. consumers boosted their out-of-pocket health spending by 60% in the week after they got a tax refund, according to new research from JPMorgan Chase, based on data from Chase customer accounts. Spending stayed high for about 2 1/2 months, with about two-thirds of the extra spending money going to in-person payments to doctors and dentists. Much of the rest was used to pay down past bills. Health insurers and employers have raised copays and deductibles for consumers, making them bear a larger portion of the cost of care when they go see a health-care provider.

As a result, patients sometimes lack the cash to get the care they may need, according to the report. “Cash-flow dynamics are a significant driver of out-of-pocket spending for health care,” the study found. “Even when consumers knew with near-certainty the size and source of a major cash infusion, they still waited until the infusion arrived before spending.” The researchers found that availability of cash had far less of an impact on health-spending decisions among those with credit cards, or who had higher bank-account balances.

Read more …

Until about 1970, the US had the lowest child mortality rates. Then something happened.

US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)

The United States has the worst child mortality rate among a group of 20 wealthy democracies, an analysis released Monday found. And despite overall improvement in the child mortality rate in the U.S. and those 19 other countries, the U.S. has persistently outpaced those nations in that grim metric for decades, the Health Affairs report said. “From 2001 to 2010, the risk of death in the US was 76% greater for infants and 57% greater for children age 1-19,” the report said. And during the same decade, children between the ages of 15 and 19 were 82 times more likely to die from gun-related homicide in the U.S. than in the comparison countries.

The authors of the Health Affairs report said that in the full 50-year period their study looked at, the U.S. had more than “600,000 excess deaths” among kids because of the country’s lagging performance in curbing child mortality. Those excess deaths have occurred even as the U.S. spends more money on health care for kids than the other countries. Among the countries looked at, “there has never been a better time to be born in any of these 20 countries,” the Health Affairs report said. “Despite this generalized trend, children are less likely to survive and transition into adulthood in the US than in other [countries examined],” the report said. “Persistently high poverty rates, poor educational outcomes, and a relatively weak social safety net have made the US the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.”

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Due to the tax law.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)

New Chapter 11 bankruptcies in the US more than doubled in December 2017 from a year ago to 699 filings. That jump of 362 filings from December 2016 was the largest year-over-year jump since the Financial Crisis. This chart shows Chapter 11 filings back to 2011, based on data from the American Bankruptcy Institute. I marked the prior five Decembers with red dots. Note how they’re near the low point of the seasonal swings. That makes the spike in December 2017 even more spectacular. A spike like this in Chapter 11 filings in a month of December is unheard of in normal times. Normally, bankruptcies jump during tax season, the first four or five months of the year, but not at the end of the year. But these are not normal times.

In December, Chapter 11 filings soared 61% from November. This is also highly unusual, as over the prior five years, presumably the “normal times,” the number of filings from November to December has fallen by an average 8.7%. The chart below shows the year-over-year change in Chapter 11 filings. I marked the prior Decembers in yellow. I circled the oil bust and the brick-and-mortar meltdown. But December 2017 was special.

I think companies and their owners and creditors know one thing: They can write off losses in 2017 under the old corporate tax rates, at 35%, thus getting the government to pick up 35% of the tab of their losses via lower taxes. In 2018, the new tax law applies and all kinds of uncertainties have yet to be ironed out, and these companies – the owners and creditors – are thinking (I assume) that it’s better to try to recognize the loss in 2017, support it with a Chapter 11 filing, and pull the write-off into 2017 against a tax rate of 35%, rather than 21% in 2018. A tax-law change of this drastic nature motivates people jump through all kinds of hoops to save some money – including waiting in line for hours to pay property taxes early, a hitherto unthinkable strategy. And I think this is the likely suspect for the spike.

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Wonderful history lesson about the robber barons. Go read.

The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)

The U.S. is now living through a second Gilded Age. Where once the robber barons were millionaires, today they’ve added a few zeros to their wealth and became billionaires. However, they act with no-less impunity, but a greater sense of entitlement. The Trump administration, together with the Republican-controlled Congress, are functional shills for the current generation of robber barons. As evident from the recently-passed tax bill, legislators jump when their big-money donors order them to deliver the goods — and they did. The U.S. economy has rebounded from the 2007-2009 “great recession,” with the stock market hitting new highs, unemployment the lowest in a generation and home prices recovering. But Americans still haven’t regained the wealth they lost, with incomes remaining stagnant and, on the whole, working Americans worse off than since the late-1990s.

The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances finds that median net worth for all families (measured in 2016 dollars) dropped 8% since 1998. Most sobering, the poorer you are, the worst your fate – and this is compounded by race, education level, gender and age factors. America’s poorest, the bottom fifth, saw their net worth fall 22%; the broad working class, the second-lowest income tier, were the hardest hit with their net worth shrinking by more than a third (34%); and those dubbed “middle class,” with incomes from $43,501 to $69,500, were barely treading water, with their worth gaining a whopping 3.5%. Since 1998, the top 10% saw their worth rise 146%. The share of the nation’s wealth held by the top 1% rose to 38.6% while that portion controlled by the bottom 90% fell 22.8% (from 33.2% in ’89).

Looking at the nation’s income for the period of 2013 to 2016, the same phenomenon is evident: income going to the top 1% climbed to 23.8% (from 20.3%) while the share going to the bottom 90% slipped to about 50% (from 54%). And then there is debt, the lubricant of the U.S. post-WW-II “consumer revolution.” During the 2013 to 2016 period, those with the lowest income (below $25,300), saw their debt rise by 57%; for the lower-middle class (incomes between $25,301 and $43,500), debt increased 58%; and for the middle class (incomes from $43,501 to $69,500), debt rose by a modest 12.5%.

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What beaking points are made of.

Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)

As far as the stock market is concerned, it took a while – in fact, it took eight years, but retail investors are finally all in, bristling with enthusiasm. TD Ameritrade’s Investor Movement Index rose to 8.59 in December, a new record. TDA’s clients were net buyers for the 11th month in a row, one of the longest buying streaks and ended up with more exposure to the stock market than ever before in the history of the index. This came after a blistering November, when the index had jumped 15%, “its largest single-month increase ever,” as TDA reported at the time, to 8.53, also a record:

Note how retail investors had been to varying degrees among the naysayers from the end of the Financial Crisis till the end of 2016, before they suddenly became true believers in February 2017. “I don’t think the investors who are engaging regularly are doing so in a dangerous fashion,” said TDA Chief Market Strategist JJ Kinahan in an interview. But he added, clients at the beginning of 2017 were “up to their knees in it and then up to their thighs, and now up to their chests.” The implication is that they could get in a little deeper before they’d drown. “As the year went on, people got more confident,” he said. And despite major geopolitical issues, “the market was never tested at all” last year. There was this “buy-the-dip mentality” every time the market dipped 1% or 2%.

But one of his “bigger fears” this year is this very buy-the-dip mentality, he said. People buy when the market goes down 1% or 2%, and “it goes down 5%, then it goes down 8% — and they turn into sellers, and then they get an exponential move to the downside.” In addition to some of the big names in the US – Amazon, Microsoft, Bank of America, etc. – TDA’s clients were “believers” in Chinese online retail and were big buyers of Alibaba and Tencent. But they were sellers of dividend stocks AT&T and Verizon as the yield of two-year Treasuries rose to nearly 2%, and offered a risk-free alternative at comparable yields. And he added, with an eye out for this year: “It’s hard to believe that the market can go up unchallenged.” This enthusiasm by retail investors confirms the surge in margin debt – a measure of stock market leverage and risk – which has been jumping from record to record, and hit a new high of $581 billion, up 16% from a year earlier.

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Duh!

iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)

Apple investors are shrugging off concerns raised by two shareholders about kids getting hooked on iPhones, saying that for now a little addiction might not be a bad thing for profits. Hedge fund JANA Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) pension fund said on Saturday that iPhone overuse could be hurting children’s developing brains, an issue that may harm the company’s long-term market value. But some investors said the habit-forming nature of gadgets and social media are one reason why companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc added $630 billion to their market value in 2017. “We invest in things that are addictive,” said Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management.

He also owns stock in coffee retailer Starbucks Corp, casino operator MGM Resorts International and alcohol maker Constellation Brands Inc. “Addictive things are very profitable,” Gerber said. Still, the investment community is increasingly holding companies to higher social standards, and there is some concern that market-leading tech companies could draw attention from regulators much like alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies have in the past. Alphabet and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. Facebook has said social media can be beneficial if used appropriately. In a statement to Reuters, Apple said it has offered a range of controls on iPhones since 2008 that allow parents to restrict content, including apps, movies, websites, songs and books, as well as cellular data, password settings and other features.

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This leaves many questions about what the industry knew and what they did not. Hard to believe they were all entirely ignorant for 20 years.

‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)

It was late November and former Intel Corp. engineer Thomas Prescher was enjoying beers and burgers with friends in Dresden, Germany, when the conversation turned, ominously, to semiconductors. Months earlier, cybersecurity researcher Anders Fogh had posted a blog suggesting a possible way to hack into chips powering most of the world’s computers, and the friends spent part of the evening trying to make sense of it. The idea nagged at Prescher, so when he got home he fired up his desktop computer and set about putting the theory into practice. At 2 a.m., a breakthrough: he’d strung together code that reinforced Fogh’s idea and suggested there was something seriously wrong. “My immediate reaction was, ‘It can’t be true, it can’t be true,’” Prescher said.

Last week, his worst fears were proved right when Intel, one of the world’s largest chipmakers, said all modern processors can be attacked by techniques dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, exposing crucial data, such as passwords and encryption keys. The biggest technology companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon.com are rushing out fixes for PCs, smartphones and the servers that power the internet, and some have warned that their solutions may dent performance in some cases. Prescher was one of at least 10 researchers and engineers working around the globe – sometimes independently, sometimes together – who uncovered Meltdown and Spectre. Interviews with several of these experts reveal a chip industry that, while talking up efforts to secure computers, failed to spot that a common feature of their products had made machines so vulnerable.

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David Brooks exposes everything his paper -NYT- has done for well over a year: make it all up. A mea culpa between the lines.

The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)

Let me start with three inconvenient observations, based on dozens of conversations around Washington over the past year: First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by. Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment. Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade. It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation.

Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss. I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country. I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us. I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.

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Still up and down, but that will be a big problem at some point, not some quaint feature..

Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)

Bitcoin slumped, dragging down smaller rivals such as ether and litecoin, as concerns that regulators will tighten their grip on the market weigh on the the world’s largest cryptocurrency. Regulators in China and South Korea are increasing oversight on cryptocurrency trading and mining, while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission late last year started cracking down on some digital token sales, known as ICOs. Coinmarketcap.com’s decision to exclude Korean pricing data for coins helped create the appearance of a large drop in prices, which some traders attributed as playing a part in the selloff. “News on the regulatory front is dragging down cryptos,” said Gabor Gurbacs at VanEck Associates.

“South Korea and China tightening is weighing on bitcoin and in the ICO market, things started slowing down, with the SEC cracking down on illegal offerings.” Bitcoin slumped as much as 17% to $14,820, the most in more than two weeks. The rout in bitcoin is part of a broader selloff in the cryptocurrency realm, with all of the top 10 by market cap falling, and most tumbling by at least 10%, according to Coinmarketcap.com. Cardano fell 16%, while litecoin slumped as much as 16% to as low as $230. Bitcoin is little changed this year after surging about 1,400% in 2017.

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Liquidity concerns.

Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)

Two U.S. companies shelved proposals to launch bitcoin exchange-traded funds, citing ongoing concerns by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), filings showed on Monday. Staff at the regulatory agency “expressed concerns regarding the liquidity and valuation” of futures contracts based on the digital asset, according to one of the filings. The move adds a new hurdle to the bid by Wall Street firms to capitalize on investor interest in cryptocurrencies, and it opens a rare public divergence between two financial regulatory agencies over how to regulate them. Trusts controlled by Rafferty Asset Management and Exchange Traded Concepts each canceled plans to launch three bitcoin funds that could be traded by retail investors as easily as stocks. Neither firm could be reached for comment.

Fund managers thought the proposals had a chance at winning approval given the launch last month of futures contracts based on bitcoin on both the CME and the CBOE exchanges. Regulators have been scrambling to figure out how to deal with this relatively new asset, and no single one has control. The SEC has dominion over funds, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) governs futures contracts. The CFTC has been under pressure to address concerns it did not fully assess the potential risks that bitcoin poses to the financial system. [..] The SEC’s decisions also face close scrutiny given its power to clear the way for products that could be among the more volatile traded in U.S. equity markets.

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It was always nonsense, and they know it.

US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)

The US energy watchdog terminated Monday a key proposal by President Donald Trump’s administration to subsidize coal and nuclear plants, finding it neither justified nor reasonable. The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was handed down in a unanimous verdict by its five members, a majority of whom belong to the president’s Republican Party. Energy Secretary Rick Perry had in September proposed providing federal aid to nuclear and coal power plants with at least 90 days’ worth of production capacity, arguing the move was necessary to make the national grid more resilient in case of extreme events.

Both sectors have seen their share of the energy market diminish in recent years, losing out to oil, natural gas and renewables – which had all opposed Perry’s plan. There are currently only two nuclear reactors under construction in the US, in addition to the 99 in service. Coal is also facing a crisis, and Trump made reversing its decline a major campaign pledge. In announcing its decision, FERC cited an existing department study’s findings that “changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

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Of the Oprah kind.

Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)

Oprah might be the Democratic Party’s last best hope before it collapses into the mausoleum of US political history, where the Whigs, Free Soilers, and Anti-Federalists lie a’moldering. Politics in this land has failed in its effort to become show business, while show business is succeeding wildly in its attempt to replace politics. All Washington can produce these days is a succession of tedious irresolvable soap operas. Hollywood is enacting a grand moral drama of clear-cut heroines and villains, victims and oppressors, sticking to archetypal story-line of our lifetime: the campaign for freedom, equality, and decency. Show business loves the desert sunshine; politics is mired in the Potomac swamp. Oprah even has better hair than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Oprah herself is an object lesson in the social and political themes that America dares not talk about: a person of humble origins who succeeded wildly in American life by signing onto a once-sturdy and now-fading common culture. In fact, Oprah probably embodies all that remains of American common culture, and the multitudes adore her for it. They are reassured to know that the binding verities still exist. She moves in a realm where blackness and whiteness are emphatically irrelevant — which is surely a relief to people of good will who are sick of race-hustling from all quarters. Though she has credibly acted plenty of sharecropper roles in the movies, Oprah speaks English beautifully and doesn’t apologize for moving up from the ghetto patois of her rough childhood. She may not write all her own material — such as Sunday’s Golden Globes speech that may live on like MLK’s I Have a Dream oration — but she delivers her message with conviction.

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Stumbling from failure to failure.

Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to give her government a 2018 reboot was marred by a chaotic cabinet reshuffle as senior ministers refused to follow her orders. It’s a development that bodes ill for her ability to successfully navigate the next, even trickier stage of Brexit talks. May’s office flagged Monday’s events as “a refresh” of her top team. But instead of the usual parade of lawmakers arriving at her office in quick succession to accept their new roles, things went off script. First Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, then Education Secretary Justine Greening were locked in discussions with her after rejecting proposed moves. Hunt eventually won his argument to stay on, but Greening, who spent more than two hours in 10 Downing Street, quit rather than accept another job.

May was said to be “disappointed” at losing Greening, who opposed Brexit, and could now vote with pro-European Union rebels in the House of Commons. It was not the restart she wanted. There were echoes of her botched decision to call an election in her announcement of a reshuffle she didn’t have to carry out. In both instances May seemed to dissipate any political goodwill she recouped. She had begun the new year in a position of relative strength, having concluded a problematic first phase of talks over Brexit – still the issue that will define her political legacy and will only get more complicated this year. “She can’t have the government she would choose and has to select from a small group of people,” said Matt Beech, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull. “Even with a majority she’d be facing tough decisions because her party’s completely divided on Brexit.”

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Want to know when you’re being had? Look no further. The reasoning here is that the German economy is doing so well that climate targets can’t be met. But that’s an impossible contradiction. Because it tries to make you believe that the investments needed to meet the targets will be made when the economy is not doing so well. But they won’t, because by then the story will be that the money is needed to support the economy.

Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

Germany’s would-be coalition partners have agreed to drop plans to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020, sources familiar with negotiations said on Monday – a potential embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Due to strong economic growth and higher-than-expected immigration, Germany is likely to miss its national emissions target for 2020 without any additional measures. Negotiators for Merkel’s conservative bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) told Reuters the parties had agreed in exploratory talks on forming a government that the targeted cut in emissions could no longer be achieved by 2020. Instead, they would aim to hit the 40% target in the early 2020s, the sources said, adding that both parties are still sticking to their goal of achieving a 55% cut in emissions by 2030.

The deal would represent something of a U-turn for Merkel, who has long presented herself as an advocate of climate protection policies on the international stage. Sources said both parties had also agreed that the share of renewable energy in Germany’s electricity consumption should rise to 65% by 2030 from roughly a third last year. Currently, the government plans to raise the renewable energy quota to between 45 and 55% by 2025. Negotiators also agreed to cut the tax on electricity in order to reduce energy costs, according to a document seen by Reuters. They also plan to tender an extra 4 gigawatts of solar energy as well as onshore and offshore wind-generating capacity.

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