May 112020
 


Andre Derain Boats at Collioure 1905

 

Wuhan Reports 5 New Coronavirus Cases, Its Highest Surge In 2 Months (RT)
New Zealand To Reopen Malls, Cafes From Thursday As Virus Curbs Eased (R.)
How New Zealand Put Coronavirus On The Brink Of Elimination (Wired)
Men Have High Levels Of ACE2 Enzyme Key To COVID-19 Infection (R.)
Inside House Democrats’ $1.2 Trillion+ Coronavirus Relief Proposal (Axios)
43 Million Americans Could Lose Health Insurance Amid Pandemic (G.)
Unemployment Numbers ‘Will Get Worse Before They Get Better’ – Mnuchin (NPR)
A 6.4 Million Discrepancy In The Employment Report (Mish)
Schumer Calls On VA Dep. To Explain Use Of HCQ (AP)
Number Of Hydroxychloroquine Prescriptions Explodes In France (F.)
Zinc Hope In Coronavirus Fight (Telegraph India)
Guaidó’s Mercenary Hit Contract On Maduro Mirrors Official US Bounty (MacLeod)
AG Barr’s Office Shreds Chuck Todd For ‘Deceptive Editing’ (DW)
DNI Has Communications Between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks For 4 Years (GP)

 

 

• For the first time since March 10 (!!!), Italy reported less than 1,000 new cases of coronavirus.

• The US had +20,329 new confirmed coronavirus cases today, the lowest number since late March, bringing the total to 1,367,638, of which 1,030,515 are still active.
 


Click to enlarge in new tab

 

 

 

Cases 4,200,957 (+ 79,179 from yesterday’s 4,121,778)

Deaths 284,150 (+ 3,282 from yesterday’s 280,868)

 

 

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

Open up!

Wuhan Reports 5 New Coronavirus Cases, Its Highest Surge In 2 Months (RT)

Original hotspot of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chinese city of Wuhan, has reported five new indigenous cases as the number of infections across mainland China has slightly grown as well. China reported seventeen new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday – three more than the day before. Of the newly-detected cases, seven are linked to overseas travel, and 10 are believed to be the result of local transmission. In addition to five indigenous cases in Wuhan, three other came from Jilin province, one from Liaoning, northeastern Chinese province bordering North Korea, and another one from Heilongjiang province, bordering Russia.

While the figure might not sound that alarming, considering that China was adding thousands of cases mid-February, when it was going through the peak of the pandemic, it still marks the nation’s biggest jump in confirmed infections since April, 28. The latest data from Wuhan, which just late last month celebrated the recovery of the last patient with severe Covid-19, can be seen as a worrying sign as well since it the most significant increase in cases for the pandemic ground zero in two months. Last time Wuhan reported more than five new cases in a single day (8) was on March 11. However, it was not before the beginning of April when the last remaining travel restrictions imposed on the city, as it was fighting the outbreak, were lifted after 76 days of lockdown.


Around the same time, Wuhan for the first time reported zero daily deaths from the disease. Considering the steady drop in the number of new coronavirus patients, Beijing has gradually relaxed coronavirus measures across the country, on Thursday declaring the whole territory of China as ‘low risk” in terms of coronavirus. Apart from Hubei, there has been a surge in infections in Shulan, in the northeastern Jilin province, where all of the new cases are believed to be traced to a single woman. Concerned about the possible second wave of the desease, local authorities raised the risk level from low to medium last week.

Read more …

Lockdowns work. In principle. That says little about their execution, but I already covered that. If people want to be skeptical of something, at least make sure you know what you’re skeptical about.

New Zealand To Reopen Malls, Cafes From Thursday As Virus Curbs Eased (R.)

New Zealand businesses including malls, cinemas, cafes and gyms will reopen on Thursday after some of the tightest restrictions in the world to stop the spread of the coronavirus were further loosened on Monday. The Pacific nation was locked down for more than month under “level 4” restrictions that were eased by a notch in late April. It has continued to enforce strict social measures on many of its citizens and businesses, helping prevent widespread community spread of the virus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the staggered move to “level 2” restrictions will mean retail, restaurants and other public spaces including playgrounds can reopen from Thursday.

Schools can open from next Monday while bars can only reopen from May 21, Ardern said. Gatherings would be limited to 10 people. “The upshot is that in 10 days’ time we will have reopened most businesses in New Zealand, and sooner than many other countries around the world,” Ardern told a news conference. “But that fits with our plan – go hard, go early – so we can get our economy moving again sooner, and so we get the economic benefit of getting our health response right.” Businesses will be required to have physical distancing and strict hygiene measures in place. Air New Zealand announced it would resume seven more domestic routes when the country enters alert level 2.


International travel, however, would not be possible as borders will remain closed except for returning New Zealanders. The measures would be reviewed again in two weeks, Ardern said. The government plans to introduce a new law that would allow authorities to enforce physical distancing and control gatherings of people after questions were raised about the legality of lockdown rules. Three new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Monday, the health ministry said in a statement. The cases – two hospital nurses and one related to overseas travel – bring New Zealand’s total confirmed COVID-19 infections to 1,147, the ministry said, adding that 93% of all confirmed and probable cases have recovered.

Read more …

New Zealand is 2,500 miles, 4,000 km, from Australia, its nearest neighbor. Amid all the hosanna, that must not be forgotten. European countries, for instance, have no such advantages.

New Zealand can simply close its doors. But yeah, they did it along with a strict lockdown.

How New Zealand Put Coronavirus On The Brink Of Elimination (Wired)

On February 28, the news emerged of New Zealand’s first case of Covid-19. For Michael Baker, a government advisor and epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, the following weeks would be a time of extreme anxiety. While New Zealand is now regarded as a global success story in containing the coronavirus – as of May 7 it has reported just 1,489 cases and 21 deaths amongst a population of five million – this did not always appear such a likely outcome. Indeed, scientists believe that without the right strategies being swiftly implemented at crucial times, the country could have experienced more than 1,000 cases a day, overwhelming its fragile healthcare network.

When the news arrived that Covid-19 had reached New Zealand’s shores, Baker had already been monitoring the seemingly inexorable global progression of the pandemic since early January. He was well aware of the devastation wreaked by the virus in Wuhan, and grim reports were already filtering through of the worsening outbreak in Italy. While New Zealand’s relative geographical isolation had provided some protection thus far, he knew how swiftly the tide could turn. “It was the most intense period of my working life,” he says. “The distant drumbeat was getting louder and I felt we were on a knife edge in terms of what would happen.”

A member of the Ministry of Health’s technical advisory group, Baker had read the report of the World Health Organisation’s joint mission to China at the end of February. “It showed that the Chinese had done the almost impossible, they’d stopped a pandemic in full flight which was remarkable,” he says. “This showed that it was containable.” Inspired by this, and reports from fellow island nations such as Taiwan who had also managed to contain the outbreak, he realised that if New Zealand acted swiftly and strongly, it could prevent a disaster before it had even begun. He started calling for an approach to eliminate, rather than merely suppress the virus.

At that point – like most other countries – New Zealand was applying the same action plans for Covid-19 as with a bout of pandemic influenza, steadily ramping up their response as the pandemic progressed to try and mitigate it and flatten the curve. But while the rate at which influenza is transmitted means it is nigh impossible to stop, the data showed that Covid-19 was different. “The fundamental difference is that the virus incubation period is longer for Covid-19,” said Baker. “For influenza, it’s one to three days depending on what strain, and with Covid-19 it’s about five days on average. This means that contact tracing and quarantining contacts really does work if you do it quickly enough.”

Epidemiologists began advising the government to change strategy and implement a preventative full lockdown. This involved completely shutting the borders, and enforcing a maximum containment policy where the entire population bar essential workers were required to stay at home unless for medical reasons or food supplies. “We recommended going early and hard,” Baker says. “There are two advantages to that. First you prevent a lot of cases and deaths, and also if you control it early, there’s fewer chains of transmission that have to be stamped out and so your lockdown is likely to be for a shorter period of time.”

Read more …

Not new, and this take reads a bit too much like a Big Pharma ad. And what does this mean: Inhibitors don’t lead to higher concentrations? Would be bad if they did, no?

“..widely-prescribed drugs called ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) did not lead to higher ACE2 concentrations ..”

Men Have High Levels Of ACE2 Enzyme Key To COVID-19 Infection (R.)

Men’s blood has higher levels than women’s of a key enzyme used by the new coronavirus to infect cells, the results of a big European study showed on Monday — a finding which may help explain why men are more vulnerable to infection with COVID-19. Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is found in the heart, kidneys and other organs. In COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, it is thought to play a role in how the infection progresses into the lungs. The study, published in the European Heart Journal, also found that widely-prescribed drugs called ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) did not lead to higher ACE2 concentrations and should therefore not increase the COVID-19 risk for people taking them.

ACE inhibitors and ARBs are widely prescribed to patients with congestive heart failure, diabetes or kidney disease. The drugs account for billions of dollars in prescription sales worldwide. “Our findings do not support the discontinuation of these drugs in COVID-19 patients,” said Adriaan Voors, a professor of cardiology at the University Medical Center (UMC) Groningen in The Netherlands, who co-led the study. [..] Death and infection tolls point to men being more likely than women to contract the disease and to suffer severe or critical complications if they do. Analysing thousands of men and women, Voors’ team measured ACE2 concentrations in blood samples taken from more than 3,500 heart failure patients from 11 European countries.


The study had started before the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers said, and so did not include patients with COVID-19. But when other research began to point to ACE2 as key to the way the new coronavirus gets into cells, Voors and his team saw important overlaps with their study. “When we found that one of the strongest biomarkers, ACE2, was much higher in men than in women, I realised that this had the potential to explain why men were more likely to die from COVID-19 than women,” said Iziah Sama, a doctor at UMC Groningen who co-led the study.

Read more …

Inside House Democrats’ $1.2 Trillion+ Coronavirus Relief Proposal (Axios)

House Democrats could bring their phase 4 coronavirus relief package (CARES 2) to the floor for a vote as early as this week — but, for now at least, it’s going nowhere. The state of play: Democrats have crafted a $1.2 trillion+ package without input from the White House or Hill Republicans, congressional aides familiar with their plans tell Axios. • GOP leadership says it’s still waiting for billions of aid allocated in the first $2.2 trillion CARES Act to go out the door. • The White House says it wants to evaluate the economic impact of reopening before passing another large stimulus package. But House Democrats see the proposal as a way to lay down a marker of their priorities and prod congressional Republicans and the White House toward more economic relief for individuals, state and local governments, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her caucus also want to show voters that they’re still working, despite members remaining in their districts. Those optics could be important politically given the Senate’s decision to return to Washington last week. (House Republicans have been chiding Democrats for staying home in their districts when, they say, they should be at work.)

Details: The legislation, which is still being drafted and is subject to change, is expected to include:
• Roughly $1 trillion for state and local governments. They want to split this money into separate revenue streams to ensure each community can access it.
• More money for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.
• Roughly $25 billion to keep the U.S. Postal Service afloat.
• Expanded nutritional benefits, Medicaid funding and unemployment insurance (which they call “paycheck guarantee”).
• Another round of direct payments to Americans.

House leadership is also working on narrowing down the guidelines for how these funds are allocated to ensure that people aren’t “double dipping” into the different pots of money, a senior Democratic aide told Axios. For example, they do not want someone who is receiving more unemployment money to also receive money through the Paycheck Protection Program. However, it’s still unclear whether the PPP fund will be replenished. “We’re trying to limit the amount of overlap so people aren’t abusing the system,” the aide said. The package will not include liability protection for businesses, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said is a top priority for Republicans.

It also will not include a payroll tax cut, something President Trump has insisted on. House Democrats have said both of these proposals are nonstarters. The backdrop: This comes as the pandemic continues to choke the U.S. economy — which shed 20.5 million jobs in April as unemployment hit 14.7%.

Read more …

Want to keep a pandemic going? Make sure people fear seeking treatment.

43 Million Americans Could Lose Health Insurance Amid Pandemic (G.)

As many as 43 million Americans could lose their health insurance in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute. Prior to the pandemic, 160 million Americans, or roughly half the population, received their medical insurance through their job. The tidal wave of layoffs triggered by quarantine measures now threatens that coverage for millions. Up to 7 million of those people are unlikely to find new insurance as poor economic conditions drag on, researchers at the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation thinktanks predict. Such enormous insurance losses could dramatically alter America’s healthcare landscape, and will probably result in more deaths as people avoid unaffordable healthcare.

“The status quo is incredibly inefficient, it’s incredibly unfair, it’s tied to employment for no real reason,” said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “This problem exposes a lot of the inadequacies in our system.” If the pandemic results in a 20% unemployment rate, as some analysts expect, researchers at the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) predict anywhere from 25 to 43 million people could lose health insurance. Many will use social safety nets to obtain insurance, including Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income people. However, eligibility criteria varies from state to state, with more restrictions in Republican-led states.“It’s incredibly segmented and every state has a different story,” said Hempstead. “There’s 50 different experiences.”


[..] Of those who lose employer-based insurance, an estimated 7 million Americans will remain uninsured, and will lack access to healthcare during the worst pandemic in a century, RWJF predicted. Another 30 million people lacked insurance even before the pandemic, according to the Urban Institute. “You have people who think they have an infectious disease, but they don’t want to come forward to get tested or get treatment because they’re so worried about what kind of financial liabilities they will have,” said Hempstead. “This problem exposes, really, a lot of the inadequacies in our system.”

Read more …

Steven has no idea how much worse.

Unemployment Numbers ‘Will Get Worse Before They Get Better’ – Mnuchin (NPR)

The worst of the nation’s historic job losses are yet to come, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who told Fox News Sunday that “the reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better.” Mnuchin’s comments followed Friday’s report from the Labor Department showing the U.S. lost a staggering 20.5 million jobs in April, bringing the jobless rate to its highest level since the Great Depression — 14.7%. But even that figure fails to account for the millions of workers who have stopped searching for jobs or those considered “underemployed.” Asked by host Chris Wallace whether the nation’s true unemployment rate was close to 25%, Mnuchin responded, “we could be.”


“This is no fault of American business, this is no fault of American workers, this is a result of a virus,” he said before warning, “You’re going to have a very, very bad second quarter.” Two weeks ago, Mnuchin’s outlook was more optimistic — he told Wallace that the economy would reopen through June and “bounce back” over the summer. On Sunday, he said the economy would “have a better third quarter,” followed by “a better fourth quarter, and next year is going to be a great year.” The Trump Administration is considering additional stimulus measures, including a payroll tax cut, according to Mnuchin, who also said on Sunday, “We’re not gonna do things just to bail out states that were poorly managed.” But he said the White House would wait a “few weeks” before considering another relief bill.

Read more …

The BLS doesn’t have the data, so they release a report they know is false.

A 6.4 Million Discrepancy In The Employment Report (Mish)

There is a 6.4 million discrepancy between the change in employment level and the change in unemployment level. Such is a new all time record discrepancy between employment and unemployment in the Household Survey that measures the unemployment rate. I created the lead chart as follows: Discrepancy = Change in Employment Level – (-1 * Change in Unemployment Level)

Confirmation
• The number of employed fell by 22.369 million.
• Those unemployed only rose by 15.938 million.
• Employment discrepancy is 22.369 – 15.938 = 6.431 million

Negligible Labor Force Discrepancy
• Change in Labor Force: -6.431 Million
• Change in Not in Labor Force: +6.570 Million
• The labor force discrepancy is 6.570 – 6.431 = 0.139 million

Discrepancy Comparison
• Employment Discrepancy Percentage: 28.8%
• Labor Force Discrepancy Percentage: 2.1%

Unemployment Rate Formula
• Unemployment Rate = (Unemployed / Labor Force) * 100 Therefore, the unemployment Rate = (23.078 / 156.481) * 100 = 14.7% That is how the BLS calculated the unemployment rate.

Factoring in the Employment Discrepancy
• Unemployment Rate = ((23.078 + 6.431) / 156.481) * 100 = 18.6%

Read more …

They’re not going to rest until there’s an anti-hydroxychloroquine law.

Schumer Calls On VA Dep. To Explain Use Of HCQ (AP)

The Senate’s top Democrat on Sunday called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to explain why it allowed the use of an unproven drug on veterans for the coronavirus, saying patients may have been put at unnecessary risk. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said the VA needs to provide Congress more information about a recent bulk order for $208,000 worth of hydroxychloroquine. President Donald Trump has heavily promoted the malaria drug, without evidence, as a treatment for COVID-19. Schumer’s request comes after a whistleblower complaint filed this past week by former Health and Human Services official Rick Bright alleged that the Trump administration, eager for a quick fix to the onslaught of the coronavirus, wanted to “flood” hot spots in New York and New Jersey with the drug.

Major veterans organizations have urged VA to explain under what circumstances VA doctors initiate discussion of hydroxychloroquine with veterans as a treatment option. “There are concerns that they are using this drug when the medical evidence says it doesn’t help and could hurt,” Schumer said in an interview with The Associated Press. He said given the fact the malaria drug, despite being untested, had been repeatedly pushed publicly by Trump, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie must address whether anyone at the department was pressured by the White House or the administration to use hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.

Schumer said Wilkie also should answer questions about a recent analysis of VA hospital data that showed there were more deaths among patients given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, including how much patients knew about the drug’s risks before taking it. Wilkie in recent weeks has denied that veterans were used as test subjects for the drug and that it was instead administered at government-run VA hospitals only when medically appropriate, with mutual consent between doctor and patient. Still, Wilkie has repeatedly declined to say how widely the drug was being used for COVID-19 and whether the department had issued broad guidance to doctors and patients on the use of the drug.

In a weekly call with veterans’ groups this past week, Wilkie continued to defend VA’s use of hydroxychloroquine. He dismissed the recent analysis of VA hospital data showing no benefits to patients, suggesting the poor outcomes were because the cases involved older, very sick veterans. He has not said whether the department will continue to use the drug. “Use of this medication for treatment of COVID-19 is considered ‘off label’ — perfectly legal and not rare,” he wrote in an April 29 letter to veterans’ groups.

Read more …

Meanwhile in the real world…

Maybe this should read “French Doctors Attempt Mass Cull Of Their Patients”.

Number Of Hydroxychloroquine Prescriptions Explodes In France (F.)

Despite the warnings around taking hydroxychloroquine to combat the symptoms of COVID-19, prescriptions in France have increased by as much as 7,000% in certain parts of the country since the pandemic began. As reported by La Provence, a study looking at the 466 million French prescriptions written since the pandemic began in France, show a huge spike in doctors prescribing the drug. In the last week of March, for instance, over 10,000 people were prescribed hydroxychloroquine in Marseille alone. In France and the U.S., the use of hydroxychloroquine has been fraught between those who think the risks are small enough to warrant widespread use and those who think that more research is required before widespread prescription.

Following research conducted in China, a French doctor, Didier Raoult–head of the IHU, the Institute of Infectious Diseases in Marseille–claimed at the beginning of March that he had successfully treated patients suffering from coronavirus with the drug. Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug also used to treat people suffering from lupus. It is sold under its trader name of Plaquénil in France. Shortly afterwards, President Trump, tweeted the same news, that a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin could work with patients. The latter is an anti-bacterial drug, given in tandem, to eliminate the risks of bacterial infection.

Health professionals were quick to point out that no one should be using the drug without further research showing clear evidence that the drugs do work under a peer-reviewed clinical trial. Dr Anthony Fauci, Trump’s advisor downplayed the drug’s impacts as purely “anecdotal” and others issued warnings that the drug can cause severe health impacts if taken in an unsupervised capacity, such as heart problems. Before the pandemic, an average of 50 prescriptions were written each day in Marseille for hydroxychloroquine. The day after Didier Raoult announced his findings in Marseille, this had jumped to 450 per day. On March 18th, that figure had spiked again and there were 5,000 prescriptions in just one day across the whole of France.

The research authors believe that 41,000 people were given the drug between March 16 and April 19. Prescriptions have been higher in Paris and Marseille (where Didier Raoult heads the IHU, the Institute of Infectious Diseases). The study also noted that most people who were granted access to the drug across France were from higher socio-economic groups.

Read more …

Indian doctors in New York. “In the absence of options such as remdesivir being available..” Well, we’ll take care of that..

Zinc Hope In Coronavirus Fight (Telegraph India)

Doctors have reported that adding zinc sulfate, a dietary supplement, to hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin may benefit patients with coronavirus disease, adding a twist to the controversy over the rationale for prescribing hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19. Doctors at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine have found that adding zinc sulfate to hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin already given to Covid-19 patients decreased the need for ventilation or admission to intensive care units, and lowered mortality. Their study provides the first evidence through patients that zinc sulfate in combination with the other two drugs may have a role in the treatment of Covid-19, the doctors said.

Their study was posted on Friday in a database for medical research but has not been peer-reviewed yet. “The latest evidence suggests against much benefit from hydroxychloroquine, but this study raises the question of possible benefit of zinc and hydroxychloroquine together,” Joseph Rahimian, the doctor who led the research, told The Telegraph via email. The findings could be relevant to India where experts with the Indian Council of Medical Research and other institutions have introduced the hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin combination for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. Rahimian and his colleagues introduced zinc sulfate to Covid-19 patients as New York entered the ranks of cities hit the hardest by the pandemic.


They tracked the outcomes of the infections in 521 patients who received hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin and 411 who received zinc sulfate in addition to the two drugs. They observed that adding zinc sulfate was associated with a “most striking” decrease in mortality among patients who did not require intensive care. The association was not significant among patients who were treated in intensive care, implying that the addition of zinc should be considered early during treatment. “The benefit is likely to be more pronounced with its earlier use,” Rahimian said. “In the absence of options such as remdesivir being available, zinc with hydroxychloroquine may be a consideration. A randomised trial of the two versus placebo would help clarify whether there is a clear benefit and (the) extent of any potential benefit,” he added.

Read more …

https://twitter.com/AlanRMacLeod/status/1258888363593150466

Guaidó’s Mercenary Hit Contract On Maduro Mirrors Official US Bounty (MacLeod)

Juan Guaidó was expecting to be in Venezuela’s Presidential Palace by now. But the comically bungling May 3 invasion attempt by US mercenaries and opposition members was the latest indication of the desperate measures he and his cronies have resorted to. The fighters hired under his name were immediately overpowered in the sleepy coastal village of Chuao by disgruntled members of the House of Socialist Fishermen, and some of the highly trained mercenaries appeared to literally wet themselves in terror when apprehended. Now, a 41-page contract outlining the details and conditions of the coup attempt has been leaked. It sheds new light on the arrangement between Guaidó and Silvercorp, the American private security firm he hired,.

The self-declared President of Venezuela promised to pay Jordan Goudreau, founder of the Florida-based firm, $212.9 million to capture, detain or “remove” President Nicolas Maduro and install him in his place. The contract goes into detail about who the mercenaries were allowed to engage in “kinetic strikes” (i.e. assassinate and kill). It first names a number of paramilitary organizations like the Colombian FARC, and bizarrely, Hezbollah, but also on the list are a number of “illegitimate Venezuelan forces,” that include any armed supporters of Maduro and Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. Maduro and Cabello happen to be the same figures placed at the top of a US Drug Enforcement Agency hit list.

The US offered $15 million and $10 million respectively for their capture, effectively putting a bounty on the heads of the elected president and the head of his country’s main legislative body. The contract signed by Guaidó and Silvercorp also enables the killing of anyone they deem to be “armed and violent colectivos.” For a sector of Venezuela’s upper-class opposition, the term “colectivo” is a dehumanizing, oft-used catch-all term applied to any working-class person. Trade unionists, pro-government protestors, even anyone riding a motorcycle is presumed to be part of an armed and dangerous gang in the lurid fantasies of the light-skinned elitists of Eastern Caracas. Therefore, the contract essentially permits Silvercorp to kill any member of the government’s popular support base with impunity.

Perhaps more worrying, however, is what Silvercorp envisaged its role to be after a successful coup. The contract stipulates that the mercenary organization would “convert to a National Asset Unit that will act under the direction of the Administration [Guaidó] to counter threats to government stability, terror threats and work closely” with other security forces. Their missions would include, but not be limited to, surveillance, covert operations and target programming. In other words, Silvercorp would transform into a private paramilitary squad answerable only to Guaidó, crushing any opposition to his dictatorship, in much the same way death squads in Colombia and other Latin American countries have operated for decades.

Read more …

Chuck Todd is a far-left TV host? Boy, you Americans really have no idea what left and right is anymore.

This is insane al the same. He should be fired.

AG Barr’s Office Shreds Chuck Todd For ‘Deceptive Editing’ (DW)

Attorney General William Barr’s office slammed far-left NBC News host Chuck Todd on Sunday for “deceptive editing” after Todd took remarks that Barr made out of context and used the distorted remarks to smear the Department of Justice (DOJ). On “Meet The Press,” Todd used a deceptively edited portion of Barr’s interview last week with CBS News investigative reporter Catherine Herridge. Todd focused in on the following exchange between Barr and Herridge:

HERRIDGE: In closing, this was a big decision in the Flynn case, to say the least. When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written? What will it say about your decision making?
BARR: Well, history is written by the winner. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history. But I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It helped, it upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.

Todd only played the first two sentences of Barr’s comments where Barr said, “Well, history is written by the winner. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” Todd then launched into an attack on Barr, saying, “I was struck … by the cynicism of the answer. It’s a correct answer. But he’s the attorney general. He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job.” Todd’s comments were false because the very next thing that Barr said, which Todd did not show his viewers, was: “But I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It helped, it upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.”

Barr spokeswoman Kerri Kupec responded to the segment by posting screenshots on Twitter of the transcript from what Todd said and what Barr said in his CBS News interview last week, writing: “Very disappointed by the deceptive editing/commentary by @ChuckTodd on @MeetThePress on AG Barr’s CBS interview. Compare the two transcripts below. Not only did the AG make the case in the VERY answer Chuck says he didn’t, he also did so multiple times throughout the interview.”

Read more …

NSA, FBI, DNI have all been lying about Seth Rich for 4 years; hard to believe Mueller wasn’t in on it.

Why? They all knew the correspondence would kill off the Russian hacking story, and exonerate Assange. Couldn’t let that happen.

DNI Has Communications Between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks For 4 Years (GP)

Recently, transcripts of a conversation between George Papadopoulos and a confidential informant believed to be Stefan Halper were released by the DOJ. This transcript confirms that Papadopoulos was spied on and recorded, two things Papadopoulos was not told at the time of the case made against him by the Mueller gang. We know from our previous reporting that a Deep State Anti-Trump former Assistant US Attorney claimed under oath that the FBI did examine Seth Rich’s computer and that she met with an FBI Agent and prosecutor from the Mueller gang. This indicates the meeting should have been recorded in a form 302 but the FBI continues to claim no records related to Seth Rich are available!

We reported in mid-February how Attorney Ty Clevenger, who represents a client who is being sued for his comments about Seth Rich, reported to the courts that despite numerous assurances from the FBI that they had no information related to Seth Rich, emails related to Seth Rich were identified and provided to Judicial Watch. It looked like the FBI was lying to Clevenger all this time. Attorney Clevenger sent a letter to ADNI Rick Grenell that he should receive by this Monday. According to Ty, the NSA, knows exactly who sent the records to Wikileaks. So does the FBI. Seth Rich is the last shoe to drop, and the Trump Admin needs to hurry up and drop it. Clevenger goes on to state the most shocking statement related to the Russia collusion sham to date:


“I am reliably informed that the NSA or its partners intercepted at least some of the communications between Mr. Rich and Wikileaks. Before elaborating on that, however, I should first note the extent to which the “deep state” has already tried to cover up information about Mr. Rich. In an October 9, 2018 affidavit submitted in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, FBI section chief David M. Hardy testified that (1) the FBI did not investigate any matters pertaining to Mr. Rich, and (2) the FBI was unable to locate any records about Mr. Rich. Both claims were unequivocally false.” We now know there is no evidence Russia hacked the DNC and sent the hacked emails to WikiLeaks. Crowdstrike admitted this under oath and the Mueller Report backs this up. Attorney Ty Clevenger asserts the DNI has been covering up for 4 years the fact that they have communications between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks.

Read more …

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https://twitter.com/i/status/1259253115565506560

 

 

https://twitter.com/i/status/1259524909358817280

 

 

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime.

 

May 072020
 


Banksy – Sounthampton General Hospital – 2020

 

 

Coronavirus May Have Jumped To Humans As Early As October (SCMP)
Italian Scientists Claim To Have Developed World’s First Coronavirus Vaccine (Ind.)
Trump Calls Americans ‘Warriors’ In Fight To Open The Economy (LAT)
Are Americans Ready For A -Costly- Breakup With China? (CSM)
Coronavirus Survivors ‘Permanently Disqualified’ From Joining US Military (NW)
California Expected To Experience ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Unemployment – Newsom (JTN)
UK GPs In The Dark Over COVID19 Tests (G.)
All 400,000 Gowns Flown From Turkey For NHS Fail UK Standards (G.)
COVID19 Deaths: How Does Britain Compare With Other Countries? (Spiegelhalter)
New Zealand ‘Halfway Down Everest’, Plans Big Easing Of COVID Lockdown (G.)
Baltic States To Create ‘Travel Bubble’ As Pandemic Curbs Eased
China’s Services Sector Contracts For Third Month As Job Losses Hit Record (R.)
Republicans Want Review Of Aid To WHO (R.)
OPCW Chief Made False Claims To Denigrate Douma Whistleblower (Maté)
Cuomo Taps Bill Gates To Help Him ‘Reimagine’ New York’s Public Schools (JTN)

 

 

The US had +2,528 new coronavirus deaths yesterday, the highest number since April 21, bringing the national total to 74,799.

 

 

 

 

Cases 3,836,826 (+ 92,061 from yesterday’s 3,744,765)

Deaths 265,366 (+ 6,482 from yesterday’s 258,884)

 

 

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer Deaths among Closed cases is down to 17%. That still needs to come down much more.

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

The FT has a section, Coronavirus: free to read, with a few good graphs.

They look at excess deaths as the best way to gauge COVID19.

And some more graphs:

https://twitter.com/RemiGMI/status/1258021339362885634

 

 

Makes sense.

Coronavirus May Have Jumped To Humans As Early As October (SCMP)

The Covid-19 pandemic might have started as early as October, according to the latest research into the genetic make-up of the coronavirus. The pathogen, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, is thought to have made the jump from initial host to humans some time between October 6 and December 11 last year, according to an article released on Tuesday and set to be published in an upcoming edition of the scientific journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution. The findings are based on analysis of more than 7,000 genome sequence assemblies collected from around the world since January. By examining the evolution of the mutations, researchers from University College London and the University of Reunion Island were able to rewind their molecular clocks to a common starting point.

They were also able to identify the major mutations to the coronavirus, which has continued to evolve since making the jump to humans. While retrospective studies have suggested various dates for the first Covid-19 patient, government data seen by the South China Morning Post put the first confirmed infection at November 17. Based on information from the first whole genome sequence of the coronavirus – published by a laboratory in Shanghai in January – and other genome analyses, scientists had earlier concluded that SARS-CoV-2 most likely came from a bat and made the jump to humans via an intermediate animal some time in November.

But by the time the latest study was conducted, late last month, the researchers had access to much more information via data-sharing platforms. They selected 7,710 assemblies, curated a data set of 7,666 and then analysed the emergence of genomic diversity over time. While there were variations in the mutations and evolutionary stages of the viruses they studied, the team was able to determine their most recent common ancestor (MRCA), which in turn gave them their new estimate for the start of the global health crisis. “These dates for the start of the epidemic are in broad agreement with previous estimates performed on smaller subsets of the Covid-19 genomic data using various computational methods, though they should still be taken with some caution,” the study said.

In most countries, including Britain, the United States and Ireland, the genetic diversity of the samples essentially reflects the global diversity, suggesting the local epidemics came from independent introductions of the virus. However, China, where the outbreak was first reported, is a main exception to this pattern, where only a fraction of the global diversity can be found. “The genomic diversity of the global SARS-CoV-2 population being recapitulated in multiple countries points to extensive worldwide transmission of Covid-19, likely from extremely early on in the pandemic,” the study said.

Read more …

2022 and onwards. Crushing the curve is much easier. And faster.

Italian Scientists Claim To Have Developed World’s First Coronavirus Vaccine (Ind.)

Italian researchers claim to have developed a vaccine that can neutralise the coronavirus in human cells. Tests carried out at Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, generated antibodies in mice that work in human cells. “This is the most advanced stage of testing of a candidate vaccine created in Italy,” said Luigi Aurisicchio, chief executive of Takis, the company working on the treatment. “According to Spallanzani Hospital, as far as we know we are the first in the world so far to have demonstrated a neutralisation of the coronavirus by a vaccine,” he told the Italian news agency Ansa. “We expect this to happen in humans too.”

“Human tests are expected after this summer,” Mr Aurisicchio said. He added: “We are working hard for a vaccine coming from Italian research, with an all-Italian and innovative technology, tested in Italy and made available to everyone. “In order to reach this goal, we need the support of national and international institutions and partners who may help us speed up the process.” After a single vaccination, the mice developed antibodies capable of blocking the virus from infecting human cells, Mr Aurisicchio claimed. He said researchers observed that five candidate vaccines generated a large number of antibodies and they then selected the two with the best results.

Last week, experts at the University of Oxford said the first results of their coronavirus vaccine trials could be ready by as early as mid-June. The institution also announced a new partnership with British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Human trials of the vaccine developed at the university’s Jenner Institute began last month, with hundreds volunteering to be part of the study.

Read more …

Some non-thinkers here: “Good generals do not send their soldiers into battle without knowing that there will be a net gain..”. Right, US generals only go into battle if and when they already know they will win. Must be a lesson learned in Vietnam.

Trump Calls Americans ‘Warriors’ In Fight To Open The Economy (LAT)

Donald Trump has described himself as a “wartime president” during the coronavirus crisis, and now he seems to have found his army as he pushes the country to reopen despite the risks. In recent days, he’s begun describing citizens as “warriors” in the battle against the pandemic and suggested some of those fighters might have to die if that will help boost the economy.“Will some people be affected? Yes,” he said on a trip to Arizona this week, his first outside of the Washington area in nearly two months. “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon.” Trump previously described healthcare workers as “warriors” for risking their safety to treat coronavirus patients, wording he used again on Wednesday when signing a proclamation honoring nurses.

But his decision to expand the characterization to everyday Americans is a noticeable shift from his previous declarations that “one is too many” deaths. The toll from the illness surpassed 70,000 this week and seems on track to top 100,000 by the end of the month, numbers far larger than Trump recently predicted. Asked Wednesday if the nation needs to accept greater loss of life, Trump said “hopefully it won’t be the case, but it may very well be the case.” “We have to be warriors,” he said from his seat behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. “We can’t keep our country closed down for years.” The new language shows Trump appears to view people as “collateral damage to salvage the economy,” said Jeffrey Levi, a public health expert at George Washington University.

“Good generals do not send their soldiers into battle without knowing that there will be a net gain,” Levi said. “And here we know reopening too soon will be a net loss, both in lives and the long-term stability of the economy.” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied that Trump was suggesting that citizens must put themselves in harm’s way to fight the coronavirus — “not in the slightest,” she said. Although the president has repeatedly said that Americans must be “warriors” to reopen the economy, McEnany offered an alternative explanation for the description. “They’re warriors because they’ve stayed home,” she said at a White House briefing Wednesday. “They’re warriors because they’ve social distanced. They’re warriors because this mitigation effort is something that could only be done by the American people coming together and making really hard sacrifices.”

[..] Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said there’s no valor in sacrificing people’s lives to fight the pandemic. “People who are dying of this virus are not dying to protect the American way of life,” he said. “They’re dying because their government has had a completely ineffective response to this infectious disease.” If Americans are being considered warriors, Jha said, Trump is sending them onto the battlefield without the testing and contact tracing required for protection. “He has left Americans disarmed,” he said. “He’s not given the American people the tools they need to fight this virus.”

Read more …

See yesterday. Lots of people quoting the SCMP article today, but it’s just hot air.

Are Americans Ready For A -Costly- Breakup With China? (CSM)

[..] some longtime advocates of a “decoupling” from China say the pandemic offers the best opportunity since the 1970s for a robust national debate on the merits of a significant and policy-driven separation. Such a debate would span issues from technology transfer and U.S. economic sectors’ dependence on China trade to sharpening criticism of China’s violations of human rights. “Three months ago I would have said there was no chance of a serious decoupling from China, but the political environment has changed,” says Derek Scissors, an expert in U.S.-China economic relations at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “We’re still not near the serious – and what would be costly – steps necessary to separate [from them] and reduce our participation in the success of China’s economic model,” he adds.

“But all the outrage over the tremendous suffering and economic impact of [the pandemic] has opened a door to a reassessment of our relationship.” More likely than a new China strategy that sets out to reduce ties, say others, is an acceleration and intensification of actions that were already being pursued or promoted by some in Congress and some China analysts. “What this [rise in tensions] is really doing is exacerbating the geopolitical trends we’ve already been seeing in recent years,” says Michael Auslin, a distinguished research fellow in contemporary Asia at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in Stanford, California. “The tensions were already growing.” Thus there is likely to be rising pressure for action on topics that have raged for years, from stemming the theft of intellectual property and repatriating supply chains critical to U.S. national security, to confronting China’s expansionist activities in the South China Sea.

A change that the U.S. and other Western countries should capitalize on in the post-pandemic period, some experts say, is that China is now going to be marked by many countries as an untrustworthy partner. That is not just because of how China handled the initial outbreak of the coronavirus, they say, but because its heavy-handed actions in its pandemic-related foreign assistance has left a bad taste from Europe to Africa. “The world has put an asterisk next to China,” says Mr. Auslin, who notes for example that the White House now puts an asterisk next to coronavirus statistics out of China. And the theme running through much of the European press last week, he says, was “The Week China Lost Europe.”

Read more …

No, not just survivors, but anyone who’s ever tested positive.

If that herd immunity idea ever goes anywhere, that would mean 60%+ can’t join anymore. Who said Americans have no sense of humor?

Coronavirus Survivors ‘Permanently Disqualified’ From Joining US Military (NW)

The military will stop recruiting applicants who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a proposal in a memo from the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM). The contents of the memo, which has been circulating on the internet, were confirmed to Newsweek by the Pentagon, which described them as “interim guidance.” The story was first reported by the Military Times. “During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying,” the memo reads. Additionally, the memo lays out guidelines for handling possible and confirmed coronavirus cases in applicants.


It says any applicants at any of the 65 nationwide Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) should be evaluated for possible coronavirus infection, most likely through a temperature check and questions about their symptoms and possible contact with infected individuals. If an applicant seems likely positive for the coronavirus, they can return to the MEPS if they’re symptom-free after 14 days. Anyone who tests positive through a lab test or clinical diagnosis can return to MEPS 28 days after their diagnosis. However, their application will be marked as “permanently disqualifying,” and while applicants can request a waiver the memo offers no further guidance for possible COVID-19 exceptions, meaning that “a review authority would have no justification to grant a waiver,” says the Military Times.

Read more …

A lot of support for opening up also involves halting financial support plans. Worst idea ever, because:

California Expected To Experience ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Unemployment – Newsom (JTN)

California Governor Gavin Newsom forewarned of “jaw-dropping” unemployment at his daily press conference on Wednesday. After stating the state is experiencing an unprecedented spike in unemployment claims, he said, “You’ll see these numbers translating into unemployment rates that will be rather jaw-dropping.” Newsom called the rise in unemployment claims “Without precedent in our state’s history,” noting that 4.2 million people have now applied for Public Unemployment Assistance and $10.6 billion in aid has already been distributed.


He also announced his signing an executive order extending worker’s compensation to essential workers who test positive for COVID-19, adding that benefits could only be rebutted by an employer “under strict criteria.” Newsom is facing mounting criticism over a plan he announced on April 16 that would create a $125 million fund for undocumented immigrants affected by the coronavirus. Non-profits will distribute the money, but it’s still unclear when people will see a check.

Read more …

Link on the page to another Giurdian article: Q&A – Coronavirus tests in the UK – who qualifies for one?

That would have been a reasonable question in January, perhaps into February. It’s idiotic in May.

UK GPs In The Dark Over COVID19 Tests (G.)

The results of hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests carried out at privately run drive-through centres in England have not yet been shared with GPs or local authorities, who complain they have “no idea” where local disease clusters are. GPs told the Guardian they had been “totally left out of the conversation” after the government said it was still “working on a technical solution” to get Covid-19 test results into individual GP records in England, having promised to do so weeks ago. Meanwhile, the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, apologised to local health leaders who have not yet received any detailed data from “pillar two” tests conducted by the private firm Deloitte over the past month.


These now form the majority of tests being carried out each day, either at drive-through testing centres or via the post. During a conference call on Wednesday with directors of public health at local authorities across England, the government’s national coordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme, Prof John Newton, also apologised for not yet sharing the detailed data. He said there had been “data quality issues”. Newton admitted that the Deloitte tests did not yet ask people for their ethnicity or whether they worked in health or social care – an oversight described by one director of public health on the call as “really disappointing”. People of colour and healthcare workers and those working in care homes are known to have much higher incidences of the disease.

Read more …

• UK unemployment to double and economy to shrink by 25%, warns Bank of England

• British economic output is set to crash 14% this year owing to the coronavirus, the Bank of England said as it left its interest rate at 0.1%.

• UK gross domestic product would rebound by 15% in 2021 however, the BoE said

• Buy some more gowns, unseen preferably

All 400,000 Gowns Flown From Turkey For NHS Fail UK Standards (G.)

Last month, amid dire warnings of shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers, ministers publicised the imminent arrival from Turkey of a fleet of RAF cargo planes bringing in a “very significant” shipment of PPE for the NHS. More than a fortnight later, it has emerged that every one of the 400,000 protective gowns that eventually arrived has been impounded after being found not to conform to UK standards. The Department for Health and Social Care confirmed on Wednesday evening that the items were being held in a facility near Heathrow airport. It is understood that they are due to be sent back and that the DHSC intends to seek a refund, as it has done in similar situations in the past.

The announcement of the shipment by the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, on 18 April came as unions and professional bodies warned that NHS staff may refuse to work without PPE. Jenrick told the daily Downing Street press briefing that healthcare workers should be “assured that we are doing everything we can to correct this issue”, saying they would have the equipment they “need and deserve”. Sources later told the Guardian that the DHSC had advised No 10 not to allow Jenrick to publicise the shipment in case it backfired, but was overruled. The necessary clearances, it turned out, had not been sought. When the consignment did not arrive on time as promised, the delay prompted hospital leaders to directly attack the government for the first time during the pandemic.

Ministers responded by saying they thought it may only a one-day delay. Two days later, with the shipment only then beginning to clear Turkish customs checks, they were only able to give an estimate of arrival “in the next few days”. The first planeload of gowns eventually arrived on 22 April, but the next day it was reported that “less than a 10th” of the order had arrived. Now all are expected to be returned. The saga, first reported by the Telegraph, is one of a series of highly publicised government coronavirus initiatives that have failed to deliver the promised results. Its much-trumpeted “ventilator challenge” asked companies such as Rolls-Royce and Dyson to begin producing the machines, but none have reached the final stages of testing and the majority have proved surplus to requirements.

Read more …

David Spiegelhalter was quoted by the PM yesterday to prove Britain can’t be compared to opther countries, and didn’t like that. He tweeted: “Polite request to PM and others: please stop using my Guardian article to claim we cannot make any international comparisons yet. I refer only to detailed league tables-of course we should now use other countries to try and learn why our numbers are high..”

BTW, Spiegelhalter translate as “someone who holds (up) a mirror”. Fitting.

COVID19 Deaths: How Does Britain Compare With Other Countries? (Spiegelhalter)

You would think it would be easy for a bean-counting statistician to count deaths – the one certain thing (apart from taxes). But it is remarkably difficult. I have stopped taking much notice of the number given out at the daily press conferences, as it is only based on reports from hospitals, oscillates wildly around weekends, and recently included deaths that occurred a month ago. And this week the number of UK deaths jumped up by nearly 5,000 to 26,097 in one day – rather close to Starmer’s count – by retrospectively including non-hospital deaths that had tested positive for the virus. But even this is too low, as it does not include the many deaths of people who were not tested.

The Office for National Statistics data on death registrations is the last word, although inevitably delayed by around 10 days, and these figures would be expected to take the current total to significantly more than 30,000. But we should be very cautious in comparing even this uncertain total with those of other countries. Every country has different ways of recording Covid-19 deaths: the large number of deaths in care homes have not featured in Spain’s statistics – which, like the UK’s require a positive test result. The numbers may be useful for looking at trends, but they are not reliable indicators for comparing the absolute levels. If we were naive enough to take the counts at face value, the new figures propelled the UK past France and Spain into second place in Europe behind Italy, which is not encouraging because we are behind Italy in terms of what stage of the epidemic we are at.

A more equitable metric might be Covid-19 deaths per million. Ignoring tiny countries, our current score of 388 puts us fourth, behind Belgium (632), Spain (509) and Italy (452). But these are still deeply unreliable numbers, as it is not clear if we should just be looking at Covid-19-labelled deaths anyway. The effects of seasonal flu are not based on tests or death certificates, but at looking at the total number of deaths over the winter, seeing how many extra there are than a baseline, allowing for climate, and assuming these excess deaths were linked to flu. On average, over the last 10 years this has come to about 8,000 flu-related deaths, rising to 26,400 in 2017-2018 and 28,300 in 2014-15.

Read more …

Being an island helps. And so does a real lockdown.

New Zealand ‘Halfway Down Everest’, Plans Big Easing Of COVID Lockdown (G.)

Hairdressers, bars and competitive sport could be back on the agenda for New Zealanders from next week as the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the country was “halfway down Everest” in its fight against Covid-19. New Zealand has been under strict lockdown restrictions for more than five weeks, but the low number of cases this week – zero for two consecutive days – means restrictions will soon be lifted. Ardern and her cabinet will make a decision on downgrading the country’s alert level from three to two on Monday, and by Wednesday, life could begin to look much more normal – and fun – for millions of cooped-up Kiwis. The relaxation of restrictions, which would allow gatherings of up to 100 people, both indoors and outdoors, was greeted with jubilation across the country.

Public spaces such as playgrounds and libraries would be reopened, bars and restaurants would be able to accept patrons, and domestic travel and competitive sport allowed to resume, including the professional leagues, but there will be no stadium crowds for now. Most workers would be allowed to head back to the office, though Ardern urged any who could stay home – or found it more productive – to do so. Widespread social-distancing rules would continue to apply, including patrons being seated two metres apart in public spaces, strangers keeping their distance from one another, and hairdressers, barbers and beauticians being required to wear PPE.

New Zealanders have been living in tight “bubbles” for more than a month, only allowed to socialise with those in their own home. Under the plans outlined by Ardern on Thursday, they would be permitted to see friends, family and even online dates – so long as they keep a log of their movements, and did not participate in indoor or outdoor gatherings of any more than 100. Weddings, funerals and anniversary celebrations would also be permitted. [..] the measures appear to have been effective, with just 21 deaths – all older people with pre-existing health conditions – and global praise has been heaped on the small island nation of 5 million by the World Health Organization, among others.

Read more …

Eastern Europe is a success story.

Baltic States To Create ‘Travel Bubble’ As Pandemic Curbs Eased

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will open their borders to each others’ citizens from May 15, creating a Baltic “travel bubble” within the European Union amid an easing of pandemic restrictions, their prime ministers said on Wednesday. “It’s a big step towards life as normal”, Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas wrote on Twitter. The Baltic travel area would be first of its kind in the bloc, where most countries restricted entry to non-nationals and imposed quarantine on incoming travellers as the coronavirus spread across the continent. Citizens of the three countries will be free to travel within the region, but anyone entering from outside will need to self-isolate for 14 days, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said.


“We showed a good example by stating, very clearly, that only countries which successfully dealt with the situation can open themselves up,” he added. “I think we will keep to this principle when dealing with countries where the situation is very bad, which did not take measures to control the virus spread.” Poland and Finland could be the next countries to join the free travel bloc, said Skvernelis. The European Commission has recommended that internal border controls between all member states should be lifted in a coordinated manner, once their virus situation converges sufficiently, the commission’s office in Lithuania said.

Read more …

No buyers left.

China’s Services Sector Contracts For Third Month As Job Losses Hit Record (R.)

China’s services firms wallowed in contraction in April as layoffs hit a record and export orders plunged after signs of improvement in March, a private survey showed, dashing hopes of a quick recovery from the coronavirus blow. The Caixin/Markit services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) did manage to pull up to 44.4 in April from 43 in March, but remained in a deep slump and far below historic averages. The 50-mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. The third straight month of contraction for China’s services sector, an important generator of jobs and which accounts for about 60% of the economy, suggests a still turbulent period ahead after the collapse in economic activity in the first quarter, when GDP shrank 6.8%.


It also raised worries about the outlook even though the pandemic has been largely brought under control domestically, as a sharp global downturn dampens demand for Chinese goods and services. “The second shockwave for China’s economy brought about by shrinking overseas demand should not be underestimated in the second quarter,” said Zhengsheng Zhong, director of macroeconomic analysis at CEBM Group. Major economies, including the United States and Europe, remain in the grip of the pandemic amid rapidly rising infections and deaths. The sweeping impact of the coronavirus, with the global death toll at well over 250,000, has many worried that a worldwide recession could be far more damaging than first thought. In April, new export orders shrank further after their pace of contraction slowed in March, declining at the second-fastest rate on record, just marginally better than February’s collapse.

Read more …

You mean, you don’t do such reviews normally? High time then. Still, “..a task force to assess how well multilateral institutions carry out their missions and serve American interests.” sounds nuts. They’re supposed to serve global interests. If not, they would start serving US interests at the cost of other countries. Oh wait…

Republicans Want Review Of Aid To WHO (R.)

Five U.S. Senate Republicans introduced a bill on Wednesday seeking a review of U.S. participation in the World Health Organization and other international institutions, after President Donald Trump’s administration suspended U.S. contributions to the U.N. health agency and accused it of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic. Introduced by Chairman Jim Risch and four other Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the “Multilateral Aid Review Act of 2020” would establish a task force to assess how well multilateral institutions carry out their missions and serve American interests.

The bill requires a report on 38 institutions. Besides the WHO, they include the World Bank; Asian, African, Inter-American and North American Development Banks, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, several U.N. organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Trump suspended U.S. contributions to the WHO on April 14, accusing it of promoting China’s “disinformation” about the coronavirus outbreak and saying his administration would launch a review of the organization. WHO officials have denied the claims and China insists it has been transparent and open. The United States is the WHO’s biggest donor.

“As we have seen most recently with questionable actions taken by the World Health Organization in response to the spread of COVID-19, it is critically important to have accountability and oversight of our assistance,” Risch said in a statement announcing the bill. [..] Critics of the aid review bill said they were concerned the task force would be too partisan because Pompeo would be its chairman and members would be appointed by Trump.

Read more …

Why are we still discussing the OPCW? Why does it still exist? They’re a bunch of liars who were found out.

OPCW Chief Made False Claims To Denigrate Douma Whistleblower (Maté)

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has made false and misleading statements about two veteran inspectors who challenged a cover-up of their investigation in Syria, leaked documents show. The inspectors probed an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma in April 2018, and later objected when their evidence was suppressed. Documents obtained by The Grayzone reveal that OPCW leaders have engaged in a pattern of deception that minimized the inspectors’ senior roles in the Douma mission and diminished the prestige they enjoyed within the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog.

OPCW Director General Fernando Arias has claimed that the first inspector, South African chemical engineering and ballistics expert Ian Henderson, “was not a member” of the Douma investigative team and only played a “minor supporting role.” However, contemporaneous communications from the OPCW’s Douma Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) directly contradict Arias. They show that Henderson was indeed a Douma team member, and that OPCW leadership directed him to lead its most critical inspections. They also show that Arias, rather than acknowledge that Henderson was an FFM member, offered up a false explanation for why Henderson was in Syria at the time of the probe.

Arias has also disingenuously minimized the role of the second inspector, known only to the public as “Inspector B.” This will be examined in part two of this article. The OPCW’s investigation was triggered when extremist anti-Syrian government militants and Western states accused the Syrian army of dropping gas cylinders on two buildings in Douma, killing dozens of civilians. The U.S., France, and Britain bombed Syrian government targets days later, asserting their right to enforce the chemical weapons “red line.” After a nearly year-long investigation, the OPCW issued a final report in March 2019 that claimed “reasonable grounds” existed to believe that a chlorine attack occurred.

However, a trove of leaked documents has shown that the OPCW leadership suppressed and manipulated evidence that undermined the allegation against the Syrian military. The first of such leaks was an engineering assessment authored by Henderson that concluded that the gas cylinders in Douma were likely “manually placed.” That conclusion suggested the incident was staged on the ground by the armed militants who controlled Douma at the time. Additional leaks later revealed that Inspector B protested the censorship of critical evidence and toxicology reports, as well as the manipulation of chemical samples and witness statements. Henderson and B also complained that OPCW leaders excluded all of the Douma investigators except for one paramedic from a so-called “core” team that wrote the organization’s final report.

Read more …

In case you needed any confirmation that Andrew Cuomo is not exactly your hero.

As for Bill Gates, he’s just a fool with too much money, and should be kept far from schools. We don’t need another generation using his crappy software.

I had a text talk with a friend in Greece Tuesday, who tried to convince me that Bill Gates wanted to force-vaccinate everyone and force implant them with nano-chips to prove vaccination. I think maybe because of the language barrier he may not have grasped the nuances whenn I said: “You have nothing to worry about then, because there is no vaccine”.

Someone else sent me a video from the Alex Jones studios that claimed Bill Gates is the mastermind behind a grand secret global conspiracy to depopulate the planet -hence COVID19-. I’m sorry, but I cannot post that here.

Cuomo Taps Bill Gates To Help Him ‘Reimagine’ New York’s Public Schools (JTN)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to “reimagine” schools when they reopen after the coronavirus pandemic. “Bill Gates is a visionary in many ways, and his ideas and thoughts on technology and education he’s spoken about for years,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “But I think we now have a moment in history where we can actually incorporate and advance those ideas. Cuomo said the state is exploring the possibility that K-12 schools will utilize distancing learning in the future and wondered aloud if the “old model” of in-person learning was obsolete.

He said Gates would help evaluate possible changes to the education system, including providing more opportunities to students, using technology to reduce educational inequality, and recreating larger class or lecture hall environments with virtual classrooms. The Gates Foundation has experimented with education before with some mixed results. Business Insider reports that Gates spent $1 billion and seven years working on an initiative to improve test performance for students in low-income schools by closely monitoring teacher effectiveness. The program reportedly didn’t improve test scores or drop-out rates in the long-term, and even “did more harm than good.”

The Gothamist reports at least five organizations have already spoken out against the partnership, citing concerns about the Microsoft founder’s support of standardized testing and Common Core curriculum. Allies for Public Education, Class Size Matters, and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy — have already written to Cuomo and state education officials to voice their objections. “We were appalled to hear that you will be working with the Gates Foundation on ‘reimagining’ our schools following the Covid crisis,” the coalition wrote. “Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have promoted one failed educational initiative after another, causing huge disaffection in districts throughout the state.

Read more …

 

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May 052020
 


G.G. Bain ‘Casino Theater playing musical ‘The Little Whopper’, NY 1920

 

30,000 New Cases, 3,000 New Deaths Daily Expected in US (CNN)
New Projection Puts US COVID19 Deaths At Nearly 135,000 By August (R.)
New Zealand PM: No Open Borders For ‘A Long Time’ (BBC)
Just 273 Of 18.1 Million People Arriving In UK Prior To Lockdown Quarantined (G.)
France’s First Known COVID19 Case ‘Was In December’ (BBC)
US Treasury Seeks To Borrow A Record $3 Trillion This Quarter (CNBC)
New York AG Asks Major Banks To Clarify Handling Of Small Business Loans (R.)
When the Birdies Sing Like the Fat Lady (Kunstler)
Apple, Google Ban Use Of Location Tracking In Contact Tracing Apps (R.)
Immunity Passports And Vaccination Certificates (Lancet)
‘Time Has Come’ For Universal Basic Income – Scottish PM Sturgeon (Ind.)
US Mortgage Firms Push For Support As Borrowers Halt Payments (R.)
Safe Climate Niche Closing Fast, With Billions At Risk (SMH)
Assange Extradition Hearing Delayed Until September (PR)

 

 

• The tally by Johns Hopkins University recorded 1,015 deaths in the past 24 hours, the lowest one-day figure in a month, with more than 1.17 million cases in the country as of 8:30 pm Monday (0030 GMT Tuesday), and a total 68,689 deaths

• US is improving only in NY,NY,CT and MA. Exclude those states and numbers are rising:

 

 

And while we’re at it, another success story: Sweden.

 

 

 

Cases 3,662,271 (+ 79,382 from yesterday’s 3,582,889)

Deaths 252,747 (+ 4,180 from yesterday’s 248,567)

 

 

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to quote CNN anymore than NYT or WaPo, but I was looking for these numbers, and CNN has them here. Note: they are from different sources, and the CDC one is only a draft “report”, of which the White House said it’s “not reflective of any of the modeling” done by the White House Coronavirus Task Force or “data that the task force has analyzed.”

Indicative of the level at which CNN “functions” are sentences like these: “Trump, who has consistently appeared to care most about his political prospects during three miserable months..”

30,000 New Cases, 3,000 New Deaths Daily Expected in US (CNN)

President Donald Trump now knows the price of the haunting bargain required to reopen the country — tens of thousands more lives in a pandemic that is getting worse not better. It’s one he now appears ready to pay, if not explain to the American people, at a moment of national trial that his administration has constantly underplayed. Depressing new death toll projections and infection data on Monday dashed the optimism stirred by more than half the country taking various steps to reopen an economy that is vital to Trump’s reelection hopes and has shed more than 30 million jobs. Stay-at-home orders slowed the virus and flattened the curve in hotspots like New York and California, but they have so far failed to halt its broader advance, leaving the nation stuck on a grim plateau of about 30,000 new cases a day for nearly a month.

New evidence of the likely terrible future toll of Covid-19 came on a day when Trump stayed out of sight — his wild briefings that hurt his political prospects now paused — meaning he could not be questioned on his enthusiasm for state openings in the light of new evidence. The White House also took new steps to limit testimony to the House from members of the President’s coronavirus task force, prompting Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi to warn on CNN that it was “afraid of the truth.” Trump, who has consistently appeared to care most about his political prospects during three miserable months, mounted another victory lap on Monday — boasting on Twitter that he was finally getting “great reviews” for his virus management.

A new model from the University of Washington, previously used by the White House suggested that 134,000 Americans could now die by August — in a revised toll prompted by the likely impact of state openings. The total was more than double the same organization’s estimate last month. A draft internal report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention obtained by The New York Times buckled the White House narrative that the worst of the pandemic is passed and it’s time to get going again. It found that the daily death toll will reach about 3,000 by June 1, nearly double the current number.

Read more …

More from the IHME.

New Projection Puts US COVID19 Deaths At Nearly 135,000 By August (R.)

A new forecast projects nearly 135,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States through the beginning of August mainly due to reopening measures under way, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington said on Monday. The forecast U.S. death toll through early August totaled 134,475, a midrange between 95,092 and 242,890, the IHME said. The revised projection almost doubles the number of deaths foreseen in the United States since the last estimate in mid-April. The new projections reflect rising mobility and the easing of social distancing measures expected in 31 states by May 11, said the IHME, whose models are used by the White House.


The increasing contacts among people will promote transmission of the coronavirus, it said. “This new model is the basis for the sobering new estimate of U.S. deaths,” said IHME director Christopher Murray, referring to the reopening measures. The IHME said its new model assumes that public health orders that are currently in place will stay in place until infections are minimized. The IHME’s forecast increases the projected number of deaths in the U.S. by more than 62,000, with a rise of more than 8,700 deaths in New Jersey and more than 7,800 in New York state for the same period, up from estimates released last month.

Read more …

Good thing the Lord of the Rings is finished.

New Zealand PM: No Open Borders For ‘A Long Time’ (BBC)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the country will not have open borders with the rest of the world for “a long time to come”. Ms Ardern was speaking after attending part of Australia’s cabinet meeting via video link. The meeting discussed a possible “trans-Tasman bubble”, where people could go between Australia and New Zealand freely, and without quarantine. But she said visitors from further afield were not possible any time soon. Both Australia and New Zealand have closed their borders to almost all foreigners as part of their Covid-19 response. Ms Ardern said New Zealand and Australia were discussing a “bubble of sorts between us, a safe zone of travel”.


She stressed there was “a lot of work to be done before we can progress…but it’s obviously been floated because of the benefits it would bring”. But, in response to a question about the country’s tourism sector, Ms Ardern said: “We will not have open borders for the rest of the world for a long time to come.” Tourism is one of New Zealand’s biggest industries, directly employing almost 10% of the country’s workforce, and contributing almost 6% of GDP. Most visitors are from Australia, followed by China, the US, and the UK. Ms Ardern said any “trans-Tasman bubble” was only possible because of “the world leading actions” of both countries.

Read more …

And few and far between after, from what I’ve seen.

Just 273 Of 18.1 Million People Arriving In UK Prior To Lockdown Quarantined (G.)

Fewer than 300 people out of the 18.1 million who entered the UK in the three months prior to the coronavirus lockdown were formally quarantined, figures reveal. Passengers on three flights from Wuhan, in China, the source of the Covid-19 outbreak, and one flight from Tokyo, Japan, that was carrying passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, were taken to government-supported isolation facilities between 1 January to 22 March. The figures, provided by the government to the Labour MP and member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Stephen Doughty, show this totalled 273 people. Additional data provided to the committee shows that there were 18.1m arrivals at the UK border by air, land and sea in the same period.

Although that includes arrivals from all destinations, it is understood that Home Office estimates would still put the number of potentially infected individuals entering the UK from coronavirus-affected countries in that period in the tens of thousands. Doughty said: “The admission that just four flights from two locations, barely a few hundred individuals – out of literally millions of arrivals – were formally quarantined while the pandemic was already raging in a series of locations beggars belief. “On what scientific basis were a handful of flights from Wuhan and one from a Tokyo singled out for extreme attention? But not a single flight from Northern Italy, Spain or the US?

“The fact that many of these people then likely arrived and travelled onwards across the UK with little or no adherence to social distancing, and with no checks or protections at the border – barely a whiff of hand sanitiser – is deeply disturbing. Let alone the arrival of 3,000 fans from Madrid as the pandemic picked up speed.

Read more …

But I thought the French strand didn’t come from China?!

France’s First Known COVID19 Case ‘Was In December’ (BBC)

A patient diagnosed with pneumonia near Paris on 27 December actually had the coronavirus, his doctor has said. Dr Yves Cohen told French media a swab taken at the time was recently tested, and came back positive for Covid-19. The patient, who has since fully recovered, said he had no idea where he caught the virus as he had not been to any infected areas. This news means the virus may have arrived in France almost a month earlier than previously thought. Dr Cohen, head of emergency medicine at Avicenne and Jean-Verdier hospitals near Paris, said the patient was a 43-year-old man from Bobigny, north-east of Paris. He was exhibiting what later became to be known as the main symptoms of coronavirus, including a dry cough, a fever and trouble breathing.


He was admitted to hospital on 27 December, four days before the World Health Organization’s China country office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause being detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The French patient told French broadcaster BFMTV that he had not travelled before falling sick. Dr Cohen said two of the patient’s children had fallen ill but that the wife had not shown any symptoms. But Dr Cohen pointed out that the patient’s wife worked at a supermarket near Charles de Gaulle airport and could have come into contact with people who had recently arrived from China. The patient’s wife said that “often customers would come directly from the airport, still carrying their suitcases”.

Read more …

The banks need more help, I’m sure.

US Treasury Seeks To Borrow A Record $3 Trillion This Quarter (CNBC)

Massive stimulus to support the U.S. economy through the coronavirus crisis will cause the Treasury to borrow a record $3 trillion this quarter. The department on Monday announced the total, which is actually $2.999 trillion. “The increase in privately-held net marketable borrowing is primarily driven by the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, including expenditures from new legislation to assist individuals and businesses, changes to tax receipts including the deferral of individual and business taxes from April – June until July, and an increase in the assumed end-of-June Treasury cash balance,” the department said in a statement. On top of that borrowing, the Treasury also said it anticipates another $677 billion in the third quarter. First-quarter borrowing totaled $477 billion.


The red ink comes thanks to multiple stimulus efforts Congress has passed to resuscitate an economy brought to a standstill amid social distancing efforts to halt the virus spread. Allocations thus far have totaled more than $2 trillion, and at last one more package is expected to help the more than 30 million Americans who have hit the unemployment line as well as thousands of other businesses that have seen their revenue streams evaporate. The Treasury Department also is backstopping several lending programs for the Federal Reserve, which is leveraging Treasury guarantees in programs aimed at providing another $2.2 trillion in funding to businesses and households.

Read more …

They’ll laugh in her face.

New York AG Asks Major Banks To Clarify Handling Of Small Business Loans (R.)

New York’s Attorney General said on Monday she has asked 11 major U.S. banks to clarify how they had issued loans tied to the U.S government’s $660 billion program to rescue small businesses from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Known as the Paycheck Protection Program, the plan was intended to help small firms weather the worst global economic crisis in decades but has been hobbled by missing paperwork, technology failure and a misdirection of funds to big corporations. Attorney General Letitia James said she is seeking information on the practices, marketing and procedures that banks undertook when they issued those loans.


Also of interest is whether some companies had used their lobbying power to influence the way banks had dispensed the loans, she said. “We are concerned that women and minority groups did not have equal access to loans,” James said in an interview, adding that she worried a disproportionate amount of money had flowed to big companies. A spokesman for James declined to name the 11 banks that had received a letter from the office, sent on April 29, but said they are “large” U.S. banks. The United States has been hardest hit by the coronavirus, which causes a respiratory disease, having seen 67,821 deaths in the country, higher than any other nation in the world.

Read more …

“The beauty of springtime is sublime and, as Edmund Burke noted, that very beauty provokes our thoughts of pain and terror.”

When the Birdies Sing Like the Fat Lady (Kunstler)

And so here we are at a fraught moment in the convergent crises of corona virus and the foundering economic system that it infected, with all its frightful pre-existing conditions. Of course, it isn’t capitalism, so-called, that is failing, but the perversions of capitalism, starting with the appendage of the troublesome term: ism. It isn’t a religion, or even a pseudo-religion like Zoroastrianism or communism. It’s simply the management system for surplus wealth. In a hyper-complex society, the management of wealth naturally grows hyper-complex, too, with lavish opportunities and temptations for chicanery, cheating, fraud, and swindling (the perversions of capital). It’s in the interest of the managers to cloak all that hyper-complex perversity in opaque language, to make it seem okay.

How many ordinary Americans have a clue what all the Municipal Liquidity Facilities, Primary Dealer Credit Facilities, Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities, Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facilities, Main Street New Loan Facilities and Expanded Loan Facilities, Commercial Paper Funding Facilities, currency swap lines, the TALFs TARPs, PPPs, SPVs represent – besides the movement, by keystrokes, of “money” from one netherworld to another (both conveniently located on Wall Street), usually to the loss of non-elite citizens generally and to their offspring’s offspring’s offspring?

Real capital is grounded in the production of real things of real value, of course, and when it’s detached from all that, it’s no longer real capital. Money represents capital, and when the capital isn’t real, the money represents…nothing! And ceases to be real money. Just now, America is producing almost nothing except money, money in quantities that stupefy the imagination – trillions here, there, and everywhere. The trouble is that money is vanishing as fast as it’s being created. That’s because it’s based on promises to be paid back into existence that will never be kept, on top of prior promises to pay back money that were broken or are in the process of breaking. The net result is that money is actually disappearing faster than it can be created, even in vast quantities.

All this sounds like metaphysical bullshit, I suppose, but we are obviously watching money disappear. Your paycheck is gone. That activity you started – a brew-pub, a gym, an ad agency – no longer produces revenue. The HR department at the giant company you work for told you: don’t bother coming into the office tomorrow, or possibly ever again. Your bills are piling up. The numbers in your bank account run to zero. That sure smells like money disappearing. Wait until the pension checks and the SNAP cards mysteriously stop landing in the mailbox. There’s going to be a lot of trouble. Ordinary Americans are going to get super-pissed if money doesn’t disappear from the stock markets, too.

Read more …

Every country develops its own app. And they’re all the best one, I’m sure.

Apple, Google Ban Use Of Location Tracking In Contact Tracing Apps (R.)

Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday said they would ban the use of location tracking in apps that use a new contact tracing system the two are building to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Apple and Google, whose operating systems power 99% of smart phones, said last month they would work together to create a system for notifying people who have been near others who have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The companies plan to allow only public health authorities to use the technology. Both companies said privacy and preventing governments from using the system to compile data on citizens was a primary goal. The system uses Bluetooth signals from phones to detect encounters and does not use or store GPS location data.

But the developers of official coronavirus-related apps in several U.S. states told Reuters last month it was vital they be allowed to use GPS location data in conjunction with the new contact tracing system to track how outbreaks move and identify hotspots. The Apple-Google decision to not allow GPS data collection with their contact tracing system will require public health authorities that want to access GPS location to rely on what Apple and Google have described as unstable, battery-draining workarounds. Alternatives likely would miss some encounters because iPhones and Android devices turn off Bluetooth connections after some time for battery-saving and other reasons unless users remember to re-activate them. But some apps said they planned to stick to their own approaches.

Software company Twenty, which developed the state of Utah’s Healthy Together contact tracing app with both GPS and Bluetooth, said on Monday the app “operates effectively” without the new Apple-Google tool. “If their approach can be more effective than our current solution, we’ll eagerly incorporate their features into our existing application, provided it meets the specifications of current and prospective public health partners,” Twenty said. Canada’s Alberta province, which does not collect GPS data, said it has no plans to adopt the Apple-Google system for its ABTraceTogether app. Privacy experts have warned that any cache of location data related to health issues could make businesses and individuals vulnerable to being ostracized if the data is exposed. Apple and Google also said Monday they will allow only one app per country to use the contact system, to avoid fragmentation and encourage wider adoption. The companies said they would, however, support countries that opt for a state or regional approach, and that U.S. states will be allowed to use the system.

Read more …

The Lancet should stand for quality. So sure, talk about why immunity passports won’t work. But what’s the use of discussing vaccination certificates when there’s no vaccine?

Immunity Passports And Vaccination Certificates (Lancet)

Many governments are looking for paths out of restrictive physical distancing measures imposed to control the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). With a potential vaccine against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) many months away,1 one proposal that some governments have suggested, including Chile, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the USA,2 is the use of immunity passports—ie, digital or physical documents that certify an individual has been infected and is purportedly immune to SARS-CoV-2. Individuals in possession of an immunity passport could be exempt from physical restrictions and could return to work, school, and daily life. However, immunity passports pose considerable scientific, practical, equitable, and legal challenges.

On April 24, 2020, WHO highlighted current knowledge and technical limitations, advising “[t]here is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection…[a]t this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’”.3 In a follow-up tweet, WHO clarified that it is expected that infection with SARS-CoV-2 will result in some form of immunity.4 Caution is warranted about how population level serology studies and individual tests are used. It is not yet established whether the presence of detectable antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 confers immunity to further infection in humans and, if so, what amount of antibody is needed for protection or how long any such immunity lasts.3

Data from sufficiently representative serological studies will be important for understanding the proportion of a population that has been infected with SARS-CoV-2. These data might inform decisions to ease physical distancing restrictions at the community level, provided that they are used in combination with other public health approaches.5 The use of seroprevalence data to inform policy making will depend on the accuracy and reliability of tests, particularly the number of false-positive and false-negative results, and requires further validation.6

Read more …

Not her decision, so easy talk. And the Tories will never go there.

‘Time Has Come’ For Universal Basic Income – Scottish PM Sturgeon (Ind.)

The “time has come” for universal basic income (UBI) in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said. Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, the first minister said there will be “constructive discussions” with the UK government on the matter. Under the scheme, residents would be given a universal payment from the government, with some benefits scrapped. The Scottish government has brought forward four pilots of a similar scheme in different council areas, but it is the UK government that has the ultimate power over creating a national scheme. When asked about the move at the briefing, the first minister said: “The experience of the virus and the economic consequences of that have actually made me much, much more strongly of the view that it is an idea that’s time has come.


The Scottish government would need more control over taxation and social security to make such a scheme a reality but the first minister said she hopes to “get into a constructive discussion” with the UK government about the scheme. She added she would like conversations to take place “hopefully reasonably quickly” after the coronavirus pandemic is over. The first minister added: “Watch this space.” Think tank Reform Scotland devised a detailed proposal for a UBI scheme. It would consist of an annual payment of £5,200 a year for adults and £2,600 for those under 16. Annually, the scheme would cost the Scottish government £20 billion, with measures found to raise £18.34 billion in revenue to support the scheme. When the think tank published its report in April, the first minister described it as “interesting and timely”, adding the coronavirus outbreak strengthened the case “immeasurably”.

Read more …

Support the most bloated zombies! Or: look, if you want to support these guys, forget about supporting anyone else.

US Mortgage Firms Push For Support As Borrowers Halt Payments (R.)

U.S. mortgage firms facing billions of dollars of missed home loan repayments are continuing to push for emergency government support as data published Monday showed a further rise in borrowers asking to halt payments. The number of people seeking to have mortgage payments paused or reduced rose to 7.5% as of April 26 from 7.0% a week earlier as the economic effects of the novel coronavirus outbreak stretched household finances, figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) showed. The MBA estimates that 3.8 million homeowners are now in forbearance. The surge in delayed payments could leave mortgage service companies, which pool home loans and sell them to investors, with a liquidity shortfall of as much as $100 billion over the next nine months, according to the MBA.


That is because mortgage servicers still have to advance scheduled payments to investors even if borrowers fail to make their payments. Mortgage servicers want the Federal Reserve and Treasury to introduce an emergency liquidity facility to cover those payments but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week there were no current plans to offer such a lifeline. In an interview, the MBA’s Chief Executive Officer Bob Broeksmit said it was still discussing the issues with the Fed, Treasury and Federal Housing Finance Agency. “We don’t see it as the end of the matter,” he said. “We understand that the Fed and Treasury will continue to monitor the situation. We continue to advocate for the facility so we can prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Read more …

“..3.5 billion people will be exposed to “near-unliveable” temperatures averaging 29 degrees through the year by 2070 [..] That heat compares with the narrow 11- to 15-degree range that has supported civilisation over the past six millennia

Safe Climate Niche Closing Fast, With Billions At Risk (SMH)

As much as one-third of the world’s population will be exposed to Sahara Desert-like heat within half a century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the pace of recent years. Scientists from China, the US and Europe found that the narrow climate niche that has supported human society would shift more over the next 50 years than it had in the preceding 6000 years. As many as 3.5 billion people will be exposed to “near-unliveable” temperatures averaging 29 degrees through the year by 2070. Less than 1 per cent of the Earth’s surface now endures such heat. That heat compares with the narrow 11- to 15-degree range that has supported civilisation over the past six millennia, according to research published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Absent climate mitigation or migration, a substantial part of humanity will be exposed to mean annual temperatures warmer than nearly anywhere today,” the paper said. Xu Chi, a researcher at China’s Nanjing University and one of the paper’s authors, said: “We were frankly blown away by our own initial results. As our findings were so striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations.” “Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.” Among the most exposed nations will be India – where many people live in “already-hot places” – with as many as 1.2 billion people likely to be forced to move if population and warming trends continue. For Nigeria, the number exposed could be 485 million, according to a media release distributed along with the paper.

The scenario used projected the total populations in India and Nigeria to reach 2.2 billion and 600 million, respectively, by 2070, Dr Xu told the Herald and The Age. In Australia, areas of Western Australia and the Northern Territory home to about 200,000 people will be at risk. The research extended current population and greenhouse gas emissions trends into the future, and excluded impacts from the coronavirus pandemic on both. The researchers also considered possible rainfall changed. “The global pattern of population distribution seems less constrained by precipitation – while there is also an optimum around 1000 mm [of rainfall a year ] – so we focused on temperature,” Dr Xu said. “Changes of precipitation regime would definitely have impacts, but such impacts together those of temperature change would be more complex to foresee.”

Read more …

“The UK is proud to be part of the Media Freedom Coalition championing press freedom around the world today.”

Assange Extradition Hearing Delayed Until September (PR)

Hearings in the extradition of WikiLeaks founder, publisher, and editor Julian Assange will resume in September after being postponed from May 18 because of the coronavirus outbreak, which would have prevented lawyers from attending the hearing. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said it would not be possible for it to recommence this month because of strict restrictions on gatherings to curb the spread of COVID-19. Assange’s lawyers have said they have been unable to discuss the case with their client since the coronavirus outbreak. “There have always been great difficulties in getting access to Mr. Assange. But with the coronavirus outbreak, the preparation of this case cannot be possible,” his attorney Edward Fitzgerald told the court. Today, Judge Baraitser said the case would be moved to another Crown Court in September, once one with availability is secured.

The parties were unable to schedule the three week hearing for July or August. In addition, time was needed so that US prosecutors could attend the hearing. The Daily Mail reported the government lawyer, James Lewis, saying, ‘We think it is doubtful flights will have resumed earlier than then so we would rather have a September date because it gives more opportunity to have the American prosecutors actually in court.’ The parties agreed September 7 as the earliest date for the hearings to resume, although an exact date and an appropriate venue were yet to be decided. “It’s going to take some negotiation to find a Crown Court that is open in September, in the current climate, and willing and available to take this hearing,” Judge Baraitser said in Westminster Magistrates’ Court today. The judge will announce the new location, which might be outside London, and the start date for the remaining three weeks of the hearing in writing to the lawyers on Friday.

Assange was not able to attend Monday’s hearing via videolink because his lawyers said he was not well enough to appear. Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, said in a video posted on social media on Monday that it was “completely unacceptable” that Assange has to spend another four months — and potentially longer — in prison. He described the hearing as a disgrace and denounced the tiny courtroom where only a few journalists could attend. He said this was not open justice and it needs to end. [..] Assange’s father John Shipton was delighted about the delay, saying it will allow family and supporters from Australia to attend. He’s also optimistic Assange might not be behind bars for the whole four months. He said, ‘I’m hoping there will be a very strong and firm bail application. It appears his lawyers held the power in today’s hearing and got the hearing dates they wanted, so it’s a good sign.’

Read more …

 

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CNN in Greece

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth for your own good.

 

Apr 132020
 


John M. Fox WCBS studios, 49 East 52nd Street, NYC 1948

 

Obesity The Single Biggest Factor In New York COVID19 Hospitalizations (ZDN)
Coronavirus Spreads At Least 13 Feet, Travels On Shoes: CDC (NYP)
Fauci: US Given Wrong Information About Virus “Right From The Beginning” (JTN)
102-Year-Old NY Woman Beats COVID-19 With Hydroxychloroquine (CBS)
New Zealand Preparing To End Lockdown (Metro)
America Should Be Ready For 18 Months Of Shutdowns – Fed’s Neel Kashkari (MW)
China Is Censoring Research On COVID-19 Origins (NW)
Experts See Worrisome Link Between Coronavirus, Pollution (Hill)
After The Lockdown, Europe Debates Exit Strategies (AFR)
Giant Oil Output Cuts Make Ripple, Not Big Waves (R.)
Greek Government To Go After Priests Flouting Quarantine (K.)
Lockdown: Not Novels And Family Time But Food Parcels And Hardship (G.)

 

 

I must admit I’m getting fed up with the stories and narratives. People may have short attention spans, but how is that a reason to just go and invent narratives about something as serious as a pandemic? The disgusting morally hollow Brits celebrating the recovery of Boris Johnson as he’s thanking the same NHS he actively helped defund, at the same time that he’s murdering Julian Assange, get a life.

From Dr. Fauci I don’t expect anything else anymore than putting the blame on anyone but himself. “We got the wrong infomation!” If you were an investor, that would be your fault, not someone else’s. See, the WHO will make the same argument: the Chinese gave us false info, don’t blame us. But if you’re in positions like that, it’s your own responsibility to get your info right. And if you fail at that, to be open and honest about it.

The pedestal upon which New Zealand PM Jacintha Ardern is placed -“a masterclass in crisis management!- while one look at a timeline shows that she, too, like all the rest, was way too late in her reaction. The WHO was criminally slow in declaring a pandemic, they finally did so on March 11, and STILL New Zealand didn’t lock down. Ardern closed the borders only on March 19 and locked down the country on the 26th. She’s just lucky New Zealand has the geographical advantages it has, far away from anyone else.

 

 

The next narrative has already started: what are we going to do after it’s all over. But how are you going to do the right thing today when all you think about is tomorrow? Moreover, the virus hasn’t even started for the next 5 billion people, who often live in the most vulnerable places. And we’re going to forget about that just because the West, China, Japan, can’t keep focused for more than 2 weeks?

 

 

Cases 1,862,584 (+ 72,011 from yesterday’s 1,790,573)

Deaths 114,982 (+ 5,328 from yesterday’s 109,654)

 

 

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer – NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 21% !-

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID2019Info.live:

 

 

 

 

If this is why the US gets hits so hard, watch out for Mexico. Chronic inflammation sounds like a credible factor.

Obesity The Single Biggest Factor In New York COVID19 Hospitalizations (ZDN)

For months, scientists have been poring over data about cases and deaths to understand why it is that COVID-19 manifests itself in different ways around the world, with certain factors such as the age of the population repeatedly popping up as among the most significant determinants. Now, one of the largest studies conducted of COVID-19 infection in the United States has found that obesity of patients was the single biggest factor in whether those with COVID-19 had to be admitted to a hospital. “The chronic condition with the strongest association with critical illness was obesity, with a substantially higher odds ratio than any cardiovascular or pulmonary disease,” write lead author Christopher M. Petrilli of the NYU Grossman School and colleagues in a paper “Factors associated with hospitalization and critical illness among 4,103 patients with Covid-19 disease in New York City..”


Among other things, the presence of obesity in the study points to a potentially important role of heightened inflammation in patients, a phenomenon that has been a topic of much speculation in numerous studies of the disease. Petrilli and colleagues at the Grossman School, and doctors at the NYU Langone Health center, studied the electronic patient records of 4,103 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 in the New York City healthcare system between March 1st and April 2nd. It is “the largest case series from the United States to date,” write Petrilli and colleagues. The motivation of the work, they write, was that “Understanding which patients are most at risk for hospitalization is crucial for many reasons,” such as how to triage patients and how to anticipate medical needs.


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Half of those patients were admitted to a hospital. What the researchers found is that “In the decision tree for admission, the most important features were age >65 and obesity.” Obesity, in this case, was measured as weight relative to a person’s height. The authors use a metric scale, so a body mass index of 30 kilograms of weight and higher is considered obese. The “decision tree” in this case refers to the statistical method they used to analyze the patient data. A decision tree is a way to group members of a sample based on their shared characteristics. “For a given population, the decision tree classification method splits the population into two groups using one feature at a time, starting with the feature that maximizes the split between groups relative to the outcome in question.” They keep splitting groups into smaller and smaller groups until they arrive at groups that “[have] similar characteristics and outcomes.”

https://twitter.com/StephanieKelton/status/1249465834029932545

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Twitter: “Which is right? CDC officially says 6’ for #SocialDistancing . But a new CDC report, says #COVID19 can travel through the air at least 13 feet. Meanwhile, WHO says 3’ should be enough. And Dr Fauci rejects recent research, wherein virus could travel up to 27 feet.”

Coronavirus Spreads At Least 13 Feet, Travels On Shoes: CDC (NYP)

The coronavirus can travel through the air at least 13 feet — more than twice as far as social distancing guidelines, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research published in the federal agency’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal shows the contagion spreading far further than previous official suggestions — and also getting spread on people’s shoes. “The aerosol distribution characteristics … indicate that the transmission distance of [COVID-19] might be 4 m,” the report says, translating as more than 13 feet. “Furthermore, half of the samples from the soles of the ICU medical staff shoes tested positive,” the researchers wrote of samples taken at Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan.

“Therefore, the soles of medical staff shoes might function as carriers.” The report, based on research by a team at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing, appears to reaffirm fears that the current social distancing guidelines of 6 feet may not be enough. It also suggests people — especially medical staff on the frontlines — could inadvertently be spreading the bug away from its source, recommending stringent disinfecting measures.

High levels were also found on frequently touched surfaces like computer mice, trashcans and bed rails. The CDC recommends 6 feet for social distancing, while the World Health Organization claims just 3 feet should be enough, less than a quarter of the distance the current study suggests it spreads. Research last month said the virus could travel up to 27 feet. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, however called that “terribly misleading,” saying it would require a “very, very robust, vigorous, achoo sneeze” to travel that far and the scenario was “not practical.”

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First WHO warning was December 31.

Fauci: US Given Wrong Information About Virus “Right From The Beginning” (JTN)

The U.S. was given inaccurate information about the coronavirus at the beginning of the crisis Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Saturday. When Fox News host Jesse Watters asked Fauci if he believes China or the World Health Organization “misled” him or if the WHO leader himself could have been “deceived,” Fauci noted that while he does not know the details behind the inaccurate information, it was disseminated from the start of the crisis. “You know I don’t know where the missteps went, the only thing I know what the end result was, that early on we did not get correct information,” Fauci said.


“And the incorrect information was propagated right from the beginning because you know when the first cases came out, that were identified I think on December 31st in China and we became aware of this, they said this was just animal to human period.” “Now we know retrospectively that there was ongoing transmission from human to human in China, probably at least a few weeks before then,” he said. Fauci said once the illness hit the U.S. it became evident “that was misinformation right from the beginning.” He added that “whosever fault that was, you know, we’re gonna go back and take a look at that when this is all over, but clearly it was not the right information that was given to us.”

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She’s Greek, and those guys are all doing well. It’s the olive oil.

102-Year-Old NY Woman Beats COVID-19 With Hydroxychloroquine (CBS)

A 102-year-old woman who was diagnosed with the coronavirus defied the odds and is now recovering. At 102 years old, Sophie Avouris, of Yonkers, has seen a lot in her life, entering this world in 1918 at the start of the Spanish flu. “She survived it, thank goodness,” her daughter, Effie Strouthides, said. Strouthides says back in March, doctors at a Manhattan nursing home and rehab facility called to tell her Avouris, who was recovering at the facility from hip surgery, tested positive for COVID-19. “And we were thinking at 102 years old, at high risk, she might not make it,” Strouthides said. Because the facility was on lockdown, Strouthides called her mom to have a conversation that she thought would be the last.


“Once or twice I managed to let her know how much I loved her and she told me how much she loved me,” she said. According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults who are 65 and older. Dr. Taimur Mirza oversaw Avouris’ care and says her prognosis initially was not good. “Her course in the beginning, it was a little bit rough. For a while there, she required some oxygen, then we started her on the combination of the hydroxychloroquine and the azithromycin,” Mirza said. After a week of treatment, Avouris started showing signs of improvement. By week three, she no longer had the virus. “She didn’t have the cough anymore, and, you know, it was just miraculous to see a woman of her age recover from this,” Mirza said.

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Waaaay too late.

New Zealand Preparing To End Lockdown (Metro)

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the country is ‘turning a corner’ in the battle against coronavirus after recording the lowest number of new cases in three weeks. She praised residents for mounting a ‘wall of defence’ which is ‘breaking the chain of transmission’ following the swift implementation of lockdown measures. The country has recorded 992 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with just one death so far. Health officials said there were 29 new cases on Thursday, the fourth successive daily drop since 89 were recorded on Sunday and the latest sign of a flattening of the curve. Ms Ardern suggested the four-week lockdown could be softened in just over a weeks’ time, allowing some to return to work if social distancing rules can be maintained.

The PM said New Zealanders’ strict adherence to the rules during the four-week lockdown had ‘saved lives’. She added: ‘At the halfway mark I have no hesitation in saying, that what New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge. ‘In the face of the greatest threat to human health we have seen in over a century, Kiwis have quietly and collectively implemented a nationwide wall of defence. ‘You are breaking the chain of transmission. And you did it for each other.’ But she cautioned against taking a foot off the pedal, adding: ‘We have what we need to win this marathon. You have stayed calm, you’ve been strong, you’ve saved lives, and now we need to keep going.’ Ms Ardern said the government will decide on April 20 whether to relax or extend lockdown measures, which are currently due to expire on April 22.

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But don’t worry about Kashkari, he’ll be fine. No matter how many trillions he wastes.

America Should Be Ready For 18 Months Of Shutdowns – Fed’s Neel Kashkari (MW)

‘This could be a long, hard road that we have ahead of us until we get to either an effective therapy or a vaccine. It’s hard for me to see a V-shaped recovery under that scenario.’ That’s Neel Kashkari, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, painting a rather gloomy picture in a CBS interview on Sunday morning of what lies ahead for the U.S. economy as the country continues to battle the coronavirus outbreak. Kashkari, while acknowledging the downside of what a prolonged shutdown could mean for the economy, said the U.S., ‘barring some health-care miracle,’ is looking at an 18-month strategy of rolling shutdowns based on what has happened in other countries.


“We could have these waves of flareups, controls, flareups and controls until we actually get a therapy or a vaccine,” he said. “We need to find ways of getting the people who are healthy, who are at lower risk back to work and then providing the assistance to those who are most at risk, who are going to need to be quarantined or isolated for the foreseeable future.” Looking ahead, Kashkari doesn’t envision a quick rebound for the U.S. economy, which has already endured more than 16 million job losses in the past three weeks. “This could be a long, hard road that we have ahead of us until we get to either an effective therapy or a vaccine,” he said. “It’s hard for me to see a V-shaped recovery under that scenario.”

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This started back in December.

China Is Censoring Research On COVID-19 Origins (NW)

The Chinese government appears to be censoring research on the origins of the COVID-19 epidemic by requiring scientists to run their studies by the Ministry of Science and Technology, a since-deleted page on a university website shows. According to a cached version of that page from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan that Newsweek reviewed, requirements were updated so that scientists would need to have their study approved by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology before publication: “1. Academic papers on the traceability of the new coronavirus must be reviewed by the academic committee of the school before publication, focusing on the authenticity of the paper and whether it is suitable for publication.

After the review is passed, the school reports to the Ministry of Science and Technology, which can only be published after the review by the Ministry of Science and Technology.” China has faced repeated internal and external accusations of censorship surrounding research into COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Local Chinese officials in Wuhan also are known to have suppressed information about the initial outbreak, even detaining whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang. Wenliang later died from COVID-19, and Chinese authorities offered a “solemn apology” to the medical practitioner’s family for how he had been treated. Back in February, The New York Times shared videos of Chinese citizens warning that research into coronavirus was being censored and removed from the internet.

“My purpose is to make sure that all this information is not lost or deleted,” one of the unidentified Chinese nationals said with her face covered in the clip. “We don’t know what information and when the authorities will censor,” another unidentified person said. “So we are trying to be faster than the authorities.” U.S. government officials, and other international leaders, have criticized China for not being transparent about the coronavirus pandemic. Toronto-based cyber research group Citizen Lab reported in early March that Chinese social media had begun censoring keywords associated with the coronavirus as well as criticism of the government’s response to the crisis, according to Reuters.

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Since there is such a link between pollution and literally everything else on the planet, feel free to consider this a piece of empty fluff.

Experts See Worrisome Link Between Coronavirus, Pollution (Hill)

Advocates and Democratic lawmakers are raising concerns over new research that suggests air pollution, water access and other environmental conditions are exacerbating the effects of the coronavirus on low-income and minority communities. A recent Harvard study found that people who live in areas with more exposure to air pollution are more likely to die from the pandemic, while other research shows that black and Latino communities people are disproportionately affected by the disease. “In public health, it’s often said that your ZIP code is more indicative of your health outcomes than your genetic code,” Lubna Ahmed, the director of environmental health at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, told The Hill.


Polluting industries are frequently located near low-income and minority communities. One assessment published by the American Public Health Association in 2018 showed that nonwhite and low-income communities are harder hit by pollution. Authors of the more recent Harvard study on the coronavirus said their results “suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outcomes.” That study added to a growing body of research on the overall health risks to communities exposed to high pollution levels, neighborhoods that are often occupied by people of color and low-income residents.

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“But first they need to actually work.”

After The Lockdown, Europe Debates Exit Strategies (AFR)

Across Europe there are signs that observance of stringent social distancing measures by the vast majority of the public – better compliance than many experts had expected – has led to a big decline in viral transmission. The key figure is the “reproduction number” R, measuring the average number of new cases generated by an infected individual. If R is above 1, an outbreak spreads; if it is below 1, it contracts. For COVID-19, R was between 2.5 and 3 in most places before any measures were introduced. According to a leading scientist in the UK’s fight against the disease, the latest evidence shows a steep fall in the R rate to around 0.6 now, which would quickly suppress the pandemic. However, deaths are still rising fast because of the delay between infection and when serious symptoms develop.

[..] If the UK can achieve its target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April and ramp up capacity further over the following months, it will be possible to test individuals in the community who report COVID-19 symptoms. In theory, this would then be followed by the tracing, testing and isolating of people who have been in contact with them if they are infected. This type of contact tracing, which involves questioning patients directly, took place when the first UK cases were reported but soon stopped when the pandemic swamped the country’s extremely limited testing capacity. “Evidence suggests that countries that are able to do very high levels of testing have many more options to allow people greater social mobility,” says Steven Riley at Imperial College London. “Some really innovative solutions will play a part. Contact tracing based on a mobile phone app is being looked at.”

[..] For many scientists, the key to ending the lockdowns is mass testing for COVID-19 infection, which detects the presence of the virus. Paul Romer, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, has outlined a plan for mass testing in the US that he believes would allow for much of the economy to reopen. However, this requires each person being tested every 14 days – or 22 million tests a day – a mammoth undertaking in terms of labs, chemicals, health workers and data analysis, even if such tests are constitutionally acceptable. In the UK, the epidemiologist Julian Peto has made a similar proposal – weekly tests, running to 10 million a day. Large-scale antibody testing, to show whether individuals have been infected in the past and still have some immunity, is a more tantalising prospect because they would only need to be conducted occasionally and could potentially be bought at a pharmacy.

But first they need to actually work. Specialised labs are carrying out studies to determine antibody levels in samples of the population but no one has yet developed an antibody kit reliable enough for widespread use in homes. Kits evaluated by the UK government have failure rates of 30 to 50 per cent. Eventually antibody tests could give individuals “immunity passports” to show that they are safe from infection, Professor Riley says, “but there’s some very important science to do first”. The key questions that have still to be answered are how different antibody levels relate to resistance to infection and how long any immune protection is likely to last.

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Demand is down 20%, production maybe 10%. You do the math.

Giant Oil Output Cuts Make Ripple, Not Big Waves (R.)

Muted oil price gains on Monday show record output cuts by giant producers will still leave them with a mountain to climb to restore market balance, industry watchers said, with the coronavirus pandemic decimating demand just as stocks swell. The morning after OPEC and allies led by Russia agreed to reduce output by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) in May and June – equal to nearly 10% of global supply – prices gained less than 5% and are still 50-60% down for the year so far. That headline cut by the grouping known as OPEC+ may be more than four times deeper than the previous record set in 2008, and may provide a floor for prices according to some analysts, but the reduction still dwarfed by the near 30 million bpd drop in demand in April already anticipated by forecasters like Goldman Sachs.

What’s more, governments in countries around the globe are considering extending travel and social lockdown measures that have sapped fuel use in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. “Even if these cuts provide a floor to prices they will not be able to boost prices given the scale of inventory builds we are still staring at,” Energy Aspects analyst Virendra Chauhan said, referring to storage tanks and ships around the world the are filling up fast amid the slide in demand from end-users. “The absence of hard commitments from the United States or other G20 members is (a) shortcoming of the deal.” G20 nations have been urged to help reduce the supply glut, but there was little detail on the outcome of Friday talks between energy ministers from the group and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile analysts said that while the core number in the deal suggests a near 10 million bpd cut, Middle East producers like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait will likely have to reduce by more than the 23% cut to which they signed up, as they had begun to ramp up output in April amid a price war before the agreement was struck. “This 9.7 million b/d ‘headline’ deal represents a 12.4 million bpd cut from claimed April OPEC+ production (given the Saudi, UAE, Kuwait ongoing surge) but an only 7.2 million bpd cut from 1Q20 average production levels,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note.

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It’s not just Texas where various religious sects feel exempt from society at large. Remember the one that started the epidemic in South Korea? Nice thing in Greece is the government actually pays the salaries of the priests.

Greek Government To Go After Priests Flouting Quarantine (K.)

The government has asked for a prosecutor to press charges against two priests who provided communion to the faithful Sunday despite a ban on church attendance. One of the priests, in the Athens neighborhood of Koukaki, was photographed from a nearby building secretly giving communion to people through the back door. The other incident happened in St. Spyridon Church in the city of Corfu. “What happened today in churches in Koukaki and Corfu is a violation of the law and of the Holy Synod’s orders and put the lives of citizens and public health in great danger. I contacted the Minister of Justice so that he can ask the prosecuting authorities to intervene,” said Nikos Hardalias, Deputy Minister of Civil Protection.


Authorities’ main concern remains attempts to flout strict quarantine measures during the week up to Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated next Sunday, by attending church and engage in the customary exodus from the cities to the countryside. From 6 am to 3 pm Sunday, 38 people were stopped trying to leave cities and fined 300 euros each.

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The mortally lost British nation cheer their PM’s health as he’s slow-murdering Julian Assange and letting people starve.

Lockdown: Not Novels And Family Time But Food Parcels And Hardship (G.)

Last week, I spoke to Anna Rogers, a Polish-born Londoner who lives in Brixton. She works for a charity called Money A+E, which operates across the south of the capital. It offers advice about debt, benefits and other financial issues to people who are often facing extreme hardship. It is a small set-up, with only four dedicated advisers. Since the coronavirus crisis began, the number of people getting in touch has tripled and is rising all the time. Rogers spoke matter-of-factly about the defining feature of many who now need her help. “They are people without any income,” she said. Many are migrant workers who have been sacked by small businesses or had cash-in-hand work – in, say, the building trade – suddenly withdrawn. In desperation, some say they would like to return to their countries of origin to be with their families, but that option is cut off right now.

A lot of them have no experience of the British benefits system, and few of the language skills and insider knowledge needed to navigate it. “The universal credit system never worked terribly well,” Rogers said. “But now people are saying that the system crashes, or they can’t upload documents.” Not everyone has internet access, and the sudden closure of public libraries has meant that even fewer people can get online. Even if they manage to do so, there is now an ominous sense that with the system under such pressure, the standard five-week wait for universal credit is bound to increase.

So, for now, Rogers and her colleagues have to introduce people to the most basic kinds of help. One fairly reliable source of food assistance, she said, was the array of new mutual aid groups that have sprung up at the most local level: “Fingers crossed, they can get people some food parcels.” When she spoke about the details of her work, her words had a palpable sense not just of sadness, but of urgency and a clear sense that things were only going to get worse, and quickly. The fact that we now rarely leave our homes means few people are aware of what is actually going on all over the country. Our field of vision is replete with statistics, and broad-brush warnings about the near future: from the daily death toll to the warnings from big banks of $5.5 trillion in lost global output, to the million or so people said to have newly applied for benefits in the UK. A very human crisis caused by Covid-19 is already here, beyond the illness itself, and it demands our attention.

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It must be possible to run 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 the process.

Thanks everyone for your generous donations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth. It’s good for your mental health.

 

Mar 232020
 


Harris&Ewing House-Capitol tunnel (may get moving walk), Washington, DC 1939

 

How Long to 1 Million US Cases? (Mish)
Nobel Laureate Predicts A Quicker Coronavirus Recovery (LAT)
Canadian Doctor Rigs Ventilator to Treat 9 Patients Instead of One (IE)
Coronavirus May Have Existed In Italy Since November: Local Researcher (CGTN)
The Epicenter of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Humanitarian Crises in Italy (NEJM)
The Government Budget Deficit Is About To Explode (CNBC)
Senate Democrats Block Mammoth Coronavirus Stimulus Package (Hill)
Blame Game Heats Up As Senate Motion Fails (Hill)
Total Cost of Her COVID-19 Treatment: $34,927.43 (Time)
Coronavirus Reveals Financial Irresponsibility Of Americans (Hill)
Preventing COVID-19 From Infecting the Commercial Mortgage Market (Barrack)
Singapore Airlines Slashes 96% Of Capacity, Grounds Most Planes (CNA)
China’s Housing Bubble Bursts (ZH)
New Zealand To Go Into Month-Long Lockdown (G.)

 

 

Cases 345,292 (+ 33,496 from yesterday’s 311,796)

Deaths 14,925 (+ 1,854 from yesterday’s 13,071)

 

 

Haven’t shown these two graphs from Worldometer in a while. Obvious enough?!

 

 

 

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

One look at the US suffices:

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 13% !! –

 

 

From SCMP: (SCMP appears to have given up on timely updating)

 

 

From COVID2019Live.info:

 

 

From COVID2019.app:

 

 

Reported US coronavirus cases via @CNN:

3/1: 89
3/2: 105
3/3: 125
3/4: 159
3/5: 227
3/6: 331
3/7: 444
3/8: 564
3/9: 728
3/10: 1,000
3/11: 1,267
3/12: 1,645
3/13: 2,204
3/14: 2,826
3/15: 3,505
3/16: 4,466
3/17: 6,135
3/18: 8,760
3/19: 13,229
3/20: 18,763
3/21: 25,740
Now: 35,070

Note: unlike many other nations, US numbers are updated several times a day.
Note 2: about half of US cases are in New York State. It it were a country, it would be in 7th place in the world.

 

 

The US would have to pass China in total infections by Thursday, 35,000 vs 81,000 now. Almost tripling in 3 days. I don’t know, and I’m not the biggest optimist around here.

How Long to 1 Million US Cases? (Mish)

Inquiring minds are investigating a relatively new data feed from the Covid Tracking Project. I plot four data series for the US: Negative tests, positive tests, hospitalized, and deaths. Arguably, hospitalizations are the most significant column but the project only has two days worth of data. Once I have another dfats point or two, I will plot a trendline manually.


Trendlines At the current pace, the number of positive coronavirus cases would hit 100,000 on March 26, and 1,000,000 on April 3. At the current pace, the number of coronavirus deaths would hit 1,000 on March 26, and 10,000 on April 5. Those are not my projections, those are observations of what would happen if the current trends last that long at the same pace.

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Your good news of the day. Based on new deaths levelling off.

Nobel Laureate Predicts A Quicker Coronavirus Recovery (LAT)

Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist, began analyzing the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide in January and correctly calculated that China would get through the worst of its coronavirus outbreak long before many health experts had predicted. Now he foresees a similar outcome in the United States and the rest of the world. While many epidemiologists are warning of months, or even years, of massive social disruption and millions of deaths, Levitt says the data simply don’t support such a dire scenario — especially in areas where reasonable social distancing measures are in place. “What we need is to control the panic,” he said. In the grand scheme, “we’re going to be fine.”

Here’s what Levitt noticed in China: On Jan. 31, the country had 46 new deaths due to the novel coronavirus, compared with 42 new deaths the day before. Although the number of daily deaths had increased, the rate of that increase had begun to ease off. Essentially, although the car was still speeding up, it was not accelerating as rapidly as before. “This suggests that the rate of increase in number of the deaths will slow down even more over the next week,” Levitt wrote in a report he sent to friends Feb. 1 that was widely shared on Chinese social media. And soon, he predicted, the number of deaths would be decreasing every day.

Three weeks later, Levitt told the China Daily News that the virus’ rate of growth had peaked. He predicted that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in China would end up around 80,000, with about 3,250 deaths. This forecast turned out to be remarkably accurate: As of March 16, China had counted a total of 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths — in a nation of nearly 1.4 billion people where roughly 10 million die every year. The number of newly diagnosed patients has dropped to around 25 a day, with no cases of community spread reported since Wednesday. Now Levitt, who received the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing complex models of chemical systems, is seeing similar turning points in other nations, even ones that did not instill the draconian isolation measures that China did.

He analyzed 78 countries with more than 50 reported cases of COVID-19 every day and sees “signs of recovery.” He’s not looking at cumulative cases, but the number of new cases every day — and the percentage growth in that number from one day to the next. [..] Based on the experience of the Diamond Princess, he estimates that being exposed to the new coronavirus doubles a person’s risk of dying in the next two months. However, most people have an extremely low risk of death in a two-month period, and that risk remains extremely low even when doubled.

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More good news. He can do it in 10 minutes.

Canadian Doctor Rigs Ventilator to Treat 9 Patients Instead of One (IE)

As hospitals scramble to secure more ventilators, some doctors are getting creative in order to help their patients. Such is the case with Canadian doctor Dr. Alain Gauthier, an anesthetist at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital in Ontario. Gauthier, who has a Ph.D. in respiratory mechanics, turned one hospital ventilator into a machine that can serve nine clients using do-it-yourself mechanics. The process was so brilliant that some have even called him an “evil genius.” Gauthier was inspired by YouTube videos created by two Detroit doctors in 2006, according to CBC News. He said he created a complex ventilator to offer people the best chance at survival. “At one point we may not have other options,” Gauthier told CBC News. “The option could be well, we let people die or we give that a chance.”

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I would lend much more credence to this if it didn’t come from the state-run China Global Television Network. It feels like they want to plant the narrative out there that it didn’t start in China at all.

Coronavirus May Have Existed In Italy Since November: Local Researcher (CGTN)

As COVID-19 spreads across the world, many are interested in the origin of the virus behind this deadly disease. Fingers have been pointed at China, the U.S. and other places. Recently, a pharmacological researcher provided another possible lead to National Public Radio (NPR), a U.S. media outlet. Dr. Giuseppe Remuzzi, director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Italy, said he heard from general practitioners in the country’s Lombardy region that “they remember having seen very strange pneumonia, very severe, particularly in old people in December and even November.” “This means that the virus was circulating, at least in [the northern region of Lombardy and before we were aware of this outbreak occurring in China,” he told NPR.

Though Dr. Remuzzi originally used these words to answer a different question – why Italy acted later than expected on COVID-19 – NPR singled out this particular information in a tweet because it may relate to the origin of the novel coronavirus. China’s CCTV did the same thing by putting it on the headline of their report, though Dr. Remuzzi’s latest research mainly concerns how dire the situation is for Italy rather than the origin of the disease. What’s more interesting is that the English-language comments under the NPR tweet seem to completely differ from the Chinese-language ones under the CCTV Weibo. Many English comments suspect that China hid the situation from the world for a long time and that’s why similar symptoms showed up in Italy before the outbreak.

“China lied, people died” was most liked comment under NPR’s tweet. “So the Chinese government covered it up for even longer than we thought,” another comment said. A lot of Chinese comments, on the other hand, concluded that the virus originated in the U.S., so both China and Italy are victims. “Go to Trump for answers,” said a Weibo comment with more than 2,500 likes. “COVID-19 is a U.S. virus,” said another comment.

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When hospitals become super-spreaders. All it takes is enough sick people.

“Lombardy’s health care workers have been badly hit w/ infections–the differences with other regions are staggering. A recent paper by local docs argues that hospitals might be a key source of transmission there.”

The Epicenter of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Humanitarian Crises in Italy (NEJM)

In a pandemic, patient-centered care is inadequate and must be replaced by community-centered care. Solutions for Covid-19 are required for the entire population, not only for hospitals. The catastrophe unfolding in wealthy Lombardy could happen anywhere. Clinicians at a hospital at the epicenter call for a long-term plan for the next pandemic. We work at the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, a brand-new state-of-the-art facility with 48 intensive-care beds. Despite being a relatively small city, this is the epicenter of the Italian epidemic, listing 4,305 cases at this moment — more than Milan or anywhere else in the country. Lombardy is one of the richest and most densely populated regions in Europe and is now the most severely affected one. The WHO reported 74,346 laboratory-confirmed cases in Europe on March 18 — 35,713 of them in Italy.


Our own hospital is highly contaminated, and we are far beyond the tipping point: 300 beds out of 900 are occupied by Covid-19 patients. Fully 70% of ICU beds in our hospital are reserved for critically ill Covid-19 patients with a reasonable chance to survive. The situation here is dismal as we operate well below our normal standard of care. Wait times for an intensive care bed are hours long. Older patients are not being resuscitated and die alone without appropriate palliative care, while the family is notified over the phone, often by a well-intentioned, exhausted, and emotionally depleted physician with no prior contact. But the situation in the surrounding area is even worse. Most hospitals are overcrowded, nearing collapse while medications, mechanical ventilators, oxygen, and personal protective equipment are not available.

Patients lay on floor mattresses. The health care system struggles to deliver regular services — even pregnancy care and child delivery — while cemeteries are overwhelmed, which will create another public health problem. In hospitals, health care workers and ancillary staff are alone, trying to keep the system operational. Outside the hospitals, communities are neglected, vaccination programs are on standby, and the situation in prisons is becoming explosive with no social distancing. We have been in quarantine since March 10. Unfortunately, the outside world seems unaware that in Bergamo, this outbreak is out of control.


Western health care systems have been built around the concept of patient-centered care, but an epidemic requires a change of perspective toward a concept of community-centered care. What we are painfully learning is that we need experts in public health and epidemics, yet this has not been the focus of decision makers at the national, regional, and hospital levels. We lack expertise on epidemic conditions, guiding us to adopt special measures to reduce epidemiologically negative behaviors. For example, we are learning that hospitals might be the main Covid-19 carriers, as they are rapidly populated by infected patients, facilitating transmission to uninfected patients. Patients are transported by our regional system,1 which also contributes to spreading the disease as its ambulances and personnel rapidly become vectors. Health workers are asymptomatic carriers or sick without surveillance; some might die, including young people, which increases the stress of those on the front line.

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“It’s truly a bridge to the other side of an act of God…”

The Government Budget Deficit Is About To Explode (CNBC)

Remember when people were all worked up over trillion-dollar government budget deficits? Those might seem like the good old days, once Congress and the White House finish up the coronavirus rescue package expected to be approved in the next few days. Estimates of just how big the final bill would be vary, but it’s assured that it will be a historic moment for sheer fiscal force being exerted at a time of economic duress. Administration statements over the past few days point to something on the order of $2 trillion in economic juice. By contrast, then-President Barack Obama ushered an $831 billion package through during the financial crisis.

That type of fiscal burden comes as the government already has chalked up $624.5 billion in red ink through just the first five months of the fiscal year, which started in October. That spending pace extrapolated through the full fiscal year would lead to a $1.5 trillion deficit, and that’s aside from any of the spending to combat the coronavirus. Already, the national debt stands at more than $23.5 trillion and will be on track to eclipse $25 trillion. Taxpayers shelled out $574.6 billion in fiscal 2019 on interest payments for the debt and another $229.1 billion in fiscal 2020. In short, the shock from the COVID-19 spread will blow a fiscal hole through Washington, D.C., that could take years if not decades to patch.

Hand-wringing over what this will all do to the debt and deficit situation, however, will have to wait for another day. In times of crisis, there is little patience for fiscal austerity, only a sense of urgency that while government spending can’t stop the virus from spreading, it can mitigate what will be profound economic damage. “It’s truly a bridge to the other side of an act of God,” economist Paul McCulley told CNBC.com. “We’ll deal down the road with the impacts on so many fronts of society with the whole thing. Right now, worrying about fiscal incontinence is the exact opposite of where we should be. We should have fiscal robustness implemented through effectively a joint venture between fiscal and monetary policy.”

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Romney to Senate Dems: “Keep this up a little longer and we will go from social distancing to social destruction.”

Senate Democrats Block Mammoth Coronavirus Stimulus Package (Hill)

Senate Democrats on Sunday blocked a coronavirus stimulus package from moving forward as talks on several key provisions remain stalled. Senators voted 47-47 on advancing a “shell” bill, a placeholder that the text of the stimulus legislation would have been swapped into, falling short of the three-fifths threshold needed to advance the proposal. Hopes of a quick stimulus deal quickly unraveled on Sunday as the four congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to break the impasse. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also delayed the procedural vote for three hours as they tried to get a deal. Democratic senators argue that the GOP bill includes several “non-starters” and walks back areas of agreement, such as expanding unemployment insurance, they thought they had reached with Republicans.

They emerged from a closed-door lunch fuming over the bill circulated by Republicans and called for McConnell to hold off on the 3 p.m. cloture vote. “We are pleading with McConnell not to call this vote,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said after the lunch. “It’s a serious mistake. We have not negotiated this to the point of agreement yet.” Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is up for reelection in a deeply red state, said that the Senate needed to be “as unified as possible.” “We don’t need split votes,” he said. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) added that the proposal put forward by Republicans was “totally inadequate.” That resulted in McConnell delaying the vote to 6 p.m.

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I vote against all politicians.

Blame Game Heats Up As Senate Motion Fails (Hill)

The finger-pointing on Capitol Hill reached a fever pitch Sunday evening, as both sides rushed to blame the other after a Senate motion to move a mammoth coronavirus relief bill failed on the chamber floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly took to the floor to hammer Democratic leaders, particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for what he characterized as petty obstruction that ignores the urgency of the crisis. “We were doing a good job of coming together until this morning, when the Speaker showed up — we don’t have a Speaker in the Senate, that’s in the House — and when the leader [Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)] and the speaker came in [they] blew everything up,” an agitated McConnell, his face flushed, said walking off the Senate floor.

Democrats quickly countered with accusations that it was McConnell who had abandoned the negotiations the night before, when the Senate leader announced that Republicans would begin drafting the massive stimulus package before Democrats had endorsed it. “There was a good spirit of negotiation into early last night. And right about 8 o’clock, our side sensed a sort of change in attitude, an unwillingness to give and negotiate, for reasons we don’t fully understand,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). The tense back-and-forth came moments after Democrats blocked a procedural motion to advance Congress’s third round of emergency relief — a package approaching $2 trillion — in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated markets, sparked mass layoffs and ravaged businesses large and small across the country.

Democrats have raised a long list of objections to the Republicans’ proposal, saying the bill does too little to protect the unemployed, feed the hungry, subsidize states and cushion students facing mounds of debt. They’re also up in arms over language to provide up to $500 billion in loans and guarantees for corporations, at the sole discretion of the administration.

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And she was lucky enough to get tested.

Total Cost of Her COVID-19 Treatment: $34,927.43 (Time)

When Danni Askini started feeling chest pain, shortness of breath and a migraine all at once on a Saturday in late February, she called the oncologist who had been treating her lymphoma. Her doctor thought she might be reacting poorly to a new medication, so she sent Askini to a Boston-area emergency room. There, doctors told her it was likely pneumonia and sent her home. Over the next several days, Askini saw her temperature spike and drop dangerously, and she developed a cough that gurgled because of all the liquid in her lungs. After two more trips to the ER that week, Askini was given a final test on the seventh day of her illness, and once doctors helped manage her flu and pneumonia symptoms, they again sent her home to recover. She waited another three days for a lab to process her test, and at last she had a diagnosis: COVID-19.

A few days later, Askini got the bills for her testing and treatment: $34,927.43. “I was pretty sticker-shocked,” she says. “I personally don’t know anybody who has that kind of money.” Like 27 million other Americans, Askini was uninsured when she first entered the hospital. She and her husband had been planning to move to Washington, D.C. this month so she could take a new job, but she hadn’t started yet. Now that those plans are on hold, Askini applied for Medicaid and is hoping the program will retroactively cover her bills. If not, she’ll be on the hook. She’ll be in good company. Public health experts predict that tens of thousands and possibly millions of people across the United States will likely need to be hospitalized for COVID-19 in the foreseeable future.

And Congress has yet to address the problem. On March 18, it passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which covers testing costs going forward, but it doesn’t do anything to address the cost of treatment. While most people infected with COVID-19 will not need to be hospitalized and can recover at home, according to the World Health Organization, those who do need to go to the ICU can likely expect big bills, regardless of what insurance they have. As the U.S. government works on another stimulus package, future relief is likely to help ease some economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but gaps remain.

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Of course there are Americans who borrow and spend too much. But how for the love of God is that a licence to even risk labeling people working 3 jobs and still not making ends meet, as irresponsible idiots who should save more? Who is irresponsible around here?

Coronavirus Reveals Financial Irresponsibility Of Americans (Hill)

How long could you sustain your household if you were to stop earning income? If you are like most Americans, the answer is not for long. Only 40 percent of Americans can afford an unexpected $1,000 expense with their savings. In fact, nearly 80 percent of workers are living paycheck to paycheck. It is no surprise that the probability of an economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic caused many to worry. In major cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, restaurants and businesses have been ordered to close. For many hourly workers, this means no paychecks in the coming weeks. Almost one in five Americans have already lost their jobs or have reduced hours.

At the same time, salaried workers are concerned about job security, as mass layoffs at numerous companies loom. While the situation is understandably stressful for every person affected, it serves as a sobering reminder that Americans must learn to live within their means and regularly save money. The need for all Americans to be able to sustain themselves for at least a few months on savings is accentuated during a time of crisis. This means planning ahead when times are good. Financial planners suggest saving at least 20 percent of take home income, while spending at most 30 percent on discretionary items. Yet too many workers still fail to think twice about spending entire paychecks for things they want but do not need.

Recent decades have offered us relative luxury. More than 80 percent of Americans own smartphones. The same portion of households own one high definition flat screen television, while over half of households own more than one. Over 60 percent of Americans dine out at least once a week, while nearly 20 percent dine out three or more times a week. The current panic is refocusing us on what is important. We now stockpile the things necessary for our health. Smartphones, fancy televisions, and restaurant meals are usually luxuries rather than necessities. Living within our means is not just rhetoric. It is a means of guarding ourselves during times like these. We have so much to learn from those who came before us. How many of our grandparents fared the austerity of the World Wars and the Great Depression, discovering to save, mend, and repair?

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The richer suffer more, they’ll have you know. What pricks this dick’s balloon, though, is suggesting that prior to corona, there was a “normal chain of revenue generation etc.” and “solid economic fundamentals”. There haven’t been any normal markets, and that includes commercial mortgages, since Alan Greenspan. You may like to disagree, but just wait till the Fed folds.

Preventing COVID-19 From Infecting the Commercial Mortgage Market (Barrack)

As a major participant in the non-bank real estate lending industry, I am fully supportive of the nation’s extraordinary response to contain COVID-19. The profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the public health and safety of all Americans is unprecedented and the response measures being taken by federal, state, and local government agencies are essential and critical. One aspect of this all-out assault on an invisible enemy — in the effort to suppress the contagion and manage the precious resources of our medical community and first responders — has been the unfortunate but necessary cessation of general commerce nationwide.

Now everyone, from corporations and small and mid-sized businesses to employees and laborers from all walks of life, has been displaced from the normal chain of revenue generation, cash flow, and income necessary to meet their obligations, from payment of salaries, rent payments, mortgage payments, and all other debts and bills required in the daily life of every business and every American. As a direct consequence of the necessary response measures to COVID-19, high performing mortgage loans across the entire commercial real estate sector (approximately $16 trillion in aggregate), which had previously been grounded in solid economic fundamentals, are suddenly experiencing a temporary meltdown in cash flows.

We are seeing the beginning of a second crisis that will occur in the financial markets that underpin the lifeblood of these employees, workers, and businesses. Based on my own personal past experiences I would like to share with you some thoughts on how to alleviate the potential blockage in the commercial mortgage market which is beginning to raise its perilous head. Addressing this major looming crisis in liquidity in a coordinated manner will be essential in averting a crisis in credit and a long term economic recession.

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This is just one of many such reports, of course. What I found interesting is that just 5 days ago, Singapore Airlines said it would cut flight capacity by 50%. And you wonder: what happened since Wednesday?

Emirates announced yesterday they would cut all flights, only to be told some flights are essential to services. Those are reinstated.

Singapore Airlines Slashes 96% Of Capacity, Grounds Most Planes (CNA)

Singapore Airlines (SIA) will cut 96 per cent of its capacity that had been scheduled up to the end of April, said the airline on Monday (Mar 23). The decision was made after the further tightening of border controls around the world over the last week to stem the COVID-19 outbreak, SIA said in a news release. About 138 SIA and SilkAir planes, out of a total fleet of 147, will be grounded as a result. Scoot, the company’s low-cost unit, will suspend “most of its network” and will ground all but two of its 49 planes. This comes amid the “greatest challenge that the SIA Group has faced in its existence”, the company said.


“It is unclear when the SIA Group can begin to resume normal services, given the uncertainty as to when the stringent border controls will be lifted,” it said. “The resultant collapse in the demand for air travel has led to a significant decline in SIA’s passenger revenues.” Over the last few days, the SIA Group has drawn on its lines of credits to meet its immediate cash flow requirements, it said, adding that it is in discussions with several financial institutions on its future funding requirements. “The company is actively taking steps to build up its liquidity, and to reduce capital expenditure and operating costs,” it added. SIA said it is in talks with aircraft manufacturers to defer upcoming deliveries, in the hopes of delaying payment for those deliveries.

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This is a bigger threat to Xi than the coronavirus. And why does it happen? Because China’s second-largest property developer wants to be the world’s biggest maker of electric cars…

China’s Housing Bubble Bursts (ZH)

Now that the world is firmly focusing on apocalyptic forecasts about the state of the US and global economy, with St Louis Fed president James Bullard the latest to pour gasoline into the fire with his worst-case prediction of a 50% GDP drop and 30% surge in unemployment in Q2, it is easy to forget that China, which started this whole pandemic, is still in economic lockdown. And while Beijing is pretending that the Shanghai Sniffles are now firmly behind it, and forcing people back to work while openly fabricating disease numbers – because like Lloyd Blankfein it has realized that an economic depression is an even worse outcome than millions infected – the reality is that China’s economy is facing an unprecedented crisis of its own.


Today we got a stark reminder of that, when Evergrande Group – China’s second-largest property developer by sales – tumbled in early trading Monday after saying it expects full-year earnings to fall by half. As Bloomberg first reported, the residential property developer said in an exchange filing Sunday that net profit for 2019 is expected to come in it around 33.5 billion yuan ($4.7 billion), a drop of about 50% from the previous year. “The decrease in profit is mainly attributable to the delivery and settlement of the lower-priced clearance stock properties in 2019, which drove down the unit price of the property delivered,” Evergrande said. That sent the firm’s Hong Kong-traded shares down as much as 17.4% on Monday, the biggest intraday drop since July 2015.

And with the stock tumbling by more than two-thirds since its late 2017 highs, Citigroup downgraded the stock to “sell” and slashed its price target by 56%, as the expected decline in core profit was far below Citigroup’s estimate of a 27% year-on-year drop. To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to dump the stock: Evergrande is one of China’s most-indebted developers with net debt of $88.5 billion as of June. As Bloomberg reminds us, the company has been pouring billions of dollars into acquisitions as its Chairman and major shareholder Hui Ka Yan pursues an ambition to make Evergrande the world’s biggest maker of electric cars in the next three to five years.

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Ardern sounds a bit too convinced. It’s still just one view.

New Zealand To Go Into Month-Long Lockdown (G.)

New Zealand is preparing to enter a month-long nationwide lockdown from Wednesday night, with the entire country ordered to stay home apart from those in essential services. On Monday the nation was given two days to prepare for schools, businesses and community services to turn off the lights in a desperate bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The move came after the number of cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand rose past 100. In an address to the nation, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said she was not willing to put the lives of her citizens in danger. “The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable, it would represent the greatest loss of New Zealanders’ lives in our history and I will not take that chance.”

Ardern announced the country would move to level three measures immediately, and then to four – the highest level – on Wednesday from 11.59pm. “I say to all New Zealanders: the government will do all it can to protect you. Now I’m asking you to do everything you can to protect all of us. Kiwis – go home.” The lockdown will last a month, and if the trend of cases slowed, could be partially eased in specific areas after that. Ardern said it was now established that community transmission was happening in New Zealand and that, if it took off, the number of cases would double every five days, with modelling advising the government that tens of thousands of New Zealanders could die.

[..] Ardern said if the country did not lock down it would face a death toll beyond anything ever experienced before, and she wanted to give health services “a fighting chance”. Thirty-six new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed on Monday, bringing the nationwide total to 102, spread across the North and South islands. Ardern said she knew the measures would be anxiety-inducing for many New Zealanders and they needed to be “strong and kind” to each other during the unprecedented crisis. “Today, get your neighbour’s phone number, set up a community group chat, get your gear to work from home, cancel social gatherings of any size or shape, prepare to walk around the block while keeping a two-metre distance between you.

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Oddly appropriate:

 

 

 

 

 

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Mar 212019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with ball 3 1928

 

Why The Fed Keeps Propping Up The Market (Colombo)
Fed’s New Balance Sheet Plan: Get Rid of MBS (WS)
EU Will Only Back Short Brexit Delay If May’s Deal Passes First (G.)
Remain Would Win Second Brexit Referendum Clearly, Poll Indicates (Ind.)
Theresa May: Don’t Blame Me For Brexit Crisis, Blame MPs (G.)
MPs Furious After May Blames Them For Crisis (Ind.)
New Zealand Bans All Assault Weapons Immediately (AP)
Stagnant Capitalism (Varoufakis)
Exposing the Myth of MMT (Rickards)
Australia Construction Slowdown A Major Threat To The Economy (ABC.au)
As Russia Collusion Fades, Ukrainian Plot To Help Clinton Emerges (Solomon)
Sucking Liberals into a New Cold War (William Blum)
Loneliness Estimated To Shorten A Person’s Life By 15 Years (SciAm)
Kale Is Now One Of The Most Pesticide-Contaminated Vegetables (CNBC)

 

 

Yeah, no, more Fed crap and comments about markets and I’ve had enough. A market should be recognized as an action, a process, not as a thing or an object. And the action is price discovery. If that is not taking place you don’t have a market. Anything the Fed props up is not a market. One necessary aspect of price discovery is honesty, people must believe they’re not being tricked. With the way people talk about this now, the language they use risks losing all meaning. Enough already, and that goes for Jesse Colombo too. Who also posted this one on Twitter, which is a lot more relevant than his article. But that’s just me.

 

 

Why The Fed Keeps Propping Up The Market (Colombo)

The bull market of the past decade since the Great Recession has been an unusual one: despite all of the economic damage that occurred during the global financial crisis and rising risks (including global debt rising by $75 trillion), it has been the longest bull market in history. The explanation for this paradox is simple: it’s not an organic bull market because the Fed and other central banks keep stepping in to prop up the market every time it stumbles. Though the Fed has two official mandates (maintaining stable consumer prices and maximizing employment), it has taken on the unofficial third mandate of supporting and boosting the stock market since the Great Recession.

The chart below, which was inspired by market strategist Sven Henrich, shows how the Fed or other central banks have stepped in with more monetary stimulus (quantitative easing, promises to keep interest rates low, etc.) every time the S&P 500 has stumbled over the past decade:

An economy that is growing at 2%, inflation near zero, and Central banks globally required to continue dumping trillions of dollars into the financial system just to keep it afloat is not an economy we should be aspiring to. But despite commentary the financial system has been ‘put back together again,’ then why are Central Banks acting?

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Get rid of them or they’ll blow up America.

Fed’s New Balance Sheet Plan: Get Rid of MBS (WS)

The Fed has a new plan for what to do with its balance sheet and today announced several major components of it:

• Begin tapering the “runoff” of Treasury securities in May. • End the runoff of Treasury securities on September 30. • Continue shedding mortgage-backed securities (MBS) at the current maximum of $20 billion a month, essentially until their gone. • After September, reinvest MBS principal payments into Treasury securities. • Chair Jerome Powell said during the press conference that the balance sheet will by then be “a bit above $3.5 trillion.” • The balance sheet will remain at this level even as the economy grows, thus slowly shrinking in relationship to GDP. • The Fed may sell MBS outright to speed up the process of getting rid of them. • No decision has been made on the delicate issue of the maturity composition of the balance sheet – which would require buying short-term bills for the first time in years to replace longer-term notes and bonds.

The stated balance-sheet doctrine now is that the Fed wants to have sufficient reserves (money that banks deposit at the Fed) to conduct monetary policy efficiently. The interest it pays the banks on those reserves is one of its major tools to manage short-term interest rates.

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It’s not even the main trump card the EU has.

EU Will Only Back Short Brexit Delay If May’s Deal Passes First (G.)

Donald Tusk has put a no-deal Brexit back on the table by saying EU leaders will only agree to a short delay if MPs back Theresa May’s deal next week, on a day of high drama in Brussels and London. After belatedly receiving the prime minister’s formal letter requesting a three-month extension of article 50, and taking a late afternoon phone call with her, the European council president admitted that success appeared “frail, even illusory” on the eve of Thursday’s summit. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, tweeted: “The letter from Theresa May has not solved any problem yet. If the European council [summit of leaders] is to decide on an extension of the deadline for Britain, we would like to know what is the concrete purpose.”

But Tusk said the EU would seek until the very last moment to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal and show “patience and goodwill” despite the “Brexit fatigue” in the capitals. The EU27’s heads of state or government would be likely to agree in principle at the summit on Thursday to an extension up to 23 May or 30 June, and sign it off without needing to meet next week should May be able to find a majority in the Commons at the third time of asking, he said. The European commission is insisting that an extension beyond the date of the European elections on 23 May would require British MEPs to be elected, although others believe there is little risk as long as the UK has left by 1 July when the parliament formally convenes.

“In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days I believe that a short extension will be possible but to be conditional on a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons,” Tusk said. “A question remains open as to the duration of such an extension. Prime Minister May’s proposal of the 30 June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature. Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

The frustration and “tension”, as one senior EU diplomat described it, was made clear by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who told the French parliament on Wednesday afternoon that Paris was willing to block an extension. He said there were only two ways to leave the EU: ratify the withdrawal agreement or a no-deal exit. If parliament did not ratify the withdrawal agreement “the central scenario is a no-deal exit”, he said, adding: “We’re ready.” He stated that if May could not present “sufficient guarantees of the credibility of her strategy” that would lead to the extension being refused and a no-deal exit.

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But it would be undemocratic?!

Remain Would Win Second Brexit Referendum Clearly, Poll Indicates (Ind.)

Nearly two-thirds of people would vote to remain in the EU rather than for Theresa May’s deal if a referendum offering those options were called, a snap poll by YouGov has found. Sixty-one per cent of the population would vote to remain while 39 per cent would opt for the existing deal, However, if people were asked in a public vote whether they would prefer to remain in the EU or leave with no deal in place, Remain would still win, though by the smaller margin of 57-43 per cent. It shows a 22-point lead for Remain over Ms May’s deal, or a 14-point lead for Remain over no deal at all.

The poll, carried out on behalf of the Put it to the People campaign, comes as second referendum expectations have risen. [..] A march in support of a Final Say second referendum takes place on in central London on Saturday and is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of protesters. Meanwhile a “Leave means Leave” protest, also known as the “Brexit betrayal march”, is underway with Brexit supporters walking for two weeks from Sunderland to London demanding the UK leaves the EU on 29 March.

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Carefully crafted utter panic.

Theresa May: Don’t Blame Me For Brexit Crisis, Blame MPs (G.)

Theresa May is facing a furious backlash from her own backbenchers and calls for her resignation after she blamed squabbling MPs for delaying Brexit. In a defiant statement on Wednesday night she told the British public: “I am on your side,” and now hopes to force her deal through parliament next week at the third time of asking. Less than an hour earlier, she had been warned in a private meeting with Conservative MPs that her bid to delay leaving could end up losing her even more votes from her own party.

“She is going into an ever narrower cul-de-sac,” said one former minister. Speaking in Downing Street in a televised address, May said the three-month Brexit delay she had earlier in the day formally requested from EU27 leaders was “a matter of great personal regret for me” – and she would not countenance a longer extension of article 50. With just nine days to go before Britain is due to leave the EU, she laid the blame for the crisis squarely at the door of parliament.

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“Of this I am absolutely sure: you the public have had enough.”

What she missed is that it’s her they’re tired of.

MPs Furious After May Blames Them For Crisis (Ind.)

MPs have called Theresa May “irresponsible”, “disgraceful” and “toxic” after she blamed them for for the UK’s impending failure to leave the EU on 29 March. Labour’s Wes Streeting accused the prime minister of putting MPs’ lives in danger with an “incendiary” address. Ms May used a Downing Street speech to criticise the very people she needs to get her Brexit deal through the Commons at the third time of asking, telling voters that she was “sure” that “you, the public, have had enough” of political games. She said: “You’re tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, knife crime. “You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.”

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It can be done. Just not in the US, too many guns there already.

New Zealand Bans All Assault Weapons Immediately (AP)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand is immediately banning sales of military style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines like the weapons used in last Friday’s attacks on two Christchurch mosques. Ardern announced the ban Thursday and said it would be followed by legislation to be introduced next month. She said the man arrested in the attacks had purchased his weapons legally and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines “done easily through a simple online purchase.” [..] The New Zealand government is asking all owners of assault weapons or now-banned attachments to report them to the government in the next two days before turning them in.

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I think manipulation by central banks is a much bigger problem than stagnation.

Stagnant Capitalism (Varoufakis)

When the Great Depression followed the 1929 stock-market crash, almost everyone acknowledged that capitalism was unstable, unreliable, and prone to stagnation. In the decades that followed, however, that perception changed. Capitalism’s postwar revival, and especially the post-Cold War rush to financialized globalization, resurrected faith in markets’ self-regulating abilities. Today, a long decade after the 2008 global financial crisis, this touching faith once again lies in tatters as capitalism’s natural tendency toward stagnation reasserts itself. The rise of the racist right, the fragmentation of the political center, and mounting geopolitical tensions are mere symptoms of capitalism’s miasma.

A balanced capitalist economy requires a magic number, in the form of the prevailing real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate. It is magic because it must kill two very different birds, flying in two very different skies, with a single stone. First, it must balance employers’ demand for waged labor with the available labor supply. Second, it must equalize savings and investment. If the prevailing real interest rate fails to balance the labor market, we end up with unemployment, precariousness, wasted human potential, and poverty. If it fails to bring investment up to the level of savings, deflation sets in and feeds back into even lower investment.

It takes a heroic disposition to assume that this magic number exists or that, even if it does, our collective endeavors will result in an actual real interest rate close to it. How do free marketeers convince themselves that there exists a single real interest rate (say, 2%) that would inspire investors to funnel all existing savings into productive investments and spur employers to hire everyone who wishes to work at the prevailing wage?

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I’ve kept my distance from the discussion, but this is nice.

Exposing the Myth of MMT (Rickards)

When critics hear that a Green New Deal could potentially cost something like $97 trillion, or proposals for Medicare for all, free tuition, free child care or guaranteed basic income, they say, “That all sounds nice, but we just can’t afford it.” That’s their main argument — that no matter how desirable these programs might be in theory, we just can’t afford them. Most criticism of MMT falls along those lines. Even the Keynesians like those I mentioned earlier, who generally favor large amounts of government spending to stimulate the economy, have come out against MMT. Besides that claim that we can’t afford it, even the Keynesians say MMT would be highly inflationary. If you printed that much money and start handing it out to people, demand would outstrip the output capacity of the economy and you’d get high inflation.

But the MMT advocates have an answer to these objections. They’re not the least bit intimidated by critics who say we can’t afford it. They say, “Yes, we can, and Modern Monetary Theory proves it. Just print the money and monetize the debt. Japanese debt is 2.5 times the United States’ debt, and China’s is higher than ours.” They haven’t collapsed, so we can take on far more debt than we have today. Furthermore, QE did not create much inflation. In fact, the Fed would like to see more inflation than it has. It still can’t produce a sustained 2% inflation rate after all these years. You might think the argument is ridiculous. After all, do we really want to become Japan? But in important ways, the MMT crowd has the upper hand in the debate.

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After 27 years, Australia is finally hitting a recession.

Australia Construction Slowdown A Major Threat To The Economy (ABC.au)

The property market upheaval brings billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s oft-quoted piece of wisdom to mind: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” We are witnessing more naked developers as half-finished projects dot the landscape of our major cities. As the year progresses, many more operators who’ve pushed the boundaries will join them. “Areas of oversupply will see a bit more chaos in the next six to twelve months,” Scott Gray-Spencer, local head of capital markets at the global real estate firm CBRE, told ABC’s The Business. Mr Gray-Spencer sees areas more than 10 kilometres from the city centres of Sydney and Melbourne, and parts of Queensland, as the most vulnerable.

Property investors, who were major targets of the crackdown, accounted for almost 50 per cent of mortgages two to three years ago. They have largely left the market and political uncertainty may keep them on the sidelines for longer as they await the outcome of the looming federal election. Should Labor win, it’s likely investors will wait to see how its plans to curb the negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions pan out. Even though Labor’s proposed negative gearing changes will not affect new housing, investors may still be worried about price growth because the next buyer is unable to negatively gear. So it could be some time before developers see an important group of buyers return in force. If the banks don’t stop them, the less generous tax laws might.


A half-finished apartment block in Cronulla sits idle while it waits for a buyer. (ABC News: John Gunn)

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At first sight it looked like a parody.

As Russia Collusion Fades, Ukrainian Plot To Help Clinton Emerges (Solomon)

After nearly three years and millions of tax dollars, the Trump-Russia collusion probe is about to be resolved. Emerging in its place is newly unearthed evidence suggesting another foreign effort to influence the 2016 election — this time, in favor of the Democrats. Ukraine’s top prosecutor divulged in an interview aired Wednesday on Hill.TV that he has opened an investigation into whether his country’s law enforcement apparatus intentionally leaked financial records during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in an effort to sway the election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

The leak of the so-called “black ledger” files to U.S. media prompted Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign and gave rise to one of the key allegations in the Russia collusion probe that has dogged Trump for the last two and a half years. Ukraine Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko’s probe was prompted by a Ukrainian parliamentarian’s release of a tape recording purporting to quote a top law enforcement official as saying his agency leaked the Manafort financial records to help Clinton’s campaign. The parliamentarian also secured a court ruling that the leak amounted to “an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” Lutsenko told me.

Lutsenko said the tape recording is a serious enough allegation to warrant opening a probe, and one of his concerns is that the Ukrainian law enforcement agency involved had frequent contact with the Obama administration’s U.S. embassy in Kiev at the time. “Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko told me.

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A memorial service was held on Sunday in Washington for William Blum, a former State Department official whose disillusionment with the Vietnam War turned him into a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy. Blum educated a generation of Americans about the rapacious aims of the U.S. abroad, debunking the myth of Washington’s good intentions for the peoples of the world. Blum died on December 9, 2018.

Sucking Liberals into a New Cold War (William Blum)

Cold War Number One: 70 years of daily national stupidity. Cold War Number Two: Still in its youth, but just as stupid. “He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” – President Trump re Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Vietnam. [Washington Post, Nov.e 12, 2017] Putin later added that he knew “absolutely nothing” about Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials. “They can do what they want, looking for some sensation. But there are no sensations.” Numerous U.S. intelligence agencies have said otherwise. Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, responded to Trump’s remarks by declaring: “The president was given clear and indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the election.”

As we’ll see below, there isn’t too much of the “clear and indisputable” stuff. And this of course is the same James Clapper who made an admittedly false statement to Congress in March 2013, when he responded, “No, sir” and “not wittingly” to a question about whether the National Security Agency was collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans. Lies don’t usually come in any size larger than that. Virtually every member of Congress who has publicly stated a position on the issue has criticized Russia for interfering in the 2016 American presidential election. And it would be very difficult to find a member of the mainstream media who has questioned this thesis. What is the poor consumer of news to make of these gross contradictions?

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Time to rephrase ‘social media’. Man evolved living in groups, it’s simple.

Loneliness Estimated To Shorten A Person’s Life By 15 Years (SciAm)

Thanks to remarkable new technologies and the widespread use of social media, we are more “connected” than ever before. Yet as a nation, we are also more lonely. In fact, a recent study found that a staggering 47 percent of Americans often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true for all ages, from teenagers to older adults. The number of people who perceive themselves to be alone, isolated or distant from others has reached epidemic levels both in the United States and in other parts of the world. Indeed, almost two decades ago, the book Bowling Alone pointed to the increasing isolation of Americans and our consequent loss of “social capital.” In Japan, for example, an estimated half million (known as hikikomori) shut themselves away for months on end.

In the United Kingdom, four in 10 citizens report feelings of chronic, profound loneliness, prompting the creation of a new cabinet-level position (the Minister for Loneliness) to combat the problem. While this “epidemic” of loneliness is increasingly recognized as a social issue, what’s less well recognized is the role loneliness plays as a critical determinant of health. Loneliness can be deadly: this according to former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, among others, who has stressed the significant health threat. Loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent study revealed a surprising association between loneliness and cancer mortality risk, pointing to the role loneliness plays in cancer’s course, including responsiveness to treatments.

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Wasn’t kale supposed to not need any?

Kale Is Now One Of The Most Pesticide-Contaminated Vegetables (CNBC)

Often touted for being highly nutritious, kale has joined the list of 11 other fruits and vegetables known to be “dirty,” according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. The watchdog group publishes its “Dirty Dozen” list annually, in which it ranks the 12 produce items that contain the highest amount of pesticide residues. The group analyzes data from the Department of Agriculture’s regular produce testing to determine the list. Ranked alongside kale on the list are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

The last time kale was included in the USDA’s produce tests was 2009 and it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list. “We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal,” said EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin in a release. More than 92 percent of kale had residue from at least two pesticides after washing and peeling the appropriate vegetables, according to the report. Some had up to 18. Almost 60 percent of the kale samples showed residual Dacthal, a pesticide that is known as a possible human carcinogen. The group releases its “Clean Fifteen” list as well, highlighting the 15 produce items with the least amount of pesticide residue detected. It includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons.

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Sep 102018
 


Salvador Dali The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory 1954

 

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)
Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)
Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)
Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)
US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)
What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)
Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)
Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)
Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)
US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)
Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

 

 

Nice way to start the week. I said this would happen, become a trend. Open thee, Sesame.

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)

President Trump is expected to declassify documents connected to the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election, according to Axios, citing allies of the president who say it could happen as soon as this week. Specifically mentioned are documents concerning former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, as well as the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months. • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS – the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election – a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.) • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page – all to take down Trump. -Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill’s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele. Three weeks ago, Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions “Justice” Department? A total joke!” According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign. “Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help

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To reiterate once again: not long after Lehman, Bernanke said the Fed had entered ‘uncharted territory’. They’re still there, groping in the dark. Not a clue, but faking it like pros.

Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)

When Boston Federal Reserve Bank President Eric Rosengren switched from advocating low interest rates to tighter monetary policy, he argued it was time to start crawling back toward “normal” rates even with 5% unemployment and weak growth and inflation. Two years later, Rosengren has joined colleagues in beginning to lay the groundwork for those rate hikes to potentially continue longer and to a higher level than currently expected as the outlook for the economy strengthens. Rates may not only need to become “restrictive,” but the definition of that may be moving up as well, Rosengren said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday following an economic conference here.

“This is not hair on fire. There is upward pressure on inflation, and given that we are already at 2%, labor markets are already tight … that is going to be a situation where we start persistently having inflation above what our target is,” Rosengren said. “There is an argument to normalize policy and probably be mildly restrictive.” The Fed maintains a 2% inflation target, which it is only now reaching after a decade struggling to consistently hit and maintain it. He said the Fed does not need to move faster than the current gradual pace, which has translated into roughly one rate hike per quarter, with the next expected later this month. That steady pace is a luxury gained by starting early, he said, skirting the need to move more quickly and catch up with a tightening economy.

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Incompetent one and all.

Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)

When Boris Johnson decides to go on leadership manoeuvres he tends to be noisy. His latest line is that the prime minister is like some sort of incompetent suicide bomber, handing over the ignition button on her suicide vest to none other than Michel Barnier. Presumably, Mr Johnson would like us to believe that he would in fact willingly blow himself to kingdom come, shouting “Leave means Leave” on his way to enjoying the company of the promised 72 virgins of the Leave campaign. These may prove as mythical as the extra £350m a week for the NHS he once promised his own fanatical supporters. Or something like that.

As Mr Johnson has discovered, metaphors around Brexit can easily get misconstrued and extended way too far. With the suicide bomber analogy, Mr Johnson displayed his usual contempt for good taste and, as ever, took delight on winding up his opponents. These include two of his own former ministers at the Foreign Office, Alistair Burt and Sir Alan Duncan, who know his ways well and may be forgiven for letting off steam. Sir Alan called it disgusting. True, but it did the trick: Johnson is dominating the headlines again, just ahead of the Tory conference and crucial EU summits. It’s pretty obvious what he is up to.

On the substance though, there was little new in this intervention. Mr Johnson has, at least privately, let it be known that he regards the issue of the Irish border as a subsidiary one, unnecessarily getting in the way of his vision of Brexit. He apparently now regards the whole question as a plot by closet Remainers to keep the UK either in the EU or as close to the EU as makes no difference – Brexit in name only.

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The EU can’t solve these issues by moving back to laws that cover traditional media. They need education, or this will fail spectacularly.

Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)

Fought with hashtags, mailshots, open letters and celebrity endorsements, the battle over the European Union’s draft directive on copyright heads for a showdown this week. After two years of debate, members of the European parliament will vote on Wednesday on the legislation, which could change the balance of power between producers of music, news and film and the dominant websites that host their work. Proposed in 2016 to update copyright law for the age of Facebook and Google, the directive has unleashed a ferocious lobbying war. Lawmakers have been bombarded with millions of emails and thousands of calls, many based on standard scripts written by lobbyists. Some have even received death threats, according to the French MEP Virginie Rozière.

Critics claim the proposal will destroy the internet, spelling the end of sharing holiday snaps or memes on Facebook. Proponents are exasperated by such claims, described by German Christian Democrat Axel Voss as “totally wrong” and “fake news”. Amid last-minute writing and rewriting of amendments, the final outcome cannot be predicted. The proposals were rejected by the European parliament in July, despite earlier support in a relevant committee. Among the latest to mobilise in favour were 165 film-makers and screenwriters, including the British director Mike Leigh, who launched an appeal at the Venice film festival last week calling on EU lawmakers to pass the law. In July McCartney pressed MEPs to stop tech firms exploiting musicians.

Europe’s biggest news agencies have also urged MEPs to vote for the law, as they accused Google and Facebook of “plundering” the news and their ad revenues, resulting in a “threat to democracy”. “For the sake of Europe’s free press and democratic values, EU lawmakers should press ahead with copyright reform,” said a statement signed by 20 agencies, including the Press Association and Agence France-Presse. Opponents are no less forceful. Wikipedia shut down its pages in some countries in protest at the plans, which it claims would force the closure of its user-generated encyclopaedia. Berners-Lee is among 70 internet luminaries to oppose the law, arguing it would be transform the internet from an open platform into a tool for “automated surveillance and control”. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has raised concerns about “prepublication censorship”.

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RT reports first US chemical attck in Syria over the weekend.

US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)

Fresh off a sitdown with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Virginia state senator Richard Black turned up on Arab TV last week making an extraordinary claim about one of the US’ closest allies. Mr Black said Britain’s MI6 intelligence service was planning a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, which it would then blame on Mr Assad. “Around four weeks ago, we knew that British intelligence was working towards a chemical attack in order to blame the Syrian government, to hold Syria responsible,” Mr Black said on Al Mayadeen, an Arab news channel based in Beirut. Mr Black said later that he meant the British were planning not to carry out an attack themselves, but to either direct rebels to do so or stage a phoney attack, with actors posing as victims.

Mr Black also said some chemical attacks previously reported to have occurred in Syria were British fakes, pulled off with help from volunteer first responders known as “White Helmets”. “From what I can tell, they have been planning a fake attack, not a genuine one, but one where they actually move people out of a town and they have trained people to portray victims of a gas attack,” Mr Black said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And the plan is to use the White Helmets who have always been involved in these notorious deceptions, to portray an attack.” The State Department flatly rejected Mr Black’s allegations, which echoed what it called “outrageous” Russian and Assad-regime claims that Britain and the US have carried out chemical attacks with help from the White Helmets.

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Not sure looking backward is the way to go. Tempting because of choice details that seem to fit, but this is new.

What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)

In the autumn of 2008 events unfolded in Wall Street that the crushing majority of people around the world had been led to believe could never occur. It was the financial equivalent of watching the sun spinning out of control soon after it rose above the horizon. Humanity watched on in collective disbelief. The ancient Greeks had a term for moments like that one: aporia – a state of intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The Crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly, the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom.

Before long, the repercussions were felt everywhere. The certainties created by decades of of establishment thinking were gone, along with around $40 trillion of equity globally, $14 trillion of household wealth in the US alone, 700,000 US jobs every month, countless repossessed homes everywhere; the list is as long as the numbers it includes are unfathomable. Even McDonald’s, for goodness’ sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America! The collective aporia intensified by the response of governments that had hitherto clinged tenaciously onto fiscal conservatism, as perhaps the 20th century’s last surviving ideology: the pouring of trillions of dollars, euros, yen etc. into a financial system which had been, until a few months before, on a huge roll, accumulating fabulous profits and provocatively professing to have found the pot of gold at the end of some globalised rainbow.

And when that response proved too feeble, our Presidents and Prime Ministers, men and women with impeccable anti-statist neoliberal credentials, embarked upon a spree of nationalising banks, insurance companies and automakers that put even Lenin’s 1917 exploits to shame. Ten years on, the crisis unleashed in Wall Street in 2008 is still with us. It takes different forms in different countries (i.e. a Great Depression in places like Greece, a scourge of middle class savers in countries like Germany, history’s greatest sponsor of brutal inequality in the United States, a permanent cause of geopolitical and trade tensions in Asia, Eastern Europe etc.). It migrates from continent to continent, from country to country. It morphs from an unemployment-generator to a deflation-machine, to another banking crisis, to a maximiser of trade and capital global imbalances.

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Given their role in the whole crisis, why do these banks still exist?

Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)

The return of Greek banks to profit becomes particularly fragile as long as the credit contraction persists. The reduction of loan issues, which has gone on for almost a decade, is depriving the credit system of its main source of revenues – takings from interests – while undermining efforts to improve the expenditure index that in the first half of the year deteriorated for local banks. Domestic lenders’ January-June financial results point to a fresh reduction in interest revenues, ranging from -1.5% to -22.5%, depending on the bank.

At the same time, revenues from commissions have increase by between 0.5% and 5.5% as banks have shifted their focus to increasing takings from commissions, especially after the imposition of capital controls in June 2015. However, the commissions are just a fraction of the interest revenues and cannot offset the losses from the main source of operating profits of banks. The biggest drop in interest revenues in the first half of the year belonged to National Bank (-22.5% to 564.4 million euros), which is attributed to the application of the new accounting standards (IFRS 9) in the first quarter and the repricing of mortgage loans amounting to 800 million euros. At the same time the NBG’s loan issues dropped 7.1% year-on-year.

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Perfecting the art of faking it.

Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a raft of relief measures “to mend wounds” created during Greece’s prolonged economic crisis, as he attempts to recover the popularity he has lost since enforcing contentious austerity measures. In his first major policy address since debt-stricken Athens ended more than eight years of foreign tutelage under international bailout in August, the leftist leader pledged to raise wages, cut taxes and forge ahead with welfare spending. Far from backsliding on the fiscal progress the crisis-plagued country has made, the counter measures would help kickstart growth, Tsipras said, hailing a “new era of rebirth”.

“Higher wages, labour market regulation and respect for labour rights … are a prerequisite for growth,” he told delegates attending the Thessaloniki International Fair where annual economic policy goals are traditionally laid out. “The Greek economy is stabilised … we are a normal country now.” Tsipras said the tax cuts will include dramatically reducing a property levy for those worst affected by the crisis in 2019, and lowering sales VAT in 2021. Corporate tax, the bane of business development in the nation long on the frontline of the euro crisis, would be reduced from 29% to 25% by 2022. “It is the least we can do to mend wounds, reduce great burdens and create a growth dynamic in the Greek economy,” Tsipras said.

Other measures ranged from reinstating collective wage bargaining – a highly sensitive point among international creditors who have sought to trim the power of unions – and applying retroactive pay rises worth €1bn for university professors, the police, military and judiciary. [..] On Sunday, in his annual state of the nation press conference, Tsipras said because Greece was “outperforming all fiscal targets” his government would not only meet the new goals but argue that other cuts Athens has committed to were no longer necessary. At the behest of eurozone creditors the government has agreed to further scale back pensions in January 2019. “The economy is doing well,” Tsipras told reporters assembled in Thessaloniki. “I don’t know if you understand that, but the economy is doing well.”

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By someone who doesn’t support it.

Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)

A petition with thousands of signatures supporting Julian Assange’s political asylum will be presented to New Zealand’s parliament. Labour Party politician Greg O’Connor said while he personally does not support Assange obtaining asylum in NZ, he will present the petition to parliament after more than 2,000 people signed their names in support of the WikiLeaks founder, reports Newstalk ZB. The parliamentary petition, launched in July 2018, will now be delivered to the Clerk of the house for allocation to a select committee for formal consideration. The ‘Free Assange NZ’ group said they haven’t forgotten the Australian’s plight and are following whistleblower Chelsea Manning on her tour of the country to remind people of the petition and its political progress. On Saturday night Assange supporters gathered outside the Embassy Theatre where Manning was speaking.

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Let’s see them.

US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)

US lawyers say they have “explosive” documents about crisis-hit agribusiness giant Monsanto and their affairs in Europe. Those involved in a successful lawsuit against the firm have been in Brussels, addressing a European Parliament special committee. Last month, Monsanto was ordered to pay 289 million dollars to a former school groundskeeper dying of cancer, after it was agreed the firm’s Roundup weedkilled contributed to his disease. “What we have is the tip of the iceberg. And in fact we have documents now in our possession, several hundreds documents, that have not been declassified and some of those are explosive,” said US lawyer Robert Jr. Kennedy.

“And many of them are pertinent to what Monsanto did here in Europe. And that’s just the beginning.” Beyond the environmental battle, what’s happened also raises the issue of transparency. For one Green MEP, the US legal battle is also one for democracy. “They are fighting a fight for more democracy and for transparency and to get a better insight in how big corporation such as Monsanto act and try to manipulate the facts,” said Belgium’s Bart Staes. Last November, the EU approved the use of glyphosate, a chemical used in Monsanto’s Roundup product, for five years after a heated debate over whether it causes cancer.

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Britain has shrunk to a sixe too small to have overseas territories.

Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

Whales migrating across the Atlantic Ocean, turtles in the Caribbean and unique cloud forests in St Helena are all under threat as EU conservation projects are set to grind to a halt after Brexit. Following reports of the Falkland Islands’ penguins entering troubled waters as European funding dries up, conservationists working across Britain’s overseas territories have raised the alarm about the wider impact of this lost money. Due to their unusual status as neither fully parts of the UK nor independent states, these territories cannot access most domestic and international funding. This means EU money has offered a lifeline, and supports around a third of their conservation efforts.

There is currently no plan to make up for the shortfall that will emerge when existing projects finish. Stretching from the British Antarctic Territory to the Cayman Islands, the 14 UK overseas territories are home to hundreds of creatures found nowhere else on Earth. “There’s lots still unknown about the territories, they are quite a frontier,” said Jonathan Hall, who leads the RSPB’s overseas territories operations. “But they do hold at least 1,500 unique species – compared to the UK which has about 90.” These forgotten corners of the globe are home to more penguins than any other nation, a third of the world’s albatrosses and the largest coral atoll on the planet.

Many of the animals and plants found in these territories are critically endangered, and scientists estimate there are more than 2,000 species still awaiting discovery in their forests and lagoons. As the Brexit date looms, the government has promised to continue supporting ongoing projects in these regions, but beyond that local environmental groups are worried about how they will stay afloat. “It’s a huge concern,” said Charlie Butt, Caribbean territories programme manager at the RSPB. “The loss of a third of funding would be catastrophic from a conservation perspective.”

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May 172018
 
 May 17, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Daubigny’s garden 1890

 

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)
Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)
Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)
Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)
Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)
Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)
New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)
Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)
Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)
31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)
DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)
Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)
Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

 

 

“People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.”

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)

With mortgage rates rising, one would expect refi activity to slow. And it has: Refi Applications are at an 8-Year Low. But why is there any refi activity all at all? In September 2017 the MND mortgage rate rate was 3.85%. In June 2016, the MND rate was 3.43%.

It makes little sense to refi at 4.70% when one could have done it less than two years ago a point and a quarter lower. At these rates, refi activity should be in the low single digits. Yet, 36% of mortgage applications are refis.

Are people pulling money out of their houses to pay bills? That’s how it appears as Cash-Out Mortgage Refis are Back. What’s Going On?
• People feel wealthy again and are willing to blow it on consumption
• People pulling money out to invest in stocks or Bitcoin
• People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.

I suspect point number three is the primary reason. Regardless, releveraging is as wrong now as it was in 2007. Totally wrong.

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Dump and dump.

Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)

Like Powell, Clarida said he “absolutely” supports the Fed’s normalization of interest rates and the balance sheet. Like Powell, he said that the normalized balance sheet should be “a lot smaller,” and that Powell’s suggestion of a range of $2.4 trillion to $2.9 trillion, down from its peak-level of $4.5 trillion, “makes sense.” Like Powell, he said stock market volatility itself – that’s downward volatility, the only volatility that matters on Wall Street – shouldn’t determine the Fed’s policy decisions. On banking regulation too he mirrored Powell. So in this sense, what he said about mortgage-backed securities on the Fed’s balance sheet is fascinating: The Fed should shed them entirely, down to zero.

Clarida explained that there are “benefits and costs” of QE, and that as more layers of QE were piled on, “the benefits of QE diminished and the costs went up.” And as vice chairman, he’d “have to take a serious look at the costs of QE.” Then he was asked about “non-Treasury instruments, like mortgage-backed securities,” for QE – that the Fed, when selecting non-Treasury securities, would be getting into something that it shouldn’t, namely “allocating credit.” “Yes, absolutely,” Clarida replied: “My preference would be for the Fed to end up with a Treasury-only portfolio.” He then added that, “as a general proposition, my preference would be to have the balance sheet as much as possible in Treasury securities.”

Shedding MBS from the balance sheet entirely and keeping them off could have a big impact. Currently, the Fed holds $1.74 trillion of MBS. That’s about 26% of all residential mortgage-backed securities outstanding. The Fed is the elephant in the MBS room.

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“..the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world..”

Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)

In less than a month, Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), faces three lawsuits that may end up taking all of the oil giant’s international assets, leaving it bankrupt. According to the economist and opposition congressman, Ángel Alvarado, the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world, is about to disappear. Alvarado says that the state has no way to pay all its outstanding debts or the legal judgments that are looming. In an ominous sign, creditors today attempted to collect USD $2.9 billion that the oil company has failed to pay in debt obligations. The bankrupt company not only must face ConocoPhillips, after having lost a lawsuit where it was ordered to pay the US oil company USD $2 billion.

PDVSA now must also respond to a wave of similar claims, as it looks for a way to pay bondholders after default, and tries to restart refineries that are about to close because of diminished production caused by abandonment and embezzlement. In short, PDVSA faces the perfect storm for falling into bankruptcy, with no credible path for solvency. According to OPEC, Venezuela is the country with the largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world with 296 billion barrels. However, paradoxically, the export of crude oil is not a profitable business for the South American country after years of neglect by the socialist government. Recently the US company ConocoPhillips decided to seize the PDVSA’s assets in the Caribbean, a dangerous precedent that could influence other plaintiffs to take similar measures.

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Joining the rest of the world.

Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)

Births in the United States have plunged to record lows not seen in decades, marking a profound cultural shift that could have ramifications for the future economy, experts said Thursday. The overall fertility rate, which essentially shows how many babies women are having in their childbearing years, and indicates whether the population is replenishing itself, fell to 1.76 births per woman last year, down 3% from the rate of 1.82 in 2016. That marks “the lowest total fertility rate since 1978,” said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the US birth rate plunged to a 30-year low.

The 3.85 million US births in 2017 were the fewest since 1987, as American women under 40 continued to delay childbearing. About 77,000 fewer babies were born last year than in 2016 – about a 2% drop year-on-year. The latest downward trend began around the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, but has not abated even as US jobs rebounded and the economy has improved. “To me the biggest surprise is the continuing decline of fertility rates among young women,” said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution. “About 10 years since the Great Recession we still see this declining fertility among women in their 20s and that could be problematic if it continues for another three or four years.”

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“The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone..”

Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)

Letter to CEO John Ridding and editors of the Financial Times. Dear Sirs, I have read your article “Rome opens its gates to the modern barbarians” and, with all due respect to an important newspaper like yours, honestly I think you need to better understand what is taking place in Italy. And I suggest you get to know the 5 Star MoVement a little more closely. The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone, marking every possible negative record in our history. Nowadays, Italy has about 6 million people under the absolute poverty threshold and about 100,000 young people every year expatriating to try their luck elsewhere, often in your country.

All this is the result of barbarians, old barbarians about whom I have never read as many negative things in your editorials as I am reading these days against us. The 5 Star Movement was born in 2009 with a specific aim: to bring the popular will back to the centre of the political debate and the decisions of the central government. In just 9 years we have grown so much that we can now see what we have accomplished, with over 11 million people who trusted us in the last elections. We succeeded by working hard, with our heads down, studying, always struggling to defend Italian citizens. We succeeded with the youngest, most educated and most gender-balanced parliamentary group that the history of Italy has ever seen. Italians have always believed us based on the awareness that everything we have promised or written in a program, has become a reality on the first occasion we have had to make it happen.

In your article you are talking about a contract of government that is difficult to implement and economically unsustainable: what a pity you have not read this contract yet! And this is an offence to professional journalism, also. But there is one thing you are right about. The contract we are writing is challenging and it will not be easy to remedy the damage caused by political barbarians governing our country for the past 30 years. But we are doing our best to restore hope and to give Italians a brighter future. If you want to better understand how we will acccomplish this, I suggest you do not waste time publishing false news created ad-hoc by the Italian media system, get to know the 5 Star Movement and report the truth instead. Good luck!

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On the Guardian’s hit pieces yesterday.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.” Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.”

The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual. On March 27, Assange’s internet access at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was cut off by Ecuadorian officials, who also installed jamming devices to prevent Assange from accessing the internet using other means of connection. Assange’s previously active Twitter account has had no activity since then, nor have any journalists been able to communicate with him. All visitors to the embassy have also been denied access to Assange, who was formally made a citizen of Ecuador earlier this year.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

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Hopeful.

New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)

The first Labour government in close to a decade has pledged to make New Zealand a kind and equitable nation where children thrive, and success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people. Finance minister Grant Robertson said the Labour coalition government didn’t want to “manage” issues such as child poverty and homelessness – it wanted to end them. Although the 2018 budget was focused on rebuilding vital public services – particularly the health care sector – Robertson said next year’s budget would be the first in the world to measure success by its people’s wellbeing. “We want New Zealand to be a place where everyone has a fair go, and where we show kindness and understanding to each other,” said Robertson.

“These changes are about measuring success differently. Of course a strong economy is important but we must not lose sight of why it is is important. And it is most important to allow all of us to have better lives … the government is placing the wellbeing of people at the centre of all its work. The 2018 budget had been preceded by weeks of cautious rhetoric by the government, which repeated time and again that before embarking on its ambitious social policies such as ending child poverty, tackling climate change and housing every New Zealander, it first had to invest in upgrading public services such as hospitals and schools.

Labour’s first budget was viewed as restrained and fiscally cautious, with Robertson forecasting a NZ$3bn ($2bn) surplus this year, increasing to $7bn in 2020. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government’s first budget was not focused on the election cycle, but generational improvement in New Zealanders’ lives. “Rebuild what?” said Ardern, defending her government’s budget and rounding on the opposition leader, Simon Bridges. “Well let’s start with New Zealand’s reputation shall we? We are rebuilding a government that thinks about people.” “In 15 or 20 or 30 years’ time I want my child to look back on the history books and judge me and this government favourably, rather than deciding to change their name.”

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A sad comedy.

Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)

Peers have inflicted a 15th defeat on the government’s key Brexit bill, underlining the acute political challenge Theresa May faces in seeking a deal that both parliament and her warring ministers can live with. The latest amendment, aimed at bolstering environmental protection after Brexit, was carried by 294 to 244 votes on Wednesday. Peers argued that enforcement measures proposed in a consultation document published last week were inadequate and that the environment had been subordinated to housing and economic growth. With her cabinet still deadlocked over customs arrangements, the prime minister must now decide when to bring the legislation back to the House of Commons and seek to undo the changes made by peers.

Martin Callanan, the Conservative leader in the Lords, said: “During the bill’s journey through the House of Lords, some changes have been made that conflict with its purpose or are designed to frustrate the entire exit process, and so we are considering the implications of those decisions.” The backbench pro-Brexit European Research Group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, wants to see the votes brought forward as soon as possible to scotch the idea that there is a majority against hard Brexit among MPs. They point to a pair of recent Commons victories, over the release of Windrush documents and a , as evidence that the government’s majority is more secure than moderate backbenchers claim.

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“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities..”

Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)

A sample of Novichok, the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Skripals, was obtained by German intelligence back in the 1990s, local media report. The substance has since been studied and produced by NATO countries. Western countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical makeup of the nerve agent known as Novichok, a group of German media outlets reported following a joint investigation. The inquiry, based on anonymous sources, gives new insights into the issue of the nerve agent said to have been used in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in March.

Western governments were able to lay their hands on the formula of what is described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed” after the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, obtained a sample of the nerve agent from a Russian defector in the early 1990s. A Russian scientist provided German intelligence with information on the development of Novichok for some time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the German NDR and WDR broadcasters, as well as Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung dailies, report, citing unnamed sources within the BND. At some point, the man offered to bring the Germans a sample of the chemical agent in exchange for asylum for him and his family.

A sample was eventually smuggled by the wife of the scientist and sent by the Germans to a Swedish chemical lab, according to the reports. Following the sample analysis, the Swedish experts established the formula of the substance, which they then handed over to Germany. By the order of the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the BND then shared the formula with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including the intelligence services of the US and the UK. Later, the UK, the US and Germany reportedly created a special “working group” tasked with studying the substance, which also included representatives from France, Canada and the Netherlands.

“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities,” the four media outlets reported, adding that it was allegedly done to develop the necessary countermeasures. However, it remains unclear which particular states were involved in the Novichok production.

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Let’s make sure they are protected.

31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)

Some 2,500 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Greece last year, around 8% of the total 31,400 child refugees who sought asylum in European Union countries in 2017. Italy received a relatively large chunk of applications for asylum – more than 10,000, or 32% of the total – followed by Germany, with 9,100 applications (29%). The United Kingdom received 2,200 applications (7%), while Austria received 1,400 (4%), Sweden 1,300 and the Netherlands 1,200. The number of child refugees seeking asylum in EU countries in 2017 almost halved compared to the previous year. In 2016 there were 63,200 applications, while there were 95,200 in 2015. However, the total number of applications in the EU last year was still double the annual average of 12,000 between 2008 and 2013.

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On the river.

DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)

The Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread from the countryside into a city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly difficult to control. Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month. The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa. Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died. Ebola is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

Senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the outbreak’s shift to a major city meant there was the potential for an “explosive increase” in cases. “This is a major development in the outbreak”. “We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there.” Mr Salama, the WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people. “This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.

[..] On Wednesday more than 4,000 doses of an experimental vaccine sent by the WHO arrived in the country with another batch expected soon. The vaccine from pharmaceutical firm Merck is unlicensed but was effective in limited trials during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 C. Electricity supplies in Congo are unreliable.

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Curious.

Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)

A sharp and mysterious rise in emissions of a key ozone-destroying chemical has been detected by scientists, despite its production being banned around the world. Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. The source of the new emissions has been tracked to east Asia, but finding a more precise location requires further investigation. CFC chemicals were used in making foams for furniture and buildings, in aerosols and as refrigerants. But they were banned under the global Montreal protocol after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s. Since 2007, there has been essentially zero reported production of CFC-11, the second most damaging of all CFCs.

The rise in CFC-11 was revealed by Stephen Montzka, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado, and colleagues who monitor chemicals in the atmosphere. “I have been doing this for 27 years and this is the most surprising thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I was just shocked by it.” “We are acting as detectives of the atmosphere, trying to understand what is happening and why,” Montzka said. “When things go awry, we raise a flag.” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer. It’s therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action.”

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Profound.

Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

A haunting cover image on the June issue of National Geographic is circulating online, suggesting the plastic pollution we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Such is the extent of Earth’s mind-boggling plastic problem that scientists recently found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench — the deepest point in the ocean, sitting nearly 11 kilometres below the surface. The Nat Geo cover image was shared by the magazine’s senior photo editor Vaughn Wallace on Twitter this morning who called it “one for the ages”.

[..] The latest edition of the magazine is dedicated to Earth’s plastic consumption and is filled with striking images and infographs that show the immense scale of plastic pollution plaguing our planet. As a small part of addressing the problem, the magazine has committed to delivering its issues in paper wrappers rather than plastic wrappers moving forward. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the globe and most of them end up in landfill where they take a significant time to break down, or in the ocean where they kill marine life.

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Mar 132018
 


Mayfair Building, Times Square NYC 1954

 

Sea Change Is Underway in Money Markets for Banks, Investors (BBG)
The Real Reasons Trump Blocked Broadcom’s Qualcomm Takeover (CNBC)
Donald Trump’s Attack on German Prosperity (Spiegel)
Trump Pushes EU to Cut Tariffs as Bloc Vows to Resist ‘Bullies’ (BBG)
Trump’s Metal Tariffs ‘Like An Atomic Bomb’ For European Firms (CNBC)
Is The Dot.Com Bubble Back? (Roberts)
China Plans New Ministries, Merger Of Regulators In Massive Revamp (R.)
Central Banks Are Looking for New Ways to Meet Inflation Targets (BBG)
Labour’s Nationalisation Plans As Damaging As ‘No Deal’ Brexit – CBI (G.)
Another Quandary (Jim Kunstler)
Russian Foreign Ministry Slams UK’s Comments On Skripal Poisoning Case (Tass)
Saudis Reportedly Wielding Veto Power Over Prince Alwaleed (CNBC)
The Rich Aren’t Happy About New Zealand Foreign Bolthole Ban (BBG)
The Pentagon & Hollywood’s Successful And Deadly Propaganda Alliance (RT)
Krill Fishing Poses Serious Threat To Antarctic Ecosystem (G.)

 

 

Is this where central banks fail in their quest for control?

Sea Change Is Underway in Money Markets for Banks, Investors (BBG)

While many fixed-income investors may be focused on the specter of higher long-term Treasury yields, there’s a sea change afoot at the shorter end – in U.S. money markets. The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and rates on Treasury bills are at levels not seen since 2008. The Fed’s move to tighten policy forms the backdrop for the increase, but an added force behind the surge this year has come from a deluge of supply as U.S. deficits widen. Higher short-term borrowing costs have implications for investors and also for banks, which find themselves paying up to borrow through the commercial-paper market as they compete to lure cash. “We are in a new paradigm,” said Jerome Schneider at Pimco. “The clear focus for the market is where will incremental demand come from to meet this supply.”

The Treasury has been jacking up debt sales this quarter: Net issuance is slated to exceed $400 billion, with the bulk coming in bills. The Treasury increased the 4-week bill sale to $65 billion, from as low as $15 billion earlier in the year. The march higher in Libor has widespread consequences despite regulatory efforts to replace it following a price-fixing scandal. About $350 trillion of financial products and loans are linked to Libor, with a large chunk hinged to the dollar-based version of the benchmark. Libor is among the main indexes, along with one-year T-bill rates, used to set U.S. adjustable-rate mortgages.

Assets in U.S. government-only money funds, which include bills among key holdings, have risen to $2.26 trillion, from $2.07 trillion last year. As the Fed keeps hiking, with the next move likely this month, the influx may continue. But for banks, the increasing appeal of T-bill rates is making them pay up to compete, through offering better returns on the commercial paper they use for short-term borrowing. “Banks still need funding and they need to entice investors,” Schneider said.

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Protectionism, national security. Where’s the anti-Trump lobby on this?

The Real Reasons Trump Blocked Broadcom’s Qualcomm Takeover (CNBC)

The threat of China factored heavily into the U.S. government’s decision to block Broadcom’s proposed buyout of Qualcomm. President Donald Trump, for his part, officially declared on Monday that the proposed $117 billion deal was prohibited on national security grounds. The president said in his order that “there is credible evidence” leading him to believe that Broadcom through control of San Diego-based Qualcomm “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” That conclusion may seem extreme given that Broadcom is based in Singapore — and looking to redomicile to the U.S., where it conducts most of its operations — but it’s not a fear of the Southeast Asian city state that is raising national security concerns.

“The case that has been constructed is that, given Broadcom’s business practices, the worry is that they will cut investment significantly, particularly in the 5G roadmap, weaken Qualcomm, as well as the U.S. position and allow Huawei, a Chinese company to take the lead,” explained Stacy Rasgon, chip analyst at Bernstein. The Treasury Department said last week in a letter to lawyers involved in the deal that Qualcomm was trusted by the U.S. government and cited Huawei as a competitive threat in the development of 5G, which is a telecommunications standard that will allow for faster transfer of data. Beyond those 5G concerns, there’s even more to Trump’s decision to block the deal, experts said.

“It is not just China, it is not just chips. It is broad technology. It is U.S. military power and economic power going forward and he’s got a very consistent point of view,” said Ron Napier, head of Napier Investment Advisors. “Trump has been saying all year long since he was inaugurated that security is very important to him, technology is very important to him, trade is very important to him and getting jobs back to the United States is very important to him. He’s making this all into one fabric,” he added. “He sees this as the U.S.’ last big stand if it’s going to remain the leader of the free world,” Napier told CNBC.

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Far too much steep is produced every year. THAT is the problem.

Donald Trump’s Attack on German Prosperity (Spiegel)

The looming conflict is a sign of the turning point at which the global economy finds itself. Recently, the economy in most corners of the globe has been healthy, with the world experiencing a rare phase of synchronous growth. But it looks as though that phase is now coming to an end. Interest rates are rising and sovereign debt is growing, the result of which is that governments are beginning to lose their flexibility and it is likely that some countries will soon face difficulties borrowing money on the open market. Increasing financial market instability shows that insecurity is on the rise. And in this situation, protectionist policies pursued by populists and nationalists harm economic growth and endanger international prosperity.

It is something on which a majority of economists actually agree: tariff barriers slow growth, put jobs at risk and drive up inflation. Once a trade war is triggered, there is no winner, although Munich-based economist Gabriel Felbermayr says that Germany has the most to lose. “There is no other country in the world that would be hit as hard.” Felbermayr, 41, heads up the Center for International Economics at the Center for Economic Studies (CES). The shaved-headed economics professor, originally from Austria, has examined just how devastating Trump’s economic policies could be for the German economy. Every fourth job in the country, he says, is dependent on exports. And in five key sectors – automobiles, machinery, electrical engineering, pharmaceuticals and precision instruments – fully three-quarters of all exports go to the United States.

“If the U.S. were to cut itself off, it would threaten the German business model,” Felbermayr says. “Everything would start teetering.” [..] The global steel market has been imbalanced for years, with producers manufacturing 1.6 billion tons of crude steel each year against an annual demand of just 900 million tons. China is primarily to blame for this lopsidedness. Inexpensive energy and low wages enable the country’s steel producers to sell their products cheaply around the world. If the U.S. were to make moves to protect its domestic steel producers, even more cheap steel would flow into the EU than is already the case. Were that to happen, says Wolfgang Eder, head of the Austrian steel concern Voestalpine, “Europe would threaten to become the world’s garbage pail.”

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The EU vows to stand up to bullies. Ask the Greeks about that one. What kind of person has the guts to say that?

Trump Pushes EU to Cut Tariffs as Bloc Vows to Resist ‘Bullies’ (BBG)

The EU told U.S. President Donald Trump it won’t be cowed by his escalating protectionist rhetoric and talk of punitive tariffs. “Europe is prepared,” Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said Monday as he headed into a meeting with his counterparts from the rest of the euro area. “We are not afraid, we will stand up to the bullies,” Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said earlier in the day. Trump returned to the offensive over the weekend, raising the prospect of higher levies on European cars and telling supporters at a rally that the countries of the EU have banded together “to screw the U.S. on trade.” The latest brinkmanship follows new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that are straining a transatlantic relationship already tested by disputes from climate change to Middle East policy.

“Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will be speaking with representatives of the European Union about eliminating the large Tariffs and Barriers they use against the U.S.A.,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Not fair to our farmers and manufacturers.” Trump’s rhetoric drew unanimous condemnation from European finance ministers gathering in Brussels. France’s Bruno Le Maire said that he’s concerned about “a trade war between the EU and the U.S.” while his Spanish counterpart Roman Escolano, making his debut as minister, said protectionism is always a mistake. Malmstrom accused the Trump administration of using trade “to threaten and intimidate” Europeans and using the issue as a “scapegoat.”

A meeting in Brussels between Malmstrom and her U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer on Saturday ended without a breakthrough, as the EU didn’t receive assurances that it will be exempted from the metal tariffs. “If anyone starts throwing stones, it’s better first to make sure he’s not living in a glass house,” European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said.

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If even more Chinese steel floods into Europe, that is now Trump’s fault.

Trump’s Metal Tariffs ‘Like An Atomic Bomb’ For European Firms (CNBC)

Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum could cause major disruption for companies in Europe, a business lobbyist told CNBC Monday, who argued that the U.S. president should have taken less severe measures to protect his domestic market. U.S.’s allies, including the European Union and Japan, are hoping to be excluded from new tariffs that Trump announced last week. The decision to raise steel import taxes by 25% and aluminum by 10% could hurt not only those industries directly, but also carmakers and construction firms which use the raw materials. Trump decided that the tariffs would be the best way to deal with overcapacity in these sectors and based his argument on national security.

“This is a very exceptional mechanism that is rarely used. It’s a bit considered like an atomic bomb, because really to use this is like saying ‘look we are really at a level where we cannot use anti-dumping or anti-subsidies’,” Luisa Santos, the international relations director at BusinessEurope, told CNBC Monday. [..] European steel and aluminum businesses are reportedly preparing for a collapse in local prices if the tariffs are indeed applied to their region. Charles de Lusignan, from the Steel Association for Europe, said ultimately the tariffs could mean a scaling back in Europe, with firms letting people go, cutting investment and also innovation. “We need to act immediately because the damage will be done within the first weeks,” he said. “In fact it might already be happening, because obviously an exporter knows that the steel might be blocked in the future so they already start sending it ahead.”

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Not a relevant question.

Is The Dot.Com Bubble Back? (Roberts)

Whether you believe there is a “bubble” in the Technology stocks, or the markets, is really not important. There are plenty of arguments for both sides. At the peak of every bull market in history, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” (Here is why it isn’t.) Yet, in the end, it was something unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that devastated investors. This is why the discussion of “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant.

Individuals no longer “invest” to become a “shareholder” in a publicly traded business. The “quaint concept” of “valuations” died with the mainstreaming of investing during the 1990’s as the “Wall Street Casino” opened for business. Today, investors only think in terms of speculating on “electronically traded bits of paper” in the hopes the value will rise over time. The problem, of course, is they are never told when to “sell” to capture that valuation increase which is the most critical aspect of the investment process. Instead, individuals continue to “bet” the “greater fool” will always appear. For now, the “bullish case” remains alive and well. The media will go on berating those heretics who dare to point out the risks that prevail, but the one simple truth is “this time is indeed different.”

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There goes the last shred of transparency.

China Plans New Ministries, Merger Of Regulators In Massive Revamp (R.)

China said it will merge its banking and insurance regulators, according to a parliament document released on Tuesday, in a series of proposed changes in the biggest ministry shake-up in years. In a long-awaited move to streamline and tighten oversight of the financial system in the world’s second-biggest economy, China will also transfer some of the banking and insurance regulators’ roles to the central bank, documents showed. In much-anticipated plans to create seven new ministries and a raft of government agencies announced on Tuesday, one of the most significant changes was creation of the national markets supervision management bureau.

The new body will decide on antimonopoly and pricing issues, replacing the roles played by the three national antitrust regulators: the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Commerce and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC). Unifying the structure under one agency, rather than handing the responsibility to one of the three existing watchdogs, reflects the growing importance of the issue for the government. China will also form a powerful new competition regulator in a bid to ramp up oversight of mergers and acquisitions and price-fixing as the world’s second-largest economy seeks to make policymaking more efficient and coordinated. Since the beginning of last year, Beijing has cracked down on leverage and risky market practices, with China’s various regulators releasing a flurry of new rules in an attempt to rein in risks.

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Only, they don’t know what it is.

Central Banks Are Looking for New Ways to Meet Inflation Targets (BBG)

With so many central banks failing to hit their inflation targets, some are considering changes to the tool kits they use to steer their economies. Norway’s decision to lower its price target is just the latest example, and follows more or less official adjustments in Sweden, Argentina and the euro area. Even in New Zealand, the birthplace of inflation targeting, the central bank is shifting to a broader goal that includes a focus on employment. But there’s no one-fits-all solution for monetary authorities and debate is splintered. Raising inflation targets has been discussed equally intensively in recent years as reducing or amending them.

And while some central banks acknowledge a need to reconsider their mandates, others are doubling down on existing policies. Claudio Borio, a top official at the Bank for International Settlements, poured fuel on the debate in September with a provocative speech calling for a broad rethink that accounts for how globalization and technological advances have influenced inflation. “Shall we throw away the books?” ECB President Mario Draghi asked on Thursday. “There are serious costs about changing course on credibility and the anchoring of expectations. We can go on on this for a while about changing objective.”

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Think tanks are your friend.

Labour’s Nationalisation Plans As Damaging As ‘No Deal’ Brexit – CBI (G.)

The head of Britain’s biggest business lobby group has attacked Labour’s nationalisation plans as potentially just as damaging to the economy as Britain leaving the European Union without a deal. In a speech on Monday, Paul Drechsler, the CBI president, said renationalising large parts of the economy would cause serious harm to the UK’s reputation as a place for international investors, which he argued would be as bad as a hard Brexit and would damage job prospects and living standards. “So you want to nationalise energy, rail and water, and bring public services contracts back in house? Let’s see the evidence that it will deliver a better service to consumers at a lower cost,” he said.

The intervention by the lobby group – which represents about 190,000 companies, including transport and utility firms – constitutes a warning from the boardrooms of corporate Britain that they harbour concerns over Labour’s plans for the economy despite supporting the party over its stance on Brexit. The CBI was among leading business voices supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s move to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU. The lobby group warned before the referendum that Brexit could lead to almost a million job losses and cost the economy £100bn – the equivalent of 5% of GDP – by 2020. Drechsler challenged Labour to provide evidence that its plans would lead to a better service for consumers at a lower cost.

He said private investment had helped create jobs and improve the efficiency of utility companies since they were sold off under the Thatcher government of the 1980s, and argued that progress could be undone if they were taken back into state control. However, utility companies and railway operators have faced intense pressure over their service standards and prices at a time when households are under increasing financial strain. Public support has swung behind Labour’s plans for greater state control of several key industries – shown in recent polls that suggest widespread backing for nationalisation of the railways, water, gas and electricity.

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Mentally ill, cannabis.

Another Quandary (Jim Kunstler)

That crusty ole rascal, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, seems to be enjoying his sunset journey into Civil War Two or maybe the destination is more like Blade Runner (since we know that history only rhymes but does not repeat). Anyway, it’s not a good place. The once-golden state begins to look something like what one federal official recently called — dare I say it? — a shithole. “A mix of used hypodermic needles, human feces, and other trash litters the streets and sidewalks in a large section of downtown San Francisco, a local news outlet reported Sunday night. It’s a problem that has grown by epic proportions in recent years and has many concerned for the health and safety of some the city’s youngest residents…” — The Blaze

Yes, quite literally. This particular failure of the political Left started in the 1970s when states began aggressively shuttering their large mental hospitals. Many of these institutions dated from the late 19th century – ghastly old gothic revival warehouses for the mentally ill, fraught with overtones of abuse and neglect, scenes out of Vincent Price movies… lightning flashes through the barred windows… a scream in the night… hysterical laughter echoing down the dark, tiled hallways…. They were an embarrassment, for sure, and certainly an affront to liberal sensibilities. But, of course, they fucked up the remedy for that. Instead of replacing the giant old state insane asylums with smaller, better-managed institutions, they just released the inmates under the rationale that they were a politically oppressed minority group. And there it ended.

And so here we are, going on a half-century later, with an economy that manufactures failure and immiseration at a greater volume than its other finished products, and many more lost souls out on the city streets, and now we are an even more ideologically inflamed society than we were in 1973, with the ranks of intersectional oppressed minorities and aggrieved victim groups grown into virtual armies-of-the-night — and the mentally ill just lost in the crowd. It never seems to occur to anyone that a mental hospital can be run humanely, at an appropriate scale, and that these poor, sad creatures might, at least, be better off there with a bed, a bathroom, and somebody to check in on them daily than they are wallowing in the gutters of San Francisco and other cities. Surely there are up-to-date models in other lands for this kind of caretaking — if maybe we sent a few bureaucrats overseas to have a look.

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Who needs proof in an echo chamber? Whether it’s Theresa May or the House Intelligence case, the lines have been drawn long ago.

Russian Foreign Ministry Slams UK’s Comments On Skripal Poisoning Case (Tass)

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has dubbed as a ‘circus show’ comments of UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the poisoning of Sergey Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence, and his daughter. “This is a circus show in Britain’s parliament,” she stressed. “The conclusion is obvious – a next political media campaign based on provocation,” Zakharova added. Earlier, Theresa May said it is “highly likely” that Russia is responsible for the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter. Moscow urges London to make public the results of the investigation into the deaths of Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky, Zakharova said.

“Before making up new stories, let somebody in the Kingdom tell us what the previous fairy-tales ended in – those about Litvinenko, Berezovsky, Perepilichny and many others who died under mysterious circumstances on British soil,” the diplomat said. Former GRU Colonel Sergey Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Julia on March 4 suffered from the effects of an unidentified nerve agent. They were found in an unconscious condition on a bench near The Maltings shopping center in Salisbury. Both are now in hospital in critical condition.

In 2004, Skripal was arrested by the federal security service FSB, charged, tried and convicted of high treason and stripped of all ranks and awards. In 2010 he was handed over to the United States under an arrangement to exchange persons arrested on spying charges. Later in the same year Skripal settled in Britain.

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The price of freedom.

Saudis Reportedly Wielding Veto Power Over Prince Alwaleed (CNBC)

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal remains chairman of Kingdom Holding Company following his release from detention, but the Saudi government reportedly has final say over decisions at the investment firm. Investment decisions at Kingdom Holding are now subject to approval by the government, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing senior Saudi advisers. Kingdom Holding has $12.5 billion invested across more than a dozen sectors around the world, according to its website. Alwaleed’s personal investment portfolio is also under government control, according to the Journal. Alwaleed holds substantial stakes in companies like Citigroup, Twitter, Lyft and Time Warner.

The Journal report does not indicate whether the government has exercised its newfound influence over these investments. However, sources tell the Journal the government has already intervened in a major real estate project, ordering senior managers at Kingdom Holding to abandon the Jeddah Tower, which would be the world’s tallest skyscraper when — and if — it is completed. Officials have directed Kingdom Holding to instead focus its energy on a new city called Neom, which is expected to cost $500 billion to build. The project was announced in October by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the influential king in waiting who is overseeing the kingdom’s economic transformation and spearheaded the campaign that led to Alwaleed’s detention.

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What happens when there’s only rich people left? Or: who cares about New Zealanders?

The Rich Aren’t Happy About New Zealand Foreign Bolthole Ban (BBG)

Rich-listers like Californian billionaire Ric Kayne have issued a warning to New Zealand – banning house sales to foreigners could hurt the country’s reputation and turn wealthy investors away. Kayne, who has built an exclusive golf course in New Zealand and wants to expand his investments, is one of several rich businessmen who claim the proposed new law will have unintended consequences. They’re seeking amendments to the draft legislation or its withdrawal in its current form. “The vision we have for what we would like to contribute to New Zealand is now being threatened,” Kayne wrote in submissions to a parliamentary committee examining the proposed law change.

“The new rules will “impact on us personally, and others like us who, having discovered this country, want to devote considerable resources to preserving, protecting and enhancing it.” The new Labour-led government came to power in October on a pledge to fix a housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property. While data suggest non-residents have only a minor impact on the wider housing market, support for the move was boosted by headlines about rich foreigners buying mansions and farms in New Zealand as boltholes away from the world’s ills.

House prices have surged more than 60% in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall. In biggest city Auckland, prices have almost doubled since 2007 to an average of more than NZ$1 million ($730,000). That’s made it more difficult for first-time buyers to enter the market and driven up rents, leaving increasing numbers of poor people homeless. “It’s really important for us that we sort our housing market out, that we give New Zealanders a fair go at buying their first home,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a television interview Sunday. While the country welcomes foreign investment, “what we want is good-quality investment that supports the productivity of the New Zealand economy,” he said.

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Ethics and Hollywood.

The Pentagon & Hollywood’s Successful And Deadly Propaganda Alliance (RT)

The Pentagon helps Hollywood to make money and, in turn, Hollywood churns out effective propaganda for the brutal American war machine. The US has the largest military budget in the world, spending over $611 billion – far larger than any other nation on Earth. The US military also has at their disposal the most successful propaganda apparatus the world has ever known… Hollywood. Since their collaboration on the first Best Picture winner ‘Wings’ in 1927, the US military has used Hollywood to manufacture and shape its public image in over 1,800 films and TV shows. Hollywood has, in turn, used military hardware in their films and TV shows to make gobs and gobs of money.

A plethora of movies like ‘Lone Survivor,’ ‘Captain Philips,’ and even blockbuster franchises like ‘Transformers’ and Marvel, DC and X-Men superhero movies have agreed to cede creative control in exchange for use of US military hardware over the years. In order to obtain cooperation from the Department of Defense (DoD), producers must sign contracts that guarantee a military approved version of the script makes it to the big screen. In return for signing away creative control, Hollywood producers save tens of millions of dollars from their budgets on military equipment, service members to operate the equipment, and expensive location fees.

Capt. Russell Coons, director of the Navy Office of Information West, told Al Jazeera what the military expects for their cooperation: “We’re not going to support a program that disgraces a uniform or presents us in a compromising way.” Phil Strub, the DOD chief Hollywood liaison, says the guidelines are clear. “If the filmmakers are willing to negotiate with us to resolve our script concerns, usually we’ll reach an agreement. If not, filmmakers are free to press on without military assistance.”

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We’ve screwed up even the bottom of the food chain. Winning!

Krill Fishing Poses Serious Threat To Antarctic Ecosystem (G.)

Industrial fishing for krill in the pristine waters around Antarctica is threatening the future of one of the world’s last great wildernesses, according to a new report. The study by Greenpeace analysed the movements of krill fishing vessels in the region and found they were increasingly operating “in the immediate vicinity of penguin colonies and whale feeding grounds”. It also highlights incidents of fishing boats being involved in groundings, oil spills and accidents, which it said posed a serious threat to the Antarctic ecosystem. The report, published on Tuesday, comes amid growing concern about the impact of fishing and climate change on the Antarctic.

A global campaign has been launched to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect the seas in the region and Greenpeace is calling for an immediate halt to fishing in areas being considered for sanctuary status. Frida Bengtsson, from Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign, said: “If the krill industry wants to show it’s a responsible player, then it should be voluntarily getting out of any area which is being proposed as an ocean sanctuary, and should instead be backing the protection of these huge swaths of the Antarctic.” Last month a study found a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is hitting the krill population, with a potentially disastrous impact on larger predators.


Photograph: Justin Hofman/Alamy Stock Photo

The study warned that the penguin population could drop by almost one-third by the end of the century due to changes in krill biomass. Krill are a key part of the delicate Antarctic food chain. They feed on marine algae and are a key source of food for whales, penguins and seals. They are also important in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by eating carbon-rich food near the surface and excreting it when they sink to lower, colder water. There is a growing global demand for krill-based health products which are claimed to help with a range of ailments from heart disease to high blood pressure, strokes and depression. A recent analysis of the global krill industry predicted it was on course to grow 12% a year over the next three years. Krill populations have declined by 80% since the 1970s.

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Dec 222017
 
 December 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Bill Watterson is God

 

He Died For Our Debts, Not Our Sins – Michael Hudson (Ren.)
Bitcoin Tumbles Below $13,000, Down Almost 40% From Record Peak (BBG)
Crypto Carnage Continues, Bitcoin Falls Back To $13,000 Handle (ZH)
Gold Only Safe Asset Left – David Stockman (USAW)
What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America? (WS)
Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and Private Equity Has No Way Out (BBG)
The Ghost of Gann: Another Crash is Coming (Ren.)
Catalan Separatists Win Election In Rebuke To Spain and EU (R.)
China’s Creditor Imperialism (PS)
China Uses Cheap Debt To ‘Bend Other Countries To Its Will’ (CNBC)
Fannie And Freddie Are Here To Stay – There Is No Alternative (ZH)
UK’s Secret Brexit Studies Reveal That Airbus Makes Planes (BBG)
Eco-Terrorists Threaten To Inject Acid In Greek Supermarket Products (WaPo)
New Zealand Gives Mount Taranaki Same Legal Rights As A Person (G.)

 

 

Got to love this angle.

He Died For Our Debts, Not Our Sins – Michael Hudson (Ren.)

As many people turn towards their Christian and Jewish faiths this Christmas and Hanukkah in an attempt to make sense of the year that was, at least one economist says we have been reading the bible in an anachronistic way. In fact he has written an entire book on the topic. In ‘…And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption’ (available this spring on Amazon), Professor Michael Hudson makes the argument that far from being about sex, the bible is actually about economics, and debt in particular. “The Christianity we know today is not the Christianity of Jesus,” says Professor Hudson. Indeed the Judaism that we know today is not the Judaism of Jesus either. The economist told Renegade the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our sins even as we forgive all who are indebted to us’, refers specifically to debt.

“Most religious leaders say that Christianity is all about sin, not debt,” he says. “But actually, the word for sin and debt is the same in almost every language.” “‘Schuld’, in German, means ‘debt’ as well as ‘offense’ or, ‘sin’. It’s ‘devoir’ in French. It had the same duality in meaning in the Babylonian language of Akkadian.” Professor Michael Hudson has achieved near complete consensus with the assyriologists & biblical scholars that the Bible is preoccupied with debt, not sin. The idea harks back to the concept of ‘wergeld’, which existed in parts of Europe and Babylonia, and set the value of a human life based on their rank, paid as compensation to the family of someone who has been injured or killed. “The payment – the Schuld or obligation – expiates you of the injury caused by the offense,” Dr Hudson said.

People tend to think of the Commandment ‘do not covet your neighbour’s wife’ in purely sexual terms but actually, the economist says it refers specifically to creditors who would force the wives and daughters of debtors into sex slavery as collateral for unpaid debt. “This goes all the way back to Sumer in the third millennium,” he said. Similarly, the Commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’ refers to usury and exploitation by threat for debts owing. The economist says Jesus was crucified for his views on debt. Crucifixion being a punishment reserved especially for political dissidents. “To understand the crucifixion of Jesus is to understand it was his punishment for his economic views,” says Professor Hudson. “He was a threat to the creditors.”

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That’s still some serious losses.

Bitcoin Tumbles Below $13,000, Down Almost 40% From Record Peak (BBG)

Bitcoin sank as much as 21% on Friday, extending its loss from its intraday high this month toward 40%. The digital currency dropped to as low as $12,191.80 before trading at $12,601.75 as of 3:29 p.m. in Hong Kong. Bitcoin, which is down 38% from its peak of $19,511, is still up more than 1,100% this year. Investors are having a “reality check,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda. “At the heart of the matter was a frenzied demand for coins with limited supply has now led to unsophisticated investors holding the bag at the top.” Bitcoin’s drop comes amid concern that an offshoot is becoming a stronger rival to the more well-known cryptocurrency. Bitcoin cash, which emerged earlier this year amid a split between factions over proposed software upgrades, was added to Coinbase offerings this week.


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Zero Hedge overnight. It’s hard to keep up.

Crypto Carnage Continues, Bitcoin Falls Back To $13,000 Handle (ZH)

The carnage across cyrptocurrencies has escalated with Bitcoin back to a $13K handle, Ethereum back below $700, and Bitcoin Cash below $2,600… Bitcoin is now almost $6,000 off its record high…

ETH and BCH in trouble too…

The question is – which happens first – Bitcoin $10,000 or Gold $1,300?

[..] renowned analyst Peter Schiff issued a foreboding warning to investors buying Bitcoin at current prices. Even with a shaky week, Bitcoin is hovering around the $15,000 mark, after a two-month bull run that saw the price rise by more than 200%. Schiff says those trying to ride the bubble are too late: “People who got it years ago, even people who got it at the beginning of the year have the opportunity to cash out and make a lot of money. But people who are buying it at these prices or higher prices are going to lose practically everything.” The old adage, “buy on the rumor and sell on the news,” seems to be the perfect way to sum up Schiff’s sentiments: “These currencies are going to trade to zero or pretty close to it when the bubble pops. Right now, the only reason why people are buying Bitcoin is because the price is going up. When it turns around, they are not going to sell it for the same reason.”

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Fed flying blind.

Gold Only Safe Asset Left – David Stockman (USAW)

Record high stock and bond prices are flashing danger signs to former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman. Stockman contends, “I don’t think we are going to have a liquidity crisis. I think it’s going to be a value reset. I think there is going to be a jarring downward price adjustment both in the stock market and in the bond market. This phantom or phony wealth that has been created since the last crisis is going to basically evaporate.” So, what asset is safe? Stockman says gold and goes onto explain, “I think the time to buy (gold and silver) is ideal. Gold is the ultimate and only real money. Gold is the only safe asset when push comes to shove. They tell you to buy the government bond, that’s a safe asset. It’s not a safe asset at its current price. I am not saying the federal government is going to default in the next two or three years.

I am saying the yield on a 10-year bond of 2.4% is way below of where it’s going to end up. So, the only safe asset left is gold. This crazy Bitcoin mania has drained off what would otherwise be a demand for gold. . . . When Bitcoin collapses, spectacularly, which it will because it’s sheer mania in the markets right now. When it collapses, I think a lot of that demand will come back into gold, as well as people fleeing the standard stock and bond markets for the first time in 9 or 10 years.” What about the so-called Trump tax cuts? Stockman predicts, “I think it’s going to be a fiscal calamity of Biblical proportions. I want to be clear. I am always for tax cuts and shrinking the size of government, but you have to earn it. You have to cut spending and entitlements and this massive defense budget. Obviously, they didn’t do that.

If you look at honest accounting . . this bill will add $2.5 trillion to the public debt which, and this is a key point, is already going to rise by $10 trillion over the next decade based on the current law and taxes that is still in.” “More importantly,” Stockman says, “The central banks realize they cannot keep printing money at these crazy rates, and by that I mean the bond buying. Now, they are going to begin to normalize and shrink their balance sheet . . By the fall (of 2018), they (the Federal Reserve) will be shrinking their balance sheet by $600 billion a year. What that means in plain simple English is that they (the Fed) are dumping $600 billion a year of existing bonds into the market just as Uncle Sam will be attempting to borrow $1.25 trillion more. Now, if you don’t think that is a financial collision waiting to happen, then I am not sure what would be.

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The tax bill is not one-dimensional.

What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America? (WS)

The new tax law is larded with goodies for Corporate America, but there is one shift – a much needed shift – in this debt-obsessed world that will punish over-indebted companies, discourage companies from taking on too much leverage, and perhaps, just maybe, make these companies less risky: The new law sharply limits the deductibility of corporate interest expense. Starting in 2018, a company can only deduct interest expense of up to 30% of its Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Any amount in interest expense beyond it will no longer be deductible. This will tighten further in 2022, when the deductibility of corporate debt will be capped at 30% of earnings before interest and taxes but after depreciation and amortization expenses.

This is a much smaller number than Ebitda. And interest expense deduction is capped at 30% of that much smaller amount. This will raise the tax bill further. Most impacted will be highly indebted companies, which often have a junk credit rating. And due to this junk credit rating, they also pay higher interest rates. This made the interest expense deduction very valuable. But now it is getting partially gutted. Businesses have long been incentivized to borrow, not only by the extraordinarily low interest rates even for junk-rated companies, but also by the full deductibility of interest expense. And thus encouraged by the tax code, corporate debt has surged. Mergers & acquisitions, share buybacks, leveraged buyouts, and dividends have often been funded at least partially with debt. And over the years, companies have piled on an enormous amount of debt.

According to estimates by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, cited by The Wall Street Journal, the first phase of curtailing interest-expense deductibility – the phase that kicks in next year – would raise $171 billion in tax revenues over 10 years. The second phase that commences in 2022 would raise $307 billion over 10 years. This would be the billions of dollars that highly indebted companies would pay more in taxes because they’re losing the deductible of some of their debts. It will be a significant hit to their after-tax income. It won’t kill them, but it will lower the incentive to borrow.

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It’ll get messier than subprime housing.

Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and Private Equity Has No Way Out (BBG)

Private-equity firms that plunged headlong into subprime auto lending are discovering just how hard it might be to get out. A Perella Weinberg Partners fund has been sitting on an IPO of Flagship Credit Acceptance for two years as bad loan write-offs push it into the red. Blackstone has struggled to make Exeter Finance profitable, despite sinking almost a half-billion dollars into the lender since 2011 and shaking up the C-suite multiple times. And Wall Street bankers in private say others would love to cash out too, but there’s currently no market for such exits. In the years after the financial crisis, buyout firms poured billions into auto finance, angling for the big profits that come with offering high-interest loans to buyers with the weakest credit.

At rates of 11% or more, there was plenty to be made as sales boomed. But now, with new car demand waning, they’ve found the intense competition – and the lax underwriting standards it fostered – are taking a toll on profits. Delinquencies on subprime loans made by non-bank lenders are soaring toward crisis levels. Fresh investment has dried up and some of the big banks, long seen as potential suitors, have pulled back from the auto lending business. To top it off, state regulators are circling the industry, asking whether it preyed on borrowers and put them in cars they couldn’t afford. “The PE guys sailed into this thing with stars in their eyes. Some of the businesses have done fine and some haven’t,” said Chris Gillock at Colonnade Advisors, a boutique investment bank. But right now, “it’s about as out-of-favor a sector as I can think of.”

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Two more years to go? I don’t know about that. But then, I didn’t predict the ’29 crash either.

The Ghost of Gann: Another Crash is Coming (Ren.)

While the metrics noted above can accurately indicate the peak of an equities bubbles several months in advance, they cannot tell us anything years ahead of time. For this, we must turn to the research of the original wizard of Wall Street, W.D. Gann. He was a finance trader who developed technical analysis tools and forecasting methods based on geometry, astronomy, astrology and ancient mathematics. He was a successful and wealthy speculator, spending decades investigating patterns in equities markets. He concluded that equities exhibited a cyclical trend over decades and thus prices could be predicted long in advance. In 1908, Gann constructed his financial timetable, which tabulated the booms and busts, peaks and troughs of the US equities market.

Just like the Geoist land market cycle, there is a repeating 18-year average between every major cycle. Gann managed to predict the crash of 1929 years in advance. He realised that the timetable would have to be recalibrated on the 25th December 1989. The updated timetable is amazingly accurate from that date onward, predicting the Dot-Com bubble peak in 2000 and its collapse. The GFC peak was off by one year; 2007 instead of one year earlier in 2006. The trough was in 2009, followed by a minor panic in 2015, when the S&P500 dipped but has since boomed. According to the timetable, 2020 will be the peak of the equities bubble, followed by a major crash similar to that of the Dot-Com bubble.

To the economists we’ve spoken to, the peak could range between 2019M09 to 2020M03. Given how large the S&P500 bubble has become, it is worth treading very carefully during this period for those exposed to US equities. Gann is famous for saying: “Every movement in the market is the result of a natural law and of a Cause which exists long before the effect takes place and can be determined years in advance. The future is but a repetition of the past, as the Bible plainly states…”

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How hard will they come down on Catalunya this time? Neither Rajoy nor Brussels can afford to lose face.

Catalan Separatists Win Election In Rebuke To Spain and EU (R.)

Catalonia’s separatists look set to regain power in the wealthy Spanish region after local elections on Thursday, deepening the nation’s political crisis in a sharp rebuke to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and European Union leaders who backed him. With nearly all votes counted, separatist parties won a slim majority in Catalan parliament, a result that promises to prolong political tensions which have damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus from the region. Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking the previous secessionist government, had hoped Catalonia’s “silent majority” would deal separatism a decisive blow in what was a de facto independence referendum, but his hard line backfired.

The unexpected result sets the stage for the return to power of deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who campaigned from self-exile in Brussels. State prosecutors accuse him of sedition, and he faces arrest if he were to return home. “Either Rajoy changes his recipe or we change the country,” Puigdemont, said in a televised speech. He was flanked by four former cabinet members that fled with him. At jubilant pro-independence rallies around Barcelona, supporters chanted “President Puigdemont” and unfurled giant red-and-yellow Catalan flags as the results came in. Puigdemont’s spokesman told Reuters in a text message: “We are the comeback kids.” The result unnerved global markets, contributing to a softer euro and subdued sentiment in stock markets.

Opinion polls had predicted secessionists to fall short of a majority. More than 3,100 firms have moved their legal headquarters outside Catalonia, concerned that the indebted region, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, could split from Spain and tumble out of the EU and the euro zone by default. Spain has trimmed its growth forecasts for next year, and official data shows foreign direct investment in Catalonia fell 75% in the third quarter from a year earlier, dragging down national investment. The EU’s major powers, Germany and France, have backed Rajoy’s stance despite some criticism of his methods at times.

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China exports Ponzi and overcapacity.

China’s Creditor Imperialism (PS)

Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will. As Sri Lanka’s handover of the strategic Hambantota port shows, states caught in debt bondage to the new imperial giant risk losing both natural assets and their very sovereignty. This month, Sri Lanka, unable to pay the onerous debt to China it has accumulated, formally handed over its strategically located Hambantota port to the Asian giant. It was a major acquisition for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which President Xi Jinping calls the “project of the century” – and proof of just how effective China’s debt-trap diplomacy can be.

Unlike International Monetary Fund and World Bank lending, Chinese loans are collateralized by strategically important natural assets with high long-term value (even if they lack short-term commercial viability). Hambantota, for example, straddles Indian Ocean trade routes linking Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to Asia. In exchange for financing and building the infrastructure that poorer countries need, China demands favorable access to their natural assets, from mineral resources to ports. Moreover, as Sri Lanka’s experience starkly illustrates, Chinese financing can shackle its “partner” countries. Rather than offering grants or concessionary loans, China provides huge project-related loans at market-based rates, without transparency, much less environmental- or social-impact assessments.

As US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it recently, with the BRI, China is aiming to define “its own rules and norms.” To strengthen its position further, China has encouraged its companies to bid for outright purchase of strategic ports, where possible. The Mediterranean port of Piraeus, which a Chinese firm acquired for $436 million from cash-strapped Greece last year, will serve as the BRI’s “dragon head” in Europe. By wielding its financial clout in this manner, China seeks to kill two birds with one stone. First, it wants to address overcapacity at home by boosting exports. And, second, it hopes to advance its strategic interests, including expanding its diplomatic influence, securing natural resources, promoting the international use of its currency, and gaining a relative advantage over other powers.

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Same story. I’ve said a thousand times that China is buying the world with Monopoly money. It is.

China Uses Cheap Debt To ‘Bend Other Countries To Its Will’ (CNBC)

China’s continents-spanning Belt and Road network threatens to “shackle” partner countries and deprive them of valuable natural assets, according to one critic. Beijing is financing and executing massive infrastructure projects across the 68 nations participating in the ambitious scheme, which snakes along Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These recipient countries, many of them emerging economies in dire need of investment, obtain funding in various forms such as sovereign loans from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration and credit from Chinese state-owned banks. But concerns of developing countries taking on unrealistic financial obligations have sparked allegations of what’s being called ‘dept-trap diplomacy.’

Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration released a statement warning of unsustainable debt burdens being created by Belt and Road. “Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will,” according to Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, who described Beijing’s policies as “creditor imperialism.” In a stinging editorial published on Project Syndicate, Chellaney — a former adviser to India’s National Security Council — pointed to Sri Lanka as an example. The South Asian state, unable to pay back onerous bills to China, recently handed over its Hambantota port to state owned China Merchants Port Holdings in a $1.1 billion deal that was widely viewed as an erosion of sovereignty.

“As Hambantota shows, China is now establishing its own Hong Kong-style neocolonial arrangements,” Chellaney said. “Like the opium the British exported to China, the easy loans China offers are addictive. And, because China chooses its projects according to their long-term strategic value, they may yield short-term returns that are insufficient for countries to repay their debts,” he explained. As a result, the world’s second-largest economy holds political leverage over governments and can “force borrowers to swap debt for equity, thereby expanding China’s global footprint by trapping a growing number of countries in debt servitude.”

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The government in charge of the bubble.

Fannie And Freddie Are Here To Stay – There Is No Alternative (ZH)

Since the US government nationalized the two GSEs in 2008 in a $187 billion bailout of the mortgage giants, there have been consistent calls for them to be wound down and for the private sector to fill the void. As we discussed, this view is, or was, shared by new Fed Chairman, Jay Powell. Mr. Powell has called on Congress to overhaul the housing finance system, saying he’d like to see the country’s two large mortgage-finance firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, move out from under government conservatorship. More private capital in those firms would reduce the risk of a taxpayer-funded bailout in the event of a downturn, he said in a speech in July. Although the Fed isn’t responsible for housing finance, it supervises some of the country’s largest lenders who frequently sell their loan to the two agencies. “No single housing finance institution should be too big to fail,” he said.

In August this year, Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), published the results of its latest annual stress tests on the two GSE’s. The FHFA outlined a “severely adverse” scenario in which US real GDP decline 6.5%, the unemployment rate rises to 10.0%, equity prices decline almost 50%, home prices decline 25% and commercial real estate prices by 35%. Under these conditions, it estimates Fannie and Freddie would need a bailout of up to $100 billion in the form of a draw on the Treasury (depending on how they treat assets to offset tax). Sadly, after almost a decade of federal ownership, the hope that Fannie and Freddie could be wound down has evaporated. Senators on both sides of the political divide have concluded that they are too big and too risky to replace. Proposed legislation in 2018 will see them retained at the centre of the US mortgage industry, rather than replacing them as a previous senate proposal tried and failed four years ago.


Mortgages guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie amount to about $4 trillion and account for about 40% of the total US market.

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The incompetence is painful.

UK’s Secret Brexit Studies Reveal That Airbus Makes Planes (BBG)

For months, journalists tried to get their hands on government papers setting out how leaving the European Union will affect different parts of the British economy. They contained, according to Brexit Secretary David Davis, “excruciating detail.” But despite boasting about their contents, ministers were reluctant to let anyone else see the documents. In November, after being forced to give way by a vote in Parliament, the government allowed lawmakers to read them under controlled conditions. Their phones were confiscated, and they were only permitted to make notes with pen and paper, lest too much information leak into the public domain. “These documents in aggregate represent the most comprehensive picture of our economy on this issue to date,” Davis wrote this month, explaining why he was being cautious about publication.

On Thursday, the documents were released online. There was detail, as promised. “The parts of an aircraft can be simplistically split into three areas,” began the first, on aerospace. It was explained what the industry makes: “structures which include the nose, fuselage, wings, engine nacelles (which encase the engines) and tail; propulsion system which includes engines and propellers, or fan blades; and systems which include the electronics used in the flight system.” It went on to reveal that there are two companies in the world that make large passenger aircraft. Now that the documents are public, these firms can be named as Boeing and Airbus. The paper covering the insurance and pensions sector, which employs one in every 100 British workers, is 2,732 words long. “Insurance business operates by firms writing insurance policies for clients, intermediated by brokers,” it reveals.

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You sure that you want to victimize the victims?

Eco-Terrorists Threaten To Inject Acid In Greek Supermarket Products (WaPo)

Greek supermarkets were forced to withdraw several food and beverage products from their shelves this week, after a group threatened to contaminate them with acid as part of an environmentally influenced protest of Christmas consumerism. Authorities urged residents in Athens and the city of Thessaloniki not to buy or consume certain types of Coca-Cola, a Greek milk brand and packages of meat. Thessaloniki and Athens combined have about 1 million residents who were affected by the precautionary measures. The “Blackgreen Arsonists” — whose name suggests an eco-anarchist outlook — threatened to inject the products with hydrochloric acid, a powerful, colorless corrosive used in research and industry.

They said it was because the thousands of people doing their Christmas shopping meant “the sacrifice of millions of living creatures, slaughtered and drained to the last drop to satisfy consumers’ needs.” To protest this need every year for people to fill their empty lives with “consumer garbage with beautiful and glittering wrappings,” the sabotaged products would be placed on supermarket shelves in the run-up to Christmas. Authorities said they have no information on the identities of the group members. Similar threats have emerged in the past and nothing has happened, though in this case the group included photos of its members injecting something into the products as part of their online threat.

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Real values.

New Zealand Gives Mount Taranaki Same Legal Rights As A Person (G.)

Mount Taranaki in New Zealand is to be granted the same legal rights as a person, becoming the third geographic feature in the country to be granted a “legal personality”. Eight local Maori tribes and the government will share guardianship of the sacred mountain on the east coast of the North Island, in a long-awaited acknowledgement of the indigenous people’s relationship to the mountain, who view it as an ancestor and whanau, or family member. The new status of the mountain means if someone abuses or harms it, it is the same legally as harming the tribe. In the record of understanding signed this week, Mount Taranaki will become “a legal personality, in its own right”, said the minister for treaty negotiations, Andrew Little, gaining similar rights to the Whanganui river, which was granted legal personhood earlier this year.

Little said the agreement offered the best possible protection for the landmark, which is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction after Lonely Planet named the Taranaki region the second best place to visit in the world last year. “As a New Plymouth local I grew up under the gaze of the maunga [mountain] so I’m particularly pleased with the respect accorded to local tangata whenua [local people] and the legal protection and personality given to the mountain,” Little said. “Today’s agreements are a major milestone in acknowledging the grievances and hurt from the past as the Taranaki iwi experienced some of the worst examples of Crown behaviour in the 19th century.” As part of the agreement the New Zealand government will apologise to local Maori for historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi against the mountain, although local tribes will receive no financial or commercial redress.

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