The following was written by Bruce Wilds, who runs the Advancing Time blog. Bruce is a small business owner in the Midwest.
I get lots of articles sent to me, but hardly ever publish any (sorry I can’t send everyone a reply) because they’re not what I think this site should be. But with this article it’s different. I think what Bruce describes is interesting, important even. The US has been losing small businesses for a long time, and the virus response is set to greatly accelerate the process. The huge stimulus plans will bypass most small businesses, because they are too small for governments to know what to do with.
The article was written before the latest round of handouts, but there’s very little reason to believe it will change much of anything. It’s not so much a grand plan or conspiracy, it just that the system has come to recognize only that bigger is better. America doesn’t like small. This is as true for banks as it is for various levels of government. But small businnesses have not only built the country, and are crucial for the faces of Main Streets and small towns, they also employ enormous amounts of Americans.
Bruce Wilds: The Paycheck Protection Program or PPP was funded with $350 billion in the last stimulus bill, this money is now gone. Of the thirty million small businesses in America, only 1.7 million received money from the 2.3 trillion dollar aid package passed to help sustain America during this difficult time. If the government blew through this money and was only was able to help only around 5% of small businesses. it is difficult to think another 250 billion dollars will set things straight. Clearly, because when the government made promises it delayed the wave of firing while companies waited for help.
The government has failed to keep its promise so now we should expect unemployment to soar as reality sets in. One of the largest problems facing small companies is they are often underfunded and have difficulty getting financing at reasonable rates. Banks find larger companies much more profitable. The sector of the economy most damaged by the covid-19 shutdown is small business. When this is over America will find many small businesses have been decimated and are not able to reopen. Others will never recover and be forced to close within months. Since small businesses employ over 54 million people in America and their importance in the economy should not be underestimated.
• Small businesses contribute 44 percent of all sales in the country.
• Small businesses employ 54.4 million people, about 57.3 percent of the private workforce.
Rest assured government employees and bureaucrats will still continue to get paid but small business, the most productive part of the economy has a knife to its throat. As a landlord and small business owner, I can tell you the program was structured in a way that will be of little help to most small businesses. The government slammed expensive legislation through with no idea of the damage they were doing and how it will cause hundreds of thousands of businesses to close their doors forever. Washington has become so attuned to dealing with lobbyists from mega-companies it has lost sight of the fact small is small, and when this comes to business, this means usually under twenty employees, not hundreds.
The government’s answer to keeping people employed was to promise small businesses an easy to get, rapid maximum loan amount of two and a half times a company’s average monthly payroll expense over the past 12 months. This loan would turn into a grant and be forgiven if a company did not fire its employees. Sadly, legislators failed to take into consideration that not all small businesses are labor or payroll intense. Some businesses with large or expensive showrooms are getting hammered by rent, others by inventory, or things like taxes, utilities, or even by having to toss products due to spoilage.
The PPP also failed to address the issue of what these employees are going to do while the company has no customers and business barely trickling. In the past, these employees were expected to pursue activities that earned revenue and garnered profits for the business but with no costumers, this is difficult to do. The PPP also ignored the fact that by keeping these employees on the payroll a generous employer is left open to the harsh mandates laid out in the government’s previous bill. The hastily drawn up 110-page federal covid-19 economic rescue package, which Trump fully supported dealt a hard blow to small business. For a small business this is a disaster, the bill requires;
• Employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers offer two weeks of paid sick leave through 2020.
• Those same employers must now provide up to 3 months of paid family and medical leave for people forced to quarantine due to the virus or care for family because of the outbreak
As expected, this measure, named “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.” resulted in millions of workers suddenly losing their jobs. Ironically, it was held before the voters as proof lawmakers could work together during a crisis. By framing the poorly crafted pork-packed bill this way promoters positioned themselves to demonize those unwilling to support it. Remember, this bill is was in addition to the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill first approved to curb the spread of covid-19.
As government has grown larger it seems to have become totally oblivious to the fragility of many small businesses and how much it can cost a community when they close. By framing these pork-packed bills as bipartisan their promoters imply they are fair and balanced. This is not true, small business is the big loser and hundreds of thousands will soon have to close. With so many tenants looking at foregoing rent small landlords that don’t have deep pockets also face huge problems. We have our heads in the sand if we think companies that exist on events where people gather will overnight regain their luster. It is not like someone can simply flick a switch and things will return to normal.
Reality undercuts the idea of the “V-shaped recovery” theory and the idea after the economy has come to a dead stop it can quickly reboot and be back at full speed in a few months. The government has presented us with an extension of crony capitalism structured to throw just enough to the masses to silence their outrage but in the coming weeks, we will see it failed. Large businesses with access to cheap capital are the winners and the big losers are the middle-class, small businesses, and social mobility. All those people that want a higher minimum wage can forget that ever happening if we don’t have jobs.
As for just how much small business owners make, according to figures from 2015 from the Small Business Administration the median income for self-employed individuals at an incorporated business was $49,804 and $22,424 for unincorporated firms. According to PayScale’s 2017 data, the average small business owner’s income is $73,000 per year. But, total earnings can range from $30,000 – $182,000 per year. This means it varies greatly depending on where and just how big the business is. However, it is important to remember these people have “skin in the game” and most risk losing everything if their business fails.
It is important to recognize that starting your own business has always been about the opportunity to design and build your own future. It is a symbol of freedom not a guarantee of wealth. Many people choose this path proudly, not to make more money but as a way to express their individuality. For these competent and talented people, a job in government or at a large company often offers more security and benefits but far less freedom. Do not underestimate the value of small business and what it contributes to our society. Companies such as Amazon are the anti-thesis of small business making their workers a cog in a machine and stealing their soul.
Based on the government’s promise to small businesses a great many held off on letting employees go but with each passing day in order to survive they are now in the process of letting hundreds of thousands of employees go. This is a ticking time-bomb. By telling these businesses to close and then through its failure to carry out its promise of helping them the government has created a situation with massive negative economic ramifications. To make matters worse, people going on unemployment look to get almost as much as those that do work. Why will anyone want to work, especially government workers when they can get paid to stay home? This is not about wanting more money for small business, it is about the reality that the firings are just beginning.
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Well, I now know Taleb read my essay. And he likes it. Shame he linked to Yves’ repost, not the original at the Automatic Earth.
HITS THE SPOT:
"What is happening right now is not because all the epidemiologists & virologists around the world are wrong, but because they’re asked to make decisons and construct models about something they don’t know nearly enough about."https://t.co/3ZYBlKefbe
In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations. President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by AP and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data. Six days. That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus.
But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time — the beginning of the outbreak. China’s attempt to walk a line between alerting the public and avoiding panic set the stage for a pandemic that has infected more than 2 million people and taken more than 133,000 lives. “This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.” Other experts noted that the Chinese government may have waited on warning the public to stave off hysteria, and that it did act quickly in private during that time.
But the six-day delay by China’s leaders in Beijing came on top of almost two weeks during which the national Center for Disease Control did not register any cases from local officials, internal bulletins obtained by the AP confirm. Yet during that time, from Jan. 5 to Jan. 17, hundreds of patients were appearing in hospitals not just in Wuhan but across the country. [..] The punishment of eight doctors for “rumor-mongering,” broadcast on national television on Jan. 2, sent a chill through the city’s hospitals. “Doctors in Wuhan were afraid,” said Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago. “It was truly intimidation of an entire profession.”
US intelligence agencies alerted Israel to the coronavirus outbreak in China already in November, Israeli television reported Thursday. According to Channel 12 news, the US intelligence community became aware of the emerging disease in Wuhan in the second week of that month and drew up a classified document. Information on the disease outbreak was not in the public domain at that stage — and was known only apparently to the Chinese government. US intelligence informed the Trump administration, “which did not deem it of interest,” but the report said the Americans also decided to update two allies with the classified document: NATO and Israel, specifically the IDF.
The network said Israeli military officials later in November discussed the possibility of the spread of the virus to the region and how it would affect Israel and neighboring countries. The intelligence also reached Israel’s decision makers and the Health Ministry, where “nothing was done,” according to the report. Last week, ABC News reported that US intelligence officials were warning about the coronavirus in a report prepared in December by the American military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence. It was unclear if that was the same report that was said to have been shared with Israel. In its first major step to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Israel announced on January 30 it was barring all flights from China, ten days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping issued his first public comments on the virus and the Asian country’s top epidemiologist said for the first time it could be spread from person to person.
An Associated Press report on Wednesday said Xi’s warning came seven days after Chinese officials secretly determined that they were likely facing a pandemic, potentially costing China and other countries valuable time to prepare for the outbreak. Doctors in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak in China, are reported to have first tried to have warn about the virus in December, but were censored.
The Chinese city of Wuhan – ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic – has revised its fatality count, increasing the total by just shy of 1,300 deaths, which officials say went unreported due to “delays” and “omissions.” Authorities in Wuhan added another 1,290 deaths to the city’s death toll on Friday, putting the overall figures at 50,333 infections and 3,869 fatalities in the virus’ first epicenter. The revision was necessary to “address incorrect reporting, delays and omissions of cases,” city officials said, with the new numbers increasing Wuhan’s death tally by some 50%. “In the early stage of the epidemic, due to insufficient capacity for admission and treatment, a small number of medical institutions failed to connect with the disease prevention and control information system in a timely manner,” Wuhan health officials said, adding that a “statistical investigation” had been conducted to correct the figures.
Early on, smoking was suggested as a likely explanation. In China, nearly 50% of men but only about 2% of women smoke, and so underlying differences in lung health were assumed to contribute to men suffering worse symptoms and outcomes. The smoking hypothesis was backed by a paper, published last month, that found smokers made up about 12% of those with less severe symptoms, but 26% of those who ended up in intensive care or died. Smoking might also act as an avenue for getting infected in the first place: smokers touch their lips more and may share contaminated cigarettes. Behavioural factors that differ across genders may also have a role. Some studies have shown that men are less likely to wash their hands, less likely to use soap, less likely to seek medical care and more likely to ignore public health advice.
These are sweeping generalisations, but across a population could place men at greater risk. However, there is a growing belief among experts that more fundamental biological factors are also at play. While there are higher proportions of male smokers in many countries – in the UK, 16.5% of men smoke compared with 13% of women – the differences are nowhere near as extreme as in China. But men continue to be overrepresented in Covid-19 statistics. “The growing observation of increased mortality in men is holding true across China, Italy, Spain. We’re seeing this across very diverse countries and cultures,” said Sabra Klein, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “When I see that, it makes me think that there must be something universal that’s contributing to this. I don’t think smoking is the leading factor.”
Previous research, including by Klein, has revealed that men have lower innate antiviral immune responses to a range of infections including hepatitis C and HIV. Studies in mice suggest this may also be true for coronaviruses, though Covid-19 specifically has not been studied. “Their immune system may not initiate an appropriate response when it initially sees the virus,” Klein said. Hormones can also play a role – oestrogen has been shown to increase antiviral responses of immune cells. And many genes that regulate the immune system are encoded on the X chromosome (of which men have one, and women have two) and so it is possible that some genes involved in the immune response are more active in women than in men.
Paris has summoned its Chinese envoy after the embassy published a blistering critique of the West’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, accusing leaders of failing to act and abandoning vulnerable citizens to death and starvation. “Certain publicly voiced opinions by representatives of the Chinese Embassy in France are not in line with the quality of the bilateral relations between our two countries,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement late on Tuesday, calling on Ambassador Lu Shaye to answer for an article published on the Chinese Embassy website over the weekend.
Entitled ‘Restoring distorted facts,’ the lengthy post – which listed no author – tore into the US and European governments for their handling of the pandemic, while defending Beijing from accusations of concealing information and of a sluggish response. “In the West, we have seen politicians tearing themselves apart to recover votes; advocate herd immunity, thus abandoning their citizens alone in the face of the viral massacre.” The article claimed that some nursing homes had been “deserted,” leaving elderly patients “to die of hunger and disease.”
The post also took aim at Western news outlets, “which take themselves for paragons of impartiality and objectivity,” yet appear to care more about “slandering, stigmatizing and attacking China” than covering the raging health crises in their own countries. “Do these media and these experts, so fond of objectivity and impartiality, have a conscience? Do they have ethics?” Responding to the blustery article, the French FM insisted “there is no room for polemics” amid the Covid-19 pandemic, stating he made his “disapproval” clear to Lu and that France and other nations must pursue “unity, solidarity and the greatest international cooperation.”
China’s economy shrank by 6.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, the first contraction since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, confirming the economic damage done by the coronavirus pandemic. Over the first three months of the year, the world’s second largest economy faced an extensive shutdown as it battled to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and has subsequently struggled to fully reopen. New data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Friday confirmed the slump, which was worse than predictions of minus 6.0 per cent from a survey of analysts’ forecasts by Bloomberg. NBS data also showed that over the single month of March the economy remained under huge pressure, with the industrial sectors, retail and fixed asset investment all shrinking again, following a dramatic collapse over the first two months of the year.
Industrial production, a gauge of manufacturing, mining and utilities, fell by 1.1 per cent last month, after a 13.5 per cent decline over January and February, when the data was combined. This was much better than expectations of a 6.2 per cent decline, according to the Bloomberg survey. Within that, however, manufacturing contracted by 10.2 per cent, suggesting that even as factories reopen, headwinds remain. Retail sales, a key measurement of consumption in the world s most populous nation, fell by 15.8 per cent, following a record 20.5 per cent collapse in the first two months, much worse than forecasts of a 10.0 per cent slump. Fixed asset investment, a gauge of expenditure over the year to date on items including infrastructure, property, machinery and equipment, fell by 16.1 per cent over the first three months, from an all-time low of minus 20.5 per cent in January-February. Analysts had forecast a 15.1 per cent slump.
[..] there are two constraints on our ability to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The first constraint is money. This gets all the press right now — and rightly so. To slow the spread of the coronavirus, millions of people are staying home from work. Since we don’t want these people to starve, we need to somehow give them money. But where should this money come from? While this appears like a monetary constraint, it’s actually a social constraint. Money is a social fiction that we can create and destroy at will. So at the societal level, ‘not having enough money’ isn’t a real constraint. No, the real constraint is about who has the power to create and distribute money. We usually give most of this power to the private sector. (Banks create the majority of money when they issue credit.) We forget that the government can also create money. Fortunately, many governments of the world are rediscovering this power, and are paying their citizens to stay at home.
While this (apparent) monetary constraint is on the top of our minds, there are also biophysical constraints on how we can deal with the coronavirus pandemic. These biophysical constraints are little discussed, but they’re more fundamental than the lack of money. [..] Two hundred years ago, most people lived in rural areas. This made it easy to keep your distance from other people (if you had to). Now the vast majority of us live in cities, making it hard to stay away from other people. So urbanization has made it more difficult to fight pandemics.
Fortunately, another demographic change offsets the affects of urbanization. To slow the spread of the virus, many of us are being paid to sit at home and do nothing. Two hundred years ago this would have been impossible. Why? Because at the time, most people were farmers. If they didn’t go to work, the population would starve. So a sweeping ‘stay-at-home’ order would have been impossible. Now things are different. As Figure 1 shows, the US has undergone an astonishing
demographic inversion. The vast majority of people now work in the service sector. This means that many of us can simply not work. Sure, without a large service sector we can’t get our lattes or our manicures. But we won’t starve. So the coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to run a vast social experiment. The research question is this: in the short run, how many jobs can society do without? The answer, it would appear, is an awful lot.
Figure 1: The demographic inversion in the US. The sector composition of the US in 1800 (left) and in 2010 (right). [Source: Rethinking Economic Growth Theory from a Biophysical Perspective]
The number of unemployed Americans continues to climb with another 5 million people filing jobless claims last week, bringing the total number of people applying for unemployment to 22 million in the last month. But an unsettling undercurrent of that number is the amount of people who are also losing access to health insurance because they lost their job. Approximately 9.2 million workers have likely lost their employer-provided health care coverage in the past four weeks, an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute concluded.
Two weeks ago, the nonprofit think tank concluded that nearly 3.5 million among the 8.7 million claims likely lost their employer coverage. An additional 11.4 million people have since applied for unemployment, with the biggest losses of insurance coming from the health care/social assistance, manufacturing and retail sectors. NBC News previously reported that states are bracing for an increase in the number of people who have applied for Medicaid, the public health care coverage option, since the coronavirus pandemic caused states to shutter businesses and caused workers to lose access to their insurance.
At least 43,000 American millionaires who are too rich to get coronavirus stimulus checks are getting a far bigger boost — averaging $1.6 million each, according to a congressional committee. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act trumpeted its assistance for working families and small businesses, but it apparently contains an even bigger benefit for wealthy business owners, the committee found. The act allows pass-through businesses — ones taxed under individual income, rather than corporate — an unlimited amount of deductions against their non-business income, such as capital gains, the Washington Post said. They can also use losses to avoid paying taxes in other years.
That gives the roughly 43,000 individual tax filers who make at least $1 million a year a savings of $70.3 billion — or about $1.6 million apiece, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Hedge-fund investors and real estate business owners are “far and away” the ones who will benefit the most, tax expert Steve Rosenthal told the Washington Post. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called it a “scandal” to “loot American taxpayers in the midst of an economic and human tragedy.” Sen. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) claimed that “someone wrongly seized on this health emergency to reward ultrarich beneficiaries.” “For those earning $1 million annually, a tax break buried in the recent coronavirus relief legislation is so generous that its total cost is more than total new funding for all hospitals in America and more than the total provided to all state and local governments,” he stressed in a statement.
Since the Fed announced its market bailouts and interventions on March 15, it has printed and handed to Wall Street $2.06 trillion. But here is the thing: This was front-loaded, and over the past two weeks, it has cut its bailouts in half, and it has stopped lending new funds to its SPVs that were expected to buy all manner of securities, including equities, junk bonds, and old bicycles. But those loan amounts haven’t moved in four weeks. What it has bought were Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities – and it’s cutting back on those too. Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet rose by $285 billion during the week through April 15, reported Thursday afternoon, to $6.37 trillion.
Over the past five weeks, including the partial bailout-week which started March 16 and ended March 18, total assets increased by these amounts. Note the big taper from $586 billion and $557 billion early on to $287 billion in the latest week: • $356 billion (Mar 18, partial bailout week started Mar 16) • $586 billion (Mar 25) • $557 billion (Apr 1) • $272 billion (Apr 8) • $285 billion (Apr 15).
The $6.37 trillion of assets on the Fed’s balance sheet are mostly composed of Treasury securities, mortgage-backed securities (MBS), repurchase agreements (repos), “foreign central bank liquidity swaps,” and “loans” to its Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs). We’ll go through them one at a time. The Fed added $154 billion in Treasury securities during the week, down 47% from the $293 billion it had added the week before, and down 57% from the $362 billion it had added two week ago. This is a major factor in the Big Taper of QE-4.
The sharp reduction in purchases of Treasuries confirms for now that the Fed is sticking to its announcement that it would drastically cut QE after the initial blast. Fed Chair Jerome Powell in a webcast on April 10 said that the Fed would pack away its emergency tools once “private markets and institutions are once again able to perform their vital functions of channeling credit and supporting economic growth.” Whatever that means. [..] The Fed has “dollar liquidity swap lines” with [many central banks]. The total on its balance sheet increased by $20 billion from the prior week to $378 billion but has been in the same range all April. Of note: • 83% of outstanding liquidity swaps are with the ECB ($138 billion) and the BOJ ($176 billion). • The Bank of England is far behind ($22 billion). And there no swaps with the central banks of Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, and Sweden.
[..] neither the ECB nor the BOJ need the dollars for trade. They need them to support their banks and companies have large dollar-denominated debts and speculative bets that they need to refinanced with cheap dollars. And those swaps make that possible.
The Covid-19 pandemic shows that governments that think of security in mostly military terms are simply wasting money, Mikhail Gorbachev has said. Defence spending must be cut globally to fund things that humanity actually needs. The former Soviet leader called on the world to move away from hard power in international affairs. He remains especially worried about the kind of military brinkmanship that lately has almost led to a shooting war in the Middle East. “What we urgently need now is a rethinking of the entire concept of security,” he wrote, in an op-ed published by TIME magazine. “Even after the end of the Cold War, it has been envisioned mostly in military terms. Over the past few years, all we’ve been hearing is talk about weapons, missiles and airstrikes.”
The Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted once again that the threats humanity faces today are global in nature and can only be addressed by nations collectively. The resources currently spent on arms need to go into preparation for such crises, Gorbachev said. “The overriding goal must be human security: providing food, water and a clean environment, and caring for people’s health,” he said. The first thing that nations should do after the coronavirus is dealt-with is to make a commitment to a massive demilitarization. “I call upon [world leaders] to cut military spending by 10 percent to 15 percent. This is the least they should do now, as a first step toward a new consciousness, a new civilization.”
Gorbachev, the former leader of the USSR who is credited with de-escalating the Cold War against the US and with negotiating a dramatic reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the two powers, shared his opinions and aspirations as the global number of Covid-19 cases surpassed the two-million benchmark. The pandemic has led to over 130,000 deaths and is projected to plunge the world economy into a recession of a magnitude unseen since the 1920s.
China’s airlines are poised for a bout of “revenge travelling” in the coming weeks, as soaring reservations ahead of the annual Labour Day holiday and demand by residents returning home from quarantines helped them recover 40 per cent of their traffic. Regional carriers like Guizhou Airlines, Fuzhou Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines’ low-cost unit China United Airlines have added new routes around the country, according to CAAC News, a newspaper run by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). United has added 25 routes, eight of which depart from the new Daxing airport in the Chinese capital.
“Chinese carriers are hoping that they could make a breakthrough on the Labour Day holiday,” said the Institute for Aviation Research’s founder and president Lei Zheng, adding that airlines do tend to make seasonal scheduling adjustments. “If they have decent recovery during May, then they can be well-prepared for summer, one of the two most profitable seasons other than the Lunar New Year.” The recovery in air travel, underpinned by an easing coronavirus outbreak in mainland China, is welcomed news for an industry that has suffered 39.82 billion yuan (US$5.6 billion) in first-quarter losses as air passenger traffic shrank 53.9 per cent.
[..] At the height of the outbreak in China a month ago, the aviation regulator grounded most aircraft, limiting each airline to one weekly international route at 75 per cent capacity. As the daily caseload of coronavirus infections fell to single digits, carriers resumed their services, increasing the average aircraft utilisation to 2.8 hours a day, compared with 9 hours per day before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Flight Master, a Chinese travel intelligence and data company.
China’s Labour Day holiday begins on May 1 and lasts until May 5, an annual weeklong break that usually marks the first peak for travelling and shopping in calendar following the Lunar New Year. Flights are resuming to destinations with lighter caseloads of the coronavirus infections, and where local authorities have either lifted, or are implementing less draconian isolation and quarantine measures than some of the most severely afflicted cities.
Greece will celebrate Easter on Sunday, the most important religious holiday of the Orthodox Church, behind closed doors this year after the authorities strictly forbade the traditional spirited celebrations of mass church attendance, firecrackers and large family gatherings. Authorities are desperate to avoid the traditional mass exodus of city dwellers, when hundreds of thousands of Greeks traditionally flock to churches and to their ancestral homes to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As of Friday, officials reported 2,207 cased and the death toll at 105, one of the lowest rates in Europe. But compliance will be tested over the long Easter weekend.
The government has doubled fines and included removal or car plates for anyone who travels without reason for Greek Orthodox Easter, Civil Protection Deputy Minister for Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias said on Thursday. Extra controls will be in place at toll posts and ports, and only those with a permanent residency in the area will be allowed to travel to prevent trips to visit relatives or second homes in the countryside. “This virus doesn’t distinguish days, whether it’s a celebration or not,” said Hardalias, who spoke extensively of the great majority of Greek citizens who have observed faithfully the lockdown restrictions, and explained the introduction of additional ones, particularly for Easter. As he said, “One in ten Greeks has said directly or explicitly that they will not follow directions. They do not want to change their habits for one day, as if nothing is going on.”
What does Joe Biden have in common with a New York Times article even critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin have described as “incompetent”? Both have received ringing endorsements from former US President Barack Obama. “Democracy depends on an informed citizenry and social cohesion. Here’s a look at how misinformation can spread through social media, and why it can hurt our ability to respond to crises,” Obama tweeted on Wednesday – linking to an article published three days prior. Written by William S. Broad, the top science journalist at the New York Times, the piece contains no actual science – merely a laundry list of conspiracy theories blaming Russia and Putin personally for wanting to “discredit the West and destroy his enemies from within.” “Analysts say” that Putin personally “played a principal role in the spread of false information” about vaccines, the coronavirus, and just about anything really, Broad argues.
Which analysts? Well, Broad cites only three professional Russia-baiters by name, uses two entirely unrelated stories from years ago that were in the general “blame Russia for disinformation” ballpark, and cites “sources” such as the infamous “Intelligence Community Assessment” blaming Russia for the 2016 presidential election. Remember that one? The “Trump-Russia collusion” claim that Russia “hacked our democracy” (whatever that means) that the Democrats flogged for four years to explain losing to Donald Trump and attempt to oust him from office – until it imploded last May and they had to scramble to invent a bogus “Ukrainegate” conspiracy to actually impeach him – and the outlets like the Times and the Washington Post leveraged to get Pulitzers?
Or has all this vanished in the mists of time, due to the month-long brain scrambling induced by the coronavirus lockdowns? May 2019, incidentally, is when Broad wrote another hit piece along the exact same lines, only narrower in scope: he accused RT America of doing Putin’s bidding by reporting on theories that 5G wireless networks could be dangerous. No matter that mainstream US news outlets have reported on the issue in the exact same way – Broad saw “RUSSIA” and had to jump in. Then, too, he chose not to interview actual scientists but Russiagate-pushers such as Ryan Fox, CEO of New Knowledge – the notorious outfit that blamed Russia for its own bot campaign in the 2017 Senate election in Alabama. In other words, a literal false-flag perpetrator.
By way of illustration, one of the “experts” Broad quotes has a line about “a cloud of Russian influencers,” which the NY Times journalist then describes thusly: The players, he said, probably include state actors, intelligence operatives, former RT staff members and the digital teams of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a secretive oligarch and confident [sic] of Mr. Putin’s who financed the St. Petersburg troll farm. “Probably!” Also, you left out the kitchen sink.
And Cooper and Gupta sit there listening, serious faces and all, because this is supposed to be their man.
A federal judge on Thursday denied a bid for a new trial by Donald Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone after the veteran Republican operative accused the jury forewoman of being tainted by anti-Trump political bias. Amy Berman Jackson, a US district court judge, rejected Stone’s claim that the forewoman was biased against Trump and therefore could not be impartial in deciding Stone’s guilt or innocence during the trial. “There is zero evidence of ‘explicit bias’ against Stone, and defendant’s attempts to gain a new trial based on implied or inferred bias fail,” Berman Jackson said in an 81-page decision. Stone, a longtime confidant and former aide to Trump, was convicted in November of seven felonies in an attempt to interfere with a congressional inquiry. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
In her memorandum, Berman Jackson said the lawyers had not proved the forewoman was biased or that any jurors acted inappropriately. She included details of their juror questionnaires in her explanation. “The assumption underlying the motion – that one can infer from the juror’s opinions about the president that she could not fairly consider the evidence against the defendant – is not supported by any facts or data and it is contrary to controlling legal precedent,” she wrote in denying the new trial. “The motion is a tower of indignation, but at the end of the day, there is little of substance holding it up.” Stone must appear in person “at the institution designated by the Bureau of Prisons” within 14 days to serve out his sentence, Jackson ruled. She also released Stone and his lawyers from a gag order.
The officials of the Sanità, the city’s health board, wrote anxiously to their colleagues in Milan, Verona, Venice, in the hope that studying the patterns of contagion would help them protect their city. Reports came from Parma that its ‘inhabitants are reduced to such a state that they are jealous of those who are dead’. The Sanità learned that, in Bologna, officials had forbidden people to discuss the peste, as if they feared you could summon death with a word. Plague was thought to spread through corrupt air, on the breath of the sick or trapped in soft materials like cloth or wood, so in June 1630 the Sanità stopped the flow of commerce and implemented a cordon sanitaire across the mountain passes of the Apennines.
But they soon discovered that the boundary was distressingly permeable. Peasants slipped past bored guards as they played cards. In the dog days of the summer, a chicken-seller fell ill and died in Trespiano, a village in the hills above Florence. The city teetered on the brink of calamity. By August, Florentines were dying. The archbishop ordered the bells of all the churches in the city to be rung while men and women fell to their knees and prayed for divine intercession. In September, six hundred people were buried in pits outside the city walls.
[..] The Sanità arranged the delivery of food, wine and firewood to the homes of the quarantined (30,452 of them). Each quarantined person received a daily allowance of two loaves of bread and half a boccale (around a pint) of wine. On Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, they were given meat. On Tuesdays, they got a sausage seasoned with pepper, fennel and rosemary. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, rice and cheese were delivered; on Friday, a salad of sweet and bitter herbs. The Sanità spent an enormous amount of money on food because they thought that the diet of the poor made them especially vulnerable to infection, but not everyone thought it was a good idea. Rondinelli recorded that some elite Florentines worried that quarantine ‘would give [the poor] the opportunity to be lazy and lose the desire to work, having for forty days been provided abundantly for all their needs’.
The provision of medicine was also expensive. Every morning, hundreds of people in the lazaretti were prescribed theriac concoctions, liquors mixed with ground pearls or crushed scorpions, and bitter lemon cordials. The Sanità did devolve some tasks to the city’s confraternities. The brothers of San Michele Arcangelo conducted a housing survey to identify possible sources of contagion; the members of the Archconfraternity of the Misericordia transported the sick in perfumed willow biers from their homes to the lazaretti. But mostly, the city government footed the bill. Historians now interpret this extensive spending on public health as evidence of the state’s benevolence: if tracts like Righi’s brim over with intolerance towards the poor, the account books of the Sanità tell an unflashy story of good intentions.
Henri Cartier-Bresson A visitor to the Forbidden City, Beijing 1948
Today, I’m going to try to show you how and why we know that in the case of a pandemic like the one we’re in, surrounded by doubts and uncertainties, there are still a series of measures that we can and, more importantly, must take. But also, how these measures are hardly ever taken, and if they are, not in the correct fashion. This has to date led us into a ton of preventable misery and death. If only we would listen. And there’s still more we can do to prevent more mayhem, there is at every step of the process.
It took me a while to get this together. But in the end I wound up with the only COVID19 analysis that makes sense. It doesn’t leave much room for discussion, at least not in the steps needed to be taken in order to tame the virus (I despise the war analogies everyone uses, taming sounds much better). How to fill in those steps once they have -kind of- been taken is another matter.
I’ve been reading up on this for a while, adding -much- more stuff as I went along (this will be a long essay), and at some point realized that the coronavirus is an issue you can’t leave to epidemiologists and virologists, because there are far too many unknowns for them to create a working model, and without such a model they are lost. These fine people are not good at 10-dimensional chess, even if they like you to think otherwise.
These people are useful for the knowledge they possess of past epidemics, not for predicting what will happen in the next one, certainly not if it’s caused by a virus which they -and we- simply don’t know enough about to build a reliable model. In that case, you need to step back and apply more basic principles. Lucky for us, those exist.
This leads us into a territory that is not familiar to epidemiologists and virologists. Since a virus, and a pandemic, like the one we’re in the middle of, is linked to so many different facets and factors, and so many uncertainties, it takes us into the territory of risk management, assessment, engineering, and from there eventually pretty seamlessly into complex systems.
If you can’t know what will happen next because you can’t oversee the multitude of variables involved, and there are no models that can do so either, the best -only- thing you can do is to halt the growing complexity as soon as you are able to, in order to create a situation, an environment, which the epidemiologists and virologists DO recognize, and can work with.
That is the point where they come in, not before. At present, they are asked to do things beyond their knowledge. And, typical human trait, they don’t tend to acknowledge that. Well, there’s a second reason: some actually think they do understand. The outcome is the same: we- and they- are led astray, away from science and into “scientism” (more on that in a moment).
Which would be fine if this concerned just a hobby, or even if it was only an academic paper left to discuss in classrooms and web forums. But we are talking about 10s of 1000s of deaths, 100s of 1000s of gravely ill people, and in the wake of that an economy as much in need of assisted breathing as the human patients involved.
Lucky for us, we have people who DO understand these things. Unlucky for us, our “leadership” doesn’t listen to them. They think that an epidemiologist or two, three, should be enough. But neither the “leaders” nor the epidemiologists understand the limits every single scientific field has. They don’t understand what happens when scientists venture out of their chosen field. And most of all, they don’t understand what complex systems are.
Please note that the above also means that any and all virus modeling going forward should be taken with an ocean full of salt. We get new examples every day of “qualities” of the virus that are not in any models. Where the virus originated, asymptomatic patients, re-infection, huge discrepancies in ‘modeled’ numbers predicted vs factual ones, Asians vs whites, blacks vs whites, men vs women, smokers vs non-smokers, chloroquine (non-)effectiveness, contagiousness, the list goes on for miles.
There is a way to leave those discussions, based on, we must admit, far too little verifiable information, leaving us groping in the pitchblack, behind for now.
Most people who read a site like the Automatic Earth, where finance is a main topic, will know who Nassim Nicholas Taleb is, for instance because he wrote The Black Swan before the 2008 financial crisis. Or because a hedge fund he advises recently announced a 6,000%+ gain in “virustime”. But Taleb is also, and more interesting for this essay, “distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering”.
For much of his coverage of COVID19, Taleb has been co-operating with Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex System Institute, and Joseph Norman, a postdoctoral researcher at the same New England Complex System Institute. That means “real scientists”, just not from where you might expect. Which in turn means they can help the other guys get out of the ditch they’re in.
I’ll refer to “Taleb” here, nice and short, but that often means his co-operators too. Key terminology you’ll find, and need, is “asymmetry”, “precautionary principle” (“first do no harm”, which is close to the Hippocratic Oath’s “to abstain from doing harm”), and perhaps also “convexity” (a term from the finance world that depicts a relation between interest rates and bond duration).
First, here are a few bits from a piece the three wrote on January 26, to get you familiar with some of the ideas. These are ground rules for approaching a pandemic such as this one, but they are also ground rules for -any- other problems with too many unknown variables.
This is crucial because it denotes that if you have a disease that is both contagious and deadly, you don’t -have to- first wait and (build a model to) see how deadly and contagious it is, as an epidemiologist is wont to do, you can act right off the bat. Of course the scientists at the WHO and various government know this basic stuff, but they still haven’t acted accordingly. On January 26 and after, the ground rules were ignored.
So then you’re forced into the next basic steps. Still -mostly- not an epic disaster, but surely an unnecessary -and potentially deadly- risk. Taleb doesn’t take prisoners, and labels the WHO “criminally incompetent”. And I fully agree: they get paid billions a year to be the world’s ears and eyes in case a new disease pops up somewhere, and they have still let it happen. Here’s that first bit:
General Precautionary Principle : The general (non-naive) precautionary principle  delineates conditions where actions must be taken to reduce risk of ruin, and traditional cost-benefit analyses must not be used. These are ruin problems where, over time, exposure to tail events leads to a certain eventual extinction. While there is a very high probability for humanity surviving a single such event, over time, there is eventually zero probability of surviving repeated exposures to such events. While repeated risks can be taken by individuals with a limited life expectancy, ruin exposures must never be taken at the systemic and collective level. In technical terms, the precautionary principle applies when traditional statistical averages are invalid because risks are not ergodic.
Spreading rate : Historically based estimates of spreading rates for pandemics in general, and for the current one in particular, underestimate the rate of spread because of the rapid increases in transportation connectivity over recent years. This means that expectations of the extent of harm are underestimates both because events are inherently fat tailed, and because the tail is becoming fatter as connectivity increases. Global connectivity is at an all-time high, with China one of the most globally connected societies. Fundamentally, viral contagion events depend on the interaction of agents in physical space, and with the forward-looking uncertainty that novel outbreaks necessarily carry, reducing connectivity temporarily to slow flows of potentially contagious individuals is the only approach that is robust against misestimations in the properties of a virus or other pathogen.
Asymmetric Uncertainty : Properties of the virus that are uncertain will have substantial impact on whether policies implemented are effective. For instance, whether contagious asymptomatic carriers exist. These uncertainties make it unclear whether measures such as temperature screening at major ports will have the desired impact. Practically all the uncertainty tends to make the problem potentially worse, not better, as these processes are convex to uncertainty.
Conclusion : Standard individual-scale policy approaches such as isolation, contact tracing and monitoring are rapidly (computationally) overwhelmed in the face of mass infection, and thus also cannot be relied upon to stop a pandemic. Multiscale population approaches including drastically pruning contact networks using collective boundaries and social behavior change, and community self-monitoring, are essential. Together, these observations lead to the necessity of a precautionary approach to current and potential pandemic outbreaks that must include constraining mobility patterns in the early stages of an outbreak, especially when little is known about the true parameters of the pathogen.
It will cost something to reduce mobility in the short term, but to fail do so will eventually cost everything—if not from this event, then one in the future. Outbreaks are inevitable, but an appropriately precautionary response can mitigate systemic risk to the globe at large. But policy- and decision-makers must act swiftly and avoid the fallacy that to have an appropriate respect for uncertainty in the face of possible irreversible catastrophe amounts to “paranoia,” or the converse a belief that nothing can be done.
As you can see, that already contains the next steps in case the initial response is warped (it has been). An expensive failure, but not necessarily an all too fatal one yet. Missing the next steps as well, though, turns this into a whole other story, and one that must be familiar to you, because you’re living it.
Two days after Yaneer Bar-Yam’s USA Today article, Taleb and Bar-Yam had a piece in the Guardian, which focused on the UK situation. And guess what? Nobody listened, again. You have to understand, these guys are perceived by the “science crowd” in “epidemic land”, who demand to be seen as the ultimate authorities on the topic, as big threats to their perceived power.
The last thing the “science crowd” want is for a bunch of complex systems guys, who they don’t understand anyway, to upstage them. And granted, the headline alone is ample threat to the UK government’s scientific advisers. But that attitude leads to more entirely preventable deaths; as I said above, the epidemiology etc. crowd simply lack the knowledge that the risk engineers do have, and which could help them prevent those deaths.
Something related, before I forget: I’ve been following Nassim Taleb’s opinions on genetically modified organisms (GMO) for a long time, because in that field, too, he applies the same ground rules that he does vis-a-vis the virus. First, precautionary principle (do no harm), and in the wake of that, asymmetry (asymmetric risk). In “Monsanto’s GMO field”, just like with deadly viruses, the risks when something goes wrong are devastating. If you get that wrong, you’re literally talking potential extinction.
And that makes any “normal” cost/benefit analysis obsolete. If you get the preliminary risk assessment wrong, the consequences are so far-reaching that your only realistic option is extreme carefulness (precautionary principle). Ergo: you don’t allow GMO crops until you’re 100% sure they have zero negative impacts on human health. What Monsanto does is use “scientists” who declare that no negative effect has been found so far, so it must be okay.
Taleb asserts that that is not science, but “scientism”. It is obvious that the negative effects can take decades to show, but if they do, things have probably become irreversible (all corn contains GMO traces). In other words, the burden of proof MUST lie with Monsanto; you can’t demand that everybody else proves their GMO crops are harmful. On the one hand, Monsanto gets to make a profit, while on the other billions of human lives can get lost. That’s the asymmetry Taleb is talking about.
Labeling any such deliberation, any such cost-benefit analysis, scientific, is an affront to any- and everybody’s intelligence. There are things that you cannot afford to take risks with. Mankind, the animal kingdom, the planet, are some of these things. You can’t argue that a lockdown might cost jobs if and when a non-lockdown will cost lives; you can’t argue for measures that kill people.
The only thing we can really do is to apply those measures that best mitigate job losses, not the ones that keep jobs but mitigate loss of life. It’s not even an actual choice; it’s a false dichotomy, because the risk of consciously allowing people to continue to infect others who may then die, which you could have prevented from happening, is so much greater than the loss of a job. The risk is asymmetric. A job is not a life.
It’s nuts to argue that we should allow someone to die because his/her neighbor might lose their job or because his/her neighbor beats his wife. In case someone loses their job, a government can issue a bailout or even a UBI. That they don’t do that and/or not properly, is another matter. But not one that justifies murder.
And you can’t take the conscious risk of letting people die because someone married an abusive person either. Yaneer Bar-Yam wrote some good stuff on community efforts with regards to COVID19, to be found at the New England Complex System Institute site, which might help in that regard. But you can’t aim for letting a deadly virus spread in order to prevent joblessness, loneliness or poor -life- choices.
Back to Taleb and Bar-Yam’s March 25 piece in the Guardian. I have a hard time selecting only some of it, a general problem with well-written essays.
When, along with applied systems scientist Dr Joe Norman, we first reacted to coronavirus on 25 January with the publication of an academic note urging caution, the virus had reportedly infected fewer than 2,000 people worldwide and fewer than 60 people were dead. That number need not have been so high [..] Our research did not use any complicated model with a vast number of variables, no more than someone watching an avalanche heading in their direction calls for complicated statistical models to see if they need to get out of the way.
We called for a simple exercise of the precautionary principle in a domain where it mattered: interconnected complex systems have some attributes that allow some things to cascade out of control, delivering extreme outcomes. Enact robust measures that would have been, at the time, of small cost: constrain mobility. Immediately. Later, we invoked a rapid investment in preparedness: tests, hospital capacity, means to treat patients. Just in case, you know. Things can happen. The error in the UK is on two levels. Modelling and policymaking.
First, at the modelling level, the government relied at all stages on epidemiological models that were designed to show us roughly what happens when a preselected set of actions are made, and not what we should make happen, and how. The modellers use hypotheses/assumptions, which they then feed into models, and use to draw conclusions and make policy recommendations.
Critically, they do not produce an error rate. What if these assumptions are wrong? Have they been tested? The answer is often no. [..] Risk management – like wisdom – requires robustness in models. But if we base our pandemic response plans on flawed academic models, people die. And they will.
This was the case with the disastrous “herd immunity” thesis. The idea behind herd immunity was that the outbreak would stop if enough people got sick and gained immunity. Once a critical mass of young people gained immunity, so the epidemiological modellers told us, vulnerable populations (old and sick people) would be protected. Of course, this idea was nothing more than a dressed-up version of the “just do nothing” approach.
Individuals and scientists around the world immediately pointed out the obvious flaws: there’s no way to ensure only young people get infected; you need 60-70% of the population to be infected and recover to have a shot at herd immunity, and there aren’t that many young and healthy people in the UK, or anywhere. Moreover, many young people have severe cases of the disease, overloading healthcare systems, and a not-so-small number of them die. It is not a free ride.
This doesn’t even include the possibility, already suspected in some cases, of recurrence of the disease. Immunity may not even be reliable for this virus. Worse, it did not take into account that the duration of hospitalisation can be lengthier than they think, or that one can incur a shortage of hospital beds.
[..] No 10 appears to be enamoured with “scientism” – things that have the cosmetic attributes of science but without its rigour. [..] Social science is in a “replication crisis”, where less than half the results replicate (under exact same conditions), less than a tenth can be taken seriously, and less than a hundredth translate into the real world. So what is called “evidence-based” methods have a dire track record and are pretty much evidence-free.
[..] when one deals with deep uncertainty, both governance and precaution require us to hedge for the worst. While risk-taking is a business that is left to individuals, collective safety and systemic risk are the business of the state. Failing that mandate of prudence by gambling with the lives of citizens is a professional wrongdoing that extends beyond academic mistake; it is a violation of the ethics of governing. The obvious policy left now is a lockdown, with overactive testing and contact tracing: follow the evidence from China and South Korea rather than thousands of error-prone computer codes.
If that’s not sufficient, here’s Taleb in a March 31 Bloomberg interview. Please watch:
And just in case it’s still not clear, I have collected a series of Taleb tweets that should make his position that much clearer. That is, after we failed to halt the virus while we could, thanks to China, the WHO and your own government, in that order, mass mask wearing is inevitable -because not doing so involves an asymmetric risk: even the worst mask reduces infection rates by 30%, and if both people involved in an interaction wear one, that may be 90%.
In that same vein, you need mass testing. And reliable testing, which is still not a given. These are things that people like to question, but those people are in the wrong time capsule. The proper time for that was December in China, and perhaps January in Europe and the US. Not now. Now you can only save what you can save, and that inevitably means taking measures that appear drastic. But which will look walk-in-the-park-ish compared to what follows if you don’t take them.
Tweets first; please do read them all. Note: Fat Tony is Taleb’s best friend and alter ego, and there’s controversy about whether he actually exists. For what it’s worth, I agree with Fat Tony that we don’t need a conspiray theory to explain COVID19, we have a virus that is deadly and highly contagious, and 1000s of scientists and politicians who have no idea what they do.
Those are all the basic ingredients you need for absolute mayhem. Not that all theories, whether it’s glyphosate or 5G, China lab or US lab, intential release or not, are necessarily wrong or baseless, but because in the face of a virus that doesn’t need any of these things to replicate the way COVID19 has, you need to come up with very solid proof. And I have seen none, just plenty theories.
Fat Tony don't believe much in conspiracy theories.
The "geniuses" at the top have proven time and time again they're too stupid to pull anyting that elaborate off… https://t.co/q9DllGX7IJ
and… the NYT and science journos and ignorant "evidence based" epidemiologists who can't read absence of evidence got us here. Don't blame mayors who shut down cities, blame misinformation about masks and mobility. Blame the New York Times.
We need to get the probability of getting sick at different concentration of droplets. We could probably back it up (or get a handle on the convexity) from country data (Czech republic). Intuition: reduction of 70% of particles is yuuuge: home masks should work. Plus if 2-way! pic.twitter.com/Fd4nQ8Pxmr
I don’t know about you, but where I am right now, Holland, there are no masks available on a grand scale. There is so little testing going on in large parts of the West that even medical personnel often go without testing. I would love to be tested, if only so I know I either can or can’t infect people, but who am I to take away a test from a nurse, even if I could?
And this happens 3+ months after all our governments should have made testing and masks for everyone their no. 1 priority. And that was onnly after they failed to crush the curve when they could have.
Donald Trump was talking over the weekend about the “biggest decision of his life”, referring to the moment the US economy could be re-opened. Trump, as well as all the other “leaders”, even if their science advisers don’t like it one bit, or maybe because of it, should contact Nassim Taleb and the risks scientists he works with, within the next 5 minutes.
What is happening right now is not because all the epidemiologists and virologists around the world are wrong, but because they’re asked to make decisons and construct models about something they don’t know nearly enough about.
Call Taleb, Donald, Emmanuel, Shinzo, Angela et al. If you care enough about the lives of your people. I see a lot of rational-looking measures today, in all the lockdown variations, but I also see many countries and states clamoring for peaks to be called, and subsequent calls galore for less stringent lockdown measures. Decisions prone to be taken by politicians and epidemiologists who are -way- out of their league.
Please be careful. Call Taleb. You have nothing -more- to lose.
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Dr. Fauci, Trump’s main medical/epidemic advisor, said yesterday that 200,000 Americans could die from COVID19. The same Fauci, as I quoted two days ago, recently changed his case fatality rate prediction from 1% to 0.1%. I had to let that sink in for a while, because if those 200,000 people represent that 0.1%, he now apparently believes that 200 million Americans could be infected with the coronavirus. The official number of infected Americans right now according to Worldometer is 142,735. The official death number is 2,489.
On top of that, Trump said, undoubtedly after conferring with Fauci among others, that the coronavirus peak in the USA is expected to take place in two weeks (Easter). You get where I’m going with this: how on earth are the numbers supposed to add up? In proven Trumpian fashion, Fauci did cover himself: “We’re going to have millions of cases.” But he added “I don’t want to be held to that” because the pandemic is “such a moving target.“ We’re going to have millions of cases, but don’t hold me to that…”
I think most people see these numbers flash by without realizing what they mean.
I found that remarkable not only because of the 200 million number implied, But also because Dr. Fauci had said a number of different, varying things off late. Here I am from the March 28 Debt Rattle:
Weird turnarounds: Fauci goes from a 1.0% CFR to 0.1% in 2 weeks, Neil Ferguson takes just 10 days to move from 500,000 [UK] deaths to under 20,000. Oh, and Deborah Brix claims the US have “..enough data now of the real experience with the coronavirus on the ground..” and, well, after all: “Models are [just] models”.
Now, she of course in fact merely has new models based on new data (so why diss models?), and it’s not nearly enough; re: testing. What Fauci and Ferguson hope to accomplish in risking their credibility with their sudden “moodswings” is unclear, but they’re not sufficiently supported by new data either. Not in that amount of time. Political pressure perhaps?
Dr. Fauci mentioned the 0.1% case fatality rate here on March 24:
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, co-authored an article published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine predicting the fatality rate for the coronavirus will turn out to be like that of a “severe seasonal influenza.” In an exceptionally bad flu season, the case fatality rate is about one-tenth of 1 percent, the authors write. Regarding the current coronavirus pandemic, they said: “If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%.”
While the reference to Dr. Fauci talking about a 1% case fatality rate comes for instance from this, on March 4 (a view he didn’t correct until the March 24 piece above):
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Appropriations subcommittee in Congress on Wednesday [March 4] that it remains difficult to determine accurate mortality rates of the new coronavirus outbreak, given that we simply do not know yet how many have been infected with the disease. [..] amid the coronavirus outbreak, many representatives took the opportunity to grill Fauci on the latest developments.
“We don’t know the denominator,” Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., noted to Fauci when asking whether mortality rates are reliable. “You said it, sir,” Fauci responded [..] “If you look at the cases that have come to the attention of the medical authorities, in China, and you just do the math — the math is about 2%. If you look at certain age groups, certain risk groups, the fatality is much higher.”
[..] Amid continuing questions around the numbers, Harris asked Fauci about the accuracy numbers published by the WHO on Tuesday stating the death rate is 3.4% globally. [..] In the U.S., the administration is still working to ascertain the full number of Americans infected by the disease. The administration has been hamstrung by a slow rollout of testing, making it difficult to track. “I’m torn,” Fauci said. “If we get enough data to have a big [numerator] it’s gonna be bad news for us.” “You know as well as anybody that the mortality for seasonal flu is .1%,” he added. “So even if it goes down to 1%, it’s still 10 times more fatal.”
And then yesterday, the good doctor says the following:
The coronavirus outbreak could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert warned on Sunday as smoldering hot spots in nursing homes and a growing list of stricken cities heightened the sense of dread across the country. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the dire prediction of fatalities on CNN, adding that millions in the U.S. could become infected. “I would say between 100,000 and 200,000 cases,” he said, correcting himself to say he meant deaths. “We’re going to have millions of cases.” But he added “I don’t want to be held to that” because the pandemic is “such a moving target.”
Graph by Mike Shedlock based on data from Covid Tracking Project. (Mind the scale)
What I find remarkable is that I haven’t seen a single reporter, TV, newspaper, add that up to the “200 million Americans infected” number. It’s a simple 2+2=4. If 200,000 people die with an 0.1% infection rate, total infections are 200 million.
Unless Dr. Fauci would now claim that either the 0.1% OR the 200,000 deaths claims or wrong. And I obviously know he also said ‘the pandemic is “such a moving target”’, But he should know he’s in the public eye, and adjust his claims to that fact. Besides, he just changed his claims.
Granted, I also wrote this morning:: “Wonder if he’s included the effects of a health care system collapse. Ironically, that might make his numbers more realistic.”, but that wouldn’t negate his claims.
And then of course you get the following, given that Dr. Fauci is the no. 1 medical/epidemic advisor to President Trump, or at least the most visible -with Dr. Deborah Brix:
Donald Trump has extended America’s national shutdown for a month, bowing to public health experts, and scientific reality, and warning that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come. Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, the US president claimed that, if his administration keeps the death toll to 100,000, it will have done “a very good job” – a startling shift from his optimistic predictions of a few days ago when he said he hoped to restart the economy by Easter.
It’s easy to slam Trump for these things, and part of that will be justified and well deserved, but Trump relies on his medical staff to a large extent, even if he deviates from what they say from time to time. If only because as you now know, his medical team change their opinions quite a bit. And he never “predicted” the economy would reopen by Easter, he merely said he hoped it would.
Moreover, in this case he’s right: if Dr. Fauci predicts 200,000 fatalities, limiting it to half that number would be a good thing. But more importantly, as Trump predicts a peak by Easter, after talking to Dr. Fauci, but we’re still 200,000 deaths minus 2,600 removed from Dr. Fauci’s “goal”, and 200 million cases minus 144,000, why don’t we read and hear about the gigantic numbers closely ahead of us in the press?
Perhaps you don’t have to be halfway at the peak, but you certainly must be quite a ways there. What would that mean for the next two week though? Dr.? And I know, Dr. Fauci said between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths, but given the gap between today and either of those numbers, it hardly even seems to matter.
15 days to Easter to -only?!- get to 100,000 deaths means 6,667 deaths a day, or maybe a little less. Because otherwise you can’t credibly claim a peak. Your homework for the day: Color the pictures and finish the story.
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• Holland (2), N-Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria(!!), Lithuania first case
• Italy 653 cases, 17 deaths
• France 38 cases from 18 yesterday
• Germany 14 new cases, total 48
• Iran 245 confirmed cases, 26 deaths
• South Korea 256 new cases, total 2,337, over 1,000 new cases in 48 hours.
• China 327 new cases and 44 new deaths
– 180 million students homeschooled
• California 28 cases, monitoring 8400
• Greece 4 cases
• Starbucks says 85% of Chinese restaurants reopened
• Countries (Japan, UK) prepare to close down schools for months on end
From Worldometer (Note: mortality rate down to 7%)
As I said yesterday: Coming to a town near you soon.
England only has 15 available beds for adults to treat the most severe respiratory failure and will struggle to cope if there are more than 28 patients who need them if the number of coronavirus cases rises, according to the government and NHS documents. Ministers have revealed in parliamentary answers that there are 15 available beds for adult extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment at five centres across England. The government said this could be increased in an emergency. There were 30 such beds in total available during the 2018-19 winter flu season. But an NHS England document prepared in November 2017 reveals the system will struggle to cope if more than 28 patients need the treatment, describing that situation as black/critical.
It suggests that if no beds are available “within the designated and surge capacity” in the UK, they might have to be sourced from other countries, for example, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. ECMO treatment is used in only the most severe cases of respiratory failure when other treatments are not working. It uses an artificial lung located outside the body to put oxygen into a patient’s blood and continuously pump this blood into and around their body. It has been used to treat Covid-19 cases in China, which is ordering more machines from Germany, according to state media.
In answer to a Labour MP’s question on Thursday about coronavirus preparedness, Jo Churchill, a health minister, said: “Since April 2013, NHS England has commissioned a total of 15 adult respiratory extra corporeal membrane oxygenation beds from five providers in England, with further provision in Scotland. In periods of high demand, capacity can be increased.” Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, questioned the readiness of the NHS to deal with a sharp escalation of coronavirus cases after years of cutbacks. “After years of Tory austerity, we know we’ve lost well over 15,000 beds since 2010,” he said. “We know that last week critical care bed occupancy was running at over 80%…”
Curious: “..in some labs, the third step of that, they were having trouble with getting a quality control validation on that, so it led to inconclusive results,” Azar said. “We now, as of yesterday afternoon, the FDA authorized the use of those tests by using just the first and second step.”
The first suspected U.S. case of a patient getting the new coronavirus through “community spread” — with no history of travel to affected areas or exposure to someone known to have the COVID-19 illness — was left undiagnosed for days because a request for testing wasn’t initially granted, according to officials at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif. The patient in Northern California is now the 60th confirmed case of the coronavirus in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed the latest case Wednesday evening, as President Trump assigned Vice President Pence to lead the administration’s response to the disease.
“This case was detected through the U.S. public health system — picked up by astute clinicians,” the CDC said in a brief statement about the new patient. UC Davis included more details about the case in its own statement, drawing on an email sent to staff at its medical center. It said the CDC initially ruled out a test for the coronavirus because the patient’s case didn’t match its criteria. “UC Davis Health does not control the testing process,” the hospital noted. The new patient, who lives in Solano County and has not been identified, was transferred to UC Davis Medical in Sacramento County from another hospital this month.
Staff at UC Davis then suspected the patient might be infected with the coronavirus that has caused more than 2,800 deaths. “Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be COVID-19,” the hospital said. “We requested COVID-19 testing by the CDC, since neither Sacramento County nor CDPH [California Department of Public Health] is doing testing for coronavirus at this time. Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process.”
[..] The CDC has completed more than 3,600 coronavirus tests, Azar said during a congressional budget hearing on Thursday. While he said it hasn’t had a testing “backlog,” he added that the agency’s test has three steps — and that the last step has posed some problems. “What we found was that in some labs, the third step of that, they were having trouble with getting a quality control validation on that, so it led to inconclusive results,” Azar said. “We now, as of yesterday afternoon, the FDA authorized the use of those tests by using just the first and second step.”
The cost to get tested for #Coronavirus with no insurance being $3,270 is the most USA thing that could ever USA.
A complaint filed with Health and Human Services (HHS) and promptly leaked to the New York Times alleges that federal health employees interacted with Americans quarantined for possible coronavirus exposure without proper medical training or protective gear, and that health agency leaders engaged in a ‘corrupt cover-up’ when staff members complained, according to the Times. Filed with the Office of the Special Counsel, a whistleblower described as a ‘senior leader’ at HHS said the team was “improperly deployed” to two California military bases to assist with processing American evacuees from coronavirus hot zones in China and elsewhere.
The staff members were sent to Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base and were ordered to enter quarantined areas, including a hangar where coronavirus evacuees were being received. They were not provided training in safety protocols until five days later, the person said. Without proper training or equipment, some of the exposed staff members moved freely around and off the bases, with at least one person staying in a nearby hotel and leaving California on a commercial flight. Many were unaware of the need to test their temperature three times a day. -New York Times
[..] The Times notes that the complaint comes right after President Trump began to downplay the risks of coronavirus on US soil “amid bipartisan concern about a sluggish and disjointed response by the administration to an illness that public health officials have said is likely to spread through the United States.” In other words, the coronavirus response officially an election issue now.
“The whistle-blower’s account raised questions about whether the Trump administration has taken adequate precautions in its handling of the virus to date, and whether Mr. Trump’s minimization of the risks has been mirrored by other top officials when confronted with potentially disturbing developments.” -New York Times
“Greek woman who recently returned home from northern Italy became Greece’s fourth coronavirus case and is being closely monitored, health authorities said on Friday. The 36-year-old woman has been admitted to a coronavirus isolation unit of the capital’s Attikon Hospital.”
Greece reported two new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to three, and said it would suspend all carnival celebrations in the country. The health ministry said one of the cases involved a relative of a 38-year-old woman in the northern town of Thessaloniki who became the first confirmed case in Greece. The woman had recently returned from Milan in northern Italy, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. The third reported case, in Athens, was a female who had also visited northern Italy. Among events to be canceled is a carnival parade in the coastal city of Patra slated for March 1, authorities said.
Angry Japanese parents joined bewildered teachers and businesses on Friday in a rush to find new ways to live and work for a month after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s shock call for all schools to close in a bid to stop coronavirus spreading. Abe’s unprecedented move late on Thursday to ask local authorities to shut down their schools means students will be out of school from Monday at least until the new academic year starts in early April. Earlier this week the government urged that big gatherings and sports events be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks to contain the virus while pledging that the 2020 Summer Olympics will go ahead in Tokyo.
As of Friday, confirmed cases in Japan topped 200, with four deaths, excluding more than 700 cases and four more deaths from the quarantined cruise liner Diamond Princess. While the virus has hit China hardest so far, causing nearly 80,000 infections and almost 2,800 deaths, according to official Chinese figures, its rapid spread to a number of other countries around in the world in the past week has stoked fresh alarm. Abe’s move – issued as a formal request rather than an order – drew scathing criticism, with health officials left scratching their heads and analysts said the plan was politically motivated and made little sense.
“We’ll just have to get our revenge at the next elections,” @Ayu49Sweetfish tweeted, as working parents with young children were left wondering what to do for the duration. In the northern Hokkaido prefecture, which has seen the largest number of coronavirus cases in Japan, the governor had already announced a closure of all schools until March 4. That left one hospital closing doors to patients without reservations on Friday because about a fifth of its nurses were unable to work while their children were out of school.
EU experts said on Thursday (27 February) that refusing entry to an EU country of people with coronavirus symptoms would be counter-productive and “ineffective” to prevent the spread of the virus. “Refusal of entry is not considered an appropriate preventive measure as the virus would spread further” since those potential patients would keep moving in the region without being treated, EU sources said. Instead, the experts advised having “systematic” checks for all those arriving, ensuring a coordinated approach between border guards and national authorities, as well as a real-time exchange of information. The principle of free movement of people in the EU was already in danger in 2015 when some member states introduced border check due to the migration crisis.
Today, six EU countries – Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – still have temporary border controls to prevent irregular migrant flows. However, any member state can notify the EU authorities of the intention of closing borders temporary due to the coronavirus outbreak – a decision that can only be made by member states and that cannot be vetoed by the European Commission. None have yet done so. If national authorities decide to introduce this exceptional measure, it must be justified passing a “test of proportionality”. Additionally, the commission is working on a joint procurement to ensure there is enough protective and medical equipment for health-care workers – and other authorities like the army – over fears that the outbreak of the coronavirus could lead to a supply shortage in some member states. However, this joint initiative has not been launched yet but there is an “increasing interest” among member states to be part of it, EU sources told reporters in Brussels.
Twitter: “Turkish coastguard not patrolling as before. They just approached a boat heading to Northern #Lesbos and then they left without intercepting” a local from Skala village just told me. It seems that #Turkey‘s government meant what they said.”
Turkey is no longer able to contain millions of displaced Syrians and has reached “full capacity,” Ankara’s ruling AK party said in a fresh threat to open the floodgates into Europe as tensions over Idlib reach boiling point. With Ankara vowing to go “all in” to halt a Syrian Army offensive to retake Idlib province from rebel militias, AKP spokesman Omer Celik suggested Turkey would soon allow hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to pour into Europe, a threat repeatedly made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the past. “Turkey can not bear the pressure of the new refugees, we now say that Turkey is at full capacity,” Celik told CNNTurk early on Friday.
While the spokesman noted Turkey’s refugee policy remains “the same,” he said “We are no longer in a position to hold refugees” amid an expected influx of newly displaced Syrians. An earlier report at Reuters cited an unnamed Turkish official who said much the same, although the official went further in stating that police, coast guard and border security officers had been ordered to “stand down” and allow the refugees to cross into Europe. Turkey and the European Union (EU) struck an agreement in 2016 in hopes of stemming the flow of refugees passing into Europe, with the EU providing some €6 billion ($6.6 billion) to help resettle the displaced people.
Erdogan, however, has slammed the multinational body time and again, insisting it has yet to hand over all of the promised aid. With at least 33 Turkish troops killed in the effort to stop Damascus’ offensive on Idlib – the last remaining militant stronghold, some of which are backed by Ankara – tensions between the two countries have reached new heights. Still engaged in intense skirmishes with militants in Idlib, the Syrian Army has signaled no intention of halting its advance, putting Damascus and Ankara on a collision course as the former fights to reclaim its territory.
The spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AK party has labelled the Syrian airstrike that allegedly claimed the lives of dozens of Turkish soldiers in rebel-held Idlib an attack on NATO, calling for the US-led alliance to intervene. “We call on NATO to [start] consultations. This is not [an attack] on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” AKP spokesman Omer Celik told Turkish media on Thursday. At least 33 Turkish soldiers are said to have been killed in Idlib, the last militant stronghold in Syria, in an airstrike Ankara blamed on Damascus. In the wake of initial reports that dozens of Turkish servicemen perished in the raid, Turkish President Receep Erdogan held a 6-hour marathon meeting that concluded early Friday.
The military bloc itself, while pledging support to its “ally Turkey,” has been wary of making any promises. Apparently shocked by reports of the Turkish casualties, US envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson reportedly exclaimed “Oh my gosh” in response to the news when speaking to media late Thursday, but dodged the question of whether the US-led alliance would consider invoking Article 5 – which would pave the way for a collective military response to an armed attack on one of its members. However, she did not miss out on a chance to call on Turkey to tear up its deal to buy the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, while also taking a jab at Moscow: “They see what Russia is, they see what they are doing now” – despite the fact that Ankara has not blamed Moscow for the attack.
Countries in East Africa are racing against time to prevent new swarms of locusts wreaking havoc with crops and livelihoods after the worst infestation in generations. A lack of expertise in controlling the pests is not their only problem: Kenya temporarily ran out of pesticides, Ethiopia needs more planes and Somalia and Yemen, torn by civil war, can’t guarantee exterminators’ safety. Locust swarms have been recorded in the region since biblical times, but unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for insect numbers to surge, scientists say. Warmer seas are creating more rain, wakening dormant eggs, and cyclones that disperse the swarms are getting stronger and more frequent.
In Ethiopia the locusts have reached the fertile Rift Valley farmland and stripped grazing grounds in Kenya and Somalia. Swarms can travel up to 150 km (93 miles) a day and contain between 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer. If left unchecked, the number of locusts in East Africa could explode 400-fold by June. That would devastate harvests in a region with more than 19 million hungry people, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned. Uganda has deployed the military. Kenya has trained hundreds of youth cadets to spray. Lacking pesticides, some security forces in Somalia have shot anti-aircraft guns at swarms darkening the skies. Everyone is racing the rains expected in March: the next generation of larvae is already wriggling from the ground, just as farmers plant their seeds.
Western media have fallen hard for an apparently fake if adorable story about a 100,000-strong “duck army” China has supposedly marched to fight the billions of locusts currently laying waste to Pakistan’s food supply. Initially published by local Chinese outlet Ningbo Evening News, the clickbait-tastic story, complete with a video showing a herd of ducks supposedly marching in formation, proved impossible to resist – or to factcheck – and spread around the world by the time people started asking questions. Supposedly reputable outlets including the BBC, Bloomberg, and Time unquestioningly parroted the story about “special Chinese ducks” that would be “more effective than pesticide” – not to mention better for the environment – in taking on the ravenous swarms.
Citing Lu Lizhi, said to be a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the stories called the ducks a “biological weapon” and predicted they’d be unleashed against the hungry insects “as early as the second half of this year” following a test-run in China’s Xinjiang province. Alas, the story of locust-eating ducks fighting the devastating biblical plague has proved to be largely quackery, media that had covered it began realizing on Thursday. Unfortunately for Pakistan, which declared a national emergency earlier this month over the devastating infestation, an avian army is not waddling to their rescue, and even if they were, they wouldn’t do much good.
The Food and Agriculture Organization did the math and found an army of 100,000 ducks could only eat 20 million locusts in a day, while just one square kilometer of swarming locusts contains anywhere from 40 to 80 million of the insects. Also, swarms may stretch over hundreds of square kilometers, as they have in some locust-stricken areas of Africa.
Currently the price of gold is set in two places. One is the London spot market, controlled by six big banks including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. The other is the New York gold futures market controlled by COMEX, which is governed by its big clearing members, also including major western banks. In effect, the big western banks have a monopoly on gold prices even if they do not have a monopoly on physical gold. The easiest way to perform paper manipulation is through COMEX futures. Rigging futures markets is child’s play. You just wait until a little bit before the close and put in a massive sell order. By doing this you scare the other side of the market into lowering their bid price; they back away.
That lower price then gets trumpeted around the world as the “price” of gold, discouraging investors and hurting sentiment. The price decline spooks hedge funds into dumping more gold as they hit “stop-loss” limits on their positions. A self-fulfilling momentum is established where selling begets more selling and the price spirals down for no particular reason except that someone wanted it that way. Eventually a bottom is established and buyers step in, but by then the damage is done. Futures have a huge amount of leverage that can easily reach 20 to 1. For $10 million of cash margin, I can sell $200 million of paper gold.
[..] Another way to manipulate the price is through gold leasing and “unallocated forwards.” “Unallocated” is one of those buzzwords in the gold market. When most large gold buyers want to buy physical gold, they’ll call JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Citibank, or one of the large gold dealers. They’ll put in an order for, say, $5 million worth of gold. The bank will say fine, send us your money for the gold and we’ll offer you a written contract in a standard form. Yet if you read the contract, it says you own gold on an “unallocated” basis. That means you don’t have designated bars.
There’s no group of gold bars that have your name on them or specific gold bar serial numbers that are registered to you. In practice, unallocated gold allows the bank to sell the same physical gold ten times over to ten different buyers. It’s no different from any other kind of fractional reserve banking. Banks never have as much cash on hand as they do deposits. Every depositor in a bank thinks he can walk in and get cash whenever he wants, but every banker knows the bank doesn’t have that much cash. The bank puts the money out on loan or buys securities; banks are highly leveraged institutions.
Former top Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin says he was pushed out under pressure from US Vice President Joe Biden, after he seized the assets of the oligarch behind Burisma, the gas company that employed Biden’s son. President Donald Trump’s efforts to investigate Biden’s role in getting Shokin fired served as a pretext for his impeachment in the House of Representatives back in December. However, after Trump was acquitted by the Senate, the US media forgot about Burisma — and Ukraine. French investigative journalist Olivier Berruyer, founder of popular anti-corruption and economics blog Les Crises, did not.
In the fourth installment of his documentary series ‘UkraineGate: Inconvenient facts,’ Shokin reveals why and how he was ousted and what role the US has played in Ukraine. Shokin tells Berruyer that Biden and the US government had approved his appointment as prosecutor-general — as, indeed, they did all major appointments in Ukraine since the 2014 Maidan upheaval? — and worked with him well until he started getting too close to Burisma. He rejected reports that described his probe as “dormant.” “Biden was acting on behalf of his own interests, and those of his family, and not in the interest of the American people,” Shokin said, adding that Barack Obama’s VP “believed that Ukraine was his private property, his fiefdom and that he could do whatever he wanted here.”
Within a few days of Shokin seizing the assets of Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch owner of Burisma, President Petro Poroshenko summoned him and told him to back off. “Don’t you understand what Biden wants from you? Why are you getting into this Burisma stuff again?” Shokin quoted Poroshenko as saying. Within a few weeks, he was replaced by someone Biden called “more solid” – Yuriy Lutsenko, who had no training in law, and whom Shokin describes as a traitor to Ukraine.
A nonpartisan watchdog group in an ethics complaint Wednesday asked Congress to investigate how Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is paying for several ongoing lawsuits against critics. In its complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Campaign Legal Center notes Nunes’s annual congressional salary of $174,000 would likely not cover the costs of the various suits, indicating that he is either receiving free or discounted legal services or working on contingency with an attorney, all of which would require him to disclose the assistance. Nunes has yet to file a legal expense fund with the Office of Congressional Ethics. “Representative Nunes’s overt involvement with the highly-publicized lawsuits threatens to establish a precedent that the Legal Expense Fund regulations no longer apply to Members,” the complaint states. “Although Representative Nunes is entitled to legal representation and he may pursue any legal action to protect and defend his interests, he must comply with House rules,” it continued.
“An [Office of Congressional Ethics] investigation will preserve Representative Nunes’s legal right to counsel while upholding well-established House rules and precedent.” Defendants in Nunes’s lawsuits include Twitter, CNN, McClatchy and two anonymous Twitter accounts that have mocked him. The complaint also claims that even if Nunes was paying Virginia attorney Steven Biss based on contingency — meaning that should Nunes win his cases, Biss would get paid by taking a percentage the resulting award — Biss has also sent two letters demanding apologies for criticisms from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Nunes’s 2017 opponent Andrew Janz. “Mr. Biss sent a letter to Representative Lieu threatening to bring an ethics complaint against him,” the complaint reads. “An ethics complaint will not result in a monetary award that could support payment under a contingency fee agreement.”
The vast majority of the Fourth Estate in Britain either care nothing for the plight of Julian Assange, or are actively participating in his crucifixion. On the face of it, that makes no sense. If it were the intention of these journalists to actually be worthy of that name, then the proceedings in Belmarsh would be the biggest story in their world. The law being tested in the Woolwich Crown Fort would be a mortal danger to them, a dagger at their throat, a sword of Damocles hanging over their head. The prosecution made perfectly clear that the mere possession by a newspaper or a broadcaster of the foreign state secrets published by Assange would itself be a crime under the US Espionage Act, and thus they themselves open to an extradition request from a foreign state.
Though this statement was made in “open court,” virtually no msm journalist even reported it, never mind condemned it. How has this situation come about? Whatever happened to Woodward and Bernstein, to the Sunday Times devastating campaign against the Thalidomide scandal, the New York Times revelations of the Pentagon Papers? Where is the reporting about My Lai? The answer lies in the words of Francis Bacon four centuries ago, when he foretold of the impact of self-censorship: “the arrow that flies in the night” he called it. You don’t see it but it kills its quarry just the same. If Julian Assange is sent into the dungeons of America, free journalism, free speech and even democracy itself will have been murdered in plain sight. On the British mainstream media watch.
Julian Assange’s legal team has rejected a suggestion by lawyers for US authorities that his actions were not “political offences”, arguing that the WikiLeaks founder had published classified documents to highlight human rights abuses. On the fourth day of Assange’s extradition hearing in London, before proceedings were adjourned until May, his barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC, said the motives for publishing confidential information about Guantánamo Bay and the actions of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan were political. Assange faces 18 charges in the US of attempted hacking and breaches of the Espionage Act over the publication of classified US cables a decade ago.
His defence argues that he should be protected from extradition because the US-UK treaty rules it out for political offences. James Lewis QC, a barrister for the US authorities, argued earlier on Thursday that Assange’s actions were not inherently political as they did not have the direct purpose of overthrowing the US government or changing US government policy. “Any bare assertion that WikiLeaks was engaged in a struggle with the US government … needs to be examined far more,” he told Woolwich crown court. Fitzgerald responded that Assange didn’t only seek to change US government policy, but that he succeeded. “WikiLeaks didn’t just seek to induce change, it did induce change,” he said, referring to the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
“What other purpose can there be publishing the Apache helicopter strike [video, showing the killing of 12 people] and [US] rules of engagement than to show that the war was being waged in a way that conflicted with fundamental human rights? “What other point can there be to releasing the Guantánamo Bay files than to induce a government change of policy? And the same for revealing civilian deaths in the Iraq war – [it] was to induce a change in government policy.’’
“Nearly every war that has started in the past 50 years has been a result of media lies.” ~ Julian Assange
They lied about Vietnam They lied about Afghanistan They lied about Iraq (twice) They lied about Libya They lied about #Syria They lied about Yemenpic.twitter.com/v11ltYBzRX
Edward Fitzgerald made a formal application for Julian to be allowed to sit beside his lawyers in the court. Julian was “a gentle, intellectual man” and not a terrorist. Baraitser replied that releasing Assange from the dock into the body of the court would mean he was released from custody. To achieve that would require an application for bail. Again, the prosecution counsel James Lewis intervened on the side of the defence to try to make Julian’s treatment less extreme. He was not, he suggested diffidently, quite sure that it was correct that it required bail for Julian to be in the body of the court, or that being in the body of the court accompanied by security officers meant that a prisoner was no longer in custody.
Prisoners, even the most dangerous of terrorists, gave evidence from the witness box in the body of the court nest to the lawyers and magistrate. In the High Court prisoners frequently sat with their lawyers in extradition hearings, in extreme cases of violent criminals handcuffed to a security officer. Baraitser replied that Assange might pose a danger to the public. It was a question of health and safety. How did Fitzgerald and Lewis think that she had the ability to carry out the necessary risk assessment? It would have to be up to Group 4 to decide if this was possible. Yes, she really did say that. Group 4 would have to decide.
Baraitser started to throw out jargon like a Dalek when it spins out of control. “Risk assessment” and “health and safety” featured a lot. She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade. “No jurisdiction” – “Up to Group 4”. Recovering slightly, she stated firmly that delivery to custody can only mean delivery to the dock of the court, nowhere else in the room. If the defence wanted him in the courtroom where he could hear proceedings better, they could only apply for bail and his release from custody in general. She then peered at both barristers in the hope this would have sat them down, but both were still on their feet.
In his diffident manner (which I confess is growing on me) Lewis said “the prosecution is neutral on this request, of course but, err, I really don’t think that’s right”. He looked at her like a kindly uncle whose favourite niece has just started drinking tequila from the bottle at a family party. Baraitser concluded the matter by stating that the Defence should submit written arguments by 10am tomorrow on this point, and she would then hold a separate hearing into the question of Julian’s position in the court.
Many of the things we see happening now with the coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, take your pick, I “predicted” a while ago. But I’m not in the predicting business, and anyone who would have said even just a week ago that Italy would have 11 deaths today and/or Iran would have 50, or the US 53+ cases of infection, would have been labeled a raving lunatic.
Wuhan apparently relaxed some of their lockdown measures yesterday (and walked that back hours later), as did other places in China when they hadn’t had any new cases for 24 hours or so, and we know why they do it -it’s the economy, stupid!- but that is really the worst possible thing to do. China’s even trying to telegraph that they are in control again, as per Zero Hedge:
“As the WHO team wrapped up its Monday press conference with what was essentially tantamount to a global confidence-building exercise in China’s response, a senior official from China’s National Health Commission said the coronavirus risk from Wuhan had gone ‘way down.’ Of course, if that’s true, then why did officials cancel a planned easing of the lockdown? The official added that China has “..managed to stop the ‘rapid rise’ of infections in Wuhan, though they haven’t stopped the epidemic yet..”
Of course it’s lovely that at the very moment China – falsely- claims to be regaining control, markets worldwide sink into a deep well and gold climbs the Kilimanjaro. Surprising it is not. It simply shows that “investors” are mostly completely clueless about the virus, and the media they follow mostly don’t know dick all either or prefer not to rock the cradle.
The so-called investors follow the same behavioral pattern that civil servants, politicians, “management” at companies, and journalists do. They check first and last what others are doing, so they won’t look out of tune and they can’t be accused of crying wolf. They tend to only act when the rest do, and by then it will inevitably be too late. Man as a social animal, covering their asses by hiding behind others.
For those so-called investors, who cares what they do or why? But for politicians and civil servants, this mindset means they will NOT be ordering test-kits, medicine and the like, when they should. And not warning the public about various upcoming threats and shortages.
For journalists it means their readers and viewers are only clued in when the wolf’s right on their doorstep. I’ve used the Chinese politburo as an example in The Party and the Virus (Feb 2), but I don’t think western countries are much, if any, faster or wiser or more aware. These are all jobs replete with born followers who have only ever learned how to hide behind mom’s skirts and aprons.
And for the rare few who don’t think in herd terms, they will be ridiculed by the sheep in that herd, who will again seek strength in numbers and behind aprons when they are found wanting. Which is fine for investors, they are only playing with money. The others, though, are playing with human lives.
A comment on my article last week, Go Forth and Multiply (Feb 20), suggested that I merely collected the most alarmist articles and turned them into an article. Nope.
The article deals with the failures of all the groups of people mentioned above, in various countries, which have led to where we are today. There are plenty other reports which are far more “alarmist”. I am not personally talking about worst-case scenarios, but in other instances I have quoted a few scientists who would fit that description. Take for instance Gabriel Leung at Hong Kong University, whom I’ve quoted more than once. Leung and his team contend:
• Most experts thought that each person infected would go on to transmit the virus to around 2.5 other people. That gave an “attack rate” of 60-80%.
• Even if the general fatality rate is as low as 1%, which Leung thinks is possible once milder cases are taken into account, the death toll would be massive.
• “Is 60 to 80% of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well..”
Compared to those guys, I am not an alarmist, nor do I go out to look for articles in that vein. I did see quite a while ago that this virus had “potential”, though. And I did see The Big Lockdown (Feb 5) coming before it did. Actually, I see a lot more of that. My intent is to go back to Athens in April, but I seriously have no idea if that will be on offer 5-6 weeks from now, as Italy already today has 11 deaths, 322 cases, and over 100,000 people under lockdown, and deployed the military. Italy had nothing a week ago. And Italy is not that far from Greece.
Come to think of it, nor is it from Holland, where I am right now. That is a situation that people should have woken up to a long time ago. Holland has a number of its citizens locked up in a hotel on Tenerife, Canary Islands, a Spanish province off the northwest coast of Africa. There are 1000 guests in the hotel, all confined to their rooms, because one guest was an Italian who tested positive for COVID19.
There’s also a hotel in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria on lockdown. It has an Italian receptionist who is infected. Check the quarantine time for theose people. If it’s less than two weeks, you know nobody’s learned a thing.
This is the shape of things to come. As is Italy admitting a hospital actually spread the virus. And Japan saying it will now attempt to limit virus deaths, instead of preventing them. That may sound like mere semantics, but it’s not. It sounds like Japan giving up on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without pronouncing it.
Also in Holland, yesterday a high end webshop, which sells electronics, including iPhones, etc., said they want to sell less!! and will raise prices because they foresee they can’t get sufficient supplies from China anymore soon. The obvious media reaction is they must be crazy, because competitors haven’t done the same. But that’s too easy. Maybe they just broke free of the mold of waiting for others to act.
What I find interesting in that light is that Holland’s dependence on the global China trade is much less than for other rich nations, and for south east Asia as a whole. Whither Amazon, Walmart, whither the Silk Road? Quo Vadis?
On February 6, the day after I published The Big Lockdown , a friend at the Global Change Research Institute, reacting to my question “Will [the Chinese] have an economy left by then?” (I don’t remember the exact time I referred to), said “Isn’t that TOO pessimistic?”
My reply was: “There’ll always be something left. There was an economy 100 years ago, and 500, and 1,000. It started when Eve made a deal with a snake. My point was more: what KIND of economy will there be? Nobody seriously considers a collapse such as this, and I think they should.”
He retorted: “I am not really convinced this will be a trigger of (chinese) economic collapse, but well, I am open-minded about such possibility… For now, I am corona-triggered-collapse-skeptic. ;-)”
I wonder how he feels about it today.
Me, I don’t think the biggest issue with the virus is the number of deaths and cases, at least not in the short term. The biggest issue is that there is a virus on the loose than has proven it CAN be lethal, and for which there is no vaccine.
The biggest issue is that we are stumbling woefully unprepared into the future, and therefore our only defense is to lock each other, and ourselves, up in our homes, (and our communities and cities if we’re lucky) until we can’t, social animals that we are.
The biggest issue will not be the cases or even deaths, it will be that ever more of the things we have come to rely on far away lands for, will slowly cease to arrive on our shores. Some of it will be trinkets we never needed, but some of it will also be things without which our lives and communities can no longer function the way we’re used to.
It will be a slow process. Or will it, nothing really moves slow with this virus; it appears to move in virus time, not human time.
You should probably get some immune system boosters while they are available, like Vit.D(3) and echinacea. Facial masks perhaps, while there are any. There are professionals who are regular commenters on the Automatic Earth and who can answer questions on that.
We should also likely prepare for a large-scale reduction in large-scale activities, events that require crowds. Olympics, sports games, concerts, arenas, but also supermarkets and department stores. And then after that come public transport and factories. Alarmist again? Just wait till the first case or death comes to a town near you. Observe how people react. You can see it today in Wuhan, Beijing, Milan, Qom.
By the way, how do you know there are no cases near you? Is anyone testing? Do they have test kits? They will test soon, and they will have kits if they can find any. Note: Japan said today their supply of test kits will be used only for the most serious cases. Everyone else is on their own.
New reports of infections are coming in today from Canada, Bahrain, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Barcelona and more. Ask yourself: what are the odds this will stop tomorrow morning? Or that the US won’t get worse? Face masks, Vit. C, Vit.D(3), echinacea and other things won’t bankrupt most of you, and they’re good for you anyway, so maybe get them while you can.
Oh, and prepare for an enormous amount of misinformation emanating from the politicians and media who are always way behind the curve, and who right now are all actively pondering how to protect the economy. They can’t conceive of a world where a virus can trump the economy. Pun intended. Neither can those who call themselves “investors”. It’s the virus, stupid. HedgeEye got that one particulary well:
Me, I’m sitting here wondering what the link is between the masks for the -now cancelled- Venice carnival, and the Black Death. But that sounds at least a little alarmist, too, doesn’t it?
Please remind me to pick up a copy of Boccaccio’s Decameron(e), in which ten people tell ten stories each while in quarantine outside of Florence during the Plague, around 1350 AD. Should be popular soon.
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Now that the MSM is slowly and finally waking up to the reality of the virus, the information to read and post and comment on, becomes overwhelming. Last week I twice took out the virus-related info to include in separate articles (Virus Rattles if you will), but today I need the extra time doing that involves, for other things.
Still, one observation: yesterday, we saw the highest daily death toll of the entire crisis. Today, we see the lowest. As Xi is pushing hard for the economy. Credibility remains a major issue.
• Cases 80,328 (+ 621 from yesterday’s 79,707).
• Deaths 2,707 (+ 81 from yesterday’s 2,626)
Ben Hunt keeps his eyes on the ball:
“..build dedicated treatment wards before they’re required..”
“..protect healthcare professionals before they get sick..”
“..update our testing and diagnostic capabilities before they are swamped..”
“..bolster our healthcare systems BEFORE the need overwhelms the capacity..”
Last week I wrote about the corrupt political response of the World Health Organization to COVID-19. This week I’m writing about the corrupt political response of the United States to COVID-19. Because it’s happened before. In August 2005, the city of New Orleans fell. New Orleans did not fall because of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans fell because of the corrupt political response to Hurricane Katrina. “We can stabilize the situation. Again, I want to thank you all. Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!” – President George W. Bush. In January 2020, the city of Wuhan fell. Wuhan did not fall because of COVID-19. Wuhan fell because of the corrupt political response to COVID-19.
“Wuhan is a heroic city, and people of Hubei and Wuhan are heroic people who have never been crushed by any difficulty and danger in history. All regions and departments performed their duties actively and conscientiously.” – Xi the Commander (no, I am not making this up; this is how the Xinhua news service describes him now … “Xi the Commander”) A corrupt political response is always the same. It never changes in form. It never changes in function. A corrupt political response occurs when a political leader sacrifices national interest for regime or bureaucratic interest … when a constructed narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent Control!” is maintained for the political benefit of the Leader at the expense of the Led.
Oh, the Leader and his flunkies will convince themselves that the narrative “is in the public interest” … that the narrative will “buy them time” … that the narrative is necessary because “the other side” would do the same or worse if given half a chance. It’s all the excuses that all the Renfields to all the professional politicians tell themselves as they slowly sell their souls. It’s what every President and every Director-General and every Senator and every CEO eventually comes to believe, that their personal interests are identical to “their” people’s interests.
[..] Every once in a very great while, an honest-to-god crisis reveals the political self-interest and mendacity behind your carefully constructed narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent Control!” . Like the fall of New Orleans revealed George W. Bush. Like the fall of Wuhan revealed Xi Jinping. What we must prevent today is the NEXT city to fall. We must prevent the fall of Daegu. We must prevent the fall of Qom. We must prevent the fall of Milan. Looking ahead, we must prevent the fall of Yokohama. We must prevent the fall of San Francisco. Because containment has failed. What we’re seeing in South Korea, Iran and Italy is what exponential disease propagation looks like in the real world. Real world data is spiky. Real world data is messy. Real world exponential growth looks like nothing, nothing, nothing … then cluster, cluster, cluster … then BOOM!
[..] Containment has failed. And so now we must fight. As individuals that means social distancing. As individuals that means doing what we can to stay healthy and prepare for a storm. As a nation that means a war-footing to build dedicated treatment wards before they’re required, to protect healthcare professionals before they get sick, to update our testing and diagnostic capabilities before they are swamped … to do everything possible to bolster our healthcare systems BEFORE the need overwhelms the capacity. Above all, that means calling out our leaders for their corrupt political responses to date, and forcing them through our outcry to adopt an effective virus-fighting policy for OUR benefit, not theirs. We got this.
The Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch is exacting in his diction, even for an epidemiologist. Twice in our conversation he started to say something, then paused and said, “Actually, let me start again.” So it’s striking when one of the points he wanted to get exactly right was this: “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.” [..] Lipsitch predicts that, within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life-threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, around 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)
Lipsitch is far from alone in his belief that this virus will continue to spread widely. The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.” At this point, it is not even known how many people are infected. As of Sunday, there have been 35 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization. But Lipsitch’s “very, very rough” estimate when we spoke a week ago (banking on “multiple assumptions piled on top of each other,” he said) was that 100 or 200 people in the U.S. were infected.
That’s all it would take to seed the disease widely. The rate of spread would depend on how contagious the disease is in milder cases. On Friday, Chinese scientists reported in the medical journal JAMA an apparent case of asymptomatic spread of the virus, from a patient with a normal chest CT scan. The researchers concluded with stolid understatement that if this finding is not a bizarre abnormality, “the prevention of COVID-19 infection would prove challenging.” Even if Lipsitch’s estimates were off by orders of magnitude, they wouldn’t likely change the overall prognosis. “Two hundred cases of a flu-like illness during flu season—when you’re not testing for it—is very hard to detect,” Lipsitch said. “But it would be really good to know sooner rather than later whether that’s correct, or whether we’ve miscalculated something.
The only way to do that is by testing.” Originally, doctors in the U.S. were advised not to test people unless they had been to China or had contact with someone who had been diagnosed with the disease. Within the past two weeks, the CDC said it would start screening people in five U.S. cities, in an effort to give some idea of how many cases are actually out there. But tests are still not widely available. As of Friday, the Association of Public Health Laboratories said that only California, Nebraska, and Illinois had the capacity to test people for the virus.
The sleight of hand used to argue for factories restarting: “Xi said that as many as 1,396 counties and districts, some 46% of the nation’s total, had not reported a single confirmed case of the coronavirus.”
President Xi Jinping has rung the alarm bell on China’s economic growth as worries mount over the coronavirus’ impact on the economy, unemployment and global supply chains. Speaking on Sunday, Xi made it clear that the priority for most of the country was to get the world’s second biggest economy up and running after extensive delays. “It is unavoidable that the novel coronavirus epidemic will have a considerable impact on the economy and society,” said Xi in a lengthy televised address that was watched by as many as 170,000 officials and published by state news agency Xinhua. But Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, added the country’s social and economic system “can’t be paused for a long”.
The edited version of Xi’s speech was published soon after it was delivered, reflecting the urgency of the guidelines. Containment measures including mandatory quarantine for workers, partial shutdowns of factories and transport restrictions have caused significant disruptions to the economy, which was already growing at record low levels before the virus outbreak. Xi said that as many as 1,396 counties and districts, some 46 per cent of the nation’s total, had not reported a single confirmed case of the coronavirus. These low-risk zones, along with areas with only a small number of infections, should “comprehensively restore production” and life as usual, he said. “Medium-risk” regions should resume production in an “orderly manner”, while the priority for hard-hit areas like Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak, was still containing the virus, he said.
• 40 portable incinerators X 30 corpses/incinerator/day = 1,200 corpses/day
• 100 additional portable incinerators ordered
• In addition to 47 crematories running in full capacity
• Another 1MM incinerators on the way!
Just three hours after announcing that visitors trapped in Wuhan – the Chinese city at the heart of the coronavirus epidemic – could leave on Monday, authorities reversed the decision, saying it had been made without approval. The local government revoked the notice it said had been issued by a subordinate working group from the city’s disease control command centre without approval from their superiors. “The centre, headed by Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang, said the officials who had issued the order without authorisation had been reprimanded. “Wuhan resolutely adheres to the spirit of Chinese President Xi [Jinping] … strictly controls every exit from Wuhan and the management of personnel, in order to prevent the spread of the [coronavirus],” it said in a statement retracting the earlier notice.
Extreme lockdown measures have been in place in Wuhan – capital of Hubei and home to 11 million people – since January 23, with all residential areas quarantined and roads and transport links closed. The retracted order would have allowed non-residents who did not have symptoms of the virus and had not had contact with infected patients to leave the city. It had also said locals involved in disease control efforts or essential daily services such as utilities and the delivery of necessities, as well as those who needed specialist medical treatment outside Wuhan, could leave without permission.
[..] More than 75 per cent of deaths in China from the new coronavirus – which causes a disease known as Covid-19 – have been in Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have originated in December. [..] According to Taoran Notes, a social media account affiliated with the official Economic Daily newspaper, the earlier notice had been issued by one of Wuhan’s five deputy mayors without authorisation, but it did not name the official.
Iran has been thrust to the forefront of rising global concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus after reporting by far the most deaths of any country apart from China. Iranian health officials have confirmed 12 deaths from the Covid-19 disease among 61 cases in the country, while a parliamentarian representing the city at the centre of the outbreak in the country has claimed the death toll stands at 50. Either figure would dwarf death tolls in South Korea, Japan and Italy, until now the most severely-affected countries outside China…
After insisting as recently as last week that the country had no cases of the coronavirus, Iranian authorities on February 19 confirmed the deaths of two elderly people in the city of Qom, about 145km south of the capital Tehran, followed by more fatalities in subsequent days. On February 24, officials raised the death toll to 12, from eight the previous day – making the outbreak in Iran the deadliest outside China. Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker for the city of Qom, said on the same day there had been in fact 50 deaths, claiming the government was late to announce the outbreak and his city was ill-equipped to deal with the public health emergency.
Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi disputed those claims in a press conference on state television, pledging to resign if the death toll was even one-quarter of the higher figure. [..] After officials earlier speculated about possible sources of the outbreak including Chinese workers and pilgrims from Pakistan, Iran’s health minister Saeed Namaki on Sunday said the contagion was believed to be linked to a merchant from Qom who regularly travelled between Iran and China. The Iranian, who died from the virus, had been using indirect flights to get around a ban on direct flights between the countries introduced at the end of January.
[..] The disproportionately high fatality rate in Iran’s official figures – with about one in five of those infected succumbing to the virus, compared to one in 50 in China – has been taken by some experts as a sign the true number of cases in the country is far higher than currently known. Assuming a fatality rate of about 2 per cent, the official death toll so far would translate into about 600 cases overall in Iran, about 10 times the current count.
China’s economic recovery amid the coronavirus outbreak has likely been overstated as data only covers larger companies and excludes the vast majority of the smaller workshops and manufacturers. [..] On Monday, National Development and Reform Commission spokesman Cong Liang said that over 90 per cent of industrial enterprises in Zhejiang province, one of the country’s top manufacturing bases, had resumed operation. According to Cong, over 70 per cent of production in the manufacturing and export hubs of Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong and Liaoning had also restarted. However, the official figures only cover larger firms, namely enterprises with capacities “above state designated sizes”, which are enterprises that have a minimum annual turnover of 20 million yuan (US$2.85 million), according to the government’s official definition.
China’s state statistics system normally only covers industrial enterprises with an annual turnover above this level as they accounted for around 90 per cent of the nation’s output in terms of value. In addition, the figures concerning firms that have resumed operation overlook the level of production within a specific factory, as the official data classes a factory that may have only resumed slightly more than half of its capacity as having resumed production. [..] The smaller firms, for example, are often unable to met virus prevention conditions set by local governments, including having enough facial masks for employees. A monthly survey of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in China, conducted by Standard Chartered Bank for the period up to the start of last week, found that firms were on average operating at 42 per cent, while only 47 per cent of workers had returned on average.
South Korea has stepped up its “maximum measures” to contain the coronavirus with plans to test around 200,000 members of a secretive church believed to be at the centre of the country’s outbreak. Along with an emergency budget and a crackdown on the hoarding of face masks, the government in Seoul will test members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus after its founder agreed to provide authorities with the names of all its members in the country. It came as financial markets saw more heavy losses across Asia Pacific on Tuesday over fears the coronavirus was spreading more widely from China and will cause disruption in countries such as South Korea, the world’s 12th biggest economy.
The Nikkei in Tokyo was down 3.3% while the Shanghai Composite sank 2%. Stocks in Australia fell 1.6% and Hong Kong was also in the red although futures trading pointed to a recovery later in the day in European and US markets. In Japan, a fourth person from the Diamond Princess cruise ship died and the country’s education minister said schools with reported coronavirus cases should be temporarily closed. Koichi Hagiuda told reporters on Tuesday that education boards of Hokkaido in northern Japan and Chiba City near Tokyo have been told to take this preventive measure, NHK says.
In China, where 71 new deaths and 508 new cases were reported on Tuesday, health officials said strict control and prevention measures would remain in place in Hubei province, the epicentre of the global outbreak. The national health commission added it would also strictly control the outbound movement of people in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province with existing traffic controls. At Tianjin University, near Beijing, scientists said they had developed an oral vaccine for Covid-19. The professor who led the project, Huang Jinhai, said the vaccine could also serve as a potential therapy for infected patients. Chinese state media said the university was looking for partners to run clinical trials.
Fears of a global pandemic continue to grow as coronavirus cases spike in several countries, including Italy, South Korea and Iran, as the U.S. stock market nosedived early Monday. A staggering 50 people died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus in the month of February, Iran’s semiofficial ILNA news agency reported on Monday. The new death toll is significantly higher than the latest number of confirmed cases that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier, which stood at just 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV. The 50 deaths date back as far as Feb. 13, according to an Iranian official. Iran previously reported its cases and deaths from the virus on Feb. 19.
Authorities are struggling to contain and understand the outbreak in those countries, where infected cases have skyrocketed as they have increased over 2,000 percent in the past couple of weeks. Italy is considered the site of Europe’s first major outbreak and the largest outside of Asia. The number of infected cases jumped to 152, compared to just three 10 days ago. Siegel told anchor Ed Henry that it’s even “more concerning” to hear there are more than 800 cases reported in South Korea. “I’ve been saying that it’s all about health care infrastructure, that China doesn’t have it, we have it, other Western countries have it. Well, guess what, South Korea has a fantastic health care system. They tested over 20,000 people and ended up with over 800 positive cases. That’s showing that this is a highly contagious virus that is spreading despite the best efforts of top health systems to contain it,” he said.
China is also the main market for many endangered species from elsewhere in the world. Can we please stop that too? Just boycott the country for allowing rhino, tiger and elephant body parts trade. Full boycott. Here’s our chance..
Nearly 20,000 wildlife farmsraising species including peacocks, civet cats, porcupines, ostriches, wild geese and boar have been shut down across China in the wake of the coronavirus, in a move that has exposed the hitherto unknown size of the industry. Until a few weeks ago wildlife farming was still being promoted by government agencies as an easy way for rural Chinese people to get rich. But the Covid-19 outbreak, which has now led to over 1,800 deaths and more than 72,000 known infections, is thought to have originated in wildlife sold at a market in Wuhan in early December, prompting a massive rethink by authorities on how to manage the trade. China issued a temporary ban on wildlife trade to curb the spread of the virus at the end of January and began a widespread crackdown on breeding facilities in early February.
The country’s top legislative officials are now rushing to amend the country’s wildlife protection law and possibly restructure regulations on the use of wildlife for food and traditional Chinese medicine. The current version of the law is seen as problematic by wildlife conservation groups because it focuses on utilisation of wildlife rather than its protection. “The coronavirus epidemic is swiftly pushing China to reevaluate its relationship with wildlife,” Steve Blake, chief representative of WildAid in Beijing, told the Guardian. “There is a high level of risk from this scale of breeding operations both to human health and to the impacts on populations of these animals in the wild.” Further instructions from the National People’s Congress are expected next week to give authorities more tools to enforce the ban and restrict trade until the law is amended.
“The China boom was a lot like the shale oil “miracle.” They were both great stunts. They produced a lot of stuff by borrowing from the future. Now we have all that stuff and we have to maintain it, keep if running, borrow more money to make that happen… and suddenly, that’s no longer plausible. ”
And now the Corona virus steps onstage to ramify that situation, beginning with a virtual shut-down of the excessively complex, over-engineered, just-in-time global economy. Things are not being produced and supply lines are shutting down. Car-makers outside China have a couple of weeks before their production lines halt for a lack of parts. But, of course, every other industry will have similar problems and stoppages. Many working Americans are barely getting by from one paycheck to the next. How many missed paychecks will it take for genuine hunger to kick in and desperation with it? We don’t know because the US news media has been busy conjuring the many loves of Vlad Putin.
This is getting serious now. Some of you may have noticed this morning that the stock indexes are heading into the worst open in years. Today, Mr. Market woke up, like Rip Van Winkle, and discovered that the world changed while he was sleeping. There’s a fair chance that the conditions of daily life in America will deteriorate sharply in the months ahead. We’ve been remote-viewing the empty streets of Wuhan and other Chinese cities since January, thinking it was like one of our cable-network horror shows. It’s not inconceivable that an American City, or more than one, will be subject to quarantine, or that a whole lot of people just won’t leave their houses for a period of time. Will the truckers still truck things that people need? We don’t know. How do you hold a political convention in a situation like that, or even an election?
The situation in China may be too far gone already. The country’s finances were a gigantic game of pretend. In the old Soviet Union, beloved by Bernie, the joke was, “they pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work” — not a great formula for enduring prosperity. In China, the updated joke was “we pretend to make loans, and you pretend to pay them back.” The China boom was a lot like the shale oil “miracle.” They were both great stunts. They produced a lot of stuff by borrowing from the future. Now we have all that stuff and we have to maintain it, keep if running, borrow more money to make that happen… and suddenly, that’s no longer plausible. The entire industrialized world has fallen for the debt stunt. Observers have been waiting to see what would finally provoke the unwinding of massive false promises. Looks like the wait is over.
Airline stocks fell Monday as fears about the spread of the coronavirus beyond China added to worries about travel demand and the broader economy, despite a drop in fuel prices. American Airlines shares led the S&P 500 lower with an 9.8% slide in midday trading, hitting a more than four-month low. Delta Air Lines’ stock lost 7.2% to the lowest price in nearly four months, while United Airlines was off 4.3%. All U.S. airline stocks were down more sharply than the broader market. The S&P 500 fell 2.6%. Close to 80,000 cases of the virus, now known as COVID-19, have been reported along with at least 2,621 deaths. Cases outside of China, where most of the infections are located, have increased, with Italy reporting more than 220 and South Korea confirming more than 830.
Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warned citizens not to travel to affected areas, helping drive down shares of European carriers. Budget airline easyJet lost more than 16% while rival Ryanair was down 12%. Deutsche Lufthansa fell 8.8%, British Airways’ parent, International Consolidated Airlines Group, was off 9% and Air France-KLM fell 8.4%. More than 200,000 flights to, from and within China have already been canceled because of the virus, according to aviation consulting firm Cirium, and more disruptions are possible if the virus continues to spread. The coronavirus is expected to eat into carriers’ revenue this year. Air travel demand globally is set to fall for the first time since 2009 and cost airlines some $29 billion — mostly in the Asia-Pacific region — in revenue, the International Air Transport Association warned last week.
The verdict in the New York case against Harvey Weinstein is only the beginning of the movie mogul’s prosecution, with separate charges against the disgraced producer ahead in Los Angeles. In the most high-profile trial of the #MeToo movement yet, a New York jury on Monday found Weinstein guilty of third-degree rape for an attack in a New York hotel and guilty of a criminal sex act for forcing oral sex on a former television production assistant. The fallen titan of Hollywood, who was taken away in handcuffs, could face 25 years in prison and will have to register as a sex offender. Next, Weinstein is due to face a criminal case in LA, which stems from investigations by law enforcement in southern California into eight allegations.
LA prosecutors have filed charges for two incidents that allegedly occurred within a two-day period. Those charges include forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint, carrying a potential 28-year prison sentence. It’s not yet clear how LA prosecutors plan to proceed following Monday’s verdict in New York. Weinstein could be immediately brought to California after his 11 March sentencing in New York. He could pursue a plea deal in LA after his guilty verdict in Manhattan, or he could end up facing a second trial, said Laurie Levenson, criminal law professor at Loyola Law School. Either way, it’s an uphill battle for the former movie producer, she said: “When he heads to LA, he’s already a convicted rapist.”
Moscow will resist any attempts to whitewash the terrorists holed up in Idlib, Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, adding that engaging in talks with them as the US is hinting is out of question. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda offshoot previously known as Al-Nusra, which controls Idlib, has been designated as a terrorist organization not only by the UN, but by the US itself, Lavrov said. However, officials in Washington, including the special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, “allow themselves statements, from which a conclusion can be made that ‘it’s not such a terrorist organization anymore’ and that dialogue with it can be established under some circumstances,” he said. “It’s not the first time we hear such hints and we consider them absolutely unacceptable.”
The foreign minister also said that another round of consultations between Russia and Turkey is currently being prepared in ordered “to agree on ways of turning Idlib into a real de-escalation where the terrorists aren’t in charge.” Tensions are high between Moscow and Ankara after Turkey sent troops to Idlib a few weeks ago amid a large-scale offensive by the Syrian military on the last terrorist stronghold in the country. The move provoked clashes between the Turkish and Syrian forces, with casualties on both sides. Ankara is demanding that Moscow pressure Damascus into ceasing its operation, while Russia has told Turkey that its promise to separate the ‘moderate opposition’ from the terrorists still remains unfulfilled.Lavrov insisted that it was no surprise for the Turkish military that the terrorists were being targeted. Earlier Russian-Turkish agreements on Idlib never envisaged that strikes against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham would stop, he added.
“Edward Fitzgerald QC: Mental state of Assange deteriorating such that there is possibility he may not be able to participate in his own trial. Defense outlines why they believe it’s unjust an oppressive to pursue trial so long after alleged offenses..”
“Julian Assange faces life in prison for publishing true information that was in the public interest..if truth becomes treason we are all in trouble.”
Still, making it all against Trump doesn’t seem the wisest move. Try US Intel. Obviously, Trump’s role is terrible as well, but Assange went into the Embassy in 2012. Trump became president in 2017.
Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States as he would not get a fair trial and would be a suicide risk, his lawyer told a British court hearing on Monday. Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said extradition would expose Assange to inhumane and degrading treatment by a disproportionate sentence and prison conditions. Fitzgerald said the extradition request was motivated by politics rather than any genuine crimes. He said it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite him because of his mental state and risk of suicide. He said the US attitude to Assange had changed when Donald Trump came to power and that the US president wanted to make an example of his client.
Fitzgerald said in 2013 the US government under former President Barack Obama had decided that Assange should not face any action. But that in 2017, after the 2016 election of Trump, an indictment was brought against Assange. Why the change? “The answer is President Trump came into power with a new approach to freedom of speech and a new hostility to the press amounting effectively to declaring war on investigative journalists,” Fitzgerald said. The indictment was brought, “not on the basis of new revelations, but because it had become politically expedient and desirable,” Fitzgerald said.
Attorneys for Julian Assange [..] plan to introduce evidence in the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition hearing involving President Donald Trump’s new intel chief Richard Grenell. Gareth Peirce, a lawyer representing Assange in his extradition proceedings in London, plans to argue this week that the process to try to extradite her client was abused from early on. Representatives for Assange’s defense team say they expect to introduce recordings and screenshots of communications of a close Grenell associate, including a secondhand claim that Grenell was acting on the president’s orders. Grenell’s sudden embroilment in Assange’s extradition fight comes at an inconvenient time, as Democrats and national security veterans criticize him as ill-suited and unqualified to be the acting director of national intelligence.
And it threatens to spotlight his close relationship with President Trump, feeding the widespread perception that the president is politicizing intelligence work for partisan ends. At the heart of the Assange team’s argument is an ABC News report from last April alleging that, while serving as Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Grenell told Assange’s Ecuadorean hosts that the U.S. government would not pursue the death penalty for Assange if Ecuador allowed British officials to enter its embassy in London and arrest him. Assange’s legal team will claim that Grenell’s role was more extensive than previously known, and that it corrupted the extradition process early on. The suggestion will be that the U.S. was so desperate to get Assange in its custody that American officials, via Grenell, agreed in advance to take a particular sentence off the table before even allowing a trial and sentencing to play out.
The WikiLeaks founder’s attorneys are also expected to present evidence that they believe shows Trump explicitly tasked Grenell with making the offer, thereby politicizing the process. One of Assange’s lawyers, Edward Fitzgerald, hinted at this argument in his opening statement on Monday, when he said that Assange’s prosecution was “not motivated by genuine concerns for criminal justice but politics.” The evidence submitted this week will include new materials submitted to Assange’s legal team by political activist and journalist Cassandra Fairbanks, a staunch defender of Assange who has worked for the Russian state-run news site Sputnik and the far-right outlet Gateway Pundit. She is expected to be listed as a formal witness in the case.
Fairbanks recorded two phone calls she had with one of Grenell’s close associates, Arthur Schwartz, and took screenshots of their conversations about Assange and Grenell. [..] Schwartz appeared to grow frustrated and fearful after Fairbanks tweeted, on Sept. 10, 2019, that Grenell “was the one who worked out the deal for Julian Assange’s arrest.” “I don’t want to go to jail,” Schwartz told Fairbanks in a September 2019 phone call, accusing her of posting “classified information” in the tweet. Fairbanks posted the tweet around the time Grenell’s name was being floated to replace John Bolton as Trump’s national security adviser. “Please. I’m begging you,” Schwartz says in the recording. “They look at you, they see that we speak, that’s bad.”
The US counter-intelligence official who led the Pentagon’s review into the fallout from the WikiLeaks disclosures of state secrets told the Bradley Manning sentencing hearing on Wednesday that no instances were ever found of any individual killed by enemy forces as a result of having been named in the releases.
Not only did none of them die, they weren’t even hurt. It’s all a fable, coming from US intel hiding behind state secret veils. The actual story for at least some of the releases is more or less the opposite: that Assange spent entire sleepless nights redactingout namea and details in docs that sources like the Guardian wanted to publish in full.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is at “high risk of suicide” if he is sent to the US to face claims he endangered the lives of whistleblowers around the world, a court has heard. At an extradition hearing in London, Assange’s lawyers argued he is the victim of a politically motivated prosecution that forms part of Donald Trump’s “war on investigative journalists”. But the US government claimed some sources had “disappeared” after the WikiLeaks founder put them at risk of “serious harm, torture or even death” by leaking classified information. James Lewis QC, opening the case against Assange, said on Monday that information published by WikiLeaks was useful to enemies of the US.Mr Lewis told Woolwich Crown Court, which is sitting as a magistrates’ court, that most of the charges related to “straightforward criminal activity” in a “conspiracy to steal from and hack into” the Department of Defence computer system.
“These are ordinary criminal charges and any person, journalist or source who hacks or attempts to gain unauthorised access to a secure system, or aids and abets others to do so, is guilty of computer misuse,” the barrister said. “Reporting or journalism is not an excuse for criminal activities or a licence to break ordinary criminal laws.” Mr Lewis said that the US identified hundreds of “at-risk and potentially at-risk people” around the world due to WikiLeaks’ actions and made efforts to warn them of the danger they faced. “The US is aware of sources, whose redacted names and other identifying information was contained in classified documents published by WikiLeaks, who subsequently disappeared, although the US can’t prove at this point that their disappearance was the result of being outed by WikiLeaks,” he added.
Major developments today (overnight for many) with regards to the COVID19 coronavirus. Probably not so much in infections or deaths per se (at least not that we know), but in the way(s) cases are reported. Or, if a spade is called a spade, the way they have been severely underreported so far.
What happened is Hubei’s health commission changed the diagnostic criteria used to confirm cases. And that looks something like this:
Which leads to this global picture:
What it comes down to is Hubei used to count cases according to “the old method”, which required clinical diagnosis PLUS testing, and has now switched to “the new method”, in which clinical diagnosis suffices. “Clinically diagnosed cases” here means those cases that show up positive on a CT scan (CT: computed tomography, a way to “look at” internal organs). The changes are in red in the doc:
Basically, “showing up positive on a CT scan” refers to the detection of pneumonia. For weeks, officials maintained that in an area under heavy siege of a disease for which pneumonia is one of the main symptoms, additional testing was mandatory to confirm a case as COVID19. Yeah, that’s a little crazy.
Ironically, the WHO went along with these counts based on “the old method”, with its chief effusively praising China for its efforts to combat the virus, but the switch to “the new method” comes just two days after a first team of WHO specialists arrived in China, which will “lay the groundwork for a larger international team.” Looks like Beijing has lost control.
The Party understood that it would no longer be able to keep up appearances, so it fired a whole bunch of politicians (Wuhan Party Chief et al) and other functionaries, appointed others in their place, and now vows a fresh start without the Party being blamed for a thing. And it can say nothing really changed, there is no large amount of additional cases, it’s all just a diagnostic ”tweak”.
Still, this hides the reasons behind the diagnostic changes: China either doesn’t have enough testing kits, or can’t get them out -and used- in the field fast enough. And that means too many potentially infectious patients are out there able to spread the virus. Add the WHO team of specialists to the mix and they chose to do damage control.
Total confirmed and clinically diagnosed #COVID19 cases globally at 60,148. Death toll worldwide 1,365. #China state media count.
All of which leads to these provisionary official numbers:
Obviously, this has blown all previously referenced models out of the water.
Even JPMorgan’s most pessimistic case can’t keep up. Everybody needs to go back to the drawing board. And will do so, much more suspicious of anything China says from here on in. Tomorrow’s official numbers are likely to “normalize” again, 2,000 new cases, 90 deaths, that sort of thing. But they will now be reported with big question marks. Still, politicians and media alike, whether in the west or in China, will tell you things are improving. They can’t help themselves. But you can.
Here are some of the relevant news stories. Regular news in the Automatic Earth Debt Rattle will follow later today.
“Hubei’s new confirmed cases pegged at 14,840, nearly 10 times more than the previous day, while deaths more than doubled to 242.”
Note: that may look like a mortality rate of 20%, but that is far too high. Then again, 2% max doesn’t look tenable anymore either. More on that below.
Health authorities in China’s Hubei province – the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic – reported on Thursday 14,840 new confirmed cases, almost 10 times the number reported a day earlier, and new deaths attributable to the contagion rose to 242, more than double on the day. This brings the totals announced by the province’s health commission to 48,206 and 1,310, respectively, as of Wednesday. Officials in Hubei had reported 94 fatalities and 1,638 newly confirmed cases a day earlier. Hubei’s health commission said in its daily statement that it had changed the diagnostic criteria used to confirm cases, effective Thursday, meaning that doctors have broader discretion to determine which patients are infected.
“From today on, we will include the number of clinically diagnosed cases into the number of confirmed cases so that patients could receive timely treatment,” the health authority said. Previously, patients could only be diagnosed by test kits, which has seen a shortage of supply across the country. Tong Zhaohui, an expert in the central guidance group and vice-president of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, said the move was in line with the National Health Commission’s latest diagnostic guidelines to include clinical diagnosis, using CT scans and other tests. “When doctors diagnose pneumonia, they can only get the etiology of the disease 20 to 30 per cent of the time. We have to rely on clinical diagnosis 70 to 80 per cent of the time. Increasing the diagnosis of clinical cases will help us make an additional judgment on the disease,” he told state broadcaster CCTV in an exclusive interview.
[..] Some 13,436 of the new cases announced on Thursday were confirmed in Hubei’s capital of Wuhan …
There are currently 60,373 confirmed cases and 1,369 deaths from the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak as of February 13, 2020, 05:20 GMT. The condition of patients, according to the World Health Organization (Feb. 7 press conference) and based on 17,000 cases in China, are: • 82% mild •15% severe •3% critical
“Total Cases” = total cumulative count (60,373). This figure therefore includes deaths and recovered/discharged patients (cases with an outcome). By removing these from the “total cases” figure, we get “currently infected cases” (cases still awaiting for an outcome). The charts include provisional data and values for Feb. 12 that are the result, for the most part, of a change in diagnosis classification, for which an additional 13,332 cases and 107 deaths were counted on Feb. 12..
Let’s take, for example, the data at the end of February 8, 2020: 813 deaths (cumulative total) and 37,552 cases (cumulative total) worldwide. If we use the formula (deaths / cases) we get: 813 / 37,552 = 2.2% CFR (flawed formula). With a conservative estimate of T(ime) = 7 days as the average period from case confirmation to death, we would correct the above formula by using February 1 cumulative cases, which were 14,381, in the denominator: Feb. 8 deaths / Feb. 1 cases = 813 / 14,381 = 5.7% CFR (correct formula, and estimating T=7).
T could be estimated by simply looking at the value of (current total deaths + current total recovered) and pair it with a case total in the past that has the same value. For the above formula, the matching dates would be January 26/27, providing an estimate for T of 12 to 13 days. This method of estimating T uses the same logic of the following method, and therefore will yield the same result. An alternative method, which has the advantage of not having to estimate a variable, and that is mentioned in the American Journal of Epidemiology study cited previously as a simple method that nevertheless could work reasonably well if the hazards of death and recovery at any time t measured from admission to the hospital, conditional on an event occurring at time t, are proportional, would be to use the formula:
CFR (case fatality rate)= deaths / (deaths + recovered) which, with the latest data available, would be equal to: 1,369 / (1,369 + 6,032) = 18% CFR (worldwide) If we now exclude cases in mainland China, using current data on deaths and recovered cases, we get: 2 / (2 + 76) = 2.6% CFR (outside of mainland China) The sample size above is extremely limited, but this discrepancy in mortality rates, if confirmed as the sample grows in size, could be explained with a higher case detection rate outside of China especially with respect to Wuhan, where priority had to be initially placed on severe and critical cases, given the ongoing emergency.
Unreported cases would have the effect of decreasing the denominator and inflating the CFR above its real value. For example, assuming 10,000 total unreported cases in Wuhan and adding them back to the formula, we would get a CFR of 7.9% (quite different from the CFR of 18% based strictly on confirmed cases). Neil Ferguson, a public health expert at Imperial College in the UK, said his “best guess” was that there were 100,000 affected by the virus even though there were only 2,000 confirmed cases at the time.  Without going that far, the possibility of a non negligible number of unreported cases in the initial stages of the crisis should be taken into account when trying to calculate the case fatally rate.
Another 44 people on board a cruise ship moored off Japan’s coast have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the country’s health minister said on Thursday. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the 44 new cases were detected from another 221 new tests. They raise the number of infections detected on the Diamond Princess to 218, in addition to a quarantine officer who also tested positive for the virus. Kato said authorities now want to move elderly people off the ship if they test negative for the virus, offering to put them in government-designated lodging. “We wish to start the operation from tomorrow or later,” Kato told reporters.
Of the newly diagnosed infections, 43 are passengers, and one a member of the crew. The Diamond Princess set off from Hong Kong on January 25 for a trip scheduled to end on February 4. Instead, it has been moored off Japan since February 3, after it emerged that a former passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong last month had tested positive for the virus now named Covid-19.
The number of deaths from the Wuhan coronavirus had risen to over 1,000 by Tuesday morning, as experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived in China to assist with controlling the epidemic. Chinese health authorities said 108 people died from the virus in mainland China on Monday, with the majority of those deaths occurring in Hubei province, the capital of which is Wuhan – the city where the virus was first found. The total number of deaths stands at 1,018, all but two of those in mainland China. Globally, 43,114 have now been diagnosed with the virus, again with the majority in China. Around 4,000 patients have been treated and released from hospital in China since late December.
A team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts landed in China on Monday. The organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said they will “lay the groundwork for a larger international team,” which will join them “as soon as possible.” The WHO group in China is led by Bruce Aylward, who helmed the body’s response to Ebola, as well as initiatives for immunization, communicable diseases control and polio eradication. Their arrival comes as the WHO is facing increasing criticism for its initial decision not to declare a global health emergency, and for officials’ effusive praise of China’s handling of the crisis, even as Beijing faces outrage domestically for, among other things, the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, and the subsequent censorship of that news.
Beijing’s purge of officials in Hubei province picked up pace with the removal of the top Communist Party leaders in the region as the central government responded to public anger over what is seen as a botched response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the region. China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that Hubei party secretary Jiang Chaoliang will be replaced by Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, 61, a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Communist Party leader of Wuhan city Ma Guoqiang, 56, is also set to be dismissed, according to a person familiar with the development who was not authorised to speak on the issue. Ma will be replaced by Wang Zhonglin, 57, party secretary of Shandong’s provincial capital Jinan.
Jiang, 61, is the highest-ranking political casualty so far in the outbreak, which has killed more than 1,100 people in mainland China, the vast majority in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan city. As details have trickled out on how local officials mismanaged the outbreak, public anger has swelled on social media. Academics have also signed a public petition to demand free speech after the police punished doctors who raised the early alarm about the outbreak. “Sending Ying Yong and Wang Zhonglin to Hubei shows the central government is determined to fix Hubei and give people answers. The cadres there have been really disappointing,” the unnamed person said. “The outbreak cost the party dearly. Those who are responsible will be held accountable.”
“Then on day 8, the reporters saw their first dead body in the street. He’s a man, in his sixties, who is lying on his back in front of a closed furniture store. Officials in hazard suits slowly approach the body, taking every conceivable precaution.”
[..] few have captured the atmosphere of the situation quite like a team of AFP journalists who lingered in Wuhan after the lockdown, and have detailed their experiences in diary format. The diary begins on Jan. 23, the day Wuhan was placed under lockdown. It starts as one might expect: Though the news was a shock, few tried to escape the city before the lockdown officially went into effect. Police chase the last travelers out of the railroad station. But the situation doesn’t really start to escalate until Jan. 25, or New Year’s Day in China. Those who went to worship at the city’s Guiyan temple, normally packed this time of year, found it empty: nobody was allowed inside.
“No-one is allowed inside in order to prevent the virus spreading,” a uniformed man – who is not wearing the compulsory mask – tells AFP. On the fourth day of the crackdown, conditions in Wuhan really started to deteriorate. This marked the beginning of hard times for Wuhan. Overwhelmed hospitals arbitrarily turned people away if their swab tests came back negative for the virus. One man told an AFP reporter that he had been turned away by four hospitals, despite being seriously ill. “I haven’t slept,” he said. He was getting ready to wait in line all night to hopefully be admitted to another hospital. For the first in their memory, the AFP reporters said Chinese out on the streets approached them to complain about the government’s handling of the lockdown.
“Like a horror film,” says one witness, who tells AFP bodies were left unattended for hours. [..] On day 6, the AFP spoke to a French doctor who had decided to stay in Wuhan, a Dr. Philippe Klein. “It’s not an act of heroism,” he said. “It’s been well thought out, it’s my job.” More signs of the government crackdown are beginning to appear: Guards take the temperature of customers at supermarkets and other stores hawking essential goods. Then on day 8, the reporters saw their first dead body in the street. He’s a man, in his sixties, who is lying on his back in front of a closed furniture store. Officials in hazard suits slowly approach the body, taking every conceivable precaution.
Today, two days after China officially returned to work, we got the first confirmation of just how catastrophic Beijing’s order to local enterprises and businesses to rush back reboot the economy could be, when Jennifer Zeng reported that a company in Suzhou reopened, and immediately at least one CoVid2019 case found. As a result, the company’s 200+ employees couldn’t go home and were immediately placed under quarantine. At least the workers managed to “organize” quilts for themselves. This is just the first such case. Expect many more – especially across Hubei and its neighboring provinces – as latent cases of Coronavirus which were never caught and cured spark new infections and mini epidemics, all of which dutifully captured on a smartphone clip for everyone in China to watch and freak out even more.
Which reminds us of another comment from Rabobank, which last week explained why the dilemma facing China is “truly awful”: The quandary for China between releasing the quarantine straitjacket in days to stop its economy from getting truly sick, and allowing a virus like this to spread further as people start to mingle again is truly awful. There are no good options. For a world with a serious lack of final end-demand, and which has been relying on China, along with increasingly “Chinese” central banks, this is going to be a nasty shock either way that Mr Market is treating like he is Mr Magoo.
And since Beijing has no way out, especially since the epidemic is still raging despite Beijing’s “doctored”, no pun intended, infection and death numbers, expect China to unleash the most draconian censorship crackdown on any reports Covid-2019 has not only not been purged but is making unwelcome appearances across China’s enterprises, which will be quietly put under blanket quarantine even as Beijing pretends that all is well and its economy is once again humming on all cylinders until eventually the epidemic reaches a critical mass and China has no choice but to once again admit the full extent of the social and economic fallout. And just like in the case of SARS, don’t expect such “honesty” to emerge for at least several weeks if not months.
“The city governments of Zhongshan and Foshan in Guangzhou province have postponed the resumption of work until March 1, while companies must apply for special permission in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. The local administration has so far only given the green light to 1,462 out of nearly 30,000 companies based in the city”
Will these party officials be fired for being too strict?
To work or not to work – that is proving a crucial question for Chinese officials, companies and employees as the world’s second largest economy struggles to balance the risk of the deadly coronavirus with the need to resume business. Most provinces across China restarted operations on Monday after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, but an influx of workers returning from their hometowns is posing a headache for authorities. The coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,100 people and infected nearly 45,000, shows few signs of being contained, stoking fears of a potential spike in infections as people return to work. While the central government has made it clear that containing the outbreak is an overriding priority, Communist Party leaders know they cannot afford to freeze industrial production indefinitely, especially as China’s economy grows at its slowest pace in decades.
[..] As the virus has spread from Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, authorities across China have imposed travel restrictions, cancelled public events and locked down neighbourhoods. Last week, the government of Suzhou, a major manufacturing hub in Jiangsu province, which is known for its silk products, asked local communities to tell workers from Hubei and Zhejiang provinces not to return until further notice. This employee “blacklisting” was echoed by other cities, including Wuxi in the south of Jiangsu, which banned migrant workers from at least seven provinces. While most provincial level governments have urged companies to resume operations this week, officials at local levels are dragging their feet.
The city governments of Zhongshan and Foshan in Guangzhou province have postponed the resumption of work until March 1, while companies must apply for special permission in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. Once approved, employees are required to report their body temperatures to local authorities daily. The local administration has so far only given the green light to 1,462 out of nearly 30,000 companies based in the city, an approval rate below 5 per cent. Small and medium-sized enterprises in China, which are a cornerstone for employment and social stability, are at most risk from the efforts to contain the outbreak. A recent survey conducted by researchers from Tsinghua and Peking universities in Beijing, two of China’s top institutions of higher learning, found that 67.1 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises had only enough financial reserves to sustain operations for two months if revenues dried up. The survey of 995 companies also found that 30 per cent expected revenues to shrink by at least half from 2019.
About 40 percent of generic drugs sold in the U.S. have only a single manufacturer. A significant supply chain disruption could cause shortages for some or many of these products. Last year, manufacturing of intermediate or finished goods in China, as well as pharmaceutical source material, accounted for 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91 percent of U.S. imports of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of U.S. imports of acetaminophen, 40 to 45 percent of U.S. imports of penicillin, and 40 percent of U.S. imports of heparin, according to the Commerce Department. In total, 80 percent of the U.S. supply of antibiotics are made in China.
While much of the fill finishing work (the actual formulation of finished drug capsules and tablets) is done outside China (and often in India) the starting and intermediate chemicals are often sourced in China. Moreover, the U.S. generic drug industry can no longer produce certain critical medicines such as penicillin and doxycycline without these chemical components.iv According to a report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China’s chemical industry, which accounts for 40 percent of global chemical industry revenue, provides a large number of ingredients for drug products.
It’s these source materials – where in many cases China is the exclusive source of the chemical ingredients used for the manufacture of a drug product – that create choke points in the global supply chain for critical medicines. Moreover, when it comes to starting material for the manufacture of pharmaceutical ingredients, a lot of this production is centered in China’s Hubei Provence, the epicenter of coronavirus. Most drug makers have a one to three-months of inventory of drug ingredients on hand. But these supplies are already being drawn down. Among big API makers in Wuhan are Wuhan Shiji Pharmaceutical, Chemwerth, Hubei Biocause, Wuhan Calmland Pharmaceuticals.
[..] We’re facing the potential for unprecedented supply chain disruptions. You can’t easily switch component part suppliers — either starter material for the manufacture of drugs or components for device devices. You have to qualify those alternative sources, make sure they meet regulatory standards for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), and meet the conditions set by those incorporating these materials into their finished goods. Even if FDA is able to offer manufacturers flexibility in making these component changes, substitutions are often complex.
President Moon Jae-in expressed confidence Thursday that South Korea will soon bring the novel coronavirus pandemic under control and stressed it is time to resume full-scale efforts to revitalize the economy, meeting with a group of local business leaders. “COVID-19 will be terminated (in South Korea) before long,” he said, using the official name of the disease, during the session held at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) in Seoul. Fortunately, he said, domestic quarantine management “appears to have entered a stable stage to some extent,” although it is still too early to be complacent. He emphasized that quarantine authorities here would continue their efforts “until the end” to contain the virus.
The president voiced regret once again over the outbreak’s negative impact on the country’s economy, which he said had been showing clear indications of recovery. “It’s very regrettable that the ankle of the economy has been seized by the occurrence of the COVID-19 incident,” Moon told the attendees including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, CJ Group Chairman Lee Jae-hyun and Park Yong-maan, chairman of the KCCI. “Now, it’s time for the government and business circles to join forces and revive the recovery trend of the economy,” Moon said. He reaffirmed the government’s resolve to ramp up its bid to create more jobs with massive investment projects and support private firms with “bold” tax incentives and regulatory reform.
Epidemics are catastrophic for humans, and it turns out they aren’t much better for healthcare companies. The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has multiplied more than 80-fold over three weeks despite measures such as travel bans, and exceeded 45,000 across 26 countries on Wednesday, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Tests and treatments are in demand. Yet past events like SARS show slow research, high production costs and political pressure on pricing often add up to disappointing returns. Tests for the virus now called SARS-CoV-2 are here. These are vital for diagnosing, isolating carriers, and tracking exposure.
Meridian Bioscience saw its stock pop on news it had developed a test, but the shares then dropped as investors realized Roche, Qiagen and others would all fight for thin margins. So far, none of the stocks has moved much. A treatment has better profit potential, as competition probably will be limited. The snag is, proving a drug’s effectiveness typically takes years. There are already multiple trials started using existing anti-viral treatments, and potential new drugs by Gilead Sciences and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have begun testing, or will soon. Even if one company hits the jackpot, production can be a problem. Flu fears in 2009 made Roche’s Tamiflu a blockbuster. But securing enough production of spice star anise to make the drug proved troublesome.
The best long-term hope for coronavirus control is a vaccine. Old-school giant Novartis, biotechnology outfit Moderna and others want to make one. But drug development is hard, and vaccines can be particularly tricky due to viral mutation. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday a vaccine might be available in 18 months, a long way off even assuming no hiccups. Vaccines can be profitable for endemic diseases – Pfizer sold $1.6 billion of a pneumonia vaccine last year. But the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003 flared up and hasn’t been seen in humans since. SARS-CoV-2 might follow the same path.
Today I took a few things out of my daily Debt Rattle news aggregator because I think they shouldn’t get lost in there. It’s interesting, for instance, that the coronavirus incubation period is now thought to be 24, not 14 days. It’s also interesting that the Chinese government tells local officials not to be too strict on companies wanting to re-open plants: “We will strictly stop restricting the production resumption in an oversimplified and crude way”.
If you ask me, that’s asking for trouble. What if one of those factories becomes a petri dish for new infections? Yesterday perhaps 10% of workers are thought to have reported back to their workplaces, today it might be 30%. Then again, in certain places the Lunar New Year has apparently been extended to February 18, so let’s not read too much into this-yet.
But that I’ll deal with later today in the February 11 Debt Rattle, which will be a bit later than usual because of this article. I’ll start this with Hong Kong University Professor Gabriel Leung, around whose January 31 report I based my February 5 article The Big Lockdown. Professor Leung has some more BIG numbers today. We’re getting into Spanish Flu territory now:
The novel coronavirus epidemic could spread to around two-thirds of the world’s population if it cannot be controlled, according to Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologist. His warning came after the head of the WHO said recent cases of coronavirus patients who have never visited China could be the “tip of the iceberg”. Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of Public Health Medicine at Hong Kong University, said the overriding question was to figure out the size and shape of the iceberg. Most experts thought that each person infected would go on to transmit the virus to around 2.5 other people. That gave an “attack rate” of 60-80%.
“Sixty per cent of the world’s population is an awfully big number,” Leung told the Guardian in London, en route to an expert meeting at the WHO in Geneva. Even if the general fatality rate is as low as 1%, which Leung thinks is possible once milder cases are taken into account, the death toll would be massive. He will tell the WHO expert meeting that the main issue is the scale of the growing worldwide epidemic and the second priority is to find out whether the drastic measures taken by China to prevent the spread have worked – because if so, other countries should think about adopting them. [..]
At the end of January he warned in a paper in the Lancet that outbreaks were likely to be “growing exponentially” in cities in China, lagging just one to two weeks behind Wuhan. Elsewhere, “independent self-sustaining outbreaks in major cities globally could become inevitable” because of the substantial movement of people who were infected but had not yet developed symptoms, and the absence of public health measures to stop the spread.
Epidemiologists and modellers were all trying to figure out what was likely to happen, said Leung. “Is 60 to 80% of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well,” he said.
About that fatality rate, we read today that “The Hubei health commission said the province had a total of 31,728 cases with 974 deaths by the end of Monday – a fatality rate of 3%.“.
The most interesting part of the numbers game comes from Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory, who ‘normally’ writes about finance, investing, not viruses or epidemics. He’s the Chief Risk Officer of Salient Partners, an $18 billion asset manager. Hunt starts out his piece with showing how the US and Vietcong incessantly lied about casualties in the Vietnam war.
He then cites someone with the moniker Antimonic, I think on Reddit, who predicted the coronavirus death tolls of the past 5 days, 5 days ago, before they happened, using very simple math.
Hunt on Twitter: “I just published an update to this note, where I developed an absurdly simple model of how I’d show “Progress in the War against Coronavirus!”. It predicts the DAILY reported death rates with ridiculous accuracy. They’re. Not. Even. Pretending. Anymore.“
Here’s how Hunt summarizes it in his own words:
Let’s imagine, for example, that you’re President Xi, and you’d like to show that you are Winning the War ™ against nCov2019. You can’t just say that the epidemic is over and the disease is cured, because you’ve got more than 100 MILLION people in a military quarantine, and it’s kinda obvious that the disease is anything but cured. But you want to show progress in Winning the War ™. So maybe you come up with a rough formula that goes something like this …
Yesterday we told everyone that 500 people have died since the outbreak. That’s a made-up number, of course, but that’s what we told everyone. Today let’s tell everyone that an additional 15% of that number died yesterday, so 75 new deaths for 575 total dead. And tomorrow let’s tell everyone that 14% of that total number died, and the day after 13%, and then 12% and then 11%. Clear progress! Got it, my loyal cadres?
This way, the absolute numbers can rise, while the percentages fall.
The daily body count of killed and wounded North Vietnamese soldiers was, in Epsilon Theory-speak, a cartoon – an abstraction of an abstraction in service to the creation of Common Knowledge. Hey, everyone knows that everyone knows that we’re winning the war in Vietnam. Didn’t you see the body count numbers on CBS last night? Once you start looking for cartoons, you will see them everywhere. Inflation numbers? Cartoon. Employment data? Cartoon. Asset allocation? Electoral coverage? Financial journalism? Cartoon, cartoon, cartoon. And yes, we write a lot about cartoons. But this is the kicker.
Because it was so important to maintain the fiction that we were Winning the War ™, and that fiction required metrics like a body count of North Vietnamese that was always a multiple of the South Vietnamese casualties and always a factor of the American casualties, American war-fighting policy was soon driven by the narrative requirement to find and count the “right number” of North Vietnamese casualties! These were the infamous search-and-destroy missions of the Vietnam War. This is The Maw in action. Do a little research on search-and-destroy. Read about My Lai and Son Thang. Read Matterhorn. And then take a fresh look at the coronavirus stats coming out of China. Here’s the core post in a reddit thread that’s Matterhorn-esque in its truth (and a heck of a lot shorter to read).
The point of this quadratic regression on Chinese infection and death numbers as reported by the World Health Organization from the first official announcement through February 4 was the publication of this projection.
Sure enough, the WHO announcements since this prediction was published have been eerily close.
• 2/5 — 24,363 cases — 491 fatalities
• 2/6 — 28,060 cases — 564 fatalities
• 2/7 — 31,211 cases — 637 fatalities
• 2/8 — 34,598 cases — 723 fatalities
• 2/9 — 37,251 cases — 812 fatalities
• 2/10 — 40,171 cases — 908 fatalities
Crazy, right? The deaths being reported out of China are particularly accurate to the model, while the reported cases are leveling off (which is what you’d expect from a politically adjusted epidemic model over time … at some point you have to show a rate-of-change improvement from your epidemic control measures). But wait, there’s more. The really damning part of Antimonic’s modeling of the reported data with a quadratic formula is that this should be impossible. This is not how epidemics work. All epidemics take the form of an exponential function, not a quadratic function.
All epidemics – before they are brought under control – take the form of a green line, an exponential function of some sort. It is impossible for them to take the form of a blue line, a quadratic formula of some sort. This is what the R-0 metric of basic reproduction rate means, and if – as the WHO has been telling us from the outset – the nCov2019 R-0 is >2, then the propagation rate must be described by a pretty steep exponential curve. As the kids would say, it’s just math.
As the US and China accuse each other of, respectively, not accepting help and not offering it, numbers continue to rise. Just like doubts about the accuracy of the official numbers from Beijing do. Here are the official numbers:
• 17,480 cases (+2930 from yesterday’s 14,550)
• 362 deaths (+57 from yesterday’s 305)
• 11 U.S. confirmed infected
Also, the Lancet paper I’ve been citing a lot lately by Gabriel Leung and his team says “We estimated that if there was no reduction in transmissibility, the Wuhan epidemic would peak around April, 2020, and local epidemics across cities in mainland China would lag by 1–2 weeks.”
That would mean another 3 months. Mobility is a factor, mind you, as the graph shows, though a minor one. But imagine the Chinese economy being on lockdown for another 3 months. Where will OPEC sell their oil? Where will WalMart buy its supply? What will happen to the Chinese confined to their homes and/or cities? Will there be a global economy left?
Epidemic forecasts for Wuhan and five other Chinese cities under different scenarios of reduction in transmissibility and inter-city mobility
This is why I wrote yesterday’s The Party and the Virus. Question is when will the rest of the world increase pressure on China for real numbers? Will that first take multiple deaths in Europe or the US?
Let’s be honest, do you think China is reporting the actual coronavirus cases and deaths? After all, Beijing has been the master of falsifying its economic growth figures for years, what makes you think they’ll change in the reporting of the deadly virus outbreak? Balaji S. Srinivasan, angel investor and entrepreneur, also former CTO of Coinbase, tweeted Saturday that a top news organization in China, Caijing, had one of their articles banned by Beijing after it noted Chinese officials were significantly underreporting coronavirus confirmed cases and deaths, especially among the elderly. Srinivasan said, “If half the claims in this article are true, #nCoV2019 seems to have completely overloaded Wuhan’s healthcare system. It appears particularly deadly for the elderly. But this 45-year-old had to be anesthetized and intubated in order to breathe.”
“In the past two days, he had seen a 45-year-old patient, a family of five, his parents had died of the new coronavirus pneumonia, and his son was infected. The patient’s condition was very serious. She used high-flow oxygen inhalation and non-invasive mask ventilation, but her blood oxygen saturation was only 50%. Finally, she had to be anesthetized and intubated with ECMO. “Before intubation and anesthesia, she watched us prepare, tears kept flowing down, and that fear made people feel very distressed,” said Shen Jun. There are still many cases like this, “Our doctors have made a decision Determined to do everything possible to treat all patients,” Caijing wrote.
Srinivasan points out that the Chinese newspaper found hospitals in Wuhan and elsewhere were intentionally recording coronavirus deaths as “general pneumonia” to keep the death count low. The article also notes test kits for the virus were in low supply, which allowed those who were infected, to continue their daily lives during a 7-10-day incubation period, enabling the virus to spread even more. The healthcare system was so overloaded in Wuhan, which forced hospital officials to send the dying home; hospitals didn’t have enough beds to house the sick. “Caijing understands that at least five suspected deaths at the hospital have not been diagnosed, so it does not count towards the confirmed deaths. This means that the number of confirmed and fatal cases that people can see at present does not fully reflect the full picture of the epidemic,” the article noted.
And then there’s this, from SixthTone’s David Paulk: “The 8 people detained in Wuhan for “spreading rumors” — who we wrote about in a Jan. 2 article that was censored — were doctors trying to raise the alarm about a new SARS-like virus.” We leave the last word to Zeng Guang, the chief scientist of epidemiology at China’s CDC, who, on Jan. 29 made a rare candid admission about why Chinese officials cannot tell people the truth in an interview with the state-run tabloid Global Times: “The officials need to think about the political angle and social stability in order to keep their positions,” which is all one needs to know about any “facts” coming out of China.
Investors erased $420 billion from China’s benchmark stock index on Monday, sold the yuan and dumped commodities as fears about the spreading coronavirus and its economic impact drove selling on the first day of trade in China since the Lunar New Year. The market slide came even as the central bank poured cash in to the financial system – a show of support for the economy -and despite apparent regulatory moves to curb selling. The total number of deaths in China from the coronavirus rose to 361 as of Sunday. It had stood at 17 when Chinese markets last traded on Jan. 23. By lunchtime, the benchmark Shanghai Composite index sat 8% lower near an almost one-year trough and poised to post its worst day in more than four years.
The yuan opened at its weakest level in 2020 and slid almost 1.2%, past the symbolic 7-per-dollar level CNY=, as the falls soured the mood in markets throughout Asia. Shanghai-traded oil, iron ore, copper and soft commodities contracts all posted sharp drops, catching up with sliding global prices. The new virus has created alarm because it is spreading quickly, much about it is unknown, and authorities’ drastic response is likely to drag on economic growth. “This will last for some time,” said Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING. “It’s uncertain whether factory workers, or how many of them, will return to their factories,” she said. “We haven’t yet seen corporate earnings since the (spread of the) coronavirus. Restaurants and retailers may have very little sales.” More than 2,500 stocks fell by the daily limit of 10%.
Stock markets in China have seen the biggest daily fall for five years as traders rushed to sell amid continued fears about the impact on the global economy of the coronavirus epidemic. The benchmark Shanghai composite index fell 8.7% on Monday on a wave of negative sentiment that has built up for 10 days during the long market shutdown for the lunar new year. The Shenzhen composite was off 9.1% and dangerously close to the daily maximum permitted fall of 10% after which trading is suspended. The yuan fell through the seven-to-the-US-dollar mark for the first time since December. The losses were the worst on the Chinese markets since 2015 although they pared back slightly later in the day to 7.7%. [..]
Chinese authorities have reeled off a series of measures to tackle the market panic. On Sunday they announced they flood the financial system with 1.2 trillion yuan (US$170bn) in extra liquidity, a measure designed to buy up securities from investors seeking to sell. On Monday the People’s Bank of China – the country’s central bank – lowered the interest rate it charges banks for short-term funding upon which many banks rely to remain trading. Capital Economics said that while the move might take some pressure off the banks the rate cut was not enough to offset the drag on economic activity from the coronavirus outbreak and that more rate cuts were therefore on the way.
The growing fears about the Chinese economy also prompted the finance ministry to subsidies on interest payments for some companies hit by the coronavirus outbreak, state-run newspaper Guangming Daily said. [..] Many economists are predicting that the coronavirus will have a significant impact on the Chinese economy. Many businesses have been shut as part of the lockdown to contain the virus while most overseas airlines have suspended flights to the country and Chinese people are now banned from travelling overseas. Goldman Sachs has forecast that the virus could knock Chinese growth down to 5.5% for the year, from 6.1% in 2019, with knockon effects for the rest of the world economy. Economists at Citigroup said the steps taken by Chinese authorities were “unlikely” to be enough to prevent a sharp downturn in the first quarter.
China’s Sinopec Corp, Asia’s largest refiner, is cutting throughput this month by around 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) as the rapidly spreading coronavirus hits fuel demand, four people with knowledge of the matter said on Monday. The cut is equivalent to roughly 12% of the state refiner’s average daily throughput last year. Sinopec asked refineries last Friday to cut production and gave plants different reduction targets based on local fuel demand and logistics, the sources told Reuters. They declined to be named as they are not authorized to speak to media. Sinopec is closely monitoring the changing market situations and stands ready to ensure supplies, the refiner said in an email to Reuters.
“Company is closely monitoring the changing market situations, and will optimize operation rates and product mix based on market demand,” the company said, without commenting directly on the throughput cut rates. The four sources estimated cuts of about 2.5 million tonnes in total, equal to about 600,000 bpd on average, for February. One plant in eastern Jiangsu province is lowering runs by 10%, while a plant in Tianjin, near Beijing, is cutting throughput by 20%, two people with direct knowledge of the plants’ operations said. A plant manager with a central-China based Sinopec refinery said his plant has since Friday lowered processing rates to 60% of capacity. He said his plant was operating at near full rates before the cut.
Some Chinese technology firms are continuing to manufacture parts and products despite government calls across various cities and provinces for work to be halted as Being seeks to stop the spread of the coronavirus ravaging the country. Chinese telecom giant Huawei said on Monday it had resumed production of goods including consumer devices and carrier equipment, and operations are running normally. The company restarted manufacturing in line with a special exemption that allows certain critical industries to remain in operation, despite Beijing’s call to halt all work in some cities and provinces. The spokesman said most of the production was in Dongguan, a city in the southern Guangdong province.
Other companies have also kept production running, in some cases even through Chinese New Year, in a sign of the critical importance Beijing places on its domestic tech supply chain, a subject of friction with the United States Yangtze Memory Technologies, a state-backed maker of flash memory chips based in Wuhan – the city where the virus outbreak originated – confirmed on Monday that it has not yet ceased production. “At present, production and operations at YMTC are proceeding normally and in an orderly manner,” a company spokesman wrote in a statement on Monday. The spokesman added that no factory employees have been confirmed as infection cases, and that the company has enacted certain isolation measures and partitions to ensure the safety of employees. State media reported that the chip maker did not cease operations over the Lunar New Year holiday.
When the World Health Organization declared the 2019nCoV coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, it effusively praised China’s response to the outbreak. The WHO issued a statement welcoming the government’s “commitment to transparency”, and the WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tweeted: “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.” The WHO is ignoring Chinese government suppression of human rights regarding the outbreak, including severe restrictions on freedom of expression. In turn, Chinese state media are citing the WHO to defend its policies and try to silence criticism of its response to the outbreak, which has included rights violations that could make the situation worse.
China’s response to the outbreak included a month-long government cover-up in Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, that led to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Local authorities publicly announced that no new cases had been detected between 3-16 January in the lead up to a major Communist party meeting, likely to suppress “bad news”. Despite early evidence of human-to-human transmission when medical staff became infected, this information was not relayed to the public for weeks. Hardly a “commitment to transparency”. Chinese police punished frontline doctors for “spreading rumours” for trying to warn the public in late December. Police are still engaged in a campaign to detain Chinese netizens for spreading so-called “rumours”.
Rumours included reports of potential cases, including people turned away from hospitals or dying without ever being tested and quickly cremated, criticism of the government, the distribution of masks, or the criticism of the discrimination of people from Wuhan or others who may be infected. Activists have been threatened with jail if they share foreign news articles or post on social media about the coronavirus outbreak. That the Chinese government can lock millions of people into cities with almost no advance notice should not be considered anything other than terrifying. The residents of Wuhan had no time to buy food, medicine, or other essentials. Authorities hastily announced the lockdown in the middle of the night with an eight-hour gap before it went into effect, giving people time to flee and thus raising questions on the rationale for such extreme measures.
[..] The international community should support all efforts to end this outbreak, but human rights should not be a casualty to the coronavirus crisis. The WHO declares that core principles of human rights and health includes accountability, equality and non-discrimination and participation. It even acknowledges that “participation is important to accountability as it provides … checks and balances which do not allow unitary leadership to exercise power in an arbitrary manner”. The WHO’s admiration for the unitary actions of the Chinese dictator Xi Jinping exercising power in an arbitrary manner is a direct contradiction of its own human rights principles.
Twitter comment: “Brace yourself, the DNC is launching its troll army (branded as “troll fighters”) headed by a former Hillary staffer to counter “disinformation”. If you use the word “rigged”, they will come after you. Get ready to be called a Russian all over again.”
Days after the 2016 Iowa caucuses, the instructions were clear. “[U]se any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them),” they read. The guidance had been circulated among a group of Russians who were covertly running a vast network of social media accounts seeking to divide Democrats and push the candidacy of Donald Trump. (The instructions were later found during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.) Four years later, unhappy with Silicon Valley’s efforts to curb the manipulation of its platforms, the Democratic Party has developed capabilities of its own to monitor and tackle online disinformation.
The first-in-the-nation caucuses here Monday will be the Democrats’ first 2020 test of its new team on a day when voters have their say. The effort reflects Democrats’ growing discontent with Silicon Valley executives like Mark Zuckerberg and highlights concerns that viral disinformation could have an impact on this year’s election. “It’s like algorithmic wars here, it’s kind of crazy,” a Democratic National Committee staffer who works on the Democrats’ new counter disinformation team said on Saturday as preparations were underway in Des Moines. The staffer asked not to be identified due to the nature of their work and possibly being subjected to online harassment themselves.
“Both Republicans and foreign actors, like Russia, have an incentive to divide the American electorate and may try to use the Iowa Caucus to further that goal,” the DNC wrote in a “counter disinformation update” sent to campaigns on Thursday. Among the new weapons in the Democrats’ online arsenal is a monitoring tool called “Trendolizer.” When stories from websites known to peddle misinformation mention candidates and begin getting shares on social media, Trendolizer detects it and an alert is sent to the relevant campaigns. Another tool built in-house at the DNC monitors Twitter traffic. On Monday, it’ll watch for misinformation about how and where to caucus. Variations of the word “rigged” had been loaded into system when CNN was shown it Saturday — attempts to undermine legitimate vote results using disinformation is something Democrats are watching out for.
Today is closing argumants in the Senate “trial”. One more chance for Schiff to take revenge on the entire world, including Jerry Nadler, and repeat the same old points another 20 times. And announce a “surprise” subpoena for John Bolton in the House.
Sondland, according to Schiff’s account, told Yermak, “You ain’t getting the money until you do the investigations.” But both Sondland and Yermak offer a radically different account. According to Sondland, he told Yermak in “a very, very brief pull-aside conversation,” that he “didn’t know exactly why” the military funding was held up, and that its linkage to opening an investigation was only his “personal presumption” in the absence of an explanation from Trump. Yermak does not even recall the issue of the frozen aid being mentioned. To overcome that, Schiff has gone to the extraordinary step of arguing that it’s not just Sondland who is lying but the Ukrainians as well. “Like they’re going to admit they were being shaken down by the president of the United States,” Schiff told the proceedings.
Sure, that’s one possibility, but it is also wildly speculative. Ukrainian officials say they did not learn about the weapons freeze until it was publicly reported more than one month after the Trump-Zelensky call. And even after they did find out, and even voiced concerns to their US counterparts, there is no record of any complaints about the alleged linkage. As Democratic Senator Chris Murphy recalled of a meeting with Zelensky in early September—after the funding freeze became known—the Ukrainian president “did not make any connection between the aid that had been cut off and the requests that he was getting from [Trump attorney Rudy] Giuliani.”
House impeachment managers have not overcome this evidentiary flaw. They have tried to claim that the White House effectively admitted to their allegation in an October 2019 news conference by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. But as I detailed back when Mulvaney’s comments initially caused a stir, Democrats and media outlets pundits rendered them as damning by isolating one fragment and ignoring the bulk of what Mulvaney said.
The absence of concrete evidence explains the last-minute excitement over compelling the potential testimony of another Trump administration official, former national security adviser John Bolton. A New York Times report about Bolton’s forthcoming memoir led to declarations that Bolton confirmed the quid pro quo allegation at the heart of the impeachment trial. As in other cases, that is based on a mistaken and maximalist interpretation of the available facts. The Times did not quote from Bolton’s manuscript. In its characterization of what Bolton wrote, the Times reports that Bolton said Trump “preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine”.
If this account is accurate, then Bolton is not confirming that Trump conditioned military assistance to Ukraine’s announcement of an investigation into Joe Biden and his son. Instead, Bolton is relaying that Trump “preferred” that Ukraine assist efforts to uncover the extent of Ukrainian meddling to hurt Trump’s campaign and help Democrats in 2016—meddling that did in fact happen. Recall that Trump is not on trial for preferring that Ukraine hand “over all materials they had about the Russia investigation,” but for pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation of Trump’s political rival.
It isn’t enough for the corporate media to praise John Bolton for his timely manuscript that confirms Donald Trump’s explicit linkage between military aid to Ukraine and investigations into his political foe Joe Biden. As a result, the media have made John Bolton a “man of principle,” according to the Washington Post, and a fearless infighter for the “sovereignty of the United States.” Writing in the Post, Kathleen Parker notes that Bolton isn’t motivated by the money he will earn from his book (in the neighborhood of $2 million), but that he is far more interested in “saving his legacy.” Perhaps this is a good time to examine that legacy. Bolton, who used student deferments and service in the Maryland National Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam, is a classic Chicken Hawk.
He supported the Vietnam War and continues to support the war in Iraq. Bolton endorsed preemptive military strikes in North Korea and Iran in recent years, and lobbied for regime change in Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. When George W. Bush declared an “axis of evil” in 2002 consisting of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, Bolton added an equally bizarre axis of Cuba, Libya, and Syria. When Bolton occupied official positions at the Department of State and the United Nations, he regularly ignored assessments of the intelligence community in order to make false arguments regarding weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Cuba and Syria in order to promote the use of force.
When serving as President Bush’s Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and Disarmament, Bolton ran his own intelligence program, issuing white papers on WMD that lacked support within the intelligence community. He used his own reports to testify to congressional committees in 2002 in effort to justify the use of military force against Iraq. Bolton presented misinformation to the Congress on a Cuban biological weapons program. When the CIA challenged the accuracy of Bolton’s information in 2003, he was forced to cancel a similar briefing on Syria. In a briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2005, the former chief of intelligence at the Department of State, Carl Ford, referred to Bolton as a “serial abuser” in his efforts to pressure intelligence analysts. Ford testified that he had “never seen anybody quite like Secretary Bolton…in terms of the way he abuses his power and authority with little people.”
Across much of the United States, many have been enjoying a mild winter. And if the world’s most famous groundhog is to be believed, the trend will continue and there will be an early spring. In fact, on Sunday morning, Punxsutawney Phil declared that early spring “is a certainty.” Well, obviously the groundhog didn’t actually declare anything but that didn’t matter to the thousands of people who gathered at sunrise on Sunday to watch as Phil emerged from his den in Punxsutawney, Pa. The groundhog allegedly did not see his shadow, according to members of his “inner circle,” meaning there will be an early spring. According to legend, if he had seen his shadow it would have signified six more weeks of winter.
[..] Since Phil’s weather-predicting career began in 1887, he has seen his shadow 104 times and has failed to see it on a mere 20 instances (a few years are missing from the official record). That makes this year’s prediction relatively rare and marks the first time Phil hasn’t seen his shadow two years in a row. Phil’s forecast “seems fitting considering the lack of winter weather this winter so far,” notes the Washington Post. But truth be told, Phil doesn’t have the best track record. From 2010-2019, Phil predicted a longer winter seven times and an early spring three times. He was right only 40 percent of the time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He has been on a particularly poor streak lately as Phil got it wrong the past three years.