Giovanni Bellini The Feast of the Gods c1514 (completed by his disciple, Titian, 1529)
Yes, it’s high time again for an update on the Monastiraki kitchen, which the Automatic Earth has been – in various iterations- supporting since June 2015. One issue I have is that the main activity of the kitchen, cooking food, is the same all the time, so how do you write an interesting story about it several times a year, for 6,5 years now?
Let’s see how far we get this time. The kitchen runs more than ever, it is thriving, and expanding too. One thing that stood out this year was the wildfires that hit near Athens in 2021 in the first half of August. The Monastiraki kitchen was very active in the fall-out of those fires, in several different locations around the city.
A lot of food needed to be prepared, not only for the direct victims, people who lost their homes etc., but also for the firemen- and women who came from all over Europe to help fight the fires. The Greek government doesn’t appear to be very adept at tackling the logistics such an event brings along, so it relies on charity movements to fill in for it.
There were a number of groups, not just our kitchen, involved, the Love Van/ Scouts Of New Eritrea/ 4×4 Ekalis, and even our old friend Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos. Together they were preparing 10,000 meals per day, plus salads and fruits, and cooking 16 hours a day. It looked something like this (I think I count 8 pots running simultaneously):
That photo was taken on the large island of Evia, northeast of Athens, 180 km long and 50 km wide at its widest point, which sustained enormous damage from the fires. It will take many years, perhaps decades, to recover.
Cooking on Evia also looked something like this. In Filothei’s own words: “After 16 hours cooking non stop, the gypsy was with out shoes, like that”.
That photo is a nice lead-in to my next topic. Look at the size of that pot. We have since bought a much bigger one, because we had to. The old 100 liter pot was simply not big enough anymore, the law of supply and demand. It took a while to find one at a good price, for a few months the best deal we could find was €700. But eventually we got one for €175. It lacks a protective layer above the bottom, but I understand that is not strictly necessary (bit more cleaning).
Turned out the guy we bought it from knew about the kitchen, and was very happy to help; he delivered it personally, gave us a lid for free, all good. If you compare the size of the pot in Filothei’s barefoot photo above with this next one, you get an idea of how big that thing is.
We went from a 100 liter pot to a 220 liter one, from 200+ meals tot 440+ meals per cooking. We still use the smaller one as well, of course, if the need is there. Two weeks ago, for instance, the kitchen made 641 meals in one cooking. Part of that was for a “sister-kitchen” in the port city of Piraeus, where there are also a lot of homeless people.
Piraeus is not only a very large commercial port, it is also home to all the ferries that service the Greek islands, and therefore a major tourism hub. And of course the authorities don’t want the tourists to see the homeless, so they have a hard life out there.
The pots side by side look like this, to give you another comparison:
And yes, it must obviously be thoroughly cleaned after each cooking:
Just as obviously, making 2-3 times more food is also going to cost a lot more. In summer, most of the vegetables will come from Filothei’s massive garden, but right now, that is a lot less. On top of that, prices at the supermarket for vegetables as well as the staples we buy there with the checks I purchase with your donations, pasta, canned tomatoes, meat, cheese, we checked it vs a year ago, are up by about 35% overall. So are the plates we use. Sign of the times.
We still have some money left from donations, thanks mainly to Ms. Barefoot Penny-Pincher, but I will still appeal to your Christmas spirit, so we can start 2022 in good spirits too.
In other words, the Monastiraki kitchen is thriving like never before, and your help will be needed to let it continue to do that. We expect to ultimately double the output to at least 400 meals twice a week, and if the Greek government insists on taking away €100 a month from everyone over 60 who has not been vaxxed, while a pension is €730 monthly, who knows how much more we will need to do?
I haven’t talked at all about the Covid restrictions and mandates that are being implemented here all the time, but they are pretty strict, and as always, it is guaranteed that a society’s weakest members, the homeless, will in the end bear the brunt of them.
I’m not going to vent my own view on the entire situation, either here abroad, we do that enough every day, but this is an aspect I think we should all keep in mind: the main victims of any such event are always the same: the children, the elderly and the poorest. And in the case of Covid, that risks remaining hidden by the complaints of everyone else, because everyone feels like a victim.
One more thing: at some point in spring, the crew wanted to make me a T-shirt, like they made for themselves, the ones you can see in some of the photos, and here:
And I said: why don’t we make T-shirts for all the homeless clients too? They have more use for it than I do, and the visibility is good. The idea died because Ms. Penny-Pincher thought it was too expensive at €4 a piece, but I will make sure it is revived at some point. Make 200 for the homeless, and 200 to sell on the Automatic Earth site, with revenue going to the kitchen. Sounds pretty good. It must be organized, and I’m not going to be the one packaging and sending them, but we’ll find a solution for that.
Merry Christmas to you all from everyone at the Monastiraki kitchen -there’s often about 20 of them-. And once again: we couldn’t do it without you. I’ll end with the same bit I did last time, the donation details.
Most of you will know the drill of this by now: any Paypal donations ending in $0.99 or $0.37 go straight to the Monastiraki kitchen, while other donations go to the Automatic Earth -which also badly needs them. (Note: a lot of Automatic Earth donations also end up at the kitchen).
I dislike few things more than asking people for money, even though the Automatic Earth now runs primarily on donations, and there’s some sweet justice in that as well, in depending on people’s appreciation of what we do, instead of ad revenues.
But I cannot do this on my own right now. The Monastiraki kitchen will realistically need about €1,500 per month. I don’t have that to spare. So I’m calling on you. Unashamedly, because I know there is no reason to be ashamed of the cause.
I love all you people, and I’m sorry I can’t thank you all individually who have supported -and still do- the Monastiraki kitchen and the Automatic Earth all this time, and I ask you to keep on doing just that. The details for donations on Paypal and Patreon, for both causes, are in the top of the two sidebars of this site. Could not be much easier. If you’d rather send a check, go to our Store and Donations page. Bitcoin: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.
Love you. Thank you. This kitchen would not exist without you, these people would not get fed.
We try to run the Automatic Earth on donations. Since ad revenue has collapsed, you are now not just a reader, but an integral part of the process that builds this site. Thank you for your support.
Support the Automatic Earth in virustime with Paypal, Bitcoin and Patreon.
I assure you, if it requires coercion, manipulation, gaslighting, 24/7 advertising, fear-mongering, silencing of dissenting opinions and experts, slandering of alternative options, tons of incentives, and indemnification from liability, then it isn’t required for health.
In a prospective observational study (pre-AndroCoV Trial), the use of nitazoxanide, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine demonstrated unexpected improvements in COVID-19 outcomes, when compared to untreated patients. The apparent yet likely positive results raised ethical concerns on the employment of further full placebo84 controlled studies in early stage COVID-19. The present analysis aimed to elucidate whether full placebo-control randomized clinical trials (RCTs) on early-stage COVID-19 are still ethically acceptable, through a comparative analysis with two control87 groups.
Active group (AG) consisted of patients enrolled in the Pre AndroCoV-Trial (n = 585). Control Group 1 (CG1) consisted of a retrospectively obtained group of untreated patients of the same population (n = 137), and Control Group 2 (CG2) resulted from a precise prediction of clinical outcomes based on a thorough and structured review of indexed articles and official statements. Patients were matched for sex, age, comorbidities and disease severity at baseline. Compared to CG1 and CG2 AG showed reduction of 31.5-36.5% in viral shedding (p < 0.0001), 70-85% in disease duration (p < 0.0001), and 100% in respiratory complications, hospitalization, mechanical ventilations, and deaths (p < 0.0001 for all).
For every 1,000 confirmed cases for COVID-19, at least 70 hospitalizations, 50 mechanical ventilations and five deaths were prevented. Benefits from the combination of early COVID-19 detection and early pharmacological approaches were consistent and overwhelming when compared to untreated groups, which, together with and well-established safety profile of the drug combinations tested in the Pre-AndroCoV Trial, precluded our study to continue employing full placebo in early COVID-19.
When you pay people to do something without proof the event occurred the outcome is simple: You get institutionalized, mass-fraud. Remember, this is from official “fact checking” sites: “We rate the claim that hospitals get paid more if patients are listed as COVID-19 and on ventilators as TRUE.” Hospitals and doctors do get paid more for Medicare patients diagnosed with COVID-19 or if it’s considered presumed they have COVID-19 absent a laboratory-confirmed test, and three times more if the patients are placed on a ventilator to cover the cost of care and loss of business resulting from a shift in focus to treat COVID-19 cases. Of course USA Today said that there was no evidence that hospitals would game this.
Except…. now there is evidence that not only did they game it, they committed mass-fraud in that they got paid for Covid-19 cases that never existed and deaths that were not Covid-19 caused. “A county in northern California announced last week that it revised the method in how it registered coronavirus deaths that led to a 22% drop in its death toll, a report said.” 22% eh? This is the second one, by the way. Alameda county did the same thing; their drop was 25%. So around 1/4 of all alleged “Covid-19” deaths, if this is representative (and it probably is) weren’t actually Covid-19 related at all. But the hospitals all got paid for them as if they were, and exactly zero of that money will be recovered — right? How much is that?
Well, let’s assume the 600,000 figure is accurate as the “base” across the country. If it’s 22% that’s 132,000 people who did not actually die of Covid-19. More to the point if none of them had ventilators used, and of course we know many of them did, the medical providers BILKED you and I, as we fund the government, out of some $1.716 BILLION in payments and, if half of them were put on vents that figure more than doubles.
Oh, and wait…. what does that do to the claimed “excess death”? I do recall writing an article or three on that in which it was quite clear that in fact uncorrelated data sets, that is, Social Security and the labor numbers, made clear that while there was excess death it was nowhere near what the government and CDC had claimed. Yes, “excess” people died, but many were pulled forward by six months to a year, mostly in nursing homes where 53% of those admitted die within six months. Note that this statistic is from 2010 which means that statistically-speaking those in nursing homes that Covid-19 “got” were highly-likely to have been dead from something within six months anyway. Said deaths were not “excess.”
All death is sad but falsely coding a gunshot or motorcycle wreck victim as Covid-19 in order to grab an extra $19,000 from the taxpayer is fraud, and inflating such statistics to inculcate fear ought to generate decades-long prison terms. We now have hard proof that in fact both happened in size and were not rare. WHERE ARE THE HANDCUFFS AND WHY DON’T JOE-N-HO SEND THEIR TEAMS AROUND TO GO “DOOR TO DOOR” LOCKING UP EVERY HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR AND CLINICIAN WHO DID THIS?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its patient care guidelines to include interleukin-6 receptor blockers, a class of medicines that are lifesaving in patients who are severely or critically ill with COVID-19, especially when administered alongside corticosteroids. These were the findings from a prospective and a living network meta-analysis initiated by WHO, the largest such analysis on the drugs to date. Data from over 10 000 patients enrolled in 27 clinical trials were considered. These are the first drugs found to be effective against COVID-19 since corticosteroids were recommended by WHO in September 2020.
Patients severely or critically ill with COVID-19 often suffer from an overreaction of the immune system, which can be very harmful to the patient’s health. Interleukin-6 blocking drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – act to suppress this overreaction. The prospective and living network meta-analyses showed that in severely or critically ill patients, administering these drugs reduce the odds of death by 13%, compared to standard care. This means that there will be 15 fewer deaths per thousand patients, and as many as 28 fewer deaths for every thousand critically ill patients. The odds of mechanical ventilation among severe and critical patients are reduced by 28%, compared with standard care. This translates to 23 fewer patients out of a thousand needing mechanical ventilation.
Clinical trial investigators in 28 countries shared data with WHO, including pre-publication data. Researchers worldwide compiled and analyzed the data. With the support of these critical partnerships, WHO has been able to issue a rapid and trustworthy recommendation for the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers in severe and critical COVID-19 patients. “These drugs offer hope for patients and families who are suffering from the devastating impact of severe and critical COVID-19. But IL-6 receptor blockers remain inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of the world,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Fully vaccinated people may still be at risk of infection from the California ‘Epsilon’ coronavirus variant, a new study finds. Researchers from the University of Washington and Vir Biotechnology, based in San Francisco, found that the variant had three mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to enter and infect human cells. These mutations could provide resistance to neutralizing antibodies generated by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
What’s more, the mutations may be able to evade natural antibodies a person forms after being infected with the virus. Health experts say neutralizing antibodies are what protect people from the virus, and the variant’s ability to resist them could leave people in danger. The Epsilon variant is not believed to be more infectious than the original virus, though.
The Epsilon variant was first identified in May 2020 and was virtually nonexistent until October. It would later split into two separate versions, the B.1.427 and the more common B.1.429 mutation. It has remained a relatively quiet variant of the virus outside of California, not causing an outbreak similar to the Indian ‘Delta’ variant. Epsilon still managed to find its way into at least 44 countries, though 97 percent of the 49,221 cases worldwide have been recorded in the U.S. Of the 47,987 cases recorded in the U.S., more than 22,000 have been detected in California. Hawaii and Nevada also dealt with smaller outbreaks of the B.1.429 mutation of the virus. Researchers, who published their data in the journal Science on July 1, found that both types of the variant had the ability to evade the neutralizing antibodies found in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.
Effectiveness of the neutralizing antibodies was reduced by 50 to 70 percent. They also found that neutralizing activity was reduced in 14 of 34 of the antibodies responsible for it. The data is worrying, and is an early sign that the current crop of COVID-19 vaccines may not be enough to permanently protect from the virus. Experts have long believed that a third ‘booster shot’ of the mRNA vaccines – produced by Pfizer and Moderna – would be needed in the future to protect from variants. Both companies have launched clinical trials for a booster shot as well.
All viruses mutate over time. All non-sterilizing vaccines potentiate mutation because they prohibit neither infection or transmission — they only suppress the severity of disease. We’ve known this for decades and in fact we know this is why Marek’s disease happened in poultry. Of course we ignored all of this because, well, Warp Speed. We now see evidence of more transmissible variation coming to the forefront. This is the natural evolution of a virus; the more-transmissible variant “wins”; the less loses. Whichever gets the person who can contract it (vaccinated or not, if the vaccine is non-sterilizing) that’s the variant that “wins” and gets to infect someone else. What isn’t yet solidly in evidence is whether those mutations have rendered the stabs effectively worthless.
But what’s bad news whether they are or aren’t is that if the spike protein, which we know is pathogenic, has ‘greater’ binding affinity and thus you want a “booster” to fight it said booster will also have a higher risk of causing nasty adverse effects because it is the spike that causes the problem and if it binds more in the virus so will the version of it used for the “booster.” In other words on the evidence you would expect a variation that produces more transmission to also produce more-serious adverse reactions from jabs that are designed to “protect” against it, all other things being equal. Now add to this that as titers wane you may have no choice if you took the original stabs because as that happens you may wind up with plenty of binding antibodies (which enhance the infection) but not enough neutralizing ones.
If you refuse the “booster” you are at much higher risk of getting sick and dying. If you take the booster you are at much higher risk of the booster making you sick or killing you. Meanwhile those who refused originally sneeze when infected, especially if they employ immediate countermeasures using existing drugs. Yeah, it’ll get some of those folks — but probably not all that many, as the “easy to kill” are already dead from the previous round. That sucks. Is this yet in evidence? No, because thus far boosters don’t exist. But it is exactly what I expect to happen.
New Zealand hospitals are experiencing the payoff of “immunity debt” created by Covid-19 lockdowns, with wards flooded by babies with a potentially-deadly respiratory virus, doctors have warned. Wellington has 46 children currently hospitalised for respiratory illnesses including respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. A number are infants, and many are on oxygen. Other hospitals are also experiencing a rise in cases that are straining their resources – with some delaying surgeries or converting playrooms into clinical space. RSV is a common respiratory illness. In adults, it generally only produces very mild symptoms – but it can make young children extremely ill, or even be fatal.
The size and seriousness of New Zealand’s outbreak is likely being fed by what some paediatric doctors have called an “immunity debt” – where people don’t develop immunity to other viruses suppressed by Covid lockdowns, causing cases to explode down the line. Epidemiologist and public health professor Michael Baker used the metaphor of forest brushfires: if a year or two have passed without fire, there is more fuel on the ground to feed the flames. When a fire finally comes, it burns much more fiercely. “What we’re seeing now is we’ve accumulated a whole lot of susceptible children that have missed out on exposure – so now they’re seeing it for the first time,” Baker said.
The “immunity debt” phenomenon occurs because measures like lockdowns, hand-washing, social distancing and masks are not only effective at controlling Covid-19. They also suppress the spread of other illnesses that transmit in a similar way, including the flu, common cold, and lesser-known respiratory illnesses like RSA. In New Zealand, lockdowns last winter led to a 99.9% reduction in flu cases and a 98% reduction in RSV – and near-eliminated the spike of excess deaths New Zealand usually experiences during winter. “This positive collateral effect in the short term is welcome, as it prevents additional overload of the healthcare system,” a collective of French doctors wrote in a May 2021 study of immunity debt.
But in the long term, it can create problems of its own: if bacterial and viral infections aren’t circulating among children, they don’t develop immunity, which leads to larger outbreaks down the line. “The lack of immune stimulation… induced an “immunity debt” which could have negative consequences when the pandemic is under control and [public health intervientions] are lifted,” the doctors wrote. “The longer these periods of ‘viral or bacterial low-exposure’ are, the greater the likelihood of future epidemics.”
Someone needs to tell The Lancet the most basic tenet of crisis management: when in a hole, stop digging. Instead, this world-renowned medical journal seems determined to keep shredding its reputation, in tandem with a group of experts ignorant to the damage they have caused the scientific community as they have stifled debate regarding the pandemic’s origins. Early last year, just as the world was starting to grapple with the trauma of Covid, The Lancet published a highly-controversial statement in support of Chinese scientists, attacking “conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin” and praising Beijing’s “rapid, open and transparent sharing of data”.
Clearly this was absurd given China’s cover-up, silencing of doctors and deletion of key data. But the statement, signed by 27 prominent experts, played a key role in shutting down suggestions the pandemic might have started with a lab incident, rather than spilling over naturally from animals. Scandalously, we later learned it was covertly drafted by British scientist Peter Daszak, £300,000-a-year president of Eco-Health Alliance charity and long-term partner of researchers at Wuhan Institute of Virology. Despite the global furore, Daszak’s gang has gone back into battle with a follow-up statement, as I revealed they were planning to do 10 days ago. Even the headline on The Lancet article — Science, not speculation, is essential to determine how SARS-CoV-2 reached humans — seems designed to gaslight their critics, given their previous stance.
This latest statement is more nuanced but again disingenuous. It claims “the strongest clue” is that the virus evolved in nature, while saying suggestions of a lab leak “remain without scientifically validated evidence”. Yet there is zero firm evidence for natural spillover, and significant circumstantial evidence to raise suspicions of a lab incident. Besides, any leak could have involved a virus sampled from nature. Other scientists, such as Alina Chan from the Broad Institute, have pointed out also that none of the linked articles claiming to support their claims actually provides any evidence of how SARS-CoV-2 might have naturally emerged in Wuhan.
Laughably, the article excuses Daszak’s incredible role in the World Health Organisation mission to probe the origins by saying this was done “as an independent expert in a private capacity” — as though he would have disregarded his personal, professional and financial ties to Wuhan scientists carrying out risky experiments in labs with known safety concerns. The statement even dares argue it is “time to turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry” when no one has been more forceful in pushing the idea that a possible lab leak was “baloney” and a “conspiracy theory” than Daszak.
Once again, regrettably, The Lancet has failed to detail all the conflicts of interest of these signatories such as a trio with recent or current Eco-Health affiliations. It is a shame also to see Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, and two of his colleagues tarnishing one of science’s finest brands by adding their names again. Yet the most significant aspect of this latest stunt are that three of the more distinguished signatories of the first statement opted not to sign the follow-up. The reason is simple: they symbolise how this debate has shifted in recent months despite the best efforts of Daszak and his allies.
On Feb 19, 2020, we, a group of physicians, veterinarians, epidemiologists, virologists, biologists, ecologists, and public health experts from around the world, joined together to express solidarity with our professional colleagues in China.1 Unsubstantiated allegations were being raised about the source of the COVID-19 outbreak and the integrity of our peers who were diligently working to learn more about the newly recognised virus, SARS-CoV-2, while struggling to care for the many patients admitted to hospital with severe illness in Wuhan and elsewhere in China. It was the beginning of a global tragedy, the COVID-19 pandemic. According to WHO, as of July 2, 2021, the pandemic has resulted in 182 101 209 confirmed cases and 3 950 876 deaths, both undoubtedly underestimates of the real toll.
The impact of the pandemic virtually everywhere in the world has been far worse than even these numbers suggest, with unprecedented additional social, cultural, political, and economic consequences that have exposed numerous flaws in our epidemic and pandemic preparedness and in local and global political and economic systems. We have observed escalations of conflicts that pit many parties against one another, including central government versus local government, young versus old, rich versus poor, people of colour versus white people, and health priorities versus the economy. The crisis has highlighted the urgent need to build a better understanding of how science proceeds and the complex, but critical, links science has with health, public health, and politics.
Recently, many of us have individually received inquiries asking whether we still support what we said in early 2020.1 The answer is clear: we reaffirm our expression of solidarity with those in China who confronted the outbreak then, and the many health professionals around the world who have since worked to exhaustion, and at personal risk, in the relentless and continuing battle against this virus. Our respect and gratitude have only grown with time. The second intent of our original Correspondence was to express our working view that SARS-CoV-2 most likely originated in nature and not in a laboratory, on the basis of early genetic analysis of the new virus and well established evidence from previous emerging infectious diseases, including the coronaviruses that cause the common cold as well as the original SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.
At the start of 2021, before the onset of the Year of the Metal Ox, President Xi Jinping emphasized that “favorable social conditions” should be in place for the CCP centennial celebrations. Oblivious to waves of demonization coming from the West, for Chinese public opinion what matters is whether the CCP delivered. And deliver it did (over 85% popular approval). China controlled Covid-19 in record time; economic growth is back; poverty alleviation was achieved; and the civilization-state became a “moderately prosperous society” – right on schedule for the CCP centennial. Since 1949, the size of the Chinese economy soared by a whopping 189 times. Over the past two decades, China’s GDP grew 11-fold. Since 2010, it more than doubled, from $6 trillion to $15 trillion, and now accounts for 17% of global economic output.
No wonder Western grumbling is irrelevant. Shanghai Capital investment boss Eric Li succinctly describes the governance gap; in the U.S., government changes but not policy. In China, government doesn’t change; policy does. This is the background for the next development stage – where the CCP will in fact double down on its unique hybrid model of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. The key point is that the Chinese leadership, via non-stop policy adjustments (trial and error, always) has evolved a model of “peaceful rise” – their own terminology – that essentially respects China’s immense historical and cultural experiences. In this case, Chinese exceptionalism means respecting Confucianism – which privileges harmony and abhors conflict – as well as Daoism – which privileges balance – over the boisterous, warring, hegemonic Western model.
This is reflected in major policy adjustments such as the new “dual circulation” drive, which places greater emphasis on the domestic market compared to China as the “factory of the world”. Past and future are totally intertwined in China; what was done in previous dynasties echoes in the future. The best contemporary example is the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the overarching Chinese foreign policy concept for the foreseeable future. As detailed by Renmin University Professor Wang Yiwei, BRI is about to reshape geopolitics, “bringing Eurasia back to its historical place at the center of human civilization.” Wang has shown how “the two great civilizations of the East and the West were linked until the rise of the Ottoman Empire cut off the Ancient Silk Road”.
A survey conducted by the Convention of States Action in partnership with The Trafalgar Group has found that an overall majority of Americans do not believe that Joe Biden is executing the duties of his office or running policy, and that “others” are doing it in his place. The poll found that 56.5% of American voters do not believe Biden is fully executing the duties of his office, with only 36.4% saying they believe he is directing all policy and agenda. Even close to one third of Democrats (31.7%) said they don’t think Biden is in charge of anything. A whopping 83.6% of Republicans are adamant that Biden isn’t running the show, with 58.4% of Independent voters in agreement.
Mark Meckler, President of Convention of States Action proclaimed that “The American people deserve transparency from the Biden Administration as to the true state of the President’s mental and physical health, and leaders in both parties in Congress need to follow through on this immediately.” “The continued failure to ask hard questions and demand real answers is a disgrace to the foundation of our democracy,” Meckler added. Questions over Biden’s mental health continue to swirl as it is clear he cannot speak for extended periods of time and is often heard asking aides “what am I doing?”
A separate poll by Rasmussen earlier in the year found that 50 percent of Americans are “not confident” Biden is physically and mentally up to the job of being president of the United States. The clear cognitive decline of Biden has caught the attention of foreign media, with Sky News in Australia pointing out earlier this week that Biden “probably couldn’t find his way home after dark.” “Suddenly, the world’s greatest power is in the hands of a slightly dazed bloke who looks like he’s always waking up from heavy anesthesia,” said host Alan Jones.
As the private equity industry launches ads to protect its lucrative tax preferences, we should remember that this industry is the unseen man behind the curtain driving many social ills — from high hospital prices to surprise medical bills to nursing home deaths to media layoffs to a housing crisis that has become a human rights emergency. A Businessweek cover put it best: You live in private equity’s world, even if you don’t know it. But a series of new reports remind us that there is another person behind the monocled, mustache-twirling oligarch running the Emerald City’s secret control panel — and that person isn’t a billionaire. It is the faceless pension official in a state capital or city hall who is using workers’ retirement savings to finance the Wall Street takeover of Oz.
In the process, teachers, firefighters, sanitation workers, and other government employees are being fleeced. Their retirement savings are being skimmed by finance industry executives, who are using the cash to lobby for self-enriching tax breaks while waging a class war on everyone else. All that money could end up bankrolling a new round of housing profiteering and infrastructure privatization, using workers’ money to wage a war on workers themselves. [..] In the popular imagination, a pension is known, if at all, as a shitty European hotel, a pool of extra cash that Gordon Gekko tried to pilfer in the Bluestar Airlines deal, or a small bit of subsistence pay that grandpa used to get back in the day, when times were different. But here’s the thing you need to know: Public pensions are a huge business and quite exciting to the world’s richest people in the here and now.
That’s because while fewer and fewer workers today get pension benefits, there is now $5 trillion in public pension systems that have accrued government workers’ retirement savings over decades. That giant pool of capital, overseen by appointees tied to Wall Street-bankrolled politicians, is the fuel behind the finance industry’s conquest of America. Pension money is deferred compensation: Millions of public-sector workers — who are often paid less than their private-sector counterparts — have accepted lower up-front wages in exchange for pension contributions to fund their future retirement benefits. Two decades after pension officials began funneling more of that money into private equity, hedge funds, and real estate, roughly one fifth, or about $1 trillion, of the cash is now in these opaque “alternative” investments.
These investments generate outsized fees for financial firms, bankroll the Wall Street’s political machine, and capitalize the corporations that are pillaging the middle class.
Pleas for Julian Assange to be freed from prison are being stepped up amid warnings that the WikiLeaks founder is suffering “severe psychological abuse”. The United States administration is appealing against a UK court decision in January not to extradite him, but no date has been set for the hearing, so Mr Assange remains in Belmarsh prison. His legal team said on Wednesday that permission to appeal has been granted by the High Court on a limited basis, allowing only “narrow, technical grounds”. Mr Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, said: “Six months ago, Judge Vanessa Baraitser blocked the extradition of my partner, Julian Assange, because consigning him to the US prison system would have amounted to signing his death warrant. That should have been the end of it.
“The case is rotten to the core, and nothing that the US government can say about his future treatment is worth the paper it is written on. This is a country whose agents plotted to kill Julian on British soil, who harried his solicitors and stole legal documents; who even targeted our six-month-old baby. “I am appealing directly to the Biden government to do the right thing, even at this late stage. This case should not be dragged out for a moment longer. End this prosecution, protect free speech and let Julian come home to his family. “The current administration admits that the Trump Department of Justice lacked independence. It seems inconceivable that President Biden would want to continue with this case – because Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms, and no democratic society can ever make journalism a crime.
“If the Biden Administration does not end this now, the case will limp through the courts while Julian remains in prison indefinitely, unconvicted, suffering and isolated, while our young children are denied their father.” Speaking to journalists outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, having visited Mr Assange in Belmarsh earlier in the day, Ms Moris said: “The High Court delivered its decision that it will allow limited permission for the US Government to appeal January’s decision to block Julian’s extradition. “That means he is still at risk of extradition where he faces a 175-year prison sentence and, according to (Judge Baraitser), is certain to lose his life if he is extradited. “The US Government should have accepted the Magistrates’ Court’s decision – instead, it keeps this case going.
“The case is itself falling apart. The lead witness of the US Department of Justice now admits that he lied in exchange for immunity from US prosecutors. The lawyers of Julian were spied on, their offices were broken in to. Even our six-month-old baby was targeted while he was in the embassy. “And now the High Court has limited the grounds on which they are to appeal, so the case is falling apart.”
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The milky way perfectly aligned with the temple of Karnak in Egypt
TUCKER: "Late this spring I contacted a couple of people I thought could help us get an interview with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. I told nobody I was doing this other than my executive producer… The Biden administration found out anyway by reading my emails." pic.twitter.com/RxkJtEiqG2
Mainland China reported a rise in new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Thursday, reversing three straight days of declines, because of a spike in new infections in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak. Mainland China had 139 new confirmed cases as of Wednesday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said, bringing the total accumulated number of cases to 80,409. Authorities reported 119 new cases the previous day and 125 the day before that. The increase was driven by more cases in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, where the virus is believed to have emerged in a market late last year.
Wuhan’s new infections climbed to 131 from 114 a day earlier. There was no immediate elaboration and health officials were due to hold a briefing later in the day. After what some critics said was an initially hesitant response to the new virus, China imposed sweeping restrictions to try to stop it, including transport suspensions, lockdowns of cities and extending a Lunar New Year holiday across the country. WHO officials have said other countries have much to learn from the way China has handled the outbreak and Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said many countries had asked for help and China was responding.
The number of new confirmed cases in Hubei, excluding Wuhan, has remained in single digits for seven consecutive days, with three new infections recorded on Wednesday. In the rest of mainland China, outside Hubei, there were only five new confirmed cases, the health commission said. The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 3,012 as of the end of Wednesday, up by 31 from the previous day. Hubei accounted for all of the new deaths. In Wuhan, 23 people died. With the downward trend in new cases, Chinese authorities have turned their attention to stopping the virus being brought in from new coronavirus hot spots abroad.
Researchers in China have found that two different types of the new coronavirus could be causing infections worldwide. In a preliminary study published Tuesday, scientists at Peking University’s School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai found that a more aggressive type of the new coronavirus had accounted for roughly 70% of analyzed strains, while 30% had been linked to a less aggressive type. The more aggressive type of virus was found to be prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan — the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected late last year. But the frequency of this type of virus has since decreased from early January.
The researchers said their results indicate the development of new variations of the spike in COVID-19 cases was “likely caused by mutations and natural selection besides recombination.” “These findings strongly support an urgent need for further immediate, comprehensive studies that combine genomic data, epidemiological data, and chart records of the clinical symptoms of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19),” they said. Researchers cautioned that data examined in the study was still “very limited,” emphasizing that follow-up studies of a larger set of data would be needed to gain a “better understanding” of the evolution and epidemiology of COVID-19.
The SARS-CoV-2 epidemic started in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has since impacted a large portion of China and raised major global concern. Herein, we investigated the extent of molecular divergence between SARS-CoV-2 and other related coronaviruses. Although we found only 4% variability in genomic nucleotides between SARS-CoV-2 and a bat SARS-related coronavirus (SARSr-CoV; RaTG13), the difference at neutral sites was 17%, suggesting the divergence between the two viruses is much larger than previously estimated.
Our results suggest that the development of new variations in functional sites in the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike seen in SARS-CoV-2 and viruses from pangolin SARSr-CoVs are likely caused by mutations and natural selection besides recombination. Population genetic analyses of 103 SARS-CoV-2 genomes indicated that these viruses evolved into two major types (designated L and S), that are well defined by two different SNPs that show nearly complete linkage across the viral strains sequenced to date. Although the L type (<±70%) is more prevalent than the S type (<±30%), the S type was found to be the ancestral version.
Whereas the L type was more prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, the frequency of the L type decreased after early January 2020. Human intervention may have placed more severe selective pressure on the L type, which might be more aggressive and spread more quickly. On the other hand, the S type, which is evolutionarily older and less aggressive, might have increased in relative frequency due to relatively weaker selective pressure. These findings strongly support an urgent need for further immediate, comprehensive studies that combine genomic data, epidemiological data, and chart records of the clinical symptoms of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
We know, irrefutably, one thing about the coronavirus in the United States: The number of cases reported in every chart and table is far too low. The data are untrustworthy because the processes we used to get them were flawed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing procedures missed the bulk of the cases. They focused exclusively on travelers, rather than testing more broadly, because that seemed like the best way to catch cases entering the country. Just days ago, it was not clear that the virus had spread solely from domestic contact at all. But then cases began popping up with no known international connection. What public-health experts call “community spread” had arrived in the United States. The virus would not be stopped by tight borders, because it was already propagating domestically.
Trevor Bedford’s lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, which studies viral evolution, concluded there is “firm evidence” that, at least in Washington State, the coronavirus had been spreading undetected for weeks. Now different projections estimate that 20 to 1,500 people have already been infected in the greater Seattle area. In California, too, the disease appears to be spreading, although the limited testing means that no one is quite sure how far. In total, fewer than 500 people have been tested across the country (although the CDC has stopped reporting that number in its summary of the outbreak). As a result, the current “official” case count inside the United States stood at 43 as of [Tuesday] morning (excluding cruise-ship cases). This number is wrong, yet it’s still constantly printed and quoted. In other contexts, we’d call this what it is: a subtle form of misinformation.
This artificially low number means that for the past few weeks, we’ve seen massive state action abroad and only simmering unease domestically. While Chinese officials were enacting a world-historic containment effort—putting more than 700 million people under some kind of movement restriction, quarantining tens of millions of people, and placing others under new kinds of surveillance—and American public-health officials were staring at the writing on the wall that the disease was extremely likely to spread in the U.S., the public-health response was stuck in neutral. The case count in the U.S. was not increasing at all. Preparing for a sizable outbreak seemed absurd when there were fewer than 20 cases on American soil. Now we know that the disease was already spreading and that it was the U.S. response that was stalled.
Just spoke with ER doc who say he's seeing cases he's 99% sure are #coronavirus. Negative for flu, recent travel, work in airports. Not allowed to test. Patients return to work because they can't take time off w/out a firm diagnosis. Other ER docs seeing the same thing.
Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, has collapsed into administration less than two months after the government announced a rescue deal. The impact of the coronavirus on flight bookings proved the last straw for the Exeter-based airline, which operates almost 40% of UK domestic flights, as the government stalled on a controversial £100m loan. The UK Civil Aviation Authority announced early on Thursday morning that the airline had entered administration. It said all flights were cancelled and urged passengers not to go to airports. Flybe’s bankruptcy has come just a week before a budget that it hoped would help bolster its precarious finances, after the previous chancellor said he would look again at levels of air passenger duty (APD) .
However, the airline’s owners Connect Airways – a consortium of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and hedge fund Cyrus Capital – have pulled the plug, a little over a year after buying it. The airline employed more than 2,000 people and was one of the leading carriers at airports including Belfast, Southampton, Manchester and Birmingham. Around 8 million people a year used its services. Unions have warned that other jobs would be put at risk by Flybe’s collapse, and transport links lost on dozens of domestic routes where it is the sole operator. Flybe has long struggled to balance the books, despite cost-cutting plans and redundancies, and was reporting losses of around £20m a year before the Connect takeover. [..] It is the second major British airline to go bankrupt in six months, following the collapse of Thomas Cook last September.
Another Princess Cruises ship has set off coronavirus alarms after a California passenger who traveled to Mexico died this week, more than 10 days after returning home without knowledge of his exposure. Two shiploads of passengers may have been exposed. State and federal officials are scurrying to contact 2,500-plus passengers who disembarked Feb. 21 from the San Francisco-Mexico cruise at the same time as the man who died, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. California is also keeping Grand Princess passengers on the current San Francisco-Hawaii trip in the Pacific Ocean indefinitely until state and federal officials can assess how many passengers and crew have coronavirus or have been exposed.
“We have a number of passengers and crew members who have developed symptoms on this ship,” Newsom told reporters at a briefing this afternoon to announce a state of emergency. He later specified that 11 passengers and 10 crew members had symptoms, though he described the situation as fluid. Sixty-two passengers remain on the ship from the preceding San Francisco-Mexico journey, and they have been quarantined in their rooms, according to Princess Cruises. The Grand Princess was due back tonight in San Francisco until California requested that it remain at sea as the state sends test kits, Newsom said.
Amazon.com should stop third-party sellers from price gouging for items like Purell hand sanitizer as people seek to protect themselves from the coronavirus, U.S. Senator Edward Markey said in a letter to the online retailer on Wednesday. A box of small Purell bottles that usually sells for $10 was listed online for $400, he said. One third-party seller listed a bottle for $600 on Wednesday afternoon. However, the Amazon brand of hand sanitizer was listed for $8.25 for a large bottle. [..] “As the world confronts the prospect of a serious and far-reaching pandemic, corporate America has a responsibility to prevent profiteering on the sales of items such as hand-sanitizer and surgical masks,” Markey wrote in his letter.
Amazon called the price-gougers “bad actors.” “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.” Amazon said it was monitoring prices to ensure sellers complied with fair pricing policies and said that it could remove sellers who violate them. Amazon last week barred more than 1 million products that inaccurately claimed to cure or defend against the coronavirus. Amazon also removed tens of thousands of deals from merchants that it said attempted to price gouge customers.
I like Biden claiming, in response to Bernie saying the establishment is circling the wagons for Biden, that literally everybody’s definition of the establishment is wrong: African Americans and single women in suburbia are the establishment. If you don’t boo that out of the room, who are you?
‘The establishment are all those hard-working, middle-class people, those African Americans, those single women in suburbia. They are the establishment,’ said Joe Biden.
Not as bad, though, as abusing his dead son Beau’s memory by saying Mayor Pete reminds him of Beau. Using your dead son for political games is real low.
But the real establishment are now stuck with Sleepy Joe, even though many will realize he’s roadkill.
The media and political establishment in Washington was openly celebrating what was portrayed as a near complete victory of Joe Biden over the hoards of Sanders supporters marching toward gates of the Beltway. The establishment united this week behind Biden with candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and others rallying forces to defeat Bernie Sanders at all costs. Not since the victory over Attila the Hun at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains has the ancien regime experienced such a thrilling moment. However, the history is not good for those celebrating behind the walls of Rome.
I recently wrote how there remains a visceral distaste for the media and political establishment for many voters as they watched the concerted effort to defeat outsider candidates. That was also the case in 2016 with the effort to elect Hillary Clinton. The utter joy expressed this morning will only fuel that feeling of disenfranchisement. What we can expect is the continued strategic endorsements of establishment figures in the coming weeks and exhaustive coverage on the weakening Sanders and the surging Biden. MSNBC was particularly aggressive in framing the election night and attacking the very premise of the Sanders’ movement. MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace bizarrely claimed that there was no effort by the establishment to prop up Biden.
Wallace declared “Bernie Sanders… he has turned this idea of the establishment – he’s weaponized it against Biden,” she said. “The Democratic establishment did nothing for Joe Biden.” Really? Various establishment figures lined up behind Biden in the last week while CNN and MSNBC continued a relentless series of attacks on Sanders and his supporters. Nevertheless, host Rachel Maddow agreed that sought to downplay the concerted effort in DC to push Biden: “every headline in all political coverage all around the country is like, ‘The establishment is coalescing the establishment.” She then suggested that this is all a lie that was used against that other seemingly wrongly candidate, Hillary Clinton: “It’s what he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016 as well.”
Maddow simply dismisses the admissions of how the DNC rigged elements of the 2016 primary for Clinton or how Clinton took over the debt of the DNC to exercise such control. She also dismisses how polls showed that Clinton was widely viewed as unauthentic and the ultimate establishment figure when the public clearly wanted a change in Washington. Instead, Maddow and Wallace portray the entire movement by Sanders to be a lie. Not to be subtle, Wallace not only calls this all a lie but portrays Biden’s victory (with a long line of establishment endorsement) as a victory over the establishment: “But it’s a lie, I mean, it’s a lie. Listen, and I say this as a dispassionate former Republican who watched my party sort of implode around fake truths and false grievances, the establishment had nothing to do with Joe Biden’s victory. He’s flat broke, he has not a single ad on the air. He’s not advertising in any Super Tuesday states!”
Folks, this Bernie Sanders campaign ad with Barack Obama ad is gonna be a talker
The Syrian Arab Army, a force for good, must not stop short of decisive victory in Idlib, the governorate in northwest Syria sheltering the last jihadist militias operating on Syrian soil. Russia, which is correctly (and legally) supporting the S.A.A.’s campaign, should try to avoid a direct conflict with a NATO member but should engage Turkish forces if there is no alternative. NATO, breaking its own Article 5 covenant, will not come to the aid of a member nation engaged in so despicable an assault on another sovereign nation. I am not alone in holding this opinion. Don’t forget: Most NATO members are squeamish, mealy-mouthed Europeans who have given up the ghost in Syria. It will do the entire world much good if the egregious Erdogan sustains the bloodiest nose of his six years as Turkey’s dictatorial president in consequence of this drive into Syria.
Let us say precisely the same of what remains of the U.S. presence in Syria. Excellent it will be if Washington must at last acknowledge that it has lost every chip it has put down in Syria since it began arming, training and financing a variety of vicious Islamist factions, including the Islamic State, in early 2012 at the very latest. At this point it claims to be protecting Syrian oilfields from… Syria. This is not Turkey’s first foray into Syrian territory, let us remember. It launched a similar campaign in 2016; it began another incursion last autumn. Turkey has from the start of the Syrian conflict been a conduit for arms supplies to the Islamic State and other jihadists, while transshipping Syrian oil from ISIS–controlled refineries into international markets.
[..] Erdogan has betrayed the Russians so often it is a wonder Moscow has any patience left for him. A Turkish F–16 shot down a Russian jet two months after Russian aircraft deployed in Syria five years ago. Ankara and Moscow agreed two years ago to establish a ceasefire zone in northwest Syria, with Turkey also committing to remove jihadists led by Hayat Tahrir al–Sham, formerly al–Nusra, which was formerly al–Qaeda in Syria in the name-changing shell game these cutthroats play. That accord went the way of the West (so to say) long ago.
Russia is racing to reinforce its troops in Syria by sea and air before talks between the Russian and Turkish leaders in Moscow on Thursday, flight data and shipping movements show. The two presidents, Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to meet after a surge in tensions between their countries over fighting in Syria’s Idlib province between Russian-backed Syrian government forces and rebels allied to Turkey. The fighting has raised the prospect of a direct clash between their armies, which operate in close proximity on opposing sides, and Erdogan hopes the talks will yield a ceasefire in Idlib.
A Reuters analysis of flight data and correspondents’ monitoring of shipping in the Bosphorus Strait in northwestern Turkey show Russia began to step up naval and airborne deliveries to Syria on Feb. 28, the day after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Syria. That incident prompted concern in Moscow that Turkey might close the Bosphorus to Russian warships and bar Russian military transport planes from using Turkish air space. The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Turkish official, who asked not to be identified, said there was no plan to close the strait, which would force Russia to take longer routes to Syria. But Russia appears to be reinforcing Syria at its fastest rate since October, when U.S. forces withdrew from some parts of Syria and Moscow scrambled to fill the vacuum.
A total of 32,423 individuals were prevented from entering Greece as of Saturday morning and 231 have been arrested, Greek authorities said on Wednesday on the latest count of irregular migrants attempting to enter Greece at the Evros border region with Turkey. According to the data, from 6 a.m. on Wednesday to 6 p.m. the same day, 11 individuals were arrested in Evros, most of which have been identified as Afghani nationals. A total of 4,600 people were prevented from entering illegally in Greece during the same 12-hour period. On Wednesday, Greek authorities fired tear gas and stun grenades to thwart a crowd of migrants making a push to cross the border from Turkey, as tensions increased after Turkey declared it was allowing migrants and refugees to reach Europe.
Costas runs a small bookshop in my central Athens neighbourhood. Although jovial by constitution, he finds it difficult to hide the worry lines multiplying on his face. Fifteen years ago he put his flat up as collateral for a business loan to spruce up the bookshop. When the Greek debt crisis wreaked its havoc, it was impossible to service that loan. Today, Costas is one of hundreds of thousands facing foreclosures by funds that have purchased debt like his from the banks at bargain basement prices. The bailiff and the auctioneer are circling above distressed homeowners and small business people such as Costas.
Paradox is a Greek word for good reason: today’s Greece proves that it is perfectly possible for the state and for the majority of citizens to be sinking deeper into insolvency while the oligarchy makes a mint from trading in their assets. But why would investors lend to the Greek government cheaply if it remains bankrupt?
The reason is that the troika of Greece’s creditors – the EU, European Central Bank and the IMF – have taken 85% of government debt out of the money markets and placed it squarely on the shoulders of Europe’s taxpayers. They also deferred all repayments until after 2032 and extended another €30bn of official loans to the Greek government to cover its repayments to privateers. So why not lend to the Greek government at a small, yet positive, interest rate when the alternative is to lend to the German or the Dutch governments at the current negative interest rates? As long as the Greek government remains the troika’s model prisoner, lending to Greece’s insolvent state at minuscule rates is lucrative. Paradox solved!
Turning to Greece’s private sector, how can investors profit from it if it too is bankrupt? With great ease is the answer, as Costas’s case illustrates. His loan of €100,000 was sold on by his bank to a hedge fund for €8,000. If the fund auctions off his flat for €20,000, its profit rate will hit an astonishing 250%. The fact that Costas will lose both his home and his bookshop, with detrimental effects on the state’s taxes and outlays (as he begins to draw unemployment benefit), does not even appear on the radar of the hedge fund or the international media.
Pensions remain the main source of income for half of Greece’s households, a survey by the Small Enterprises Institute of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (IME GSEVEE) has shown. The phenomenon is linked to the particularly large number of pensioners – 2.55 million, according to official figures – and the fact that unemployment remains at high levels while salaries remain low. The survey shows that although the country has successfully concluded its third bailout, the decade-long financial crisis is still having a strong impact on Greek society. This is even more obvious in lower income brackets that continue to be at risk of serious social and economic uncertainties.
The survey was held from late December to early January, that is before the coronavirus outbreak and whatever economic impact it has had so far. The IME GSEVEE survey, conducted in association with Marc researchers, showed that 49.4 percent of households declared pensions as their main source of income, up from 49.1 percent a year earlier.
And there we go once more with the Covid19 statistics (will that new name ever stick?):
• Deaths: 1,115, up 97 from yesterday’s 1,108
• Cases: 45,171, up 2059 from yesterday’s 43,112
“Everyone” is saying the numbers are going down, and that must mean we’re over the peak, or something.
But I quoted Ben Hunt yesterday in Corona Cartoon Numbers as saying the numbers conformed to a simple quadratic function, and speaking in the “voice” of Xi Jinping:
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!
That was in reaction to this predicted sequence Hunt saw presented by Antimonic:
My updated interpretation of this was:
Today according to “official” numbers we have 43,103 cases and 1,018 fatalities, which is up 108 from yesterday’s 910. What’s that, 10.5%? Close enough for discomfort.
And sure enough, today’s 97 deaths constitute 9.5% of yesterday’s 1,108. If this sequence holds (note that it was never meant as anything precise, just a trend), tomorrow’s new added deaths should be around 8.5% of 1,115, or 93-96 deaths. Let’s see. If that is correct, we know Beijing has been reporting false deaths numbers according to that quadratic “formula” -we already know, really.
You wait 2,5 months to name the thing, and then expect everyone to use that name?
China’s health authority reported 97 new deaths attributable to the Covid-19 outbreak and 2,015 newly-confirmed cases as of Tuesday. This brings the national totals to 1,113 and 44,653, respectively. As of yesterday, 744 recovered patients have been discharged, while the total number of recovery cases stands at 4,740. Outside Hubei province – epicentre of the Covid-19 epidemic – new infections on the mainland fell for the eighth consecutive day. Health authorities in Hubei reported 94 new deaths attributable to the contagion, and 1,638 newly confirmed cases as of Tuesday. This brings the totals announced by the province’s health commission to 1,068 and 33,366, respectively.
Officials in Hubei had reported 103 fatalities and 2,097 newly confirmed cases a day earlier. Some 1,104 of the new cases announced were confirmed in Hubei’s capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated at a seafood and meat market. The figures from Hubei on Tuesday mark the lowest number of newly confirmed cases since the beginning of February. It is also the first time that Hubei has reported fewer than 2,000 new daily cases since February 2. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s head of emergency programmes, said on Tuesday in Geneva that Covid-19 had the potential to spread faster than either the Ebola or Sars viruses. Earlier this week, Covid-19 exceeded the Sars outbreak of 2002-03 in terms of deaths attributed to it.
“China’s foremost medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan..” Who said two weeks ago it would all be over within a week or ten days. “China’s foremost medical adviser on the outbreak”. Zhong now says: “I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April..”
China on Wednesday reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases since late January, lending weight to a prediction from its senior medical adviser that the outbreak could be over by April. Global markets took heart from the outlook but other international experts remain alarmed by the spread of the flu-like virus, which has killed more than 1,100 people, all but two in mainland China, and said optimism could be premature. China’s foremost medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said the numbers of new cases were falling in some provinces, and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.
“I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,” Zhong, an epidemiologist whose previous forecast of an earlier peak turned out to be premature, told Reuters on Tuesday. Total cases of the new coronavirus in China have hit 44,653, according to health officials, including 2,015 new confirmed cases on Tuesday. That was the lowest daily rise in new cases since Jan. 30. China last week amended its guidelines on prevention and control of the coronavirus, saying that only when asymptomatic cases show clinical signs should they be recorded as a confirmed case. However, it is not clear if the government data previously included asymptomatic cases. The number of deaths on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday.
While Chinese officials said the situation was under control, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the epidemic posed a global threat potentially worse than terrorism. The world must “wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one”, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday, adding the first vaccine was 18 months away. Asked about Zhong’s prediction, Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said: “I think it’s far too premature to say that.” “We’ve just got to watch the data very closely over the coming weeks before we make any predictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp, while praising China’s “Herculean efforts” to contain the virus.
[..] Even if the epidemic ends soon, it has already taken a toll on China’s economy, with companies laying off workers and other firms needing loans running into billions of dollars to stay afloat. Supply chains for car manufacturers to smartphone makers have broken down. Wu Chaoming, chief economist at Fortune Securities, wrote in a report that the impact on China’s labor market would be far greater than that of a 2002-2003 outbreak of another coronavirus that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. About 24% of the labor force, or 186 million people, “could face some risks in salary reduction or even being laid off”, he said. ANZ bank said China’s first-quarter growth would likely slow to 3.2-4.0% compared with an earlier projection of 5.0%. China’s aviation regulator urged countries to lift virus-related travel restrictions as soon as possible, but airlines showed no sign of easing their curbs on flights.
Another 39 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan as well as one quarantine officer, bringing the total to 175, the health ministry said on Wednesday. The Diamond Princess was placed in quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus. About 3,700 people are aboard the ship, which usually has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670. The ministry said tests are being conducted for others who are deemed to need them and it will announce the results later.
The U.K.-flagged Diamond Princess is managed by Princess Cruise Lines, one of the world’s largest cruise lines and a unit of Carnival Corp. The government was considering allowing elderly and those with chronic illnesses to disembark before the Feb. 19 target date for ending the quarantine, some media reported, but added it would take time to figure out where they could be sent. As of last week, about 80% of the passengers were aged 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in the 90s, the English-language Japan Times newspaper reported.
At least 500 hospital staff in Wuhan had been infected with the deadly new strain of coronavirus by mid January, multiple medical sources have confirmed, leaving hospitals short-staffed and causing deep concern among health care workers. While the government has reported individual cases of health care workers becoming infected, it has not provided the full picture, and the sources said doctors and nurses had been told not to make the total public.
The reason for this edict was not explained, but the authorities have been trying to boost morale among frontline medical staff, especially following the death of Li Wenliang, who was killed by the disease weeks after being reprimanded by police for warning colleagues about the new virus.
A slide circulating online, however, reveals the scale of infections among medical workers in Wuhan. It said that by mid-January there had been about 500 confirmed cases among hospital staff with a further 600 suspected ones. A source from a major hospital in Wuhan with knowledge of the situation confirmed that the slide was authentic. The figures shown on the slide were also in line with the figures given by two other doctors from major hospitals in Wuhan.
In a little noticed post back in November, we reported that as part of a stress test conducted by China’s central bank in the first half of 2019, 30 medium- and large-sized banks were tested; In the base-case scenario, assuming GDP growth dropped to 5.3% – nine out of 30 major banks failed and saw their capital adequacy ratio drop to 13.47% from 14.43%. In the worst-case scenario, assuming GDP growth dropped to 4.15%, some 2% below the latest official GDP print, more than half of China’s banks, or 17 out of the 30 major banks failed the test. Needless to say, the implications for a Chinese financial system – whose size is roughly $41 trillion – having over $20 trillion in “problematic” bank assets, would be dire.
Why do we bring this up now? Because according to many Wall Street estimates, as a result of the slowdown resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic, China’s economic growth is set to slow sharply, with some banks such as JPMorgan now expecting as little as 1% GDP growth in Q1 assuming the epidemic is contained in the next few weeks; if it isn’t, Chinese Q1 GDP growth may print negative for the first time on record. This is a big problem, because as noted above if the PBOC’s 2019 stress test is credible, more than half of China’s banks would fail the “stress test” should GDP drop to just 4.15%; and one can only imagine what happens to China’s banks if GDP prints negative.
Or, alternatively, one can read the fine print, where we find that among the immediate first order consequences of a GDP crunch is that the bad loan ratio at the nation’s 30 biggest banks would rise five-fold, flooding the country with trillions in non-performing loans, and potentially unleashing a tsunami of bank defaults. [..] “The banking industry is taking a big hit,” You Chun, a Shanghai-based analyst at National Institution for Finance & Development told Bloomberg. “The outbreak has already damaged China’s most vibrant small businesses and if it prolongs, many firms will go under and be unable to repay their loans.” [..] .. a recent nationwide survey showed that about 30% [of small businesses] expect to see revenue plunge more than 50% this year because of the virus and 85% said they are unable to maintain operations for more than three months with cash currently available.
Bloomberg cited a new report via China Merchants Securities (CMSC) that said new apartment sales crashed 90% in the first week of February over the same period last year. Sales of existing homes in 8 cities plunged 91% over the same period. “The sector is bracing for a worse impact than the 2003 SARS pandemic,” said Bai Yanjun, an analyst at property-consulting firm China Index Holdings Ltd. “In 2003, the home market was on a cyclical rise. Now, it’s already reeling from an adjustment.” Long before the coronavirus outbreak, China’s housing market has been on shaky grounds amid declining demand, stricter mortgage requirements, and price discounts.
The latest shock: two-thirds of China’s economy has come to a standstill, could generate enough pessimism to pop the country’s massive housing bubble. After all, coronavirus is a mass distraction from the overall domestic problems the Communist Party of China (CPC) faces. The CPC failed to stimulate the economy last year, with credit impulse not turning up as expected. The virus outbreak has allowed the CPC to scapegoat the slowdown and the inevitable crash. “…China’s ability to stimulate its economy is now virtually nil, since China’s record debt load has now made it virtually impossible to push the country’s credit impulse higher,” we noted last week. Real estate transactions have been forbidden in many cities. This means fire sales could be seen once selling restrictions end.
E-House China Enterprise Holdings Ltd.’s research institute said four units per day were being sold in Beijing last week, and this is down from several hundred per day during the same period in the previous year. China International Capital Corp. analyst Eric Zhang said demand could pick back up in April, assuming the virus outbreak is under control.
The 4 prosecutors in the Roger Stone case should be investigated. They won’t be, if only because they’re not independent. But this feels like sour grapes for the Mueller report failure.
Stone is a dirty trickster, but he’s been that for decades, and he’s only one of many in DC, on both sides. You can’t be locked up for that. Stone faces two main allegations, IIRC:
1) Lying about his link to WIkiLeaks/Russia. But we know Stone never had any such links. He lied to the Trump campaign about having them though, and then to the DOJ about that. But in essence, he was lying about something that never existed.
Sentencing him for that serves only to keep the illusion alive (just like the coward Rober Mueller did), that WikiLeaks had Russia links, and it’s high time to get rid of that ridiculous notion once and for all.
2) Stone is accused of threatening Randy Credico, his friend who testified to the DOJ. Or more specifically, he’s accused of threatening to kill Credico’s dog, Bianca. Credico wrote to Judge Amy Berman last month pleading with her NOT to send Stone to prison, and saying neither the threats against him or Bianca were serious.
Summarized, there are (were) 4 prosecutors who wanted to send Stone to prison for 9 years for threatening a dog, which according to the dog’s owner wasn’t even a real threat. And if the DOJ or Barr or Trump criticize this, they become the accused, “lawless”, parties.
President Trump on Tuesday swiped at the prosecutors and judge in the case of longtime confidant Roger Stone amid the fallout of the Justice Department’s decision to intervene in Stone’s sentencing recommendation. Trump weighed in on the sentencing late Tuesday even as Democrats and critics expressed alarm that the president seemed to be blurring the line between the executive branch and the Department of Justice (DOJ). “Who are the four prosecutors (Mueller people?) who cut and ran after being exposed for recommending a ridiculous 9 year prison sentence to a man that got caught up in an investigation that was illegal, the Mueller Scam, and shouldn’t ever even have started? 13 Angry Democrats?” Trump tweeted.
All four prosecutors who worked on Stone’s case resigned Tuesday after the DOJ asked a federal court to reduce the seven- to nine-year prison sentence they had originally recommended. One prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, worked on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Stone, a 67-year-old right-wing provocateur, was found guilty in November of lying to Congress and witness tampering related to his efforts to provide the Trump campaign inside information about WikiLeaks in 2016. The timing of the DOJ’s involvement raised questions given that it came hours after Trump ridiculed the initial recommendation as a “miscarriage of justice” and previous accusations from Democrats that Attorney General William Barr has interceded at times in the president’s favor.
The president later told reporters he had not spoken with DOJ officials about Stone’s case but insisted he had the right to do so. He declined to say whether he was considering commuting Stone’s eventual sentence. “All starting to unravel with the ridiculous 9 year sentence recommendation!” Trump tweeted Tuesday night. Trump late Tuesday also swiped at D.C. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the Stone case, implying she had treated his former campaign chairman unfairly. “Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” Trump tweeted.
Even while the chaos of the recent Iowa Caucus remains fresh in voters’ minds, the Nevada State Democratic Party is setting itself up for more of the same by using a new software application for reporting results that is set to be coded and tested in less than a month. The application, still currently under development, will come preloaded onto iPads that will be distributed to precinct chairs during Nevada’s upcoming caucus, scheduled for February 22. The scramble to create this new application followed revelations that the same company that had developed the software largely blamed for the Iowa debacle – known as Shadow Inc. – had also developed the two applications that Nevada Democrats had planned to use both for early voting and for Caucus Day.
[..] .. the Shadow Inc. app was reported to have been developed over a period of roughly two months, though the company’s CEO, Gerard Niemira, has since claimed that the app’s creation began last August. In contrast, Nevada Democrats are now slated to use a software application developed in less than half that time [..] Another issue is the fact that Nevada Democrats decided to go this route after consulting “a group of tech and security folks” whose names and affiliations were not provided. As previously mentioned, after the Iowa debacle, several media reports quoted technology and cybersecurity experts as well as software developers who had cited the rushed development of the Shadow Inc. app as having largely led to the app’s failure and the resulting chaos in Iowa.
It thus seems odd that a group of “tech and security folks” are urging Nevada Democrats to pay for the development of a new program in an even shorter time frame as a way to prevent Nevada’s caucus from repeating Iowa’s failures. Though the identity of this group remains unknown, concerns have been raised that some may have links to the 2020 presidential campaign of Pete Buttigieg, given that the Shadow Inc.-developed app used in Iowa was found to have ties to the Buttigieg campaign and the Iowa caucus chaos clearly benefited the Buttigieg campaign. Concerns about possible connections between these tech and security consultants and the Buttigieg campaign have only grown since it was revealed that Nevada Democrats recently hired an organizer for Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign, Emily Goldman, as the Caucus’ Voter Protection Director, just weeks before the caucus is set to take place.
So Emily Goodman, the paid Buttigieg campaign insider now "Voter Protection Director" for the Nevada caucus used to work at the Brookings Institute, one of whose Chairs wrote an article today called "Stop Bernie Sanders Now."
In this pause between past and future Deep State seditions, and the full-blown advent of Corona Virus in every region of the world, we pause to consider Mr. Trump’s executive order requiring new federal buildings to be designed in the classical style. The directive has caused heads to explode in the cultural wing of Progressive Wokesterdom, since the worship of government power has replaced religion for them and federal buildings are their churches — the places from which encyclicals are hurled at the masses on such matters as who gets to think and say what, who gets to use which bathroom, and especially whose life and livelihood can be destroyed for being branded a heretic.
[..] A virtue of classicism is that it employs structural devices that allow buildings to stand up: arches, columns, colonnades. These are replicable in modules or bays along scales from small to large. These devices honestly express the tectonic sturdiness of a building within the realities of gravity. A hidden virtue of classicism is that it is based on the three-part representation of the human figure: the whole and all the parts within it exist in nested hierarchies of base-shaft-and-head. This is true of columns with capitols set on a base, of windows with their sills, sashes, and lintels, and the whole building from base to roof. Classical architecture follows proportioning systems universally found in nature, such as the Fibonacci series of ratios, which are seen in everything from the self-assembly of seashells to the growth of tree branches.
Thus, classicism links us to nature and to our own humanity. Classical ornaments — the swags, moldings, entablatures, cartouches, corbels, festoons, and what-have-you — are not mandatory, but, of course, they also provide a way of expressing our place in nature, which is a pathway to expressing truth and beauty.
A third whistle-blower has come forward to corroborate the previous complaints that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) tried to suppress evidence-gathering in the Douma probe, a report says. The alleged new whistleblower, whose redacted email was shared by the Grayzone Project on Tuesday, backed the complaints made by two former OPCW employees — South African engineer and organization’s veteran Ian Henderson, and another whistleblower known as ‘Alex.’ OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias had earlier dismissed the pair — dubbed Inspector A and Inspector B in the organization’s inquiry into their claims — as low-level rogue employees who conducted field work without proper authorization and which simply “could not accept that their views were not backed by evidence.”
However, the person, described by Grayzone as a former senior official with the OPCW, stood by Henderson and ‘Alex,’ writing that his time with the organization was “the most stressful and unpleasant” one in his life. “I feel ashamed for the Organization and I am glad I left it. “I fear those behind the crimes that have been perpetrated in the name of ‘humanity and democracy,’ they will not hesitate to do harm to me and my family,” the person wrote, explaining the decision to remain anonymous. Henderson was deployed with the fact-finding mission to Syria shortly after the alleged chemical attack in Douma. The inspector concluded that the cylinders, supposedly containing chlorine, were more likely manually placed on the ground rather than dropped from planes.
According to him, the higher-ups discarded his findings without explanation, and sidelined him from the rest of the mission. Its final report was later used by the US and some European countries to implicate the Syrian government of Bashar Assad in conducting the attack, which the Syrian authorities vehemently deny.
Auto loan and lease balances have surged to a new record of $1.33 trillion. Delinquencies of auto loans to borrowers with prime credit rates hover near historic lows. But subprime loans (borrowers with a credit score below 620) are exploding at a breath-taking rate, and they’re driving up the overall delinquency rates to Financial Crisis levels. Yet, these are the good times, and there is no employment crisis where millions of people have lost their jobs. All combined, prime and subprime auto-loan delinquencies that are 90 days or more past due – “serious” delinquencies – in the fourth quarter 2019, surged by 15.5% from a year ago to a breath-taking historic high of $66 billion, according to data from the New York Fed released today:
Loan delinquencies are a flow. Fresh delinquencies that hit lenders go into the 30-day basket, then a month later into the 60-day basket, and then into the 90-day basket, and as they move from one stage to the next, more delinquencies come in behind them. When the delinquency cannot be cured, lenders hire a company to repossess the vehicle. Finding the vehicle is generally a breeze with modern technology. The vehicle is then sold at auction, a fluid and routine process.[..] Seriously delinquent auto loans jumped to 4.94% of the $1.33 trillion in total loans and leases outstanding, above where the delinquency rate had been in Q3 2010 as the auto industry was collapsing, with GM and Chrysler already in bankruptcy, and with the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression approaching its peak. But this time, there is no unemployment crisis; these are the good times:
About 22% of the $1.33 trillion in auto loans outstanding are subprime, so about $293 billion are subprime. Of them, $68 billion are 90+ days delinquent. This means that about 23% of all subprime auto loans are seriously delinquent. Nearly a quarter!
The number of job openings in December dropped by 364,000 from November (seasonally adjusted), after having already plunged by 574,000 in November, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). This two-month plunge of 938,000 job openings came after a series of ups and downs with downward trend starting after the peak in January 2019. It brought the number of job openings in December to 6.42 million (seasonally adjusted), same level as in October 2017. Since the peak in January 2019, over 1.2 million job openings have dissolved into ambient air (November and December in red).
On a not-seasonally adjusted basis, job openings in December plunged by 14.9% from December 2018, the steepest since the Great Recession. In total, 1.05 million job openings have disappeared over the period. This was the seventh month in a row of year-over-year declines. Year-over-year comparisons eliminate seasonal fluctuations. And the fact that this year-over-year drop of 14.9% in December occurred in the not-seasonally adjusted data shows that the drop to 6.42 million job openings was not due to seasonal adjustments gone berserk. It was due to other reasons. There had been a minuscule dip into the negative in January 2013, and then the more visible dip into the negative in late 2016 and early 2017. What we’re seeing now is in an entirely different ballpark:
How can ordinary people behaving rationally create a generational threat? Raoul Pal, in his role as CEO and co-founder of Global Macro Investor, joins Real Vision to explain the interconnected problem of the everything bubble and the coming retirement crisis to answer the question, “why do we invest?” He explains in detail how the baby boomer generation, through the rational and reasonable behavior of seeking to live and retire comfortably, has fueled the creation of a massive financial bubble that touches nearly every corner of the economy as pensions take more and more risk. Pal breaks down the crucial demographic, economic, and political trends that have combined to create the problem and suggests potential solutions for Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Xers to get out door before the fire of the coming recession. Filmed on February 4, 2020 in Grand Cayman.
German automakers Volkswagen and Daimler have launched a study to push for more “sustainable” lithium mining in Chile, according to lobbyist filings reviewed by Reuters, a sign of growing supply chain concerns ahead of an expected electric vehicle boom. Chile’s Atacama salt flat is by far the biggest source of supply of the ultralight battery metal in South America’s so-called “lithium triangle.” The region, whose fragile ecosystem relies on a limited water supply, is home to the globe’s top two producers, U.S.-based Albemarle and Chile’s SQM. But concerns over sustainability have long plagued Atacama’s miners, which extract the metal from pools of brine beneath the world’s driest desert.
Residents and environmental groups worry about potential damage to a regional ecosystem home to an ancient indigenous culture, lagoons inhabited with rare flamingos and a booming tourism industry. Lobbying records show a team from German development agency GIZ and the public-private Fundacion Chile met with Cristóbal De La Maza, chief of top Chilean environmental regulator SMA, early this year to formally present plans for the “feasibility study.” “This project is driven by the Volkswagen and Daimler companies,” the filings read. “The growing importance of batteries has made the sustainability of lithium a key priority for these companies.”
Pressure is mounting on German carmakers to fast-track production of electric vehicles to meet increasingly stringent European Union anti-pollution rules. Volkswagen alone has staked its future on a $91 billion plan to profitably mass-producing zero-emission vehicles. That push has prompted beefed-up scrutiny of mining practices around key metals such as cobalt, copper and lithium, all of which are predicted to see a spike in demand in coming years. [..] Australia, the world’s No. 1 producer of the white metal, mines its lithium from hard rock, not brine.
I collected so many “corona”-related articles over the past 24 hours, I’ll do a separate thread with them, because this one would get too long. It’ll be up in a few hours.
China is making an effort to make it seem like they have things under control to the extent that numbers are rising less. Don’t trust them. For one thing, it’s not reflected at all in this graph. For another, Xi is real anxious to get the economy restarted. But that’s not possible while the lockdowns remain. Nice quote I heard: if even just 1% of your car parts are from China, and you can’t get them anymore, you can’t build a car.
Asking myself: why are there practically no children infected? Does anyone know?
• China reports 73 new deaths from coronavirus and 3,143 new cases (from 3,797 yesterday)
• Hubei province reports 69 new deaths and confirms 2,447 new cases
• 185,555 people under medical observation, down from 186,354 yesterday
• Japan says 41 new infections on board Yokohama cruiseliner, total now 61 out of 273 tested
Most interesting here is XI: “We are fully confident and capable of fighting the epidemic. The long-term trend of China’s economic development will not change.”
Health authorities in China pegged deaths caused by the novel coronavirus epidemic on Thursday at 73, with 69 in Hubei province, according to official figures released early Friday. The updated numbers raise the death toll in mainland China to 636. Newly confirmed cases rose by 3,143, a second consecutive daily drop, bringing the total to 31,161 cases in the country, according to data released on Friday morning by China’s National Health Commission (NHC). Most the deaths came from Hubei province, epicentre of the outbreak, where 69 new fatalities from the epidemic were reported on Thursday, one less fatality compared with the day before. The total death toll in Hubei rose to 618, the province’s health commission said.
[..] Chinese President Xi Jinping told his US counterpart Donald Trump on Friday that China’s economic development would not be affected by the outbreak, according to CCTV, China’s state broadcaster. CCTV reported that, in a phone conversation with Trump, Xi said the Chinese government and people had put their fullest efforts into containing the outbreak since it had started. “We have adopted the most comprehensive and strictest prevention and control measures through mobilising and rapid responses. We have declared a people’s war against the epidemic through prevention and control,” Xi was quoted as saying. “We are fully confident and capable of fighting the epidemic. The long-term trend of China’s economic development will not change.”
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed confidence in China’s strength and resilience in confronting its coronavirus outbreak during a conversation with President Xi Jinping on Thursday, a White House spokesman said. The two leaders agreed to continue extensive communication and cooperation between both sides, the spokesman, Judd Deere, added. Trump and Xi also reaffirmed their commitment to implementing Phase 1 of the trade deal between the United States and China, he added.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, suggested during an FBI oversight hearing on Wednesday that Russia is responsible for the vote-reporting issues from Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses. “I hope that the Iowa Democrats will ask for an FBI investigation on the app,” the Texas Democrat told FBI Director Christopher Wray. “I believe that Russia has been engaged in and interfering with a number of our elections dealing with the 2016 election.” Wray responded by reassuring Jackson Lee that the FBI shares her concern about Russian interference. “Certainly, we are also concerned about potential Russian interference with our elections,” Wray said. “That’s why I created the foreign influence task force, which is acutely focused on that topic among other nation-states that are attempting to influence our elections.”
Democrats have faced criticism for not properly testing the voting system in Iowa, which includes an app the Iowa Democratic Party spent $60,000 to implement. “How can anyone trust you now?” a reporter yelled at the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party after reporting issues had still not been cleared up the day after voters caucused. An official winner has still not been announced as of Thursday evening. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez expressed his frustration on Thursday by calling for a recanvassing. “Enough is enough. In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass.”
Every line of work — from law to carpentry to software — has its own house rule about how bad results come from bad beginnings. There is even an initialism for this: GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out. Unless senators use their closing arguments this week to clarify that they are not endorsing either the prosecution or defense premises in reaching their verdicts, this will go down as the GIGO impeachment: precedent created by false assumptions in both houses. The House blundered in rushing an impeachment by Christmas rather than waiting a couple of months to submit a more complete case with added witnesses, court orders and evidence.
Instead of seeking to compel such direct evidence, the House pushed the vote to impeach on the basis of what my co-witnesses called by the Democrats admitted was an inferential case. There is no question that you can make an inferential case for impeachment, but it is the difference between a strong and a weak case. Rather than wait a couple months to strengthen that record (as I suggested at the Judiciary hearing), the House muscled through an impeachment after the shortest investigation of a president in history. The greatest concern in the House’s case was always the obstruction-of-Congress charge. The House declared that the administration’s failure to yield to demands for witnesses and evidence was by itself a high crime and misdemeanor.
The problem is that other administrations have raised the presidential immunity claims made by the Trump administration, and those claims were supported by legal opinions from the Justice Department. Both Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton were able to litigate their privilege claims all the way to the Supreme Court before facing impeachment. [..] This is a great case marred by passion and distortion. What is surprising is that both blunders were not “accidental” but premeditated by the two parties. It undermined the legitimacy and authenticity of the actions in both chambers. Even if the senators cannot agree on what is appropriate for impeachment, they should at least agree on what is not appropriate.
Terrorists took over the Idlib de-escalation zone and carried out thousands of attacks in the last two months, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the West is portraying them as “moderate opposition.” Idlib governorate, the last stronghold of anti-government forces in Syria, saw a surge of violence by radical jihadists who have no desire for a peaceful resolution to the almost nine-year-long conflict, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. Most of the attacks are carried out by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the latest iteration of al-Qaeda in Syria. The area was proclaimed a de-escalation zone under the Russia-Turkey agreements. In mid-January, Russian and Turkish forces tried to impose a ‘regime of silence’ there, but the attacks only escalated.
In December 2019 there were over 1,400 terrorist attacks staged from Idlib, with some operations seeing the use of armor and even tanks. The scale of violence remains high, with over 1,000 attacks recorded in the last two weeks of January. Hundreds of Syrian civilians and government troops have been killed, as well as “Russian and Turkish military specialists.” “The relocation of some armed groups out of the de-escalation zone to northeastern Syria and later to Libya has boosted the concentration of radical extremists over the boiling point,” the ministry said. This situation was recently discussed during an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He explained that Turkey needed to separate the armed opposition it is working with from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists, saying that it has failed to do so.
Town halls across the UK have been officially reminded they must fly the Union Jack flag on 19 February, to celebrate Prince Andrew’s 60th birthday. Politicians and public alike have slammed the Whitehall order, which they say puts protocol before principles. The prince is not currently performing royal duties amid an ongoing scandal over his friendship with millionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and claims that then-teenager Virginia Roberts was coerced into having sex with Prince Andrew in 2001 and 2002. He denies the allegation, saying he was at a birthday party at the Woking branch of Pizza Express on one of the nights the pair are said to have slept together.
However, the order is now likely to be withdrawn, after the prime minister’s spokesman described it as “an administrative email about a longstanding policy”. “I understand that DCMS [the digital, culture and media department] and the royal household are considering how the policy applies for changed circumstances, such as when members of the Royal Family have stepped back from public duties,” the spokesman said – in a clear hint it will be pulled. The instruction had drawn heavy criticism, Labour MP and deputy leadership candidate Ian Murray saying: “This protocol has to be binned given the allegations against the prince.” [..] ..a council source said: “It seems ridiculous. The government doesn’t appear to be noticing what has happened recently, or factoring in the mood of the nation.”
Boeing Co suppliers are shedding jobs and capacity to cope with a halt in 737 MAX output, but while that staves off chaos, aerospace executives worry the industry might be unable to ramp factories quickly enough when the plane wins approval to fly again. Boeing, struggling to restore public confidence and recover from the biggest crisis since its founding in 1916, has halted production of the once fast-selling 737 MAX, which was grounded in March following two deadly crashes. As a result, industrial heavyweights like fuselage maker Spirit Aerosystems have already laid off workers. Now a cluster of other crucial companies small and big that forge metal, assemble and paint 737 MAX winglets, and build data systems have followed suit with no indication that Boeing will offer a lifeline, people familiar with the matter said.
Losing payments and workers in a tight labor market heaps pressure on Boeing’s U.S.-dominated 737 MAX supply chain, which involves hundreds of suppliers of more than half of the roughly 400,000 parts for each 737 built in the Seattle-area. “One of the main questions is how much capacity will be lost in the supply chain by the time production resumes at significant rates,” said an industry executive with knowledge of Boeing’s industrial network. Such concerns dominated the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference north of Seattle this week, where some executives vented frustration over what they called Boeing’s lack of financial support. One executive from a supplier that derives a quarter of its business from the MAX said Boeing has treated his company like “a commodity” in a “transactional” relationship. He predicted Boeing would let some suppliers fail.
For the first time in years, a major public pension system has slashed benefits for retirees: The Ohio Public Employees’ Retirement System voted last week to cut health care benefits provided to the pension’s current and future retirees beginning in 2022 to try and prevent the fund from plunging into insolvency in the not-too-distant future. It’s just the latest reminder that America’s ‘pension timebomb’ isn’t as far off into the future as many retirees, investors and public officials would like to believe. According to Chief Investment Officer and the Bond Buyer, if these changes had not been enacted, the fund would run out of money in about 11 years, executive director Karen Carraher said during a board meeting. The measure passed by a 9-2 vote.
“There is no available funding for health care,” a report from the board said. “All of the employer contribution[s] must be allocated to pension funding until that funding improves. Based on current projections, no funding will be available for health care for 15 or more years.” The vote, which was undertaken after polls showed members would be open to the changes to preserve their retirement benefits, eliminated the system’s group health-care plan and replaced it with stipends that will defray costs for members who purchase plans on the state ObamaCare exchange. Beneficiaries will receive a wide variety of quantitative cuts, depending on their age of retirement, the year in which they retired, and the number of years working in the state.
“Surveys indicate members willing to accept changes/reductions in health care in the interest of preserving it,” the board’s report said. Nearly everyone in OPERS likely will be affected by these changes. The board’s vote constituted the elimination of the pension’s healthcare group plan, and replaced it with a stipend that will help supplement for some members the cost of a new healthcare plan on the marketplace. “Pre-Medicare group plan is unsustainable for OPERS and members as risk core and costs continue to increase,” the report said. The board “needs to reduce the cost of health care to preserve current health care trust fund until such time funding can resume.”
With the surge in public debt in the wake of the global financial crisis, financial repression—administrative restrictions on interest rates, credit allocation, capital movements, and other financial operations—has come back on the agenda. In our recent working paper, we argue that countries would be better-off without financial repression. By distorting market incentives and signals, financial repression induces losses from inefficiency and rent-seeking that are not easily quantified. Losses from rent-seeking might occur when administrative restrictions reduce access to certain financial services (such as credit) and improve the benefits (e.g., through low interest rates) for the selected users (at the cost of those excluded), and when these lead to wasteful competition among potential users for such gains.
Using an updated index of interest rate controls covering 90 countries over 45 years, this IMF staff study estimates that financial repression in the form of interest rate restrictions could reduce real per capita growth by about 0.4–0.7 percentage points, on average, with the effect being larger in countries with larger financial systems. The study also finds that a full liberalization of interest rates is necessary to significantly increase growth, and changes in interest rate restrictions short of full liberalization have a limited impact. The case studies suggest that interest rate controls may also disrupt financial stability and may reduce access to financing for small enterprises.
The Federal Reserve could encourage banks to tap a key funding source that has been scarcely used since the financial crisis as a solution to the September dislocations in short-term lending markets, said Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles on Thursday. Quarles said financial institutions should not be afraid of accessing the discount window, where banks have historically borrowed funds from the Fed in return for collateral during short-term liquidity shortages, in a speech held at an event by the Money Marketeers of New York University. The use of the window, however, has been stigmatized following the financial crisis amid worries that tapping the window could end up creating the perception that a bank was in precarious shape and could even be insolvent, precipitating further outflows.
He noticed that despite the equivalence between Treasurys and reserves as sources of capital that could meet the Fed’s liquidity coverage regulations, which are designed to ensure banks can meet sudden cash outflows, the reality was banks would prefer to hold cash reserves as banks could struggle to sell government bonds swiftly if it wanted to raise funds. Quarles’ remarks come as investors and bank executives have pointed to the preference of reserves over Treasurys as one factor that contributed to the surge in overnight repo rates in September, which briefly pushed the benchmark fed funds rates above its target range and raised questions whether the Fed was losing its grip on a key monetary policy tool.
Pushing banks to use the discount window during stress scenarios could help resolve the issues in money markets, as it gave banks sufficient time to sell high-quality capital like Treasurys and raise cash, diminishing the need to accrue reserves as a way of handling liquidity issues. “I think it is worth considering whether financial-system efficiency may be improved if reserves and Treasury securities’ liquidity characteristics were regarded as more similar than they are today,” said Quarles.
Under these “repurchase agreements,” the Fed buys Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS), guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, whereby the counterparties commit to buy back these securities at a fixed price on a specific date, such as the next day (overnight repo) or a longer period, such as 14 days (term repo). Repos are by definition in-and-out transactions. When a repo matures and unwinds, the Fed gets its money back, and the repo on the Fed’s balance sheet goes to zero. By buying these securities, the Fed adds liquidity to the market for the duration of the repo. When the repo matures and unwinds, the liquidity gets drained from the market. When a new repo transaction occurs, the process starts over again, but with a different amount and with a different maturity date.
The Fed raised the interest rate at which it offered the repos – for borrowers, the money is getting a little less cheap. Through January 29, the Fed’s average offering rate for overnight repos was 1.55%. On January 30, this increased to 1.60%. And the rate for 14-day repos increased from 1.58% effective through January 29, to about 1.61%. The Fed had been the lender-of-first-resort in the repo market, by offering to lend at these low rates. By increasing the rate, the Fed is gradually making the cash it is handing out less cheap and less attractive compared to what banks might offer, and more of the demand is switching over to banks. Overnight repos have been undersubscribed all year, so there is less and less demand for them at this rate. But the 14-day term repos are often oversubscribed, meaning there is more demand for this two-week cash at 1.61% than the amount the Fed is offering.
[.] The Fed continued to increase its ballooning stash of T-bills (Treasuries with maturities of one year or less) at a rate of about $60 billion per month. To increase its stash, the Fed has to buy the amount of the maturing T-bills, and it has to buy the amounts needed to obtain the targeted increase of about $60 billion a month. Over the five weekly balance sheets since January 1, the Fed has added $78 billion in T-bills, and the total amount of T-bills on the Fed’s balance sheet has now ballooned to $248 billion: These T-bills are a major part of the Fed’s strategy to bail out the repo-market. The purpose is to increase Excess Reserves that banks have on deposit at the Fed. The Fed blames low Excess Reserves last September for the banks’ refusal to lend to the repo market, which then caused the repo market to blow out. So bringing up Excess Reserves to an “ample” level is the goal of these T-bill purchases.
Almost seven in every 10 Greeks are in a dire financial situation, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The figures published in the bulletin of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) indicate that 68.3 percent of the population in Greece are living close to or below the poverty line, with 12.9 percent already having to make do with an income below that line and 55.4 percent categorized as vulnerable, as they too could drop below the poverty line if they miss out on three months’ salary.
The proportion of Greeks who are unable to make a decent living is far above the OECD average, which stands at 50.4 percent. In the United States, which also shows high levels of inequalities, the rate comes to 55.5 percent, while in Denmark it stands at 36.3 percent. Greece’s rate is second only to Latvia’s in the European Union. SEV commented that Greece is among the European countries with the greatest inequalities in incomes, a situation that has been aggravated by the financial crisis of the 2010s, which hurt lower incomes in particular.
Bumblebee populations are in decline across North America and Europe due to hotter and more frequent extremes in temperatures, and climate change is playing a big role, according to a recently released study. The study by researchers from the University of Ottawa published in the journal Science examined changes in the populations of 66 bumble species across the two continents, and compared them with climate changes. The research found that in the course of one human generation, the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a given place in North America and Europe declined by an average of over 30 percent.
“We’ve known for a while that climate change is related to the growing extinction risk that animals are facing around the world,” lead author of the study Peter Soroye said in a statement. “Bumblebees are the best pollinators we have in wild landscapes and the most effective pollinators for crops like tomato, squash, and berries,” Soroye said. “Our results show that we face a future with many less bumblebees and much less diversity, both in the outdoors and on our plates.” Researchers used data collected over a 115-year period showing where bumblebees have been found over the decades. They mapped the places the bees lived and how their distribution changed over time. They found the bees were disappearing in areas that had gotten hotter, and some are colonizing in new areas that were previously too cold.
Ideal world: “There are very substantial reductions in unemployment, the human poverty index and the debt to GDP ratio. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by nearly 80%. This reduction results from the decline in GDP and a very substantial carbon tax.”
“If growth were to be abandoned as an objective of policy, democracy too would have to be abandoned,” Wilfred Beckerman, an Oxford economist, wrote in “In Defense of Economic Growth,” which appeared in 1974. “The costs of deliberate non-growth, in terms of the political and social transformation that would be required in society, are astronomical.” Beckerman was responding to the publication of “The Limits to Growth,” a widely read report by an international team of environmental scientists and other experts who warned that unrestrained G.D.P. growth would lead to disaster, as natural resources such as fossil fuels and industrial metals ran out. Beckerman said that the authors of “The Limits to Growth” had greatly underestimated the capacity of technology and the market system to produce a cleaner and less resource-intensive type of economic growth—the same argument that proponents of green growth make today.
Whether or not you share this optimism about technology, it’s clear that any comprehensive degrowth strategy would have to deal with distributional conflicts in the developed world and poverty in the developing world. As long as G.D.P. is steadily rising, all groups in society can, in theory, see their living standards rise at the same time. Beckerman argued that this was the key to avoiding such conflict. But, if growth were abandoned, helping the worst off would pit winners against losers. The fact that, in many Western countries over the past couple of decades, slower growth has been accompanied by rising political polarization suggests that Beckerman may have been on to something.
Some degrowth proponents say that distributional conflicts could be resolved through work-sharing and income transfers. A decade ago, Peter A. Victor, an emeritus professor of environmental economics at York University, in Toronto, built a computer model, since updated, to see what would happen to the Canadian economy under various scenarios. In a degrowth scenario, GDP per person was gradually reduced by roughly fifty per cent over thirty years, but offsetting policies—such as work-sharing, redistributive-income transfers, and adult-education programs—were also introduced. Reporting his results in a 2011 paper, Victor wrote, “There are very substantial reductions in unemployment, the human poverty index and the debt to GDP ratio. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by nearly 80%. This reduction results from the decline in GDP and a very substantial carbon tax.”
More recently, Kallis and other degrowthers have called for the introduction of a universal basic income, which would guarantee people some level of subsistence. Last year, when progressive Democrats unveiled their plan for a Green New Deal, aiming to create a zero-emission economy by 2050, it included a federal job guarantee; some backers also advocate a universal basic income. Yet Green New Deal proponents appear to be in favor of green growth rather than degrowth. Some sponsors of the plan have even argued that it would eventually pay for itself through economic growth.
Upside down world. You now have to pay for what nature provides for free. Pay people not to pollute. You want less pollution? Sure, but it’s going to cost you… Nice place you got there. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, would you?
Canada is preparing an aid package for Alberta, heart of the country’s struggling oil industry, that would help dull the pain if it blocks an oil sands project that could create thousands of jobs, sources familiar with the matter said this week. Ottawa must decide by end-February if Teck Resources Ltd can build the C$20.6 billion ($15.7 billion) Frontier mine in northern Alberta despite climate and wildlife concerns. The decision is a major test of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2019 election pledge to put Canada on the path to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Complicating the decision, unhappiness with the government’s energy and pipeline policy cost Trudeau’s Liberals all their Alberta seats in October 2019 elections.
“There will be a big fight inside cabinet over this,” said one source directly familiar the matter who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. “Rejecting Teck without providing Alberta something in return would be political suicide,” the source added. In Alberta, the project is considered essential for employment and growth. Teck says it would eventually create 7,000 jobs, although the company’s chief executive recently questioned whether it will ever be built. About 20 oil sands projects currently sit dormant despite receiving approval.
Whatever nickname ultimately gets attached to the now-ending Twenty-tens, on Wall Street and across Corporate America it arguably should be tagged as the “Decade of Debt.” With interest rates locked in at rock-bottom levels courtesy of the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policy after the financial crisis, companies found it cheaper than ever to tap the corporate bond market to load up on cash. Bond issuance by American companies topped $1 trillion in each year of the decade that began on Jan. 1, 2010, and ends on Tuesday at midnight, an unmatched run, according to SIFMA, the securities industry trade group. In all, corporate bond debt outstanding rocketed more than 50% and will soon top $10 trillion, versus about $6 trillion at the end of the previous decade.
The largest U.S. companies – those in the S&P 500 Index – account for roughly 70% of that, nearly $7 trillion. What did they do with all that money? It’s a truism in corporate finance that cash needs to be either “earning or returning” – that is, being put to use growing the business or getting sent back to shareholders. As it happens, American companies did a lot more returning than earning with their cash during the ‘Tens. In the first year of the decade, companies spent roughly $60 billion more on dividends and buying back their own shares than on new facilities, equipment and technology. By last year that gap had mushroomed to more than $600 billion, and the gap in 2019 could be just as large, especially given the constraint on capital spending from the trade war.
In my decades of looking at the stock market, there has never been a better setup. Exuberance is pandemic and sky-high. And even after today’s dip, the S&P 500 is up nearly 29% for the year, and the Nasdaq 35%, despite lackluster growth in the global economy, where many of the S&P 500 companies are getting the majority of their revenues. Mega-weight in the indices, Apple, is a good example: shares soared 84% in the year, though its revenues ticked up only 2%. This is not a growth story. This is an exuberance story where nothing that happens in reality – such as lacking revenue growth – matters, as we’re now told by enthusiastic crowds everywhere.
Until just a couple of months ago, the touts were out there touting negative interest rates soon to come to the US and thus making stocks the only place to be. Those touts have now been run over by the reality. Now they’re touting QE4 by the Fed, or whatever. And people were looking for any reason to buy. The unanimity of it all was astounding. I’ve seen this before, but not in this magnitude. And there is this: As stocks were surging over the past few months, investors with large gains who wanted to sell didn’t sell before year-end in order to defer that income for tax considerations. So there was reduced selling pressure from that group that would have liked to sell, and that will sell after the new year starts.
So I shorted the stock market today, December 30 – me who is on record of saying repeatedly that I would never ever short anything ever again, after the debacle of November 1999 when I shorted the most obviously ridiculous Nasdaq high-fliers a few months too early. They collapsed to near-zero, but not before ripping off my face.
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe has penned an editorial column in support of the refusal of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to submit House articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. Tribe declares this strategy is not just constitutional but also commendable. That view may be half right on the Constitution. However, it leaves Pelosi all wrong on her unprecedented gaming of the system. The withholding of the articles is not only facially inappropriate. It shatters the fragile rationale for the rush to impeach. Tribe focuses on a point on which I agree entirely. We both have criticized the position of Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, who testified with me in the House Judiciary Committee hearings, that President Trump has not really been impeached.
Feldman insists that impeachment occurs only when the articles and a slate of House trial managers are submitted to the Senate for trial. However, there is no support for that interpretation in the text or history of the Constitution. Indeed, English impeachments by the House of Commons often were not taken up for trial in the House of Lords, yet all those individuals still were referenced as impeached. Now for our point of disagreement. The Constitution does not state that the House must submit the articles of impeachment to the Senate at any time, let alone in a specific period of time. Tribe insists this means that the “House rules unmistakably leave to the House itself” when to submit an impeachment for trial. There are, in fact, two equal houses of Congress.
Faced with a House manipulating the system, the Senate can change its rules and simply give the House a date for trial then declare a default or summary acquittal if House managers do not come. It is the list of House trial managers that is necessary for Senate proceedings to commence. The “standing rules of procedure and practice in the Senate when sitting on impeachment trials” are triggered when the House gives notice that “managers are appointed.” The Senate is given notice of the impeachment in the congressional record shared by both houses. The articles are later “exhibited” by the managers at the trial. Waiting for the roster of managers is a courtesy shown by the Senate to the House in preparing its team of managers for the trial.
We have never experienced this type of bicameral discourtesy where the House uses articles of impeachment to barter over the details of the trial. Just as the Senate cannot dictate the handling of impeachment investigations, the House cannot dictate the trial rules.
Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, a onetime member of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, is claiming the FBI and Justice Department violated his rights of free speech and privacy when firing him for uncovered texts that criticized President Trump. Strzok and his legal team made the claims in a court document filed Monday that pushes back on the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) motion to dismiss the lawsuit he filed in August over his ouster a year earlier. DOJ alleged in its motion to dismiss that Strzok’s role in high-profile investigations meant he was held to a higher standard when it came to speech.
But Strzok’s legal team disputed this in Monday’s filing, saying that the approximately 8,000 other employees in similar positions retain their privacy even when using government-issued devices. “The government’s argument would leave thousands of career federal government employees without protections from discipline over the content of their political speech,” the filing said. “Nearly every aspect of a modern workplace, and for that matter nearly every non-workplace aspect of employees’ lives, can be monitored,” it added. “The fact that a workplace conversation can be discovered does not render it unprotected.”
Strzok’s team also accuses the bureau and DOJ of only punishing those who condemn Trump, as “there is no evidence of an attempt to punish” those who verbally backed the president ahead of the 2016 election. The FBI declined to comment, saying the bureau does not comment on pending litigation. “It doesn’t matter who you are — someone, like Pete, who has devoted his whole life to protecting this country, or a Gold Star family, or a Purple Heart winner, or a lifelong Republican who spent 5 years as a POW in North Vietnam. If you dare to raise your voice against President Trump, he and his allies will try to destroy you,” Strzok attorney Aitan Goelman said in a statement to The Hill.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) predicted Monday that it would be more difficult for House Democrats to remain in control of the House following passage of articles of impeachment against President Trump. In a video tweeted Monday evening, the 2020 candidate for president wrote that Trump’s chances of winning reelection had been “greatly increased” because of the House’s vote. “Unfortunately, the House impeachment of the president has greatly increased the likelihood Trump will remain the president for the next 5 years,” Gabbard says in the video. “We all know that Trump is not going to be found guilty by the U.S. Senate,” she added. The remarks are not the first Gabbard has made warning against Trump’s impeachment. She made similar comments just days ago in New Hampshire, arguing that Trump’s supporters would be emboldened by the House’s move heading in to 2020.
In 2020, we will have a new president in the White House. How many of you do NOT want that to be Donald Trump? I certainly don’t. Unfortunately, the House impeachment of the president has greatly increased the likelihood Trump will remain the president for the next 5 years … pic.twitter.com/FRRlbWHyo7
[..] a venerable institution such as The New York Times can turn from its mission of strictly pursuing news and be enlisted as the public relations service for rogue government agencies seeking to overthrow a president under false pretenses. The overall effect is of a march into a new totalitarianism, garnished with epic mendacity and malevolence. Since when in the USA was it okay for political “radicals” to team up with government surveillance jocks to persecute their political enemies? This naturally leads to the question: what drove the American thinking class insane?
I maintain that it comes from the massive anxiety generated by the long emergency we’ve entered — the free-floating fear that we’ve run out the clock on our current way of life, that the systems we depend on for our high standard of living have entered the failure zone; specifically, the fears over our energy supply, dwindling natural resources, broken resource supply lines, runaway debt, population overshoot, the collapsing middle-class, the closing of horizons and prospects for young people, the stolen autonomy of people crushed by out-of-scale organizations (government, WalMart, ConAgra), the corrosion of relations between men and women (and of family life especially), the frequent mass murders in schools, churches, and public places, the destruction of ecosystems and species, the uncertainty about climate change, and the pervasive, entropic ugliness of the suburban human habitat that drives so much social dysfunction.
You get it? There’s a lot to worry about, much of it quite existential. The more strenuously we fail to confront and engage with these problems, the crazier we get. Much of the “social justice” discontent arises from the obvious and grotesque income inequality of our time accompanied by the loss of meaningful work and the social roles that go with that. But quite a bit of extra tension comes from the shame and disappointment over the failure of the long civil rights campaign to correct the racial inequalities in American life — everything from attempts at school integration to affirmative action (by any name) to “multiculturalism” to the latest innovations in “diversity and inclusion.”
[..] By 2020 Wokesterism has shot its wad and the Wokesters are banished to a windowless room in the sub-basement of America’s soul where they can shout at the walls, point their fingers, grimace spittlingly, and issue anathemas that no one will listen to. And when they’re out of gas, they can kick back and read the only book in the room: Mercy, by Andrea Dworkin. And then, one fine spring morning, after everyone else has given up on it, Donald Trump, social media troll-of-trolls, the Golden Golem of Greatness himself, rises in his pajamas and tweets that, at long, long last, he has finally got “woke,” changed his name to Donatella, and declared his personal pronoun to be “you’all.”
Kicking pension problems into the future is popular with politicians, enabling them to make promises and let voters worry later about borrowing costs. But large, unfunded state pension liabilities are a costly problem—and the cost is already reflected in current bond prices, research by Chicago Booth PhD candidate Chuck Boyer suggests. “The public pension funding crisis is not merely about future insolvency,” he writes. “Future obligations are having an effect on debt spreads right now.” To many Americans, it may seem unimaginable that states would fail to fully pay pensions promised to teachers, firefighters, and other public-service workers.
It has been almost 90 years since the last state default: during the Great Depression, Arkansas owed over $160 million to debt payments, which was nearly half of the state’s annual revenue (and equivalent to roughly $3 billion in 2019 dollars). The debt was restructured and “debtholders were eventually made whole,” Boyer writes in recounting this history. However, pension obligations are mounting in many states, and officials are struggling to cut costs and raise taxes to pay what is owed. And he argues that the effects can be seen in the $3.8 trillion capital market for US municipal bonds, which includes bonds issued by 50,000 state and local governments. When a company defaults, there is a clear legal framework for who gets paid back first.
This isn’t the case for states, however, as there is no such legal structure, nor much precedent. The markets’ expectations, then, are built into bond prices. Bondholders, wary of how a default could play out, demand a premium. Using annual fiscal reports released by state governments, Boyer looked at the ratio of unfunded pension liabilities to GDP from 2002 to 2016 and estimates that every 1-standard-deviation increase is associated with a 27–32 basis-point increase in bond spreads over the Treasury rate, up to a fifth of the average total spread. Unfunded pensions cost US states more than $2 billion in lost bond-issuance proceeds in 2016, he calculates, adding that he considers that a conservative estimate.
But the penalty that a state would essentially pay in the form of higher spreads varies from state to state, providing some indication of how the market thinks a default could play out. States where pensioners have more legal protections and their unions have more bargaining power (and maybe higher public support) are paying higher borrowing costs. In these areas, debtholders see a higher risk of default—perhaps assuming states would take care of pensioners before bondholders, who are mostly high-net-worth and retail investors.
Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn confirmed he fled to Lebanon, saying he wouldn’t be “held hostage” by a “rigged” justice system and raising questions about how one of the world’s most-recognized executives escaped Japan months before his trial. Ghosn’s abrupt departure marks the latest dramatic twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardized the alliance of Nissan Motor Co Ltd and top shareholder Renault SA and cast a harsh light on Japan’s judicial system. “I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied,” Ghosn, 65, said in a brief statement on Tuesday.
“I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week.” Most immediately, it was unclear how Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan, given that he had been under strict surveillance by authorities while out on bail and had surrendered his passports. Japanese immigration authorities had no record of Ghosn leaving the country, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. A person resembling Ghosn entered Beirut international airport under a different name after flying in aboard a private jet, NHK reported, citing an unidentified Lebanese security official.
His lawyers were still in possession of his three passports, one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters in comments broadcast live by NHK. Hironaka said the first he had heard of Ghosn’s departure was on the news this morning and that he was surprised. He also said it was “inexcusable behavior”. [..] Ghosn was arrested at a Tokyo airport shortly after his private jet touched down on Nov. 19, 2018. He faces four charges – which he denies – including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East. Nissan sacked him as chairman saying internal investigations revealed misconduct ranging from understating his salary while he was its chief executive, and transferring $5 million of Nissan funds to an account in which he had an interest.
Often lost in the early news reports was the fact that fentanyl alone wasn’t killing people; many different kinds of fentanyl were. Since its invention in 1959 by the Belgian chemist and doctor Paul Janssen, fentanyl has seen more than 1,400 analogues: twists on the original formula whose origins and effects vary widely. Carfentanil, for instance—100 times stronger than fentanyl—was until 2018 FDA-approved for use as an elephant tranquilizer. It is here that the opioid crisis intersects with (and amplifies) a newer scourge: NPS, or new psychoactive substances, molecularly tweaked stand-ins for traditional street drugs. The best-known of these is probably K2, or Spice, the ostensible marijuana substitute whose high bears little resemblance to the real thing and whose side effects include blood-clotting, kidney failure, and instant death.
But there are hundreds more, and likely thousands in development. Mini-pandemics have erupted across the country, as when, in the course of a single week last year, over 100 people in New Haven overdosed on what was later determined to be AB-FUBINACA, yet another synthetic cannabinoid. Ben Westhoff, in “Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic”, charts this progression in harrowing detail. We are now dealing, he writes, with “the harshest drug challenge in our history.” His book is one of the first to address what the Centers for Disease Control has called the “third wave” of the opioid crisis: first OxyContin, then heroin, and now fentanyl and its analogues.
Earlier accounts of this crisis – Sam Quinones’s “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” or Beth Macy’s “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America” – had in Purdue Pharma the benefit, structural and dramatic, of a villain. More or less everyone can agree that pharmaceutical companies should refrain from wantonly pursuing profit at the expense of public health. Dopesick is rarely a pleasant read, but Macy’s account of Purdue’s first major court battle – which culminated in criminal convictions for three executives and $600 million in fines—provided at least some measure of catharsis.
Russia could have become an “associate member” of Nato 25 years ago if a Ministry of Defence proposal had gained support, according to confidential Downing Street files which also expose Boris Yeltsin’s drinking habits. The suggestion, aimed at reversing a century of east-west antagonism, is revealed in documents released on Tuesday by the National Archives at Kew. Presented by Malcolm Rifkind, then defence secretary, to a Chequers strategy summit, the plan was to dispel Kremlin suspicions of the alliance’s eastwards expansion. In 1995, Yeltsin was president and the cold war over. Relations were in flux as a Russia tried to come to terms with shrunken international borders.
Yeltsin was proving an unpredictable ally. Files show that he urged western leaders at a summit in Halifax, Canada to delay Nato enlargement until after Russia’s elections because “public discussion could provoke trouble”. But poor health and heavy drinking jeopardised his authority. The previous year he had notoriously failed to disembark from a plane during a stopover in Ireland amid rumours of alcoholism and a heart attack. In July 1995, the Moscow embassy cabled about Yeltsin going into hospital due to his “longstanding heart condition”. At Hyde Park, the Roosevelt home in New York, according to US diplomats, Yeltsin subsequently appeared “rolling, puffy and red”. He consumed “wine and beer greedily … and regretted the absence of cognac. One of his aides took a glass of champagne from him when the aide felt enough was enough and he was alcoholically cheerful at his press conference with Clinton.”
[..] In a 10-page submission, Rifkind argued that: “A possible solution would be to create a new category of associate member of Nato. Such a status could not involve article V guarantees [which declares an attack on one state is an attack on all members], membership of the IMS [Nato’s International Military Staff] or Russian vetoes and would not therefore change the essence of Nato. “It would, however, give Russia a formal status within Nato, allow it to attend, as of right, ministerial and other meetings and encourage a gradual convergence and harmonisation of policy, doctrine and practice.”
Thousands of people fled to the lake and ocean in Mallacoota, as bushfires hit the Gippsland town on Tuesday. The out-of-control fire reached the town in the morning and about 4,000 people fled to the coastline, with Country Fire Authority members working to protect them. The town had not been told to evacuate on Sunday when the rest of East Gippsland was, and authorities decided it was too dangerous to move them on Monday. People reported hearing gas bottles explode as the fire front reached the town, and the sound of sirens telling people to get in the water. By 1.30pm the fire had reached the water’s edge. A local man, Graham, told ABC Gippsland he could see fire in the centre of the town, and 20m high flames on the outskirts where he believed homes were alight.
“We saw a big burst of very big flames in Shady Gully,” he said. “As I speak to you I’m looking across Coull’s Inlet and there are big flames … and they would be impacting houses. That’s not good at all.” People in Mallacoota posted in community social media groups estimates of about 20 houses lost, with the school, bowling club and golf club also hit. Hundreds more evacuees sheltered in the community centre. “There are a lot of people at the waterfront jetty, in the lake, on the sand spit between the lake and the ocean, and there are people on a sandbar, and some on boats,” Charles Livingstone told Guardian Australia from the community centre. He said there were at least 350 people in the community centre, many with children and pets. He, his wife and their 18-month-old baby were at the jetty on Monday night but moved to the community centre to avoid the heavy smoke.
House Democrats may conduct a second impeachment of President Trump, according to lawyers for the Judiciary Committee. In a Monday court filing reported by Politico, House Counsel Douglas Letter argued that they still need testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, which may uncover new, impeachable evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct the Russiagate investigation (of a crime he didn’t commit). “If McGahn’s testimony produces new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses that are not covered by the Articles approved by the House, the Committee will proceed accordingly — including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment,” reads Letter’s filing.
The Democrats also argue that “McGahn’s testimony is critical both to a Senate trial and to the Committee’s ongoing impeachment investigations to determine whether additional Presidential misconduct warrants further action by the Committee,” adding that McGahn’s testimony may also be relevant to future legislation which may stem from the details of Trump’s conduct. And while DOJ lawyers acknowledged in a Monday brief that the legal fight over McGahn isn’t moot, the fact that the House Judiciary Committee moved forward with impeachment on a completely different matter removes the urgency to resolve their case. “The reasons for refraining are even more compelling now that what the Committee asserted — whether rightly or wrongly — as the primary justification for its decision to sue no longer exists,” wrote lawyers for the DOJ.
The agency also argues that the Mueller impeachment investigation is over, when House lawyers and lawmakers have described it as ongoing and active, according to the report. McGahn’s participation in House impeachment proceedings was blocked by the White House, which claimed “absolute immunity” for advisers. President Trump chimed in over Twitter following the Monday court filing, quoting “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade, who said “now all of a sudden they are saying maybe we’ll go back and visit the Mueller probe, which is absolutely unbelievable, and shows they don’t care about the American public’s tone deafness…”
[Joe diGenova] talks about former NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, who is allegedly cooperating with Barr and Durham. What makes the Rogers issue interesting is that he was the original whistle-blower. He is not treated as such, because the media hates Trump and anyone associated with him, but Rogers was the guy who blew the whistle on the spying to the Trump people. The great puzzle thus far has been the lack of prosecutions, despite ample evidence. The FBI agents are all guilty of crimes that have been detailed in public documents and the IG reports. There is now proof that Comey perjured himself many times. Just from a public relations perspective alone, rounding up these guys and charging them with corruption seems like a no-brainer.
Almost a year into his tenure and Barr has charged no one with a crime. One obvious explanation is that Barr is running a long con on Trump and the rest of the country, on behalf of the inner party. Robert Mueller was supposed to use his investigation to hoover up all the data so it could not be made public, in addition to harassing the Trump White House. His incompetence meant Barr took over the job and is now hoovering up all the information on the various parties. That way, everyone has an excuse for not doing anything about plot. One bit of evidence in support of this is the handling of the James Wolfe issue. He was the Senate staffer caught leaking classified information to one of the prostitutes hired by the Washington Post.
Big media hires good looking young women to sleep with flunkies like Wolf in order to get access to information. Wolf was caught and charged, but instead of getting a couple years in jail, he got two months. He will come out and land into a six-figure job as a reward for being a good soldier. An alternative explanation is that what started as a straight forward political corruption case bumped into a long pattern of behavior. In the course of investigating that pattern, the trail went much further back than the 2016 election. If there is evidence of abuse going back to 2012, maybe it goes back further. It was the Bush people, after all, who pushed for the creation of secret courts and secret warrants. Maybe Dick Cheney was listening to your phone calls after all.
Recovering crack addict Hunter Biden owns a home in one of the swankiest neighborhoods in America, it was revealed Monday. The son of former Vice President Joe Biden shares a ZIP code in the Hollywood Hills with celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Christina Aguilera and Halle Berry, according to documents filed in Hunter’s Arkansas paternity case. The three-bedroom, three-bathroom mid-century home is valued at $2.5 million. It sits at the end of a private gated drive and includes a pool. Biden, 49, is currently expecting his fifth child with 32-year-old wife Melissa Cohen Biden. The property was sold on June 19, records show, but it’s unclear how much Biden paid for it.
One day after the sale, a former Washington, DC, stripper filed a petition for paternity and child support against Biden in Arkansas’ Independence County Circuit Court. Lunden Alexis Roberts, 28, says she gave birth to Biden’s kid, “Baby Doe,” in August 2018. [..] Hunter tied the knot with Melissa, a South African beauty, on May 28. They live in Los Angeles, according to a New Yorker profile of Biden, which said he moved there in 2018, in order to “completely disappear”. Hunter’s disappearing act could be difficult at the Hollywood Hills home — where nearly every room has walls of floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
They entered the race late, but the two billionaires seeking the Democratic nomination are making up for lost time. Together, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have poured nearly $200 million into television and digital advertising alone, with the former New York mayor spending an unprecedented $120 million in the roughly three weeks since he joined the presidential race. That’s more than double the combined ad spending of every single non-billionaire candidate in the Democratic field this entire year. “We’ve never seen spending like this in a presidential race,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican political strategist who worked as a consultant for Bloomberg’s mayoral bids in New York. “He has a limitless budget.” The question isn’t whether anyone else will come close to matching Bloomberg or Steyer’s ad spending.
Rather, it’s whether all that spending is making any difference. At present, the two remain mired in single digits in the polls. Steyer isn’t spending at the same stratospheric levels as Bloomberg, yet with $83 million in ad buys so far, he’s still far outpacing everyone other than his fellow billionaire. The next highest spender on ads is Pete Buttigieg at $19 million. Unlike Bloomberg, who is attempting to jumpstart his campaign on Super Tuesday March 3, Steyer is largely focused on the four early voting states. He has spent nearly $37 million in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire — much of it on digital ads. Since joining the race in July, he’s more than doubled the combined ad spending of Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the early states.
[..] “We’re running out of ways to describe [the ad expenditures] at this point,” said Nick Stapleton, vice president of analytics at Ad Analytics, a television ad tracking firm. “It’s pretty difficult to make a comparison…You’re looking at one-third of Obama’s 2012 total [ad] spend through the general [election] in one month.”
Three weeks into a crippling transport strike that has wreaked havoc on Christmas holiday plans, the French government is struggling to persuade a sceptical public – and increasingly critical experts – that its controversial pension overhaul is as vital as it claims. Workers at rail and public transport companies have downed tools in protest at the plan to meld France’s 42 pension schemes into a single points-based one, which would see some public employees lose their right to early retirement – and likely result in benefit cuts for millions. The government has come under fire in particular over a “pivot age” of 64 for a full pension, which will effectively force millions to work beyond the official retirement age of 62.
Ministers insist the new system will be more transparent and fairer, in particular for women and low earners, and is critical to plugging a deficit they claim can only widen further. But after weeks of travel misery, which has dampened the start of the festive season, polls suggest that a majority of the French remain unconvinced by their arguments. According to an Odoxa survey released on Dec. 19, 66% continue to support the strike, while 57% blame the government for the standoff. At just under 14% of economic output, French spending on public pensions is among the highest in the world, a key component of a costly but cherished welfare state.
The government – along with many media outlets – routinely brandishes a study warning that the system will run a deficit of more than 17 billion euros ($18.74 billion), or 0.7% of GDP, by 2025 if nothing is done. However, the dire forecast is just one of several scenarios elaborated by the Conseil d’orientation des retraites (COR), an independent pension advisory committee, whose other projections paint a rosier picture. In another of COR’s forecasts, the deficit run by the pension system would actually shrink to 0.2% of GDP by 2030, or 5 billion euros – less than a third of the amount splashed out to appease Yellow Vest protesters earlier this year.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Turkey will send troops to Libya now that the north African country requested it, and he will present deployment legislation to the Turkish parliament in January. Erdogan visited Tunisia on Wednesday to discuss cooperation for a possible ceasefire in neighbouring Libya. In a speech Thursday, he said Turkey and Tunisia agreed to support Libya’s internationally recognised government of Fayez al-Serraj.
Despite mounting political and diplomatic pressure by the US and its NATO allies, Turkey has again balked at US attempts of intimidation and dug into its refusal to abandon a new Russian missile defense, saying it won’t bow to the threat of crippling US sanctions or trade the S-400s for an American system. “They said they would not sell Patriots unless we get rid of the S-400s. It is out of question for us to accept such a precondition,” said Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, late on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting, quoted by Bloomberg.
“An irrational anti-Turkish sentiment has prevailed in the Congress and it is not good for Turkish-American relations,” Kalin added, noting that Congress “should know that such language of threat would push Turkey exactly toward places that they don’t want it turn to.” Namely, right into the hands of Vladimir Putin, who is on even better terms with Erdogan than Trump, despite Turkey taking down a Russian fighter jet over its territory several years back. Separately, as the WSJ reported this morning, Erdogan once again warned that he would evict U.S. forces from two military bases in his country if Washington imposes new sanctions on his government, creating a bitter quandary for NATO as it seeks to cope with Ankara’s deepening ties to Russia.
In a television interview this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said if the U.S. punishes Turkey for its purchase of a Russian air-defense system, then, “if necessary, we may close Incirlik and Kureci,” installations where the U.S. keeps approximately 50 B61 nuclear weapons, and operates critical radar. Erdogan’s declaration elicited an anxious reaction from U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said it raised questions about Turkey’s dedication to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: “They have that inherent right to house or to not house NATO bases or foreign troops,” Esper said. “But again, I think this becomes an alliance matter, your commitment to the alliance, if indeed they are serious about what they are saying.” “It feels like watching a car crash in slow motion,” a Western diplomat in Turkey told the WSJ.
Bulls cannot breed at Inverell. They are becoming infertile from their testicles overheating. Mares are not falling pregnant, and through the heat, piglets and calves are aborting. My work as a veterinarian has changed so much. While I would normally test bulls for fertility, or herds of cattle for pregnancy, I no longer do, because the livestock has been sold. A client’s stud stock in Inverell has reduced from 2000 breeders to zero. I once assisted farmers who have spent their lives developing breeding programs, with historic bloodlines that go back 80 years. These stud farmers are now left with a handful of breeders that they can’t bear to part with, spending thousands keeping them fed, and going broke doing it. Cattle that sold for thousands are now in the sale yards at $70 a head. Those classed as too skinny for sale are costing the farmer $130 to be destroyed.
They are all gone and it was all for nothing. The paddocks are bare, the dams dry, the grass crispy and brown. The whole region has been completely destocked and is devoid of life. For 22 years, I have been the vet in this once-thriving town in northern NSW, which, as climate change continues to fuel extreme heat, drought and bushfires, has become hell on Earth. Here, we are seeing extreme weather events like never before. The other day we had about eight centimetres of rain in 20 minutes. These downpours are like rain bombs. They are so ferocious that a farmer lost all of his fences, and all it did was silt up the dam so he had to use a machine to excavate the mud. Most farmers in my district have not a blade of grass remaining on their properties. Topsoil has been blown away by the terrible, strong winds this spring and summer.
We have experienced the hottest days that I can remember, and right now I can’t even open any windows because my eyes sting and lungs hurt from bushfire smoke. For days, I have watched as the bushland around us went up like a tinderbox. I just waited for the next day when my clinic would be flooded with evacuated dogs, cats, goats and horses in desperate need of water and food. The impact of the drought on wildlife is devastating to watch, too. Members of the public are bringing us koalas, sugar gliders, possums, galahs, cockatoos and kangaroos on a daily basis. The koalas affect me the most. To see these gorgeous, iconic animals dying from thirst is too hard to bear. We save some, but we lose just as many. The whole town is devastated. My business has halved. But with no horses to breed, no cattle to test and care for, what am I going to do?
A mural of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Hawaiian garb with flames rising all around him has appeared on an inner-Sydney wall. Artist Scott Marsh on Tuesday posted a photo of the Chippendale artwork – with Mr Morrison saying “Merry Crisis!” via a speech bubble – on Instagram. Mr Morrison is depicted in the mural wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, orange lei and Santa Claus hat while holding a cocktail. In the background, red and black flames rise high. It follows the prime minister’s decision last weekend to cut an overseas family holiday in the US state short to respond to the bushfire crisis. “Heading out to Hawaii when the country is literally on fire is probably not a really great move in terms of leadership. I think public sentiment around that is all pretty unified,” Mr Marsh told AAP on Tuesday.
Nepalese schoolgirl Prasiddhika Shrestha is holding up a video camera at her aunt’s house, filming her cousins as they devour crisps, corn puffs, soda and dalmoth, a traditional lentil-based snack. “What is it that you like eating most?” she asks them. “Lay’s chips and Coke,” says Diwani, who drinks between one and two litres of soft drink every day. Rihana includes a pack of Kurkure corn puffs in her daily diet. Prasiddhika is among 100 schoolchildren in seven countries asked by researchers from University College London to film themselves and the food they eat for a study about the exposure of children to unhealthy diets.
Kiran Dahal, a Nepalese schoolboy, is filming in his school’s canteen, where children are scrambling over each other to buy junk food at lunchtime. “I bought two [corn puffs], a packet of dalmoth, pakoda [fried snack], chewing gum and a packet of instant noodles,” he says, showing them to the camera one by one. Pupils Laxmi and Nima eat six packs of instant noodles between them each day. “We see Coke on TV during races and football matches. We also see instant noodles on advertisements,” they say. An unhealthy diet is a major cause of “non-communicable diseases” such as heart diseases, cancer, diabetes and strokes.
Such diseases accounted for 66% of deaths in Nepal in 2017. A report this year by the UN’s children agency, Unicef, found that 43% of Nepalese children are either stunted or overweight. “The situation regarding junk food is very worrisome in Nepal,” says Atul Upadhyay of the global health organisation Helen Keller International, who is featured in UCL’s Nepal film study, produced in collaboration with the Kathmandu-based centre for research on environment, health and population activities. “Children are eating more unhealthy food than they are eating healthy food.”
Professor Sarah Hawkes, director of UCL’s centre for gender and global health, and the lead researcher behind the project, says the footage collected by children in Nepal was similar to those filmed in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Vietnam and the UK. “All children we worked with shared the common experience of pervasive, powerful and, it seems, often unregulated advertising and promotion,” she says. “The children’s footage vividly communicates that, once they step outside schools, they, and their parents, have very little control over what they see and experience, what is on their local high street, or what is going into the food they purchase there.”
It’s hard to bury James Brown. At any moment in a day you’ll hear his voice, his name, a beat or a song. A Brown phrase crystallizes a situation like when it’s time to leave a room – “it’s too funky in here” or when it’s time to go to work or party–“you gotta get on the good foot,” or when hearing someone being deceitful or stupid– “talking loud and saying nothing.” The substance that fed Brown’s music won’t decompose. For the sake of discussion, let’s call it soul power. Soul power is a connection to the people and their experiences: good, bad and ugly. It means hearing what you feel and feeling what you hear. It’s in the call and response like a preacher to the congregation.
It can be in one person singing their story alone, like when Otis Redding sings “Sitting on the dock of the bay.” It’s putting the blue note in a plea, a wail, a moan, a holler or a shout. It’s about the process of life with all its messiness. Now, this is not about who has or doesn’t have soul. It’s about where Brown got his supply. I believe, there is something cosmically black about South Carolina. My belief arises from the fact that the vast majority of African slaves brought to the United States for life on the plantation disembarked on Sullivan’s Island– the “black Ellis Island”–just off the coast of Charleston.
Brown picked up from the vibes the Africans brought off the slave ships and taken out into the fields. He inherited what they sang about and how they sang it. Plantation slaves subversively sang “Jackass rared, Jackass pitch. Throwed ole Marsa in de ditch,” while Brown sang “you can’t tell me how to be the boy when you know I’m grown.” The Roma or black Gypsies also settled among and intermixed with the Africans in the low country region of South Carolina. Thus a context for Brown’s constantly being on the road with his itinerant band of musicians, all decked out in their ornate costumes, living free-wheeling lives.
It wasn’t really the plan to make this a series, but it seems to have turned into one. Part 1 is here: The Fed Detests Free Markets. Part 3 will follow soon. And yeah, I did think perhaps I should have called this one “End The Fed” Is No Longer Enough. Because that’s the idea here. But what’s in a name?
Okay, let’s talk a bit more about finance again. Though I still think this requires caution, because the meaning of the terminology used in such conversations appears to have acquired ever more diverse meanings for different groups of people. Up to the point where you must ask: are we really still talking about the same thing here?
I’ve said multiple times before that there are no more markets really, or investors, because central banks have killed off the markets. There are still “contraptions” that look like them, like the real thing, but they’re fake. You can see this every time a Fed chief opens their mouth and every single person involved in the fake markets hangs on their lips.
They do that because that Fed head actually determines what anything will be worth tomorrow, not the markets, since the Fed buys everything up, and puts interest rates down so more people can buy grossly overpriced property and assets, and allows companies to buy their own shares so nobody knows what they’re worth anymore.
The Fed today is in the business of propping up zombies. And when I say the Fed, that also means the ECB and BOJ, western central banks. I won’t get into the PBOC here, but they’re not far behind.
Recently, Christine Lagarde, the new ECB head, said the most incredible thing (at least to my ears, I guess not to hers):
We should be happier to have a job than to have our savings protected … I think that it is in this spirit that monetary policy has been decided by my predecessors and I think they made quite a beneficial choice.
Who on earth ever claimed jobs vs savings is some necessary or inevitable “choice”? Why should it be? If this were true, isn’t that a sign that something is terribly wrong? That you can have a job, but you can’t save anything? And aren’t the central banks to blame for that then?
The entire system has been built for decades around the notion that people save, either to purchase big items, or for their old age, and that people put money into their pension systems. And now central banks come along and in no time destroy what has been valid for all these years. And they never even warned about it.
Anyway, after Lagarde’s remarks, I guess the Fed’s Jay Powell felt he couldn’t be left behind and said:
US central bankers see a “sustained expansion” ahead for the country’s economy, with the full impact of recent interest rate cuts still to be felt and low unemployment boosting household spending, Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell said on Wednesday in remarks that brushed aside any worries of a looming slowdown.
“The baseline outlook remains favorable,” and the current level of interest rates “appropriate,” Mr Powell said in remarks prepared for delivery to the joint economic committee of congress, a panel that includes some members from the House of Representatives and Senate.
His comments tracked closely to those in his news conference last month after the US central bank cut rates for the third time this year and signaled it was likely done reducing borrowing costs absent a significant change in the economic outlook. Despite “noteworthy risks” including slowing global growth and fallout from the US-China trade war, “my colleagues and I see a sustained expansion of economic activity … as most likely,” Mr Powell said in his prepared remarks for the hearing.
Former Goldman and Bear Stearns banker, and friend of the Automatic Earth, Nomi Prins, tweeted yesterday: “Tuesday, the Fed added $95 billion in liquidity to financial markets. Today, Fed’s vice chair told Congress, “The Board’s latest [review] confirms the current health of the banking system. It depicts a stable, healthy, and resilient banking sector…” The Fed’s official for supervision and regulation told Congress, “The Board’s latest Supervision and Regulation Report… describes steady improvements in safety and soundness, with a gradual decline in outstanding supervisory actions at both the largest & smallest organizations..”
“The baseline outlook remains favorable,” Powell said. That must be why they have been pulling out all the stops and invented new ones, for a decade+. Bernanke, Yellen, the lot of them, all because the baseline has remained so favorable. Why would anyone want to listen to this guy, who so obviously dabbles in complete nonsense? Well, because he’s the one giving the money away.
I think I can tell Mr. Powell what the “full impact of recent interest rate cuts” will be, what it will feel like, and it won’t be anywhere near what he pretends it will be. I must think he knows that too, or he’s an utter fool, and I don’t think he is. He’s just doing a job, while he’s worth $100 million, and that job is very different from how it’s presented to the public.
I’ll tell you about that full impact in part 3 of this Fed essay, which I left on the shelf for a long time because I thought people would declare me nuts, but which now, with increasing chatter of a next recession, maybe can be exposed to daylight. It’s about how grave the damage is that central banks have inflicted on their economies, something I never see discussed. Powell and Draghi/Lagarde and Kuroda are not just the ones giving the money away, they’re also taking it away, just not from the same people. And that latter part is much more important to societies and economies.
The direction taken by the BOJ could determine whether Japan’s banking sector avoids a hard landing and whether Abe or his successor will lean on the central bank to take the most extreme step remaining: printing money for the explicit purpose of financing a national debt that is now more than twice the size of Japan’s economy. That could risk a costly downgrade by credit rating agencies for Japan, and, by extension, Japanese corporate borrowers.
The spurning of Kuroda-nomics also has political implications. It is part of a broader public dissatisfaction with what has been labeled “Abenomics” – the prime minister’s plan to reflate the economy out of prolonged stagnation through a combination of aggressive monetary easing, bold fiscal spending and fundamental structural reforms in the economy.
“Kuroda’s radical stimulus kept interest rates low, allowing politicians to delay reforms to get Japan’s fiscal house in order,” said Koichi Haji, executive research fellow at NLI Research Institute. “The foot-dragging could cost Japan dearly. The options left for the BOJ all seem extreme.”
Options left for the BOJ will be even more extreme because Japan’s Birth Rate Has Hit Its Lowest Level Since Records Began In 1899. As a Dutch comment on that report said: “by 2050 there will be one working Japanese for every child or pensioner [..] Japan adopted a law in April designed to make it easier for foreigners to work in Japan. The goal was to attract 350,000 foreign workers. 8 months later, just 400 had arrived”.
And just this week we read that Japan is preparing another $120-$230 billion stimulus package. Extreme has become normal in no time. Only, the ratings agencies could lower their rating for Japan, because of this. Then again, why should they do it only for Japan? Everyone’s in “extreme” territory, or as Ben Bernanke called it in 2008, “uncharted territory”. Same difference.
But Lagarde is right on one thing: it is “the monetary policy decided by her predecessors” that has destroyed savings -and pensions-. How on earth she can call that “beneficial” is very hard to grasp. What is the goal, what is all these central bankers’ goal? That in the end nobody has any savings or pensions anymore, and they all must go into debt or perish? That would create entire societies made up of zombies. And that’s “policy”?
It’s policy to spin a fantasy tale so people like Jay Powell can claim that “the baseline outlook remains favorable” and “sustained expansion” lies ahead for the economy, and it’s policy to pay for that fantasy with money that belongs to savers and pensioners, and that you can then hand out to a bunch of zombie “investors”. That’s policy.
The role of today’s central bankers is possible only because the public are made to think these are very smart people that have the interest of Joe Blow at heart, and because they have “unlimited resources” to make stocks and bonds and the housing market look good. But what would happen if Joe Blow knew what is going on?
The Fed is now considering “policy” that “makes up for lost inflation”. No, stop laughing, I’m serious. Their extreme policies in uncharted territory have failed so dismally, they’ve obviously not been extreme enough.
Once they’ve gone down the path of extreme stimulus (not that they call it that), there’s no way back. Because they’ve just destroyed the markets, and then they go: let’s see how the markets react to that. Well, they don’t. They’re dead. You killed them. There are parties left who love feeding off of your free money teats, but they’re not the markets or even market participants. They’re rich socialists. But they’re also the only ones the Fed cares about.
Still, a central bank that doesn’t have the population at large, at the center of its policies, is a scourge on a society and/or country. And it should be abolished. But in the case of the Fed, ECB and BOJ, it is probably already too late for that. They have done their damage. “End The Fed” is no longer enough. Societies need to develop emergency measures to counter the damage done, or face untold misery, unrest and eventually, revolution.
People don’t see this, because these central banks -temporarily- taper over the disaster they’ve wrought with their “policies”. Time for the media to step in? No, it’s too late for that too, and besides, what media? They’ve been silent all along, why would they speak up now?
More in part 3.
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The No.1 risk to the stock market continuing its outperformance next year is not President Trump or consistently weak U.S. economic data or even China, senior analysts at John Hancock Investment Management say, but whether or not the Fed continues to stimulate the economy through what they call “not QE.” What it means: Fed chair Jerome Powell has insisted the central bank’s bond buying program — initiated after rates in the systemically important repo market spiked to five times their normal level in September — is not quantitative easing. But “it walks and talks” like QE, analysts say, and has injected close to $1 trillion of liquidity into the repo market and added more than $260 billion to the Fed’s balance sheet.
The intrigue: The new “not QE” program was “like a fourth rate cut this year,” John Hancock co-chief investment strategist Matthew Miskin said during a media briefing Tuesday in New York. And it has given a boost to the stock market. The big picture: “The equity market has benefited from a super aggressive Fed,” Ethan Harris, head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told Axios during a separate event Tuesday at BAML headquarters. “I mean the Fed basically anesthetized the markets to the trade war escalation this summer.”
Because the Fed was able to mask the economy’s pain from the market, a strong sell-off may be needed to motivate the Trump administration to secure what Harris calls a “skinny” trade deal with China and avert the Dec. 15 tariffs that will hit billions of dollars worth of consumer goods. The converse is also true, Miskin argued. “If things turn more sour because we’re not getting a trade deal or the tariffs go on Dec. 15, the stress underpinning … the market will re-emerge and the Fed’s definitely going to have to be there,” he told Axios.
The Federal Reserve’s ongoing efforts to shore up the short-term “repo” lending markets have begun to rattle some market experts. The New York Federal Reserve has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to keep credit flowing through short term money markets since mid-September when a shortage of liquidity caused a spike in overnight borrowing rates. But as the Fed’s interventions have entered a third month, concerns about the market’s dependence on its daily doses of liquidity have grown. “The big picture answer is that the repo market is broken,” said James Bianco, founder of Bianco Research in Chicago, in an interview with MarketWatch. “They are essentially medicating the market into submission,” he said. “But this is not a long-term solution.”
This chart shows the more than $320 billion of total repo market support from the Fed since Sept. 17, when for the central bank began pumping in daily liquidity after overnight lending rates jumped to almost 10% from nearly 2%. Initially, the central bank rolled out roughly $75 billion in daily lending facilities to arm Wall Street’s core set of primary dealers with low-cost overnight loans to keep the roughly $1 trillion daily U.S. Treasury repo market running. The facilities allow banks to snap up loans by pledging safe-haven U.S. Treasurys or agency mortgage-backed securities with the New York Fed, but crucially without the typical risk-based pricing that lenders regularly charge when funding each other.
It was a year where the S&P put the mini bear market of December 2018 in the dust, and after a dramatic reversal which saw most central banks flip from hawkish to dovish throughout the year…
… the MSCI World index is just shy of its January 2018 highs, and the S&P has returned an impressive 24% (despite the jittery start to December), and stands at all time record highs, despite, paradoxically, a year of record equity fund outflow. On paper, this should have been a great year for investors after a dismal 2018. In reality, however, 2019 has been just as painful for not just for hedge funds, which have substantially underperformed the S&P again and in October saw a record 8 consecutive months of outflows, the most since the financial crisis…
… but especially for quants, which after a relatively solid year, suffered the September quant crash that destroyed most of their YTD gains, and have generally been unable to find their bearings in a year in which nothing seemed to work. It’s also Georg Elsaesser, a Frankfurt-based fund manager at Invesco, is trying to calm down his newbie quant clients as choppy stock moves make life difficult for anyone trading factors, which wire up all those systematic portfolios on Wall Street. “Some of them are kind of scared,” Elsaesser told Bloomberg. “They’re asking the questions: Is something going wrong? Is something broken?” Well actually, the answer is yes: the market is broken, and you can thank central banks for that.
The hearing on Wednesday was the committee’s first to examine whether Trump’s actions qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors” punishable by impeachment under the U.S. Constitution. Three law professors chosen by the Democrats made clear during the lengthy session that they believed Trump’s actions constituted impeachable offenses. “If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” said University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt. But George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who was invited by the Republicans, said he did not see clear evidence of illegal conduct. He said the inquiry was moving too quickly and lacked testimony from people with direct knowledge of the relevant events.
“One can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president,” said Turley, who added that he did not vote for Trump. [..] Republicans focused their questions on Turley, who largely backed up their view that Democrats had not made the case for impeachment – although he did say that leveraging U.S. military aid to investigate a political opponent “if proven, can be an impeachable offense.” Democrats sought to buttress their case by focusing their questions on the other three experts – Gerhardt, Harvard University law professor Noah Feldman and Stanford University law professor Pam Karlan – who said impeachment was justified.
Karlan drew a sharp response from Republicans for a remark about how Trump did not enjoy the unlimited power of a king. “While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron,” she said. White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham on Twitter called Karlan “classless,” and first lady Melania Trump said Karlan should be “ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering” for mentioning her 13-year-old son.
Jonathan Turley: "The problem is not that abuse of power can never be an impeachable offense, you just have to prove it, and you haven’t." pic.twitter.com/EXxkHfAXmN
Thanks to Pamela Karlan for so aptly capturing Democratic elites’ delusional, Reaganite, jingoistic Cold Warrior mindset in your claim that we need to arm Ukraine “so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here” & we remain “that shining city on the hill.” pic.twitter.com/C78aNThnUk
Matt Taibbi: “We laughed at this logic when George W. Bush used it to justify his Mideast wars: “We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America.”
Michael Tracey: “This woman was ostensibly called to testify about the legal and Constitutional questions around impeachment and instead ends up going on a bizarre Cold Warrior rant implying that Russia plans to invade the United States”
Turning to the professors, he asked UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Michael Gerhardt to confirm that he donated to President Barack Obama. “My family did, yes,” Gerhardt responded. Shifting his attention to Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman, Gaetz noted the educator has written several articles that portray Trump in a negative light. “Mar-a-Lago ad belongs in impeachment file,” Gaetz said, repeating the title of an April 2017 piece Feldman wrote for Bloomberg Opinion. Gaetz further pressed Feldman, asking him: “Do you believe you’re outside of the political mainstream on the question of impeachment?” Responding to Gaetz, Feldman said impeachment is warranted whenever a president abuses their power for personal gain or when they “corrupt the democratic process.”
The professor added he was an “impeachment skeptic” until the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky. After the exchange, Gaetz turned to Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan and challenged her on reported four-figure donations to Clinton, Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “Why so much more for Hillary than the other two?” he added, smiling. The Florida lawmaker went on to criticize Karlan for a remark she made while answering an earlier question by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. Karlan had told Jackson Lee that there is a difference between what Trump can do as president and the powers of a medieval king. “The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son ‘Barron’, he can’t make him a baron.”
Gaetz fumed at the remark, saying it does not lend “credibility” to her argument. “When you invoke the president’s son’s name here, when you try to make a little joke out of referencing Barron Trump… it makes you look mean, it makes you look like you are attacking someone’s family: the minor child of the president of the United States.”
"America is not just 'the last best hope,' as Mr. Jefferies said, but it's also the shining city on a hill. We can't be the shining city on a hill and promote democracy around the world if we're not promoting it here at home."
Professor Turley, who voted against Trump in 2016, confirmed under oath today from a legal perspective that there was no bribery, no extortion, no obstruction of justice and no abuse of power. What false charge can Democrats possibly pursue next? pic.twitter.com/pxSazjKFyA
By now we have all heard the news that President Donald Trump’s counsel will not be participating in the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing Wednesday. As a member of the committee, I believe President Trump has made the right decision. In their obsession and rush to impeach the president by the end of the year, Democrats have rigged the process from the start. I wouldn’t blame anyone, let alone the president, for being skeptical about this unfair process. Closed door secret meetings, selectively leaked details, refusing to allow Republican witnesses, and releasing the Schiff report and witness list right before the hearing all indicate an unfair, politically biased ordeal.
With little to no information provided by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, right now it appears anything goes. The president was provided little notice and no indication of who would be the witnesses or if there would be additional hearings. This leaves more questions than answers as we head into the next phase of an already tainted process. House Democrats do not seem to grasp that they cannot legitimize such an illegitimate process halfway through. This process has been unfair for the president and the Republicans from the start, with Democrats ignoring the historical precedents outlined in the Clinton and Nixon impeachments. When it comes to Trump, Democrats have created a whole new set of rules. For them, the end justifies the means, no matter how devoid of due process and fairness those means are.
Derogatory information about informant Christopher Steele The FBI stated to the court in a footnote that it was unaware of any derogatory information about the former MI6 agent it was using as “confidential human source 1” in the Russia case. This claim could face a withering analysis in the report. Congressional sources have reported to me that during a recent unclassified meeting they were told the British government flagged concerns about Steele and his reliance on “sub-sources” of intelligence as early as 2015. Bruce Ohr testified he told FBI and DOJ officials early on that he suspected Steele’s intelligence was mostly raw and needed vetting, that Steele was working with Hillary Clinton’s campaign in some capacity and appeared desperate to defeat Trump in the 2016 election.
And documents show State Department official Kathleen Kavalec alerted the FBI eight days before the first FISA warrant was obtained that Steele may have been peddling a now-debunked rumor that Trump and Vladimir Putin were secretly communicating through a Russian bank’s computer server. Most experts I talked with say each of these revelations might constitute derogatory information that should be disclosed to the court. On a related note, Horowitz just released a separate report that concluded the FBI is doing a poor job of vetting informants like Steele, suggesting there was a culture of withholding derogatory information from informants’ reliability and credibility validation reports.
News leaks as evidence One of Horowitz’s earlier investigative reports that recommended fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for possible prosecution put an uncomfortable spotlight on the bureau’s culture of news leaks. Since then, a handful of other cases unrelated to Russia have raised additional questions about whether the FBI uses news leaks to create or cite evidence in courts. One key to watch in the Horowitz report is the analysis of whether it was appropriate for the FBI to use a Yahoo News article as validating evidence to support Steele’s dossier. We now know from testimony and court filings that Steele, his dossier and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson played a role in that Yahoo News story.
Illinois’ growing unfunded pension liability, which increased by $3.8 billion to $137.3 billion at the end of fiscal 2019, underscores the need for state action to boost funding or cut costs, analysts said on Wednesday. The increase was fueled by actuarially insufficient state contributions and lower-than-expected investment returns, according to a new state legislative report. Illinois has the lowest credit ratings among U.S. states at a notch or two above the junk level due to its huge unfunded pension liability and chronic structural budget deficit.
Eric Kim, a Fitch Ratings analyst, said growth in the unfunded liability is expected to continue as long as contributions lag actuarial requirements and pension benefits are protected under the Illinois Constitution. “For us, what this all speaks to is the state addressing fundamental structural budget challenges,” he said. Earlier this year, Governor J.B. Pritzker created pension task forces, including one to explore asset sales to boost pension funding. Laurence Msall, president of Chicago-based government finance watchdog the Civic Federation, said the state has not effectively attacked core pension problems, including unsustainable costs. “At best Illinois is running in place, while trying to avoid sliding downhill,” he said.
While China is bracing for what may be a historic D-Day event on December 9, when the “unprecedented” default of state-owned, commodity-trading conglomerate Tewoo with $38 billion in assets may take place, it has already been a banner year for Chinese bankruptcies. According to Bloomberg data, China is set to hit another dismal milestone in 2019 when a record amount of onshore bonds are set to default, confirming that something is indeed cracking in China’s financial system and “testing the government’s ability to keep financial markets stable as the economy slows and companies struggle to cope with unprecedented levels of debt.”
After a brief lull in the third quarter, a burst of at least 15 new defaults since the start of November have sent the year’s total to 120.4 billion yuan ($17.1 billion), and set to eclipse the 121.9 billion yuan annual record in 2018. The good news is that this number still represents a tiny fraction of China’s $4.4 trillion onshore corporate bond market; the bad news is that the rapidly rising number is approaching a tipping point that could unleash a default cascade, and in the process fueling concerns of potential contagion as investors struggle to gauge which companies have Beijing’s support. As Bloomberg notes, policy makers have been walking a tightrope as they try to roll back the implicit guarantees that have long distorted Chinese debt markets, without dragging down an economy already weakened by the trade war and tepid global growth.
Emmanuel Macron is braced for the biggest strikes of his presidency as French rail workers, air-traffic controllers, teachers and public sector staff take to the streets on Thursday against proposed changes to the pension system. French rail transport is expected to almost completely grind to a halt with 82% of drivers on strike and at least 90% of regional trains cancelled, amid fears that the transport disruption could continue for days. In Paris, 11 out of 16 metro lines will shut completely, with commuters scrambling to hire bikes and scooters. Many schools will close and even some police unions have even warned of “symbolic” closures of certain police stations. Shops along the route of a march in Paris have been advised to close in case of violence on the edges of the demonstration. About half of the scheduled Eurostar trains between Paris and London have been cancelled.
The standoff is a crucial test for the centrist French president, whose planned overhaul of the pensions system was a key election promise. The government argues that unifying the pensions system – and getting rid of the 42 “special” regimes for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera staff – is crucial to keep the system financially viable as the French population ages. But unions say introducing a “universal” system for all will mean millions of workers in both the public and private sectors must work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 or face a severe drop in the value of their pensions. The row cuts to the heart of Macron’s presidential project and his promise to deliver the biggest transformation of the French social model and welfare system since the postwar era.
Car-sharing giant Uber is a step closer to being liable for an estimated £1.5 billion in unpaid UK tax. Campaigners have won an important legal step that could pave the way for the taxman to come knocking on the beleaguered firm’s door. The move is on top of another legal challenge to stop Uber operating in London. Uber has long-argued that it is a platform that brings drivers and riders together, rather than a transport business. This means that it falls to individual drivers to pay VAT on any rides instead of the company itself. But as the threshold for VAT is only for individuals earning more than £85,000 a year, none of the drivers need to charge it. Campaigners from the Good Law Project calculates this has cost the public £1.5 billion in lost revenue so far.
The law team initially attempted to take Uber to court to force them to disclose their tax affairs but the case looked like being too expensive. Instead, they challenged HM Revenues and Customs and demanded the taxman assess Uber for VAT liabilities. HMRC objected, saying its dealings with Uber were commercially sensitive and it should not have to disclose whether or not it is investigating. Today the Court of Appeal rejected HMRC’s arguments and Mrs Justice Lieven said HMRC now had to disclose whether or not they had made an assessment over Uber’s payment of VAT. The case for the Good Law Project is being led by anti-Brexit campaigner Jolyon Maugham QC who said: ‘The more time passes without an assessment being raised the more VAT is lost – forever.’
The UK Central Authority has had a change of heart. On December 20, Assange is set to be transferred from his current maximum-security abode, Belmarsh, to Westminster Magistrates Court to answer questions that will be posed by De la Mata. To date, the evidence on Morales and the conduct of his organisation is bulking and burgeoning. It is said that the company refurbished the security equipment of the London Ecuadorean embassy in 2017, during which Morales installed surveillance cameras equipped with microphone facilities. While Ecuadorean embassy officials sought to reassure Assange that no recordings of his private conversations with journalists or legal officials were taking place, the opposite proved true.
An unconvinced Assange sought to counter such measures with his own methods. He spoke to guests in the women’s bathroom. He deployed a “squelch box” designed to emit sounds of disruption. These were treated as the measures of a crank rather than those of justifiable concern. The stance taken by Ecuador has not shifted, despite claims by Morales that any recordings of Assange were done at the behest of the Ecuadorean secret service. Instead, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno has used the unconvincing argument that Assange, not Ecuador, posed the espionage threat. “It is unfortunate that, from our territory and with the permission of authorities of the previous government, facilities have been provided within the Ecuadorean embassy in London to interfere in the processes of other states.” The embassy, he argued, had been converted into a makeshift “centre for spying.”
German broadcasters NDR and WDR have also viewed documents discussing a boastful Morales keen to praise his employees for playing “in the first league…We are now working for the dark side.” The dark side, it transpires, were those “American friends,” members of the “US Secret Service” that Morales was more than happy to feed samples to. NDR has added its name to those filing charges against UC Global for allegations that its own journalists were spied upon in visiting the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The allegations have the potential to furnish a case Assange’s lawyers are hoping to make: that attaining a fair trial in the United States should he be extradited to face 18 charges mostly relating to espionage would be nigh impossible. The link between UC Global, the US intelligence services, and the breach of attorney-client privilege, is the sort of heady mix bound to sabotage any quaint notions of due process. The publisher is well and truly damned.
Simon Kuestenmacher: Map shows that #lightning follows shipping lanes: As it turns out particles in ship exhaust increase the likelihood and intensity of thunderstorms. Really cool fact that I had never considered! Source: https://buff.ly/2B0tcOV
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To be completely honest, I wrote -most of- the second part of this a while ago, and then I was thinking this first part should be part of the second, if you can still follow me. But it doesn’t really, it’s fine. I wanted to write something to address how little people know and acknowledge about how disastrous central bank policies have been for our societies and economies.
Because they don’t, and they have no clue, largely and simply because of the way central banks are presented both by themselves and by the financial press that covers them. Make that “covers”. Still, going forward, we will have no way to ignore the damage done. All the QE and ZIRP and NIRP will turn out to be so destructive for us all they will rival climate change or actual warfare. That’s what I wanted to talk about.
You see, free markets are a great idea in theory. Or you can call it “capitalism”, or combine the two and say “free market capitalism”. There’s very little wrong with it in theory. You have an enormous multitude of participants in an utterly complex web of transitions, too complex for the human mind to comprehend, and in the end that web figures out what values all sorts of things, and actions etc., have.
I don’t think capitalism in itself is a bad thing; what people don’t like is when it veers into neo-liberalism, when everything is for sale, when communities or their governments no longer own anything, when roads and hospitals and public services and everything that holds people together in a given setting is being sold off to the highest bidder. There are many things that have values other than monetary ones, and neo-liberalism denies that. Capitalism in itself, not so much.
It’s like nature, really, like evolution, but it’s Darwin AND empathy, individuals AND groups. The problem is, and this is where it diverges from nature, you have to make sure the markets remain free, that certain participants -or groups thereof- don’t bend the rules in their own favor. In that sense it’s very similar to what the human race has been doing to nature for a long time, and increasingly so.
Now, if you limit the discussion to finance and economics, there would appear to be one institution that’s in an ideal place to make sure that this “rule-bending” doesn’t take place, that markets are fair and free, or as free as can be. That institution is a central bank. But whaddaya know, central banks do the exact opposite: they are the ones making sure markets are not free.
In the ideal picture, free markets are -or would be- self-correcting, and have an inbuilt self-regulating mechanism. If and when prices go up too much, the system will make sure they go lower, and vice versa. It’s what we know from physics and biology as a negative -self correcting- feedback loop. The self-correcting mechanism only activates if the system has veered too much in one direction, but we fail to see that as good thing when applied to both directions, too high and too low (yes, Goldilocks, exactly).
It’s only when people start tweaking and interfering with the system, that it fails. Negative feedback vs positive feedback are misunderstood terms simply because of their connotation. After all, who wants anything negative? But this is important in the free markets topic, because as soon as a central bank starts interfering in, name an example, housing prices in a country, the system automatically switches from negative feedback to positive -runaway- feedback, there is no middle ground and there is no way out anymore, other than a major crash or even collapse.
Well, we’re well on our way to one of those. Because the Fed refused to let the free market system work. They, and the banks they represent, wanted the way up but then refused the way down. And now we’re stuck in a mindless positive feedback loop (new highs in stocks on a daily basis), and there’s nothing Jay Powell and his minions can do anymore to correct it.
The system has its own correction mechanism, but Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen and now Powell thought they could do better. Or maybe they didn’t and they just wanted their banker friends to haul in all the loot, it doesn’t even matter anymore. They’ve guaranteed that there are no free markets, because they murdered self-correction.
Same goes, again, for ECB and BOJ; they’re just Fed followers (only often even crazier). In fact since they have no petrodollar, they don’t just follow, they have to do the Fed one better. Which is why they have negative interest rates -and the US does not -yet-: it’s the only way to compete with the reserve currency. Of course today even the Fed, and “even even” the PBOC, are discussing moving to negative rates, and by now we’re truly talking lemmings on top of a cliff.
“Let’s throw $10 trillion at the wall just so home prices or stock prices don’t go down!” Yeah, but if they’ve been rising a lot, maybe that’s the only direction they can and should go. It may not be nice for banks and so-called “investors”, but it’s the only way to keep the system healthy. If you don’t allow for the negative feedback self-correction, you can only create much bigger problems than you already have. And then you will get negative feedback squared and cubed.
Unless, of course, you have stellar economic growth, and you find unparalleled amounts of oil, and you have a growing population with way more kids born than people dying. But in case you don’t, you’re merely making an initially relatively minor problem much much worse with QE and ZIRP.
What central banks have been doing is they’ve utterly destroyed savings and pensions, i.e. the only thing “ordinary” people had to stave off their own personal collapse and that of their communities. ZIRP and NIRP move all those savings and pensions towards the bankers. And yes, pension funds may have moved into equities from bonds, and they may look good momentarily, but the current parade of new highs in stock markets only exists because of central banks’ QE and ZIRP.
There are tons of zombie enterprises in the world, many of whom have been kept alive by central bank policies, but wait till it becomes evident that the pension funds and systems themselves have turned into zombies. That’ll wake you up. Because who’s going take care of grandma, or her daughter, in a few years’ time? One thing’s for sure, it won’t be Jay Powell.
This has gotten so long already I’ll leave the part 2 I mentioned above to be its own, separate, part 2. Soon.
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