Paul Klee Dancing Under the Empire of Fear 1938
Jim Bianco: 13 days past the impeachment vote (Feb 13) and cable news STILL spends more time talking about Trump than Biden.
A highway for Schumer, a bridge for Pelosi… and $1,400, not $2,000 checks.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the second-largest stimulus package in U.S. history in the early hours of Saturday that includes a gradual $15 minimum wage hike, despite the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling. Two Democrats, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine and Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, joined Republicans in voting against the bill. The final vote shortly after 2 a.m. was 219 to 212 and the bill now moves to the Democratic-led Senate. Democrats are using budget reconciliation to pass the American Rescue Plan, which the Senate parliamentarian ruled cannot include a minimum wage increase. Reconciliation allows Democrats to pass the bill without relying on any votes from Senate Republicans. The largest stimulus bill in history was the CARES Act that was passed in March of last year during the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to $400 weekly federal unemployment benefits and $1,400 direct payments, the legislation includes more than $100 million for transportation projects in New York and California. “This is not a bailout. It is a rescue package,” House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Jim McGovern said on Friday. House Rules Committee Ranking Member Rep. Tom Cole argued that the coronavirus bill is excessive, given that it would add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over a 5-year period. “Last year Congress passed and the president signed into law five bipartisan COVID-19 relief packages that appropriated around $4 trillion. Not all of that money has been spent yet. But if the majority has their way, within one year we will have appropriated just shy of $6 trillion for COVID-19 relief packages,” Cole said. “This is one and one-third times the amount of money the federal government appropriated for all of 2019.”
The national debt is approaching $28 trillion, according to the latest Treasury Department data. Cole said there’s about $1 trillion in unspent stimulus funds. “To make matters worse, of the previous COVID-19 relief packages, there remains nearly $1 trillion in unspent funds. Before we leap ahead into another gigantic spending package that drives the American people further into debt, shouldn’t we at least spend down the funds already allocated and see if new money is actually required?” he said. Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess wrote on Twitter before the vote that “the premise of this legislation was to provide relief against COVID-19. Instead it puts forward a partisan agenda.”
Yes, but .. les jeux sont faits.
Grieving families last night said deaths had been wrongly certified as Covid-19. Demanding an inquiry, top medical experts and MPs also insisted they were ‘certain’ that too many fatalities were being blamed on the virus. One funeral director said it was ‘a national scandal’. The claims are part of a Daily Mail investigation that raises serious questions over the spiralling death toll. More than 100 readers wrote heartbreaking letters following a moving article by Bel Mooney last Saturday. She revealed the death of her 99-year-old father, who suffered from dementia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was recorded as coronavirus. Dozens expressed similar frustrations that the causes of death of elderly and already-unwell relatives had been wrongly attributed.
Eight of the families who wrote to the Daily Mail have successfully urged doctors to change causes of death previously recorded as Covid-19. Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: ‘The Government should call a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic immediately with an interim investigation into all Covid deaths that should report as soon as possible.’ Tory MP Paul Bristow, a member of the Commons health committee, said: ‘It’s almost certain that a number of deaths have been wrongly attributed to Covid-19. ‘Not only has this skewed figures when data has been so important in deciding how we respond to the pandemic, it has caused distress and anxiety for relatives.
A funeral director in the North West told the Mail: ‘The way Covid has been recorded and reported is a national scandal and a thorough enquiry should be opened immediately.’ Medical experts have cited pressure on doctors to include Covid-19 as a cause of death because it was last year ruled a ‘notifiable disease’, meaning any case needs to be reported officially.
This is really starting to scare me. 100s of millions will soon have been injected with hardly tested substances designed to play footsie with their genes.
Nearly one in five American adults have now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and the U.S. reached 50 million vaccine doses ahead of schedule, the White House said Friday, as the pace of vaccinations starts to pick up after a slow start ahead of a substantial increase in the country’s vaccine supply.According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 18.5% of all U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot, and 8.9% of adults have received both doses. The U.S. has doubled its pace of vaccinations since President Joe Biden took office, White House Covid-19 response team advisor Andy Slavitt said at a briefing Friday, and delivered more than 50 million shots in 37 days, which was ahead of the Biden administration’s target.
Nearly half of Americans over age 65 have now gotten at least one shot and nearly 60% of those over 75, the White House advisor said, up from only 8% of Americans over 65 and 14% of over-75s who had been vaccinated six weeks ago. According to the CDC, the states that have the highest vaccination rates are Alaska and New Mexico—where 29.1% and 27% of adults have received at least one dose, respectively—and the lowest vaccination rates are in Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama, which have all vaccinated approximately 15% to 16% of their adult population. The White House sent out 17.5 million vaccine doses to states this week, up from 13.5 million last week and 8.6 million during Biden’s first week in office—a nearly 70% increase.
As vaccinations ramp up, the share of Americans who are willing to get inoculated soon is increasing: A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted Feb. 15-23 found the percentage of U.S. adults who said they were either already vaccinated or would get one as soon as they could increased to 55%, up from 47% in January, and the share who said they would “wait and see” decreased from 31% to 22%. 70.4 million. That’s how many Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered as of Friday afternoon, according to the CDC. Those doses have covered 47.1 million people who have received at least one dose, with 22.6 million having completed both shots. The KFF poll found that 15% of adults will “definitely not” get the vaccine, as compared with 13% who said the same in January.
So many questions … under the carpet.
The battle against Covid-19 took a major step forward on Friday as the US moved closer to distributing its first one-shot Covid-19 vaccine, after an independent expert advisory panel recommended drug regulators authorize the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use. The authorization would be a significant boost to the Biden administration’s vaccination plans, making Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine the third available to the public. Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine subsidiary, told a congressional hearing this week that it expects to deliver 20m doses by March and a total of 100m doses before the end of June.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, along with those from Pfizer and Moderna, should provide the US with more than enough supply to vaccinate every vaccine-eligible person. “We’re still in the midst of this deadly pandemic,” said Dr Archana Chatterjee, a voting member of the panel and an infectious disease pediatrician at Chicago Medical School, as she explained her vote in favor of recommending the vaccine. “There is a shortage of vaccines that are currently authorized, and I think authorization of this vaccine will help meet the needs at the moment.” While regulators at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not always take the advice of their advisory panels, the agency is expected to authorize the vaccine for emergency use.
[..] The convenience of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes with caveats. The company’s clinical trials were the first to show the potential impacts of Covid-19 variants, or evolutionary changes in the virus. The vaccine was found to 85% effective at preventing severe disease and to provide complete protection against Covid-19-related hospitalization and death after 28 days. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was found to be 72% effective in clinical trials in the US, but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a variant called B1351 originated.
[..] Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine uses different technology from the two vaccines currently available in the US. The new vaccine uses “viral vector” technology, which introduces the body to the genetic code for the spike protein covering the outside of the coronavirus. This code is transmitted by a second, weakened virus called an adenovirus. Immunity is provoked when the body’s immune system then recognizes the coronavirus by this key structure. Vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna also prompt the body to recognize spike proteins on the outside of the coronavirus, but deliver the genetic code through lipid nanoparticles, or tiny molecules of fatty acids.
Well, she’s out for now.
When sifting through the wreckage to try to make sense of this epoch, future anthropologists should dust off whatever records will be preserved about Neera Tanden’s star-crossed nomination to an obscure-but-powerful White House office. The whole episode is a museum-ready diorama in miniature illustrating so many things that died in the transition from democracy to oligarchy. And in this affair, all the politicians, pundits, news outlets, and Democratic party apparatchiks involved are very blatantly telling on themselves. Tanden is being nominated to run the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the federal budget. As a political operative and head of a corporate-funded think tank, she does not have especially relevant experience for the appointment — in fact, whether in gubernatorial administrations, mayoral offices, or Capitol Hill budget committees, there are far more qualified experts for this gig.
Moreover, her particular record would raise significant red flags as a job applicant for even a mid-level management position in any organization, much less the White House: during her tenure running the Center for American Progress, she reportedly outed a sexual harassment victim and physically assaulted an employee. While she was running the organization, CAP raked in corporate and foreign government cash and a report was revised in a way that helped a billionaire donor avoid scrutiny of his bigoted policing policy. Critics allege that Tanden busted a union of journalists. And she floated Social Security cuts when Democrats in Congress were trying to stop them.
Even if you discount Tanden’s infamous statement about Libya and oil, as well as her vicious crusade against Senator Bernie Sanders and the progressive base of the Democratic party, all of these other items would seem to disqualify Tanden for a job atop a Democratic administration that claims to respect expertise and want to protect women, workers’ rights, social programs, and government ethics. From the beginning, every single Democratic senator could have simply cited Biden’s promise to be the “most pro-union president” and stated that they would not vote to confirm anyone accused of undermining a union. Or they could have said that they are not going to allow someone who runs a corporate-funded think tank — and whose nomination is being boosted by one of the most diabolical corporate lobbying groups in Washington — to be in charge of the White House office that can grant government ethics waivers. At the absolute barest minimum, these issues should have been major topics of discussion in her confirmation hearings and in the news media.
No, I’m talking to the father now…
Despite promising to punish senior Saudi leaders while on the campaign trail, President Joe Biden declined to apply sanctions to the one the US intelligence community determined is responsible for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The choice not to punish Prince Mohammed directly puts into sharp relief the type of decision-making that becomes more complicated for a president versus a candidate, and demonstrates the difficulty in breaking with a troublesome ally in a volatile region. On Friday, Biden’s administration released an unclassified intelligence report on Khashoggi’s death, an action his predecessor refused to take as he downplayed US intelligence.
The report from the director of national intelligence says the crown prince, known as MBS, directly approved the killing of Khashoggi. But while Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions that affected 76 Saudis involved in harassing activists and journalists, he didn’t announce measures that touch the prince. And while a sanctions list from the Treasury Department named a former deputy intelligence chief and the Saudi Royal Guard’s rapid intervention force, the crown prince wasn’t mentioned. Two administration officials said sanctioning MBS was never really an option, operating under the belief it would have been “too complicated” and could have jeopardized US military interests in Saudi Arabia.
As a result, the administration did not even request the State Department to work up options for how to target MBS with sanctions, one State Department official said. When asked in an interview with Univision about how much he’s willing to push the crown prince to observe human rights, Biden said he was now dealing with the Saudi King and not bin Salman. He said “the rules are changing” and that significant changes could come on Monday. “We are going to hold them accountable for human rights abuses and we’re going to make sure that they, in fact, you know, if they want to deal with us, they have to deal with it in a way that the human rights abuses are dealt with,” Biden said, without being more specific about any plans to punish the crown prince.
It was a far cry from a comment in November 2019, in which Biden promised to punish senior Saudi leaders in a way former President Donald Trump wouldn’t. “Yes,” he said when directly asked if he would. “And I said it at the time. Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the crown prince. And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them the pariah that they are.” “There’s very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “They have to be held accountable.”
— Maria ⏳ (@ml_1maria) February 27, 2021
“What did they think they were doing when they engineered the election of this empty suit, this blank cartridge, this political mannequin, this man-who-isn’t-there?”
The State of the Union speech is a somewhat squishy national ritual. Since Franklin Roosevelt, presidents have delivered it early each year in-person to a joint session of congress, with every other dignitary in government on hand — except for one cabinet officer designated the “lone survivior,” who sits it out elsewhere in case, say, the Capitol gets blown up. Before Woodrow Wilson, presidents customarily sent over a written message. Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the constitution only stipulates that a president “from time to time” shall report to Congress on how the nation is doing. Lately, it’s mostly just a made-for-TV special, like the Oscars, allowing a lot of familiar faces to preen before the cameras for the home-folks.
Ronald Reagan introduced the gimmick of showboating heroes or victims of this-and-that seated up in the galleries, which has naturally devolved into a maudlin, cringeworthy feature of the show. But often presidents use the occasion to drop a ripe phrase on the big audience that captures the spirit of the moment: “The era of big government is over” (Bill Clinton); “the axis of evil” (G. W. Bush); FDR’s “four freedoms.” In 2020, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced an instant op-ed closer feature to the proceedings, ripping up Mr. Trump’s speech behind his back in a striking display of pique, much applauded by the avatars of rising Wokesterdom, who had only days earlier seen their half-assed impeachment attempt flop. Kinda looks like our current president, Joe Biden, will skip the grand show this year.
Too busy playing “Mario Kart” with the grandkids, or something like that. The Washington press corps has given him a pass on it, apparently. There’s no chatter, no buzz on the cable channels or in The New York Times, though a few newsies have begun to whine about Mr. Biden’s general unwillingness to hold a routine press conference with freely-pitched questions — not hand-picked, vetted ones, as the president’s handlers have insisted. How long will it be before the public realizes that Mr. Biden is being strictly concealed from view by his managers? And how long can they keep it up? A few more weeks, maybe, I’d guess. What did they think they were doing when they engineered the election of this empty suit, this blank cartridge, this political mannequin, this man-who-isn’t-there?
Of all the hundred-million-odd adults over 35-years-of-age in this country, they picked this empty vessel to lead in a year of obvious crisis? Apparently so — an act so collectively insane it makes you shudder to think about it. Like, the Democratic Party really thought this was a good idea? And who’s calling the shots behind this false front? Some committee chaired by Susan Rice? With directives coming into the Oval Office by messenger from Barack Obama’s Kalorama fortress, with, say, Eric Holder, Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod, John Brennan, and a few others charting the daily play-by-play?
Back when prosperity was authentic, the Federal Reserve had little need for public relations. But now that “prosperity” is an illusion that must be managed lest the phantasm vanish, the Fed’s public relations pronouncements are a ceaseless flood as the The Babble-On 7 are the spokespeople for a propaganda machine bent on “managing expectations.” Managing Expectations is the code phrase for “front-run what we say and your profits are guaranteed.” When the Fed says it’s going after X, then simply buy whatever will benefit from X happening, and for 12 long years, X unfolds and those who front-ran the FedSpeak reaped billions in essentially zero-risk profits.
Managing Expectations is part of the Fed’s shadow nationalization of key markets. If price discovery of credit and risk is allowed to live, the Fed’s carefully inflated speculative bubbles pop. And so the Fed’s Job One is killing all price discovery via shadow nationalization. The first market shadow nationalized was the mortgage market, the foundation of the housing market. After Wall Street’s epic swindle (subprime mortgages) imploded in 2008, the Fed printed trillions of dollars out of thin air and bought hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgages. The federal government nationalized the quasi-governmental mortgage issuers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the net result was virtually the entire mortgage market was government guaranteed or owned.
Since Wall Street’s fraud had nearly vaporized the entire global financial system, the Fed also shadow nationalized the stock market, which had imploded once the house of cards collapsed. Thus the S&P 500 has advanced from 667 to 3,850 with just enough brief wobbles to maintain the semblance of an organic market. This shadow nationalization has been the most well-promoted PR campaign in the history of central banking. The flood of FedSpeak and trillions of dollars in direct purchases of assets over the past 12 years has relentlessly trained the Wall Street and retail rats to buy the dip because the Fed has your back, meaning the Fed will never let its nationalized stock market decline for more than a few weeks.
The profits from front-running FedSpeak are in the trillions of dollars. No wonder the Wall Street rats scurry over and frantically press the buy button–the rewards and have been both reliable and immense. Now the Fed is in the process of shadow nationalizing the entire bond market. It signaled its intent long ago with quantitative easing, i.e. strangling price discovery in the Treasury market, and recently it began buying corporate bonds (proxies come in handy here).
The International Monetary Fund on Friday said it would propose ways to improve the transparency and accountability of how its Special Drawing Rights are used, a key U.S. demand for its support of a new issuance of the IMF’s own currency. Geoffrey Okamoto, first deputy managing director of the IMF, said a new allocation of SDRs would boost the reserve positions of all IMF members, calling it “a far superior option to the alternatives” currently available to poorer countries. “The IMF will respond to the #G20’s call for a proposal on a general allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs),” he said in a tweet.
“So that countries see maximum benefit from new SDRs, we will propose ways to improve transparency and accountability in how SDRs are allocated and traded,” he added. He gave no details. Finance officials from the Group of 20 major economies on Friday expressed broad support for boosting the IMF’s emergency reserves after U.S. officials dropped the previous administration’s opposition. Italy, which heads the G20 this year, is pushing for a $500 billion issuance of SDRs, a move backed by many other G20 members as a way to provide liquidity to poor countries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic without increasing their debt levels. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday expressed her qualified support, but called for greater transparency about the trading and use of SDRs.
“If Bitcoin were to be adopted as a global reserve currency,” he speculates, “the Bitcoin price will probably be in the millions, and those miners will have more money than the entire [US] Federal budget to spend on electricity.”
We’ve all heard the stories of Bitcoin millionaires. Elon Musk is the latest. His electric car company Tesla made a paper profit of more than $900m (£646m) after buying $1.5bn (£1bn) -worth of the cryptocurrency in early February. Its high profile support helped pushed the price of a single Bitcoin to more than $58,000. But it isn’t just the digital asset’s price that has hit an all-time high. So has its energy footprint. And that’s caused blowback for Mr Musk, as the scale of the currency’s environmental impact becomes clearer. It also helped prompt a series of high profile critics to slate the digital currency this week, including US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
President Biden’s top economic adviser described Bitcoin as “an extremely inefficient way to conduct transactions,” saying “the amount of energy consumed in processing those transactions is staggering”. It’s unclear exactly how much energy Bitcoin uses. Cryptocurrencies are – by design – hard to track. But the consensus is that Bitcoin mining is a very energy-intensive business. The University of Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) studies the burgeoning business of cryptocurrencies. It calculates that Bitcoin’s total energy consumption is somewhere between 40 and 445 annualised terawatt hours (TWh), with a central estimate of about 130 terawatt hours. The UK’s electricity consumption is a little over 300 TWh a year, while Argentina uses around the same amount of power as the CCAF’s best guess for Bitcoin. And the electricity the Bitcoin miners use overwhelmingly comes from polluting sources.
The CCAF team surveys the people who manage the Bitcoin network around the world on their energy use and found that about two-thirds of it is from fossil fuels. Huge computing power – and therefore energy use – is built into the way the blockchain technology that underpins the cryptocurrency has been designed. It relies on a vast decentralised network of computers. These are the so-called Bitcoin “miners” who enable new Bitcoins to be created, but also independently verify and record every transaction made in the currency. In fact, the Bitcoins are the reward miners get for maintaining this record accurately. It works like a lottery that runs every 10 minutes, explains Gina Pieters, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and a research fellow with the CCAF team.
[..] We can track how much effort miners are making to create the currency. They are currently reckoned to be making 160 quintillion calculations every second – that’s 160,000,000,000,000,000,000, in case you were wondering. And this vast computational effort is the cryptocurrency’s Achilles heel, says Alex de Vries, the founder of the Digiconomy website and an expert on Bitcoin. All the millions of trillions of calculations it takes to keep the system running aren’t really doing any useful work. “They’re computations that serve no other purpose,” says de Vries, “they’re just immediately discarded again. Right now we’re using a whole lot of energy to produce those calculations, but also the majority of that is sourced from fossil energy.” The vast effort it requires also makes Bitcoin inherently difficult to scale, he argues.”If Bitcoin were to be adopted as a global reserve currency,” he speculates, “the Bitcoin price will probably be in the millions, and those miners will have more money than the entire [US] Federal budget to spend on electricity.”
“The measures being discussed in Congress have the potential to defeat us all. It is surprisingly easy to convince a free people to give up their freedoms, and exceedingly difficult to regain those freedoms once they are lost.”
Democrats are pushing for cable carriers to explain their “moral” criteria for allowing tens of millions of viewers access to Fox News and other targeted networks. The answer should begin with the obvious principles of free speech and a free press, which are not even referenced in the Eshoo-McNerney letter. Instead, the companies are asked if they will impose a morality judgment on news coverage and, ultimately, public access. This country went through a long and troubling period of morality codes used to bar speakers or censor material that barred atheists, feminists, and others from espousing their viewpoints in newspapers, books, and movies. Indeed, there was a time when the Democratic Party fought such morality rules, in defense of free speech.
Those seeking free-speech limits often speak of speech like it is a swimming pool that must be monitored and carefully controlled for purity and safety. I view speech more as a rolling ocean, dangerous but also majestic and inspiring, its immense size allowing for a natural balance. Free speech allows false ideas to be challenged in the open, rather than forcing dissenting viewpoints beneath the surface. I do not believe today’s activists will succeed in removing the most-watched cable news channel in 2020 from the airways. But, then again, I did not think social media sites — given legal immunity in exchange for being content-neutral — would ever censor viewpoints.
Roughly 70 years ago, Justice William O. Douglas accepted a prestigious award with a speech entitled “The One Un-American Act,” about the greatest threat to a free nation. He warned that the restriction of free speech “is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.” The measures being discussed in Congress have the potential to defeat us all. It is surprisingly easy to convince a free people to give up their freedoms, and exceedingly difficult to regain those freedoms once they are lost.
Don’t hold your breath.
John Durham, a decorated career prosecutor, announced Friday he is stepping down at the end of the month as a U.S. attorney in Connecticut but will continue as special prosecutor investigating the origins of the Russia collusion probe that dogged the early Trump presidency. Durham’s announcement, which was widely expected as part of the transition inside the Biden Justice Department, allows him to focus on wrapping up the Russia investigation from Washington DC where the probe has been ongoing since 2019. “My career has been as fulfilling as I could ever have imagined when I graduated from law school way back in 1975,” Durham said. “Much of that fulfillment has come from all the people with whom I’ve been blessed to share this workplace, and in our partner law enforcement agencies.
“My love and respect for this Office and the vitally important work done here have never diminished.” Durham will be succeeded in Connecticut in the interim by his deputy Leonard Boyle. Durham’s special counsel probe is focused on whether the FBI inappropriately opened an investigation into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 or committed any criminal acts by continuing the investigation and seeking FISA warrants that contained inaccurate or omitted information. He has secured one criminal conviction of the former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith for doctoring evidence submitted to the FISA court. And in December, the Justice Department signaled Durham’s investigation had found further criminal activity, upgrading him to the position of special counsel.
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