May 282020
 


Edward Hopper Railroad crossing 1926

 

Questions Raised Over HCQ Study Which Caused WHO To Halt Trials (G.)
India Invites Scepticism As It Sticks By Hydroxychloroquine (SCMP)
South Korea Could Face Return To Restrictions After Spike In New Cases (G.)
Hong Kong Is No Longer Autonomous From China, US Determines (SCMP)
China Approves Hong Kong Draft Security Law (NBC)
Hong Kong’s ‘Significance Is Eroding’, As Trump Considers Next Move (SCMP)
US And China Fight At United Nations Over Hong Kong (R.)
What To Expect Now US Deems Hong Kong No Longer ‘Autonomous’ (SCMP)
Taiwan Will Help Relocate Fleeing Hongkongers – President Tsai (SCMP)
Suddenly Everything is Too Big to Fail – John Rubino (USAW)
Flightless Kiwi Economy To Land With A Thud (Austr.)
The General Election Scenario That Democrats Are Dreading (Pol.)
AG Barr Launches New ‘Unmasking’ Investigation Around 2016 Election (CNN)
Former Flynn Lawyers “Find” 6,800 Documents They Failed To Produce (Solomon)
Rosenstein First Witness In Senate Judiciary’s ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ Probe (JTN)
New Book Claims Bill Clinton Had Affair With Ghislaine Maxwell (NYP)
Minneapolis Ablaze Amid Looting (ZH)

 

 

The coronavirus death toll in Europe crossed 175,000

New cases past 24 hours in:

• US + 20,103
• Brazil + 20,154
• Russia + 8,371
• UK 4,938
• India + 7,540
• Peru + 6,154

New deaths past 24 hours in:

• US + 1,529
• Brazil + 1,104
• Mexico 462
• UK 343

 

 

 

Cases 5,813,239 (+ 103,721 from yesterday’s 5,709,518)

Deaths 357,893 (+ 5,143 from yesterday’s 352,750)

 

 

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

One single report in the Lancet, based on data from a company nobody seems to know, has had the desired effect. France, the WHO, and now Italy and Belgium have all turned their backs on HCQ.

Questions Raised Over HCQ Study Which Caused WHO To Halt Trials (G.)

Questions have been raised by Australian infectious disease researchers about a study published in the Lancet which prompted the World Health Organization to halt global trials of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. The study published on Friday found Covid-19 patients who received the malaria drug were dying at higher rates and experiencing more heart-related complications than other virus patients. The large observational study analysed data from nearly 15,000 patients with Covid-19 who received the drug alone or in combination with antibiotics, comparing this data with 81,000 controls who did not receive the drug.

[..] The study, led by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Center for Advanced Heart Disease in Boston, examined patients in hospitals around the world, including in Australia. It said researchers gained access to data from five hospitals recording 600 Australian Covid-19 patients and 73 Australian deaths as of 21 April. But data from Johns Hopkins University shows only 67 deaths from Covid-19 had been recorded in Australia by 21 April. The number did not rise to 73 until 23 April. The data relied upon by researchers to draw their conclusions in the Lancet is not readily available in Australian clinical databases, leading many to ask where it came from.

[..] The Lancet told Guardian Australia: “We have asked the authors for clarifications, we know that they are investigating urgently, and we await their reply.” The lead author of the study, Dr Mehra Mandeep, said he had contacted Surgisphere, the company that provided the data, to reconcile the discrepancies with “the utmost urgency”. Surgisphere is described as a healthcare data analytics and medical education company. [..] Dr Allen Cheng, an epidemiologist and infectious disease doctor with Alfred Health in Melbourne, said the Australian hospitals involved in the study should be named. He said he had never heard of Surgisphere, and no one from his hospital, The Alfred, had provided Surgisphere with data.

“Usually to submit to a database like Surgisphere you need ethics approval, and someone from the hospital will be involved in that process to get it to a database,” he said. He said the dataset should be made public, or at least open to an independent statistical reviewer. “If they got this wrong, what else could be wrong?” Cheng said. It was also a “red flag” to him that the paper listed only four authors. “Usually with studies that report on findings from thousands of patients, you would see a large list of authors on the paper,” he said. “Multiple sources are needed to collect and analyse the data for large studies and you usually see that acknowledged in the list of authors.”

Read more …

This is about health care workers on the front lines, who have nothing else to protect themselves.

India Invites Scepticism As It Sticks By Hydroxychloroquine (SCMP)

The Indian government is courting controversy by continuing to give the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to health care workers on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus, despite safety concerns that have prompted the World Health Organisation to pause a large-scale trial of the drug. Scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the body leading the coronavirus battle in India, say their studies have shown definitively that the drug – also known as HCQ – helps to prevent infections among health care workers exposed to Covid-19. The ICMR has conducted three studies, involving control groups of between 330 and 1,300 people, in which frontline health care staff have taken the drug as a preventive measure.

Dr Suman Kanungo, ICMR’s senior epidemiologist, told This Week in Asia that further research was being carried out on a control group of 1,500 health care workers and that the results of the studies would be released within a month. He stressed the ICMR recommended the drug as a preventive measure, indirectly implying that it was not recommended as a cure for Covid-19. His comments came after the ICMR’s director general Balram Bhargava said on Tuesday that the group’s studies had shown that HCQ, when used as a preventive measure, had no side-affects. However, some experts are sceptical of the ICMR’s claims, pointing out that India is the world’s largest manufacturer of the drug and that only very limited details of the studies have been made public.

Dr Sapan Desai, CEO of the Surgisphere Corporation and a co-author of the Lancet study, said the study was based on a “specific group” of hospitalised Covid-19 patients. “[We] have clearly stated that the results of our analyses should not be over-interpreted to those that have yet to develop the disease or those that have not been hospitalised. It is in recognition of these limitations of our observational study that we recommended that RCTs [randomly controlled trials] be urgently completed,” he said.

Read more …

Every government’s nightmare.

South Korea Could Face Return To Restrictions After Spike In New Cases (G.)

South Korea has reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases in 53 days, triggering warnings it may have to revert to stricter social distancing measures after appearing to have brought the outbreak under control. The Korean Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 79 new infections on Thursday with 67 of them from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of the country’s population of 51 million. Officials said health authorities were finding it increasingly difficult to track the transmission routes for new infections and urged people to remain vigilant amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

The health minister, Park Neung-hoo, pleaded with residents in and around the capital to avoid unnecessary gatherings and urged companies to allow sick employees to take time off work. “Infection routes are being diversified in workplaces, crammed schools and karaoke rooms in the metropolitan area,” Park said. The recent spike in infections has underlined the risks that come with relaxing social distancing rules, as countries seek to breathe life into their struggling economies. More than 250 new infections were traced to clubs and bars in the Itaewon district of Seoul in early May, while the latest cluster has been linked to a distribution centre in Bucheon, near Seoul, owned by the e-commerce firm Coupang.

The recent rise in cases is affecting the phased reopening of schools, only recently held up as evidence that South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected, had contained the outbreak. More than 500 schools have delayed the resumption of classes over virus concerns, the education ministry said this week. Thursday’s figures followed reports of 40 new cases on Wednesday – the highest figure in seven weeks. South Korea has reported a total of 11,344 cases and 269 deaths from Covid-19.

Read more …

Pompeo is a pompous fool, but how could one claim he’s mistaken here?

Hong Kong is pivotal for the banking sector that underlies trade between China and the west, between the renminbi and the USD. But because nobody wants the renminbi, it’s that much more pivotal for China.

Hong Kong is interesting for the west only when it’s independent. Once it’s part of China, why stay there?

Hong Kong as it is today, is the culmination of 200 years of development, negotiations, trust building. It will take a very long time for China to establish that somewhere else. Hong Kong has a “special trading status” with the US. Those are not handed out with every box of detergent.

Hong Kong Is No Longer Autonomous From China, US Determines (SCMP)

In a huge blow to Hong Kong, the Trump administration informed the US Congress on Wednesday that the city is no longer suitably autonomous from China. The assessment is a crucial step in deciding whether Hong Kong will continue to receive preferential economic and trade treatment from the United States. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “This decision gives me no pleasure. But sound policy making requires a recognition of reality.” The State Department’s certification is a recommendation and does not necessarily lead to an immediate next step. US officials, including President Donald Trump, now must decide to what extent sanctions or other policy measures should be levelled on the city.

“While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself,” Pompeo said. Under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed by the US Congress in November, the administration must decide annually whether governance of Hong Kong is suitably distinct from China. Options available to the administration – which may in part depend on Beijing’s reaction, analysts said – include higher trade tariffs, tougher investment rules, asset freezes and more onerous visa rules. The move sent shock waves through China and Hong Kong policy circles. “Wow,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“I fully expect the US to proceed with sanctions on individuals and entities deemed to be undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy,” she continued. “Secondary sanctions are possible on banks that do business with entities found in violation of law guaranteeing Hong Kong’s autonomy.” Analysts noted a long-standing dilemma faced by successive US administrations: if Washington imposes sanctions on Hong Kong, it risks hurting residents of the city at least as much as it penalises Beijing. Following through on threats to change Hong Kong’s status will have a hugely negative impact on US companies operating there as well as on Hongkongers while having a minuscule effect on China, said Nicholas Lardy, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “And I don’t know why we want to punish the citizens of Hong Kong for something that the government in Beijing is doing,” he added.

[..] Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the city’s government has leeway to make its own decisions, other than those involving defence and national security, where Beijing prevails. But at annual political meetings last week in Beijing, China unveiled a resolution that will initiate the legislative process for a new draft legislation banning “secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference”. The move will greatly expand the mainland’s power over the city and has elevated concerns that China is rapidly eliminating the “one country, two systems” principle.

Read more …

They’re going to pass it, because otherwise they would lose face.

China Approves Hong Kong Draft Security Law (NBC)

The Chinese parliament passed the first hurdle of enacting a draft security law for Hong Kong on Thursday, legislation that has prompted widespread concern about Beijing’s increasing influence on the semi-autonomous region. The annual National People People’s Congress approved the framework of the law by 2,878 votes to one, and it will now go to senior party officials in the Standing Committee of the NPC to be fleshed out. The draft law, which is set to tackle issues such as secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference, comes after a year of anti-government protests that at times brought Hong Kong to a standstill. It has already prompted widespread concern around the world. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it meant that Hong Kong no longer qualifies for its special status under U.S. law. “The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Read more …

“Coming out and decertifying Hong Kong’s autonomy is not the hard decision, The hard work comes now, which is how you implement it.”

Hong Kong’s ‘Significance Is Eroding’, As Trump Considers Next Move (SCMP)

Economists, diplomats and business figures were scrambling on Thursday to quantify the effect of Washington’s decision to deem Hong Kong “no longer autonomous” from China, with many gaming out the “nuclear option”, in which the United States revokes the city’s special trading status. Former White House officials said that the most likely immediate scenario is that US President Donald Trump approves a “variety” of sanctions, potentially on both Chinese and Hong Kong officials, by the end of the week in response to China’s national security law for Hong Kong. However, “the nuclear option is certainly on the table”, said a former senior Trump administration official, which would see Hong Kong’s status as a region apart from the rest of China removed at a later date, leaving the city vulnerable to trade war tariffs, technological export controls, visa and travel restrictions and greater financial sector scrutiny.

“Coming out and decertifying Hong Kong’s autonomy is not the hard decision,” said Evan Medeiros, who served as former president Barack Obama’s top adviser on the Asia-Pacific and who confirmed that he would have done the same. “The hard work comes now, which is how you implement it.” Should Trump go gung-ho on China, there would be no direct change to Hong Kong’s international status. It would remain a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group. The direct economic impact would be sharp, but short-term, analysts said. But in the long run it will be a huge blow to Hong Kong’s image as an international commercial centre – even as a gateway to China.

“I guess the significance of Hong Kong is eroding and when I go to see the members in Shenzhen and Guangzhou and listen to discussion about the Greater Bay Area, it is pretty much one story, as if Hong Kong is insignificant,” said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce for China in Beijing. “Hong Kong cannot be replicated, the unique density of professionals, the transparency of the system, the rule of law, the kind of debate possibilities, the openness. They’re definitely important for developing business in China, for many of us it’s being challenged right now,” Wuttke said.

Read more …

Like either gives a damn about the UN.

US And China Fight At United Nations Over Hong Kong (R.)

The United States and China clashed over Hong Kong at the United Nations on Wednesday after Beijing opposed a request by Washington for the Security Council to meet over China’s plan to impose new national security legislation on the territory. The U.S. mission to the United Nations said in a statement that the issue was “a matter of urgent global concern that implicates international peace and security” and therefore warranted the immediate attention of the 15-member council. China “categorically rejects the baseless request” because the national security legislation for Hong Kong was an internal matter and “has nothing to do with the mandate of the Security Council,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun posted on Twitter. The U.S. request coincides with rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the coronavirus pandemic.


Washington has questioned China’s transparency about the outbreak, which first emerged in Wuhan, China late last year. China has said it was transparent about the virus. The U.S. said China’s opposition to a Security Council meeting on Hong Kong coupled with its “gross cover-up and mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, its constant violations of its international human rights commitments, and its unlawful behavior in the South China Sea, should make obvious to all that Beijing is not behaving as a responsible U.N. member state.” Zhang responded: “Facts prove again and again that the U.S. is the trouble maker of the world. It is the U.S. who has violated its commitments under the international law. China urges the U.S. to immediately stop its power politics and bullying practices.”

Read more …

In the beginning, things will move with caution. But that may not last very long as parties realize the scope of what is happening.

What To Expect Now US Deems Hong Kong No Longer ‘Autonomous’ (SCMP)

US President Donald Trump has to decide what actions to take after the State Department informed Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong was no longer considered autonomous from China, an assessment that could threaten the city’s long-standing special trading status. “It’s a one-two action,” said David Stilwell, assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department on Wednesday evening. “One being the State Department making the assessment that Hong Kong no longer enjoys autonomy,” said Stilwell at a briefing to reporters, referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement earlier in the day. “And then, [the second action will be] the determination by the White House as to how we’re going to respond,” Stilwell said.

The State Department did not specify how fast that decision may be. “A lot of” options are being considered, including personnel and sanctions “as determined in the United States – Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 and in the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act [of 2019],” he said. Under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed by the US Congress in November, the administration must decide every year whether governance of Hong Kong is suitably distinct from China, which is the prerequisite for the special status to continue. A revocation of Hong Kong’s special trading status with the US will put an end to the preferential economic and trade treatment the city has enjoyed and which has, at least partly, contributed to making it the financial and business hub in the region.

Some analysts and members of the business community, following the State Department’s assessment, have voiced concerns that a status change would inflict more pain on Hong Kong and its people than on Beijing. “Today’s action is best understood as another turn of the screw,” said Terry Haines, an independent political analyst and former Congressional staffer. “It is a strong signal of US government displeasure.” But, given that this is only the first step, and does not necessarily lead to US sanctions or other actions against Hong Kong, there is opportunity to lessen tension, he said. “Expect Congress to help Trump pressure China on Hong Kong autonomy, but not to force Trump’s hand or require sanctions or other actions,” he said.

In his statement earlier on Wednesday, Pompeo said “no reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.” Pompeo’s assessment came a day before Beijing could pass the national security law tailor-made for Hong Kong. The move aimed to thwart Beijing’s plan to move forward with the passage of the legislation, which is considered a violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the treaty that established the principle of “one country, two systems” and which stipulates the sovereign and administrative arrangement of Hong Kong after the 1997 handover.

Read more …

After being accused domestically of doing the opposite. Taiwan has always offered help.

Taiwan Will Help Relocate Fleeing Hongkongers – President Tsai (SCMP)

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has assured Hongkongers that her government would come up with special measures to help them relocate to the island, in an apparent effort to counter claims that she is giving up on Hong Kong. Tsai said her cabinet would form an ad hoc committee to work out a humanitarian action plan for Hong Kong people. Under the plan, the Mainland Affairs Council, the island’s top mainland policy planner, would establish concrete ways for the administration to help Hongkongers “live, relocate and work in Taiwan”, Tsai said. She said a special budget and resources would be set aside for the programme, which would launched as soon as possible to address the needs of Hongkongers wanting to move amid concerns about threats to freedoms posed by the introduction of a national security law.

After months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, the National People’s Congress is expected to pass on Thursday a resolution to set up and improve legal and enforcement mechanisms for national security in Hong Kong, a move that has been widely condemned overseas and in the city. The decision to form the committee comes after Tsai came under attack for suggesting in a Facebook post on Sunday that she might consider invoking Article 60 of the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong and Macau Affairs by suspending the “application of all or part of the provisions of the act” if the NPC bypassed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to approve the security law. That would mean an end to the preferential treatment given to people from Hong Kong and Macau, including to visit and invest in the self-ruled island.

Opposition lawmakers said the move would effectively suspend the city’s special status, essentially shutting the door to Hong Kong people doing business, studying or fleeing to Taiwan to avoid penalties for their protest actions in the city.
They criticised Tsai for trying to “dump” Hong Kong people after using them to win January’s presidential election. Tsai’s strong support for the mass protests in Hong Kong last year – triggered by a now-shelved extradition bill – helped her win a landslide in January’s presidential poll for which she secured a second four-year term. Tsai’s suggestion also attracted concerns from civic and human rights groups in Taiwan.

Read more …

More reason to bail out people, not companies.

Suddenly Everything is Too Big to Fail – John Rubino (USAW)

Everyone needs be looking past the Coronavirus crisis and at what governments are trying to do to counter the economic destruction and massive unemployment. Is the financial cure worse than the disease? Financial writer John Rubino says look at commercial real estate as an omen of what is to come. Rubino explains, “Sooner or later you’ve got to pay your bills, and if you don’t have anybody paying your bills to you, then you go bankrupt. Commercial real estate could just be a blood bath, which take us back to all the bailouts. You can’t let a big sector go bust in this world because suddenly everything is too big to fail. There is not a major sector out there that can be allowed to go bust. Not the airlines, not commercial real estate, certainly not the banks, you name it and it has to be bailed out. That’s where the really crazy stuff starts. When people figure out we are basically bailing out everybody from home owners to student loan holders, to car loan holders and right down the line, and then we get state and local governments with this gigantic multi-trillion dollar problem . . . and the amount of debt is off the charts to bail all of these guys out, that is when the real fun starts.”


How long will the bailouts go on? Rubino says, “We are heading into a Presidential election, which means we cannot let anything major fail. If you are the Trump Administration and Congress, you can’t let something big fail because it’s a crisis right before you need to get re-elected. So, you’ve got to bail people out. That’s what California, Illinois and Chicago, New York, Kentucky and all the bankrupt and badly run states have been hoping for all along. They have been hoping there would be a big crisis that would bail them out of their horrendous mismanagement of the past 20 or 30 years. There was no way that Illinois was not going to go bankrupt in normal times . . . or Chicago. . . . Now, they can go to the federal government and say we need a trillion dollars right now or we are going to lay off all the cops and all the teachers, and they think they have a pretty good chance of getting the bailout because the alternative is poison for the people running for office . . . . If you are the Trump Administration or Congress, I don’t see how you stop bailing people out before the election.”

Read more …

Not everyone in Australia wants a travel bubble, apparently.

Flightless Kiwi Economy To Land With A Thud (Austr.)

No national leader has been as feted as Jacinda Ardern during this pandemic. Young and progressive, New Zealand’s Prime Minister was popular before the crisis. Since she imposed the favoured pandemic solution of the left — a hard lockdown, shutting practically all business and no socialising with anyone outside your home — her star has only risen. “Laughing in the face of seismic shakes, she has calmly steered her country in the face of a massacre, an eruption and a pandemic,” The Guardian cooed on Tuesday. Steering it into an economic abyss, perhaps. New Zealand’s economy is in strife. Without major change, our constitutional cousin is in decline. Its public finances are in tatters, its biggest export, tourism, has been obliterated — Air New Zealand announced 4000 job losses this week — and New Zealand police now can enter people’s homes without a warrant.


“New Zealand is going backwards, falling behind the vast ≠majority of our OECD partners in virtually every social and economic measure that matters,” said Roger Douglas, a former New Zealand Labour treasurer and the famed architect of Rogernomics. New Zealand ranks fourth last in the OECD for labour productivity growth, and last for multi-factor productivity growth, according to economist Michael Reddell, based on OECD data. Health and education are gobbling up more of the budget as the population ages, with less and less to show for it.

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I think they fear other scenarios a lot more. Like the full exposure of Obamagate.

The General Election Scenario That Democrats Are Dreading (Pol.)

In early April, Jason Furman, a top economist in the Obama administration and now a professor at Harvard, was speaking via Zoom to a large bipartisan group of top officials from both parties. The economy had just been shut down, unemployment was spiking and some policymakers were predicting an era worse than the Great Depression. The economic carnage seemed likely to doom President Donald Trump’s chances at reelection. Furman, tapped to give the opening presentation, looked into his screen of poorly lit boxes of frightened wonks and made a startling claim. “We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” he said.

[..] Furman’s case begins with the premise that the 2020 pandemic-triggered economic collapse is categorically different than the Great Depression or the Great Recession, which both had slow, grinding recoveries. Instead, he believes, the way to think about the current economic drop-off, at least in the first two phases, is more like what happens to a thriving economy during and after a natural disaster: a quick and steep decline in economic activity followed by a quick and steep rebound. The Covid-19 recession started with a sudden shuttering of many businesses, a nationwide decline in consumption and massive increase in unemployment. But starting around April 15, when economic reopening started to spread but the overall numbers still looked grim, Furman noticed some data that pointed to the kind of recovery that economists often see after a hurricane or industrywide catastrophe like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Consumption and hiring started to tick up “in gross terms, not in net terms,” Furman said, describing the phenomenon as a “partial rebound.” The bounce back “can be very very fast, because people go back to their original job, they get called back from furlough, you put the lights back on in your business. Given how many people were furloughed and how many businesses were closed you can get a big jump out of that. It will look like a V.”

Read more …

How many consecutive investigations is that now?

AG Barr Launches New ‘Unmasking’ Investigation Around 2016 Election (CNN)

Attorney General William Barr has tasked a US attorney with reviewing instances of “unmasking” done around the 2016 election, adding the weight of a senior federal prosecutor behind an issue that President Donald Trump has seized on in recent weeks to underpin unfounded allegations about his predecessor. John Bash, the US attorney in San Antonio, will be handling the review in support of the ongoing criminal investigation being led by John Durham, a Connecticut prosecutor, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman. “Unmasking inherently isn’t wrong but certainly the frequency, the motivation and the reasoning behind unmasking can be problematic.

“When you’re looking at unmasking as part of a broader investigation, like John Durham’s investigation, looking specifically at who was unmasking whom can add a lot to our understanding about motivation and big picture events,” Kerri Kupec, the department spokeswoman, said in an interview with Fox News. Earlier this month, then-acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell declassified a list of names of former Obama administration officials who allegedly had requested the “unmasking” of the identify of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Senate Republicans later released the list, which named Obama administration officials who “may have received” Flynn’s identity in National Security Agency intelligence reports after requests to unmask Americans.

On Fox, Kupec said that Barr had “determined that certain aspects of unmasking needed to be reviewed separately as a support” to the Durham investigation. Bash will be looking “specifically at episodes both before and after the election,” Kupec said. Bash is the latest in a string of top prosecutors Barr has assigned to handle politically charged reviews. Durham, the longtime Connecticut prosecutor, was assigned to review the origins of the Russia investigation earlier this month. Jeff Jensen, the US attorney in St. Louis, had scrutinized the handling of the Flynn prosecution and recommended earlier this month that the Justice Department drop the charges. Barr has said that he has since tasked Jensen with examining other issues, but the department has not said what those issues are.

Read more …

Openly lying to a court.

Former Flynn Lawyers “Find” 6,800 Documents They Failed To Produce (Solomon)

The surprises keep coming in former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s legal battle to overturn his conviction in the Russia probe. Just days after the FBI belatedly produced possible evidence of innocence to Flynn’s new legal team led by Attorney Sidney Powell, his old law firm on Tuesday informed the judge it had located 6,800 documents that it failed to turn over as required by a court order in 2019. Covington & Burling LLP told the court its search team failed to search all of the law firm’s records and missed the documents, mostly emails. The documents were produced to Powell on Tuesday.


“Covington determined that an unintentional miscommunication involving the firm’s information technology personnel had led them, in some instances, to run search terms on subsets of emails … rather than on the broader sets of emails that should have been searched,” Flynn’s former attorney Robert Kelner told the court in a motion. “We now have performed another search, using search terms and manual reviews, on a broader universe of material to correct the earlier error and to transfer additional documents that are part of the client file,” Kelner wrote, saying his firm was willing to assist Powell on any other matters and to address any questions the judge may have about the oversight.

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Graham wants Flynn, Obama and Trump to participate, but he doesn’t seek their testimony.

Rosenstein First Witness In Senate Judiciary’s ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ Probe (JTN)

Former acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will be the first witness to testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the FBI’s handling of its Russia collusion probe, the panel announced Wednesday. Rosenstein is set to testify the morning of June 3 before the committee led by Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Republican called for a formal inquiry a few weeks ago, following the release of declassified information that showed officials in the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe appeared to exceed authority, or at the very least break with protocol. Among the biggest revelations in the documents was that the FBI appeared to know that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had not colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election to influence the race’s outcome, but still interviewed him and pressed him into a guilty plea.

Graham, who is seeking subpoena authority in the probe, has said the committee will look into the appointment of retired FBI chief Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation. Rosenstein appointed Mueller and set the parameters of his authority. Graham said after the release of the documents — which was followed by the Justice Department asking a federal court to dismiss its Flynn case — that he would also seek testimony from former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

The first phase of the panel’s investigation “will deal with the government’s decision to dismiss” the case against Flynn, as well as “an in-depth analysis of the unmasking requests made by Obama Administration officials against Gen. Flynn,” Graham recently said. He has also invited Flynn, former President Obama and President Trump to participate.

Read more …

What the heck, let’s do some gossip.

New Book Claims Bill Clinton Had Affair With Ghislaine Maxwell (NYP)

Bill Clinton had an affair with British-born socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of helping recruit underage victims for notorious pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, according to a blockbuster new book. The ex-president — who denies cheating on wife Hillary Clinton with Maxwell — reportedly engaged in the romps during overseas trips on Epstein’s private plane, a customized Boeing 727 that’s since become known as the “Lolita Express.” The nation’s 42nd head of state also repeatedly sneaked out to visit Maxwell at her Upper East Side townhouse, as detailed in this exclusive excerpt. Excerpt from “A Convenient Death: The Mysterious Demise of Jeffrey Epstein,” by Alana Goodman and Daniel Halper, out June 2:

“Clinton was allegedly carrying on an affair with at least one woman in Epstein’s orbit, but she was well over the age of consent. Ghislaine Maxwell, a constant presence at the ex- president’s side during these trips, was the primary reason Clinton let Epstein ferry him around the world. “[Bill] and Ghislaine were getting it on,” a source who witnessed the relationship said in an interview. “That’s why he was around Epstein—to be with her.” The source explained that reporters have been missing the point about the Clinton- Epstein relationship by focusing on Epstein’s sex crimes. “[Clinton’s] stupid but not an idiot,” the source says, dismissing the idea that the ex- president was sexually involved with children.

Clinton’s primary interest in Epstein was the woman he once dated and who allegedly helped procure her ex-boyfriend’s future victims. “You couldn’t hang out with her without being with him,” the source said of the Epstein-Clinton relationship. “Clinton just used him like everything else,” the source explains. In this case, Epstein was being used as an alibi while he hooked up with Maxwell.

[..] while attending the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, at the end of an Indian summer, in September 2009, a process server walked through the packed lobby of the Sheraton Hotel…and served Ghislaine Maxwell papers for a deposition,” the journalist Conchita Sarnoff recalls. “Maxwell…was huddled in a small group talking to other guests” as the server approached her. He “called out her name and…with so many people surrounding her, Maxwell was unsuspecting. She confirmed her identity and he served her notice. The deposition was in relation to Epstein’s sexual abuse case. The server left at once,” Sarnoff writes in her book, TrafficKing.

Read more …

I’m old enough to remember that Black Lives Matter only became a going concern under America’s first black president.

Minneapolis Ablaze Amid Looting (ZH)

High unemployment, crashed economy, and now social unrest rears its ugly head as America descends into chaos ahead of the summer months. Across social media, pictures and videos coming from the streets of Minneapolis on Tuesday evening are absolutely stunning. Protests broke out following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody a day earlier. This reminds us of the 2014 Ferguson Riots and 2015 Baltimore Riots, in both incidents, the trigger for unrest was a young black man killed while in police custody. Unlike 2014/15, the economy has now plunged into a depression and tens of millions of people are unemployed, as some have to resort to food banks because they’ve fallen into instant poverty, which all suggests tensions are already running high as warmer weather entices people to step outside. With no work, why not riot?


Shown below, police fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades at protesters. The initial demonstrations started peacefully than quickly got out of hand. Some hurled blunt objects at law enforcement while damaging police cars. The early hours of the protest were peaceful, hundreds, and maybe even more than a thousand people, were seen marching across 38th Street. Some carried signs that read “Justice for George Floyd,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Read more …

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May 172020
 


Dorothea Lange Plantation overseer and his field hands, Mississippi Delta 1936

 

A Third Of COVID19 Hospital Patients Develop Dangerous Blood Clots (BBC)
China Adds Long-Term Organ Damage To List Of Effects Of COVID19 (SCMP)
May 16 Update: US COVID-19 Test Results (CR)
Llamas Could Be Our Secret Weapon Against Coronavirus (G.)
Lack Of Immunity Makes China Vulnerable To Another Wave Of Coronavirus (CNN)
Battle Looms At WHO Amid Pressure On China Over Coronavirus Inquiry (SCMP)
Trump Hints He May Reverse Course And Restore WHO Funding (F.)
Q2 US GDP Forecasts: Probably Around 30% Annual Rate Decline (CR)
Difficulties Abound On NYC’s Road To Reopen (Xinhua)
Brennan Claims Release Of Names Is ‘Abominable Abuse Of Authority’ (Fox)
Had Enough? (Jim Kunstler)
Economic Growth: Who Needs It? (Ms.)

 

 

• Over the past 24 hours US had +23,117 new cases (total 88,851) and +1,277 new deaths.
Note: both numbers are still well below White House predictions for the summer of 30,000 and 3,000, respectively

• Reported global new cases yesterday reached 100,184, new high.

• Russia reports 9,709 new coronavirus infections (yesterday: 9,200)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: new global cases yesterday 100,184

Cases 4,743,181 (+ 97,795 from yesterday’s 4,645,386)

Deaths 313,703 (+ 4,723 from yesterday’s 308,980)

 

 

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

This by now is obvious. But I have my doubts over the following: “..This change in the blood is the result of severe inflammation in the lungs..”, because I haven’t seen any proof that it’s the immune system which makes the blood clot. Far as I can see, the stickiness could occur (e.g if virus impacts hemoglobin) before the blood reaches the lungs, and maybe even worsen the inflammation.

A Third Of COVID19 Hospital Patients Develop Dangerous Blood Clots (BBC)

Up to 30% of patients who are seriously ill with coronavirus are developing dangerous blood clots, according to medical experts. They say the clots, also known as thrombosis, could be contributing to the number of people dying. Severe inflammation in the lungs – a natural response of the body to the virus – is behind their formation. Patients worldwide are being affected by many medical complications of the virus, some of which can be fatal. Back in March, as coronavirus was spreading across the globe, doctors started seeing far higher rates of clots in patients admitted to hospital than they would normally expect. And there have been other surprises, including the discovery of hundreds of micro-clots in the lungs of some patients.

The virus has also increased cases of deep vein thrombosis – blood clots usually found in the leg – which can be life-threatening when fragments break off and move up the body into the lungs, blocking blood vessels. [..] “With a huge outpouring of data over the past few weeks I think it has become apparent that thrombosis is a major problem,” says Roopen Arya, professor of thrombosis and haemostasis at King’s College Hospital, London. “Particularly in severely affected Covid patients in critical care, where some of the more recent studies show that nearly half the patients have pulmonary embolism or blood clot on the lungs.” He believes the number of critically ill coronavirus patients developing blood clots could be significantly higher than the published data in Europe of up to 30%.

The professor’s blood sciences team in the hospital has been analysing samples from patients showing how coronavirus is changing their blood making it much more sticky. And sticky blood can lead to blood clots. This change in the blood is the result of severe inflammation in the lungs, a natural response of the body to the virus. “In severely affected patients we are seeing an outpouring of chemicals in the blood and this has a knock-on effect of activating the blood clotting,” says Prof Arya. And all this ultimately causes a patient’s condition to deteriorate. According to thrombosis expert Prof Beverley Hunt, sticky blood is having wider repercussions than just blood clots – it’s also leading to higher rates of strokes and heart attacks. “And yes sticky blood is contributing to high mortality rates,” she says.

Read more …

Which may all occur because of the impact on hemoglobin.

China Adds Long-Term Organ Damage To List Of Effects Of COVID19 (SCMP)

Understanding is growing of the effects of Sars-CoV-2, the official name of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, on the organs of patients – even after they apparently recover. While most patients, especially those with mild and moderate symptoms, can recover without long-term consequences to their health, studies indicate that those with severe symptoms can have organ damage and require a much longer time for rehabilitation. The commission said some Covid-19 patients might also develop heart problems such as angina and arrhythmia – conditions that could result directly from the virus or arise after a patient has been bedridden for a long time. The guidelines also list potential mental health problems resulting from Covid-19, including depression, insomnia, eating disorders and various changes in cognitive functions.


Other problems identified in the guidelines include muscle and limb-function loss. But kidney damage was not among the conditions named, despite a number of studies citing it as a potential long-term consequence. According to a study published in the journal Kidney International on Wednesday, one-third of 5,449 Covid-19 patients surveyed by researchers at Northwell Health, the biggest health provider in New York state, developed acute kidney failure. Lead researcher Kenar Jhaveri, associate chief of nephrology at Hofstra/Northwell in Great Neck, New York, told Reuters that 14.3 per cent of those with kidney failure required dialysis. There have also been reports of the coronavirus attacking the skin, the central nervous system and blood vessels, resulting in clogging and strokes.

Read more …

The myth that 1 million tests per day would be enough is persistent. A myth because it would take a full year to test everyone.

May 16 Update: US COVID-19 Test Results (CR)

The US might be able to test 400,000 to 600,000 people per day sometime in May according to Dr. Fauci – and that might be enough for test and trace. However, the US might need more than 900,000 tests per day according to Dr. Jha of Harvard’s Global Health Institute. There were 356,994 test results reported over the last 24 hours. This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 7.0% (red line). The US probably needs enough tests to keep the percentage positive well below 5%. (probably much lower based on testing in New Zealand). NOTE: A few states are apparently including antibody tests with virus tests. The Covid tracking project is working to straighten that out.

Read more …

Just let them spit in your face and you’re fine.“In addition to larger antibodies like ours, llamas have small ones that can sneak into spaces on viral proteins that are too tiny for human antibodies..”

Llamas Could Be Our Secret Weapon Against Coronavirus (G.)

The solution to the coronavirus may have been staring us in the face this whole time, lazily chewing on a carrot. All we need, it seems, is llamas. A study published last week in the journal Cell found that antibodies in llamas’ blood could offer a defense against the coronavirus. In addition to larger antibodies like ours, llamas have small ones that can sneak into spaces on viral proteins that are too tiny for human antibodies, helping them to fend off the threat. The hope is that the llama antibodies could help protect humans who have not been infected. International researchers owe their findings to a llama named Winter, a four-year-old resident of Belgium.

Her antibodies had already proven themselves able to fight Sars and Mers, leading researchers to speculate that they could work against the virus behind Covid-19 – and indeed, in cell cultures at least, they were effective against it. Researchers are now working towards clinical trials. “If it works, llama Winter deserves a statue,” Dr Xavier Saelens, a Ghent University virologist and study author, told the New York Times. To any llama aficionado, this news should come as no surprise. The animals have developed a reputation for healing. Llama antibodies have been a fixture in the fight against disease for years, with researchers investigating their potency against HIV and other viruses.

And their soothing powers go beyond the microscopic. Llamas have become exam-season fixtures at a number of top US colleges. George Caldwell, who raises llamas in Sonora, California, brings his trusted associates to the University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford, and other northern California universities and high schools, where their tranquility is contagious, helping students overcome end-of-term anxiety. “When you’re around a llama, you become very calm and at peace,” one Berkeley senior said at a campus event last year.

Read more …

CNN has an article on Dr. Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, who, as featured prominently at the Automatic Earth at the time, infamously claimed in late January that the epidemic would be over in 10 days, so early February.

Lack Of Immunity Makes China Vulnerable To Another Wave Of Coronavirus (CNN)

China still faces the “big challenge” of a potential second wave of Covid-19 infections, the country’s top respiratory authority has warned, with the lack of immunity among the community a serious concern as the race to develop a vaccine continues. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser and the public face of the country’s fight against Covid-19, also confirmed in an exclusive interview with CNN on Saturday that local authorities in Wuhan, the city where the novel coronavirus was first reported in December, had suppressed key details about the magnitude of the initial outbreak.

China has reported more than 82,000 coronavirus cases, with at least 4,633 deaths, according to data from the country’s National Health Commission (NHC). The number of new infections surged quickly in late January, prompting city lockdowns and nationwide travel bans. By early February, China was reporting as many as 3,887 fresh cases a day. A month later, however, daily cases had dropped into the double digits — while in the US, the number of daily infections skyrocketed, from 47 new cases on March 6 to 22,562 by the end of the month. Having now largely contained the virus, life in China is slowly returning to normal. Lockdowns have eased and some schools and factories have reopened across the country.

But Zhong said Chinese authorities should not be complacent, with the danger of a second wave of infections looming large. Fresh clusters of coronavirus cases have emerged across China in recent weeks, in Wuhan as well as the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin. “The majority of … Chinese at the moment are still susceptible of the Covid-19 infection, because (of) a lack of immunity,” Zhong said. “We are facing (a) big challenge, it’s not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment.”

[..] Three US companies are already testing their vaccines on humans, according to the World Health Organization. They’re still in phase 1 or phase 2 trials, which typically involve giving the vaccine to dozens or hundreds of study subjects. Zhong said three Chinese vaccines are under clinical trials in the country — however a “perfect” solution was likely to be “years” away. “We have to test again and again and again … by using different kinds of vaccines. It’s too early to draw any conclusion which kind of vaccine is available for this kind of coronavirus … that’s why I suggest that the final approval of vaccine (will) take much longer,” he said.

Read more …

China’s going to stall.

Battle Looms At WHO Amid Pressure On China Over Coronavirus Inquiry (SCMP)

The World Health Organisation has been on the front line coordinating the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. When its decision-making body gathers, virtually, for its annual meeting on Monday, it will have another battle on its hands, as tensions escalate between China, the United States and other countries over Beijing’s response to the outbreak. The coronavirus will be the focus for the World Health Assembly meeting, to be attended by all 194 WHO member states plus observers, and where policies and budgets are reviewed and approved. But all eyes will be on how countries – including the US, Australia, Canada, France and Germany – pursue an investigation into China’s handling of the pandemic within the framework of the global health body.

That could include taking the Chinese government to the international court. Leaders of these countries have already made clear that they want an inquiry, including investigating the origin of the virus, whether it was initially covered up by China, and if Beijing was slow to tell the world that the virus was being transmitted between humans. The WHO has itself been under fire, attacked for praising China’s pandemic response as “transparent” despite Beijing’s suppression of whistle-blowers and information at the start of the outbreak. Under the WHO constitution, the global health agency can refer unresolved disputes to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the main legal organ of the United Nations. But health and legal experts said that was unlikely – and even if it did happen, the ICJ would not be able to enforce a decision.

“The WHO has never taken another state to the ICJ, and I do not anticipate that,” said Steven Hoffman, professor of global health, law and political science at York University’s Global Strategy Lab in Toronto. “If it happens it will be unprecedented.” Atul Alexander, assistant professor of law at West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, said it would be impossible to enforce a decision by the ICJ as it would need to be enacted by the UN Security Council, where China has veto power as one of five permanent members. “China would have to consent to the jurisdiction of the ICJ, which is never going to happen,” Alexander said.

Read more …

Only, that’s not what he said: “Have not made [a] final decision. All funds are frozen.”

Trump Hints He May Reverse Course And Restore WHO Funding (F.)

President Donald Trump said his administration was considering restoring partial funding to the World Health Organization Saturday morning after suspending U.S. support a month ago in a row over how the group has handled the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday evening, reports began to surface that Trump was prepared to restore about 10% of previous U.S. payments to WHO, reported to roughly match China’s share. Trump hit back at those reports Saturday morning, saying in a tweet that “this is just one of numerous concepts being considered… Have not made [a] final decision. All funds are frozen.”


He announced he would withhold U.S. funding from the WHO on April 14, and accused the group of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the coronavirus pandemic, and said he wouldn’t consider funding until a “60-to-90-day” investigation was completed. WHO officials and China have denied Trump’s claims. The U.S. was the group’s biggest financial supporter, and reportedly provided about $400 million to $500 million of the WHO’s $4.8 billion budget, or about 15%. According to NPR, the U.S. was already nearly $200 million behind on payments to the WHO when Trump announced he would halt future contributions.

Read more …

We’re going to have to look at how sick the economy was beforehand, or we’ll never get any wiser.

Q2 US GDP Forecasts: Probably Around 30% Annual Rate Decline (CR)

Important: GDP is reported at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR). So a 30% Q2 decline is around 7% decline from Q1 (SA).
• From Merrill Lynch: “We are tracking -5.2% qoq saar for 1Q GDP and expect a -30% qoq saar plunge in 2Q. [SAAR May 15 estimate]”.

• From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report “The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -31.1% for 2020:Q2. [May 15 estimate]”.

• And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow “The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the second quarter of 2020 is -42.8 percent on May 15, down from -34.9 percent on May 8. [May 15 estimate]”

Read more …

Chinese trolling. Still, reopening New York is a major gamble.

Difficulties Abound On NYC’s Road To Reopen (Xinhua)

Life came to a grinding halt for about 8.3 million residents in New York City when a statewide “PAUSE” order went into effect to curb the spread of COVID-19 nearly two months ago. So far, schools, businesses, and Broadway theaters have been shuttered, with health care workers fighting tirelessly to save lives in overwhelmed hospitals. On Friday, five regions in the central and northern parts of New York state reopened following a phased strategy. Those regions, largely remote and account for less than one-fifth of the state’s population, have not been hit hard by the pandemic. New York City still has to wait, as it has not met the requirements for reopening in new hospitalization, share of total hospital beds and ICU beds available — three of the seven benchmarks set by the state government.


Mayor Bill de Blasio said this month that the city would not see eased restrictions before June, and a true reopening will be “a few months away at minimum.” Despite a flattened curve, the data in New York City remain staggering. By Saturday afternoon, the city’s health department has reported 189,031 cases, more than those of countries including France and Germany. A death toll of 20,576 accounts for nearly a quarter of the national total. “While the (daily new) case count appears to be decreasing, there is still a need for it to go lower, and to have the ability to detect and trace the contacts of cases to prevent a major resurgence in the virus,” Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, told Xinhua.

“In a densely populated place like New York City, none of these things are simple, and all of this needs to be done at a large scale with quick reaction to changes in conditions,” he noted. Experts and officials underlined the significance of testing at the beginning of the crisis in early March. Both the mayor and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have repeatedly vowed to expand testing capacity, especially in lower-income and minority communities. After more than two months’ efforts, however, the supply still falls short of the demand. “Lack of widespread testing was our Achilles’ heel from day one,” said de Blasio on Thursday. “We’re still playing catch-up.”


Also on Thursday, the mayor announced that any person with COVID-19 symptoms as well as anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case is now eligible to receive a test in New York City, which means these basic containment measures have never been fully conducted in the epicenter of the pandemic. Notably, the importance of contact tracing was largely ignored or deemed a mission impossible by local officials. During a press briefing on April 3, New York City’s Health Department Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said contact tracing was “not a good use of our resources” and the city has gone “past the point of contact tracing.” It was not until late April that both Cuomo and de Blasio announced their plans to hire thousands of people to get trained to be contact tracers. The tardy response at the local level reflects the whole picture of the nation. “The United States in general is behind the curve, literally and figuratively, in terms of testing and contact tracing,” said Schlegelmilch.

Read more …

Is this just desperation? He’s one of the names, after all. He wanted to unmask Flynn, but doesn’t want to be unmasked himself.

Also, I’m so tired of hearing how the Russians are going to try again. It shows you how an absolutely dead meme can live on as a zombie in partisan media.

Brennan Claims Release Of Names Is ‘Abominable Abuse Of Authority’ (Fox)

Former CIA director John Brennan, one of the officials who sought to “unmask” Michael Flynn during the presidential transition period, claimed Thursday the release of Obama-era names was an “abominable abuse of authority.” He called the recent actions by the Department of Justice to drop the case against Flynn combined with the release of names “blatant political corruption at the highest levels of U.S. government.” “When you have the administration– the White House, the attorney general, the acting head of the intelligence community all acting in concert to try to advance the personal interests of Mr. Trump… I think this is very, very serious,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace.

“I’m just hoping that individuals like Chris Wray who is a remarkable public servant, will continue to stay strong in the face of this type of abominable abuse of authority,” he said. Brennan, however, was not pressed by MSNBC’s Wallace and Brian Williams on why he sought the name of Flynn in the intercepted phone conversations of Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Rather, he lashed out over the disclosure of the names of the Obama administration officials who purportedly requested to “unmask” Flynn’s identity. Brennan also said he feared Trump officials were not going to stop Russian interference in the presidential election.

“As we have talked about the upcoming November election, how the Russians and others are going to seek to try to once again interfere and influence the outcome, I just am very concerned that some of those at the very top are not going to fulfill the duties that are entrusted to them by the American people,” Brennan remarked.

Read more …

How desperate is Obama’s renewed attack on Trump? What’s with the timing?

Had Enough? (Jim Kunstler)

Last weekend, in a well-leaked conference call, it appears, Judge Sullivan took marching orders from former President Obama who suggested snaring General Flynn on a perjury rap for withdrawing his guilty plea, and whaddaya know, the stratagem laid itself out this past week like a fully-crafted macramé, all the little tufts and knots neatly in place – thanks to the busy little fingers of Lawfare attorneys burning the midnight oil all week to get the thing hoisted up on the wall. The tortured logic of the scheme was really something to behold: by withdrawing a guilty plea Flynn had entered under oath, he would be guilty of lying to the court about being guilty in the first place, and therefore had perjured himself. Imagine the interior of the legal minds responsible for that: dank chambers of rot crawling with centipedes and mealybugs of subterfuge.


The judge’s transparently perfidious moves revealed the desperation of Mr. Obama and scores of former and current officials allied with him, who are themselves liable for prosecution in the unraveling tapestry of RussiaGate. There is a sentiment welling up in this land that enough is enough with these devious pranks of crooked lawyers, and today, being Friday, would be an excellent moment for the DC District US Court of Appeals to issue a writ of mandamus for Judge Sullivan to cut the shit and get on with his bound duty to put the Flynn case to rest. A nice added touch, if necessary, would be to kick Judge Sullivan’s seditious ass off the case and replace him with a judge who understands established law and precedent.

Read more …

Always a relevant question, but perhaps not most appropriate when the walls are caving in.

Economic Growth: Who Needs It? (Ms.)

Ardern hasn’t claimed to be post-growth, but her government’s aim of well-being provided a simpler, faster response to the pandemic than U.S. officials worried by GDP. In early March, with only eight reported cases of COVID-19 in a population of 4.8 million people, New Zealand anticipated the impact on an economy dominated by tourism. They quickly created a twelve billion Kiwi (NZ$) stimulus package (about $7.3 billion in US$), equal to about four percent of their nation’s GDP. Ninety percent of those Kiwi’s went directly to people for income support, wage subsidies, and tax relief for small businesses. Only a fraction went to their airline industry.

By comparison, in late March, the US reported 136,880 cases of COVID-19 in a population of 327 million. Our $2 trillion CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security) stimulus equaled 9.8 percent of GDP, yet only thirty percent, or about $604 billion, was slotted for direct payments and expanded unemployment benefits. Some mortgage and student loan payments were suspended, but not forgiven. Fully a quarter of CARES money went to big corporate loans, mostly for airlines to the tune of about $58 billion. A set aside for “national security” is widely believed to be for Boeing—remember them?

The Small Business Administration (SBA) got $350 billion, nearly 20 percent, but almost entirely for loans, and to businesses not as small as most women-owned micro-businesses. Another quarter of the CARES Act increases health and education funding through state block grants, municipal funding and increases for SNAP and WIC food programs. All bring with them a world of bureaucratic complications for the majority women in this crisis.

Read more …

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 August 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Stanley Kubrick Men’s fashion show, New York 1948

 

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)
US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)
US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)
US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)
Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)
For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)
Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)
Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)
Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)
Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)
8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)
EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

 

 

Desperately mining for a new generation of greater fools. Courtesy of government-owned Fannie Mae. What a world.

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)

For millions of Americans drowning in student loan debt, the prospect of getting a mortgage might seem out of reach. Last week, Fannie Mae changed underwriting rules that could make it much easier for people with student loan debt to qualify for a mortgage. The new rule impacts people with federal student loan debt who are currently on an income-driven repayment program. An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based upon your income and family size. Depending upon the plan, your monthly payment could be capped as low as 10% of your discretionary income. And if your discretionary income is low enough, your monthly payment could be as low as $0.

In order to qualify for a mortgage, a borrower needs to meet certain debt-to-income (DTI) requirements. That seems simple enough. However, there was confusion regarding federal student loan debt on an income-driven repayment program. When calculating a debt burden, should the underwriter include the standard student loan payment, the reduced payment, or something in between? The new statement from Fannie Mae makes it clear: the reduced payment can be used, even when the payment is $0. According to Fannie Mae, “if the lender obtains documentation to evidence the actual monthly payment is $0, the lender may qualify the borrower with the $0 payment as long as the $0 payment is associated with an income-driven repayment plan.”

This is important, because the payment calculation for a student loan (10% of the discretionary income) is different from the DTI requirement of a mortgage. Many Americans could find it easier to qualify for a mortgage while in student loan debt. Michigan-based mortgage broker Cassandra Evers told MagnifyMoney that the changes “allow a lot more borrowers to qualify for a home.” Previously, there was a lot of confusion among borrowers, lenders, and brokers, Evers said. “[The rules have] changed at least five or six times in the last five years.”

Read more …

“You can’t jawbone the economy..”

US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)

Here’s a bad sign for the U.S. economy: Auto sales just fell the most since August 2010, a year after the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program to stimulate demand came to an end. Sales at General Motors plunged 15% in its home market in July, the biggest drop in more than a year. Its Detroit rivals didn’t fare much better: Ford reported its biggest sales decline since October and Fiat Chrysler had its second worst tumble this year. The disappointing showing underscores how Detroit has been struggling to live up to President Donald Trump’s prediction that it would become “the car capital of the world again.” The hometown automakers are instead laying off U.S. workers, particularly those who build passenger cars that have fallen out of favor with American consumers.

A demand slump has rendered spending on vehicles and parts a drag on U.S. economic growth, after years of contributing to expansion. “You can’t jawbone the economy,” said Diane Swonk, CEO and founder of DS Economics. “The auto industry was stronger than the rest of the economy for a while because they were giving credit to people who couldn’t pay loans. Sales crested sooner and now they are paying the price.” The traditional U.S. automakers each missed projections for declines that analysts gave in a Bloomberg News survey. While Nissan and Honda both beat projections, only Toyota posted a gain. Industrywide deliveries fell 7%, the steepest drop since the anniversary of “Cash for Clunkers,” a program that inflated U.S. sales in August 2009 as buyers traded in for more fuel-efficient wheels. The annualized pace of light-vehicle sales, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.7 million in July, according to Autodata Corp., from 17.8 million a year earlier.

Read more …

China is not liking this.

US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)

The Trump administration is planning trade measures to force Beijing to crack down on intellectual-property theft and ease requirements that American companies share advanced technologies to gain entry to the Chinese market. The administration is considering invoking a little-used provision of U.S. trade law to investigate whether China’s intellectual-property policies constitute “unfair trade practices,” according to people familiar with the matter. That would pave the way for the U.S. to impose sanctions on Chinese exporters or to further restrict the transfer of advanced technology to Chinese firms or to U.S.-China joint ventures. American business frustration with Chinese trade and market-access practices has mounted in recent years, with U.S. business groups urging the government to take a tougher trade line with China.

Many organizations have complained that the Trump administration hasn’t pushed hard enough in areas like intellectual property, as it has focused more on Chinese manufacturing and China’s $347 billion trade surplus with the U.S. last year. That discontent has intensified as China’s economy continued to expand and its computer and software sectors became bigger competitors internationally. Western firms fear China will use the regulations to bar foreign investments in areas that Beijing targets for investment, including semiconductors, advanced-machine tools and artificial intelligence. One big question hanging over the White House review is whether the administration pursues any complaint through the World Trade Organization, or whether it chooses to impose penalties on its own without first seeking permission from the international body, which some Trump advisers have argued is incapable of dealing with China’s trade practices.

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Has Trump even signed the new sanctions yet?

US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)

The United States began removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow on Tuesday in the first sign of compliance with a Kremlin order to slash its presence in Russia as retaliation for new U.S. sanctions. President Vladimir Putin has ordered the United States to cut around 60% of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1, and said Moscow will seize two U.S. diplomatic properties in response to sanctions approved by Congress last week. The White House has said U.S. President Donald Trump will sign the sanctions bill, meant as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and to further punish Moscow for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, removal men began dismantling play equipment and barbecues at a U.S.-owned dacha (country villa) on the outskirts of Moscow, after being refused access the day before, according to a Reuters journalist at the scene. The dacha, which is being confiscated along with a U.S. warehouse in the south of the Russian capital, was used by U.S. diplomatic staff at the weekends and to host parties for students, journalists and other diplomats. [..] The ultimatum issued by the Russian leader is a display to voters at home that he is prepared to stand up to Washington – but is also carefully calibrated to avoid directly affecting the U.S. investment he needs, or burning his bridges with Trump. One person at the embassy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media, said staff there were feeling depressed and despondent as they came to terms with the Kremlin’s order. “The mood in the office is very pessimistic,” the person said. “Everyone is just loitering, or sitting on job websites looking for a new job.”

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Strange things were taking place.

Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)

Former Obama White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes is now an emerging as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation, according to a letter sent Tuesday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). This adds Rhodes to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA, Circa has confirmed. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa.

Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have all been named in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the unmasking of Americans.

A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.

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Testament to insanity and waste.

For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)

Looking to buy two half-finished nuclear reactors? It may be your lucky day. U.S. utility owner Scana Corp. dropped a plan to build two reactors at the V.C. Summer power plant in South Carolina on Monday after the projected total costs exceeded $20 billion. The cancelation of the project is another blow to the much-hyped (and thus far non-existent) nuclear renaissance in the U.S. As cheap natural gas squeezes the margins of nuclear generators, there’s only one company currently building reactors in the country — Southern Co., at its Vogtle plant in Georgia. So what’s a utility to do with two unfinished nukes laying around in South Carolina? Scana CEO Kevin Marsh said in a call with analysts that he wants to keep the equipment in operating condition in case someone in China, India or the U.K. wants to buy it.

A sale like that is easier said than done. “The Chinese are developing a competitive product, the Brits are in trouble with their nuclear projects and the Indians want to develop their own supply chain,” said Chris Gadomski, a nuclear industry analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It’s more likely the South Carolina project is “mothballed,” he said. Reactors have found new buyers and new life in the past. In 2016, the Tennessee Valley Authority turned on its Watts Bar 2 reactor after work had been suspended in 1985. Franklin L. Haney bought an unfinished, decades-old nuclear plant in northern Alabama at an auction last November for $111 million. The Bellefonte plant came with two partially built nuclear reactors, one that’s about 55% complete and another about 35% finished.

Haney still has to get the mothballed station into working order, find customers for its power and qualify for a federal nuclear production tax credit. Perhaps a similar fate awaits the V.C. Summer plant. “It makes more sense to let them sit in place, maintain them, and see if they can be revisited,” Gadomski said.

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What, there are still unions?

Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)

Days before a potentially historic union vote at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, the car company has been accused of running one of the “nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labour movement”. The vote, a fiercely contested effort by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to represent a foreign automaker’s US plant, is planned for Thursday and Friday this week. It comes as US unions are hopeful they can overturn a series of defeats as they seek to build membership in southern states, where manufacturers have moved to take advantage of lower wages and non-union workforces. In the closing days of the campaign, which has attracted support from the former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, UAW officials and their allies have become increasingly confident of victory even as managers have pressured workers to vote no.

“People are rallying,” says Frank Figgers, co-chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan. The UAW is undertaking an extensive door-to-door campaign to visit workers in their homes to discuss the union. The UAW has shipped in staff from all over the country to help in the effort. Other unions from around the south have shipped in organizers from across the country to assist in the outreach to the plant’s nearly 4,000 workers. Nissan has responded with fierce opposition. The company has blitzed local TV with anti-union ads and stands accused of both threatening and bribing workers to vote no. It requires workers to regularly attend anti-union roundtable group meetings as well as one-on-one meetings with their direct supervisors, some of whom have worn “vote no” T-shirts to work. The Republican governor, Phil Bryant, has also come out hard for Nissan. “If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” Bryant said last week.

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Evil incorporated.

Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)

Documents released Tuesday in a lawsuit against Monsanto raised new questions about the company’s efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is the most common weed killer in the world and is used by farmers on row crops and by home gardeners. While Roundup’s relative safety has been upheld by most regulators, a case in federal court in San Francisco continues to raise questions about the company’s practices and the product itself. The documents underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company goes to protect its image. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015.

A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication.” He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: “We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.” A Monsanto official said the comments were the result of “a complete misunderstanding” that had been “worked out,” while Mr. Acquavella said in an email on Tuesday that “there was no ghostwriting” and that his comments had been related to an early draft and a question over authorship that was resolved. The documents also show internal talk about Roundup’s safety.

“If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern,” one Monsanto scientist wrote in an internal email in 2001. Monsanto said it was outraged by the documents’ release by a law firm involved in the litigation. “There is a standing confidentiality order that they violated,” said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto. He said that while “you can’t unring a bell,” Monsanto would seek penalties on the firm. “What you’re seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad,” Mr. Partridge said. “But the substance and the science are not affected by this.”

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How does a farmer protect himself from Monsanto, DuPont and BASF?

Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)

Larry Martin in Illinois says he’s never seen anything like it in his 35 years of farming. Arkansas soybean grower Joe McLemore says he faces the loss of his life savings. They’re among farmers across the U.S. suffering from a pesticide “drifting” across from neighboring fields onto their crops, leaving behind a trail of damage. Although not a new problem, it’s re-emerged with a vengeance this year. At least 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) have been damaged in this growing season through mid-July, according to estimates from Kevin Bradley, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri. Dicamba, the offending herbicide, is produced by seed and crop-chemical giants Monsanto, DuPont and BASF.

It’s been around for decades, but in recent years it gained a new lease of life after the companies developed new dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds, allowing farmers to spray crops later in the growing process. Dicamba is fine if you’re growing those genetically modified varieties, but not if you’re cultivating others and the chemical wafts over from another farm. The situation is so bad that states including Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee have placed restrictions on dicamba use at various times during the summer. Martin, a third-generation farmer, says an 80-acre soybean field of his has been damaged by dicamba. McLemore, who started out on his own eight years ago, after two decades working on someone else’s farm, says 800 of his 1,026 acres of soybeans have suffered damage.

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3%? That’s hardly ‘bouncing back’.

Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)

The number of U.S. honeybees, a critical component in the agriculture industry, rose in 2017 from a year earlier, and deaths of the insects attributed to a mysterious malady that’s affected hives in North America and Europe declined, according a U.S. Department of Agriculture honeybee health survey released Tuesday. The number of commercial U.S. honeybee colonies rose 3% to 2.89 million as of April 1, 2017 compared with a year earlier, the Agriculture Department reported. The number of hives lost to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon of disappearing bees that has raised concerns among farmers and scientists for a decade, was 84,430 in this year’s first quarter, down 27% from a year earlier. Year-over-year losses declined by the same%age in April through June, the most recent data in the survey.

Still, more than two-fifths of beekeepers said mites were harming their hives, and with pesticides and other factors still stressing bees, the overall increase is largely the result of constant replenishment of losses, the study showed. “You create new hives by breaking up your stronger hives, which just makes them weaker,” said Tim May, a beekeeper in Harvard, Illinois and the vice-president of the American Beekeeping Federation based in Atlanta. “We check for mites, we keep our bees well-fed, we communicate with farmers so they don’t spray pesticides when our hives are vulnerable. I don’t know what else we can do.” Environmental groups have expressed alarm over the 90% decline during the past two decades in the population of pollinators, from wild bees to Monarch butterflies. Some point to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids as a possible cause, a link rejected by Bayer AG and other manufacturers.

In the USDA study, beekeepers who owned at least five colonies, or hives, reported the most losses from the varroa mite, a parasite that lives only in beehives and survives by sucking insect blood. The scourge, present in the U.S. since 1987, was reported in 42% of commercial hives between April and June this year, according to the USDA. That’s down from 53% in the same period one year earlier. Among other factors, beekeepers said 13% of colonies in the second quarter of this year were stressed by pesticides, 12% by mites and pests other than varroa and 4.3 by diseases. Bad weather, starvation, insufficient forage and other reasons were listed as problems with 6.6% of hives.

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What does it mean to be human?

8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)

The bodies of eight migrants have been found at sea off the coast of Libya by rescuers coming to the aid of four rubber dinghies, the Italian coast guard said Tuesday. Some 500 survivors were pulled to safety, the coast guard told AFP, illustrating the huge challenge that continues to bedevil authorities as people try to reach Europe. The latest deaths came as the Italian government presented plans for a naval mission in Libyan territorial waters that aims to reduce the flow of migrants from the coast. Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, which was taking part in the rescues, said the corpses were recovered by the Santa Lucia merchant ship.

“We are here to stop more people drowning, today eight dead and four drifting boats” in distress, Proactiva’s founder, Oscar Champs, said on Twitter. The charity said there were 79 women and 39 minors — including four young children — among those rescued. Nearly 95,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy this year, a rise of 1% on the same period last year, according to the interior ministry. The government intends to send a logistics ship that could support Libyan units and will also offer a patrol boat, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told lawmakers on Tuesday. However, Italy has no intention to create a naval blockade, which would be a “hostile act,” she said, insisting that support for the Libyan mission was the aim and cooperation was necessary.

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If you read between the whining, what a lovely story. Night curfew because turtles are important. Perhaps that’s what it means to be human.

EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

Scores of easyJet passengers were stranded on the Greek island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante) after their plane developed technical difficulties and a replacement aircraft was prevented from flying in because of mating turtles. [..] The airline said the night curfew – apparently in place because of vulnerable loggerhead turtles breeding nearby – had prevented an alternative aircraft being sent out. The sea turtle breeding season is well under way in Zakynthos. According to Archelon, a group dedicated in protecting sea turtles in Greece, late June to early July see the highest levels of spawning. The group has recorded 500 nests on the island so far, but that is fewer than in previous years.

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