Mar 222020
 
 March 22, 2020  Posted by at 11:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  44 Responses »


DPC Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, NY 1906

 

Italy To Shut All Non-Strategic Business Activities Until April 3 (R.)
India Starts 14-Hour Curfew To Curb Virus Spread (R.)
FDA Approves New Coronavirus Test That Can Diagnose Within Hours (Solomon)
Most Cases In New York City Are Of People Under 50 (NBC)
38 Positive For Coronavirus In NYC Jails, Including Rikers (AP)
Britain ‘Two Or Three Weeks’ Behind Italy On Coronavirus: PM Johnson (R.)
NHS Could Be Overwhelmed Like Italy – Boris (R.)
Doctors Given New Guidelines On Choosing Which Patients To Treat (Ind.)
Airlines Appear To Come Up Short In Bid To Win Cash Grants In Rescue Package (R.)
Grocery Clerks Unlikely Heroes In US Coronavirus Fight (R.)
Banks Pressure Health Care Firms To Raise Prices On Drugs, Supplies (IC)
Russia Ready to Send 100 Specialists Including Virologists to Italy (Sp.)
The Coronavirus Did Not Escape From A Lab. Here’s How We Know. (LiveScience)

 

 

 

Cases 311,796 (+ 32,476 from yesterday’s 279,320)

Deaths 13, 071 (+ 1,481 from yesterday’s 11,587)

 

 

I dubbed it “Virus Time” myself, but even my brain has trouble comprehending what that truly is. It’s been less than two days since I wrote:

My prediction: The US has overtaken France, and will in the next few days pass Germany, Spain, and then Iran.

Less than 48 hours later, it’s done. This is what things looked like the day before I said that:

 

 

And here we are this morning:

 

 

 

Difference in timing of emergency declarations between San Francisco and Miami-Dade:

 

 

The virus still is a time machine. Project the next two weeks:

 

 

 

 

Here are the usual graphs. Note: I replaced the last one, COVID2019.app, with COVID2019Live.info, because the former keeps on closing off access.

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 12% !! –

 

 

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

 

 

From COVID2019Live.info: (Replacement for COVID2019.app, which -again- had their pages closed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s real wartime measures. Contrast it with Germany politely asking its car manufacturers to produce medical equipment. Everyone’s waiting till the very last moment, and that’s always too late. But that’s politicians for you, and we’re not going to change that anytime soon.

Italy To Shut All Non-Strategic Business Activities Until April 3 (R.)

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday that all Italian businesses must close until April 3, with the exception of those essential to maintaining the country’s supply chain, in the latest desperate effort to halt the coronavirus epidemic. Italy recorded a jump in deaths from the virus of almost 800 on Saturday, taking the toll in the world’s hardest-hit country to almost 5,000. “It is the most difficult crisis in our post-war period,” Conte said in a video posted on Facebook, adding that “only production activities deemed vital for national production will be allowed”.


Supermarkets, pharmacies, postal and banking services will remain open, Conte said, and essential public services including transport will be ensured. “We are slowing down the country’s production engine but we are not stopping it,” he said. The government is expected to publish an emergency decree on Sunday to make the latest crackdown immediately effective.

Read more …

So let them roam free for 10 hours a day, and that should solve what exactly?

India Starts 14-Hour Curfew To Curb Virus Spread (R.)

India launched a 14-hour curfew on Sunday (March 22) to limit the fast-spreading coronavirus epidemic in the country, where 315 people have so far been found to have contracted the disease. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address to the nation last week, urged citizens to stay indoors from 7am to 9pm local time – a move that he said would be a crucial test for a country to assess its abilities to fight the pandemic. “Let us all be a part of this curfew, which will add tremendous strength to the fight against the Covid-19 menace,” Mr Modi tweeted minutes before the curfew commenced. “The steps we take now will help in the times to come.” Health experts said India’s cases have been growing at a rate seen during the early stages of the outbreak in other countries, which subsequently reported exponential increases in infections.


Several Indian states announced measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. Four cities in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat have declared a complete shutdown until Wednesday. The neighbouring desert state of Rajasthan ordered a shutdown until March 31, while eastern and central states suspended inter-state bus operations to prevent an exodus of daily wage earners from urban centres to villages. State leaders urged citizens not to rush to villages and avoid crowding trains and buses to prevent the virus spread. Tensions have mounted, however, with angry labourers protesting at some bus stations against sudden closures of basic transport services.

Read more …

Funny they don’t say who gets to be tested, and who doesn’t. Until we know, what’s the difference with today?

FDA Approves New Coronavirus Test That Can Diagnose Within Hours (Solomon)

The Food and Drug Administration announced approval Saturday for a new coronavirus test that can diagnose patients within hours, instead of days. The new rapid test, manufactured by California-based Cepheid, is expected to be in the market by March 30, officials said. “The test we’re authorizing today will be able to provide Americans with results within hours, rather than days like the existing tests,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “With the development of point of care diagnostics, Americans who need tests will be able to get results faster than ever before.


“More and more options for reliable, convenient testing are becoming available at an incredibly rapid pace, thanks to the hard work of our FDA team and the ingenuity of American industry.” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the approval “marks an important step in expanding the availability of testing and, importantly, rapid results.” Hahn said because the rapid test can be administered at the point of care, it “means that results are delivered to patients in the patient care settings, like hospitals, urgent care centers and emergency rooms, instead of samples being sent to a laboratory.”

Read more …

Tell the braindead on the Florida beaches that. I was thinking: let them get infected, good riddance. But they will infect others too, and besides, shouldn’t the blame rest with Florida state for leaving the beaches open, with the stores and bars for serving them, and with the parents who send their kids into the infection pools?

Most Cases In New York City Are Of People Under 50 (NBC)

Most people who have tested positive for coronavirus in New York City are younger than 50, according to figures released by the city Saturday. This does not reflect the ages of those who have died, only people confirmed to be infected with the virus. Overall, 57 percent of those who have tested positive in the city are 49 or younger. People 18 to 49 years old make up the majority, 54 percent, the city said. The next largest group are those age 50 to 64, who account for 23 percent of positive test results so far. The accounting reflects data known to the city through 5:30 p.m. Friday. On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We are now the epicenter of this crisis” in the United States.

Read more …

About 2.5 million people are incarcerated in the US.

38 Positive For Coronavirus In NYC Jails, Including Rikers (AP)

At least 38 people have tested positive for coronavirus in New York City jails, including at the notorious Rikers Island jail complex, the board that oversees the city’s jail system said Saturday. In a letter to criminal justice leaders, Board of Correction interim chairwoman Jacqueline Sherman wrote that at least 58 other people were currently being monitored in contagious disease and quarantine units. “It is likely these people have been in hundreds of housing areas and common areas over recent weeks and have been in close contact with many other people in custody and staff,” Sherman warned, predicting a sharp rise in the number of infections.


“The best path forward to protecting the community of people housed and working in the jails is to rapidly decrease the number of people housed and working in them.” In the past six days, she wrote, the board learned that at least 12 Department of Correction employees, five Correctional Health Services employees, and 21 inmates have tested positive for the virus. The city’s jail agency and its city-run healthcare provider did not respond to messages seeking comment on the letter. On Friday, the city’s Department of Corrections said just one inmate had been diagnosed with coronavirus, along with seven jail staff members.

Read more …

Of all the failing “world leaders”, Boris is vying for the no. 1 position. This came one day after he refused to close pubs and schools.

What triggered him is this: “UK yesterday saw total deaths reach 233. Italy was at exactly that figure on March 7th. 2 weeks behind.”

Britain ‘Two Or Three Weeks’ Behind Italy On Coronavirus: PM Johnson (R.)

Britain was only “two or three” weeks behind Italy on the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. In comments carried in the Sunday Telegraph and other Sunday newspapers, Johnson said Britain’s health service could be overwhelmed. “Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed,” he said.

Read more …

Turning around on a dime with no mea culpa whatsoever should really boost people’s confidence in you.

NHS Could Be Overwhelmed Like Italy – Boris (R.)

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) could be “overwhelmed” by the coronavirus like the Italian health system in just two weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned. The death toll in Italy reached almost 5,000 on Saturday, while in the UK it hit 233. In comments carried in the Sunday Telegraph and other Sunday newspapers, Johnson again urged Britons to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus. “Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed,” he said. “The Italians have a superb health-care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand,” Johnson noted.


He advised people to keep away from elderly parents on Mothering Sunday (March 22). “The single best present that we can give … is to spare them the risk of catching a very dangerous disease,” he said. Earlier, Britain urged 1.5 million people identified by the NHS as being at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus to not leave their homes to protect themselves. On Friday, Johnson effectively closed down the United Kingdom, ordering pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms to shut their doors to fight the virus. Stores are also starting to shut.

Read more …

Also from f#*king Boris. And I kid you not: in the corner of my eye I see a BBC show called “The Big Questions”, in which people who all sit the “correct” 10 feet or so apart, discuss the urgent issue: “Should fat-shaming be against the law?”, as their health system is set to crash. And I’m thinking: those glaciers can’t melt fast enough.

Doctors Given New Guidelines On Choosing Which Patients To Treat (Ind.)

New guidelines have been published to help doctors and nurses decide how to prioritise patients during the coronavirus pandemic. The advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) was produced amid concerns that the NHS would be overwhelmed by the demand for intensive care beds and ventilators. It follows reports from the worst-hit parts of Italy where older and sicker patients had to be rejected in favour of the younger and fitter. The three new Nice guidelines, which have been drawn up within a week rather than the usual timescale of up to two years, cover patients needing critical care, kidney dialysis and cancer treatment.


They say all patients admitted to hospital should still be assessed as usual for frailty “irrespective of Covid-19 status”. Decisions about admitting patients to critical care should consider how likely they are to recover, taking into account the likelihood of recovery “to an outcome that is acceptable to them”. Doctors are advised to discuss possible “do not resuscitate” decisions with adults who are assessed as having increased frailty, such as those who need help with outside activities or are dependent for personal care. The document says critical care treatment should be stopped “when it is no longer considered able to achieve the desired overall goals”, following a discussion with family, carers, the patient or an independent advocate.

Read more …

“If there was a meteor racing towards earth right now, they would be passing a bill to give that meteor a tax credit.”
– @jimmy_dore

Airlines Appear To Come Up Short In Bid To Win Cash Grants In Rescue Package (R.)

A last-ditch effort by the chief executives of major U.S. airlines to try to win cash grants to weather the coronavirus crisis looked to be unsuccessful, four congressional aides and airline officials said late Saturday. Airlines had made a last ditch plea urging that $29 billion of $58 billion sought in assistance for airlines be in the form of cash grants. They had offered not to make any job cuts through Aug. 31 if they won the cash and to accept restrictions on executive pay and to forgo paying dividends or stock buybacks. The CEOs of 10 U.S. passenger and cargo carriers had said in a letter that without direct cash assistance, “draconian measures” such as furloughs may be necessary.

Senate Republicans hope to unveil the text of the rescue and stimulus package Sunday that could total $1.6 trillion and is set to include $50 billion in collateralized loan and loan guarantees for passenger airlines and $8 billion for cargo carriers. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said there was still “no deal,” so it is possible the final airline provisions could change in negotiations. Senator John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said earlier airline grants were not winning backing “at this point, I don’t sense support for it here or with the administration. But like I said, nothing is done.”

Airlines are expected to soon turn their attention to applying for government collateralized loans and the terms the legislation will include. The initial Republican plan said the U.S. Treasury could demand stock, warrants or options as part of any airline loans. The global coronavirus outbreak has forced airlines to cancel tens of thousands of flights and resulted in massive revenue losses. On Saturday, United Airlines said it was canceling 90% of its international flights in April.

Read more …

It’s been obvious for a long time that Americans have completely lost sight of what a hero is. But even then. Pay them a decent salary, then we can talk.

The article is the picture painted for you. The reality is:

“I have been coming in sick because I’m worried that I’ll lose my job or just be punished if I call out,” said Angel Duarte, a package handler at a UPS hub in Tucson, Ariz. “I am 23, and I have no savings, and I have a 4-month-old son.“

Grocery Clerks Unlikely Heroes In US Coronavirus Fight (R.)

For Philip, a grocery store clerk, it’s not a matter of if he gets coronavirus, but when. He is among millions of supermarket employees who have been classified as critical U.S. workers at “essential businesses” that will stay open to prevent disruption in food supply. While other workers are being told to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, these employees are being asked to put themselves in constant contact with the public. Coronavirus cases are beginning to appear among them. Whole Foods Market on Thursday reported a positive case in a New York City worker.

California late on Thursday issued an unprecedented statewide “stay at home order” directing the state’s 40 million residents to hunker down in their homes for the foreseeable future. Grocery stores, along with pharmacies, banks and gas stations, will remain open under the order. Working low-paying jobs, these unlikely heroes in the produce section and behind the meat counter are both terrified and gratified to be on the frontlines of the U.S. coronavirus fight. Some employers have raised wages and granted paid sick leave, but there is pressure on them to do more.

“I didn’t sign up to be in a position where I’m constantly exposed to a deadly virus, but I understand too that if grocery stores close then there are way bigger problems,” said Philip, who works in the produce section of a Whole Foods store in a southern U.S. state. Philip asked that his last name and location not be used. “I’d just like to get the virus now, and get it out of the way, so I can come back to work,” said Philip, who is in his 30s. “Everyone’s terrified there, deep down, apart from the few who think it’s not a big deal yet.”

Read more …

Words? Not me.

Banks Pressure Health Care Firms To Raise Prices On Drugs, Supplies (IC)

In recent weeks, investment bankers have pressed health care companies on the front lines of fighting the novel coronavirus, including drug firms developing experimental treatments and medical supply firms, to consider ways that they can profit from the crisis. The media has mostly focused on individuals who have taken advantage of the market for now-scarce medical and hygiene supplies to hoard masks and hand sanitizer and resell them at higher prices. But the largest voices in the health care industry stand to gain from billions of dollars in emergency spending on the pandemic, as do the bankers and investors who invest in health care companies.

Over the past few weeks, investment bankers have been candid on investor calls and during health care conferences about the opportunity to raise drug prices. In some cases, bankers received sharp rebukes from health care executives; in others, executives joked about using the attention on Covid-19 to dodge public pressure on the opioid crisis. Gilead Sciences, the company producing remdesivir, the most promising drug to treat Covid-19 symptoms, is one such firm facing investor pressure. Remdesivir is an antiviral that began development as a treatment for dengue, West Nile virus, and Zika, as well as MERS and SARS.

The World Health Organization has said there is “only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy in treating coronavirus symptoms” — namely, remdesivir. The drug, though developed in partnership with the University of Alabama through a grant from the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, is patented by Gilead Sciences, a major pharmaceutical company based in California. The firm has faced sharp criticism in the past for its pricing practices. It previously charged $84,000 for a yearlong supply of its hepatitis C treatment, which was also developed with government research support. Remdesivir is estimated to produce a one-time revenue of $2.5 billion.

Read more …

Just days after the EU accused Russia of using the virus to spread disinformation in Europe.

Russia Ready to Send 100 Specialists Including Virologists to Italy (Sp.)

“In accordance with instructions from the Russian Defence Minister, Army Gen. Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Aerospace Forces have completed the creation of a necessary air group to deliver forces and equipment from the Russian Defence Ministry allocated to assist the Italian Republic in the fight against the coronavirus”, the statement says. The ministry added that nine Il-76 military transport aircraft with trained crews had been transferred to the Chkalovsky military airfield in the Moscow Region from the Pskov, Ulyanovsk, and Orenburg regions.


The group of about 100 people, including experienced virologists and epidemiologists, is ready to depart for Italy, the ministry said. On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte by phone that Moscow was ready to promptly assist Rome in the fight against the coronavirus. The defence ministry then said that Russia would send eight mobile teams of Russian military virologists and doctors, vehicles for aerosol disinfection, and medical equipment to Italy.

Read more …

For your daily group discussion,. WHich you’re not allowed to have anymore.

The Coronavirus Did Not Escape From A Lab. Here’s How We Know. (LiveScience)

As the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 spreads across the globe, with cases surpassing 284,000 worldwide today (March 20), misinformation is spreading almost as fast. One persistent myth is that this virus, called SARS-CoV-2, was made by scientists and escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. A new analysis of SARS-CoV-2 may finally put that latter idea to bed. A group of researchers compared the genome of this novel coronavirus with the seven other coronaviruses known to infect humans: SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2, which can cause severe disease; along with HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E, which typically cause just mild symptoms, the researchers wrote March 17 in the journal Nature Medicine. “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” they write in the journal article.


Kristian Andersen, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, and his colleagues looked at the genetic template for the spike proteins that protrude from the surface of the virus. The coronavirus uses these spikes to grab the outer walls of its host’s cells and then enter those cells. They specifically looked at the gene sequences responsible for two key features of these spike proteins: the grabber, called the receptor-binding domain, that hooks onto host cells; and the so-called cleavage site that allows the virus to open and enter those cells. That analysis showed that the “hook” part of the spike had evolved to target a receptor on the outside of human cells called ACE2, which is involved in blood pressure regulation. It is so effective at attaching to human cells that the researchers said the spike proteins were the result of natural selection and not genetic engineering.


© Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Here’s why: SARS-CoV-2 is very closely related to the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which fanned across the globe nearly 20 years ago. Scientists have studied how SARS-CoV differs from SARS-CoV-2 — with several key letter changes in the genetic code. Yet in computer simulations, the mutations in SARS-CoV-2 don’t seem to work very well at helping the virus bind to human cells. If scientists had deliberately engineered this virus, they wouldn’t have chosen mutations that computer models suggest won’t work. But it turns out, nature is smarter than scientists, and the novel coronavirus found a way to mutate that was better — and completely different— from anything scientists could have created, the study found.


Another nail in the “escaped from evil lab” theory? The overall molecular structure of this virus is distinct from the known coronaviruses and instead most closely resembles viruses found in bats and pangolins that had been little studied and never known to cause humans any harm. “If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness,” according to a statement from Scripps.

Read more …

 

German doctor, during plague in 14th century:

 

 

 

 

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Mar 182018
 
 March 18, 2018  Posted by at 12:14 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Gordon Parks Daytona Beach, Florida. Bethune-Cookman College. Football practice 1943

 

 

Here’s a delicious little rant from Dr. D., by now a regular contributor at the Automatic Earth.

 

 

Dr. D: The schizophrenia surrounding the tariff plan is really startling. But then I could just say, “the level of insanity everywhere is startling.”

Self-avowed schmartz-guys are all “doesn’t the U.S. know their empire is failing and everybody is cutting them off? What are they thinking starting trade wars with allies and raising prices???” Stop. So your argument is the U.S. is losing its influence, other nations are about to cut it off and end the trade deficit, and thereby basically halt imports? While the U.S. has no internal manufacturing? And your argument here is that, not if but when the world cuts us off we a) would like to have some steel and aluminum to build factories, washing machines and tanks or b) do NOT want to have access to the basic raw materials of society? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

I’m sorry that this generation burned down the factory, then retreated to the mansion, sold off and burned all the furniture there too, then ran up the credit card with cocaine and heroin parties while yelling “I’m a rock star! I’m a Contender!”, but they did. Now there are only bad decisions, like the ones real adults have.

And there’s nothing but work to put that factory back up, and that’s going to cost something, in this case, money and higher prices, using the thousand-year method of protective tariffs. Why not? Europe has 25% tariffs. China has a virtual lockout. If the U.S. machine then also has higher real wages for U.S. workers they can afford the tariffs. I mean, what’s their counterargument? If it’s better to not have steel and aluminum, perhaps we should shut down the few remaining foundries and have NO materials? I mean, if a little is bad, surely none is way better.

Mish for example thinks this way: if China is willing to give us cheap, under-market steel we should take it. No, not if you want to have a country, you don’t. Isn’t it a matter of national security to be able to make tanks, ships, railroads, and artillery? There’s more to the world than money.

Nor is this arcane. You know that brewing Japanese scandal about approving sub-standard steel worldwide for going on 40 years? Well that sub-standard Chinese and Japanese steel was turned into, say, sub-standard U.S. Abrams Tanks, which may explain why they’ve been breaking and unexpectedly going up like roman candles. So how’s your low-cost steel discount look now that the U.S. doesn’t have an effective military? Come on, guys. Again, the world is not only money, to be measured in money. It’s strategy, it’s community, it’s values. I’m surprised we’re so lost I need to bring this up.

Don’t get me started on how we don’t own (and therefore don’t really secure) our toll roads, ports, bridges, and utilities. They are also widely owned by foreigners now. Really? We (or they) sold every living thing out of the United States, and we’re looking for Russians and Terrorists under the bed? For the love of Pete…

 

How do you prepare for an Argentina-like collapse and/or up to civil war we are so close to? People who have lived through it say, “you can’t.” If the whole country is mad, which it is, there is nowhere to turn for sense or even allies, to say nothing of dry goods. Co-Americans are now so immoral, so self-serving, so rapacious, so badly thinking, so ill-positioned and ill-prepared that they themselves are the largest single liability, to me, but mostly to themselves. Without basic morality — you know, like do your job, don’t lie about everyone around you, don’t sleep with other people and/or kids at the local high school — there is no “community” as Ilargi discusses. My place may be here, but I can only say: “stay exiled.”

Think the 30% uptick in opioid overdoses is bad? In my small county there are now 3 support groups of 30 each for pedophiles. These are mostly court-directed, meaning these are only the ones we know about. That’s in ADDITION to the self-help groups for alcohol and drug addition. Hey, where did we get those volunteers for Oxfam, UNICEF, and Haiti? And are the police, judges, Congressmen and FBI not also from this same population? Or are they going to arrest themselves and stop it? Maybe I should go arrest the police and see how that goes. It ain’t good.

Only Morality can fix it, where the nation cries out to God and says, “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the return of justice and order, even if it means paying for my own crimes.” You see that happening yet? My biggest fear is the present turn will patch it over enough to limp on a little further with no reform, and yet that seems the most likely.

Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Benjamin Franklin said, “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” This is just Tytler’s cycle of history:

 

 

We’ve done it all but bondage. When China cuts off the imports and calls the loans, the cycle of bondage will be complete. Until we find faith, we’ll be peasants in our own land, as planned.

 

 

Feb 162015
 
 February 16, 2015  Posted by at 8:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


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

It’s really not that hard. It’s even elegantly simple. But that still requires you’re willing to listen, willing to think, and you don’t go into talks with your mind already made up. Obviously, that is too much to ask from the Eurogroup side of the negotiations with Greece. They haven’t been able to move one inch from their ‘Do as we say or else’ bluster.

German Fin Min Schäuble earlier implied that the Greek people have elected the ‘wrong’ government, an already unforgivable intrusion into a EU member state’s internal affairs. What if the Greeks said the same about Merkel et al, what do you think the reaction would be? Today, SPD executive board member, Joachim Poß, member of Merkel’s German coalition government, does Schäuble one better:

“In the interest of the Greek people and in view of the difficult situation, Prime Minister Tsipras should consider to replace Mr Varoufakis with a political experienced, realistic-efficient person.”

They call for the Greeks to see reality, but they themselves have completely lost it. They think reality is whatever they think or wish it is. The only true reality, however, is that the Greek people, in a very democratic and very convincing way, have elected the government that a cackle of Germans now apparently find inconvenient.

Germany has European reality, and history, and economics, fully upside down. Which, no matter how you take the Greek claim that Germany got in 1953 what Greece deserves today, or their insistence on WWII reparations, is remarkable. How is it possible that there is no voice coming from Berlin to question, doubt, attack, their government’s position? It’s after all not as if there are no unresolved issues left. There are no clear cut positions other than what Berlin and Brussels say there are.

Merkel and Dijsselbloem and Draghi don’t get to decide for the entire world what goes and what does not. Their ‘model’, their ideas, have failed dramatically, and Dijsselbloem’s hollow statement that “much progress has been made” (talking about Greece) only serves to confirm that. They seem to think that a double or nothing on Greece will hide their failures, but the exact opposite is true: Syriza is exposing them as unsavory naked emperors.

Schäuble, in the same vein as Dijsselbloem, insists on saying: “look how great we’ve been doing, which is why we have the right to keep on acting the way we have”. But that is nonsense, neither Schäuble nor Draghi’s policies have been a huge success, far from it. And while Germany may have scraped by – and not much more than that -, this is not remotely true for some of the countries both gentlemen are in an economic union with, least of all Greece. It is simply not true, it’s a self absorbed and self aggrandizing delusion.

If New York State, Texas and California were not bound by the policies inherent in a federal fiscal union, they would have been even richer than they are, but Oklahoma and Nebraska (I’m just picking a few examples) would have been much poorer, and would have no reason to remain part of the USA. The EU and eurozone have no such fiscal union, which means Germany gets to keep all the spoil, and Greece pays the bill. This is possible because Greece, unlike Oklahoma, only gets hand-outs that it has to pay back with interest. Which may be low right now, but that doesn’t change the principle – or the principal, for that matter: Greece gets it share of ‘help’ of the union it’s in, in the form of additional debt. Oklahoma does not.

While at the same time, Greece no longer has a central bank or a currency, so it’s fully dependent on what Berlin decides Frankfurt (ECB) must do. And wouldn’t you know, Frankfurt always decides on doing what is best for Berlin, because it’s the major power in the union. That leaves Greece in a deep dark hole, and one that can only possibly get deeper and darker, unless the eurozone economy starts growing at double digit rates (not!). And even then. Even then that – fantasy – growth would be primarily German.

Just like Nebraska will never be New York or California, Greece will never be Germany. In the US, this was understood – luckily – at an early stage. Or there wouldn’t be a US. I’m not saying the present day US is some sort of Nirvana, but at least it got its basic fiscal principles down early in the game. There’s a means for the federal government to lift up the poorer parts of the union using tax revenues from the richer. And no, that’s not socialism, it’s the only way to keep the better part of an entire continent tied together. And when I say ‘better’, please note I’ve already in my young life lived in Canada for 20 years. And left. And that Canada is actually bigger than the US. It’s a figure of speech.

Schäuble pretends that what is good for Germany, is also good for Greece. And that is manifestly untrue. It would be in a true fiscal union, but it is not true today. It’s nonsense. Doesn’t Germany understand this? That’s hard to believe. Still, they insist that the only way forward for Europe is the one that benefits themselves most. And they get the likes of Dijsselbloem and Draghi to confirm that for them.

All against the Greek underdog. Which, as democratically as their ancestors invented it eons ago, voted they had had enough. And what is Germany’ s reaction? Schäuble said: “The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time..” But isn’t that perhaps even more true for Germany itself? It depends on how you look at it.

Greece never stood a chance in the present configuration. All benefits would always have gone to Germany, simply because they get to decide everything. There are no EU or eurozone rules that say Berlin has to bequeath part of its surplus to weaker parts of the union. What inevitably follows from that is that Germany will, as time goes by, squeeze Greece and Italy and Spain ever drier. After all, Berlin is not the Salvation Army, right?! These things should have been written down in very strong terms long ago, like they were in the US. If you don’t do that, there’s no escaping the consequences.

What Greece, Syriza, Tsipras and Varoufakis are doing right now is to try and change this arrangement, which benefits only the richer parts of the European Union, and does so on an inevitably ever larger scale. They’re trying to make the EU perhaps not precisely like the US (Zeus forbid!), but certainly more like it.

In the US there’s at least a basic kind of fairness, which – well, mostly – prevents parts of its union to dissolve into Third World status. Europe has no such fairness, and it therefore does indeed create that sort of misery within its own borders. And instead of saying, ‘okay, perhaps we should have shared a bit more of our wealth, and let’s discuss that’, they dig in and they treat the Greeks like they’re some kind of inferior species whose best option is to wait for some scraps to fall off the beer and beerwurst-laden tables of Bavaria.

And lest we forget it, one more time, and Varoufakis repeated it again last week, the majority of the Greek debt is what Germany and France burdened the country with when they decided to bail out their own banks who has wagered huge amounts of ‘money’, encouraged by Goldman Sachs’ derivatives schemes that hid Athens debts and allowed Greece entry into the eurozone to begin with.

But for Schäuble to state that “Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time” is a huge leap away from that, because those people lining up at the soup kitchens, and those who sleep in the streets, and those who’re dying from ailments that a 100 miles from the Greek border don’t even faze anyone, have obviously not lives beyond their means.

The Greek people haven’t “lived beyond their means for a long time”, or they wouldn’t live in their “hideous humanitarian crisis”, as Varoufakis calls it, to begin with. The Greek elite may have made off like bandits, but not the people. And who did the EU, Schäuble, Dijsselbloem and Draghi, make the deals with that got the situation where it is?

That’s right, the elites. Brussels installed the technocrat Samaras government, and they did it for a reason. And now that whole set-up has been defeated. Which is why Schäuble says things like “the new Greek government [is] behaving “quite irresponsibly”, and it’s all their fault and none of it is his.

Hubris, bluster, and not much else. That’s how Europe enters the negotiations with Greece. So why should Varoufakis be replaced? I can think of a few others who should first. The entire Greek debt story is nothing but a narrative that will only hold until it no longer can. Thing is, by then the entire eurozone may be gone. And whether you think that’s a good idea or not, just make sure you understand that it will happen only because a bunch of stuck-up politicians too full of themselves to see their own blubber want it to.

Not because of Greece or Syriza. They just want to stop their people’s misery. And what does Germany have to say about that? Well, as per Herr Schäuble, that the Greek government is behaving “quite irresponsibly”.

Upside down, topsy turvy, Bizarro. And that’s what Tsipras and Varoufakis must face. l can only hope they have more patience with it than I would.

Oct 182014
 
 October 18, 2014  Posted by at 8:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


NPC Dedication, George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria, VA Nov 1 1923

A comment on an article that comments on a book. I don’t think either provides, for the topic they deal with, the depth it needs and deserves. Not so much a criticism, more a ‘look further, keep digging, and ye shall find more’. And since the topic in question is perhaps the most defining one of our day and age, it seems worth it to me to try and explain.

The article in question is Charles Hugh Smith’s Why Nations (and organizations) Fail: Self-Serving Elites, and the book he references is Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

Charles starts off by saying:

The book neatly summarizes why nations fail in a few lines:

(A nation) is poor precisely because it has been ruled by a narrow elite that has organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people. Political power has been narrowly concentrated, and has been used to create great wealth for those who possess it.

The Amazon blurb for the book states that the writers “conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it)”, and continues with examples used such as ancient Rome, North Korea, Zimbabwe, the Congo, to make the point that some countries get rich and others don’t, because of differences in leadership structures. That in itself certainly seems true, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the whole story.

In the case of the Congo, for instance, the perhaps richest place on earth when it comes to resources, there’s not only the devastating history it’s had to endure with incredibly cruel Belgian colonial powers, there’s to this day a lot of western involvement aimed at keeping the region off balance, and feed different tribes and peoples with weaponry up the wazoo, in order to allow the west to keep plundering it. It’s not just about national goings-on, it’s – also – a supra-national thing.

That’s one of two shortcomings in the material, the breadth and width of why nations and organizations fail their people but serve their masters. In the present day, national boundaries, whether they are physical or merely legal/political, are not the best yardsticks anymore by which to measure and gauge events.

The second shortcoming, in my view, is that inequality, a theme so popular that even Janet Yellen addressed it this week in what can only be seen as her worst possible impression of Marie Antoinette, and expressed her ‘worry’ about wealth inequality in America. The very person publicly responsible for that inequality thinks it’s ‘just awful’. Go bake a cake, gramps.

Wealth inequality is but a symptom of what goes on. Charles Hugh Smith has a few graphs depicting just how bad wealth inequality has become in the US. We all know those by now. It’s bad indeed. But where does that come from? Charles touches on it, but still hits a foul ball:

I submit that this dynamic of failure – the concentrated power and wealth of self-serving elites – is scale-invariant, meaning that it is equally true of communities, towns, cities, states, nations and empires alike: all fail when they’re run for the benefit of a narrow elite. There is a bitter irony in the ease with which American pundits discern this dynamic in developing-world kleptocracies while ignoring the same dynamic in America.

One would imagine it would be easier to see the elites-inevitably-cause-failure in one’s home country, but the pundits by and large are members of the Clerisy Upper Caste, well-paid functionaries, apparatchiks, lackeys, factotums, toadies, sycophants and apologists for the very elites that are leading America down the path of systemic failure as the ontological consequence of their self-serving consolidation of wealth and power.

Here’s the thing: especially after WWII, though before that already as well, the western world woke up to the need for international co-operation. Dozens of organizations were established to structure that co-operation. But then, in yet another fountain of unintended consequences, something man is better at than just about anything else, we let those organizations loose upon the world without ever asking what happened to what they were intended for, or whether the original grounds for founding them still existed, and whether they should perhaps be abolished or put on a tight leash.

These are questions that should be asked about any large-scale organization. Be they multinational corporations, global banks, Google or indeed the United States of America. We can’t just assume these powers, which gather more power as time goes by, share and serve the purposes of the people. What if they gradually come to serve only their own purpose, and it contradicts that of the people? Should we not get that leash out?

Turns out, we never do. If someone would suggest today to break up the USA, because its present status contradicts that which the Founding Fathers had in mind (and there are plenty of arguments to be made that such contradictions exist in plain view), (s)he would not even be sent to a nuthouse, because no-one would take him/her serious enough to do so.

But wealth inequality still rises rapidly within America, and it doesn’t serve the people. So why does it happen, and why do we let it? Because the inequality that matters most is not wealth, but power. And we’ve been made to believe that we still have that power, but we don’t. Voting in elections has the same function today as singing around a Christmas tree: everyone feels a strong emotional connection, but it’s all just become one giant TV commercial.

Even if families are genuinely happy to meet up and exchange gifts and stories, it’s all modeled after the building blocks handed to us by chain stores. It isn’t really our story anymore, and Jesus certainly wasn’t born in a manger: he was born in a MacMansion and the first thing the child saw was his mom’s fake boobs, a wall-sized TV and an iPhone.

In that same vein, we lost the stories bitterly fought and suffered for by our grandparents through two world wars and the brutal invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, the stories of how we can best keep ourselves safe and out of – international – trouble. Not just military trouble, but economic and political trouble. These things are no longer our decision. We founded supra-national, indeed global, institutions for that. And then let them slip out of our sight.

The US is a bit of an outlier here, simply because it’s older. But the IMF, the World Bank, UN, NATO and the EU absolutely all fit the picture of organizations that have – happily – grown beyond our range of view, and that exhibit the exact same inverted pyramid characteristics we see on wealth inequality, only for these organizations it’s not wealth that floats and concentrates increasingly from the bottom to the top, it’s power.

Wealth comes after that. And one shouldn’t confuse that order. Because power buys wealth infinitely faster than wealth buys power.

All these supra-national institutions were established with good intentions – at least from some of the founders. But then we forgot, ignored, to check on them, and they accumulated ever more power when we weren’t watching (we were watching TV, remember?)

And what we see now is that any effort, any at all, to break up the IMF, World Bank, UN, NATO and EU would be met with the same derision that an effort to break up the USA would be met with. We have built, in true sorcerer’s apprentice or Frankenstein fashion, entities that we cannot control. And they have taken over our lives. They serve the interests of elites, not of the people. So why do we let them continue to exist?

What powers do we have left when it comes to bailing out banks, invading countries, making sure our young people have jobs when they leave school? We have none. We lost the decision making power along the way, and we’re not getting it back unless we quit watching the tube (or the plasma) and fight for it. Until we do, power will keep floating to the top like so much excrement; it’s a law of – human – nature.

That the people we voluntarily endow with such control over our lives would also use that control to enrich themselves, is so obvious it barely requires mentioning. But that doesn’t mean this is about wealth inequality, that’s not the main issue, in fact it’s not much more than an afterthought. It’s about the power we have over our lives. Or rather, the power we don’t have.