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reality is only those delusions that we have in common...

Saturday, May 30, 2020

week ending May 30


Fed Tapers Daily Treasury Purchases To Just $4.5 Billion Per Day - From an initial $75 billion per day when the Fed announced the launch of Unlimited QE in mid-March, the US central bank first reduced its daily buying to $60 billion per day, then announced a series of consecutive 'tapers' as follows:

  • $50 billion per day
  • $30 billion per day
  • $15 billion per day
  • $10 billion per day
  • $8 billion per day
  • $7 billion per day
  • $6 billion per day

Then, after again shrinking the average daily POMO to $5 billion last week, in its latest just published schedule, the Fed unveiled that in the coming week it would purchase "only" $4.5BN per day, or a total of $22.5BN for the week. The Fed is continuing the practice of incremental tapering, and providing a weekly preview of its purchasing operations, which in the coming week will amount to just $22.5BN in TSYs, up $2.5BN from the current week which however was one day short due to the Monday holiday.Somewhat surprisingly, for the second week in a row the Fed decided not to taper its daily MBS buying, which will average $4.5 billion per day next week, the same as last week, and matches the buying of Treasuries for the :

  • Mon: $4.47BN vs no purchases on Monday's holiday
  • Tue: $4.545BN vs $4.23BN
  • Wed: $4.47BN vs $4.770BN
  • Thur: $4.4545BN vs $4.230BN
  • Fri: $4.47BN vs $4.770BN

The chart below summarizes all the Fed Treasury and MBS buying completed and scheduled since the relaunch of QE on March 13:

Federal Reserve Ramps Up Deliberations on Asset Purchases, Rate Guidance – WSJ -Federal Reserve officials head into their next policy meeting deliberating how to assist an economy in a deeper hole than it faced after the 2008 financial crisis at a time when their tools might have less zip.They are likely to debate how to adjust their plans to purchase Treasury and mortgage assets and how to make more concrete their assurances to keep interest rates near zero for some time.Officials have indicated in recent public statements and interviews that they don’t feel hurried to announce details of their strategy at the conclusion of their June 9-10 meeting.They cut interest rates to near zero in March as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. They affirmed plans in April to hold rates there until they are confident the economy is on track for inflation to rise to their 2% target and unemployment to fall to the low levels of recent years.“It’s going to take some time for us at the Fed to get a sense of what this economy, what the rebound potentially can look like,” Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said in an online forum last week. The Fed should have a better handle on the economy’s path by September, he said. The extraordinary nature of the current downturn—stemming from the virus and related shutdowns of economic activity—leaves the central bank with no playbook. “It is hard for the Fed to proceed with the next round of potential [policy] escalations because they don’t really know how the pandemic will proceed and then how long the weakness in economic activity will prevail,” said William Dudley, who was president of the New York Fed from 2009 to 2018. Officials are set to release new economic and interest-rate projections at the June meeting after scrapping those quarterly projections in March. With rates unlikely to go lower, two elements of officials’ policy stance are taking center stage in their deliberations: how to manage the pace of bond purchases and how to communicate their long-run intentions, using what is known as forward guidance. Fed leaders have said they will also study whether to cap yields on certain Treasury securities by purchasing the amounts needed to reinforce their forward guidance.

The Fed Made Loans to Wall Street on Over 90 Percent Margin in 2008 – It Could Be Happening Now - Pam Martens -The largest bailout facility that the Fed used in the 2008 financial crisis, and is using again today, is the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF). The last time around, it made $8.95 trillion cumulatively in revolving loans to the trading houses on Wall Street, which it calls its “primary dealers.” We know this from the eventual audit that was performed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) after the Fed had stonewalled the public from getting details in its multi-year court battle, which it eventually lost.Despite the fact that the stock market was in the midst of crashing in September of 2008, the GAO audit revealed that beginning on September 14, 2008, the Fed expanded its PDCF eligible collateral to include “noninvestment grade securities and equities,” i.e., junk bonds and stocks. But instead of setting prudent margin requirements for the loans being made against stocks, the Fed allowed the trading houses to borrow close to the full amount of their collateral. We know this because the Fed was forced to release the details of these loans following media lawsuits and an Appellate Court order. […] There is every reason to believe that the same scenario is playing out today in the PDCF. The Fed is refusing to reveal the firms that are getting its PDCF loans and how much they are getting individually. The Fed has released a Term Sheet for the PDCF and it shows that the Fed is once again making loans against stock as collateral. Morgan Stanley’s loan under the PDCF that we reference above was made at a 2.25 percent interest rate. Today the Fed is making these preposterous loans at the rate of 0.25 percent.The last time around the Fed’s PDCF loans were limited to overnight. Today they have been expanded to as long as 90 days.The Wall Street cozy presidency of Bill Clinton not only repealed the Glass-Steagall Act but it also reinterpreted margin lending. The National Securities Markets Improvement Act of 1996 exempted the trading houses on Wall Street (broker dealers) from the Fed’s margin rules if the borrowing was “to finance its activities as a market maker or an underwriter.” The legislation did, however, add this: “Notwithstanding this exclusion, the [Federal Reserve] Board may impose such rules and regulations if it determines they are necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors.”The facts on the ground this morning are that the U.S. has Great Depression level unemployment and a stock market soaring 600 points as of 10 a.m. on hopes of expanded Fed bailouts. Where are the hearings in Congress? Where is the outrage?

Fed takes big step toward launch of Main Street Lending Program — The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston published a trove of new documents for lenders looking to participate in the upcoming Main Street Lending Program, in a sign the U.S. central bank will soon launch the highly anticipated loan program for small and midsize businesses. The Boston Fed published an updated set of frequently asked questions and loan participation agreement documents, as well as lender certifications and covenants for each of the three lending facilities that will be available through the program.The Federal Reserve announced the $600 billion Main Street Lending Program in April, saying the central bank would backstop coronavirus relief loans for middle-market firms with no more than 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenue. Businesses that meet those qualifications and were in good financial condition before the COVID-19 outbreak would be eligible for loans of at least $500,000 through one of the three component facilities. The Fed will then buy either 95% or 85% of a loan to free up lenders' balance sheets. Banks will ultimately choose whether to make loans through the program. The Fed’s new set of documents published Wednesday night could offer lenders more clarity and inform their decision on whether to participate. In the new documents, the Fed clarified that in most instances lenders do not have to verify a borrower's certification of eligibility.Additionally, the Fed's special-purpose vehicle that will purchase the loan participations is waiving its right to “special administrative priority” in the event of a borrower’s bankruptcy. The Fed is also holding an “Ask the Fed” webinar June 4 to provide lenders with more details about the Main Street Lending Program.The central bank has not announced when the program will officially be up and running, but Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said Sunday that he expects businesses to begin receiving loans through the program within two weeks.

Williams Doesn’t See Fed’s Support of Economy Causing Inflation Surge – WSJ -Federal Reserve Bank of New York leader John Williams said he sees little risk of an inflation surge despite a wave of central bank support for the economy and financial system prompted by the coronavirus crisis. Mr. Williams said the Fed’s support actions, which have boosted its balance sheet to just over $7 trillion from $4.2 trillion in early March, are aimed at bridging the economy over the crisis and aren’t a form of outright stimulus.

 Fed's Beige Book: "Economic activity declined in all Districts – falling sharply in most" .. Fed's Beige Book "This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City based on information collected on or before May 18, 2020." Economic activity declined in all Districts – falling sharply in most – reflecting disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer spending fell further as mandated closures of retail establishments remained largely in place during most of the survey period. Declines were especially severe in the leisure and hospitality sector, with very little activity at travel and tourism businesses. Auto sales were substantially lower than a year ago, although several Districts noted recent improvement. A majority of Districts reported sharp drops in manufacturing activity, and production was notably weak in auto, aerospace, and energy-related plants. Residential home sales plunged due in part to fewer new listings and to restrictions on home showings in many areas. Construction activity also fell as new projects failed to materialize in many Districts. Commercial real estate contacts mentioned that a large number of retail tenants had deferred or missed rent payments. Bankers reported strong demand for PPP loans. Agricultural conditions worsened, with several Districts reporting reduced production capacity at meat-processing plants due to closures and social distancing measures. Energy activity plummeted as firms announced oil well closures, which led to historically low levels of active drilling rigs. Although many contacts expressed hope that overall activity would pick-up as businesses reopened, the outlook remained highly uncertain and most contacts were pessimistic about the potential pace of recovery.Employment continued to decrease in all Districts, including steep losses in most Districts, as social distancing and business closures affected employment at many firms. Securing PPP loans helped many businesses to limit or avoid layoffs, although employment continued to fall sharply in retail and in leisure and hospitality sectors.

U.S. Businesses See Few Signs of Recovery Through Mid-May – WSJ —U.S. businesses saw limited evidence of a recovery in recent weeks, with economic activity continuing to decline amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. The labor market continued to deteriorate and consumer spending fell further as retailers and restaurants remained largely closed in most of the country through mid-May, the Fed said in its periodic report of anecdotes from businesses around the country known as the “beige book.” “Although many contacts expressed hope that overall activity would pick up as businesses reopened, the outlook remained highly uncertain and most contacts were pessimistic about the potential pace of recovery,” the central bank said. The latest edition of the beige book contains information through May 18, some two months after nonessential businesses around the country shut down to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The U.S. economy contracted 4.8% in the first quarter of 2020. With the coronavirus crisis continuing into the summer, economists are expecting an even steeper contraction in the second quarter.  Leisure and hospitality continued to see the most severe effects of efforts to contain the pandemic. Travel-industry contacts in the Boston area reported that large conventions have been canceled through early fall, costing the hotel industry 200,000 room-nights as a result. A beach-area contact in New England reported a “stark increase in inquiries about bankruptcy procedures from small retailers.” The Fed’s contacts in commercial real estate, meanwhile, reported that large numbers of retail tenants had deferred or missed rent payments. Despite higher prices for some groceries such as meat and fresh fruit, the Fed said, pricing pressures were “steady to down modestly on balance.” Weak demand forced sellers to offer discounts for apparel, hotel rooms and airfare, while new safety protocols, personal protective equipment and social-distancing guidelines imposed new costs on firms. Still, there were a few signs of a nascent recovery in some areas. In the New York Fed’s district, which includes the virus’s U.S. epicenter, “business contacts tended to be less pessimistic than in the prior report about the near-term outlook, and those in the manufacturing, construction, real estate, and health services sectors expected modest improvement.” While consumer spending continued to decline overall, “there have been scattered reports of a nascent recovery in early May.” And in the Cleveland Fed’s district, some retailers started to bring back staff in limited numbers as businesses were allowed to reopen, while one staffing firm reported that his clients were starting to increase hours or bring back laid-off workers. Firms in several parts of the country reported concerns that generous unemployment benefits might make it more difficult to rehire workers. A federal stimulus law temporarily provides a weekly $600 federal supplement to normal unemployment insurance, which is allowing lower-wage workers who were laid off to earn more money than when they were working.

"Chicago Fed National Activity Index suggests economic growth fell substantially in April" -- From the Chicago Fed: Chicago Fed National Activity Index suggests economic growth fell substantially in April:  Led by declines in production- and employment-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) fell to –16.74 in April from –4.97 in March. All four broad categories of indicators used to construct the index made negative contributions in April, and all four categories decreased from March. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, decreased to –7.22 in April from –1.69 in March. Following a period of economic expansion, an increasing likelihood of a recession has historically been associated with a CFNAI-MA3 value below –0.70.  This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.This suggests economic activity was in a recession starting in March (using the three-month average).

Fed's "National Activity Index" Crashes By Most In At Least 50 Years - Just another macro data point for so-called investors to ignore...US economic activity collapsed in April, according to the Chicago Fed. The national index, which draws on 85 economic indicators, crashed to a record low -16.74 in April versus -4.97 in March (and massively worse than the expected level of -3.50).

  • 6 of the 85 monthly individual indicators made positive contributions
  • 79 of the 85 monthly individual indicators made negative contributions

If that does not provide some context for the level of carnage imposed on the US economy, we do not know what does.

Q1 GDP Second Estimate: Real GDP at -5.0% -The Second Estimate for Q1 GDP, to one decimal, came in at -5.0% (-5.05% to two decimal places), a major drop from 2.1% (2.13% to two decimal places) for the Q4 Third Estimate. had a consensus of -4.8%. Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release: Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased 5.0 percent in the first quarter of 2020, according to the “second” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The change was 0.2 percentage point lower than the “advance” estimate released in April. In the fourth quarter of 2019, real GDP increased 2.1 percent. [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.18% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.12. Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 15.2% below trend.

Q1 GDP Revised To -5% As Corporate Profits Plunge 14% - With everyone's attention focusing on what the state of the economy is currently as opposed to last quarter, today's 2nd revision of Q1 GDP was unlikely to get much attention, and that's why the fact that according to the 2nd estimate of first quarter growth the US economy contracted at a 5% annualized pace will have no impact on markets. With Q1 GDP initially reported a sinking -4.8%, this number has now been revised to -5.0%, following an upward revision to consumer spending offset by a sharp drop in private inventories.  The changes [in the contribution to GDP]  between the first and second estimate are as follows:

  • Personal Consumption revised higher: from -5.26% to -4.69%
  • Fixed Investment unchanged: from -0.43% to -0.41%
  • Change in Private inventories sharply lower: from -0.53% to -1.43%
  • Exports unchanged at -1.02%
  • Imports also largely unchanged: from 2.32% to 2.34%
  • Government Consumption was also flat: from 0.13% to 0.15%.

Looking below the surface, we find that personal consumption predictably collapsed 6.8% in 1Q after rising 1.8% prior quarter, but was better than the -7.6% initial forecast.  Nonresidential fixed investment, or spending on equipment, structures and intellectual property fell 7.9% in 1Q after falling 2.4% prior quarter. At the same time, the GDP price index rose 1.4% in 1Q after rising 1.3% prior quarter; core PCE meanwhile declined from 1.8% in the original estimate to 1.6%, missing estimates. Today's release also revealed the state of corporate profits in Q1, which according to the BOEA decreased 13.9% at a quarterly rate in the first quarter after increasing 2.6% in the fourth quarter. On a Y/Y basis, corporate profits decreased 8.5% in the first quarter after rising 2.2% prior quarter. Profits of domestic nonfinancial corporations decreased 14.3% after increasing 4.8%. Profits of domestic financial corporations decreased 16.6% after increasing 0.2%. Profits from the rest of the world decreased 10.8 percent after decreasing 0.3 percent. While this was the worst print since the financial crisis, the real question is what Q2 GDP will be, where estimate range from -30% to as much as -50% annualized.

 U.S. Economy Contracted 5% in the First Quarter as Coronavirus Hit – WSJ —The U.S. economy’s first-quarter contraction was slightly steeper than initially estimated, and a key measure of corporate profits weakened as the coronavirus and related shutdowns began to have an effect. Gross domestic product—the value of all goods and services produced across the economy—fell at a 5.0% annual rate in the first quarter, adjusted for seasonality and inflation, the Commerce Department said Thursday.. The revised number marked the largest quarterly rate of decline since the last recession. Most economists expect a bigger contraction in the second quarter, when lockdowns continued for weeks before states started slowly reopening their economies in May. The agency previously estimated the first-quarter contraction at a 4.8% annual rate. “First-quarter growth turned negative from just a two-week shutdown of the economy,” said Rubeela Farooqi, an economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd., in a note to clients. “The second quarter numbers will show a massive and unprecedented plunge in output, with weakness across sectors.” A bigger estimate of the drop in private inventory investment was the main reason for the weaker GDP reading, which was partly offset by small upward revisions to consumer spending and business investment. Private, nonfarm inventories subtracted 1.52 percentage points from the overall GDP. The Commerce Department’s initial estimate was for a 0.63 percentage-point drag from inventory investment. U.S. corporate profits fell sharply in early 2020 as the economy contracted, according to the government’s first broad estimate of profits at U.S. companies in the first quarter. Stay-at-home orders and lockdowns that shut businesses to combat the spread of the new coronavirus started in mid-March near the end of the first quarter. After-tax corporate profits without inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments, a measure of profits from production that quarter, declined 15.9% in the first quarter from the prior quarter after rising 3.7% in the fourth quarter. Compared with a year earlier, profits were significantly lower in the first quarter, down 11.1%. Forecasting firm IHS Markit on Tuesday projected GDP would shrink at an annual rate of 39% in the second quarter, now in its ninth week. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow model most recently predicted a 41.9% annual rate of decline. The annualized rate overstates the severity of any drop in output because it assumes that one quarter’s pace continues for a year. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of total economic output, and Thursday’s report showed Americans’ outlays contracted in the January-to-March period, but by a slightly lesser amount than initially estimated. Personal-consumption expenditures fell at a 6.8% annual rate in the first quarter, revised from a previous estimate of a 7.6% decline. Business investment weakened in the first quarter, with fixed nonresidential investment falling at a 7.9% annual rate, an upward revision from an earlier estimate of an 8.6% contraction.  Revised data showed net exports added 1.32 percentage points to GDP as imports declined faster than exports. That compared with an earlier estimate of 1.30 percentage points. Per-share earnings for S&P 500 companies fell 12.6% in the first quarter of 2020, compared with the first quarter of 2019, market-data firm Refinitiv said. Companies in the consumer discretionary and financial sectors were the hardest hit, followed by energy and industrial companies. Not all sectors were hard hit. Technology, health-care and consumer staples companies posted per-share earnings gains of more than 5%, Refinitiv said. Sales fell 1.4% for the index as a whole, led by financial and energy companies. Sales rose by 10.4% among health-care companies and by around 5% for real estate, consumer staples and communication services companies. Analysts expect second-quarter results to be worse, with per-share earnings declining about 43% over mid-2019 and sales falling about 12%, Refinitiv said. Analysts projected continued profit and sales declines during the second half before year-over-year gains resume early next year. Thursday’s report reinforced the view by many economists that the U.S. economy slid toward near-certain recession in the first quarter.

 Q2 GDP Forecasts: Probably Around 40% Annual Rate Decline -- GDP is reported at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR). So a 40% Q2 decline is around 9% decline from Q1 (SA).  From Merrill Lynch: Better than expected capex data edged up 2Q GDP tracking to -39.7% qoq saar. [May 29 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report:  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -35.5% for 2020:Q2. [May 29 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 -51.2 percent on May 29, down from -40.4 percent on May 28. [May 29 estimate]

-51.2%! Atlanta Fed Now Expects Staggering Collapse In Q2 GDP -  Two months ago, St Louis Fed president James Bullard triggered a market plunge when he predicted that unemployment may soar to 30% and GDP plunge by an unprecedented 50%, vastly eclipsing the collapse observed during the Great Depression.Sure enough, moments ago the Atlanta Fed's closely followed GDPNow tracker confirmed this worst case scenario, when the latest model estimate for real GDP growth in the second quarter of 2020 crashed to -51.2% on May 29, down from -40.4% on May 28, which would be the biggest drop on record. How did the US just lose 10% (annualized) in GDP growth in 1 day? Here is the explanation: After this morning's Advance Economic Indicators report from the U.S. Census Bureau and personal income and outlays release from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the nowcast of second-quarter real personal consumption expenditures growth decreased from -43.3 percent to -56.5 percent and the nowcast of the contribution of change in real net exports to second-quarter real GDP growth decreased from 2.07 percentage points to 0.73 percentage points. And this is what the AtlantaFed's real-time GDP estimate for the current quarter looks like: For the sake of the US, those predicting a V-shaped recovery better be right.

In Coronavirus Fight, Uncertainty Emerges as the New Enemy – WSJ - When it comes to economic recovery, the coronavirus remains Public Enemy No. 1. But not far behind is an equally insidious force: uncertainty. In conversations with business leaders in recent days, it’s clear that simple uncertainty, as much as any particular policy or public-health imperative, is holding back the economy. Here are the kinds of questions they are asking: Are consumers ready to venture out in force even if they are free to do so? How does a big business navigate a patchwork of different state and local reopening plans and policies? How do we make mass transit safe enough for workers and consumers alike to return to normal life with confidence? Paul Romer, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, says simply: “Uncertainty is the overwhelming problem.” Public policies can help ease some of this uncertainty. The provision of far more tests than have been made available so far can help both buyer and seller feel more comfortable in engaging in the routine economic transitions that drive an economy. A shield against liability lawsuits, which Republican leaders in Congress have proposed, would make employers currently fearful of letting their employees engage in those typical transactions more willing to do so. Nobel Prize winner Paul Romer says any return to normal activity will depend a lot on public attitudes, which are hard to predict.  The coronavirus itself, of course, remains the biggest issue. Mr. Romer notes that it creates two kinds of uncertainty that drag down economic activity. On the individual level, consumers and workers alike continue to ask the basic question: “Will I get sick?” At the macro level, Americans remain uncertain about the path the virus will take and the public policy decisions it still will demand. Should Americans plan for a smooth path down in its spread, or for a second and third spike before a vaccine is available? And when will that be? Yet, Mr. Romer notes that even if the virus were tamed, the return to normal activity will depend a lot on public attitudes, which are hard to predict. “Consider a thought experiment in which we are all immunized overnight,” removing uncertainty about the pandemic itself, Mr. Romer says in an email. “What might remain is the uncertainty of coordination: How quickly will everybody else resume normal activity? If I think that everyone else will resume activity slowly, it might make sense for me to resume my activities slowly. “But if I think that everyone will resume activity quickly, it might make sense for me to resume my activities quickly.” In other words, confidence is infectious, while fear can remain a drag.

White House Won’t Issue Economic Projections This Summer, Official Says – WSJ -The White House won’t issue updated economic projections this summer because of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a senior administration official. The official said the coronavirus has resulted in “fluctuating” economic data, and that White House projections wouldn’t provide a “meaningful snapshot” of the economy. The Washington Post first reported the decision. For decades, U.S. administrations have issued updated forecasts for data including growth, employment and inflation in the summer after issuing their budget proposals, usually in February. The official said the Trump administration didn’t issue such projections in 2017 because that year’s budget request wasn’t released until May, after Mr. Trump took office. President Trump and other administration officials have predicted that the severe slump caused by lockdowns imposed to prevent the spread of the virus would be followed quickly by a strong rebound as businesses reopen. Trump administration officials have predicted that the slump caused by coronavirus lockdowns would be followed quickly by a strong rebound. By the fall, “all the signs of economic recovery are going to be raging everywhere,” White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. The White House hasn’t released detailed economic analysis to support its predictions. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects gross domestic product to shrink 5.6% in the fourth quarter of 2020 from the same period last year. By the end of 2021, the economy will still be smaller than it was at the end of 2019, and the jobless rate—which stood at 14.7% last month—will remain above 8%, the CBO projects.Most economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal this month said the economy will likely bottom out in May or June and that growth will remain below pre-pandemic levels for years.“It’s going to take a while for us to get back,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a May 17 interview on CBS News’s “60 Minutes.”   The Fed plans to release updated economic projections following its June 9-10 policy meeting, Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said this week.

A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery -  Pam Martens - The bankruptcy epidemic in the U.S. started last year, long before any COVID-19 pandemic had touched down. U.S. retailers ranked among the greatest casualties of 2019 with a total of 17 bankruptcies. Big names among the retail bankruptcies in 2019 included Gymboree on January 16; Charlotte Russe on February 3; Things Remembered on February 6; Payless ShoeSource on February 18; Charming Charlie on July 11; Barneys New York on August 6; and Forever 21 on September 29. Now, the retail shutdowns resulting from COVID-19 have simply accelerated what was already a growing trend of companies seeking relief from debts they cannot pay back. Some of the major bankruptcies this year mean permanent, not temporary, job losses. The 118-year old J.C. Penney Co. had 846 stores when it filed for bankruptcy on May 15 of this year. It said it plans to permanently close 242 of those stores. On May 19, Pier 1 Imports, which filed for bankruptcy in February, said it plans to liquidate all of its remaining 540 stores. Hundreds of store closings in malls spell escalating job losses and more pain in the commercial real estate market. According to Moody’s, shopping mall vacancies had already reached an historic high of 9.7 percent at the end of March. Distressed mall owners will, in turn, put stress on big Wall Street banks which will have to take more loan loss reserves on their exposure to commercial real estate. That, in turn, will mean that the big banks, which have an outsized presence in consumer and business lending, will start trimming credit card lines to consumers and credit lines to businesses. In fact, that process has already begun. That, in turn, will stunt consumer spending, which, unfortunately, represents two-thirds of U.S. GDP. Another major shopping mall retailer, J. Crew, filed bankruptcy on May 4. It has been slowly closing stores since 2018. It currently operates 182 J. Crew retail stores, as well as 140 Madewell stores. Due to its debt burden, analysts say it could be forced to close as many as half of its stores. Neiman Marcus, which filed for bankruptcy protection on May 7, had announced in March that it would close most of its off-price Last Call stores by early 2021. It has indicated it hopes to keep its 43 Neiman Marcus stores and two Bergdorf Goodman stores open. Other big name retail bankruptcies this year include Modell’s Sporting Goods on March 11; True Religion on April 13; Roots USA April 29; Aldo May 7; Stage Stores (owner of Bealls, Palais Royal, Peebles, Stage and Goody’s) on May 11. Just yesterday, discount retailer Tuesday Morning filed for bankruptcy protection with plans to permanently close about 230 of its 687 stores. But retailers are not the only companies piled high with debt that are increasingly turning to bankruptcy protection. Telecommunications company, Frontier Communications Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection on April 15. It had $17.5 billion in debt. With almost $19 billion of debt, the century-old Hertz rental car company filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday, May 22. In addition to Hertz, it operates Dollar and Thrifty car rentals. At the end of 2019, it had 38,000 workers. Earlier this year, it announced 10,000 layoffs. Hertz operates a fleet of 500,000 vehicles. It may begin selling off tens of thousands of those cars to raise cash, raising concerns that this could devastate prices in the used car market, potentially shuttering small used car businesses.

Something's Wrong- A Debt-Financed Recession - The Fed’s debt-bridge policy is designed to improve the flow of credit to businesses to avoid a devastating credit crunch. Never before has one of the monetary policy solutions to combat recession been to extend credit to struggling, profit losing businesses. There is no precedent for record business borrowing during a recession. The scale of business failures during and after the economy exits recession will far exceed that of the Great Financial Recession. The traditional way for monetary policy to build a bridge from recession to recovery is through the lowering of official interest rates. In time, the reduction of interest rates triggers a refinancing cycle, lowering interest costs, and improving liquidity positions. The “reliquification” process enables firms (and individuals) to exit recession with stronger liquidity and lower debt burdens. With official interest rates relatively low the “reliquification” process was not a viable policy option to combat the abrupt contraction in the economy. So policymakers were forced to support the flow of credit to the economy by purchasing securities and provide direct financing to sectors where it is not otherwise available or too costly. So instead of contracting, which is the typical pattern during the recession, the flow of private credit has exploded to the upside. Since the start of 2020, commercial and industrial loans have increased over $750 billion to a record $3.1 trillion. That increase nearly matches the cumulative increase in corporate bank borrowing of the past 6 years. At the same time, US corporations have tapped the capital markets for hundreds of billions of new debt. Through early May corporations have issued nearly $300 billion in new debt, twice as much as the comparable period one year ago. An addition of $1 trillion of new liabilities over a few months is a big number in the best of times. Yet, record corporate borrowing during bad times increases the risk of business failures and defaults.   Almost all business people agree that the current crisis marks an inflection point. The business world has changed and firms need to remake (i.e., downsize) their organizations to fit in the new normal. Companies will operate with a smaller footprint, but more debt. There is no precedent for record corporate borrowing during a recession. As a result, investors need to brace for an economy unlikely to resemble the one before, with an uneven and slow growth, and record corporate failures. 

State and Local Budget Woes Create Drag for Economic Recovery Prospects – WSJ -  The hit to U.S. state and local finances from the coronavirus pandemic could be a drag on the nation’s economic recovery for years to come, if the past is any guide. State and local government spending and employment levels didn’t fully recover from the 2007-09 recession until last fall, a decade after the downturn ended and only a few months before the coronavirus led to a new round of cuts. Economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, worry that today’s cuts could once again take a long time to heal and could slow the economic recovery. “We have the evidence of the global financial crisis and the years afterward where state and local government layoffs and lack of hiring did weigh on economic growth,” Mr. Powell told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. The condition of state and local government finances affects the health of the broader economy because their spending amounts to almost 11% of gross domestic product, and they employ about one of every eight American workers, including teachers, police officers and firefighters. In April alone, those governments cut nearly 1 million positions, two thirds of which were in public schools and colleges, according to Labor Department figures. Governors and mayors have warned of more cuts to come. California, for instance, projects budget deficits of $13.4 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30 and $40.9 billion for next year. Across the country, states and cities are being squeezed by a combination of lost revenues and rising spending on services like unemployment insurance and health care. Unlike the federal government, they cannot run deficits, so the gap must be filled by spending cuts, tax increases or both. Moody’s Analytics estimates they will need to make $500 billion in cuts over the next two years due to the economic effects of the coronavirus. But the overall economic impact of those cuts would be considerably greater, according to Gabriel Chodorow-Reich, an economist at Harvard University. “When those workers are laid off, they have to cut back on spending, and when they cut back on spending that reduces the income of others in the economy,” he said. “That amplifies the initial cut.” Based on evidence from the last recession, Mr. Chodorow-Reich estimates that every dollar in cuts costs the overall economy $1.50 to $2. The principle also works in reverse, he said. Every additional dollar of spending adds $1.50 to $2 to the economy.

Coronavirus stimulus: Trump wants to send out more relief money -- President Donald Trump and his advisors showed more support for a new round of coronavirus relief spending this week as economic damage from the pandemic mounts. The president on Thursday said, "I think we're going to be helping people out" and "getting some money for them" as tens of millions of Americans lose paychecks and businesses struggle to survive with public health restrictions still in place in much of the country. He added that the U.S. could take "one more nice shot" at stimulus. Trump's advisors have echoed his sentiment. On Friday morning, economic advisor Kevin Hassett told CNN that another round of aid is "pretty likely," saying he believes "it's coming sooner rather than later." Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that he sees a "strong likelihood" the U.S. will need more stimulus. Support has mounted in the White House as Congress fails to strike a consensus on how to lift a U.S. economy collapsing under the weight of the pandemic. More than 38 million people have filed jobless claims since the crisis started, and second-quarter GDP is expected to plunge. Democrats have pushed for an immediate, sweeping plan to push more spending money to individuals, expand the social safety net during the crisis and make voting safer by expanding mail-in ballot access. he House passed a $3 trillion relief package last week.. After downplaying the need for more federal spending, the GOP-held Senate has started to open the door to a more narrow aid proposal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Trump this week that the next bill should not cost more than $1 trillion, according to Axios. The president has generally showed more comfort with free spending than his Republican allies in Congress. Policymakers will, of course, have to pin down a lot of details. Democrats have pushed for a second stimulus check to individuals of up to $1,200, and Trump appears to have embraced the idea. Congressional Republicans already backed direct payments once in March. 

Kudlow Calls For "Back To Work Bonus" As Americans Prefer Sitting On Couch Rather Than Working -- White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Tuesday told Fox News that the Trump administration is examining another round of stimulus for unemployed workers that will get them back to work. Kudlow calls it the "back to work bonus," a move that will bring people from off the sidelines and back into the workplace as the economy restarts. A significant problem for the Trump administration has developed during the economic crash, unemployment benefits for some workers are now paying more than their old jobs did, which is set to delay the employment recovery. Thanks to the March CARES Act which boosted unemployment benefits by $600 per week, around half of all US workers stand to take in more money while laid off than they did before the pandemic - at least until that increase expires at the end of July.We noted last week that the CARES Act, which included a $1,200 stimulus check and an additional $600 weekly payment for the unemployed, has led to a labor shortage at one Arizona restaurant. Times Square Italian Restaurant owner Paullette Cano said with an "unemployment rate at almost 20%, you'd think we'd have a lot of applicants coming in, but we're not." Cano said the CARES Act and unemployment checks have resulted in many of her furloughed employees staying home. They collectively told her their pay from the government is much better than working at her restaurant. Moving on to the subject of China, Kudlow said that Trump is so "miffed" with the Chinese over the virus, that the trade deal is not longer his No. 1 focus concerning China - echoing comments that Trump himself made recently.Commenting on the market's rally on Tuesday, Kudlow said Q3 could see one of the biggest jumps in US GDP growth in history, and that the market is rallying on signs that we've "hit bottom", and that the worst of the economic disruption is behind us.Kudlow also said the administration would extend some assistance to US companies seeking to move parts of their supply chain back to the US from China.

U.S. small firms leave $150 billion in coronavirus stimulus untapped - (Reuters) - When the U.S. government first rolled out forgivable loans to small businesses in early April under the Paycheck Protection Program, loan officers at Bank of the West in Grapevine, Texas worked nights and weekends to process a tsunami of applications. But since those first few frantic weeks, demand has “just dried up,” said bank president Cindy Blankenship. On May 15 the bank stopped taking applications for PPP loans. Nationally the program remains active. But data from the Small Business Administration shows net weekly PPP lending has actually been negative since mid-May, as fewer firms applied for loans, and some borrowers returned funds. All told, the SBA says it had approved $512.2 billion in PPP loans as of May 21. That’s nearly $150 billion less than the $660 billion allocated to the program, which was designed to keep Americans on company payrolls and off unemployment assistance. Many of Bank of the West’s PPP borrowers haven’t touched their PPP loan deposits, which total $87 million, Blankenship says, partly because they are confused about the terms. “I think it’s a mixture of uncertainty and anxiety and fear, and the uncontrollable factor about employment and rehiring.” The money left unborrowed and unspent under the program - a flagship of Congress’ $2.9 trillion effort to cushion the economic crush of the coronavirus pandemic - represents a lost opportunity. Businesses were supposed to use it to retain workers, but may have been laying them off instead of tapping the money. Some 38.6 million people have filed for unemployment insurance since the crisis began, and the unemployment rate is expected to near or surpass the 25% record reached in the Great Depression. The SBA does not provide estimates of how many jobs have been protected by the 4.4 million loans made to date under the program. The agency did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Exclusive: U.S. taxpayers' virus relief went to firms that avoided U.S. taxes -  (Reuters) - Last month Zagg Inc, a Utah-based company that makes mobile device accessories, received more than $9.4 million in cash from a U.S. government program that has provided emergency loans to millions of businesses hit by the coronavirus. The money was part of the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — a linchpin of President Donald Trump’s economic rescue package, meant to save small firms convulsed by the pandemic and help them to keep workers on the payroll. Claimants certified the loans were necessary to support their business and received an average of $115,000 as of May 26, according to the Small Business Administration, which administers the program. Nasdaq-listed Zagg’s loan was more than 80 times that amount. That wasn’t the only help Zagg had from the government lately. Last year, the company received a $3.3 million tax refund and racked up U.S. tax credits worth $7 million, its public filings show. It made $6 million in profit for 2019, but paid no tax in the United States. Zagg has booked much of its profit through small companies in far-off Ireland and the Cayman Islands, its filings show. The company’s situation is one of several that reveal a previously unreported aspect of the government relief program: The fund is giving millions of dollars in American taxpayer money to a number of firms that have avoided paying U.S. tax, a Reuters examination found. In all, Reuters’ analysis of public data found around 110 publicly traded companies have each received $4 million or more in emergency aid from the program. Of those subject to taxes, 12 of the companies recently used offshore havens to cut their tax bills, the analysis found. All together, these 12 received more than $104 million in loans from U.S. taxpayers. Seven of them paid no U.S. tax at all for the past year. The program, which provides low-interest loans that are forgivable if companies use most of the money to pay employees, has been widely criticised for problems ranging from early bottlenecks that prevented small businesses from receiving money, to confusion that led millions of dollars to be handed out to relatively affluent firms. Zagg, which sells its accessories in stores, online and via TV, declined to comment on its tax affairs but said separately it needed the cash from the program to keep its team together. It said in its annual report that its 2019 tax credits were “primarily attributable to a change in our global tax structure with respect to intangible intellectual property.” Of the almost 110 recipients of $4 million or more, Reuters found some 46 paid no U.S. corporate tax for the last year. There are many reasons for this, not all to do with tax avoidance.

 House passes bill giving firms more time to use PPP loans — The U.S. House of Representatives voted almost unanimously Thursday to give businesses more time to spend funds disbursed through Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program.House lawmakers voted 417-1 to advance the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, which triples the period to 24 weeks during which businesses can spend their PPP loan amounts. The legislation would also lower the threshold for how much of the funds must go toward payrolls, from 75% to 60%, in order for a PPP loan to be forgiven.“I think we can all agree the economic crisis brought on by Covid-19 has proven more severe and drawn out than many anticipated,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Small Business Committee. “The extended nature of the economic downturn has made it necessary to enact certain legislative reforms to the programs. … The new 60-40 ratio makes certain a business can remain open, weather the crisis, continue employing workers and keep serving their local communities.” The legislation comes after small businesses pushed to be able to use more PPP funds for purposes other than payroll. The National Federation of Independent Business urged lawmakers in a letter to pass the legislation.“These changes will allow more businesses to receive PPP loan forgiveness and have liquidity after the PPP ends,” said Kevin Kuhlman, vice president of federal government relations at the federation.The legislation is due to be considered as early as next week in the Senate, where the strong bipartisan support for the measure in the House may help its chances. The House recently passed a separate $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, but its chances to become law are less clear.

House Passes Bill Loosening Rules on PPP Small-Business Loans – WSJ —The House approved a bipartisan bill that would loosen requirements on hundreds of billions of dollars in small-business loans, responding to concerns from employers struggling to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic. The House bill reduces the level of Paycheck Protection Program funds that must be used for payroll to 60% from 75%. The bill also gives borrowers up to 24 weeks to use the funds, up from the eight set in the initial bill passed in March, and extends the deadline to rehire workers to Dec. 31. The bill passed 417-1 on Thursday, with many of the Democratic votes read into the record by their assigned proxy, taking advantage of a rule change this week that allows remote voting for the first time. Republicans have rejected proxy voting and have filed a lawsuit to block the practice. The bill now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers of both parties are hoping for quick action. House lawmakers say last-minute changes to the bill, such as setting the 60% level for payroll, were done to reach a bipartisan agreement in both chambers. That payroll level marked a compromise between keeping it in place at its current level and eliminating it entirely. “This is a bill to provide immediate flexibility and it’s needed, and if the Senate sits there and messes around and then have to wait and call it back and then weeks go by, then we’re stuck,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R., Texas), a lead sponsor of the bill. Senators backing it plan to push for a vote next week. The PPP changes are one area of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill, amid deep divisions over unemployment benefits, state aid, liability shields for businesses and other issues in the next round of talks. “I’m hoping that the Senate can just take it up, maybe even on unanimous consent,” Sen. Angus King (I., Maine) said in an interview. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said the senator will push for a vote next week as well. A spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) declined to comment. The Senate failed last week to reach a deal to extend the amount of time companies have to spend loans obtained through the program to 16 weeks. The House bill has support from several outside groups lobbying for changes to PPP, including the National Restaurant Association, U.S. Travel Association and the National Small Business Association. “We believe what we’ve compromised on here, in this chamber, will be sufficient to pass the Senate,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D., Minn.), a lead sponsor of the bill. “This is what small businesses need, and if we don’t keep the businesses open, the jobs go away.” In a separate development, federal agencies said they would set aside an additional $6.8 billion of funds during PPP’s second round for community lenders that target underserved borrowers, as lawmakers consider broader changes to the program.

  18 Million Jobs At Risk Of Permanent Loss: What Happens To Small Businesses When The Bailout Money Is Spent - We continue to worry – a lot – about how US small business will recover from the COVID Crisis, primarily because of this segment’s impact on the American labor market. According to the latest US Small Business Administration data (2016 calendar year):

  • There are 30.7 million registered small businesses in the US, but the vast majority (24.8 million) have no employees. The important group for our purposes today is the 5.9 million small businesses that employ anywhere from 1 to 499 workers.
  • Those 5.9 million firms have an aggregate payroll of 59.9 million people, 47.3% of the American labor force.
  • Through May 16th (latest Treasury Dept data available), the Payroll Protection Program has made 4.3 million loans. This represents only 14% of total US small businesses.

On the one hand, it’s pretty impressive that the PPP has now gotten money to 73% of American small businesses that actually have a payroll; on the other, the program is only meant to be a short-term bridge loan/grant.  The question now is what happens to American small business once the PPP money is spent, and that requires a deeper dive into the data.  Almost two thirds (64%) of US small business employment is concentrated in just 6 types of companies and their contribution to total US employment varies widely:

  • Health Care and Social Assistance: 8.8 million workers (45% of total US employment in this category)
  • Accommodation and Food Service: 8.3 million (61%)
  • Retail Trade: 5.6 million (35%)
  • Construction: 5.2 million (82%)
  • Professional, Scientific and Technical Services: 5.2 million (59%)
  • Manufacturing: 5.1 million (44%)

Takeaway: in terms of overall US labor market trends, small business employment in these 6 sectors is responsible for 30% of American jobs, so these are the industries to watch in the coming months as the country reopens. #2: Small business employment in industries which 1) rely largely on face-to-face customer interaction but 2) are not heath care/assistance related and therefore must spend more time and money adopting new business practices and/or adapting to capacity limits:

  • Accommodation and food service: 8.3 million workers
  • Retail trade: 5.6 million
  • Educational services: 1.6 million
  • Real Estate and Rental and Leasing: 1.4 million
  • Art, Entertainment and Recreation: 1.4 million
  • Total: 18.3 million

Takeaway: we would argue that this 18 million worker cohort is at the most risk of permanent layoffs over the next 6 months. Some industries – education and real estate, for example – can more easily adapt to either remote operation or address health concerns with appropriate modifications. But it’s harder to see how small businesses in accommodation/food service, retail, and arts/entertainment will bounce back quickly; that’s 15 million workers. Assume 25% of those businesses fail and others have to cut back, and a 33% reduction in the workforce or 5 million jobs lost seems like a reasonable estimate.

GOP Wants Cuts to Social Security and Medicare in Next COVID Stimulus Package  - A proposal by Sen. Mitt Romney to establish congressional committees with the specific goal of crafting legislative “solutions” for America’s federal trust fund programs has reportedly resurfaced in GOP talks over the next Covid-19 stimulus package, sparking alarm among progressive advocates who warn the Utah Republican’s bill is nothing but a stealth attack on Social Security and Medicare.Politico’s Burgess Everett reported Wednesday that Romney’s TRUST Act, first introduced last October with the backing of a bipartisan group of senators, “is getting a positive reception from Senate Republicans” in coronavirus relief discussions, which are still in their early stages. The legislation, Everett noted, “could become part of the mix” for the next Covid-19 stimulus as Republicans once again claim to be concerned about the growing budget deficit.Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), told Common Dreamsin an interview that he is not at all surprised to see Romney’s bill crop up again and said it should be diligently opposed.NCPSSM vocally condemned the TRUST Act when it was unveiled last year, warning that—if passed—the measure “would likely result in cuts to the earned benefits of seniors, people with disabilities, and survivors.”Richtman noted that in a House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee roundtable discussion this week, the idea of establishing commissions to study possible changes to Social Security—though not Romney’s bill specifically—was floated by GOP members, an indication that the New Deal-era program is very much on the minds, and potentially in the crosshairs, of Republican lawmakers.“Social Security is the piggy bank that Republicans seem to go to whenever it dawns on them that we’ve gotta do something about the debt,” Richtman said, “notwithstanding the fact that they passed a huge tax cut that added trillions to the debt and benefited mostly wealthy individuals and corporations.”Speaking to Politico this week, two Republican congressmen—Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.)—cited the coronavirus pandemic’s possible effects on Social Security to call for a commission to study the program and recommend reforms. Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), meanwhile, is pushing for an expansion of benefits funded by lifting the payroll tax cap, which would make wealthier Americans pay more.“I don’t know when we’re going to decide to take up the issue,” said Womack. “I hope and I pray that it’s not when we have no other real options other than something draconian like big cuts.”

Republicans and corporate interests exploit coronavirus crisis to erase companies’ liability --EPI Blog  -Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced that they are working on legislation to give companies enhanced protections against lawsuits by employees and consumers who contract COVID-19 and claim that the business is responsible for their infection. Instead of advancing crucial worker protections and aid to state and local governments, Republicans and corporate advocacy organizations have made “liability shield” legislation the main priority for additional pandemic relief and recovery measures—claiming that it is necessary to remove liability from businesses in order to reopen the economy. To be clear, removing legal accountability from businesses would jeopardize the health and safety of workers and consumers and threaten the overall economic recovery. In the last several months, there have been many examples of businesses failing to provide workers with the necessary personal protective equipment to enable them to perform their jobs safely and effectively. Further,some workplaces have continued to operate when workers reported infection and have become epicenters of a local outbreak. Eliminating all legal liability for businesses will likely lead to more businesses acting irresponsibly and placing potential profits ahead of worker and consumer safety.Compounding this problem is the fact that policymakers have gutted federal budgets for worker protection enforcement over the last decade, as shown in Table 1.1 As the workforce has expanded, the number of inspectors available to ensure that businesses are operating in compliance with health and safety regulations have also declined. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), there is approximately one compliance officer for every 59,000 workers.Figure A shows worker protection agencies are responsible for far more workers than they were a decade ago.

Grassley: White House 'failed to address' if there was a 'good reason' for IG firings - Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that the White House "failed to address" if President Trump had a "good reason" to fire top watchdogs for the State Department and the intelligence community.White House counsel Pat Cipollone responded on Tuesday to two letters from Grassley on the firings of Inspectors General (IG) Steve Linick and Michael Atkinson, saying that Trump "acted within his constitutional and statutory authority." But Grassley, who has long spearheaded inspector general legislation, said Congress has "made it clear" that if an IG is going to be fired "there ought to be a good reason." "The White House Counsel’s response failed to address this requirement, which Congress clearly stated in statute and accompanying reports. I don’t dispute the president’s authority under the Constitution, but without sufficient explanation, it’s fair to question the president’s rationale for removing an inspector general," Grassley said.Grassley added that without stating a good reason, "the American people will be left speculating whether political or self interests are to blame. That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability." Trump sent shockwaves through Washington earlier this year when he announced he was firing Atkinson, who last year handled the whistleblower complaint at the center of the House impeachment inquiry as part of his job as the intelligence community's top watchdog.Atkinson's firing sparked a letter from Grassley and seven other senatorspushing for Trump to give a more detailed reason for the decision. Grassley sent a separate letter to the administration this month over Linick's firing. Trump has said he fired Linick because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to — an explanation Cipollone reiterated in his letter this week.

Trump’s tough choices over Hong Kong - Successive administrations have struggled with an increasingly aggressive China, while factoring in the geopolitical reality that it is, and will likely continue to be, a global heavyweight. With just six months to go until the US presidential election, China has become a popular political football. China's latest move to introduce national security legislation in Hong Kong -- a semi-autonomous city that was guaranteed its own legal system and certain democratic freedoms until 2047 under the "one country, two systems" framework -- has sent shockwaves across the world. The draft legislation would ban sedition, secession and subversion of the central government in Beijing as well as "foreign interference." -- all codewords that the Chinese Communist Party uses to quash political dissent. The legislation would also allow for mainland security forces to be deployed in Hong Kong, among other measures that would erode the territory's autonomy. While China feels increasingly empowered lately, its training wheels came off a long time ago when it comes to achieving its territorial ambitions. In the last few years, it has continued efforts to erode Hong Kong's special status. After Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, Trump inaccurately claimed former President Barack Obama "allowed a very large part of Ukraine to be taken." Now Trump is likely to have his own Crimea moment, as China plans to assert its control over Hong Kong. When the history books detail the Trump administration's posture on China, they will tell a tale of two policies. The State Department and the Commerce Department, for example, have taken an increasingly punitive stance against China while the intelligence community has laid out the threats that China poses to US elections, arms control, cyberspace, and more. Trump, on the other hand, clung to China as he worked to iron out a trade deal, often parroting the ruling Communist Party's (CCP) propaganda on issues like Hong Kong and, at times, praising China on crises like the coronavirus.

 U.S. planning to cancel visas of Chinese graduate students: sources -  (Reuters) - The United States is planning to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students believed by President Donald Trump’s administration to have links with China’s military, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday. The move, first reported by the New York Times, could impact 3,000 to 5,000 Chinese students and could be announced as early as this week, according to the sources, including a current U.S. official and another individual who was briefed on the administration’s internal discussions. The United States and China are at loggerheads over China’s decision to go forward with national security legislation for Hong Kong that democracy activists in the city and Western countries fear could erode its freedoms and jeopardize its role as a global financial hub. Chinese students who are in the United States will have their visas canceled and will be expelled, the source briefed on the plans said, while those already outside the United States will not be allowed to return. The main purpose of the action is to clamp down on spying and intellectual property theft that some Chinese nationals are suspected of engaging in on U.S. university and college campuses, the source said, adding that the administration expected significant push back from those institutions because of their financial interests in Chinese student enrollment. Some 360,000 Chinese nationals who attend U.S. schools annually generate economic activity of about $14 billion, largely from tuitions and other fees.

US Lawmakers Propose Total Ban On STEM Visas For Chinese Students - As the White House prepares to eject Chinese graduate students with ties to the PLA, three US lawmakers are taking things a step further - proposing a bill which would ban mainland Chinese students from studying STEM subjects in the United States. Two senators and one House member said on Wednesday that the Secure Campus Act would bar Chinese nationals from obtaining visas for graduate or postgraduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students from Taiwan and Hong Kong would be exempt, according to SCMP. "The Chinese Communist Party has long used American universities to conduct espionage on the United States," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), one of the bill's sponsors, adding "What’s worse is that their efforts exploit gaps in current law. It’s time for that to end.""The Secure Campus Act will protect our national security and maintain the integrity of the American research enterprise." The proposed legislation comes as diplomatic relations have fractured between the world’s two largest economies. The fissures started to show during a trade war that has been rumbling on for almost two years and have only widened amid accusations about the handling of the Covid-19 disease outbreak , and the treatment of ethnic minority groups in China. Hong Kong is the latest flashpoint after Beijing drew up a national security law that Washington says tramples on the city’s mini-constitution. The US threatened retaliation over the move. –SCMP  The bill will also tackle China's efforts to recruit talent overseas through their Thousand Talents Program, an operation launched in 2008 by the CCP which seeks out international experts in scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship. It proposes that participants in China's recruitment of foreigners be made to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and would prohibit Chinese nationals and those participating in China-sponsored programs from receiving federal grants or working on federally funded R&D in STEM fields.

Trump intrudes in China-India border standoff -- US President Donald Trump intruded into the tense border standoff between China and India Wednesday with a spurious offer to mediate and even “arbitrate” “their now raging border dispute.” Announced in a tweet, Trump’s “offer” was a provocation meant to signal to Beijing that Washington is involving itself ever more directly in Sino-Indian relations, and doing so as part of an across-the-board ratcheting up of its strategic offensive against China. Hundreds of Chinese and Indian troops are currently arrayed against each other “eyeball to eyeball” in at least four places along their disputed border. Beijing and New Delhi have also deployed additional forces and war materiel to forward bases near the border, both to signal their resolve and to acclimatize their troops to the high-altitude Himalayan terrain. Each accuses the other of violating the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in three places along their western border, as well as at a fourth place some 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) further east. Each insists the other must withdraw if the crisis is to be defused and a further souring of bilateral relations avoided. The LAC is meant to serve as the de facto border between the world’s two most populous countries pending final resolution of their border dispute. But the LAC is not precisely delineated along much of the 3,400-kilometre (2,100 mile) Sino-Indian border, giving rise to frequent disagreements. The current conflict, however, goes far beyond such low-level tensions. It began with two incidents in which Indian and Chinese troops jostled one another and exchanged blows with sticks. The first, on May 5, occurred in the west, in the Pangong Tso lake region, where Indian-held Ladakh meets Chinese-held Aksai Chin. The second clash came four days later near Naku La Pass in the border lands of the northeast Indian state Sikkim and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. In ensuing days, there were further mutual claims of violations of the LAC. These all gave rise, after meetings between local People’s Liberation and Indian army commanders failed to defuse any of the disputes, to a general state of heightened tension and military mobilization along the entire border. Media reports are comparing the current dispute to the 2017 Doklam crisis, in which hundreds of Chinese and Indian troops faced off on a small Himalayan ridge claimed by both Beijing and Bhutan, a tiny kingdom that New Delhi has long treated like a protectorate. During the 73-day Doklam standoff, Beijing and New Delhi exchanged threats of a military clash in what was the most serious border crisis since they fought a brief border war in 1962. On Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman claimed that the situation along the border with India is “overall stable and controllable,” and said the two countries have the diplomatic mechanisms and communications channels to resolve the dispute through dialogue.

China Proposes A Law Allowing Citizens To Sue US For Starting Coronavirus Pandemic -  One month ago, the state of Missouri became the first in the nation to file a lawsuit against China over their role in the coronavirus pandemic. Also named in the suit were the Communist Party of China, the government of Wuhan City, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, along with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Filed in late April in the Eastern District of Missouri, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt accused China of knowing that "COVID-19 was dangerous and capable of causing a pandemic, yet slowly acted, proverbially put their head in the sand, and/or covered it up in their own economic self-interest."Yet in a world where China has likewise accused the US of creating the coronavirus, why where there no lawsuits seeking similar damages from the US? Well, there will be soon: according to the Post, China’s legislature has proposed drafting a sovereign immunity law that would allow Chinese citizens to pursue legal actions against the United States over the coronavirus pandemic.Citing China’s state-run media, the report said the Communist Party is seeking to amend an existing law that would allow legal action against “other countries.”The Chinese lawmaker leading the efforts, Ma Yide, told the Global Times that the law would "ensure Chinese citizens’ and companies’ rights to sue the Us over its blame game and cover-up of information during the pandemic." Ma said one of the things Chinese citizens should be able to sue over is the claim from the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the US military brought the coronavirus to China."Many believe that U.S. soldiers brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Others believe that the U.S. has hidden key information, which led to the global health crisis. Why can’t Chinese citizens and companies sue the U.S. government?" Ma told Chinese media. If the proposal should pass, Chinese residents could move ahead with lawsuits that are beginning to surface.

China Secures Brazilian Soy As Trade War Restart Appears Imminent - With a new round of trade war increasingly likely between the US and China, Beijing has been buying Brazilian soybeans in a sign the Asian nation may be looking to secure an alternative source of supplies. According to Bloomberg, the world’s top soybean importer purchased more than 10 cargoes in Brazil this week, despite higher prices. In a further sign that China appears to be distancing from the US, Bloomberg adds that while China bid for American soy on Tuesday, state-run buyers were absent from the market Wednesday, the people said."Even with Brazilian soybeans being more expensive this autumn, China is securing this origin via what they see as the political risk in U.S. soybean/grain sales," Chicago-based consultants AgResource said.Most of the soybeans Brazil sold to China were for August and September, with some deals stretching into October. This is a disappointment for US farmer, because AgResource said it "had expected that the U.S. would be able to garner Chinese demand from late August into early 2021."“The U.S. will still dominate China’s purchases in this time slot, but totals will be cut from prior expectations,” the consultants said.As a reminder, as part of the Phase 1 "trade deal", China pledged to buy $36.5 billion in US agricultural goods this year, an increase of $12.5 billion over 2017 levels, before the start of the trade war. However due to the disruptions from the pandemic, not to mention the fact that China never intended to follow through with the trade deal, purchases have been running well behind; meanwhile the record plunge in Brazil's currency has made its products more attractive. An escalation in tensions between Beijing and Washington could jeopardize outstanding U.S. soy cargoes to China. About 1.8 million tons of soybeans sales to China for the current marketing year and 1 million tons for the next year are yet to be shipped, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Trump imposes travel restrictions on Brazil    - The White House on Sunday announced President Trump is restricting the entry of non-U.S. citizens traveling from Brazil as the Latin American country sees a surge in coronavirus cases. "Today, the President has taken decisive action to protect our country by suspending the entry of aliens who have been in Brazil during the 14-day period before seeking admittance to the United States," White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. "As of May 23, 2020, Brazil had 310,087 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which is the third highest number of confirmed cases in the world. Today’s action will help ensure foreign nationals who have been in Brazil do not become a source of additional infections in our country. These new restrictions do not apply to the flow of commerce between the United States and Brazil," she added. Trump told reporters last week that his administration was considering suspending travel from Brazil, which has reported more than 22,500 deaths due to the coronavirus. The country now trails only the U.S. in the number of total cases after surpassing Russia on Friday. “We are considering it. We hope that we’re not going to have a problem,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, pointing to concerns about Brazilians traveling to Florida. “Brazil has gone more or less herd,” he said, adding, “They’re having problems.” Mike Ryan, a top World Health Organization official, pointed to South America as a new hot spot for the pandemic at a press conference on Friday. "In a sense, South America has become a new epicenter for the disease. We have seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases," Ryan said. "Clearly there is a concern across many of those countries, but clearly the most affected is Brazil at this point," he added.

How Covid-19 is Creating a Social-Distancing Version of War - By retired U.S. Army major Danny Sjursen  - Covid-19 may prove the death knell of American war as classically imagined. Future combat, even if broadly directed from Washington, may be only vaguely “American.” Few uniformed citizens may take part in it and even fewer die from it. During the prolonged endgame of wars that don’t really end, U.S. military fatalities will certainly continue to occur in occasional ones and twos — often in far-flung places where few Americans even realize their country is fighting (as with those four U.S. troops killed in an ambush in Niger in 2018 and the Army soldier and two private contractors killed in Kenya earlier this year). Such minuscule American losses will actually offer Washington more leeway to quietly ramp-up its drone attacks, air power, raiding, and killing, as has already happened in Somalia, with assumedly ever less oversight or attention at home. As in the Horn of Africa of late, the Pentagon won’t even have to bother to justify escalations in its war-making. Which raises a sort of “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there…” conundrum: if the U.S. is killing brown folks around the world, but hardly anyone notices, is the country still at war? Moving forward, policymakers and the public alike may treat war with the same degree of entitlement and abstraction as ordering items from Amazon (especially during a pandemic): Click a button, expect a package at the door posthaste, and pay scant thought to what that click-request set in motion or the sacrifice required to do the deed. Only in war, one thing at least stays constant: lots of someones get killed. The American people may leave their wars to unrepresentative professional “volunteers” led by an unchecked imperial presidency that increasingly outsources them to machines, mercenaries, and local militias. One thing is, however, guaranteed: some poor souls will be at the other end of those bombsights and rifle barrels. In contemporary battles, it’s already exceptionally rare that a uniformed American is on that receiving end. Almost midway through 2020, only eight U.S. service members have been killedby hostile fire in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Yet many thousands of locals continue to die there. No one wants U.S. troops to die, but there’s something obscene — and morally troubling — about the staggering casualty disparity implicit in the developing twenty-first-century American way of war, the one that, in a Covid-19 world, is increasingly being fought in a socially-distanced way.

WHO Suspends Trial of Trump-Touted COVID-19 Treatment Hydroxychloroquine Due to Safety Concerns -  Citing safety concerns, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday it was suspending its trial of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that has been championed by President Donald Trump as a treatment for the new coronavirus.The WHO decision followed the release of a Lancet study Friday that found that COVID-19 patients who took the drug were more likely to die or develop heart problems."The steering committee met over the weekend, in the light of this uncertainty," WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told NPR. "We decided we should be proactive, err on the side of caution and suspend enrollment temporarily into the hydroxychloroquine arm [of the Solidarity trial]."The WHO Solidarity Trial is an effort to test the effectiveness of potential COVID-19 treatments, including hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy, The Guardian reported. It involves 3,500 patients from 17 countries randomly assigned one of four experimental treatments, according to NPR.Unlike the WHO trial, the Lancet study was based on observation rather than a controlled experiment. However, the number of people in the study — 96,000 — raised concerns, Swaminathan explained to NPR.Of the 96,000 in the Lancet study, nearly 15,000 were given hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, with or without an antibiotic, BBC News reported. The death rate for patients treated with hydroxychloroquine was double the control, at 18 percent compared to nine percent. The death rate for patients treated with chloroquine was 16.4 percent.In light of these findings, the Executive Group of the Solidarity Trial met Saturday and agreed to a temporary pause of WHO's hydroxychloroquine trial, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Monday."The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial and, in particular robust randomised available data, to adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug," he said.

Trump says the U.S. will cut ties with World Health Organization - President Donald Trump announced Friday that the United States will cut ties with the World Health Organization. "China has total control over the World Health Organization despite only paying $40 million per year compared to what the United States has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year," Trump said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden. "The world needs answers from China on the virus. We must have transparency. Why is it that China shut off infected people from Wuhan to all other parts of China?" he added. "It didn't go to Beijing, it went nowhere else, but they allowed them to freely travel throughout the world, including Europe and the United States." Trump has repeatedly criticized the WHO's response to the coronavirus, which has hit the U.S. worse than any other country, amid scrutiny of his own administration's response to the pandemic. He has claimed the WHO is "China-centric" and blames the agency for advising against China travel bans early in the outbreak. "Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China saving untold numbers of lives," Trump said April 14. The agency has defended its initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it gave world leaders enough time to intervene early in the outbreak. The agency declared Covid-19 a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were only 82 cases outside of China and zero deaths, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference on May 1. "Meaning, the world had enough time to intervene." The WHO has also defended China, saying as far back as February that the country's response to the virus was an improvement from past outbreaks such as SARS. Earlier this month, Trump threatened to permanently cut off U.S. funding of the WHO. In a letter, he said that if the WHO "does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization." On Friday, Trump said the WHO "failed to make the requested greatly needed reform" and the U.S. "will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs." The WHO's funding runs in two-year budget cycles. For the 2018 and 2019 funding cycle, the U.S. paid a $237 million required assessment as well as $656 million in voluntary contributions, averaging $446 million a year and representing about 14.67% of its total budget, according to WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic. It's unclear exactly what mechanism Trump intends to use to terminate WHO funding, much of which is appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding. Lawrence Gostin, a professor and faculty director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said in a tweet Friday that Trump's move is "unlawful" because pulling funding requires Congress, which has already authorized funding. It's also "dangerous" because "we're in the middle of a pandemic," he said. On May 20, WHO officials said they worried the agency's emergency programs would suffer if the president permanently pulled U.S. funding from the international agency.

Pentagon charts its own course on COVID-19, risking Trump's ire - The Pentagon is actively planning on living with the coronavirus well into 2021, putting it at risk of angering President Trump as he expresses confidence that the disease is on the wane. Defense officials have extended a freeze on troop movement, held ships in port and laid the framework for what the military will look like in an extended pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, a leaked Pentagon memo revealed that top Defense Department (DOD) officials are planning for the possibility that the military could be dealing with the virus beyond this year. The extended preparation cuts against White House messaging that the virus will recede in the coming months and that a vaccine could be available by the end of the year. “There is a disconnect,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a former congressional adviser on defense now with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “At the same time, if anyone can take safe cover behind ‘we’re the department of planning for all contingencies,’ they can because that is what they’re supposed to do, over-plan and over-prepare.” The situation is emblematic of the tough position the Pentagon has often been in during Trump’s presidency. Defense officials have frequently had to ensure they outwardly appear in line with the president’s wishes, while quietly navigate realities that might draw the president’s ire. It’s a phenomenon that has played out in everything from determining how to carry out Trump’s directive to remove troops from Syria, to implementing the president’s sudden edict to ban transgender service members, to offering options to respond to Iranian provocation. With the coronavirus, the Pentagon has been charting its own course for months. In late January, when only six people in the United States had been diagnosed with the illness and Trump was insisting the virus was under control, the Pentagon was releasing its first coronavirus-related guidance to its service members and personnel. At the end of February, as the president claimed coronavirus would “disappear,” the Pentagon had already canceled several military exercises, restricted movement overseas and ordered all ships that had visited Pacific countries to self-quarantine. In April, as Trump mused about reopening the country’s economy by Easter, Defense Secretary Mark Esper extended a military-wide travel ban to June 30. And even as the Pentagon chief earlier this month declared that the administration aimed to deliver millions of doses of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, the leaked draft DOD guidance warned of the “real possibility” that an effective vaccine won’t be available until “at least the summer of 2021.”

Republicans 10 Times More Likely Than Democrats To Say COVID-19 Death Count Is Overstated- Gallup - The novel coronavirus pandemic provides a view into the deep partisan divisions that have persisted despite the unfolding national crisis. Two recent Gallup/Knight Foundation surveys find Americans' understanding about the coronavirus is strongly shaped by partisan affiliation and news consumption habits, especially when basic facts are politicized. Specifically, while Democrats and independents increasingly see COVID-19 as more deadly than the seasonal flu, Republicans' views have not changed. And while Democrats tend to think the death toll from COVID-19 is understated, Republicans believe it is exaggerated.The surveys were fielded March 17-29 and April 14-20, 2020, as part of Knight Foundation's Trust, Media and Democracy initiative.  There have been growing concerns over Americans getting false information about the coronavirus, especially as it relates to personal and public health. Generally, the Gallup/Knight surveys find that Americans are quite knowledgeable about coronavirus facts. For instance, 88% of Americans know the coronavirus can be spread by touching surfaces where virus droplets land and that the droplets can remain contagious for a few hours or up to several days. There is no difference in awareness about how the coronavirus spreads between Democrats (88%), Republicans (87%) and independents (87%), likely because this information has remained outside contentious political discourse. Yet, consensus on the basic facts crumbles when scientific knowledge is politicized. The gap in misperceptions over the lethality of the coronavirus is a case in point. While more Americans realized the coronavirus was deadlier than the seasonal flu in mid-April (67%) compared with late March (60%), this trend toward greater knowledge did not hold among Republicans.  Beyond partisan affiliation and political ideology, news diet is a powerful predictor of how Americans view the lethality of the coronavirus. For example, the likelihood that a hypothetical politically moderate independent with a conservative news diet would incorrectly answer this question increased four percentage points between mid-March to mid-April, compared with decreases of seven points for the same individual with a mixed news diet and 19 points with a liberal news diet. For more information on how Gallup categorizes news diets, see the online appendix (PDF download). Two possible explanations exist for this enduring misperception. First, Republican respondents may know the correct answer but provide the incorrect answer to demonstrate their support for the Trump administration or because they just tend to view national conditions more positively when a Republican is president. In survey research, this is called expressive responding or partisan cheerleading. The other explanation is that debunking misinformation is difficult once believed. The results captured in these Gallup/Knight surveys cannot distinguish between the two possibilities, but the implication of either explanation underscores the power of partisanship and politics even as the public health emergency has unfolded.

 The Finger on the Button -IN THE RECENT FLARE-UPS over when to end widespread shutdowns, you can detect a peculiar calculus: some lives seem more expendable than others. It’s the kind of concern that surfaced in the Obama years, when conservatives rallied behind Sarah Palin’s accusation that the Affordable Care Act would set up “death panels” to deny care to the elderly and the disabled. Back then, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley told a hometown crowd, “We should not have a government program that determines you’re gonna pull the plug on grandma.”Now concern over grandma is back, but some conservatives seem to have switched sides. Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, for example, created a stir back in March when he went on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News to make a plea for re-opening businesses, even if it meant older people might have to pay with their lives. Patrick, who is seventy, suggested it was a worthy trade-off:And you know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, “As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?” And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.Others have presented the issue in actuarial terms, comparing the relative value of those young children and grandchildren with long lives ahead of them to those apparently living on borrowed time. Curiously, despite Lt. Gov. Patrick’s claimed willingness to volunteer as tribute, most who make this argument have not offered up their own grandmothers to the Covid-19 altar; it’s usually non-specific grandmas in some nursing home somewhere—a tragedy, to be sure, but also a statistic.    As all fifty states move toward reopening businesses in the weeks ahead, the fact that doing so is not just an economic question but a moral one is getting short shrift. It is tempting to think of it as a classic trolley car dilemma: if we swerve one way and pretend the pandemic is over, more will die of the virus; if we swerve another way and allow unemployment to climb and businesses to go under, more will die of all the causes related to increased economic hardship. Yet There are no non-specific grandmas; there is only yours and mine. If we are honest with ourselves, the choice between them is no choice at all.    Which is why, as we contend with the moral question of who should live and who should die as the country reopens, it’s a useful exercise to imagine whom we have in mind when we talk about lives lost for the sake of the economy.

Political Scientist Tom Ferguson on Big Money and Social Conflicts in the Covid-19 Era - Posted by Yves Smith - Below we’ve embedded an important, high-level presentation on the political reverberations of the Covid-19 crisis by Tom Ferguson, who is one of the top experts on money in politics. I wish we had a transcript, but it’s not as daunting as it looks. Ferguson’s remarks take only the first 45 minutes; the rest is Q&A.  It’s worth your time because Ferguson looks at the official responses to the Covid-19 crisis and explains things that might seem nonsensical, above all, why so many governments are “reopening” even though polls pretty much everywhere say citizens want restrictions in place longer. Ferguson cuts into the problem by focusing on worker safety as the real dividing line.

Birx: ‘I’m very concerned when people go out and don’t maintain social distancing’ - White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx said Sunday she is “very concerned” that some Americans who are venturing out for the Memorial Day holiday weekend are not maintaining social distancing. “I’m very concerned when people go out and don’t maintain social distancing,” Birx said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We know have excellent scientific evidence of how far droplets go when we speak or just simply talking to one another. We know it’s important for people to socially interact, but we also know it’s very important for people to have masks on when they speak … we have to maintain that six-feet difference.” “We know being outside does help, but that doesn’t change the fact that people need to be responsible and maintain that distance,” she added. Asked by host Chris Wallace about reports of people becoming combative about being asked to wear masks in public, Birx responded: “What we have said to people is there’s clear scientific evidence now… that a mask does prevent droplets from reaching others, and out of respect for each other, as Americans that care for each other, we need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance.” “It’s really critically important, we have the scientific evidence of how important it is,” she added. Wallace went on to press Birx about President Trump’s stated reluctance to wear a mask in public, although the president was photographed wearing one at a Michigan auto plant last week. Birx responded that masks are most essential for situations where social distancing is impossible, and added that “I’m assuming that in a majority of cases, he’s able to maintain that distance.”

Fauci Warns About Hydroxychloroquine and In-Person Party Conventions – WSJ —Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said hydroxychloroquine isn’t an effective treatment for Covid-19 and urged caution as Republicans and Democrats plan their conventions for later this summer.Dr. Fauci’s comments Wednesday about hydroxychloroquine echo the findings of recent studies and countered President Trump’s frequent efforts to tout the antimalarial drug as a promising treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.“I’m not so sure it should be banned, but clearly the scientific data is really quite evident now about the lack of efficacy for it,” Dr. Fauci said during a CNN interview, when asked whether the U.S. should ban the drug for treating Covid-19, as France recently did.Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also warned of the risk of “adverse effects” from the drug for some patients with pre-existing heart conditions and other health problems.Mr. Trump said last week he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure, despite a warning from the Food and Drug Administration last month that the drug is linked to serious heart problems and should be used only on hospitalized patients or as part of clinical trials.In the absence of approved treatments, doctors and hospitals began using hydroxychloroquine and a similar drug, chloroquine, in Covid-19 patients earlier this year, after several small studies outside the U.S. provided signs the drugs may help treat symptoms. In recent weeks, several observational studies have shown they may not provide benefit to patients and could even be harmful. On Friday, researchers analyzing data of about 96,000 hospitalized patients reported that the drugs didn’t help patients fight Covid-19, while raising the risk for heart problems and death. That study, funded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, found that between 16.4% and 23.8% of the approximate 15,000 patients treated with the antimalarials—either alone or in combination with an antibiotic—died, depending on the regimen. In comparison, a little more than 9% of hospitalized patients who didn’t get an antimalarial died.

  The COVID-19 shutdown will cost Americans millions of years of life— Our governmental COVID-19 mitigation policy of broad societal lockdown focuses on containing the spread of the disease at all costs, instead of “flattening the curve” and preventing hospital overcrowding. Although well-intentioned, the lockdown was imposed without consideration of its consequences beyond those directly from the pandemic. The policies have created the greatest global economic disruption in history, with trillions of dollars of lost economic output. These financial losses have been falsely portrayed as purely economic. To the contrary, using numerous National Institutes of Health Public Access publications, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and various actuarial tables, we calculate that these policies will cause devastating non-economic consequences that will total millions of accumulated years of life lost in the United States, far beyond what the virus itself has caused. Pandemics have afflicted humankind throughout history.. The past century has witnessed three pandemics with at least 100,000 U.S. fatalities:[...]  So far, the current pandemic has produced almost 100,000 U.S. deaths, but the reaction of a near-complete economic shutdown is unprecedented. The lost economic output in the U.S. alone is estimated to be 5 percent of GDP, or $1.1 trillion for every month of the economic shutdown. This lost income results in lost lives as the stresses of unemployment and providing basic needs increase the incidence of suicide, alcohol or drug abuse, and stress-induced illnesses. These effects are particularly severe on the lower-income populace, as they are more likely to lose their jobs, and mortality rates are much higher for lower-income individuals. Statistically, every $10 million to $24 million lost in U.S. incomes results in one additional death. One portion of this effect is through unemployment, which leads to an average increase in mortality of at least 60 percent. That translates into 7,200 lives lost per month among the 36 million newly unemployed Americans, over 40 percent of whom are not expected to regain their jobs. In addition, many small business owners are near financial collapse, creating lost wealth that results in mortality increases of 50 percent. With an average estimate of one additional lost life per $17 million income loss, that would translate to 65,000 lives lost in the U.S. for each month because of the economic shutdown. In addition to lives lost because of lost income, lives also are lost due to delayed or foregone health care imposed by the shutdown and the fear it creates among patients. From personal communications with neurosurgery colleagues, about half of their patients have not appeared for treatment of disease which, left untreated, risks brain hemorrhage, paralysis or death. Emergency stroke evaluations are down 40 percent. Of the 650,000 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy in the United States, an estimated half are missing their treatments. Of the 150,000 new cancer cases typically discovered each month in the U.S., most – as elsewhere in the world – are not being diagnosed, and two-thirds to three-fourths of routine cancer screenings are not happening because of shutdown policies and fear among the population.

How Many People Are Being Killed by the Lockdown? --Menzie Chinn - From the Washington Examiner, and op-ed, via AEI: Although lockdowns are preventing some deaths, they are undoubtedly increasing deaths by other causes. This virus is killing people not only by infecting millions but also by inducing a policy response that kills people.First, …Isolation kills in many ways. We don’t have data that the lockdowns are causing more suicides, but plenty of health experts believe they will. People struggling with drug addiction are finding it harder to get the treatment they need. This could cause relapses and eventually, death.It’s reasonable to worry about increases in drinking, and thus alcoholism and alcohol-related deaths. (Though, with less driving, we’ll have fewer DWIs.) …People are also missing out on crucial medical care because of the coronavirus. … Many treatments are simply not happening. The result is that ill people don’t get the healthcare they would be getting.All these points make sense, although the relevant question is whether the quantitative magnitude is significant. One way to get at this question is to look at excess mortality (which is an estimated figure) and compare against reported covid-19 fatalities. (a statistically reported figure, which is likely subject to undercounting). Using CDC data accessed a couple days ago, I find that most of the excess mortality is accounted for (in an accounting sense) by covid-19 fatalities.

Death And The Pandemic Economy --The relation between death and the pandemic economy is a fraught one that has become hotly debated, although with not much clear empirical evidence.  I note that recently over on Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has had a series of posts on this matter in various forms.  Obviously a big issue has been the claim by the anti-lockdown crowd that not reopening the economy quickly will lead to an increase in suicides by the increasingly large numbers of unemployed people out there.  There certainly have been many studies in the past showing a variety of bad social outcomes from high unemployment, including suicides, domestic abuse, drug abuse, depression, and more. There does seem to be some strong evidence of several of these notably higher domestic abuse and depression.When it comes to suicide and death more broadly, the empirical picture is very murky.  Menzie in one of his recent posts reported on a regression he ran covering monthly data from 1998 to very recently that used dummies for months and then unemployment rates and suicides (in the US) and found the an unexpected “wrong sign” with lower suicides correlated with higher unemployment, although this was not a statistically significant result. He provides no explanation for why this odd result seems to be there, but it does show that this is not a simple matter.Regarding current data on the main question, so far there does not seem to be any data showing a noticeable rise in suicides in the US since the pandemic, with only reports of some increases among medical personnel, who have suffered from overwork, stress, and even guilt, along with fear.  That we might be seeing that out of them is completely understandable. So why might we not be seeing much increase in suicides so far despite all the things going on such as increased depression as well as unemployment and more that would suggest we might expect to see it?  Some have suggested a “wartime” effect: people are suffering, but they know others are as well and so rally around the flag to hang in there. This rally around the flag effect even worked for awhile to boost Trump’s polls for a few weeks in late March and early April until people saw how we was botching things, and now his polls are lower than they were before,  Another element, suggested to me by my medically connected daughters, not all that different from the above, is that people who are depressed feel “validated” because now others appreciate their condition. This is especially relevant for veterans suffering from PTSD and so on.

Stop expelling and separating immigrant children parents during COVID --The separation of children and families at the border was deemed unconstitutional with an executive order to stop back in June 2018. So why are children still at risk of the government separating them from their parents? Earlier this month, two Salvadoran sisters, 8 and 11 years old, came to the U.S. border seeking protection but were sent to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program. They came back to the U.S. border again and were approved for reunification with their mother in Houston. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently moving to deport them back to a country where their lives are endangered, and where they have no adult to care for them.This is despite a federal judge’s ruling last month that the administration has violated the Flores settlement that mandates “safe and sanitary” conditions and to make “prompt and continuous efforts” to release children and reunify families in the U.S. while their immigration cases proceed. The government has turned their attention away from the protection of children at our border over the past few weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Children have traumatic options when they come to our border. They can (1) be quickly expelled to countries with high rates of child trafficking and violence, where they may or may not have an adult to care for them; (2) kept in a U.S. sponsored shelter but then awoken at all hours and flown out of the country without the family being aware; (3) can be separated (even if infants or toddlers) if their parents relinquish custody; or (4) can remain indefinitely detained with their families during the pandemic, despite aruling that found insufficient measures to protect children and families in detention from COVID-19. All of these “options” are abusive to children. As a child/adolescent psychiatrist and humanitarian protection adviser, I’ve worked for over a decade with unaccompanied children and their families. The government is creating an allostatic load of stress that can accumulate and cause irreparable physical and mental health damage to children.

 Thomson Reuters actively helping Trump administration target immigrants - Thomson Reuters—the Toronto, Canada-based parent company of the Reuters news agency—has been actively helping the Trump administration target immigrants for arrest, detention and deportation.The company’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which amount to over $70 million, have been public knowledge for a few years. However, the nature of its extensive involvement in aiding the implementation of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies has only been recently exposed.Far from just being a passive data broker, Thomson Reuters Special Services plays a critical role in helping ICE process information that could lead to arrests, detention and deportation.Documents obtained by immigrant rights groups including Mijente, #NoTechForICE and Documented reveal that the support provided by the company goes beyond what has been associated with other big tech firms. It includes not just “automation” but a network of “trained analysts” who process the data internally before supplying information to ICE.The extensive involvement has been exposed in the solicitation documents for the latest $4 million contract between Thomson Reuters Special Services and the Department of the Homeland Security. The contract stipulates that the company provide assistance to ICE’s Targeting Operations Division by building a “continuous monitoring and alert system” that gathers credit history, property information, employer records, real time jail bookings, phone numbers, addresses, etc. to facilitate and refine tracking and arrests of immigrants.Specifically, the company has been contracted to develop a “multi-tiered internal vetting system,” where ICE data is “analyzed internally by both automation and trained analysts” to “provide the best leads possible and to reduce the number of false positives forwarded to the [Targeting Operations Division].”Thomson Reuters also provides “risk mitigation services,” purportedly aimed at helping ICE track threats against their agents. In fact, these services have been generally used to target immigrant rights groups and others who protest against ICE’s activities.

 Mexicans Are 'Building A Wall' To Keep American-COVID-Carriers Out - Government officials, healthcare workers, and residents in Mexican border cities are alleging new COVID-19 outbreaks are connected with infected people crossing the border from the US.  Municipal and state officials in Matamoros, located on the southern region of the Rio Grande, directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas, in conjunction with Mexico's National Guard established checkpoints over the weekend at three border crossings to screen US citizens, dual nationals, and locals, a move to mitigate the spread of the virus in the country. City official Jorge Mora Solaldine, told AP News only one person per car is permitted across the border, and they will have to prove essential business, such as work or medical care is being done, or risk rejection.At least 180 people were denied access at one border crossing into Mexico along the Brownsville stretch on Saturday. The municipality of Matamoros and other border towns in the area have reported an increase in COVID-19 cases. Along the San Diego–Tijuana border, Tijuana doctors told AP that a spike in cases is coming from dual nationals, residents, and some Americans who have crossed over: "There were a lot of people who emigrated here to Mexico," Dr. Remedios Lozada, who leads government efforts in the Tijuana health district. "That was when we began facing a higher number of cases."Residents in Nogales, Sonora, told AP, they constructed roadblocks to prevent people from Arizona heading into Mexico back in March because Mexican government officials were doing very little to screen people coming from the US. President Trump has routinely praised his border wall and claimed it had stopped the virus: "We'll have 500 miles [of the Southern border fence] built by very early next year, some time, so, one of the reasons the numbers are so good. We will do everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country. We have no choice. Whether it's the virus that we're talking about or many other public health threats. The Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all Americans. Now you see it with the coronavirus, you see it," President Trump said at a campaign rally in Charleston, South Carolina, in late February. Though Mexican state governors along the border said thousands of new cases developed in late March, days after President Trump closed businesses and issued public health orders for all residents to stay-at-home in the US. Last month, Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla said doctors were "dropping like flies" due to the lack of proper medical gear as cases begin to rise.Recently, the Trump administration extended strict border policies to limit inbound and outbound flow, citing the spread of the virus. All non-commercial, "non-essential" has been blocked for the time b eing. 

House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance - The House will consider an amendment that would block law enforcement from being able to access web browsing data without a warrant when voting on legislation reauthorizing surveillance programs next week. The amendment will be brought by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), whose office confirmed Friday evening that a deal was struck with leadership to have the amendment considered. Politico first reported on the deal. "I’m glad that we’ll get to vote on this important measure to protect Americans’ Third and Fourth Amendment rights," Davidson said in a statement. "This reform — while just the tip of the iceberg — is a major step forward in protecting Americans’ right to privacy.” The amendment will closely mirror the one brought by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) during debate in the Senate on reauthorizing the USA Freedom Act. That effort fell just one vote short of the 60 vote threshold needed to pass. Several senators who were expected to vote in favor, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), were not present for the session. The version of the Senate bill without the Daines-Wyden amendment was approved 80-16 last week, sending it back to the House. Pressure on the House to resurrect the failed amendment has been high, with major internet companies and privacy associations sending a letter to House leadership earlier Friday urging for it to be supported. Demand Progress, one of the groups involved in that letter, praised the agreement to consider the amendment next week. "This is a critical moment for online privacy. The House should overwhelmingly support the Lofgren-Davidson amendment and bring home this meaningful privacy protection for their constituents," Sean Vitka, the group's senior policy counsel, said in a statement to The Hill. Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, called the amendment "a crucial step toward reining in mass government surveillance programs that are both invasive and ineffective." Supporters of the amendment have pointed to the slim margin of rejection in the Senate as evidence of its potential in the House. Davidson said Friday that the provision "enjoys broad bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate."

Key Senate Democrat withdraws support from House measure on web browsing data - Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has pulled his support from an amendment aimed at blocking law enforcement from collecting web browsing history without a warrant after comments made by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) about its scope. The amendment from Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) would be attached to a bill reauthorizing three expired surveillance programs under the USA Freedom Act. The measure had been put forward as a House version of one from Wyden and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) that narrowly missed approval in the Senate. The Senate amendment would have broadly blocked law enforcement from gathering web browsing history without a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, but the amendment submitted to the House Rules Committee for consideration on Tuesday following days of negotiations applies that protection more narrowly. Under the House amendment, warrants would be required before gathering internet activity from a U.S. person or in cases where the government is not sure if the subject is a U.S. person but might be. It would also compel the government to guarantee that no U.S. person's IP addresses or identifiers would be disclosed before ordering a service provider to provide a list of everyone who has visited a particular website. Wyden, who sponsored the Senate amendment, initially released a statement praising the Lofgren-Davidson measure, but pulled his support following comments from Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee who was involved in developing the House amendment text. In a statement backing the amendment to reporters, Schiff seemed to suggest that the measure allowed room for law enforcement to continue collection of Americans' records as long as they are relevant to a foreign intelligence investigation. Wyden is now pulling his support from the amendment and urging House members to vote down the whole package. “The House Intelligence Committee chairman’s assertion that the Lofgren-Davidson amendment does not fully protect Americans from warrantless collection flatly contradicts the intent of Wyden-Daines, and my understanding of the amendment agreed to earlier today," the Oregon lawmaker said in a statement. "It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans’ rights against dragnet collection of online activity, which is why I must oppose this amendment, along with the underlying bill, and urge the House to vote on the original Wyden-Daines amendment."

Trump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers  President Trump on Tuesday evening urged House Republicans to vote against a surveillance bill that will be brought to the floor this week after lawmakers reached an agreement to vote on a key provision. “I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!” Trump tweeted, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Trump's tweet comes after months of speculation about whether he would support the bill and less than a day before it is scheduled to get a vote on the House floor Wednesday, throwing an eleventh-hour curveball into its path. The Senate approved legislation in a bipartisan vote earlier this month reauthorizing three expired surveillance programs under the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 intelligence reform law. The initial version of the bill, which passed the House in a 278-136 vote in March, included some changes to the FISA court as part of a deal backed by Attorney General William Barr and supported by some of Trump's biggest allies, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). But the Senate included new legal protections for some FISA warrant applications in a win for civil liberties-minded lawmakers, and the amended bill passed 80-16, forcing it to go back to the House for a second vote. The Justice Department opposed the changes, saying that they would "unacceptably degrade" the U.S. government's ability to carry out surveillance. Trump’s tweet Tuesday came hours after House leaders agreed to consider an amendment that would tighten the limits on the FBI’s ability to access Americans’ web browsing history. A similar provision was defeated by one vote in the Senate, where senators who would have supported it were absent, putting pressure on House leadership to revive it.

Inside the NSA’s Secret Tool for Mapping Your Social Network - IN THE SUMMER of 2013, I spent my days sifting through the most extensive archive of top-secret files that had ever reached the hands of an American journalist. In a spectacular act of transgression against the National Security Agency, where he worked as a contractor, Edward Snowden had transmitted tens of thousands of classified documents to me, the columnist Glenn Greenwald, and the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. One of those documents, the first to be made public in June 2013, revealed that the NSA was tracking billions of telephone calls made by Americans inside the US. The program became notorious, but its full story has not been told.The first accounts revealed only bare bones. If you placed a call, whether local or international, the NSA stored the number you dialed, as well as the date, time and duration of the call. It was domestic surveillance, plain and simple. When the story broke, the NSA discounted the intrusion on privacy. The agency collected “only metadata,” it said, not the content of telephone calls. Only on rare occasions, it said, did it search the records for links among terrorists.Mere creation of such a database, especially in secret, profoundly changed the balance of power between government and governed. This was the Dark Mirror embodied, one side of the glass transparent and the other blacked out. If the power implications do not seem convincing, try inverting the relationship in your mind: What if a small group of citizens had secret access to the telephone logs and social networks of government officials? How might that privileged knowledge affect their power to shape events? How might their interactions change if they possessed the means to humiliate and destroy the careers of the persons in power? These could be cast as abstract concerns, but I thought them quite real. By September of that year, it dawned on me that there were also concrete questions that I had not sufficiently explored. Where in the innards of the NSA did the phone records live? What happened to them there? The Snowden archive did not answer those questions directly, but there were clues…

Bots account for nearly half of Twitter accounts spreading coronavirus misinformation, researchers say -- About half of the Twitter accounts pushing misinformation about COVID-19 and calling for "reopening America" may be bots, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said Wednesday. The tweets appear to be aiming to sow division and increase polarization during the pandemic. "Conspiracy theories increase polarization in groups. It's what many misinformation campaigns aim to do," Kahtleen Carley, a computer science professor, said in a statement about the ongoing research. "People have real concerns about health and the economy, and people are preying on that to create divides." She warned that the misinformation "will have a variety of real-world consequences, and play out in things like voting behavior and hostility towards ethnic groups." Coronavirus: The Race To Respond Since January, the researchers have collected more than 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and coronavirus. They found that 82% of the top 50 influential retweets are bots, and 62% of the top 1,000 retweeters are bots, too. Bots have been spreading more than 100 types of inaccurate COVID-19 stories, such as information about unproven "cures." But they have largely dominated the discussions about "reopening America" and ending stay-at-home orders — issues that have led to real-life protests in states nationwide. Some of the tweets about reopening also spread baseless conspiracy theories, such as hospitals being filled with mannequins, or a supposed link between coronavirus and 5G towers. The researchers said 66% of accounts discussing "reopening America" are possibly humans with bot assistants, and about 34% are definitely bots. Bots can usually be detected in accounts that were recently created and appear to be tweeting copy-and-pasted messages, or putting out a series of tweets that are timed to promote a certain topic. In addition, "Tweeting more frequently than is humanly possible or appearing to be in one country and then another a few hours later is indicative of a bot," Carley said. The researchers have also started looking into posts on Facebook, YouTube and Reddit. Carley said the misinformation campaigns look like "a propaganda machine" and match "the Russian and Chinese playbooks," but the research have not yet determined who is behind the bots. China and Russia have already been detected in spreading misinformation about the pandemic. 

Ann Coulter Turns on ‘Disloyal Actual Retard’ Trump in Twitter Rant -- Ann Coulter went on an early Sunday morning Twitter tear, calling President Donald Trump “the most disloyal actual retard that has ever set foot in the Oval Office.”The far-right media pundit and former Trump defender was triggered by the president’s Friday tweet in which he called for Alabama voters to “not trust Jeff Sessions” and instead put their support behind Sessions’ Republican Senate seat challenger, football coach Tommy Tuberville.“3 years ago, after Jeff Sessions recused himself, the Fraudulent Mueller Scam began. Alabama, do not trust Jeff Sessions. He let our Country down. That’s why I endorsed Coach Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville), the true supporter of our #MAGA agenda!,” Trump tweeted.And that set off Coulter, who called Trump a “moron,” “retard” and “lout,” who was incapable of “pretending to be” a “decent, compassionate human being.”

  • 3 years ago, a complete moron of a president told NBC's Lester Holt, "I was going to fire Comey. … [W]hen I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.'" BAM! SPECIAL PROSECUTOR!— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
  • The most disloyal actual retard that has ever set foot in the Oval Office is trying to lose AND take the Senate with him. Another Roy Moore fiasco so he can blame someone else for his own mess.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
  • Trump didn't build the wall and never had any intention of doing so. The ONE PERSON in the Trump administration who did anything about immigration was Jeff Session. And this lout attacks him.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
  • COVID gave Trump a chance to be a decent, compassionate human being (or pretending to be). But he couldn't even do that.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
  • The media is salivating over the former football coach, Tommy Tuberville (choice of the most disloyal human God ever created, DJT).— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
  • GREAT WORK IN THE LAST ALABAMA SENATE RACE, MR. PRESIDENT! Keep it up and we'll have zero Republican senators. The next Republican president will be elected in the year 4820.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
  • Sessions HAD to recuse himself, you complete blithering idiot. YOU did not have to go on Lester Holt's show and announce you fired Comey over the Russian investigation. That's what got you a Special Prosecutor.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
  • I can't wait to see what the media have in store for the former football coach, Tuberville. This is going to be another Roy Moore catastrophe – also engineered by Trump.#SaveTheSenate— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020

Coulter capped off her rant by affirming the issues that Trump stood behind as a candidate but that she feels he has abandoned since entering the White House. The commentator, who published a book in 2016 titled “In Trump We Trust,” added that she regrets once believing in “this shallow and broken man.”

A Presidential Smear – WSJ editorial - Donald Trump sometimes traffics in conspiracy theories—recall his innuendo in 2016 about Ted Cruz’s father and the JFK assassination—but his latest accusation against MSNBC host Joe Scarborough is ugly even for him. Mr. Trump has been tweeting the suggestion that Mr. Scarborough might have had something to do with the death in 2001 of a young woman who worked in his Florida office when Mr. Scarborough was a GOP Congressman.“A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story!” Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday while retweeting a dubious account of the case.He kept it going Tuesday with new tweets: “The opening of a Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough was not a Donald Trump original thought, this has been going on for years, long before I joined the chorus. . . . So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?” Nasty stuff, and from the Oval Office to more than 80 million Twitter followers.There’s no evidence of foul play, or an affair with the woman, and the local coroner ruled that the woman fainted from an undiagnosed heart condition and died of head trauma. Some on the web are positing a conspiracy because the coroner had left a previous job under a cloud, but the parents and husband of the young woman accepted the coroner’s findings and want the case to stay closed. Mr. Trump always hits back at critics, and Mr. Scarborough has called the President mentally ill, among other things. But suggesting that the talk-show host is implicated in the woman’s death isn’t political hardball. It’s a smear. Mr. Trump rightly denounces the lies spread about him in the Steele dossier, yet here he is trafficking in the same sort of trash. We don’t write this with any expectation that Mr. Trump will stop. Perhaps he even thinks this helps him politically, though we can’t imagine how. But Mr. Trump is debasing his office, and he’s hurting the country in doing so.

Twitter fact-checks Trump tweet for the first time - (Reuters) - Twitter on Tuesday for the first time prompted readers to check the facts in tweets sent by U.S. President Donald Trump, warning that his claims about mail-in ballots were false and had been debunked by fact checkers. The move marked a dramatic shift for the social network, Trump’s primary tool for getting an unfiltered version of his message out to his political base, after years of permissive policies around content on its platform. The company has been tightening those policies in recent years amid criticism that its hands-off approach had allowed abuse, fake accounts and misinformation to thrive. Trump lashed out at the company in response, accusing it - in a tweet - of interfering in the 2020 presidential election. “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” he said. Trump, who has more than 80 million followers on Twitter, claimed in tweets earlier in the day that mail-in ballots would be “substantially fraudulent” and result in a “rigged election.” He also singled out the governor of California over the issue, although the state is not the only one to use mail-in ballots. Hours later, Twitter posted a blue exclamation mark alert underneath those tweets, prompting readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots” and directing them to a page with information aggregated by Twitter staffers about the claims. A headline at the top of the page stated “Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud,” and was followed by a “what you need to know” section addressing three specific claims made in the tweets. Trump posted the same text about mail-in ballots on his official Facebook page, where the post picked up 170,000 reactions and was shared 17,000 times. Facebook’s policy is to remove content that misrepresents methods of voting or voter registration, but in this case it left the post untouched.

Furious Trump Threatens Twitter For "Interfering In The 2020 Presidential Election" After "Misinformation" Fact-Check - Mere hours after Kara Swisher appeared on CNBC to call on Twitter to establish a panel of 'content reviewers' who can help the platform tag and remove "misinformation" - ie information that doesn't neatly fit the narrative being pushed by one of Swisher's employers, the New York Times - it looks like the company is taking a major step in that direction. […] For the first time, Twitter has tagged tweets by President Trump as "misinformation", and appended a link where readers can "get the facts" below the tweet's primary text. Hours after Twitter slapped a CNN Fact-Check on a Tuesday tweet by President Trump claiming that mail-in-ballots will be "substantially fraudulent," Trump lashed out - accusing Twitter of "now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election" by "saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post." "Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!" he added.....Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020In a statement emailed to Bloomberg, Trump reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale said that Twitter's move to add fact-check links to the two tweets demonstrates the social network's "clear political bias," adding that "Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility."

Trump Threatens To "Close Down" Twitter, Other Social Media To Stop Them From 'Rigging' 2020 Vote -Last night, President Trump slammed Twitter for tagging several of his tweets touting the alleged risks of mail-in ballots as 'misinformation', with the president accusing the social media giant of interfering in the 2020 election. On Wednesday morning, Trump issued a couple more tweets claiming the federal government will "strongly regulate, or close them down" - referring to social media companies who suppress conservative voices in the name of protecting "the truth" (ie the progressive narrative that Silicon Valley tech giants have promised to perpetuate). He also linked his accusations of bias with his opposition to mail-in ballots."We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can't let a more sophisticated version of that happen again. Just like we can't let large scale Mail-In ballots take root in our Country," Trump said in a series of tweets.Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that... ....happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020  Weeks ago, anonymously sourced reports claimed that the White House was considering a panel to investigate anti-conservative bias on popular social media platforms and across Silicon Valley, an issue that has been explored in a series of Congressional hearings involving top officials at the biggest tech firms.

Mark Zuckerberg criticizes Twitter for fact-checking Trump - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Twitter was wrong to fact-check President Trump’s tweets that made the dubious claim that mail-in ballots increase voter fraud.Zuckerberg reasoned that the social media platforms shouldn’t be the “arbiters of truth”“We have a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this,” Zuckerberg said in an excerpt from a Fox News interview scheduled to air on The Daily Briefing Thursday.“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg went on. “In general, private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”Head of Twitter Jack Dorsey responded by saying that the company would “continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.”“This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth,'” Dorsey tweeted. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

Trump to sign executive order on social media on Thursday: White House -  (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on social media companies on Thursday, White House officials said after Trump threatened to shut down websites he accused of stifling conservative voices.The officials gave no further details. It was unclear how Trump could follow through on the threat of shutting down privately owned companies including Twitter Inc.The dispute erupted after Twitter on Tuesday for the first time tagged Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact check the posts.Separately, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by a conservative group and right-wing YouTube personality against Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple accusing them of conspiring to suppress conservative political views. In an interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said censoring a platform would not be the “right reflex” for a government worried about censorship. Fox played a clip of the interview and said it would be aired in full on Thursday.Facebook left Trump’s post on mail-in ballots on Tuesday untouched.The American Civil Liberties Union said the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution limits any action Trump could take.Facebook and Alphabet’s Google declined comment. Apple did not respond to a request for comment. “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen,” Trump said in a pair of additional posts on Twitter on Wednesday.The president, a heavy user of Twitter with more than 80 million followers, added: “Clean up your act, NOW!!!!” .“Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “If that happens, we no longer have our freedom.”

Trump move could scrap or weaken law that protects social media companies - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said he will introduce legislation that may scrap or weaken a law that has protected internet companies, including Twitter and Facebook, in an extraordinary attempt to regulate social media platforms where he has been criticized. The proposed legislation is part of an executive order Trump signed on Thursday afternoon. Trump had attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts. Trump wants to “remove or change” a provision of a law known as section 230 that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users. Trump said U.S. Attorney General William Barr will begin drafting legislation “immediately” to regulate social media companies. On Wednesday, Reuters reported the White House’s plan to modify Section 230 based on a copy of a draft executive order that experts said was unlikely to survive legal scrutiny. The final version of the order released on Thursday had no major changes except the proposal for a federal legislation. “What I think we can say is we’re going to regulate it,” Trump said before the signing of the order.

Trump Signs Executive Order Stripping Social Media Companies Of "Liability Shield"  -  During a press conference where President Trump signed an executive order pressuring social media companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter to stop showing political bias. The order is meant to chip away at the "liability shield" these platforms enjoy thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The full text of the executive order has been published (the final order is essentially identical to a 'draft' copy leaked to the press last night): By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows: Section 1.  Policy.    Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy. Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution. The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people. In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators. The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology. Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms. As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see. As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes. It is essential to sustaining our democracy. Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse. Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms “flagging” content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse.

Ted Cruz Accuses Twitter Of Violating Sanctions Against Iran, Demands DoJ Probe - We've mentioned in nearly every single one of our posts about this week's dustup between the president and Twitter that the Ayatollah has an account on the company's platform, where he routinely spouts dangerously anti-American rhetoric, without drawing even a whiff of scrutiny from Twitter (or the American left),Now, as the GOP cranks up the pressure on Trump's (least) favorite social media company, Senator Ted Cruz is calling for a full-on investigation of how the company treats foreign leaders who use the platform. To be sure, this isn't exactly coming out of nowhere - Cruz led an earlier pressure campaign to convince Twitter to boot senior Iranian officials off the platform, even insinuating that not doing so would violate international sanctions against Iran, as Axios reported. In a letter sent to the DoJ and the Treasury Department on Friday, Cruz asked Attorney General Bill Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to investigate whether Twitter's refusal to comply with Cruz's request violates US sanctions prohibiting American companies from providing goods and services to senior officials of targeted nations.Cruz isn't alone: Sen Josh Hawley suggested earlier this week that Twitter's move to affix these "warnings" to Trump's tweets was politically motivated. In a letter to Dorsey, Hawley wrote that the decision "raises serious questions about whether Twitter targeted the President for political reasons."Shortly after Cruz first raised the issue, twitter responded by arguing that its service is exempt from the sanctions, and that the public conversation on the platform is critically important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump: North Carolina governor must decide 'within a week' about GOP convention - President Trump on Tuesday said the governor of North Carolina must decide within a week whether the GOP can host its full convention in Charlotte as top Republican officials threaten to seek an alternative site otherwise. Trump and Republican officials have pressured Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in recent days to inform them whether he will allow a full-scale convention to take place in August amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The president indicated during a Rose Garden event that Cooper had only a few days to decide. "We’re talking about a very short period of time," Trump said. "It’s a massive expenditure, and we have to know. Yeah, I would say within a week, certainly, we’d have to know. Now if he can’t do it, if he feels he’s not going to do it, all he has to do is tell us, and then we’ll have to pick another location." The president implied that Cooper's actions may be politically motivated, suggesting Democratic governors "for political reasons don't want to open up their states." The governor has insisted that health experts will ultimately guide the decision of whether to allow the convention. Some state and local officials have expressed concerns that allowing thousands of guests to pack into an arena for the convention could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.

IRS reduces donor disclosure requirements for some tax-exempt groups - The Treasury Department and IRS on Tuesday released final regulations under which certain tax-exempt groups will no longer be required to provide the names and addresses of major donors on annual returns filed with the IRS. Under the guidance, only charities that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the code and political organization that are tax-exempt under Section 527 will still have to report contributor names and addresses. Organizations that do not have to provide the donor names and addresses under the guidance include "social welfare" organizations — such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — as well as business leagues and labor unions. Tax-exempt groups that do not have to provide the IRS with the names and addresses of major donors under the rules still have to report to the IRS the amounts of donations from their substantial donors. They also have to maintain the names and addresses of their substantial donors for their records. The Treasury Department and the IRS had issued proposed rules on the topic in September 2019. The IRS had tried in 2018 to issue more informal guidance on this topic, but in July 2019, a federal judge in Montana ordered that guidance to be set aside because it hadn't gone through a notice and comment period. Treasury and the IRS said they received more than 8,000 comments about the proposed rules. Conservative groups and Republican politicians expressed support for the proposed rules. They argued that removing the requirement to report the names and addresses of donors helps protect taxpayers' First Amendment rights and that such information is not needed for tax administration purposes. They also expressed concerns that the the donor names and addresses could be inadvertently made public. But the rules have been strongly opposed by Democrats, who have expressed concerns that they could make it easier for foreign governments to influence U.S. elections via donations to "dark money" groups.

Why Joe Biden can do no wrong  - One columnist declared that former Vice President Joe Biden could boil babies and she would still vote for him. Feminist leaders have said they believe Biden raped a Senate staffer but they still endorse him. Good government advocates have opposed any investigation into prior sexual harassment or corruption claims against Biden. It seems politicians and pundits alike have discovered the glory of the “presidential bull.” In this instance, Biden is akin to a papal indulgence that allows writers, members of Congress and journalists to forgive any sin in a holy crusade to retake Washington.  In the 11th century, Pope Urban II formalized the use of indulgences, which could be purchased to forgive sins. A papal bull of the Crusade accompanied those who fought in the Holy Land and committed atrocities in the name of a higher order. Now the 2020 election has become the ultimate crusade, and President Trump’s critics seem to be enjoying indulgences in tossing aside moral and ethical considerations. The freedom that is Biden is nowhere more evident than in a recent column by The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, who wrote about the allegations of sexual assault made by former Biden staffer Tara Reade. Pollitt dispensed with any struggle over feminist or moral qualms, declaring, “I would vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them.”  As Pollitt explained, “We do not have the luxury of sitting out the election to feel morally pure or send a message about sexual assault and #BelieveWomen.” Otherwise, Pollitt would have to deal with her column during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, in which she denounced “some of his defenders [who] seem to be saying that even if the allegations are true, it shouldn’t really matter.”For years, critics have expressed disgust at Trump’s statement that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters.” Yet they now afford Biden the same immunity even if he turns into the ancient god Cronus and starts snacking on boiled babies. The same indulgence has been claimed by politicians and commentators in dealing with other Biden allegations of sexual assault. Many of them demanded during the Kavanaugh controversy that all women must simply be believed when alleging sexual harassment. Those who questioned the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford were denounced for insensitivity, if not complicity, in the abuse of women.Today, some of us have said that Biden has the stronger case thus far, but we still support an investigation. Yet many Kavanaugh critics quickly declared Biden to be innocent and opposed any search of his records — including those under lock and key at the University of Delaware — for any allegations of sexual abuse.

Biden Should Be Named in Criminal Probe in Ukraine, Judge Rules - Joe Biden should be named as an alleged perpetrator in a criminal investigation in Ukraine over the firing of former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, a Ukrainian judge has ruled. Shokin has alleged that Biden was illegally behind his dismissal in 2016 by threatening to withhold a $1 billion IMF loan to Ukraine if Shokin wasn’t dismissed. Last month District Court Judge S. V. Vovk in Kiev ruled that police must list Biden as an alleged perpetrator of a crime against Shokin, according to a report on the website Just the News. The possible crime cited is “unlawful interference in Shokin’s work as Ukraine’s chief prosecutor,” the website said, according to an English translation of the investigative judge’s order obtained by the site. The district court had earlier ruled that there was sufficient evidence in Shokin’s criminal complaint to investigate Biden, but the police had withheld Biden’s name, listing him only as an unnamed American. Shokin first alleged last year in a deposition that Biden had pressured then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Shokin because he was conducting an investigation into Burisma Holdings, the gas company on whose board Biden’s son Hunter was installed shortly after the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.  Biden had been appointed the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine, according to a recorded conversation between then Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffry Pyatt.  Nuland and Pyatt discussed how to “midwife” a new Ukrainian government before the democratically-elected Yanukovych was overthrown. Nuland said Biden would help “glue” it all together. As booty from the U.S.-backed coup, the sitting vice president’s son, Hunter, within weeks got his seat on Burisma, in what can be seen as a transparently neocolonial maneuver to take over a country and install one’s own people. But Biden’s son wasn’t the only one. A family friend of then Secretary of State John Kerry also joined Burisma’s board. U.S. agricultural giant Monsanto got a Ukrainian contract soon after the overthrow.  And the first, post-coup Ukrainian finance minister was an American citizen, a former State Department official, who was given Ukrainian citizenship the day before she took up the post. Shokin has alleged, in the same vein, that the U.S. was running the country’s prosecutors’ office. 

There's No Longer Any Question- Biden Carried Out A Cover-Up In Ukraine Trump stands vindicated for accusing Biden of trying to cover up his son’s corruption in Ukraine after one of that country’s lawmakers released audio recordings of the former Vice President’s numerous conversations with former President Poroshenko to that effect, proving that the real Ukrainegate scandal has been about the Democrat front-runner all along. Ukrainian lawmaker Andrei Derkach released audio recordings that he claims to have received from journalists which convincingly sound as though they’re truly of former President Poroshenko’s numerous conversations with former Vice President and current Democrat front-runner Biden.The content of their chats concerns the latter’s efforts to pressure the then-Ukrainian leader to remove General Prosecutor Shokin, which Trump and many of his surrogates have claimed was undertaken in an attempt to cover up his son Hunter’s corruption at the Burisma gas company where he was employed and which was the subject of an investigation by Shokin.The recordings are remarkably frank, with Poroshenko proudly pledging fealty to Biden and regularly updating him on the progress that he’s made in keeping what he refers to as his “promises” to the former Vice President.The Daily Beast reported that suspicions are swirling over whether the leak was an inside job in Ukraine or the result of so-called “Russian hacking”, but that’s just an attempt to distract from the calls, just like the unproven claims that Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC’s emails four years ago.The real Ukrainegate scandal therefore wasn’t over the now-debunked allegations that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo with current Ukrainian President Zelensky in an attempt to reopen this investigation for supposedly political reasons, but over Biden’s attempts to cover up his son’s corruption in Ukraine in order to not hurt the Vice President’s future campaign prospects.This is similar in essence to how the real Russiagate scandal wasn’t about Russia allegedly helping Trump, but about Hillary trading the US’ strategic uranium deposits for Clinton Foundation kickbacks.The pattern at play is unmistakable, and it’s that the Democrats have recently taken to accusing Trump of the same spirit of what they themselves are really guilty of. Be it in carrying out shady deals with Russia, Ukraine, or whichever other country’s dirty laundry has yet to reach the light of day, the Democrats have a track record of international corruption unlike Trump, who comes off as squeaky clean in comparison. That’s not to absolve the sitting American President of whatever his administration might secretly be doing abroad, but just to point out that the two highest-profile accusations of corruption against him have been proven to be false and much more applicable to the same party that publicly made them in the first place.

Care about Palestinians? Don’t vote for Joe Biden. Vote for Donald Trump – Haaretz -  As a progressive Palestinian, and as bad as Donald Trump has been towards us, I would take him over Joe Biden.You may think this is a joke, not least when his infamous Mideast "Deal of the Century" comes to mind, but as damaging and inflammatory as Trump has been towards the Palestinians, there have also been less visible, but still majorly significant, paybacks from his presidency. Those positive repercussions may not be tangible in the short term. But the impact of his presidency on future American public opinion regarding Israel is going to end up paying dividends for the Palestinian cause. The list of damaging policies that Trump has implemented towards the Palestinians is always worth enumerating. In December 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, breaking with decades of official U.S. policy, and went on to bless the U.S. embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018. Three months later, his administration terminated funding for humanitarian programs supporting Palestinian refugees byending a 70-year partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Six months later, in February 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased all assistance to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, officially ending all forms of aid to the Palestinian Authority. After moving the embassy and curing aid, Trump waited just one month to endorse Israel's occupation over the Golan Heights. In his so-called peace plan, launched at the beginning of 2020, he "biblically" endorsed the annexation of most of Area C –  60 percent of the West Bank. More recently, his administration has green lighted a potential annexation of the West Bank.  Palestinians protest against President Donald Trump's Mideast plan in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Feb. 11, 2020But all is not as it seems. Trump’s crude partisanship, his tunnel vision towards solely satisfying Israel’s territorial aspirations, has actually strengthened the Palestinian cause in the U.S. That’s because he has accelerated a process that was already in train for years: growing skepticism among Democrats about unconditional support for Israel, and rising insistence on ensuring Palestinian rights and freedom. Nobody should underestimate the Trump presidency’s negative impact on Americans’ attitude towards Israel. It has opened eyes. Israel is no longer a clearcut bipartisan cause.

CNN's Van Jones Says Secretly Racist 'White Liberal Hillary Clinton Supporters' Are The Real Threat To Black America  - CNN's Van Jones, who correctly surmised that Russiagate was a nothingburger, has caused progressives to bristle once again after he said that White, liberal Hillary Clinton supporters can pose a greater threat to blacks in America than the Ku Klux Klan. "It’s not the racist white person who is in the Ku Klux Klan that we have to worry about. It’s the white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter walking her dog in Central Park who would tell you right now, 'Oh I don’t see race, race is no big deal to me, I see all people the same, I give to charities,’ but the minute she sees a black man who she does not respect, or who she has a slight thought against, she weaponized race like she had been trained by the Aryan Nation," said Jones. "A klansmember could not have been better trained to pick up her phone and tell the police it’s a black man," he added - later saying "What you’re seeing now is a curtain falling away." "Those of us who have been burdened by this every minute, every second of our entire lives are fragile right now. We are tired." Van Jones just said that Hillary Clinton supporters are a bigger threat to black people than the KKK.

Witness Says He Saw Bill Clinton On 'Pedo Island' With Epstein - A former worker on Jeffrey Epstein’s Caribbean island claims that he saw Bill Clinton there in an explosive new Netflix documentary. The claims run contrary to denials by Clinton that he ever visited the island, which was reportedly the site of multiple sexual assaults of underage women by the convicted pedophile Epstein and his elite guests.The claims are made by Steve Scully, a 70-year-old phone and internet specialist worker who was present on the island of Little Saint James, as part of Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, which features testimony from witnesses and victims of Epstein’s sordid activities. Scully claims that he saw the Clinton sitting with Epstein in the porch of the island’s villa. Scully did not witness Clinton partaking in any illegal activity, however, and says no other guests were present at the time.Scully says that he saw other ‘important people’ visiting the island, including Prince Andrew, adding that some would be naked and flanked by topless girls.“You tell yourself that you didn’t know for sure and you never really saw anything, but that’s all just rationalization,” Scully notes in the program, adding “Jeffrey Epstein, he was a guy who concealed his deviance very well – but he didn’t conceal it that well.”Previous claims made by Epstein’s ‘sex slave’ Virginia Roberts Giuffre in legal papers also place Clinton on the island.Giuffre alleged she had dinner with the former president, Epstein, alleged ‘madam’ Ghislaine Maxwell and two other women from New York on the island on one occasion.Giuffre also said that she saw Clinton “strolling into the darkness with two beautiful girls around either arm.”In January, pictures emerged of Clinton with his arms around Chauntae Davies, who has said that she was recruited to be Epstein’s personal masseuse and ‘sex slave’. Clinton has also been pictured on the steps of Epstein’s private plane, dubbed ‘the Lolita Express’ with Maxwell in 2002:

The Fed’s Top Wall Street Cop Was Bilked out of $1 Million in a Brazen Stock Fraud – Here’s Why It Matters to You - Pam Martens  -Randal Quarles is the Vice Chairman for Supervision at the Federal Reserve Board. This is the most important position among Federal regulators when it comes to sniffing out and preventing the kind of systemic in-house bank frauds that collapsed much of Wall Street in 2008 and brought on the greatest U.S. economic downturn since the Great Depression.On November 26, 2018, Quarles was also appointed to a three-year term as Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, the international standard-setting body for financial stability around the globe.Financial stability at the largest global banks that Quarles oversees is looking less certain today than it has since the last financial crisis. Quarles is playing a key role in helping Fed Chairman Jerome Powell establish emergency lending facilities that are making trillions of dollars in revolving loans to Wall Street banks and trading houses while simultaneously telling the public that the banks he supervises are “well capitalized.” (If they are well-capitalized, why do they need these trillions of dollars from the Fed — a money spigot that began months before the coronavirus outbreak anywhere in the world.)Having a man in charge of the banking sector that Americans are confident will conduct due diligence, in-depth investigations, and scrutinize off-balance sheet risks has never been more important than today.Unfortunately, Quarles’ capability as a watchdog is in question because he allowed himself to become a victim of one of the most brazen stock frauds in history, perpetrated by a woman who dropped out of college at 19 and started her company as a teenager. The woman is Elizabeth Holmes and her company, which has now been dissolved after stiffing investors out of $750 million, was Theranos. The company claimed it had created a technology that would revolutionize the blood-testing industry. Holmes is now facing a criminal trial to be brought by the U.S. Department of Justice later this year with a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. She has pleaded not guilty. According to the financial disclosure form that Quarles quietly filed with the federal government’s ethics office that he dated June 1, 2017, when he was under consideration for the Fed post, he had more than $1 million invested in the scam. After Quarles was in his Vice Chair post for months and filed his next financial disclosure form with the government, which he dated May 14, 2018, he was still carrying his total stake in Theranos at $1,000,000 as his high end estimate. That May 14, 2018 document raises more questions because two months earlier the Securities and Exchange Commission had charged the company, its founder and CEO Holmes, and its former President, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, with masterminding a “years long fraud,” strongly suggesting that Quarles’ investment in the company was worthless – which, indeed, became the case a few months later when the company dissolved, handing its investors a certificate of dissolution so that they could take the losses for tax purposes.

Protestors Criticized For Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First - Calling for a more measured way to express opposition to police brutality, critics slammed demonstrators Thursday for recklessly looting businesses without forming a private equity firm first. “Look, we all have the right to protest, but that doesn’t mean you can just rush in and destroy any business without gathering a group of clandestine investors to purchase it at a severely reduced price and slowly bleed it to death,” said Facebook commenter Amy Mulrain, echoing the sentiments of detractors nationwide who blasted the demonstrators for not hiring a consultant group to take stock of a struggling company’s assets before plundering. “I understand that people are angry, but they shouldn’t just endanger businesses without even a thought to enriching themselves through leveraged buyouts and across-the-board terminations. It’s disgusting to put workers at risk by looting. You do it by chipping away at their health benefits and eventually laying them off. There’s a right way and wrong way to do this.” At press time, critics recommended that protestors hold law enforcement accountable by simply purchasing the Minneapolis police department from taxpayers.

What ransomware attacks on vendors mean for banks - A recent rash of ransomware attacks on bank technology vendors — including Finastra, Diebold Nixdorf, Cognizant and Pitney Bowes — raises serious questions about why they're happening and what banks can do to protect themselves.“The threat vector of ransomware is definitely concerning for the industry, not only for us as a bank but for the industry and not only for the industry but also for the regulators,” Saul Van Beurden, head of technology at Wells Fargo, said in a recent interview. To his point, regulators drew specific attention to the need to protect data in the cloud in a recent statement.  One reason hackers are targeting these vendors now is they perceive security weaknesses in the chaos of the near-universal shift to work from home.“The pandemic environment has created new opportunities for ransomware attacks on every bank and banking supplier,” said Gary McAlum, chief security officer at USAA.Finastra CEO Simon Paris said the ransomware attack on his company, which provides core banking software, “came deliberately whilst we focused on moving the majority of our global workforce, including several thousand of our colleagues in the Americas, to safer work from home processes in light of COVID-19.” Finastra’s 8,500 customers include 90 of the world’s 100 largest banks.Similarly, the ransomware attack on Cognizant targeted systems the information technology services firm was using to provide laptops to employees working from home during the pandemic.Cognizant and Pitney Bowes (which provides anti-money-laundering, branch strategy and marketing software to banks) were both hit by a ransomware gang called Maze. Earlier this year, Maze attacked Banco BCR, the state-owned Bank of Costa Rica.Maze claims its reasons for attacking banks and tech vendors are virtuous: It's simply drawing attention to security lapses in the industry. In a press release dated April 30, the group expressed a curious set of ethics. It announced that it originally attacked Banco BCR last August, and it reprimanded the bank for not disclosing the security breach to other banks as it said state rules require. The Maze hackers said they performed a “routine check of previously accessed systems” in February and found that no changes had been made.“In the security perimeter was a hole the size of the Channel tunnel,” the release said. “We decided not to block the work of the bank. It was at least incorrect during the world pandemic.”The group said it has stolen data on 11 million credit card holders that it could sell on the dark web, but that it won’t. It said its motive was to “alert people and financial institutions about the poor security.”  Like other ransomware groups, Maze runs a website where it lists victims and leaks sensitive data if they don't pay the ransom demanded. It recently began releasing payment card data from Banco BCR.

How coronavirus could alter Fed’s thinking about stress tests — The Federal Reserve plans to publish regular stress test results next month based on banks' pre-coronavirus condition, but a supplement to the annual assessment — focused on how institutions are handling the economic shocks from the pandemic — could get most of the attention, observers say.On top of releasing the standard results for the Dodd-Frank Act Stress Tests and Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, the Fed has said it will conduct “sensitivity analyses” to examine banks' responses to COVID-19. The addendum will consist of “alternative scenarios and certain adjustments to portfolios to credibly reflect current economic and banking conditions.”A month out from the publication of the 2020 stress test results, it’s still a mystery how the sensitivity analyses will be used and whether banks' performance in the additional exercises will be made public. Some have posited that the Fed could use the sensitivity analyses more than the standard DFAST and CCAR results to make decisions on whether individual banks can continue planning capital distributions. “It could be that the Fed could take the sensitivity analysis, and if they saw results that were especially concerning for them, use that as the basis of individual engagement with a financial institution around its capital plan, as opposed to formally incorporating it into CCAR,” said Jeremy Newell, a partner in the financial services group at Covington & Burling.This year's DFAST and CCAR tests have prompted some questions about the relevance of the exercises, since the assessments will not reflect the current economic reality: a historically sharp downturn resulting from the pandemic. As is typically the case, the Fed said it is running this year's tests for the 34 eligible banks with over $100 billion of assets based on their financial data from last year, before the coronavirus. Yet the Fed is adding the accompanying sensitivity analysis to better understand how banks are responding to financial pressures that may have been brought on by COVID-19.Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles told the House Financial Services Committee this month that the planned sensitivity analyses would factor in several hypothetical economic outcomes related to both the pandemic and a subsequent recovery, including potential losses in different kinds of assets such as commercial real estate. The stress tests generally assess a bank's ability to withstand simulated economic conditions, from baseline to severely adverse.

As Democrats urge pause in bank rules, GOP says hurry up — The coronavirus pandemic has hardened congressional views on bank regulation in both parties, with Republicans urging agencies to finish rules intended to foster economic growth and Democrats calling for a pause on loosening restrictions that protect consumers.The competing approaches have intensified as Trump-appointed regulators aim to finish regulations dealing with issues from payday lending to mortgage underwriting to the definition of brokered deposits.The stakes are also higher with the 2020 elections just around the corner. The longer it takes to finalize rules, the more plausible it is that a potential Democratic sweep of the White House and Senate could result in lawmakers opposed to Trump administration policies trying to repeal them through the Congressional Review Act. “This happens in the run-up to any election because rulemakings take time to complete, and administrations have to plan ahead if they want to accomplish something given there’s a risk of not being re-elected,” said Jeffrey Naimon, a partner at Buckley who defends financial services companies in enforcement matters. “There is typically tension between one party saying ‘hurry along, hurry along’ and the other party saying ‘slow down’ in the face of an election." Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, has argued that rules under consideration will promote economic activity to counter the sharp downturn sparked by the pandemic."In consideration of the limitations that businesses face today, and the magnitude of the costs imposed by the pandemic, I urge you and your staff to work expeditiously to create the most favorable conditions for growth and employment," he wrote in letters earlier this month to leaders at the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Housing Finance Agency.McHenry cited the CFPB’s pending rules to rescind underwriting requirements for payday lenders, clarify debt collector requirements and revamp the definition of a "qualified mortgage." He also pointed to a regulation to let banks and debt buyers bypass state interest caps, an effort by the FDIC to modernize brokered deposit rules, and a revision of the Volcker Ruke's "covered funds" definition. The OCC already finished a rule modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act despite Democratic calls to slow down."It’s important that you fulfill those responsibilities that you have to see those things through and to take necessary measures related to the current crisis,” McHenry said at a May virtual roundtable with regulators.On the other side of the political spectrum, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, called on agencies in March letters to “implement an immediate moratorium on rulemakings not related to the virus response.” "The rules you issue, which let banks off the hook today, mean more bailouts, tomorrow," Brown said at a hearing earlier this month. "Now that we face an economic crisis, at a level that we've not seen, since the Great Depression, it should be an opportunity for you to rethink old habits. But, as far as I can tell, you're not."

 Goldman predicts bumpy recovery, says problem loans could rise in 2Q - A top Goldman Sachs executive said Wednesday that the economic recovery is likely to be bumpy and that problem loans may climb even higher than the firm projected at the end of March.The downbeat assessment came one day after JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said that the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus crisis could help fuel a rapid economic rebound. For its part, Goldman is projecting a 4% decline in gross domestic product this year, followed by a 6.5% increase in 2021.The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen by more than 25% since late March, which suggests that investors are anticipating a strong recovery as shelter-in-place orders are lifted in most states. “I think obviously we’d all root for that,” Goldman President and Chief Operating Officer John Waldron said Wednesday at an industry conference. “But I think the risks ahead are that it doesn’t go quite that smoothly.”Goldman has responded to the economic fallout of the pandemic by boosting its loan-loss reserves and tightening its underwriting. Waldron said that Goldman’s credit provision, which leaped to $937 million in the first quarter from $224 million a year earlier, could climb higher in the second quarter, as the economic contraction has proved to be worse than the company modeled two months ago. In the consumer realm, Goldman reported $7 billion in outstanding loans at the end of the first quarter, which was unchanged from three months earlier. “This reflects us being careful and cognizant of the credit cycle we are operating in,” Waldron said Wednesday. “We continue to tighten our standards and manage our risk prudently.”In corporate lending, Goldman saw a sharp increase in loans outstanding during the first quarter, as did many banks, since companies were drawing on existing credit lines in an effort to preserve liquidity at the start of the crisis. Still, amid the sharp contraction in U.S. economic activity, Waldron said middle-market companies are getting squeezed, as they’ve been unable to tap government support or access the capital markets.A Federal Reserve loan program aimed at helping middle-market companies is expected to be up and running soon, though it is unclear how much use it will get. Goldman is less exposed to credit risk than most other banking companies, with loans comprising just 12% of the firm’s total assets.

SBA issues guidance on PPP loan forgiveness - The Small Business Administration and Treasury Department quietly issued more guidance for the Paycheck Protection Program as legislators look to make more fixes to the emergency loan program.One of the interim final rules, issued late Friday night, focused on the requirements for having PPP loans forgiven. The other rule provided direction on lenders’ duties during the forgiveness period, along with the SBA process for reviewing loans.Banks will be required to issue decisions on borrowers' forgiveness applications within 60 days after receiving them. The SBA said it would then pay the lenders within 90 days. The SBA stated that it has the right to review any loan, though it will evaluate them based on the “rules and guidance available at the time of the borrower’s PPP loan application." The agency said it is preparing a separate rule to lay out an appeals process for borrowers.Lenders will lose the fees for any loans deemed to be ineligible, and the SBA said it could claw back already issued fees. The rules also outlined more qualifications for payroll expenses and established limits for how much loan forgiveness is available for owner-employees. Bankers seemed unimpressed with the latest guidance, which did not extend the amount of time borrowers have to use the funds beyond its current eight-week period. The rules also did not reduce the payroll requirement, which currently stands at 75% of PPP funds.“Just another Friday night where [SBA and Treasury] continue to muddy the … water to make it as complicated as possible to obtain forgiveness and bankers to manage it,” Brad Bolton, president and CEO of Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala., tweeted on Saturday.Several other bankers quickly agreed with Bolton’s assessment.

SBA designates $10 billion in Paycheck Protection loans for CDFIs - The Small Business Administration has set aside $10 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funds for community development financial institutions.The SBA and the Treasury Department said in a press release that the funds will ensure PPP loans reach low-income communities.“The forgivable loan program ... is dedicated to providing emergency capital to sustain our nation’s small businesses, the drivers of our economy, and retain their employees,” SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said. “CDFIs provide critically important capital and technical assistance to small businesses from rural, minority and other underserved communities, especially during this economically challenging time.” “We have received bipartisan support for dedicating these funds for CDFIs to ensure that traditionally underserved communities have every opportunity to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.The $10 billion includes $3.2 billion in funds that CDFIs had already approved during the program's second round. Overall, CDFIs have approved roughly $7 billion in PPP loans.

Dow Jones hits 25,000 as pandemic death toll reaches 100,000 - The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange was reopened on Tuesday morning for the first time since March 23. Among those present to celebrate the ringing of the opening bell was New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who abandoned the somber demeanor of his daily coronavirus updates and shared elbow bumps with Wall Street investors. For the next six-and-a-half hours, the financial community continued its celebration of the pandemic’s bull market. When the trading floor was closed down in March, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down to 18,000. It has since risen approximately 40 percent. Flush with trillions of dollars of bailout money provided by the CARES Act, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose yet another 530 points, an increase of 2.2 percent over its close last Friday. Within 15 minutes of the opening bell, President Trump tweeted an enthusiastic message. “Stock market up BIG, DOW crosses 25,000. S&P 500 over 3000. States should open up ASAP. The Transition to Greatness has started, ahead of schedule. There will be ups and downs, but next year will be one of the best ever!” In the world inhabited by the overwhelming majority of the population, the end of the Memorial Day weekend and the semi-official start of summer marks the beginning of the transition to a new season of death and extreme insecurity, uncertainty and real danger. In the number of fatalities, there will only be “ups.” By the time the summer of 2020 comes to an end, the number of Covid-19 victims will be above 200,000. Trump is a vicious liar and political criminal. He is too stupid to be a full-blown Hitler, and lacks the mass base of a genuine fascist movement. There is nothing genuinely popular about his program. Trump’s real constituency is the socially parasitic corporate-financial elite. He expresses, without embarrassment or restraint, its deepest sentiments: The Dow at 25,000 is far more important than coronavirus deaths at 100,000.

The World’s 25 Richest Billionaires Have Gained Nearly $255 Billion In Just Two Months - The super rich are a whole lot richer than they were two months ago. Twenty five of the wealthiest people on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires are worth a whopping $255 billion more than when the U.S. stock market hit a mid-pandemic low on March 23. Together these 25 folks–Forbes looked at just those on the list with fortunes tied to public stocks–are worth nearly $1.5 trillion, which is about 16% of the total wealth held by the world's billionaires. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the biggest dollar gainer among this rarified group. Facebook shares surged nearly 60% over the past two months, hitting a record high on Friday May 22.  Investors responded positively to the Wednesday debut of Shops, Facebook's effort to host digital storefronts for small business owners. Zuckerberg, now worth $86.5 billion, has become the fourth-richest person in the world, up from the No. 7 richest on Forbes’ 2020 list of the World’s Billionaires, published in early April. The 36-year-old is now richer than Warren Buffett, Inditex founder Amancio Ortega and Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison.The second-largest gainer in dollar terms is also the world's richest man, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Shares of the ecommerce giant have continued on a tear amid increased demand since coronavirus shuttered physical retailers. Amazon stock is up 29% since March 23. As of the end of the day Friday, Bezos was worth $146.9 billion, up $30 billion and 26% since March 23. The biggest percentage gainer is Colin Zheng Huang, the founder of China's second largest online marketplace (behind Alibaba), Pinduoduo. Boosted by the firm's social shopping model, in which users share purchases with friends and family, and an aggressive campaign offering subsidized deals to consumers, Pinduoduo's shares have nearly doubled since March 23, and Huang, its 40-year-old founder and CEO, has added $17.9 billion to his fortune; he's now China's third-richest person, worth $35.6 billion. Another notable gainer: Mukesh Ambani, who became Asia's richest person in April after Facebook announced a $5.7 billion investment into Mumbai-based Reliance Jio, a telecom subsidiary of the sprawling conglomerate founded by Ambani's late father. The company has since raised loads more, including $1.5 billion from private equity giant KKR on Friday and $750 million from investment firm Silver Lake earlier this month. All told, the firm has raked in $10 billion of fresh capital in less than one month. Ambani is now worth $52.7 billion, up nearly $20 billion since the market trough.

Companies ditch commercial paper to lock in longer-term debt FT  -Commercial paper has lost its fizz. Dozens of blue-chip companies includingCoca-Cola and PepsiCo, which have long relied on the market to raise cash, are paying off tens of billions of dollars of borrowing in favour of new longer-term facilities.The withdrawal from the $1.1tn commercial paper market, typically used by companies to finance payroll, inventories and other short-term obligations, came swiftly after fears over coronavirus took hold.Along with the two beverage giants, pharmaceutical group Pfizer, theme park operator Walt Disney and cigarette maker Philip Morris International have issued longer-term debt to pay off commercial paper (CP) borrowing.In total, more than 40 companies have raised a combined $97bn in debt this year, in part to refinance CP, according to data provider Refinitiv. That marks a record high and comes close to surpassing the $105bn borrowed in all of 2008 and 2009 during the previous financial crisis.In turn, CP issued by companies outside the financial industry has dropped to its lowest level since 2016, figures from the US Federal Reserve showed last week. The move by corporate treasurers to secure other sources of funding was prompted byturmoil in the CP market in March, when some investors refused to lend for maturities longer than five days. Companies at first drew down credit lines with banks to bolster their cash reserves, and then began to issue longer-term bonds after a series of interventions from the Fed helped to stabilise credit markets. The Fed’s backstops included the CP market, where it launched a facility to lend to companies on a short-term basis. But advisers on Wall Street warned that another market downturn could cause funding to dry up once more.

 CFPB offers templates for banks, servicers to seek 'no-action' letters The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took steps to help banks gain approval for offering small-dollar installment loans and to enable mortgage servicers to use an online platform for loss-mitigation efforts.The bureau released an approved template for banks to use in seeking a CFPB "no-action letter" — designed to allow companies to develop products without fear of supervisory action — to offer installment loans or lines of credit for amounts of up to $2,500. The template was requested by the Bank Policy Institute, a Washington trade group.The bureau’s action came two days after four federal regulatory agencies released new guidance on how banks and credit unions can offer small-dollar loans without raising regulatory concerns.   The agency also approved a template requested by the Los Angeles-based Brace Software for servicers to seek "no action" approval to use the firm's platform for homeowners applying online for loss mitigation. While the bureau does not endorse specific products or providers, the templates provide parameters that it has approved. Companies can use the templates to get speedy approval of their own no-action letters to receive a safe harbor from regulatory actions taken by the CFPB.Brace provides a white-label, digital loss mitigation platform that adheres to timelines set by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.The Bank Policy Institute’s template envisions products structured either as small-dollar installment loans or open-end lines of credit that specifically exclude the risky features of payday loans such as high-cost fees and repeat rollovers that trap consumers in cycles of debt.The institute’s template explicitly excludes deposit advance loans and loans made in conjunction with payday lenders.Alex Horowitz, a senior research officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ consumer finance team, said small installment loans and lines of credit from banks "would create a much better option for the millions of households that today use high-cost loans outside the banking system.” Last year, the CFPB allowed trade groups and service providers to submit templates that provide specific guidelines or parameters for products and services. Banks and financial firms are expected to then apply to the bureau for a no-action letter using the templates.

 Will GSEs' record-high capital requirements scare investors away? — As soon as the Federal Housing Finance Agency re-proposed a capital framework for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, some observers warned that potential investors could be scared off by the high amount of loss protection the companies would have to hold.But others are suggesting that may be an overreaction.The proposed target of over $230 billion in combined risk-based capital for the two government-sponsored enterprises is more than 70% higher than the amount proposed in a previous plan under former FHFA Director Mel Watt. But the reality of the new proposal is much more nuanced. Under the new framework, Fannie and Freddie would be required to hold $135.1 billion in core regulatory capital, plus an additional $98.8 billion in three supplemental capital buffers.Some experts theorize that the FHFA may deploy options that would allow Fannie and Freddie to technically leave conservatorship before reaching the new capital target. And while the proposal would require the GSEs to hold the additional buffers before paying dividends, the agency could show flexibility on their making capital distributions. “Whether or not [the GSEs] have to have that capital day one of being out of conservatorship or year three is a question they ultimately need to answer and haven't yet,” said Karen Petrou, a managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics. Determining the right amount of capital for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has always been about striking a balance between a figure low enough to attract investors and maintain access to credit, and high enough to avoid another government bailout. FHFA Director Mark Calabria has said previously the agency’s capital rule would give investors a clear idea of what will be required once the two companies return to the private market. For a successful offering the agency needs shareholders to invest potentially record-high amounts of money. “Nobody will invest in anything unless they understand how much capital a company is required to hold because that determines ultimately the return on equity the investor wants to price,” Petrou said.But some wondered after the FHFA debuted its new proposal on Wednesday whether the high figure would actually ward off investors. Currently, the GSEs have about $24 billion in capital, and Calabria has said it would likely take the companies more than a decade to work up to the capital level needed to exit conservatorship based on retained earnings alone.

Mortgage underwriting tightens as rates fall; HSBC mulls sale of U.S. unit -  The European Banking Authority expects banks in the eurozone “to suffer a hit of up to €380 billion to their capital due to the economic disruption from coronavirus, but most should be able to absorb the losses, ” the Financial Times reported.“The starting position of the banks [was] very good at the end of last year [and] the measures put in place since the last crisis have held up,” EBA chairman José Manuel Campa said. “As a result of all that, the buffers are large and should be sufficient in the short term so we are not worried about [the banks’] short-term ability to lend to the economy and in the long term to have sufficient buffers to absorb the eventual losses.”Nevertheless, “they are also more exposed to small and medium-size companies and consumer credit, two areas that provide higher margins in a low-interest-rate environment but that are now hard-hit by the virus outbreak,” the Wall Street Journal said. “Not all will be able to weather a sharp fall in profitability as loans turn sour and the cost of raising funds rises.” “There could be weaker banks, including those that entered the crisis with existing idiosyncratic problems or those heavily exposed to the sectors more affected by the crisis, and whose capital ratios might not suffice to weather the upcoming challenges,” the EBA said. Interest rates may have fallen “to the lowest level on record,” but that’s not prompting a corresponding increase in mortgage lending, the Journal says. Rather, “mortgage availability has tightened sharply as lenders impose tougher income, credit-score and down-payment conditions and drop some loan types altogether, such as home-equity lines of credit.”“The economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic explains some of this credit crunch. But the economic factors have been exacerbated by policy decisions in Washington, industry officials say. As part of its March relief bill, Congress let homeowners suspend mortgage payments for up to a year but provided no way to pay for this, potentially saddling lenders with the burden. Meanwhile, federal regulators make it hard for loans where borrowers might seek forbearance to get the backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee nearly half of residential mortgages.” HSBC’s board “is set to deepen the biggest restructuring in the bank’s 155-year history after deciding that the coronavirus crisis requires more drastic measures. The bank’s U.S. business is under particular scrutiny, where HSBC has a small east-coast retail network alongside trading and transaction banking operations. These were shrunk by almost a third in February, but management is now debating whether the U.S. operation is viable at all.”

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 8.36%" of Portfolio Volume --Note: To put these numbers in perspective, the MBA notes "For the week of March 2, only 0.25% of all loans were in forbearance." From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 8.36%: The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance increased from 8.16% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 8.36% as of May 17, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 4.2 million homeowners are now in forbearance plans....“Although job losses continue at extremely high rates, mortgage servicers are reporting only modest increases in the share of loans in forbearance as of May 17,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “The decline in employment and income is hitting FHA and VA borrowers harder, leading to 11.6 percent of Ginnie Mae loans currently in forbearance.”Added Fratantoni, “Forbearance requests declined relative to the prior week, and while call volume picked up, servicers appear well staffed for this volume, as wait times and abandonment rates dropped.”  This graph shows the weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicer's portfolio volume.The requests peaked in the week of March 30th to April 5th.The MBA notes: "Forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) dropped across all investor types for the sixth consecutive week relative to the prior week: from 0.32% to 0.28%."

Black Knight: Mortgage Forbearance Volumes Flatten, Total Roughly Steady at 4.76M - Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance. From Black Knight: Mortgage Forbearance Volumes Flatten, Total Roughly Steady at 4.76M The latest data from the McDash Flash Forbearance Tracker shows that forbearance volumes have essentially flattened, and in fact new inflows have slowed to a relative trickle. While the leveling off of active forbearance volumes is welcome news, the focus of industry participants – especially servicers and mortgage investors – is already shifting from pipeline growth to pipeline management. ... As of May 26, 4.76 million homeowners are in forbearance plans, with a net increase of just 7,000 new forbearance plans since last week. That’s in comparison to a 325,000 net increase in the first week of May, and 1.4 million in the first week of April. CR Note: This is 9.0% of all mortgages.  The delinquency rate in April increased sharply to 6.45%, but it would have been much higher if so many borrowers in forbearance hadn't made their mortgage payments (unpaid loans in forbearance are counted as delinquent in the survey).

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate increased in April --Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in April was 0.64%, up from 0.60% in March. Freddie's rate is down from 0.65% in April 2019.This is the highest serious delinquency rate since last April. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.  These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  With COVID-19, this rate will increase significantly in a few months (it takes time since these are mortgage three months or more past due).

Mortgage Credit Tightens, Creating Drag on Any Economic Recovery – WSJ -With interest rates falling to the lowest level on record, this should be a banner time for households in search of a new mortgage.  It isn’t. Mortgage availability has tightened sharply as lenders impose tougher income, credit-score and down-payment conditions and drop some loan types altogether, such as home-equity lines of credit.The economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic explains some of this credit crunch. But the economic factors have been exacerbated by policy decisions in Washington, industry officials say.As part of its March relief bill, Congress let homeowners suspend mortgage payments for up to a year but provided no way to pay for this, potentially saddling lenders with the burden.Meanwhile, federal regulators make it hard for loans where borrowers might seek forbearance to get the backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee nearly half of residential mortgages. One indicator of the credit crunch is that the volume of mortgages being refinanced, which normally rises sharply when rates drop, is up only modestly since before the pandemic, according to Black Knight, a mortgage-data and technology firm.Another indicator is mortgage rates themselves: They are roughly a percentage point higher than they ordinarily would be given current Treasury-bond yields.A strained mortgage market threatens to make the economic recovery more difficult. Housing is often the most immediate way the Federal Reserve transmits lower interest rates to the economy, as homeowners refinance to free up cash and as home buying spurs construction and spending.Trouble began in March when pandemic-related shutdowns frightened investors, prompting them to dump nearly all types of financial assets, including mortgage-backed securities. As their prices fell, yields rose, rippling through to mortgage rates. The Fed responded by cutting its short-term interest rate target a full percentage point to near zero and, in the past two months, buying more than $1.5 trillion in Treasury securities and $650 billion in federally guaranteed mortgage-backed securities, easily eclipsing the pace of buying in 2008. Treasury-bond yields plummeted to below 1% for the first time on record.

Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey –MBA -  Mortgage applications increased 2.7 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 22, 2020. ... The Refinance Index decreased 0.2 percent from the previous week and was 176 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 9 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 7 percent compared with the previous week and was 9 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ... “The home purchase market continued its path to recovery as various states reopen, leading to more buyers resuming their home search. Purchase applications increased 9 percent last week – the sixth consecutive weekly increase and a jump of 54 percent since early April. Additionally, the purchase loan amount has increased steadily in recent weeks and is now at its highest level since mid-March,” said Joel Kan MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Despite mortgage rates hovering near MBA’s all-time survey low, refinance activity was essentially flat but still 176 percent higher than last year. Conventional refinance applications increased 2 percent, while government refinancing was down almost 7 percent.” ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.42 percent from 3.41 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 4.4% year-over-year in March –Note: This is for March and is mostly pre-crisis data. S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for March ("March" is a 3 month average of January, February and March prices). This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index. From S&P: Annual Home Price Gains Increased to 4.4% in March According to S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index: The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 4.4% annual gain in March, up from 4.2% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 3.4%, up from 3.0% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 3.9% year-over-year gain, up from 3.5% in the previous month. Phoenix, Seattle and Charlotte reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 19 cities (excluding Detroit for the month). In March, Phoenix led the way with an 8.2% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle with a 6.9% increase and Charlotte with a 5.8% increase. Seventeen of the 19 cities reported higher price increases in the year ending March 2020 versus the year ending February 2020. ...The National Index posted a 0.8% month-over-month increase, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites posted increases of 1.0% and 1.1% respectively before seasonal adjustment in March. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index and the 20-City Composite posted a month-over-month increase of 0.5%, while the 10-City Composite a posted 0.4% increase. In March, all 19 cities (excluding Detroit) reported increases before seasonal adjustment as well as after seasonal adjustment. "March’s data witnessed the first impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices,”  “We have data from only 19 cities this month, since transactions records for Wayne County, Michigan (in the Detroit metropolitan area) were unavailable. “That said, housing prices continue to be remarkably stable. The National Composite Index rose by 4.4% in March 2020, with comparable growth in the 10- and 20-City Composites (up 3.4% and 3.9%, respectively). In all three cases, March’s year-over-year gains were ahead of February’s, continuing a trend of gently accelerating home prices that began last autumn.  The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

New Home Sales at 623,000 Annual Rate in April - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 623 thousand.The previous three months were revised down. Sales of new single-family houses in April 2020 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 623,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.6 percent above the revised March rate of 619,000, but is 6.2 percent below the April 2019 estimate of 664,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate.  New Home Sales haven't fallen as much as expected during the COVID crisis. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply.  The months of supply decreased in April to 6.3 months from 6.4 months in March. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is slightly above the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of April was 325,000. This represents a supply of 6.3 months at the current sales rate." Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate).

A few Comments on April New Home Sales- McBride - New home sales for April were reported at 623,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised down.This was well above consensus expectations.   I've long argued that new home sales and housing starts (especially single family starts) were some of the best leading indicators for the economy.   However, I've noted that there are times when this isn't true.   NOW is one of those times. The course of the economy will be determined by the course of the virus, and New Home Sales tell us nothing about the future of the pandemic.Earlier: New Home Sales at 623,000 Annual Rate in April. This graph shows new home sales for 2019 and 2020 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).New home sales were down 6.2% year-over-year (YoY) in April.   Year-to-date (YTD) sales are still up 1.4%, but sales will be down YTD soon (although the comparison to May of last year is pretty easy).And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s.
Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales. Now the gap is mostly closed.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

Pending Home Sales Plummet 35% YoY - Biggest Drop Ever As Buyers Forfeit Deposits - Existing home sales collapsed but new home sales rebounded in April, which leaves pending home sales to break the tie and analysts expected a 17.3% MoM drop. However, pending home sales disappointed notably with a 21.8% MoM collapse, sending YoY sales crashing 34.6% - the most ever... Source: Bloomberg “The housing market is temporarily grappling with the coronavirus-induced shutdown,” which reduced listings and purchases, Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. So while all sorts of narratives about lower rates were puked out to defend new home sales outlier data, it seems pending home sales did not get the message...  Every region crashed...

  • Northeast fell 14.5%; Feb. rose 2.8%
  • Midwest fell 22%; Feb. rose 4.2%
  • South fell 19.5%; Feb. fell 0.2%
  • West fell 26.8%; Feb. rose 5.1%

That is the lowest level of pending home sales since records began in 2001... March historically begins the annual peak U.S. selling season as warming weather spurs home searches and families with children prepare for moves during the school summer break. That’s been drastically curtailed in 2020 as the virus triggers the biggest economic contraction in decades, closing workplaces, schools and other activities. Pending home sales are leading indicators of housing activity, based on signed contracts to buy single-family homes, condos and co-ops, typically occurring one or two months before closings. As MacroGuru (@macroguru9) noted, "The reason this is significant is it takes 4-8 weeks to close the sale once the contract has been signed. So this huge drop would indicate buyers forfeiting the deposit and walking away as they think the loss on the purchase would be higher than the deposit itself!!!"

Hundreds of thousands of Americans face homelessness during pandemic as states begin lifting restrictions on evictions - With nearly 40 million officially unemployed in the United States, state and local governments are preparing to throw workers and their families out of their homes and into the street. Across the US, moratoriums on eviction proceedings and home foreclosures, set in place during the onset of the pandemic, have either been lifted or are set to expire early next month. Nationally, there has been a patchwork of temporary safeguards for renters and homeowners invoked as tens of millions of workers lost their jobs in the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Some states, such as South Dakota and Wyoming, never had any protections in place. Others, including Florida, Mississippi, California, and Illinois are set to allow evictions to resume in early June. Cities are spending millions on rent assistance, only to see funds quickly drained by overwhelming demand. According to NPR, a rental assistance program in Houston, Texas ran out of funding in 90 minutes. Texas paved the way for other states after it lifted bans on evictions in place since March. On May 19, Texas courts were opened for landlords to file eviction proceedings against tenants. A mixture of emergency orders from cities and counties protect renters in metropolitan areas such as Austin, El Paso, Dallas, and San Antonio, but Houston—the fourth largest city in the US—and Fort Worth have issued no additional protective measures. Accordingly, Fort Worth and Houston will now be among the first major metropolitan areas in the country that will see a sharp rise in evictions, despite significant job losses. According to state figures, more unemployment claims were filed in Harris County, which accounts for about 98 percent of the Houston metropolitan area, than Dallas County and Travis County combined: 184,281 claims in the Houston area, compared to 92,380 in Dallas and 42,623 in Austin. Many of the country’s largest cities are still under state moratoriums but have not passed local eviction measures. In Chicago, evictions have been halted until Illinois lifts its state of emergency, which is currently slated for the end of this week. In states like Florida, landlords have filed hundreds of eviction cases, waiting for the state’s moratorium to expire. In Hillsborough County alone, the home of Tampa, 250 cases have already piled up in courts waiting to be processed. Neighboring Pinellas County already has 190 cases pending. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo extended a moratorium for tenants and homeowners affected by the pandemic until August 20. For cases not related to COVID-19, evictions will resume June 20.

The New York Renters Who Can’t Pay May - Two rent payments ago, Donald Trump announced what he termed some “really positive things” for millions of people who were nervous about evictions during the economic shutdown. “Landlords are going to take it easy!” he said. This was not rhetoric: Trump International Hotel, in Washington, D.C., soon asked for rent relief from its own landlord, the federal government, which has yet to announce a decision on whether to grant it. (Evictions continued apace at the real-estate firm owned by Jared Kushner.) Despite the news, rent was still due on April 1st for most American renters, and nearly a third of them couldn’t pay. More were expected to fall off the books for May. “I have seven hundred and seventy-three dollars in my bank account,” Winsome Pendergrass, a Jamaican-born domestic worker, said at the end of last month. “My rent is nine hundred and fifty-eight dollars and sixty-five cents. I paid in April, but now I can’t. I call it Can’t-Pay May.”  Pendergrass’ granddaughter is trying to turn missed rent payments into a movement. She belongs to New York Communities for Change, a group that has organized a rent strike among its five thousand members. “We try to encourage our members: Have a conversation with your landlord,” she said. “But many landlords are pushing papers under their doors saying, ‘Your responsibility is to pay.’  New York State has banned evictions until mid-June, and a bill proposed in the City Council seeks to extend the grace period to April, 2021, in the five boroughs, but renters will have to make up missed payments. Pendergrass and her group have called on Trump and Governor Andrew Cuomo to cancel rents and mortgages permanently for the duration of the stay-at-home order. Pendergrass was getting ready for a rent-strike meeting, held on Zoom, for renters across the city.  Fifty-eight people attended the last meeting. This time, there were a hundred and eighty-eight. People shared their stories..(anecdotes follow)

Young People Are Rushing To Leave Big Cities In Favor Of Less Infected Suburbia - There's no doubt that the long-lasting impact of the coronavirus pandemic will include a major shift in how consumers look at homebuying. In fact, have already reported here on Zero Hedge about how many are leaving the city in favor of life in the suburbs, since the virus has spread faster in city areas.Now, it looks as though the younger generation is following the cues of the older generation and doing the same. The effects could be pronounced, especially since the younger generation was responsible for the boom in many U.S. cities over the last decade. That includes people like Desiree Duff, who Bloomberg highlighted late last week. A former NYC bartender, she has left her apartment in Brooklyn to move back in with her parents in South Carolina. She is currently using unemployment to pay her part of the rent and says that she is stuck "rethinking" the appeal of living in the big city.She said: “Not knowing what my future there looks like does make me reconsider. Maybe after my lease is done I should move elsewhere, to a smaller city that was less infected, as much as that breaks my heart.” Her move is a microcosm of a larger shift for the younger generation, which is leaving apartments empty in cities across the U.S. Deniz Kahramaner, the founder of data-driven real estate brokerage Atlasa said: “The draw of the city is the social life, the dating scene, bars, restaurants, the ability to do fun things on the weekend. Without those attractions, it makes a lot of sense to just abandon ship and go back to your parents.”Charley Goss, government and community affairs manager at the San Francisco Apartment Association said: "It’s a really hard time for the renter, but it’s a really hard time for the housing provider, too." Goss conducted a survey and found that 17% of landlords in the San Francisco area have had tenants break leases or give 30 day "move out" notices. Another example is Alexa Lewis, a 24 year old that was living in San Francisco when the city locked down. By the end of April, her roommates had left and she was all alone. She was stuck with a $4,900/month rent bill and no clue what to do. “There were a lot of calls with my family to talk out everything and ask for advice/cry,” she said. She was able to negotiate temporary concessions with her landlord.And the rental market is expected to stay soft even as the economy recovers. “People won’t need to be in a job center if they can work from home. I would expect to see less demand and that corresponds to lower rents,” Goss said. Rents are even expected to decline in places like New York City.

Coronavirus will reshape our cities – we just don't know how yet - Few residents of the world’s great metropolises would have thought much about plagues before this year. Outside China and east Asia – made vigilant by swine flu and Sars – the trauma of pandemics such as Spanish flu or typhoid has largely faded from popular memory. But our cities remember.An outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793 prompted administrators to take over the task of cleaning streets, clearing gutters and collecting rubbish. It worked, and governments across the US adopted the responsibility over the next decades. A misconception that the odour emanating from wastewater was responsible for diseases such as cholera prompted one of the world’s first modern underground sewer systems in London, and the development of wider, straighter and paved roads - which helped prevent water from stagnating.Cities have evolved over the centuries according to theories of how to fight disease, turning features such as public parks and sewers into “a mundane part of city thinking”, says Michele Acuto, a professor of global urban politics at the University of Melbourne.The legacy Covid-19 might leave on the world’s great cities is being hotly debated, although most specialists admit it is too early to know for sure. “It will depend in the end on how we analyse this virus: how is it spreading? How is it making people sick?” says Roger Keil, a professor of environmental studies at Toronto’s York University. “We don’t know the full answers, but once they become clearer, urban planners and other professionals will start to think as their predecessors did 100 years ago, as they laid sewer pipes and cleaned out parts of the city that were considered insalubrious.” The sanitary infrastructure that trails in the wake of Covid-19 may be digital, Acuto says, in the form of the surveillance technology used by cities such as Singapore and Seoul to retrace the steps of infected people and warn others who have crossed their path. Life in the megacities of the future will be less private than ever.

New York City will turn into shell of former self after coronavirus crisis  -Imagine New York City five years from now with streets full of abandoned storefronts, closed eateries, and empty buildings. The cumulative effects of the coronavirus may be more overwhelming than the other challenges New York City has had to face during the past two generations, including the aftermath of 9/ 11. It is likely that the pandemic will simply accelerate the trend in the sharp decline of its population and livelihoods.New York City was already losing population before the outbreak due to economic factors and quality of life issues. Around 40,000 residents left between 2017 and 2018 alone. The coronavirus has fueled the population outflow. About 420,000 residents have fled New York City in the last few months. Even worse for its economy, the majority of those who left amid the pandemic are wealthy workers. Many of them went to low tax havens in the south, such as Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.Eventually, it will not only be the 1 percent who leave. The unemployment rate in New York City has risen above 14 percent. Residents without a job or reduced hours will no longer have the income to keep paying sky high rents for tiny living quarters. Meanwhile, workers who have not been laid off or furloughed have been working remotely, a trend that may continue for years to come. Nearly 70 percent of those in finance and technology will consider relocating if working remotely becomes permanent.For many, that is already an option. Twitter and Facebook announced that employees will get to work from home on a permanent basis, a move that other technology giants are also weighing. Meanwhile, the conveniences of city living before the outbreak are no longer relevant. The coronavirus has exposed how easy telecommuting is, and residents may not feel safe riding the subway again for months or perhaps for years to come.Small luxuries like dining out may be off the table, even when restaurants are allowed to reopen. A wave of bars and restaurants have also closed for good in New York City. The pressure of fewer customers and knowing that laid off employees will receive the $600 per week unemployment “bonus” make the decision to move more of a no brainer than before. Several retail establishments were already struggling due to competing online business and exorbitant commercial rents. The coronavirus will push New York City to face a period of empty storefronts for the first time in decades.The mass of young people that moved to New York City for its culture and opportunities will see them dry up. Without all the restaurants, museums, and crowds of young people, the social scene and nightlife will certainly be subdued. The end result will be the Big Apple without its core. Minus the haute culture and thriving business sector, what is the advantage of deciding to stay in a potential germ factory like the five boroughs?Collapsing tax revenues from the decline in both business and residents will mean that many major programs and projects, from infrastructure to public safety and more, will be either bailed out by Uncle Sam or slashed by the government. This will likely not just be an issue for New York City. Similar factors will cause other urban centers to see similar flights.

Baby Boomers Panic Hoard "Covid Campers" To Escape Big Cities As Second Wave Threats Emerge - Americans are packing their bags, purchasing motor homes, and fleeing large cities as fears of a second coronavirus wave emerge.  Bloomberg reports floor traffic at Mike Regan's two RV dealerships near Austin, Texas, jumped 30% compared with last May.  "Cooped-up Americans desperate to get out after months of lockdowns are dreaming of doing something—anything—that resembles a vacation. But a majority of them worry a second wave of the coronavirus is coming, and think politicians have pushed too fast to reopen. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to getting out of Dodge, the close-quarters of an airline cabin are a no-go," said Bloomberg.  Regan said, "the minute the campgrounds opened on May 1, and the governor turned everyone loose, our business went through the roof." He said sales at his Crestview dealerships slumped 50% in April, though expected to be significantly higher this month.RV sales have been widely used as a recession marker (which is something we noted in August 2019): collapsing sales is the start of the downturn, and improving sales could suggest a trough and or upturn. However, as the economy dives into depression, not seen since the 1930s, RV sales are set to rise as the pandemic has frightened people away from crowded cities. Not mentioned in the report, another reason for increased RV sales could be due to 38 million people have lost their jobs in the last several months, some may not be able to make rent payments or afford their homes, have started to explore other options for cheaper living accommodations.  Richard Curtin, a researcher at the University of Michigan who follows the RV industry, said the latest surge in RV buying shows consumers are still intact despite a "coronavirus recession." However, he did not breakdown the sales in terms of demographics, which is likely to show baby boomers are the largest buyers - as the downturn has crushed millennials.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 50.2% Year-over-year, Slight Increase Week-over-week --From STR: US hotel results for week ending 23 May STR data ending with 23 May showed another small rise from previous weeks in U.S. hotel performance. Year-over-year declines remained significant although not as severe as the levels recorded in April.  17-23 May 2020 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019):
• Occupancy: 35.4% (-50.2%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$80.92 (-39.7%)
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$28.67 (-69.9%)
“The steady climb in national occupancy continued, and to no surprise, the highest levels were recorded on Friday and Saturday ahead of Memorial Day,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights. “Occupancy gains continue to be led by popular leisure markets like the Florida Panhandle, Mobile, Myrtle Beach and Daytona Beach. We even saw a weekday-to-weekend ADR premium in higher occupancy markets.“What was also noticeable in the week’s data was the higher occupancy levels across all classes of hotels. Economy properties continued to lead, but we also saw the higher-priced end of the market up over 20%. Regardless, Upper Upscale occupancy continues to lag the broader industry as meeting demand is still not returning.”The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

Personal Income increased 10.5% in April, Spending decreased 13.6%, Core PCE decreased 0.4% - The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for April: Personal income increased $1.97 trillion (10.5 percent) in April according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $2.13 trillion (12.9 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) decreased $1.89 trillion (13.6 percent). Real DPI increased 13.4 percent in April and Real PCE decreased 13.2 percent. The PCE price index decreased 0.5 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index decreased 0.4 percent. The April PCE price index increased 0.5 percent year-over-year and the April PCE price index, excluding food and energy, increased 1.0 percent year-over-year. The following graph shows real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) through April 2020 (2012 dollars). Note that the y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. The dashed red lines are the quarterly levels for real PCE. The increase in personal income was way above expectations,  and the decrease in PCE was below expectations.  Note that core PCE inflation was below expectations.

Real Personal Income less Transfer Payments -In the Personal Income & Outlays report for April, the BEA noted that "Personal income increased $1.97 trillion (10.5 percent) in April". This was due to a large increase in transfer payment. Transfer payments increased by $3 trillion in April. Unemployment insurance increased from $70 billion in March, to $430 billion in April. And "Other" (mostly the CARES Act) increased by $2,600 billion in April. Without the increase in transfer payments, Personal Income in April would have declined by about 6%.  A key measure of the health of the economy (Used by NBER in recession dating) is Real Personal Income less Transfer payments. This graph shows real personal income less transfer payments since 1990. This measure of economic activity decreased 2.8% in March, compared to February, and another 6.3% in April (compared to March).

Consumer Spending Fell a Record 13.6% in April – WSJ - U.S. consumer spending fell by a record 13.6% in April during coronavirus lockdowns, but there are signs that purchasing is starting to pick up. The April decline was the steepest for records tracing back to 1959. Weak April spending adds to the evidence that the U.S. economy is in for a long, slow recovery. The coronavirus pandemic and related lockdowns wiped out a decade of job gains within a month.Personal income, which includes wages, interest and dividends, increased 10.5% in April, primarily reflecting a sharp rise in “government social benefits” through federal coronavirus stimulus programs.As states start to reopen businesses and Americans return to work, activity in some pockets of the economy appears to be perking up—or at least not deteriorating further—after hitting rock bottom in April.    Camelia Kuhnen, finance professor at UNC-Kenan Flagler Business School, said that workers in industries hard hit by the coronavirus, like retail and tourism, will remain uncertain about the economic outlook for a while, even with states reopening their economies. “It’s going to probably lead these people to be very, very careful with spending their money,” Ms. Kuhnen said. Americans’ concerns about the path of the economy was a factor behind a sharp rise in the personal-saving rate in March. The saving rate, which is the difference between disposable income and spending, surged to 13.1% in March from 8% in February. Economic uncertainty may be holding back an auto sales recovery that began in early April. J.D. Power, the auto-industry research company, reports that by the last week of April, sales were down 38% from its pre-virus forecast—a big improvement from the 59% sales deficit in the last week of March. However, the pace of recovery has lost momentum in May, with sales still 25% lower than the forecast in the week ending May 24.

US Spending Crashes By Most Ever Despite $3 Trillion Government Handout-Driven Income Surge - After spending collapsed (and incomes dropped) in March, April was expected to see even worse but there was a surprise! While spending collapsed 13.6% MoM (the biggest drop on record), incomes soared 10.5% MoM (the biggest surge on record) as we assume that this reflects massive government transfer payments... And on a YoY basis, the shift is massive... an 11.7% surge in incomes and 3.1% slump in spending... The surge in incomes is entirely due to massive government transfer payments... Here is that percentage change put in absolute context... basically, the government has added $3 trillion in annualized income... from $3.348TN in March to $6.367TN in April (both annualized) As private and government wages collapsed... Consumer spending decreased in April, reflecting decreases in both goods and services. Within goods, the leading contributor to the decrease was spending on food and beverages data. Spending on prescription drugs also decreased. Within services, the leading contributor to the decrease was spending on health care, based primarily on employment, hours, and earnings data as well as credit card data. Other contributors to the decrease in services were spending on food services and accommodations. And finally, The Fed's favorite inflation indicator - Core PCE Deflator - collapsed to 9 year lows... Charts Source: Bloomberg The surge in incomes and plunge in spending sent the savings rate to record highs...

Consumers Increasingly Expect Additional Government Support amid COVID-19 Pandemic -  NY Fed - The New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data released results today from its April 2020 SCE Public Policy Survey, which provides information on consumers' expectations regarding future changes to a wide range of fiscal and social insurance policies and the potential impact of these changes on their households. These data have been collected every four months since October 2015 as part of our Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE). Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, households face significant uncertainty about their personal situations and the general economic environment when forming plans and making decisions. Tracking individuals’ subjective beliefs about future government policy changes is important for understanding and predicting their behavior in terms of spending and labor supply, which will be crucial in forecasting the economic recovery in the months ahead. The April SCE Public Policy Survey, which was fielded between April 2 and 30, shows large movements in consumers’ expectations regarding future changes in several assistance and social insurance programs as well as in taxes and fees. Starting with assistance programs, the chart below shows the average percent chance that respondents assign to an expansion over the next twelve months in affordable housing, federal student loan forgiveness, and the generosity of federal welfare benefits. All three series reached new highs in April, but the average likelihood of an increase in federal welfare benefits logged the biggest jump—around 20 percentage points—since December 2019. The large increases in the expected expansions for federal student loan forgiveness and welfare programs were broad-based across demographic groups. Interestingly, the change in expectations for a year-ahead expansion in affordable housing from December 2019 to April 2020 was much more muted for lower-income (less than $60,000) households at 4.9 percentage points, compared to higher-income households at 15.8 percentage points.

UMich Sentiment Disappoints As 'Hope' Hits 7-Year Lows --UMich sentiment was expected to have accelerated its rebound from preliminary May data, but it disappointed (despite surging stocks and reopenings).

  • Headline UMich Sentiment up from 71.8 to 72.3 (but down from the 73.7 flash print and below the 74.0 expectations)
  • Current Conditions up from 74.3 to 82.3 (but down from the 83.0 flash print and below the 84.0 expectations)
  • Expectations "Hope" down from 70.1 to 65.9 (and down from the 67.7 flash print and below the 68.4 expectations)

Chart Source: Bloomberg This is the lowest level for expectations since Nov 2013.It should not be surprising that a growing number of consumers expected the economy to improve from its recent standstill, or that the majority still thought conditions would remain unfavorable in the year ahead. This has been a common occurrence in past cycles. The gap between judgements about economic growth and the current performance is likely to grow significantly when the 2nd quarter GDP is announced.Is it any wonder current conditions sentiment is rebounding - screw 40 million unemployed, the government just dumped $ 3 trillion in transfer payments for people to sit on their ass for a month or two?Federal payments distributed under the CARES Act are giving a jolt to consumers’ finances -- though the bump may be temporary as some of the stimulus money includes one-time checks. And while the worst of the economic downturn may be over, Americans are expecting prolonged hardship, according to the report.The 50% of consumers who expected “bad financial times over the next five years” was the second-worst reading since Donald Trump became president, Richard Curtin, director of the survey, said in a statement.The question - as we noted previously, is what happens when the transfer payments run out and unemployment remains at depression levels?

COVID-19 Pandemic Fuels Bicycle Boom --As social distancing is the order of the day, riding a packed subway to get around is not exactly what the doctor prescribed. Add to that the need for people to stay active as gyms and sports centers across the nation are closed and, as Statista's Felix Richter notes, you‘ve got the perfect recipe for a bicycle boom, which is exactly what the industry has been seeing for the past two months.  You will find more infographics at StatistaAccording to figures from the NPD Group’s retail tracking service, bicycle sales in the United States soared in March 2020, with some categories seeing growth rates of more than 100 percent compared to the previous year.“Consumers are looking for outdoor- and kid-friendly activities to better tolerate the challenges associated with stay-at-home orders, and cycling fits the bill well,” said Dirk Sorenson, sports industry analyst at NPD, adding that kids bikes and affordable adult leisure bikes were selling particularly well.Survey data from U.S. bike manufacturer Trek gives us an idea why cycling is so popular these days. 85 percent of Americans consider it safer than public transportation during the coronavirus outbreak, while 63 percent of respondents feel that it helps to relieve stress/anxiety associated with the pandemic.

 Pandemic a boon for the bicycle as thousands snap them up (AP) — Joel Johnson first bought a multipurpose bike to avoid the germs on crowded buses and trains but then discovered a passion for pedaling around San Francisco, where some streets are now closed to traffic. Johnson, 25, is among thousands of cooped-up Americans snapping up new bicycles or dusting off decades-old bikes to stay fit, keep their sanity or have a safe alternative to public transportation. The pandemic is proving to be a boon for bike shops, which have seen a surge in demand, with people waiting in line at still-open shops and mechanics struggling to meet the demand.All around the country and the world, bicycles are selling out and officials are trying to take advantage of the growing momentum by expanding bike lanes during the pandemic or widening existing ones to make space for commuters on two wheels. "This just feels like two straight months of madness sales,” said Dale Ollison, a bike mechanic at Hank and Frank Bicycles, an Oakland, California, shop that is selling online and doing curbside pick-ups. Oakland was the first California city to launch a “slow streets” program in April and has closed 20 miles (32 kilometers) of city streets to cars to create a safer outdoor space for pedestrians and cyclists. San Francisco soon followed, closing sections of twelve streets in a city that already has a robust network of bike lanes. “A lot of folks are dusting off their bikes to get themselves and their families a bit of fresh air during all of this,” he said. “It’s the perfect tool for this time.”

Cycle power: Bikes emerge as a post-lockdown commuter option --  As countries seek to get their economies back on track after the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, bicycle use is being encouraged as a way to avoid unsafe crowding on trains and buses. Cycling activists from Germany to Peru are trying to use the moment to get more bike lanes, or widen existing ones, even if it’s just a temporary measure to make space for commuters on two wheels.The transition to more bike-friendly urban environments “is necessary if we want our cities to work,” said Morton Kabell, who co-chairs the European Cyclists’ Federation.“A lot of people will be afraid of going on public transportation, but we have to get back to work someday. Very few of our cities can handle more car traffic,” he said.In addition to bike lanes separated by curbs, Kabell backs subsidizing electric bicycles, which could encourage commuters who have longer or hilly journeys.The benchmarks are Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where half of the daily commuters are cyclists, and the Netherlands, with its vast network of bike lanes.Still, countries around the world are catching up at different speeds.The French government asked cycling activist Pierre Serne to draw up a plan for when its lockdown ends May 11. His recommendations, including bicycle lanes separated from other vehicles at an estimated cost of 50,000 euros per kilometer (around $90,000 per mile), have been submitted to the Transportation Ministry.For now, France has said it will subsidize riders up to 50 euros (nearly $55) for repairs so the French can get their bicycles ready for post-lockdown rides.

For Economy, Worst of Coronavirus Shutdowns May Be Over – WSJ - Truck loads are growing again. Air travel and hotel bookings are up slightly. Mortgage applications are rising. And more people are applying to open new businesses.These are among some early signs the U.S. economy is, ever so slowly, creeping back to life.Plenty of data show the country was still mired in a severe downturn in April and May, with overall business activity falling and layoffs rising—though more slowly than in the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis. Current projections have the economy contracting by 6% to 7% this year and unemployment lingering in double-digit percentages for a while. But, for the first time since the pandemic forced widespread U.S. business closures in March, it appears conditions in some corners of the economy aren’t getting worse, and might even be improving. “If this is the only wave [of coronavirus], it looks like we’ve bottomed out and the normalization process has begun,” said Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist at S&P Global Ratings. Spending on hotels, restaurants, airlines and other industries hurt by social distancing remains low, but appears to be picking up. The number of travelers passing through Transportation Security Administration security screening checkpoints fell to 87,534 on April 14, 96% below the same day a year earlier. But by May 22, the figure had more than tripled to 348,673, although that is still down 88% from the same day a year earlier. Meanwhile, data from online restaurant-booking company OpenTable shows diners are beginning to return in several states. “We’re past the trough in terms of peak damage,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, with high-frequency indicators showing “a burgeoning rebound in terms of how much people are spending.” “You can see that turn in the data, which is encouraging,” he said, “but you have to be cautious that we’re rebounding from extremely depressed levels.” The shipping industry illustrates the trend. The numbers remain low by historical standards but suggest the carriers have turned a corner., which measures demand in trucking’s spot market, says its weekly index has improved for four straight weeks and that available loads were up 27% in the week ended May 18. DAT Solutions LLC, which matches freight shipments to available trucks, says its index for available loads rose 22% the week ended May 10 from the previous week. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., one of the largest truckers in the U.S., said its volumes fell sharply at the start of April, but Chief Executive Greg Gantt said in an earnings call that demand “has remained fairly steady since then.” “We’d like to think that the worst is behind us,”

Visualizing How US Consumers Are Spending Differently During COVID-19 - Consumer Spending in Charts - In 2019, nearly 70% of U.S. GDP was driven by personal consumption. However, as Visual Capitalist's Iman Ghosh notes, in the first and second quarters of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has initiated a transformation of consumer spending trends as we know them.By leveraging new data from analytics platform 1010Data, today’s infographic dives into the credit and debit card spending of five million U.S. consumers over the past few months. Let’s see how their spending habits have evolved over that short timeframe: The above data on consumer spending, which comes from 1010Data and powered by AI platform Exabel, is broken into 18 different categories:

  • General Merchandise & Grocery: Big Box, Pharmacy, Wholesale Club, Grocery
  • Retail: Apparel, Office Supplies, Pet Supplies
  • Restaurant: Casual dining, Fast casual, Fast food, Fine dining
  • Food Delivery: Food delivery, Grocery Delivery, Meal/Snack kit
  • Travel: Airline, Car rental, Cruise, Hotel

Nearly Half Of Small Business Owners Expect To Close Down Permanently - The economy was booming. The stock market was setting records. Then coronavirus came along and governments shut things down to minimize the pandemic. That led to massive layoffs and a nasty recession. But once states open up, things will spring back to life and the economy will go back to being great again. That’s the mainstream narrative. But it’s not based on reality.In truth, the economy was a Fed-induced bubble before the pandemic. The central bank has managed to reinflate the stock market bubble despite the economic destruction, but it is nothing but a Fed-induced sugar high. And the economy won’t likely rebound quickly, even after things open up.There are all kinds of reasons to doubt the quick economic recovery narrative. We’ve reported on the number of over-leveraged zombie companies, skyrocketing household debt, the battered labor market, and a potential cash-flow crisis even after the economy gets moving.Now we have another sign of long-term economic trouble. A survey conducted by financial services company Azlo found that nearly half of small business owners think they will eventually have to close their businesses for good.Forty-seven percent of the small business owners surveyed said they anticipate shutting down, and 41% said they are looking for full-time work elsewhere.This is on top of the small businesses that have already shut down and will never reopen.The survey also asked questions about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) instituted through the CARES Act. The results were less than stellar, as Newsweek reports.Less than half of participants—38 percent—involved in Azlo’s recent survey applied for PPP loans. Of those who did apply, 37% said the program was slow to distribute funds and 20% described the process as ‘painful,’ the company reported.”It’s absurd to think the economy is going to come roaring back when nearly half of small business owners expect to shut down. Small businesses employ 58.9 million Americans, making up 47.5% of the country’s total employee workforce.

Summer Driving Season Starts Off With A Whimper... And A 30% Drop - It may be time to start shorting oil again.Memorial Day Weekend, which was closely watched by economists for signs of reopening "green shoots" and an acceleration in the US recovery, ended up being a huge dud. Because while beaches were mostly open and states across the country emerged from lockdowns, Bloomberg notes that demand for gasoline ended up falling over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, not only compared to a year prior but also to last week!While gasoline consumption was expected to jump to reflect the "pent up" traveling, gasoline demand actually fell 1.34% from Thursday to Monday of the holiday weekend compared to the week prior, Patrick DeHaan, an analyst at GasBuddy, said in a tweet Tuesday. Worse, consumption on Monday fell 0.5% from the week prior, and was a whopping 25% to 35% lower compared with the long weekend a year earlier.In short, if this is a sign of what to expect from gasoline consumption over the summer, it will be a very painful time for refiners and oil producers.BREAKING: GasBuddy gasoline demand data shows Monday gasoline demand -0.5% from the Monday prior. Thur-Mon demand is now -1.34% from same period a week ago. #gasoline #oil #OOTT— Patrick De Haan ⛽️ (@GasBuddyGuy) May 26, 2020 According to Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston, that may have been because people kept their driving local, when in previous years they had traveled farther. But whatever the reason for the tentative unofficial start to the summer, the lackluster start to what is typically considered the season for peak American fuel demand shows how vulnerable the oil market remains as the fallout from the coronavirus crisis haunts economies according to Bloomberg.Meanwhile crude prices have surged 80% in May, after a historic collapse below zero in April, on supply cuts by major producers as well as optimism that consumption is recovering as lockdowns ease. That optimism may have been very much premature. "The public stayed closer to home and consumed less gasoline because they were going to recreational venues nearby rather than traveling long distances around the country," Lipow said.

Summer Vacation Spending Is Expected To Plunge 66% This Year - Memorial Day weekend not only kicks off the start of summer but also, for many Americans, kicks off travel and vacation season. But this year will obviously be different, with millions stuck sheltering in place at home, due to the global coronavirus pandemic. As a result, travel spending for the weekend is expected to fall 66% to $4.2 billion, according to Bloomberg. Even though some areas are starting to see small upticks in traffic, tourism officials say that most travel won't come until later in the season. Domestic air travel is expected to still be sparse and "almost everyone" who travels will be expected to drive. Additionally, seasonal hiring is also expected to plunge more than 75% from a year ago. The younger European workers that staff many U.S. resorts for the summer are expected to stay home. Visa processing for U.S. work and travel visas has "basically shut down everywhere" except for farmwork. Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost half of all leisure and hospitality employees have lost their jobs. Areas that are accessible by car are expected to be popular destinations this summer. That includes places like the Florida panhandle, the Carolina coasts, Oregon and Washington. Even parts of Wisconsin and Michigan are expected to be destinations for American road trips. Camping is another alternative that vacationers may try this year. Judson Gee’s, who has a vacation rental home in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, said: “People are absolutely dying to get out of their house and more comfortable to be outdoors than in crowded spots.” Just 32% of hotel rooms were occupied as of the week ending May 16. This is despite hotel bookings improving in recent weeks. As of May 14, more than 3,000 hotels remained closed. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress earlier this week: “It will take some time for the public to regain confidence and adapt to the new world and start traveling, taking vacations.”

Walmart Now Sells Used Clothing As Unemployment Nears Great Depression Levels -As the economy plunges into depression with tens of millions of people unemployed, Walmart is taking no chances on losing its customer base and announced this week, it will start selling used clothing, shoes, and accessories on its website. Walmart recognizes that consumers have been severely affected by coronavirus lockdowns, which has sparked depressionary unemployment levels, had to quickly find new ways to continue expanding sales while offering super low prices. It figured, a partnership with San Francisco-based Thredup, one of the largest online thrift stores in the country, could be that solution, where customers can buy pre-owned garments and shoes and accessories for up to 90% off. "We are excited to join forces with Walmart to power a sustainable, secondhand shopping experience unlike any other. From Calvin Klein and Nike to Coach and Michael Kors, this digital partnership enhances Walmart's fashion offering with fresh brands at amazing prices that their customers will love," said Jenn Volk, Director of Product Management at ThredUP. Walmart said customers can now shop at to find over "750,000 pre-owned items across women's and children's clothing, accessories, footwear, and handbags."  In a severe economic downturn, there is no doubt that the second-hand merchandise market will erupt as people are too poor to buy new things. With 40 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits in ten weeks, we suspect a lot of people will be buying used items and shunning away from new stuff for several years as the downturn is expected to persist through 2021. Walmart gets it. The second-hand merchandise market is set to explode in the "greatest economy ever."

No masks allowed: stores turn customers away in US culture war - In the last few weeks a spate of American stores have made headlines after putting up signs telling customers who wear masks they will be denied entry. On Thursday, Vice reported on a Kentucky convenience store that put up a sign reading: “NO Face Masks allowed in store. Lower your mask or go somewhere else. Stop listening to [Kentucky governor Andy] Beshear, he’s a dumbass.”Another sign was posted by a Californian construction store earlier this month encouraging hugs but not masks. In Illinois, a gas station employee who put up a similar sign has since defended herself, arguing that mask-wearing made it hard to differentiate between adults and children when selling booze and cigarettes.Anti-lockdown protesters have argued that it is anti-American for the government to curtail people’s freedoms in order to reduce deaths as a result of Covid-19. Meanwhile, store owners tell customers what they can and cannot wear before entering, and customers cough in the faces of workers in the name of freedom.“I work for Costco and I am asking this customer to put on a mask because that is company policy,” says a Costco employee in one video. “And I’m not doing it because I woke up in a free country,” replies the man filming him.“A warped freedom obsession is killing us,” said the writer Anand Giridharadas, in reference to those coughing in the faces of others in the name of freedom. It is, of course, a minority of people willfully misinterpreting what freedom means – freedom to choose, until the choice is one that they do not like; meanwhile, most Americans don’t want to return to business as usual during this pandemic.

California to allow places of worship to reopen, in-store retail shopping to resume - California will allow houses of worship to open for in-person services at reduced capacity and let retailers open for in-store shopping, state officials announced Monday. Under guidelines announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday, churches will be allowed to reopen with approval from county public health officials, but they will be required to keep attendance to either 25 percent capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees. State and county public health officials will collaborate to assess any increase in deaths or hospitalizations after three weeks of the loosened restrictions. The Bay Area, however, has yet to lift restrictions on meetings of people from multiple households, including worship services, according to The Mercury News. A spokesperson for the Contra Costa County Public Health Department told the newspaper the county will “continue to abide by the terms of its own shelter-in-place order, currently set to expire June 1.” President Trump said Friday he was designating all houses of worship nationwide as essential, claiming he would “override the governors” if they did not allow them to reopen. While several lawsuits have been filed challenging Newsom’s restrictions on in-person religious services, the state’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week found in his favor against San Diego’s South Bay United Pentecostal Church, 2-

The Collapse In US Durables Goods Orders Accelerates In April - After March's collapse (a record ex-one off outliers), April's durable goods orders weakness was expected to accelerate and it did, with preliminary data plunging 17.2% MoM (worse than the 16.6% decline in March). This sent durable goods orders down 19.4% YoY - the worst since the financial crisis... Closely watched core capital goods orders, which exclude aircraft and military hardware, dropped 5.8% in April after a 1.1% decrease a month earlier. Shipments of those goods, a proxy for equipment investment in the government’s gross domestic product report, fell 5.4%... Source: Bloomberg While states have begun letting business reopen, manufacturing will likely be slow to recover as fewer people shop and businesses rein in capital spending projects. But, of course, this is all in the rear-view mirror, stocks tell you what happens next, right? V-shaped recovery any second!

Durable goods orders in US tumbled 17.2% in April - Sales of long-lasting goods tumbled in April, as businesses cut investment in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. Orders for durable goods -- products designed to last longer than three years such as washing machines, bulldozers and cars -- fell 17.2% from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected a 17% drop in orders.  Sales fell across major product categories. Excluding transportation products, which can be volatile, orders fell 7.4%. Excluding defense, orders dropped 16.2%. The drop followed a decline of 16.6% in March. So far this year orders have fallen 11.4% compared with a year earlier. Perhaps most ominous is a sharp decline in business investment, which could spell slower economic growth beyond the pandemic. A key measure of business spending -- orders for nondefense capital goods, excluding aircraft -- fell 5.8%. This year they're down 1.3 compared to the same period last year. "While this recession didn't start with a capital spending slump, the weakness in investment spending could take a long time to dissipate," JPMorgan Funds chief global strategist David Kelly said in a note to clients this week. Several factors are restraining investment spending. The pandemic has disrupted supply chains, impairing factories' ability to get key parts. Depressed oil prices have prompted energy companies to pull back on purchases of drilling equipment. The collapse of air travel has sapped airlines' demand for new aircraft. Boeing Co. orders are down sharply. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ON FOX BUSINESS And more broadly, businesses are reluctant to invest in equipment, software and facilities given the uncertainty about how long lockdowns will last, whether the country will suffer a second virus outbreak, and how robust a recovery might be. 

Headline Durable Goods Orders Down 17.2% in April, Better Than Expected - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:  New orders for manufactured durable goods in December increased $5.7 billion or 2.4 percent to $245.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up two of the last three months, followed a 3.1 percent November decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 2.5 percent. Transportation equipment, up following three consecutive monthly decreases, drove the increase, $5.9 billion or 7.6 percent to $82.9 billion. Download full PDF The latest new orders number at -17.2% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the -19.0% estimate. The series is down 29.3% year-over-year (YoY).  If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was down 7.4% MoM, which was better than the Investing.comconsensus of -14.0%. The core measure is down 9.3% YoY. If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is down 4.7% MoM and down 8.4% YoY. Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is down 5.8% MoM and down 6.3% YoY.  For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

Dallas Fed: "Contraction Continues in Texas Manufacturing Sector" - From the Dallas Fed: Contraction Continues in Texas Manufacturing Sector, Though Severity Eases: Texas factory activity declined again in May, though at a slower pace than in April, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, remained negative but improved from -55.6 to -28.0, suggesting the contraction in output has eased somewhat since last month. Other measures of manufacturing activity pointed to a less-severe decline in May. The new orders index advanced 38 points to -30.6, its highest reading in three months, with more than 20 percent of manufacturers noting an increase in orders. Similarly, the growth rate of orders index pushed up more than 30 points to -30.8. The capacity utilization and shipments indexes also remained negative at -26.0 and -25.7, respectively, but were up from March and April. Perceptions of broader business conditions remained negative but were somewhat less pessimistic in May. The general business activity index moved up from -74.0 to -49.2. Similarly, the company outlook index moved up nearly 30 points to -34.6, though only 12 percent of manufacturers noted improved outlooks. The index measuring uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks retreated notably to 28.3, though the positive reading still indicates increased uncertainty. Labor market measures indicated further employment declines and shorter workweeks this month. The employment index remained negative but rose from -22.0 to -11.5. Eight percent of firms noted net hiring, while 19 percent noted net layoffs. The hours worked index rose 18 points to -22.8, with the still-negative reading signaling reduced workweek length.

Richmond Fed: "Fifth District manufacturing remained soft in May" - From the Richmond Fed: Fifth District manufacturing remained soft in May Fifth District manufacturing remained soft in May, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index rose from a record low of −53 in April to −27 in May, remaining at its lowest level since 2009. All three components — shipments, new orders and employment — were above their April readings but still in contractionary territory. The index for local business conditions was also negative, but contacts expected conditions to improve in the next six months. Many survey participants reported decreases in employment and the average workweek in May. However, the indexes for wages and the availability of workers with the necessary skills were both close to 0. The last of the regional Fed surveys for May will be released tomorrow (Kansas City Fed).

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued to Decline" in May - From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued to Decline: Tenth District manufacturing activity continued to decline, but not as sharply compared to last month’s record low. Expectations for future activity rose, but remained slightly negative. Month-over-month price indexes remained negative again in May. Moving forward, District firms expected prices for finished goods to decline and prices for raw materials to increase in the next six months. The month-over-month composite index was -19 in May, up somewhat from the record low of -30 in April, and similar to -17 in March. This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for May. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

May Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview -  Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP. The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision. In December 2013, the monthly release of the CFMMI was suspended pending the release of updated benchmark data from the U.S. Census Bureau and a period of model verification. Significant revisions in the history of the CFMMI are anticipated." The latest average of the five for May is -37.36, up from the previous month's -58.36. It is well below its all-time high of 25.1, set in May 2004.

 Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes Decreased in All States in April -- From the Philly Fed: The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for April 2020. Over the past three months, the indexes decreased in all 50 states, for a three-month diffusion index of -100. Additionally, in the past month, the indexes decreased in all 50 states, for a one-month diffusion index of -100. For comparison purposes, the Philadelphia Fed has also developed a similar coincident index for the entire United States. The Philadelphia Fed’s U.S. index fell 13.7 percent over the past three months and 12.0 percent in April.  These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed:  Here is a map of the three month change in the Philly Fed state coincident indicators. This map was all red during the worst of the great recession, and all or mostly green during most of the recent expansion.The map is all red on a three month basis. And here is a graph is of the number of states with one month increasing activity according to the Philly Fed. This graph includes states with minor increases (the Philly Fed lists as unchanged).In all, zero states had increasing activity including states with minor increases.  In March, only 9 states had increasing activity.   A number of states had declining activity in January and February - prior to the COVID crisis.

Chicago PMI Plummets To 11 Year Low As Orders, Production Plunge -- That wasn't supposed to happen. Various other cherry-picked sentiment surveys have been soaring against expectations in recent days but Chicago PMI just plummeted to its lowest level since 2009, notably below expectations... Against expectations of a bounce back to 40.0 from 35.4, Chicago PMI tumbled to 32.3 in May...

  • Prices paid rose and the direction reversed, signaling expansion
  • New orders fell at a faster pace, signaling contraction
  • Employment fell at a slower pace, signaling contraction
  • Inventories rose and the direction reversed, signaling expansion
  • Supplier deliveries rose at a slower pace, signaling expansion
  • Production fell at a faster pace, signaling contraction
  • Order backlogs fell at a faster pace, signaling contraction

Of course, this important sentiment signal will be shrugged off because stocks are higher this month.

Chicago PMI: May Levels Lowest Since 1982 - The Chicago Business Barometer, also known as the Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, is similar to the national ISM Manufacturing indicator but at a regional level and is seen by many as an indicator of the larger US economy. It is a composite diffusion indicator, made up of production, new orders, order backlogs, employment, and supplier deliveries compiled through surveys. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.The latest Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, or the Chicago Business Barometer, fell to 32.2 in May from 35.4 in April, which is in contraction territory. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.Here is an excerpt from the press release:The Chicago Business BarometerTM, produced with MNI, fell to 32.3 in May, hitting the lowest level since March 1982, as business confidence cooled further amid the Covid-19 crisis. Among the main five indicators, Order Backlogs and Supplier Deliveries saw the largest declines, while Employment edged marginally higher. [Source] Let's take a look at the Chicago PMI since its inception.

Over 40 Million Jobless In 10 Weeks - Nobody Ever Imagined It Would Get This Bad So Fast - In the last week 2.123 million more Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time (versus the 2.10mm expected). That brings the ten-week total to 40.767 million, dramatically more than at any period in American history But continuing claims declined last week as it appears some of the reopenings are seeing people come off the dole... Source: Bloomberg And as we noted previously, what is most disturbing is that in the last ten weeks, almost twice as many Americans have filed for unemployment than jobs gained during the last decade since the end of the Great Recession... (22.13 million gained in a decade, 40.767 million lost in 10 weeks) Worse still, the final numbers will likely be worsened due to the bailout itself: as a reminder, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed on March 27, could contribute to new records being reached in coming weeks as it increases eligibility for jobless claims to self-employed and gig workers, extends the maximum number of weeks that one can receive benefits, and provides an additional $600 per week until July 31. A recent WSJ article noted that this has created incentives for some businesses to temporarily furlough their employees, knowing that they will be covered financially as the economy is shutdown. Meanwhile, those making below $50k will generally be made whole and possibly be better off on unemployment benefits. Additionally, families receiving food stamps can typically get a maximum benefit of $768, but through the increase in emergency benefits, the average five-person household can get an additional $240 monthly for buying food. But, hey, there's good news... stocks are near record highs and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he anticipates most of the economy will restart by the end of August. Finally, it is notable, we have lost XXX jobs for every confirmed US death from COVID-19 (100,442).

Dire predictions on US jobs are proving prescient - Back in late March, a time that seems an awful lot longer ago than the nine weeks it actually was, we recall viewing the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s predictions for the US jobs market in a state of shock.  Using a self-described “back of the envelope” forecast based on jobs in at-risk industries, the St. Louis Fed, one of 12 regional branches of the US central bank,forecast a staggering 47m people would lose their jobs, taking unemployment to a terrifying 32.1 per cent during the second quarter.  This was far worse than others, such as Morgan Stanley – who at the time also seemed relatively bearish – were forecasting, with the investment bank predicting that unemployment would hit 12.8 per cent.  It appears, however, that the St. Louis Fed’s forecasts are proving rather more prescient. Initial claims for jobless insurance, published weekly, show that as of May 23, 40.8m workers had applied for unemployment support –a little lower than the 47m expected, but more than three times the figure Morgan Stanley’s estimates implied.  We are still some way off knowing where the unemployment rate will peak – so far we only have the April data, which showed a record rise from 4.4 per cent to 14.7 per cent, so will have to wait and see what happens in May. However it’s worth emphasising that, whatever the figure is, it’s likely masking the true extent of the labour market’s troubles. As St Louis Fed president James Bullard pointed out on Thursday evening, lockdown policies will mean that the official unemployment rate will look lower than it would otherwise (our emphasis): If people say that they are not working and also say that they have not searched for a job in the last four weeks or are not available to work, they are categorized as out of the labor force rather than unemployed, and therefore not included in the unemployment rate. One caveat to this longstanding approach is that during a pandemic like COVID-19, people who recently lost their jobs due to state and local requirements to shelter in place or enforce physical distancing may not be looking for work in this environment, which would leave them out of the unemployment calculation.  The labor force participation rate declined by 2.5 percentage points from March to April, which represented the largest monthly drop for this series on record. At the same time, the number of people counted as out of the labor force but wanting a job (though not seeking a job or not available to work) rose significantly, from about 5.5 million in March to 9.9 million in April.

Boeing cutting more than 12,000 U.S. jobs, thousands more planned -  (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) said on Wednesday it was eliminating more than 12,000 U.S. jobs, including 6,770 involuntary layoffs, as the largest American planemaker restructures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Boeing also disclosed it plans “several thousand remaining layoffs” in coming months but did not say where those would take place. Boeing is slashing costs as a sharp drop in airplane demand during the pandemic worsened a crisis for the company whose 737 MAX jet was grounded last year after a second fatal crash. Boeing said it restarted 737 MAX production at a “low rate” at its Renton, Washington factory. Reuters reported in April that regulatory approval for the MAX was not expected until at least August.

Women suffering steeper job losses in COVID-19 economy - The economic devastation caused by the coronavirus has hit women particularly hard, a contrast to the 2009 downturn that was known as "the men's recession." The latest employment figures show that women, by a 10-point margin, have seen the majority of the job losses as large parts of the economy have shut down. The difference could have implications for the recovery and what policymakers need to do to ensure it’s not drawn out. One primary reason that women are seeing higher unemployment rates is that the pandemic and the lockdowns have hit sectors of the economy that disproportionately employ women. “This is a really atypical recession, in that we’ve proactively shut down major sectors of the economy and there’s a dropoff in demand that we’ve never seen before, both caused by the global health crisis,” said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Whereas the Great Recession that started in 2008 hit male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing first, the total lockdowns that characterized the past few months have been tougher on certain retail sectors. For example, women represent 73 percent of employees in clothing stores, 71 percent in gift, novelty, souvenir stores, and 75 percent of retail florists. In accommodation and food services, they have a slight edge at 53 percent employment representation, and also dominate beauty salons, nail salons and personal care services that social distancing has made prohibitive. But Elise Gould, a senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said there’s more to the story. “Even in the male-dominated industries, women are losing their jobs at greater rates,” she said. For example, in February and March, women accounted for three-quarters of job losses in retail trade, even though they make up about half of the workforce. In professional and business services, where women account for just 46 percent of all employees, they lost 56 percent of the jobs. “I think that has to do with the occupations within the sectors,” Gould said. Women, she notes, are generally less likely to be well-represented in middle- and high-level positions, so they may be the first to go when the crunch hits. “Women have been less likely to be promoted into the positions that are more likely to be protected,” she added. More alarmingly, in some fields, women lost jobs even as male employment surged. For example, in the category of transportation and warehouses, which covers anything from train conductors to Amazon fulfillment center workers, women account for 26 percent of workers, but count for a seemingly impossible 146 percent of job losses. That’s because the field added male employees (46 percent of the jobs) to replace the women.

Summer Jobs Dry Up and Teens Face Highest Unemployment in Decades – WSJ -Young Americans are having little luck finding summer jobs. Coronavirus outbreaks throughout the country have dried up many of the traditional opportunities that high school and college-age students rely on each summer. Junior workers seeking seasonal employment are striking out so much that the April unemployment rate for teens aged 16 to 19 hit 32%, marking a high not seen since at least 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As more teens hit the job market in June and July, when school is generally out, that rate typically climbs higher. Teen unemployment had been steadily falling since the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Summer jobs had been rising in popularity, reflecting a healthy labor market. The pandemic swiftly put that trend in reverse. More than two million retail jobs disappeared in April as thousands of stores closed. Restaurant owners are grappling with how many people to hire back as states lift lockdown measures around the U.S. Social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also curbed many summer activities that provided positions to younger workers as swimming pool lifeguards and golf-course caddies. Without a chance to earn money over the summer, young workers are missing out on thousands of dollars of extra income that could be used to help their families or put toward expenses such as tuition payments.While traditional temporary jobs for young workers are in short supply this summer, teens could find work in warehouses and distribution centers, said Traci Fiatte, head of nontechnical staffing at recruiting firm Randstad N.V.’s U.S. division. She said students looking for summer work should be flexible and willing to take roles other unemployed people may not want. “Be willing to take work that a mother of two can’t take,” she said. “Be flexible with overnight shifts, or doing delivery at the restaurant you used to work at.”

Tyson Pork Plant Closes After More Than 20% of Workers Test Positive for COVID-19 - A Tyson Foods pork plant in Storm Lake, Iowa announced it would close Thursday after more than 20 percent of its workforce tested positive for the new coronavirus. The closure comes about a month after President Donald Trump issued an executive order for meatprocessing plants to stay open despite virus outbreaks at several slaughterhouses. Those outbreaks led to the closure of around 20 plants in April, Reuters reported. Tyson Foods announced the closure late Thursday, hours after the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) had confirmed 555 coronavirus cases at the plant out of a workforce of 2,517, the Des Moines Register reported.  Storm Lake League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa Vice President Mayra Lopez, who has friends and family among the plant's many minority workers, said that she had heard of employees waiting up to a week for coronavirus test results."By the time they get the results, it could be too late and they've passed it on to someone else," she said. Tyson Foods said that the closure was due to a delay in testing results and the absence of employees due to quarantine. It said it would stop slaughtering and finish all processing over the next two days. The incident has added to concerns about employee safety in meatpacking plants forced to remain open despite the fact that crowded working conditions make social distancing difficult. Tyson said it implemented wide scale testing at the Storm Lake plant and required employees to wear masks, but theUnited Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said that meat companies and the Trump administration could do more to protect workers, Reuters reported. More than 3,000 U.S. meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 44 have died, the union said.

Justice Department investigating meat price increases: report - The Departments of Justice (DOJ) is investigating the meatpacking industry over allegations that it is manipulating prices, leading to increases in beef prices during the coronavirus pandemic, Politico reported. The DOJ investigation will involve top U.S. beef processors, Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef, and Cargill. Those companies control about 85 percent of the U.S. market.Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Politico that the Agriculture Department is also investigating beef prices. Coronavirus outbreaks have sparked closures and led to shortages at grocery stores and fast food chains. More than 11,000 cases of COVID-19 have been tied to Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS plants and at last 63 workers have died. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in April to open an antitrust investigation into the meatpacking industry and its potential to cause significant disruptions in the food supply chain.

More US grocery workers die from COVID-19 -- Another grocery store worker died last week in Denver, Colorado, the second victim of coronavirus at the King Soopers supermarket chain. After news broke of the death of Randy Narvaez, who had been an employee of the company for more than 30 years, the local union and store officials revealed that 11 cases of COVID-19 have been found among other employees at the same outlet.Narvaez’s death came on the heels of an announcement by Kroger, the owners of King Soopers, that the company would be suspending “hazard pay” for workers—a $2 bonus added to employees’ hourly wage as compensation for working during the pandemic. Protests by workers led the company to replace the pay bump with one-time payments of between $200 and $400.The same day the suspension of “hero pay” took effect, Kroger, the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant, filed a shareholder statement that shows a combined $37 million paid to six executives in salaries, cash bonuses, stock awards and options, along with other compensation, in 2019. By revenue, Kroger is the largest supermarket chain in the US, with $121 billion in profits. The company operates nearly 3,000 stores nationwide and employs around 453,000 workers. Last year, its CEO, Rodney McMullen, received a 21 percent increase in compensation, taking his annual income from $11.7 million to over $14 million. The average hourly wage of a worker at Kroger—after decades of wage concessions by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union—is $10.53 per hour or approximately $21,902 a year.Kroger is expecting profits to be higher in 2020, as disruptions to supply chains have caused shortages and inflated food costs. Kroger sales increased by 30 percent in March 2020 before the full impact of the public health shutdowns, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and grocery prices increased by 2.6 percent.A story published yesterday in the Washington Post reported that at least 100 grocery workers nationwide have died from the virus since late March, and at least 5,500 others have tested positive for the coronavirus.

You Can Now Get Fired For Refusing To Wear A Mask At Work  - Employers can mandate that employees have to wear face coverings, and those who don't follow the rules could face termination with very little room for recourse. In fact, face coverings at work are one of the key components to many states' reopening plans and since the CDC is recommending it, you can bet that shop owners who love to take their cues from government will make sure it is policy. The precaution of covering your face is a "term of employment" that, if broken, can justify discipline from an employer, according to Bloomberg Law. There are only limited reasons that could exempt an employee, including medical or religious reasons.Katherine Dudley Helms, an Ogletree Deakins attorney who represents employers said: “In essence, they’re saying ‘I really don’t want to work here. That really is like someone coming in and saying ‘I don’t like your rules.’”An employee would have to inform their employer about a respiratory illness or medical reason for not being able to wear a mask, in that case. That may trigger the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would accommodate the employee further. Those opposed to it for religious reasons would need to discuss accommodations with their employer in advance. “But all of these are limited exceptions to the employer’s basic right to devise and enforce nondiscriminatory work rules, including those pertaining to clothing,” Fordham University School of Law professor James Brudney said. It's the same type of law that protects employers who mandate that employees cover their tattoos, or adhere to a dress code. An employer that "even-handedly" enforces the rules should be in a good legal position to defend disciplining an employee.

Census: Household Pulse Survey shows 48.5% of Households lost Income - From the Census Bureau: Measuring Household Experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic The U.S. Census Bureau, in collaboration with five federal agencies, is in a unique position to produce data on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on American households. The Household Pulse Survey is designed to deploy quickly and efficiently, collecting data to measure household experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Data will be disseminated in near real-time to inform federal and state response and recovery planning.…Data collection for the Household Pulse Survey began on April 23, 2020. The Census Bureau will collect data for 90 days, and release data on a weekly basis. (For the first release, the Census Bureau anticipates it will take two weeks after the first week of data collection to prepare and weight the data; subsequent releases will then be made on a weekly basis.) This will be updated weekly, and the Census Bureau released the third week of survey results today. This survey asks about Loss in Employment Income, Expected Loss in Employment Income, Food Scarcity, Delayed Medical Care, Housing Insecurity and K-12 Educational Changes. This survey will be useful in tracking the "opening" of the economy. The data was collected between May 14 and May 19, 2020. 48.5% of households report loss in employment income.

Over 9 Million US Families Fear They Can't Afford Food Next Month- Census Survey  - A poll released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week revealed that at least nine million American households that include children are unsure whether they'll be able to access enough food in the next four weeks and millions more are experiencing housing insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic. The bureau's weekly Household Pulse Survey, taken between May 14 and 19, asked respondents about their loss of employment, food security, overall health, and other issues they are facing during the pandemic. According to the data, more than nine million households are "not at all confident" that they will be able to afford food in the next month, and more than 18 million are only "somewhat confident" about their food security.  The Census also asked respondents whether they had experienced food insecurity prior to March 13, when President Donald Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency and schools across the country shut down. Just over two million people had "often" not had enough to eat before the pandemic forced state and local economies to shut down, which was followed by little economic relief for families from the federal government.Since the coronavirus outbreak began spreading across the country in March, food banks have reported skyrocketing numbers of Americans relying on their services, including many who had never before needed assistance accessing food.With 74% of U.S. families living paycheck-to-paycheck — including one in four households that earn at least $150,000 per year — the pandemic and the federal government's reluctance to offer more than a one-time direct payment of $1,200 to most Americans plunged millions into desperate situations overnight.

Poll: 37% of unemployed Americans ran out of food in past month  — Kate Maehr has never seen anything like it: lines stretching for blocks as people, many with children, inch forward to get boxes of food they hope will last until the next giveaway, until the next paycheck or until they can get government food assistance. “It’s just heartbreaking,” said Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “They’re finding themselves in a set of circumstances where they have no income and they also have no food, and it happened in an instant.” The number of people seeking help from her organization and affiliated food pantries has surged 60% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down the nation’s economy and thrown tens of millions of people out of work. Across the country, worries about having enough to eat are adding to the anxiety of millions of people, according to a survey that found 37% of unemployed Americans ran out of food in the past month and 46% said they worried about running out. Even those who are working often struggle. Two in 10 working adults said that in the past 30 days, they ran out of food before they could earn enough money to buy more. One-quarter worried that would happen. Those results come from the second wave of the COVID Impact Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Data Foundation. The survey aims to provide an ongoing assessment of the nation’s mental, physical and financial health during the pandemic. There is no parallel in U.S. history for the suddenness or severity of the economic collapse, which has cost more than 36 million jobs since the virus struck. The nationwide unemployment rate was 14.7% in April, the highest since the Great Depression. While many Americans believe they will be working in the coming months, unemployed Americans – those most likely to report running out of food – aren’t as optimistic. Overall, those who are still working are highly confident they will have a job in one month and in three months, with more than 8 in 10 saying it’s very likely. But among those who aren’t working because they are temporarily laid off, providing care during the pandemic or looking for work, just 28% say it is highly likely that they will be employed in 30 days and 46% say it’s highly likely they’ll be working in three months. Roughly another quarter say it’s somewhat likely in 30 days and 90 days.

 "Perfect Storm" Of Auto Thefts Sweeps US During COVID Lockdowns - The link between high unemployment and crime has been realized in a new report that indicates police departments across the country have sounded the alarm on surging auto thefts.  To refresh everyone's memory, over 38.6 million people have filed for unemployment over a nine-week period, the number of job loss is unprecedented and considered depressionary. If you take a stroll down main street, it's littered with commerical "for lease" signs and food banks, as tens of millions of people have fallen into instant poverty. Before we dish out the shocking crime statistics - the Denver Police Department (DPD) recently said it would be studying crime trends from the last recession to better forecast what could happen during the current economic crash. "We're looking at the ebbs and flows that took place to try and anticipate where those challenges would come," said DPD Chief Paul Pazen. "And more importantly, what are you doing about it?"  Drilling down to specific types of crime, he said spikes in "aggravated assault," "auto theft," and "robberies" were seen in the last recession. A new Associated Press report reveals police data from major cities show auto thefts are surging across the country.  The number of pilfered vehicles soared by a whopping 63% in New York City from January 1 through mid-May, compared with the same period last year. In Los Angeles, the number was 17% during the same period. Salt Lake City saw a 22% rise in car thefts. "And many other law enforcement agencies around the U.S. are reporting an increase in stolen cars and vehicle burglaries, even as violent crime has dropped dramatically nationwide in the coronavirus pandemic," AP reported.

 California Church Asks US Supreme Court To Intervene In Lockdown Battle After Clinton, Obama Judges Strike Down - A California church and its bishop have asked the US Supreme Court to step in after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down their emergency application to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, in defiance of executive orders issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom.Lawyers for the South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Biship Arthur Hodges filed with the USSC after the 9th Circuit panel split 2-1, with Judges Barry Silverman and Jacqueline Nguyen - appointed by Clinton and Obama respectively - wrote in their Friday order "We’re dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure," adding "In the words of Justice Robert Jackson, if a ‘court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.’"Apparently a fatality rate below 0.3% counts as 'often fatal,' and it would be a 'suicide pact' to allow people to worship freely while accepting the well-established risks of contracting COVID-19.The panel's third judge, Trump appointee Daniel Collins, weighed in with an 18-page dissent arguing that Gov. Newsom's orders intrude on religious freedom protected by the First Amendment, according to Politico."I do not doubt the i mportance of the public health objectives that the State puts forth, but the State can accomplish those objectives without resorting to its current inflexible and over-broad ban on religious services," wrote Collins, who noted that the Governor's orders allow many workplaces to open, while religious gatherings remain banned even if they can meet social distancing requirements imposed on other permitted activities.

Total Chaos- Chicago Sees Deadliest Memorial Day Weekend In Years Despite Stay-At-Home Orders --Shockingly, or perhaps not so-, Chicago just witnessed its deadliest Memorial Day weekend since 2015 despite a coronavirus stay-at-home order. As one crime analyst observed, “They (gangs) are not particularly deterred by the risks of being out there,” as cited in ABC. “Of all the things they are likely to be worried about COVID is way down the list.” The long warm weather weekend (crimes tend to spike over hot weather holiday weekends) saw a total of 49 people shot from Friday afternoon through Monday evening. Ten among these were killed.  Included were shootings that even occurred midday and at frequented intersections, including a 15-year old boy shot and left in critical condition after getting into an argument with the driver of an SUV on Saturday morning. In another instance, a teenage girl was grazed in the leg as shots range out nearby.  Typically Chicago police hit the streets Memorial Day weekend with an extra 1,000 officers in addition to their regular patrol numbers. This after last weekend included 38 total shootings, including six people killed in gun violence throughout the city. "The violence throughout the city on Memorial Day weekend was nothing short of alarming,” new Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said Tuesday. It's part of a broader national rise in violent crime observed, surprisingly enough, across three major US cities since the start of the year - and despite pandemic-induced local and state-wide lockdowns:According to Chicago police crime statistics posted online, between Jan. 1 and May 24, the nation's third-largest city had 200 homicides, compared with 176 during the same period last year. The number of shootings climbed from 679 to 826. However, the number of criminal sexual assaults, burglaries and thefts all fell by double digits.The statistics largely mirror what police in Los Angeles and New York have reported. In both cities, the number of homicides has increased so far this year while the number of sexual assaults has fallen.

US juvenile detention centers record 474 COVID-19 cases - The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is the highest authority overseeing juvenile detention in the United States. It describes its mission as “Enhancing safety. Ensuring accountability. Empowering youth.” In reality, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the facilities overseen by the authority, the majority of which are privately owned, are continuing the senseless brutalization of children and allowing them to be exposed to COVID-19 and a plethora of adjacent issues that risks seriously impacting their long-term health. According to at least 48,000 individuals under the age of 18 are currently in correctional facilities. The vast majority of incarcerated youth are from a working-class background, with around two-thirds of offenders also relying on the child welfare system. Forty percent of youth who are incarcerated before their 18th birthday are in adult prisons by the age of 25. It is also the case that the poorest inmates are the most likely to re-offend.Mirroring conditions in adult prisons, COVID-19 has spread rapidly through juvenile detention centers. According to, as of May 22 there were 474 cases among detained youth across the US, and 561 confirmed cases among staff. These numbers are huge underestimations of the virus’s true spread. While some states, such as New Jersey, claim to have tested all of its detained youth, the majority of states have not even nominally promised to address the deadly consequences of the contagion of the virus through their populations of incarcerated minors. As the WSWS reported on May 13, as more becomes known about the disease, initial declarations that youth face no risk from infection were proven reckless and incorrect. The disease is linked to an inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease and can cause sepsis among younger patients. At least five children in New York have died from these conditions following diagnosis with COVID-19. In a study of 48 children and young adults admitted to intensive care units in the US and Canada for COVID-19, 20 percent experienced organ failure. The study’s co-author, Rutgers professor Lawrence C. Kleinman, stated, “The idea that COVID-19 is sparing of young people is just false.” Two of the children featured in the study died. More than 500 of incarcerated children in the US are 12 years old or younger, while over 4,500 of under-18s locked up are actually incarcerated in adult facilities. Child inmates typically reside in large groups, with 60 percent of incarcerated youth in large facilities designed for over 50 inmates. This only increases the risk of infection from the virus. Two-thirds of youth incarcerations are “long-term,” meaning that individuals spend over a month at a facility, and nearly 10 percent are held for over a year. The turnover of young inmates, just like at regular prisons and jails, means these facilities act as vectors for the disease’s spread in the community.

Don't abandon standardized testing in schools next year — rethink it  -Not surprisingly, the nation’s 13,300 school districts have struggled to shift instruction for 50 million students from classrooms to bedrooms, dinner tables and homeless shelters. Many students aren’t learning much. In Los Angeles, a third of high school students weren’t logging onto the city’s online learning platform in April. Affluent Fairfax County spent a month readying a platform, only to shut it down twice amid a tsunami of problems. The nonprofit testing company NWEA predicts that between the closing of schools in mid-March and their reopening in the fall, the average student is going to lose roughly half of what they were expected to learn in math during the 2019-2020 school year and close to a third of what they would have learned in reading. To catch students up, schools will need to get a handle on exactly how far students have fallen behind, and that means testing. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rightly waived this spring’s federally mandated statewide standardized testing, the first nationwide break in state testing in half a century. In response, some accountability advocates are calling on states to administer the 2020 tests this fall. That’s a bad idea. Weeks-long batteries of standardized tests used primarily to rate schools aren’t the way to welcome students — and teachers — back from difficult quarantine experiences. Moreover, state tests take too long to score to give schools the information they need.Instead, when schools reopen educators should turn to diagnostic measures of reading and math proficiency to help teachers identify individual students’ needs and gauge where to pick up instruction. These early-year assessments would be best kept short (30 minutes), connected closely to schools’ curriculum and eased into the school day one subject at a time. This kind of testing will be particularly valuable in targeting support for low-income students, whose lack of wifi access and other distance-learning supports are likely to expand already wide achievement gaps.  In the spring, states should restart their annual assessments mandated by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act — but not count the results for schools or teachers. There’s a big political risk in restarting school accountability too quickly. Opponents of standardized testing — led by accountability-averse teachers’ unions and their progressive allies on the left, and conservatives opposed to what they consider an inappropriate federal role in testing on the right — have been waging a half-decade-long campaign to roll back state testing systems.

The solution to all this missed school? Bring back Grade 13 - By the end of this week, it will have been 10 weeks since students and teachers were last in class. That’s 50 teaching days. Minus the March break, it’s 45. Throw in a couple snow days and four or five strike action days from earlier on the calendar and we’re back up to 50. Then, add the five weeks remaining that were cancelled on Tuesday, and it’s 75 days — give or take — students will be missing when all is said and done. If that sounds like a lot, it is. The Ontario government mandates that 194 days is the minimum number required to complete an academic year. Yet, after all those reductions, kids this year will get only about 119. So what’s the solution?  Bring back Grade 13.   Just for a few years. Just long enough for the students in Grades 7 through 11 right now to have a real opportunity to get caught up and not be paying the price for something that was never their fault. Crazy? Maybe. But a lot less crazy than the current destined-for-failure plan.   The answer now is to offer online courses, hope kids take advantage, give them report cards with the marks they had on March 13 and push them through to the next grade in the fall. This learning-at-home model that’s been cobbled together under fire is the best we have right now, but it’s hit and miss. Probably more miss than hit.“There are some classes where I had five of 22 kids logging in,” says St. Thomas More Secondary School Grade 12 guidance counsellor, Michele Vesprini.  Chatting with other high school teachers, the anecdotal evidence is similar. Some students are working hard from home. Many have checked out and appear more than happy to take the grade they had on March 13 as their final mark. But what happens in the fall? We could let the stragglers who miss out on a third of their year’s education reap what they sow. If they stumble, it’s their own fault. The material was there for them if they’d been diligent enough to use it. If they choose not to, that’s on them. That’s tempting because it’s all true. But imagine class resuming and teachers now having to spend so much of their time bringing all those who are now hopelessly lost up to speed, leaving the hard workers twiddling their thumbs and wasting their time. Now they’re being penalized for being productive.  That scenario offers no winners.So yes, we could try to fix things by failing these students and make them take their year over. Except educators don’t favour such things these days. We could let them fall through the cracks but that seems antithetical to everything the system is supposed to be about. We could make everyone take an exam at the end of June and require those who come up short to do their learning over the summer. Good luck with that. Or we could add the lost semester plus whatever catch-up time is needed — let’s round it off to a year — at the back end of high school. Grade 13.

The Work of Feelings in Public Schools  - Outrage over the San Francisco Unified School District’s plan to whitewash the Victor Arnautoff murals inside George Washington High School (and the current plan to wall the murals off so that no one may view them) was widespread. I shared in that outrage. What wasn’t widespread but was even more outrageous is what the battle over the Arnautoff murals revealed about the purpose of a public education in America. This essay will not dive deeper into already explored questions about free speech, properly contextualized American history, political correctness or even despair over the fact that a great work of art was nearly destroyed. Arnautoff painted the Life of Washington murals on still wet plaster, making them difficult to move without destroying them. The murals in the hallways were intended as a reminder about what gets taught in the classrooms. The desire to cover up or destroy the Arnautoff murals is not a symptom of political correctness. Instead, it reflects how public school curriculums train students for the marketplace.  Former San Francisco Unified School Board member Matt Haney describes his outrage over the Arnautoff murals this way: “If you’re a Native American student and you walk into the lobby and see your ancestors being murdered in art, that feels dehumanizing.” Virginia Marshall, president of the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators, agrees. Arnautoff’s murals remind her of “my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother who were beaten and hung from trees and told they were less than human.” Paloma Flores, a member of the Pit-River Nation and coordinator of George Washington High School’s Indian Education Program, adds, “it’s not a matter of offense. It’s a matter of a right to learn without a hostile environment. Intent does not negate lived experience.” If this sounds like a school board overreacting in the name of liberal political correctness, it’s not. Flores’ stance is backed up by state and federal policy.

Locked-Down Teens Stay Up All Night, Sleep All Day  -While some schools require students to log on to live classes, many others are instead assigning work for students to complete on their own. With no daytime commitments, some teens prefer to stay up all night and sleep days.Some watch movies or chat with friends on similar schedules. Others do homework without their folks hovering.“I feel more relaxed, honestly,” said Zach Zimmerman, a high-school senior in Mansfield, Texas. That was in April, when he was in the habit of going to bed around 10 a.m. and waking up in the late afternoon. This month, Zach started taking an online college class that starts at 1 p.m., forcing him back to daylight hours. “When my college classes are over,” he said, “I’ll probably go back.”  Some parents welcome the daytime peace and quiet. They say it isn’t worth arguing over bedtimes when teens are stuck at home and have no compelling reason to rise early. Gabrielle Powell, a 17-year-old in Escondido, Calif., spends her nights on Snapchat and video calls with friends. She plows through TV shows like “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” and “All American,” she said, and makes macaroni and cheese. Her post-dawn bedtime varies.She recently broke her routine for the Advanced Placement calculus exam, at the ungodly late 11 a.m. Gabrielle stayed awake the rest of the day before going to sleep, but she soon returned to the night shift. Cole Cancellieri’s dad, a middle-school science teacher, pieces together his son’s overnight activities.“It’s almost like being a crime scene investigator,” Mr. Cancellieri said. “I’ll find the wrappers from some snacks that he had, there will be dishes in the sink from what he ate. Sometimes he’ll leave the TV on to what he was watching….It’s like having a raccoon that came through my house in the night.”

Students tested positive for COVID-19 after a drive-through graduation -  Several high school students in Georgia tested positive for COVID-19 after participating in a drive-through graduation ceremony, school officials said in a letter to students' families that was first reported by CNN. The Lovett School in Atlanta Georgia did not disclose how many students had tested positive for COVID-19 after their drive-through graduation, but described the number as "several" in the letter from Head of School Meredyth Cole and Head Nurse Shana Horan. "Unfortunately the infectious nature of the COVID-19 virus means that most communities will be touched at some point, and we recognize how hard separation and missed milestones have been on the emotional lives of our students," they said in the letter. "Families of the students diagnosed with COVID-19 are working with the appropriate healthcare professionals and Departments of Health." The Lovett School, which is an independent, coeducational day school that teaches students kindergarten through 12th grade, closed its campus in mid-March to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to CNN. The school postponed its traditional graduation ceremony to late July, but on May 17 held a drive-through parade to celebrate graduating seniors, CNN affiliate WSB reported. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some students arrived in groups and were in close quarters with one another. AJC reported that the school announced several students had tested positive for the virus after initially sending an email to parents about one student who had tested positive for COVID-19. The student "was confined to his or her car while on campus," but "later had company over for a graduation gathering, and then traveled out of town with friends," school officials told AJC.

With support from the teacher unions, Trump demands the unsafe reopening of schools “ASAP” - In a late-night tweet on Sunday, US President Donald Trump declared, “Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available. @SteveHiltonx @FoxNews” Trump was referencing a monologue earlier in the day by the extreme right-wing Fox News commentator Steve Hilton. Speaking on his program The Next Revolution, Hilton declared that “there won’t be a recovery” in the US “unless we reopen schools now.” He went on to describe temperature checks as “unscientific nonsense” and “totally pointless,” while calling social distancing rules “over-prescriptive” and “arbitrary.” Referencing Kari Stefansson, the CEO of Icelandic company deCODE genetics, Hilton added that children were not at risk and, moreover, were “less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults.” His first assertion has been tragically refuted by the emergence of the Kawasaki-like multi-organ inflammatory syndrome. The second is unproven and has been challenged by scientific studies. Nevertheless, the dangerous proposition is being used to justify the reopening of schools in many European countries. Trump seized on Hilton’s remarks because the reopening of schools is critical for big business to ramp up a return to work throughout the country, despite its immense dangers. Eighty-billion dollars a day are being funneled by the Federal Reserve into the paper assets of the financial elite; these dollars represent claims on value that must be made good through the labor of millions. While educators represent a substantial workforce in themselves (3.7 million teachers, 1.6 million college faculty, and at least 2 million support workers), tens of millions more cannot return to their workplaces without sending their children to school. The Democratic Party and presumptive presidential candidate Joe Biden concur. Biden recently went out of his way to attack Trump for “hampering” the return to work. The very first schools to reopen this month were under Montana’s Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has suggested summer school may open in July.  The president’s demand for the reopening of schools was also followed on Tuesday by a statement—different in tone, but analogous in message—from American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. Opposing those who say that it is premature to reopen schools in the fall, Weingarten put a pseudo-scientific spin on it, suggesting “voluntary summer school” over the next few months would provide an “opportunity to test-drive best practices.” The union executive noted that “reopening schools is a key part of overall reopening,” while admitting that “absent a vaccine, no one knows what the future will bring.”

1 in 5 teachers unlikely to return if classrooms open this fall: poll --Classrooms across the country may look drastically different upon reopening, as nearly 1 in 5 teachers say they’re unlikely to return to the classroom if schools reopen in the fall, a new poll found.The concerning figure is even higher among teachers 55 and older, with one in four saying they don’t foresee themselves back in front of young minds in the coming months, according to a USA Today/Ipsos poll released Tuesday that polled 505 teachers from kindergarten through high school.“As our world has changed, almost everything we do has changed, including how we view and approach education,” Ipsos president Chris Young said.“Though Americans are optimistic about a return to in-person learning, there is angst among teachers, parents, and America at large about how to keep our schools safe if the virus isn’t fully contained.”In addition, 83 percent of teachers polled said they’re having more difficulty in their current jobs and two-thirds said they’ve been unable to work properly since starting to teach remotely.“For the first time … these last three months have felt like I’ve been doing a job, doing this to earn a paycheck,” Ohio high school teacher Andy Brown, 43, told the newspaper.“The engagement level with the students hasn’t been there, and that’s the reason I got into this career — the interaction and the engagement and the seeing and feeling their excitement.”Newer teachers reported having a tougher time with remote education than their more experienced counterparts — with 60 percent of those with less than five years on the job saying they weren’t trained well for their new reality, the poll found. A parallel poll of 403 parents of students from kindergarten through high school also found that 52 percent of parents felt teachers have struggled with remote learning.However, a “significant share” of both teachers and parents polled — about 40 percent — said they’re against returning to classrooms before a coronavirus vaccine is discovered, USA Today reports. And nearly one-third of parents, according to the poll, said they’re “very likely” to consider at-home options instead of sending their kids back to reopened classrooms.

University of Michigan president says no football in fall if students aren't on campus - The president of the University of Michigan said the school will not have football or other sports in the fall if students are not brought back for on-campus classes. “If there is no on-campus instruction then there won’t be intercollegiate athletics, at least for Michigan,” Mark Schlissel, the president of the university, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Sunday. He also warned that even if the team is able to play, they may do so at a stadium smaller than the Michigan Stadium, known as the "Big House," which has a capacity of 107,601. “I can’t imagine a way to do that safely,” Schlissel told the Journal. Schlissel, the first physician-scientist to lead the university, told the newspaper he expects to make a call in coming weeks on what the upcoming school year will look like. Whatever decision is made for the fall will likely be the case for the entire academic year, he said. “What’s going to be different in January?” he said. Schlissel said he doesn't want to “set false expectations,” noting that other more enthusiastic promises made from other institutions include fine print details that the openings are subject to approval by local officials. “They’re really not as declarative as they appear,” he told the Journal. Birx says 'it's difficult to tell' if country will close again

Covid-19 Will Make Colleges Prove Their Worth - Cathy O’Neil - Colleges and students in the U.S. are engaged in a game of chicken as the fall semester approaches with no end in sight for the coronavirus crisis. The outcome could radically change the way Americans think about and value a higher education.On one side, institutions want students to sign up and pay tuition deposits, which are coming due. Most are pretending they can open like normal, with in-person classes. Some are keeping people largely in the dark about what the semester will look like. On the other, students and their families are wondering whether it’s worth shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for an experience that might be largely online. Many are delaying decisions, thinking it might be wiser to take a semester or a year off.For decades, U.S. colleges have existed in a highly unusual market, in which both cost and benefit are difficult to discern. As admissions officers will patiently explain, very few students actually pay full tuition, thanks to various kinds of financial aid -- so there’s no clear price competition. On the value side, colleges are selling a nebulous package of (dubious) knowledge, status, social connections, economic opportunity and proliferating perks such as state-of-the-art swimming pools, gyms, dorms and cafeterias with sushi bars.Now, the pandemic is stripping much of that away. Dorms, gyms and dining halls have become nodes of contagion, and potential sources of legal liability. One of colleges’ greatest assets – faculty – will remain largely behind a Zoom screen, given that so many are in the most vulnerable agegroup, particularly at elite institutions such as Harvard. Forming social bonds with one’s classmates will be difficult if they’re staying at home or six feet distant. This leaves students and parents facing a much starker decision than usual. Whatever they were paying, the product has changed. Unless colleges make the deal a lot more attractive, many people will withhold their money. If they do pay up based on administrators’ overly optimistic promises, the outcome could be a huge legal mess as a bunch of angry parents try to get their money back.I’m guessing that in the short term, colleges will have to cut prices to sell a mostly online education. Some students will try to wait it out, hoping things will get back to normal. Others will get used to learning, making connections and getting jobs online. Which means that in the longer term, more people might reconsider the value of a four-year degree, complete with the exorbitant on-campus experience. College might never be the same.

Why Public Universities Can’t Take New Cuts: The Essential Charts - Should university officials be fatalistic about Covid-powered cuts to their core educational budgets?  Or should they work 24/7 on their state governments to keep their current budgets whole?What about state governments? Should they cut higher ed yet again, as various governors are doing (New Jersey, Ohio), and as Gavin Newsom proposes in California?This post investigates the budget case for a zero-cuts policy.  If your state’s public colleges and universities have an ample base budget, you can make some temporary cuts to their state funding.  If they are already bare bones, further budget cuts will cut educational quality.  There are lots of ways to use numbers as proxies for teaching and research quality.  Most are bad.  A pretty good one for teaching is instructional expenditures per student.  To help state governments understand quality, departments could establish a set of minimum practices, then cost them out.  Campuses could figure out what their budgets must be to meet these standards.  But departments haven’t been invited to build the budget that would meet their needs.  And the averages for instructional expenditure that have been used by my case study here, the University of California system, aren’t reliable.Instead, I’ll use historical budget trends as quality proxies.  I do this for two reasons.  First, the history of the state’s relationship to UC controls what the state thinks UC should have.  This is a strained history and it still matters. Second, UC’s budget history expresses the idea that public universities could and should be as good as elite private universities.  Public university students should be roughly equal to private university students.  The same was to be true of their faculties.

Psychiatrists Wrote 86% More Prescriptions For Psychotropic Drugs During Lockdown Months --  Psychiatrists wrote 86% more prescriptions for psychotropic drugs, including antidepressants, during the lockdown months of March and April compared to January and February, it has been revealed.  “Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and sleep aids have risen during the pandemic, prompting doctors to warn about the possibility of long-term addiction abuse of the drugs,” reports the Wall Street Journal.According to Ginger, an organization that provides mental health services to companies, compared to January and February of this year, prescriptions for psychotropics, most of which were antidepressants, were up 86% for the months of March and April.The stress of unemployment, social isolation and health concerns are all cited by Americans who say the lockdown is having a serious impact on their mental health.Pharmacy group Express Scripts also revealed that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications were up 34.1% between mid-February and mid-March, while prescriptions for antidepressants increased 18.6%.The numbers emphasize the significant mental health toll created by the lockdown which will reverberate for many years to come. As we highlighted yesterday, Doctors at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, California say they have recorded more deaths from suicide than coronavirus, with a year’s worth of suicides and suicide attempts being recorded in a 4 week period.

Employee Health Screening Apps Are Coming - Proceed With Caution - COVID-19 and the resultant business and economic freeze may very well prove to be the largest global event occurring in any of our lifetimes.  The loss of lives, livelihoods, businesses and long term effects on mental health and culture are far from complete, yet already devastating.  Now, employers grapple with the most significant decision they are likely to ever make: when to come back to work and how.Many employers will be lured into the siren song of safety above all else and succumb to a balancing act that tips heavily in favor of control and surveillance over individual liberty.  I fully understand the impetus.  Employers find themselves in a tricky Catch-22.  They must do that which is reasonable to protect the health and safety of their workers without trampling on employee privacy, health or liberty. As the attorneys at Ropes & Gray LLP point out, "[e]mployers looking to introduce these apps may point to their duty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) to furnish to workers 'employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.'"  But as Americans, we have far more individual liberty protection than people in the Asian countries that are months ahead of us and have already implemented sever state, local and employer controls.  For example, "China has already introduced virtual health checks, contact tracing and digital QR codes to limit the movement of people. Antibody test results could easily be integrated into this system." Beyond any employer's legal analysis (which is undoubtedly important) the cultural differences in the United States should oblige employers to proceed with more than a modicum of caution.  We have a vast network of federal, state, local and employment laws and regulations protecting our individual liberties.  What's more is that inherent and deep love for liberty embedded in our Constitution and our core as a people.  American was founded on the concept that liberty outweighs security.

Fears of coronavirus second wave prompt flu push at U.S. pharmacies, drugmakers - (Reuters) - U.S. pharmacy chains are preparing a big push for flu vaccinations when the season kicks off in October, hoping to curb tens of thousands of serious cases that could coincide with a second wave of coronavirus infections. CVS Health Corp (CVS.N), one of the largest U.S. pharmacies, said it is working to ensure it has vaccine doses available for an anticipated surge in customers seeking shots to protect against seasonal influenza. Rival chain Rite Aid Corp (RAD.N) has ordered 40 percent more vaccine doses to meet the expected demand. Walmart Inc (WMT.N) and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA.O) said they also are expecting more Americans to seek these shots. Drugmakers are ramping up to meet the demand. Australian vaccine maker CSL Ltd’s (CSL.AX) Seqirus said demand from customers has increased by 10 percent. British-based GlaxoSmithKline (GLAX.NS) said it is ready to increase manufacturing as needed. Pharmacy shares rose in Tuesday trading, with CVS up 2.5% and Rite Aid and Walgreens up 4.5%. A Reuters/Ipsos poll of 4,428 adults conducted May 13-19 found that about 60 percent of U.S. adults plan to get the flu vaccine in the fall. Typically fewer than half of Americans get vaccinated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for everyone over age 6 months. Getting a flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus for which there are no approved vaccines. Public health officials have said vaccination against the flu will be critical to help prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with flu and COVID-19 patients. “We’re in for a double-barreled assault this fall and winter with flu and COVID. Flu is the one you can do something about,”

New York governor exempts nursing home operators from criminal liability after taking millions from the industry - As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, among the most dangerous venues for its propagation have been nursing homes and elder care facilities. Numerous examples have come to light in which the response to the initial appearance of the disease at these facilities has been grossly inadequate, if not criminally negligent. It should have been obvious from the beginning to any objective observer that the prevailing conditions at even well run facilities—an elderly population, many with pre-existing health concerns, close quarters, repeated interactions between residents and staff—constitute ideal conditions for the virus to spread rapidly and to claim many lives. However, in case after case, it has been revealed that the necessary measures to protect both residents and staff from infection—such as frequent testing, isolation of infected individuals, the provision of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff—were not implemented. Indeed, as the inevitable consequences of this inaction unfolded, corporate operators as well as responsible government officials took steps that actually worsened the situation. Furthermore, numerous examples have been revealed in which the developing crisis at such institutions was intentionally covered up, further delaying the implementation of corrective measures. In effect, nursing homes and elder care facilities became concentrated nodes of infection—disease vectors—from which the virus was propagated into the surrounding community. Driving this pathological situation is the reality that nursing homes and elder care facilities are either privately run for profit or government institutions operating on shoe-string budgets. In either case, the institutions’ administrators and responsible politicians were opposed to taking the steps needed to reduce the dangerous conditions that promoted the rapid spread of the disease. In a little-remarked provision of the recently adopted 2020-21 state budget, hospitals and nursing homes were shielded from liability for actions taken during the pandemic. It specifically states that top officials at hospital and nursing home companies “shall have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, for any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing healthcare services” regarding COVID-19. The reckless and criminal behavior of responsible individuals, which have been a major factor in accelerating the pandemic, are thus held blameless. Cuomo himself bears part of the responsibility for the disastrous situation at nursing homes. In March, early in the spread of the disease, he issued an executive order prohibiting nursing homes from refusing the transfer of patients from hospitals even after they tested positive for the coronavirus. This was supposedly done to free up hospital beds. Cuomo now defends himself by stating that he was following federal guidelines at the time.

COVID19: New Practical Results on Airborne Transmission Indoors -  Lambert Strether - From the beginning of the #COVID19 pandemic, we’ve been washing our hands, masking up, cleaning surfaces, and social distancing. These measures have worked (especially masking), but now we know more. There’s mounting evidence that airborne transmission indoors is a key — perhaps the main — pathway to SARS-COV-2 transmission. In this post I want to look at why that’s so, give examples, and suggest a simple heuristic to stay safe. Material like this might also be used to inform public policy (here; here) by reducing superspreader events in enclosed spaces like churches (airborne transmission via singing), restaurants (loud talking, especially if room is noisy), bars (ditto), nursing homes (shouting[1]), gyms (grunting), meat-packing plants (shouting), call centers (talking), offices generally (air conditioning), and other hot spots, but working that polucy out is not the object of this post (see here for engineering controls for airborne transmission, and here for covid-proofing public spaces). This article from PNAS seems to be the index publication for airborne transmission. From “The airborne lifetime of small speech droplets and their potential importance in SARS-CoV-2 transmission“: Speech droplets generated by asymptomatic carriers of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are increasingly considered to be a likely mode of disease transmission. Highly sensitive laser light scattering observations have revealed that loud speech can emit thousands of oral fluid droplets per second. In a closed, stagnant air environment, they disappear from the window of view with time constants in the range of 8 to 14 min, which corresponds to droplet nuclei of ca. 4 μm diameter, or 12- to 21-μm droplets prior to dehydration. These observations confirm that there is a substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission in confined environments. That experiment was done inside a box. Vox translates to real world terms: A crowded indoor place, then, with poor ventilation, filled with people talking, shouting, or singing for hours on end will be the riskiest scenario. A sparsely populated indoor space with open windows is less risky (but not completely safe). Running quickly past another jogger outside is on the other end of the spectrum; minimal risk. (In other words, the problem is not density or proximity; the problem is transmission of the virus, through the air, by human vocalization[2] (of which coughing and sneezing are a small, and symptomatic, subset.) That would explain why masks have worked. (One could argue that masks need only be worn indoors, but most people are constantly moving from the outdoors to the indoors and out again, which would involved touching the mask constantly to remove and replace it; better to wear it all the time. In any case, minimal risk, to others, is not no risk).

Coronavirus Uses Same Strategy As HIV To Evade, Cripple Immune System- Chinese Study Finds  -Back on February 1, we published an article referencing an Arxiv pre-print which found that the covid-19 genome contained "HIV Insertions", stoking fears that the virus was an artificially created bioweapon. While the mere suggestion that this virus was man-made - nevermind sharing discrete segments of its genetic structure with HIV - sparked outrage among the well-paid mercenary enforcers of the First Amendment known as "fact-checkers" who are employed by such biased organizations as Twitter and Facebook to stifle any line of inquiry that runs contrary to whatever dominant narrative has been blessed by the Zuckerbergs and Dorseys of the world, it was none other than the man who discovered the HIV virus back in 1983, that confirmed our suspicions saying that "the virus was man-made."As we reported in April, Professor Luc Montagnier, the 2008 Nobel Prize winner for Medicine, claimed that SARS-CoV-2 is a manipulated virus that was accidentally released from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, and added that the WUhan laboratory, known for its work on coronaviruses, tried to use one of these viruses as a vector for HIV in the search for an AIDS vaccine.Needless to say, since this narrative was destructive to China and all those self-proclaimed experts who had vowed there is no way the Wuhan virus was i) manmade, ii) released by a Chinese lab and iii) had HIV-insertions, the story was quickly buried and never received as much as a minute of airtime in conventional media sources.That may all change now, as a result of the third, and perhaps most startling yet twist in the bizarre saga of the coronavirus, after the South China Morning Post reported that a new study by Chinese scientists has found that the novel coronavirus uses the same strategy to evade attack from the human immune system as HIV. Specifically, both viruses remove marker molecules on the surface of an infected cell that are used by the immune system to identify invaders, the researchers said in a non-peer reviewed paper titled "The ORF8 Protein of SARS-CoV-2 Mediates Immune Evasion through Potently Downregulating MHC-I", posted on pre-print website on Sunday (a paper which the great hordes of amateur epidemiologists will make sure is promptly taken down or else their carefully planted propaganda may be obliterated). They warned that this commonality could mean Sars-CoV-2, the clinical name for the virus, could be around for some time, like HIV.

Men with long ring fingers are less likely to die from the coronavirus: study - Men with longer ring fingers may have a lower chance of dying from the coronavirus and could be more likely to face mild symptoms, according to a new study published in the journal Early Human Development.The reason? The length of ring fingers is believed to be linked to how much testosterone men are exposed to in utero — the longer the finger, the greater the hormonal exposure. And testosterone is believed to protect against severe coronavirus-related illness because it increases the concentration of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in the body. Earlier this month, researchers estimated that men, with no mention of finger length, are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than women because of the greater presence of ACE2 found in their blood. ACE2, a receptor and a gatekeeper to cells, binds to the coronavirus, allowing it to cause infection. So while it may not stop them from getting the coronavirus, it could be a sign that the symptoms won’t be as severe. Other studies suggest that even higher levels of ACE2 — thought to create greater entry points for the virus to infect cells — can protect men against lung damage, the Daily Mail notes.With regards to the lungs, the coronavirus is known to lower the number of ACE2 receptors once inside the body. But it appears that men who have higher levels of the enzyme could be better protected from the disease’s wrath than men with a lower count.The Swansea University-led researchers pored over data from 200,000 people across 41 countries where they measured volunteers’ ring fingers in relation to their index fingers to the nearest millimeter. A smaller “digit ratio” means the ring finger is longer, and this trait was found in countries including Malaysia, Russia and Mexico — where the COVID-19 fatality rate was lower. Countries where men have a higher digit ratio, meaning the ring finger is shorter, include the United Kingdom, Spain and Bulgaria — where there’s been a higher fatality rate.

Dogs Can Smell COVID-19 - In a pilot study at the University of Helsinki, dogs trained as medical diagnostic assistants were taught to recognize the previously unknown odor signature of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And they learned with astonishing success: After only a few weeks, the first dogs were able to accurately distinguish urine samples from COVID-19 patients from urine samples of healthy individuals. "We have solid experience in training disease-related scent detection dogs. It was fantastic to see how fast the dogs took to the new smell," says DogRisk group leader Anna Hielm-Björkman. After only a short time, the animals identified the urine of people infected by the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, almost as reliably as a standard PCR test. The Finnish scientists are now preparing a randomized, double-blind study in which the dogs will sniff a larger number of patient samples. Only then will the scent tests be used in clinical practice. The very rapid and promising findings from Finland are also important for other research teams, such as those in Great Britain and France, who are training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19. Fellow researchers from the German Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ) have also benefited from the Finnish results.  "No one could tell us with certainty whether training with the aggressive virus is dangerous or not for humans and dogs. We wanted to gather more information first before we started training because the German virologists advised us against it — after all, so little is known about the virus so far," explains Luca Barrett from TARSQ. It is still unclear which substances in urine produce the apparently characteristic COVID-19 odor. Since SARS-CoV-2 not only attacks the lungs, but also causes damage to blood vessels, kidneys and other organs, it is assumed that the patients' urine odor also changes. This is something which the dogs, with their highly sensitive olfactory organs, notice immediately. Certain diseases appear to have a specific olfactory signature that trained dogs can sniff out with amazing accuracy, Barrett says.

Wearing face masks at home might help ward off COVID-19 spread among family members - Wearing face masks at home might help ward off the spread of COVID-19 infection among family members living in the same household, but only before symptoms develop, suggests a study of Chinese families in Beijing, accepted for publication in BMJ Global Health. This practice was 79% effective at curbing transmission before symptoms emerged in the first person infected, but it wasn't protective once symptoms had developed, the study shows. The researchers wanted to know what factors might heighten or lessen the risk of subsequently catching the virus within the incubation period--14 days from the start of that person's symptoms. During this time, secondary transmission--spread from the first infected person to other family members--occurred in 41 out of the 124 families. A total of 77 adults and children were infected in this way, giving an 'attack rate' of 23% or around 1 in 4. Around a third of the study children caught the virus (36%; 13 out of 36) compared with more than two thirds of the adults (just over 69.5%; 64 out of 92). Twelve of the children had mild symptoms; one had none. Most (83%) of the adults had mild symptoms; in around 1 in 10, symptoms were severe, and one person became critically ill. Daily use of disinfectants, window opening, and keeping at least 1 metre apart were associated with a lower risk of passing on the virus, even in more crowded households. But daily contact and the number of family members wearing a face mask after the start of symptoms in the first person to develop them were associated with a heightened risk. Of all the behavioural and hygiene factors, four were significantly associated with secondary transmission of the virus. Diarrhoea in the first person to become infected and close daily contact with them increased the risk of passing on the virus: diarrhoea was associated with a quadrupling in risk, while close daily contact, such as eating meals round a table or watching TV together, was associated with an 18-fold increased risk. Frequent use of bleach or disinfectants for household cleaning and the wearing of a face mask at home before symptoms emerged, including by the first person to have them, were associated with a reduced risk of viral transmission. A face mask worn before symptoms started was 79% effective, and disinfection 77% effective, at stopping the virus from being passed on.

WHO halts trials of hydroxychloroquine over safety fears - Testing of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for coronavirus has been halted because of safety fears, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. Trials in several countries are being "temporarily" suspended as a precaution, the agency said on Monday. It comes after a recent medical study suggested the drug could increase the risk of patients dying from Covid-19. President Donald Trump has said he has taken the drug to ward off the virus. The US president has repeatedly promoted the anti-malarial drug, against medical advice and despite warnings from public health officials that it could cause heart problems. Last week, a study in medical journal The Lancet said there were no benefits to treating coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine, and that taking it might even increase the number of deaths among those in hospital with the disease. Hydroxychloroquine is safe for malaria, and conditions like lupus or arthritis, but no clinical trials have recommended its use for treating Covid-19. The WHO, which is running clinical trials of various drugs to assess which might be beneficial in treating the disease, has previously raised concerns over reports of individuals self-medicating and causing themselves serious harm. On Monday, officials at the UN health agency said hydroxychloroquine would be removed from those trials pending a safety assessment. The Lancet study involved 96,000 coronavirus patients, nearly 15,000 of whom were given hydroxychloroquine - or a related form chloroquine - either alone or with an antibiotic. The study found that the patients were more likely to die in hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other Covid patients in a comparison group. The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with antibiotics had an even higher death rate.

Exclusive: U.S. plans massive coronavirus vaccine testing effort to meet year-end deadline - The project will compress what is typically 10 years of vaccine development and testing into a matter of months, testimony to the urgency to halt a pandemic that has infected more than 5 million people, killed over 335,000 and battered economies worldwide. To get there, leading vaccine makers have agreed to share data and lend the use of their clinical trial networks to competitors should their own candidate fail, the scientists said. Candidates that demonstrate safety in small early studies will be tested in huge trials of 20,000 to 30,000 subjects for each vaccine, slated to start in July. Between 100,000 and 150,000 people may be enrolled in the studies, said Dr. Larry Corey, a vaccine expert at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, who is helping design the trials. “If you don’t see a safety problem, you just keep going,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told Reuters. The vaccine effort is part of a public-private partnership called Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) announced last month. The effort fits into the research and development arm of “Operation Warp Speed,” the White House program announced last week to accelerate coronavirus vaccine development. Vaccines, which are intended for use in healthy people, are typically tested in successive steps, starting with trials in animals. Human testing begins with a small safety trial in healthy volunteers, followed by a larger study to find the right dose and get an early read on efficacy. The final stage consists of large-scale testing in thousands of people. Only then would a vaccine developer commit to manufacturing millions of doses. In the era of coronavirus, many of those steps will overlap, particularly the mid-stage and late-stage trials, Collins and Corey said. The approach has its risks, as certain safety issues may only appear in large-scale trials. Americans are concerned about the speed of the vaccine effort, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed. A highly effective vaccine could be tested in as little as six months if there is a big difference in benefit between the vaccine and placebo groups, Corey said. For a modestly effective vaccine, trials could take nine to 12 months. .

Nature Pimps for Fundamentally Flawed Gates-Funded “Swab Yourself” Covid-19 TestYves Smith - One wonders what sexual favors were exchanged for the normally well-regarded publication Nature to run a defense of the indefensible, in this case, an obviously half-baked idea for Seattle residents to volunteer themselves for a home science study by jamming swabs through their noses to the back of their throats to collect their own Covid-19 samples and send them in by mail. Remarkably, the FDA woke up, cleared its throat, and said it needed to evaluate this “do it yourself” specimen collection. Now mind you, that’s actually the more charitable interpretation as far as the Gates Foundation and the FDA is concerned. It is possible that the Seattle testing initiative was using mere nose swabs (as in just of the nasal cavity), which is not the current standard for Covid-19 tests. If that is so, the Gates Foundation and its allies in the Seattle medical-academic community are setting out to promote tests that are known to be less accurate via inferior sample collection. They will endanger patients and the public by virtue of generating false negatives due to choosing inferior sampling methods.Yet Nature wails over the FDA stopping a testing program that either way was sure to generate a lot of bad samples and therefore bad results in Scientists baffled by decision to stop a pioneering coronavirus testing project.Honestly, any scientists who are “baffled” are revealing their lack of powers of observation and common sense.So what accounts for Nature shilling for such a flawed program? The too-obvious explanation is Bill Gates’ influence. He is the big money behind this so-called SCAN. Before we take apart the Nature story (actually two but the second one is more important), it goes without saying that the US has a problem with Covid-19 testing, that in general, not enough is being done, and those who are worried that they might have contracted it don’t want to show up in an emergency room or outpatient clinic and risk getting infected. And medical professionals probably aren’t so keen about handling Covid-19 tests interspersed with other duties, particularly if they don’t have the best PPE to begin with. The same conundrum exists with going to your regular MD’s office to get tested (assuming you have one and assuming he’ll even test you).

 It's Not Obesity. It's Slavery - The era of slavery was when white Americans determined that black Americans needed only the bare necessities, not enough to keep them optimally safe and healthy. It set in motion black people’s diminished access to healthy foods, safe working conditions, medical treatment and a host of other social inequities that negatively impact health. This message is particularly important in a moment when African-Americans have experienced the highest rates of severe complications and death from the coronavirus and “obesity” has surfaced as an explanation. The cultural narrative that black people’s weight is a harbinger of disease and death has long served as a dangerous distraction from the real sources of inequality, and it’s happening again. Reliable data are hard to come by, but available analyses show that on average, the rate of black fatalities is 2.4 times that of whites with Covid-19. In states including Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin and in Washington, D.C., that ratio jumps to five to seven black people dying of Covid-19 complications for every one white death. Despite the lack of clarity surrounding these findings, one interpretation of these disparities that has gained traction is the idea that black people are unduly obese (currently defined as a body mass index greater than 30) which is seen as a driver of other chronic illnesses and is believed to put black people at high risk for serious complications from Covid-19. These claims have received intense media attention, despite the fact that scientists haven’t been able to sufficiently explain the link between obesity and Covid-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42.2 percent of white Americans and 49.6 percent of African-Americans are obese. Researchers have yet to clarify how a 7 percentage-point disparity in obesity prevalence translates to a 240 percent-700 percent disparity in fatalities.

Putting the Risk of Covid-19 in Perspective - The New York Times - How dangerous is it to live in New York City during this pandemic? How much safer is it in other places? Is the risk of dying from Covid-19 comparable to driving to work every day, skydiving or being a soldier in a war?We are awash in statistics about Covid-19: number of deaths, fatality rates, contagion rates. But what does this all mean in terms of personal risk?  Fortunately, there are tools for assessing risk that can help us put the daily torrent of numbers in perspective. I found the best way to communicate the level of risk was to put it in terms that allowed easier comparison to other, more familiar, risks. One could then talk, for instance, about how dangerous living in a contaminated city was compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. A useful way to understand risks is by comparing them with what is called a “micromort,” which measures a one-in-a-million chance of dying. Note that we are considering only fatality risks here, not the risk of growing sick from coronavirus, or morbidity. The micromort allows one to easily compare the risk of dying from skydiving, for example (7 micromorts per jump), or going under general anesthesia in the United States (5 micromorts), to that of giving birth in the United States (210 micromorts).The average American endures about one micromort of risk per day, or one in a million chance of dying, from nonnatural causes, such as being electrocuted, dying in a car wreck or being struck by an asteroid (the list is long).Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York City experienced approximately 24,000 excess deaths from March 15 to May 9, when the pandemic was peaking. That’s 24,000 more deaths than would have normally occurred during the same time period in previous years, without this pandemic. This statistic is considered a more accurate estimate of the overall mortality risk related to Covid-19 than using the reported number of deaths resulting from confirmed cases, since it captures indirect deaths associated with Covid-19 (because of an overwhelmed health care system, for example) as well as the deaths caused by the virus itself. Converting this to micromort language, an individual living in New York City has experienced roughly 50 additional micromorts of risk per day because of Covid-19. That means you were roughly twice as likely to die as you would have been if you were serving in the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan throughout 2010, a particularly deadly year.

How Stanford Lost Its Soul  - The Nation - Stanford University enjoys an international reputation for excellence and an endowment of more than $27 billion, making it the third-wealthiest private school in America. The endowment lags behind only Harvard and Yale. In some ways, Stanford’s wealth is all more impressive since, unlike its venerable Ivy League rivals, the school itself is the very source of its own fortune. The campus is surrounded by Big Tech firms that were more or less created by its former students. Start at the center of Stanford and head north to go to Facebook, south to hit Apple, east to run into Google. The close proximity is no accident: Silicon Valley is the child of Stanford. Big Tech, out of filial gratitude, is always happy to lavishly fund its alma mater. But during the current pandemic, Stanford is making a mark for something less admirable than birthing the tech revolution. Stanford has become the main academic vector for contrarian Covid-19 thinking, helping give legitimacy to arguments that the world is overreacting to the virus. In March, Richard Epstein, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a Stanford-affiliated think tank, published an influential article arguing that America could expect only around 500 deaths from the pandemic. He later revised that number to 5,000. Still later, he said he meant 50,000. Even that number, of course, is far short of the more than 93,000 Americans who have already died of Covid-19—a figure that itself is almost certainly an undercount. It’s easy enough to dismiss Epstein as a buffoon. He’s a law professor, not an epidemiologist, and is known for his extremist libertarian views.  Much more serious was the April 17 study released by a team headed by Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Unlike the interloper Epstein, Ioannidis is one of the world’s leading experts on epidemics. The study reported findings based on tests done in Santa Clara County showing that the virus was much more prevalent than previously suspected, which also means the overall mortality rate is much lower than commonly assumed.  The Santa Clara study, as it came to be called, was quickly picked up by the right-wing media, eager for ammunition for the argument that the lockdown had to be ended quickly. “Most of the population has minimal risk, in the range of dying while you’re driving from home to work and back,” Ioannidis told Fox News. The Santa Clara study was a preprint, meaning it had not been peer reviewed but was being shared so it could be examined by colleagues. The response of the scientific community was harsh. As a column in The New York Times by Aleszu Bajak and Jeff Howe noted, “What followed next was the academic version of a roast, with critics raising issues with the researchers’ recruitment method (Facebook ads), flaws in their statistical methods, and even the tests themselves—manufactured in China, and since banned from export.”

Here’s a Covid-19 Number Worth Watching – Cathy O'Neil -  R(t) tells us how fast the disease is spreading at a given moment. If it’s greater than one, the growth is exponential: One case can become a million in a matter of weeks. If it’s less than one, the pandemic is petering out. It reflects both the nature of the virus and the measures people take to avoid infecting one another. It also tends to decline naturally: as time goes on, more people get sick, recover and hence become immune, leaving fewer to infect.  R(t) can explain a lot. Consider, for example, how soon a place might reach herd immunity — the point at which enough people become immune that the disease can no longer spread exponentially. 1  Let’s say the initial reproduction rate — known as R(0) — is 3, the best estimate for the coronavirus. When everyone is susceptible, three people will get sick from the average infected person. But if two out of three are already immune, only one will get sick. R(t) will be 1.  In other words, there’s a predictable mathematical relationship. If R(0) is 3, the threshold for herd immunity is two thirds of the population. If R(0) is 4, the threshold is three fourths. Note that’s a lower bound, and doesn’t necessarily apply to pockets of society — such as nursing homes, prisons or crowded bars — where the local R(t) is higher.  So what does this mean for the U.S.? If R(0) is 3 and the population is 330 million, then about 220 million must get infected to achieve herd immunity. If the death rate is 1%, that’s 2.2 million fatalities, assuming no change in social practices. This also happens to be what the now-famousImperial College London model originally estimated back in mid-March.  But people in the U.S. have changed their social practices. They have stayed at home and started using masks, helping to push R(t) down below 1, judging from the declining daily numbers of fatalities. There also might be some effect from growing immunity, but it’s minor, given that infections probably don’t exceed 4% of the population. 2 So while the country remains very far from herd immunity, Americans have managed to postpone a lot of deaths, ideally until a vaccine can be developed.  In the meantime, R(t) can still be useful. Tracked closely across states with different mitigation strategies, it can help calculate which practices and scenarios have the biggest effect. For example, we’re learning it’s rare to get infected with the coronavirus outside. Hello parks and barbeques. We’ve similarly learned how long it lasts on surfaces, how safe groceries are, how well surgical masks protect us. Just how bad is a baseball stadium with an open roof? Let’s compute its contribution to R(t) and see if we can afford it. The more data we have, the more we’ll be able to focus on what works, and eschew measures where the cost outweighs the benefit — all with an eye toward keeping R(t) below 1. As a result, maybe life can be a little bit better as we inch toward the end of this ordeal.

"Like It Was Designed To Infect Humans": COVID-19 'Cell Culture' Theory Gains Steam - A scientific study which found COVID-19 may have been a "cell-culture" uniquely adapted for transmission to humans (more so than any other animal - including bats), is gaining steam. The paper, currently under peer review, comes from Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, who has spent over two decades developing vaccines against influenza, Ebola, and animal Sars. He says his findings allow for the possibility that COVID-19 leaked from a laboratory, according to Sky News. "The two possibilities which I think are both still open is that it was a chance transmission of a virus from an as yet unidentified animal to human. The other possibility is that it was an accidental release of the virus from a laboratory," said Petrovsky, adding "Certainly we can’t exclude the possibility that this came from a laboratory experiment rather than from an animal. They are both open possibilities."Professor Petrovsky, who is the Chairman and Research Director of Vaxine Pty Ltd, said COVID-19 has genetic elements similar to bat coronaviruses as well as other coronaviruses.The way coronavirus enters human cells is by binding to a protein on the surface of lung-cells called ACE2. The study showed the virus bound more tightly to human-ACE2 than to any of the other animals they tested.It was like it was designed to infect humans,” he said.“One of the possibilities is that an animal host was infected by two coronaviruses at the same time and COVID-19 is the progeny of that interaction between the two viruses. -Sky News"The same process can happen in a petri-dish," added Petrovsky. "If you have cells in culture and you have human cells in that culture which the viruses are infecting, then if there are two viruses in that dish, they can swap genetic information and you can accidentally or deliberately create a whole third new virus out of that system."

Americans spend holiday at beaches and parks as virus death toll nears 100,000 - (Reuters) - Americans sunbathed on beaches, fished from boats and strolled on boardwalks this holiday weekend, even as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 fast approaches 100,000. The Memorial Day weekend that signals the start of the U.S. summer is normally a time when cemeteries across the nation fill with American flags and ceremonies to remember those who died in U.S. wars. This year it has also become a time to mourn the loss of more than 97,000 people due to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The New York Times filled its entire front page with the names and selected details of 1,000 victims on Sunday seeking to illustrate the humanity of the lives lost. “We were trying to capture that personal toll,” Marc Lacey, the newspaper’s national editor, told Reuters. “We were trying to humanize these numbers which keep growing and have reached such unfathomable heights that they’re really hard to grasp any more. ...This is about everyday people. It’s about a death toll, reaching a number that’s really just jaw-dropping.” All 50 states have relaxed coronavirus restrictions to some degree. In some states, like Illinois and New York, restaurants are still closed to in-person dining and hair salons remain shuttered. In many southern states, most businesses are open, with restrictions on capacity. Last week, 11 states reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases, including Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maryland, Maine, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally. It is not clear if the cases are rising from more testing or a second wave of infections.

American virus deaths at 100,000: What does a number mean?  -The fraught, freighted number of this particular American moment is a round one brimming with zeroes: 100,000. A hundred thousands. A thousand hundreds. Five thousand score. More than 8,000 dozen. All dead. This is the week when America’s official coronavirus death toll reaches six digits. One hundred thousand lives wiped out by a disease unknown to science a half a year ago. And as the unwanted figure arrives — nearly a third of the global pandemic deaths in the first five months of a very trying year — what can looking at that one and those five zeroes tell us? What does any number deployed in momentous times to convey scope and seriousness and thought really mean? “We all want to measure these experiences because they’re so shocking, so overwhelming that we want to bring some sense of knowability to the unknown,” says Jeffrey Jackson, a history professor at Rhodes College in Tennessee who teaches about the politics of natural disasters. This is not new. In the mid-1800s, a new level of numerical precision was emerging in Western society around the same time the United States fought the Civil War. Facing such massive death and challenges counting the dead, Americans started to realize that numbers and statistics represented more than knowledge; they contained power, according to historian Drew Gilpin Faust. “Their provision of seemingly objective knowledge promised a foundation for control in a reality escaping the bounds of the imaginable,” Faust wrote in “This Republic of Suffering,” her account of how the Civil War changed Americans’ relationship with death. “Numbers,” she wrote, “represented a means of imposing sense and order on what Walt Whitman tellingly depicted as the `countless graves’ of the `infinite dead.’” Today’s Americans have precedents for visualizing and understanding 100,000 people — dead and alive. They have numerous comparisons at hand. For example: Beaver Stadium, seen often on TV as the home to Penn State football and one of the country’s largest sports venues, holds 106,572 people when full. The 2018 estimated population of South Bend, Indiana, was 101,860. About 100,000 people visit the Statue of Liberty every 10 days. The total amount of U.S. Civil War deaths — combat and otherwise — was 655,000. For World War I it was more than 116,000, for World War II more than 405,000 and for the Korean and Vietnam wars more than 36,000 and more than 58,000 respectively. Those don’t include non-U.S. deaths. Gun violence killed more than 37,000 people a year on average between 2014 and 2018 in the United States. And 9/11 took exactly 2,996 lives, a figure that the U.S. coronavirus tally passed in early April. At some point with numbers, though, things start feeling more abstract and less comprehensible.

Memorial Day in America: 100,000 COVID-19 deaths surpass combined combat fatalities in Korea and Vietnam. - On this Memorial Day, the consequences of the Trump administration’s indifference to the death of American workers and subordination of human life to corporate profits is summed up in the tragic milestone of more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. It is an extraordinary fact that the 100,000 people officially lost to the virus in barely two months already surpasses the combined US combat death toll in the three-year Korean War (33,686) and the 11-year US war in Vietnam (58,220). It is also nearly twice the number of American soldiers killed in World War I (53,402). This staggering loss of human life, however, is only the beginning. The Trump administration is marking the holiday by promoting activities in defiance of all social distancing rules, which will cause a sharp increase in infections and deaths. Donald Trump and Deborah Birx at a press conference in April. (Image credit: Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian) On Friday, Trump demanded that governors remove all restrictions on church services. He is promoting one quack “miracle” cure or unproven virus program after another, including boasting that he himself is taking hydroxychloroquine. On Saturday he had himself filmed playing golf, without a mask, as is the case with all his public appearances. On Sunday, Trump tweeted, “Cases, numbers and deaths are going down all over the country!” The last is a flat out lie. Nationally new cases continue at more than 20,000 a day, and new deaths at more than 1,000. In hot spots such as Montgomery, Alabama, hospitals are overwhelmed. Patients showing up at Montgomery hospitals are being shipped to Birmingham. Over the weekend, the horrifying results played out across the country. With the support of much of the media, people are being misled and encouraged to engage in very dangerous activity. There were scenes of packed beaches and boardwalks, with hundreds and thousands of people mingling without masks or any other form of protection. Hundreds of party-goers crowded together in a pool at the Lake of Ozarks in Missouri, a state where nearly 12,000 have tested positive and more than 680 have died. In the same state, which has reopened businesses including gyms and beauty salons, two stylists at a Great Clips hair salon tested positive for COVID-19. The two worked for days while carrying and spreading the virus, exposing a total of 140 customers and staff. Churches in many states took their lead from Trump and held in-person services. This follows a May 10 Mother’s Day service at a church in Butte County, California that exposed 160 people to the virus.

Missouri officials slam 'irresponsible and dangerous' behavior seen in images of Memorial Day crowds --Missouri officials on Monday slammed the “irresponsible and dangerous” behavior of people who crowded pools and patios at the Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend.Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williamsreleased a statement Monday warning people that the coronavirus pandemic is not over.“This Memorial Day, we caution that COVID-19 is still here, and social distancing needs to continue to prevent further spread of infections,” he said. “Close contact with others even if you are in the outdoors is still considered close contact and can lead to more infections as we still have new cases of COVID-19 being detected each day in Missouri.”The comments come after videos and photos showed scores of people at the Lake of the Ozarks during the holiday weekend. Footage of a resort in the area, which went viral after being shared by an anchor for CNN affiliate KTVK in Arizona, showed dozens in the pool without masks.St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson condemned the people in crowds, especially at the Lake of the Ozarks, calling their actions “irresponsible and dangerous.” The city of St. Louis does not have jurisdiction over the area, but its constituents frequently visit the lake.“Now, these folks will be coming home to St. Louis and counties all over Missouri and the Midwest, raising concerns about the potential of more positive cases, hospitalizations, and tragically, deaths,” Krewson said, in a statement obtained by The Hill. “It’s just deeply disturbing.”

86% of choir members got infected with COVID-19 after church practice: report -- A new report from the Skagit County Public Health Department in Washington state published by the CDC Friday, shows how quickly the coronavirus spread after a choir practice became a “superspreader event” for the disease that infected 86% of attending members and killed two of them.  Now state health officials say the findings in the report, based on the experience of Skagit Valley Chorale that normally rehearses at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church on Tuesday evenings and once a month on a Saturday morning, could have significant implications for future church gatherings. "It's really important that people realize that by meeting, by gathering, 86% of them could become ill and the results and aftermath of that is hard to fathom," Skagit County Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand said in a King 5 report.The report from the health department showed how the 122-member chorale was likely exposed to a “superemitter” of the virus who attended choir practice on March 3 and March 10.   “One person at the March 10 practice had cold-like symptoms beginning March 7. This person, who had also attended the March 3 practice, had a positive laboratory result for SARS-CoV-2 by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing,” the report said.  Of the 78 members who attended the March 3 practice, 51 or 65.4% of them got infected with the virus. All but one of the infected individuals from the March 3 practice were among the 60 members who also attended the March 10 practice, 86.7% of them tested positive for the disease. Among the 21 members who only attended the March 3 practice only one of them became ill.  “The 2.5-hour singing practice provided several opportunities for droplet and fomite transmission, including members sitting close to one another, sharing snacks, and stacking chairs at the end of the practice. The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization,” the report said.

Virginia reports most new cases in one day Monday morning - According to the Virginia Department of Health, the number of new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 across the state stands at 37,727 as of Monday morning, which means 1,483 new cases were confirmed in a 24-hour period. Yesterday, only 495 more cases were added. On Saturday, 799 cases were added; Friday, the number of new cases was 813 and Thursday, 1,229 cases were added, for the greatest number of new cases added in a single day (until today).  Virginia added 37 COVID-19 related deaths Monday morning; 12 were added yesterday and 37 the day before. The Virginia Department of Health reports that there have been 1,158 confirmed and 50 probable deaths related to COVID-19. The state’s death toll now stands at 1,208.

Coronavirus is spiking disproportionately in counties that voted for Trump in 2016 - The 2016 election may help map the next coronavirus hotspots. While COVID-19 is finally beginning to wane in some of the U.S. cities it hit hardest and earliest, coronavirus spread is still far from its peak in most small cities and rural areas across the country. And over the past four weeks, it's been more likely that counties will show a high prevalence of coronavirus next if they voted for President Trump in 2016, an analysis by the Brookings Institution reveals.  A high prevalence of coronavirus means a county saw coronavirus case rates of 100 or more per 100,000 people. Hundreds of counties have gained high-prevalence status over the past few weeks, and 176 new counties joined that list from May 10 to May 17 alone. Those 176 counties voted for Trump by a 12 percent margin in 2016 — Trump outright won 151 of them — and are also less urban and less racially diverse than areas where coronavirus spread in March and April, Brookings notes. COVID-19 obviously doesn't discriminate based on politics, so there is no definitive reason why these counties are seeing coronavirus spikes now. It's likely just because rural counties are more spread out than urban areas and have seen slower coronavirus spread, and also coincidentally went for Trump in 2016. But Trump has also been eager to reopen businesses, especially in less populous areas that didn't see as many coronavirus cases. And if his supporters were more likely to follow his lead and get back to normal, that could be aiding the spread as well. Find the whole study at the Brookings Institution.

Where U.S. coronavirus cases are on the rise - (Reuters) - Twenty U.S. states reported an increase in new cases of COVID-19 for the week ended May 24, up from 13 states in the prior week, as the death toll from the novel coronavirus approaches 100,000, according to a Reuters analysis. South Carolina had the biggest weekly increase at 42%. Alabama’s new cases rose 28% from the previous week, Missouri’s rose 27% and North Carolina’s rose 26%, according to the analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak. New cases in Georgia, one of the first states to reopen, rose 21% after two weeks of declines. (Open in an external browser for a Reuters interactive)   Nationally, new cases of COVID-19 fell 0.8% for the week ended May 24, compared with a decline of 8% in the prior week. All 50 states have now at least partially reopened, raising fears among some health officials of a second wave of outbreaks. The increase in cases could also be due to more testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended states wait for their daily number of new COVID-19 cases to fall for 14 days before easing social distancing restrictions. As of May 24, 15 states had met that criteria, up from 13 in the prior week, according to the Reuters analysis. Washington state, where the U.S. outbreak started, has the longest streak with cases falling for eight weeks in a row, followed by Hawaii at seven weeks and Pennsylvania and New York at six weeks. Washington state posted the biggest drop in cases, down over 50%, followed by Kentucky, where new cases fell nearly 30%. New York saw new cases drop 23%, according to the Reuters analysis. Texas saw new cases fall 15% after they rose 22% in the prior week.

Number of Minnesota coronavirus patients needing ICU beds reaches record high - The number of coronavirus patients in Minnesota needing intensive care beds reached a single-day high Monday, a spike officials said was expected. Minnesota Health Department officials said patients needing ICU beds increased to 248 Monday. They also announced another 12 deaths, bringing the state total to 881. The previous single-day high for intensive care bed usage, 233, occurred Friday, with the number dipping again to 207 by Sunday. “This is an expected trend,” Jennifer DeCubellis, CEO of Hennepin Healthcare, which oversees Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We anticipated that social distancing would allow health systems time to get space, staff, and supplies in place in order to be better prepared for higher volumes — but that the volumes would still increase, ideally at a slower and more manageable pace.” The additional 41 ICU beds filled also marked a single-day increase for Minnesota since the pandemic began. The previous record for an increase was on May 16, when the number of beds in use increased by 25 to 225. DeCubellis said HCMC had established an ICU surge area last week in anticipation of a spike. “Our biggest pressure point is on the staff who are managing high acuity care, in higher volumes, and with longer lengths of stay,” she told the newspaper, saying staff remain “truly focused on the mission of caring for our community under all circumstances.” About 87 percent of ICU beds in the Twin Cities metro area were full as of Monday, but Department of Health spokesman Scott Smith said there should be sufficient capacity to care for patients, noting that beds often reach 95 percent capacity during the flu season. However, HCMC also has the state’s only emergency hyperbaric chamber and is the state’s largest Level 1 trauma hospital, forcing it to pull off a balancing act that makes staff and resources available for trauma care as well. The state announced 745 new cases of the virus overall Monday, bringing the official count to 21,315.

Minnesota buys a warehouse to store expected COVID-19 deaths --On May 18, the state of Minnesota purchased a 75,000 square foot refrigerated produce warehouse with the capacity to store 5100 bodies of persons expected to succumb to the surge of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the state paid $5.5 million for the Bix Produce Company cold storage facility to serve as an “emergency morgue.” Operational and improvement costs for the repurposing of the property are estimated to bring the total to about $6.9 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is expected to reimburse the state of Minnesota for 3/4’s of the expense. The property had been for sale for over a year. When the Minnesota Department of Administration approached warehouse owners in the Twin Cities seeking lease agreements for buildings suitable for the macabre project, none could be persuaded to rent for the stated purpose. The Bix Produce Company is headquartered in Little Canada, Minnesota, a northern suburb of the Twin Cities. The company had used the recently acquired warehouse as a distributing facility for the bulk trucking of pre-cut fruits and vegetables to supermarkets, hotels, schools and restaurants in the greater metro. The Department of Administration explained the building was needed to “accommodate a surge in demand for the timely, dignified, and temporary storage of human remains.” A surge in deaths is expected as the direct consequence of the abandonment of any and all effective public health preventive measures across the country to protect the population against coronavirus.

Rise in deaths attributed to pneumonia suggests official US coronavirus death toll is grossly undercounted - Data collected by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that tens of thousands of deaths attributed to pneumonia were more likely caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and that the real death toll from COVID-19 is nearly 50 percent higher than the officially reported number of about 103,000. According to provisional data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), there were at least 63,752 deaths caused by the pandemic from the week ending April 4 through the week ending May 2, reflecting the sharp rise in cases in the United States beginning in mid-March. During that same period, there were 47,812 pneumonia deaths, which is 65 percent higher than normal, based on seasonal averages. Assuming that these excess deaths were actually caused by the pandemic, either directly by the virus or by those who fell sick and were afraid to get treated at a hospital, this would bring the COVID-related mortality in April to 92,524. Extrapolating through May, this would bring the actual number of dead as a result of the coronavirus to just under 150,000. And even these numbers are likely an underestimate. The CDC itself notes that mortality reporting is often behind by two months. Connecticut has not submitted its tally for pneumonia and influenza deaths since April 25, and North Carolina has not submitted such data since April 18. The most recent data collected, from the week ending on May 16, is at most 30.6 percent complete. The likely higher numbers are corroborated by data from the website, which shows that from February to May 16, the number of COVID-19 deaths was 73,639, and that the number of pneumonia deaths was 89,555. Subtracting the seasonal average for pneumonia leaves 32,555 fatalities unaccounted for. Assuming again that these excess deaths were all caused by the pandemic, this brings the COVID-19 total during that period up to 106,194, an increase of 44 percent. A review of this data also makes clear that the deadliness of the coronavirus dwarfs that of influenza. The data from statista shows 6,253 deaths from the flu, barely eight percent of the deaths from COVID-19. And even those, the site notes, also include “deaths with pneumonia or COVID-19 also listed as a cause of death.” The unexplained sharp increase in pneumonia deaths is notable in many of the states that rushed to reopen as early as possible. In Colorado, which let its stay-at-home order expire on April 26, there are 919 coronavirus deaths recorded for April in the CDC’s provisional database and 762 fatalities from pneumonia, more than three times the seasonal average. If the excess deaths are counted as COVID-19, the state’s coronavirus mortality rate jumps by nearly 60 percent. Similarly for Mississippi, which loosened restrictions starting April 27, the real mortality rate is likely at least 49 percent higher.

AP count: Over 4,500 virus patients sent to NY nursing homes (AP) — More than 4,500 recovering coronavirus patients were sent to New York’s already vulnerable nursing homes under a controversial state directive that was ultimately scrapped amid criticisms it was accelerating the nation’s deadliest outbreaks, according to a count by The Associated Press. AP compiled its own tally to find out how many COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals to nursing homes under the March 25 directive after New York’s Health Department declined to release its internal survey conducted two weeks ago. It says it is still verifying data that was incomplete. Whatever the full number, nursing home administrators, residents’ advocates and relatives say it has added up to a big and indefensible problem for facilities that even Gov. Andrew Cuomo — the main proponent of the policy — called “the optimum feeding ground for this virus.”“It was the single dumbest decision anyone could make if they wanted to kill people,” Daniel Arbeeny said of the directive, which prompted him to pull his 88-year-old father out of a Brooklyn nursing home where more than 50 people have died. His father later died of COVID-19 at home.“This isn’t rocket science,” Arbeeny said. “We knew the most vulnerable -- the elderly and compromised -- are in nursing homes and rehab centers.”Told of the AP’s tally, the Health Department said late Thursday it “can’t comment on data we haven’t had a chance to review, particularly while we’re still validating our own comprehensive survey of nursing homes admission and re-admission data in the middle of responding to this global pandemic.” Cuomo, a Democrat, on May 10 reversed the directive, which had been intended to help free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged. But he continued to defend it this week, saying he didn’t believe it contributed to the more than 5,800 nursing and adult care facility deaths in New York — more than in any other state — and that homes should have spoken up if it was a problem. “Any nursing home could just say, ‘I can’t handle a COVID person in my facility,’” he said, although the March 25 order didn’t specify how homes could refuse, saying that ”no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the (nursing home) solely based” on confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

 NYC Doctors Warn "There Will Always Be COVID Patients" As WHO Warns 'Second Wave' Is Coming - Across New York City, hospital workers are exhausted after three months of combating what was without question the worst outbreak in the country. Recent surveillance testing conducted by the state revealed, unsurprisingly, that as many as 1 in 4 New Yorkers might have caught the virus.Assuming the official data represent a complete accounting of the city's infections and deaths, the ~30k confirmed deaths represent a mortality rate of ~0.35%. While a larger denominator (total cases) would likely lead to a reduction in the overall mortality rate, it's widely believed that thousands of deaths have also gone uncounted.Dr. Nazish Ilyas, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, told WSJ during a recent interview that she was only just beginning to "process" the events of the last two months, which included treating patients as they confronted their own mortality, and even falling ill with the virus herself. Not only did she administer life-saving treatment, but for the patients who couldn't be saved, she held their hands, pressed cellphones to the faces of the dying as they breathed their last words to loved ones."It was constantly go, go, go...I think people are carrying a lot of emotion, and they’re carrying around heavy hearts," she said.As states scramble to rebuild stockpiles of PPE, COVID tests and critical equipment like ventilators, Dr. Ilyas, who missed 2 weeks of work after catching the virus herself, told reporters that she, and many other doctors working in hospitals around the city, have come to a much different conclusion than experts and the WHO which, after opposing lockdowns in the US and Europe, has implied that countries are risking an immediate 'second wave' by reopening too quickly.Dr. Ilyas believes that the virus will never go away, that humanity will simply need to adjust to the reality of living with it, until a vaccine is developed - however long that might take."To some extent, we’ve accepted that there will always be Covid patients," Dr. Ilyas said. This is why most hospital systems around the country are rushing to assess what worked - for many, telemedicine has proven to be a powerful tool - while identifying areas where improvements are needed - like closing "care gaps" in minority communities. Personnel working in finance and other departments have successfully managed to handle their duties from home.

 Cruise ship workers protest government and cruise line inaction -Since the industrywide shutdown on March 13 in response to coronavirus pandemic, thousands of cruise ship and maritime workers have been stranded at sea with no foreseeable path to repatriation. Last week, the WSWS reported on initiatives taken by cruise ship staff to voice their opposition to the inadequate responses by both international governments and cruise ship companies to bring employees home. Such actions included a protest on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Mariner of the Seas, a hunger strike on the Navigator of the Seas, a protest on the German-owned Mein Schiff 3, as well as a deluge of stranded workers speaking out to the press, as well as on social media. ast week, there was another crew death on board Virgin’s Scarlet Lady, as well as a suicide attempt on Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ (CMV) Vasco Da Gama. In the month of May alone, there have been 8 widely-reported, non COVID-related deaths on marooned ships. All of these deaths have been widely suspected to be suicides.There have also been over a dozen crew member deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to a memorial page on A Business Insider article dated March 25 states that there had initially been 32 cruise ships with outbreaks of the virus, and further reports of infection on ships continue to emerge.While some governments and cruise lines have arranged repatriation plans for ship workers after significant delay, thousands still remain trapped on board with no end in sight. The government of Mauritius, under Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, has recently come under furious opposition from its nationals who remain stranded at sea, as it has denied the entry of hundreds of its own citizens into their country. The Colombian government has also refused to accept a humanitarian flight for stranded crew from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a major hub for the cruise industry.Only on Monday did Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte order “all government resources and whatever means of transportation” to be used to assist in bringing home approximately 24,000 Filipino nationals who are either stranded on ships or in shoreside quarantine facilities. According to aSouth China Morning Post report from the same day, “Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs, are breadwinners and a key support base for Duterte. Their more than US$30 billion of annual remittances is a driver of the Philippine economy, sustaining millions of family members.”

Canada: 81 percent of Coronavirus Deaths are in Nursing Homes - A new report citing Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam, confirms that among Canada’s coronavirus fatalities, 81 percent were in nursing homes – affecting the elderly with long-term chronic health conditions.This rate is nearly double the rate of that in the US as a whole, but is comparable to data from some individual states including two ‘hot spots’ in the US, Washington State and New York State.A Yale professor recently described the US nursing home death rate as ‘staggering’, showing how more than half of all deaths in 14 US states Are from elderly care facilities. Similarly, countries like Scotland saw half of all deaths from care homes.The report describes one Toronto facility, 100 people including 40 staff members are currently battling the coronavirus, and another 57 residents are said to have already have died of it, as reported by the Washington Post.According to those familiar with the case, cramped buildings and employees doing part-time shifts and traveling between several care facilities in order to make a living were two chief factors thought to have contributed to heavy outbreaks in assisted living facilities.

Cuba Develops Effective Peptide Against COVID-19 Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) developed the CIGB-258, a new protein effective in Covid-19 treatment. “It is an immunomodulatory peptide, derived from the cellular stress response protein, known as HSP60. This molecule was designed by bioinformatic tools and is obtained by chemical synthesis,” affirmed CIGB’s researcher Dr. Gillian Martinez Donato. According to Martinez, CIGB-258 operates in the regulation of the immune system. This protein increases its concentration during viral infections and inflammatory processes. The CIGB requested the use of CIGB-258 in COVID confirmed patients in the severe and critical stages. Since May 5, 31 patients had received therapy with this peptide. As Donato explained, 12 patients started CIGB-258 therapy intheir severe stages and 19 in the critical disease phase. In the first group, survival was 92 percent, while in the second group it was 73 percent. “This peptide is safe, with evidence of efficacy in an initial clinical study phase in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, by reducing the clinical activity associated with that condition, including synovitis and edema in the hands of patients,” Martinez stated. The CIGB submitted the request to the Cuban Center for Medicines, Equipment, and Medical Devices’ Control (Cecmed) for its therapeutic use in confirmed patients of the COVID-19 in the severe and critical stages. “A phase II clinical trial is currently underway in 187 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and the results will be ready by the end of 2020,” the CIGB specialist explained. So far, Cuba registered 1,881 positive cases of coronavirus, including 79 deaths, and 1,505 recoveries.

Cuba credits two drugs with slashing coronavirus death toll (Reuters) - Communist-run Cuba said this week that use of two drugs produced by its biotech industry that reduce hyper-inflammation in seriously ill COVID-19 patients has sharply curbed its coronavirus-related death toll. Health authorities have reported just two virus-related deaths over the past nine days among more than 200 active cases on the Caribbean’s largest island, a sign they may have the worst of the outbreak under control. The government, which hopes to increase its biopharmaceutical exports, has touted various drugs it produces for helping prevent infection with the new coronavirus and treating the COVID-19 disease it causes. It ascribes the recent reduction in deaths of severely ill COVID-19 patients largely to the use beginning in April of two drugs that appear to help calm the “cytokine storm,” a dangerous overresponse by the immune system in which it attacks healthy tissue as well as the invading virus. One is itolizumab, a monoclonal antibody produced in Cuba and elsewhere. The other is a peptide that Cuba says its biotech industry discovered and has been testing for rheumatoid arthritis in Phase II clinical trials. “Some 80 percent of patients who end up in critical condition are dying. In Cuba, with the use of these drugs, 80 percent of those who end up in critical or serious condition are being saved,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Thursday in a meeting shown on state television. Scientists caution that large placebo-controlled studies are needed to assess the safety and efficacy of these drugs for treating COVID-19. But Cuba’s experimental treatments have helped it achieve an overall COVID-19 death rate of 4.2%, compared with the regional and global averages of 5.9% and 6.6%, respectively, health authorities say. Fatality rates depend on many variables, including the rate of testing, quality of healthcare systems, and age and underlying health condition of the population. Official data suggests that Cuba, with universal healthcare and a well-staffed care system, has done well in containing its outbreak. It has registered less than 20 cases per day over the past week, down from a peak of 50 to 60 in mid-April. In total, Cuba has reported 1,916 cases for a population of 11 million and 81 death.

Coronavirus cluster traced to German church - A cluster of 40 coronavirus infections in the city of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area have been linked back to a Baptist church service that took place on May 10, reported German news outlet der Tagesspiegel on Saturday. "The vast majority of them are not especially ill," said the newspaper, citing Rene Gottschalk, the Frankfurt health authority's chief. "According to our current information, only one person has been hospitalized," added Gottschalk. The state of Hesse, where the church is based, banned religious ceremonies and gatherings from mid-March as part of restrictions implemented nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But Hesse permitted religious ceremonies to resume from May 1 as long as social distancing and other hygiene measures are implemented, meaning the church broke no rules in holding the service. At least 16 infection cases in the town of Hanau, 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) east of Frankfurt, have been traced back to the May 10 church service, said Hanau authorities. "It's a very dynamic event," Antoni Walczok, head of Hanau's health authority, said in comments to German daily newspaper, Frankfurter Rundschau. As a result of the new infections, the town has called off a fasting and prayer gathering for more than 1,000 participants from several Muslim institutions in the Rhine-Main region. The risk for further infections was "too high," explained Hanau mayor Claus Kaminsky. For many Muslims, the coronavirus lockdown has been particularly hard, as preventative measures have stopped them gathering for prayer and breaking fast together during the holy month of Ramadan.

'Thousands' Of Dutch COVID-19 Survivors Likely Have Permanent Lung Damage According To Top Pulmonologist -  COVID-19 may be far less deadly than originally projected - and asymptomatic cases may be even more common than first suspected, but for those who have caught it and come down with symptoms, the disease can result in lasting symptoms, including shortness of breath, lethargy, recurrent fevers, headaches, itchiness and other mystery problems that aren't going away.To that end, a top pulmonologist in the Netherlands says that thousands of Dutch residents who have recovered from COVID-19 may be left with permanent lung damage, resulting in decreased lung capacity and difficulty absorbing oxygen. According to Leon van den Toorn, Chairman of the Dutch Association of Physicians for Pulmonary Disease and Tuberculosis NVALT, people are underestimating the consequences of the coronavirus.  "In severe cases, a kind of scar formation occurs, we call this lung fibrosis. The lungs shrink and the lung tissue becomes stiffer, making it harder to get enough oxygen," Van den Toorn told Dutch newspaper AD (via the NL Times), adding that "there may be thousands of people in the Netherlands who suffered permanent injury to the lungs from corona." Of the 1,200 Covid-19 patients who so far recovered after admission to intensive care, "almost 100 percent went home with residual damage", he said to AD. And about half of the 6 thousand people who were hospitalized, but did not need intensive care, will have symptoms for years to come. So far 45,500 people in the Netherlands tested positive for the coronavirus. Many did not get sick enough to need hospital care. In this group, Van den Toorn expects that permanent problems will be less serious, but still possible. -NL Times Van den Toorn says that patients experiencing lung issues should immediately see a pulmonologist, as "there may be a low oxygen level in the blood, which is harmful to the body." "People with a history of corona infection should be monitored closely to see if recovery is complete," he added.

 Nearly 1,200 workers contract COVID-19 at remote Siberian goldmine - Nearly 1,200 workers at a goldmine deep in the Siberian wilderness have come down with COVID-19. The virus was first detected at the Olimpiada mining and processing plant on May 8 and has spread uncontrolled ever since. About 20 percent of the facility’s workforce is now infected. Coronavirus cases and fatalities continue to climb in Russia as a whole, with the country now having more than 350,000 known infections and 3,633 official deaths. Yegor Korchagin, the chief doctor at the regional hospital in Krasnoyarsk—which at 350 miles to the south is the nearest major city to the mining operation—attributed the outbreak to crowded conditions. When the first cases appeared, sickened miners received care from on-site medics. Shortly after, further medical personnel arrived, many of whom also then fell ill, but work continued at the mine. Korchagin said that about 700 of those infected are asymptomatic, while others are moderately to severely sick. Given the total number of infections at the mine, this would mean hundreds of workers are in need of medical care. The mine quickly became one of the main hotspots for the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. On May 14, the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Liberty reported that the National Guard had been deployed to the plant. One miner told the outlet: “If the infection has already spread, we’ll all get infected. Everyone understands this and people are already losing their nerve. They brought in the National Guard so that we don’t start a riot, surrounded us like in prisons with patrols everywhere.” At the time, the miners, including those receiving medical treatment, were reportedly forbidden to leave the site under the threat of significant fines and even imprisonment. With the aid of the military, a field hospital was eventually set up at the Olimpiada plant, which is owned by Russia’s largest gold producer, Polyus. However, relatives of the miners have been pleading for weeks for the company to extract their ill family members, as they cannot get to a major hospital on their own because the remoteness of the mine requires evacuation by helicopter or other heavy-duty transport.

Russian researchers test coronavirus vaccine on THEMSELVES, team leader says they now have antibodies Scientists in Russia have carried out the first unofficial trial of a Covid-19 vaccine – and they say it’s effective. Epidemiologists in Moscow took the unorthodox step of injecting themselves and examining their own results. The test, conducted by employees at the National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, reportedly saw the participants gaining immunity to the virus with no adverse effects. According to the research center’s director, Alexander Ginzburg, this is a step towards state-sanctioned trials. “We will consider the experiment successful when we get permission for official trials from the Ministry of Health and carry them out,” he said, speaking to Russian news agency TASS. According to Ginzburg, the scientists chose to vaccinate not only to prove the effectiveness of their creation but also to defend themselves from the virus and gain immunity, enabling them to continue working throughout the pandemic. The director did not specify how many people were vaccinated, but described them all as “alive, healthy and happy.” Ginzburg believes that it would take about six months to immunize the entire country once the vaccine is officially approved. If everything goes to plan, he hopes it will be approved by the end of summer. In his opinion, the first people to be immunized should be frontline doctors and the elderly.

Latin America surpasses Europe, US in daily COVID-19 infections, health group says  - Latin America has exceeded Europe and the U.S. in its daily number of reported COVID-19 cases, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced at a press briefing Tuesday. Director of PAHO Carissa Etienne said the region "has become the epicenter of the COVID pandemic," adding that over 2.4 million cases and more than 143,000 fatalities have been recorded in all of the Americas, CNN reported. Peru and Chile rank as two of the countries most impacted by the coronavirus, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data, with the world's highest infection rates per capita over a seven-day moving average. PAHO is also closely eyeing the situation in Brazil, where rising numbers of cases recently made for "the highest for a seven-day period since the outbreak began," Etienne said. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been sharply criticized for his response to the pandemic, including undermining preventative measures from local leaders and dismissing the coronavirus as a "little flu." "The behavior of President Bolsonaro is the wrong behavior. He is against social isolation. He's against orientation of the science," Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria told CNN.

Brazil surpasses 350,000 cases as politicians promote rapid reopening of economy - On Monday, for the first time, Brazil announced a larger number of deaths from COVID-19 in a single day than the United States. On Sunday, Latin America’s largest country recorded 703 deaths, while the US registered 617. The confirmed death toll in Brazil has already surpassed 23,000. The country currently has the second-largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, 367,906 in total. It trails the United States, which has 1,697,182 cases, and is just ahead of Russia with 353,427 cases. Brazil's testing rate, however, is significantly lower than that of both these countries, with only 3,461 tests per million inhabitants, compared to 25,456 tests per million inhabitants in the United States and 61,300 tests per million in Russia. An estimate based on parameters established by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates that only one in 20 cases of COVID-19 is being reported in Brazil. This would translate into an actual number of cases exceeding 7 million. As a consequence of the uncontrolled spread of the virus, the country's precarious health care system is collapsing in every region. Cemetery workers place crosses over a common grave after burying five people at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. The new section of the cemetery was opened last month to cope with a surge in deaths. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) The state of São Paulo is the center of the disease, with 83,625 cases and 6,220 deaths. The city of São Paulo already has more than 90 percent of its ICU beds occupied, despite the hundreds of new beds opened in field hospitals. Thirteen hospitals in the metropolitan region of São Paulo are already full and the disease is spreading more rapidly (up to four times faster) through the state’s countryside. In second place is the state of Rio de Janeiro, with 37,912 cases and 3,993 confirmed deaths. Like São Paulo, occupation of the ICU beds has also reached 90 percent, and there are more than 200 patients waiting for intensive care. There are also indications of high under-reporting of deaths in the state, suggesting twice the number recorded by the government. Nevertheless, the right-wing governors of these states—São Paulo’s João Doria of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and Rio de Janeiro’s Wilson Witzel of the Christian Social Party (PSC)—are promoting a general resumption of economic activities.

Brazil warned against reopening as it records more deaths in 24 hours than the United States - The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned Brazil against reopening its economy before performing more testing to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brazil has recorded more COVID-19 deaths on Monday than the United States, for the first time since the pandemic started, making it the world's second-worst coronavirus epicentre. According to Johns Hopkins University, there were 807 coronavirus-related deaths in Brazil in 24 hours, while the US recorded 620, taking their death tolls to 23,473 and 98,218 respectively. Brazil has now been marked the second-worst-hit country, with about 375,000 confirmed cases. The US has more than 1.6 million cases. WHO executive director Michael Ryan said in a news conference that Brazil's "intense" transmission rates meant it should keep some sort of stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of negative impacts on the economy. Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap. However, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical bishop, announced he was including religious institutions in the list of "essential services". That would mean churches would be able to open their doors, while keeping a minimum of 2 metres between attendees, in spite of existing recommendations for people to stay at home and most businesses remaining shut.

Coronavirus update: Brazil records highest daily increase, hundreds flee quarantine in East Africa, South Korea returns to lockdown -  Brazil has reported a daily record of 26,417 new coronavirus cases, bringing its total to more than 438,000.The country's death toll rose by 1,156, just shy of a record of 1,188 deaths recorded on May 21.Brazil is now second only to the United States in the total number of coronavirus cases recorded, and is behind the US, UK, Spain, Italy and France in terms of deaths.  It came on a day President Jair Bolsonaro took aim at the nation's Supreme Court for investigating an alleged disinformation and intimidation campaign by his supporters, criticising court-ordered police raids on those accused of spreading lies on social media."The Supreme Court investigation is targeting those who support me," he said.  In a social media video, Mr Bolsonaro said the court's investigation was unconstitutional and any move to restrict fake news in Brazil would establish censorship in the country. The crisis has continued to distract from efforts to control the country's exploding coronavirus outbreak. Mr Bolsonaro's tensions with the judiciary boiled over last week, when a judge released a video of a Cabinet meeting where one of Mr Bolsonaro's ministers said the Supreme Court justices should be jailed.  Searches have begun after hundreds of people, some with coronavirus, fled quarantine centres in Zimbabwe and Malawi, triggering fears for the countries' compromised health systems.In Malawi, more than 400 people recently repatriated from South Africa and elsewhere fled a centre at a stadium, jumping over a fence or strolling out the gate while police and health workers watched.Police and health workers told reporters they were unable to stop them as they lacked adequate protective gear.At least 46 people who left had tested positive for the virus. Some of those who fled told reporters they had bribed police.In Zimbabwe, where a 21-day quarantine is mandatory for those returning from abroad, police spokesman Paul Nyathi said officers were "hunting down" more than 100 people who left one of the quarantine centres."They escape and sneak into the villages … We are warning people to stop sheltering them. These escapees are becoming a serious danger to communities," Mr Nyathi said.Nearly all of Zimbabwe's 75 new cases this week came from the centres that hold hundreds of people who have returned, sometimes involuntarily, from neighbouring South Africa and Botswana. South Korea reported 79 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the most in nearly eight weeks, triggering the return of tougher social distancing measures.At least 82 cases this week have been linked to a cluster of infections at a logistics facility run by Coupang, one of the country's largest online shopping firms, in Bucheon, west of Seoul, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. About 4,100 workers, including 603 delivery people, at the warehouse were believed to have not properly followed social distancing and protective measures, such as mask wearing, KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing.

Special Report: Bolsonaro brought in his generals to fight coronavirus. Brazil is losing the battle - (Reuters) - In mid-March, Brazil took what seemed to be a forceful early strike against the coronavirus pandemic. The Health Ministry mandated that cruises be canceled. It advised local authorities to scrap large-scale events. And it urged travelers arriving from abroad to go into isolation for a week. Although Brazil had yet to report a single death from COVID-19, public health officials appeared to be getting out in front of the virus. They acted on March 13, just two days after the World Health Organization called the disease a pandemic. Less than 24 hours later, the ministry watered down its own advice, citing “criticism and suggestions” it had received from local communities. In fact, four people familiar with the incident told Reuters, the change came after intervention from the chief of staff’s office for Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. “That correction was due to pressure,” said Julio Croda, an epidemiologist who was then the head of the Health Ministry’s department of immunization and transmissible diseases. The intervention by the chief of staff’s office has not been previously reported. The about-face, given scant attention at the time, marked a turning point in the federal government’s handling of the crisis, according to the four people. Behind the scenes, they said, power was shifting from the Health Ministry, the traditional leader on public health matters, to the office of the president’s chief of staff, known as Casa Civil, led by Walter Souza Braga Netto, an Army general. Brazil has lost two health ministers in the past six weeks - one was fired, the other resigned - after they disagreed publicly with Bolsonaro over how best to combat the virus. The interim leader now in charge of the Health Ministry is another Army general. More importantly, the revisions underlined the hardening of Bolsonaro’s view that keeping Brazil’s economy running was paramount, the people said. Bolsonaro, a far-right former Army captain, has never wavered on that stance formulated during a crucial few days in mid-March, despite domestic and international criticism of his handling of the crisis, and a snowballing death toll. Brazil now has the world’s second-worst outbreak behind the United States, with more than 374,000 confirmed cases. More than 23,000 Brazilians have died from COVID-19. “So what?” Bolsonaro said recently when asked by reporters about Brazil’s mounting fatalities. “What do you want me to do?”

Coronavirus update: WHO warns the first wave of COVID-19 is not over -- The World Health Organization's top health expert has issued a sobering reminder that the world is still in the middle of the pandemic, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel. "We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up," said Dr Mike Ryan, one of the World Health Organization's executive directors. "Right now, we're not in the second wave. We're right in the middle of the first wave globally." Dr Ryan then made specific mention of Brazil, where despite cases being on the rise Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been bullish about opening the country back up. Brazil has nearly 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.66 million cases in the US — and has counted over 23,000 deaths but many fear Brazil's true toll is much higher. Dr Ryan warned that authorities must first have enough testing in place to control the spread of the pandemic and said Brazil's "intense" transmission rates means it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the negative impacts on its economy. "You must continue to do everything you can," he said. Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 5.5 million people, killing over 346,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the tally understates the real effects of the pandemic due to counting issues in many nations.

Coronavirus in the developing world: Covid-19 is killing young people in Brazil, Mexico and India — When the coronavirus first came to Brazil and a call went out for volunteers to work the critical care wards, Isabella Rêllo analyzed the risks. She was 28. She lived alone. She didn't have preexisting conditions.So while older physicians stepped back from the front lines of the coronavirus response, Rêllo stepped up.Soon Rêllo, a pediatrician, was treating dozens of coronavirus patients. But they weren’t who she’d expected. This patient was only 30 years old. That one was 32. Nearly half the people she was seeing were young, she said, and many were dying. The narrative seared into the global consciousness in the early months of the pandemic — that the virus spared the young and ravaged the elderly — was not what she was watching unfold in Brazil.The young were at risk. She was at risk.“One patient was young, apparently healthy,” she said. “He was so sick, with so many complications. I thought, ‘This could be me. He could be my friend.’ The quickness that this kills people, including the young, has been a shock.” As the coronavirus escalates its assault on the developing world, the victim profile is beginning to change. The young are dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at rates unseen in wealthier countries — a development that further illustrates the unpredictable nature of the disease as it pushes into new cultural and geographic landscapes. In Brazil, 15 percent of deaths have been people under 50 — a rate more than 10 times greater than in Italy or Spain. In Mexico, the trend is even more stark: Nearly one-fourth of the dead have been between 25 and 49. In India, officials reported this month that nearly half of the dead were younger than 60. In Rio de Janeiro state, more than two-thirds of hospitalizations are for people younger than 49.S “This is new terrain compared to what’s happened in other countries,” said Daniel Soranz, the former municipal health minister in Rio de Janeiro. “Brazil is a very important country to be looking at.” Analysts say the emerging data suggests many of the problems that have long troubled the developing world — intractable poverty, extreme inequality, fragile health systems — are increasing vulnerability to the disease. In countries with more poverty and fewer resources, people who might have survived elsewhere are instead dying.

South Asian countries ease COVID-19 lockdowns despite sharp rise in infections Ignoring the rapidly increasing number of coronavirus cases and deaths across South Asia, the region’s governments have begun easing lockdown restrictions in a bid to “reopen” the economy. Collectively, the total number of government-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the region to date stands at 229,000—more than 3.5 times the number on May 1. Official fatalities, as of yesterday, stood at 5,290. Alarming as are these figures, they are a vast underestimate of the true extent of the pandemic. The absence of health care infrastructure across the region means that huge numbers of cases are going undetected, and many are dying due to a lack of basic medical care. One indication of the desperate state of health care infrastructure is the disastrously low levels of testing for COVID-19. India has carried out just 2,135 tests per 1 million residents, compared to 2,149 in Pakistan, 1,481 in Bangladesh, 44,200 in the United States, and 59,300 in Russia. All of the region’s governments have failed miserably in providing assistance to the hundreds of millions of impoverished workers and toilers who have lost their jobs and incomes as the result of government anti-COVID-19 lockdowns. Their harrowing plight has been illustrated most graphically in India, where millions of migrant workers who had been left to fend for themselves walked home or attempted to walk home, until they were herded into cramped, makeshift internal refugee camps. Now, the same governments that callously abandoned them are cynically exploiting the masses’ financial destitution and social distress to justify forcing them to return to work under unsafe conditions that will accelerate the spread of the virus in the weeks and months ahead. The social misery confronting the vast majority of the population underscores the incapacity of all factions of South Asia’s reactionary and corrupt bourgeoisie to overcome the legacy of colonialism and imperialist oppression. With 1.93 billion inhabitants, almost one-fourth of the world’s population, South Asia is the most densely populated region in the world. This, along with widespread poverty and ramshackle public health systems, makes the region especially vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19. Ominously, the coronavirus appears to have become entrenched in the slums of some of the region’s biggest cities, including Delhi and Mumbai in India, Karachi in Pakistan and Dhaka in Bangladesh.

China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Warns Coronavirus Is Just Tip of the Iceberg -  Shi Zhengli, a virologist renowned for her work on coronavirus in bats, said in an interview on Chinese state television that viruses being discovered now are “just the tip of the iceberg” and called for international cooperation in the fight against epidemics. Known as China’s “bat woman,” the deputy director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology said research into viruses needs scientists and governments to be transparent and cooperative, and that it is “very regrettable” when science is politicized.“If we want to prevent human beings from suffering from the next infectious disease outbreak, we must go in advance to learn of these unknown viruses carried by wild animals in nature and give early warnings,” Shi told CGTN. “If we don’t study them there will possibly be another outbreak.”Her interview with TV channel CGTN coincided with the start of the National People’s Congress, an annual meeting of China’s top leadership in Beijing. This year’s NPC comes as the country’s relationship with the U.S. turns increasingly frayed, with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo both saying the coronavirus sweeping the world is likely linked to the Wuhan laboratory. China has rejected the accusations. Shi has said that the genetic characteristics of the viruses she’s worked with didn’t match those of the coronavirus spreading in humans. In a social media post, she wrote she would “swear on my life” the pandemic had nothing to do with her lab. In another interview with CGTN over the weekend, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Wang Yanyi, said the idea that the virus escaped from the lab was “pure fabrication.”The outbreak has infected more than 5.4 million people worldwide and killed over 345,000.

India among 10 worst-hit Covid-19 nations even as air travel resumes - India on Monday (May 25) posted its biggest single-day jump in cases of Covid-19, overtaking Iran to become one of the 10 worst-hit nations, even as the government allowed domestic air travel to restart.India reported another 6,977 cases, taking its total to 138,845, according to government data, despite the world's longest lockdown imposed in March by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Total deaths have passed 4,000.The rise in new cases came as some businesses and travel reopened under a new phase of thenational coronavirus lockdown.Some passengers and crew members scheduled to board a flight on Monday at New Delhi airport said the mood at the terminal was sombre as security forces implemented strict social distancing norms and passengers donned masks.While the federal government has not insisted that passengers be quarantined after their flights, some states have implemented their own quarantine measures, creating confusion among travellers."Flying to meet my family almost feels like I am entering a war zone. It's the mask and gloves that add to the stress," said Mr Subham Dey, an engineer travelling to the north-eastern state of Assam.Indian Railways also said it would run an additional 2,600 special trains in the next 10 days to help nearly 3.5 million stranded migrant workers get to their homes.

 Indonesia experiences major surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases - Over the past week, there has been a dramatic spike in Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus case figures. Every day since last Wednesday has witnessed over 500 new cases, with new daily records set on Thursday (973) and Saturday (949). The number of nationwide infections now stands at 23,165 with 1,418 deaths. This surge has taken place amid a widespread mass exodus from the major cities to the countryside, drawn out over the past two months. This has resulted in formerly isolated rural areas now becoming COVID-19 hotspots. Confronted with financial ruin and potential starvation in the cities, Indonesian workers have fled en masse, since partial lockdown measures were first adopted in April, to live with their relatives in the country, where subsistence agriculture still prevails. Another driving force has been Idul Fitri, a religious holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Traditionally, Idul Fitri is celebrated by the congregation of families across the country, resulting in an annual mass exodus, or mudik . Even though tens of millions were expected to return home to the countryside, posing the risk of a catastrophic transmission of the virus, the Widodo administration refused for weeks to implement transport restrictions. When a “ mudik ban” was finally announced on April 21, it consisted of little more than a government recommendation to stay at home. By this time, hundreds of thousands in Java alone had already migrated from the cities, which had become centres of viral infection. In only eight days in late March, for example, more than 14,000 passengers travelled on almost 900 buses from capital city Jakarta to Wonogiri regency in Central Java. Similar numbers journeyed to West Java over the same period. Even as recently as mid-May, Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta was thronged with travellers desperate to catch a flight home, as public transportation was allowed to resume 50 percent of its capacity. Throughout the last two weeks, thousands have been passing daily through the port of Merak, the main gateway between Java and Sumatra islands. The government’s mixed messages and sheer indifference to the danger of the virus have found their reflection in scenes emerging from the Indonesian press of overcrowded markets and shopping malls during Idul Fitri, which took place last weekend. Markets and retail stores were permitted to remain open through the holiday season.  More broadly, the government’s delayed, ineffective and negligent response to the coronavirus pandemic has been characterised by a persistent prioritisation of the security of the stock market and financial sector over the safety of the working and rural masses.

Meet Rural Health Volunteers, the Unsung Heroes on Virus Frontline — As soon as a woman in her rural community registered a high fever, Auntie Arun alerted the local hospital doctors, who soon arrived in at least three cars, prepped to transport a COVID-19 patient.Fortunately enough, the woman did not have the coronavirus, and the Moo 11 village in Nong Khai province remains free of the pandemic. Auntie Arun, or Arunrat Rukthin, 60, said she plans to keep it that way. Arun is not a doctor, but a member of the nationwide Village Health Volunteers, known by their Thai acronym Aor Sor Mor – the unsung heroes on the frontline to monitor and protect residents from the coronavirus. They are also credited as one of the reasons why COVID-19 figures in Thailand stayed relatively low.“We’re very ready, every village, subdistrict, district. We know everyone, who’s living where. We knock on doors, ask where people travelled to, and give our numbers to them so they can call. We distribute pamphlets about COVID and washing hands, and stick them up on doors,” Auntie Arun said. The volunteers act as middlemen between rural residents and health officials, conveying medical facts and doctors’ orders to neighbors they’ve known all their lives. Their job is to knock on doors to check temperatures, as well as educating locals about hand-washing and social distancing.

South Australia records first new coronavirus case in 19 days amid easing restrictions - ABC News - South Australia has recorded its first COVID-19 case in 19 days — an overseas traveller who was given an exemption from quarantine. SA Health said the woman, aged in her 50s, had travelled from the United Kingdom to Victoria where she had been quarantined in a hotel for less than a week, before travelling to South Australia. She was given an exemption to fly to South Australia for "compelling family reasons" and was tested on arrival at Adelaide Airport. Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the woman is now isolated and there is "no further risk" to anybody in South Australia. Dr Spurrier said the woman had a "significant number" of contacts in South Australia, who would be followed up on. However, all of those people were associated with her flight and her time at Adelaide Airport, and the woman had not been "freely moving around" the state.

Yemen was facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Then the coronavirus hit  -- Even before the virus’ arrival, Yemen was grappling with “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” as a result of a civil war now grinding into its sixth year, says Jens Laerke, a spokesperson at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Yemen has 3.6 million internally displaced people, scores of attacks have left half of the nation’s medical facilities in tatters, and a cholera outbreak has sickened some 2.3 million Yemenis, killing nearly 4000. The United Nations classifies nearly one-quarter of the population of 30 million as malnourished. And now, after staging massive aid operations in Yemen over the past few years, the United Nations is running out of cash as donations from member countries—busy battling COVID-19 on their own turf—dry up. “Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue” the relief work, the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and other U.N. agencies write in an urgent call to donors issued today. “COVID-19 could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” says Abdulwahed Al-Serouri, technical adviser to the Yemen Field Epidemiology Training Program run by the health ministry in Sana’a. Yemen reported its first COVID-19 case on 10 April in a port town in Hadhramout governorate; authorities closed schools days later, and mosques posted signs asking people to pray 1 meter apart. Official case numbers remain low: As of 27 May, the country had reported 253 cases and 50 deaths. That’s hard to square with reports of mass graves being dug in Aden, the capital. On 21 May, Doctors Without Borders reported at least 68 people had died from the virus at its facility in Aden alone, and that scores more were dying at home. In Sana’a, the former capital where Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, have set up their own government, the rebel health ministry has so far reported just four COVID-19 cases. But Al-Serouri says there are unofficial reports of hundreds of laboratory-confirmed cases. The rival health ministries in Aden and Sana’a “each accuse the other of lying about the extent of COVID-19 in the areas they control,” says Hakeem Al-Jawfy, a critical care and respiratory specialist at Al Thawra Modern General Hospital. Altaf Musani, an epidemiologist who heads WHO’s office in Yemen, says one problem is that official tallies only reflect severely ill patients in COVID-19 isolation wards. People with mild or moderate symptoms—not to mention asymptomatic individuals—are simply not getting tested.  The fuse for a calamity has been lit. “We have at least nine clusters showing active transmission in the south,” Musani says. Earlier this week, during a monthlong ceasefire in much of the country, revelers celebrating Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, thronged markets. “Many people are going about their lives unconcerned and unaware of danger,” says Abdul Rahman Al-Azraqi, a physician and former hospital manager in Taiz.

 Did Japan Just Beat the Virus Without Lockdowns Or Mass Testing? -  Japan’s state of emergency is set to end with new cases of the coronavirus dwindling to mere dozens. It got there despite largely ignoring the default playbook.No restrictions were placed on residents’ movements, and businesses from restaurants to hairdressers stayed open. No high-tech apps that tracked people’s movements were deployed. The country doesn’t have a center for disease control. And even as nations were exhorted to “test, test, test,” Japan has tested just 0.2% of its population -- one of the lowest rates among developed countries.Yet the curve has been flattened, with deaths well below 1,000, by far the fewest among the Group of Seven developed nations. In Tokyo, its dense center, cases have dropped to single digits on most days. While the possibility of a more severe second wave of infection is ever-present, Japan has entered and is set to leave its emergency in just weeks, with the status lifted already for most of the country and Tokyo and the remaining four other regions set to exit Monday.Analyzing just how Japan defied the odds and contained the virus while disregarding the playbook used by other successful countries has become a national conversation. Only one thing is agreed upon: that there was no silver bullet, no one factor that made the difference. “Just by looking at death numbers, you can say Japan was successful,” said Mikihito Tanaka, a professor at Waseda University specializing in science communication, and a member of a public advisory group of experts on the virus. “But even experts don’t know the reason.” One widely shared list assembled 43 possible reasons cited in media reports, ranging from a culture of mask-wearing and a famously low obesity rate to the relatively early decision to close schools. Among the more fanciful suggestions include a claim Japanese speakers emit fewer potentially virus-laden droplets when talking compared to other languages. Experts consulted by Bloomberg News also suggested a myriad of factors that contributed to the outcome, and none could point to a singular policy package that could be replicated in other countries.Nonetheless, these measures still offer long-term lessons for countries in the middle of pandemic that may yet last for years.An early grassroots response to rising infections was crucial. While the central government has been criticized for its slow policy steps, experts praise the role of Japan’s contact tracers, which swung into action after the first infections were found in January. The fast response was enabled by one of Japan’s inbuilt advantages -- its public health centers, which in 2018 employed more than half of 50,000 public health nurses who are experienced in infection tracing. In normal times, these nurses would be tracking down more common infections such as influenza and tuberculosis. “It’s very analog -- it’s not an app-based system like Singapore,” said Kazuto Suzuki, a professor of public policy at Hokkaido University who has written about Japan’s response. “But nevertheless, it has been very useful.”

FDA Announces Temporary Flexibility Policy Regarding Certain Labeling Requirements for Foods for Humans During COVID-19 Pandemic - FDA - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is issuing a guidance document to provide additional temporary flexibility in food labeling requirements to manufacturers and vending machine operators. The goal is to provide regulatory flexibility, where appropriate, to help minimize the impact of supply chain disruptions on product availability associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic.Entitled “Temporary Policy Regarding Certain Food Labeling Requirements During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Minor Formulation Changes and Vending Machines,” this guidance is one of several the FDA has issued to provide temporary flexibility to the food industry to help support the food supply chain and meet consumer demand during the pandemic.First, the FDA is providing flexibility for manufacturers to make minor formulation changes in certain circumstances without making conforming label changes, such as making a change to product ingredients, without updating the ingredient list on the packaged food when such a minor change is made. For purposes of this guidance, minor formulation changes should be consistent with the general factors listed below, as appropriate:

  • Safety: the ingredient being substituted for the labeled ingredient does not cause any adverse health effect (including food allergens, gluten, sulfites, or other foods known to cause sensitivities in some people, for example, glutamates);   
  • Quantity: generally present at 2 percent or less by weight of the finished food;
  • Prominence: the ingredient being omitted or substituted for the labeled ingredient is not a major ingredient in the product;
  • Characterizing Ingredient: the ingredient being omitted or substituted for the labeled ingredient is not a characterizing ingredient; for example, omitting raisins, a characterizing ingredient in raisin bread; 
  • Claims: an omission or substitution of the ingredient does not affect any voluntary nutrient content or health claims on the label;  and
  • Nutrition/Function: an omission or substitution of the labeled ingredient does not have a significant impact on the finished product, including nutritional differences or functionality.

Specific examples are contained in the guidance. For example, an ingredient could be temporarily reduced or omitted (e.g. green peppers) from a vegetable quiche that contains small amounts of multiple vegetables without a change in the ingredient list on the label.  Substitution of certain oils may temporarily be appropriate without a label change, such as canola oil for sunflower oil, because they contain similar types of fats.

 Tiny bugs squirming out of strawberries gross out TikTok users --A new viral trend has TikTok users soaking strawberries in saltwater — and then expressing shock as tiny worms emerge from the fruit. “Apparently if you wash your strawberries in water and salt, all the bugs will come out — which, I didn’t even know there were bugs in there,” says TikTok user Seleste Radcliffe in a video, dumping a box of strawberries into a bowl of salted water. “Look at that, look at that,” she says, zooming the camera in on suddenly moving specks on the otherwise healthy-looking strawberries.“After nearly 25 years of living, TikTok taught me how to properly wash strawberries,” writes Lauren Mackenzie Gambrell on Facebook. “They are FILLED with tiny bugs and tons of dirt!” Her post, which includes photos of dirty water left over from soaking her berries, has racked up more than 11,000 likes. “Enjoy your clean strawberries y’all,” she cheerily concludes. “You are not gonna believe what actually came out of mine,” says TikTok user Krista Torres in a caption for her strawberry-cleaning video. “I am so disgusted right now,” she says, holding up a strawberry soaked in salt water for 30 minutes with small bugs now visible on it.  According to Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Washington state, the little critters that people are outing on social media are fruit-fly larvae. The bug lays its eggs on berries and cherries as they ripen, often giving the spot a slight dark mark. While the bugs’ presence may seem gross, the company says that “the fruit will not hurt you if it has a little extra protein.”   That’s backed up by the Food and Drug Administration, which includes them in the category of “unavoidable defects.” The FDA adds that “it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring” specimens like the visitors that are bugging out strawberry lovers.

Lyme Disease Symptoms Could Be Mistaken for COVID-19, With Serious Consequences - Summer is field season for ecologists like me, a time when my colleagues, students and I go out into fields and woods in search of ticks to study the patterns and processes that allow disease-causing microbes – primarily bacteria and viruses – to spread among wildlife and humans.That field work means we're also at risk of getting the very diseases we study. I always remind my crew members to pay close attention to their health. If they get a fever or any other signs of sickness, they should seek medical treatment immediately and tell their doctor that they may have been exposed to ticks. When summer flu-like illnesses develop in anyone who spends time outdoors in areas where ticks are common, tick-transmitted diseases like Lyme disease should be considered a likely culprit. This summer, however, the global emergence of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 is presenting a whole new set of challenges for diagnosing Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.Lyme disease shares a number of symptoms with COVID-19, including fever, achiness and chills. Anyone who mistakes Lyme disease for COVID-19 could unknowingly delay necessary medical treatment, and that can lead to severe, potentially debilitating symptoms. In some cases, there are key symptoms of a tick-transmitted disease that can help with diagnosis. For example, early Lyme disease, which is caused by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, sometimes called the deer tick, is commonly associated with an expanding "bull's-eye rash." Seventy percent to 80% of patients have this symptom. However, other symptoms of Lyme disease – fever, head and body aches and fatigue – are less distinctive and can be easily confused with other illnesses, including COVID-19. This can make it more difficult to diagnose a patient who did not notice a rash or was unaware that they ever had a tick bite. As a result, Lyme disease cases can be misdiagnosed. Nationally, Lyme disease may be undercounted to the point that onlyone in 10 cases is reported to the CDC.

CDC Warns Of "Unusual Or Aggressive Rodent Behavior" Due COVID Lockdowns - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a new warning that rats across the country are becoming hangry as they scavenge for food amid the closure of restaurants triggered by COVID-19 lockdowns. "Community-wide closures have led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas. Some jurisdictions have reported an increase in rodent activity as rodents search for new sources of food. Environmental health and rodent control programs may see an increase in service requests related to rodents and reports of unusual or aggressive rodent behavior," the CDC warning read. The CDC said some regions have reported "an increase in rodent activity" and cautioned about their aggressive behavior. An urban rodentologist recently said NYC rats have become hostile and are resorting to cannibalism as food becomes scarce with restaurants closed. "All of a sudden New York City to some degree is cleaner than ever before," said urban rodentologist Bobby Corrigan. "You end up with this group of disoriented, stressed rats foraging about."And it's not just NYC rats posing problems amid the virus pandemic, Washington, D.C., saw an explosion of calls to the city about rat problems between March and April. Baltimore saw nearly 11,000 calls or online 311 requests about rats during the same period. Stressed-out and aggressive rats in major US cities could become a regular occurrence until the rat population normalizes, considering our report from several weeks ago that suggests 25% of U.S. restaurants will go out of business.

Millions of Cicadas Set to Emerge After 17 Years Underground -As many parts of the planet continue to open their doors after pandemic closures, a new pest is expected to make its way into the world. After spending more than a decade underground, millions of cicadas are expected to emerge in regions of the southeastern U.S.The scale of the emergence events is "astounding," according to Virginia Tech. Experts note that people living in Virginia, West Virginia and in parts of North Carolina are now set to see their hatch in the earlier part of the summer as an estimated 1.5 million insects per acre of land emerge from the soil, reports BBC. This "unique natural phenomenon" has not occurred in the region since 2003."Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue,"said Eric Day, Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist in Virginia Tech's Department of Entomology in theCollege of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "Hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent — and amazing — this event is."  It comes after roughly a billion cicadas took over parts of the northeastern U.S. in 2016, reported EcoWatch at the time. The group of insects is made up of roughly 15 "broods," with Brood IX emerging this year following a Brood V emergence four years ago.  Cicadas are some of the longest-lived insects in the world, yet they spend most of their lives underground as part of their nymph stage, feeding off of roots for periods lasting between 13 and 17 years before emerging from the soil through mud tubes known as "cicada huts."  After their surfacing, the insects live outside of the ground for around a month and though they are not harmful to humans — and can actually serve as an important source of food for animals — they can wreak havoc on important crops, vines and saplings, according to a fact sheet provided by Virginia Cooperative Extension."Cicadas can occur in overwhelming numbers and growers in predicted areas of activity should be watchful,"said Doug Pfeiffer, a professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Entomology. The dramatic timeline is short-lived. Cicada egg-laying takes place over the course of about four to six weeks before the generation dies off. Entomologists at Virginia Tech suggest that tree growers wait a year or two before major emergence events before planting new trees as existing treatment options, such as netting or sprays, don't have a large effect on the bugs.

Climate Crisis Brings India's Worst Locust Invasion in Decades - India is facing its worst desert locust invasion in nearly 30 years, and the climate crisis is partly to blame.  The locusts spawned a swarm of social media posts Monday when they entered the city of Jaipur, as The Indian Express reported, but the crop-devouring insects have been wreaking havoc since May in an invasion that both began earlier and is extending farther than usual. Several farmers told The Wire that they hadn't seen an invasion this severe in their lifetimes. "Even my father, who is 86, said he hasn't ever seen anything like this. Only heard about this in folk tales," 64-year-old Madhya Pradesh farmer Sooraj Pandey told The Wire.   Locusts are not uncommon in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, but this year they have also entered the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh for the first time since 1993 and the state of Maharashtra for the first time since 1974. They also do not usually move so far into Rajasthan from the border with Pakistan, according to AFP reporting published by Al Jazeera. So far, the insects have devoured almost 50,000 hectares or 123,500 acres of agricultural land in seven Indian states, The Associated Press reported, putting pressure on farmers already struggling with the impacts of the coronavirus lockdown. The government has responded with pesticides, drones and sprayers mounted on vehicles, while farmers have resorted to banging plates, whistling and throwing stones to drive the locusts away. "These insects are giving us sleepless nights. We are more worried about them than the virus,"  A swarm of 40 million locusts can cover the space of a square kilometer (approximately 0.4 square miles) and eat the same as 35,000 people in a day, according to UN Food and Agricultural Organization data reported by The Wire. Unusually large locust swarms bred on the Arabian Peninsula in early 2019 following heavy rains and cyclones in the region, according to AFP. Those ideal breeding conditions were the product of the climate crisis, as warmer than usual temperatures in the western Indian Ocean fueled the storms. "These warm waters were caused by the phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole — with warmer than usual waters to its west, and cooler waters to its east. Rising temperatures due to global warming amplified the dipole and made the western Indian Ocean particularly warm," Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology climate scientist Roxy Mathew Koll told The Wire. The locusts have already caused significant damage in East Africa earlier in 2020 before migrating to India through Iran and Pakistan.

India’s heartland states battle the worst locust attack in 27 years: What does it mean for the economy -- Even as the global coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh are faced with locust attack that poses a threat to the outstanding crops.

  • Gujarat and Punjab have also warned the farmers of locust attacks
  • Scientists have attributed the May round of locust attack to a number of cyclones in the Indian ocean that hit a sandy area in the Arabian peninsula, which created breeding conditions for the locusts
  • Locusts can destroy standing crops and devastate livelihoods of people in the agricultural supply chain
  • After Pakistan declared a national emergency in February to battle locusts destroying crops on a large scale in Punjab province, now India is battling the desert locusts in the country’s heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Gujarat and Punjab have also warned the farmers of locust attacks. The locusts which bred and matured in Iran and Pakistan’s Balochistan reached Rajasthan.

In Rajasthan, 16 districts are affected, in UP 17 and Madhya Pradesh has reported one of the worst attacks in 27 years. The swarms could make headway to the Rajasthan-Haryana border and then enter Delhi. Four teams of the central government and teams of state agricultural development are using chemical sprays with the help of tractors and fire-brigade vehicles to keep the locusts at bay.This is the second round of locust attack in India after the December-February period when teams were deployed to spray organophosphate to kill the pests. Scientists have attributed the second round to a number of cyclones in the Indian ocean that hit a sandy area in the Arabian peninsula, which created breeding conditions for the locusts.Locusts attacks in India usually last till November but this year the swarms stayed till February which scientists believe was due to the climate crisis. Last year’s extended monsoon, which began six weeks earlier in July in western India and lasted till November, produced natural vegetation for locusts to feed on and created ideal breeding conditions.

 East Africa: Millions face triple disasters of floods, locusts and COVID-19 - Millions face a terrible struggle to survive following the worst floods in East Africa for 40 years. The torrential rains are also providing the ideal conditions for breeding a new generation of locust swarms as early as next month, threatening the region’s food supply, and exacerbating the difficulties in combatting the spread of the coronavirus. Mudslides and the bursting of riverbanks releasing thousands of litres of water have swept away homes, washed away bridges and roads and strained critical infrastructure, forcing many to take refuge in makeshift camps or schools. This increases the risk of COVID-19 spreading. The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned of a further increase in rainfall. The floods have killed some 300 people—a number that could rise as water-borne diseases, such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid take their toll. At least 1.3 million people have been affected and nearly 500,000 displaced, mostly in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda, but also in Djibouti, Burundi and Tanzania. Even before the floods, East Africa had 10.8 million forcibly displaced people and 22.5 million severely food insecure people. The recent heavy rains come on the back of an above-average “short rains” season at the end of last year, driven by the strongest positive Indian Ocean Dipole since 2016, which affected at least 3.4 million people across Eastern Africa and caused water bodies across the region to swell. With water levels rising in multiple locations across the region, rivers have burst their banks and lakes have overflowed. Some 40 million people living in major cities, including Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda and Kisumu in Kenya, are at a heightened risk of flooding and infrastructure damage as Lake Victoria received nearly double its usual rainfall to reach a record high of 13.42 metres, the highest in 120 years. The floods have already damaged Uganda’s power plant on Lake Victoria and could lead to a loss of more homes. As the great lake is also the source of the White Nile that flows through South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, the increase in water levels could lead to flooding in these countries. The floods bring the threat of another locust swarm that would strip the region’s food supplies—a swarm can consume 200 tonnes of vegetation in one day—under conditions where the rains have already affected crops and food prices, leaving up to 20 million people at risk of famine. Local markets, where subsistence farmers sold their produce, have been closed due to a breakdown of supply chains or as a precaution against the spread of the virus.

Gang Of Monkeys Attacks Lab Assistant, Escapes With Coronavirus Test Samples -- A gang of monkeys in Delhi, India assaulted a laboratory assistant and escaped with coronavirus test samples from three patients, according to Sky News, citing local media. The incident happened near Meerut Medical College. According to the report, one of the monkeys was later spotted in a tree chewing one of the sample collection kits, the Times of India reported - which noted that the patients required new tests.It is the latest example of the highly intelligent, red-faced rhesus macaques taking advantage of India's nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus.While they have proved an increasing problem in urban areas of the country in recent years, lockdown measures in the last two months have emboldened the monkeys. Reports have shown them congregating in parts of Delhi normally crowded with humans.Sky In March we noted that rival monkey gangs in Thailand - driven by starvation due to a lack of visitors amid the pandemic - have been roving the streets looking for food. The ferocity of the animals shocked even locals, who are used to seeing the monkeys on a daily basis. One onlooker who captured video of the monkeys said: "They looked more like wild dogs than monkeys. They went crazy for the single piece of food. I've never seen them this aggressive," according to the Daily Mail.Hundreds of hungry monkeys swarm across Thai street as 'rival gangs' fight over food after tourists who normally feed them stay away because of coronavirus— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) March 12, 2020 According to the Sky report, people have been advised not to feed monkeys during the pandemic over fears that doing so could cause the disease to mutate and infect primates. If that happened, it could have a devastating impact."The point is, we have very little understanding of the virus, and it is better to limit our interactions with wildlife till there is more research done on its effects on non-human primates and other animal species," a senior biologist from the Tamil Nadu Forest Department previously told The Hindu.

Study: Hunters Kills Birds During Their Annual Migrations Through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway - The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted widespread damage worldwide: people are suffering from a novel illness, while economies are collapsing as public health authorities sequester us in our homes and shut down social and commercial activity. Yet  widespread lockdowns have also given nature a temporary breather, allowing us to see anew the natural life that surrounds us and reflect on the damage  ‘normal life’  inflicts on the environment, as I wrote in, COVID-19 Lockdowns: Birds Singing, Flamingoes Flocking, Dolphins Dancing, Cleaner Air and Water.Last week saw publication of a new study in the journal Biological Conservation attempting to asses the effect hunting has on biodiversity, by examining data from the migation of shorebirds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), Extent and potential impact of hunting on migratory shorebirds in the Asia-Pacific. The previous popular explanation for the declining populations of birds, particularly shorebirds, along the EAAF was habit destruction. Yet the problem has previously received scant systematic scientific attention: the distances covered as these birds migrate are vast, and their migration routes, though differing among species, all nonetheless traverse several countries – many of which have scant resources to devote to scientific study, and the hunting records are poor. Bird migrations that cross through Europe, and the Americas, are much more closely monitored, and somewhat better understood.  The U.S. has protected these its migrating birds via statute and treaty, beginning with Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, implementing a 1916 treaty with  Canada, and extending to include further treaties with Mexico (1936), Japan (1972), and Russia (1976).  But many parts of Asia have yet to progress to conservation of their migrating birds or their habitat. Even if protective statutes exist they lack necessary resources to enforce them.

 Trump Rollback Allows Hunters to Kill Bears and Wolves in Their Dens -- In another reversal of Obama-era regulations, the Trump administration is having the National Park Service rescind a 2015 order that protected bears and wolves within protected lands.The new rule, remarkable in its cruelty, will allow hunters to shoot bears, wolves, along with their cubs and pups while the animals are in their dens in the popular Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It also puts ends a ban on some nefarious practices like luring bears with doughnuts, according to The Guardian.Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities, told The Guardian that the rule change is "amazingly cruel" and said it was "just the latest in a string of efforts to reduce protections for America's wildlife at the behest of oil companies and trophy hunters."The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued separate statements that their actions are designed to align federal and state law, according to the Anchorage Daily News. The National Park Service manages 10 preserves in the state, including Denali National Park and Preserve. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge lies west of the park.   NPS Alaska spokesperson Pete Christian told Alaska Public Media that although practices like killing bears and wolves in dens go against the Park Service's mission, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which created or expanded many of Alaska's national preserves, grants the state management authority."It supercedes, to some extent, the NPS Organic Act and some of our regular management policies, and so the parks up here were designed to have preserve units in them which allow for hunting and trapping as per state law," Christian said.The Park Service decision to defer to the state is the latest move in a legal conflict around who has ultimate authority over the protected lands. The conflict dates back to 2015, when the Obama administration initially banned certain state-permitted predator harvests on Alaska's preserve lands, as Alaska Public Mediareported.

Deadly livestock disease may have spread through infected bull semen | Science - An epidemic of bluetongue disease that has ravaged European sheep and cattle since 2015 may have been caused by infected semen used in cattle breeding, New Scientist reports. Researchers wrote in PLOS Biology yesterday that the genome of the virus is remarkably similar to samples from a previous epidemic that cost farmers billions, before vaccinations ended it in 2010. The virus can spread through biting midges and artificial insemination; the genetic similarity of the new sample suggests the use of infected cattle semen, kept in a freezer for years, could have sparked the new epidemic, the researchers write. They add that transmission probably happened accidentally within France, as regulations require testing semen for the virus whenever it is shipped between countries.

“Superpower” Discovered in Squids: They Can Massively Edit Their Own Genetics  - Revealing yet another super-power in the skillful squid, scientists have discovered that squid massively edit their own genetic instructions not only within the nucleus of their neurons, but also within the axon — the long, slender neural projections that transmit electrical impulses to other neurons. This is the first time that edits to genetic information have been observed outside of the nucleus of an animal cell. The study, led by Isabel C. Vallecillo-Viejo and Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole, is published this week in Nucleic Acids Research. The discovery provides another jolt to the central dogma of molecular biology, which states that genetic information is passed faithfully from DNA to messenger RNA to the synthesis of proteins. In 2015, Rosenthal and colleagues discovered that squid “edit” their messenger RNA instructions to an extraordinary degree – orders of magnitude more than humans do — allowing them to fine-tune the type of proteins that will be produced in the nervous system. “But we thought all the RNA editing happened in the nucleus, and then the modified messenger RNAs are exported out to the cell,” says Rosenthal, senior author on the present study. “Now we are showing that squid can modify the RNAs out in the periphery of the cell. That means, theoretically, they can modify protein function to meet the localized demands of the cell. That gives them a lot of latitude to tailor the genetic information, as needed.” The team also showed that messenger RNAs are edited in the nerve cell’s axon at much higher rates than in the nucleus.

Squids’ Gene-Editing Superpowers May Unlock Human Cures - Gene-editing techniques like Crispr-based technologies aim to cure human disease by altering the genetic code of our DNA. For nearly every animal on Earth, any changes made to the DNA are transmitted from the cell nucleus by messenger RNA to the cytoplasm, the part of the cell that makes proteins. But one animal species—a squid used as bait by fishermen, and as food by bigger sea creatures—has already figured out how to edit its genetic code in a way that may help scientists working on gene editing-based drugs and treatments. Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and their colleagues reported on Monday in the journal Nucleic Acids Research that longfin inshore squid (Doryteuthis pealeii) are the first known animals that can edit messenger RNA outside the cell nucleus. MBL senior scientist Joshua Rosenthal, an author on the new paper, says this unusual method of editing messenger RNA likely has something to do with the squid’s behavior in the ocean. “It works by this massive tweaking of its nervous system,” Rosenthal adds. “Which is a really novel way of going through life.” All organisms do some form of RNA editing. In humans, some disorders have been linked to malfunctions of RNA editing, such as the sporadic form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. RNA editing also plays a role in immunity, and some studies in fruit flies show that it may help them adapt to changing temperatures. But the squid does this RNA editing on a massive scale. More than 60,000 brain cells undertake this recoding process in squid, as compared with a few hundred sites in humans. Rosenthal and colleagues from Tel Aviv University and the University of Colorado at Denver found that RNA editing takes place in the squid’s axon, the stretched-out region of the brain cell that transmits electrical signals to nearby neurons. This is an important finding because squid nerve cells are immense, with axons sometimes stretching several feet long. By editing their RNA outside the nucleus, the squid can potentially change protein function much closer to the part of the body that needs an adaptation.

Improve water supply in poorer nations to cut plastic use, say experts -- Focusing on improving the water supply in developing nations could be a powerful way to fight the scourge of plastic waste in the oceans, experts have said, highlighting that the issue has received little attention.People in developing countries, and many middle-income countries, often rely on plastic bottles of water as their piped water supply can be contaminated or unsafe, or perceived as such.Hundreds of billions of plastic water bottles are produced each year. In rich countries, they are a thoughtless luxury, but in many poor and emerging economies people have few alternatives.“It is an issue, as the water supply system has problems with water quality in many countries,” said Brajesh Dubey, professor of civil engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, co-author of a new “blue paper” on the problem of plastic waste in the oceans.“The obvious solution is building a safe water supply infrastructure which ensures quality supply.”The extent of the growing plague of plastic waste in our oceans has been laid bare in recent years, prompting widespread calls for action around the world. Cleaning up plastic waste that is already in the sea has been one of the main areas of focus so far.This is necessary to remove the menace to marine life, but methods of preventing plastic waste from reaching the ocean in the first place must also take priority, according to the report published on Wednesday.Its key recommendations are to improve wastewater and stormwater management, and to build local systems for safe food and water which would remove the need for plastic bottles.

Pandemic piles pressure on world's shrinking forests  - Forests face an increased risk of being cut down and degraded as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, a senior U.N. official said on Friday.For millions of poor people who have lost casual work in cities and are returning to their homes in rural areas, "the only social safety net they have is the waters, the land and the forest", Mette Wilkie told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  That makes it more likely trees will be felled for food and fuel because a third of the world's people still depend on wood to cook, said Wilkie, director of the forestry division at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).The warning came as the FAO and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched "The State of the World's Forests 2020" report, on the International Day for Biological Diversity.Here are 10 key facts from the report:

  • 1. The emergence of new infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, may be linked to forest loss and humans moving into forest areas, exposing people to wildlife and facilitating the transition of viruses from animals to humans.
  • 2. Between 2015 and 2020, the world lost an estimated 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) of forests per year, down from an annual 16 million hectares in the 1990s. While deforestation has slowed, progress has been uneven, with population growth driving a rise in Africa.
  • 3. Since 1990, an estimated 420 million hectares of forest have been lost, more than three times the size of South Africa.
  • 4. Farm expansion is the main driver of tropical deforestation, with 40% coming from large-scale agriculture - mainly cattle ranching and planting of soy bean and oil palm. A third is from small-scale farming.
  • 5. Forests cover only 31% of the global land area but are home to 80% of all amphibian species, 75% of bird species, and 68% of mammal species.
  • 6. More than half the world's forests are located in only five countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China.
  • 7. Forests provide essential services human rely on. Three-quarters of accessible fresh water comes from forested watersheds, and 35% of global food production benefits from animal pollination.
  • 8. Around the world, 1 billion people depend on wild foods and 2.4 billion use wood for cooking, while more than nine out of 10 people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for at least part of their livelihoods.
  • 9. Areas managed by indigenous peoples account for about 28% of the world's land surface and include some of its most ecologically intact forests.
  • 10. Globally, 18% of forest areas are protected, but natural reserves are not sufficient to conserve biodiversity. They tend to be small, making it hard for species to migrate, and are vulnerable to climate change.

Human Activity Is Making Forests Shorter and Younger, Study Finds -More than a third of the world's old growth forests died between 1900 and 2015, a new study has found. In the study, published in Science Friday, nearly two dozen scientists used satellite data combined with more than 160 previous studies to show that deforestation and the climate crisis are killing off older, taller trees and leaving forests younger and shorter, National Geographic explained. And the trend is likely to continue. "We will see fewer forests," University of Wisconsin forest ecologist and study coauthor Monica Turner told National Geographic. "There will be areas where there are forests now where there won't be in the future." The study was led by Nate McDowell of the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), who explained why this change was such a big deal. "A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to," he said in a PNNL press release. "Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests and they store more carbon than young forests."Old growth tree loss is being driven by a number of factors, many of them linked to the climate crisis in some way. Warmer temperatures limit photosynthesis, both stunting and killing trees. Increased droughts both kill trees directly and lead to attacks by insect pests. Wildfires and infestations by insects, fungi and choking vines are all on the rise. Humans have also killed old growth trees more directly by chopping them down. These factors combine to alter forest makeup, PNNL explained: Known as deforestation, the phenomenon has led to an imbalance of three important characteristics of a diverse and thriving forest: (1) recruitment, which is the addition of new seedlings to a community; (2) growth, the net increase in biomass or carbon; and (3) mortality, the death of forest trees. While previous scientists had predicted increased carbon dioxide would lead to more tree growth, McDowell's team found this was only the case in younger forests with lots of nutrients and water. Otherwise, he explained to National Geographic, hotter temperatures reduce moisture, causing trees to shed leaves and close pores to retain water, which makes it harder for them to absorb carbon dioxide.

Indonesia Revokes Ending Legality License for Wood Exports - The Indonesian government has backed down from a decision to scrap its timber legality verification process for wood export, amid criticism from activists and the prospect of being shut out of the lucrative European market.  On May 11, the Ministry of Trade issued a regulation revoking its decision from February to no longer require Indonesian timber companies to obtain export licenses that certify the wood comes from legal sources. That earlier decision caught environmental activists, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and even timber businesses by surprise, prompting a widespread outcry.  Sulistyawati, the trade ministry's director of forestry product exports, said that with the revocation, the export process would go back to the previous system. She said the revocation was in accordance with a request from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.Under the trade ministry's controversial February regulation, which would have taken effect on May 27, exporters would no longer have needed to obtain licenses verifying that their timber and finished wood products come from legal sources. The so-called v-legal ("verified legal") licenses are at the heart of Indonesia's timber legality verification system, or SVLK, which took the country a decade to develop and implement in an effort to tackle illegal logging.The European Union, one of the key markets for Indonesian timber and finished wood products, recognizes the SVLK as the basis for importing timber from Indonesia into its market. Scrapping the standard would havejeopardized exports to the EU, experts warned. Activists were also quick to criticize the move, saying it would open up the black market for illegally logged timber.

Pilbara mining blast confirmed to have destroyed 46,000 yo sites of 'staggering' significance - ABC News - The fears of traditional owners in the western Pilbara, "deeply troubled" after Rio Tinto detonated explosives over the weekend in an area near culturally significant sites dating back more than 46,000 years, have been confirmed. A Rio Tinto spokesperson said blasting in Juukan Gorge occurred over the weekend, and on Tuesday the company confirmed its ancient rock shelters were destroyed. "In 2013, Ministerial consent was granted to allow Rio Tinto to conduct activity at the Brockman 4 mine that would impact Juukan 1 and Juukan 2 rock shelters," the spokesperson said. "[Rio Tinto] has, where practicable, modified its operations to avoid heritage impacts and to protect places of cultural significance to the group." Puutu Kunti Kurrama (PKK) traditional owners said the mining giant had detonated charges in an area of the Juukan Gorge, about 60 kilometres north-west of Tom Price, and feared two ancient, deep time rock shelters would be "decimated" in the blasts.Our people are deeply troubled and saddened by the destruction of these rock shelters and are grieving the loss of connection to our ancestors as well as our land," said John Ashburton, chair of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama Land Committee. "Losing these rock shelters is a devastating blow to the PKK traditional owners." Rio Tinto received permission to conduct the blasts in 2013 under Section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Traditional owners devastated by the loss of the 46,000-year-old cultural site said they only found out about the mining blasts by accident. Burchell Hayes, a Puutu Kunti Kurruma traditional owner, said the group was told the site would be impacted after it asked to visit for upcoming NAIDOC week celebrations.

Extreme weather, more people drive Pakistan toward a wheat crisis - A pattern of unusually heavy rain, hail and wind are driving Pakistan toward a food security crisis, climate experts say, with growing wheat shortages causing flour prices to skyrocket as a booming population pushes up demand. Last year, storms late in the growing season left the national wheat harvest more than a million tonnes below the government's target of 25.5 million tonnes, according to a report by the country's Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security. Storms have both damaged crops in their path and created ideal conditions for plant-killing diseases, such as humidity-linked wheat rust, said Muhammad Riaz, director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department. Surveying a devastated field near Muhammad's farm in Pira Fatehal, Abdul Basit, a field assistant with Punjab's agriculture department, said recent storms had ruined more than half of the crops in the village. "This is an arid area where farmers wait a whole year to harvest a single crop, and if that is destroyed they have no alternative to feed their families," Basit told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More than a third of Pakistan's population of more than 200 million faces food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme. Pakistan's population growth rate of 2.4% is the highest in South Asia and almost double the rate of other countries in the region, according to data from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP). By 2028, the country's demand for wheat is expected to shoot up by about 7 million tonnes, to more than 34 million tonnes, Shah said. A government report published in April said the country's looming wheat crisis was the result of a range of factors, including more erratic weather and mismanagement of exports. The Ministry of National Food Security allowed large wheat exports in 2018 and early 2019, based on an expected bumper crop in 2019, the report found. But that crop damaged by rain and hailstorms, the country was left without the surplus it had counted on, the report said.

Cyclone Amphan loss estimated at $13 bln in India (Reuters) - A powerful cyclone that tore through India's eastern state of West Bengal this week has caused a damage of 1 trillion rupees ($13 billion) to infrastructure and crops, state officials said. Neighbouring Bangladesh, which also fell in Cyclone Amphan's path on Wednesday, initially said it had suffered a loss of 11 billion taka ($130 million). But this could rise, government officials said. The two countries have lost at least 102 people in the cyclone, the most powerful in over a decade, mostly because of house collapses and electrocution. More than 3 million people were evacuated before Amphan made landfall, preventing a large number of deaths. The cyclone has affected more than 13 million people - some losing houses, crops and lands - and over 1.5 million houses have been damaged, two West Bengal government officials told Reuters. In North 24 Parganas, a district in southern West Bengal, 700 villages were flooded and 80,000 people lost their homes, the Times of India newspaper reported. Hundreds of thousands are in relief camps across the state, the officials said, amid concern that lax social distancing norms could fuel a spread of coronavirus cases. In Kolkata, the state capital, authorities struggled to remove debris from roads and clear trees that fell as the cyclone, packing winds of 133 km (83 miles) per hour, pounded the city of 14 million for hours. The cyclone also destroyed farmland in Bangladesh's low-lying coastal areas, damage that will likely endanger livelihoods, non-profit ActionAid said. "Communities need urgent support as they are without basic necessities such as food, clean water and materials to rebuild their homes," Farah Kabir, the country director of ActionAid Bangladesh said.

'We're screwed': The only question is how quickly Louisiana wetlands will vanish, study says - Because of increasing rates of sea level rise fueled by global warming, the remaining 5,800 square miles of Louisiana's coastal wetlands in the Mississippi River delta will disappear. The only question is how quickly it will happen, says a new peer-reviewed study published Friday in Science Advances. “This is a major threat not only to one of the ecologically richest environments of the United States but also for the 1.2 million inhabitants and associated economic assets that are surrounded by Mississippi Delta marshland,” the report concludes. The new study reviewed the rates of sea-level rise that caused wetlands to disappear along Louisiana's coast during the 8,500-year history of the current Mississippi River delta. It found that at rates of relative sea level rise -- the combination of rising water and ground subsidence -- of between 6 and 9 millimeters a year , ancient coastal marshes would turn into open water within 50 years. At rates of 3 millimeters a year, it would take a few centuries. The globally averaged rate of sea-level rise between 2006 and 2015 was about 3.58 millimeters a year, and that doesn't include local subsidence rates along Louisiana's coast. As a result, the state's wetlands already have exceeded a tipping point, the study's authors say. Louisiana Land Loss Animated Map "What it says is we're screwed," said lead author Torbjörn Törnqvist, a Tulane University geology professor, in an interview. "The tipping point has already happened. We have exceeded the threshold from which there is basically no real way back anymore, and there probably won't be a way back for a couple of thousand years."

Oceans Likely to Heat up at Seven Times Their Current Rate, New -- The depths of the oceans are heating up more slowly than the surface and the air, but that will undergo a dramatic shift in the second half of the century, according to a new study. Researchers expect the rate ofclimate change in the deep parts of the oceans could accelerate to seven times their current rate after 2050, as The Guardian reported.The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that different parts of the ocean undergo change at different rates as the extra heat from increasing levels of greenhouse gases moved through the vast ocean depths, making it increasingly tricky for marine life to adapt, according to The Guardian.The researchers saw grim prospects for marine life after looking at a metric called climate velocity, which measures the speed and direction a species shifts as their habitat warms, according to Sky News. The scientists, led by Isaac Brito-Morales, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland in Australia, used data from 11 different climate models to predict what the rest of the 21st century will look like, as Sky News reported. Brito-Morales and his team looked at the past 50 years of data and projections for future greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers looked at future rates of change in three different scenarios, one where emissions start to fall, another where they start to fall by the middle of this century, and a third where emissions continued to rise up to 2100. The study found "a rapid acceleration of climate change exposure throughout the water column" in the second half of the century, as The Guardian reported. So far, ocean water surfaces are experiencing climate velocity about twice the rate of the lower regions. Consequently, life in the depths of the ocean has been less affected than, say, coral, which are much closer to the surface of the water. "However by the end of the century, assuming we have a high-emissions future, there is not only much greater surface warming, but also this warmth will penetrate deeper," said Brito-Morales in a statement. "In waters between a depth of 200 and 1000 meters, our research showed climate velocities accelerated to 11 times the present rate.

 Corals Turn Bright Neon in Last-Ditch Effort to Survive --Viruses, pollution and warming ocean temperatures have plagued corals in recent years. The onslaught of abuse has caused mass bleaching events and threatened the long-term survival of many ocean species. While corals have little chance of surviving through a mass bleaching, a new study found that when corals turn a vibrant neon color, it's in a last-ditch effort to survive, as CBS News reported.Rather than going through a bleaching where the coral turns white, many reef regions around the world have seen coral reefs go through a "colorful bleaching," where the coral turns brilliant hues of bright purple, pink, and orange. The colors appear as a survival technique as the corals face stress from increased ocean temperatures and a lack of nutrients, according to The Independent.The new study led by researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK was published in the journalCurrent Biology. Scientists had first spotted the neon coral a decade ago, but they were stumped as to why the vibrant colors appeared.In coral bleaching, the algae that live in healthy coral try to flee from rising ocean temperatures. Their symbiotic relationship can end if ocean temperatures rise just 1 degree Celsius. The warmer temperatures cause the algae to escape the shelter provided by the coral, leaving behind a bleached skeleton. However, in colorful bleaching events, the coral add an extra protective layer to help them endure difficult ocean conditions. That new layer is made up from pigments similar to the green fluorescent protein that makes some jellyfish glow, according to CNET. The glowing pigment is produced through the algae's interaction with sunlight.

Earth’s Magnetic North Is Moving From Canada to Russia, And We May Finally Know Why  Researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK and the Technical University of Denmark have analysed 20 years of satellite data, finding that a monolithic competition between two lobes of differing magnetic force near the core is likely to be behind the pole's wanderlust. When the precise position of Earth's magnetic north was located for the first time back in 1831, it was squarely in Canada's corner of the Arctic, on the Boothia Peninsula in the territory of Nunavut. Ever since, fresh sets of measurements have recorded this spot drift north by an average of around 15 kilometres (about 9 miles) every year. Advanced technology means we can now keep a careful watch on the pole's location with unprecedented accuracy. Prior to the 1970s, the north magnetic pole's position was like a drunken stagger. Since then, it's had a mission, marching in a straight line, building speed. Since the 1990s, its movement has quadrupled in speed, to a current rate of between 50 and 60 kilometres (about 30 and 37 miles) a year. In late 2017, the pole's sprint brought it within 390 kilometres (240 miles) of the geographical north pole. What the world really needs is a solid idea of the physical mechanisms behind this displacement, allowing for accurate predictions on the planet's magnetic movements.So Earth scientists Philip Livermore and Matthew Bayliff from the University of Leeds in the UK and Christopher Finlay from the Technical University of Denmark reviewed 20 years of geomagnetic data from the ESA's Swarm mission.The pole's heading lines up neatly with two anomalies called negative magnetic fluxes, one deep beneath Canada, and the other below Siberia."The importance of these two patches in determining the structure of the field close to the north magnetic pole has been well known for several centuries," the researchers note in their recently published report.These large lobes of magnetism grow and shrink with time, having a profound effect on the magnetic field we perceive on the surface.

How Thawing Permafrost Is Beginning to Transform the Arctic  - Canadian scientist Philip Marsh and I were flying along the coast of the Beaufort Sea, where the frozen tundra had recently opened up into a crater the size of a football stadium. Located along the shoreline of an unnamed lake, the so-called thaw slump was gray, muddy, and barren, in sharp contrast to the brilliant russet and gold of the surrounding autumn tundra. These retrogressive thaw slumps, or landslides — formed as warming temperatures rapidly thaw permafrost — are increasing across the Arctic, including the kilometer-long, 100-meter-deep Batagaika Crater in the Yana River Basin of Siberia. The tundra of the western Canadian Arctic has long been carpeted in cranberries, blueberries, cloudberries, shrubs, sedges, and lichen that have provided abundant food for grizzly bears, caribou, and other animals. Now, however, as permafrost thaws and slumping expands, parts of that landscape are being transformed into nothing but mud, silt, and peat, blowing off massive amounts of climate-warming carbon that have been stored in the permafrost for millennia. If this had happened in an urban area, it would have resulted in dozens of buildings being swallowed up. If it had happened along a pipeline right-of-way, it might have resulted in an environmental disaster. As the Arctic warms faster than any region on Earth, public attention has largely been focused on the rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice. But major changes are also taking place on land, and one of the most striking is the thawing of vast swaths of permafrost that have underlain these polar regions for millennia. That thaw is taking a toll in complex ways that are not clearly understood, and scientists such as Marsh are now intensifying efforts to grasp how these changes will play out this century and beyond.

Another Hole in the Ozone Layer? Climate Change May Be to Blame - You may have heard about the hole in the ozone layer, which hovers over Antarctica. It has shrunk over time thanks to policies that curbed the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. In the nearly 40 years that NASA has kept track, it has never been smaller. That's the good news. The bad news is that a separate hole in the ozone layer briefly opened up in the Arctic in March before closing in April, and climate change may be partly to blame. This isn't the first such rift to develop in the Arctic, but it is the largest. Scientists say that in March, a stratospheric polar vortex — a band of strong, frigid winds circling the pole — corralled chlorine and bromine that chewed away at the ozone layer. Scientists said that climate change may have set the stage for a colder, and thus more powerful, polar vortex. "In those years when a vortex can spin and set itself up and be undisturbed, it's getting colder and colder," said Ross Salawitch, a climate scientist at the University of Maryland. Cold air strengthens polar vortexes, allowing them to deal more damage to the ozone layer, he said. This year's Arctic polar vortex was unusually strong and long-lived, helping to deplete the ozone layer. At the same time, currents that would normally deliver ozone from surrounding areas were stagnant. The bruising was far less severe than what is typically seen over the South Pole, though. At the South Pole, stratospheric polar vortexes are reliably strong thanks to the extreme cold, so the ozone layer regularly thins.  In a stratospheric polar vortex, high-altitude clouds form from trace gasses in the atmosphere. Pollutants containing chlorine and bromine are essentially benign until they run into one of these clouds. Then they transform into chemicals capable of terrorizing the ozone layer.  They still need sunlight to do their dirty work, however. That comes at the start of spring —around September in the Southern Hemisphere and around March in the Northern Hemisphere. As the days get longer, these chemicals react with sunlight to deplete stratospheric ozone. Because Antarctica is so isolated from the rest of the world, a strong polar vortex can form undisturbed. That's not the case in the Arctic, where the mix of land and water surrounding the North Pole produces more dynamic weather that can weaken or disrupt a polar vortex. Ozone holes rarely form at the North Pole — the last one appeared in 2011 — and they are typically short-lived. But what happens in the Arctic does not stay in Arctic. As a result of the damage, the ozone layer is now a little thinner everywhere else. While it will repair itself over time, the recent polar vortex has likely slowed the recovery.

Virginia's air emissions are down significantly. What does that tell us? - Whether carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide or ozone, many emissions that at certain concentrations are considered hazardous to human health and are therefore tracked and regulated by state and federal governments have seen noticeable declines since the pandemic was declared in mid-March. The effect, said Jeremy Hoffman, chief scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia, has been akin to “a traumatizing geophysical experiment.” “We saw it do something — in carbon emissions, in air quality, in people going to the park, in the city getting quieter, all of those things. When we do something, it can have an impact,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that it had to be such a traumatizing experience for us to see that we can make a difference collectively.” Scientists caution that at only two months into nationwide lockdowns, no one can say definitively what the effects have been on air quality — or public health related to air quality, like the incidence of respiratory illness. “Everything is kind of nuanced,”   Still, the unusual circumstances have given scientists rare insight into just how much specific human factors affect regional and global conditions. Here’s a few preliminary findings they’ve uncovered. In Virginia, the biggest emissions drops detected so far have been linked to transportation. “Traffic is down substantially,” said Mike Dowd, director of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Division. And “if you look at the satellite data,” he added, “nitrogen dioxide is down substantially.” Produced by not only vehicles, but also power plants and large ships at sea, nitrogen dioxide can be emitted in concentrations significant enough to be detected by satellites.  “We do know that cars are generally significantly dropping on the highways and the roadways. The evidence is suggesting the reduction is on the order of 50 percent” as of mid-April, said Goldberg.  That kind of drop, he said, would be expected to produce reductions in nitrogen dioxide emissions of about 15 percent — a prediction that so far seems to be in line with observations in the Washington, D.C. region, including Northern Virginia. There, emissions drops have been in the range of 15 to 20 percent, he noted.

Coronavirus Is Buying Time on Climate Change. Will We Make Use of It? – WSJ - Back in 2014 the United Nations-affiliated panel on climate change predicted carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels would keep rising steadily, hitting 40 billion metric tons this year and, in some scenarios, nearly doubling again by 2050.Even before Covid-19, those scenarios looked increasingly unlikely, and they are even less likely now. The International Energy Agency put emissions last year at 33 billion tons, and predicts they will plummet 8% this year as Covid-19 shuts down swathes of global economic activity.“We were already getting close to the point of emissions peaking,” said Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental-research organization. With the decline induced by Covid-19, “it’s quite possible we might not get back up to 2019 levels.” First, some caveats. Lockdowns aren’t a sustainable or desirable way to reduce emissions, and this drop is almost certainly temporary. Second, it is the cumulative buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution that, among other things, influences global warming. So if annual emissions continue even at this lower level, CO2 concentrations and temperatures will continue to rise. “To stop CO2 concentrations from rising, emissions have to be cut by 80%, and no one is talking about anything close to that,” Mr. Hausfather said. Yet the plateauing of carbon emissions is encouraging for several reasons. First, it suggests some dire scenarios by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—previously seen as inevitable, absent dramatic government action—are actually pretty unlikely. Second, it gives the world more breathing room to figure out how to decarbonize faster.  In a paper published before the pandemic, Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and three co-authors found the scenarios overestimated per capita economic growth in all regions except Asia from 2005 to 2017. They also found the IPCC’s scenarios understated how fast carbon intensity—the amount of CO2 emitted for every dollar of GDP—would decline thanks to falling use of coal and the declining cost of renewables. Mr. Pielke, in an interview, said that because of Covid-19, the real world and IPCC’s scenarios are diverging further. “It’s quite possible we could be treading water on emissions, which is good news. This does buy us time.”  But only so much time. Under RCP 8.5, the IPCC said temperatures would likely rise more than 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 (compared with the late 1800s), a dire outlook. Now, business as usual is more like 3 degrees, said Mr. Hausfather. That’s still more than the 1.5 to 2 degrees the world targeted in the Paris climate accord.  Meeting that target will require emissions not just to stabilize but to head much lower. Whether Covid-19 lowers future emissions depends on whether it changes the path of the economy, fossil-fuel usage, or policy. In a study published in Nature Climate Change last week, a team of experts estimated that daily emissions had plummeted 17% by early April from average 2019 levels. But those reductions “are likely to be temporary as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport or energy systems.”

Joe Biden Weighs New Climate Proposals in Bid to Woo Sanders Supporters – WSJ - Joe Biden says he will add details to his climate plan and is likely to propose new investments, an olive branch to Bernie Sanders and his liberal allies. But in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Republicans are already portraying Mr. Biden as a threat to the oil-and-gas industry. Mr. Biden has indicated he is willing to do more to address climate change, saying last month that possible areas to build on include investing in clean energy technologies and policies that prevent minority communities from being disproportionately hurt by things including pollution and waste storage. A climate task force he put together with the help of Mr. Sanders, his former rival for the Democratic nomination, began meeting last week. To give himself the best chance of beating President Trump in November, Mr. Biden must motivate young, liberal voters and keep the support of older, centrist voters. Mr. Biden named establishment Democrat John Kerry, who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has proposed weaning the U.S. off fossil fuels with a plan known as the Green New Deal, to lead his climate task force. He says he will add new climate proposals but wouldn’t ban fracking, a top target of environmental activists. “He looks forward to reviewing recommendations from the task force to build upon his ambitious ideas, but it is not about shifting left or right,” said Biden policy director Stef Feldman. “It is about following the science, investing in our economy, and pioneering a clean energy revolution that will tackle climate change and put people back to work with new good-paying jobs.”

Michael Moore film Planet of the Humans removed from YouTube  -YouTube has taken down the controversial Michael Moore-produced documentary Planet of the Humans in response to a copyright infringement claim by a British environmental photographer.The movie, which has been condemned as inaccurate and misleading by climate scientists and activists, allegedly includes a clip used without the permission of the owner Toby Smith, who does not approve of the context in which his material is being used.In response, the filmmakers denied violating fair usage rules and accused their critics of politically motivated censorship. Smith filed the complaint to YouTube on 23 May after discovering Planet of the Humans used several seconds of footage from his Rare Earthenware projectdetailing the journey of rare earth minerals from Inner Mongolia. Smith, who has previously worked on energy and environmental issues, said he did not want his work associated with something he disagreed with. “I went directly to YouTube rather than approaching the filmmakers because I wasn’t interested in negotiation. I don’t support the documentary, I don’t agree with its message and I don’t like the misleading use of facts in its narrative.”Planet of the Humans director Jeff Gibbs said he was working with YouTube to resolve the issue and have the film back up as soon as possible.He said in a statement: “This attempt to take down our film and prevent the public from seeing it is a blatant act of censorship by political critics of Planet of the Humans. It is a misuse of copyright law to shut down a film that has opened a serious conversation about how parts of the environmental movement have gotten into bed with Wall Street and so-called “green capitalists.” There is absolutely no copyright violation in my film. This is just another attempt by the film’s opponents to subvert the right to free speech.” Planet of the Humans, which has been seen by more than 8 million people since it was launched online last month, describes itself as a “full-frontal assault” on the sacred cows of the environmental movement.

Corporations Don't Have to Pay Pollution Fines During COVID-19 - Corporations that flouted environmental regulations and spewed pollutants into the air and dumped them into waterways will not be required to pay the fines they agreed to during the pandemic, according to The Guardian.The forbearance of payments totals $56 million from ten corporations for a variety of violations across the country, including polluting air and water in already vulnerable communities, like East Chicago, Indiana, according to legal proceedings.The companies agreed to settlements with the U.S. government that forced them to pay fines without admitting liability. However, the U.S. Department of Justice advised most of the companies of extensions in letters that were obtained by the government watchdog group Accountable.US via public records requests, asThe Guardian reported.The Department of Justice said the move is intended to "mitigate the financial impact" of the coronavirus. However, enforcement attorneys who have spent years targeting the companies expressed shock over the blanket policy, according to The Hill. "It's unprecedented in how broad it is," said Francis Lyons, a partner with Schiff Hardin LLP who previously worked on environmental enforcement issues at the Justice Department, to The Hill. "I think this policy goes beyond what is necessary under the circumstances."   Not surprisingly, a number of companies that do not have to pay the fines they agreed to are ones with deep ties to the Trump administration. Dominion Energy in Virginia agreed to pay for a coal ash impoundment that seeped pollutants into the groundwater along the James River. That company has several ties to the administration, including a former top EPA enforcement official and Attorney General William Barr, who leads the Department of Justice.

Trump anti-reg push likely to end up in court  - An executive order signed by President Trump directing agencies to slash regulations in order to boost the economy is likely to lead to a number of court challenges. The Tuesday order directs agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery,” highlighting that regulations could be permanently or temporarily lifted in order to fight the economic fallout of the coronavirus. But experts say speeding up the regulatory process or nixing public comment periods would likely be slammed in court unless the Trump administration can demonstrate their actions were necessary due to the pandemic. “The problem there is those measures have to be directly related to addressing the pandemic. They can't just be political priorities the Trump administration wants to speed up and get across the finish line in the first term,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate with Public Citizen, pointing to the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. “They’re not going to be able to claim that their ideological rollbacks are needed urgently to address the coronavirus just because they’re going to create economic growth. It’s not an argument that’s going to carry water on the policy side but certainly on the legal side in court either,” Narang said. The order may be as likely to spur eye rolls as it is to spur lawsuits, however, as some say the directive is more about messaging than affecting regulation. Critics say even with the accelerated timeline the administration seems to be pushing, the White House has little time to accomplish much else this term. “What are you going to do? Are you going to review the whole suite of statutes and regulations that you implement and that you've spent three-and-a-half years rolling back and then you’re going to try and get more blood from a stone? And then try to accomplish that feat by 2021? It's not going to be possible,” said John Walke with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Trump administration told The Hill they believe the order will withstand legal challenge.

U.S. states sue Trump administration over fuel efficiency rollback - (Reuters) - A group of 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging a Trump administration decision to weaken Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. In March, the administration issued final rules requiring 1.5% annual increases in vehicle fuel efficiency through 2026 - far weaker than the 5% increases set under former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration also abandoned its August 2018 proposal to freeze requirements at 2020 levels through 2026. California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols said the administration “used questionable science, faulty logic and ludicrous assumptions to justify what they wanted from the start: to gut and rewrite the single most important air regulation of the past decade.” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called the rule a “gift to the fossil fuel industry” that would harm the state, home to Detroit’s Big Three automakers, because it would reduce automotive-related employment by 4%. The Environmental Protection Agency declined comment on the suit but defended the rule as a “sensible, single national program that strikes the right regulatory balance, protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry.” New York City, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles are joining the challenge by California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and 17 other states. Separately, 12 environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists also sued over the rules.

Michigan joins lawsuit against Trump administration’s rollback on fuel efficiency for auto industry - Attorney General Dana Nessel on Wednesday, May 27, announced Michigan is joining a 21-state lawsuit asking the federal court to review President Donald Trump’s administrative rollback of President Barack Obama-era Clean Car Standards. The Trump Administration changes will allow auto manufacturers to build passenger vehicles and light trucks that get worse gas mileage and emit more carbon dioxide. The lawsuit, or petition for review, names Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler, EPA Secretary Elaine L. Chao and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator James C. Owens as defendants. It claims the emission and fuel efficiency standard changes violate the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The EPA and NHTSA issued new rules that are scheduled to take effect June 29 guiding the auto industry and lowering standards for fuel efficiency and exhaust emissions previously established by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012. Those rules were set to expire in 2025, but the EPA and NHTSA determined the rules hurt auto companies and needed to be tweaked. “The final rule will increase stringency (carbon dioxide) emissions standards by 1.5% each year through model year 2026, as compared with the standards issued in 2012, which would have required about 5% annual increases,” a March 31 NHTSA statement said. Instead of being required to increase average fuel efficiency to 46.7 mpg by 2025 Trump administration changes give automakers until 2026 to reach 40.4 mpg. When asked whether Michigan’s Big Three automakers, General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler, would support the legal effort to overturn the rollbacks, Nessel said, “I don’t know.” “I will say that my interactions, at least with the Big Three are that what they want more than anything is they want predictability and they want stability,” she said. “And frankly, no one who’s affiliated with those companies wants to wake up and find themselves on the wrong end of a mean Tweet by President Trump.”

REGULATIONS: States lead court fight against Trump. They're winning -- Tuesday, May 26, 2020  - The Trump administration's aggressive deregulatory agenda has run full-speed into a blockade set by Democratic attorneys general. Led by New York and California, the states have challenged virtually every effort by EPA and other agencies to walk back Obama-era rules like the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule. And they are winning. Republican attorneys general similarly sued over many rules that came out of Obama's EPA. But the Democrats have filed significantly more lawsuits, and they have been more successful — winning 80% of the cases thus far, according to an analysis of the challenges, which often take years to work their way through the courts. The cases often draw the support of 15 to 20 Democratically led states, and they are typically helmed by New York Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. "Part of it has nothing to do with California or Democratic AGs," Becerra told E&E News. "It has to do with an administration hellbent on taking us back to the 20th century." The states' "strongest allies," Becerra said, are "facts, science and the law." The second difference: "We're winning, and we are winning at a much better clip than Republican AGs ever did under President Obama." Becerra has sued the administration 81 times on a wide range of issues, including immigration and health care. But more than half of the lawsuits have challenged environment and energy policies. James, who took office last year, has also spearheaded many multistate lawsuits and has pressed EPA to act on smog-forming pollution that crosses state lines. "I am offended by the regressive policies of this administration — policies that threaten the air that we breathe, the water that all of us enjoy," James said in an interview. Multistate lawsuits launched by Democratic attorneys general have seen an 80% win rate against the Trump administration in court, according to data compiled by Paul Nolette, an associate professor at Marquette University.They have notched wins on issues including regulating methane emissions from landfills, ozone air standards, and key water and endangered species regulations. But they don't always succeed; the states were rebuffed in a challenge to Trump's 2017 "two for one" executive order that required two regulations to be nixed for every new one issued (E&E News PM, Dec. 20, 2019). States and environmental groups also lost their challenge to EPA's initial decision to revise the Obama-era car rules, but they are regrouping for a lawsuit over the subsequent rollback (Greenwire, Oct. 25, 2019).

Trump's grid order blindsides electricity sector - The Energy Department last summer quietly diverted a Denver-bound, Chinese-built grid transformer to search for suspected attack malware — an extraordinary move that would seem to warrant a confidential briefing with top U.S. utility executives. But federal leaders never raised a red flag with major power providers, according to some industry officials. The omission appears to run contrary to the electricity industry's pleas to the federal government for more intelligence about cybersecurity threats from foreign-based vendors. Grid executives were also caught by surprise by President Trump's executive order May 1 directing DOE and other agencies to produce a list of suppliers in "adversary" countries whose equipment would be banned for security reasons. China is a top suspect, a Department of Defense official told reporters. A high-level committee of CEOs and federal security officials, the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), exists for just that information-sharing purpose. The group wasn't consulted in advance, said Tom Fanning, CEO of utility giant Southern Co., one of three ESCC co-chairs. Scott Aaronson, vice president for security and preparedness at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents U.S. investor-owned utilities, said the ESCC was "aware ... that an executive order was in development." "But as far as running it through us, having a chance to react to it before it went live, no, we did not," said Aaronson, who is the ESCC secretary. "Everybody is really of the opinion that the executive order got issued ... without a lot of consultation with stakeholders in the electric sector," said Duane Highley, CEO of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., another ESCC co-chair. "There was a big rush and nobody is quite sure what their motivation was," other than to keep the electric sector secure, Highley said.

IEA says coronavirus has set in motion the largest drop of global energy investment in history - The International Energy Agency believes the coronavirus pandemic has paved the way for the largest decline of global energy investment in history, with spending set to plummet in every major sector this year. In the group's annual World Energy Investment report, published on Wednesday, the IEA said that the unparalleled decline in worldwide energy investment had been "staggering in both its scale and swiftness." It warned the economic impact of the public health crisis could have "serious" implications for energy security and clean energy transitions. "The historic plunge in global energy investment is deeply troubling for many reasons," Fatih Birol, executive director at the IEA, said in a statement. "It means lost jobs and economic opportunities today, as well as lost energy supply that we might well need tomorrow once the economy recovers," he continued. "The slowdown in spending on key clean energy technologies also risks undermining the much-needed transition to more resilient and sustainable energy systems." To date, more than 5.5 million people across the globe have contracted the coronavirus, with over 346,700 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic has meant countries have effectively had to shut down, with world leaders imposing draconian measures on the daily lives of billions of people. The stringent restrictions, which have brought world travel close to a standstill, are expected to result in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the start of 2020, the IEA said global energy investment was on pace for growth of around 2%, reflecting the largest annual rise in spending in six years. But, after the Covid-19 crisis brought large swathes of the world economy to a halt in a matter of months, the IEA said it now expects global investment to tumble by 20% compared to last year. To be sure, that's a fall of nearly $400 billion year-on-year.

Offshore wind project near Virginia Beach to use giant turbines with 108-meter blades --A vast offshore wind project planned for waters off the coast of Virginia Beach looks set to use Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy's latest wind turbines, it was announced Tuesday. The European company said that the 2.64 gigawatt (GW) Dominion Energy Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind commercial project will utilize its SG 14-222 DD turbine. Dominion Energy has previously described the scheme as the "largest offshore wind power project" in the United States. Details of the turbine, which has 108-meter-long blades and a rotor diameter of 222 meters, were released last week. According to Siemens Gamesa, one turbine is able to power roughly 18,000 average European households annually, while its capacity can be boosted from 14 megawatts (MW) to 15 MW if needed. A prototype of the turbine is set to be ready by 2021, and it's expected to be commercially available in 2024. A 300 MW offshore wind project in Taiwan is also slated to use the SG 14-222 DD. The agreement between Siemens Gamesa and Dominion Energy is subject to a number of conditions, such as governmental permitting, a final investment decision from the U.S. firm, and other necessary approvals. If all goes to plan the turbine installations are slated to be completed by 2026, although the total number that will be used is still to be determined. The commercial project builds on a 12 MW pilot scheme which will make use of two turbines from Siemens Gamesa and is set to come online later this year. The U.S. offshore wind sector is still in the early stages of its development and has some way to go before it catches up with other parts of the world.

Pandemic pulls NY power prices down further from already-low 2019 levels | S&P Global Platts — The New York Independent System Operator's 2019 power markets saw the lowest energy prices in the past decade as natural gas prices fell up to 41% and average load decreased to over decade-lows on mild weather, energy efficiency and behind-the-meter solar output. The coronavirus pandemic has pulled prices down 45% from the same period last year. The NYISO markets performed competitively in 2019, Potomac Economics, the market monitor, said in a presentation covering the results of its 2019 State of the Market report to be discussed at a Wednesday Management Committee meeting and posted to the grid operator's website.Energy prices decreased by 22% to 34% across the state from 2018 partly due to gas prices reaching their lowest levels since 2016 as mild 2019 winter and summer weather reduced gas demand while gas production expanded, Potomac said.Transmission system congestion was most prevalent in five areas: Through the West Zone, down from the North Zone, across the Central-East interface, in New York City and in Long Island, according to the presentation. More recently, New York's power markets have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with notable trends during the second full week of May including overall energy use in New York City averaging 13% to 14% below typical demand levels for the week, according to the NYISO.New York City hourly demand for the period of May 11 to May 15, deviated from expected levels by about 5% during the 12am hour to nearly 20% during the 8am hour, the grid operator said. New York officials put stay-at-home orders in place on March 20 when the state had slightly over 7,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Cuomo calls for Canada-to-New York City power line to deliver clean energy -  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for new power lines from upstate and Canada to reinvigorate the state’s ravaged economy and promote clean energy. The plan includes installing cables to bring wind and solar power down from the state’s rural regions to New York City and its suburbs, Cuomo said Tuesday during a news conference. He’s also seeking to expedite a plan to deliver hydropower from Canada through a transmission project that’s been in the works for years.The proposals come as coronavirus cases are slowing in New York, prompting calls to revive the economy in the state hit hardest by the virus. Cuomo said that investing now in major infrastructure projects, including energy and transportation, would accelerate economic growth.“Let’s run the transmission lines from Canada to New York City and get that power down here,” he said. “Let’s stop talking and let’s start doing.” “We know we can generate renewable power upstate. We know we need it downstate,” Cuomo said. “Let’s build the cross-state transmission lines to develop that renewable market upstate.”

New 'Stop Dominion' group faces tangled, bureaucratic challenges for more prudent pruning - Stopping the electric company from “butchering” trees each spring might be as tangled a process as the canopy of green that residents want to protect. A new group called “Stop Dominion” has emerged in downtown Charleston because residents want a tighter circumference of cleared tree limbs around wires. The group filed a petition with City Council calling for leaders to tear up a nearly year-old contract with the power company, claiming there’s proof Dominion Energy violated it. But city leaders say their hands are tied. Chip McQueeney, an assistant corporation counsel attorney, said state and federal law requires Dominion to protect utility lines from trees. Without the agreement, Dominion could make deeper cuts than they do now. “Long story short — local governments can’t really do anything,” McQueeney said. “We’ve gotten them to voluntarily comply with us. ... As a practical matter, our hands are tied and the appropriate vehicle would be the Public Service Commission.” But one of the new group’s founders, Phil Noble, said residents are being presented with a false choice of “butchering” trees or having electricity. Noble and members of his group think the city can and should weigh in. Dominion spokesman Paul Fischer said that while the company’s tree-trimming might not be popular, it’s critical to provide electricity to customers. Crews trim trees in the same area every five years, this year on the peninsula. “Trees and tree limbs remain the No. 1 reason for power outages,” Fisher said. “Safeguarding energized lines from overgrown vegetation is an integral part to providing safe and reliable power to all the customers we serve.”

Solar Farm Would Clear 15 Acres Of Forest | New Haven Independent - The tornado of 2018 mostly spared the wooded mountainside next to Dawn Talmadge’s house at the end of Hunting Ridge Road in Hamden, and when she looks north she still sees a thick canopy of oaks and maples. If a solar developer gets its way, the 15 acres of forest by her house will not be as lucky.Last week, Talmadge (pictured above) and her neighbors got letters in their mailboxes from Distributed Solar Development (DSD), a solar-energy offshoot of General Electric and Blackrock based in Schenectady, N.Y. The letters informed residents that the developer plans to install a solar farm on the mountainside at 360 Gaylord Mountain Rd., and that there would be a virtual informational meeting on Thursday. Talmadge was one of about 30 people at Thursday’s virtual conference. As she had feared, the developer plans to clear cut 15 acres of forest. Solar panels would take up seven acres.   The cutting would come within 20 feet of her property line, DSD said at the meeting. The property line runs along the edge of her yard, meaning the developer might leave a layer of just a few trees deep between her house and the vast open expanse.Talmadge clarified that in general, she supports solar development. “There’s a place for it, and this isn’t the place,” she said. “You don’t destroy nature for renewable energy.” Town officials have also said they oppose the project.At Thursday’s meeting, Town Planner Dan Kops did not mince words when giving his opinion of the project. “I think it’s a bad place to put solar panels because you’re essentially destroying the environment to supposedly save the environment,” he said. “All of us are probably strongly in favor of expanding the use of solar energy.” He said his main concern is that the solar installation would require clear-cutting 15 acres of forest.

Landfills emerge as promising battery storage sites to back up renewable energy - Solar panel installations have been one of the fastest-growing types of energy infrastructure in recent years and landfills have become fitting sites due to the sheer amount of land required. Now, for many of the same reasons, energy project developers are looking to landfills for a technology growing even faster than solar: battery storage. Storage on landfills is still a novel idea, with closed sites seen as largely the most suitable, and only a few examples of these projects exist. But solar on landfills was in a similar position just a few years ago, Tim Ryan, director at New York-based developer BQ Energy, told Waste Dive. BQ Energy focuses specifically on brownfield sites and has built over a dozen solar or wind projects since 2012, but only recently began construction on its first storage venture. Solar on landfills “may seem routine now, but it wasn’t when we started," Ryan said. States like California, New York and Massachusetts have embraced aggressive goals for reducing carbon emissions, requiring a quick transition to renewable energy as the primary source of electricity over the next several decades. That shift will require storage, such as large lithium-ion batteries, to compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar. Batteries can charge up from solar panels when the sun is shining, and then dispatch that energy at other times – at night or on cloudy days – when the panels are not producing energy. New energy storage capacity in the U.S. grew from 311 megawatts (MW) deployed in 2018 to 523 MW deployed in 2020, compared to utility-scale solar that grew from around 6,000 MW added in 2018 to around 8,000 MW in 2020, according to Wood Mackenzie. The research firm expects storage deployments to be 14 times larger by 2025, exponentially more than the growth rate for utility-scale solar. Acres of potential The states moving the fastest towards more renewable energy backed by storage are also those where land development is relatively difficult, due to factors like population density and environmental restrictions. The answer, according to Strategic Management Group CEO Kelly Sarber, is to tap the large footprint of landfills. Sarber, a veteran developer of numerous waste-related sites, said she currently has seven projects in various stages of development to build battery storage at landfills and wastewater treatment facilities. Under this model, the landfill owner receives a lease payment with some profit share for providing a 2-10 acre site to locate the energy storage project with access to the grid.

 DTE, EPA, Sierra Club settlement results in cash and closed coal-burning power plants -DTE Energy, the EPA, and the Sierra Club have an agreement that ends a ten year old dispute about some changes the power company made to its Monroe power plant. As part of the deal, DTE will give some Wayne County communities $7.5 million dollars.“This most importantly is going to make a huge difference for the most disproportionately impacted communities in Michigan. And that’s River Rouge, Ecorse, and 48217. For folks who aren’t familiar, this is the third most toxic zip code in the country and it’s the most polluted area in Michigan right now,” said Mike Berkowitz with the Sierra Club.Some of the money will go to ways to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency.“This settlement is going to drive five-and-a-half million dollars towards making school buses in the area electric and more efficient so that there’s less air pollution coming out there. It’s going to drive two million dollars directly toward community environmental pollution mitigation projects in the community,” Berkowitz explained.In a statement, DTE says those projects will likely be an urban solar array, urban foresting and farming, wildlife restoration, education programs, and energy reduction initiatives. The agreement also requires DTE to shut down three coal-burning power plants located in River Rouge, St. Clair, and Trenton by the end of 2022.  DTE says it already planned to close those plants.

Alliant coal plant could cost Wisconsin customers $257M by 2030, report says - Utility Dive - Two Wisconsin coal plants cost Alliant Energy's Wisconsin customers $16 million in 2019 alone, according to a report released Tuesday from the Sierra Club. Alliant on Friday announced it plans to retire one of those facilities — the 380 MW last remaining unit of its Edgewater plant — by 2022. However, the 1,023 MW Columbia coal plant has no set retirement date, and if it continues to operate the utility's share of the plant could cost customers $257 million through 2030, according to Sierra Club. The report does not take into account costs imposed on customers from retiring the plant before it is fully depreciated, Sue Tierney, senior advisor at Analysis Group told Utility Dive, which would likely lower the benefit to customers. But Sierra Club points out the clean energy portfolio scenario they demonstrate is still ultimately the lowest-cost option. Coal-fired power plants have become increasingly less economic to operate as they struggle to compete with lower-cost wind, solar and natural gas.  Vertically-integrated investor-owned utilities (IOUs) are some of the least-economic plant operators, according to previous Sierra Club research, because they're able to recover market losses through the rate base. This is because the business model of those utilities relies in part on keeping its investors happy and ensuring minimal risk of financial loss, said Tierney, while at the same time regulators can either force the company to swallow its investment or allow it to be recovered through the rate base.​ "You can imagine the Chief Financial Officer of the company feeling like until they know regulators will let them get this money, it's too risky for them, financially, to make the decision," she said.  There is the potential for Sierra Club and others to make the argument to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that an IOU did not make prudent investment decisions when it came to continuously operating its plant, and that could change how much a utility like Alliant would swallow or recover costs, said Tierney.

Alliant to shutter Sheboygan coal plant; early closure expected to benefit ratepayers, environment  - In a move expected to benefit the environment and ratepayers, Alliant Energy plans to retire its Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan by 2023, years ahead of schedule. The plan, announced Friday, marks another step in the Madison-based utility’s pivot from coal to natural gas and renewable energy. Alliant said it expects the retirement will save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term costs. “For decades, our Edgewater Generating Station has been providing customers and communities safe and reliable energy,” David de Leon, president of Alliant’s Wisconsin utility, said in a statement. “As we transition from coal toward a cleaner energy mix, we are caring for our employees, creating new jobs and bringing new economic development opportunities to the communities we serve.” The closure is expected to result in the loss of about 80 jobs, though de Leon said roughly 40% of the workforce is eligible for retirement and Alliant will help others find new jobs or careers. The retirement will mark the end of operations at the Sheboygan plant, which has been in operation since 1931. Alliant retired older generators at Edgewood in 2018 and 2015, the same year it shuttered the 225-megawatt Nelson Dewey plant in Cassville, as part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Major banks announce new policies to help push utilities away from coal - Energy and Policy Institute -Major financial institutions have announced new policies that limit how they do busess with companies that remain reliant on coal. Leading financial institutions’ coal exclusion policies assess electric utilities based on how much of their electricity generation mix relies on coal, rather than how much of their revenues rely on coal.Some electric utilities in the U.S. have recently highlighted different metrics such as “coal share of rate base,” which can obscure how reliant on coal they remain.Several major banks have announced new policies in recent months that limit how they will do business with companies that rely on coal, including electric utilities. Those policies vary among financial institutions; some establish clear criteria under which a bank will divest from companies that remain reliant on coal, while others describe how the bank will engage with companies to facilitate a transition away from coal. But nearly all the policies make clear that major banks expect electric utilities to move away from coal over the next decade.Barclays announced in March 2020 that it aims to become a net zero bank, and published its latest Environmental, Social and Governance report. That report explained how the bank has increased its prohibitions on financing companies that rely on coal, and will further increase those restrictions over the next decade: BNP Paribas announced in May 2020 that it is “speeding up its timetable for a complete exit from coal” including not “accepting any new customers whose share of coal related revenue surpasses 25%.” The bank also said it aims for electric utilities that it finances to stop using coal by 2030 in the U.S., Europe, and other OECD countries: Citigroup updated its Environmental and Social Policy Framework in April 2020: Morgan Stanley updated its Environmental and Social Policy Statement in April 2020:Goldman Sachs updated its Environmental Policy Framework in December 2019: BlackRock’s sustainable investment policy announcement in January 2020 attracted global attention, given its role as the world’s largest money manager. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s letter to clients outlined BlackRock’s new policies, including divesting from “companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production.” (e.g., mining companies). The policy also says that BlackRock will “closely scrutinize other businesses that are heavily reliant on thermal coal as an input, in order to understand whether they are effectively transitioning away from this reliance.” (e.g., electric utilities).

Coal Executives Face Fines, Possible Jail Time, Over Failure to Pay - Executives with Indiana-based coal company American Resources Corporation will face daily fines of $2,500 if they continue to flout court orders, according to filings in the bankruptcy case of Cambrian Coal. The order comes after ARC failed to pay electric utility bills, employee back pay and benefits, and other liabilities it purchased from Cambrian last fall, even after receiving millions of dollars from the federal government’s coronavirus relief aid.  ARC must pay the daily fee if it fails to pay $1,067,736 in court-ordered payments by June 1. Executives would also have to appear in court to face additional sanctions, including possible incarceration. Incarceration for failure to pay is the highest sanction available to bankruptcy judges and is exceedingly rare. ARC received $2.7 million in loans from the federal government this April through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The loan is forgivable if used on employee retention, so ARC would forego that loan forgiveness if it chose to spend the money on court-ordered payments.ARC attorney Billy Shelton told the court earlier this month that the purchased mines had barely produced any coal, making it difficult to pay outstanding debts.

Final module placed on Plant Vogtle’s Unit 3 -  Georgia Power says the final module on Plant Vogtle Unit 3 has been placed, marking a major accomplishment in the completion of the project. A 720,000-pound water tank was placed atop the containment vessel and shield building roof at the nuclear expansion project near Waynesboro. The water tank is a major part of the unit’s advanced passive safety system. According to Georgia Power, the CB-20 module can hold around 750,000 gallons of water ready to flow down in the unlikely event of an emergency to help cool the reactor. The water can also be directed into the used fuel pool, while the tank can be refilled from water stored elsewhere on site. According to Georgia Power, the modules used for the project streamline the construction process since they were made in advance of arriving to the site and are ready to be assembled into larger components that make up the nuclear units. Major modules have been delivered to the site since 2011, with the final major module arriving in late 2019. All 1,485 major modules required to complete construction have been manufactured and safely delivered. The new Vogtle units have regulatory-approved in-service dates of November 2021 for Unit 3 and November 2022 for Unit 4

Nuclear deregulation threatens workers at Pennsylvania plants and nationwide | Opinion - Workers at nuclear power plants, just like everywhere else, are falling ill with the highly contagious Covid-19. Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna and Limerick power plants are among those that have so far identified infections among their staff, with incidences soaring at some plants. One might hope that, at a time of such crisis, the nuclear power industry and its regulator would take every possible step to ensure the health and safety of nuclear workers and their families, as well as the surrounding communities where they live. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening. Instead, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is relaxing nuclear power plant safety inspections and maintenance while allowing essential staff, including control room operators, security forces and fire brigades, to work longer and exhausting shifts. The extended permitted hours — up to 86-hour work weeks for two weeks straight — are justified, the NRC says, due to absenteeism, workers in quarantine, and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for the Covid-19 pandemic, which recommend social distancing, necessitating fewer staff on site. Yet at the same time, the NRC is allowing nuclear power plants to proceed with refueling operations, which can bring in as many as 1,800 workers from across the country. While the nuclear industry was among those in the energy sector demanding priority testing for Covid-19, it is not clear whether testing for the coronavirus was conducted on workers before they arrived at the plants, given the scale of the outbreaks. More recent positive cases have been discovered through testing, with some tests conducted by workers’ personal physicians. The Limerick nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, which has now completed refueling, saw a level of overcrowding during refueling that alarmed workers. They described sitting “elbow to elbow” in canteens and computer labs, terrified that the coronavirus would rapidly spread among them. One told the Pottsdown Mercury he was “in a constant state of paranoia.” »  Such a “wildfire” spread of Infection became a reality at the Fermi 2 reactor in Michigan, which was forced to halt refueling. Close to 200 workers tested positive for Covid-19 at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, where work has not been stopped, although the workforce has been cut back.

 Columbia Gas of Ohio to begin second phase of cleanup — Columbia Gas of Ohio will conduct the second (and final) phase of cleanup at a former manufactured gas plant site in Portsmouth that is a part of the city’s history. The cleanup comes after testing has shown that there is no current risk to human health or the environment. The northern portion of this site was cleaned up by Columbia Gas in 2018.This second phase involves the cleanup of the southern portion of the site, which is bordered by Second, Jefferson and Madison Streets. A predecessor of Columbia Gas used the site to manufacture gas used for heating, cooking and lighting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Once pipelines were laid to provide a dependable source of natural gas, the plant was closed and eventually demolished. Columbia Gas recently tested the southern portion of the site and found byproducts and residues typical of gas manufacturing operations. To be sure the site does not pose a problem over the long run, the company will remove impacted soil and replace it with clean fill. The investigation and cleanup are being conducted after consultation with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the City of Portsmouth.The project is set to begin June 1 and be completed by the end of August.

 Industry responds to wastewater site concerns  - Marietta Times --Local oil and gas officials believe concerns about a proposed docking facility near Marietta are unwarranted. If the permit is approved by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, a wastewater offloading facility will be built at DeepRock Disposal Solutions on Ohio 7 near Marietta. In a Marietta Times article earlier this month, Devola resident George Banziger noted people are concerned with the health hazards of the proposed facility. One of the concerns is that what will be offloaded is toxic or radioactive.Mike Chadsey, director of public relations for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said the brine which will be offloaded is not radioactive, according to the U.S. EPA. He said there is some confusion about the three types of oil field fluids and what will be brought to Marietta.“I think people get things confused between drilling mud, fracking fluid and brine,” he said. Brine is what is on the permit to be hauled in.“Brine is seawater which comes out with the oil and gas molecules,” he said. “It’s old seawater and saltier than what we have now.”Drilling mud is used to bring the drill cuttings to the surface and cool the drill bit. That mud is recovered and reused.There is also hydraulic fracturing fluid that is used to frack a well. It is more than 99 percent water and sand plus some chemicals, which are disclosed, to clean and lubricate the well, Chadsey said. Then there is brine, which comes up to the surface to either be recycled or injected into a class 2 well.“We have been using class 2 wells since the mid 1980s,” he noted.He said when the brine is offloaded, it is unloaded into above ground tanks, filtered and injected back into the ground. He said people seem to think that the brine will be shipped from all over the country, but that would be cost prohibitive. He said Ohio is a full disclosure state, so what is in the wastewater has to be disclosed. “It will be from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia,” Chadsey explained, noting everything is done under rules from the U.S. EPA. “And we don’t have thousands of injection wells. We have 200 here in Ohio.”

Plug abandoned wells: Plan has support of industry, environmentalists - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial -- Hundreds of thousands of abandoned gas and oil wells throughout the country present an ongoing potential pollution threat, as well as a source of climate-warming methane emissions. A unique proposal to plug those abandoned wells deserves funding from state and federal governments. The plan would use employees of struggling oil and gas companies — many of which are teetering on financial insolvency because of low oil prices — to begin the task of identifying and plugging those abandoned wells. The sheer number of wells is staggering: States have identified more than 55,000 abandoned wells nationwide, but estimates of existing but unidentified wells push that number to 750,000. In Pennsylvania, the state has 8,500 verified orphan and abandoned wells and an estimated 200,000 that have not been identified. Those abandoned wells, left behind during past waves of drilling activity, can create an explosion hazard from oil and gas leaking into water, soil and sometimes nearby homes. They are also a significant source of methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas. The proposal not only would benefit the struggling oil and gas industry, which currently has thousands of workers sitting idle, but also would have long-lasting environmental advantages. In a rare show of crossover support, the plan has been endorsed by state energy regulators, industry trade groups, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee and environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Earthworks. The key, as always, is funding — and such a huge endeavor won’t be cheap. Canada, for instance, has committed $1.7 billion (in Canadian dollars) to plugging abandoned wells and assisting the struggling oil industry. In Alberta alone, the program is expected to maintain 5,200 jobs. The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, estimated that a nationwide well cleanup fund of $2 billion could support 14,000 to 24,000 jobs. With Congress considering another economic stimulus bill in the coming weeks, this would be the time for Pennsylvania’s delegation to campaign for funding for an abandoned well program. Such a plan would preserve or create jobs while also making a huge environmental impact. It would be money well spent.

Hilco, the developer buying Philadelphia's 1,300-acre refinery site has mixed track record - Hilco Global has a long history of buying and salvaging distressed businesses and real estate. It is much sought after by corporate clients, including Exelon Generation and PSEG Power in New Jersey, to unload surplus industrial property. But its record as a developer is mixed. Hilco’s latest acquisition is the 1,300-acre Philadelphia Energy Solutions property in South Philadelphia, the largest oil refinery on the East Coast before it shut down last June after a devastating fire. A subsidiary, Hilco Redevelopment, is buying PES out of bankruptcy for $252 million. The sale is set to close around the end of the month. Hilco officials have not publicly articulated a plan for the PES property — a Hilco spokesperson declined to respond to written questions for this article, saying the company is under a legal commitment to refrain from comments until the sale closes. Hilco officials have told city officials and neighborhood activists they want to redevelop the land as a mixed-used industrial park, possibly warehouses. It’s also likely Hilco will retain many of the site’s fuel storage tanks, which have grown in value with the recent plunge in oil prices. Philadelphia officials, who met Hilco executives before the bankruptcy court auction, seemed relieved that Hilco did not plan to restart the refinery, which had employed 1,100 people, but also was the city’s largest source of air pollution and had become the target of climate activists. Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director, in January said his initial research suggested Hilco “has a great track record.” ‘Epic turnaround tale’ Sparrows Point, formerly a Bethlehem steel plant, in the process of redevelopment by Tradepoint Atlantic, in Baltimore County. The area is home to Amazon, Under Armor, FedEx, and other warehouses and facilities.

 Williams Utility-Scale Solar Projects Set to Power Natural Gas Pipelines, Processing -- Tulsa-based natural gas pipeline giant Williams said Thursday it is entering the solar energy business. The midstreamer, whose pipeline network spans more than 30,000 miles, plans to develop a series of solar photovoltaic farms to help power its gas transmission and processing operations. “Given the current market structures and tax incentives, we are able to make these attractive incremental investments while continuing to enjoy the reliability that the grid provides via natural gas fired power generation,” said CEO Alan Armstrong. “In addition, solar installations at self-consuming industrial sites like this make more sense because there is less incremental land use and less power transmission voltage losses.” Investments, made possible by generous federal and state tax credits, are to target initial candidate sites primarily on company-owned land in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The solar farms are to range in capacity from 1 MW to 40 MW, the company said, noting that operations currently draw a combined average of more than 400 MW of electricity from the grid. The company expects agreements with local utilities would allow the sale of excess solar power to be sold back into the grid. The solar farms are expected to begin entering service in late 2021. The solar initiative would allow Williams to leverage its core gas transport business “to create complementary renewable energy investment opportunities that provide attractive shareholder returns while preserving the environment for future generations,” Armstrong said. He cited the complementary nature of baseload gas-fired generation and intermittent wind and solar power. “Natural gas is key to our country’s ability to add more renewable energy to the power grid in large volumes,” he said.

EIA forecasts lower U.S. natural gas consumption in 2020 --In the latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that decreases in natural gas consumption in the United States in 2020 will be driven by declines in natural gas used in the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors. In the U.S. electric power sector, EIA forecasts natural gas consumption to decline in the second half of 2020 after growing in the first half of the year.EIA expects domestic consumption of natural gas in 2020 will fall 3.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) compared with 2019, led by a 1.6 Bcf/d decline in industrial natural gas consumption. EIA forecasts lower overall U.S. consumption in 2020 because of reduced economic activity related to the impact of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and milder-than-normal temperatures in the first quarter of 2020 that reduced demand for space heating in buildings.In 2020, EIA expects natural gas consumption in the residential and commercial sectors to decrease by 3.7% and 6.9%, respectively. Warmer weather in the first quarter of 2020 was the largest contributor to falling residential and commercial demand; combined residential and commercial demand was down 5.6 Bcf/d in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the first quarter of 2019. January 2020 was the fifth warmest January on record and had 15.3% fewer heating degree days (HDDs) than the 10-year average, a contributing factor to lower demand for the quarter. Residential and commercial demand account for a small fraction of U.S. natural gas consumption outside of winter months when heating demand is high. However, EIA expects weaker economic conditions in the coming months to further reduce average 2020 natural gas consumption in the commercial sector. Weak economic conditions also contribute to lower industrial natural gas demand, which EIA expects to decline in the United States from an average of 21.4 Bcf/d in 2019 to an average of 19.9 Bcf/d in 2020, the first time it has dipped lower than 20.0 Bcf/d since the summer of 2016. EIA forecasts that the natural gas-weighted production index, which estimates manufacturing activity based on subsectors of the manufacturing industry and their relative importance to total natural gas consumption, will fall 15.3% between January 2020 and October 2020. In the first half of 2020, EIA expects natural gas used for electric power in the United States to grow 1.6 Bcf/d compared with the first half of 2019 because of low natural gas prices and lower-than-expected natural gas capacity additions. However, EIA forecasts U.S. natural gas consumption during the second half of 2020 to decline 2.2 Bcf/d compared with the second half of 2019. EIA forecasts rising natural gas prices in the second half of 2020, which will drive down natural gas consumption for electric power.

Merrimack Station power plant in Bow gets EPA water permit after decade of dispute - Merrimack Station, the power plant in Bow, has come out on top of a multiyear fight over the use of Merrimack River water for cooling. The EPA has released a water-pollution permit for the coal-fired plant that does not require the construction of any kind of pool or tower to cool hundreds of thousands of gallons of water taken from the Merrimack River for the plant’s boilers and then returned to the river.Such closed-cycle cooling was included in a draft permit issued in 2011 by the EPA and has been sought for decades by environmental groups, who say removing that much water and returning it at a much higher temperature kills river life and alters the ecosystem of the Merrimack River. The permit requires the plan to restrict the times that it discharges water to protect nearby wildlife, and install “wedgewire” screens to limit which organisms get sucked into the plant when it takes water out of the river. Merrimack Station seldom runs these days because much cheaper electricity is usually available from gas-fired plants or solar and wind farms. It ran roughly the equivalent of one month during 2019, turning on only to meet high electricity demand during summer heat waves or, more often, during winter cold snaps when natural gas was not available because it was used for heating. The six-decade-old power plant is financially viable because it receives tens of millions of dollars in what are known as capacity payments that are made regardless of how much electricity it produces. Capacity payments are designed to keep “peaker plants” open to provide power during times of peak need. Similar payments are made to the state’s only other coal-fired plant, Schiller in Portsmouth, also owned by Granite Shore.

 Dana Nessel and Enbridge argue Line 5 pipeline shutdown to Michigan judge - Should the Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac ever have been built? That was the central question Friday as lawyers for the state of Michigan and Canadian petroleum giant Enbridge faced off in oral arguments in Ingham County Circuit Court stemming from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s lawsuit challenging the 1953 easement that made way for the pipeline’s construction. Friday’s arguments before Judge James Jamo were the latest in a long and multi-pronged legal battle over the fate of the 67-year old twin pipelines, which transport oil and natural gas liquids beneath the Straits. Nessel, a Democrat who campaigned for office on a promise to shut down Line 5, has mounted multiple challenges against the pipelines, which she alleges pose a threat to Michigan’s environment and economy. Calling Line 5 “a continuing threat of grave harm to critical public rights in the Great Lakes,” the lawsuit under consideration Friday seeks to void an easement that allows Enbridge to run the lines across state-controlled bottomlands in the Straits. Nessel claims the pipelines are a nuisance that violate Michigan environmental law and the common law public trust doctrine. That doctrine requires Michigan to hold navigable waterways and the lands beneath them in trust for public uses such as fishing, boating and recreation. During a live YouTube broadcast that cut out multiple times for extended periods, the two sides each asked Jamo to decide the case in their favor without the need for a trial. State lawyers argued Nessel’s public trust claims are strong enough to compel Jamo to find the pipelines illegal and shut them down. Enbridge lawyers, meanwhile, argued Nessel’s claims were too weak to “get in the door” to court. Assistant Attorney General Robert Reichel asked Jamo to issue a summary decision that the 1953 easement granting Enbridge’s predecessor, Lakehead Pipe Line company, access to the bottom of the straits violated the public trust doctrine. As such, Reichel argued, Jamo should order Enbridge to stop operating Line 5 as soon as possible. “The 1953 easement was, and is, void,” Reichel said. The state’s arguments rest on the tenet that a state can only relinquish public trust resources when doing so would advance protected public rights, or at the very least, do no significant harm to them. The exposed lakebed lines, Reichel argued, are vulnerable to an oil spill that “represents a substantial threat to the exercise of those rights” and thus should never have been approved.

In Wake of Fatal Explosion, PSC Pushes for Answers on Stalled Equipment Replacement Program –  Four years after a fatal explosion at a Silver Spring apartment complex, the Maryland Public Service Commission is trying to find a way to remedy the safety concerns surrounding the existence of mercury service regulators routinely found in homes and apartment buildings across the state. The regulators, installed in buildings constructed before 1960, are used to stabilize gas pressure, but in April 2019, after a lengthy investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board determined it was the failure of a mercury service regulator that led to the explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments. Seven people died in the accident on Aug. 10, 2016, including two children. Washington Gas, the utility provider responsible for maintaining the equipment continues to deny that the failure of a regulator led to the explosion and faults the NTSB findings. The fact that the regulator was even inside the apartment building at Flower Branch exposed yet another failure. Washington Gas had promised to remove and replace all mercury service regulators in its Maryland service area by 2013 and recovered a total of $1.962 million from ratepayers to do just that. The company also promised to report annually on its progress. Yet during the proposed decade-long replacement period, the company filed only one report, in 2003, claiming 2,744 of the estimated 42,745 mercury regulators had been replaced.

US LNG cargo cancellations mount for July as weakened global demand persists | S&P Global Platts — About 45 LNG cargoes scheduled to be loaded in July at US export terminals were said to have been canceled by customers — at least half of them tied to Cheniere Energy's two Gulf Coast facilities, according to market sources. The moves reported Thursday reflect the depth of global demand destruction exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with Asian and European buyers fleeing US supplies as summer approaches. Feedgas flows to US liquefaction facilities fell this week to the lowest level since October 2019. The July cancellations, roughly double what was reported for June, represent nearly two-thirds the average volume of US LNG that was produced monthly when the coronavirus began to spread globally in January, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data. Often billed as a big benefit for US exporters, their contracts call for offtakers to pay a fixed feed when canceling cargoes. Those protections could be complicated if customers were to declare force majeure, something market participants have suggested is possible if the health crisis drags on or deepens. Cheniere has said it doesn't believe the market disruptions from the coronavirus would provide a valid legal basis for an FM claim by one of its counterparties. Low international prices and weaker-than-normal demand have been cited as the main reasons for the cancellations at US terminals that largely began in April and picked up in May and June. North Asian spot LNG prices extended their downtrend Thursday as cargo availability remained ample despite procurement activity in China gaining momentum. The Platts JKM for July was assessed down by 4.8 cents/MMBtu day on day at $2.125/MMBtu, on lower pricing indications. In the Atlantic region, a plunging Eurogas market has sent delivered LNG prices to record lows. Platts assessed the DES NWE/MED markets at $1.371/MMBtu Thursday, down $0.134/MMBtu day on day, the lowest level since Platts began assessing these markets in 2010. The Platts Gulf Coast Marker was assessed at $1.283/MMBtu Thursday, moving lower on bearish sentiment in the Northeast Asian market, which currently provides the most lucrative market for US cargoes. The spread between the GCM and NYMEX Henry Hub front-month has remained in negative territory since late March and implies that the margins on US cargoes being marketed in the spot market are very thin or negative.

U.S. drilling industry says offshore ban would crush jobs, government revenues - (Reuters) - A U.S. ban on new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which presidential hopeful Joe Biden promised to enact if elected, would lead to hundreds of thousands of job losses and billions in lost government revenue over 20 years, an offshore drilling industry group said on Tuesday. The report by the Washington-based National Ocean Industries Association comes as Biden and other Democrats hoping to unseat Republican President Donald Trump in November’s election have vowed to shift the country away from planet-warming fossil fuels to help avert the worst impacts of climate change. “It’s important for the public and policymakers to understand the ramifications, which are severe,” NOIA President Erik Milito said in an interview about the study. Biden has said that moving away from fossil fuels would pave the way for big job gains in renewable energy. NOIA said it conducted research on the economic impact of an offshore drilling ban, and analyzed two scenarios: one assuming no new leases, and another assuming no new drilling permits issued beginning in 2022. If no new permits are issued, the offshore industry would have 179,000 jobs in 2040, less than half the 370,000 jobs it would be projected to support under current policies, the report said. Government revenues from the industry, meanwhile, would be $2.7 billion a year instead of $7 billion, it said. With no new leases, jobs and revenues would each be more than 25% lower than the business-as-usual forecast. Last year, drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s Outer Continental Shelf supported 345,000 U.S. jobs and contributed $28.7 billion to the economy. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic choked off demand for transport fuels, igniting an oil price collapse that put the industry in crisis. NOIA said the report’s forecasts take into account the current industry downturn.

 Shell evacuates workers after coronavirus outbreak on Gulf rig - Shell Oil, the U.S. subsidiary of energy giant Royal Dutch Shell, has evacuated nine workers from a company platform in the Gulf of Mexico for testing and treatment of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The workers were airlifted by helicopter to unidentified medical facilities. Five of the workers tested positive for coronavirus, two are waiting test results and two were negative for the virus.

Louisiana House bill seeks to invalidate parish lawsuits against oil and gas companies - — A committee on Wednesday pushed a bill to the Louisiana House floor that seeks to invalidate environmental lawsuits filed by coastal parishes against oil and gas companies. The House Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted 9-3 to advance Senate Bill 440, by Sen. Michael “Big Mike” Fesi, R-Houma. Advocates say the bill requires the money that the parishes would have spent on the lawsuits to go to coastal restoration efforts. “If we’re going to believe that these lawsuits are about restoring our coasts, then we need to put the money where our coast needs to be restored,” Archie Chaisson, Lafourche parish President, said in support of the bill. The committee voted to add amendments by Rep. Philip Devillier, R-Eunice, that would give the Department of Natural Resources, and Attorney General Jeff Landry sole discretion over the lawsuits instead of the parishes. “In one of largest disasters--this global pandemic--in the history of the world, and I have to be here, fighting for our right, St. Bernard Parish, to sue a company that polluted our parish,” Guy McInnis, St. Bernard Parish president, said. The amendment mirrored parts of a bill that Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Cameron, withdrew last week. That bill was designed to get the lawsuits out of the hands of private trial lawyers who have been representing the parishes in the suit. Opponents say that neither the Natural Resources Department nor the Attorney General’s office have the money to cover the full cost of the lawsuits. Last week, the department estimated the cost of each of the 42 cases at about $4.3 million, or an aggregate of over $180 million. The committee also approved a resolution by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, that calls on local governments to drop the lawsuits against oil and gas companies.

Stop counting on foreign tankers - The global collapse in oil prices due to the coronavirus and a production dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia have forced scores of tankers waiting off American ports for demand to return. While they are full with American oil, almost none of these tankers are American flagged. While that is not unusual, it is a major problem for national security.Today, the United States military has access to only nine government and commercial tankers suitable for operations abroad, but it has projected it needs at least 80 tankers to transport fuel from oil refineries to American forces during a large war. There are another nearly 60 American flagged tankers that transport cargo among American ports, but they would need to mostly stay home to keep the domestic economy running. This lack of American tankers is not a new problem, but it has grown worse since the last United States military campaigns out in the Middle East.In those operations, American troops counted on foreign tankers to carry their fuel overseas or bought fuel from local refineries. That may not work in the future. Many of the foreign tankers the United States military would rely on are now flagged by China, which built its own fleet of tankers and influences a critical portion of the world tanker market through financing, pooling agreements, and port management. These tankers are unlikely to be available to the United States military in any future crisis where China may be the adversary or may oppose American operations. Most of the world tanker fleet is not controlled by China, but there is still no guarantee the United States can charter them. Foreign crews, many of whom are Chinese or Russian, may not want to sail into a conflict. Further, as with the current oil glut, tankers may not be available to move military fuels because they are full of oil or other refined products.Without the tankers, Navy ships would be stuck in port, Air Force planes would be grounded, and Army and Marine units ashore would run out of gas. American forces would lack the ability to deploy to defend our allies, sustain operations, and could lose a war. Two simple and low cost moves could solve this problem. Establish a tanker security fleet of commercial American tankers and increase the proportion for United States military fuel bought from American refineries and not foreign ones.

Kinder Morgan Pipeline ruptures SAWS water project - Call it a case of two pipelines coming together – though not in a way either one wanted. Contractors building Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) on May 21 punctured the Vista Ridge Pipeline, a project of the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) built to deliver water from the Carrizo Aquifer in Burleson County to thirsty Bexar County. The puncture was described by SAWS official Steve Clouse, who was quoted in a Rivard Report story about the incident, as a “pinhole” that allowed about 60,000 gallons of water to escape. It reportedly happened in a rural area about two and a half miles south of Uhland. According to the SAWS web site, the water line had just become operational on May 11. Clouse told the Rivard Report that water service was not disrupted, as SAWS filled water tanks to supply customers during the repair process, which was estimated to take a few days. Kinder Morgan VP Allen Fore said the company is reviewing the incident “and working with the water agency as they address repairs to the line, which are underway.” The Vista Ridge Pipeline was part of a $3.4 billion dollar deal “to initiate the delivery of almost 16.3 billion gallons of water annually from Burleson County.” The project’s 142 miles spans six counties.

U.S. Drops 17 Rigs, with 14 Lost in Permian, as Rate of Decline Slows - The U.S. rig count fell another 17 rigs to drop to 301 during the week ended Friday (May 29), another sharp weekly decline that nonetheless suggests a flattening of the recent downward trajectory in onshore activity. According to data from Baker Hughes Co. (BKR), the United States saw 15 oil-directed rigs and two natural gas-directed rigs exit the patch during the week, putting the overall domestic tally nearly 700 units behind the 984 rigs running at this time last year. U.S. operators have now laid down nearly 500 rigs since mid-March, one of many signs of the economic shocks delivered by the Covid-19 pandemic.Two directional units and one vertical unit joined 14 horizontal rigs in exiting the patch for the most recent week. Gulf of Mexico activity held steady at 12, according to BKR.In Canada, one oil-directed rig packed up shop, dropping the Canadian count to 20, down from 85 in the year-ago period.The combined North American rig count finished the week at 321, versus 1,069 a year ago.Among plays, the Permian Basin shed another 14 rigs to drop to 148, a fraction of the 452 rigs active at this time last year. The Marcellus Shale and Williston Basin each dropped two rigs on the week, while the Arkoma Woodford and Utica Shale each added one.Among states, Texas dropped 11 rigs to fall to 127, versus 480 a year ago. New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania dropped two a piece. California saw one rig depart overall, while Ohio added one, according to BKR data.The dislocations from Covid-19 to global energy demand have led to shut-ins and production cutbacks in the United States, and a recent report by Goldman Sachsanalysts found that operators are responding by increasing oil and natural gas hedging into 2021.Using information from exploration and production operators covered by Goldman, analysts estimated that through March, 47% of 2020 natural gas production was hedged, along with 66% of oil.“Our update on covered producer hedging on the back of 1Q2020 results suggests an increase in 2020 oil hedging to recent highs, while 2021 liquids/natural gas hedging is above historical averages,” analysts said. “Relative to last quarter, we saw an 18% increase in 2020 oil production hedged,” with 60% of the increase resulting from increased hedges and 40% from lower production because of shut-ins and reduced activity. This comes as the International Energy Agency expects the crisis to result in a sharp pullback in global natural gas and oil investments, with Lower 48 spending falling by half year/year. The decline in investments worldwide has “serious implications” for security and the transition to alternative fuels, the global energy watchdog said in the World Energy Investment 2020 report.

Permian Basin, other associated gas plays lead US production to 16-month low | S&P Global Platts — US natural gas production is hovering near a 16-month low in late May as historically weak commodity prices prompt many operators to slow drilling activity and curtail output at marginal wells. On May 20, US output tumbled to 85.5 Bcf/d, down more than 9% from its record high at 94.3 Bcf/d in November, modeled data from S&P Global Platts Analytics shows. The recent and precipitous drop in US production, which has fallen about 6.5 Bcf/d over the past five weeks, tracks similarly steep declines in crude prices and active oil-directed drilling rigs. In May, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude prices have averaged just $26.77/b, keeping internal rates of return in negative territory for many US producers, S&P Global Platts data shows. On Thursday, the US rig count declined for an eleventh consecutive week, falling by 12 to 357, according to data published by Enverus DrillingInfo. Since January, the US rig count has fallen by nearly 485, or about 57%. While the Permian Basin accounts from nearly half of that decline, other oil-weighted plays have also seen steep reductions, including the Bakken, Denver-Julesburg, Eagle Ford and the SCOOP/STACK, which together account for 155 rigs lost since late January. By comparison, the largest dry gas plays – including the Marcellus, Utica and Haynesville – have lost a combined total of just 25 rigs as many operators hold the line on drilling amid recent strength in forward gas prices. Recent rig cuts and well curtailments in West Texas have seen the Permian Basin lead the decline in US gas production. Over the past two weeks, associated output has averaged 10.6 Bcf/d, down 1.2 Bcf/d compared to the March average. More recently, Permian gas production has slipped below 10 Bcf/d. Over the same comparison period, SCOOP/STACK production has declined by some 760 MMcf/d, closely followed by the Bakken with a 620 MMcf/d contraction. Output from the Denver-Julesburg is down by over 370 MMcf/d. Eagle Ford production has eked out a modest gain over that period. Until late May, US dry gas plays had seen recent production gains across the board, led by the Haynesville, which is still trending about 600 MMcf/d above its March average. While the Utica also remains up about 100 MMcf/d since March, output from the Marcellus has fallen over that period, owing mainly to recent production curtailments by the US' largest gas producer, EQT. On May 16, EQT said it would curtail production at certain of its Pennsylvania and Ohio wells in response to low gas prices. A recent SEC filing by the company's midstream spinoff, EQM, shows that the curtailments total about 1.4 Bcf/d and will continue through at least the end of June.

US shale industry braces for wave of bankruptcies - The biggest independent shale oil groups in the US reported a record combined loss of $26bn in the first quarter as the sector braces itself for a wave of bankruptcies over the next two years.The collapse in crude demand brought about by the coronavirus pandemic forced more than $38bn in write-offs among top producers, according to analysis by Rystad Energy, sending net losses tumbling well below an average of $2.9bn in the past six years.US energy groups have been caught in the eye of the storm as lockdowns aimed at stemming the spread of Covid-19 slashed energy demand and crashed the oil market.The sweeping impairments reported by the 39 publicly listed US shale oil producers analysed by Rystad — which exclude majors and gas-focused companies — underline the pressure being faced by the industry as a result of the pandemic.“The bottom line is there is going to be a wave of bankruptcies and restructurings,” said Regina Mayor, global head of energy at KPMG. Analysts predict 250 companies could go bust before the end of next year unless oil prices rise fast enough to start generating cash for producers wilting under punishing debt loads.A recent rally has taken the price of West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, back above $30 a barrel, having traded in negative territory last month. But it remains down by half since January — and well beneath average break-even oil prices in the shale patch — leaving many more producers teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.“I don’t think $30 oil saves a lot of those producers who are sitting in the emergency room on a gurney waiting on a heart transplant,” said Buddy Clark, a lawyer at Haynes & Boone in Houston, Texas. “There are more bankruptcies to come.”Already 17 smaller US oil and gas producers, with total debt of around $14bn, have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, according to data from Haynes & Boone. Analysts at Rystad estimate the total could rise to 73 before the year is out. Another 170 would follow next year if prices remain around current levels. The shale boom has doubled American oil output since 2008 and crude exports have surged, allowing President Donald Trump to boast of US “energy independence”.But a model in which producers rely heavily on borrowed money while delivering meagre returns has caused investor patience to wear thin. The industry was already struggling to generate cash and hold on to investor support in 2019 when WTI averaged $57 a barrel. Now, with WTI down by around half this year and little access to financing, the pandemic and oil-price crash it caused are set to accelerate defaults, according to rating agency Fitch.

Rise of remote working is 'biggest threat to oil demand,' says analyst - Working from home has become the norm, and if the trend continues even after the pandemic abates, it could pose a big risk for oil, analysts are warning. "The biggest threat to oil demand is the rise of remote working," Bernstein said in a recent note to clients. "A decrease in commuting and business air travel is clearly negative for oil demand." Gasoline represents a sizable portion of overall oil demand — within each barrel of refined crude about 45% is used for gasoline — and, according to RBC, about 28% of gasoline demand in the U.S. is from people driving to and from work. Oil prices are, of course, driven by supply and demand dynamics, so a change on one side of the equation can send prices into a tailspin. Oil took a hit in April as billions of people around the world were subjected to some form of lockdown measures in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. With air and road travel coming to a virtual standstill, oil demand fell off a cliff. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, plunged below zero and into negative territory for the first time on record since no one wanted to take physical delivery of crude with demand expected to remain depressed. Now, WTI is on track for its best month ever as economies have started to reopen, and as producers have announced record output cuts. But demand might not ever fully recover. Twitter and Shopfiy are among the companies that have announced permanent work-from-home options, and more companies are expected to follow suit. "Pretty much every company out there with a sizable commercial real estate footprint is thinking about this now," said Dan Klein, head of scenario planning at S&P Global Platts. "While it's probably too early to tell how prevalent this structural shift in working from home will become after the restrictions are lifted, it's clear that a certain percentage of workers will never go back to commuting, at least every day," he added. The firm believes between 1 million barrels per day and 1.5 million bpd will be permanently lost. A man wearing a protective mask crosses an empty street during the coronavirus pandemic on May 18, 2020 in New York City. Cindy Ord | Getty Images Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, worldwide demand stood at roughly 100 million bpd, according to the International Energy Agency. Klein said an even bigger risk could be the impact on business air travel, especially over the longer-term, as employees get used to using Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams. "Right now you're challenging that notion that business travel is the cost of doing business," he said, noting that the demand hit could be 1.5 million bpd to 2 million bpd. Raymond James added that heightened unemployment as well as online education will also eat away at demand. "We assume that vehicle fuel consumption in 2021 will be impacted by 1.6 million bpd versus pre-COVID levels, all else held constant, with the impact decreasing to 400,000 bpd in 2022." When it comes to jet fuel consumption, the firm believes a slowdown in business travel will mean 2 million bpd of demand loss in 2021, before recovering slightly to 800,000 bpd in 2022.

Former Federal Reserve Governor Rebukes Fed for Using Covid-19 Funds to Bail Out Fossil Fuel Industry - A former Federal Reserve board of governors member on Thursday called on her former colleagues to stop using Covid-19 relief funds to bail out the "dying" fossil fuel industry, calling the decision a threat to the planet's climate and a misguided use of taxpayer money."These concessions to the fossil fuel industry are a risky investment in the past," Sarah Bloom Raskin wrotein a New York Times op-ed. "The Fed is ignoring clear warning signs about the economic repercussions of the impending climate crisis by taking action that will lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when even in the short term, fossil fuels are a terrible investment."Raskin's opinion piece sparked praise from climate campaigners like co-founder Jamie Henn."This should cause some waves," Henn tweeted.Henn on Thursday penned an opinion piece for Common Dreams arguing that Mike Sommers, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API), is spewing lies to the public when he claims the industry doesn't want—and hasn't actively pushed for—a bailout from the Fed.As Henn wrote:The truth is that despite Sommer's best efforts to spin a fairytale about oil companies tightening their belts and lifting themselves up by their bootstraps, corporate socialism is exactly what API wants. In fact, the fossil fuel industry, and the American Petroleum Institute in particular, have been at the forefront of corporate efforts to profit off the coronavirus pandemic and government relief efforts.Climate advocacy group Friends of the Earth program manager Lukas Ross, in a statement Wednesday, alsorejected Sommers' protestations."Oil lobbyists are spewing blatant lies, and we have the receipts," said Ross. "Big Oil has already nabbed $1.9 billion in giveaways thanks to corporate tax cuts from the last stimulus." "If polluters want to deny the existence of the ongoing bailout," Ross added, "Congress should swiftly repeal these blatant corporate tax giveaways and make fossil fuels ineligible for stimulus lending programs."

  New filing to defend Colorados oil & gas pollution rules - Environmental Defense Fund and Healthy Air & Water Colorado today came to the defense of rules adopted last year by the Air Quality Control Commission that strengthened regulations to reduce climate and air pollution from oil and gas industry operations across the state.Two separate lawsuits were filed in March (one by group of Western Slope counties and another by Weld County) seeking to roll back the new methane and ozone pollution regulations that were adopted unanimously by the AQCC in December of 2019. Thirty- five local government entities including counties, municipalities, and public health departments from across the state as well as thousands of ordinary Coloradans supported the rules. EDF and Healthy Air & Water Colorado filed motions (available here and here) to intervene in both cases in order to defend those rules.“This policy has been enormously successful and highly cost-effective, elevating Colorado to become a national leader in forward-thinking solutions. Rolling back clean air protections in the middle of the COVID crisis is a disservice to the state, and ultimately to the industry itself. It would compromise our public health at a time when we can least afford it, and amplify our climate problems.” “These commonsense clean air protections are entirely achievable and will make Colorado’s air healthier for everyone to breathe. Instead of attacking pollution safeguards during a public health crisis, we should seize every opportunity to clean our air and reduce emissions that can make Coloradans sicker. These rules will do just that – and benefit every single one of us”

Upcoming Rule Could Expand Oil, Gas Drilling in National Forests - Bloomberg Law -A proposed U.S. Forest Service rule stands to weaken a check on oil and gas development in national forests and possibly give the Interior Department more sway over land leasing decisions, legal analysts and conservationists say. The rulemaking, announced in 2018, aims to align the Forest Service’s leasing practices with those of the Bureau of Land Management to speed up fossil fuel development in national forests and grasslands nationwide, including oil and gas-rich forests in Ohio, Mississippi, and Colorado.The White House is reviewing a draft of the proposed rule, which will be published in June or July, Tracy Parker, Forest Service acting director of minerals and geology management, said in an interview.The BLM, part of the Interior Department, is in charge of oil and gas leasing on all federal lands, including those managed by the Forest Service—which is part of the Agriculture Department. Federal law prohibits BLM from leasing in national forests without Forest Service consent, Parker said. The Forest Service is remaking its oil and gas regulations at a time when it is weakening environmental checks and balances under the National Environmental Policy Act and joining with the BLM in prioritizing logging and fossil fuels development on federal public lands, said Hana Vizcarra, staff attorney at the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program.The Forest Service, which last updated its oil and gas rules in 1990, wants to make quick oil and gas leasing decisions, “streamline” the approval process, and remove roadblocks to oil and gas development, according to the rulemaking announcement.The Forest Service and BLM have to deliver oil and gas to the public, and “there’s a need there that our regulations are consistent and are working well together,” Parker said.But any Trump administration push to expedite oil and gas development in national forests affects climate change and threatens drinking water in cities nationwide, said Randi Spivak, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity.Forest Service data shows drinking water for 180 million people in 68,000 communities nationwide originates in national forests, some of which are being drilled for oil and gas. “Fracking can pollute surface and groundwater,” Spivak said. “The Trump administration wants to put polluters over the interests of people, water, climate and wildlife.”

PUBLIC LANDS: Energy developers seek leases near iconic Utah park -- Friday, May 22, 2020 --Oil and gas companies have proposed more than 150,000 acres of federal land for potential development in the canyons of eastern Utah, some as close as a mile and a half from the famous Arches National Park.

Trump administration slows on fracking plans after outcry for impacted Navajo Nation -The Trump administration has relented and will allow more time for opinions on plans to lease public land to oil and gas companies after outrage that the tribal communities who would be most affected were unable to join the scheduled "virtual" meetings and are being severely impacted by the coronavirus.Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary David Bernhardt agreed on Wednesday to extend the comment period on drilling plans for areas around Chaco Canyon Historical Park in New Mexico.Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the DOI, held a series of Zoom meetings - despite the fact that many Native American communities in the area have limited access to internet. A Federal Communications Commission report found that less than half of households on tribal lands have access to fixed broadband service. The Navajo Nation, who are most impacted by the fracking plans, has now surpassed New York as the area with the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the US. Navajo Nation has a population of around 173,000 people across their lands in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The tribe has 4,153 confirmed cases and 144 deaths from Covid-19.The crisis prompted Doctors Without Borders - who typically work in war zones - to send a team to the Navajo Nation, the first time the organisation has done so in the US.The Chaco Canyon region is home to thousands of sacred, ancestral sites of indigenous peoples including the Hopi, Navajo and Zuni. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.  In a statement to The Independent, Food & Water Action organizer Margaret Wadsworth said: “This extension is a victory for the communities fighting to protect Chaco and the people whose health and well-being are threatened by more fracking. The Bureau of Land Management should have made this decision in the first place. "The Navajo Nation has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and could not meaningfully participate in hearings where their voices would be essential. The real task for the BLM is to create a plan that puts the protection of our air, water, and health first, and not the interests of oil and gas corporations.”

Trail of spills haunts Dakota Access developer -Federal pipeline inspectors didn't like what they found when they looked at construction of the Permian Express pipeline. Unqualified welders were fusing the pipe together in central Texas, using unapproved methods. Regulators with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) were alarmed enough in May 2016 to seek a $1.3 million fine against the builder, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners LP. Company attorneys, though, said the pipe was sound and the problems flagged by PHMSA were "insignificant deviations." Four months later, the new pipeline leaked more than 33,000 gallons of oil through a hole next to a weld. It took crews 12 days to find the leak. It was one of 349 leaks, spills and other accidents since 2012 on pipelines operated by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries. That record could signal trouble ahead for Energy Transfer's most famous project, the Dakota Access pipeline. The company's accident history has taken on renewed importance after U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in March ordered a broad review of the pipeline giant's performance on safety and the environment. His order was part of long-running litigation with tribes who oppose Dakota Access. Boasberg might even shut down the line while the review is done. His decision on whether he'll let it keep operating should come sometime after tomorrow, when briefs are due before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Energywire, March 26).Energy Transfer's Sunoco subsidiary ranks eighth-worst for volume spilled per mile for the last three years on pipelines carrying hazardous liquids such as crude oil, according to PHMSA performance data. It's had more accidents harming people or the environment than any other operator in the last five years — 38 — but it has one of the largest pipeline systems."  Water concerns are paramount for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has led opposition to Dakota Access. The tribe says a pipeline spill fouling its water supply would be an existential threat. The company says chances of a catastrophic spill are "infinitesimal."  Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries, though, have reported causing water contamination. Of 313 spills reported since 2012 on liquid lines, 35 caused water contamination and one was linked to tainted drinking water in a private well.  On top of that, Dallas-based Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries are linked to 19 groundwater contamination sites in the most recent monitoring report from the Texas Groundwater Protection Committee. Thousands of demonstrators camped out to protest the pipeline as construction moved closer to Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River in North Dakota a half-mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that supplies water to the Standing Rock Sioux.In December 2016, with protests in the headlines, the Obama administration declined to grant a final permit for the pipeline to cross under the lake.  President Trump, who has business and political ties to Warren, reversed course (Greenwire, Jan. 24, 2017). Four days after his inauguration, to which Warren had contributed $250,000, Trump issued an executive order accelerating Dakota Access (Energywire, Jan. 27, 2017).

Canadian gas exports to US likely to remain low well into June: Platts Analytics | S&P Global Platts — Below-normal exports of Canadian gas to the US Pacific Northwest and Midwest are likely to continue well into June as AECO basis continues to strengthen and incentivize storage injections in Alberta, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Exports to the US Pacific Northwest through Kingsgate have run under capacity this summer. While the market was previously expecting these flows to pick up by June, sentiments are now skewing toward this underutilization continuing throughout the month. Exports at Kingsgate have averaged 2.1 Bcf/d since May 5, according to Platts Analytics. Some of the weakness is due to maintenance. Kingsgate typically flows at capacity, which is closer to 2.3 Bcf/d or higher. The maintenance schedule for Gas Transmission Northwest, a subsidiary of TC Energy, reports there is 2.227 Bcf/d of capacity at Kingsgate. Elevated storage injections in Alberta are prompting Kingsgate to continue to move volumes well below capacity. High injection demand in Alberta has driven AECO basis to its highest value in years. AECO basis to Henry Hub has averaged minus 24 cents/MMBtu so far this summer after averaging 19 cents/MMBtu in May. This has collapsed the spread between AECO and the downstream PG&E Malin hub. AECO is trading at a 7 cent/MMBtu discount to Malin this summer compared to a $1.11/MMBtu discount last summer. June futures had AECO trailing Malin by about 20 cents/MMBtu or more up until the past week, but the June contract has moved to 11 cents/MMBtu behind Malin. This suggests weak exports to the Northwest could persist at least until late June, according to Platts Analytics.Exports from Western Canada into the US Midwest have averaged 3.1 Bcf/d summer to date, according to Platts Analytics. Exports to the Midwest were 3.9 Bcf/d since last summer until May 21. Earlier forecasts had exports averaging 3.4 Bcf/d this summer. The lower exports are also likely due to the injection strength so far on the NOVA Gas Transmission storage system this summer.

Alaska LNG Project receives federal regulatory approval (AP) — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a decision authorizing construction of the Alaska LNG Project, concluding an environmental impact statement process of more than three years. The commission announced Thursday it approved the state’s plans for the estimated $43 billion pipeline project that will move large volumes of North Slope liquefied natural gas, The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation submitted an application for the massive project in April 2017.  “As anybody in the infrastructure development process knows, to go through the (National Environmental Policy Act) process in three years is an exceptionally fast time,” said Frank Richards, president of the state of Alaska public corporation. Oil producers Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co. and BP PLC and the state spent more than $600 million on work to achieve the approval, with a state share of about $240 million. The project includes a gas treatment plant, an 807-mile (1,299-kilometer) buried pipeline from the North Slope to the Kenai Peninsula and a liquefaction plant at Nikiski capable of producing up to 20 million metric tons (22 million tons) of liquefied natural gas per year for export to Asian markets. The project could generate around 18,000 jobs during construction and about 1,000 new jobs during its 30-year operational life, according to estimates by the gasline development corporation and the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The project would also provide natural gas to the Fairbanks area and other communities along the pipeline route that currently rely on fuel oil for heating and some power generation.

Iranian gasoline starts to arrive in fuel-starved Venezuela | S&P Global Platts — An Iranian tanker carrying gasoline has arrived over the weekend in Venezuelan territorial waters as the country deals with severe fuel shortages and US sanctions. The clean tanker Fortune -- laden with 30,000 mt of gasoline -- was north of the Venezuelan port of Puerto La Cruz as of Sunday morning, data from Platts trade flow tool cFlow showed. The Iranian Embassy said late Saturday in a tweet that one of its tankers arrived in Venezuelan waters escorted by the country's navy. This was also confirmed in a tweet by Venezuela's new oil minister Tareck El Aissami. The shipment comes amid rising political tensions between the US and the two OPEC members. US sanctions against both Iran and Venezuela have had a severe impact on their oil sectors. US officials have been watching reports of the Iranian gasoline shipments to Venezuela but have so far not taken any action to block them. Meanwhile, Iran has repeatedly warned of a "firm response" if the US takes action against its oil tankers. A senior US official said Sunday that Iran, Cuba, Russia and China were "engaged in malign activities and meddling around the world. The United States denounces their actions everywhere but especially in the Western Hemisphere, and we will not abide by their support of the illegitimate and tyrannical regime of Nicolas Maduro." The US National Security Council called Venezuela's imports of Iranian gasoline "an act of desperation." "It will not stop Venezuela's chronic fuel shortages or alleviate the suffering that Maduro has inflicted on the once prosperous people of his country," the council said May 21 on Twitter.

Watch- Venezuela Sends Large Fighter Jet Escort For Tankers As Iran's Flag Flies Over Caracas -To pretty much everyone's surprise it appears the five Iranian gasoline tankers will be able to offload their fuel to Venezuela without incident, despite US threats to thwart what Washington sees as illicit sanctions-busting. It remains that the return trip could be a  different story, however. Dramatic video emerged early this week showing the first couple of tankers' arrivals within Venezuelan coastal waters, accompanied by what appeared a large Venezuelan military escort, as Maduro officials promised. First tanker to successfully arrive, the Fortune, docked by Monday, while all are now reported in Caribbean waters, with the second vessel soon to reportedly to dock as well, already safely within Venezuela's Exclusive Economic Zone. Venezuelan military Sukhoi 30MK2 and F-16 aircrafts escort Iran's second tanker on its journey to a Venezuelan port.— Camila (@camilateleSUR) May 26, 2020 According to multiple widely circulating videos, Maduro's military deployed multiple warships to escort the tankers along with what appears at least a half-dozen Russian-produced fighter jets and F-16s. No doubt the Pentagon and Trump administration has monitored the images closely.  There were growing fears of a 'tanker war' Caribbean-style given that last month Trump reportedly ordered a US naval build-up in the region against alleged Maduro government narcotrafficking. Though with plenty of oil, Venezuela has struggled to obtain gasoline for domestic consumption given its network of broken and derelict refineries, which its ally Iran has responded to by delivering 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and refining components. Venezuelan officials declared the fuel delivery as a "landmark in struggle for sovereignty" while unusually an Iranian flag appeared over downtown Caracas:  Iranian flag flying in central Caracas today #Venezuela #Iran — CNW (@ConflictsW) May 25, 2020 Given that Maduro made good on his promise to send significant armed forces to provide security for the tankers, it's likely the White House saw too many 'unknowns' if the US Navy were to attempt an intercept of the fuel.

Help us protect the headwaters of the Amazon from oil companies, elders say - (Reuters) - Indigenous leaders are calling for help to stop oil companies drilling in the headwaters of the Amazon river in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, warning that encroaching on their homelands would destroy a bulwark against climate change. In video shared with Reuters on International Day for Biological Diversity on Friday, communities in Peru and Ecuador said pressure to exploit their territory would intensify as governments seek to reboot economies reeling from the virus. “We have taken care of the rainforest all our lives and now we invite everyone to share in our vision,” Domingo Peas, a leader from Ecuador’s Achuar nation, told Reuters Television. “We need to find a new route, post-oil, for economic development, for the well-being of all humanity, not just indigenous people.” The Achuar are among 20 indigenous nationalities representing almost 500,000 people living in a swathe of rainforest straddling the Peru-Ecuador border, often referred to as the Amazon Sacred Headwaters. Existing and proposed oil and gas blocks cover 280,000 square miles in the region, an area larger than Texas, according to a report published in December by international advocacy groups including Amazon Watch and Oil is currently being extracted from 7% of these blocks. Ecuador and Peru have plans to exploit at least an additional 40%, including in forests teeming with wildlife, such as Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, the groups say.Home to jaguars, pink river dolphins, anacondas, howler monkeys and thousands of other species, the region, in many areas barely touched by the modern world, is seen as integral to the wider health of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. Scientists fear that the ecosystem has now been cleared so extensively to grow soy and other export crops that it could flip from being a net absorber of carbon dioxide into a major emitter of the greenhouse gas. With massive fires last year underscoring rampant deforestation in Brazil, preserving pristine forest in remote parts of Peru and Ecuador offers a unique opportunity to nurture the resilience of the wider biome, indigenous leaders say. “Caring for the forests of the Amazon, is caring for your life and future generations,” said Rosa Cerda, vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.Although communities in Ecuador and Peru have had some success in using lawsuits to block new exploration, past oil and mining projects suggest that carving new roads through trackless landscapes can trigger rapid deforestation. Leaks from pipelines pollute rivers used for drinking water, harming people and wildlife.

Trafigura takes a bet with North Sea oil on post-lockdown revival - (Reuters) - Commodities trader Trafigura has seized the moment and taken a rare dominant position in the North Sea crude market over the past two weeks as oil demand jumped, trading sources said. A combination of OPEC-led global production cuts, cheap freight rates and oil stuck in floating storage sent crude markets into overdrive starting at the end of April as fuel demand looked set to pick up with easing lockdowns. Differentials to benchmark dated Brent for grades around the world have shot up $6 a barrel in many cases, returning to trade at levels not seen since March before the peak lockdown period in April. In the last two weeks, Trafigura has snapped up 14 North Sea crude cargoes, including five Brent Blend and seven Forties and one each of Troll and Ekofisk. The cargoes are for delivery to Rotterdam or for loading between end-May and June 11. The volume of Forties, the largest crude underpinning the dated Brent benchmark, is equivalent to about half the June loading program. Trafigura declined to comment. Taking such large scale positions has not been seen for several years after they were made by other major traders like Glencore, Royal Dutch Shell and Vitol. The Geneva-based firm traded 6.1 million barrels per day of crude and refined products in 2019, making it the second biggest independent trader after Vitol. Unlike its rivals, Trafigura does not have a significant refining system. Its main interest is a stake in the 400,000 barrel-per-day Vadinar refinery in India. The record contango that arose due to the collapse in demand caused by the lockdowns had encouraged a vast build-up of oil in storage. Crude differentials have jumped so much that small quantities of floating storage have been released, though the market structure will have to flip into backwardation before the bulk is marketed.

Russian Gas Flow To Europe Drops As Poland Transit Deal Expires Authored by Tsvetana Paraskova via, The flow of natural gas from Russia to Europe via the Yamal-Europe pipeline crossing Poland completely stopped on Tuesday after a two-and-a-half-decade-old transit deal between Russia and Poland expired and after the COVID-19 pandemic battered gas demand in Europe. The Russia-Poland transit deal for natural gas from the Yamal peninsula to Germany, via Belarus and Poland, expired on May 17. Poland has aligned its legislation with the energy regulations of the European Union (EU) and Polish operator Gaz-System began offering capacity bookings on the Polish section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline in accordance with EU regulations.Poland has been trying to wean itself off Russian energy supplies and has become one of the first eastern European countries to have booked U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargoes.With the end of the gas transit agreement with Russia, Poland is moving to a more liberalized natural gas market, but it expects that Russia will continue to send similar volumes of gas before the transit deal expired, a Polish official told Reuters last week.For July 1 through October 1, Poland’s Gaz-System has already sold 80 percent of the capacity on the pipeline made available as a result of termination of the transit contract, the company said on May 15. The remaining available capacity will be auctioned in June, July, and August at monthly auctions for monthly volumes.But the capacity bookings for the first days following the expiration of the gas transit showed little appetite for gas in Europe, according to analysts.Gaz-System told Reuters that the capacity booked for Sunday was much lower than for the previous days. So, “there is no need for the pumping stations to work for 24 hours a day at such low orders for the transit service,” the company said. Commenting on the drastic decline in gas flows from Russia via Poland, VTB Capital said in a note, as carried by Bloomberg: “Such a significant reduction in gas transit is primarily driven by weak demand in Europe amid warm winter, high levels of gas in underground storage and demand distortion due to Covid-19.”

India - Thick smoke from oil refinery triggers fresh panic - Triggering a fresh wave of panic among locals, dense plumes of smoke were seen coming from the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited plant in Vishakhapatnam on Wednesday, May 21. According to reports, the smoke was diffused from the Crude Distillation Unit (CDU) at HPCL, which the company clarified was due to “technical snag” and “temperature issues”. The situation was swiftly brought under control by the people at the site, the operations were resumed as normal and no casualties have been reported. The recent incident at HPCL was viewed with heightened dread because of the recent styrene gas leak from an LG Polymers plant in the city that killed at least 12 people and had injured over 600. But, the HPCL PRO Kalidas told ANI that the situation is currently restrained. Kalidas said, "Due to a technical snag and temperature issues plant-3 restarted, thick smoke came out when the plant was started. Immediately a team of HPCL technical swung into action and took immediate measures to stop smoke, catalyst backup, situation under controlled and resumed operations."  While at HPCL plant the situation did not escalate into another disaster, in the latest development of the previous Vizag gas leak, the Supreme Court has denied interfering with the order issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directing the LG Polymers to deposit Rs 50 crores for the damage caused by the harmful styrene gas. NGT had also set up a five-member committee under the leadership of former Andhra Pradesh High Court Judge B Seshasayana Reddy to visit the site of the accident and submit a report. Meanwhile, the work at the plant has been put on hold after the incident which killed at least a dozen of its workers.

Mobil Oil ask for five year extension on move to cleaner shipping fuel - An oil company is dragging its heels on a move to cleaner shipping fuels, as health officials call for "immediate" action. Mobil Oil New Zealand said it was not opposed to the move, in its submission to the Environment Select Committee in March, but holding off until late 2023 was"required". In its submission, Mobil said the Government should consider waiting for "a minimum of five years" before signing Annex VI of Marpol, the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships. The Ministry of Transport has said it plans to join Annex VI, which regulates air pollution from ships, by November 2021. New Zealand's domestic fleet can use the cheaper, low-grade fuel until Annex VI regulations are enforced.But the Ministry of Health has called for immediate accession, saying the delay "to manage fuel price fluctuations" comes at the "expense of the health of New Zealanders". More stringent Annex VI regulations took effect globally on January 1, when the sulphur limit of 3.5 per cent by mass for marine fuels dropped to 0.5 per cent. Mobil said New Zealand's capability to accede would depend on the availability and cost of low sulphur fuel within the New Zealand market. This would require "significant changes" to both marine fuel supply infrastructure and the domestic marine vessel fleet, the submission said. "We expect that any reduction in marine fuel oil sulphur limits will result in significant costs both to our business and the business of our customers," the submission said. New Zealand's domestic fleet, including inter-island ferries, are not yet required to use the low sulphur fuel.Mobil said compliant fuels were likely to trade at a higher price than high-sulphur marine fuel oil, which would have cost repercussions for the domestic marine industry. "There may also be other, broader economic impacts for New Zealand." Ministry of Transport environment, emissions and adaptation manager Glen-Marie Burns said before New Zealand could ratify the treaty, they must make changes to domestic legislation. "We estimated it would take approximately 18 months to align our domestic legislation ..." They advised Cabinet that November 2021 was "the earliest timeframe" that they could accede. Annex VI obligations would come into effect three months later.

 Global energy investment expected to tumble 20% in 2020 due to COVID crisis: IEA -  (Reuters) - Global energy investment is expected to plunge by around 20% or $400 billion in 2020, its biggest fall on record, because of the new coronavirus outbreak, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday. The Paris-based IEA said this could have serious repercussions for energy security and the transition to clean energy as the global economy recovers from the pandemic. Governments are easing restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus after the confinement of around 3 billion people brought the global economy to a near standstill. At the start of the year, global energy investment was on track for a 2% increase in 2020, its biggest growth in six years, the IEA said. A total of $1.8 trillion was invested in the sector in 2019. “The historic plunge in global energy investment is deeply troubling for many reasons,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “It means lost jobs and economic opportunities today, as well as lost energy supply that we might well need tomorrow once the economy recovers,” he said, adding that it could hurt the move towards cleaner energies. The IEA said revenues for governments and industry are set to plummet by over $1 trillion in 2020 due to the fall in energy demand and lower prices. Global energy companies have cut investments and shelved projects to shore up their finances due to the crisis. The IEA said higher debts after the crisis will pose lasting risks to investments. Investment in oil and gas is expected to fall by almost one-third. The IEA said if investment in oil stays at 2020 levels, it would reduce the level of global supply in 2025 by almost 9 million barrels a day, a clear risk of tighter markets if demand moves back to pre-crisis levels.

The stealth peak in world oil production -  Monthly fluctuations will make it difficult to pinpoint a peak until long after it occurs. But, let's note the difference between world output in November 2018 which was 84.5 million barrels per day (mbpd) versus December 2019 which was 83.2 mbpd when the world economy was supposedly still in high gear. (These numbers are for crude plus lease condensate which is the definition of oil on major oil exchanges.) Between these two dates monthly oil production was occasionally lower than December 2019, but never higher than November 2018.  Does this mean oil production has reached an all-time peak?  Recent developments tend to suggest an affirmative answer. With the dramatic drop in both oil consumption and oil prices since the onset of the pandemic, the oil industry is now flat on its back. Capital spending on new projects has been slashed drastically in the wake of these developments. Revenues are dropping as oil production is being shut in awaiting higher prices and as many firms file for bankruptcy. To believe that the world will soon return to and exceed its November 2018 oil consumption, one must believe in a quick resolution to the current downturn and the infections that led to it and also that confidence among consumers worldwide is still high. Germany re-opened many of its retail stores about a month ago, but the flood of consumers seeking to satisfy pent-up demand did not appear. It is important to note that this is happening in a country with a substantial social safety net in which the official unemployment rate is 5.8 percent as of April 30. In the United States, the world's largest economy, the official unemployment rate stands at 14.7 percent. Is there any reason to believe that Americans will be more eager than Germans to flock to retail stores as lockdowns are lifted in the United States?  Last week the Chinese government dropped the long-time practice of targeting economic growth saying it won't announce a target for this year. Could it be that the Chinese economy won't grow at all in 2020? Zero growth is not exactly an exhilarating target for the government to announce.  If consumers worldwide are reluctant to spend, then the world economy will continue to slump. And, spending will likely not reach the pace it did in 2019 until there is solid job growth and a feeling of job security among many more people.  Meanwhile, low oil prices will make it difficult for the world's oil companies to justify spending on new supplies even as the natural production decline for existing wells takes its toll on production capacity.

Russia sees global oil market balancing in June-July -  (Reuters) - Russia’s energy ministry sees global oil demand and supply balancing in the next two months, it said on its Twitter feed on Monday, citing the minister Alexander Novak. Leading oil producers are due to hold an online conference in around two weeks on how to further police joint efforts to steady a global oil market hammered by overproduction and a demand drop linked to the coronavirus pandemic. “For now, the surplus stands at around 7-12 million barrels per day. The energy ministry is counting on the market to balance out in June - July thanks to a consumption increase,” the ministry quoted Novak as saying at a state council meeting on energy. The minister also said supply has already dropped by 14 million to 15 million barrels per day thanks to the OPEC+ deal and output cuts in other countries. OPEC+ - a group made up of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other leading oil producers including Russia - agreed last month to cut their combined output by almost 10 million bpd, or roughly 10% of global production. They also expected other large oil producers, such as the United States, Canada and Norway, to make additional cuts. The RIA news agency, citing an unnamed source familiar with the minister’s speech at the state council meeting, reported that the energy ministry considers non-OPEC+ countries to have already cut output by 3.5 million to 4 million bpd. RIA also said Russian oil production volumes were near the country’s target of 8.5 million bpd for May and June. The energy ministry declined to comment on output volumes. Sources have told Reuters that OPEC and its allies want to maintain existing oil supply cuts beyond June, when the OPEC+ group is due to meet next.

 Oil is on track for its best month ever after rebound, but traders say it's 'not out of the woods' - In the last two months, oil has hit two very different first-of-its kind milestones. In April West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, plunged below zero and into negative territory for the first time on record. Meanwhile May is shaping up to be WTI's best month ever, going back to the contract's inception in 1983—an astonishing turnaround month-on-month. Improvements on both the demand and supply side of the equation have pushed prices higher. Data shows that people in the U.S. and China are starting to hit the road again, while producers around the globe have cut output at record rates in an effort to prop up prices. The contract has jumped more than 70% in May and posted four straight weeks of gains, but some traders warn that the near-term outlook for oil remains uncertain, and that prices could head back into the $20s after settling around $33 on Friday. Additionally, part of WTI's blistering rally this month is due to the historic low from which it bounced. Prices are still about 50% below January's high of $65.65, significantly cutting into profits for energy companies, which are often saddled with debt. A number of U.S. energy companies have already filed for bankruptcy protection, including Whiting Petroleum, which was once a large player in the Bakken region. If prices stay at depressed levels, there could be more casualties. Still, the market has shown signs of rebalancing itself, and analysts say that if demand continues to improve and producers keep wells shut-in, the worst could be over for oil. "The oil market rebalancing continues to gather speed, driven by both supply and demand improvements ... These improvements are taking out the risk of a sharp pull-back in prices although we re-iterate our view that the rebalancing will take time," Goldman Sachs said in a recent note to clients. "We believe that the next stage of the oil market rebalancing will be one of range-bound spot prices with the most notable shifts being a decline in implied volatility as well as a continued flattening of the forward curve without long-dated prices rising yet," the firm added. While demand for petroleum products fell off a cliff in April, the outlook is improving as economies around the world begin to reopen. Raymond James, which has been tracking shelter-in-place orders, said that of the 3.9 billion people worldwide who have been under lockdown at some point since January, 3.7 billion, or 95%, have experienced some sort of reopening. Chinese demand for oil in April rebounded to 89% of what it was a year earlier, according to IHS Markit, and the firm expects May demand to be 92% of 2019′s level. During February's low, demand in China, the world's largest oil importer, fell to just 40% compared to a year earlier. In the U.S., all 50 states have begun the reopening process to varying degrees, which means people are once again driving. Data from the Energy Information Administration has shown an uptick in gasoline demand, although there's still a way to go before the pre-coronavirus levels are reached.

Oil prices climb as faith in supply cuts grows - Oil prices rose on Tuesday, supported by growing confidence that producers are following through on commitments to cut supplies and as fuel demand picks up as coronavirus lockdowns ease. Brent crude futures were up 29 cents, or 0.8%, at $35.82 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained 2.3%, or 74 cents, to trade at $3402. There was no WTI settlement on Monday because of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday. "The current recovery in oil prices has primarily been driven by supply considerations. The world's swing producers, the OPEC+ group, is more than living up to expectations to adhere to the 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd), or perhaps even bigger, self-imposed and co-ordinated output restraint," said oil broker PVM's Tamas Varga. "As lockdown restrictions are being eased, the demand side of the equation also provides support." The market was buoyed by Russia saying that its oil output had dropped close to its target of 8.5 million bpd for May and June under the supply deal agreed by major producers (OPEC+). Russia's energy ministry on Monday quoted minister Alexander Novak as saying that a rise in fuel demand should help to cut a global surplus of about 7 million to 12 million bpd by June or July. OPEC+ countries are due to meet again in early June to discuss maintaining their supply cuts to shore up prices, which are still down about 45% since the start of the year. The world's major producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, agreed in April to cut their collective output by nearly 10 million bpd for May and June. Data from energy services business Baker Hughes, meanwhile, showed that the U.S. rig count hit a record low of 318 in the week to May 22, also indicating lower future output.

OPEC daily basket price increases to 29.75 USD per barrel (Xinhua) -- The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) daily basket price increased to 29.75 U.S. dollars a barrel on Tuesday, compared with 28.06 dollars last Friday, according to OPEC Secretariat calculations released on Wednesday. Also known as the OPEC reference basket of crude oil, the OPEC basket, a weighted average of oil prices from different OPEC members around the world, is used as an important benchmark for crude oil prices.

Russian minister, oil majors discuss output cut extension: sources -  (Reuters) - Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak met with domestic major oil companies on Tuesday to discuss the implementation of global oil production curbs and the possible extension of the current level of cuts beyond June, sources familiar with the plans told Reuters. The meeting is a further sign that Moscow is committed to supporting any future joint steps to stabilise oil markets for as long as may be required, after slashing its production to close to its quota under the global deal. A source, familiar with the meetings detail, said no decision was made. “Novak has just asked for opinions, whether to extend (the deal) or not. The opinions were divided almost equally,” the source said. He added that it was decided to analyse the market, wait for demand to improve when the planes, grounded due to the coronavirus-combat measures, start to fly again. Kommersant daily, citing three sources in oil industry, said Russia may keep the current level of cuts until September. The Kremlin said on Tuesday that the OPEC+ deal participants will look at how the situation on global oil markets develops before taking any policy decisions if additional efforts were needed to support the energy market and address overproduction. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said the deal on global oil production cuts agreed last month had definitely proved effective and helped ward off negative scenarios on oil markets.

Oil prices climb, bolstered by ongoing supply curbs - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Tuesday, supported by signs that producers are following through on commitments to cut supplies and as fuel demand picks up with coronavirus restrictions easing. Brent crude LCOc1 futures gained 64 cents, or 1.8%, to settle at $36.17 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose $1.10, or 3.3%, to settle at $34.35 a barrel. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and producers including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, agreed last month to cut their combined output by almost 10 million barrels per day in May-June to support prices at a time when coronavirus pandemic quarantines have slashed fuel demand. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak was due to meet oil producers on Tuesday to discuss the possible extension of current cuts beyond June, sources familiar with the plans told Reuters. Some other nations including major Gulf producers Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have already pledged to go beyond their commitments. The RIA news agency said Russian oil production volumes were near the country’s target of 8.5 million bpd for May and June. “All the talk about balance in a couple of months seems to be supportive,” said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group. On Monday, Russia’s energy ministry quoted Novak as saying that a rise in fuel demand should help cut a global surplus of about 7 million to 12 million bpd by June or July. “Global crude supply in June will likely be down 12 million bpd from March levels,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets. OPEC+ countries are due to meet again in early June to discuss maintaining their supply cuts to shore up prices, which are still down about 45% since the start of the year.

Oil drops more than 4% in second negative session in three on U.S.-China tensions Oil futures tumbled on Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was working on a strong response to China's proposed security law in Hong Kong and as some traders doubted Russia's commitment to deep production cuts. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed during a telephone call on further "close coordination" on oil output restrictions, the Kremlin said. Still, many felt Russia was sending mixed signals ahead of the meeting in less than two weeks between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies. The group known as OPEC+ is cutting output by nearly 10 million barrels per day (bpd) in May and June. "It sounds great on paper, but the market is holding back excitement until we get a few more details about whether there will be cuts, how many barrels will be cut, and the length of the cuts," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group. Brent crude fell $1.43, or 3.95%, to settle at $34.74 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude settled $1.54, or 4.48%, lower at $32.81 per barrel. Meanwhile, tensions between the U.S. and China continued to rise after China announced plans to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong, prompting protests in the street. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had certified that Hong Kong no longer warrants special treatment under U.S. law as it did when it was under British rule, a blow to its status as a major financial hub. Gloomy forecasts over the economic impact of the pandemic also weighed on crude. Economists estimate another 2 million Americans filed initial applications for unemployment insurance last week. The U.S. Labor Department will report on Thursday. The euro zone economy will probably shrink between 8% and 12% this year, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said, warning a the outcome would be between medium and severe. In another sign of weak fuel demand, Japan's refineries operated at only 56.1% of capacity last week, the lowest since at least 2005.

Oil drops as surprise U.S. stock build douses demand recovery hopes - Oil prices slid for a second consecutive session on Thursday as U.S. industry data showed a steep and surprising build-up in crude stockpiles, dampening hopes of a smooth demand recovery as the world begins to ease its way out of coronavirus lockdowns. The decline extended losses from Wednesday on uncertainty about Russia's commitment to deep oil production cuts in the lead-up to a June 9 meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, dubbed OPEC+. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 4.4%, or $1.44 at $31.37 a barrel at 0402 GMT after slipping as much as 5% to a low of $31.14 earlier in the session. Brent crude futures dropped 3.2%, or $1.10 to $33.64 per barrel. "A surprise to consensus API (American Petroleum Institute)inventory build (data) and fear of Russia turning up production weighs on oil prices," said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at AxiCorp. "As is often the case during a run-up up to an OPEC+ meeting, the focus is squarely on Russia's commitment and understandably so as historically they have been the laggard within the OPEC+." Data from U.S. industry group API showed crude stocks rose by 8.7 million barrels in the week to May 22, compared with analysts' expectations for a draw of 1.9 million barrels. Gasoline stocks rose by 1.1 million barrels, more than 10 times the build analysts had expected, and stocks of diesel and heating oil rose by 6.9 million barrels, nearly four times as much as anticipated. "It just indicates that demand recovery is progressing but it's not strong enough yet to be really self-sustaining," National Australia Bank's head of commodity research, Lachlan Shaw said. The market will be looking to see if data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration later on Thursday matches API. With WTI holding above $30, OPEC+ will be closely watching to see whether U.S. oil shale oil producers, who have breakeven prices in the high $20 and low $30 dollar range, step up production.

WTI Slides After Official Data Confirms Big Crude Build - Oil prices rebounded (after a phone call between Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Russia on Wednesday was described by The Kremline as positive) from their ugly reaction to a surprising (and large) crude inventory build reported by API but remained lower ahead of the DOE data on the heels of investor anxiety over Russia's willingness to extend production cuts.“Crude oil looks like it has reached a consolidation stage,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodities strategy at Saxo Bank.“The global economic outlook and risk of new pockets of Covid-19 outbreaks will dictate the speed of demand recovery.”Things could escalate quickly if API's surge in stocks is echoed by the EIA. Crude inventories have recently posted declines, something that was considered a sign of demand recovery in the oil market and extrapolated to match a rebound in the economy. Today’s EIA data is crucial in determining whether that rising crude demand continues or if it was just a fluke. DOE:

  • Crude +7.928mm (-2.32mm exp)
  • Cushing -3.395mm
  • Gasoline -724k (-675k exp)
  • Distillates +5.495mm (+2.55mm exp)

Official DOE data confirmed API's surprise surge in crude stocks with a 7.93mm build (and distillates saw their 8th weekly build in a row)... As rig counts collapse near series lows, US crude production continues to plunge...

 Oil prices fall as U.S. fuel demand remains weak --  Oil prices edged lower on Friday after U.S. inventory data showed lackluster fuel demand in the world's largest oil consumer while worsening U.S.-China tensions weighed on global financial markets. Brent crude slipped 25 cents, or 0.7%, to $35.04 a barrel by 0334 GMT and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $33.18 a barrel, down 53 cents, or 1.6%. Still, both contracts are set for a fifth weekly gain, helped by production cuts and optimism about demand recovery in other countries. "The rally needs a breather. It has been four weeks of gains and the market needs to buy time for downstream prices to catch up," OCBC economist Howie Lee said. "Beyond the short term, the bullish momentum still looks rather intact." Thursday's data from the Energy Information Administration showed that U.S.crude oil and distillate inventories rose sharply last week. Fuel demand remained slack even as various states lifted travel restrictions they had imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, analysts said. "Memorial Day weekend did not bring U.S. motorists out in droves like many market bulls were hoping," RBC Capital Markets analyst Christopher Louney said in a note. Looking ahead, traders will be focusing on the outcome of talks on output cuts between members of OPEC+, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, in the second week of June. Saudi Arabia and some OPEC members are considering extending record production cuts of 9.7 million barrels per day beyond June, but have yet to win support from Russia.

 Oil jumps nearly 90% in May to $35, registering best month on record - Oil jumped more than 5% on Friday, the last trading day of the month, capping off its best month in history as an uptick in demand as well as record supply cuts pushed prices higher. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, finished May with a gain of 88%. To put the number in context, WTI's second best month on record was Sept. 1990, when it gained 44.6%. But experts are quick to note that the surge in prices follows the steepest downturn on record, and that oil still has a ways to go before it regains old highs.  In April, with billions of people around the world under some sort of lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19, demand for oil fell off a cliff, which sent prices plunging. WTI dropped below zero and into negative territory for the first time on record. Part of the move was due to the contract's imminent expiration, but it also reflected the very real fact that no one wanted to take the physical delivery of crude while demand was expected to remain depressed. Since then, things have started to improve. Data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Thursday showed that for the week ending May 22 gasoline demand rose to 7.3 million barrels per day from the prior week. This marked an improvement, although was still below 2019's number ahead of Memorial Day weekend, which was 9.4 million bpd. Storage in Cushing, Oklahoma — the main delivery point for WTI — decreased by 3.4 million barrels, and refinery utilization also rose to 71% from 69%. Overall inventory rose by 7.928 million barrels, compared with the 1.3 million barrel draw analysts had been expecting, according to FactSet. On the other side of the equation, producers have scaled back output at a record pace as plunging prices made operation uneconomical. OPEC and its oil-producing allies agreed to the steepest production cut in history during an extraordinary, multi-day meeting in April. Then, earlier in May, Saudi Arabia said that, beginning June 1, it would voluntarily cut an additional 1 million bpd, on top of its portion of the cuts agreed to by OPEC+. Kuwait and UAE were among the other cartel members that followed suit and said they would also exercise additional cuts. In the U.S., production has dropped to 11.4 million bpd, 1.9 million bpd below March's record high of 13.1 million bpd. Norway and Canada are among the other nations that have scaled back output. The OPEC+ production cuts as they stand now will begin to taper on July 1, and the group is expected to decide on whether or not to extend the deeper cuts at its June 9-10 meeting.   On Friday the contract gained $1.78, or 5.28%, to settle at $35.49 per barrel. Earlier in the session it traded as low as $32.36 per barrel as geopolitical tensions weighed on sentiment. International benchmark Brent crude gained 4 cents, or 0.11%, to settle at $35.33 per barrel. For the month Brent gained 39.81%, for its best month since 1999. .

Imprisoned Saudi Princess Basmah hoped she would be granted mercy in Ramadan, but her cousin Mohammed bin Salman has turned a blind eye -- Fourteen months after she was abducted, jailed, and accused of trying to flee Saudi Arabia, Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz al-Saud hoped she would be freed this Ramadan, but her pleas have fallen on deaf ears.Every year the king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, issues pardons for hundreds of prisoners as a gesture of goodwill during the Islamic holy month, which this year ran from April 23 to May 23.On April 16, the princess broke her 13-month silence to reveal on Twitter that she was in jail, and begged her uncle King Salman and cousin Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for freedom. "I am beseeching my uncle ... and my cousin ... to review my case, and to release me as I have done no wrong. My current health status is VERY critical," she said in a series of tweets.Those tweets were deleted shortly afterward, and all her communications from prison were cut. Her office reposted the tweets on April 27.Basmah and her 28-year-old daughter, Suhoud al-Sharif, wereabducted at their apartment building in Jeddah on March 1, 2019, and detained shortly after.They were later taken to the high-security al-Ha'ir prison, where they have remained since. Basmah was initially charged with using a fake passport and suspected of trying to flee the country. The charge was dropped in May 2019, but she remains in prison.

Gulf States force India and other South Asian states to repatriate impoverished migrant workers - Bowing to pressure from the sheikhs and oligarchs who rule the Arabian Peninsula’s Gulf States, India and other South Asian countries are being forced to repatriate millions of impoverished migrant workers whose labour is no longer needed. All six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—have moved to dramatically slash expenditures and “overhead” after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered global economic distress, including a Saudi-initiated oil-price war. The consequent collapse in oil prices has left gaping holes in their state budgets, even as tourism and other sources of revenue dry up. The result has been the mass layoff of millions of migrant workers. Those fortunate enough not to have lost their jobs have often been forced to accept huge wage cuts. A migrant worker in Saudi Arabia working as a chef for one of the country’s many princes told the WSWS that his wage was cut in half after the COVID-19 crisis erupted. Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic there were 23 million or more migrant workers in the Gulf States, from South Asia, the Philippines, Egypt, Palestine, elsewhere in the Middle East, and East Africa. Constituting more than half of the Gulf States’ total workforce, the migrant workers have long filled construction and numerous other menial and low-paid jobs. Millions of women serve as domestics and health care workers. The migrant workers are ensnared in the kafala system, which ties a worker’s employment contract to their right to be in the country. This has created a super-exploited workforce comprised of people who lack any citizenship rights in countries ruled by absolute monarchs, and who are under constant threaten of being ordered to go home should they be fired or laid off or when their contract expires. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, the imposition of international travel bans and state-lockdowns, and the sudden loss of their employment mean that the newly jobless migrant workers facing expulsion have lacked the means or right to return home. As the Gulf States oligarchs have refused to provide the “disposable” migrant workers with financial support, they have become increasingly desperate. This has made the ruling elite, ever fearful of social opposition, all the more determined to expel them. Scapegoating the migrant workers also serves as a mean of deflecting mounting discontent among the officially-recognized “native” population of the Gulf States.

 Historic Opportunity - Israel Reveals Date Of Planned West Bank Annexation --The head of the Governmental Coalition in Israel, Mickey Zohar, revealed that the measures to legislate the process of imposing Israeli sovereignty on all Jewish residential communities in the West Bank will begin in early July.  The Likud MP said in a radio interview on Tuesday, that the government will approve the draft law on this, and then it will be submitted to the Knesset for approval, expecting that these measures will continue for only a few weeks. Representative Zohar announced that the concerned authorities are currently working on mapping in order to reach understandings with the American administration about the areas that Israel will impose their sovereignty over in the West Bank.In response to a question about whether the White House would insist on the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for the annexation, the head of the government coalition said: “He opposes this demand, expressing his conviction that Israel will not give up the annexation in any case.” He stressed that the government would also not agree to freezing construction work in isolated residential compounds in the occupied West Bank, but was ready to freeze construction in places not close to those that would be imposed on Israeli sovereignty.Netanyahu: "we don't intend to change" July deadline for annexation of West Bank territory.  ‘We have historic opportunity, which hasn't existed since 1948, to apply Judea & Samaria""It is a big opportunity & we will not let it pass by"— Ben White (@benabyad) May 26, 2020Haaretz presents Monday remarks of PM Netanyahu as followsIsrael will not miss a "historic opportunity" to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, calling the move one of his new government's top tasks. Netanyahu has pledged to put Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty. He has set July 1 as a starting date for cabinet discussions on the issue, which has also raised alarm within the European Union.

Netanyahu becomes the first Israeli prime minister to stand trial over corruption and fraud cases -- The trial against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began in Jerusalem on Sunday, marking the first time in Israel's history that a sitting prime minister has ever faced trial. The 70-year-old began his fifth term as prime minister this month as part of a power-sharing agreement with his rival Benny Gantz after a series of back-to-back elections failed to result in a coalition government over the past year. Netanyahu has refused to step down from power despite growing calls for his resignation and dwindling support from the Israeli public over his legal woes. Last year, Netanyahu was indicted on bribery, fraud, and breach of trust charges as part of three separate corruption cases:"Case 1,000" refers to accusations that Netanyahu received expensive gifts from wealthy business magnates in exchange for favors. "Case 2,000" refers to allegations that Netanyahu promoted a particular newspaper in exchange for more positive coverage. And "Case 4,000" alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory benefits to a major Israeli telecommunications company in exchange for favorable media coverage.The maximum sentence for bribery is 10 years in prison, according to Haaretz. Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office. Previous leaders who faced similar situations resigned before charges were even handed down.

Trump Slams Libya "Foreign Interference" & Urges "Rapid De-escalation" In Erdogan Call - After weeks of military gains by Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), President Trump has called for a deescalation during his phone call with Turkey’s President Erdogan. Turkey is the GNA’s only foreign ally.This is bound to once again raise questions about the US position. Nominally the US is backing the GNA, but at times Trump has expressed support for their enemy, the Libyan National Army (LNA). The deescalation would be seen as bailing out the LNA from recent losses. “President Trump reiterated concern over worsening foreign interference in Libya and the need for rapid de-escalation,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.The LNA has a lot of foreign allies, from France and Russia to virtually the whole list of Gulf Arab states. LNA leader Khalifa Hafter, was a CIA asset in the past, and the US has criticized Russia for being too close with him, despite their own long history of backing him.  Reuters reports:As the LNA has promised to respond with a massive air campaign, diplomats have warned of the risk of a new round of escalation with the warring sides’ external backers pouring in new weaponry.Turkey “will not bow to threats by Haftar or anyone else,” Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said separately in an interview on NTV.LNA General Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar: Every Turkish solider, mercenary sent by Erdogan to Libya and every traitor who has allowed the occupier to return is a target of our armed forces. Do not show them any mercy. #Libya #LibyaReview— Libya Review (@LibyaReview) May 23, 2020It’s not clear where Turkey is going with this, as they mostly want maritime rights and a military base.Those are likely secured already, but the GNA probably feels very little need to step down in the face of recent gains.

Greece Charges Turkey With 'Land Invasion' After Troops Cross River, Raise Turkish Flag - The Greek government recently accused Turkey of seizing some of its territory along its eastern border.Turkey responded on Saturday by stating that it would not allow de facto borders after Athens complained to Ankara that Turkish forces had seized land at the course of the Evros River that separates the two countries.A statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, “Ankara informed Greece that the river course has changed significantly for natural and artificial reasons, since 1926 when the borders were established, and that the solution requires technical coordination.”The Daily Mail described of the crisis: Turkish troops have invaded and occupied a small patch of Greek land Greece on their contested border. Around 35 soldiers marched on to a floodplain site on the east bank of the River Evros at Melissokomeio yesterday.Turkish soldiers and police special forces now have a solid presence within the Greek territory and have camped in the pocket of Apiary at Feres, reports Greek site Army Voice.At the camp there is now a small Turkish flag flying from a tree. Troops have rejected Greek demands to withdraw. It comes weeks after thousands of Syrian refugees failed to break through into Greece.

 Chinese provincial official urges shut down of CNPCs Dalian refinery (Reuters) - A vice governor in China’s northeastern Liaoning province appealed to the central government to shut down Dalian Petrochemical Corp, at the annual national parliament conference (NPC), according to an NPC report issued on Monday. A subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the 410,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) plant is CNPC’s biggest refinery and one of the oldest in the country. It is also China’s largest processor of Russia’s East Siberia Pacific Ocean blend crude transferred via pipeline. The refinery has had several severe accidents in the past decade, including an oil spill in 2010, an explosion in 2013 and a fire in 2017, stoking safety and pollution concerns as it is located less than 10 kilometres from the port city of Dalian. “I sincerely appealed (to) the industrial ministry and state-owned assets supervision and administration commission to coordinate with CNPC to shut down Dalian refinery as soon as possible,” said Chen Xiangqun, a vice governor at Liaoning, according to the NPC report. Beijing had vowed in 2017, soon after the fire at Dalian refinery, to relocate all small- and medium-sized chemical plants to planned chemical parks and out of urban areas by 2020, and move the larger plants by 2025. According to the petrochemical industry layout, CNPC’s Dalian refinery was due to move to Changxing island, where the 400,000 bpd Hengli Petrochemical is located. But there has been no update on its relocation since the layout was jointly issued by the state planner and industrial ministry in 2018.

China's hermit investors fill doubled oil storage with crude bet –  (Reuters) - Chinese financial investors betting on a rebound in oil prices are filling commercial storage tanks held by the Shanghai futures exchange just as fast as the exchange can find them. Despite a more than doubling of storage capacity over the past six weeks to 57 million barrels, with tanks sourced from state and private refiners, nearly all existing storage is set to be filled by end-June, two industry sources with knowledge of deliveries said. The flood of purchases has come from companies little-known to the oil industry which have been bidding up Shanghai futures , China’s only oil futures contract, since early April when global oil prices slumped as COVID-19 hammered demand. “We call them ‘hermit’ investors,” said a state oil official whose firm recently delivered cargoes into the contract. “They are hedge funds backed by rich individuals, trading affiliates of brokerages.” The buying pushed Shanghai crude futures prices above global benchmark Brent, encouraging state companies like Sinopec, PetroChina and Zhenhua Oil to deliver Middle East crude into the contract, the sources said. Between late April and the end of June, some 50 million barrels of oil valued at roughly $1.8 billion — equivalent to five days of China’s total purchases — are expected to be pumped into a dozen delivery points managed by International Energy Exchange (INE), the sources said. Most of the oil is Iraq’s Basra Light and Oman crude, they said. “With deliveries started in late April and based on our tracking, the 50 million barrels’ space will be more or less filled towards the end of June, taking in mostly April and May loading cargoes,” said the second state oil official. INE did not respond to a request for comment. The Shanghai Futures Exchange, which owns the INE, declined to comment on storage or buyers, saying: “This involves trade secrets of the participants, and is not public information.” Chinese oil stockpiling is normally driven by state giants which sweep up cargoes to fill the government’s strategic petroleum reserves or commercial reserves held by refiners. However, in the current downturn, stockpiling has been driven by financial investors who believe oil is set to bounce strongly off its lows, said the second official.

The Rich in China Got Richer Thanks to Covid-19 --Everyone was not adversely impacted by Covid-19, especially in China.  A Tweet Thread by Michael Pettis explains.

  1. During my Sunday seminar a student made a presentation with preliminary data on how Covid-19 has affected the wealth and the income of different households in China, ranked by income. I sort of expected a broadly linear relationship in which the rich and very rich would have...
  2. ...been unaffected or slightly worse off, the middle worse off, and the poor a lot worse off.  According to her data, however, the rich and very rich were actually better off in terms of both income and wealth (the latter, we think, mainly because they owned “better” real...
  3., while the middle were worse off in both, and the poor were much worse off (in wealth mainly, we think, because of a depletion in savings). I expected Covid-19 to worsen income inequality, but I was surprised both by the extent to which it did and by the fact that...
  4. ...the wealthy actually continued advancing while only the middle and the poor were worse off – at least according to preliminary data. What happened in China won’t necessarily happen elsewhere, but, still, I suspect we will see similar patterns in other countries affected by...
  5. ...Covid-19. The net economic effect of the pandemic, in other words, is likely to be a very substantial transfer of wealth up the income scale. It seems to me that any fiscal or monetary response that doesn’t take this into consideration is likely to be ineffective and maybe...
  6. ...even harmful (if it worsens income inequality).

The US will see similar things but not to the same degree.

China Rattled After Taiwan Pledges Help For Fleeing Hong Kongers -A furious Beijing denounced Taiwan's Thursday promise to settle displaced Hong Kong residents who flee the city for political reasons, saying that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party was seeking to "loot a burning house" and sow discord, according to Channel News Asia.The move comes as Hong Kong protesters have taken to the streets in opposition to new security legislation which would allow Chinese intelligence services to operate on Hong Kong soil, increasing Beijing's grip on the semi-autonomous city and targeting secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference - terms used by China to describe last year's protests across the city sparked by a now-shelved extradition treaty.Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen this week became the first world leader to step up and pledge specific help to Hong Kong residents who wish to leave over the new legislation.

Top China General Says Attack On Taiwan An Option If No Other Way To Stop Independence - In what is shaping up as the next explosive geopolitical hotspot, one of China's most senior generals said on Friday that the country will attack Taiwan if there is no other way of stopping it from becoming independent in the latest rhetorical escalation between China and the democratically ruled island Beijing claims as its own, Reuters reported.Speaking at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on the 15th anniversary of the Anti-Secession Law, Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department and member of the Central Military Commission, left the door open to using force. The 2005 law gives the country the legal basis for military action against Taiwan if it secedes or seems about to. Li is one of China’s few senior officers with combat experience, having taken part in China’s ill-fated invasion of Vietnam in 1979. As Reuters notes the comments "are especially striking amid international opprobrium over China passing new national security legislation for Chinese-run Hong Kong."Taiwan’s government denounced the comments, saying that threats of war were a violation of international law and that Taiwan has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China. “Taiwan’s people will never choose dictatorship nor bow to violence”, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said. “Force and unilateral decisions are not the way to resolve problems.” Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue. Beijing says it is a Chinese province, and has denounced the Trump administration’s support for the island. Li Zhanshu, the third-most-senior leader of China’s ruling Communist Party and head of China’s Parliament, told the same event that non-peaceful means were an option of last resort: "As long as there is a slightest chance of a peaceful resolution, we will put in hundred times the effort," Li Zhanshu said. However, he added: “We warn Taiwan’s pro-independence and separatist forces sternly, the path of Taiwan independence leads to a dead end; any challenge to this law will be severely punished”.Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by autocratic China, and has denounced China's repeated military drills near the island while rejecting China's offer of a "one country, two systems" model of a high degree of autonomy.

Military, diplomatic talks on with China to end stand-off - India is trying to resolve the ongoing troop confrontation with China in some stretches along the unresolved border in eastern Ladakh as well as Sikkim, which has become the most serious since the major Doklam face-off in 2017, through both military and diplomatic channels. Sources on Wednesday said “flag meetings” and “military hotline talks” are being held at multiple-levels with the field commanders of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to de-escalate the heightened tensions and rival troop build-ups along the line of actual control (LAC). “There have been a couple of brigadier-level talks at the Chushul-Moldo and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO)-Tien Wien Dien (TWD) border personnel meeting (BPM) points in eastern Ladakh. Another meeting took place on Tuesday and Wednesday but there does not seem to be any breakthrough as yet. Indian troops continue to maintain their forward posture, with major additional reinforcements from other areas,” said a source. China has taken deep umbrage at India building border infrastructure in terms of roads, defences and advanced landing grounds along the western and eastern sectors of the 3,488-km long LAC in recent times. India’s completion of the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road last year, which provides access to the Depsang area and Galwan Valley while ending near the Karakoram Pass, in particular, has riled the PLA. “But all our activities, including a couple of new roads, are taking place within our own territory, away from China’s claim lines,” he added. Both India and China pumped in additional troops, built fortifications and pitched tents at a few stretches along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, which include the northern bank of Pangong Tso (Tso means lake), Demchok and Galwan Valley areas, after the tensions brewing since mid-April led to violent clashes on May 5-6, as was earlier reported by TOI. The PLA, for instance, has pitched around 80 to 100 tents near the Galwan river after virtually blocking India’s ongoing construction of a small road in the area, which was a flashpoint even during the 1962 war, while also deploying several vehicles and construction equipment in the Demchok region. China has also increased the number of its armed motorised boats for patrolling in the 134-km long picturesque Pangong Tso, two-thirds of which is controlled by China as it extends from Tibet to India at an altitude of almost 14,000-feet. India has responded by also deploying additional “quick-reaction team (QRT) boats in the lake and troops on its northern bank. While the Indian establishment has so far maintained a studied silence on the bilateral border tensions, China has attacked India through both its foreign affairs ministry and state-controlled media for aggressive patrolling behaviour and “unilateral attempts” to change the status-quo along the LAC.

Indian Media Reports Up To 10,000 Chinese Soldiers Have 'Invaded' Border Territory -After over the weekend international reports said that multiple hundreds, or up to 1,000 Chinese troops have crossed into India following prior small-scale skirmishes weeks ago involving dozens of Indian and Chinese soldiers near a remote but strategically important mountain pass near Tibet, Indian media is now reporting that up to five to ten thousand PLA troops have now moved into Ladakh’s disputed Galwan river area.Some Indian media reports have suggested multiple thousands, while a new Business Standard India report now claims up to 10,000 Chinese soldiers inside India occupying the Galwan Valley while digging into fortified positions.Though such figures remain unconfirmed and very likely inflated, it's clear that Indian authorities are watching with growing alarm what they view as an 'invasion' of their sovereign territory. Per the reports, a larger conflict between the two nuclear armed powers is on the horizon:“The most worrying situation is in the Galwan valley, where the PLA has crossed China’s own claim line (which Beijing had stated was the border with India) and breached 3-4 kilometers into Indian territory. PLA troops are digging defenses to equip themselves to face any Indian attack.”Sporadic but fierce clashes have occurred going back to the 1960's along the shared 2,100 mile border, which often involves literal fist-fights among opposing troops and border patrol guards.  A report days ago in Foreign Policy warns of the potential for major warIndeed, given that Beijing sees New Delhi as the principal impediment to the realization of its ambitions to dominate Asia, a more violent clash along the volatile, poorly demarcated Sino-Indian border is highly likely. Unless China emerges as the dominant power in South Asia (and the Indian Ocean), China is likely to remain a regional power in East Asia. Put another way, China’s quest for pan-Asian dominance will intensify the ongoing Sino-Indian rivalry as India itself is seeking primacy—but not hegemony—in southern Asia.

April travelers to Japan dropped 99.9% from year earlier to 2,900 - The Japan Times --An estimated 2,900 foreign travelers visited Japan in April, down 99.9 percent from a year earlier, amid the global coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest government data.It is the first time that the monthly figure, which was released Wednesday, has slipped below the 10,000 mark since 1964, when the Japan Tourism Agency began compiling such statistics. The percentage decrease was also the largest ever.The previous low for monthly foreign visitors was 17,543, recorded in February 1964.The figure fell in April for the seventh consecutive month since October, when a significant drop in visitors from South Korea and a devastating typhoon halted the trend of increasing numbers of visitors from overseas.Bilateral ties between Tokyo and Seoul have soured over the issue of wartime labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.The government is seeking to boost domestic tourism by subsidizing a portion of travel expenses once the coronavirus outbreak is brought under control.The ¥1.35 trillion ($12.5 billion) program could start in July if novel coronavirus infections subside soon, Hiroshi Tabata, chief of the agency, told a news conference Wednesday.As travel restrictions have been put in place globally, the number of Japanese nationals who left the country in April plunged 99.8 percent from a year earlier to 3,900, according to the data from the agency.Japan expanded its travel restrictions in early April, bringing the number of countries from which foreign nationals were barred from entry to about 70, including all parts of China and South Korea, as well as the United States and most of Europe.The number of visitors from China fell to 200 in April from 726,132 from a year earlier, and those from South Korea dropped to 300 from 566,624, according to the data.

Japan cautiously lifts last of virus emergency controls The first phase of Japan’s battle against the novel coronavirus ended Monday as the government rescinded the state of emergency in Hokkaido and the Tokyo metropolitan area, tiptoeing its way into a new reality still riddled with uncertainty. After consulting with an advisory panel composed of infectious disease experts, the government lifted the declaration in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, removing the last of the restrictions. It had already cleared the declaration in 39 prefectures on May 14 and three prefectures in the Kansai region — Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto — last Thursday, earlier than their scheduled conclusion on May 31. The government’s decision to lift the declaration early highlights its strong desire to revive the nation’s faltering economy as soon as possible. Overall, the country has managed to keep the death toll relatively low compared to other countries and bring down the number of new coronavirus patients to government-set thresholds for reopening. In a news conference Monday evening, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touted the country’s ability to flatten the curve and lift the emergency declaration in about a month and a half — without compulsory lockdown measures seen in the United States and Europe,pointing out that the number of patients in hospitals has decreased to below 2,000. “I made a judgment that the country as a whole had met the strict standard to lift the state of emergency compared to other countries,” Abe said.

Poor Countries Weigh Easing Lockdowns as Coronavirus Cases Continue to Rise – WSJ  -Car factories are starting back up in Brazil and Mexico. Train service is restarting across much of India. Mining companies are reopening in Peru.The world’s largest developing nations are following recent steps by the U.S. and Europe to ease restrictions aimed at slowing the growth of the coronavirus pandemic in order to spare further pain to their battered economies.There is, however, a crucial difference: Poorer countries are starting to reopen while new infections and deaths are growing, rather than slowing. Health experts say the timing risks an explosive rise in cases and deaths in crowded slums across the developing world.“The number of people who could eventually die in places like Brazil and the rest of South America could far exceed what we’re seeing in the U.S.,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. Already, daily death tolls are surging across the developing world, and in some cases now rival the worst days of the pandemic in Europe. Brazil has joined the U.S. as the only countries where more than 1,000 people are regularly dying each day from the pandemic. Mexico now ranks third in the tally of daily deaths behind the U.S. and Brazil and ahead of the U.K.  When scenes of Italy’s overcrowded hospitals in late March were beamed around the world, startled governments in poorer countries began to worry about their own ill-prepared hospitals and ordered stay-at-home measures and other steps to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. The steps, which for many nations came at an earlier stage in the epidemic than in Europe or the U.S., allowed some governments to shore up their capacity to treat the ill and test for the virus and slowed the spread of the highly contagious pathogen.That persuaded some, including presidents from Brazil to Mexico to Tanzania, that pandemic fears were overblown. In late April, Mexico’s president said his country had tamed the virus.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says economies shouldn’t start to reopen until there is a decline in overall cases or positive tests over a 14-day period. European countries and most of the U.S. showed sustained declines before reopening.Across swaths of the developing world, however, containment measures haven’t reversed the epidemic’s course, but merely slowed the pace of growth. And as countries prepare to open up, the virus has grown to a point where it threatens to overwhelm their populations.Still, governments argue that many of their people, especially the estimated 1.6 billion across the world who toil in the informal sector, are suffering more from containment measures than from the virus itself. Hundreds of millions of people have lost their jobs and poverty rates across the world are soaring.

How Pandemics Leave the Poor Even Farther Behind – IMF Blog -- The COVID-19 crisis is now widely seen as the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression. In January, the IMF expected global income to grow 3 percent; it is now forecast to fall 3 percent, much worse than during the Great Recession of 2008-09. Behind this dire statistic is an even grimmer possibility: if past pandemics are any guide, the toll on poorer and vulnerable segments of society will be several times worse. Indeed, a recent poll of top economists found that the vast majority felt the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen inequality, in part through its disproportionate impact on low-skilled workers. Our evidence supports concerns about the adverse distributional impacts of pandemics. We find that major epidemics in this century have raised income inequality and hurt employment prospects of those with only a basic education while scarcely affecting employment of people with advanced degrees. We focus on five major events—SARS (2003), H1N1 (2009), MERS (2012), Ebola (2014) and Zika (2016)—and trace out their distributional effects in the five years following each event. On average, the Gini coefficient—a commonly-used measure of inequality—has increased steadily in the aftermath of these events. Our measure of the Gini is based on net incomes, that is market incomes after taxes and transfers. Our results show that inequality increases despite the efforts of governments to redistribute incomes from the rich to the poor to mitigate the effects of pandemics. After five years, the net Gini has gone up by nearly 1.5 percent, which is a large impact given that this measure moves slowly over time. Such long-lasting effects of pandemics occur due to job loss and other shocks to income (e.g. lower remittances) and diminished employment prospects. Our results show that pandemics have had vastly disparate impact on the employment of people with different levels of educational attainment, one indicator of skill levels. The disparity is stark: relative to population, the employment of those with advanced levels of education is scarcely affected, whereas the employment of those with only basic levels of education falls sharply, by more than 5 percent at the end of five years.While the pandemic is having an adverse effect on almost everyone in society, policies need to pay specific attention to preventing long-term damage (or “scarring”) to the livelihoods of the least advantaged in society. Without strenuous and targeted attempts, we are again likely to see an increase in inequality, which was already “one of the most complex and vexing challenges in the global economy,” in the words of the IMF’s Managing Director.

Western Economies See Biggest Slump Since Financial Crisis – WSJ - The world’s developed economies saw the largest fall in output since the global financial crisis in the first three months of the year, as governments began to impose lockdowns designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. As sharp as those declines were, they are likely to be eclipsed by the falls in activity recorded in the three months through June, although economies are expected to start to recover in the second half of the year. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said the combined gross domestic product of its 37 members was 1.8% lower in the first quarter than in the final three months of 2019, the largest fall since the 2.3% decline recorded in the first three months of 2009 during the height of the financial crash. Among the Group of Seven largest developed economies, France saw the largest drop in economic output, followed by Italy. Japan saw the smallest economic contraction, followed by the U.S. The size of the economic contractions experienced in the first quarter reflects the duration and severity of the lockdowns imposed by governments. But momentum also mattered: The U.S. was growing more rapidly than its European counterparts before the coronavirus struck. With lockdowns continuing through April and largely in place in the first half of May, economists expect the second quarter to see a bigger decline in GDP than that recorded in the wake of the global financial crisis. Surveys of purchasing managers showed private-sector activity in the U.S., Europe and Japan fell for the third-straight month in May. But U.S. and global business activity and labor markets suffered a little less in May than in prior months, offering signs that damage to the global economy from the coronavirus pandemic is easing but will require significant time to repair. The OECD will release new forecasts for global growth on June 10. Earlier this month, the United Nations said it expects the global economy to contract by 3.2% this year, led by a 5% drop in the output of developed countries and a 0.7% decline in the output of developing countries, which typically grow more rapidly. The U.N. estimated that output lost this year and next as a result of the pandemic and government efforts to control it will amount to $8.5 trillion, equivalent to gains made in the previous four years. “The pandemic has paralyzed large parts of the global economy, sharply restricting economic activities, increasing uncertainties and unleashing a recession unseen since the Great Depression,” the U.N. said.

Steep Drop in Trade Flows Shows Pitfalls of Cross-Border Supply Chains -  Global trade flows tumbled in the first quarter, a preview of what could be the largest contraction in international commerce in decades, as the coronavirus pandemic causes policy makers and multinationals to reconsider globe-spanning supply chains that have become a defining feature of the world economy. A Dutch body considered an authority in world trade, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, said flows of goods across borders were 1.4% lower in March than a month earlier, bringing the decline in the first quarter to 2.5%. That was the largest drop since the global financial crisis. “We expect a strong decline in trade in April and May,” CPB said. “Leading indicators point to a stronger decline in global trade in the coming months.” Few expect exports and imports to rebound strongly as restrictions intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus are lifted. Instead, many expect a rollback in intricate cross-border supply chains. The World Trade Organization’s economists estimate that flows will fall by between 13% and 32% during 2020 as a whole. A decline of a third would be equivalent to the collapse associated with the Great Depression—but concentrated in one year rather than spread over three. But the sudden halt in trade has exposed how interdependent countries are in sourcing and manufacturing everything from cars to ventilators to smartphones. Individual countries have become nodes in vast supply chains whose vulnerability became clear when the pandemic sliced them apart. As a result, the coronavirus—along with previous tensions between China and the U.S. over trade and technology—is forcing multinationals and policy makers to consider ways to bring production closer to home, safeguard the production of essential goods and reduce their reliance on China as a manufacturing base.

 Global Ad Spending Plunges As Hopes For V-shaped Recovery Fade - As economic paralysis continues, global advertisement spending is set to collapse this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to WARC, an international marketing intelligence firm. WARC tracks 96 markets worldwide, expects ad dollars to decline by 8.1% ($49.6 billion) to $563 billion this year. The forecast was initially an expansion of 7.1% for 2020, but those figures were quickly revised for a post-corona world. The report said traditional media " will fare far worse than online," with ad spending set to plunge $51.4 billion (-16.3%) this year. Much of the declines are seen across cinema (-31.6%), out of home (-21.7%), magazines (-21.5%), newspapers (-19.5%), radio (-16.2%) and TV (-13.8%). The good news, online advertising will see a slight expansion (+.06%). Coronavirus lockdowns have wrecked households in both hemispheres. High unemployment plagues nearly every economy, along with plunging cash flows for businesses, who have now been forced to trim expenses and pull back on ad spending. One of the hardest-hit areas for estimated ad spending this year is the travel and tourism industry, with an expected decline of 31.2%. Spending will likely remain depressed for several years as consumers avoid airplanes, cruise ships, hotels, casinos, etc., for fears of contracting the virus. The slump in advertising has yet to surpass the record decline seen in 2009 when the global ad market contracted by 12.7%. The report notes an election year in the US could cushion ad spending. James McDonald, WARC's head of data content, said: "We note three distinct phases to the current downturn: firstly, an immediate demand-side induced paralysis for sectors such as travel, leisure, and retail, combined with supply-side constraints for CPG brands. Second, the recessionary tailwind will exert extreme pressure on the financial services sector as well as the consumer, whose disposable income is now heavily diminished."

Russia’s right-wing opposition tries to gain from COVID-19 crisis The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a political crisis inside Russia, as the Kremlin struggles to bring the outbreak under control and address its economic fallout. With the situation exacerbated by a simultaneous steep drop in global oil prices, the Ministry of Economic Development revealed yesterday that it anticipates a decline in gross domestic product by as much as 7.5 percent this year. President Vladimir Putin’s poll numbers have fallen to historically low levels, as social anger mounts over the conditions facing the country’s health care workers, official efforts to cover up the scale of the death toll, and the government’s failure to take any meaningful action to shield the population from the impact of mass layoffs and falling real incomes. Following the approach taken in every major country, the Kremlin “reopened” the economy more than a week ago in a reckless effort to force people back to work, even as the country’s coronavirus cases approach 380,000, the third-most diagnosed cases on the planet. The Kremlin announced earlier this week that it will hold postponed Victory Day celebrations, which were to take place May 9 in Moscow, on June 24. The parade, which at the very least will bring thousands of soldiers to the capital city—the center of Russia’s COVID-19 outbreak—threatens a new surge in the pandemic. The government is willing to risk this, as well as the possibility of another postponement, because it needs the display of state authority, nationalist hoopla, and feeling of shared sacrifice that the commemoration of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II generates, as a counter to the political tensions developing because of the pandemic. As Russia’s government tries to shore up its position, Alexei Navalny, the leading spokesperson of the liberal opposition and a self-styled “anticorruption” politician, is working to capitalize on mass discontent and steer it in a right-wing direction. Through his social media accounts and the Navalny Live program—a YouTube forum where he discusses political issues—he works to present himself as a platform through which health care workers can air their grievances and specialists can challenge official data on the pandemic. According to a late April poll by the Levada Center, Navalny’s popularity, while still low, is rising. In Moscow, he has more support than Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the far-right head of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In the country as a whole, he has a higher rating than Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, who has been promoted in the media as the city’s champion in the battle against COVID-19.

Cultural resources wiped out by COVID-19 crisis: 13 percent of museums worldwide may never reopen - A pair of recently released reports by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) reveal the irrevocable global damage to cultural institutions caused by the months-long COVID-19 shutdown of 85,000 museums. Some 95 percent of the world’s museums are currently closed. According to a survey conducted by the ICOM, some 13 percent, or more than 11,000 institutions, may remain closed after the pandemic recedes. “The closures will particularly affect those regions where museums are recent and few and where structures are still fragile: in African, Asian and the Arab countries 24, 27 and 39 percent respectively fear that museums may close.” In addition, 82.6 percent of the ICOM’s respondents “anticipate that museum programmes will have to be reduced” and 29.8 percent “expect that the number of staff will have to be reduced.” The ICOM describes the situation for tens of thousands of freelance museum professionals as “alarming.” The survey found that 16.1 percent of the respondents said they were temporarily laid off, and 22.6 percent did not have their contracts renewed. The report observes that the “freelance sector is very fragile,” with 56.4 percent of the free-lance respondents indicating they would have to suspend the payment of their own salary as a result of the current crisis, while 39.4 percent said their firms would reduce staff. The neglect, indifference and incompetence of capitalist governments worldwide have produced this disastrous situation. As long as the banks and corporations were rescued with trillions in public money and the wealth of the billionaires protected, every other sphere of life could wither and die, as far as the financial elite was concerned. The ICOM and UNESCO reports underscore the irrational, piecemeal, backward and highly unequal way in which the arts, no less than health care, education and other vital services, are funded, or rather systematically underfunded, particularly in the United States.

Reopened schools close across France as coronavirus found among students and staff - Two weeks after the reopening of schools and ending of lock-down restrictions came into force in France on May 11, schools are being forced to close again after students and teachers have tested positive for coronavirus. The closure of schools only underscores the criminal indifference and recklessness of the reopening policy pursued by the Macron administration with the backing of the trade unions and the political establishment, in line with other governments across Europe and America. There is no official record provided on the number of French schools that have closed since they reopened on May 11. On May 18, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer admitted that 70 schools had either closed or postponed reopenings after a student or staff member tested positive. As symptoms most commonly do not appear until several days after a patient becomes contagious, an untold number of other staff and students were placed at risk of infection as a consequence. After admitting to the large number of schools that had closed, Blanquer blithely declared that this was “inevitable,” and that “the fact that a school has had to close should not be a concern,” since the first cases in the wake of the reopening would have to have been contracted prior to the reopening of schools. However, this only makes clear the danger that the schools will become a major propagator of the virus as the impact of ending lockdowns on the spread of the virus begins to be felt. After elementary schools and kindergartens had reopened on May 11, secondary schools opened for students in years 7 and 8 on May 18, and the two higher-year levels will return at the beginning of June. Since Blanquer’s statements, there have been no further statistics provided by the government, but limited news reports in the week since indicate that many more schools have been forced to close, including three secondary schools in their first week back. On Sunday the François-Mitterand secondary college in Fenouillet, near Toulouse, announced on its website that it would close until June 2 to allow for a cleaning of the premises after a staff member tested positive. Health authorities are conducting tests on their contacts. In the central city of Tours, the Jean-Philippe Rameau secondary school close after a student in the seventh grade tested positive. The school’s announcement stated, “After an investigation by the Regional Health Service and the school medical staff and while waiting for the outcome of tests of teaching staff, school management…and students who were alongside the student who tested positive, the department council and the academic directors in l’Indre-et-Loire are taking the decision to close the school.” The closure is effective from May 25 to June 1. Last week, in the same city, a primary school had been closed after a student in grade 5 tested positive, after having shared a classroom with four other students and a teacher on May 14 and 15. All classes at the school have been stopped while the building is being disinfected.

Exclusive: big pharma rejected EU plan to fast-track vaccines in 2017  -- The world’s largest pharmaceutical companies rejected an EU proposal three years ago to work on fast-tracking vaccines for pathogens like coronavirus to allow them to be developed before an outbreak, the Guardian can reveal. The plan to speed up the development and approval of vaccines was put forward by European commission representatives sitting on the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) – a public-private partnership whose function is to back cutting-edge research in Europe – but it was rejected by industry partners on the body. The commission’s argument had been that the research could “facilitate the development and regulatory approval of vaccines against priority pathogens, to the extent possible before an actual outbreak occurs”. The pharmaceutical companies on the IMI, however, did not take up the idea. The revelation is contained in a report published by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based research centre, examining decisions made by the IMI, which has a budget of €5bn (£4.5bn), made up of EU funding and in-kind contributions from private and other bodies. The IMI’s governing board is made up of commission officials and representatives of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries (EFPIA), whose members include some of the biggest names in the sector, among them GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, Lilly and Johnson & Johnson. A global lack of preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic has already led to accusations in recent weeks that the pharmaceutical industry has failed to prioritise treatments for infectious diseases because they are less profitable than chronic medical conditions. The world’s 20 largest pharmaceutical companies undertook around 400 new research projects in the past year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Around half were focused on treating cancer, compared with 65 on infectious diseases. There are eight potential vaccines for coronavirus in clinical trials, but there is no guarantee of success. One of the most promising, being developed at Oxford University, is said to have only a 50% chance of being approved for use. The CEO report says that rather than “compensating for market failures” by speeding up the development of innovative medicines, as per its remit, the IMI has been “more about business-as-usual market priorities”. The report’s authors cite a comment posted on the EFPIA’s website, since removed, selling the advantages of the initiative to big pharma as offering “tremendous cost savings, as the IMI projects replicate work that individual companies would have had to do anyway”. The European commission’s “biopreparedness” funding proposal in 2017 would have involved refining computer simulations, known as in silico modelling, and improved analysis of animal testing models to give regulators greater confidence in approving vaccines.

Censortech strikes again -- Izabella Kaminska -We suggested a few weeks ago that “censortech” had spun out of control, with platforms starting to flag even mainstream dissent of the government-imposed lockdown strategy as problematic and in need of suppression.Well, it seems, the faceless mandarins governing what does and does not make the grade on social media sites were only getting started.News comes our way on Wednesday that a clip of an Institute of Ideas virtual panelfeaturing The Spectator’s Toby Young -- who happens to be the general secretary of the “Free Speech Union” -- has been removed from YouTube* for daring to question lockdown strategy.We appreciate that the views of Toby Young are not everyone’s cup of tea. But until recently we lived in a society that had the capacity to process opposing view points and make its own mind up about them. Those who don’t like the views of The Spectator don’t have to buy The Spectator. And if the majority of people agree -- perhaps because those views really are too distasteful for any collective to absorb -- the market will silence the miscreants by imminently making the publication fail. The People’sTube told Young they had taken the clip down because of an investigation triggered by a single complaint, with the social media platform concluding the clip violated its community standards. We’ve watched the panel and the decision is very hard to rationalise. The only justifiable case against the clip, which was only showing Toby Young’s comments, is that it was decontextualised from the counter-arguments expressed in the wider panel. His key argument, by the way, is that the strongest case against lockdown isn’t the economic case but rather the civil liberties case and the bad precedent it can set. But if decontextualisation is to be considered a thought crime worthy of deletion from the web, must not every media outlet shutter itself immediately? If you watch the clip, which Young has now posted on Bitchute, you will -- we think -- agree that the views being expressed could not really be considered extreme in any way.Which requires us to be blunt. What’s happening here is literally the sort of thing we, the free press, are used to bemoaning in authoritarian states elsewhere.We seem to have forgotten that a society that does not permit the questioning of government policy or consensus cannot be classified as a free society. By that measure it is not a liberal society either.

The Convergence Of Brexit And COVID-19 -Little has been made of Brexit since the UK ceremoniously left the EU on January 31st and entered into a transition period. Amidst the coronavirus outbreak, multiple rounds of negotiations on the future trading relationship have taken place, with round three having culminated earlier this month. Rounds one and two yielded no tangible progress. The third instalment was a similar story.Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, confirmed as much after talks concluded:The major obstacle is the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals on the so-called “level playing field” which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements and not envisaged in the Political Declaration. As soon as the EU recognises that we will not conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress.Frost labelled the EU’s position as an ‘ideological approach‘, one that must change by the time the fourth round of talks begin on June 1st.The EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, countered Frost’s perspective by declaring that ‘without a level playing field there will b e no economic and trade partnership agreement.’  To make progress in this negotiation – if it is still the United Kingdom’s intention to strike a deal with the EU – the United Kingdom will have to be more realistic; it will have to overcome this incomprehension and, no doubt, it will have to change strategy.  In the public eye negotiations are deadlocked. Both sides are insisting that the other must change course with just six months of the transition period remaining. As part of the withdrawal agreement, Britain has the option of requesting an extension to the transition, but must do so by the end of June. Failure to do so will mean that if a new trading relationship is not ratified by the end of the year, the UK and EU will trade on World Trade Organisation terms come the start of 2021, a consequence of which will be higher tariffs.  But extending the transition is not as straightforward as just asking for more time. When the withdrawal agreement became law, the government also wrote into legislation that the transition could not be extended beyond this year. To go back on this, Boris Johnson’s administration would have to repeal a law that they themselves devised and put into place.   As Britain was preoccupied with Covid-19 lockdown measures, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva (who supported ratification of the withdrawal agreement) took the opportunity to effectively recommend that the transition period be extended if the UK and EU fail to agree terms in the short term.