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04/11/2020

For the week 4/6-4/10

[Posted 10:30 PM ET, Friday]

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Special thanks to Bill C. for his ongoing support.

Edition 1,095

Appearing on last Sunday morning’s news shows, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said this past week could be the nation’s “hardest and saddest” thus far.  “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,” Adams said.

It was indeed an awful week.  As I go to post the death toll in the country is 18,725…up from 7,844 last Friday night and 3,218 the Friday before that.

It sucks.  It’s sickening, tragic.  Virtually all of those people when they died didn’t have a family member by their side, holding their hand.  Last fall when my mother was dying, I rushed home from overseas, having learned via email that I needed to get back, and thankfully the flight was on time and I made it that Saturday night, along with other family members, and we sat around Mom, drugged out, but breathing.

We all got to hold her hand, kiss her forehead, and talk about the past.  The next morning I made my early run to the Farmers’ Market for Dad and was met at the door by the caregiver, crying…I go upstairs, Mom’s dead, we all gathered again, kissed her on the forehead, the amazing woman from hospice was there shortly after (they are truly saints), Mom was taken away, and two days later I picked up her ashes and this spring my brother and I were supposed to meet in the Pittsburgh area to bury Mom’s remains in a cemetery with a few of her sisters.

Now, for a long time, we can’t even do that!

What is so depressing is that of the “official” tally listed above (which is nowhere near the right figure, it is literally thousands more…and this must be straightened out for history over time) virtually all died alone.  It is beyond cruel.

I am not happy with the president of the United States.  But then the history of our country is full of examples where we blew it.

We missed the warnings and intel prior to Pearl Harbor, though at least FDR rallied the country back like few have in the history of mankind; we ignored the warnings and intel before 9/11; and we ignored the warnings and intelligence prior to this looming threat, as is increasingly being proved and of which I have further evidence below.

We weren’t ready.  Period.  We no doubt would have had serious issues regardless, even if we had taken key steps, but not to this extent, including a deep recession, if we’re lucky.

Just a few figures that are stunning.  In New York City, a bad flu season, which goes on for at least six months, kills 1,900 on average. Covid-19 has killed 5,065 residents of Gotham in a matter of weeks.

50 New York City transit workers (bus and subway) have died.  I’ve had friends ask me why the metro NYC area has suffered so badly and one factor clearly played more of a role than others…. the subway system, a giant super-spreader. 

New Jersey, and Connecticut (which is beginning to catch up), are suffering because we commute into New York.  President Trump in a weekend press briefing said, “New Jersey sprang up.”  Oh please, Mr. President.  Use your freakin’ head.

Another factoid, in terms of the economy, came from the TSA.  Last week they were screening just 5% of normal airline passengers vs. a comparable period last year.

But I do believe with the experts that our belated efforts on the social distancing front are paying off.  The IHME model out of the University of Washington, financed by the Gates Foundation, the model most used by the White House, said today, not Sunday, was the peak in deaths, as it has lowered its estimates on the final toll to 60,000 or thereabouts before this winds up, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who a lot of us follow, seems confident warmer weather will have a positive impact.

But it is coming back.  We may have therapeutics shortly, but there is no vaccine that is suddenly going to be available to every American, and the world, for quite a while.

Yet we are now talking about the “open things up” phase.  President Trump and many Americans want to begin opening the country up for business again May 1.  I am not going to spend any time on this topic this week because it’s a meaningless exercise for you and me.  The facts have been changing, sometimes drastically, every day.  Let’s talk about it more seriously in another week.

In the meantime, yes, it is up to the experts, and leadership, from President Trump on down, to begin planning for the day a select few, at least initially, can go to more than the gas station, grocery store, pharmacy or liquor store (thank God for this last one, sorry, Mr. Surgeon General).

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Friday that even though hard-hit spots like New York are showing positive results in the battle against coronavirus, it is too early to relax restrictions on Americans.  “What we’re seeing right now is favorable signs,” Fauci said in an interview on CNN. “We would want to see a clear indication that you were very, very clearly and strongly going in the right direction, because the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and then wind up back in the same situation.  Now is no time to back off.”

---

Various tidbits to give you a global view of the crisis:

--Disturbingly, South Korean officials on Friday reported 91 patients thought cleared of the Covid-19 had tested positive again.  Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing that the virus may have been “reactivated” rather than the patients being re-infected.  South Korean health officials said it remains unclear what is behind the trend with epidemiological investigations still under way.

The prospect of people being re-infected with the virus is an international concern, as many countries are hoping that infected populations will develop sufficient immunity to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic.

Kim Woo-joo, professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital said the patients had likely “relapsed” rather than been re-infected.  False test results could also be at fault, other experts said, or remnants of the virus could still be in patients’ systems but not be infectious or of danger to the host or others.

But this is a warning sign.  We need facts and evidence, and cooperation from all nations in disseminating what they’ve learned.

--Cases in Singapore have been spiking significantly, after the city-state seemingly had total control of the situation, with 198 new cases today.

--Metropolitan Tokyo asked some businesses to close and the ancient capital of Kyoto warned tourists to stay away as Japan suddenly battles a fast-spreading outbreak of coronavirus, amid fears the Japanese government’s measures have been too little and too late.

A jump in cases in Tokyo has sparked real concerns the country was headed for the sort of explosive outbreak seen in many other countries.  The number of cases in Tokyo itself is now over 1,700.  When you look at pictures of the place, there are still tons of people on the streets, the people going about their business.

This could be the end for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe if it gets out of control.  He very publicly held down concern as his government and the International Olympic Committee were waiting to make a call on the Tokyo Games and the people of Japan were given a false sense of relief that they weren’t going to get hit hard. Then, once the decision was made to cancel the Olympics, you suddenly saw a spike in cases, as if the government was keeping the initial facts from getting out.

--Italy extended its lockdown to contain the outbreak until May 3. The lockdown has been in place since March 9 and was due to end April 13.

Spain’s lockdown is in existence until at least April 26.

Germany is looking to have a phased return to normal life after its lockdown ends on April 19; a plan designed to keep the average number of people infected by one person to below 1 even as public life is allowed to gradually resume.

Denmark is looking to reopen day care centers and schools for children in first to fifth grade starting on April 15 if the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 remain stable.

The Philippines extended its lockdown and home quarantine measures to April 30.

--The British government defended its early handling of the epidemic after a Reuters investigation found its scientific advisers were too slow to communicate their growing concerns about the outbreak to the public and ministers.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially approved a much more modest response to the outbreak than other major European countries, who took more stringent measures, though he later enacted a virtual shutdown of the UK.

The advisers apparently felt that a lockdown of the kind China instituted would never be acceptable in a democracy like the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, after three worrying days in intensive care, Boris Johnson was resting in hospital on Friday.  “The prime minister is back on a ward and continuing his recovery, which is at an early stage,” his spokesman told reporters.  Despite his condition improving, it is clear he isn’t going home to 10 Downing Street that soon.  His father told BBC radio, ‘He must rest up.  You cannot walk away from this and go straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has been in control. The government is worried about this Easter weekend and too many on the streets and in the parks.  Noted epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who is advising leadership, said, “We’ve started already to see plateauing,” but it will take several more days for the pace of deaths to drop and more weeks to draw definitive conclusions that could allow restrictions to be lifted, he added to BBC radio.

Last Sunday, the Queen gave a rare speech to the nation, saying in part:

“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time.

“A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all…

“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.

“And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.

“That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humored resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterize this country.”

Shortly thereafter, the prime minister entered the hospital.  Covid-19 was very real, if there were some in the nation who still didn’t get it.

--A severe shortage of labor, triggered by India’s 21-day lockdown to curb the spread, will disrupt harvesting of winter crops in the world’s second largest producer of staple food grains, such as wheat. 

When the lockdown began, which included the shutdown of the transportation system, that meant that India’s tens of millions of internal migrants had no time to get home.  So what did they do?  They started walking…for some, hundreds and hundreds of miles.  These are laborers who move in search of opportunity and often leave their families behind for months or years. They work construction, drive taxis, staff restaurants and much more, living frugally and returning home each year.  But these are the folks you normally see on India’s infamously packed trains.

--Canada, whose death toll stood at 556 as of today, said it still expected its final toll to be as high as 22,000 by the time the pandemic has run its course.

--In New York City, the coronavirus was likely spreading as early as February, weeks before the Big Apple’s first confirmed case, according to research at NYU’s School of Medicine.  A member of the team of inquiry told the New York Times that early findings indicate that the virus was in the city well before a Manhattan woman in her 30s became Gotham’s first official patient on March 1.

A separate group of researchers from the School of Medicine at Mount Sinai determined early city cases were not linked to later ones, which they found came from Europe.

--Research from the Los Alamos National Laboratory found that people infected during the initial outbreak in Wuhan probably passed the virus to an average 5.7 others – more than double the 2 or 2.5 other people estimated by health officials and the World Health Organization.

Patients sick with the seasonal flu, by comparison, will on average infect another 1.3 people.

IF the numbers are accurate and applicable elsewhere, the coronavirus pandemic could only be stopped by a widespread vaccination or built immunity for 82 percent of the population, according to the researchers, who reviewed Chinese data from the CDC, including mobile phone data that tracked the movement of patients leaving Wuhan.

More than two-thirds of the Covid-19 cases reportedly in mainland China in the eight days until Tuesday were people who showed no symptoms of the disease, according to new figures released by the National Health Commission.

While the ratio might appear high, and it was too early to make any conclusions, according to Leo Poon Lit-man, head of the public health laboratory sciences division at the University of Hong, “We don’t know what these figures mean without having the same data [on asymptomatic patients] for the past three months,” he said.

“But what we do know, is that these asymptomatic patients could be pre-symptomatic and infectious despite not displaying symptoms.

“Therefore the virus is still being transmitted inside the country…and these patients should be treated in isolation and put under close observation.”  [South China Morning Post]

So this remains the chief issue, and you must test, test, test, including widespread serological testing to determine the true proportion of asymptomatic patients, the testing looking for antibodies in the blood, which scientists believe usually develop within three to four weeks after infection.

--For the record, death tolls tonight vs. last Friday.

Spain…from 10935 last Friday to 16081
Italy…from 14681 to 18849
France…from 6507 to 13197*
UK…from 3605 to 8958
Netherlands…from 1487 to 2511
Belgium…1143 to 3019…shocking for such a small place.

U.S. …from 7300 to 18725
New York State…from 3218 to 7844…vs. 2753 on 9/11.

*France was the first to attempt an accurate count of those dying in its nursing homes.  Spain is since playing catch up, but others, including the UK and Italy, are way behind, and thus a big reason why the death tolls are much higher.  Italy admits that in its North, thousands have died at home.  The situation is similar in the United States.

New York City admitted that 1,100 have died at home during a period when the normal death rate in such instances would be about 200.  Few, if any, of these victims were tested.  Think about that.

Again, history demands an accurate count. And of course a large number of people died in my area of Covid-19 before the first case in New York was identified on March 1st.  But no one knew to check it out.

My little, albeit crowded, state of New Jersey now has 1932 fatalities, after daily increases the last two days of 275 and 232.  Our nursing care facilities are in deep trouble.  One next door luxury retirement community, where you buy a condo, then transition to assisted living and then death, has six dead.  When the names are finally released, I know I will know one of them. Thankfully, my best friends’ mothers currently living there are safe.

I have gotten emotional twice in this whole shitstorm.  The first time was about two weeks ago, when I was starting to receive notes on nurses in distress over PPE at Overlook Hospital here in Summit.  They were desperate.  I had to confirm with one of them that the story was real.  “This is real, Brian.”  The death toll that day went from 69 to 88 in the state.  I had to check it out.  It was heartbreaking.  I look back on that day and that was probably about the worst.  This area was flooded with infection at that time.  Summit’s cases were going up 7-9 a day (and have since levelled off).  It was the day after I saw a guy literally collapse, a jogger, sitting on the sidewalk in neighboring New Providence.  He was whisked away.  The night before that, a friend of mine had talked of how he looked out his living room window and there was a woman lying on the street.  It was his neighbor….he carried her back to her home.  She tested positive and was in the hospital shortly after.  Thankfully, Jim is OK.

That’s how it starts in your community if you have yet to be impacted.

The other time it hit me, after becoming numb to the whole story, was on Thursday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York State’s death toll of 799.  My eyes welled up.  The governor was struggling himself.

We move on….

Trump World

--Adriana Rodriguez / USA TODAY

Only three states – New York, Louisiana and Washington – have matched or exceeded the testing rate of South Korea, whose testing procedures experts hold out as a model for the world.  The country has performed 431,734 tests, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is about 1 out of every 119 people.

“In comparison, Vice President Mike Pence said last week that more than 1.2 million tests have been given, which means roughly 1 in every 273 people were tested given that the U.S. population is at about 327 million.

“However, (Harvard epidemiologist Marc) Lipsitch suspects testing numbers are only a fraction of actual cases in the U.S.

“The uneven testing rate among states has left public health and medical professionals without a clear picture of how much the coronavirus is spreading: Some states are not consistently reporting negative results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was slow to approve private sector testing.  The lack of capacity has limited testing.

“The country’s future rests in its ability to test and its immunity to the virus, either through infection of vaccinations, Lipsitch said, which could take up to a year to develop and be distributed….

“Studies suggest social distancing measures had worked against the 1918 epidemic until they were hastily lifted by some cities, like Denver, in early celebrations.  Instead of continuing to ‘flatten the curve,’ these cities experienced a second spike in cases.

“ ‘A lot of the confusion, in general, is premised on the misunderstanding that if you control the epidemic once, then you’re done,’ Lipsitch said.  ‘There’s no reason to think that.’”

--The New York Times reported that trade adviser Peter Navarro starkly warned Trump administration officials in late January that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.

“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” the Navarro memo said.  “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”

The memo was dated Jan. 29, at a time the president was playing down the risks to the United States, and he would later go on to say that no one could have predicted such a devastating outcome.

A second memo that Mr. Navarro wrote, dated Feb. 23, warned of an “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million souls.”

In the January memo, Navarro called for a travel ban for China, which Trump issued two days later.

President Trump, when questioned after the story came out, said he had not seen the memos.

Separately, according to an exclusive ABC News investigation the National Center for Medical Intelligence warned the military and White House about the spread of the virus in China as far back as late November.  Intel officials warned a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting.

The report by the NCMI was the result of analysis of wire and computer intercepts, coupled with satellite images.  It raised alarms because an out-of-control disease would pose a serious threat to U.S. forces in Asia – forces that depend on the NCMI’s work  And it paints a picture of an American government that could have ramped up mitigation and containment efforts far earlier to prepare for a crisis poised to come home.

“ ‘Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,’ one of the sources said of the NCMI’s report.  ‘It was then briefed multiple times to’ the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and the White House.

“From that warning in November, the sources described repeated briefings through December for policy-makers and decision-makers across the federal government as well as the National Security Council at the White House.  All of that culminated with a detailed explanation of the problem that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January, the sources said.  For something to have appeared in the PDB, it would have had to go through weeks of vetting and analysis, according to people who have worked on presidential briefings in both Republican and Democratic administrations.”

--Editorial / Wall Street Journal…Thursday

“A friend of ours who voted for President Trump sent us a note recently saying that she had stopped watching the daily White House briefings of the coronavirus task force. Why? Because they have become less about defeating the virus and more about the many feuds of Donald J. Trump.

“The briefings began as a good idea to educate the public about the dangers of the virus, how Americans should change their behavior, and what the government is doing to combat it. They showed seriousness of purpose, action to mobilize public and private resources, and a sense of optimism.  Mr. Trump benefitted in the polls not because he was the center of attention but because he showed he had put together a team of experts working to overcome a national health crisis.

“But sometime in the last three weeks Mr. Trump seems to have concluded that the briefings could be a showcase for him.  Perhaps they substitute in his mind for the campaign rallies he can no longer hold because of the risks.  Perhaps he resented the media adulation that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been receiving for his daily show.  Whatever the reason, the briefings are now all about the President.

“They last for 90 minutes or more, and Mr. Trump dominates the stage.  His first-rate health experts have become supporting actors, and sometimes barely that, ushered on stage to answer a technical question or two.  Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the task force, doesn’t get on stage until the last 15 minutes or so.  That becomes the most informative part of the session, since Mr. Pence understandably knows details the President doesn’t….

“One of the ironies of this Presidency is that Mr. Trump claims to despise the press yet so eagerly plays its game.  Every reporter knows the way to get a TV moment, and get a pat on the back from newsroom pals, is to bait Mr. Trump with a question about his previous statements or about criticism that someone has leveled against him.  Mr. Trump always takes the bait….

“The President’s outbursts against his political critics are also notably off key at this moment.  This isn’t impeachment, and Covid-19 isn’t shifty Schiff.  It’s a once-a-century threat to American life and livelihood.

“The public doesn’t care who among the governors likes Mr. Trump, or whether the Obama Administration, filled the national pandemic stockpile.  There will be time for recriminations.  What the public wants to know now is what Mr. Trump and his government is doing to prevent the deaths of their loved ones or help the family breadwinner stay employed.

“If Mr. Trump thinks these daily sessions will help him defeat Joe Biden, he’s wrong.  This election is now about one issue: how well the public thinks the President has done in defeating the virus and restarting the economy.  If Americans conclude he succeeded in a crisis, they will forgive him for reacting more slowly than he and many others might have in January.  But on that score, voters will be persuaded by what they see in their lives and communities come the autumn.  They will judge Mr. Trump by the results, not by how well he says he did.”

Trump of course felt compelled to respond later Thursday, tweeting:

“The Wall Street Journal always ‘forgets’ to mention that the ratings for the White House Press Briefing are ‘through the roof’ (Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale, according to @nytimes) & is only way for me to escape the Fake News & get my views across.  WSJ is Fake News!”

The Journal then responded in kind Friday:

“Our Thursday editorial offering some friendly advice on how to make the daily White House coronavirus briefings more informative for the American people seems to have caught President’s Trump attention.

“The President took to his favorite communication venue to tweet…[the Journal repeated the above]….

“Thanks for reading sir, and we agree the briefings are an excellent way to communicate directly with Americans.  Our point was about the way Mr. Trump is communicating about a subject that is literally a life and death matter. That’s the reason they’re a ratings hit, not because people enjoy Donald Trump sparring with the White House press corps like a Packers-Bears game.

“We’ll bet the ratings for the briefings would be even higher if they were shorter and more focused. We suggested 45 minutes, but at least one reader who wishes Mr. Trump well thinks they should be 30, delivering an update on key developments, taking a question or two – and that’s it.

“The ratings that will matter for Mr. Trump this year are where he stands in public approval come November.  And those ratings will depend on Mr. Trump’s results in conquering Covid-19 and restarting the economy.”

--White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said “A-B-C ya later” as she was replaced by Barbie Doll Kayleigh McEnany, Ms. Grisham having never actually held a press briefing.  She now returns to being First Lady Melania’s chief of staff.

--Trump tweets:

“The Invisible Enemy will soon be in full retreat!”

“I have directed @SecretarySonny to expedite help to our farmers, especially to the smaller farmers who are hurting right now.  I expect Secretary Purdue to use all of the funds and authorities at his disposal to make sure that our food supply is stable, strong, and safe….

“….We will always be there for our Great Farmers, Cattlemen, Ranchers, and Producers!”

“Because the T.V. Ratings for the White House News Conference’s are the highest, the Opposition Party (Lamestream Media), the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats &, of course, the few remaining RINO’s, are doing everything in their power to disparage & end them. The People’s Voice!”

“The Radical Left Democrats have gone absolutely crazy that I am doing daily Presidential News Conferences. They actually want me to STOP!  They used to complain that I am not doing enough of them, now they complain that I ‘shouldn’t be allowed to do them.’  They tried to shame….

“….the Fake News Media into not covering them, but that effort failed because the ratings are through the roof according to, of all sources, the Failing New York Times, ‘Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale’ type numbers (& sadly, they get it $FREE).  Trump Derangement Syndrome!”

“Absentee Ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others, who can’t get to the polls on Election Day.  These ballots are very different from 100% Mail-In Voting, which is ‘RIPE for FRAUD,’ and shouldn’t be allowed!”

[More on this topic below.]

“Wow, Approval Rating in the Republican Party – 96%. Thank you!”

“Nobody wants to say that if Elizabeth Warren gets out of the race before Super Tuesday, Crazy Bernie Sanders wins virtually every state in a blowout…NOT EVEN CLOSE!  I haven’t heard one member of the Fake News Establishment even mention this irrefutable fact.  FAKE NEWS!”

“Once we OPEN UP OUR GREAT COUNTRY, and it will be sooner rather than later, the horror of the Invisible Enemy, except for those that sadly lost a family member or friend, must be quickly forgotten.  Our Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before!!!”

“Advertising in the Failing New York Times is WAY down.  Washington Post is not much better.  I can’t say whether this is because they are Fake News sources of information, to a level that few can understand, or the Virus is just plain beating them up.  Fake News is bad for America!”

[Ah, Mr. President…have you checked the state of the overall U.S. economy?]

--I had to leave some items like the removal of Glenn Fine, the acting Defense Department inspector general, on the cutting-room floor this week.  But it’s an important issue and for the archives I do need to get in some comments next time.  Both on Fine and Michael Atkinson.  They are getting buried in the other news of the day, as was the president’s plan.

Wall Street and the Economy

With the markets closed for Good Friday, immediately after the weekly jobless claims figure was released Thursday at 8:30 a.m., another 6.61 million, or 16.8 million in just the last three weeks, the Federal Reserve unleashed another massive program designed to buoy local governments and businesses crushed by the massive closures to stem the pandemic. 

[Recall, prior to this three-week period, the weekly high was 695,000 set during the Financial Crisis of 2008-09.]

Under the Fed’s $2.3 trillion package, the central bank said it would work with banks to offer four-year loans to companies of up to 10,000 employees and directly buy bonds of states and more populous counties and cities.  Among the new purchases will be ‘junk bonds.’

Following is a straightforward explanation….

Editorial / Washington Post

“Probably only one thing would be worse for a modern economy than direct governmental allocation of credit: a total collapse of lending altogether.  That appears to be the pragmatic thinking behind the Federal Reserve’s announcement Thursday of a program targeting unprecedented swaths of the private sector for Fed-backed financing.  Faced with an economy in sudden free fall…the Fed is going beyond past crisis measures that supported the financial ‘plumbing’ of the economy.  Leveraging $75 billion in Treasury funds approved by Congress in the Cares Act, the Fed will help funnel up to $600 billion to ‘Main Street’: industrial, commercial and service-providing businesses with up to 10,000 employees or $2.5 billion in annual sales.

“It’s novel but solid crisis management.  Like the lender of last resort posited in Walter Bagehot’s famous formulation, the Fed program will ‘lend to… ‘this man and that man,’ whenever the security is good.’  This falls within the Fed’s legal authority, which gives it power (subject to the treasury secretary’s approval) to extend credit in ‘unusual and exigent circumstances’ according to ‘broad-based eligibility’ criteria.  If this isn’t an unusual and exigent situation, we don’t know what is, and the Fed’s lending criteria are plausibly objective enough to prevent government from playing favorites among the various companies that apply for cash….

“It bears repeating that this is not a bailout. Companies that get the funds are suffering not because of their own misconduct or mistakes but because of a broad public health effort that cost them sales – and with which most of them are trying to cooperate.  The borrowers will have to pay the money back, with interest, over four years (albeit on easier-than-usual terms), and if the economy recovers relatively swiftly, most of them will have an incentive to do so.

“Along with the Main Street program, the Fed is launching a $500 billion program to support state and local government borrowing during the crisis, as well as expanding its credit facilities to the financial sector and helping the Small Business Administration’s crisis efforts, bringing the total of new funding to $2.3 trillion…. If all goes well, with controlling the virus and with implementation of the Fed’s plans, the new programs can conclude on the Sept. 30 date the Fed has targeted, and confidence will return to the private sector with no need for the central bank to draw down its entire account at the Treasury.

“The Fed is putting its balance sheet at the service of the private sector for what we must hope is the shortest period absolutely necessary.  It will be up to Congress to provide whatever needed funding – for health care, state budget relief and individual income support – lies beyond the Fed’s ambit.”

But there is a downside….

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“The essential facts of the coronavirus economic disaster are these: Federal and state governments have shut down most American commerce, robbing tens of thousands of successful companies of revenue through no fault of their own.  Mass layoffs area already underway, with 6.6 million new jobless claims in the week that ended April 4, and cascading bankruptcies loom.

“That’s the backdrop for the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented $2.3 trillion expansion of its lending and bond-buying programs on Thursday to offer a liquidity lifeline. The Fed isn’t scrimping on the firepower, but the details released Thursday are disappointing, and perhaps even dangerous to a robust recovery.  The Fed is rescuing weaker credits as well as the strong, is diving ever-deeper into risky assets, and is putting Wall Street ahead of companies across Middle America….

“This means the Fed will in effect buy the worst shopping malls in the country and some of the most indebted companies. The opportunities for losses will be that much greater.  Treasury is backstopping losses, but the taxpayer risks here are greater than what the Fed took on in 2008-2009.

“The Fed may feel all of this is essential to protect the financial system’s plumbing and reduce systemic risk until the virus crisis passes, but make no mistake that the Fed is protecting Wall Street first.  The goal seems to be to lift asset prices, as the Fed did after the financial panic, and hope that the wealth effect filters down to the rest of the economy….

“All of this adds up to the following contrast: A company bought by a Wall Street firm and loaded up with debt that is part of a CLO [collateralized loan obligation] will now face far easier terms for liquidity relief than will a similar privately owned company in the Midwest that never took on too much debt. This is employing political discretion, and picking winners and losers, far more than the Fed did in 2008.

“Perhaps, with a lot of luck, the economy will restart faster than we fear and these Main Street firms will manage to survive.  That was the note Fed Chairman Jerome Powell hit Thursday when he paraphrased predecessor Ben Bernanke’s comment that ‘you’ll be looking back on this and you will, you won’t see much, only modest effects, I think he said, on the economy from this event.’  Mr. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may underestimate how much this shutdown is hollowing out the heart of the U.S. economy.

“It is also putting the future of American capitalism at risk in a way even the financial panic did not.  The Fed and Treasury are becoming the main lenders to American business, and in this storm there is no choice.  But will they recede when the virus is defeated?

“Mr. Powell said Thursday that this is a ‘truly rare’ intervention by the Fed, which will retreat when the virus plague is over.  But that is what the Fed also said during the financial panic, and it never did come close to normalizing policy.  If the shutdown lasts for many more weeks, the Fed could become America’s lender of first resort.”

Various economists and think tanks are projecting U.S. GDP will fall by 25% to 30% in the second quarter [JPMorgan Chase sees a 40% decline], with perhaps a modest ‘relative’ rebound in the second half of the year, certainly not a V-shaped recovery, or President Trump’s ‘the economy will take off like a rocket ship.’

Unemployment rate projections are for a peak of anywhere from 15% to 25%.  Disaster.  The government’s stimulus programs may not be large enough or fast enough to prevent waves of bankruptcies, and the pandemic experience is likely to fundamentally change U.S. consumer behavior.

As the Journal editorialized separately earlier in the week:

“Philanthropist Bill Gates now says the entire country should close down for at least 10 weeks with little recognition of the tradeoffs and economic harm.  The media elites all nod in agreement from their home offices.  How much of an economy will we have left by then?

“No one can say, but the White House is courting political trouble if it merely keeps predicting the sharp V-shaped recovery of legend.  What the country needs, and jobless Americans will increasingly demand, is thinking about a more sustainable anti-virus strategy – one that saves lives but also includes somehow taking the national economy off the ventilator that government has placed it on.”

**Finally, I have been careful during this historically volatile time in the markets not to issue a personal opinion on what one should do with their portfolio.  I make a market call for the year and never deviate.  It is what it is.  Far more often than not I end up being right, at least on the direction.

So I thought the Dow and S&P 500 would decline 3% in 2020, with Nasdaq rising 4%.  Of course I wasn’t weighing in the impact of a pandemic.

I didn’t want to comment because even when we were down like 37% after the crash, assuming most of you are long term investors, I felt like, heck, ride it out.  But the S&P has now rallied back over 24% from the bottom (12% this week alone).  If you’ve glanced at your 401(k) this weekend, you should be pleasantly surprised vs three weeks ago.

But I can’t help but add that I think this rally is overdone, given the prospects for the economy and a near depression.  We entered the year overvalued.  We are now in a netherworld.  If Covid-19 comes back in the fall with a vengeance, I don’t know what would happen to much more than just Wall Street.  Without a vaccine it would be Armageddon.

So if you can’t take the volatility and you were looking for a better exit point, say for a portion of your portfolio, sell it.

The New Normal, whatever shape and form it takes, will be far from Nirvana.  Ain’t no V-shaped rocket ships on the horizon, unless you can stowaway on Elon Musk’s first flight to Mars, which a lot of us would love to do about now.

Europe and Asia

No important economic data in the eurozone this week, but Germany’s leading think tanks are forecasting a 9.8% drop in GDP in the second quarter, while in France, the central bank is looking for GDP to decline 6% in Q1.

So with such a bleak outlook the European Union has launched an unprecedented experiment; persuading companies to forgo layoffs by subsidizing private-sector wages on a massive scale.

More than one million companies across the continent have signed up for subsidy programs that essentially transform their payrolls into a system for delivering billions of euros in stimulus funds directly to households.  [Britain has a similar program.]

Governments hope the programs will act as a giant pause button for Europe’s economy.  Under the scheme, people who go for long stretches without work aren’t supposed to miss a single paycheck.  Once the confinement ends, workers will have a job waiting and money to spend.  Companies can, in theory, pick up more or less where they left off.

Meanwhile, Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, says the EU must act in an adequate and coordinated way to help countries worst hit by the virus.

In an interview with the BBC, Conte said that Europe’s leaders were “facing an appointment with history” that they could not miss.

“If we do not seize the opportunity to put new life into the European project, the risk of failure is real.”

Many are fearing the worst in Europe these days, Italy being of paramount importance.

Or as Marcus Walker put it in the Wall Street Journal:

“The euro survived its debt crisis, but the wounds never fully healed.  The coronavirus is threatening to reopen them….

“Stable access to borrowing is vital for governments that know they will have to cope with a surge in debt for the second time since 2008.

“In Europe’s common currency zone, that is exposing an old gap: between financially secure northern countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, and the southern countries whose ability to borrow is more fragile, such as Italy and Spain.  Southern eurozone nations have less money to prop up their households and businesses during the health emergency, risking greater economic damage and a weaker recovery afterward….

“Italy’s national debt, already 136% of its gross domestic product, is the biggest worry.  The path of the pandemic is unpredictable, but some economists say the debt could easily end up at 160% of GDP.  Italy can afford to service such debts if long-term interest rates remain at historic lows – something the pandemic could further entrench.  But it would increase the need for tight fiscal policies, putting the brakes on an economic rebound.

“A two-speed recovery could exacerbate Italians’ growing disillusion with the EU and the euro.  Surveys in recent years showed most Italians don’t want to leave – but also that many believe the bloc and its currency haven’t been good for Italy.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week: “In my view…the European Union is facing the biggest test since its foundation.  We have a big health challenge that is impacting all member states, however differently.  It is a symmetrical shock.”

Stressing that Germany would be weakened if the EU was seen as showing insufficient solidarity with its most needy members, Merkel said: “It will be about showing that we are ready to defend our Europe, to strengthen it.”

Far more on this as the crisis unfolds.

In Asia…Japan imposed a state of emergency in Tokyo, though it is not as strict as other countries, while the government is unveiling a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.  But even with the record rescue program, according to Goldman Sachs, Japan is headed toward a record contraction of 25% in the second quarter, as the call to stay at home, while not legally binding, will push down consumer spending by 25% on an annualized quarter-on-quarter basis and further reduce business spending.  Goldman’s economists also see exports plunging 60% in the quarter.

China reports key data on exports, retail sales and industrial production next week.  Today we had inflation data for March, with consumer prices up 4.3% from a year earlier, per the National Bureau of Statistics, compared with a 5.2% rise in February.  But producer prices (factory gate) fell 1.5% year-on-year, marking the sharpest decline in five months and suggesting the economy remains some way off from mounting a durable recovery.

Street Bytes

--As alluded to above, the S&P 500 staged its best weekly rally since 1974 (not “over 50 years” as President Trump kept repeating today…unless 26+20 is no longer 46…but what the hell do I know), 12.1%, while the Dow rose 12.7% (just shy of its 12.8% advance two weeks earlier), and Nasdaq surged 10.6%.

Now we begin to receive first-quarter earnings reports, but every company is withholding guidance, and who can blame them?  No one freakin’ knows.  I’m guessing, perhaps, we may have a better idea come June 1, but even if we begin to ‘open up,’ slightly, May 1, we really won’t know squat until we begin to see actual human behavior.

So we’re still flying blind.  It’s hope vs. despair.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.22%  2-yr. 0.23%  10-yr. 0.72%  30-yr. 1.34%

The bond market, globally, stabilized this week with the longer end of the Treasury curve seeing yields rise due to the big rally in equities, as it should be.  Normalization is good.

--The federal budget deficit for the month of March was released this afternoon, $119.1 billion, down from March a year ago when the deficit was $146.9 billion.  Yippee, a positive surprise!  The expectation was for -$150bn.

But for the first six months of the fiscal year, the total is $743.6 billion, up $52.5bn over a year ago, and starting from here, the picture will get really, really ugly, as if $1 trillion deficits long into the horizon wasn’t already enough of a problem.  Some are estimating a Fiscal 2020 deficit of $2-$2.5 trillion.

That’s a lot of zeroes, boys and girls.

--According to data released Wednesday by the National Multifamily Housing Council and a consortium of real-estate data providers, nearly a third of U.S. apartment renters didn’t pay any of their April rent during the first week of the month.

--The World Trade Organization said global trade would fall this year by between 13% and 32%, giving a wide range because so much about the economic impact of the health crisis was uncertain.  At the height of the financial crisis in 2009, trade dropped 12.5%.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo told a news conference, “The pandemic cut the fuel line to the engine.  If the fuel line is reconnected properly, a rapid and vigorous rebound is possible.”

Azevedo is worried that a turn to protectionism would create new shocks.

--U.S. supplies of oil soared again on a weekly basis, as the Energy Information Administration said oil inventories increased by 15.2 million barrels, the largest weekly increase on record, according to Bloomberg.

The EIA said gasoline stockpiles increased by 10.5 million barrels last week and are running about 10% above the five-year average for this time of year.

So with the continuing oversupply picture, OPEC, Russia and other allies outlined plans on Thursday to cut their oil output by more than a fifth and said they expected the United States and other producers to join in their effort to prop up prices hammered by the coronavirus crisis. 

But the group, known as OPEC+, said a final agreement was dependent on Mexico signing up after it balked at the production cuts it was asked to make. 

The planned output curbs by OPEC+ amount to 10 million barrels per day or 10% of global supplies, with another 5 million bpd expected to come from other nations to help deal with the deepest crisis in the oil patch in decades.

The thing is, global demand has plunged by about 30m bpd, or 30% of global supplies.  An unprecedented 15m bpd cut still won’t stop the world’s storage facilities from filling up.

For his part, President Trump has said U.S. output was already falling due to low prices, and he warned the Saudis they face sanctions and tariffs on its oil if it did not cut enough to help the U.S. oil industry, which operates with higher costs and is struggling mightily with the price in the $20s.

Trump held a call with Russian President Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia about the talks.

Discussions then resumed Friday.  Mexico then said it had been pressed to make cuts of 400,000 bpd, before the group lowered the target to 350,000.  President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spoke to President Trump and Mexico announced it would cut 100,000, with the U.S. making up the difference.

But then in today’s daily coronavirus briefing, it seemed that Trump and the U.S. feel like they’ve already cut 250,000.  Trump said they’ll get future considerations from Mexico, perhaps a crafty lefty pitcher, like another Fernando Valenzuela.

It’s all about compliance but whatever agreement was reached by OPEC+ and the outsiders, it can’t possibly come close to filling the gap between supply and demand.

I told you last week that the rally to $29.00 on West Texas Intermediate was built on false hope and indeed it was.  Oil closed the week at $22.76, but this was prior to the announcement of a deal.

And now as I go to post, it looks like the deal is off, the Saudis furious with Mexico.  Time for a Dos Equis.

One more on the industry. The U.S. oil rig count slumped by 58 to 504, the lowest level since December 2016, according to data compiled by Baker Hughes.

Data show 664 oil rigs were operating on March 20, implying the drop since then has been 160 wells amid the pandemic and plummeting crude prices.

--Exxon Mobil Corp. said it was lopping 30% off 2020 capital spending in shale, natural gas and deep-water production, as the pandemic saps demand and oil prices tumbled into the $20s.

Oil companies have pulled back 2020 spending plans by an average of 22% with countries limiting air travel, ordering businesses closed and telling residents to stay home.

“We haven’t seen anything like what we’re experiencing today,” Exxon CEO Darren Woods said on Tuesday.  Exxon was the last of the oil majors to announce its plans and now it has said it could spend $23 billion on cap-ex, down $10 billion from its earlier plan and the lowest in four years.  Spending could drop even further.

The cuts will weigh heaviest on U.S. shale, where it had plunked down $6 billion in 2017 for drilling leases and boosted output.

Exxon expects world oil demand to tumble by 25% to 30% in the short term, Woods said, forecasting widespread oil-well “shut-ins across the industry.”

--Boeing Co. said on Monday it was temporarily suspending production of its 787 model at its facilities in South Carolina amid the pandemic, after the state’s governor issued a stay at home order except for essential trips.  Boeing production is suspended until further notice.  Sunday, Boeing indefinitely extended the halt of its production operations at its Washington state facilities.

--Airbus is slashing production across the board to absorb the hit to manufacturing from the pandemic.  In its largest ever production adjustment, the European plane maker said it was reducing output of its best-selling A320 narrow-body family by about a third to 40 aircraft a month.  It also cut production of larger wide-body jets with the A350 falling by about 40% to 6 aircraft a month, and the A330 family down by more than 40% to 2 aircraft a month. 

The move comes as deliveries were halved in March to 36 aircraft.

Today, Airbus announced it was shelving plans to create a new assembly line in Toulouse, France, for its A321, single-aisle, airliner.

But Airbus is shutting down A380 production at its massive Lagardere plant in Toulouse, so now the fate of hundreds of workers is up in the air.

--American Airlines Group Inc. said late Sunday it would temporarily suspend more flights to the New York area’s three major airports. Earlier, the carrier had already reduced its flights around the world, and the other day shrunk its flights from close to 100 flights a day at JFK Airport to just 11.

--United Airlines said it was drastically reducing operations at Newark Liberty and LaGuardia Airport for at least three weeks.  At Newark, one of United’s hubs, the carrier will drop from its current 139 flights per day to 62 destinations to 15 daily flights to nine destinations.  LaGuardia is going from 18 flights per day to four destinations to two daily flights to one destination.

--Meanwhile, as of last weekend, about 150 flight attendants had tested positive for coronavirus, with hundreds more putting themselves in self-quarantine, according to the Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents more than 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines.

--Discount airliner Norwegian Air said its passenger volume fell by 60% year-on-year in March as it grounded planes amid efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus.  A pioneer in low-fare transatlantic air travel, Norwegian’s rapid expansion has left it heavily in debt.  The airline said it is canceling 85% of its flights and furloughing 90% of staff while seeking financial aid from Norway’s government.

--Two of Japan’s largest car companies, Nissan Motor and Honda Motor, are furloughing U.S. factory workers without pay, adding to unemployment in an industry that has seen sales plummet during the spread of the new coronavirus.

Nissan said on Tuesday it would place about 10,000 U.S. hourly workers employed at plants in Tennessee and Mississippi on furlough until late April, calling the move a temporary layoff.

Honda also this week notified staff it would furlough about 14,4000 factory employees in the U.S. as it extends a production shutdown to May 1.  Honda’s furloughs start Monday.  Nissan workers stopped receiving paychecks on Sunday.

Both companies said the workers will retain benefits such as health care.

The auto industry shut down nearly all U.S. production in March, and combined General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler have laid off about 150,000 hourly employees. 

In March, U.S. car sales fell nearly 40% from a year earlier, according to MarkLines, a Japanese automotive-data firm.  Both Nissan and Honda reported 48% sales declines in U.S. sales last month.

--General Motors Co. is making 30,000 ventilators for the national stockpile in a $489.4 million contract with the Department of Health and Human Services.

With the deal, struck under the Defense Production Act, GM is expected to deliver 6,132 ventilators by June 1 and the remainder by the end of August, HHS said.

GM said it is working with Ventec Life Systems to make the ventilators.

--Tesla said on Friday it has started China sales of two more Model 3 variants at its Shanghai plant, meaning all Model 3 sedans sold in the country are now locally made and not subject to import tax.

Today, though, CNBC reported Tesla had furloughed half of its U.S. sales and delivery employees this week, citing company insiders.

--Auto sales in China in March recovered from an unprecedented trough, as the rise in the number of coronavirus cases eased and many factories resumed production, though consumer spending remained sluggish.

Sales last month were down 43% from a year earlier, the government-backed China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said Friday, an improvement on February’s 79%.  Sales in the first quarter as a whole were off 42%, to 3.67 million vehicles.

--JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon said in an extraordinary letter to shareholders accompanying the company’s 2019 annual report that the bank is working with the government to “address the severe economic challenges” caused by the Covid-19 pandemic but that it will not ask for regulatory relief for itself.

Dimon said he supports recent moves made by the Treasury Dept. and Federal Reserve designed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

“The Fed’s overwhelming actions have already dramatically reduced the financial stress in the system, and there is still more they could do if they need to,” he said.

Dimon expects JPM’s earnings this year to be “down meaningfully” and the board could consider suspending dividend payments if the bank’s “extremely adverse scenario” that assumes a 35% contraction in the U.S. economy in the second quarter and unemployment peaking at 14% in the latter three months of the year plays out.

“This scenario is quite severe and, we hope, unlikely,” he said.  “If it were to play out, the board would likely consider suspending the dividend even though it is a rather small claim on our equity capital base.  If the board suspended the dividend, it would be out of extreme prudence and based upon continued uncertainty over what the next few years will bring.”

Dimon said he isn’t anticipating the worst-case scenario but does expect “a bad recession combined with some kind of financial stress similar to the global financial crisis of 2008.”

The bank has 180,000 employees working from home, including traders, bankers and call center teams.  The company has kept about three-quarters of their 5,000 Chase branches open, but hold times at their call centers have increased as many have been “effectively shut down by local restrictions.”

--McDonald’s Corp. said sales for its existing base of restaurants globally fell 22% last month amid the pandemic.  Same-store sales, those at restaurants open at least 13 months, increased in January and February but then dropped sharply.  In the U.S., comp sales fell 13% from a year earlier.

McDonald’s said currently 99% of its restaurants are offering at least some service.  Locations in some countries, including France and Italy, have been forced to close.  Globally, 75% of stores have at least limited service.

With all the global uncertainty, the company is pulling its 2020 and longer-term outlooks. McDonald’s is also working with its franchisees to support financial liquidity and has allowed deferral of certain rent and royalties earned from franchisees.

--Darden Restaurants and Denny’s Corp. said their sales have plummeted in recent weeks, highlighting the threat to casual dining chains.

Darden, the operator of Olive Garden and other restaurants, said Tuesday their comparable sales across its portfolio fell 39% during the first six weeks of its current quarter, a period that ended April 5.  Same-store sales were down at least 71% for each of the last three weeklong periods, the company said.

Denny’s said same-store sales across its portfolio in the domestic market dropped 19% in March compared with March of last year.

The fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King can weather the crisis a little better due to having drive-throughs, but the sit-down establishments will struggle to stay alive. When things open up, how fast are you going to want to go to an Olive Garden, especially in those states that had had a significant outbreak?

--Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it will furlough almost 40,000 employees after it became obvious that 800 of its stores will not reopen anytime soon due to the coronavirus crisis.

“It is our goal that when this crisis subsides, we will welcome back our teammates, open our doors and get back to the business we love of serving athletes and our communities,” said the company in an SEC filing.

--Panicked consumers fueled a 12.3% spike in comparable sales at the retail giant Costco for the five weeks ended April 5 as shoppers loaded up on food, paper products and cleaning supplies, the company reported.

But Wall Street was expecting a 24% increase based on how many shoppers were flocking to the stores.  Costco’s sales began to soften in mid-March when government restrictions addressing social distancing kicked in.

The restrictions reduced store hours, limited the number of shoppers that were allowed into the stores at one time and closed non-essential departments like jewelry, optical, hearing-aids and food courts.

--In recent weeks, according to Coresight Research, more than 60,000 stores have closed.  Last year, retailers announced a record 9,300 store closures, as companies such as Forever 21, Barneys New York and Gymboree filed for bankruptcy.

One analyst, Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight, told the Washington Post she expected at least 15,000 stores will close permanently by the end of the year.  The longer the shutdown the higher that figure could be.

Simon Property Group, the largest mall operator in the United States, furloughed 30 percent of its workforce – or about 1,500 employees – in a sign that it expects properties to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

--According to the Washington Post, the Trump Organization has laid off or furloughed about 1,500 employees at hotels in the United States and Canada, with most of the clubs and hotels being closed, 17 in total.

--Disney+, the streaming service from Walt Disney Co., has passed 50 million paying subscribers in its first five months, the company said Wednesday.

The service, which costs $6.99 a month, has seen 75% growth in subscribers since early February.  At that time, Disney said it had 28.6 million paying customers, mostly in the U.S.

In the last two weeks, the service has expanded internationally, launching in eight Western European countries.

But when will Disney’s theme parks open…and at what size in terms of the crowds?  What about the theaters showing Disney’s movies, the main driver of profits for the company?

--Canada lost a record-breaking 1 million jobs in March (wiping away over three years of job creation in a single month) while the unemployment rate soared to 7.8%, according to Statistics Canada, adding that the figure didn’t reflect the real toll.  More than 5 million Canadians have applied for all forms of federal emergency unemployment help since March 15, suggesting the real jobless rate is closer to 25%.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country was “at a fork in the road between the best and the worse possible outcomes,” predicting that once the first wave was over, the economy could partially be reopened.  “Normality as it was before will not come back full on until we get a vaccine for this and…that could be a very long way off.”

--The German foreign ministry has restricted use of the video conferencing service Zoom, saying in an internal memo to employees that security and data protection weaknesses made it too risky to use, according to newspaper Handelsblatt.

Zoom’s daily users have exploded as the pandemic spread around the world, but the increase in usage has also exposed security flaws, including a phenomenon called ‘Zoombombing’ in which bad guys gatecrash videocalls, seize control of shared screens and post offensive content.

Taiwan’s government has told agencies to stop using Zoom’s conferencing app.

Today, Singapore suspended the use of Zoom by teachers, its education ministry said, after “very serious incidents” occurred in the first week of a coronavirus lockdown that has seen schools move to home-based learning.

Zoom has hired former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos as an adviser and formed an advisory board to improve privacy and security issues.

--Shares in Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, rallied after Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund disclosed an 8.2% stake in it.  That was a dumb move by the Saudis.

--Heineken, the world’s second largest brewer, suffered a decline in beer sales in the first three months of the year, forecast worse to come in the second quarter and scrapped its 2020 guidance.  The maker of Heineken, Tiger and Sol beers, among other brands, said it believed beer sales fell by 2% in the first quarter and overall volumes, including cider and soft drinks, by 4%.

But the Dutch brewer said it would not carry out permanent layoffs as a consequence of the crisis.

Heineken Mexico, which brews brands such as Dos Equis, Sol and Indio, said it was suspending nationwide distribution of its products.  This came a day after Grupo Modelo, brewer of Corona and Modelo, took similar measures.

Mexico is the world’s top beer exporter, generating some $4 billion in annual sales.

--Grocery workers have been dying of coronavirus, including at least two Walmart employees from the same Chicago-area store.  Our governor in New Jersey finally mandated that all customers and employees wear a mask in grocery stores.  Hours before the order, I was in a local ACME and absolutely furious with those not wearing a mask.  But after New Jersey announced its gruesome 275 death tally Wednesday, it was clear to Gov. Murphy we needed to do more.

But in terms of the grocery industry, the rise of worker infections and deaths will no doubt make it more difficult to retain and add new workers at a time when the major players like Walmart are hiring tens of thousands.

--The U.S. Postal Service is facing a precipitous decline in mail volume and billions of dollars in additional losses as it operates during the pandemic.

The agency is asking Congress for financial support after the Treasury Department extended it a $10 billion loan and increased its annual borrowing limit under the Cares Act last month.

But the USPS is asking for $25 billion in emergency funding.

The Postal Service is facing $22 billion in operating losses over the next 18 months as mail volumes and purchases have plummeted with the mandated closures of businesses around the country.

At least 600 workers have tested positive for Covid-19, and 12 have died, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers.  Most have been concentrated in the New York area.

Foreign Affairs

Iraq: The nation’s president designated the country’s intelligence chief as prime minister, the third attempt to form a government as political deadlock threatens Baghdad’s ability to address multiple crises compounded by the pandemic.

President Barham Salih tasked Mustafa al-Kadhimi to put together a cabinet after pro-Iranian factions thwarted the previous candidate for the premiership, Adnan al-Zurfi.  Zurfi, a former provincial governor with American citizenship, abandoned his bid after failing to garner enough support to form a government.

Kadhimi now has 30 days to present his cabinet to parliament for a vote.  If he does so, he is expected to prepare the country for early elections, a concession won by antigovernment protesters who forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to resign last year.  More than 500 were killed in the security crackdown that began in October.

To say Iraq is a mess would be an understatement.  With oil its prime source of revenue, plunging prices, and demand, have hit the country hard, with oil revenues accounting for more than 90% of Iraq’s budget.  And then you have the coronavirus.  Iraq as of Friday had reported 70 deaths and over 1,270 cases thus far.

Separately, Iranian-backed militia pose a “significant” threat to U.S. forces in Iraq, the State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East said on Thursday, about a week after President Trump warned of an attack by Iran or its proxies.

David Schenker, assistant secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, did not give details about the threat in a call with reporters.

Syria: A special investigation unit established by members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2018 to identify perpetrators of illegal attacks has blamed Syrian Arab Air Force pilots flying Sukhoi Su-22 military planes and a helicopter for dropping bombs containing poisonous chlorine and sarin nerve gas on a village in the country’s western Hama region in March 2017.  Until this week, the OPCW was only authorized to say whether chemical attacks occurred, not who perpetrated them.  Officials in the Bashar Assad regime and its military backer Russia have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

Individuals were identified in the OPCW report but their names were redacted.

A separate UN inquiry concluded this week that it was “highly probable” the government of Syria or its allies carried out attacks on three healthcare facilities, a school and a refuge for children in northwest Syria last year.

Meanwhile, Turkey said it was minimizing its troop movements in operation zones in northern Syria in response to the coronavirus outbreak as Turkey’s death toll from Covid-19 surged to over 1,000 today.

Yemen: The UN has warned of catastrophe if the coronavirus spreads in this war-torn country and Friday, Yemen reported its first case as aid groups braced for an outbreak in a country where war has shattered health systems and spread hunger and disease.

The news of the laboratory-confirmed case came after a nationwide ceasefire prompted by the pandemic began on Thursday.  A Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi movement announced it would halt military operations for two weeks, though the Houthis have yet to agree.

Yemen’s five-year war has killed more than 100,000 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis.  Only half of its hospitals are fully functional and 18 million people do not have access to proper hygiene, water and sanitation, the International Rescue Committee says.  Cholera, dengue and malaria are rife.  80% of Yemenis, or 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid while millions live on the brink of starvation and are vulnerable to diseases.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a ceasefire in all global conflicts back in March to tackle the virus and then specifically called for a cessation in Yemen.  He welcomed this week’s announcement

Afghanistan: So much for the peace agreement. The Taliban on Tuesday recalled their negotiating team from Afghanistan hours after they suspended talks on a prisoner exchange process with the Afghan government, calling the discussions “fruitless.”  The prisoner exchange is critical to the peace process overall and it represents the latest setback for the U.S.-led effort to end America’s longest war.

Wednesday, the Taliban were suspected of an attack on Afghan security forces, killing seven civilians who were abducted in northern Balkh province.

China: 460,000 Chinese firms closed permanently in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic pummeled the world’s second largest economy, with more than half of them having operated for under three years, according to Tianyancha, a commercial database that compiles public records.  At the same time, the pace of new businesses being created dropped 29% from a year earlier.

Close to half of the companies that closed were in distribution or retail.

But now China says its in recovery mode and despite the ‘gradual’ reopening of Wuhan, the epicenter, after nine weeks, China could be faking it when it comes to initial data.  As reported by Pete Sweeney of Reuters in Hong Kong:

“On March 25, the official Xinhua News Service claimed 88% of key agricultural enterprises had ‘restarted business,’ that construction on 89% of key infrastructure projects had resumed, and that electricity usage had revived to 90% of pre-outbreak levels for industries like electronics and pharmaceuticals.  Unfortunately, ‘restarting business’ is vaguely defined.  Local business publication Caixin reported in early March that many companies, pushed to restart manufacturing by officials, have turned on lights and machinery to simulate resumption, which means signs of revived energy consumption may be unreliable.  Some suspect officials are under-reporting new (Covid) cases for propaganda purposes.  The central government itself does not seem sanguine.  Movie theaters were ordered to close again on March 27 after hundreds reopened, a few days after Premier Li Keqiang warned bureaucrats not to cover up infections….

“The Central Intelligence Agency has been warning the White House since early February that China has significantly understated its coronavirus infections.”

Separately, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil on Tuesday denied reports that the U.S. government took over Chinese supplies of medical equipment that were ordered by Brazil to fight the pandemic.  Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said China had ditched some Brazilian equipment orders when the U.S. government sent more than 20 cargo planes to the country to buy the same products.  Local media also reported that a shipment of supplies destined for the Brazilian state of Bahia was diverted for use in the U.S. during a stopover in Miami after suppliers were offered higher prices.

Along these lines, Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an additional $225 million in U.S. aid for global efforts to fight the coronavirus, but said the Trump administration will keep critical medical supplies in the United States given the domestic need.

“Right now, given the great need for PPE in our own country, our focus will be on keeping critical medical items in the United States until demand is met here.”

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls….

Gallup: 49% approve, 45% disapprove, 92 of Republicans approve, 43% of independents (Mar. 13-22).  I expect an update next week.
Rasmussen: 43% approval, 56% disapproval (April 10)…lowest approval in this particular survey in a long time.

A CNN poll has President Trump’s approval rating at 44%, with 51% disapproval, little changed from a 43-53 split in each of the previous CNN polls.

A new Fox News poll has Trump’s job approval up to a record high for this one, 49% approve, 49% disapprove.

[Voters gave Congress a big bump as its approval rating is now 35%, up nine points since late February.]

--Bernie Sanders, the progressive whose two campaigns for president pulled the Democratic Party to the left, ended his White House bid Wednesday, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee.

Sanders is keeping his name on the ballot in the remaining primaries, but he acknowledged during a live stream address that his “path toward victory is virtually impossible,” adding that if he “had a feasible path to the nomination, I would certainly continue the campaign.  But it’s just not there.”

Sanders said the pandemic, which kept him from holding his signature massive rallies was a critical factor in his decision.  He is also likely to have suffered another big defeat in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, whose results won’t be announced until next week.  [It was appalling the primary was held in the first place amidst the outbreak. More below.]

Sanders wasn’t effusive in his praise of Biden as he exits the stage, but his influence on the campaign the rest of the way will be potentially deadly for the Democrats.

To wit…Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Once the field clears in a campaign, the nominee usually has room to tiptoe back toward the middle.  Not Mr. Biden, who has moved even further left to court Bernie’s supporters.  Last month he said Congress’ coronavirus aid legislation should permanently forgive, at minimum, $10,000 in student loans per person.

“Where Mr. Sanders’ hard-line views didn’t carry the day, Democrats often met him halfway.  Elizabeth Warren signed up for Medicare for All but stumbled when explaining how to pay for it.  Even Pete Buttigieg, who loudly opposed Medicare for All, at one point described his public option as a ‘glide path’ to the same destination of single-payer medicine.

“In a speech last year, Bernie tried to rehabilitate the label ‘socialist’ by presenting himself as FDR’s heir.  Rather than call out this historical rewrite, some of his competitors embraced Mr. Sanders’ Manichaean rhetoric.  On Wednesday, as Ford and General Motors were prepping to make ventilators and Bill Gates was planning to spend freely on a coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Sanders enthused that his movement had taken on ‘the greed of the entire corporate elite.’

“This ‘authenticity,’ they always say, is Bernie’s strength, but it’s also a weakness.  When he throws brimstone at private employers, voters know he means it.  When he sees a silver lining in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, voters know he means that, too.  How will fans of this combo take to Joe Biden?  Mr. Sanders on Wednesday called Mr. Biden ‘a very decent man, who I will work with to move our progressive ideas forward.’  That’s notably short of an endorsement.

“A second question is whether Mr. Biden can placate the Bernie bros without repelling independent voters. Mr. Biden praised Mr. Sanders and his supporters on Wednesday for having ‘changed the dialogue in America,’ including on universal health care and free college.  ‘While Bernie and I may not agree on how we might get there,’ Mr. Biden said, ‘we agree on the ultimate goal for these issues and many more.’  Hold on to your wallets, folks.”

--In a Fox News Poll, Joe Biden’s nine-point edge over Donald Trump has evaporated.  The survey of registered voters has Biden and Trump at 42%, with 16% either undecided or saying they would vote for a third-party candidate.

--According to a CNN/SSRS poll, six in 10 Americans now say the economy is in poor shape, up 30 points since last month.  The shift is the steepest worsening of public perceptions of the economy in polling data back to 1997.

But, the changed view of the economic picture has not dampened the public’s optimism about where the economy will be a year from now.  About two-thirds, 67%, say they expect it to be in good shape in one year, about the same as felt that way in December.  Sadly, such optimism is mistaken. 

As for Trump’s approval rating for his handling of the economy, in March, 54% said they approved of his performance, which has slipped to 48% in the new poll.

Overall, 67% say they see the economic problems caused by the virus as a temporary obstacle to economic growth rather than a permanent change in the American economy.  91% of Republicans say it is a temporary change.  52% of Democrats feel that way.

--According to a separate CNN/SSRS survey, 55% now say the federal government has done a poor job preventing the spread of coronavirus in the United States, up eight points in about a week.

80% feel the worst of the outbreak is yet to come, most (55%) feel President Trump could be doing more to fight the outbreak, and 37% say they have grown more concerned about coronavirus in the last few days.

52% say they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the outbreak, and 45% approve.  In early March, 41% approved, 48% disapproved and 11% weren’t sure yet.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll has 42% saying they approved of how Trump was handling the crisis, down 6 points from a similar poll that ran last week.

A new AP/Ipsos survey has 47% approving of Trump’s management of the coronavirus, 52% disapproving.  Approval is down from 55% in the poll released March 20.

The aforementioned Fox News poll has 51% approving of Trump’s response to the pandemic.  [Dr. Anthony Fauci receives 80% approval.]

55% believe the government responded too slowly and 47% believe Trump isn’t taking it seriously enough.

--I said last week that mail-in voting was going to be a big issue as we approached November and sure enough, President Trump lit the fuse this week with some of his comments on the topic.

But most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, want the government to require mail-in ballots for the presidential election, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday, found that 72% of all U.S. adults, including 79% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans, supported a requirement for mail-in ballots as a way to protect voters in case of a continued spread of the respiratory disease later this year.

Editorial / USA TODAY

“Exercising your right to vote in America shouldn’t involve waiting in hours-long lines and risking your health.

“But that was the situation on Tuesday in Wisconsin, which pressed ahead with its primary despite the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of poll workers. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, had wisely tried to postpone the election until June 9 and expand absentee voting.  Late Monday, however, his executive order was overruled by the highly politicized Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“The mess in Wisconsin, one of the most important battleground states in the upcoming presidential election, should serve as warning for the rest of the nation.  With the possibility of a second-wave outbreak of COVID-19 this fall, and in the absence of an effective treatment, it’s prudent to start planning for a presidential election conducted primarily by absentee ballot.

“November’s national elections might seem a long way off, and the coronavirus conditions will, everyone hopes, be considerably improved seven months from now.

“Time is growing short, however, given all the things that states must do between now and then to prepare to transform their elections in case the coronavirus threat persists when Americans go to the polls nationwide.

“For that reason it is imperative that states get busy now ordering absentee ballots, devising ways to distribute them and figuring out ways to count them once they come in.

“The stakes are enormous.  The presidency will be on the line in November, along with control of Congress.

“In recent days, President Donald Trump has made it clear he’s not a fan of mail-in voting.  ‘I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,’ he said at one of his coronavirus briefing.  ‘It shouldn’t be mail-in voting.  It should be: You go to a booth and you proudly display yourself.’

“There are downsides to vote-by-mail, though not necessarily the ones Trump has in mind.  Rapidly going from in-person voting to exclusively mail-in ballots is likely to disenfranchise some voters. At the very least, a state would need to engage in a fairly robust publicity and outreach campaign to pull this off.  And more realistically, it would need to plan for some in-person voting, perhaps through a reduced footprint of sites, with expanded early-voting hours and public-health precautions.

“It would also need to work through some other issues such as paying some staffers – since the traditional senior citizen volunteer workforce might be understandably reluctant to participate – and ways to sanitize voting equipment.

“None of this is cheap.  Furthermore, the states, which are already facing huge public safety costs amid declining tax revenues, are limited in their ability to borrow and will need help from Washington.  Recently passed legislation includes $400 million for elections, which is a decent start but not enough.  The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice estimated that $2 billion would do the trick.

“The legislation sets aside $500 billion for bailouts for airlines and companies deemed to be of national security importance.  Certainly, safe and fair elections are a matter of urgent national security as well.”

--It has been staggering that 20% of the NYPD has been out sick with more than 1,400 having tested positive for coronavirus.  State health departments in Ohio and Minnesota say that up to 20% of those infected in their states are healthcare professionals.

--Another anecdote on just how deadly Covid-19 can be:

“A retired NYPD sergeant left an Upper East Side hospital after he was diagnosed with coronavirus – and was found dead about an hour later on the street outside, police sources said Tuesday.

“Yon Chang, 56, was at Lenox Hill Hospital early Tuesday and told an NYPD cop there he had just been diagnosed with the deadly virus.

“He left a short time later only to collapse up the block on the traffic island at Park Ave. and E. 77th St. about 6:05 a.m.  He died at the scene.”

--Karl Rove / Wall Street Journal

“Many presidents leave behind new tools, practices and institutions for their successors to use in a crisis.  President Harry S. Truman, for example, left his successors the Defense Department, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Production Act.  As President Trump confronts the coronavirus, he benefits from reforms instituted by two of his predecessors, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“In the spring of 1998, Mr. Clinton read a potboiler about a mad scientist who unleashed a bioweapon on the Northeast.  This led the president to discover that Washington stockpiled drugs and vaccines for military use in pandemics, but not for civilians.

“By that October, as Washington was consumed with impeachment efforts, Mr. Clinton shoehorned $51 million into an omnibus spending bill to establish the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, or NPS, a repository for drugs and vaccines at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for civilian use during pandemics.  It was a modest beginning, but the decision to accumulate medicines for the public to use was important.

“After 9/11, President Bush examined all potential threats to the homeland, from terrorism to pandemics, and became convinced the NPS was too small.  He increased its budget, spending around $1.2 billion in 2002 and nearly $400 million for each of the next three years to dramatically expand the stores of drugs and add personal protective equipment and medical devices.  He renamed it the Strategic National Stockpile and opened depots around the country.

“Then came the SARS virus from China in 2002 and the avian flu the next year.  SARS infected 8,000 and killed nearly 800 world-wide, spreading rapidly across six continents before dissipating.  Though in 2003 there were only 120 cases of avian flu in humans before it faded, half of them died, along with millions of birds.

“The briefings Mr. Bush received during these incidents from National Institutes of Health director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, his colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding convinced him that it could have been much worse given how ill-prepared America was.

“The president’s concern was also influenced by reading John M. Barry’s book “The Great Influenza,” about the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more than 500,000 Americans and an estimated 20 million to 50 million around the world.

“ ‘A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire,’ Mr. Bush said in 2005.  ‘If caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage,’ but if ‘allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno.’  Mr. Bush announced a national strategy with three prongs.  First, to detect pandemics early, he pressed countries to share relevant information and samples immediately with the World Health Organization and created protocols to detect, quantify and respond to domestic outbreaks.

“Second, Mr. Bush further increased the stockpiles of critical supplies and invested $2.8 billion to replace the slow, antiquated process of culturing vaccines in chicken eggs, one dose per egg, with a new cell-based process that produces doses much more quickly.

“Third, Mr. Bush emphasized preparedness.  Led by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, the federal government brought together state and local officials in the first national efforts to develop pandemic response plans.

“Even still, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that foreign countries can delay and distort information critical to America’s response.  Beyond that, drugs lose potency, protective gear deteriorates, and machines require maintenance.  Stockpiles must be replenished and plans updated constantly.  Most important, threats change.  The drug that defeated one pandemic can be impotent in treating another.  Equipment vital in one instance may be useless in the next….

“As president, Mr. Trump’s responsibility is to lead the nation in defeating Covid-19.  Once that’s done and the economy is restarted – a moment still some time away – the president should look to leave his successors with critical improvements to help the country handle other emergencies in years ahead.”

--What a blankstorm involving the USS Theodore Roosevelt; the firing of Capt. Brett Crozier as the aircraft carrier’s commander following a memo by Crozier regarding a coronavirus outbreak on board the ship, and then the apology from the man who fired him, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who was then forced to step down himself after his profanity-tinged remarks over the loudspeakers of the ship, in which he called the aircraft carrier’s former commander stupid.

So I asked a good friend from high school, Bobby C., the fireballing lefty on our baseball team who then went to the Naval Academy, became a Marine and fighter pilot, and is now flying for a top airline, to weigh in.

Bob and I get together every four months or so over a few beers whenever his flight schedule brings him to town and now that’s changed.

But seeing as he’s one of the two or three brightest people I’ve ever met, he conceded none of us really know all the details but that all parties could have handled it much better, without “the public name-calling and total embarrassment that we saw from the Acting Secretary.”

So Bob had a terrific analogy based on his experience.

“I liken it to what I know I would do as the captain of an airplane that is full of passengers in a snowstorm that is off the gate and can’t get to a gate.  After about an hour of following our protocols, if I felt like I was getting no support (and we’re having complicating issues in the back, i.e., lavatories filling up, running out of water, sick passengers, etc.), I would prepare to go off script.  But I would start with giving the company a chance to get my plane some airstairs and buses to offload passengers. And I’d given them a timeframe (15-30 minutes) and tell them what I would do when that time was up.  At the end of the 15-30 minutes, with no help on the way, I would then carry out my plan.  I would taxi the airplane right up in between two airplanes parked at gates to intentionally block them in, shut down the engines, go out into the cabin and personally deploy the forward entry door emergency slide.  I would have the First Officer go down the slide first and up the stairs of the nearest jetbridge to open the door and corral people in that jet bridge and have him/her make sure there were medical folks available.  I would then have the ‘A’ Flight Attendant go down the slide next with an able-bodied volunteer assistant to help the remaining passengers and crew go down the slide.  After getting everyone off the airplane and mustered in the nearest jet bridge, I would march them to the hotel attached to the airport and get them all rooms, and then order pizzas and beer for everyone. And I wouldn’t leave the scene until everyone had been accommodated hours/days later to where they needed to go.  I would also have multiple people shooting video of the whole thing, take notes so I can write my book and become famously rich, and fully prepare to be fired the next day.

“But I sure as hell wouldn’t leave people on my airplane for 8+ hours while lavatories are overflowing, no water is available, people are having medical issues, etc. That is absurd, and a complete abdication of your role of ‘command,’ and would prove you had no right to be in command in the first place.  Those people under your command will only ‘charge that hill’ that has to be taken when they know that you are properly prepared and equipped them for the mission, taken care of them as best you can in all circumstances, and knowing that you have properly exhausted every other option first, Leadership 101.”

I love it. Bob goes on to talk about the failed Goldwater-Nichols Act, which we discuss over our second or third beer, every time.

--Linda Tripp, the civil servant whose disclosure of an affair between Bill Clinton and a White House intern nearly brought down his presidency has died.  She was 70.

Recordings Ms. Tripp made of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky became central to the 1998 impeachment trial.

Tripp was both praised as a whistle-blower and denounced as a partisan.

--Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge held services last Sunday, again, in defiance of a stay-at-home order issued by Louisiana, telling worshippers they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Hundreds of worshippers converged on the church, many arriving in 26 buses sent to pick them up.  A lawyer for the pastor said everyone but immediate family members kept a social distance of at least six feet.

“They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes,” Spell told reporters.

The lawyer, Joe Long, said, “We believe the governor is wrong.  And we look forward to proving our case in court,” as he prepares a lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards.

I just bit my tongue straight through…only because it’s Easter.

--But to end on a lighter note the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd caught up with Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld”), cooped up inside his Pacific Palisades home.

“ ‘No one gets in here,’ America’s most famous misanthrope says.  ‘Only in an emergency plumbing catastrophe would I open the door.’….

“He is contentedly holed up with the older of his two daughters, Cazzie David, 25; an Australian shepherd puppy named Bernie (after Sanders); a cat; and his girlfriend, Ashley Underwood, who worked as a producer of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime satire, ‘Who is America?’

“David met Underwood at Cohen’s birthday party in 2017.  ‘We were seated next to each other, I think with that in mind,’ he says of the fix-up.  ‘Much to her surprise I left before dessert.  I was doing so well, banterwise, I didn’t want to risk staying too long and blowing the good impression.’”

Ah, the world can’t get enough of Larry David these days.

David has also been a lifelong germaphobe.

“ ‘This might be the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Trump about: We should put an end to the shake,’ David said.  ‘You know, we might as well end intercourse while we’re at it.  That’s always been a lot of trouble.’

“Now that David can’t go out and argue with friends, neighbors, strangers and staffers over stuff like whether he can clean his glasses on a woman’s blouse or the regulation shape for a putter, he must do his bickering inside his own home.

“ ‘There’s not a moment in the day when there isn’t friction between at least two of us,’ he says of the trapped troika.  ‘Then when that gets resolved, two others are at each other’s throats, and it’s invariably about dishes.  ‘You didn’t do the dishes!’ or ‘You didn’t help with the dishes!’ I think that is being screamed all over the world now.”

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces…and all the fallen.

We honor the healthcare workers and first responders.  We love you!

God bless America.

---

Gold $1752…highest since Oct. 2012!  Sell…..
Oil: $22.76

Returns for the week 4/6-4/10

Dow Jones  +12.7%  [23719]
S&P 500  +12.1%  [2789]
S&P MidCap  N/A
Russell 2000  N/A
Nasdaq  +10.6%  [8153]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-4/10/20

Dow Jones  -16.9%
S&P 500  -13.7%
S&P MidCap  -23.1%
Russell 2000  -25.3%
Nasdaq  -9.1% !!! …that’s all

Bulls 33.3
Bears 36.2

Hang in there.  Happy Easter and Passover.

Wash your hands.  Be a misanthrope.  Stay away from humans as much as you can.  Humans are bad, save for friends, family members, Tom Seaver and Mike Trout. 

Brian Trumbore



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Week in Review

04/11/2020

For the week 4/6-4/10

[Posted 10:30 PM ET, Friday]

Note: StocksandNews has significant ongoing costs and your support is greatly appreciated.  Please click on the gofundme link or send a check to PO Box 990, New Providence, NJ 07974.

Special thanks to Bill C. for his ongoing support.

Edition 1,095

Appearing on last Sunday morning’s news shows, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said this past week could be the nation’s “hardest and saddest” thus far.  “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,” Adams said.

It was indeed an awful week.  As I go to post the death toll in the country is 18,725…up from 7,844 last Friday night and 3,218 the Friday before that.

It sucks.  It’s sickening, tragic.  Virtually all of those people when they died didn’t have a family member by their side, holding their hand.  Last fall when my mother was dying, I rushed home from overseas, having learned via email that I needed to get back, and thankfully the flight was on time and I made it that Saturday night, along with other family members, and we sat around Mom, drugged out, but breathing.

We all got to hold her hand, kiss her forehead, and talk about the past.  The next morning I made my early run to the Farmers’ Market for Dad and was met at the door by the caregiver, crying…I go upstairs, Mom’s dead, we all gathered again, kissed her on the forehead, the amazing woman from hospice was there shortly after (they are truly saints), Mom was taken away, and two days later I picked up her ashes and this spring my brother and I were supposed to meet in the Pittsburgh area to bury Mom’s remains in a cemetery with a few of her sisters.

Now, for a long time, we can’t even do that!

What is so depressing is that of the “official” tally listed above (which is nowhere near the right figure, it is literally thousands more…and this must be straightened out for history over time) virtually all died alone.  It is beyond cruel.

I am not happy with the president of the United States.  But then the history of our country is full of examples where we blew it.

We missed the warnings and intel prior to Pearl Harbor, though at least FDR rallied the country back like few have in the history of mankind; we ignored the warnings and intel before 9/11; and we ignored the warnings and intelligence prior to this looming threat, as is increasingly being proved and of which I have further evidence below.

We weren’t ready.  Period.  We no doubt would have had serious issues regardless, even if we had taken key steps, but not to this extent, including a deep recession, if we’re lucky.

Just a few figures that are stunning.  In New York City, a bad flu season, which goes on for at least six months, kills 1,900 on average. Covid-19 has killed 5,065 residents of Gotham in a matter of weeks.

50 New York City transit workers (bus and subway) have died.  I’ve had friends ask me why the metro NYC area has suffered so badly and one factor clearly played more of a role than others…. the subway system, a giant super-spreader. 

New Jersey, and Connecticut (which is beginning to catch up), are suffering because we commute into New York.  President Trump in a weekend press briefing said, “New Jersey sprang up.”  Oh please, Mr. President.  Use your freakin’ head.

Another factoid, in terms of the economy, came from the TSA.  Last week they were screening just 5% of normal airline passengers vs. a comparable period last year.

But I do believe with the experts that our belated efforts on the social distancing front are paying off.  The IHME model out of the University of Washington, financed by the Gates Foundation, the model most used by the White House, said today, not Sunday, was the peak in deaths, as it has lowered its estimates on the final toll to 60,000 or thereabouts before this winds up, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who a lot of us follow, seems confident warmer weather will have a positive impact.

But it is coming back.  We may have therapeutics shortly, but there is no vaccine that is suddenly going to be available to every American, and the world, for quite a while.

Yet we are now talking about the “open things up” phase.  President Trump and many Americans want to begin opening the country up for business again May 1.  I am not going to spend any time on this topic this week because it’s a meaningless exercise for you and me.  The facts have been changing, sometimes drastically, every day.  Let’s talk about it more seriously in another week.

In the meantime, yes, it is up to the experts, and leadership, from President Trump on down, to begin planning for the day a select few, at least initially, can go to more than the gas station, grocery store, pharmacy or liquor store (thank God for this last one, sorry, Mr. Surgeon General).

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Friday that even though hard-hit spots like New York are showing positive results in the battle against coronavirus, it is too early to relax restrictions on Americans.  “What we’re seeing right now is favorable signs,” Fauci said in an interview on CNN. “We would want to see a clear indication that you were very, very clearly and strongly going in the right direction, because the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and then wind up back in the same situation.  Now is no time to back off.”

---

Various tidbits to give you a global view of the crisis:

--Disturbingly, South Korean officials on Friday reported 91 patients thought cleared of the Covid-19 had tested positive again.  Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing that the virus may have been “reactivated” rather than the patients being re-infected.  South Korean health officials said it remains unclear what is behind the trend with epidemiological investigations still under way.

The prospect of people being re-infected with the virus is an international concern, as many countries are hoping that infected populations will develop sufficient immunity to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic.

Kim Woo-joo, professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital said the patients had likely “relapsed” rather than been re-infected.  False test results could also be at fault, other experts said, or remnants of the virus could still be in patients’ systems but not be infectious or of danger to the host or others.

But this is a warning sign.  We need facts and evidence, and cooperation from all nations in disseminating what they’ve learned.

--Cases in Singapore have been spiking significantly, after the city-state seemingly had total control of the situation, with 198 new cases today.

--Metropolitan Tokyo asked some businesses to close and the ancient capital of Kyoto warned tourists to stay away as Japan suddenly battles a fast-spreading outbreak of coronavirus, amid fears the Japanese government’s measures have been too little and too late.

A jump in cases in Tokyo has sparked real concerns the country was headed for the sort of explosive outbreak seen in many other countries.  The number of cases in Tokyo itself is now over 1,700.  When you look at pictures of the place, there are still tons of people on the streets, the people going about their business.

This could be the end for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe if it gets out of control.  He very publicly held down concern as his government and the International Olympic Committee were waiting to make a call on the Tokyo Games and the people of Japan were given a false sense of relief that they weren’t going to get hit hard. Then, once the decision was made to cancel the Olympics, you suddenly saw a spike in cases, as if the government was keeping the initial facts from getting out.

--Italy extended its lockdown to contain the outbreak until May 3. The lockdown has been in place since March 9 and was due to end April 13.

Spain’s lockdown is in existence until at least April 26.

Germany is looking to have a phased return to normal life after its lockdown ends on April 19; a plan designed to keep the average number of people infected by one person to below 1 even as public life is allowed to gradually resume.

Denmark is looking to reopen day care centers and schools for children in first to fifth grade starting on April 15 if the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 remain stable.

The Philippines extended its lockdown and home quarantine measures to April 30.

--The British government defended its early handling of the epidemic after a Reuters investigation found its scientific advisers were too slow to communicate their growing concerns about the outbreak to the public and ministers.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially approved a much more modest response to the outbreak than other major European countries, who took more stringent measures, though he later enacted a virtual shutdown of the UK.

The advisers apparently felt that a lockdown of the kind China instituted would never be acceptable in a democracy like the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, after three worrying days in intensive care, Boris Johnson was resting in hospital on Friday.  “The prime minister is back on a ward and continuing his recovery, which is at an early stage,” his spokesman told reporters.  Despite his condition improving, it is clear he isn’t going home to 10 Downing Street that soon.  His father told BBC radio, ‘He must rest up.  You cannot walk away from this and go straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has been in control. The government is worried about this Easter weekend and too many on the streets and in the parks.  Noted epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who is advising leadership, said, “We’ve started already to see plateauing,” but it will take several more days for the pace of deaths to drop and more weeks to draw definitive conclusions that could allow restrictions to be lifted, he added to BBC radio.

Last Sunday, the Queen gave a rare speech to the nation, saying in part:

“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time.

“A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all…

“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.

“And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.

“That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humored resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterize this country.”

Shortly thereafter, the prime minister entered the hospital.  Covid-19 was very real, if there were some in the nation who still didn’t get it.

--A severe shortage of labor, triggered by India’s 21-day lockdown to curb the spread, will disrupt harvesting of winter crops in the world’s second largest producer of staple food grains, such as wheat. 

When the lockdown began, which included the shutdown of the transportation system, that meant that India’s tens of millions of internal migrants had no time to get home.  So what did they do?  They started walking…for some, hundreds and hundreds of miles.  These are laborers who move in search of opportunity and often leave their families behind for months or years. They work construction, drive taxis, staff restaurants and much more, living frugally and returning home each year.  But these are the folks you normally see on India’s infamously packed trains.

--Canada, whose death toll stood at 556 as of today, said it still expected its final toll to be as high as 22,000 by the time the pandemic has run its course.

--In New York City, the coronavirus was likely spreading as early as February, weeks before the Big Apple’s first confirmed case, according to research at NYU’s School of Medicine.  A member of the team of inquiry told the New York Times that early findings indicate that the virus was in the city well before a Manhattan woman in her 30s became Gotham’s first official patient on March 1.

A separate group of researchers from the School of Medicine at Mount Sinai determined early city cases were not linked to later ones, which they found came from Europe.

--Research from the Los Alamos National Laboratory found that people infected during the initial outbreak in Wuhan probably passed the virus to an average 5.7 others – more than double the 2 or 2.5 other people estimated by health officials and the World Health Organization.

Patients sick with the seasonal flu, by comparison, will on average infect another 1.3 people.

IF the numbers are accurate and applicable elsewhere, the coronavirus pandemic could only be stopped by a widespread vaccination or built immunity for 82 percent of the population, according to the researchers, who reviewed Chinese data from the CDC, including mobile phone data that tracked the movement of patients leaving Wuhan.

More than two-thirds of the Covid-19 cases reportedly in mainland China in the eight days until Tuesday were people who showed no symptoms of the disease, according to new figures released by the National Health Commission.

While the ratio might appear high, and it was too early to make any conclusions, according to Leo Poon Lit-man, head of the public health laboratory sciences division at the University of Hong, “We don’t know what these figures mean without having the same data [on asymptomatic patients] for the past three months,” he said.

“But what we do know, is that these asymptomatic patients could be pre-symptomatic and infectious despite not displaying symptoms.

“Therefore the virus is still being transmitted inside the country…and these patients should be treated in isolation and put under close observation.”  [South China Morning Post]

So this remains the chief issue, and you must test, test, test, including widespread serological testing to determine the true proportion of asymptomatic patients, the testing looking for antibodies in the blood, which scientists believe usually develop within three to four weeks after infection.

--For the record, death tolls tonight vs. last Friday.

Spain…from 10935 last Friday to 16081
Italy…from 14681 to 18849
France…from 6507 to 13197*
UK…from 3605 to 8958
Netherlands…from 1487 to 2511
Belgium…1143 to 3019…shocking for such a small place.

U.S. …from 7300 to 18725
New York State…from 3218 to 7844…vs. 2753 on 9/11.

*France was the first to attempt an accurate count of those dying in its nursing homes.  Spain is since playing catch up, but others, including the UK and Italy, are way behind, and thus a big reason why the death tolls are much higher.  Italy admits that in its North, thousands have died at home.  The situation is similar in the United States.

New York City admitted that 1,100 have died at home during a period when the normal death rate in such instances would be about 200.  Few, if any, of these victims were tested.  Think about that.

Again, history demands an accurate count. And of course a large number of people died in my area of Covid-19 before the first case in New York was identified on March 1st.  But no one knew to check it out.

My little, albeit crowded, state of New Jersey now has 1932 fatalities, after daily increases the last two days of 275 and 232.  Our nursing care facilities are in deep trouble.  One next door luxury retirement community, where you buy a condo, then transition to assisted living and then death, has six dead.  When the names are finally released, I know I will know one of them. Thankfully, my best friends’ mothers currently living there are safe.

I have gotten emotional twice in this whole shitstorm.  The first time was about two weeks ago, when I was starting to receive notes on nurses in distress over PPE at Overlook Hospital here in Summit.  They were desperate.  I had to confirm with one of them that the story was real.  “This is real, Brian.”  The death toll that day went from 69 to 88 in the state.  I had to check it out.  It was heartbreaking.  I look back on that day and that was probably about the worst.  This area was flooded with infection at that time.  Summit’s cases were going up 7-9 a day (and have since levelled off).  It was the day after I saw a guy literally collapse, a jogger, sitting on the sidewalk in neighboring New Providence.  He was whisked away.  The night before that, a friend of mine had talked of how he looked out his living room window and there was a woman lying on the street.  It was his neighbor….he carried her back to her home.  She tested positive and was in the hospital shortly after.  Thankfully, Jim is OK.

That’s how it starts in your community if you have yet to be impacted.

The other time it hit me, after becoming numb to the whole story, was on Thursday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York State’s death toll of 799.  My eyes welled up.  The governor was struggling himself.

We move on….

Trump World

--Adriana Rodriguez / USA TODAY

Only three states – New York, Louisiana and Washington – have matched or exceeded the testing rate of South Korea, whose testing procedures experts hold out as a model for the world.  The country has performed 431,734 tests, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is about 1 out of every 119 people.

“In comparison, Vice President Mike Pence said last week that more than 1.2 million tests have been given, which means roughly 1 in every 273 people were tested given that the U.S. population is at about 327 million.

“However, (Harvard epidemiologist Marc) Lipsitch suspects testing numbers are only a fraction of actual cases in the U.S.

“The uneven testing rate among states has left public health and medical professionals without a clear picture of how much the coronavirus is spreading: Some states are not consistently reporting negative results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was slow to approve private sector testing.  The lack of capacity has limited testing.

“The country’s future rests in its ability to test and its immunity to the virus, either through infection of vaccinations, Lipsitch said, which could take up to a year to develop and be distributed….

“Studies suggest social distancing measures had worked against the 1918 epidemic until they were hastily lifted by some cities, like Denver, in early celebrations.  Instead of continuing to ‘flatten the curve,’ these cities experienced a second spike in cases.

“ ‘A lot of the confusion, in general, is premised on the misunderstanding that if you control the epidemic once, then you’re done,’ Lipsitch said.  ‘There’s no reason to think that.’”

--The New York Times reported that trade adviser Peter Navarro starkly warned Trump administration officials in late January that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.

“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” the Navarro memo said.  “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”

The memo was dated Jan. 29, at a time the president was playing down the risks to the United States, and he would later go on to say that no one could have predicted such a devastating outcome.

A second memo that Mr. Navarro wrote, dated Feb. 23, warned of an “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million souls.”

In the January memo, Navarro called for a travel ban for China, which Trump issued two days later.

President Trump, when questioned after the story came out, said he had not seen the memos.

Separately, according to an exclusive ABC News investigation the National Center for Medical Intelligence warned the military and White House about the spread of the virus in China as far back as late November.  Intel officials warned a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting.

The report by the NCMI was the result of analysis of wire and computer intercepts, coupled with satellite images.  It raised alarms because an out-of-control disease would pose a serious threat to U.S. forces in Asia – forces that depend on the NCMI’s work  And it paints a picture of an American government that could have ramped up mitigation and containment efforts far earlier to prepare for a crisis poised to come home.

“ ‘Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,’ one of the sources said of the NCMI’s report.  ‘It was then briefed multiple times to’ the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and the White House.

“From that warning in November, the sources described repeated briefings through December for policy-makers and decision-makers across the federal government as well as the National Security Council at the White House.  All of that culminated with a detailed explanation of the problem that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January, the sources said.  For something to have appeared in the PDB, it would have had to go through weeks of vetting and analysis, according to people who have worked on presidential briefings in both Republican and Democratic administrations.”

--Editorial / Wall Street Journal…Thursday

“A friend of ours who voted for President Trump sent us a note recently saying that she had stopped watching the daily White House briefings of the coronavirus task force. Why? Because they have become less about defeating the virus and more about the many feuds of Donald J. Trump.

“The briefings began as a good idea to educate the public about the dangers of the virus, how Americans should change their behavior, and what the government is doing to combat it. They showed seriousness of purpose, action to mobilize public and private resources, and a sense of optimism.  Mr. Trump benefitted in the polls not because he was the center of attention but because he showed he had put together a team of experts working to overcome a national health crisis.

“But sometime in the last three weeks Mr. Trump seems to have concluded that the briefings could be a showcase for him.  Perhaps they substitute in his mind for the campaign rallies he can no longer hold because of the risks.  Perhaps he resented the media adulation that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been receiving for his daily show.  Whatever the reason, the briefings are now all about the President.

“They last for 90 minutes or more, and Mr. Trump dominates the stage.  His first-rate health experts have become supporting actors, and sometimes barely that, ushered on stage to answer a technical question or two.  Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the task force, doesn’t get on stage until the last 15 minutes or so.  That becomes the most informative part of the session, since Mr. Pence understandably knows details the President doesn’t….

“One of the ironies of this Presidency is that Mr. Trump claims to despise the press yet so eagerly plays its game.  Every reporter knows the way to get a TV moment, and get a pat on the back from newsroom pals, is to bait Mr. Trump with a question about his previous statements or about criticism that someone has leveled against him.  Mr. Trump always takes the bait….

“The President’s outbursts against his political critics are also notably off key at this moment.  This isn’t impeachment, and Covid-19 isn’t shifty Schiff.  It’s a once-a-century threat to American life and livelihood.

“The public doesn’t care who among the governors likes Mr. Trump, or whether the Obama Administration, filled the national pandemic stockpile.  There will be time for recriminations.  What the public wants to know now is what Mr. Trump and his government is doing to prevent the deaths of their loved ones or help the family breadwinner stay employed.

“If Mr. Trump thinks these daily sessions will help him defeat Joe Biden, he’s wrong.  This election is now about one issue: how well the public thinks the President has done in defeating the virus and restarting the economy.  If Americans conclude he succeeded in a crisis, they will forgive him for reacting more slowly than he and many others might have in January.  But on that score, voters will be persuaded by what they see in their lives and communities come the autumn.  They will judge Mr. Trump by the results, not by how well he says he did.”

Trump of course felt compelled to respond later Thursday, tweeting:

“The Wall Street Journal always ‘forgets’ to mention that the ratings for the White House Press Briefing are ‘through the roof’ (Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale, according to @nytimes) & is only way for me to escape the Fake News & get my views across.  WSJ is Fake News!”

The Journal then responded in kind Friday:

“Our Thursday editorial offering some friendly advice on how to make the daily White House coronavirus briefings more informative for the American people seems to have caught President’s Trump attention.

“The President took to his favorite communication venue to tweet…[the Journal repeated the above]….

“Thanks for reading sir, and we agree the briefings are an excellent way to communicate directly with Americans.  Our point was about the way Mr. Trump is communicating about a subject that is literally a life and death matter. That’s the reason they’re a ratings hit, not because people enjoy Donald Trump sparring with the White House press corps like a Packers-Bears game.

“We’ll bet the ratings for the briefings would be even higher if they were shorter and more focused. We suggested 45 minutes, but at least one reader who wishes Mr. Trump well thinks they should be 30, delivering an update on key developments, taking a question or two – and that’s it.

“The ratings that will matter for Mr. Trump this year are where he stands in public approval come November.  And those ratings will depend on Mr. Trump’s results in conquering Covid-19 and restarting the economy.”

--White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said “A-B-C ya later” as she was replaced by Barbie Doll Kayleigh McEnany, Ms. Grisham having never actually held a press briefing.  She now returns to being First Lady Melania’s chief of staff.

--Trump tweets:

“The Invisible Enemy will soon be in full retreat!”

“I have directed @SecretarySonny to expedite help to our farmers, especially to the smaller farmers who are hurting right now.  I expect Secretary Purdue to use all of the funds and authorities at his disposal to make sure that our food supply is stable, strong, and safe….

“….We will always be there for our Great Farmers, Cattlemen, Ranchers, and Producers!”

“Because the T.V. Ratings for the White House News Conference’s are the highest, the Opposition Party (Lamestream Media), the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats &, of course, the few remaining RINO’s, are doing everything in their power to disparage & end them. The People’s Voice!”

“The Radical Left Democrats have gone absolutely crazy that I am doing daily Presidential News Conferences. They actually want me to STOP!  They used to complain that I am not doing enough of them, now they complain that I ‘shouldn’t be allowed to do them.’  They tried to shame….

“….the Fake News Media into not covering them, but that effort failed because the ratings are through the roof according to, of all sources, the Failing New York Times, ‘Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale’ type numbers (& sadly, they get it $FREE).  Trump Derangement Syndrome!”

“Absentee Ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others, who can’t get to the polls on Election Day.  These ballots are very different from 100% Mail-In Voting, which is ‘RIPE for FRAUD,’ and shouldn’t be allowed!”

[More on this topic below.]

“Wow, Approval Rating in the Republican Party – 96%. Thank you!”

“Nobody wants to say that if Elizabeth Warren gets out of the race before Super Tuesday, Crazy Bernie Sanders wins virtually every state in a blowout…NOT EVEN CLOSE!  I haven’t heard one member of the Fake News Establishment even mention this irrefutable fact.  FAKE NEWS!”

“Once we OPEN UP OUR GREAT COUNTRY, and it will be sooner rather than later, the horror of the Invisible Enemy, except for those that sadly lost a family member or friend, must be quickly forgotten.  Our Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before!!!”

“Advertising in the Failing New York Times is WAY down.  Washington Post is not much better.  I can’t say whether this is because they are Fake News sources of information, to a level that few can understand, or the Virus is just plain beating them up.  Fake News is bad for America!”

[Ah, Mr. President…have you checked the state of the overall U.S. economy?]

--I had to leave some items like the removal of Glenn Fine, the acting Defense Department inspector general, on the cutting-room floor this week.  But it’s an important issue and for the archives I do need to get in some comments next time.  Both on Fine and Michael Atkinson.  They are getting buried in the other news of the day, as was the president’s plan.

Wall Street and the Economy

With the markets closed for Good Friday, immediately after the weekly jobless claims figure was released Thursday at 8:30 a.m., another 6.61 million, or 16.8 million in just the last three weeks, the Federal Reserve unleashed another massive program designed to buoy local governments and businesses crushed by the massive closures to stem the pandemic. 

[Recall, prior to this three-week period, the weekly high was 695,000 set during the Financial Crisis of 2008-09.]

Under the Fed’s $2.3 trillion package, the central bank said it would work with banks to offer four-year loans to companies of up to 10,000 employees and directly buy bonds of states and more populous counties and cities.  Among the new purchases will be ‘junk bonds.’

Following is a straightforward explanation….

Editorial / Washington Post

“Probably only one thing would be worse for a modern economy than direct governmental allocation of credit: a total collapse of lending altogether.  That appears to be the pragmatic thinking behind the Federal Reserve’s announcement Thursday of a program targeting unprecedented swaths of the private sector for Fed-backed financing.  Faced with an economy in sudden free fall…the Fed is going beyond past crisis measures that supported the financial ‘plumbing’ of the economy.  Leveraging $75 billion in Treasury funds approved by Congress in the Cares Act, the Fed will help funnel up to $600 billion to ‘Main Street’: industrial, commercial and service-providing businesses with up to 10,000 employees or $2.5 billion in annual sales.

“It’s novel but solid crisis management.  Like the lender of last resort posited in Walter Bagehot’s famous formulation, the Fed program will ‘lend to… ‘this man and that man,’ whenever the security is good.’  This falls within the Fed’s legal authority, which gives it power (subject to the treasury secretary’s approval) to extend credit in ‘unusual and exigent circumstances’ according to ‘broad-based eligibility’ criteria.  If this isn’t an unusual and exigent situation, we don’t know what is, and the Fed’s lending criteria are plausibly objective enough to prevent government from playing favorites among the various companies that apply for cash….

“It bears repeating that this is not a bailout. Companies that get the funds are suffering not because of their own misconduct or mistakes but because of a broad public health effort that cost them sales – and with which most of them are trying to cooperate.  The borrowers will have to pay the money back, with interest, over four years (albeit on easier-than-usual terms), and if the economy recovers relatively swiftly, most of them will have an incentive to do so.

“Along with the Main Street program, the Fed is launching a $500 billion program to support state and local government borrowing during the crisis, as well as expanding its credit facilities to the financial sector and helping the Small Business Administration’s crisis efforts, bringing the total of new funding to $2.3 trillion…. If all goes well, with controlling the virus and with implementation of the Fed’s plans, the new programs can conclude on the Sept. 30 date the Fed has targeted, and confidence will return to the private sector with no need for the central bank to draw down its entire account at the Treasury.

“The Fed is putting its balance sheet at the service of the private sector for what we must hope is the shortest period absolutely necessary.  It will be up to Congress to provide whatever needed funding – for health care, state budget relief and individual income support – lies beyond the Fed’s ambit.”

But there is a downside….

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“The essential facts of the coronavirus economic disaster are these: Federal and state governments have shut down most American commerce, robbing tens of thousands of successful companies of revenue through no fault of their own.  Mass layoffs area already underway, with 6.6 million new jobless claims in the week that ended April 4, and cascading bankruptcies loom.

“That’s the backdrop for the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented $2.3 trillion expansion of its lending and bond-buying programs on Thursday to offer a liquidity lifeline. The Fed isn’t scrimping on the firepower, but the details released Thursday are disappointing, and perhaps even dangerous to a robust recovery.  The Fed is rescuing weaker credits as well as the strong, is diving ever-deeper into risky assets, and is putting Wall Street ahead of companies across Middle America….

“This means the Fed will in effect buy the worst shopping malls in the country and some of the most indebted companies. The opportunities for losses will be that much greater.  Treasury is backstopping losses, but the taxpayer risks here are greater than what the Fed took on in 2008-2009.

“The Fed may feel all of this is essential to protect the financial system’s plumbing and reduce systemic risk until the virus crisis passes, but make no mistake that the Fed is protecting Wall Street first.  The goal seems to be to lift asset prices, as the Fed did after the financial panic, and hope that the wealth effect filters down to the rest of the economy….

“All of this adds up to the following contrast: A company bought by a Wall Street firm and loaded up with debt that is part of a CLO [collateralized loan obligation] will now face far easier terms for liquidity relief than will a similar privately owned company in the Midwest that never took on too much debt. This is employing political discretion, and picking winners and losers, far more than the Fed did in 2008.

“Perhaps, with a lot of luck, the economy will restart faster than we fear and these Main Street firms will manage to survive.  That was the note Fed Chairman Jerome Powell hit Thursday when he paraphrased predecessor Ben Bernanke’s comment that ‘you’ll be looking back on this and you will, you won’t see much, only modest effects, I think he said, on the economy from this event.’  Mr. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may underestimate how much this shutdown is hollowing out the heart of the U.S. economy.

“It is also putting the future of American capitalism at risk in a way even the financial panic did not.  The Fed and Treasury are becoming the main lenders to American business, and in this storm there is no choice.  But will they recede when the virus is defeated?

“Mr. Powell said Thursday that this is a ‘truly rare’ intervention by the Fed, which will retreat when the virus plague is over.  But that is what the Fed also said during the financial panic, and it never did come close to normalizing policy.  If the shutdown lasts for many more weeks, the Fed could become America’s lender of first resort.”

Various economists and think tanks are projecting U.S. GDP will fall by 25% to 30% in the second quarter [JPMorgan Chase sees a 40% decline], with perhaps a modest ‘relative’ rebound in the second half of the year, certainly not a V-shaped recovery, or President Trump’s ‘the economy will take off like a rocket ship.’

Unemployment rate projections are for a peak of anywhere from 15% to 25%.  Disaster.  The government’s stimulus programs may not be large enough or fast enough to prevent waves of bankruptcies, and the pandemic experience is likely to fundamentally change U.S. consumer behavior.

As the Journal editorialized separately earlier in the week:

“Philanthropist Bill Gates now says the entire country should close down for at least 10 weeks with little recognition of the tradeoffs and economic harm.  The media elites all nod in agreement from their home offices.  How much of an economy will we have left by then?

“No one can say, but the White House is courting political trouble if it merely keeps predicting the sharp V-shaped recovery of legend.  What the country needs, and jobless Americans will increasingly demand, is thinking about a more sustainable anti-virus strategy – one that saves lives but also includes somehow taking the national economy off the ventilator that government has placed it on.”

**Finally, I have been careful during this historically volatile time in the markets not to issue a personal opinion on what one should do with their portfolio.  I make a market call for the year and never deviate.  It is what it is.  Far more often than not I end up being right, at least on the direction.

So I thought the Dow and S&P 500 would decline 3% in 2020, with Nasdaq rising 4%.  Of course I wasn’t weighing in the impact of a pandemic.

I didn’t want to comment because even when we were down like 37% after the crash, assuming most of you are long term investors, I felt like, heck, ride it out.  But the S&P has now rallied back over 24% from the bottom (12% this week alone).  If you’ve glanced at your 401(k) this weekend, you should be pleasantly surprised vs three weeks ago.

But I can’t help but add that I think this rally is overdone, given the prospects for the economy and a near depression.  We entered the year overvalued.  We are now in a netherworld.  If Covid-19 comes back in the fall with a vengeance, I don’t know what would happen to much more than just Wall Street.  Without a vaccine it would be Armageddon.

So if you can’t take the volatility and you were looking for a better exit point, say for a portion of your portfolio, sell it.

The New Normal, whatever shape and form it takes, will be far from Nirvana.  Ain’t no V-shaped rocket ships on the horizon, unless you can stowaway on Elon Musk’s first flight to Mars, which a lot of us would love to do about now.

Europe and Asia

No important economic data in the eurozone this week, but Germany’s leading think tanks are forecasting a 9.8% drop in GDP in the second quarter, while in France, the central bank is looking for GDP to decline 6% in Q1.

So with such a bleak outlook the European Union has launched an unprecedented experiment; persuading companies to forgo layoffs by subsidizing private-sector wages on a massive scale.

More than one million companies across the continent have signed up for subsidy programs that essentially transform their payrolls into a system for delivering billions of euros in stimulus funds directly to households.  [Britain has a similar program.]

Governments hope the programs will act as a giant pause button for Europe’s economy.  Under the scheme, people who go for long stretches without work aren’t supposed to miss a single paycheck.  Once the confinement ends, workers will have a job waiting and money to spend.  Companies can, in theory, pick up more or less where they left off.

Meanwhile, Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, says the EU must act in an adequate and coordinated way to help countries worst hit by the virus.

In an interview with the BBC, Conte said that Europe’s leaders were “facing an appointment with history” that they could not miss.

“If we do not seize the opportunity to put new life into the European project, the risk of failure is real.”

Many are fearing the worst in Europe these days, Italy being of paramount importance.

Or as Marcus Walker put it in the Wall Street Journal:

“The euro survived its debt crisis, but the wounds never fully healed.  The coronavirus is threatening to reopen them….

“Stable access to borrowing is vital for governments that know they will have to cope with a surge in debt for the second time since 2008.

“In Europe’s common currency zone, that is exposing an old gap: between financially secure northern countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, and the southern countries whose ability to borrow is more fragile, such as Italy and Spain.  Southern eurozone nations have less money to prop up their households and businesses during the health emergency, risking greater economic damage and a weaker recovery afterward….

“Italy’s national debt, already 136% of its gross domestic product, is the biggest worry.  The path of the pandemic is unpredictable, but some economists say the debt could easily end up at 160% of GDP.  Italy can afford to service such debts if long-term interest rates remain at historic lows – something the pandemic could further entrench.  But it would increase the need for tight fiscal policies, putting the brakes on an economic rebound.

“A two-speed recovery could exacerbate Italians’ growing disillusion with the EU and the euro.  Surveys in recent years showed most Italians don’t want to leave – but also that many believe the bloc and its currency haven’t been good for Italy.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week: “In my view…the European Union is facing the biggest test since its foundation.  We have a big health challenge that is impacting all member states, however differently.  It is a symmetrical shock.”

Stressing that Germany would be weakened if the EU was seen as showing insufficient solidarity with its most needy members, Merkel said: “It will be about showing that we are ready to defend our Europe, to strengthen it.”

Far more on this as the crisis unfolds.

In Asia…Japan imposed a state of emergency in Tokyo, though it is not as strict as other countries, while the government is unveiling a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.  But even with the record rescue program, according to Goldman Sachs, Japan is headed toward a record contraction of 25% in the second quarter, as the call to stay at home, while not legally binding, will push down consumer spending by 25% on an annualized quarter-on-quarter basis and further reduce business spending.  Goldman’s economists also see exports plunging 60% in the quarter.

China reports key data on exports, retail sales and industrial production next week.  Today we had inflation data for March, with consumer prices up 4.3% from a year earlier, per the National Bureau of Statistics, compared with a 5.2% rise in February.  But producer prices (factory gate) fell 1.5% year-on-year, marking the sharpest decline in five months and suggesting the economy remains some way off from mounting a durable recovery.

Street Bytes

--As alluded to above, the S&P 500 staged its best weekly rally since 1974 (not “over 50 years” as President Trump kept repeating today…unless 26+20 is no longer 46…but what the hell do I know), 12.1%, while the Dow rose 12.7% (just shy of its 12.8% advance two weeks earlier), and Nasdaq surged 10.6%.

Now we begin to receive first-quarter earnings reports, but every company is withholding guidance, and who can blame them?  No one freakin’ knows.  I’m guessing, perhaps, we may have a better idea come June 1, but even if we begin to ‘open up,’ slightly, May 1, we really won’t know squat until we begin to see actual human behavior.

So we’re still flying blind.  It’s hope vs. despair.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.22%  2-yr. 0.23%  10-yr. 0.72%  30-yr. 1.34%

The bond market, globally, stabilized this week with the longer end of the Treasury curve seeing yields rise due to the big rally in equities, as it should be.  Normalization is good.

--The federal budget deficit for the month of March was released this afternoon, $119.1 billion, down from March a year ago when the deficit was $146.9 billion.  Yippee, a positive surprise!  The expectation was for -$150bn.

But for the first six months of the fiscal year, the total is $743.6 billion, up $52.5bn over a year ago, and starting from here, the picture will get really, really ugly, as if $1 trillion deficits long into the horizon wasn’t already enough of a problem.  Some are estimating a Fiscal 2020 deficit of $2-$2.5 trillion.

That’s a lot of zeroes, boys and girls.

--According to data released Wednesday by the National Multifamily Housing Council and a consortium of real-estate data providers, nearly a third of U.S. apartment renters didn’t pay any of their April rent during the first week of the month.

--The World Trade Organization said global trade would fall this year by between 13% and 32%, giving a wide range because so much about the economic impact of the health crisis was uncertain.  At the height of the financial crisis in 2009, trade dropped 12.5%.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo told a news conference, “The pandemic cut the fuel line to the engine.  If the fuel line is reconnected properly, a rapid and vigorous rebound is possible.”

Azevedo is worried that a turn to protectionism would create new shocks.

--U.S. supplies of oil soared again on a weekly basis, as the Energy Information Administration said oil inventories increased by 15.2 million barrels, the largest weekly increase on record, according to Bloomberg.

The EIA said gasoline stockpiles increased by 10.5 million barrels last week and are running about 10% above the five-year average for this time of year.

So with the continuing oversupply picture, OPEC, Russia and other allies outlined plans on Thursday to cut their oil output by more than a fifth and said they expected the United States and other producers to join in their effort to prop up prices hammered by the coronavirus crisis. 

But the group, known as OPEC+, said a final agreement was dependent on Mexico signing up after it balked at the production cuts it was asked to make. 

The planned output curbs by OPEC+ amount to 10 million barrels per day or 10% of global supplies, with another 5 million bpd expected to come from other nations to help deal with the deepest crisis in the oil patch in decades.

The thing is, global demand has plunged by about 30m bpd, or 30% of global supplies.  An unprecedented 15m bpd cut still won’t stop the world’s storage facilities from filling up.

For his part, President Trump has said U.S. output was already falling due to low prices, and he warned the Saudis they face sanctions and tariffs on its oil if it did not cut enough to help the U.S. oil industry, which operates with higher costs and is struggling mightily with the price in the $20s.

Trump held a call with Russian President Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia about the talks.

Discussions then resumed Friday.  Mexico then said it had been pressed to make cuts of 400,000 bpd, before the group lowered the target to 350,000.  President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spoke to President Trump and Mexico announced it would cut 100,000, with the U.S. making up the difference.

But then in today’s daily coronavirus briefing, it seemed that Trump and the U.S. feel like they’ve already cut 250,000.  Trump said they’ll get future considerations from Mexico, perhaps a crafty lefty pitcher, like another Fernando Valenzuela.

It’s all about compliance but whatever agreement was reached by OPEC+ and the outsiders, it can’t possibly come close to filling the gap between supply and demand.

I told you last week that the rally to $29.00 on West Texas Intermediate was built on false hope and indeed it was.  Oil closed the week at $22.76, but this was prior to the announcement of a deal.

And now as I go to post, it looks like the deal is off, the Saudis furious with Mexico.  Time for a Dos Equis.

One more on the industry. The U.S. oil rig count slumped by 58 to 504, the lowest level since December 2016, according to data compiled by Baker Hughes.

Data show 664 oil rigs were operating on March 20, implying the drop since then has been 160 wells amid the pandemic and plummeting crude prices.

--Exxon Mobil Corp. said it was lopping 30% off 2020 capital spending in shale, natural gas and deep-water production, as the pandemic saps demand and oil prices tumbled into the $20s.

Oil companies have pulled back 2020 spending plans by an average of 22% with countries limiting air travel, ordering businesses closed and telling residents to stay home.

“We haven’t seen anything like what we’re experiencing today,” Exxon CEO Darren Woods said on Tuesday.  Exxon was the last of the oil majors to announce its plans and now it has said it could spend $23 billion on cap-ex, down $10 billion from its earlier plan and the lowest in four years.  Spending could drop even further.

The cuts will weigh heaviest on U.S. shale, where it had plunked down $6 billion in 2017 for drilling leases and boosted output.

Exxon expects world oil demand to tumble by 25% to 30% in the short term, Woods said, forecasting widespread oil-well “shut-ins across the industry.”

--Boeing Co. said on Monday it was temporarily suspending production of its 787 model at its facilities in South Carolina amid the pandemic, after the state’s governor issued a stay at home order except for essential trips.  Boeing production is suspended until further notice.  Sunday, Boeing indefinitely extended the halt of its production operations at its Washington state facilities.

--Airbus is slashing production across the board to absorb the hit to manufacturing from the pandemic.  In its largest ever production adjustment, the European plane maker said it was reducing output of its best-selling A320 narrow-body family by about a third to 40 aircraft a month.  It also cut production of larger wide-body jets with the A350 falling by about 40% to 6 aircraft a month, and the A330 family down by more than 40% to 2 aircraft a month. 

The move comes as deliveries were halved in March to 36 aircraft.

Today, Airbus announced it was shelving plans to create a new assembly line in Toulouse, France, for its A321, single-aisle, airliner.

But Airbus is shutting down A380 production at its massive Lagardere plant in Toulouse, so now the fate of hundreds of workers is up in the air.

--American Airlines Group Inc. said late Sunday it would temporarily suspend more flights to the New York area’s three major airports. Earlier, the carrier had already reduced its flights around the world, and the other day shrunk its flights from close to 100 flights a day at JFK Airport to just 11.

--United Airlines said it was drastically reducing operations at Newark Liberty and LaGuardia Airport for at least three weeks.  At Newark, one of United’s hubs, the carrier will drop from its current 139 flights per day to 62 destinations to 15 daily flights to nine destinations.  LaGuardia is going from 18 flights per day to four destinations to two daily flights to one destination.

--Meanwhile, as of last weekend, about 150 flight attendants had tested positive for coronavirus, with hundreds more putting themselves in self-quarantine, according to the Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents more than 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines.

--Discount airliner Norwegian Air said its passenger volume fell by 60% year-on-year in March as it grounded planes amid efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus.  A pioneer in low-fare transatlantic air travel, Norwegian’s rapid expansion has left it heavily in debt.  The airline said it is canceling 85% of its flights and furloughing 90% of staff while seeking financial aid from Norway’s government.

--Two of Japan’s largest car companies, Nissan Motor and Honda Motor, are furloughing U.S. factory workers without pay, adding to unemployment in an industry that has seen sales plummet during the spread of the new coronavirus.

Nissan said on Tuesday it would place about 10,000 U.S. hourly workers employed at plants in Tennessee and Mississippi on furlough until late April, calling the move a temporary layoff.

Honda also this week notified staff it would furlough about 14,4000 factory employees in the U.S. as it extends a production shutdown to May 1.  Honda’s furloughs start Monday.  Nissan workers stopped receiving paychecks on Sunday.

Both companies said the workers will retain benefits such as health care.

The auto industry shut down nearly all U.S. production in March, and combined General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler have laid off about 150,000 hourly employees. 

In March, U.S. car sales fell nearly 40% from a year earlier, according to MarkLines, a Japanese automotive-data firm.  Both Nissan and Honda reported 48% sales declines in U.S. sales last month.

--General Motors Co. is making 30,000 ventilators for the national stockpile in a $489.4 million contract with the Department of Health and Human Services.

With the deal, struck under the Defense Production Act, GM is expected to deliver 6,132 ventilators by June 1 and the remainder by the end of August, HHS said.

GM said it is working with Ventec Life Systems to make the ventilators.

--Tesla said on Friday it has started China sales of two more Model 3 variants at its Shanghai plant, meaning all Model 3 sedans sold in the country are now locally made and not subject to import tax.

Today, though, CNBC reported Tesla had furloughed half of its U.S. sales and delivery employees this week, citing company insiders.

--Auto sales in China in March recovered from an unprecedented trough, as the rise in the number of coronavirus cases eased and many factories resumed production, though consumer spending remained sluggish.

Sales last month were down 43% from a year earlier, the government-backed China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said Friday, an improvement on February’s 79%.  Sales in the first quarter as a whole were off 42%, to 3.67 million vehicles.

--JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon said in an extraordinary letter to shareholders accompanying the company’s 2019 annual report that the bank is working with the government to “address the severe economic challenges” caused by the Covid-19 pandemic but that it will not ask for regulatory relief for itself.

Dimon said he supports recent moves made by the Treasury Dept. and Federal Reserve designed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

“The Fed’s overwhelming actions have already dramatically reduced the financial stress in the system, and there is still more they could do if they need to,” he said.

Dimon expects JPM’s earnings this year to be “down meaningfully” and the board could consider suspending dividend payments if the bank’s “extremely adverse scenario” that assumes a 35% contraction in the U.S. economy in the second quarter and unemployment peaking at 14% in the latter three months of the year plays out.

“This scenario is quite severe and, we hope, unlikely,” he said.  “If it were to play out, the board would likely consider suspending the dividend even though it is a rather small claim on our equity capital base.  If the board suspended the dividend, it would be out of extreme prudence and based upon continued uncertainty over what the next few years will bring.”

Dimon said he isn’t anticipating the worst-case scenario but does expect “a bad recession combined with some kind of financial stress similar to the global financial crisis of 2008.”

The bank has 180,000 employees working from home, including traders, bankers and call center teams.  The company has kept about three-quarters of their 5,000 Chase branches open, but hold times at their call centers have increased as many have been “effectively shut down by local restrictions.”

--McDonald’s Corp. said sales for its existing base of restaurants globally fell 22% last month amid the pandemic.  Same-store sales, those at restaurants open at least 13 months, increased in January and February but then dropped sharply.  In the U.S., comp sales fell 13% from a year earlier.

McDonald’s said currently 99% of its restaurants are offering at least some service.  Locations in some countries, including France and Italy, have been forced to close.  Globally, 75% of stores have at least limited service.

With all the global uncertainty, the company is pulling its 2020 and longer-term outlooks. McDonald’s is also working with its franchisees to support financial liquidity and has allowed deferral of certain rent and royalties earned from franchisees.

--Darden Restaurants and Denny’s Corp. said their sales have plummeted in recent weeks, highlighting the threat to casual dining chains.

Darden, the operator of Olive Garden and other restaurants, said Tuesday their comparable sales across its portfolio fell 39% during the first six weeks of its current quarter, a period that ended April 5.  Same-store sales were down at least 71% for each of the last three weeklong periods, the company said.

Denny’s said same-store sales across its portfolio in the domestic market dropped 19% in March compared with March of last year.

The fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King can weather the crisis a little better due to having drive-throughs, but the sit-down establishments will struggle to stay alive. When things open up, how fast are you going to want to go to an Olive Garden, especially in those states that had had a significant outbreak?

--Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it will furlough almost 40,000 employees after it became obvious that 800 of its stores will not reopen anytime soon due to the coronavirus crisis.

“It is our goal that when this crisis subsides, we will welcome back our teammates, open our doors and get back to the business we love of serving athletes and our communities,” said the company in an SEC filing.

--Panicked consumers fueled a 12.3% spike in comparable sales at the retail giant Costco for the five weeks ended April 5 as shoppers loaded up on food, paper products and cleaning supplies, the company reported.

But Wall Street was expecting a 24% increase based on how many shoppers were flocking to the stores.  Costco’s sales began to soften in mid-March when government restrictions addressing social distancing kicked in.

The restrictions reduced store hours, limited the number of shoppers that were allowed into the stores at one time and closed non-essential departments like jewelry, optical, hearing-aids and food courts.

--In recent weeks, according to Coresight Research, more than 60,000 stores have closed.  Last year, retailers announced a record 9,300 store closures, as companies such as Forever 21, Barneys New York and Gymboree filed for bankruptcy.

One analyst, Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight, told the Washington Post she expected at least 15,000 stores will close permanently by the end of the year.  The longer the shutdown the higher that figure could be.

Simon Property Group, the largest mall operator in the United States, furloughed 30 percent of its workforce – or about 1,500 employees – in a sign that it expects properties to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

--According to the Washington Post, the Trump Organization has laid off or furloughed about 1,500 employees at hotels in the United States and Canada, with most of the clubs and hotels being closed, 17 in total.

--Disney+, the streaming service from Walt Disney Co., has passed 50 million paying subscribers in its first five months, the company said Wednesday.

The service, which costs $6.99 a month, has seen 75% growth in subscribers since early February.  At that time, Disney said it had 28.6 million paying customers, mostly in the U.S.

In the last two weeks, the service has expanded internationally, launching in eight Western European countries.

But when will Disney’s theme parks open…and at what size in terms of the crowds?  What about the theaters showing Disney’s movies, the main driver of profits for the company?

--Canada lost a record-breaking 1 million jobs in March (wiping away over three years of job creation in a single month) while the unemployment rate soared to 7.8%, according to Statistics Canada, adding that the figure didn’t reflect the real toll.  More than 5 million Canadians have applied for all forms of federal emergency unemployment help since March 15, suggesting the real jobless rate is closer to 25%.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country was “at a fork in the road between the best and the worse possible outcomes,” predicting that once the first wave was over, the economy could partially be reopened.  “Normality as it was before will not come back full on until we get a vaccine for this and…that could be a very long way off.”

--The German foreign ministry has restricted use of the video conferencing service Zoom, saying in an internal memo to employees that security and data protection weaknesses made it too risky to use, according to newspaper Handelsblatt.

Zoom’s daily users have exploded as the pandemic spread around the world, but the increase in usage has also exposed security flaws, including a phenomenon called ‘Zoombombing’ in which bad guys gatecrash videocalls, seize control of shared screens and post offensive content.

Taiwan’s government has told agencies to stop using Zoom’s conferencing app.

Today, Singapore suspended the use of Zoom by teachers, its education ministry said, after “very serious incidents” occurred in the first week of a coronavirus lockdown that has seen schools move to home-based learning.

Zoom has hired former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos as an adviser and formed an advisory board to improve privacy and security issues.

--Shares in Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, rallied after Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund disclosed an 8.2% stake in it.  That was a dumb move by the Saudis.

--Heineken, the world’s second largest brewer, suffered a decline in beer sales in the first three months of the year, forecast worse to come in the second quarter and scrapped its 2020 guidance.  The maker of Heineken, Tiger and Sol beers, among other brands, said it believed beer sales fell by 2% in the first quarter and overall volumes, including cider and soft drinks, by 4%.

But the Dutch brewer said it would not carry out permanent layoffs as a consequence of the crisis.

Heineken Mexico, which brews brands such as Dos Equis, Sol and Indio, said it was suspending nationwide distribution of its products.  This came a day after Grupo Modelo, brewer of Corona and Modelo, took similar measures.

Mexico is the world’s top beer exporter, generating some $4 billion in annual sales.

--Grocery workers have been dying of coronavirus, including at least two Walmart employees from the same Chicago-area store.  Our governor in New Jersey finally mandated that all customers and employees wear a mask in grocery stores.  Hours before the order, I was in a local ACME and absolutely furious with those not wearing a mask.  But after New Jersey announced its gruesome 275 death tally Wednesday, it was clear to Gov. Murphy we needed to do more.

But in terms of the grocery industry, the rise of worker infections and deaths will no doubt make it more difficult to retain and add new workers at a time when the major players like Walmart are hiring tens of thousands.

--The U.S. Postal Service is facing a precipitous decline in mail volume and billions of dollars in additional losses as it operates during the pandemic.

The agency is asking Congress for financial support after the Treasury Department extended it a $10 billion loan and increased its annual borrowing limit under the Cares Act last month.

But the USPS is asking for $25 billion in emergency funding.

The Postal Service is facing $22 billion in operating losses over the next 18 months as mail volumes and purchases have plummeted with the mandated closures of businesses around the country.

At least 600 workers have tested positive for Covid-19, and 12 have died, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers.  Most have been concentrated in the New York area.

Foreign Affairs

Iraq: The nation’s president designated the country’s intelligence chief as prime minister, the third attempt to form a government as political deadlock threatens Baghdad’s ability to address multiple crises compounded by the pandemic.

President Barham Salih tasked Mustafa al-Kadhimi to put together a cabinet after pro-Iranian factions thwarted the previous candidate for the premiership, Adnan al-Zurfi.  Zurfi, a former provincial governor with American citizenship, abandoned his bid after failing to garner enough support to form a government.

Kadhimi now has 30 days to present his cabinet to parliament for a vote.  If he does so, he is expected to prepare the country for early elections, a concession won by antigovernment protesters who forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to resign last year.  More than 500 were killed in the security crackdown that began in October.

To say Iraq is a mess would be an understatement.  With oil its prime source of revenue, plunging prices, and demand, have hit the country hard, with oil revenues accounting for more than 90% of Iraq’s budget.  And then you have the coronavirus.  Iraq as of Friday had reported 70 deaths and over 1,270 cases thus far.

Separately, Iranian-backed militia pose a “significant” threat to U.S. forces in Iraq, the State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East said on Thursday, about a week after President Trump warned of an attack by Iran or its proxies.

David Schenker, assistant secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, did not give details about the threat in a call with reporters.

Syria: A special investigation unit established by members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2018 to identify perpetrators of illegal attacks has blamed Syrian Arab Air Force pilots flying Sukhoi Su-22 military planes and a helicopter for dropping bombs containing poisonous chlorine and sarin nerve gas on a village in the country’s western Hama region in March 2017.  Until this week, the OPCW was only authorized to say whether chemical attacks occurred, not who perpetrated them.  Officials in the Bashar Assad regime and its military backer Russia have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

Individuals were identified in the OPCW report but their names were redacted.

A separate UN inquiry concluded this week that it was “highly probable” the government of Syria or its allies carried out attacks on three healthcare facilities, a school and a refuge for children in northwest Syria last year.

Meanwhile, Turkey said it was minimizing its troop movements in operation zones in northern Syria in response to the coronavirus outbreak as Turkey’s death toll from Covid-19 surged to over 1,000 today.

Yemen: The UN has warned of catastrophe if the coronavirus spreads in this war-torn country and Friday, Yemen reported its first case as aid groups braced for an outbreak in a country where war has shattered health systems and spread hunger and disease.

The news of the laboratory-confirmed case came after a nationwide ceasefire prompted by the pandemic began on Thursday.  A Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi movement announced it would halt military operations for two weeks, though the Houthis have yet to agree.

Yemen’s five-year war has killed more than 100,000 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis.  Only half of its hospitals are fully functional and 18 million people do not have access to proper hygiene, water and sanitation, the International Rescue Committee says.  Cholera, dengue and malaria are rife.  80% of Yemenis, or 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid while millions live on the brink of starvation and are vulnerable to diseases.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a ceasefire in all global conflicts back in March to tackle the virus and then specifically called for a cessation in Yemen.  He welcomed this week’s announcement

Afghanistan: So much for the peace agreement. The Taliban on Tuesday recalled their negotiating team from Afghanistan hours after they suspended talks on a prisoner exchange process with the Afghan government, calling the discussions “fruitless.”  The prisoner exchange is critical to the peace process overall and it represents the latest setback for the U.S.-led effort to end America’s longest war.

Wednesday, the Taliban were suspected of an attack on Afghan security forces, killing seven civilians who were abducted in northern Balkh province.

China: 460,000 Chinese firms closed permanently in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic pummeled the world’s second largest economy, with more than half of them having operated for under three years, according to Tianyancha, a commercial database that compiles public records.  At the same time, the pace of new businesses being created dropped 29% from a year earlier.

Close to half of the companies that closed were in distribution or retail.

But now China says its in recovery mode and despite the ‘gradual’ reopening of Wuhan, the epicenter, after nine weeks, China could be faking it when it comes to initial data.  As reported by Pete Sweeney of Reuters in Hong Kong:

“On March 25, the official Xinhua News Service claimed 88% of key agricultural enterprises had ‘restarted business,’ that construction on 89% of key infrastructure projects had resumed, and that electricity usage had revived to 90% of pre-outbreak levels for industries like electronics and pharmaceuticals.  Unfortunately, ‘restarting business’ is vaguely defined.  Local business publication Caixin reported in early March that many companies, pushed to restart manufacturing by officials, have turned on lights and machinery to simulate resumption, which means signs of revived energy consumption may be unreliable.  Some suspect officials are under-reporting new (Covid) cases for propaganda purposes.  The central government itself does not seem sanguine.  Movie theaters were ordered to close again on March 27 after hundreds reopened, a few days after Premier Li Keqiang warned bureaucrats not to cover up infections….

“The Central Intelligence Agency has been warning the White House since early February that China has significantly understated its coronavirus infections.”

Separately, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil on Tuesday denied reports that the U.S. government took over Chinese supplies of medical equipment that were ordered by Brazil to fight the pandemic.  Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said China had ditched some Brazilian equipment orders when the U.S. government sent more than 20 cargo planes to the country to buy the same products.  Local media also reported that a shipment of supplies destined for the Brazilian state of Bahia was diverted for use in the U.S. during a stopover in Miami after suppliers were offered higher prices.

Along these lines, Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an additional $225 million in U.S. aid for global efforts to fight the coronavirus, but said the Trump administration will keep critical medical supplies in the United States given the domestic need.

“Right now, given the great need for PPE in our own country, our focus will be on keeping critical medical items in the United States until demand is met here.”

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls….

Gallup: 49% approve, 45% disapprove, 92 of Republicans approve, 43% of independents (Mar. 13-22).  I expect an update next week.
Rasmussen: 43% approval, 56% disapproval (April 10)…lowest approval in this particular survey in a long time.

A CNN poll has President Trump’s approval rating at 44%, with 51% disapproval, little changed from a 43-53 split in each of the previous CNN polls.

A new Fox News poll has Trump’s job approval up to a record high for this one, 49% approve, 49% disapprove.

[Voters gave Congress a big bump as its approval rating is now 35%, up nine points since late February.]

--Bernie Sanders, the progressive whose two campaigns for president pulled the Democratic Party to the left, ended his White House bid Wednesday, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee.

Sanders is keeping his name on the ballot in the remaining primaries, but he acknowledged during a live stream address that his “path toward victory is virtually impossible,” adding that if he “had a feasible path to the nomination, I would certainly continue the campaign.  But it’s just not there.”

Sanders said the pandemic, which kept him from holding his signature massive rallies was a critical factor in his decision.  He is also likely to have suffered another big defeat in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, whose results won’t be announced until next week.  [It was appalling the primary was held in the first place amidst the outbreak. More below.]

Sanders wasn’t effusive in his praise of Biden as he exits the stage, but his influence on the campaign the rest of the way will be potentially deadly for the Democrats.

To wit…Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Once the field clears in a campaign, the nominee usually has room to tiptoe back toward the middle.  Not Mr. Biden, who has moved even further left to court Bernie’s supporters.  Last month he said Congress’ coronavirus aid legislation should permanently forgive, at minimum, $10,000 in student loans per person.

“Where Mr. Sanders’ hard-line views didn’t carry the day, Democrats often met him halfway.  Elizabeth Warren signed up for Medicare for All but stumbled when explaining how to pay for it.  Even Pete Buttigieg, who loudly opposed Medicare for All, at one point described his public option as a ‘glide path’ to the same destination of single-payer medicine.

“In a speech last year, Bernie tried to rehabilitate the label ‘socialist’ by presenting himself as FDR’s heir.  Rather than call out this historical rewrite, some of his competitors embraced Mr. Sanders’ Manichaean rhetoric.  On Wednesday, as Ford and General Motors were prepping to make ventilators and Bill Gates was planning to spend freely on a coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Sanders enthused that his movement had taken on ‘the greed of the entire corporate elite.’

“This ‘authenticity,’ they always say, is Bernie’s strength, but it’s also a weakness.  When he throws brimstone at private employers, voters know he means it.  When he sees a silver lining in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, voters know he means that, too.  How will fans of this combo take to Joe Biden?  Mr. Sanders on Wednesday called Mr. Biden ‘a very decent man, who I will work with to move our progressive ideas forward.’  That’s notably short of an endorsement.

“A second question is whether Mr. Biden can placate the Bernie bros without repelling independent voters. Mr. Biden praised Mr. Sanders and his supporters on Wednesday for having ‘changed the dialogue in America,’ including on universal health care and free college.  ‘While Bernie and I may not agree on how we might get there,’ Mr. Biden said, ‘we agree on the ultimate goal for these issues and many more.’  Hold on to your wallets, folks.”

--In a Fox News Poll, Joe Biden’s nine-point edge over Donald Trump has evaporated.  The survey of registered voters has Biden and Trump at 42%, with 16% either undecided or saying they would vote for a third-party candidate.

--According to a CNN/SSRS poll, six in 10 Americans now say the economy is in poor shape, up 30 points since last month.  The shift is the steepest worsening of public perceptions of the economy in polling data back to 1997.

But, the changed view of the economic picture has not dampened the public’s optimism about where the economy will be a year from now.  About two-thirds, 67%, say they expect it to be in good shape in one year, about the same as felt that way in December.  Sadly, such optimism is mistaken. 

As for Trump’s approval rating for his handling of the economy, in March, 54% said they approved of his performance, which has slipped to 48% in the new poll.

Overall, 67% say they see the economic problems caused by the virus as a temporary obstacle to economic growth rather than a permanent change in the American economy.  91% of Republicans say it is a temporary change.  52% of Democrats feel that way.

--According to a separate CNN/SSRS survey, 55% now say the federal government has done a poor job preventing the spread of coronavirus in the United States, up eight points in about a week.

80% feel the worst of the outbreak is yet to come, most (55%) feel President Trump could be doing more to fight the outbreak, and 37% say they have grown more concerned about coronavirus in the last few days.

52% say they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the outbreak, and 45% approve.  In early March, 41% approved, 48% disapproved and 11% weren’t sure yet.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll has 42% saying they approved of how Trump was handling the crisis, down 6 points from a similar poll that ran last week.

A new AP/Ipsos survey has 47% approving of Trump’s management of the coronavirus, 52% disapproving.  Approval is down from 55% in the poll released March 20.

The aforementioned Fox News poll has 51% approving of Trump’s response to the pandemic.  [Dr. Anthony Fauci receives 80% approval.]

55% believe the government responded too slowly and 47% believe Trump isn’t taking it seriously enough.

--I said last week that mail-in voting was going to be a big issue as we approached November and sure enough, President Trump lit the fuse this week with some of his comments on the topic.

But most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, want the government to require mail-in ballots for the presidential election, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday, found that 72% of all U.S. adults, including 79% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans, supported a requirement for mail-in ballots as a way to protect voters in case of a continued spread of the respiratory disease later this year.

Editorial / USA TODAY

“Exercising your right to vote in America shouldn’t involve waiting in hours-long lines and risking your health.

“But that was the situation on Tuesday in Wisconsin, which pressed ahead with its primary despite the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of poll workers. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, had wisely tried to postpone the election until June 9 and expand absentee voting.  Late Monday, however, his executive order was overruled by the highly politicized Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“The mess in Wisconsin, one of the most important battleground states in the upcoming presidential election, should serve as warning for the rest of the nation.  With the possibility of a second-wave outbreak of COVID-19 this fall, and in the absence of an effective treatment, it’s prudent to start planning for a presidential election conducted primarily by absentee ballot.

“November’s national elections might seem a long way off, and the coronavirus conditions will, everyone hopes, be considerably improved seven months from now.

“Time is growing short, however, given all the things that states must do between now and then to prepare to transform their elections in case the coronavirus threat persists when Americans go to the polls nationwide.

“For that reason it is imperative that states get busy now ordering absentee ballots, devising ways to distribute them and figuring out ways to count them once they come in.

“The stakes are enormous.  The presidency will be on the line in November, along with control of Congress.

“In recent days, President Donald Trump has made it clear he’s not a fan of mail-in voting.  ‘I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,’ he said at one of his coronavirus briefing.  ‘It shouldn’t be mail-in voting.  It should be: You go to a booth and you proudly display yourself.’

“There are downsides to vote-by-mail, though not necessarily the ones Trump has in mind.  Rapidly going from in-person voting to exclusively mail-in ballots is likely to disenfranchise some voters. At the very least, a state would need to engage in a fairly robust publicity and outreach campaign to pull this off.  And more realistically, it would need to plan for some in-person voting, perhaps through a reduced footprint of sites, with expanded early-voting hours and public-health precautions.

“It would also need to work through some other issues such as paying some staffers – since the traditional senior citizen volunteer workforce might be understandably reluctant to participate – and ways to sanitize voting equipment.

“None of this is cheap.  Furthermore, the states, which are already facing huge public safety costs amid declining tax revenues, are limited in their ability to borrow and will need help from Washington.  Recently passed legislation includes $400 million for elections, which is a decent start but not enough.  The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice estimated that $2 billion would do the trick.

“The legislation sets aside $500 billion for bailouts for airlines and companies deemed to be of national security importance.  Certainly, safe and fair elections are a matter of urgent national security as well.”

--It has been staggering that 20% of the NYPD has been out sick with more than 1,400 having tested positive for coronavirus.  State health departments in Ohio and Minnesota say that up to 20% of those infected in their states are healthcare professionals.

--Another anecdote on just how deadly Covid-19 can be:

“A retired NYPD sergeant left an Upper East Side hospital after he was diagnosed with coronavirus – and was found dead about an hour later on the street outside, police sources said Tuesday.

“Yon Chang, 56, was at Lenox Hill Hospital early Tuesday and told an NYPD cop there he had just been diagnosed with the deadly virus.

“He left a short time later only to collapse up the block on the traffic island at Park Ave. and E. 77th St. about 6:05 a.m.  He died at the scene.”

--Karl Rove / Wall Street Journal

“Many presidents leave behind new tools, practices and institutions for their successors to use in a crisis.  President Harry S. Truman, for example, left his successors the Defense Department, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Production Act.  As President Trump confronts the coronavirus, he benefits from reforms instituted by two of his predecessors, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“In the spring of 1998, Mr. Clinton read a potboiler about a mad scientist who unleashed a bioweapon on the Northeast.  This led the president to discover that Washington stockpiled drugs and vaccines for military use in pandemics, but not for civilians.

“By that October, as Washington was consumed with impeachment efforts, Mr. Clinton shoehorned $51 million into an omnibus spending bill to establish the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, or NPS, a repository for drugs and vaccines at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for civilian use during pandemics.  It was a modest beginning, but the decision to accumulate medicines for the public to use was important.

“After 9/11, President Bush examined all potential threats to the homeland, from terrorism to pandemics, and became convinced the NPS was too small.  He increased its budget, spending around $1.2 billion in 2002 and nearly $400 million for each of the next three years to dramatically expand the stores of drugs and add personal protective equipment and medical devices.  He renamed it the Strategic National Stockpile and opened depots around the country.

“Then came the SARS virus from China in 2002 and the avian flu the next year.  SARS infected 8,000 and killed nearly 800 world-wide, spreading rapidly across six continents before dissipating.  Though in 2003 there were only 120 cases of avian flu in humans before it faded, half of them died, along with millions of birds.

“The briefings Mr. Bush received during these incidents from National Institutes of Health director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, his colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding convinced him that it could have been much worse given how ill-prepared America was.

“The president’s concern was also influenced by reading John M. Barry’s book “The Great Influenza,” about the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more than 500,000 Americans and an estimated 20 million to 50 million around the world.

“ ‘A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire,’ Mr. Bush said in 2005.  ‘If caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage,’ but if ‘allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno.’  Mr. Bush announced a national strategy with three prongs.  First, to detect pandemics early, he pressed countries to share relevant information and samples immediately with the World Health Organization and created protocols to detect, quantify and respond to domestic outbreaks.

“Second, Mr. Bush further increased the stockpiles of critical supplies and invested $2.8 billion to replace the slow, antiquated process of culturing vaccines in chicken eggs, one dose per egg, with a new cell-based process that produces doses much more quickly.

“Third, Mr. Bush emphasized preparedness.  Led by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, the federal government brought together state and local officials in the first national efforts to develop pandemic response plans.

“Even still, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that foreign countries can delay and distort information critical to America’s response.  Beyond that, drugs lose potency, protective gear deteriorates, and machines require maintenance.  Stockpiles must be replenished and plans updated constantly.  Most important, threats change.  The drug that defeated one pandemic can be impotent in treating another.  Equipment vital in one instance may be useless in the next….

“As president, Mr. Trump’s responsibility is to lead the nation in defeating Covid-19.  Once that’s done and the economy is restarted – a moment still some time away – the president should look to leave his successors with critical improvements to help the country handle other emergencies in years ahead.”

--What a blankstorm involving the USS Theodore Roosevelt; the firing of Capt. Brett Crozier as the aircraft carrier’s commander following a memo by Crozier regarding a coronavirus outbreak on board the ship, and then the apology from the man who fired him, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who was then forced to step down himself after his profanity-tinged remarks over the loudspeakers of the ship, in which he called the aircraft carrier’s former commander stupid.

So I asked a good friend from high school, Bobby C., the fireballing lefty on our baseball team who then went to the Naval Academy, became a Marine and fighter pilot, and is now flying for a top airline, to weigh in.

Bob and I get together every four months or so over a few beers whenever his flight schedule brings him to town and now that’s changed.

But seeing as he’s one of the two or three brightest people I’ve ever met, he conceded none of us really know all the details but that all parties could have handled it much better, without “the public name-calling and total embarrassment that we saw from the Acting Secretary.”

So Bob had a terrific analogy based on his experience.

“I liken it to what I know I would do as the captain of an airplane that is full of passengers in a snowstorm that is off the gate and can’t get to a gate.  After about an hour of following our protocols, if I felt like I was getting no support (and we’re having complicating issues in the back, i.e., lavatories filling up, running out of water, sick passengers, etc.), I would prepare to go off script.  But I would start with giving the company a chance to get my plane some airstairs and buses to offload passengers. And I’d given them a timeframe (15-30 minutes) and tell them what I would do when that time was up.  At the end of the 15-30 minutes, with no help on the way, I would then carry out my plan.  I would taxi the airplane right up in between two airplanes parked at gates to intentionally block them in, shut down the engines, go out into the cabin and personally deploy the forward entry door emergency slide.  I would have the First Officer go down the slide first and up the stairs of the nearest jetbridge to open the door and corral people in that jet bridge and have him/her make sure there were medical folks available.  I would then have the ‘A’ Flight Attendant go down the slide next with an able-bodied volunteer assistant to help the remaining passengers and crew go down the slide.  After getting everyone off the airplane and mustered in the nearest jet bridge, I would march them to the hotel attached to the airport and get them all rooms, and then order pizzas and beer for everyone. And I wouldn’t leave the scene until everyone had been accommodated hours/days later to where they needed to go.  I would also have multiple people shooting video of the whole thing, take notes so I can write my book and become famously rich, and fully prepare to be fired the next day.

“But I sure as hell wouldn’t leave people on my airplane for 8+ hours while lavatories are overflowing, no water is available, people are having medical issues, etc. That is absurd, and a complete abdication of your role of ‘command,’ and would prove you had no right to be in command in the first place.  Those people under your command will only ‘charge that hill’ that has to be taken when they know that you are properly prepared and equipped them for the mission, taken care of them as best you can in all circumstances, and knowing that you have properly exhausted every other option first, Leadership 101.”

I love it. Bob goes on to talk about the failed Goldwater-Nichols Act, which we discuss over our second or third beer, every time.

--Linda Tripp, the civil servant whose disclosure of an affair between Bill Clinton and a White House intern nearly brought down his presidency has died.  She was 70.

Recordings Ms. Tripp made of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky became central to the 1998 impeachment trial.

Tripp was both praised as a whistle-blower and denounced as a partisan.

--Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge held services last Sunday, again, in defiance of a stay-at-home order issued by Louisiana, telling worshippers they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Hundreds of worshippers converged on the church, many arriving in 26 buses sent to pick them up.  A lawyer for the pastor said everyone but immediate family members kept a social distance of at least six feet.

“They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes,” Spell told reporters.

The lawyer, Joe Long, said, “We believe the governor is wrong.  And we look forward to proving our case in court,” as he prepares a lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards.

I just bit my tongue straight through…only because it’s Easter.

--But to end on a lighter note the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd caught up with Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld”), cooped up inside his Pacific Palisades home.

“ ‘No one gets in here,’ America’s most famous misanthrope says.  ‘Only in an emergency plumbing catastrophe would I open the door.’….

“He is contentedly holed up with the older of his two daughters, Cazzie David, 25; an Australian shepherd puppy named Bernie (after Sanders); a cat; and his girlfriend, Ashley Underwood, who worked as a producer of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime satire, ‘Who is America?’

“David met Underwood at Cohen’s birthday party in 2017.  ‘We were seated next to each other, I think with that in mind,’ he says of the fix-up.  ‘Much to her surprise I left before dessert.  I was doing so well, banterwise, I didn’t want to risk staying too long and blowing the good impression.’”

Ah, the world can’t get enough of Larry David these days.

David has also been a lifelong germaphobe.

“ ‘This might be the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Trump about: We should put an end to the shake,’ David said.  ‘You know, we might as well end intercourse while we’re at it.  That’s always been a lot of trouble.’

“Now that David can’t go out and argue with friends, neighbors, strangers and staffers over stuff like whether he can clean his glasses on a woman’s blouse or the regulation shape for a putter, he must do his bickering inside his own home.

“ ‘There’s not a moment in the day when there isn’t friction between at least two of us,’ he says of the trapped troika.  ‘Then when that gets resolved, two others are at each other’s throats, and it’s invariably about dishes.  ‘You didn’t do the dishes!’ or ‘You didn’t help with the dishes!’ I think that is being screamed all over the world now.”

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces…and all the fallen.

We honor the healthcare workers and first responders.  We love you!

God bless America.

---

Gold $1752…highest since Oct. 2012!  Sell…..
Oil: $22.76

Returns for the week 4/6-4/10

Dow Jones  +12.7%  [23719]
S&P 500  +12.1%  [2789]
S&P MidCap  N/A
Russell 2000  N/A
Nasdaq  +10.6%  [8153]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-4/10/20

Dow Jones  -16.9%
S&P 500  -13.7%
S&P MidCap  -23.1%
Russell 2000  -25.3%
Nasdaq  -9.1% !!! …that’s all

Bulls 33.3
Bears 36.2

Hang in there.  Happy Easter and Passover.

Wash your hands.  Be a misanthrope.  Stay away from humans as much as you can.  Humans are bad, save for friends, family members, Tom Seaver and Mike Trout. 

Brian Trumbore