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Futures Slide On Renewed Trade War Fears, Surge In Virus Cases

Futures Slide On Renewed Trade War Fears, Surge In Virus Cases



Futures Slide On Renewed Trade War Fears, Surge In Virus Cases Tyler Durden Wed, 06/24/2020 - 08:02

After several days of surging on "recovery and trade deal optimism", overnight sentiment took a big hit on "virus resurgence and trade deal pessimism" sending S&P futs and European stocks sliding the most in a week "following a surge in the number of coronavirus cases globally" according to Reuters. Spoos dropped following European shares lower, amid an acceleration in virus cases the American South and cautious remarks on a recovery by ECB’s chief economist.

Futures took a second leg lower following a Bloomberg report that the U.S. is weighing new tariffs on $3.1 billion of exports from France, Germany, Spain and the U.K. According to the report, the USTR wants to impose new tariffs on European exports like olives, beer, gin and trucks, while increasing duties on products including aircrafts, cheese and yogurt. The European Union is also debating whether to keep the door shut to American travelers this summer.

Risk appetite got a boost on Tuesday after data showed improving business activity in France and Germany as well as on White House reassurances about the Phase One U.S.-China trade deal. But European Central Bank chief economist Philip Lane said that solid data may not be a good guide to how the euro zone recovers from the crisis.

As a result, Europe's STOXX 600 index fell 1.5%, with the economically sensitive sectors such as travel & leisure, automakers and banks leading declines. Many U.S. states reported record daily increases in COVID-19 infections amid easing of lockdowns, while a media report that European Union countries are prepared to bar entry to Americans raised worries of further restrictions.  The top decliner on the STOXX 600 was Sweden’s Evolution Gaming Group AB, which fell 9.4% after it offered to buy NetEnt AB for 19.6 billion Swedish crowns. NetEnt’s shares jumped 27.5%. German real estate company Leg Immobilien fell 3.4% after plans to launch a capital increase through stock and debt offering. Germany's DAX was down 1.9% despite Ifo institute's survey showing the strongest rise ever recorded in the country's business morale in June.

"While the economic impact of such measures will be less than shutting down an entire economy, a recovery of this nature is a messier story for investors to digest and this could act as a drag on equities," AJ Bell's strategist Russ Mould wrote.

Asian stocks also fell, led by utilities and energy, after rising in the last session. Markets in the region were mixed, with Thailand's SET and India's S&P BSE Sensex Index falling, and Jakarta Composite and South Korea's Kospi Index rising. The Topix declined 0.4%, with Yasunaga and Land Co falling the most. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.3%, with Shandong Jinjing and Kunwu Jiuding Investment posting the biggest advances.

As Bloomberg notes, market sentiment is turning more negative on concern that the spreading coronavirus could force policy makers to slow the pace or reverse business re-openings. At the same time, there’s the potential for trade tensions to resurface between the European Union and the US.

"The outbreaks have given markets the unpleasant reminder that the pandemic is far from over and that the economic recovery may be slower than expected," said Mobeen Tahir, associate director of research at WisdomTree in London. But the downturn would only become serious “if infection rates rise to alarming levels and sweeping lockdowns are enforced again.”

In FX, the dollar rose against most of its Group-of-10 peers after risk sentiment soured despite encouraging business surveys from Germany and France. The dollar hovered around 1.13 per euro; Norway’s krone slipped amid lower oil prices. The pound fell for the first time in three days against the dollar amid concern the U.K.’s plan to lift lockdowns in early July could set off a second wave of infections. New Zealand’s dollar declined against all G-10 peers after the central bank flagged that the currency’s recent appreciation is placing pressure on export earnings. The Reserve Bank also said it continues to work toward having more policy tools.

In commodities, WTI and Brent crude futures extend on earlier losses as sentiment took another hit from reports the US is targetting EU and UK goods in its latest move. Prices were already ebbing lower as the complex succumed to the broader risk aversion since the European cash open. Meanwhile, spot gold continues to march on despite a firmer Buck as investors flock to the safe heaven. The yellow metal resides at fresh over-7yr highs around USD 1775/oz ahead of the psychological USD 1800/oz. Copper prices see a double whammy from the firmer USD and risk aversion as prices receed back below USD 2.65/lb despite weekly Shanghai inventories posting a decline in stocks.

In rates, yields were mostly unchanged to Tuesday’s closing levels, though long-end outperforms slightly ahead of Wednesday’s 5-year and Thursday’s 7-year auctions. The 10-year TSY yield, higher by 0.3bp around 0.715%, trails steeper increase for bund yield ahead of Austria’s 2 billion euro century bond sale.

Looking ahead, highlights include, SNB Quarterly Bulletin, DoEs, Fed's Evans, Bullard, supply from the US. Scheduled earnings include Blackberry.

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures down 0.8% to 3,094.50
  • MXAP down 0.1% to 160.94
  • MXAPJ up 0.1% to 521.04
  • Nikkei down 0.07% to 22,534.32
  • Topix down 0.4% to 1,580.50
  • Hang Seng Index down 0.5% to 24,781.58
  • Shanghai Composite up 0.3% to 2,979.55
  • Sensex down 0.7% to 35,177.50
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 up 0.2% to 5,965.75
  • Kospi up 1.4% to 2,161.51
  • STOXX Europe 600 down 1.4% to 362.13
  • German 10Y yield fell 0.3 bps to -0.411%
  • Euro down 0.1% to $1.1294
  • Brent Futures down 0.9% to $42.24/bbl
  • Italian 10Y yield fell 3.1 bps to 1.129%
  • Spanish 10Y yield fell 0.3 bps to 0.473%
  • Brent Futures down 0.9% to $42.24/bbl
  • Gold spot up 0.2% to $1,771.49
  • U.S. Dollar Index up 0.2% to 96.81

Top Overnight News from BBG

  • Newly diagnosed Covid-19 infections soared in some of the most populous U.S. states, with California, Texas and Arizona reporting their biggest daily jumps. The EU is considering keeping travelers from the U.S. out when it reopens external borders
  • The U.S. is weighing new tariffs on $3.1 billion of exports from France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., adding to an arsenal the Trump administration is threatening to use against Europe that could spiral into a wider transatlantic trade fight later this summer
  • The coronavirus pandemic has forced a one-year delay in the opening up of Europe’s $1.5 trillion-a-day market for exchange-traded derivatives
  • “German business sees light at the end of the tunnel,” Ifo chief Clemens Fuest said. While expectations in manufacturing surged at a record pace, “a great majority of companies still assess their current situation as poor”
  • Austria pulled in record orders of more than 16 billion euros for a new century bond, after its previous one rallied to return investors about 85% since 2017
  • Companies shoring up cash to survive the global pandemic raised funds in the U.S. high- yield market at the fastest monthly pace ever

Asian equity markets traded with a slight positive bias after momentum from global peers provided the initial constructive setting for the region. This followed the advances for all major indices on both sides of the Atlantic with sentiment helped by stronger than expected data and the UK further easing lockdown restrictions, while the Nasdaq notched a fresh all-time high, although some of the gains were later pared stateside amid ongoing concerns regarding the increasing pace of infection numbers in parts of the US. ASX 200 (+0.2%) and Nikkei 225 (Unch.) were rangebound with the Australian benchmark treading water for much of the session as strength in the commodity related sectors was offset by weakness in the top-weighted financials, and a non-committal tone was also observed in Tokyo as exporters contended with the recent currency strength, while the KOSPI (+1.4%) outperformed on positive geopolitical developments in which North Korea Leader Kim decided to suspend military action against South Korea. Elsewhere, Hang Seng (-0.5%) and Shanghai Comp. (+0.3%) ended mixed after another firm liquidity effort by the PBoC and with Tencent shares posting a record high in Hong Kong, but with upside contained due to ongoing US-China tensions. Finally, 10yr JGBs were lacklustre as the mild positive tone in stocks and lack of BoJ presence in the market kept prices subdued, which also saw the 30yr yield increase to its highest since April last year during early trade.

Top Asian News

  • Bank of Thailand Sees 8.1% Contraction, Pledges More Support
  • India Stocks Mixed in Volatile Trade as Border Clash Eases
  • Relaxed ‘Hukou‘ Rules Spur China Home Rebound Beyond Beijing

European equities kicked the session off on a softer footing before extending the move to the downside (Eurostoxx 50 -1.6%) as losses were exacerbated by reports that the US is targeting USD 3.1bln of exports from France, Germany, Spain and the UK with new tariffs whilst increasing the levy on aircraft, cheese and yogurts. Nonethless from a wider lens, the main source of focus remains on the rising COVID-19 case count in certain parts of the US. However, it is hard to place too much weight on this acting as a downside catalyst for Europe given that US equities finished firmer on Wall St. and futures are faring better stateside than they are across the Atlantic. From a sectoral standpoint, weakness in Europe is predominantly being driven by cyclical names with autos, travel and banking names lagging their peers. Price action within these sectors is subject to little in the of stock-specific newsflow and as such reflects broader pessimism within the market. IT names are faring slightly better than most (albeit lower on the day) with support emanating from Dialog Semiconductor (+8.0%) after the Co. raised Q2 revenue guidance. Other individual movers include Wirecard (again) with Co. shares lower by 8.5% as questions continue to mount over the impact of recent scandals on its business relationships, particularly with Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V) with whom they hold licenses with to issue credit cards. Atlantia (+2.3%) continue to remain in focus following government talks last night whereby it was agreed that negotiations should continue regarding the Co.’s motorway concession.

Top European News

  • Merkel’s Popularity Surge Puts German Greens on the Back Foot
  • German June Ifo Business Confidence 86.2; Est. 85
  • Solvay Says Aerospace Slump to Result in $1.7 Billion Writedown
  • Google to Invest up to $2b in Cloud Data Centers in Poland: Puls

In FX, the broader Dollar and Index continue to strengthen early doors – potentially consolidating from recent losses but broader market performance points more towards safe-haven inflows, and with little by way of fresh fundamental factors driving the moves. Underlying influences linger in the form of heightened tensions between US and China and potential implications from a second outbreak as participants gear up for month/quarter end. DXY has extended gains from yesterday’s 96.379 low and now eyes 97.000 to the upside with its 10 DMA (97.028) also in range with the absence of Tier 1 data on the slate, whilst Fed non-voters Evans and Bullard are likely to sing from the same hymn sheet as from Powell’s most recent appearance.

  • NZD - Kiwi remains the G10 underperformer amid the broader risk aversion coupled with a dovish tilt by the RBNZ, which despite holding rates and large scale asset purchases steady, noted that a firmer Kiwi is weighing on exports and continued to tout future policy easing was on the cards - members discussed the pros and cons of expanding QE now, in which any expansion would need to be of a sufficient magnitude to make a meaningful difference. NZD/USD relinquished the 0.6500 handle (high 0.6514) and continues to move south of 0.6450 (10 DMA) as the pair eyes its 21 DMA at 0.6415 ahead of the round figure.
  • EUR, GBP, CAD, AUD, EM - All broadly lower vs. the USD but the high-beta FX see more pronounced pressure as the appetite for risk further deteriorates and aversion intensifies. The single currency caved in light of reports that the US is taking aim at EU and UK goods, after the EUR intiially shrugged off a mixed Ifo release with current conditions falling short of consensus and expectations exceeding; economists cautioned that in-spite of the economy now firmly being on an upward path, the situation in the industrial sector remains dire. Meanwhile, ECB’s chief economist Lane provided little by way of fresh updates but did put more credence on the outcome of the EU Recovery Fund on the future of the economy, alluding to potential impact on monetary policy. On that front, President Macron held talks with his Dutch counterpart, and known Frugal Four member, with reports pointing to progress (but no agreement) on the latter’s resistance to the Commission’s proposal ahead of the mid-July meeting. EUR/USD gave up its 1.13-handle (high 1.1325) and whipsawed lower to 1.1270 on the US tariff news ahead of its 10 DMA at 1.1261, followed by potential mild support at 1.1258 and 1.1243 (200 and 100 HMAs respectively). GBP/USD was relatively unreactive to the US levy headlines and fluctuates on either side of 1.2500, having printed a high at 1.2518 and a low near a Fib at 1.2463 (38.2% of 1.1237-2541 move), whilst some participants highlight potential bids at yesterday’s low of 1.2434. The Loonie and Aussie also bear the brunt of weakness in commodities – USD/CAD failed to sustain a break above its 10 DMA (1.3571) and hovers around its 21 DMA (1.3557), having found a base yesterday at its 200 DMA (1.3480). AUD/USD tested support at 0.6900 (high 0.6961) but currently meanders its 100 WMA (0.6909) ahead of its 10 and 21 DMAs at 0.6884 and 0.6869 respectively.
  • JPY, CHF - Both resilient against the rising Buck as safe-haven inflows counter the Dollar dominance. Overnight the BoJ Summary of Opinions added nothing to the Central Bank’s narrative, whilst the CHF awaits the findings of the SNB quarterly bulletin for Q2 later today. The safe havens failed to derive much traction from US ramping up tariffs against some EU countries alongisde the UK. USD/JPY now trades flat intraday and off its earlier peak at 107.21, now residing around 106.50 having earlier dipped to a whisker away from 106.00 ahead of the May 8th low just under the round figure. USD/CHF losses further ground below its earlier high at 0.9528 having tested 0.9420 to the downside.

In commodities, WTI and Brent crude futures extend on earlier losses as sentiment took another hit from reports the US is targetting EU and UK goods in its latest move. Prices were already ebbing lower as the complex succumed to the broader risk aversion since the European cash open. Yesterday’s private inventories only added to the bearish narrative as headlines stocks showed a larger than expected build of 1.7mln barrels vs. Exp. 300k. Participants will now be on the lookout for confirmations at the weekly DoE release in the absecnce of fundamental catalysts. WTI Aug resides sub-USD 40/bbl (vs. 40.50/bbl high) whilst its Brent counterpart meanders around USD 42/bbl (vs. 42.89/bbl high). Meanwhile, spot gold continues to march on despite a firmer Buck as investors flock to the safe heaven. The yellow metal resides at fresh over-7yr highs around USD 1775/oz ahead of the psychological USD 1800/oz. Copper prices see a double whammy from the firmer USD and risk aversion as prices receed back below USD 2.65/lb despite weekly Shanghai inventories posting a decline in stocks.

US Event Calendar

  • 7am: MBA Mortgage Applications -8.7%, prior 8.0%
  • 9am: FHFA House Price Index MoM, est. 0.25%, prior 0.1%

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

It’s going to be 31 degrees here in the U.K. today and hotter elsewhere in Europe so watch out you don’t look too suntanned on all those zoom calls! I’ll stay inside today as I ventured out for 45 minutes yesterday and got quite bad hey fever. Mine usually stops in April but I noticed the pollen count is currently “very high”. One strong antihistamine in the evening did the trick though.

From pollen counts to R numbers and in spite of news that 29 US states now have an R number above 1, markets continued to perform well yesterday as data improved and reopening plans progressed. That tension between stimulus and second waves/extended first waves remains, but the former continues to win out. The S&P 500 ended the session up +0.43%, while the NASDAQ rose +0.74% to reach another record high. The S&P was up as much as +1.20% until just around 2pm NY time, before case data from Florida and Texas showed that the economy may need to deal with a slower reopening process at the very least. Superior gains were seen in Europe (which closed before the dip), with the STOXX 600 advancing +1.30%, and the DAX seeing an even stronger +2.13% move higher. Meanwhile Wirecard went from the worst to the best performer in the STOXX 600 yesterday, with a +34.99% advance. Oil looked to be a beneficiary of the risk on sentiment, with Brent crude rising to its highest level ($43.19) since early March midday U.K. time before reports of a 7.1 magnitude earthquake near Oaxaca, Mexico caused Brent futures to fall around 3% to finish down -1.04% for the day.

Elsewhere in financial markets, the dollar continued to sell-off yesterday with a further -0.40% decline. Sovereign bonds also sold off, with yields on 10yr Treasuries (+0.3bps), bunds (+3.1bps) both rising, though Italian BTPs outperformed as 10yr yields fell by -3.1bps to their lowest level since late March. Meanwhile it wasn’t all bad news for the traditional safe havens, with gold advancing a further +0.80% to hit a fresh 7-year high.

In terms of the latest on the coronavirus let’s look at the US first. As discussed at the top, according to the rtlive website, 29 US states have an Rt figure above 1 now. This is up from 5 states 2 months back during lockdowns and 23 states a month back after the majority of lockdowns were lifted. Meanwhile the number of cases in Florida rose by a further +3.3%, though this was slightly below the previous 7-day average of +3.8%. The number of positive tests in the state rose to 10.9% yesterday from 7.7% over the weekend. California reported its biggest daily increase, 7923 new cases, while also seeing a slight increase in positive test rates – 4.9% from 4.8%. California Governor Newsome indicated that he did not want the return of stay-at-home orders, but is prepared to do so if numbers get worse. Arizona continues to see record case growth, with over 3779 new additions, as cases rose by 6.9%, above the weekly average of 5.8%. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, has termed the surge in cases as “disturbing”.

In Texas, ICU numbers in Harris Country (3rd most populous county in the US with roughly 5 million people and encompassing Houston) will be exhausted in 11 days based on case growth over the past two weeks, according to the state. The state as a whole saw over 5195 cases yesterday, another record.

In light of the recent rise in US cases, and citing the country’s inability to control the outbreak, European Union officials may exclude the US from plans to reopen the borders next month, according to draft lists reported on by the New York Times. Europe itself continues to see small splashes of case growth. In Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia became the first state to restore a lockdown. It is only on the town in which the large meat factory saw a total of 1553 infections so far, and will initially remain until the end of June. On the other hand, the UK recorded its second day in a row with under 1000 new infections yesterday, a feat unseen since late March.

In further signs of progress here in the UK, we had Prime Minister Johnson announce a substantial easing of restrictions yesterday in England, which will come into effect from July 4. Independence Day of a different kind. The measures includes an easing in the 2m social distancing rule, to a “one metre plus” rule, meaning that people should keep one metre apart but employ measures such as changing office layouts that reduce the risks of transmission. Otherwise, the government is changing their advice such that two households of any size can meet inside, and pubs, restaurants and hairdressers (not relevant to me) will also be able to reopen. That said, there are some “close proximity” venues that will remain shut, including indoor gyms, swimming pools and nightclubs. Even as the government continues to reopen the economy, the country’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty expects coronavirus to be circulating well into Spring 2021. We’re truly in for the long haul it seems.

Elsewhere, there are concerns emerging around a second wave in Australia in the state of Victoria, with the state’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos saying overnight that the R number in the past week had risen to an “unacceptably high” rate of 2.5. Mexico also reported their highest daily new case count yesterday, at 6228, with growth rate in new cases jumping to 3.4% from a 5 day average of 3%.

Overnight, markets have been fairly uneventful in Asia with newsflow fairly light. The Nikkei (-0.09%) is down while, the Hang Seng (+0.06%), ASX (+0.36%) and Shanghai Comp (+0.15%) are modestly up. The Kospi (+1.55%) is outperforming on news that Kim Jong Un has ordered the suspension of military actions against South Korea during a military commission meeting for his ruling Worker’s Party of Korea (according to the KCNA report). Elsewhere, WTI oil prices are down -0.62% after a report from the American Petroleum Institute indicated that crude inventories climbed by 1.75 million barrels last week, marking the third consecutive weekly gain if confirmed. Futures on the S&P 500 are trading flat.

Back to yesterday and it was upside surprises on the flash PMIs that helped encourage the rising risk appetite in markets. We thought consensus was looking too low and this is what transpired. In terms of the details, the main story was that the numbers in Europe surprised noticeably to the upside. The Euro Area composite PMI rebounded to 47.5 (vs. 43.0 expected), while the composite PMIs in France (51.3), Germany (45.8) and the UK (47.6) all beat expectations too. France was the only one of the European releases to see a rebound above the 50-mark that separates expansion from contraction, but we shouldn’t over-interpret the German underperformance relative to France, since the PMI responses measure changes rather than levels, and since Germany didn’t shut down as severely it’s no surprise that its rebound isn’t as pronounced. The US PMIs for manufacturing (49.6) and services (46.7) were both slightly below expectations, but this was still a rebound from the high-30s numbers seen in May.

The other main news story from yesterday was confirmation that there would be a summit of EU leaders in person on July 17th-18th to discuss the recovery fund. That’ll come a day after the ECB’s next decision on the 16th, so certainly a week for your calendars. Remember however that our European economists wrote last week (link here) that it’s questionable whether a compromise on this issue can be found within just 4 weeks, and the issues still to be resolved are many and complex. So expect a Recovery Fund but don’t get too excited on the timings yet.

Looking at yesterday’s other data, new home sales in the US rebounded to an annualised rate of 676k in May (vs. 640k expected). Separately, the Richmond Fed’s manufacturing survey for June also beat expectations, with a 0 reading (vs. -2 expected).

To the day ahead now, and today’s data includes June’s Ifo survey from Germany, French business confidence for June, while from the US there’s April’s FHFA house price index and the weekly MBA mortgage applications. In terms of central banks speakers, we’ll hear from the ECB’s chief economist Lane, as well as the Fed’s Evans and Bullard. Finally, the IMF will be releasing their latest World Economic Outlook Update today.

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Alzheimer’s, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s disease is now one of the leading causes of death…



Alzheimer's, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s disease is now one of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative and incurable brain disease that predominantly affects older people.

Early symptoms include memory loss and lapses in judgment, but at a later stage these can progress to problems with a wider range of functions too, such as balance, breathing and digestion.

As Statista's Anna Fleck details below, while heart disease, cancer and Covid-19 claimed by far the highest numbers of lives in 2021 (which was the latest available data), Alzheimer’s disease ranked in a high seventh place with 119,399 deaths that year, equating to 31 people per 100,000 population.

You will find more infographics at Statista

The rate of people dying of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States more than doubled between the years 2000 and 2019, according to the Alzheimer’s Association's latest report.

Where an average of 17.6 people per 100,000 died from the form of dementia at the turn of the millennium, the figure had climbed to 37 per 100,000 people nearly two decades later.

Infographic: Alzheimer’s Is Becoming More Prevalent | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this is likely the result of an aging population, since age is the predominant risk factor for Alzheimer’s dementia. However, they note, it could also reflect a rise in the number of formal diagnoses of the disease or even in the number of physicians who are reporting Alzheimer’s as a cause of death. 

The charity’s analysts forecast that by 2025, the number of people aged 65+ with Alzheimer’s dementia in the U.S. could reach 7.2 million, and up to 13.8 million by 2060, if there were to be no medical breakthroughs in that time to prevent, slow or cure the disease.

On that note, pharmaceutical companies have a number of drugs in development, targeting different symptoms, from inflammation to synaptic plasticity/neuroprotection pathways.

According to AgingCare, neurological damage and muscle weakness can lead to patients finding it difficult to manage even simple movements such as swallowing food without assistance. This is the most common cause of death among Alzheimer's patients, since it can result in the inhalation of food or liquids to the lungs, which in turn can lead to pneumonia, since it more difficult to fight off bacterial infections.

The Alzheimer’s Association stresses the importance of seeing a doctor when someone develops Alzheimer’s symptoms. This is because an early diagnosis allows for treatment from earlier on, which may be able to lessen symptoms for a limited time as well as to make more time for people to plan for the future.

God bless nana.

Tyler Durden Sat, 09/23/2023 - 23:30

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American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’: Bhattacharya

American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’: Bhattacharya

Authored by Jay Bhattacharya via RealClear Wire,

On May 15, 1970, the New York Times published…



American Pandemic 'Samizdat': Bhattacharya

Authored by Jay Bhattacharya via RealClear Wire,

On May 15, 1970, the New York Times published an article by esteemed Russia scholar Albert Parry detailing how Soviet dissident intellectuals were covertly passing forbidden ideas around to each other on handcrafted, typewritten documents called samizdat. Here is the beginning of that seminal story:

Censorship existed even before literature, say the Russians. And, we may add, censorship being older, literature has to be craftier. Hence, the new and remarkably viable underground press in the Soviet Union called samizdat.

Samizdat – translates as: “We publish ourselves” – that is, not the state, but we, the people.

Unlike the underground of Czarist times, today’s samizdat has no printing presses (with rare exceptions): The K.G.B., the secret police, is too efficient. It is the typewriter, each page produced with four to eight carbon copies, that does the job. By the thousands and tens of thousands of frail, smudged onionskin sheets, samizdat spreads across the land a mass of protests and petitions, secret court minutes, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s banned novels, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Nicholas Berdyayev’s philosophical essays, all sorts of sharp political discourses and angry poetry.

Though it is hard to hear, the sad fact is that we are living in a time and in a society where there is once again a need for scientists to pass around their ideas secretly to one another so as to avoid censorship, smearing, and defamation by government authorities in the name of science.

I say this from first-hand experience. During the pandemic, the U.S. government violated my free speech rights and those of my scientist colleagues for questioning the federal government’s COVID policies.

American government officials, working in concert with big tech companies, defamed and suppressed me and my colleagues for criticizing official pandemic policies – criticism that has been proven prescient. While this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is a documented fact, and one recently confirmed by a federal circuit court.

In August 2022, the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general asked me to join as a plaintiff in a lawsuit, represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, against the Biden administration. The suit aims to end the government’s role in this censorship and restore the free speech rights of all Americans in the digital town square.

Lawyers in the Missouri v. Biden case took sworn depositions from many federal officials involved in the censorship efforts, including Anthony Fauci. During the hours-long deposition, Fauci showed a striking inability to answer basic questions about his pandemic management, replying “I don’t recall” over 170 times.

Legal discovery unearthed email exchanges between the government and social media companies showing an administration willing to threaten the use of its regulatory power to harm social media companies that did not comply with censorship demands.

The case revealed that a dozen federal agencies pressured social media companies Google, Facebook, and Twitter to censor and suppress speech contradicting federal pandemic priorities. In the name of slowing the spread of harmful misinformation, the administration forced the censorship of scientific facts that didn’t fit its narrative de jour. This included facts relating to the evidence for immunity after COVID recovery, the inefficacy of mask mandates, and the inability of the vaccine to stop disease transmission. True or false, if speech interfered with the government’s priorities, it had to go.

On July 4, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction in the case, ordering the government to immediately stop coercing social media companies to censor protected free speech. In his decision, Doughty called the administration’s censorship infrastructure an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.”

In my November 2021 testimony in the House of Representatives, I used this exact phrase to describe the government’s censorship efforts. For this heresy, I faced slanderous accusations by Rep. Jamie Raskin, who accused me of wanting to let the virus “rip.” Raskin was joined by fellow Democrat Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who tried to smear my reputation on the grounds that I spoke with a Chinese journalist in April 2020.

Judge Doughty’s ruling decried the vast federal censorship enterprise dictating to social media companies who and what to censor, and ordered it to end. But the Biden administration immediately appealed the decision, claiming that they needed to be able to censor scientists or else public health would be endangered and people would die. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted them an administrative stay that lasted until mid-September, permitting the Biden administration to continue violating the First Amendment.

After a long month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that that pandemic policy critics were not imagining these violations. The Biden administration did indeed strong-arm social media companies into doing its bidding. The court found that the Biden White House, the CDC, the U.S. surgeon general’s office, and the FBI have “engaged in a years-long pressure campaign [on social media outlets] designed to ensure that the censorship aligned with the government’s preferred viewpoints.”

The appellate judges described a pattern of government officials making “threats of ‘fundamental reforms’ like regulatory changes and increased enforcement actions that would ensure the platforms were ‘held accountable.’” But, beyond express threats, there was always an “unspoken ‘or else.’” The implication was clear. If social media companies did not comply, the administration would work to harm the economic interests of the companies. Paraphrasing Al Capone, “Well that’s a nice company you have there. Shame if something were to happen to it,” the government insinuated.

“The officials’ campaign succeeded. The platforms, in capitulation to state-sponsored pressure, changed their moderation policies,” the 5th Circuit judges wrote, and they renewed the injunction against the government’s violation of free speech rights. Here is the full order, filled with many glorious adverbs:

Defendants, and their employees and agents, shall take no actions, formal or informal, directly or indirectly, to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech. That includes, but is not limited to, compelling the platforms to act, such as by intimating that some form of punishment will follow a failure to comply with any request, or supervising, directing, or otherwise meaningfully controlling the social media companies’ decision-making processes.

The federal government can no longer threaten social media companies with destruction if they don’t censor scientists on behalf of the government. The ruling is a victory for every American since it is a victory for free speech rights.

Although I am thrilled by it, the decision isn’t perfect. Some entities at the heart of the government’s censorship enterprise can still organize to suppress speech. For instance, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security can still work with academics to develop a hit list for government censorship. And the National Institutes of Health, Tony Fauci’s old organization, can still coordinate devastating takedowns of outside scientists critical of government policy.

So, what did the government want censored?

The trouble began on Oct. 4, 2020, when my colleagues and I – Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, and Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford – published the Great Barrington Declaration. It called for an end to economic lockdowns, school shutdowns, and similar restrictive policies because they disproportionately harm the young and economically disadvantaged while conferring limited benefits.

The Declaration endorsed a “focused protection” approach that called for strong measures to protect high-risk populations while allowing lower-risk individuals to return to normal life with reasonable precautions. Tens of thousands of doctors and public health scientists signed on to our statement.

With hindsight, it is clear that this strategy was the right one. Sweden, which in large part eschewed lockdown and, after early problems, embraced focused protection of older populations, had among the lowest age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths of nearly every other country in Europe and suffered none of the learning loss for its elementary school children. Similarly, Florida has lower cumulative age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than lockdown-crazy California since the start of the pandemic.

In the poorest parts of the world, the lockdowns were an even greater disaster. By spring 2020, the United Nations was already warning that the economic disruptions caused by the lockdowns would lead to 130 million or more people starving. The World Bank warned the lockdowns would throw 100 million people into dire poverty.

Some version of those predictions came true – millions of the world’s poorest suffered from the West’s lockdowns. Over the past 40 years, the world’s economies globalized, becoming more interdependent. At a stroke, the lockdowns broke the promise the world’s rich nations had implicitly made to poor nations. The rich nations had told the poor: Reorganize your economies, connect yourself to the world, and you will become more prosperous. This worked, with 1 billion people lifted out of dire poverty over the last half-century.

But the lockdowns violated that promise. The supply chain disruptions that predictably followed them meant millions of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, and elsewhere lost their jobs and could no longer feed their families.

In California, where I live, the government closed public schools and disrupted our children’s education for two straight academic years. The educational disruption was very unevenly distributed, with the poorest students and minority students suffering the greatest educational losses. By contrast, Sweden kept its schools open for students under 16 throughout the pandemic. The Swedes let their children live near-normal lives with no masks, no social distancing, and no forced isolation. As a result, Swedish kids suffered no educational loss.

The lockdowns, then, were a form of trickle-down epidemiology. The idea seemed to be that we should protect the well-to-do from the virus and that protection would somehow trickle down to protect the poor and the vulnerable. The strategy failed, as a large fraction of the deaths attributable to COVID hit the vulnerable elderly.

The government wanted to suppress the fact that there were prominent scientists who opposed the lockdowns and had alternate ideas – like the Great Barrington Declaration – that might have worked better. They wanted to maintain an illusion of total consensus in favor of Tony Fauci’s ideas, as if he were indeed the high pope of science. When he told an interviewer, “Everyone knows I represent science. If you criticize me, you are not simply criticizing a man, you are criticizing science itself,” he meant it unironically.

Federal officials immediately targeted the Great Barrington Declaration for suppression. Four days after the declaration’s publication, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins emailed Fauci to organize a “devastating takedown” of the document. Almost immediately, social media companies such as Google/YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook censored mentions of the declaration.

In 2021, Twitter blacklisted me for posting a link to the Great Barrington Declaration. YouTube censored a video of a public policy roundtable of me with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the “crime” of telling him the scientific evidence for masking children is weak. 

At the height of the pandemic, I found myself smeared for my supposed political views, and my views about COVID policy and epidemiology were removed from the public square on all manner of social networks.

It is impossible for me not to speculate about what might have happened had our proposal been met with a more typical scientific spirit rather than censorship and vitriol. For anyone with an open mind, the GBD represented a return to the old pandemic management strategy that had served the world well for a century – identify and protect the vulnerable, develop treatments and countermeasures as rapidly as possible, and disrupt the lives of the rest of society as little as possible since such disruption is likely to cause more harm than good.

Without censorship, we might have won that debate, and if so, the world could have moved along a different and better path in the last three and a half years, with less death and less suffering.

Since I started with a story about how dissidents skirted the Soviet censorship regime, I will close with a story about Trofim Lysenko, the famous Russian biologist. Stalin’s favorite scientist was a biologist who did not believe in Mendelian genetics – one of the most important ideas in biology. He thought it was all hokum, inconsistent with communist ideology, which emphasized the importance of nurture over nature. Lysenko developed a theory that if you expose seeds to cold before you plant them, they will be more resistant to cold, and thereby, crop output could be increased dramatically.

I hope it is not a surprise to readers to learn that Lysenko was wrong about the science. Nevertheless, Lysenko convinced Stalin that his ideas were right, and Stalin rewarded him by making him the director of the USSR’s Institute for Genetics for more than 20 years. Stalin gave him the Order of Lenin eight times.

Lysenko used his power to destroy any biologist who disagreed with him. He smeared and demoted the reputations of rival scientists who thought Mendelian genetics was true. Stalin sent some of these disfavored scientists to Siberia, where they died. Lysenko censored the scientific discussion in the Soviet Union so no one dared question his theories.

The result was mass starvation. Soviet agriculture stalled, and millions died in famines caused by Lysenko’s ideas put into practice. Some sources say that Ukraine and China under Mao Tse-tung also followed Lysenko’s ideas, causing millions more to starve there.

Censorship is the death of science and inevitably leads to the death of people. America should be a bulwark against it, but it was not during the pandemic. Though the tide is turning with the Missouri v. Biden case, we must reform our scientific institutions so what happened during the pandemic never happens again.

Dr. Bhattacharya is the inaugural recipient of RealClear’s Samizdat Prize. This article was adapted from the speech he delivered at the award ceremony on September 12 in Palo Alto, California.

Tyler Durden Sat, 09/23/2023 - 10:30

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Disney World finally brings back parking trams

The theme park giant very rarely gives back things it has taken away from ticketholders, but people will be happy with this change.



Walt Disney made a lot of changes at its theme parks during the covid pandemic.

Many of them were unpopular but necessary. Health checks, masks and social distancing were beyond the company's control. Moving to only digital ordering at many casual eateries and limiting park attendance were also logical, given the need to keep people safe from the virus.

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During the pandemic, however, the company also made some changes at Disney World that people did not like and that had nothing to do with covid. Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report dropped the FastPass system and replaced it with the paid Genie+ and Lightning Lane offerings. 

Disney World also added a reservation system during the pandemic to manage crowd levels at its parks, while it also stopped so-called park hopping. Now, the company has largely restored park hopping to the way it worked prepandemic and reservations are needed only in certain situations. 

Also during the pandemic Disney World dropped another popular customer convenience. After nearly three years, the company finally restored something that Disney World visitors had missed a lot.

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Epcot has a huge parking lot right in front of the park entrance.

Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet

Disney World made careful choices

Disney World has some very large parking lots. On a crowded day at any of its four theme parks, people who don't arrive early can end up parking very far away from each park's entrance. It's possible to walk to the entrance at Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot or to the monorail or ferry boats at Magic Kingdom, but the walk can be a long one.

Walking is, of course, a major part of any Disney World visit. Having customers make a long trek before they even enter a park has never made much sense.

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During the covid days, however, limited crowds allowed people to park closer to the entrances. That enabled people to walk to the entrances and made parking trams an unnecessary luxury. 

Disney removed the trams partly because they weren't needed and partly because they created a covid risk. In the social distancing days, having people fighting for space to queue up for a ride to the entrance required policing and seemed like a bad idea even when things returned to closer to normal.

Now, Disney has finally fully brought parking trams back to Disney World.

Disney World brings back parking trams

Disney had promised that its parking-lot trams would return, but actually bringing them back took longer than expected.

"After more than 1,100 days and nine months after a self-imposed deadline, parking lot trams have returned to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios – marking a full return of the service," reported. "Parking-lot-tram service returned to Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom last year, but Disney only brought back service to Epcot and Hollywood Studios today (Sept. 21),"

The website implies that the reluctance to bring the service back could have been labor-related or it may have been Disney not wanting to spend the money. The trams have a driver and each park has attendants helping keep the lines orderly (although the system is not as organized as most Disney lines).

Disney World has mostly returned to how it operated before covid. The company has kept parts of the reservation system and digital ordering is still encouraged. 

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In addition, the company continues to manage attendance and has kept capacity at lower numbers than it did before the pandemic. Disney has also increased the number of days that it sells admission to at least one of its four Florida parks at the lowest price on its dynamic pricing scale.

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