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How COVID Lockdowns Primed The Current Financial Crisis

How COVID Lockdowns Primed The Current Financial Crisis

Authored by Christian Parenti via,

The lockdowns and the stimulus…



How COVID Lockdowns Primed The Current Financial Crisis

Authored by Christian Parenti via,

The lockdowns and the stimulus required to keep the economy alive helped drive inflation. Then the Fed jacked up interest rates. And all hell broke loose...

On Friday March 10th, 2023, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) died of Covid. Alright, it’s a little more complicated than that, but Covid lockdowns followed by massive government stimulus were a critical – and massively under-acknowledged – factor in propelling the bank’s demise.

At the heart of the crisis is the gigantic pile of low-interest debt that was issued during the height of the pandemic. While private-sector pandemic-era debt like corporate bonds also soared, US government debt like Treasury bonds piled up.

In a nutshell, during the pandemic the government issued enormous amounts of extremely low interest government debt — about $4.2 trillion of it. But now interest rates, including on government debt, are higher than they have been in 15 years and investors are dumping their old low-interest debt. As they dump, the resale price of the old debt goes down. The more it declines, the more investors want to dump. And thus, a panic is born. 

To understand the problem fully, the question of US government debt has to be put into its larger context, which is: the pandemic response as a whole.

When news of the Covid virus first broke in December 2019, the 2 Year Treasury bond was being offered at 1.64% interest; the 10 year was at about 1.80%, and the resale value of such bonds on secondary markets was strong. Then, in March 2020, as Covid cases and deaths spiked, the US began to shutter its economy with panicked lockdowns that were supposed to “flatten the curve” or slow the spread of the virus and thus protect the hospitals. But Covid was politicized and the lockdowns were extended.  

As the lockdowns dragged on, the US economy began to collapse, shrinking at a record-shattering annualized rate of 31.4% during the second quarter of fiscal year 2020.

To avoid total economic devastation, the federal government began massive debt-financed spending. In March 2020, Trump signed into law the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill the CARES Act, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security. Then, in March 2021, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act which contained $1.9 trillion more in Covid relief. Finally, in April 2021, another trillion or so of Covid relief arrived in the Consolidated Appropriations Act. 

Thanks to these laws, every industry and most people received public money. There was increased and extended unemployment payments, as well as the so-called “stimmy checks” or stimulus payments to everyone earning under $75,000 a year (about half the population). The Paycheck Protection Program spent almost a trillion dollars. The Provider Relief Fund doled out $178 billion to the healthcare system. 

All this debt spending kept millions of people in their homes, and helped feed, employ, and care for millions more. The measures allowed hundreds of thousands of businesses to stay afloat even as many thousands of others went under. The impact of the spending on Americans’ well-being was generally positive. For a moment, the US child poverty rate was cut in half, falling to 5.2%. 

But the economically destructive lockdowns were not necessary and did not work. Covid fanatics maintain that the lockdowns were unavoidable because the virus is so deadly. That, however, is uninformed. Last year I explained in detail how the Lockdown Left got the Covid crisis wrong. Not a single critic has challenged any of the facts I presented so there is little point in rehashing them all here. 

Those who advocated an alternative to ham-fisted lockdowns, like the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for “focused protection” of vulnerable groups like the elderly, were viciously targeted in a reputation destruction campaign covertly orchestrated by former NIH director Francis Collins and de facto Covid czar Anthony Fauci. Never mind that the document’s authors were three eminently qualified scientists: Sunetra Gupta, professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford University; Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford; and Martin Kulldorff, formerly a professor of medicine and biostatistics at Harvard. They were portrayed as far-right cranks who were almost eager to see millions die. But now, they have been vindicated.

Ultimately, the federal government spent $4.2 trillion propping up the economy that it was simultaneously choking to death with lockdowns. These two contradictory pressures laid the groundwork for the recent bank failures. Government mandated lockdowns hit the economy like a body blow. Factories closed, small businesses went under, ports and logistic hubs reduced operations, and about 2 million mostly older workers simply resigned. But at the same time, the federal government injected vast amounts of purchasing power into the economy, thus boosting consumption.

These two, contradictory government moves imposed almost unbearable pressure on supply chains. As shortages mounted, prices began to surge. Put simply: lockdowns plus stimulus equaled inflation.

Consider just one of the most important bottlenecks in the whole economy. During lockdown, many commercial driving license schools were closed. This helped create a shortage of about 80,000 truckers. If trucks do not roll supplies run low and prices go up.

At first, the official line on inflation – parroted by the Lockdown Left – maintained that inflation was “transitory.” But it was not. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 while wage growth lagged at about 5%. In April 2020 during the worst of the lockdown, the Federal Reserve’s Federal Funds Rate sank to 0.5%. By February 2022, it had only risen to 0.8%.  

Meanwhile, inflation was surging. By February 2022, inflation had reached 7.9%. Only then did the Fed, in an effort to tamp down prices, begin raising interest rates at the fastest pace rate in its history. The federal Funds rate was around 4.57% when SVB went under. Perhaps a massive wave of taxation could have soaked up enough liquidity to have helped cool prices, but that was a political impossibility. The more politically palatable response in Washington was for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. 

Herein lies the problem. During the height of the lockdowns, banks bought up enormous amounts of government debt. As the Wall Street Journal put it: “U.S. banks are suffering the aftereffects of a Covid-era deposit boom that left them awash in cash that they needed to put to work. Domestic deposits at federally insured banks rose 38% from the end of 2019 to the end of 2021, FDIC data show. Over the same period, total loans rose 7%, leaving many institutions with large amounts of cash to deploy in securities as interest rates were near record lows.” Awash in deposits with not enough demand for loans, the banks bought US government securities. Their purchases surged 53% between 2019 and the end of 2021, to a total of $4.58 trillion, according to Fed data reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Because so much debt was being issued, it carried super-low interest rates. For example, on July 27, 2020, the 10 Year Treasury was offered at an annual interest rate of only 0.55%. This is fine if you are the borrower of money, but if you are the lender (that is to say, a bank giving the federal government money in exchange for a Treasury bond), it means your income stream will be reduced to a mere trickle. If inflation rises, it essentially disappears. 

As the yield on new government debt reached toward 5% and inflation hung stubbornly at around 6.4%, all of that old, low-interest, pandemic-era debt started to look like garbage and banks began unloading it. The more that banks dumped old debt, the less value that debt had on resale markets. The lower its resale value, the more the banks wanted to dump it. SVB lost almost $2 billion selling off Government securities. And when they announced the loss, their stock price plunged by 60%. 

At the same time, many of SVB’s clients were withdrawing money. This was in part because rising interest rates made borrowing new money more expensive and thus incentivized the use of savings in day-to-day business operations. Also, higher inflation and higher interest rates made low-earning bank deposits less attractive and compelled depositors to redeploy their surplus capital towards higher-earning investments. So, just as SVB needed cash, deposits were evaporating.

By the end of the week of March 10, the four biggest banks in the United States had lost $51 billion because of their panicked dumping of pandemic-era debt. Right after SVB was taken under government control, state regulators closed the New York-based Signature Bank. Before the weekend was over the Federal Reserve announced the creation of a new lending facility that would ensure that “banks have the ability to meet the needs of all their depositors.” Furthermore, the Fed said it was “prepared to address any liquidity pressures that may arise.”

It would seem that the federal government is ready to execute another de facto partial nationalization of US banking, just as they did in 2008 via emergency “cash injections” and then the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). In this current crisis, banks can avoid losses on their low-interest debt if they do not sell it before its maturity. For that to happen, the banks need money. The Fed has said it will pour enormous amounts of money into the banks while all of the relevant officials have proclaimed that the banking system will somehow pay for this. All of this will almost certainly mean even more government debt will be issued. 

Already, interest payments on the federal debt are one of the largest single items in the US budget – set to reach $400 billion this year. That is almost half as much as the grotesquely overdeveloped military budget. By comparison, federal spending on housing is only $78 billion.

Shoring up the banking system is necessary because if it collapses, the whole economy goes with it. At least in the short term, Americans are hostages of the US financial system. But government intervention without any new regulations and taxes upon the financial sector will likely mean more inflation and a bigger financial bubble. By refusing to properly tax the top 1%, the federal government also commits itself to more austerity for the many and more welfare for the rich, because rising government debt means a rising portion of our taxes must go toward interest payments. 

This system of crisis-prone, hyper-financialized capitalism seems ever more like a junkie. If it doesn’t get its regular fix of public sector help, it will simply collapse and die. 

Even if the federal government can stanch the current crisis, the pandemic debt story is global and very likely to cause trouble for some time to come. As a 2021 report by the World Bank put it: “The debt buildup during the pandemic-induced global recession of 2020 was the largest in several decades. This was true for all types of debt—total, government, and private debt; and advanced-economy and EMDE [emerging market and developing economy] debt; external and domestic debt. In 2020, total global debt reached 263 percent of GDP and global government debt 99 percent of GDP, their highest levels in half a century.” 

The US intelligentsia and its media elites are finally beginning to reckon with the impact of misguided and authoritarian lockdowns on student learning and the psychological and physical health of millions. But in all the discussion of the current bank runs, the pivotal role of lockdowns in priming the crisis remains overlooked.

Tyler Durden Thu, 03/23/2023 - 23:00

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Are Voters Recoiling Against Disorder?

Are Voters Recoiling Against Disorder?

Authored by Michael Barone via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The headlines coming out of the Super…



Are Voters Recoiling Against Disorder?

Authored by Michael Barone via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The headlines coming out of the Super Tuesday primaries have got it right. Barring cataclysmic changes, Donald Trump and Joe Biden will be the Republican and Democratic nominees for president in 2024.

(Left) President Joe Biden delivers remarks on canceling student debt at Culver City Julian Dixon Library in Culver City, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2024. (Right) Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump stands on stage during a campaign event at Big League Dreams Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 27, 2024. (Mario Tama/Getty Images; David Becker/Getty Images)

With Nikki Haley’s withdrawal, there will be no more significantly contested primaries or caucuses—the earliest both parties’ races have been over since something like the current primary-dominated system was put in place in 1972.

The primary results have spotlighted some of both nominees’ weaknesses.

Donald Trump lost high-income, high-educated constituencies, including the entire metro area—aka the Swamp. Many but by no means all Haley votes there were cast by Biden Democrats. Mr. Trump can’t afford to lose too many of the others in target states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Majorities and large minorities of voters in overwhelmingly Latino counties in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley and some in Houston voted against Joe Biden, and even more against Senate nominee Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas).

Returns from Hispanic precincts in New Hampshire and Massachusetts show the same thing. Mr. Biden can’t afford to lose too many Latino votes in target states like Arizona and Georgia.

When Mr. Trump rode down that escalator in 2015, commentators assumed he’d repel Latinos. Instead, Latino voters nationally, and especially the closest eyewitnesses of Biden’s open-border policy, have been trending heavily Republican.

High-income liberal Democrats may sport lawn signs proclaiming, “In this house, we believe ... no human is illegal.” The logical consequence of that belief is an open border. But modest-income folks in border counties know that flows of illegal immigrants result in disorder, disease, and crime.

There is plenty of impatience with increased disorder in election returns below the presidential level. Consider Los Angeles County, America’s largest county, with nearly 10 million people, more people than 40 of the 50 states. It voted 71 percent for Mr. Biden in 2020.

Current returns show county District Attorney George Gascon winning only 21 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan primary. He’ll apparently face Republican Nathan Hochman, a critic of his liberal policies, in November.

Gascon, elected after the May 2020 death of counterfeit-passing suspect George Floyd in Minneapolis, is one of many county prosecutors supported by billionaire George Soros. His policies include not charging juveniles as adults, not seeking higher penalties for gang membership or use of firearms, and bringing fewer misdemeanor cases.

The predictable result has been increased car thefts, burglaries, and personal robberies. Some 120 assistant district attorneys have left the office, and there’s a backlog of 10,000 unprosecuted cases.

More than a dozen other Soros-backed and similarly liberal prosecutors have faced strong opposition or have left office.

St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner resigned last May amid lawsuits seeking her removal, Milwaukee’s John Chisholm retired in January, and Baltimore’s Marilyn Mosby was defeated in July 2022 and convicted of perjury in September 2023. Last November, Loudoun County, Virginia, voters (62 percent Biden) ousted liberal Buta Biberaj, who declined to prosecute a transgender student for assault, and in June 2022 voters in San Francisco (85 percent Biden) recalled famed radical Chesa Boudin.

Similarly, this Tuesday, voters in San Francisco passed ballot measures strengthening police powers and requiring treatment of drug-addicted welfare recipients.

In retrospect, it appears the Floyd video, appearing after three months of COVID-19 confinement, sparked a frenzied, even crazed reaction, especially among the highly educated and articulate. One fatal incident was seen as proof that America’s “systemic racism” was worse than ever and that police forces should be defunded and perhaps abolished.

2020 was “the year America went crazy,” I wrote in January 2021, a year in which police funding was actually cut by Democrats in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver. A year in which young New York Times (NYT) staffers claimed they were endangered by the publication of Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) opinion article advocating calling in military forces if necessary to stop rioting, as had been done in Detroit in 1967 and Los Angeles in 1992. A craven NYT publisher even fired the editorial page editor for running the article.

Evidence of visible and tangible discontent with increasing violence and its consequences—barren and locked shelves in Manhattan chain drugstores, skyrocketing carjackings in Washington, D.C.—is as unmistakable in polls and election results as it is in daily life in large metropolitan areas. Maybe 2024 will turn out to be the year even liberal America stopped acting crazy.

Chaos and disorder work against incumbents, as they did in 1968 when Democrats saw their party’s popular vote fall from 61 percent to 43 percent.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times or ZeroHedge.

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/09/2024 - 23:20

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Veterans Affairs Kept COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate In Place Without Evidence

Veterans Affairs Kept COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate In Place Without Evidence

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),




Veterans Affairs Kept COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate In Place Without Evidence

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reviewed no data when deciding in 2023 to keep its COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place.

Doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in Washington in a file image. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said on May 1, 2023, that the end of many other federal mandates “will not impact current policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

He said the mandate was remaining for VA health care personnel “to ensure the safety of veterans and our colleagues.”

Mr. McDonough did not cite any studies or other data. A VA spokesperson declined to provide any data that was reviewed when deciding not to rescind the mandate. The Epoch Times submitted a Freedom of Information Act for “all documents outlining which data was relied upon when establishing the mandate when deciding to keep the mandate in place.”

The agency searched for such data and did not find any.

The VA does not even attempt to justify its policies with science, because it can’t,” Leslie Manookian, president and founder of the Health Freedom Defense Fund, told The Epoch Times.

“The VA just trusts that the process and cost of challenging its unfounded policies is so onerous, most people are dissuaded from even trying,” she added.

The VA’s mandate remains in place to this day.

The VA’s website claims that vaccines “help protect you from getting severe illness” and “offer good protection against most COVID-19 variants,” pointing in part to observational data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimate the vaccines provide poor protection against symptomatic infection and transient shielding against hospitalization.

There have also been increasing concerns among outside scientists about confirmed side effects like heart inflammation—the VA hid a safety signal it detected for the inflammation—and possible side effects such as tinnitus, which shift the benefit-risk calculus.

President Joe Biden imposed a slate of COVID-19 vaccine mandates in 2021. The VA was the first federal agency to implement a mandate.

President Biden rescinded the mandates in May 2023, citing a drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. His administration maintains the choice to require vaccines was the right one and saved lives.

“Our administration’s vaccination requirements helped ensure the safety of workers in critical workforces including those in the healthcare and education sectors, protecting themselves and the populations they serve, and strengthening their ability to provide services without disruptions to operations,” the White House said.

Some experts said requiring vaccination meant many younger people were forced to get a vaccine despite the risks potentially outweighing the benefits, leaving fewer doses for older adults.

By mandating the vaccines to younger people and those with natural immunity from having had COVID, older people in the U.S. and other countries did not have access to them, and many people might have died because of that,” Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine on leave from Harvard Medical School, told The Epoch Times previously.

The VA was one of just a handful of agencies to keep its mandate in place following the removal of many federal mandates.

“At this time, the vaccine requirement will remain in effect for VA health care personnel, including VA psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, nursing assistants, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, peer specialists, medical support assistants, engineers, housekeepers, and other clinical, administrative, and infrastructure support employees,” Mr. McDonough wrote to VA employees at the time.

This also includes VA volunteers and contractors. Effectively, this means that any Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employee, volunteer, or contractor who works in VHA facilities, visits VHA facilities, or provides direct care to those we serve will still be subject to the vaccine requirement at this time,” he said. “We continue to monitor and discuss this requirement, and we will provide more information about the vaccination requirements for VA health care employees soon. As always, we will process requests for vaccination exceptions in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies.”

The version of the shots cleared in the fall of 2022, and available through the fall of 2023, did not have any clinical trial data supporting them.

A new version was approved in the fall of 2023 because there were indications that the shots not only offered temporary protection but also that the level of protection was lower than what was observed during earlier stages of the pandemic.

Ms. Manookian, whose group has challenged several of the federal mandates, said that the mandate “illustrates the dangers of the administrative state and how these federal agencies have become a law unto themselves.”

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/09/2024 - 22:10

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Low Iron Levels In Blood Could Trigger Long COVID: Study

Low Iron Levels In Blood Could Trigger Long COVID: Study

Authored by Amie Dahnke via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

People with inadequate…



Low Iron Levels In Blood Could Trigger Long COVID: Study

Authored by Amie Dahnke via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

People with inadequate iron levels in their blood due to a COVID-19 infection could be at greater risk of long COVID.


A new study indicates that problems with iron levels in the bloodstream likely trigger chronic inflammation and other conditions associated with the post-COVID phenomenon. The findings, published on March 1 in Nature Immunology, could offer new ways to treat or prevent the condition.

Long COVID Patients Have Low Iron Levels

Researchers at the University of Cambridge pinpointed low iron as a potential link to long-COVID symptoms thanks to a study they initiated shortly after the start of the pandemic. They recruited people who tested positive for the virus to provide blood samples for analysis over a year, which allowed the researchers to look for post-infection changes in the blood. The researchers looked at 214 samples and found that 45 percent of patients reported symptoms of long COVID that lasted between three and 10 months.

In analyzing the blood samples, the research team noticed that people experiencing long COVID had low iron levels, contributing to anemia and low red blood cell production, just two weeks after they were diagnosed with COVID-19. This was true for patients regardless of age, sex, or the initial severity of their infection.

According to one of the study co-authors, the removal of iron from the bloodstream is a natural process and defense mechanism of the body.

But it can jeopardize a person’s recovery.

When the body has an infection, it responds by removing iron from the bloodstream. This protects us from potentially lethal bacteria that capture the iron in the bloodstream and grow rapidly. It’s an evolutionary response that redistributes iron in the body, and the blood plasma becomes an iron desert,” University of Oxford professor Hal Drakesmith said in a press release. “However, if this goes on for a long time, there is less iron for red blood cells, so oxygen is transported less efficiently affecting metabolism and energy production, and for white blood cells, which need iron to work properly. The protective mechanism ends up becoming a problem.”

The research team believes that consistently low iron levels could explain why individuals with long COVID continue to experience fatigue and difficulty exercising. As such, the researchers suggested iron supplementation to help regulate and prevent the often debilitating symptoms associated with long COVID.

It isn’t necessarily the case that individuals don’t have enough iron in their body, it’s just that it’s trapped in the wrong place,” Aimee Hanson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge who worked on the study, said in the press release. “What we need is a way to remobilize the iron and pull it back into the bloodstream, where it becomes more useful to the red blood cells.”

The research team pointed out that iron supplementation isn’t always straightforward. Achieving the right level of iron varies from person to person. Too much iron can cause stomach issues, ranging from constipation, nausea, and abdominal pain to gastritis and gastric lesions.

1 in 5 Still Affected by Long COVID

COVID-19 has affected nearly 40 percent of Americans, with one in five of those still suffering from symptoms of long COVID, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Long COVID is marked by health issues that continue at least four weeks after an individual was initially diagnosed with COVID-19. Symptoms can last for days, weeks, months, or years and may include fatigue, cough or chest pain, headache, brain fog, depression or anxiety, digestive issues, and joint or muscle pain.

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/09/2024 - 12:50

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