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 Matthew 24:42  “Therefore be on alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming!"

Facing Medical Supply Shortages, Trump Invokes Wartime Law That Could Give Government Authority Over Private Manufacturing

 

President Trump on Wednesday said he would invoke the Defense Production Act, a law that gives the federal government sweeping power to ramp up manufacturing capacity during a national crisis, as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The law could allow the president to effectively force private companies to manufacture specific goods necessary to the government's efforts to stem the pandemic. Already, health experts have expressed concerns about shortages of drugs and of personal protective equipment that medical workers rely on to deliver care.

The move follows calls from top lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the top Democrat in the Senate, to invoke the law to ramp up production of needed medical supplies. It was not immediately clear, however, how the Trump administration would wield the new authority. In a press conference, Trump said he was invoking the law "just in case we need it." Trump said his administration aimed to ramp up production for ventilators, "millions" of masks, and "certain pieces of equipment," though he did not specify what the government's specific needs were, or what quantity of supplies the White House hoped could be produced.

Trump also said he would deploy two Navy hospital ships to American cities hard-hit by cases of coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as Covid-19. One, the USS Mercy, will be deployed to New York, Trump said. The president said his administration would soon decide where on the West Coast to deploy the other ship, the USS Comfort, which is based in San Diego.

"We've also alerted a variety of field and expeditionary hospitals to be prepared to deploy as well, as needed, based on direction from the commander in chief," said defense secretary Mark Esper. The Pentagon, Esper said, was moving forward with plans to donate 5 million respirator masks and up to 2,000 ventilators to the health department. Esper said the first 1 million masks would be available immediately. The White House also rolled out an array of new changes meant to stem the pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services was waiving regulations that limit doctors to practicing medicine only in the state where they're licensed.

The regulation, said Vice President Mike Pence, "will allow all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines to meet the needs of hospitals that may arise in adjoining areas." Pence also urged the public to delay upcoming elective medical procedures to ensure that hospitals and health care providers maintain capacity for the expected onslaught of severe coronavirus cases. He urged hospitals to do the same proactively.

"We are again, today, asking every American and our medical community leaders and hospitals to partner with us in delaying elective procedures across the country in our health care system to ensure that medical supplies and medical capacity go where they're needed most," he said.

From "STAT"

Virus Redefines Respecting Personal Space


Social distancing could qualify as an oxymoron in Italy, where walking arm-in-arm with friends, kissing neighbors in greeting and patting the heads of babies are part of the demonstrative culture.

But a new virus has rapidly redefined the concept of respecting personal space for tactile Italians, as well as for South Koreans, Filipinos, Americans, Spaniards and citizens of many other crowded parts of the world.

Whether acting under government orders or following basic public health advice, people are putting distance between themselves to keep the coronavirus away. The new rules of engagement call for maintaining a gap of one to two meters (or three to six feet) to prevent possible exposure when an infected individual coughs or speaks.

The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most of those infected, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or people with existing health problems. The vast majority of those infected recover.

The reset norm for an acceptable degree of separation became visible evidence of the pandemic's reach as schools, shopping malls and sports venues closed and opportunities for public encounters dwindled. Outside a gun shop in California, a post office in Hungary and a supermarket in Manila, lines lengthened as customers queued up at more or less proper intervals.

Practicing social distancing at first created confusion among shoppers waiting at a supermarket in Madrid. Some harsh exchanges ensued. But customers soon learned that if they wanted their groceries, they needed to fall into line.

The safe space standards also reveal how closely humans positioned themselves before. Pastors at a church in Seoul had room to spread out in empty pews after deciding to conduct Sunday services online. Journalists at a news conference in Berlin sat in chairs spaced away from one another.

A nationwide decree that took effect in Italy last week obliges people to stay at least one meter (about three feet) apart. Overnight, habits of a lifetime and of an entire society were turned upside down.

In a country where waiting your turn often equates to elbowing your way to the front of an undisciplined pack, Italians dutifully lined up with breaks in between - one meter, two meters, sometimes standing across the street from each other to keep stores uncrowded and themselves from getting COVID-19.

Shopkeepers whipped out measuring tapes.

"I have seen a lot of discipline, solidarity and collaboration, and everybody understands that the first that falls will pull the others with him," said Piero Emilio Vincenzi, owner of an appliance store near the Vatican.

From "Associated Press"

Stocks Just Entered a Bear Market for the First Time in 11 Years

 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 6% Wednesday. That big decline - on top of a 7% drop on Monday - meant U.S. stocks are in a bear market for the first time in more than a decade. The Dow closed at 23,553, down 1,465 points, or 5.9% from Tuesday's close. It's a big change from just last month when index hit a record high of 29,551 and investors were talking about when it would cross 30,000.

 

You can chalk the reversal up to fears of the coronavirus, and also the fact that many investors had been worrying that stock prices had climbed too high in recent months and were due for a tumble even without a deadly pandemic sweeping the globe. If you have a 401(k) or money invested in stocks, it's no fun to see your savings shrink. But bear markets are part of the game. One of the reasons stocks offer better long-term returns than other investments like bonds or real estate is because of their risk - while they can go up, they can also go down. Sometimes way down.

 

Here's what you need to know:

 

Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. economy seemed to be humming along. Unemployment was low, home prices were high and companies were reporting strong 2020 profit forecasts. All that changed when COVID-19 first struck the Chinese city of Wuhan, then rapidly spread outside China. The good news is that efforts by countries like China and South Korea have seemingly proved effective in slowing the virus's spread. The bad news is that those efforts - shuttering factories, schools, canceling flights and more - are basically tantamount to putting an economy on hold. As the virus spreads across the U.S., many investors worry similar containment efforts will prompt a recession, which is basically a prolonged period of economic contraction.

 

That translates into lower corporate profits - and hence lower stock prices. Among the worst hit stocks so far: Airlines, cruise ships and energy companies. In stock market lore, there are two types of market: bull and bear. Supposedly the terminology developed to reflect that fact that a bull fights by thrusting upwards with its horns, while a bear fights by thrusting downwards with its claws. Over time more precise definitions have emerged. A market "technically" becomes a bear market when prices drop 20% from their previous high. In the U.S. that usually means the closing price of either the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the Standard & Poor's 500 has posted a 4 p.m. closing price 20% below the previous all-time high closing price.

 

(For what it's worth, the S&P 500 closed Wednesday at 2,741, or 19% below its all-time high, so that index remained a hair outside of bear market territory.) The last bear market was 11 years ago, during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. That's an unusually long time between bears - in fact, the longest time on record. On average, bull markets last about 4.5 years and bear markets about a year, according to an Invesco study of bear markets back to 1957.

You can expect the stock market to get worse before it gets better. Stocks lost about 34% of their value from the previous peak, on average, in past bear markets, Invesco found. What's more, bear markets typically, but not always, presage a broader economic recession. That was certainly the case in 2007-2008, when stocks plunged ahead of the financial crisis, and also in 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst. But the 1987 stock market crash - the largest single-day decline in the stock market's history - did not cause the economy to shrink. Ultimately, what happens to the U.S. economy this time around will probably be driven by how consumers and businesses react to the spread of the deadly coronavirus, as opposed to whatever is happening on Wall Street.

 

The short answer is nothing. Investors' best move is almost always to simply wait out down markets. If you're older, that may mean using investments other than stocks, such as bonds or cash holdings, to fund your living expenses until stock prices return. If you're a younger investor, try not to think of it as a setback but rather as an opportunity. Ultimately, you're buying stocks now in order to fund your retirement 20, 30 or even 40 years in the future. As long as you're buying, you might as well be pleased that prices have moderated. Don't think of a bear market as diminishing the value of your savings - they will come back up in time. Think of it as your chance to buy stocks at a 20% discount.

 

From "Money"

Streets Deserted as Italy Imposes Unprecedented Coronavirus Lockdown

 

Shops and restaurants closed, hundreds of flights were canceled and streets emptied across Italy on Tuesday, the first day of an unprecedented, nationwide lockdown imposed to slow Europe's worst outbreak of coronavirus.
Just hours after the dramatic new restrictions came into force, health authorities announced the death toll had jumped by 168 to 631, the largest rise in absolute numbers since the contagion came to light on Feb. 21. The total number of confirmed cases rose at a much slower rate than recently seen, hitting 10,149 against a previous 9,172, but officials warned that the region at the epicenter, Lombardy, had provided incomplete data.

The government has told all Italians to stay at home and avoid non-essential travel until April 3, radically widening steps already taken in much of the wealthy north, which is the epicenter of the spreading contagion. "Our civic duty is the only thing that can save us," said Marzio Tonilo, 35, a teacher from the northern town of San Fiorano, which was placed under quarantine last month. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unexpectedly expanded the so-called red zone to the entire country on Monday night, introducing the most severe controls on a Western nation since World War Two. The move shocked many small businesses, which feared for their future.

"It looks like an apocalypse has struck, there is no one around," said Mario Monfreda, who runs Larys restaurant in a smart Rome residential area. Under the government order, all bars and restaurants will now have to close at 6.00 p.m."It is a total disaster. This will reduce us to nothing ... More people are going to die as a result of the economic crisis that this lockdown is going to cause than the virus itself."However, the prosperous northern region of Lombardy, centered on Italy's financial capital Milan, called on the government to introduce even more stringent measures.

"I would shut down all the shops. I would certainly close down public transport and I would seek out all businesses that could be shut without creating excessive damage to the economy," said Lombardy Governor Attilio Fontana.While Lombardy accounts for 74% of all the fatalities, the disease has now touched all of the country and the government is worried that if it worsens, the health system in the less developed south will collapse, causing deaths to spike.

From "Reuters"

The Entire Country of Norway is ‘Shutting Down'


If you think things have gotten bad in the United States - where St. Patrick's Day parades have been canceled, and the NBA is suspended for the rest of the season - just wait until you hear about Norway. Starting Thursday, the small Nordic country announced "measures that will be the most extensive Norway's population has experienced in peacetime," and which involve practically shutting down the entire country in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie told the national broadcaster, NRK.

 

In addition to kindergartens, child care facilities, schools, and universities closing nationwide, and a ban on both professional and amateur sports - measures that have been taken only regionally so far in the U.S. - the entire country of Norway is also requiring all hairdressers, massage clinics, gyms, and tattoo parlors to close, Life in Norway and Swedish journalist Peter Imanuelsen report based off the announcement on NRK. Cultural events are also banned, with museums, pools, and libraries additionally closing. While grocery stores will remain open, restaurants, bars, pubs, and nightclubs are required to close if they can't guarantee a three-foot distance between patrons. 

 

Additionally, everyone entering Norway from anywhere other than another Nordic country will be required to be home-quarantined, regardless of symptoms - one of the most drastic measures taken in Europe so far. Healthcare professionals are no longer allowed to travel abroad, and the country is encouraging its citizens traveling abroad to return home at once.


From "The Week"

 

A New Refugee Crisis Could Break the EU


The chaos of 2015, when more than a million refugees came to the European Union within a year, caused lasting fractures between and within the bloc's countries. Now growing numbers of migrants are once again crossing into the EU from Turkey. It's too early to tell whether this mounting crisis could become another "2015." But it's already clear that it's blowback for the EU's utter failure to reform its migration system in the past five years - a failure that leaves it open to blackmail by cynical autocrats like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Though nominally a NATO ally and applicant to join the EU, Turkey is increasingly becoming a geopolitical threat to the West. Erdogan is waging a war in Syria for which he wants European support, even as his onslaught swells the huddled masses trying to escape the hell of Idlib. To put pressure on the EU, Erdogan is actively shooing more of the roughly 4 million refugees in Turkey toward Europe.

 

That directly contravenes a deal Turkey and the EU made in 2016, when Erdogan, in return for lots of European money, promised to prevent migrants from crossing to Greece and to take back any who did.  As a result, refugees are again paddling in dinghies to Greek islands, then crowding into overfilled and filthy camps. They're also - and this is new - trudging by land to Turkey's Thracian borders with Greece and Bulgaria, where, at least for now, they're stopped by tear gas and barbed wire. It's hard to say exactly how many tens of thousands they are. But for the EU it's another potential catastrophe all the same.

If, however, the EU allows the migrants to enter, that will create even bigger problems. As soon as word gets out that the borders are "open," more people will set off on their journey, not only from Syria but also from Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The rush of migrants would be another gift to populists, who tend to be both xenophobic and euroskeptic. A new refugee crisis would mean more populists in more countries trying more brazenly to undermine the EU from within. Such a dilemma could have been foreseen since 2015, when the backlash against the refugees almost toppled Angela Merkel as German chancellor. That makes EU leaders' failure to prepare for a new crisis all the more glaring. It defies comprehension that the union today still has the same flawed migrant regime that broke down so spectacularly in 2015

From "Bloomberg/Quint"

 

Coronavirus Fears Empty Streets in Some of the World's Busiest Cities


The coronavirus epidemic has had a ripple effect on some of the world's busiest cities, with fears of the highly contagious virus emptying cafes, public squares and streets in China, South Korea, Japan and Italy, among other countries. The streets of Seoul, the South Korean capital, stood nearly empty this week. Those who do venture out wear masks. The normally busy subways have few passengers and riders make sure to sit far away from one another. Many residents are relying on grocery and restaurant delivery apps.

 

In Daegu, one of the cities in South Korea hardest hit by the virus, people lined up at pharmacies Tuesday to buy masks distributed by the government. There have been long lines outside retail stores and online suppliers have sold out as soon as stock arrives. The World Health Organization says only people who are taking care of someone who is ill or those who display respiratory symptoms need to wear masks

Drive-through virus testing centers are operating, with workers dressed head-to-toe in white protective suits leaning into cars with mouth swabs, a move meant to limit contact with possible carriers of the illness. Troops were also dispatched across the city to spray streets and alleys with disinfectants.


From "NBC News"

Doctors Use CRISPR Gene Editing Inside A Person's Body For First Time

 

Scientists say they have used the gene editing tool CRISPR inside someone's body for the first time, a new frontier for efforts to operate on DNA, the chemical code of life, to treat diseases. A patient recently had it done at the Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland for an inherited form of blindness, the companies that make the treatment announced Wednesday. They would not give details on the patient or when the surgery occurred. It may take up to a month to see if it worked to restore vision. If the first few attempts seem safe, doctors plan to test it on 18 children and adults.

"We literally have the potential to take people who are essentially blind and make them see," said Charles Albright, chief scientific officer at Editas Medicine, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company developing the treatment with Dublin-based Allergan. "We think it could open up a whole new set of medicines to go in and change your DNA." Dr. Jason Comander, an eye surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, another hospital that plans to enroll patients in the study, said it marks "a new era in medicine" using a technology that "makes editing DNA much easier and much more effective." Doctors first tried in-the-body gene editing in 2017 for a different inherited disease using a tool called zinc fingers. Many scientists believe CRISPR is a much easier tool for locating and cutting DNA at a specific spot, so interest in the new research is very high.

Doctors think they need to fix one tenth to one third of the cells to restore vision. In animal tests, scientists were able to correct half of the cells with the treatment, Albright said. The eye surgery itself poses little risk, doctors say. Infections and bleeding are relatively rare complications. One of the biggest potential risks from gene editing is that CRISPR could make unintended changes in other genes, but the companies have done a lot to minimize that and to ensure that the treatment cuts only where it's intended to, Pierce said. He has consulted for Editas and helped test a gene therapy, Luxturna, that's sold for a different type of inherited blindness. Some independent experts were optimistic about the new study.

In one day, she had three calls from families seeking solutions to inherited blindness. "It's a terrible disease," she said. "Right now they have nothing." Dr. Kiran Musunuru, another gene editing expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said the treatment seems likely to work, based on tests in human tissue, mice and monkeys.

The gene editing tool stays in the eye and does not travel to other parts of the body, so "if something goes wrong, the chance of harm is very small," he said. "It makes for a good first step for doing gene editing in the body." Although the new study is the first to use CRISPR to edit a gene inside the body, another company, Sangamo Therapeutics, has been testing zinc finger gene editing to treat metabolic diseases.

Other scientists are using CRISPR to edit cells outside the body to try to treat cancer, sickle cell and some other diseases. All of these studies have been done in the open, with government regulators' approval, unlike a Chinese scientist's work that brought international scorn in 2018. He Jiankui used CRISPR to edit embryos at the time of conception to try to make them resistant to infection with the AIDS virus. Changes to embryos' DNA can pass to future generations, unlike the work being done now in adults to treat diseases.

 

From "NBC News"

Coronavirus Fears Drive Stocks Down for 6th Day and Into Correction

The global stock market slid for the sixth straight day on Thursday, as the S&P 500 index plunged to its worst loss in almost nine years and investors worldwide grew increasingly fearful that the coronavirus outbreak could cause a recession as it squeezes corporate profits. The S&P 500, which just last Wednesday reached a record high, slid 4.4 percent, its worst day since August 2011. The index is down 12 percent since that peak, entering what is known as a correction - a drop of at least 10 percent that signals a more significant sell-off than a few days of pessimistic trading.

The downturn continued on Friday, as Asian markets closed sharply lower and European stocks tumbled at the start of trading. The widening scope of the health crisis threatens to overwhelm global supply chains, especially in China, the world's second-largest economy after the United States. In addition, the outbreak could crush consumer demand, as people limit travel or stay home even without a government order to do so. Scott Clemons, the chief investment strategist for private banking at Brown Brothers Harriman, said the outbreak's potential to alter American consumers' habits was at the heart of the sell-off.

"To the degree that consumers change their behavior - so they stop going out to eat, they don't take the vacation, they cancel the business trip - that consumption, that spending, personal consumption is 68 percent of G.D.P.," Mr. Clemons said. Over the past few days, companies as varied as United Airlines, Mastercard and Pfizer have said the outbreak poses a threat to their 2020 earnings. And analysts at Goldman Sachs predicted on Thursday that companies in the S&P 500 would generate no profit growth this year as a result of the crisis, because of a "severe decline in Chinese economic activity," disruption in the supply chain for American companies and a slowdown in the U.S. economy.

On Wednesday, President Trump addressed the outbreak, expressing confidence that the risk to the United States was low. But investors were clearly not convinced. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan asked all of the country's schools to close for a month. Health officials in Germany reacted aggressively after a man with no known connection to anyone infected with the coronavirus had tested positive, closing schools and urging some who may have come in contact with him to stay home for two weeks. In Italy, the number of coronavirus cases rose to 650, and in France they more than doubled to 38. "We have before us a crisis, an epidemic that is coming," said President Emmanuel Macron of France.

In Europe, Denmark, Estonia, Norway and Romania all reported infections for the first time, joining Austria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, North Macedonia, Spain, Sweden and Britain. And concerns grew about the severity of the outbreak in Iran, the source of infections in many other countries. The government there said Thursday that 245 people had been infected - including a member of President Hassan Rouhani's cabinet and six other officials - and 26 had died.

The outbreak hit foreign markets hard, too, where the slump continued into Friday. Indexes in Shanghai and Japan closed 3.7 percent lower, and European markets opened sharply, with the DAX in Germany down 3.4 percent. Futures pointed to a slide when Wall Street starts trading. Oil prices have tumbled as people cut back on travel and investors worry about a slump in industrial and consumer demand. Meanwhile, money has poured into investments like gold and government bonds, which are generally considered safer.

Bond markets - which are far larger than stock markets and especially sensitive to the outlook for growth and inflation - were broadcasting pessimism about the economy even before the outbreak. That pessimism only increased this week, as prices for corporate debt from even the safest of borrowers fell and investors rushed to government debt.Demand for U.S. Treasurys pushed up prices and drove down yields: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a closely watched barometer of investor outlook, fell to a record low of 1.29 percent.

 

From "New York Times"

How To Coach Your Brain To Increase Your Attention Span

 

The word "attention" in psychology is a catchall referring to any process that influences what information from the world breaks through and affects your thinking. The term "attention span" is the amount of time that you can spend working on a particular task, whether that is writing a report, reading a book or article, or listening to a talk.

Many people feel like their attention span is too short. They can't stay focused on one thing for too long before they start doing something else. Your attention span can be influenced by internal factors (your own brain leads you to shift from one task to another) or by external factors (something in the outside world calls to you). Increasing your ability to focus requires dealing with both these internal and external factors. One of the biggest internal factors that disrupts our ability to focus is a lack of sleep. We are a chronically under-slept society. Most people run a sleep deficit during the week and hope to catch up over the weekend.

The best way to tell whether you need more sleep is to read something difficult in the early afternoon. If you start falling asleep within five minutes of trying to read, then you really need more sleep. You might be tempted to remedy this with caffeine, but while caffeine can make you feel more alert, it won't help your brain process and store information more effectively. A second big internal factor is frustration and boredom. After you have been working on a task for a while, particularly if it is going slowly, you start feeling like you should be doing something else. Boredom and frustration are the brain's way of alerting you that you might be wasting valuable energy on something unproductive.

However, there are many tasks at work that really are difficult or tedious and you need to stick with them despite the frustration or boredom you may feel. If you give in to those feelings, then you learn an association between those negative feelings and stopping a task. If you find yourself switching to another task when you feel bored or frustrated, decide instead that you will work for five more minutes and then take a break. This strategy has two advantages. First, if you put in an additional five minutes of work, you may actually figure out what is frustrating you and then get more deeply involved in what you're doing. Even if you are still frustrated or bored after five minutes and you take a break, you have trained your brain that your first response to those feelings is to keep working. This way, you will expand the amount of time you can put in on challenges.

From "Fast Company"

 

FCC to Fine Cellphone Carriers for Selling Customers' Locations

 

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose about $200 million in fines against four major cellphone carriers for selling customers' real-time location data, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

The penalties would be some of the largest the agency has imposed in decades and represent the first action it has taken on the issue, though privacy advocates and critics in Congress say even that response is inadequate. The amount is not final, and the companies - AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon - will have the opportunity to respond and argue against the fines. The trade in location data has emerged as a sensitive privacy issue because it affects hundreds of millions of people and can reveal intimate details about their lives, including personal relationships and visits to doctors. "It puts the safety and privacy of every American with a wireless phone at risk," Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic commissioner at the F.C.C., said in a statement last month about the agency's investigation.

Sale of the data is widespread among app makers and other technology companies, but the telecommunications sector is subject to more stringent laws protecting customers' confidentiality.

 

From "New York Times"

Boy Scouts Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the Face of Thousands of Child Abuse Allegations

Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection early today  amid declining membership and a drumbeat of child sexual abuse allegations that have illuminated the depth of the problem within the organization and Scouts' failure to get a handle on it. After months of speculation and mounting civil litigation, the Chapter 11 filing by the scouting organization's national body was unprecedented in both scope and complexity. It was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware overnight. 

The exact effects on Boy Scouts' future operations are unknown, leading to speculation about the organization's odds for survival, the impact on local troops and how bankruptcy could change the dynamic for abuse survivors who have yet to come forward. Some fear that at a minimum it will prevent survivors from naming their abuser in open court.

"They're going into bankruptcy not because they don't have the money," said Tim Kosnoff, who has tried thousands of child abuse cases, including many against the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church. "They're going into bankruptcy to hide ... a Mount Everest in dirty secrets." In court filings, the Boy Scouts said it faces 275 abuse lawsuits in state and federal courts around the country, plus another 1,400 potential claims. 

In a statement, the organization said: "The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting." "The BSA intends to use the Chapter 11 process to create a Victims Compensation Trust that would provide equitable compensation to victims." The group said it paid $150 million in settlements and legal costs from 2017 to 2019. 

The organization said scouting programs will continue "throughout this process and for many years to come. Local Councils are not filing for bankruptcy as they are legally separate and distinct organizations." It is exactly that distinction that victims' attorneys say will form the core of the legal battle ahead over which assets Boy Scouts must use to pay legal settlements and which can be shielded. The primary debate, they say, will center on property owned by the 266 regional councils and local troops.

Reports of a potential bankruptcy first emerged at the end of 2018, with rumors that the nonprofit youth organization would follow in the footsteps of the Catholic Church, which has faced similar claims of abuse. But unlike the Catholic bankruptcy cases, in which more than 20 individual dioceses have filed for protection, the Boy Scouts' case will play out on a national level. Many saw the Scouts' increase in annual membership fees in October, from $33 to $60, as evidence of financial trouble. 

Then on Jan. 1, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - which for 100 years was among Boy Scouts' largest partners - followed through on its plan to pull hundreds of thousands of Mormon youth out of Scouts in favor of its own youth program. That withdrawal caused an 18% drop in membership overnight, to fewer than 2 million. But the nonprofit organization's chief financial concern, according to victims' attorneys and bankruptcy experts, is rising liability from abuse lawsuits. The suits have led to battles with insurance carriers, who refused to pay out claims saying the Scouts failed to take effective preventive measures to stop the abuse. In 2018, Boy Scouts sued six of its carriers.

"The problem with Boy Scouts is they're caught in a vice grip of, on one hand, having insurance companies not paying on these claims that Boy Scouts have already settled, and second having dwindling economic resources on account of paying out money for sexual abuse settlements," said attorney Paul Mones, who has tried dozens of high-profile cases against Boy Scouts.

From "USA Today"

Apple, Coronavirus, And Risk-Management

 

Coronavirus has suddenly emerged as a critical risk factor for businesses around the world. Companies like Apple computers are especially vulnerable because of their large customer base in China and the dependence of their supply chain on Chinese manufacturers. No wonder Tim Cook cited the impact of Coronavirus as a significant source of uncertainty in the company's recently concluded quarterly earnings call. However, a big silver lining at this worrisome time for the company is its $200 billion pile of cash. Cash balance is the best vaccine against unpredictable events such as the spread of Coronavirus. In fact, cash is the best hedge against any risk that cannot be identified or quantified ahead of time.

 

CFOs spend considerable time figuring out their firms' risk exposures and devising strategies to manage them. A good chunk of their time is spent on quantifying exposures to market-based sources of risk that come from fluctuations in interest rates, exchange rates, and commodity prices. Accounting statements are full of disclosures to these sources of risks, their impact on the business, and how the firm manages them. But some risks are not quantifiable in a traditional sense; much worse, some risks are not even identifiable ahead of time. Who could have predicted, even three months ago, that Coronavirus will be Apple's main concern at the beginning of 2020?

 

From "Forbes"

 

Fed Calls Coronavirus ‘A New Risk To The Global Growth Outlook"

 

The Federal Reserve considers its current policy stance as appropriate "for a time" despite the coronavirus outbreak presenting a new threat to the global economy, minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting held in January revealed on Wednesday.

The meeting took place days after the coronavirus outbreak began to drag on the US financial sector. The virus has killed 2,012 people and infected more than 75,000 as of Wednesday morning, surpassing the death toll of 2003's SARS epidemic. The FOMC highlighted an uptick in economic growth across Asia, but warned that the spreading virus could quickly reverse any gains to gross domestic product. "Early GDP releases showed a pickup in growth in China and some other Asian economies, though news of the coronavirus outbreak raised questions about the sustainability of that pickup," according to the January 28-29 minutes. The January meetings took place roughly two weeks after the US and China inked the phase-one deal and introduced the first major deescalation of the trade conflict since it began in the summer of 2018. The agreement, when coupled with the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, brought stabilization to a world stage recently fraught with trade hostilities.

Since then, the coronavirus has emerged as "a new risk to the global growth outlook," according to the Fed. The outbreak's threat and death toll have already led economists to lower growth expectations and companies to warn of hits to future earnings.

From "Business Insider"

Losing Sleep Over the Quest for a Perfect Night's Rest

If you're having a hard time falling asleep, that sleep tracker on your wrist might be to blame. And there's a name for this new kind of insomnia of the digital age: orthosomnia. It's "when you just really become fixated on having this perfect sleep via tracker," said Seema Khosla, medical director at the North Dakota Center for Sleep. "And then you start worrying about it, and you wind up giving yourself insomnia."


From "NPR"

Think 5G is Exciting? Just Wait for 6G

The wireless industry has revolutionized the way we work and play, so it's no wonder why 5G has grabbed everyone's attention. Already in some cities, and soon across the world, fiberoptic transmission speeds will invisibly reach into all of our pockets, bringing television, 3D imagery and new applications we never dreamed of to our mobile devices. While commercial cellphone providers and equipment vendors are working feverishly to build out 5G, and as the public eagerly awaits its rollout, researchers around the world are at work producing the wireless world's next generation: 6G.

What is 6G? No one quite knows yet, and the international standards bodies, made up of hundreds of companies around the world, will figure that out over the coming decade. But work at New York University shows that by 2035, 6G will usher in the ability to send wireless signals at the rate of human computation.

Dubbed "wireless cognition" by researchers, 6G could mean that human intelligence could eventually be sent over the air instantaneously. Remote control robots and artificial intelligence applications with human-like capabilities could be enabled over 6G cellphones.

 

By using electromagnetic frequencies above 95 Gigahertz, future cellphones will be able to use massive channel bandwidths and highly directional antennas that allow excellent coverage and enable new applications. These frequencies, which are 40 times greater than today's 4G cellphone frequencies, and three to four times greater than the new 5G frequencies, were just made available for commercialization by the Federal Communications Commission last year. Accurate positioning and direction finding coupled with superior sensing and imaging, just like humans use their eyes to see things clearly both near and far, will become possible with 6G. The new frequencies in the sub-Terahertz bands will transmit super-fast computations over a wide range of frequencies, allowing future cellphones to have vastly greater capabilities.

 

For example, the 6G phone of the future will be able to test the air around you for allergens, explosives or toxic chemicals and determine if your food is safe to eat. It will help you see in the dark using night vision and render far better images than the human eye can see. Just as the cellphone has replaced the standalone camera and the wristwatch for many, and is beginning to replace the wallet, 6G phones may someday replace eyeglasses through the use of goggles, which can double as headphones, that have incredible imaging capability and stereophonic sound.

Research also shows that 6G phones will be able to see behind walls by building up maps of the local surroundings and combining the signals received from the environment with the highly directional, steerable antennas on the phone. This could come in handy if you want to know if someone is in the room next to you.

 

If that's not enough, the 6G phone of the future will also provide precise position location accuracy and ranging that will let us know exactly where we are, down to the centimeter. Such accuracy will be important for navigating robotic vehicles and self-driving cars and could even be useful for hanging drapes in your home. Along with these features will be the usual high definition video and augmented reality applications we cannot yet even imagine.

While many of these ideas are still in the research labs of universities and a few forward-looking companies, there is great promise that these ideas will be ready for prime time in the 6G era (expected around 2030).

The countries that lead in the creation of these new technological capabilities will have a keen international market edge, which is why fundamental research is a critical national policy issue. Countries like China, Japan and Korea have made Information and Communications Technology (ICT) research a national priority, and their fortunes are rising with 5G. Given the importance of 5G, and the fact that the United States is losing its edge in the global standards race, I believe it is now urgent for US leadership to make wireless communications research support, and ICT in general, a national priority.

 

Only those countries that invest in fundamental wireless research in academia and industry have a shot at creating and owning the intellectual property and nurturing the engineering talent that will enable 6G. A major, multibillion dollar federal research initiative that brings US universities and industry together to create fundamental research and startup companies is needed to attract the top research talent to work on this lucrative future, while incentivizing young people to pursue education and careers that will create the exciting breakthroughs. National fortunes, as well as vast new capabilities, will be riding over the 6G airwaves.

From "CNN"

Nearly 1 in 3 American Workers Run Out of Money Before Payday - Even Those Earning over $100,000

 

Going extra light at the grocery store. Cutting down on medical supplies. Buying clothing and household supplies secondhand. These are just some of the many ways many Americans are making it work when money is tight. For about a third of Americans, this is a regular financial stress, with 32% running out of money before their next paycheck hits, according to a new survey fielded by Salary Finance of over 2,700 U.S. adults working at companies with over 500 employees. Amy,* 36, is intimately familiar with running short on cash and using these workarounds, especially during tax season. That's in spite of the fact that she and her husband make about $50,000 a year, just short of the average household income in the U.S. "Tax time hurts for us because we don't get a refund, we get a bill," she tells CNBC Make It. Her husband, the primary earner, works for a company in a different state, so state income taxes aren't taken out, she says. While they typically get a federal refund, they end up owing the state more than the federal refund.

Contrary to popular belief, "this is not just an issue for people at the lower end of the income spectrum," Dan Macklin, Salary Finance's U.S. CEO and co-founder of SoFi, tells CNBC Make It. About 31% of respondents earning over $100,000 also regularly experience a budget shortfall before payday. For many, it's the rising cost of living - including food, housing, education and medical expenses - that creates the squeeze. Over the past year, basic costs increased by 2.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics's Consumer Price Index. The cost of medical care rose 4.6% in 2019, the largest year-over-year increase since 2007, the BLS reports. Housing also jumped 3.2% last year, while education expenses rose 2.1% and food prices increased about 1.8%. For others, it's stagnant wages. Real wages effectively remained stalled last year, showing only a 0.2% year-over-year increase, according to the PayScale Index. But looking longer term, Payscale found median wages, when adjusted for inflation, actually declined 9% since 2006.

No matter the underlying reason, the struggle to pay bills and put food on the table when you're short on cash leads to a lot of stress, the survey finds. Financial stress is very prevalent today, with 42% of working Americans experiencing it. It's a percentage that Macklin finds "extremely worrying." That's because that financial stress can have lasting effects on your mental and physical health, he says. Those with financial worries are six times more likely to suffer from anxiety and seven times more prone to depression, Salary Finance's survey found.

From "CNBC"

 

Federal Taxes and Spending Set Records Through January

 

The federal government set records for both the amount of taxes it collected and the amount of money it spent in the first four months of fiscal 2020 (October through January), according to data released today in the Monthly Treasury Statement. So far in fiscal 2020, the federal government has collected $1,178,800,000,000 in total taxes. The previous high for total federal taxes collected in the first four months of the fiscal year came in fiscal 2018, when the Treasury collected $1,172,088,080,000 in constant December 2019 dollars.

While the federal government was collecting that record $1,178,800,000 in federal taxes in October through January of this fiscal year, it was spending a record total of $1,567,985,000,000. That was up $116,800,410,000 from the $1,451,184,590,000 (in constant December 2019 dollars) that the federal government spent in the first four months of fiscal 2019.

In the first four months of this fiscal year-while collecting a record $1,178,800,000,000 and spending a record $1,567,985,000,000-the federal government ran a deficit of $389,185,000,000.

 

From "CNS News"

Germany Ran World's Largest Current Account Surplus in 2019

 

Germany's current account surplus remained the world's largest last year despite trade tensions, the Ifo economic institute said on Monday, in an estimate likely to renew criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel's fiscal policies.

 

The Ifo calculations, reported exclusively by Reuters ahead of publication by the economic institute, put Germany's current account surplus - which measures the flow of goods, services and investments - at some $293 billion in 2019.

 

It is the fourth successive year that Germany's current account surplus has been the world's largest, with Japan's the next biggest at $194 billion, according to Ifo calculations.

The International Monetary Fund and the European Commission have for years urged Germany, Europe's largest economy, to do more to lift domestic demand and imports as a way to reduce global economic imbalances and stimulate growth elsewhere.

 

Since his election, U.S. President Donald Trump has also criticized Germany's export strength.

Germany's current account surplus can mainly be attributed to the fact that far more German products and services are sold overseas than imported into Europe's largest economy. Merkel said last year: "We are proud of our cars and so we should be." But she added that many were built in the United States and exported to China. Ifo economist Christian Grimme said the German surplus increased last year to some 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 7.3% in 2018.

 

"Stronger exports to the U.S. due to the stronger depreciation of the euro and increased exports to the UK, where demand recovered somewhat, saw total German exports rise sharply again in the second half of the year," Grimme told Reuters. "By contrast, imports expanded very weakly in the summer half of 2019 - the ongoing industrial recession in Germany severely curbed imports of intermediate goods." The European Commission, the EU's executive, considers a current account surplus of 6% as sustainable over the long-term when measured by the size of a country's economy.

 

From "Reuters"

 

China To Allow In U.S. Health Experts As Virus Shows No Signs of Slowing

 

China has agreed to allow U.S. health experts into the country as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) effort to help fight the fast-spreading coronavirus, as the number of cases and deaths continued to mount. In central China's Hubei province, epicenter of the epidemic, China state TV reported there were 2,345 new cases of the virus and another 64 deaths, bringing the total of virus-related fatalities in Hubei to 414 by Monday.

The Chinese stock market plunged about 8% on Monday, wiping $393 billion off the value of the Shanghai bourse, on the first day of trading following an extended Lunar New Year holiday in a bid to help keep people at home and contain the virus' spread. The White House said on Monday China had accepted its offer to have U.S. experts as part of a WHO mission to study and help combat the virus that emerged in Hubei's provincial capital of Wuhan.

A 1,000-bed hospital built in eight days to treat people with the virus in Wuhan was due to receive its first patients on Monday, state media said. A second hospital with 1,600 beds is due to be operational later this week. With Wuhan and some other Chinese cities in virtual lockdown, travel severely restricted and China facing increasing international isolation, fears of wider economic disruption are growing. Sources at the OPEC oil cartel told Reuters producers were considering cutting output by almost a third to support prices.

From "NY Times"

Palestinians Cut Ties With Israel and U.S. After Rejecting Peace Plan

The Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the United States and Israel, including those relating to security, after rejecting a Middle East peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday.

 

Abbas was in Cairo to address the Arab League, which backed the Palestinians in their opposition to Trump's plan.

The blueprint, endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for the creation of a demilitarised Palestinian state that excludes Jewish settlements built in occupied territory and is under near-total Israeli security control. "We've informed the Israeli side ... that there will be no relations at all with them and the United States including security ties," Abbas told the one-day emergency meeting, called to discuss Trump's plan.

Israeli officials had no immediate comment on his remarks.

 

Israel and the Palestinian Authority's security forces have long cooperated in policing areas of the occupied West Bank that are under Palestinian control. The PA also has intelligence cooperation agreements with the CIA, which continued even after the Palestinians began boycotting the Trump administration's peace efforts in 2017.

Abbas also said he had refused to discuss the plan by with Trump by phone, or to receive even a copy of it to study it.

"Trump asked that I speak to him by phone but I said ‘no', and that he wants to send me a letter ... but I refused it," he said. Abbas said he did not want Trump to be able to say that he, Abbas, had been consulted.

He reiterated his "complete" rejection of the Trump plan, presented on Tuesday. "I will not have it recorded in my history that I sold Jerusalem," he said.

 

The blueprint also proposes U.S. recognition of Israeli settlements on occupied West Bank land and of Jerusalem as Israel's indivisible capital. The Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo said the plan did not meet the minimum aspirations of Palestinians, and that the League would not cooperate with the United States in implementing it.

The ministers affirmed Palestinian rights to create a future state based on the land captured and occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, with East Jerusalem as capital, the final communique said. Foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, three close U.S. allies, as well as Iraq, Lebanon and others said there could be no peace without recognising Palestinian rights to establish a state within the pre-1967 territories. After Trump unveiled his plan, some Arab powers had appeared, despite historic support for the Palestinians, to prioritise close ties with the United States and a shared hostility towards Iran over traditional Arab alliances.

 

 

Three Gulf Arab states - Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates - attended the White House gathering where Trump announced his plan alongside Netanyahu. On Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would ask his cabinet this week to approve the application of Israeli law to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Such a move could be a first step towards formal annexation of the settlements and the Jordan Valley - territory Israel has kept under military occupation since its capture in 1967. Most countries consider Israeli settlements on land captured in war to be a violation of international law. Trump has changed U.S. policy to withdraw such objections.

 

From "Reuters"

Brexit Is Official:  UK Leaves European Union                                                                                                                       

The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on Friday, entering into a period of uncertainty after three years of bitter wrangling over Brexit and tense negotiations over the terms of divorce between London and Brussels.

 

The departure became official at 11 p.m. London time when the clock struck midnight in the Belgian capital, where the EU is headquartered. Thousands of Brexit supporters waving Union Jack flags gathered outside Parliament to celebrate the severing of the 47-year relationship.

 

Brexit supporters had been looking forward to this moment since June 23, 2016, when 52 percent of the public voted to walk away from the EU, the successor to the European Communities it joined in 1973. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the departure "a moment of real national renewal and change."

 

"This is the single most important moment in the modern history of our great nation," Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, told the crowd.

 

Some mourned the loss of their EU identity, with several vigils being held across the U.K. Ann Jones joined dozens of other so-called "remainers" on a march to the EU's mission in London. "Many of us want to just mark our sadness in public," she said.

 

Candlelight vigils were held in several Scottish cities, government buildings in Edinburgh were lit up in the EU's blue and yellow, and the bloc's flag continued to fly outside the Scottish Parliament.

 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Brexit was "a moment of profound sadness." There was also sadness in Brussels as British flags were quietly removed from the bloc's many buildings, before being folded and taken away.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit a "historic alarm signal" that should force the EU to improve itself.

"It's a sad day, let's not hide it," he said in a televised address. "But it is a day that must also lead us to do things differently."

 

Johnson, who won a December general election victory with his promise to get Brexit done, insisted post-Brexit Britain would be "simultaneously a great European power and truly global in our range and ambitions."

 

"We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain," Johnson said in a pre-recorded video address to the country broadcast an hour Brexit became official. An 11-month transition period now follows as Britain and the EU will negotiate new agreements on trade and a number of other issues. Britons, in the meantime, will see very little change. Brexit supporters argue Britain's departure will allow it to strike trade deals with countries like the United States and growing Asian markets.

 

Breaking away from the EU also raises concerns for residents in Ireland and Northern Ireland, where protecting the peace after the Good Friday agreement of 1998 was a top priority. The agreement ended three decades of sectarian violence known as the "Troubles" between groups that wanted to reunify Ireland and those who favored Northern Ireland remaining in Britain.

 

 

From "Fox News"

Trump Peace Plan Delights Israelis, Enrages Palestinians

President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Mideast peace plan Tuesday alongside a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, presenting a vision that matched the Israeli leader's hard-line, nationalist views while falling far short of Palestinian ambitions.

 

Trump's plan envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel. It sides with Israel on key contentious issues that have bedeviled past peace efforts, including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements, and attaches nearly impossible conditions for granting the Palestinians their hoped-for state.

 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plan as "nonsense" and vowed to resist it. Netanyahu called it a "historic breakthrough" equal in significance to the country's declaration of independence in 1948.

"It's a great plan for Israel. It's a great plan for peace," he said. He vowed to immediately press forward with his plans to annex the strategic Jordan Valley and all the Israeli settlements in occupied lands. Netanyahu said he'd ask his Cabinet to approve the annexation plans in their next meeting on Sunday, an explosive move that could trigger harsh international reaction and renewed violence with the Palestinians.

 

"This dictates once and for all the eastern border of Israel," Netanyahu told Israeli reporters later. "Israel is getting an immediate American recognition of Israeli sovereignty on all the settlements, without exceptions." Given the Palestinian opposition, the plan seems unlikely to lead to any significant breakthrough. But it could give a powerful boost to both Trump and Netanyahu who are both facing legal problems ahead of tough elections.

 

Trump called his plan a "win-win" for both Israel and the Palestinians, and urged the Palestinians not to miss their opportunity for independence. But Abbas, who accuses the U.S. of unfair bias toward Israel, rejected it out of hand.

"We say 1,000 no's to the Deal of the Century," Abbas said, using a nickname for Trump's proposal. "We will not kneel and we will not surrender," he said, adding that the Palestinians would resist the plan through "peaceful, popular means."

From "The Washington Post"

Portion of US Border Wall In California Falls Over In High Winds And Lands On Mexican Side

 

Newly installed panels from the US border wall fell over in high winds Wednesday, landing on trees on the Mexican side of the border.

 

The area is part of an ongoing construction project to improve existing sections of the wall. Agent Carlos Pitones of the Customs and Border Protection sector in El Centro, California, told CNN that the sections that gave way had recently been set in a new concrete foundation in Calexico, California. The concrete had not yet cured, according to Pitones, and the wall panels were unable to withstand the windy conditions.

 

The National Weather Service reports that winds in the area gusted as high as 37 mph Wednesday. Video from CNN affiliate KYMA shows the metal panels leaning against trees adjacent to a Mexicali, Mexico, street as the wind whips up dirt from the construction site on the other side of the border.

 

"We are grateful there was no property damage or injuries," said Pitones.

 

Customs and Border Protection says local Mexicali officials diverted traffic from the area of the accident, and the agency is working with the Mexican government on the next steps to right the wall. Pitones said it is not currently known how long the construction work in the area will need to be suspended in order to allow for cleanup.

 

 

From "CNN"

Is Secondhand Screen Time The New Secondhand Smoking?

 

The Environmental Protection Agency first warned of secondhand smoke in 1991, some 30 years after scientists determined that smoking cigarettes causes cancer. Today, a growing body of research points toward a new indirect health hazard. Just as frequently being around other people while they smoke can cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other ailments, what I call "secondhand screen time" could be endangering children.

By not limiting their own phone use, parents and other caregivers may be unwittingly setting kids up to be addicted to screens. A decade ago, the unwillingness - or perhaps the inability - of the college students in my writing classes to stay off their phones for 50 minutes at a stretch catalyzed my interest in screen use. And my students have only grown more unwilling to put down their phones, a trend that has also gotten worse outside of my classroom.

Curious about my students' phone use, I began researching screen addiction and conducting my own surveys. Roughly 20% of my students have used the word "addiction" when describing their phone habits, and many more have expressed misgivings about their phone use. While I encourage them to examine their habits, I blame students less for their tech addiction than I did a decade ago. They've learned this behavior from adults - in many cases since the moment they were born.

Checking Twitter in front of kids is not the same as blowing smoke in their faces. Smartphones and cigarettes do, however, have some things in common. Both are addictive and both became wildly popular before researchers learned about their addictive properties and health dangers.

On average, American adults touch their phones over 2,500 times a day. According to the American Psychiatric Association, that fits the definition of addiction: "a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences." While researchers continue to study the effects and extent of phone use, the scientific consensus is that phone addiction is real.

From "Yahoo"

As Virus Spreads, Anxiety Rises In China And Overseas

 

Face masks sold out and officials at airports and train stations checked passengers for fevers as China on Tuesday sought to control the outbreak of a new virus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush.

Anxiety grew both at home and abroad after Chinese government expert Zhong Nanshan confirmed fears on state television late Monday that the new type of coronavirus can spread from human to human.

Six people have died and 291 have been infected in China, the National Health Commission said Tuesday.

The U.S. on Tuesday reported its first case, saying a Washington state resident who returned last week from the outbreak's epicenter was hospitalized near Seattle.

The stock prices of some companies that sell masks rose Tuesday, but markets fell in much of Asia as investors worried about the potential impact on tourism and the economy.

 

From "Associated Press"

Why Trump Can't Retreat From The Middle East                                                                                                                                               

 

If America doesn't need Saudi oil anymore, why is it still wooing crown princes, especially when American public opinion isn't really on board? The most recent Gallup Poll on the subject, conducted in February 2019, showed only 4% of Americans with a "very favorable" view of Saudi Arabia.

In fact, most view Saudi Arabia in a worse light than Venezuela. A Business Insider poll from September 2019 showed that, on the best of days, only one in five Americans viewed Saudi Arabia as a U.S. ally. Over the past decade, U.S. oil production has doubled. In terms of extraction, dramatic media reports have emerged at various times over the past couple of years to the effect that the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia as a crude oil exporter. In June 2019, the U.S. did indeed surpass Saudi Arabia-briefly. For a better understanding, data shows that Saudi Arabia exported 7.38 million barrels per day in 2018. The U.S. exported 2 million barrels per day in 2018. In 2019, the U.S. was averaging about 2.9 million bpd in exports.

In October 2019, U.S. imports of Saudi crude oil reached their lowest point since early 1974, at 419,000 barrels per day. Globalization changes things Today, however, dependence isn't just about physical oil. It's about markets. In the era of entrenched globalization, it doesn't matter if you're an importer or an exporter, you're still beholden to the global market and its volatility. Independence, in other words, doesn't mean what it used to mean backed when Western powers started drawing lines in the Middle Eastern sands over oil. Whether independent or not, the U.S. will still import oil because sometimes it's more convenient and because not all oil is the same and imports arise from a need to efficiently supply various refining capabilities that process different types of crude. So, what does America (or, rather, Washington) need Saudi Arabia for, exactly, if not for oil? The answer is simple: oil is one thing, but oil money is quite another.

One form of ‘dependence' is traded for another-and that's global. Not only has Saudi Arabia just hit its highest level of foreign investment in the Kingdom (up 54% in 2019 from the previous year), but Saudi money is pumping into every major global sector, with Fintech increasingly driving investment. The Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, partnered with Japanese Softbank Group with a $100-billion investment in the tech sector that began in 2016 and is eyeing $2 trillion in investments.

This is also a highly lucrative venue for the defense industry, with "successive U.S. governments" having received "billions of dollars from selling American weapons to Saudi Arabia." Without the need for Saudi oil, U.S. foreign policy on the Middle East is confused, at best. Trump has varyingly said he would like to get out of the Middle East entirely and deployed additional forces at the same time. There was no American military response to the attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities last September. That was a Saudi problem, even though the intention of the attack was likely to provoke the United States. Instead, the U.S. deployed 14,000 additional troops to Saudi Arabia, which Trump claims are being funded "in cash" by the Saudis to the tune of $1 million (a notion being debunked). No one is sure what this means, exactly, other than that the U.S. military is providing a lucrative private mercenary service even in venues it claims it no longer has a foreign policy interest.

Likewise, in Syria, we saw a dramatic announcement of a withdrawal and a stepping aside to allow a Turkish invasion in the north. Immediately afterwards, we saw a reversal, with U.S. troops redeployed to "protect" Syrian oil. Then, most spectacularly, we have the U.S. assassination of an Iranian general on Iraqi soil-again in a region in which the latest version of American foreign policy claims to have no skin in the game. The only true form of oil independence is being completely disconnected from global markets, and that means a continued "interest" in the Middle East. The fact remains, that oil independence doesn't account for the fact that onethird of the world's oil still travels through the Strait of Hormuz, and the U.S. still imports plenty of oil from plenty of countries.

Everyone is connected to global supply, and if that global supply is disrupted, the American consumer will feel it. The market knows this, but it's the only "entity" that truly understands globalization.

From "Oilprice.com"

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