High-Seas Energy Fight Off Malaysia Draws U.S

High-Seas Energy Fight Off Malaysia Draws U.S., Chinese Warships

(Source Bloomberg)

Malaysia’s push to explore energy blocks off its coast has turned into a five-nation face off involving U.S. and Chinese warships, raising the risk of a direct confrontation as broader tensions grow between the world’s biggest economies. The episode began in December, when Malaysia’s state-run energy giant Petroliam Nasional Bhd. contracted a vessel to explore two areas in the South China Sea in its extended continental shelf. Those waters are also claimed by Vietnam and China, which immediately sent ships to shadow the boat. The situation took a turn for the worse on April 16 with the arrival of a Chinese surveyor known as the Haiyang Dizhi 8, which last year was engaged in a standoff with Vietnam over offshore energy blocks. The U.S. this week sent at least two warships within some 50 nautical miles of the Malaysian ship, according to defense analysts privy to the information who asked not to be identified. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Thursday accused China of “exploiting” the world’s focus on the Covid-19 pandemic with provocations in the South China Sea. In a statement issued on the same day he held a video call with 10 Southeast Asian foreign ministers, he said China “dispatched a flotilla that included an energy survey vessel for the sole purpose of intimidating other claimants from engaging in offshore hydrocarbon development.”

“The U.S. strongly opposes China’s bullying and we hope other nations will hold them to account too,” Pompeo said. The U.S. doesn’t take a position on territorial disputes in the region even while staking a national interest in freedom of navigation, which involves challenging any claims that aren’t consistent with international laws. As China gets more assertive in enforcing its claims, it’s increased the risk of a potential confrontation with the U.S. that could quickly escalate.

Racist text will not stop Atlanta mayor from speaking up for residents

Racist text will not stop Atlanta mayor from speaking up for residents, she says

(Source CNN)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had to have a discussion with her 12-year-old son after the pair received a racist text regarding her efforts to keep the city closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, she said Thursday. In a Wednesday night tweet, the mayor said she received a text addressing her by the n-word and demanding, “just shut up and RE-OPEN ATLANTA!” Her son received the same text, she later told the city council. When Bottoms opened the text on her phone, she said, her daughter was looking over her shoulder as she read it. Bottoms included in her tweet, “I pray for you. ‘Conscientious stupidity or sincere ignorance'” — a nod to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that nothing is more dangerous than these two human characteristics. Following Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s controversial decision to start reopening parts of the state economy, Bottoms pushed back, saying she would consider legal options to keep Atlanta largely shut down because the city is “not out of the woods yet.”  “I have searched my head and my heart on this and I am at a loss as to what the governor is basing this decision on,” Bottoms said earlier this week. “You have to live to fight another day, and you have to be able to be amongst the living to be able to recover.”

On Earth Day, Pope Francis says nature will not forgive our trespasses

On Earth Day, Pope Francis says nature will not forgive our trespasses

(Source abs-cbn.com)

Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for protection of the environment on Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, saying the coronavirus pandemic had shown that some challenges had to be met with a global response.

Francis praised the environmental movement, saying it was necessary for young people to “take to the streets to teach us what is obvious, that is, that there will be no future for us if we destroy the environment that sustains us”.

The Pope, who wrote a major encyclical in 2015 on the defense of nature and the dangers of climate change, dedicated his general audience – broadcast from his library because of the coronavirus lockdown – to the theme. Recounting a Spanish proverb that God always forgives, man sometimes forgives but nature never forgives, Francis said: “If we have deteriorated the Earth, the response will be very ugly.” A landmark in the emergence of the environmental movement when it first took place in 1970, this year’s Earth Day has prompted calls from many, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, for governments to pursue “green recovery” in response to coronavirus.

Both the Pope and Guterres have made environmental protection and climate change signature themes of their offices. Last year, after a synod of bishops from the Amazon region, Francis said he was considering adding a definition of “ecological sins” in the Roman Catholic Church’s Catechism, a compendium of teachings and rules.

DeKalb CEO urges reopening businesses to go beyond Kemp’s mandates

DeKalb CEO urges reopening businesses to go beyond Kemp’s mandates

(Source AJC) By law, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond can’t force residents or businesses to follow coronavirus guidelines that are any more stringent than those recently outlined by Gov. Brian Kemp. Under Kemp’s order, businesses that reopen Friday — and places like restaurants and theaters that can do so Monday — must follow a series of guidelines. They include screening workers for fever and respiratory illness; enhancing workplace sanitation; maintaining proper social distancing; and wearing masks and gloves if appropriate. In his aspirational order, Thurmond urged, advised, encouraged and implored DeKalb County businesses to go a few steps further. The order asked business owners not only to encourage symptomatic employees to stay home, but to allow workers who have a symptomatic individual in their household to stay home as well. It also asks business owners to consider expanding paid leave policies to alleviate the economic pressure for sick employees to show up at work. In addition, the order asked businesses to provide employees with as much personal protective equipment as possible; to encourage patrons to wear masks; and to clean and sanitize public restrooms between each use.

Earlier in the week, Thurmond questioned Kemp’s decision to start loosening virus-related restrictions on certain businesses, saying he was praying it was the right plan but “preparing for the potential that it may have been a mistake.” Thursday’s executive order was part of those preparations. In addition to urging business owners and employees to take additional precautions, Thurmond asked DeKalb County houses of worship to continue sticking to remote services. It also asked for the state to develop and implement a more robust testing and tracing program — and for the governor and others to “assist and support a rigorous investigation” of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color. The latter, Thurmond said, should “include an analysis of the cause and underlying factors that precipitated the outbreak and steps that must be taken to prevent pandemic infections in the future.”

DeKalb County has second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Georgia. About 55% of DeKalb County’s 760,000 residents are black, and recent zip-code level data provided by the DeKalb board of health showed a significant number of coronavirus cases in predominately black areas of the county.

Iran Guard commander threatens US Navy after Trump tweet

Iran Guard commander threatens US Navy after Trump tweet (Source Associated Press)

The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned Thursday he ordered his forces to potentially target the U.S. Navy after President Donald Trump’s tweet a day earlier threatening to sink Iranian vessels.

While the coronavirus pandemic temporarily paused those tensions, Iran has since begun pushing back against the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy both militarily and diplomatically. The Guard also launched Iran’s first military satellite Wednesday, unveiling a previously secret space program. Speaking to state television Thursday, Guard Gen. Hossein Salami warned his forces “will answer any action by a decisive, effective and quick counteraction.” “We have ordered our naval units at sea that if any warships or military units from the naval force of America’s terrorist army wants to jeopardize our commercial vessels or our combat vessels, they must target those (American) warships or naval units,” Salami said. Iran has had tense encounters at sea for years with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all oil passes. The U.S. has patrolled the area to protect global shipping for decades, something Iran describes as akin to it patrolling the Gulf of Mexico. Trump on Wednesday, facing a collapsing global energy market and the pandemic at home amid his re-election campaign, tweeted out a warning to Iran that he ordered the Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.” “We don’t want their gunboats surrounding our boats, and traveling around our boats and having a good time,” Trump told reporters Wednesday evening at the White House. “We’re not going to stand for it. … They’ll shoot them out of the water.” The International Crisis Group, noting the tensions, urged both countries to create a deconfliction hotline to avoid a possible military confrontation. “In the absence of a major diplomatic breakthrough, an indirect military communications channel could go some way toward ensuring, at least, that a single incident will not spark a wider conflagration,” it said in a report Thursday. Iran in the past has rejected idea of a hotline.

Rich Americans Activate Pandemic Escape Plans

We Needed to Go’: Rich Americans Activate Pandemic Escape Plans

(Source Bloomberg) As coronavirus infections tore across the U.S. in early March, a Silicon Valley executive called the survival shelter manufacturer Rising S Co.  The executive wanted to know how to open the secret door to his multimillion-dollar bunker 11 feet underground in New Zealand. The tech chief had neve­r used the bunker and couldn’t remember how to unlock it, said Gary Lynch, general manager of Texas-based Rising S Co. The businessman runs a company in the Bay Area but lives in New York, which was fast becoming the world’s coronavirus epicenter. “He went out to New Zealand to escape everything that’s happening,” Lynch said, declining to identify the bunker owner because he keeps his client lists private. “And as far as I know, he’s still there.” For years, New Zealand has featured prominently in the doomsday survival plans of wealthy Americans worried that, say, a killer germ might paralyze the world. Isolated at the edge of the earth, more than 1,000 miles off the southern coast of Australia, New Zealand is home to about 4.9 million people, about a fifth as many as the New York metro area. The clean, green, island nation is known for its natural beauty, laid-back politicians and premier health facilities. In recent weeks, the country has been lauded for its response to the pandemic. It enforced a four-week lockdown early, and today has more recoveries than cases. Only 12 people have died from the disease. The U.S. death toll stands at more than 39,000, meaning that country’s death rate per capita is about 50 times higher. The underground global shelter network Vivos already has installed a 300-person bunker in the South Island, north of Christchurch. Vivos is developing a 1000-person shelter in Germany. Rising S Co. has planted about 10 private bunkers in New Zealand over the past several years. On March 12, Mihai Dinulescu decided to pull the plug on the cryptocurrency startup he was launching to flee to the remote country. Dinulescu said he has connected with about 10 people in New Zealand who made the jump before New Zealand shutdown foreign travelers to the island. After the shutdown was announced, however, local press reported a slight increase in private plane landings in the country.

‘The economy is literally in free fall:

‘The economy is literally in free fall:’ Economist

(Source Yahoo Finance)

U.S. retail sales fell at a record pace in March, with many retail categories seeing jaw-dropping declines. And economists are scrambling to find the right words to illustrate the rapid deterioration of the U.S. economy, as the world attempts to deal with the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“The economy is literally in free fall with consumers unable to get out to the shops and malls in March, and about the only retailers smiling are grocery stores with consumers stockpiling food for the coming economic apocalypse,” MUFG Chief Financial Economist Chris Rupkey said in an email Wednesday. “This report today breaks all modern-day records for the consumer who has dealt the economy a body blow from which it will be difficult to recover.” JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli writing in a note Wednesday, “all the toilet paper in the world can’t clean up this [retail sales] report.” Headline retail sales plunged a record 8.7% during March, which was worse than the 8% decline expected by economists. Core retail sales, excluding the volatile auto and gas components, fell 3.1%, better than the 5.2% estimated decline. Retail sales dipped 0.4% and core retail sales sank 0.2% in February. With most consumers quarantined in their homes, spending has nearly come to a standstill aside from essential purchases such as toilet paper and groceries. Personal consumption represents 70% of gross domestic product (GDP), and while March’s figures were bleak, there’s more pain ahead according to economists.

“The economy has lost its most reliable engine for growth: the consumer,” Rupkey said. “A 30% GDP decline this quarter is nearly certain now as the consumer has pulled the rug out from under the economy.”

The importance of Apple and Google’s rare collaboration on contact tracing

The importance of Apple and Google’s rare collaboration on contact tracing

(Source Engadget)

Go back to the dawn of 2020 and the notion of everyone downloading an app to track our encounters with other people would have been worrying if not absurd. Today, with cases of COVID-19 ballooning in the US, it’s becoming increasingly probable that this kind of surveillance will be a key component in restoring society to normalcy. 

The proposal is to use our smartphones for digital contact tracing. In the journal Science, a key paper by University of Oxford researchers recommends the technique. Even the European Data Protection Supervisor has advocated for an EU-wide app. Meanwhile, after Singapore and South Korea used tracing apps as part of their strong response to the spread of COVID-19, governments in France and the UK (through its National Health Service) are developing their own tracing apps. And the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the method is under “aggressive evaluation” as projects in the US sprout up from coast to coast. The unprecedented collaboration on an interoperable infrastructure between Apple and Google — which came together in two weeks and was announced last Friday — has now set the stage for a robust, potentially global contact tracing system. The idea of contact tracing is straightforward. When someone contracts a disease, public-health workers need to know who that person has had recent contact with to be able to locate, test and possibly isolate those contacts to stop the disease spreading even further.

This is where digital stalking comes in. All that detective work could happen in an instant, using a tracking app. Anyone who has had contact with a patient— shared an elevator or office, bus or train — gets a message to instruct them on how to get tested. In San Francisco and Massachusetts, local authorities are beefing up their contact-tracing capabilities, but for the most part, experts say, we’ve missed the boat on tracking the exact path of virus transmission for now. However, effective tracing paired with widespread testing will be pivotal in containing COVID-19 after social distancing ends. For people to work and congregate again, we need to continuously identify and test people so they can be individually quarantined if they have contracted the virus. Knowing who does and doesn’t have it could allow us to separate the safe from the vulnerable, allowing society and the economy to gradually sputter back to life.

Top Pork Producer Shuts Key Plant and Warns of Meat Shortfall

Top Pork Producer Shuts Key Plant and Warns of Meat Shortfall (Source Bloomberg)

The world’s biggest pork producer is shuttering a major U.S. plant indefinitely after a coronavirus outbreak among employees, with the company warning that closures across the country are taking American meat supplies “perilously close to the edge” of shortfalls. Smithfield Foods Inc. will idle its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pork-processing facility, which accounts for 4% to 5% of U.S. production, the company said in a statement Sunday. The move comes after state officials reported more than 200 cases of Covid-19 for plant employees, adding to a spike in infections that’s seen hundreds of American meat workers get sick. Plants have been forced to shutter or reduce output. “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Smithfield’s Chief Executive Officer Ken Sullivan said in the statement. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.” While it’s unclear whether the meat-employee infections have anything to do with the workplaces, the news exposes the vulnerability of global supply chains that are needed to keep grocers stocked after panic buying left shelves empty. The shuttered plants and sick workers are adding to other disruptions caused by the virus that’s making it harder for food to get from farm to table. Trucking bottlenecks, and snarled port traffic have also contributed to why shoppers are seeing empty shelves. The surge in cases has also raised concerns over worker safety. Deaths have been reported for employees at meat facilities owned by JBS SA and Tyson Foods Inc. Laborers have, in some cases, staged walk-outs to protest working conditions. In meat plants, stations on processing lines can be close together, creating challenges for social distancing. Workers also share break and locker rooms. Smithfield, owned by Hong Kong-listed WH Group, originally planned to shutter the South Dakota facility for three days.

Krakatoa volcano erupts spewing plumes of ash 1,600 feet

Krakatoa volcano erupts spewing plumes of ash 1,600 feet into the air as people hear ‘loud rumbles’ 90 miles away in Jakarta(Source dailymail.co.uk)

The infamous Krakatoa volcano has erupted off the coast of Indonesia, spewing plumes of ash 500m into the air. Two eruptions were recorded by the country’s volcanology centre on April 10, 2020 between 9.58pm and 10.35pm local time, and have continued into next day.

Residents of capital city Jakarta, 150km away, reported hearing ‘loud rumbles’ shortly after the eruptions. A webcam image taken from Anak Krakatau Island, which is in the Sunda Strait, shows lava flowing from the volcano. The Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation’s (PVMBG) magma volcanic activity report said that the first eruption lasted one minute and 12 seconds starting at 9:58 p.m., when it spewed out ash and smoke 200 meters high. The volcanology center reported a second eruption at 10:35 p.m. that lasted for 38 minutes and 4 seconds, spewing out a 500-meter-high column of ash that blew to the north. ‘PVMBG monitoring shows that the eruption continued until Saturday morning at 5:44 WIB [Western Indonesian Time],’ said the National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s head of data.

Satellite images detected a ‘large magmatic eruption’ with ash and plume shooting 15km (47,000ft) into the sky.