Covid vaccine: How many people in the UK have been vaccinated so far?

Link: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55274833

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Excerpt:

The UK has four vaccines approved for use: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen; three of which require two doses for maximum protection.

The campaign to reach as many people as quickly as possible was boosted by a shift in policy in early January – to prioritise the first dose of a vaccine, with a second dose up to 12 weeks later, a bigger gap than originally planned.

Progress made in the UK so far means the country continues to be among those with the highest vaccination rates globally.

Author(s): The Visual and Data Journalism Team

Publication Date: 15 June 2021

Publication Site: BBC

Looming fiscal cliff could reignite CT’s tax fairness debate

Excerpt:

Even though the state’s coffers, for now, are awash in money, a huge fiscal cliff looms two years from now, when billions of dollars in federal stimulus grants expire.

Despite a record-setting rainy day fund and a new biennial state budget free of major tax hikes, unprecedented unemployment and deep pockets of urban poverty could easily shift Connecticut’s tax fairness debate — which accelerated this past spring — into high gear in 2024.

“We came out of a year from hell, and I think it was really important we came together in terms of our budget,” Gov. Ned Lamont said last Thursday, one day after lawmakers had adjourned a session that adopted a $46.4 billion, two-year state budget that makes big investments in municipal aid, education, health care, social services and economic development — all without major tax hikes.

But about 4% of that plan, nearly $1.8 billion, was propped up by one-time federal coronavirus relief, most of which will have expired after the coming biennium, which starts July 1.

Author(s): Keith Phaneuf

Publication Date: 16 June 2021

Publication Site: CT Mirror

Why Engine No. 1’s Victory Is a Wake-up Call for ExxonMobil and Others

Excerpt:

Over the past two weeks, activist hedge fund investor Engine No. 1 scored a victory for the climate change movement by wresting three board seats at ExxonMobil with the support of the “Big Three” institutional investment firms BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. But the episode also marks a failure in ExxonMobil’s “corporate diplomacy” because of its inability to convincingly demonstrate that it is committed to mitigating climate risks and protecting its long-term business value, according to Wharton management professor Witold Henisz.

Engine No. 1 has only a 0.02% stake in ExxonMobil, but the climate risk issues it pushed for were sufficient to get the three big investment firms on its side. In explaining its stance, BlackRock stated that the energy major needs “to further assess the company’s strategy and board expertise against the possibility that demand for fossil fuels may decline rapidly in the coming decades.” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink had reiterated his company’s commitment to combating climate change in his 2021 annual letter to CEOs; in his 2020 letter to CEOs, he had said that “climate risk is investment risk.”

Author(s): Witold Henisz

Publication Date: 15 June 2021

Publication Site: Knowledge @ Whatron

The Opportunities and Dangers of Decentralizing Finance

Excerpt:

Decentralized Finance — or DeFi — has experienced explosive growth in the past year. But in order for DeFi to fulfill its promise as a disintermediated ecosystem that helps rather than harms, “now is the time to evaluate its benefits and dangers,” write Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach and David Gogel, a recent Wharton MBA graduate, in the article that follows. Werbach is author of the book The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust and leads Wharton’s Blockchain and Digital Asset Project. Werbach and Gogel recently collaborated with the World Economic Forum to create the Decentralized Finance (DeFi) Policy-Maker Toolkit,  providing guidance to regulators and blockchain watchers everywhere.

….

The market experienced explosive growth beginning in 2020. According to tracking service DeFi Pulse, the value of digital assets locked into DeFi services grew from less than $1 billion in 2019 to over $15 billion at the end of 2020, and over $80 billion in May 2021. Novel business models such as yield farming — in which holders of cryptocurrencies earn rewards for providing capital to various services — and aggregation to optimize trading across exchanges in real-time are springing up rapidly. Innovations such as flash loans, which are either repaid or automatically unwound during the course of a transaction, open up both new forms of liquidity and unfamiliar risks.

Author(s): Kevin Werbach

Publication Date: 16 June 2021

Publication Site: Knowledge @ Wharton

More evidence suggests COVID-19 was in US by Christmas 2019

Link: https://tucson.com/news/national/more-evidence-suggests-covid-19-was-in-us-by-christmas-2019/article_2235808e-a75b-55dd-aaeb-6a17877d03d8.html?utm_campaign=snd-autopilot&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter_

Excerpt:

NEW YORK (AP) — A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year is the latest and largest study to suggest that the new coronavirus popped up in the U.S. in December 2019 — weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials.

The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical, but federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world ever became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China.

…..

The pandemic coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Officially, the first U.S. infection to be identified was a traveler — a Washington state man who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15 and sought help at a clinic on Jan. 19.

CDC officials initially said the spark that started the U.S. outbreak arrived during a three-week window from mid-January to early February. But research since then — including some done by the CDC — has suggested a small number of infections occurred earlier. 

Author(s): Mike Stobbe

Publication Date: 15 June 2021

Publication Site: Tuscon.com, from AP

The Delta variant doubles the risk of hospitalization—but the vaccines still work

Link: https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/06/15/1026365/the-delta-variant-doubles-the-risk-of-hospitalization-but-the-vaccines-still-work/

Excerpt:

The good news? Vaccines still sharply reduce the risk of being admitted to hospital with the Delta variant. The Scottish study found that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provided 79% protection, two weeks on from the second dose, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine offered 60% protection. That lower rate may be due to the fact that it takes longer for immunity to develop with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, researchers said. 

However, research released shortly after by Public Health England was even more promising. It found that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provides 96% protection from hospitalization after two doses, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca is 92% effective at preventing hospitalization after both shots. The conclusion? It’s yet more evidence of the importance of making sure as many people as possible get vaccinated, and that they get both shots.

Author(s): Charlotte Jee

Publication Date: 15 June 2021

Publication Site: MIT Tech Review

NJ PFRS Asset Move

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The New Jersey Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) was supposed to get their assets to invest three years ago but the process seems only to be starting now with an RFQ for Class Counsel that the PFRS board sent out yesterday.

Here is how much is involved.

From the latest Division of Investment report there is about $89 billion to split up.

From the latest actuarial reports for the system PFRS is allocated about one-third of the market value of assets:

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 15 June 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

Mortality Nuggets: NYT Misleads, COVID Deaths Down, and Car Crash Fatalities Up

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/mortality-nuggets-nyt-misleads-covid

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I want you to notice something — the blue bars are the “with COVID” portion of deaths, and the chartreuse bars are the ones “without COVID”. The bars are weekly counts of deaths when they occurred. Ignore the most recent weeks because they don’t have full data reported yet.

The red pluses indicate excess mortality, defined as exceeding the 95th percentile for expected mortality for that week (so it includes seaonality). You can see the excess mortality from the 2017-2018 flu season, which was bad for a flu season.

The non-COVID mortality has been in excessive mortality range for almost all 2020 after March. But since the beginning of 2021, it has dropped off…. and COVID mortality has also dropped off.

I think we may be almost in “normal” range soon. We shall see!

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 13 June 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

A Made-in-Washington Inflation Spike

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-made-in-washington-inflation-spike-11623362377?mod=opinion_lead_pos1

Excerpt:

The Labor Department’s consumer price index surged 5% year-over-year in May, the largest increase since August 2008 when oil was $140 a barrel. But don’t worry, Americans. The Federal Reserve says inflation is “transitory” and that it has the tools to control prices if they start to spiral out of control. Let us pray.

Nobody should be surprised that prices are increasing everywhere from the grocery store to the car dealership. Demand is soaring as the pandemic recedes while supply constraints linger, especially in labor and transportation. As always, this is a price shock largely made by government. Congress has shovelled out trillions of dollars in transfer payments over the past year, and the Fed has rates at zero while the economy may be growing at a 10% annual rate.

The personal savings rate in April was 14.9%, double what it was before the pandemic. Record low mortgage interest rates have enabled homeowners to lower their monthly payments to burn more cash on other things. Congress’s $300 unemployment bonus and other welfare payments for not working have contributed to an enormous worker shortage, which is magnifying supply shortages.

All of this is showing up in higher prices. Over the last 12 months, core inflation excluding food and energy is up 3.8% and much more for used cars (29.7%), airline fares (24.1%), jewelry (14.7%), bikes (10.1%) and footwear (7.1%). Commodity prices from oil to copper to lumber have surged. Higher lumber prices are adding $36,000 to the price of a new home.

Author(s): Editorial Board

Publication Date: 10 June 2021

Publication Site: WSJ

The Federal Reserve’s Ballooning—and Risky—Balance Sheet

Link: https://mises.org/power-market/federal-reserves-ballooning-and-risky-balance-sheet

Excerpt:

The Fed has embarked on a massive expansionary quest in recent years. In 2020, total Reserve Bank assets rose from $4.2 trillion to $7.4 trillion amidst the pandemic and related government lockdown and fiscal “stimulus” policies. That was roughly three times the extraordinary growth in the consolidated balance sheet for the Reserve Banks in the 2008-2009 financial crisis. And in the latest weekly “H.4.1” release, total assets were up to $7.8 trillion – rising about a hundred billions dollars a month so far this year. 

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Today, short and long-term interest rates on government bonds rest near historic lows, important in part because the Fed massively expanded its purchases of government bonds. But low interest rates can’t be taken for granted, particularly if we get significantly higher inflationary expectations — which appear to have begun to sprout in recent weeks.  

If we get significantly higher interest rates for that reason, the Reserve Bank balance sheet impact from losses on securities assets would arrive if the losses become “realized” – a realistic prospect if the Federal Reserve  reverses course and starts selling off securities as a means of conducting monetary policy amidst higher inflationary expectations.

Author(s): Bill Bergman

Publication Date: 28 May 2021

Publication Site: Mises Institute

The Social Security shell game

Link: http://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/the-social-security-shell-game/civil-government

Excerpt:

According to The Senior Citizens League, the sleight of hand behind it is a formula for calculating the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that has robbed seniors of 33% of their buying power since 2010.

Since then, annual COLA increases have averaged a meager 1.375%. That means the average recipient has received a COLA increase of less than $20 a month. For many, the con job is even more vexing because much of that gain is taken back with increases in Medicare premiums.

These annual COLA adjustments are based by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on a formula that uses the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers — a lengthy descriptor that’s usually abbreviated as CPI-W. Therein lies the problem — this index does not accurately reflect the rising costs that most affect seniors — such as medical care and drugs, food/staples and rent. Even the most modest estimates suggest these costs are increasing at a rate of somewhere between 5% and 10% annually.

Author(s): Dave G. Houser

Publication Date: 5 March 2021

Publication Site: Multibriefs