A Venus Kinda Sunday

HEAVENLY TRIANGLE: Last night, the Moon passed by Venus and the Pleiades, forming a heavenly triangle in the sunset sky. Marek Nikodem photographed the 3-way conjunction from the countryside near Szubin, Poland:

“The planet Venus shone like the brightest diamond in the sky; the Pleiades were more like tiny diamonds in a box,” says Nikodem. “Despite the COVID-19 virus pandemic that was spreading across the world, it was an amazing and unforgettable evening.”

The evenings ahead may be unforgettable, too. During the next week, Venus and the Pleiades will inch closer and closer together until, on April 3rd, Venus is actually inside the star cluster. For full effect, binoculars are recommmended.

Consider it a mixture of dissimilar things. The Pleiades are elusive. You rarely find them on purpose. They’re best seen out of the corner of your eye, a pretty little surprise that pops out of the night sky when you’re staring elsewhere. Venus is just the opposite. Bright enough to cast faint shadows, it beams down from the heavens and grabs you when you’re not even looking.

This will be the best Venus-Pleiades conjunction of the 21st century, so far. Don’t miss it! Sky maps: March 28293031April 123.


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Sickly Saturday


Atlanta ICUs at ‘full capacity’

Dr. Anthony S Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and just about the only official in the Trump administration trusted to tell the truth about the coronavirus, said last Thursday: “The system does not, is not really geared to what we need right now … It is a failing, let’s admit it.”

While we’re at it, let’s admit something more basic. The system would be failing even under a halfway competent president. The dirty little secret, which will soon become apparent to all, is that there is no real public health system in the United States.

The ad hoc response fashioned late Friday by House Democrats and the White House may help a bit, although it’s skimpy, as I’ll explain.

As the coronavirus outbreak in the US follows the same grim exponential growth path first displayed in Wuhan, China, before herculean measures were put in place to slow its spread there, America is waking up to the fact that it has almost no public capacity to deal with it.

Robert Reich @ TRUTHDIG

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FwryDAe FuHNeeZ


The Grand ‘ol Death Cult – Mark Fiore

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Depression Thursday


For the past year, economists and policy experts had been warning of a coming economic downturn. But the screeching halt the economy has experienced in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t that, says Mike Konczal, who studies financial reform and unemployment at the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “It is so difficult to describe how this is not the next recession that would have eventually happened,” Konczal tells me.

Recessions, Konczal explains, tend to unfold slowly; during the 2008 crisis, unemployment rose steadily, with roughly a million people losing their jobs in one month during the worst of it. But under current conditions, Konczal predicts we’ll see 3 or 4 million newly unemployed people this month alone. The second and third quarter of this year, he believes, will look like a depression. “This is such an absolute stop and such a shock across so many businesses—there really isn’t a good parallel,” he says.

Konczal says that the federal government needs to do everything it can to keep small and medium businesses from getting “wiped out”—particularly those in the service sector that won’t reap the benefits of pent-up demand when life goes back to normal. On Wednesday morning, Senate leadership and the White House announced a deal on a $2 trillion relief package that addresses some of this: It includes $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses and $10 billion in emergency grants to provide up to $10,000 per company in immediate relief.


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Terminal Thursday


The trump Administration is pushing a deadly cocktail of lies and propaganda. This week on Intercepted: As the coronavirus rapidly spreads throughout the United States, major public health organizations are warning that New York could become the next Wuhan. While President Donald Trump fantasizes of wrapping up the virus in time for Easter church services, people are getting sick and dying, hospitals are overwhelmed, medical workers are begging for vital supplies and protesting their conditions. As Congress continues to negotiate a bailout, Republicans seem intent on exploiting the crisis to enrich Wall Street, while Democrats offer meek resistance. Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project breaks down the various proposals in Congress, compares the U.S. plans with other countries’ responses, and lays out some of the tenets of what a bailout for the people should look like. Meanwhile, the fate of more than 2 million people locked up in U.S. jails and prisons hangs in the balance as coronavirus begins to spread among incarcerated populations. Workers at carceral facilities are also getting sick. While some cities are working to release pretrial detainees and people convicted of nonviolent technical crimes, legal groups and human rights organizations are sounding the alarm bells on what could be a horrifying aspect of the coronavirus pandemic hitting people who are literally prevented from social distancing. Premal Dharia, founder and director of the Defender Impact Initiative, describes the situation in carceral facilities across the U.S. and why she is warning of a humanitarian disaster if action is not taken immediately.

Jeremy Scahill @ THE INTERCEPT

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Wall Street Wednesday


The comments by Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin, were authorities’ strongest indication yet that they do not have a full grasp of how widely the virus has spread throughout Russia’s vast expanse.

Russia has so far reported 495 cases of the virus and one death, far fewer than major western European countries.

Putin has previously said the situation is under control, but some doctors have questioned how far official data reflect reality, and the government on Tuesday closed nightclubs, cinemas and children’s entertainment centres to slow the spread of the virus.

“A serious situation is unfolding,” Sobyanin told Putin at a meeting, saying the real number of cases was unclear but that they were increasing quickly.

Andrew Osborn, Tom Balmforth @ REUTERS

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Terminus Tuesday


Much remains uncertain about the new coronavirus. What treatments will prove effective against COVID-19? When will a vaccine for the disease be ready? What level of social distancing will be required to tame the outbreak, and how long will it need to last? Will outbreaks come in waves? Amid all these vital forward-looking questions remains a more retrospective but still important one: Where did SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, come from in the first place? Experts seem to agree it wasn’t the product of human engineering. Much research has been focused on the hypothesis that bats passed a virus to some intermediate host—perhaps pangolins, scaly ant-eating mammals—which subsequently passed it to humans. But the pangolin theory has not been conclusively proven. Some experts wonder whether a virus under study at a lab could have been accidentally released, something that’s happened in the past.

Among the latest entrants to the debate about the provenance of SARS-CoV-2 are the authors of a March 17 Nature Medicine piece that takes a look at the virus’s characteristics—including the sites on the virus that allow it to bind to human cells. They looked at whether the virus was engineered by humans and present what appears to be convincing evidence it was not. They also considered the possibility that the outbreak could have resulted from an inadvertent lab release of a virus under study but concluded “we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”

Not all experts agree.


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