Weather may just be weather; but — The North Atlantic may get its 1st-ever named storm in March next week

Just one hurricane has ever formed in the northern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or the Gulf of Mexico in the month of March — a time when the oceans are still cold from the winter months in the northern hemisphere. This occurred in 1908 with an unnamed hurricane that, according to the Atlantic Hurricane database, reached sustained winds of 100mph and caused damage in the Caribbean islands.

As the 1908 cyclone formed long before the National Hurricane Center existed, there has never been a “named” storm in March. That could change next week, as an area of low pressure may develop several hundred miles to the east of Florida, in the Atlantic Ocean. This storm system is unlikely to be a major threat to landmasses, with the possible exception of Bermuda. Due to the rarity of March cyclones, however, it would garner significant attention…

Forecast models indicate a low pressure system will develop early next week. It may reach a “peak” in strength by Tuesday or Wednesday, potentially with 40 to 60mph winds, which would exceed the 39mph threshold for a storm to get a name. In this case, the storm would be named “Arlene.”

If we get lucky, it might even drop a little rain or hail on MAR-A-LAGO.

A couple of big [unnamed] US tech companies were scammed out of $100 million

The Department of Justice just unsealed an indictment against a Lithuanian scammer who managed to trick two American tech companies into wiring him $100 million. The scammer, 48-year-old Evaldas Rimasauskas, did so by masquerading as a prominent Asian hardware manufacturer, according to court documents, and tricking employees into depositing tens of millions of dollars into bank accounts in Latvia, Cyprus, and numerous other countries. Rimasauskas was first indicted back in December, but the DOJ only unsealed the documents after arresting the man last week.

What makes this remarkable is not Rimasauskas’ particular phishing scam, which sounds rather standard in the grand scheme of wire fraud and cybersecurity exploits. Rather, it’s the amount of money he managed to score and the industry from which he stole it.

The indictment specifically describes the companies in vague terms. The first company is “multinational technology company, specializing in internet-related services and products, with headquarters in the United States,” the documents read. The second company is a “multinational corporation providing online social media and networking services.” Both apparently worked with the same “Asia-based manufacturer of computer hardware,” a supplier that the documents indicate was founded some time in the late ‘80s…

What’s more important is that representatives at both companies with the power to wire vast sums of money were still tricked by fraudulent email accounts. Rimasauskas even went so far as to create fake contracts on forged company letterhead, fake bank invoices, and various other official-looking documents to convince employees of the two companies to send him money.

Rimasauskas has been charged with one count of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, and aggravated identity theft…

I can’t believe someone as detail-oriented as this dude appears to be didn’t plan on leaving home and establishing another identity on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. Did he think no one would come looking for the $100 million? At least move someplace without an extradition agreement with the USofA.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Coal Industry has a pulse — Someone tell Trump job prospects still suck


Click to enlargeLuke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

❝ The battered U.S. coal industry is showing flickering signs of life. Yet the prognosis for Big Coal remains dim.

Coal prices are about double what they were a year ago. Rail car deliveries of coal are up 16 percent this year. The more than 50 coal mining companies that went bankrupt over the past couple of years have unloaded billions of dollars of debt. And President Trump has vowed to roll back environmental regulations that the industry says are part of a “war on coal.”

❝ But the obstacles on the other side of the ledger remain daunting: Coal-fired power plants continue to shut their doors. Bountiful supplies of U.S. shale gas are keeping natural gas prices low and competitive, and renewable sources of power generation are growing rapidly. Though most experts expect U.S. coal sales and output to top last year’s levels, they also expect the decline to resume in 2018.

“The coal industry is saying it’s back. It’s not back,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis. “This is a fool’s errand.”

…Metallurgical coal will be needed to make steel in India and China and in the United States, especially if there is a boost in infrastructure spending. And thermal coal will still be used to generate electricity for years, even if at lower rates.

But to show profits, coal operators will have to trim output from the oldest, least-efficient mines in Appalachia (where Trump garnered crucial votes in the election) and shift their focus to the Illinois Basin and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

Those big open-pit mines need fewer workers — doing nothing to help Trump bring back jobs for “our great miners.”

And if you’re shipping open-pit coal to China and India, there are operations in existence – and/or getting ready to come onstream in Australia – that will have a lot less freight added into costs than the black stuff from North America.

The risk of a single 5-day opioid prescription


Click to enlarge

❝ Now that it’s clear opioid painkillers have helped cause the worst drug epidemic in history, health experts are scrambling to figure out when dependency on these powerful prescription drugs starts — and how to prevent it.

❝ A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at the relationship between the number of days of someone’s first opioid prescription and their long-term use. It found that that number has a huge impact: Patients face an increased risk of opioid dependency in as few as four days of taking the drugs.

As you can see in the chart…opioid prescriptions longer than five days in length significantly increased the likelihood of continued opioid use both one and three years later…

❝ “There’s nothing magical about five days versus six days, but with each day your risk of dependency increases fairly dramatically,” said Bradley Martin of the CDC, one of the study authors.

❝ The study, which analyzed 1.3 million non-cancer patients, also found that only 6 percent of patients prescribed a one-day supply of opioids were still taking the drugs a year later, but that number doubled to 12 percent if patients were prescribed a six-day supply and quadrupled to 24 percent if patients were given a 12-day supply.

Pretty solid warning, I’d say.

Trumpcare FAIL — as the Republican Party’s repeal of Obamacare pulled from House of Representatives


Thanks Ian Bremmer for the cartoon

Republican repeal of Obamacare fails as healthcare bill pulled from House vote…

Donald Trump suffered a major legislative reversal on Friday as Republicans were forced to pull their repeal of the Affordable Care Act from the House floor…

As it became clear that Republican resistance to the bill was hardening, House speaker Paul Ryan went to the White House to tell Trump in person that he did not have the votes to pass the bill.

However, as the 3.30pm deadline slid by, first reports emerged that Trump had asked for the vote to be pulled.

Minutes later House Republicans, short of votes, had withdrawn the health bill.

Sometimes the truly corrupt get what they deserve. True, there isn’t much difference between Congressional Republicans [or Blue Dog Democrats] and a slug like Donald Trump. Corrupt. Liars. Useless to the real needs of American workers, American working-class families.

Trump is more of a pathological liar than the crafty slime stinking up Congress with each of their several sects, e.g. Tea Party, so-called Freedom Caucus, neo-cons, whatever. So, give him credit for being the worst of the lot.

Former head of Colorado Republican Party charged with voter fraud

❝ A Colorado talk radio host who once chaired the state Republican Party and has accused Democrats of widespread voter fraud has been charged with forging his ex-wife’s signature on a mail-in ballot in the 2016 election…

Steven Curtis, 57, who served as state GOP boss from 1997 until 1999, is charged with one felony count of forgery and one misdemeanor count of tampering with a mail-in ballot, according to a criminal complaint filed in Weld County District Court.

❝ The case stems from an inquiry lodged with the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s Office by Curtis’s former spouse, Kelly Ireland, who contacted the agency in October to check on the status of her voter registration after the couple split.

Ireland was informed then that a signed mail-in ballot bearing her name and voter information had already been submitted, according to Carly Koppes, an elected Republican who serves as the county clerk.

“At that point, my office researched the situation further, and the signature was questionable, so we then contacted the District Attorney’s Office to start an investigation,” Koppes told Reuters.

❝ If convicted, Curtis faces a maximum three years in prison for forgery and up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine for ballot-tampering, said Tyler Hill, a spokesman for the district attorney.

❝ The former Republican Party boss hosts a morning political talk show on conservative Denver radio station KLZ-AM called “Wake Up With Steve Curtis.”

Curtis spoke about election tampering in a segment titled “Voter Fraud and Other Democratic Misbehaviors” on his Oct. 6, 2016 broadcast.

“It seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, but virtually every case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats,” Curtis said…

The Republican Party really should check and see if anyone holds the trademark for hypocrisy. They should register it as their own. Modern history bears out their ownership.

Who’s happy, who’s not!

❝ If you want to go to your happy place, you need more than cash. A winter coat helps — and a sense of community.

A new report shows Norway is the happiest country on Earth, Americans are getting sadder, and it takes more than just money to be happy.

❝ Norway vaulted to the top slot in the World Happiness Report despite the plummeting price of oil, a key part of its economy. Income in the United States has gone up over the past decade, but happiness is declining.

The United States was 14th in the latest ranking, down from No. 13 last year, and over the years Americans steadily have been rating themselves less happy.

“It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, the lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada — ranked No. 7…

❝ Norway moved from No. 4 to the top spot in the report’s rankings, which combine economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years from 2014 to 2016. Norway edged past previous champ Denmark, which fell to second. Iceland, Switzerland and Finland round out the top 5…

❝ Study co-author and economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University said in a phone interview from Oslo that the sense of community, so strong in Norway, is deteriorating in the United States.

We’re becoming more and more mean spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising,” Sachs said, citing research and analysis he conducted on America’s declining happiness for the report. “It’s a long-term trend and conditions are getting worse.”

Somehow, I don’t think folks betting on “Make America Great” know crap about what brings happiness to ordinary American families, working-class individuals.

The collapse of white middle class America

❝ In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population.

The research, by Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses…Since then, Case and Deaton have been working to more fully explain their findings…

❝ In a new 60-page paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” out in draft form in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity…the researchers weave a narrative of “cumulative disadvantage” over a lifetime for white people ages 45 through 54, particularly those with low levels of education.

Along with worsening job prospects over the past several decades, this group has seen their chances of a stable marriage and family decline, along with their overall health. To manage their despair about the gap between their hopes and what’s come of their lives, they’ve often turned to drugs, alcohol, and suicide.

Meanwhile, gains in fighting heart disease have stalled, and rates of obesity and diabetes have ploddingly climbed.

Here are the five big takeaways from the researchers’ new opus.

❝ 1) Suicides, alcohol, and drug overdose deaths have gone up across the entire country…It’s not just a rural problem…

2) Deaths from chronic diseases such as diabetes have been rising…

3) The least-educated Americans are suffering the most…

4) Other nonwhite racial groups aren’t experiencing the same mortality uptick — so it’s not just about income…

5) This story is unique to the US…

❝ If American wants to turn the trend around, then it has to become a little more like other countries with more generous safety nets and more accessible health care, the researchers said. Introducing a single-payer health system, for example, or value-added or goods and services taxes that support a stronger safety net would be top of their policy wish list…

America right now is, of course, moving in the opposite direction under Trump, and shredding the safety net…

No one ever complained about American voters being quick to react to economic and political dangers threatening their lives and lifestyle. The opposite prevails courtesy of pundits, priests and – I would venture – a lockstep 2-party political hierarchy that severely limits opportunities for change outside the boundaries of obedience.

It may be that the contemptible, sneering class warfare now being inflicted in tandem by Trump and neo-con Republicans will provoke sufficient opposition to rise fast enough and deep enough to flush out the Democratic Party deadwood. I hope so.

That doesn’t mean I’m confident.