Repo Commentary-05/13/21

It is Day 416 (on 05/13) since the official start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the day that the WHO declared it a ‘pandemic’ (3/11/20). 

I hope that you and your families are staying healthy and safe. In my opinion, it is worth it to be vaccinated. I am alarmed at how many ‘anti-vaccine’ people there are, refusing to have one on ‘principal.’ Maybe it’s a fear of the side-effects or maybe it goes back to the debate about childhood vaccines causing various illnesses later, like autism.  I have no explanation for the 9 million people in the US who actually went and got the 1st shot of the 2 shot vaccines, but then did not go back for the 2nd shot in the window they were supposed to, wrongly believing that the 1st shot was sufficient to immunize them.  I received my two shots of the Pfizer vaccine on 3/20/21 and 4/10/21, so I was effectively 96% immunized on 4/24/21. I was very happy to receive them. Like many, I had much more of a reaction to the 2nd shot than to the 1stshot. The 1st shot introduces the virus to the body, but the 2nd one is the one which teaches the body how to fight the disease. So, your immunological response to the 2nd shot is intentionally stronger and some people suffer some of the symptoms in varying degrees. I had the headache for a couple of days, hot flashes, and extreme fatigue for 3 days, the 2 days later, for another 2 days. 

I have designed and crafted an 11-week state-of-the-art virtual training/education course on the Fundamentals of Repo. You can learn more about the course here:  https://www.pierpoint.info/courses/the-fundamentals-of-repo. It is now available. I think you will find it a very informative, complete, and an entertaining version of distanced learning, with my usual humor and my experience sprinkled across some 149 PowerPoint presentations within a new state-of-the-art Teachable system, with hours of my voiceovers, as well as 10 videos, and an exam. The course has international accreditation from Chartered Institute For Securities and Investment (CISI).  I suspect many companies have already budgeted to subscribe and relieve themselves of the burden of training their people in Repo, and leave it to one of the OG Repo dinosaurs. Lol. But, first, check out my friend, Professor Moorah Choudhry’s, FREE 30-minute Primer on Repo (at the same address), which introduces my course. By the way, I spent about 30 minutes last week answering questions that one of the students had, all included in the course.

So, I am NOT RETIRED from the Securities Finance industry. 

  • I am teaching the above Pierpoint Finance Academy course on Repo Fundamentals.
  • I am consulting with 2 large firms about repo issues and business plans. 
  • I am sharing my opinion and expertise with industry periodicals in articles, like the recent Global Investor Group/ISF article. 
  • I am consulting with an electronic trading platform. 
  • I am participating as the Repo expert for the Pierpoint Alpha Community (PAC)- training/networking/brainstorming/question-answering group, Pierpoint Alpha Community (PAC), and subsequent forums. 
  • I  was asked to be the panel moderator for a panel on trends in Financial Technology, pre- and post-Pandemic, for a virtual conference held by Securities Finance Times on May 6. There were about 400 people signed up for the Zoom conference on Financial Technology. I think it went really well.
  • I was interviewed by my former colleague, one time COO of Cantor Fitzgerald, for his wildly popular (top 5% in the world) Apple podcast “Whispers and Bricks”. I think it was the latest chapter published online and on LinkedIn. Here at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/jeff-kidwell-repo-expert-and-movie-buff/id1553840938?i=1000515889833

Kidwell Consultants, LLC is available FOR HIRE as a consultant. So, if you need my Securities Financing expertise or access to my vast network of about 9000 clients, call my mobile (646-753-1300), email (jeff@kidwellconsultants.com) or (jeffkidwell82@gmail.com), or hit me up on LinkedIn.  

My Repo Commentary is posted FREE (it’s actually always been free) on my website:  www.repocommentary.com. It also pops up on LinkedIn, the Global Investors Group (ISF Magazine) website, and on CentralBanks.com as an op-ed. I am interested in entertaining you and taking your mind off the pressures you are under. Since its inception in 1982, the Repo Commentary does not represent the views of any of my former firms and reflects only my opinion and includes only publicly available information.  I make a strong effort to attribute any quotes or thoughts that are not my own, I do not make any marketing spiels, and I really am more interested (70-80%) in entertaining you than boring (20-30%) you with too much market info. Feel free, as always, to send me information or pictures, to make it better! 

Holidays or Events (05/13):

  • Donate a Day’s Wages to Charity Day
  • International Awareness Day
  • International Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Day
  • International Nurses Day
  • International Receptionists’ Day
  • National Numeracy Day (United Kingdom)
  • National Fibromylagia Awareness Day
  • Limerick Day
  • National Nutty Fudge Day
  • National Third Shift Workers Day
  • National Odometer Day
  • National Root Canal Appreciation Day
  • World Facility Management Day
  • Rotuma Day (Rotuma)

Some Famous People Born on (05/13):

  • 1911-Maxine Sullivan, American singer and actress
  • 1914-Joe Louis, American boxer
  • 1922-Bea Arthur, American actress and singer
  • 1931-Jim Jones, American cult leader of the Peoples Temple
  • 1939-Harvey Keitel, American actor
  • 1941-Ritchie Valens, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (died in plane crash in 1959 with friends Big Bopper and Buddy Holly)
  • 1943-Mary Wells, American singer-songwriter
  • 1950-Bobby Valentine, American baseball player and manager
  • 1950-Stevie Wonder, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and producer
  • 1961-Dennis Rodman, American basketball player, wrestler, and actor
  • 1964-Stephen Colbert, American comedian and talk show host
  • 1966-Darius Rucker, American singer-songwriter and guitarist
  • 1969-Buckethead, American guitarist and songwriter
  • 1986-Robert Pattinson, English actor
  • 1989-P.K. Subban, Canadian ice hockey player

Daily Weird Facts:

There are more than 400 distinct phobias well recognized by psychologists. They include ‘papaphobia’, which is fear of the Pope, and ‘phobophobia’, which is the fear of having a phobia. 

Daily Affirmation/Thought/Pun/Quote:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”—Nelson Mandela

Currency and Commodity Markets:

Oil prices closed at:

$74.34/barrel on 10/5/18 

$47.66/barrel on 12/23/18

$48.63 on 01/07/19 

$73.77/barrel on 4/29

$58.81/barrel on 1/17/20

$35.92/barrel on 3/11

$27.15/barrel on 3/18

$24.90/barrel on 4/01

$31.80/barrel on 4/12

$28.31/barrel on 4/17

$20.03/barrel on 4/27 

$35.69/barrel on 5/20

$50.70/barrel on 01/04/21

$66.34/barrel on 03/05

$61.30/barrel on 04/01

$63.68/barrel on 05/13

Oil prices have bounced back a little, keeping the price of gasoline in the US near a two-year high. The price of gasoline at my West Palm Beach station fell 3 cents in the past 2 weeks, to $2.76/gallon. Hoarding due to the pipeline event has caused northern Florida gasoline prices to soar. 

One USD versus the Yen was trading at (these are all around Repo Commentary dates). I did decide to trim this running list to just a few dates:

104.80 on 02/07/20

99.23 on 03/11/20

103.55 on 12/16/20

110.63 on 04/01/21

108.61 on 04/28/21

109.47 on 05/13/21

One Euro was trading on:

12/24/18 at $1.1426 

12/06/19 at $1.1688

03/11/20 at $1.1937

05/04 at $1.0903

12/16/20 at $1.2196

02/04 at $1.2625

04/01 at $1.1774

04/28 at $1.2123

05/13 at $1.2077

One British Pound was trading on:

12/24/18 at $1.2655 

12/06/19 at $1.3819

02/07/20 at $1.3574

03/24 at $1.2231

12/16/20 at $1.3494

02/16 at $1.3903

04/01 at $1.3832

04/28 at $1.3942

05/13 at $1.4045

One USD versus the CAD at:

1.3442 on 12/24/18

1.2530 on 12/06/19

1.2390 on 01/17/20

1.3540 on 03/18

1.2752 on 12/16/20

1.2548 on 04/01

1.2315 on 04/28

1.2160 on 05/13

For Gold prices, I have decided to put this in list form, but maintain a trimmed list of dates with prices.

10/02/19 $1498.70/ounce 

03/11/20 $1,641/ounce

07/27/20 a record $1,944.71/ounce

11/30/20 $1,774.00 

01/04/21 a new record $1,948.00

03/05/21 $1,698.70

04/01/21 $1,730.00

04/28/21 $1,782.20

05/13/21 $1,826.20

Bitcoin was trading at (around Repo Commentary Dates):

$8,185.21 on 7/25/18 

$6,350 on 10/5/18

$3,774.97 on 12/24/18

$3,774.97 on 01/07/19 

$3,598.90 on 01/16 

$3,421.10 on 02/06 

$3,826.44 on 02/26

$8,100.00 on 05/16

$7,215.79 on 05/17

$9,088.59 on 06/18

$11,919.30 on 06/25

$9,790.37 on 07/24

$10,183.90 on 09/10

$8,235.46 on 10/02

$7,470.41 on 12/06
$8,876.87 on 01/17/20

$9,793.18 on 02/07/20

$7,871.60 on 03/11/20

$5,216.64 on 03/18/20

$6,728.03 on 03/24/20

$7,748.29 on 04/27/20

$8,775.36 on 05/04/20

$9,794.46 on 06/04/20

$10,849.00 on 07/27/20

$15,160.90 on 11/10/20

$19,411.50 on 11/30/20

$20,665.10 on 12/16/20

$31,592.20 on 01/04/21

$36,433.00 on 01/13/21

$36,607.50 on 02/04/21

$48,526.90 on 02/16/21

$58,093.71 on 02/21/21

$43,170.01 on 02/28/21

$49,207.43 on 03/05/21

$58,979.60 on 04/01/21

$54,886.50 on 04/28/21

$54,242.00 on 05/12/21

After rebounding in 2019 dramatically since the beginning of the year, although certainly not to its $19,000 high, Bitcoin hit a wall at the beginning of the Summer of 2019, then rallied during the Summer, and tumbled again in Q4, and had rallied in early in 2020.  It then gave up all of those 2020 gains with the COVID-19 contagion. It rallied sharply in the last few weeks before the ‘halving event’ on 5/12/20, its 3rd halving event.  On 3/13/20, it had cratered at $3,867.  Elon Musk has been fueling some controversy and volatility among cryptocurrencies lately, taking a jab Dogecoin on Saturday Night Live, and now having his company, Tesla, no longer accept Bitcoin as a form of payment. His assertion is that he has concerns over the tremendous use of fossil fuels in the mining of bitcoin. This is a reversal of his stance from February, when the company made a $1.5 billion investment in Bitcoin. Needless to say, it is making Bitcoin’s price even more volatile, down as much as 17% after the announcement. I did some research on how bitcoin is mined and the massive computer power and energy required to compete in the mining market to solve the complicated mathematical logarithms, and it is huge!  Some people point to this as the potential ‘undermining’ or limit of cryptocurrencies.  The IEA estimated that it takes about as much electricity, roughly 22-22.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, to mine bitcoin as the electricity the entire country of The Netherlands used in 2019, and the emissions made by Jordan and Sri Lanka in 2019.  About 70% of bitcoin mining is done by Chinese companies. It all boils down to how they produce that electricity, and while some is done through hydroelectric dams (which is eco-friendly), a large portion is done by burning coal, which is extremely eco-harmful. Musk apparently realized the dichotomy of advancing eco-friendly electric cars, but promoting potential eco-unfriendly bitcoin mining. 

Brexit:

European Parliament has finally voted to give the EU approval for a Brexit Trade Deal. The vote is the formal end of a Brexit process that began almost 5 years ago and still has significant mutual mistrust. The vote was overwhelming, 660 in favor, 5 against, and 32 abstaining. Despite the overwhelming approval, the Parliament expressed considerable concerns about the trustworthiness of the current British government to carry out its side of the Brexit bargain, including the trade deal just approved. The deal did not address key issues, such as financial services, foreign policy, and security policy. The Brexit deal is kind of like a Divorce Settlement Agreement, for a marriage that was nearly 45 years long. The deal has cost 2 British PMs their office, and they are now on their 3rd in the last 5 years. One of the thorny issues that remains for PM Boris Johnson, is the border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and the Republic of Ireland (which is a member of the EU). In related news, due to Johnson’s Brexit moves regarding Ireland, Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster has quit as conservative party leader. 

Global Financial News:

I misread this news report the first time and thought it said the President Biden was releasing his tax reports (unlike his predecessor). It is way more alarming than that though!  Banks and lawmakers are pushing back on a proposal by President Biden to give the IRS access to banking records to spot discrepancies in tax reports, citing privacy issues and a negative effect on bank-customer relationships. I think that would be a dramatic change. I think currently that the IRS is privy to citizens moving $10,000 or more in and out of bank accounts, but not the rest of activity. The Federal Reserve is reportedly pressing major banks to provide more information on what steps they are taking to safeguard their balance sheets from climate risks. Several large banks have reportedly joined a pilot program to share data on customers’ accounts in an effort to extend credit to customer who lack credit history. The program could lead to banks relying less on credit scores to determine creditworthiness. US corporations are concerned about President Biden’s comments about paying for some of the stimulus package(s) with increasing corporate tax rates. Now, 3 Democratic senators have introduced legislation that would make carried interest profits subject to the same tax rates as ordinary income. Broadridge has finalized its $2.5 billion acquisition of Itiviti, which provides trading technology, including network services an trade order and execution management systems. I learned a lot about Broadridge from my fellow panelist in last week’s SFT Fintech Symposium. I didn’t realize how large the company is and how many firms it has acquired. Staying on fintech, the repeal by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s “true lender” rule will probably create uncertainty for fintechs, who rely on bank partnerships to facilitate their lending business. The anti-monopoly fine pushed Alibaba to its first operating loss as a public company. The US House Committee on Financial Services convened for its 3rd hearing last Thursday on the GameStop saga, examining whether new legislation around ‘short-selling’ was necessary to protect retail investors from themselves.

US Market News:

At levels above the magic 30,000, the Dow is now well above its pre-pandemic peak of 29,569. The specter of inflation is spooking the stock market, even though the Fed said the price spike is temporary.  

Here are the latest DJIA closes, just to demonstrate the massive volatility (this is the next list I intend to trim to just important dates):

05/12/21  33,587.66

03/31/21  32,981.55

01/13/21   31,060.47

12/31/20   30,606.48

12/01/20   29,823.92

11/09/20   29,157.97

07/24/20   26,469.89

07/22/20   27,005.84

06/26/20   25,015.55

06/08/20   27,572.44

6/03/20     26,269.89

5/27/20     25,548.27

4/17/20     24,242.49

3/23/20    18,591.93

3/03/20     25,917.41

2/12/20     29,551.42 record high

S&P 500 has closed on (trimmed list):

10/5/18 at 2,885.58 

12/26/18 at 2,467.70 

12/06/19 at 3,145.91

02/07/20 at 3,335.27 down 10.51 from new all-time high

03/23/20 at 2,237.40

12/15/20 at 3,647.49

01/13/21 at 3,809.84

02/03/21 at 3,830.17

02/16/21 at 3,923.59

03/05/21 at 3,841.94

03/31/21 at 3,972.89

05/12/21 at 4,063.04

S&P has regained everything it lost since 3/11 pandemic announcement, and more, breaking above the high set in early September 2020.  It set a record on 12/8 of 3,702.25, then backed off, then shot higher again to a new record 02/16.  It has continued to be up at new record highs. 

Nasdaq closed on (trimmed list):

10/5/18 at 7,788.45

12/26/18 at 6,554.36

12/06/19 at 8,656.07

02/07/20 at 9,555.96 down 16.19 from new all-time high 

03/23/20 at 6,860.67

06/04/20 at 9,615.81 don’t look now, but we have set a new record high, above the previous high of 2/07/20!

12/15/20 at 12.505.06

01/13/21 at 13,128.95 

02/03/21 at 13,610.54

02/16/21 at 14,047.50  new record high

03/05/21 at 12,920.15

03/31/21 at 13,246.87

05/12/21 at 13,031.68

The US Treasury market has seen yields come off a little. 

2 YEAR NOTES closed on (trimmed list):

10/5/18 at 2.88%

12/18/18 at 2.65%

12/06/19 at 1.61%

02/06/20 at 1.44%

03/11/20 at 0.50%

03/17/20 at 0.47%

03/23/20 at 0.28% wow!

05/10/20 at 0.16% historic low

07/24/20 at 0.14% new historic low

12/15/20 at 0.11% wow really low!

01/04/21 at 0.11%

01/13/21 at 0.14%

02/03/21 at 0.11%

02/16/21 at 0.11%

03/05/21 at 0.14%

03/31/21 at 0.16%

05/12/21 at 0.16%

3 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 2.99%

12/18/18 at 2.64%

01/07/19 at 2.47% (inverted to 2years)

12/06/19 at 1.64%

02/06/20 at 1.43%

03/11/20 at 0.58%

03/17/20 at 0.54%

03/23/20 at 0.31% wow!

05/10/20 at 0.21%

07/24/20 at 0.17% wow!

11/09/20 at 0.25%

12/15/20 at 0.18% wow!

01/04/21 at 0.16% record low!

01/13/21 at 0.22%

02/03/21 at 0.17%

02/16/21 at 0.17%

03/05/21 at 0.32%

03/31/21 at 0.35%

05/12/21 at 0.35%

5 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.07%

12/18/18 at 2.65%

12/06/19 at 1.67%

02/07/20 at 1.45%

03/11/20 at 0.66%

03/17/20 at 0.56%

03/23/20 at 0.38% 

03/26/20 at 0.51%

03/31/20 at 0.37%

07/24/20 at 0.27% wow!

12/15/20 at 0.37%

01/04/21 at 0.36%

01/13/21 at 0.48%

02/03/21 at 0.46%

02/16/21 at 0.42%

03/05/21 at 0.79%

03/31/21 at 0.92%

05/12/21 at 0.87%

7 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.18%

12/18/18 at 2.74%

12/06/19 at 1.78%

02/06/20 at 1.56%

03/11/20 at 0.78%

03/17/20 at 0.91%

03/23/20 at 0.63% 

03/26/20 at 0.72%

03/31/20 at 0.55%

07/24/20 at 0.44%

11/09/20 at 0.70% back to near pre-COVID level

12/15/20 at 0.64%

01/04/21 at 0.64%

01/13/21 at 0.80%

02/03/21 at 0.81%

02/16/21 at 0.76%

03/05/21 at 1.23%

03/31/21 at 1.40%

05/12/21 at 1.34%

10 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.23%

12/18/18 at 2.82%

09/09/19 at 1.83%

10/01/19 at 1.65% dramatic drop in one month!

12/06/19 at 1.84% dramatic rise in two months!

02/06/20 at 1.65% and back down again!

03/11/20 at 0.82%

03/17/20 at 1.02% and back up again

03/23/20 at 0.76% and back down again

07/24/20 at 0.59%

11/09/20 at 0.96% back to pre-COVID level

12/15/20 at 0.92%

01/04/21 at 0.93%

01/13/21 at 1.10%

02/03/21 at 1.15%

02/16/21 at 1.09%

03/05/21 at 1.56%

03/31/21 at 1.74%

05/12/21 at 1.69%

30 YEAR BONDS closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.40%

12/18/18 at 3.07%

07/24/19 at 2.58%

09/10/19 at 2.11%

12/06/19 at 2.29%

02/06/20 at 2.11%

03/11/20 at 1.30%

03/17/20 at 1.63% way up!

03/23/20 at 1.33% back down

07/24/20 at 1.23%

11/09/20 at 1.73% back to pre-COVID level

12/15/20 at 1.65%

01/04/21 at 1.66%

01/13/21 at 1.82%

02/03/21 at 1.92%

02/16/21 at 1.84%

03/05/21 at 2.28%

03/31/21 at 2.41%

05/12/21 at 2.40%

Housing News:

The price of steel is up 145% and lumber price is up 126%.  Compliance attorneys, mortgage industry lobbyists, and senators are urging the CFPB to “reconsider” a delay of the General Qualified Mortgage Final Rule that the CFPB announced. They want the Rule implemented as intended and commit to a longer-term approach to monitoring the broader housing market implications of mortgage lending, as proposed under the rule. It took a lot of time for the industry to get to the Final Rule, and now new changes at the agency imply that there will be changes to the Rule. Quicken brand will be officially retired on July 31st. The South is poised to see $1 trillion in home sales in 2021, according to HousingWire. Mortgage Applications have jumped 30.8% for the year, as the interest rate fell to 2.94% for a 30-year mortgage in April. However, for the months of March and April, applications were down 9%. According to the MBA, mortgage credit availability loosened up in April by 2.2%. Mortgage forbearance has dropped to 4.36%. Housing prices continue to rise in the latest data, as supply continues to dwindle. Better.com is planning to go public via SPAC, with valuation about $7.7 billion. Seattle tops the list of best metro cities for real estate agents. 

Repo/Securities Financing News:                              

Okay, I won’t run another ad for it, since I ran it at the top of this Repo Commentary.  Please just take a look at: https://www.pierpoint.info/courses/the-fundamentals-of-repo

Fidelity has launched an Agent Lending program, Fidelity Agency Lending, becoming a full-fledged securities lending agent. For years, the behemoth money fund had been lending some of its own securities in a small program, but now it will offer those services to other beneficial owners. It is unusual to see a new agent lender enter the space now, with spreads at historic lows and regulations hampering the industry. Fidelity reportedly will have digital platform displays with enhanced automation, artificial intelligence, and other financial technology tools to maximize returns and asset utilization. Sharegain launched BetterLend. The new German green bond is eligible in Eurex repo and clearing. My buddy, “Z” (Robert Zekraus) started a new role, heading up Pirum’s Americas business. Speaking of Pirum, a communication add-on to Pirum and HIS Markit’s trade reconciliation, collateralo and margin lending Joint SFTR solution will enable counterpart communication, helping UK and European trades run more smoothly, per Securities Finance Times. 

Securities Finance Industry Conferences

This section is undergoing renovation. I am working on new sources of virtual conferences, networking, and symposiums, rather than continuing to run the 25-30 annual physical conferences for the industry, which are no longer being held, during the pandemic (and may not be all held in the future, after the pandemic). I want to keep you informed on virtual conferences, so that you can take advantage of them (like last week’s SFT Fintech Symposium, in which I was a moderator, and there were 400-500 participants on CVent. 

Federal Reserve News:

The Fed Funds rate, which is still the target rate of Federal Reserve monetary policy and changes to which are made by and announced by the FOMC at regularly scheduled meetings, is currently set at 0.00-0.25% (remember, the Fed has been using a target ‘range’ for a while). The Federal Reserve posts an Effective Fed Funds Rate (EFFR).  The Overnight Bank Funding Rate (OBFR), is also published by the NY Fed to capture the volume-weighted median of overnight federal funds transactions, Eurodollar transactions, and the domestic deposits reported by banks. 

The next FOMC meetings are: 06/16/21, 07/28/21, 09/22/21, 11/03/21, and 12/15/21. All of the meetings are two-day meetings. I have listed the 2nd day. However, as we saw on 3/3/20, the FOMC can call emergency meetings at any time, even on weekends, especially during the pandemic crisis we are in.  

The Federal Reserve’s Reverse Repo Facility (RRP), which has over 300 approved participants (mostly banks, GSEs, and MMFs) is used as a tool by the Federal Reserve, along with its Fed Funds target-setting monetary policy, and IOER for depository institutions, to help control short-term interest rates. The Fed is currently only repoing out US Treasuries from its portfolio and typically only Overnight.

The Federal Reserve is increasing attention to banks’ actions in phasing out LIBOR, reportedly calling on the banks for details on their progress in the phase-out, what exposure to LIBOR they still have, their plans for shifting contracts to another benchmark, and fallback language they are using. Barrons ran an article about how a regulatory tweak by the Fed and other regulators could have huge consequences for the US financial system. Monetary policy, coupled with US government borrowing, and capital rules, could push deposits and payments away from banks and into money funds. It could also put the Fed in a much more central role. 

The Fed says that US household debt increased by $85 billion in Q1, due to increases in student loans, mortgage and auto business, but credit card balances dropped by $49 billion. Bankers are expecting credit card spending to increase later this year. The Fed is being second-guessed by several critics for complacency over inflation in April and poor hiring numbers in April. 

At the 04/28 FOMC meeting, the Fed said it was committed to using all its tools to support the US economy, …that the pandemic continues to cause tremendous human and economic hardship,…indicators of economic activity and employment have strengthened, … and that overall financial conditions remain accommodative. It vowed to continue to seek maximum employment and inflation no higher than 2% over the longer run. It did not move the target Fed Funds rate from 0.00%-0.25%. the actual Fed Funds rate has been hovering at 0.25% for the past year. 

Earthquakes and Volcanoes:

Here are significant earthquakes for just two days. A little quieter than it has been previously:

05/13 5.0 SSE of Kuril’sk, Russia

05/13 4.6 SSE of Punta de Burica, Panama

05/13 5.7 SSE of Alo, Wallis and Futuna

05/13 5.1 N of Goroka, Papua New Guinea

05/13 6.0 SSE of Punta de Burica, Panama

05/12 4.6 SW of Dali, China

05/12 5.1 SW of Severo-Kuril’sk, Russia

05/12 5.1 Rat Islands, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

05/12 5.5 NNE of Tobelo, Indonesia

Weather:

The National Weather Service is calling for strong to severe thunderstorms possible across parts of the southern and central Plains today through Saturday and severe wind gusts.  Heavy rainfall is forecast from the western Gulf Coast into the Midwest from today through early next week.  New and renewed river rises and flooding is possible through portions of Texas again. Here in Florida, we’ve been having several days of temperatures in the 90s and high humidity. This weekend, that is expected to yield some major rain. 

The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins June 1st and ends November 30th. According to Accuweather, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was expected to have a more-active-than-normal season. They expected about 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 4 of them major hurricanes.  CSU predicted 16 named storms in the Atlantic, with 8 to become Hurricanes, and 4 to reach Category 3 or above strength.  

Instead, 2020 was a record year, not only with the pandemic, but also in meteorology. There were 30 tropical or subtropical cyclones, 30 named tropical storms, 14 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes. There were also 12 US landfalls, which broke the 2016 record of 9. 28 named storms was the previous record, held by the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season as the most active, and 2020 was also only the second hurricane season to have to use the Greek letter storm-naming system, after running out of the assigned names in the alphabetical system. To put this in perspective, an average Atlantic hurricane season produces only 12 named Tropical Storms, so 2020 was 250% more active than average. 

Since 1900, tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no El Nino this year in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which usually means that the strong upper-level winds (wind shear) produced did not make it over to the Atlantic Ocean to battle hurricane formation. A La Nina formed late this hurricane season in the Pacific Ocean, which contributed to stronger storms in the latter half of the Atlantic Ocean season. The National Hurricane Center estimates there have only been 37 Category 5 storms in the last 170 years in the Atlantic Ocean. However, we have had 7 Category 5 storms in just the last five years!

The Pacific Hurricane Season BEGAN 5/1/21 and ends 11/1/21. There are no tropical cyclones currently in the Eastern North Pacific or Central North Pacific. 

Sports News:       

MLB:

The 2019 MLB regular season began on 3/28 of that year and ended on 9/30 (more than 6 months).  The Washington Nationals beat The Houston Astros in 7 games in The World Series. As these 2 teams play each other in the Spring Training facility that they share (and where I sing the National Anthem at), I was delighted to sing a few games there, before the 2020 Spring Training season (and eventually MLB season) was shut down about 3/15, with the pandemic. Then, MLB cancelled the Minor League seasons for all 3 levels of the Minors. 

MLB finally came to an agreement with the MLBPA, and played a Summer Camp (short Spring Training) leading up to a 60-game, shortened, regular season of the 30 teams still aligned in 6 divisions, and still with AL and NL distinctions, which re-started 7/23/20. The games were played without fans, but the teams still travelled and didn’t not have the ‘Bubble Format’ of the NHL and NBA. That proved to be a mistake, as many games had to be postponed, doubleheadered, or cancelled for several teams, as COVID-19 outbreaks ran through teams.  This “asterisked regular season” ended on 9/27/20. In the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Tampa Rays 4 games to 3, to win in another exciting (and rare) 7-game series. 

For 2021, MLB had limited seating in Spring Training and limited travel by teams. They recorded my National Anthem performance and played it on the jumbotron at Roger Dean Stadium 3/26 for a game between the Mets and the Marlins, my 154th MLB National Anthem performance. They just announced that they will not have live Anthem singers for Minor League baseball either, so they will play my recording for some of the games. That restricted seating and other COVID-19 restrictions have continued on in the Regular Season of MLB.  Yet, still with all the restrictions, and MLB contact tracing, some players are getting sick. The star shortstop and the right fielder for the Padres, Fernando Tatis and Wil Myers just tested positive for COVID-19. So far, the 2021 MLB season has most teams bunched together in the standings, with only 6 of 30 clubs more than 4 games out of first place, by Tuesday. The trade deadline is 7/30, but if this continues, it may be difficult for some teams to determine if they should trade to make the playoffs or trade to rebuild. The Rockies have had a ‘rocky’ start, and are one of those 6 faltering teams, after dealing their franchise player, Nolan Arenado, and switching GMs. Now, they are reportedly considering trading their best player, SS Trevor Story. The Angels’ two-way star, Shohei Ohtani continues to amaze on the mound and at the plate. The other day he struck out 10 on the mound in 7 innings, then trotted out to right field to play the rest of the game as an outfielder. He has surrendered only 11 hits in 25 2/3 innings this season, and, shockingly, has hit 10 home runs, putting him in the league lead. Angel pitcher Barreto is scheduled for Tommy John surgery now. Speaking of Tommy John surgery, I was shocked, not only that my Red Sox are in first place, but that they’ve been doing it without their best pitcher, Chris Sale. He only just threw off the mound in Fort Myers, FL, for the first time in the better of 2 seasons, coming off his own TJ surgery. Braves’ pitcher Soroka need exploratory surgery on his Achilles.

Current standings (05/12), after about 37 games:

AL EAST

Boston

NY Y

Toronto

Tampa Bay

Baltimore

AL CENTRAL

Chicago WS

Cleveland

Kansas City

Minnesota

Detroit

AL WEST

Oakland

Houston

Seattle

Texas

LA Angels

NL EAST

NY M

Philadelphia

Atlanta

Miami

Washington

NL CENTRAL

St. Louis

Milwaukee

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati

Pittsburgh

NL WEST

San Francisco

San Diego

LA Dodgers

Arizona

Colorado

Golf:

The PGA Tour 2021 season rolls on. Jordan Spieth, who was sidelined with COVID-19, is now back on Tour at ‘full strength.’  After Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters Tournament at Augusta.  Next up for the PGA is the AT&T Byron Nelson, which starts today.  The Korn Ferry Tour is going to the Visit Knoxville Open.  PGA Rookie Matthew Wolff has had a strange season.  The 2019 NCAA champion, who won the 2019 3M Open in his 3rd pro start, has withdrawn from the 2nd major of the year, the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. He gave no reason. It may have to do with a nagging hand injury that forced him to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open in January.  He also withdrew from the WGC Workday Championship at The Concession, after shooting an 83.  And, then, in last month’s Masters, he was disqualified for signing the wrong scorecard. His world ranking has gone from No.12 to No.27. Brooks Koepka said his knee is still not 100%, but “dramatically” better than it was at the Masters. Annika Sorenstam has confirmed that she will play in her first US Senior Women’s Open, in July at Brooklawn Country Club. 

NFL:

The 100th NFL season ended last year, in Miami, in an entertaining 31-20 comeback Super Bowl victory for the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers. The 2020 season began with no preseason games, with teams in their own stadiums, but with limited numbers of fans. I think the NFL made a huge mistake (I know I keep saying it), just like MLB, in not playing in a bubble like the NBA and NHL.

Super Bowl LV was played in Tampa Bay on Sunday, with the Bucs acting as home team, the first time that a Super Bowl was played in the city where one of the teams was from. Despite the odds against it and his age against him, QB Tom Brady and the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl over the Chiefs, 31-9. Tom Brady was named Super Bowl MVP, as he won his 7th Super Bowl, more than any franchise, let alone any player, in 10 trips to the Super Bowl. 

2020 MVP QB Aaron Rodgers finally let the genie out of the bottle and admitted that he is no longer getting along with Packers management and wants to be traded. What’s strange that 3 teammates closest to him just signed contract extensions. You would think they would pause at doing that if the superstar were leaving. The Bucs re-signed WR Antonio Brown to a one-year contract.  The NFL has released the 2021 schedule. The NFL will be returning to London with 2 games in 2021 (Jets vs Falcons, Dolphins vs Jaguars). Speaking of the Jaguars, they did something I expected them to do in 2005, they finally decided to sign Tim Tebow, who won a Heisman Trophy right down the street at Florida. That should fill the stands with fans. So, I guess his baseball experiment with the Mets has come to an end. He has been signed by the Jags as a TE though, not as a QB, something the Patriots toyed with when he was there. QB Teddy Bridgewater has left the Panthers for his fourth team in the past 4 NFL seasons. He will now compete with Drew Lock for the starting QB position with the Broncos. Lions first-round pick, Penei Sewell, will miss rookie minicamp after testing positive for COVID-19. The Jets are working out former Packers’ first-round pick, WR Tavon Austin. Washington has signed LT Charles Leno to a one-year/$5 million deal. The Cardinals have given LB Jordan Hicks permission to seek a trade. The Broncos have signed 7th round CB Kary Vincent Jr. Ravens have signed 1st round WR Rashod Bateman. The Rams waived LS Colin Holba. This a day after claiming LS Matt Orzech off of waivers from the Titans. The Cowboys are trying out QB J.T. Barrett. The 49ers waived RB Austin Walter. The Colts waived OL Sam Jones. 14 teams have shown interest in CB Steven Nelson, since he was released by the Steelers. Bills worked out DT Eddie Vaderdoes. Mississippi says that former QB Brett Favre owes it $600,000 for events that he didn’t attend. I know I’ve complained a lot about my Patriots renewing the contract on underperforming QB Cam Newton. But, I failed to mention that they did sign first-round draft pick QB Mac Jones, who was Heisman Trophy runner-up, and starter for Ohio State, where he also set several school records. He also runs a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash. Of course, ancient QB Michael Vick just ran a 40-yard dash in 4.70 at his age!

Tennis

The 2021 tennis season is now in full swing. In the Italian Open, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka both lost and Simona Halep was injured. Also in the Italian Open, No.1 Novak Djokovic screamed at the chair umpire, before walking off the court in an angry outburst on Tuesday. He lost his cool as the rain in Rome held up his second-round match against Taylor Fritz. He sat out the Madrid Open last week. He was actually mad that the umpire hadn’t suspended play earlier than he did, when Novak was up 6-3, 5-4, but waited until Fritz broke his serve to make the second set 5-5. Many folks were appalled at Novak’s behavior and said that he should have been given a warning. Sadly, there are no American men in the ATP’s Top 30, for the first time in the nearly 50-year ATP computerized tennis rankings. 

NCAA Basketball

The 2020-2021 season began in November. The 2021 NCAA tournament, March Madness, yielded the national champion and undefeated Gonzaga.

These were the latest AP Top 25 Rankings is as of end of 2021 season:

  1.  Gonzaga (26-0)
  2.  Illinois (23-6) up from No.3
  3.  Baylor (22-2) down from No.2 
  4.  Michigan (20-4) 
  5.  Alabama (24-6) 
  6.  Houston (24-3) up from No.7
  7.  Ohio State (21-9) up from No.9
  8.  Iowa (21-8) down from No.5
  9.  Texas (19-7) up from No.13
  10. Arkansas (22-6) down from No.8
  11. Oklahoma State (20-8) up from No.12
  12. Kansas (20-8) down from No.11
  13. West Virginia (18-9) down from No.10
  14. Florida State (16-6) down from No.15
  15. Virginia (18-6) up from No.16
  16. San Diego State (23-4) up from No.19
  17. Loyola Chicago (24-4) up from No.18
  18. Villanova (16-6) down from No.14
  19. Creighton (20-8) down from No.17
  20. Purdue (18-9) 
  21. Texas Tech (17-10) down from No.20
  22. Colorado (22-8) up from No.23
  23. BYU (20-6) up from unranked
  24. USC (22-7) 
  25. Virginia Tech (15-6I) down from No.22

Olympics:

The Olympic Torch began on its 121-day journey around Japan, leading up to the opening of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Japanese tennis star, Naomi Osaka, says she has mixed feelings about the Tokyo Olympics with backdrop of the pandemic, and playing tennis, an Olympic sport this year. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal is casting doubt on whether he will participate in the Olympics, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A NY Times Op-Ed says that a sports event shouldn’t be a pandemic spreader and that they should cancel the Tokyo Olympics. A 4th wave of COVID-19 has hit Japan now, causing some to doubt whether the IOC will hold the games there. 

NHL:

The puck dropped on the asterisk season (last season) on 10/2/19. The puck dropped (again) to conclude this past season on 8/1/20. The teams played in the modified playoffs in two bubble arenas in Toronto and Edmonton, without fans. The Stanley Cup was won by the Tampa Bay Lightning (who ousted my Bruins, due to the Presidents Cup curse) over the Dallas Stars, 4 games to 2. The Finals were held in the Edmonton bubble, without fans.

The 2021 NHL season (which normally would have started in 2020 and wrapped around to 2021) was delayed and started 1/13/21.  The regular season is normally 82 games, but will only be 56 games this year, once again due to the pandemic. We are approaching the Playoffs and several teams are on the bubble and trying to qualify. There have been many cancelled or postponed games, due to COVID-19 racing through some of the teams. There was also divisional realignment to limit team matchups to intra-division play and minimize team travel as much as possible, due to the pandemic. Now, the NHL said it will adhere to local and national government regulations for the US and Canada, and is prepared to adapt during the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, as part of its effort to continue prioritizing the health and safety of players, fans, team and League personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a new 7-year mega WarnerMedia Turner Sports deal with the NHL, the Stanley Cup will air on TNT and TBS and HBO Max will be getting live NHL hockey. Here is what will happen: TNT and TBS will air the Stanley Cup Playoffs 3 out of 7 years outlined in the deal (2023, 2025, and 2027). The other years will be aired by Disney’s ESPN Plus and ABC, as part of NHL’s other major streaming deal, as the NHL’s deal with NBC is ending this year. WarnerMedia’s various properties (including HBO Max) will be able to air half of the conference finals and half of the first 2 rounds of the playoffs each season; 72 regular season games per season; and the NHL Winter Classic exclusively each season. Jonathan Drouin is taking an indefinite leave from the Canadiens for personal reasons. Byfield is making his NHL debut with the Kings. Malkin may return for the Penguins this week. Ice Hockey is now taking hold in Pakistan. Former 9-season NHL goalie Brathwaite, 48, is suiting up as the backup goaltender for the AHL Henderson Silver Knights. His last professional hockey game was in 2011 in Germany. In addition to being the Emergency Backup Goalie for the Silver Knights, he is the goaltending coach for the affiliate Las Vegas Golden Knights. The new NHL career leader in games played is Patrick Marleau of the Sharks, and his tribute video has been narrated by none other than his former teammate and now Maple Leaf, Joe Thornton. Panthers captain Barkov scored the OT game-winning goal over the Canes without looking to put the Panthers in the Playoffs for the first time in 10 years. The Lightning have again clinched a spot in the Playoffs. They also just received their Stanley Cup Champion rings from last year, which each 25-carat ring features 557 diamonds, 81 sapphires, plus a twist top. The 79 diamond-filled Cup turns to reveal a single black diamond that represents a hockey puck, with two engraved hockey sticks and the word “Stockholm,” the site of the 2020 Global Series where the Lightning also swept two games. Each ring also has the phrase “Distant Thunder” on one side, the moniker given to the team’s fan base that supported the team while not being able to attend games in the bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning just made NHL history, by starting 3 black forwards on one line.  The regular season isn’t expected to end until 5/19/21.  The order of the top 4 teams for the North and West divisions have not been decided yet. But, the playoffs for most divisions will start on 5/15/21. This is this season’s odd configuration. The top 4 teams from each division make the playoffs, a total of 16 teams:

NORTH (all Canadian) (their current standings 50-55 games into the regular season) No one has clinched yet, so 4 spots still up for grabs for the Playoffs. 

x-Toronto Maple Leafs

x-Edmonton Oilers

x-Winnipeg Jets

x-Montreal Canadiens 

Calgary Flames

Ottawa Senators

Vancouver Canucks

WEST(and their current standings 54-56 games into the regular season) The top 4 have been decided.

x-Las Vegas Golden Knights

x-Colorado Avalanche

x-Minnesota Wild

x-St. Louis Blues 

Arizona Coyotes

LA Kings

San Jose Sharks

Anaheim Mighty Ducks

CENTRAL (and their current standings 56 games into the regular season). The 4 teams have been decided. The Panthers will host the Lightning in the first round. 

x-Carolina Hurricanes

x-Florida Panthers

x-Tampa Bay Lightning

x-Nashville Predators

Dallas Stars

Chicago Blackhawks

Detroit Red Wings

Columbus Blue Jackets

EAST (and their current standings 55-56 games into the regular season) The top 4 teams have finally been decided. The first round begins Saturday, with the No.2 Capitals hosting my No.3 Bruins. 

x-Pittsburgh Penguins

x-Washington Capitals

x-Boston Bruins

x-New York Islanders

NY Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

New Jersey Devils

Buffalo Sabres

NBA:

Last year, the NBA season did not start until 10/22/19, 18 days later than last year. We were nearing the playoffs, when the pandemic shut the regular season down, with just a little over a month left. Late 6/4/20, the NBA reportedly approved a 22-team format to restart the season in the Summer. All games were played at the three venues at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fl, starting 7/31. The modified playoff format for this asterisk season began on 10/12. In the end, the Miami Heat lost the Championship to the LA Lakers. 

The NBA season tipped off again on 12/22/20. But, it is totally different. Fan attendance differs in every stadium, depending on different factors, including state COVID-19 guidelines. We’ve played about 68 games so far in the regular season, and here are the current standings (top 8 of each conference make it, with seeding based on 5/11/21 standings, but seed 7 and seed 8 will be decided by a play-in tournament, which includes the current No.7-No.10 teams starting 5/18-5/21):

EASTERN CONFERENCE

x-Philadelphia 76ers

x-Brooklyn Nets

x-Milwaukee Bucks

x-NY Knicks

Atlanta Hawks

Miami Heat

Boston Celtics

Charlotte Hornets

————————–

Indiana Pacers

Washington Wizards

Chicago Bulls

WESTERN CONFERENCE

x-Utah Jazz

x-Phoenix Suns

x-LA Clippers

x-Denver Nuggets

Dallas Mavericks

Portland Trail Blazers

LA Lakers

Golden State Warriors

—————————-

Memphis Grizzlies

San Antonio Spurs

New Orleans Pelicans

Sacramento Kings

Horse Racing:

So, this is strange. For the second time in my life, I visited a racetrack (Palm Beach Kennel Club, which actually isn’t running dogs anymore) to watch and bet on the Kentucky Derby. If that weren’t strange enough, a rookie in horse handicapping, I went up to the window for the race before the Kentucky Derby and did an ‘exacta box’ on the 3 and the 5. I don’t know why. I thought one of them was the favorite. Would you believe, they ended in a Dead Heat, actually tied! So, I won either way: 3/5 or 5/3. Very unusual event, especially at Churchill Downs. So, for me, what was cool was that I just took the winnings and bet on the horse I liked in the Kentucky Derby to WIN.  He was so good that it took at least 16 other horses to beat him!  The 147th “Run for the Roses” and first leg of the Triple Crown (unlike last year’s order due to COVID) was won by Medina Spirit.  It was another Bob Baffert horse (the guy can’t lose!) and you will see it ranked in my top-10 from the Repo Commentary a month before as No.6 favorite.  Yes, my horse, Rock Your World, came in a distant 17th.  There were still 3 horses worse than him.  But, wait, we have controversy for the 3rd time in 3 years!!! Two years ago, it was a late disqualification of the winner for ‘crowding’ the second-place finisher. Then, last year, the Kentucky Derby was held after the traditional second and third legs of the Triple Crown, due to COVID-19. Now, Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test for a PED. They are rechecking with a second blood sample, but it could invalidate the colt’s win, leaving the second place horse, Mandaloun, as the winner. And if you think it’s unlikely, Bob Baffert has been fined before for this offense. Baffert has admitted that Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment containing the steroid betamethasone. The steroid is allowed in horse racing, but the horse had more than double the allowed limit. Baffert has now been banned from entering any of his horses in races at the race track at Churchill Downs. Medina Spirit just arrived at Pimlico for Saturday’s running of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown Medina Spirit was cleared to run in the Preakness, despite the likely forfeit in the Derby. Unfortunately, if Mandaloun is now declared the winner of the Kentucky Derby, anyone who bet on him will not get any money, because wagering is paid out on “the order of finish as declared “official” by the stewards or judges at the track. However, the more than $1.8 million in winnings would be passed from Medina Spirit’s owners to Mandaloun’s owners. In the Derby’s 147-year history, only 3 races would have been won by the 2nd place horse, and we could see two of them in the last few years!

The top 10-ranked contenders, 2-3 weeks before the Kentucky Derby, were:

1.Concert Tour-just crushed the field at 2021 Rebel Stakes and is another Bob Baffert trained horse

2.Essential Quality-just won 2021 Southwest Stakes

3.Life is Good-just won 2021 San Felipe, another Bob Baffert trained horse

4.Hot Rod Charlie-just won 2021 Louisiana Derby

5.Known Agenda-just won 2021 Florida Derby

6.Medina Spirit-came in 2nd at 2021 San Felipe, another Bob Baffert horse

7.Greatest Honour-came in 3rd 2021 Florida Derby

8.Soup and Sandwich-came in 2nd 2021 Florida Derby

9.Helium-just won 2021 Tampa Bay Derby

10.Like the King-just won 2021 Jeff Ruby Stakes

Auto Racing:

In the NASCAR Cup Series of 2020, Chase Elliott won. His dad, Bill Elliott, won the championship in 1988. They became the 3rd father-son duo to win the title, joining the Petty’s (Lee and Richard) and Jarrett’s (Ned and Dale).  In 2019, Kyle Busch won in the last race at Homestead.  In 2018, the winner was Joey Logano, who beat Martin Truex Jr. in the final 15 laps of the final race at Homestead.  Truex Jr. won the crown in 2017.  The 2021 regular season began with the Daytona 500 on 2/14/21. Here is the 2021 schedule and winners:

02/09/21 Busch Clash at Daytona-Kyle Busch

02/11/21 Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1 at Daytona-Aric Almirola

02/11/21 Bluegreen Vacations Duel 2 at Daytona-Austin Dillon

02/14/21 DAYTONA 500-Michael McDowell

02/21/21 O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona-Christopher Bell

02/28/21 DIXIE VODKA 400 at Homestead-Miami-William Byron

03/07/21 Pennzoil 400 by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas-Kyle Larson

03/14/21 NASCAR Cup Series Race at Phoenix-Martin Truex Jr.

03/21/21 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta-Ryan Blaney

03/29/21 Food City Dirt Race at Bristol-Joey Logano

04/10/21 Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville, VA-Martin Truex Jr.

04/18/21 Toyota Owners 400-Richmond Raceway-Bowman

04/25/21 GEICO 500-Talladega-Keselowski

05/02/21 NASCAR Cup Series at Kansas-Kyle Busch

05/09/21 NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington-Martin Truex Jr.

05/16/21 NASCAR Cup Series at Dover-

05/23/21 NASCAR Cup Series at COTA-

Formula One began 2020 with F1 Car Launch Dates for the various teams from 2/12 through 2/15 for Renault, Racing Point, McLaren, and Ferrari.  That was followed by the Pre-Season Testing schedule.  The opening of the season coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown. Lewis Hamilton won his 7th World Title.  F1 will revert to 2pm start times in 2021. Matteo Pagliani was crowned inaugural F1 Mobile Racing Esports Champion. F1 is cracking down on flexible rear wings, amid suspicions that some teams are bending the rules. There will be a 23-race F1 calendar for 2021. It did not begin until 3/28/21. Here is the 2021 schedule and here are the winners:

03/28/21-Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix-Lewis Hamilton edged Max Verstappen

04/18/21-Italy-Verstappen edged Hamilton

05/02/21-Portugal-Hamilton beat Verstappen

05/09/21-Spain-Hamilton beat Verstappen

05/23/21-Monaco-

06/06/21-Azerbaijan-

06/13/21-Canada-

06/27/21-France-

07/04/21-Austria-

07/18/21-Great Britain-

08/02/21-Hungary-

08/29/21-Belgium-

09/05/21-Netherlands-

09/12/21-Italy-

09/26/21-Russia-

10/03/21-Singapore-

10/10/21-Japan-

10/24/21-United States

10/31/21-Mexico-

11/07/21-Brazil-

11/21/21-Australia-

12/05/21-Saudi Arabia-

12/12/21-Abu Dhabi-

IndyCar Racing circuit (Indy cars are generally considered faster than F1 car along straight lines, mostly because their races are on oval tracks, while F1 tracks are more intricate, requiring better brakes and more aerodynamic grip than Indy cars).  In 2019, Josef Newgarden came in 8th in the last race, to just edge out Simon Pagenaud for the championship. Scott Dixon was the Championship winner for 2020, edging out defending champion, Josef Newgarden. The 2021 season does not begin until mid-April. Here is the schedule and the winners:

04/18/21-Birmingham Barber Motorsports Park-Alex Palou

04/25/21-St. Petersburg Street Course-Josef Newgarden

05/01/21-Texas Motor Speedway Grand Prix of Texas Race 1-Scott Dixon

05/02/21-Texas Motor Speedway Grand Prix of Texas Race 2-Pato O’Ward

05/15/21-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-GP 1

05/30/21-Indy 500

06/12/21-Detroit Raceway on Belle Isle Race 1

06/13/21-Detroit Raceway on Belle Isle Race 2

06/20/21-Road America

07/04/21-Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

07/11/21-Toronto Exhibition Place

08/08/21-Nashville Street Course

08/14/21-Indianapolis GP 2

08/21/21-Gateway Motorsports Park

09/11/21-Portland International Raceway

09/19/21-Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

09/26/21-Streets of Long Beach

Travel News:

The wreckage of KRI Nanggala, an Indonesian Navy submarine, has been found in the Bali Sea, and all 53 people on board were confirmed dead. Washington D.C. plans to reopen fully in June, including museums, attractions, and restaurants. Carnival Cruise Lines has now cancelled most sailings through July, but remains hopeful for sailings in the Fall. A couple is raffling off a home in an Italian beach town and the tickets cost only $35. Raffle tickets for the home are available now through September 16, 2021, or until 10,000 tickets are sold. American Ballet Theatre will offer outdoor performances across the country during the month of July. Certain Disney Springs Resorts are offering teachers and first responders rooms for $79 for well-deserved vacations. A company is offering you the chance to spend the night in the iconic sets from the show Friends. Katy Perry will actually be “waking up in Vegas” for a new residency, Play. She will begin 12/29/21 at the new Theatre at the Resorts WorldLV casino. Three other superstars will also have residencies there, Celine Dion (making her return after 1,000 shows at Caesar’s Palace there), Carrie Underwood, and Luke Bryan. Celine will begin on 11/5/21. This Resorts World Las Vegas Casino is the first major hotel to open on the Strip since 2010. It opens this Summer and promises “Las Vegas’s largest and tallest performance stage, with the furthest seat only 150 feet from the stage.” It will also be the only hotel in Las Vegas that will also take cryptocurrency as payment. Germany will now allow vaccinated travelers to skip quarantine and testing. I knew those vaccination cards were going to become very important. Office Depot is offering for free to make a copy of your vaccination card and then laminate it, so you can carry it, and you can put the original in your safe for when you will probably have to produce it to get booster shots in the future. The Island of Capri is welcoming tourists back, after vaccinating 80% of residents. The country’s biggest weekly open-air Food Market will debut in New Jersey this month. Biergartens in Bavaria have reopened, a welcome sign of COVID-19 recovery. AAA says that more than 37 million Americans are expected to travel for Memorial Day. People have got cabin fever from the pandemic restrictions. Norwegian Cruise Line CEO says its Epic new ship class is getting back to cruising safely. A new website allows people to rent privately owned tennis courts, boats, home gyms, and more. Six privately owned Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are opening to the public for virtual tours this weekend. Hopper is introducing last-minute Hotel Booking Feature with deals on certain last minute getaways. 

Health News:  

As of this evening (5/12), globally, more than 3,300,000 people have died from COVID-19.  More than 159,000,000 people have been infected with COVID-19. In the US, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have surpassed 32.5 million people. Of that, US deaths from the pandemic have surpassed 579,214. The US has the most deaths from COVID-19 of any country in the world, followed by Brazil (422,340), India (246,116), Mexico (218,985), India (162,144), and UK (127,605). COVID-19 was in fact the third-leading cause of death in the US in 2020! You are, no doubt, hearing more about the variants of the virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 (UK, South Africa, Brazil, New York, California, etc.), which so far scientists believe the current vaccines will cover. 

While the US and Europe are beginning to ease restrictions and resume some aspects of pre-pandemic life, the virus is still devastating parts of Asia. India, in particular, is seeing record-breaking numbers of cases and deaths, and shortages of oxygen in hospitals. Nepal is also seeing surges. Even in Florida, where restrictions were eased very early, on Tuesday saw an increase of over 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 48 new deaths from the pandemic. 

An independent international review panel, set up by the World Health Organization, has released a report that said the combined response of the WHO and global governments was a “toxic cocktail” and that the COVID-19 pandemic was preventable. The report says that the WHO should have declared a global emergency earlier than it did (3/11/2020). It could have declared it a pandemic or at least an international emergency at its first meeting of 2020 on January 22nd. Primarily, the report focused on the world wasting time in February of 2020, which could have reduced the impact of the pandemic and should have imposed travel restrictions sooner, to reduce the spread of the disease. The alarming line in the report was that the pandemic was the 21st Century’s “Chernobyl moment”. 

The US currently has a shortage of chicken and ketchup. 

Animal News:

A rarely seen, deep-sea fish (below 2500 feet) with arm-like fin on its head washed up on a Newport, California beach last week. The arm-like filament looks like a light bulb and attracts prey to its menacing set of teeth. It is a Pacific footballfish. A Missouri animal shelter took in 55 dogs and puppies from Alabama. In Houston, a pet full-grown tiger got out of his house, occupied by a murder suspect who had jumped bail. The owner got him back inside before he attacked anyone and then drove off with the cat in his van. But, he was pulled over by police and arrested. They have no idea where the tiger is though. White House dog, Major, has been involved in another biting incident. In other White House animal news, President Biden announced that a cat would be joining the family soon in the White House. A Chinese safari park said it is “sincerely sorry” for failing to tell the public that its leopards were on the loose. It was afraid that it would affect the flow of tourists coming into the zoo during public holidays. I think it could have reduced the number of tourists leaving the zoo and they should have been thinking about that! Three leopards got out of their enclosure and have been seen roaming neighborhoods in Fuyang. The leopards got loose on 4/19, but were not spotted until 5/2. One is still on the loose. The other two were captured. In other leopard news, rare snow leopards were spotted prowling near Kazakh city during COVID-19 lockdown. Penguins have formed same-sex pairs at the London aquarium. I actually saw this about 8 years ago at the New England Aquarium in Boston. 

Entertainment News:

Beniffer is back! After breaking off with Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez has reconnected her fiancé of 17 years ago, Ben Affleck. He took her away to a romantic stay in his Montana lodge. They have confirmed they are together and exploring where they are now. At the Academy Awards, NOMADLAND won 3 awards, including Best Picture. Sir Anthony Hopkins was the award for Best Actor and gave a nice tribute to the late actor, from BLACK PANTHER. Perhaps ironically, Amy Poehler and Tina Fay, who co-hosted the Golden Globe Awards this year from LA and NYC, made jokes in their promos for the show that they could finally put an end to the award show. I think they were referring to their comedy upsetting people, but it now looks like a lot of people, particularly in Hollywood, are upset by the lack of diversity in the Golden Globes. NBC has decided not to carry the show next year, several stars are protesting the Globes, and Tom Cruise has returned his 3 Golden Globe Awards in protest of the organization. The Golden Globes have come under fire for the last several years for the lack of sexual and racial diversity, and it seems to now be coming to a boil. I joined many people who watched Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, as he hosted Saturday Night Live. Her revealed that he is the first person with Asperger’s syndrome to host the show. There is a list of entertainers who are banned for life from Saturday Night Live. The list includes: Sinead O’Connor, Adrien Brody, Rage Against the Machine, Martin Lawrence, Cypress Hill, Steven Seagal, The Replacements, Andy Kaufman (voted off by viewers), Robert Blake, Fear, Milton Berle, Frank Zappa, Charles Grodin, Elvis Costello, Ashlee Simpson, Andrew Dice Clay, Nora Dunn, Donald Trump, Kanye West, Charles Rocket, Sam Kinison, System of a Down, Shane Gillis, Jenny Slate, Claudine Longet, Fred Armisen, and Pete Davidson. Andra Day lost 40 pounds to play Billie Holiday. Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo met at the BRIT Awards. Taylor Swift became the first woman to win BRIT’s Global Icon award.  “Legends of the Hidden Temple” is getting a reboot for adults. Broadway shows have set reopening dates. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen have become VRBO’s first “Family in Residence”. Porsha Williams is engaged to the estranged husband (Simon Guobadia) of her friend, another Real Housewives of Atlanta star. Martha Stewart is beginning her new reality show, trying to find the best hedge-trimmer, ala EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Well, it started with the infamous interview. Now, Apple TV+ has announced the Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry series debut date. Grey’s Anatomy is coming back for Season 18. Seth Rogen says he has no plans to work with James Franco again. I don’t know why, but I never liked James Franco. HERE TODAY movie is pairing Billy Crystal with Tiffany Haddish in a gone-tomorrow comedy. STAR TREK legend Nichelle Nichols is being honored for helping shape a diverse future for NASA. The Ellen DeGeneres show is ending in 2022 after 19 seasons, amidst allegations of sexual misconduct, racism, and a toxic workplace. Ellen appeared on the Today show this morning to explain that it had nothing to do with her ending the show. Hollywood golden age star Norman Lloyd has died at 106. It’s been 40 years since Bob Marley’s death. On September 30, 1968, Boeing rolled out the first B-747 and the first flight was February 9, 1969. Did you know that the band Led Zeppelin had a fireplace on their Jumbo Jet?

Technology & Space News:

American astronaut Michael Collins, the command module pilot for Apollo 11, has died at the age of 90. A preliminary report on that Tesla fatal crash in Texas in April has revealed that the ‘autopilot function’ was off. However, the National Transportation Safety Board said that the cruise-control may have been on. Humankind has sent about 30 spacecraft and landers to Mars, since the Space Age began. Scientists now know which microbes might have survived the meticulous construction/cleaning process and then the trip from Earth to Mars. We also know how rapid a few particles can grow in space. Ironically, our ‘clean’ rooms for assembly may have served as an evolutionary selection process, which only allowed the hardiest microbes (which could survive radiation, form biofilms, and survive desiccation in cold environments) which could thrive on Mars. So, now there may actually BE life on Mars, but it’s probably from our contamination. 

US News:

Surprisingly, the US military has only vaccinated 30% of personnel. It’s rare that the US military gives soldiers the choice. But, if personnel don’t get vaccinated, they are no eligible for deployment. Still, it’s weird that personnel are resisting getting the vaccine. Republicans ousted Trump critic, Liz Cheney. 

A major crisis is facing North America, as panic buying at gas stations is driving outages in Georgia, shortages in several East Coast states, and long lines and higher prices. This is after Colonial Pipeline, America’s largest pipeline, which carries 45% of the East Coast’s supply of diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel, was attacked by Russian ransomware, taking it offline over the weekend, and seriously restricting supply. As the name implies, ransomware, is hacked into a computer system to take control and will not cede control back to the real owner, unless a ransom is paid. The attack is not only alarming the public, but it brings to light that the government isn’t a sure which agency is in charge of securing its own networks, let alone private ones vital to the economy. It also brings to light the vulnerability of those various private ones, as the private sector does not necessarily employ huge resources 24/7 to figure out the next ploys of hackers. Yet, the hackers treat it as a serious, lucrative ‘job’. Cyber weakness has been a frequent topic for discussion for years, as some 85% of American critical infrastructure is owned by private companies and there are few regulations governing how those companies should protect their computer networks. This is reminding me of the entire grid outage in Texas in 2020. Another difficulty with the Colonial Pipeline attack is that the company has yet to share details of the attack or the ransom with the FBI or CISA and has not indicated whether it intends to pay it or not, sending commodity prices soaring. Lastly, the FBI and Homeland Security are trying to determine if the Russian attack by a private company of hackers (DarkSide) may have been supported or financed by the Russian government. It is believed that the Russian military was involved in a previous hack of SolarWinds which impacted 22 companies. DarkSide actually said on its website, “Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society.” So, while there are federal agencies empowered to protect government computer systems, the private sector is kind of left to fight on its own against cyberattacks; the equivalent of private companies defending themselves against possible North Korean missiles. The White House is urging Americans not to hoard gas, panicking over potential shortages. Good luck with that, as we saw how that urging worked for toilet paper during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In case you were wondering, we here in Florida get almost all of our gasoline via tanker delivery, not from the Colonial pipeline. Yet, Floridians are already hoarding gasoline. At the time of writing this, I saw that Colonial is rebooting the computers controlling the pipeline today. 

Some of you, particularly those on social media, may have some personal experiences with ransomware, as it is becoming prevalent in the US. I have had several friends who have been attacked and had photoshopped nude pictures or obscene messages sent to their entire contact lists, unless they paid a ransom. Don’t open any attachments and don’t respond to any correspondence, unless you know who the sender is and if you are sure it’s really them and you trust them. 

The Biden administration is in the midst of a proposed $2 trillion stimulus plan (green plan), which would be the third stimulus plan the government has instituted since the pandemic hit (second for this administration), taking the total to over $6.8 trillion, and outstanding debt of $29 trillion before this $2 trillion. President Biden plans to pay for the majority of this stimulus plan by raising corporate taxes to where they were, before President Trump lowered them to encourage more business. (See Ford news below) Yet, despite the stimuli, the US Unemployment Rate is having trouble budging off of 9%, and unemployment benefits are due to end (after having been rolled a couple of times) in July for millions of Americans. Banks and lawmakers are pushing back on a proposal by President Biden to give the IRS access to banking records to spot discrepancies in tax reports, citing privacy issues and a negative effect on bank-customer relationships. 

Bankruptcy:

In 2020, restaurant and food service industry sales fell by $240 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Industry 2021 report.  Although more than 27,000 restaurants have gone out of business permanently during the pandemic, the restaurants who have survived, with help from the PPP loans and state grants, are seeing a spike in demand, particularly here in Florida. The new problem is that these restaurants are having trouble hiring qualified people. In Florida, some restaurants are offering signing bonuses, to attract new employees. Some restaurants, like Duffy’s Sports Bar down here, have learned that laying off 3,500 employees and shutting down all their restaurants until all restrictions were lifted, while being easier and maybe less costly during 2020, is becoming a problem for them now. It turns out that many of their employees have permanently moved on or are on Unemployment still and making more money on that than they were making in wages. As Unemployment benefits continue to be rolled on, the conundrum continues.  I have heard that Florida is now going to require those receiving unemployment benefits to list the 5 places they interviewed with that week. That, may push people in that industry to return. 

International News:

Fears of war are increasing as Israel/Gaza violence escalates. The barrage of Palestinian militant rockets and Israeli airstrikes has grown to the worst violence in years. Israeli airstrikes and Hamas militant missile launches have killed dozens of people and injured hundreds more, following clashes at the al-Aqsa Mosque and elsewhere in Jerusalem. Cameroon has jailed transgender women for five years. The Taliban captured an Afghan district ahead of the ceasefire.  The worries are mounting in Afghanistan, as the US continues towards a planned withdrawal of all troops from the country. The US is packing what it can from the 20-year war there, but will be leaving much of the military bases for the Afghan Army to take over to fight the expected surge of the Taliban for control of the country. Also in Afghanistan, a bombing near a school in Kabul killed at least 85 people and injured more than 140 others. An Austrian leader is being investigated in a corruption inquiry. At least 9 people were killed in a school shooting in Kazan, Russia.  In other Russian news, Russia is massing troops on the border with Ukraine again. Ukraine is threatening to take Crimea back by force.  China is threatening Taiwan and its neighbors, while also threatening US Navy ships. North Korea is again testing missiles again and is restarting their nuclear weapons program. Iran is continuing to do some major sabre-rattling lately.  Ford is shutting down a US production plant and moving it to Mexico, after having just brought it back from Mexico to the US, because of the current administration’s plan to raise corporate taxes. Maldives speaker of parliament and former president Mohamed Nasheed was injured with 4 others in a car bombing in Male. 

Florida:

Did you ever notice that a high percentage of Dateline crime stories are filmed in Florida? On Tuesday, Florida reported 3,263 new cases of COVID-19, resulting in 48 new deaths. A 77-year-old Dunkin’ Donuts customer was fatally punched by an employee at a Florida store. 

Jokes and Such:

Okay, I decided that since you readers are only going to give me dirty jokes that would just get me in trouble, in the context of distanced learning and your kids likely at home on the computer, I would provide you some CLEAN jokes that you can share with them. That’s just how I am J

41. What’s the difference between a poorly dressed man on a unicycle and a well-dressed man on a bicycle?

Attire.

42. What did the Buddhist ask the hot dog vendor?

“Make me one with everything.”

43. You know why you never see elephants hiding up in trees?

Because they’re really good at it.

44. A horse walks into a bar.

The bartender says, “Why the long face?”

45. How did the hipster burn his mouth?

He ate his pizza before it was cool.46. What do you get when you cross a dyslexic, an insomniac, and an agnostic?

Someone who lays awake at night wondering if there’s a dog.

47. As a scarecrow, people say I’m outstanding in my field.

But hay, it’s in my jeans.

48. Why don’t blind people skydive?

Because it scares their dogs.

49. What’s the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer?

The taste, mostly.

50. I stayed up all night and tried to figure out where the sun was.

Then it dawned on me.

51. I told my friend ten jokes to make him laugh.

Sadly, no pun in ten did.

52. I couldn’t believe the highway department called my dad a thief.

But when I got home, the signs were all there.

I promise that they will continue to be corny or cornier, unless you give me some good quasi-clean jokes for adults…

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