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About That Next Bailout: One Big Lesson from 2009

In retrospect, most economists agree, more would have been better.

Obama’s Recovery Act helped end the Great Recession and launch a decadelong recovery, but today even his former aides believe that the recovery was weaker and slower than it should have been because the stimulus was insufficient. There’s a broad consensus in the economics profession that despite the administration’s anxieties about undershooting, Washington still undershot.

And now, in an even more severe crisis, it may be poised to undershoot again.

“Once again, big picture, the risks of doing too little far outweigh the risks of doing too much,” Summers said in an interview. “This time, the hole is even bigger than it was in 2009, but I’m not sure that lesson has been learned.”

The coronavirus has already delivered a more devastating economic blow than the financial meltdown 12 years ago, reversing almost a decade’s worth of job gains in April alone, shrinking the economy at an unheard-of 32 percent annual rate in the second quarter. Early in the pandemic, Congress acted aggressively to pump stimulus into the dying economy. It passed four bipartisan relief bills worth $3.6 trillion, dwarfing the deficit spending from the entire Great Recession, actually increasing household incomes while helping to stave off widespread starvation and an instant depression.

Now Washington is considering a fifth package that could add at least another trillion dollars to the tab. But with unemployment still in double digits, expanded benefits to laid-off workers expiring at the worst possible time, and the virus still on the rampage, economists are warning that far more stimulus will be needed to lift the country out of the abyss.

Nevertheless, stimulus fatigue seems to be spreading on Capitol Hill, especially among Republicans, and negotiations over the next package seem to be going nowhere fast. There’s a tension between massive relief bills and President Donald Trump’s message that the recovery is already rocking—and Republican senators like Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Ben Sasse of Nebraska are starting to express ideological discomfort with Big Government spending bills at a time of record-shattering deficits.

“How long can we just keep throwing money at the problem?” asked one Republican staffer on the Senate side. He then answered his own question: “Not forever.”

The initial fiscal stimulus bills, along with a fusillade of monetary stimulus the Federal Reserve has deployed to prop up corporations, were designed as stopgap measures to blast cash into the economy until the virus could be contained. But the virus has not been contained, and the Fed’s lending powers are not designed to provide direct aid to ordinary Americans. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, pushing the boundaries of traditional Fed rhetoric, has practically begged Congress to be more aggressive to prevent the recovery from faltering.

Two months ago, House Democrats took up his challenge, passing an eye-popping $3 trillion HEROES Act crammed with aid to cash-strapped states, communities and individuals. Senate Republicans as well as Trump administration officials declared the bill dead on arrival, ridiculing it as an over-the-top left-wing wish list, citing early signs of recovery to justify a wait-and-see approach. GOP leaders now say they agree that more relief is needed, and last week, they finally unveiled a $1 trillion proposal that can at least be the basis for negotiations with Democrats. But they didn’t sound overly enthusiastic about it, especially a provision demanded by the White House to authorize a new FBI headquarters, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned that half the divided Republican caucus might oppose any stimulus deal.

Meanwhile, if there are rifts over the details among Republicans, there are chasms between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans want to scale back the just-expired $600-a-month expansion in unemployment benefits that Democrats inserted into this spring’s CARES Act, while Democrats oppose liability protections for businesses that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared a prerequisite to any deal. Democrats also oppose Republican provisions like expanded tax deductions for business meals and conditions that schools must commit to open in person to qualify for certain assistance, while Republicans oppose Democratic efforts to boost funding for food stamps, aid to states, and election protections. The White House has even objected to Democratic calls for increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After impressive job gains in May and June, unemployment claims are now rising again as new outbreaks create new restrictions, and polls show that most of the public wants government to do more to support the economy. But the urgency in Washington seems to be fading, and it’s not clear that Congress will manage to act before it goes home in August.

“We’ve seen what happens when there’s not enough stimulus, but for whatever reason you don’t get the sense that people’s hair is on fire,” says economist Heather Boushey, president of the left-leaning Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Democratic veterans of the last stimulus wars have watched the new GOP approach to stimulus with a combination of rage, dread and eye-rolling amusement. They’ve grumbled as some of the same Republican leaders who denounced any fiscal support for Obama’s economy as deficit-busting recklessness poured taxpayer dollars into Trump’s economy without qualms. But now that qualms are emerging, they worry that another premature pivot from stimulus to austerity will produce even more pain for families and businesses—and they’re baffled that Trump doesn’t seem to fear the political consequences of an understimulated economy.

“There’s an incredible temptation to say: ‘OK, we did some stimulus, things seem to be getting better, let’s move on,’” says Jared Bernstein, an Obama White House economist who is now advising Joe Biden’s campaign. “But as we saw in 2009, it’s incredibly misguided.”

Shortly after Obama’s election, his aide Jason Furman met for coffee with the left-wing gadfly James Galbraith, one of 387 economists who had signed a letter urging Congress to move “quickly and decisively” on a $400 billion stimulus. Furman had two messages for Galbraith: It needs to be even bigger, and you need to say so publicly. The economy was imploding fast, and Furman was worried that unless advocates outside Obamaworld started floating much more aggressive spending demands, the president’s eventual proposals would sound extreme.

Galbraith agreed that the stimulus needed to be much bigger—he was thinking $900 billion for the first year alone—but he was amused that the incoming power brokers were so eager to be outflanked. It felt like the establishment was trying to gin up an insurgency.

“The push was: We need you to be out there, the bigger the better,” recalls Galbraith, a University of Texas professor whose father was the New Dealer John Kenneth Galbraith. “They thought it could help create space for a number they could actually get.”

The rationale for emergency stimulus during a sharp downturn is simple: When the private sector contracts, only the public sector can expand into the void. Otherwise, businesses will slash their payrolls and investments, which leaves ordinary people with even less money to spend, which forces businesses to lay off even more workers and buy even less equipment, and so on down the drain. The godfather of stimulus, John Maynard Keynes, suggested that even if the government merely pays people to dig holes and fill them back up, it can help break this vicious cycle of fear. And a broad range of studies have shown that more effective forms of government stimulus, especially aid to lower-income families that are the most likely to spend it, can have a “multiplier effect” that promotes a virtuous cycle of renewed confidence.

Fiscal stimulus does increase budget deficits, and there was some concern inside Obamaworld, especially from budget director Peter Orszag, that too much deficit spending by a Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Congress would send a dangerous signal to markets about Democratic profligacy. But depressions that ravage household incomes, crush business profits and scuttle tax revenues are much worse for budget deficits. As Summers warned in a memo to Obama, “insufficient fiscal impetus could put the recovery at risk, with catastrophic consequences.” With the economy losing nearly 800,000 jobs a month, the Obama team ultimately agreed to pursue a gigantic short-term stimulus to try to avoid a depression while signaling concern about long-term fiscal discipline to try to reassure markets.

Some liberals still criticize Obama for failing to fight for even more than he got, but the size constraint was the Senate, where three Republicans and six moderate Democrats whose votes were needed to pass the bill threatened to kill it if the price tag exceeded $800 billion. As Furman puts it: The White House was in the deep end of the pool.

“We needed to act quickly, and the politics didn’t support anything bigger,” Furman says. “We also figured that if we needed more, we’d just go back to Congress and get it.”

That was a huge miscalculation.

The Tea Party movement began agitating against Obama and the national debt almost immediately after the stimulus passed, and the president found that even stimulus measures that seemed relatively uncontroversial—aid to states to avoid teacher layoffs, tax cuts to encourage businesses to hire workers, repairs for crumbling bridges and other infrastructure investments—ran into ferocious Republican resistance in Congress. One routine bill to extend unemployment benefits was delayed for months after the death of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd denied the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority. Fox News and conservative talk radio were on fire about a new era of porky socialism, and even many congressional Democrats were desperate to change the subject from Big Government and big spending.

Obama’s rhetoric shifted, too, gradually focusing less on the economic nightmare he had inherited and more on the “green shoots” sprouting in the monthly economic data. There was an unofficial White House ban on “spiking the football” or “dancing in the end zone,” so the president and his team tempered all talk about progress with acknowledgments that people were still in pain. But after the Great Recession ended in 2009 and job growth resumed in 2010, they did start to accentuate the positive, with talking points stressing long-term fiscal responsibility over short-term stimulus. Especially after Republicans took back the House on a Tea Party platform, Obama wanted to show he got the message.

In retrospect, Bernstein thinks he and his colleagues may have overemphasized the statistical evidence that the worst of the cataclysm was over, while underemphasizing the desperate need to continue to support struggling families and businesses. The recovery was real, and it would continue throughout Obama’s presidency and well into Trump’s, but by historical standards it was somewhat tepid. Bernstein remembers one time when he talked up green shoots on C-SPAN, a caller asked whether he was smoking green shoots.

“There’s such a powerful temptation to see a phantom recovery in every optimistic data point,” Bernstein says. “And even real green shoots need to be watered, or else they shrivel.”

A variety of econometric studies have concluded that the Recovery Act and several smaller under-the-radar stimulus measures over the rest of Obama’s first term helped save millions of jobs and avoid much worse outcomes. But several studies also found that the outcomes could have been better if the government sector had not contracted overall in the aftermath of the Great Recession, in sharp contrast to its expansions after previous recessions.

The main problem was that stimulus at the federal level was offset by drastic layoffs, service reductions and tax increases at the state and local level, an anti-stimulus that could have been prevented with more federal aid to states and communities. As a result, the Obama economy didn’t rapidly bounce back with the kind of “V-shaped recovery” that recession-fighters yearn for. It slowly climbed back with years of steady but unspectacular 2 percent annual growth.

As Summers said, the virus has created an even deeper crater than the Obama team had to try to fill. When Obama took office, his team believed America faced a $1.8 trillion “output gap” between its pre-crisis and post-crisis trajectories, and the Recovery Act filled less than half of it. Bernstein sent me nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projections suggesting that even after the initial coronavirus stimulus, America now faces a staggering $7.4 trillion output gap, more than one third of annual gross domestic product; the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates the gap at $5.2 trillion. Either way, if the economy falters again, that yawning gap will grow.

University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee, another former Obama aide, says the crises of 2020 and 2009 are not identical twins, or even siblings, but cousins.

The problem in 2009 was a classic collapse of demand caused by a financial panic that was triggered by a real estate bust. The problem in 2020 is an out-of-nowhere contagious disease that forced businesses to close and consumers to stay indoors. The stimulus bills of the Obama era combined emergency relief designed to stanch the immediate bleeding with longer-term investment designed to build a more resilient economy. This year’s stimulus bills have been pure relief, designed to tide Americans over for a few months under the assumption that the economy would quickly V-curve back to normal once the pandemic was under control. In 2009, the Republican opposition adamantly opposed any government support for the economy under Obama, even though he had just taken office; in 2020, the Democratic opposition has strongly supported stimulus under Trump, even though it’s an election year.

The most striking difference may be the attitude of the president, who has exhibited none of Obama’s hesitation about spiking the football even though the economy is nowhere near where it was before the pandemic. Perhaps because the crisis hit long after he arrived in the White House, or just because he enjoys bragging about his own economy, Trump consistently downplayed the magnitude of the crisis even after the sudden loss of 20 million jobs, while hyping the partial recovery of 7 million jobs as a spectacular comeback. Goolsbee told me that Trump’s chest-thumping celebrations during an ongoing disaster reminds him of a 2014 game when a defensive lineman for his beloved Chicago Bears, losing by 25 points in the fourth quarter, blew out his knee celebrating a meaningless sack of a backup quarterback.

“It just looks idiotic to celebrate when things are still awful,” Goolsbee said.

Trump’s political brand is all about strength and winning, so it’s natural for him to put a positive gloss on a tough situation—and after successfully portraying 5 percent unemployment as a catastrophe in 2016, it’s not necessarily idiotic for him to think he can portray 12 percent unemployment as an accomplishment in 2020. But it does complicate the stimulus debate, because normally a president up for reelection would be pushing for as much as possible. His message that economic rejuvenation is already happening has undercut the argument that additional economic relief is needed, at a time when some anti-government Republicans are already grumbling about drunken-sailor spending.

Senator Paul recently accused his GOP colleagues of sounding like socialist “Bernie bros,” and Republican senators have made it clear they aren’t happy about the FBI headquarters provision, which seems unrelated to the pandemic, but would benefit Trump’s Washington hotel by ensuring the location could not be used to build a competing establishment. In Capitol Hill negotiations, Republican leaders have proposed a slimmed-down deal that would merely extend unemployment benefits and provide some funding to schools before Congress leaves for its August recess, but Democrats have insisted on something bigger.

Politically, it’s an odd situation. In 2009, stimulus quickly became unpopular—partly because it followed a massive taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailout, partly because Republicans were united in opposition. But in 2020, polls by the liberal group Data for Progress show that 69 percent of the electorate believes government should be spending even more, while only 5 percent believes it’s spending too much. Nevertheless, the Democrats—including Trump’s opponent in November, Joe Biden—are pushing much harder than the president and his party for more stimulus, even though another lesson of 2009 is that the public ultimately holds the incumbent president responsible for the state of the economy.

“We learned the hard way that a bad economy is bad for the incumbent, and everything else is noise,” says Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s White House communications director. “This is Trump’s economy! It’s bananas that the Republicans aren’t clamoring to do more to fix it.”

Democrats are certainly clamoring to do more than Republicans want to do; the HEROES Act is three times larger than the GOP proposal, and some Democrats believe the recent bad news on the virus and the economy illustrate the need for an even larger package. Even Orszag, the most ardent budget hawk in the Obama White House, wrote an op-ed last week calling for more aggressive stimulus, warning that “as governments withdraw fiscal support, the economic picture is going to look worse than commonly appreciated.”

The two parties agree that the next round of stimulus should include a second round of $1,200 checks for individuals, more money for schools and additional funding for public health. As Goolsbee says, the first rule of virus economics is that you can’t fix the economics until you stop the virus, and congressional Republicans have privately mocked White House suggestions that there’s no need for more money for testing or contact tracing. The big differences between the parties revolve around the Democratic push for far more aid to states and the poor, which were found to be the most powerful forms of stimulus in the Obama era, but also fund public employee unions and welfare programs aligned with the Democratic Party.

Then again, not even the Democratic HEROES Act includes the provisions that Obama veterans consider the most important omission from the Recovery Act: “automatic stabilizers” that would ensure that stimulus keeps flowing as long as unemployment remains high without need for further congressional action. If the big economic lesson of 2009 is that more stimulus is better, the big political lesson is that getting Congress to approve more stimulus is hard, and many Democrats worry that if Biden is elected, Republicans will start making it impossible in 2021. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ultimately decided that automatic stabilizers would make the HEROES Act price tag too exorbitant, even though much of her caucus supported them.

“We ought to have a more predictable environment, where government support depends on the condition of the economy and not just the political process in Congress,” says Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition.

The likely alternative is more undershooting. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, after the early stimulus of the New Deal, pivoted toward spending cuts and balanced budgets in 1937, a shift that initially hobbled the recovery from the Great Depression, before the all-out mobilization for World War II created the ultimate federal stimulus. The politics of stimulus is always tricky. Evidence of economic improvement fuels the argument that more stimulus isn’t necessary. Evidence of continued economic pain fuels the argument that the previous stimulus isn’t working. In an instant-gratification political culture, it’s hard to make the case for repeated emergency actions, even when the emergency stubbornly refuses to end.

Most economists believe the bipartisan stimulus bills early in the Covid crisis basically did what they were supposed to do, which was to get enough public money into private hands to prop up the economy for a few months while the virus was vanquished. The problem is that the virus wasn’t vanquished, so it’s understandable that there’s less enthusiasm about repeating such an expensive process with no guarantee of a different outcome. Unlike the Recovery Act, which poured money into solar power, electronic medical records and other infrastructure designed to improve America in the long run, the CARES Act was only designed to stave off short-term deprivation. It seems to have done so successfully, but as Goolsbee puts it, we didn’t fix the furnace, so we’re just successfully burning money to stay warm.

There’s a clear comparison between the fight to revive the coronavirus economy and the fight against the virus itself. Early government efforts to contain the virus with lockdowns and mask mandates inspired Tea Party-style protests, but they also produced immediate improvements in public health statistics. Those improvements, however, only increased the political pressure to ease restrictions before the statistics justified it. Now the statistics have turned ugly again, and there doesn’t seem to be much political will for renewed lockdowns, especially when the president keeps insisting, as he did in his coronavirus briefing last week, that “we’re doing very well all over the country.”

The basic problem is that the most effective measures to fight the virus, like the most effective measures to support the economy, require an acknowledgment that things aren’t going very well, requiring the government to act in a big way. Presidential rhetoric can frame reality, and Trump’s base usually embraces his framing, but reality is still reality.

“The real lesson of 2009 is that the substance matters more than the optics,” Pfeiffer says. “There’s no communications strategy that can explain away double-digit unemployment.”

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Heads Of Amazon, Apple, Facebook And Google Testify On Big Tech’s Power : NPR

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (from left), Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are scheduled to testify before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Bertrand Guay, Tobias Schwarz, Angela Weiss, Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

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Bertrand Guay, Tobias Schwarz, Angela Weiss, Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (from left), Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are scheduled to testify before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Bertrand Guay, Tobias Schwarz, Angela Weiss, Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Do Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple stifle competition? Not surprisingly, the tech giants’ chief executives will tell Congress: absolutely not. The concern that too much power is concentrated in too few companies is unfounded, they plan to testify Wednesday.

Amid a time of rising tensions with China, some of the powerful CEOs will suggest that too much regulation could provide an opportunity for Chinese tech firms to gain a global toehold, according to opening remarks from the tech leaders released by the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee.

“We believe in values — democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression — that the American economy was built on,” Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will tell lawmakers, according to his prepared opening statement. “China is building its own version of the internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.”

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person who will be making his first-ever appearance in front of Congress, will bring in his personal story of being adopted by an immigrant father when he was 4 years old and spending his summers on his grandparents’ ranch in Texas, saying his upbringing instilled in him a work ethic that has helped Amazon prosper.

Amazon’s rise to becoming the largest online retailer, Bezos will say, is an achievement only made possible in America. But Walmart, he will point out, is still twice the size of Amazon.

“We did not start out as the largest marketplace — eBay was many times our size. It was only by focusing on supporting sellers and giving them the best tools we could invent that we were able to succeed and eventually surpass eBay,” Bezos says in his released testimony.

Watch the live stream here beginning at noon ET.

Google’s Sundar Pichai will steer attention to the other ways people navigate the online world, even though 90% of Internet searches happen on Google.

“People have more ways to search for information than ever before — and increasingly this is happening outside the context of only a search engine,” Pichai plans to tell the House panel. “You can ask Alexa a question from your kitchen; read your news on Twitter; ask friends for information via WhatsApp; and get recommendations on Snapchat or Pinterest.”

Apple’s Tim Cook will echo the appeals to patriotism raised among the other tech CEOs by touting how Apple’s strength, becoming the most valuable company in the world, represents success “only possible in this country.”

He will also join the other tech leaders by arguing that Apple has plenty of competition.

“The smartphone market is fiercely competitive, and companies like Samsung, LG, Huawei and Google have built very successful smartphone businesses offering different approaches,” Cook will say in his opening statement to lawmakers.

Whether members of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee buy these arguments over the course of what is set to be an hourslong spectacle is another matter.

And it remains to be seen if the public will gain new insight into the tech companies, and whether lawmakers can pin down answers from the typically cautious technology executives.

The CEOs will be testifying via video at the same time, rather than one by one, a format seen as taking the heat off any individual executive and something the companies requested.

While the hearing centers on questions around market dominance, lawmakers are free to pepper the executives with questions about any topic.

The anything-goes format will likely divert the hearing away from antitrust and delve into issues like perceived anti-conservative bias on social media platforms, a common Republican refrain. And Democrats, often raising concern about foreign election meddling, may inquire about possible efforts to influence the vote online ahead of the November election.

More on-topic probing could involve issues like acquisitions that have grown the reach of Big Tech.

For instance, Facebook has acquired nearly 90 companies, including Instagram, WhatsApp and more recently, Giphy, a tool for creating animated images.

How ever it goes, one thing is certain: It will be a day for the history books.

The hearing is the first time all four technology leaders have testified together, as scrutiny over the companies’ nearly $5 trillion market power draws intensifying scrutiny in Washington.

The CEOs will be on the defensive as House lawmakers grill them about whether the business empire each company has created has resulted in monopoly-like dominance that distorts the marketplace in their favor.

After enjoying more than a decade virtually free of federal regulation, House lawmakers are expected to make the case that it’s time for the technology behemoths to be held to account.

The hearing caps a more than year-long House investigation into the Big Tech companies, which has probed whether the industry leaders box out competition, discourage innovation and pose larger threats to society and American democracy.

If Washington can keep the bipartisan focus on Silicon Valley, the hearing could set the stage for historic regulations, but the tech CEOs will be making the case to lawmakers that laws aimed at reining in the scale and power of each company are not necessary, contending that competition among rivals has not been squashed and that consumers have benefited from the technology sector’s success.

“You earn trust slowly, over time, by doing hard things well — delivering on time; offering everyday low prices; making promises and keeping them; making principled decisions, even when they’re unpopular,” Bezos will tell the subcommittee.

Unpopular among the four tech giants: the argument that the power each company has amassed over the years is being abused and needs to be held accountable by Washington.

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The fitness trends that are going to be big after Covid-19

HIIT, yoga and live stream sessions are going to be big (Picture: Getty)

Fitness fans have had to be extremely adaptable during lockdown. No gyms, no classes, no group training – the way we work out has changed drastically over the last few months.

While plenty of us are chomping at the bit to get back in the gym – it also looks like we are going to be sticking to some of our new fitness habits, even when lockdown ends.

Reebok health experts have predicted the top fitness trends that are going to be all the rage post lockdown.

So read up and get prepared for the new normal of fitness – and decide which trends you’re going to jump on over the next few weeks.

Virtual training

Virtual workouts are perfect for getting sweat session without leaving your house – great for while gyms are still closed, and also for more flexible lifestyles in the future.

Virtual workouts allow you to exercise at anytime time of the day, which is a big benefit for people who work erratic hours, or have jammed schedules.

‘The majority of people have adapted smoothly to virtual training,; says George Pearse, Personal Trainer at Fresh Fit London.

‘Armed with no more than a couple of dumbbells, perhaps a kettlebell and some bands, people have been enjoying new ways of training outside of the big lifts.’

Yoga for mental health

We’re all going to need to take good care of our mental health as we emerge into our new normal, and yoga is fantastic for that.

Yoga has long been renowned for it’s health benefits, increasing flexibility, strength and tone,’ so it’s no wonder it has become a staple for so many during lockdown.

‘Over the past few months, yoga has increased in popularity even more as people have had a massive shift in their working patterns and with more people working from home,’ comments Joe Mitton, Personal Trainer at MittFit.

‘People are spending an abundance of time sat behind a computer and yoga is the perfect remedy for stiffness and “tech neck”.’

Experts believe that we will come to rely on yoga more as we start to incorporate mental wellness into our fitness regimes.

‘Bodyweight training and running have been people’s favoured ways of training this past seven weeks, but yoga will continue to grow in popularity as people explore new, exciting methods of moving their bodies and calming their minds,’ says George Pearse, Personal Trainer at Fresh Fit London.

Group training

We’ve all been starved of human contact during lockdown, so it is unsurprising that we will flock to training in groups as soon as we get the chance

‘The lockdown has brought people together into fitness communities like never before and I think there will be a surge in people continuing with group training whether it be online or offline,’ says Joe Mitton Personal Trainer at MittFit.

With gyms and indoor group sessions closed, ‘personal training and boot camps in parks will see a big boom this year, as will small private studios and virtual one-to-one sessions,’ adds Keith McNiven, personal trainer and founder of Right Path Fitness

Coping without gyms

People have been really keen to keep training, despite the gym being out of bounds.

People have a strong need to keep moving, even if it’s not in the same way they were doing before.

This raises interesting questions on the other side of lockdown – will people want to rush back to the gym floor?

Experts believe that the customer is going to be a bit more discerning on the other side.

‘People will miss the gym, but the fact that they are adjusting so well to having intense, effective workouts at home and outside will change the mindset for many,’ says Keith McNiven, personal trainer and founder of Right Path Fitness.

‘Plus, it will be a while before they feel safe in gyms again.’

Instagram Live fitness

For gym-goers who felt apprehensive at the idea of exercising in a large group class, live, online classes are an excellent way of building confidence in a more private environment. 

‘The rise of Instagram live sessions has seen the public exposed to a huge range of different options,’ says Personal Trainer George Pearse, at Fresh Fit London.

‘While you aren’t physically sweating side-by-side on the mats with other people, it doesn’t mean workout together is not possible in quarantine. Even streaming by yourself, you feel as though you’re working out with others.’

More: Fitness


High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been revealed as the most popular fitness trend during lockdown with a 58% global increase in online articles during lockdown. 

Joe Mitton, Personal Trainer at MittFit says; ‘Lots of people are seeing the benefits of HIIT workouts and the ease of doing them from home combined with the abundance of great trainers offering incredible daily workouts across the world.

‘The soar in popularity will continue post-lockdown now that people have seen the benefit and created the habits.’

Physiotherapist, Emma James reveals that ‘there has been a sharp increase in HIIT and cardio classes online.

‘There will be a shift in how people exercise moving forward in a positive way, as exercising virtually helps to break down the barriers and fears that some people have about exercising in front of others.’

Do you have a story to share? We want to hear from you.

Get in touch: [email protected]

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Big banks able to weather Bank of Canada’s worst-case scenario, but risks higher for households and businesses

Canada’s six biggest banks survived a severe stress test by the Bank of Canada, which is a relief since they might be the only thing standing between a relatively short recession and something much worse.

The analysis was part of the central bank’s latest Financial System Review (FSR), which is devoted to the COVID-19 crisis.

Generally speaking, the central bank appears confident that its historic response to the shutdown of vast swaths of the global economy has averted disaster. Governor Stephen Poloz stuck to his contention that the recession will be brutal, but probably relatively short, in part because there appears to be little reason to worry about a financial meltdown.

The pandemic remains a massive economic and financial challenge, possibly the largest of our lifetimes, and it will leave higher levels of debt in its wake

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz

“The country’s banking system and financial market infrastructures are strong enough to deal with the situation,” Poloz said before taking questions on a conference call with reporters. “To be clear, the pandemic remains a massive economic and financial challenge, possibly the largest of our lifetimes, and it will leave higher levels of debt in its wake.”

Still, thanks to decent economic growth during the past few years and the hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency funds that Ottawa is pushing into the economy, the governor said he was “confident that a strong financial system will help Canada emerge from this episode in relatively good shape.”

Unlike many of its peers, Canada’s central bank doesn’t have any regulatory authority over financial institutions. But it does have moral authority, and it wields the country’s most impressive array of economic researchers. Thus, the FSR is an important instrument of policy, since central bankers use it to try to guide behaviour, just as they attempt to steer spending habits by raising and lowering interest rates.

Normally, the annual FSR is a warning mechanism. The Bank of Canada flags vulnerabilities it thinks could lead to pain in the event of a shock. Since we’re currently living through such a shock, this year’s review was more of a “state of play,” as Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Brian DePratto observed. “Vulnerabilities abound, but on balance the bank appears to be cautiously optimistic that the system can handle the current and emerging stresses,” he said in a note to his clients.

The Big Six and the hefty cash reserves they must maintain to satisfy federal regulations are a firebreak in this crisis

Policy-makers are confident that they have avoided a credit crunch, albeit only because they took the unprecedented step of creating tens of billions of dollars to buy government bonds and company debt. The policy seems to be working, since interest rates, which spiked in March as investors retreated when the coronavirus spread through Europe and North America, have returned to pre-crisis levels.

Poloz and the central bank’s other leaders are probably less sure about how many companies and households will survive the recession without declaring bankruptcy.

The central bank reckons about twenty per cent of mortgage borrowers entered the downturn with only enough cash and other liquid assets to cover two months (or less) of loan payments. Many companies are equally fragile, as some of the industries hardest hit by the crisis are also the ones in which companies were already operating with relatively little money in the bank.

“COVID‑19 has hit many households and businesses hard, especially those that are highly indebted or have low cash buffers,” the FSR said. “During this period, emergency measures that provide basic incomes to households and help businesses access credit are crucial.”

Government rescue efforts now exceed 10 per cent of gross domestic product, more than double the value of the fiscal stimulus deployed during the Great Recession a decade ago. Much of the assistance is in the form of emergency loans, and most of that funding is being administered by the biggest banks.

Canada’s banking oligopoly constrains competition and innovation in good times. But the Big Six and the hefty cash reserves they must maintain to satisfy federal regulations are a firebreak in this crisis. Things would be much worse if the banks were as fragile as airlines and oil companies. Fortunately, the banks should be able to withstand a deterioration of current conditions.

Policy-makers ran a simulation of what would happen to the six biggest banks — Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and National Bank — if the Bank of Canada’s worst-case economic outlook came to pass.

That scenario, which the central bank acknowledges is plausible, involves a 30 per cent plunge in GDP in the second quarter from the end of 2019 and a slow recovery that would leave economic output below pre-crisis levels for more than two years.

It’s ugly, but the banks survived the test: arrears peaked at a rate that was about double the peak during the financial crisis, and non-performing loans would exceed recent highs. But monetary and fiscal policy counter much of the pain, and the banks’ reserves do the rest. Capital requirements remain above the level required by regulation, which was made tougher after the Great Recession precisely so the most important lenders would be ready for the next economic calamity.

“The six largest banks entered the COVID‑19 period with strong capital and liquidity buffers, a diversified asset base, the capacity to generate income and the protection of a robust mortgage insurance system,” the FSR said. “With these strengths, as well as the aggressive government policy response to the pandemic, the largest banks are in a good position to manage the consequences.”

Financial Post

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Tiny airports rake in big cash after botched stimulus formula

The divergent outcomes for airports reveal how important obscure legislative language can be when it comes to the unprecedented economic stimulus packages Congress has passed. Across the multitrillion dollar federal rescue effort, there’s been a series of fits and starts, with some enterprises getting money quickly, while others suffer — often without knowing why.

The story behind the $10 billion in airport funding effort is simple: Airports with little or no debt and a decent amount of cash on hand were entitled to receive a relatively large share of the money. But that inherently benefited small airports because they don’t have the huge amounts of debt associated with capital projects at larger airports.

For the nearly 200 commercial airports that received only enough money to pay the bills for a few months, the federal bailout means uncertainty about their futures and tough decisions to make about services or projects to cut back on once the federal money runs out. That could make recovery even more complicated for communities that rely on airports to boost tourism or provide essential services, not to mention travelers, private pilots and others who hope to return to using them when air travel picks up again.

“It’s highly skewed towards small airports with zero debt and something like one dollar in the reserves,” said Mark Sixel, a consultant who counts a dozen airports as clients and who prepared an analysis for them. “It stands out like a sore thumb.”

That means airports like Merrill Field, a small airport in Alaska that largely serves small planes, would receive nearly $18 million, worth about nine years of its expenses. Its manager told the Anchorage Daily News that it was the “most money invested in Merrill Field in the past five years, if not ever.”

And John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport — no stranger to federal largess, considering the late lawmaker who is the airport’s namesake was known for bringing home pork — was set to receive over $5 million. It averaged about a dozen daily passenger boardings in 2018.

In all, nearly 3,300 airports are getting a piece of the $10 billion allocated in the CARES Act. The individual grant amounts range from $1,000 to $338,535,265 and can be used for capital costs, operations or debt payments.

In the hasty process of developing the bill, House Democrats had a simpler proposal that relied almost exclusively on the number of passengers flying through an airport. That would have benefited airports roughly proportionally to how busy they are.

“We pushed back against [the plans to take debt into account], but the process happened so quickly,” a Democratic aide said.

A Senate Appropriations spokesperson noted that the plans for distributing funds were developed in consultation with the FAA and ultimately with the sign-off of Democratic and Republican appropriators in both chambers. The spokesperson argued that the language Congress crafted gave the agency flexibility.

“The fact that FAA has been able to make necessary adjustments without new language shows sufficient flexibility was provided to begin with,” the spokesperson said.

But at least one lawmaker has publicly decried how FAA is handing out the money. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), whose district includes Memphis International Airport, asked the FAA to suspend the grant payments until Congress has a chance to fix them. He pointed out that Memphis International, the second-busiest cargo airport in the world, got less than the nearby McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, which had half as many passengers travel through it compared with Memphis in 2019.

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Trump promised a big announcement. Then he read off a long list of names.

“Now, we have a list of people that I’ll be speaking to over the next very short period of time, in many cases, tomorrow,” Trump said. “We have a list of different industries that I’ll be discussing by, meeting by telephone, because we don’t want people traveling right now.”

Trump read off names of just about every leading corporation in America — all of whom he said would advise the administration in the coming weeks about how to reopen the economy from its coronavirus-induced shutdown.

After the president concluded his news briefing, the White House released a list of nearly 200 corporate executives, faith leaders and thought leaders broken out by sector in what the announcement called “Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups.”

“These bipartisan groups of American leaders will work together with the White House to chart the path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity,” the statement said. “The health and wealth of America is the primary goal, and these groups will produce a more independent, self-sufficient, and resilient Nation.”

At no point did Trump or the White House explain the way the committees would work, or the types of suggestions they sought or the benchmarks the White House would use to determine whether it was safe to reopen shuttered businesses, send children back to school, reopen stadiums or resume work in offices.

Trump also did not indicate who would lead the effort emanating from the various industry groups from the White House; on Monday, the councils had seemed like a potential new project for chief of staff Mark Meadows. Throughout the past week there were also confusing signals about the involvement of senior advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

The back-and-forth deliberations over the “Opening Our Country Council,” as Trump called it at one point last week, laid bare for the American public the way decisions often are made in the Trump White House — through power struggles, the loose and very public airing of possible ideas and then the president making adjustments on the fly with a goal of having a big announcement.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Tuesday the president would likely make an announcement later this week on when and how he intended to reopen the economy, a choice Trump has called one of the toughest decisions of his presidency.

Inside the White House, aides have been zeroing in on the estimates from the nonpartisan Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which show the U.S. is now past its peak outbreak and estimates that hospitalizations related to Covid-19 will start to rapidly decline beginning in late April.

Aides are reluctant to identify May 1 as a target date given how things panned out last time — when Trump identified Easter as his target and then had to walk it back — but the president and vice president do think May is a realistic timeline for some parts of the country to begin reopening.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he could see the country re-opening in phases, depending on the infection rates.

In an Associated Press interview, Fauci indicated the U.S. needed stronger and more efficient testing to be in place before parts of the country reopened. That was in sharp contrast to the president’s more upbeat, congratulatory messages about the administration’s coronavirus response.

Fauci did not speak at the briefing on Tuesday and no government officials spoke apart from the president.

One senior White House official described the IHME estimates as “promising” and a “positive sign.” This official also said there are “many plans in development” right now that are aimed at safely reopening the economy, including ways to boost surveillance testing across the country.

The administration conducted a stress test of the current surveillance testing system last week to see if it works and views that as one of the main areas that needs improvement before people return to work.

“The data is looking better and better each day, and ultimately we want the data to drive the decision-making in terms of reopening the economy,” the senior White House official said.

A second official said White House aides were aware of a widely circulated timeline put out by Morgan Stanley for restarting the economy and disagreed with it slightly. According to that timeline, the first wave of Americans returning to nonessential businesses would be in June, which is farther out than the current timeline being discussed by task force and other administration officials.

A number of conservatives outside of the administration, along with top officials like Kudlow, Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have been pushing Trump to relax the administration’s guidelines on social distancing as soon as possible to urge businesses to reopen.

Health officials have been sifting through state-by-state data to determine when the economy could reopen, including diagnostic rates of new infections as well as the availability of hospital beds.

Even before the flurry of discussions about forming the new economic council, top economic and Treasury officials had been meeting to discuss ways to boost the economy once people return to work; that could include tax cuts, such as temporarily suspending the payroll tax cut for employers and employees for up to a year, or easing regulations even further.

In just three weeks of the crisis, 16.8 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, according to the Labor Department, and millions more are expected to be added to that tally in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, governors are making their own plans to reopen the economy without the president’s input. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that state officials would consider the state’s ability to track the virus; the protection of vulnerable people; and the capacity of hospitals as he weighed reopening schools and businesses throughout the state.

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CCW class for black women at Cincinnati church draws big crowd

ROSELAWN, Ohio – New Prospect Baptist Church is home to one of the largest black congregations in Cincinnati. On any weekend there you’ll find weddings, funerals, and three Sunday services.

Not exactly a place you think you’d find 179 women firing .22-caliber handguns in the church basement.

But that’s exactly what happened on Feb. 8, when the church opened its doors to what state officials believe is one of the largest women-only, concealed carry gun certification classes held in the state of Ohio. 

Over and over, the women cited the same reason for coming to the class. They were tired of being scared – of guns, of being alone in a home, of walking in some neighborhoods. 

Ariel Gresham, left,  Nancy Robb, both of Finneytown hold an unloaded revolver during an all-female concealed carry and weapons class Saturday, February 8, 2020, at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn sponsored Arm the Populace.

Karen Bolden, 56, was so scared of her husband’s guns she asked him to get rid of them when they got married two years ago. He did, but she’s working to conquer her fear. When Bolden’s sister alerted her to the class – and suggested they go together – she jumped at the chance.

“This is why this class is so important,” Bolden said. “We can’t be afraid.”

The class was organized by two men: the church’s pastor Rev. Damon Lynch III and Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor, a Republican who appeared at the class sporting a t-shirt reading “All gun control is racist.” 

On Jan. 8, Pastor spread the word of the class on Facebook. 

“FREE All Women CCW Course! After hearing about those girls in Columbus being kidnapped and other young ladies around the country being sold into sex trafficking, rape, domestic violence, and other acts of violence against women, I felt the only thing I could do is host another free basic gun course for all women!”   

Within a week, the class was sold out.

Two hundred women signed up. Despite an early morning snowfall that made driving treacherous, 179 women turned out for the class, all with varying comfort levels with guns. Some had never touched one. Others owned a gun, but wanted the license needed to carry it with them. Some came because their moms or sisters or friends suggested it.

The class was taught by certified CCW licensing firm Arm the Populace. It was an intense, nine-hour class, complete with a built-just-for-the class shooting range in an empty storage area above the church’s community center.

Opinion:Don’t pit slavery descendants against black immigrants. Racism doesn’t know the difference.

Women paid $25 each to cover the cost of the space, cheaper than the typical $65 class fee.

Arm the Populace, a Cincinnati-based company that offers firearms and personal defense training, donated its time. It billed the class as the largest CCW class of all women ever in Ohio.

A spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which keeps CCW records, said the office does not track class size, but from his experience, 179 women in a class could be the largest. The office does not keep CCW permit statistics by race.  

A Pew Research Center report in 2017 delved into “America’s complex relationship with guns.” It found gun ownership varied considerably by race and gender. About four-in-ten men (39%) said they personally owned a gun, compared with 22% of women. And while 36% of whites reported that they were gun owners, only about a quarter of blacks and 15% of Hispanics said they own a gun.

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Canadiens’ Carey Price becoming like a big brother to Cayden Primeau

Canadiens rookie goalie Cayden Primeau was asked after practice Friday in Brossard to describe his relationship with Carey Price.

“I’m not sure … probably big brother, little brother,” Primeau said. “But he’s been nothing but great and super supportive. I try to stay out of his way, but like I said he’s been super supportive. So I can’t say any more nice things about him.”

The big brother had the little brother’s back after Primeau recorded his first NHL victory Wednesday night, making 35 saves in a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre. The Senators’ Brady Tkachuk picked up the puck after Ben Chiarot scored the winning goal in OT and was leaving the ice with it when he was stopped by Price.

Tkachuk handed the puck over and Price presented it to Primeau after the rookie was named the first star in only his second NHL start since getting called up from the AHL’s Laval Rocket.

Carey Price congratulates rookie goalie Cayden Primeau after his first NHL victory, a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Dec. 11, 2019.

Minas Panagiotakis /

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“That means so much,” Primeau said. “(Price) probably doesn’t even realize how much it means to me that he got a piece of that night there I’ll be able to have for the rest of my life.”

Tkachuk, who is known as a pest and tangled with Shea Weber during Wednesday’s game, claimed he was going to give the puck to a fan as a souvenir, but most likely knew exactly what he was doing when he tried to take away the special souvenir. Primeau and Tkachuk were teammates for international play at the U-18 level with Team USA.

“He messaged me and he told me that he was doing that (giving the puck to a fan),” Primeau said. “But it’s all part of the way he plays and I respect that. When people don’t like him, that’s what he’s supposed to do. I’m going to take his word for it, but definitely part of his game.”

“Nothing can surprise me with Brady,” the goalie said with a big smile.

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Sooners head to final four after winning Big 12 in overtime thriller


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Jalen Hurts is headed back to the final four.

The Alabama Crimson Tide are not.

And neither are the Baylor Bears after Hurts and the Oklahoma Sooners beat them in the Big 12 Championship Game — a 30-23 overtime thriller Saturday at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas.

“These are hard to win,” Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley told reporters post-game. We found a lot of ways to win football games. We certainly did today.”

Hurts agreed.

“People act like it’s supposed to be easy,” Hurts told reporters post-game. “It’s not supposed to be easy. Winning championships is hard.”

With this hard-fought win, the Sooners are most likely headed to the final four but have to await official word from the College Football Playoff selection committee, which is slated to announce the post-season combatants Sunday (noon ET, TSN2).

“I hope they see the Big 12 champions,” Riley told reporters post-game. “They’ve got a job to do — I get that. We’ve had a job to do as a team, which was continue to improve through the year, trust the things that we could and ultimately win the Big 12 championship. We’ve done that.”

Hurts has been the major reason why.

While Baylor has shown remarkable resilience in rebounding and rebuilding from a program-debilitating sexual assault scandal a few years back, Hurts rebuilt his college career with Oklahoma after losing his starter’s job with Alabama in the second half of the national championship game in 2018.

The dynamic QB used the transfer portal last summer to join Riley’s squad, and his subsequent stellar play has made him a likely Heisman Trophy finalist.

“I’m blessed to be where my feet are,” added Hurts, who’s now headed to his fourth straight College Football Playoff, while ‘Bama missed out with two-losses during the regular season. “How crazy it is to be here after starting as a true freshman for (Alabama) and winning the SEC championship and going to the national championship to be a Big 12 champion?”

The answer was in his performance Saturday, throwing 17-of-24 for 287 yards — teaming up with superstar receiver CeeDee Lamb on 173 of them — and running for another 38.

“I wrote a note to (Lamb) before the game, and I handed it to him when I shake everybody’s hand,” Hurts told Fox post-game. “I told him, ‘I said it’s time to let the dog off the leash and he’s loose. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.”
It didn’t help Baylor that it lost its dual-threat QB, Charlie Brewer, to an early-game injury and was forced to turn to its two backups.

Nonetheless, the never-say-die Bears rebounded from two 10-point leads built up by Oklahoma.
Redshirt freshman QB Gerry Bohanon proved ineffective for Baylor after an early TD throw, bringing on true freshman QB Jacob Zeno, who hit for two long majors to force OT.

But Hurts found Lamb and Rhamondre Stevenson rumbled for the five-yard TD to put Oklahoma up after its possession in overtime.

Then the Sooners defence slammed the door on Zeno and the Baylor offence to score the victory for the conference crown and — likely — the fourth and final berth in the CFP.

Well-deserved, for sure.

“There’s a narrative out there that the SEC is a different animal,” Hurts told reporters. “But the Big 12 is tough.”

It’s Oklahoma’s fifth-straight Big 12 crown.

No. 5 Utah (11-2) blew its chance to shine on the big stage Friday night — and along with it lost what might be its best shot ever to make the final four. Utah got steamrolled early in a 37-15 drop to No. 13 Oregon (11-2) in the Pac-12 finale in Santa Clara, Calif. Oregon played its best game of the season, building a 20-0 halftime lead and getting 208 rushing yards game-long from CJ Verdell to slice apart a vaunted Utah defence. The decision gives Oregon its third conference title and sends it to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, while Utah misses out on a golden opportunity to make the CFP. A win by Utah coupled with Georgia’s loss to LSU would have put Utah into the playoff … Anybody still doubting No. 2 LSU (13-0) after the SEC championship game isn’t paying attention. Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow shredded arguably the country’s best defence for 349 yards and four TDs through the air in a 37-10 takedown of No. 4 Georgia (11-2). Saturday’s result should push LSU to No. 1 in the final CFP rankings, while Georgia misses out on a return to the final four. UGA had the inside track but needed the victory in Atlanta. LSU is just too good, though. “Just so proud of my football team and my coaching staff,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron told CBS post-game. “But we said tonight, ‘This is not our final destination.’ Wherever they tell us to play next, we’re going to be ready.” … No. 1 Ohio State (13-0) took it on the chin early but rallied to dump No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) 34-21 for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis late Saturday … Nothing wrong with the defending champs, as No. 3 Clemson (13-0) destroyed No. 23 Virginia (9-4) 62-17 in the ACC finale in Charlotte, N.C., to become the first team ever to win a fifth-straight conference championship game.

Give No. 17 Memphis (12-1) a conference crown and the Group of Five’s New Year’s Day berth in the Cotton Bowl after a 29-24 defeat Saturday of No. 20 Cincinnati (10-3) in the ACC finale. A six-yard TD pass from QB Brady White to Antonio Gibson with 74 seconds remaining proved to be the difference from host Memphis in what was a rematch from last week’s regular-season wrap-up. Now, Memphis awaits its official invitation to the Cotton Bowl … Same teams, same result, as No. 21 Appalachian State (12-1) topped Louisiana-Lafayette (10-3) for the second straight Sun Belt championship game. Saturday’s final in Boone, N.C., saw App State hold on for a 45-38 victory in a game during which it never trailed … No. 19 Boise State (12-1) topped Hawaii (9-5) 31-10 in the Mountain West Championship Game, getting bend-but-don’t break defence on the blue carpet Saturday in Boise … The MAC finale saw Miami-Ohio (8-5) upset Central Michigan (8-5) 26-21 Saturday in Detroit.

Lane Kiffin is climbing the college football coaching ranks again, as he’ll join Ole Miss as the head coach fresh off Saturday’s Conference USA title take with Florida Atlantic. FAU (10-3) dominated UAB (9-4) in the conference finale in Boca Raton, Fla., with UAB allowing season highs in points and yards allowed (585) … Watch for Memphis head coach Mike Norvell to be named sidelines boss of Florida State on Sunday … Penn State likes what James Franklin’s done, going 55-23 during his tenure so far, inking the head man to another six seasons. It’s believed to be a contract worth $5.3 million per year plus bonuses.

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Australia fires: blazes ‘too big to put out’ as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland | Australia news

Dozens of fires will burn across Australia for weeks, fire authorities say, including a “mega-fire”, already the size of greater Sydney, that is too big to put out.

At 6am on Sunday there were 96 bush and grass fires in NSW – 47 of which were not contained. Five fires are at a watch and act level.

Conditions eased on Sunday morning, allowing firefighters a chance to do critical back-burning and containment work ahead of Tuesday, when the mercury is tipped to soar into the 40s in parts of the state.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said overnight conditions had improved.

“We’ve got much more benign conditions, particularly a dominant easterly influence which will stretch pretty much right across most of our fire grounds,” he told Seven News.

“Which means hundreds – as a matter of fact more than 1600 – firefighters are around again today doing really important and critical back burning and containment-line consolidation to try and gain the upper hand before we see those conditions deteriorate into Tuesday.”

Already this fire season, six people have died and more than 1,000 homes have been lost across NSW and Queensland.

The largest conflagration, the “mega fire” at Gospers Mountain near Sydney’s north-western outskirts, was likely to burn for weeks until substantial rain falls, likely at the end of January or early February.

The NSW Bureau of Meteorology said the largest fires simply could not be extinguished by water-bombing aircraft or firefighting crews on the ground.

“The massive NSW fires are in some cases just too big to put out at the moment … they’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange and even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the bureau said.

The bureau has forecast a grim week ahead, with strong winds forecast for fire-affected areas and no rain relief in sight. A months-long drought in eastern Australia has left bushland tinder dry and prone to ignition, especially from dry lightning strikes.

Temperatures are expected to reach 43C in western Sydney, and 44C in the Hunter region immediately north of Australia’s largest city.

Temperatures will also soar in the state’s north-west, where they are forecast to hit 44C in Bourke and 43C in Colbar.

In Queensland late on Saturday, a shipping container filled with fireworks exploded and residents were forced to flee their homes as an unpredictable fire threatened homes in Bundamba, on the outskirts of the state capital, Brisbane.

Residents within an three-kilometre-squared exclusion zone were ordered out as the firefront was waterbombed but fire crews warned they might not be able to stop the fast-moving blaze.

Conditions have eased off, a spokeswoman for Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Services said on Sunday morning, however are expected to pick up later in the day.

A high fire danger rating is in place for the Darling Downs and Granite Belt to Cape York Peninsula, and will ramp up to severe in the Northern Goldfields and Upper Flinders on Monday.

One home was reportedly destroyed in the Bundamba fire on Saturday night.

The chief scientist at the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dr Bidda Jones, said that, beyond the human cost of the fires, the widespread blazes would have a “major impact of biodiversity”.

“Depending on the intensity of the fire, it will have had a massive impact on wildlife,” she said. “And not just on those iconic species like koalas. You have to think of this in terms of how it affects the entire ecosystem.

“You have animals relying on the eucalyptus trees for their primary diet – greater gliders are another example of that. Then you have a whole range of other species living off nectar or the insects in that environment, and there’s going to be a considerable loss of insect life in those fires.”

Jones said animals often preferred old large trees for nesting, the trees most likely to be destroyed by the fires.

“And then with fires that have been burning even at low intensity, leaf litter and all the understorey is gone. That’s providing food and refuge to animals there and the animals they would eat.

“So if you look at the overall picture … the damage has been so extensive, it’s going to have a major impact on biodiversity.”

Much of Jones’s own property, which backed on to national park at Braidwood near the Australian capital, Canberra, was lost to fires this week.

“At this point almost all of that has been burnt, all of that continues forest, up to 31,000 hectares,” she said. “The big trees are still there and we have greater gliders that live in the forest, as well as powerful owls.

“So I’m hoping that they’ll be OK. They’ll have lost nesting holes because the big trees have fallen and it’s the big old trees that have the nesting holes.”

Jones’s property was home to a huge variety of birds, as well as eastern grey kangaroos, swamp wallabies and red wallabies.

“We were going out and meeting kangaroos and red neck wallabies that were moving away from the fire,” she said. “A lot of wombats, I’m not sure what they’re going to eat. All of the forest floor, any grass any shrubs, are gone.”

Jones said her rainfall records showed last month to be the driest November in 40 years. The November average is about 100ml but this year it was 18ml.

The role of climate change in contributing to Australia’s unusually early and fierce fire season has been the subject of acute political debate. The federal government has refused to concede that climate change – and in particular Australia’s continued rising carbon emissions and massive fossil fuel exports – have played any role in the current fire crisis.

The Australian, prime minister Scott Morrison, has consistently said it was “no credible scientific evidence” linking climate change with the fires. This has been rejected by climate scientists, who have said politicians are “burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them”.

“Anytime I hear ‘don’t talk about climate change’,” Jones said, “anyone in my situation has absolutely no doubt these conditions are extreme and are connected to climate change.”

with Australian Associated Press

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