Friday night.

Well, this week was exciting, if nothing else. The stock market shenanigans continue. Robinhood, the failed trading platform with 13 million users, has restricted its rules yet again: this morning, its users could buy only five shares each of in-demand stocks like Gamestop, AMC, or Blackberry. Later this afternoon, they changed it to just one per share per account. That is absolutely and utterly bonkers. It also looks like yesterday’s synchronized trading restrictions across multiple online platforms might have been due to their clearing company having severe issues with filling orders. Full details will come out later (and they’ll be delicious and fascinating) but here and now, it really looks like Robinhood had a severe cash crunch.

After Robinhood restricted stock purchase rules for over 10 million Americans, a lot of stocks absolutely crashed, since there were only sellers and no buyers aside from hedge funds and short-sellers. (So much for taking from the rich and giving to the poor, eh?) At this point, it looks like Robinhood has just given up on life: they’ve been hit with a class-action lawsuit, gotten threatened with congressional hearings, and united just about every celebrity and politician against themselves. There’s no way for them to dig themselves out of this hole, so they just keep digging deeper. Their previously planned IPO has already been cancelled, their users are starting to transfer their accounts to Fidelity, and it’s anyone’s guess whether Robinhood will even exist as an entity this time next week. What a truly meteoric self-immolation: they wasted years of scrappy-but-friendly reputation in a matter of days. What a week.

And meanwhile, my own broker, Ally, is still locking its own investors out of its site while refusing to say why. Their hotlines are jammed: people online report having to wait over two hours just to talk to an ineffective customer support rep. Their online chat is equally jammed. Their social media reps (all two of them, it seems) are pasting the same old boilerplate condolences and vague assurances that maybe, somehow, this will get fixed. Ally is a multi-billion-dollar company, they have millions of investors, and the one thing I don’t understand is whether they’re locking out all of their clients or only those who had traded in those over-shorted stocks. If I hadn’t managed to sell my Gamestop stock first thing Wednesday morning, I’d probably be on the verge of a heart attack right now. Their tactics seem similar to Robinhood’s, and I can only wonder if they’re facing a similar cash crunch. If it suddenly goes out of business, the money is insured, but it’ll take so long to get it back…

This pandemic is really quite illuminating. As people get more and more fed up, we get to see more blatant hypocrisies and giant flaws in the system exposed in broad daylight for all to see. We had Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer, though none of the cops who shot Brianna Denison went to prison, and none of the much-needed police reforms passed. We had a state-of-the-art epidemiology infrastructure in the US, as well as a perfectly adequate plan in case of a pandemic, but the CDC rolled over and played dead. It succumbed to opportunistic lying politicians (but I’m being redundant) instead of showing some backbone and refusing to back down – and thus squandered 74 years of hard-earned reputation. We had a fair and free election, but the outgoing president tried to overturn it to the point of organizing a mob to storm the Capitol. And now we have a lot of average people who found a very rare investment opportunity (seriously, why would they short 138% of Gamestop’s shares?..), made good money, and got punished for their impudence by having their accounts either locked up or functionally disabled, even as hedge funds could buy up their shares at criminally low prices.

For anyone who’s been paying attention over the past year, this really ought to destroy any and all faith in the system: there is no police accountability, no independent epidemiologists, a highly fragile political system, and an utterly, blatantly, comically corrupt financial system. There are far more surprises yet to come, I’m sure of it. I just wonder about the long-term side effects of all of this. I’ve always been a cynic, but how much more cynical will our population as a whole get?..

One minor upside amidst all this chaos: months ago, I’d reached out to the Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team (OVERT) to see if they were recruiting. I really, really miss my old Search&Rescue group back in Seattle, and want to help. OVERT replied and said they wouldn’t be recruiting in the foreseeable future. Just a few hours ago, I heard from them again: their recruitment season is back! It sounds like they skipped it entirely in 2020, and I’m really curious how they’ll do it this year (social distancing and all), but I’ve just signed up for their March 1st virtual orientation session. It’s still more than a month away, but it’s a tiny glimmer of hope in this otherwise remarkably shitty year.

Speaking of which… Covid news – the good news first: there’s data from two new vaccines – Novavax and Johnson&Johnson. They’re less efficient than the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but they’re still good enough – and in J&J’s case, it’s just one dose. They’re not quite as effective against all the new variant strains, but it’s a start, eh. Also, Canada will finally, at long, long last, start travel restrictions. There’ll be no more flights to Mexico or the Caribbean (now that all the Canadian politicians got to enjoy their sunny vacations there), and international travelers will have to spend three days at a hotel, paid out of their own pocket, before their test clears, followed by two weeks of isolation which will be (allegedly) strictly enforced. That’s very nice, and better late than never, but did they have to wait this long?.. That’s a start, I suppose.

In bad covid news, Moderna is cutting (though not eliminating) its vaccine shipments to Canada, though Trudeau, acting as their volunteer spokesperson, reassured us all that all the ordered doses for this quarter will show up by the end of March. If they don’t, things will probably get pretty ugly. And in the worst covid news (do you see a trend here?), the EU has announced that they’ll institute vaccine export controls (they’re not calling this a ban yet) on vaccines manufactured in the EU, so mainly Pfizer, it seems. They’re prioritizing their own citizens first and foremost, in defiance of the established contracts other countries may have had. They’re also excluding the UK, which will make things a little uglier than they already are. For the time being, this is being floated as a temporary delay, with all the non-EU countries able to get their doses later on, once the EU is full and happy.

The implications here are pretty bad… A week or so ago, Pfizer cut Canada’s shipments and gave us an IOU note saying they’ll catch up later. Now Moderna is doing the same. And now the EU might cut everyone off altogether. And this is only January… Y’all, I just don’t think that the official vaccine rollout timeline is going to hold up now. Canada’s official plan was to start the phase 3 vaccination for everyone in August/September. With all these delays, and with the logistical bottlenecks on the local level, this might get pushed back into October/November. As always, I would be incredibly happy to be proven wrong. And if Canadians don’t even get to enjoy their summer, if the year+5 months of lockdowns turns into almost two years.. Things are liable to get very ugly indeed.

The only silver lining of this mushroom cloud is that the US might come to our rescue. Last year, Trump signed executive orders that put America first, essentially banning all exports of US-manufactured PPE supplies and vaccines. If Biden overturns that, and if the US finds a couple dozen million doses under its seat cushions, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get outs before there are even more anti-lockdown riots than there already are. (Large mobs are storming random stores and shopping malls, maskless and loud and angry. The police mostly ignore them.)

Fun week… What I wouldn’t give for even a single normal, baseline, pre-pandemic month where you don’t have to worry about the stability of everything around you with each new news cycle.

Good night, y’all. Stay safe.