Link back to the discussion thread.


Europe

  • Wheat Harvest Outside Ukraine Is Also Under Threat, Adding Pressure to Global Supply WSJ

The European Union faces a disappointing wheat harvest this year, dimming hopes that one of the world’s biggest producers might help fill a widening global grain gap left by the war in Ukraine.

Analysts are now starting to forecast a weaker European harvest, too. Such forecasts can change, but the new pessimism over European production comes ahead of what many analysts already expected to be smaller-than-usual harvests in other global bread baskets such as India and Australia. Other grain stalwarts, like the U.S., are expecting better-than-expected yields that could make up for some of that.

Amid the tight global market, though, any expected shortfall from a big grain producer has become a source of fresh worry. In recent weeks, the EU’s harvest—one of the world’s largest—has become a particular key focus for grain buyers and agricultural analysts as they debate whether it might disappoint, and so add to the current deficit.

Strategie Grains, an agriculture consulting firm that publishes a closely followed monthly crops report, said Thursday it is now forecasting the EU to produce almost 5% less wheat this year compared with last year. The bloc is forecast to produce 278.8 million metric tons of all grains in the 2022-2023 growing season—down more than 4% from last year—because of dry weather. Coceral, a European trade association, earlier forecast grain production across the EU to fall 1.4% from 2021.

  • Throughout Europe, New Laws Are Criminalizing Desperate Refugees Jacobin

Ukraine

  • British POWs sentenced to death after ‘show trial’ which appears to violate Geneva Conventions The Conversation

Two Britons captured while fighting in Ukraine’s armed forces have been sentenced to death after what has been condemned as a “show trial”. Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who surrendered to Russian forces during the siege of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, were convicted on the charge of “being a mercenary”. They have a month to appeal and, if successful, they could receive a life or 25-year prison sentence instead of the death penalty.

Pro-Russian officials in the breakaway republic of Donetsk, where the trial was conducted, claimed the men’s actions had “led to the deaths and injury of civilians, as well as damage to civilian and social infrastructure”.

But what observers have called a “show trial” on “trumped-up charges” raises important questions both about their status under international law (specifically, whether they are entitled to prisoner of war status) and the compatibility of these trials with the rights that come with such status.

Russia

  • Putin: Russia Won’t Shut Down Oil Wells Oil Price

Some analysts have predicted that Western sanctions on Russia, combined with the EU’s embargo on Russian crude oil and tanker insurance, would lead to the inevitable shut down of Russian oil wells as inventories build up in the pariah country.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the country will not be blocking off their oil wells.

While oil embargos and sanctions may be temporary, blocking off oil wells isn’t—at least not typically. What the world painfully realized shortly after the Saudi Arabia-Russian oil price war right before the pandemic is that when Russian wells are idled for a lengthy period of time, it can lead to permanent shut-ins, with operational challenges proving insurmountable in some of their maturing fields.

On top of that, if certain oilfields are pulled out of service, the quality of the Urals blend—made up of oil from multiple oilfields—could be altered, thereby decreasing its value in the market.

Putin, however, says that it will not do that, despite calls to shun the country’s oil. Limited storage capacity, however, could force Putin’s hand.

Putin’s argument, though, is that the West will not be able to stop importing Russian crude oil entirely.

“As far as refusal from our energy resources is concerned, this is unlikely for the next few years, while it’s not clear, what will happen during those few years. That’s why, no one will pour cement into the wells,” Putin told a televised meeting with young entrepreneurs, according to Reuters.

So far, the reality has been closer to Putin’s scenario than the West would like.

Still, the U.S. EIA forecasted that Russian oil output will decline from 11.3 million bpd in the first quarter of 2022 to 9.3 million bpd in the final quarter of 2023 as a result of the EU embargo on both crude oil and refined product imports.

Finland

  • Finland plans to build barriers on its border with Russia Reuters

Finland’s government plans to amend border legislation to allow the building of barriers on its eastern frontier with Russia, it said on Thursday, in a move to strengthen preparedness against hybrid threats amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Belarus

  • Putin Is Investing $1.5 Billion in One of His Top Allies Newsweek

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday said Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to provide Belarus with $1.5 billion for its participation in import substitution programs, according to a Belarusian state news agency.

Germany

  • A Plea From German Brewers: Bring Back Your Empties NYT

Stefan Fritsche, who runs a centuries-old German brewery in Neuzelle, near the Polish border, has seen his natural gas bill jump a startling 400 percent over the past year. His electricity bill has increased 300 percent. And he’s paying more for barley than ever before.

But the soaring inflation for energy and grains in the wake of the Ukraine war is no match for the biggest challenge facing Mr. Fritsche’s brewery, Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle, and others like it across Germany: a severe shortage of beer bottles.

The problem is “unprecedented,” Mr. Fritsche said. “The price of bottles has exploded.”

? The issue is not so much a lack of bottles. Germany’s roughly 1,500 breweries have up to four billion returnable glass bottles in circulation — about 48 for every man, woman and child.

Customers pay a surcharge of 8 euro cents on each bottle, and get that money back when it is returned.

While the returnable-bottle system is climate-friendly and appeals to Germans’ obsession with recycling, it comes with one major problem: getting people to return their empties.

Dragging a crate — or several — of empty glass bottles back to a store can be a hassle, even if it means getting back the deposit fee. So people tend to let them stack up, in the basements of their homes or on the balconies of their apartments, biding their time until they are running out of either space or spare cash.

“It is deadly for small brewers,” Mr. Fritsche said. The brewery he runs sells 80 percent of its beer in bottles. (In 2003, a recycling law was expanded to focus on reducing waste in the beverage industry, meaning most beer sold for the domestic market is in returnable bottles, not cans.)

United Kingdom

  • UK healthcare staff call in sick to avoid using car as cost of fuel soars, union says The Guardian

Low-paid health and care workers are calling in sick because they cannot afford to fill their cars with petrol to travel to work, the head of the UK’s largest trade union has warned.

“[Petrol price rises are] having a big impact on people with jobs that mean they have to travel. So community health workers, health visitors, care workers, social workers … are saying they just cannot afford to do their jobs any more,” she said.

“We’re actually hearing of people who would rather phone in sick because they don’t have the money to fill up their cars and do their jobs. And more and more people are leaving public services, even in local government. There’s huge vacancies across local government.”

She said of the prospect of strike action: “We don’t want to bring low-paid workers out on strike. But if there’s no alternative, what else can people do?

“If we’ve got a government where they are getting 2-3% pay increases and we’ve got inflation running at 10% or even more by the end of the year and they already pay a disproportionate amount of their income on fuel, housing, energy and food costs, if you are low paid worker … that has a huge impact on people.”

Greece

  • Greek court rules on seizure of Iranian oil RT

An appeals court in the Greek city of Halkida has overturned a ruling that allowed the US to confiscate Iranian oil, the Iranian embassy and some Greek officials have confirmed.

Wednesday’s decision hasn’t been officially announced by the court yet.

Greek authorities seized the tanker, Lana, carrying Iranian oil, in April, due to suspicions that it had links to Russia and was breaching sanctions imposed on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

In May, the US confiscated some of the oil from the vessel, and transferred it to another ship, based on the initial court ruling. According to the media, the tanker was carrying more than 100,000 tons of Iranian crude, which violated US and EU restrictions on Tehran.

Iran decried the move as an act of “piracy” and retaliated by arresting two oil tankers flying the Greek flag in the Persian Gulf, escalating the situation even further.

“By God’s grace, the entire oil shipment will be returned,” the Iranian Embassy in Greece announced on Twitter on Thursday.

“Intense consultations” have been underway between Tehran and Athens to make sure that the decision by the appeals court regarding the cargo from the tanker is fully implemented, it added.

“The court has ruled that the cargo be released,” a Greek government official told AFP, stressing that authorities in Athens had nothing to do with the decision.

He also said that the Greek government was “very hopeful” that the ruling would lead to the release of the Greek-flagged tankers that Iran detained in late May.

  • Greek inflation rockets to 30-year high RT

Inflation in Greece surged to 11.3% year-on-year in May from 10.2% recorded in the previous month, according to the latest data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

According to ELSTAT, natural gas prices saw an annual surge of 172.7%, while electricity bills increased 80.2% and expenses for heating oil grew by 65.1%. The cost of housing reportedly soared 35% year-on-year, transportation prices were up 18.8%, while prices for food and non-alcoholic beverages jumped by 12.1%.

Asia and Oceania

  • The yen weakening to 150 against the dollar could spark a financial crisis in Asia, famed economist Jim O’Neill says Business Insider

The Japanese yen this week hit a fresh 20-year low against the US dollar and further depreciation could set off financial turmoil in Asia that’s not been seen since a massive crisis hit the region 25 years ago, economist Jim O’Neill told Bloomberg.

Japan’s currency on Tuesday fell below 134 against the greenback for the first time since April 2002, with dollar strength largely fueled by the Federal Reserve’s aim to raise interest rates quickly to cool down hot inflation.

If the yen depreciates further to 150 against the dollar, that could kick off a rerun of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, O’Neill said in an interview with Bloomberg last month that he affirmed on Thursday.

China could potentially intervene in the currency market to protect its economy, which is currently struggling with its slowest growth in about 30 years.

“If the yen keeps weakening, China will see this as unfair competitive advantage, so the parallels to the Asian Financial Crisis are perfectly obviously,” said O’Neill, who served as Goldman Sachs' chief currency economist at the time of the crisis. “China would not want this devaluing of currencies to threaten their economy.”

This July marks 25 years since the crisis kicked off in Thailand, which had unpegged the local currency from the US dollar after draining much of the country’s foreign exchange reserves to defend the baht’s value. The move spurred a wave of speculation against other East and Southeast Asian currencies and fueled fears about a global economic collapse if the crisis spread.

During the 1997 crisis, China decided to keep the yuan pegged to the US dollar, aiding in establishing a floor under the region. China had a role in “saving the region” at that time, said O’Neill, who is known for creating the acronym BRICS that referred to major emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

China

  • Chinese fighter jet crashes into homes, killing 1 on ground Yahoo

A Chinese air force fighter jet crashed into houses during a training mission in central China, killing one person on the ground and injuring two others, state media said.

India

  • India rupee hits record low amid sustained rise in global crude Reuters

The Indian rupee hit a record low against the U.S. dollar on Thursday as the relentless surge in global crude oil prices raised concerns about a sustained rise in imported inflation, while choppy domestic shares also hurt.

The partially convertible rupee was trading at 77.79/80 per dollar after touching a record low of 77.81. The previous low of 77.7975 was touched on May 17.

Bangladesh

  • Bangladesh to invest $80 billion to be climate resilient by 2030 Asia News

The government is planning to invest $80 billion to shift the country from climate-vulnerable to a sustainable climate-resilient country under Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan (MCPP) by 2030, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said yesterday while unveiling the national budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023.

In his budget speech, the minister termed the MCPP a strategic investment framework saying the investment being planned will be funded from both national and external sources.

Hey, you can’t do that! You need to go through over a decade of arguing about the exact logistics of how you’ll improve current infrastructure to become more green, and then be grilled every single day on howyougunnapayforit, and then get somebody in office that promises to do more climate-friendly stuff and then does the exact opposite! You can’t just decide to spend money on it! What about checks and balances? What about slow incremental progress using carbon taxes? Howyougunnapayforit?

Sri Lanka

  • Power restored in crisis-hit Sri Lanka, UN unveils $47m aid plan Reuters

Striking power sector workers returned to work in Sri Lanka on Thursday after the president promised to listen to their concerns, ending widespread blackouts and bringing some respite to an economy hit by its biggest crisis in decades.

About 900 out of around 1,100 engineers of the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) went on strike at midnight, stalling operations at eight hydropower plants and triggering power cuts across the island nation.

The CEB Engineers' Union is opposed to government plans to amend power sector legislation to remove restrictions on competitive bidding for renewable power projects, among other changes.

The engineers resumed their duties after receiving an undertaking from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that their concerns would be taken into consideration in new legislation that was debated in parliament on Thursday, a union leader said.

Middle East

Turkiye

  • US official: Turkiye won’t back down from military operation in Syria MEMO

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said the United States has done everything it can to convince Turkiye to back down from a possible military operation in northern Syria, however, Ankara will not back down from its decision, Anadolu reported.

Leaf made the remarks during the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting held yesterday to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria, the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad and the possible Turkish operation to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria.

Leaf expressed concern about the possible Turkish operation, noting that Washington is in talks with Turkey to prevent the possible operation.

According to the American official, the possible operation “will endanger the American mission in Syria,” adding, “We are doing our best to dissuade the Turkish government from the military operation.”

Only we’re allowed to invade Syria!

Pakistan

  • The Neoliberal State in Pakistan Is a Machine for Plunder Jacobin

This article is fairly long, so I’ll quote the first section.

The neoliberal phase in the history of global capitalism is too often understood in terms of a simplistic binary division between state and market. In reality, the neoliberal counterrevolution spearheaded by figures like Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was not characterized by states vacating the economic field.

Neoliberal ideologues such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises never wanted the regulatory state to be eliminated. Instead, they sought to reconfigure it as a tool of uninhibited class war from above, waged on behalf of the rich and powerful through various means, including the hollowing out of public services and the dispossession of the working masses.

Neoliberal globalization in Pakistan exemplifies a form of militarized, postcolonial capitalism to be found across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, under which the state stands front and center in multiple processes of capital accumulation. To make sense of the dialectic of state and capital that has animated Pakistani neoliberalism, we must begin by looking at its roots in the period of British colonial rule before 1947.

Iran

  • Iran removing 27 U.N. cameras monitoring nuclear activity in possible ‘fatal blow’ to reviving deal, U.N. says NBC

The U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Thursday that Iran has begun removing 27 cameras monitoring its nuclear activity, a move that could prevent international inspectors from gaining a clear picture of Tehran’s uranium enrichment work.

The action could deal a potentially “fatal blow” to efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal that was designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said at a news conference in Vienna.

“This, of course, poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue working there,” Grossi said, adding Iran had informed the IAEA of its plans in a “succinct” statement.

It appeared Iran intended to remove the bulk of the cameras and other monitoring gear installed as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, according to Grossi. Without cameras in place, Iran could divert centrifuges used for uranium enrichment to other unknown locations, he said.

Lebanon

  • Hezbollah leader threatens to hit Israel’s offshore gas rig Yahoo

The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group threatened Thursday to strike a gas rig Israel is setting up in the Mediterranean Sea and that Lebanon claims is in a disputed maritime area between the two countries.

Israel says the location is part of its U.N.-recognized exclusive economic zone.

Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, a staunch Iran ally, denounced in a televised address what he described as Israeli provocations in the maritime area.

His speech followed a warning by Lebanese President Michel Aoun last Sunday who said that maritime border negotiations between the two countries have not ended, adding that any move by Israel — such as drilling in the Karish field that Beirut calls disputed — will be considered “a provocation and hostile act.”

Iraq

  • Iraqi MP threatens to deprive Turkey, Iran of 20 billion USD Iraqi News

The Iraqi Deputy Speaker of Parliament and leader in the Sadrist movement, Hakim al-Zamili, threatened to boycott Turkish and Iranian goods if Turkey and Iran continued to cut off water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

The Iraqi official explained that Turkey started to cut off water supplies to Iraq by 80 percent, and Iran completely cut off the water flowing to Iraqi cities.

We get ever closer to the water wars.

Africa

Algeria

  • Algeria suspends trade ties with Spain over Western Sahara row Al Jazeera

Algeria has suspended foreign trade in products and services with Spain amid an escalating dispute over the status of Western Sahara.

Thursday’s announcement came a day after the North African nation suspended a 20-year-old friendship treaty with Spain that committed the two sides to cooperation in controlling migration flows. Algeria has also banned imports from Spain.

The European Union urged Algeria to reverse its decision, pressing for dialogue to resolve the dispute.

Spain was the former colonial power in Western Sahara until the region was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, Algeria and neighbouring Morocco have had tense ties over the fate of Western Sahara, at one point fighting a desert war.

Algeria’s now openly hostile turn against a member of the European Union comes while Spain and the rest of the 27-nation bloc are hustling to find alternatives to Russian energy imports to protest Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In its most recent move, Algeria threatened trade ties, including the continued supply of Algerian natural gas.

This in turn could complicate broader EU ties with Algeria, and EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said Brussels was “extremely concerned”.

Spain’s position is complicated because while it shares borders and strong economic ties with Morocco, it also depends partly on Algeria for natural gas.

The Spanish government quickly moved to assuage fears that Algeria’s important supply of natural gas, which it pumps and ships across the Mediterranean, could be at risk.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares said so far no Spanish companies working with Algeria have reported any “inconveniences”.

And, he added, “what the gas companies are telling us is that the decision has not caused any difficulties”.

Algeria’s Sonatrach was Spain’s leading supplier of natural gas last year with more than 40 percent of its imports.

  • Algeria and Venezuela seek to reinforce their economic cooperation Africa News

Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune hosted his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro in Algiers Thursday.

The South American leader arrived in the North African nation on Wednesday evening, for what Algeria’s state news agency called a two-day “working and friendship visit”.

Both countries agreed to reinforce their economic cooperation. Tebboune announced at a joint press statement that direct flights between Algiers and Caracas would soon be launched.

Algeria and Venezuela are members of the OPEC oil cartel and their governments expressed their wish to work more closely on fields like oil and gas.

Zimbabwe

  • Zimbabweans count their toes as inflation soars above 130% Yahoo

Battling rampant inflation, Zimbabweans are counting their toes as they struggle to buy food for their families.

An internet rumor blazed through the country that desperate people were selling their toes for cash. The false report became so widespread that the country’s Deputy Minister of Information Kindness Paradza visited street vendors in central Harare earlier this month to debunk it.

One-by-one the traders took off their shoes to show that they had all 10 toes, as Zimbabwe’s state media recorded the digital investigation.

Paradza declared the toes-for-money story a hoax, as did local and foreign fact-checkers. Police later arrested a street vendor who now faces a fine or 6 months in jail on charges of criminal nuisance for allegedly starting the story.

It’s starkly true, however, that Zimbabweans are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate has shot up from 66% to more than 130%, according to official statistics.

Teachers “can no longer afford bread and other basics, this is too much,” tweeted the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe in early June. The three largest teachers' unions are demanding the government pay their salaries in U.S. dollars because their pay in local currency is “eroded overnight.”

“Because of high inflation, the local currency is collapsing,” economic analyst Prosper Chitambara told The Associated Press. “Individuals and companies no longer trust the local currency and that has put pressure on the demand for U.S. dollars. The Ukraine war is simply exacerbating an already difficult situation.”

Many fear Zimbabwe could return to the hyperinflation of 2008 which reached 500 billion%, according to the International Monetary Fund. At that time, plastic bags full of 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar banknotes were not enough to buy basic groceries.

North America

United States

  • Second US military aircraft crash hits same area in two days RT

A US Navy helicopter crashed on Thursday afternoon, the Naval Air Facility El Centro has confirmed. The crash site is about 35 miles north of Yuma, Arizona, and comes just one day after five Marines were killed in an MV-22 Osprey crash around the same area, in nearby Imperial County, California.

Oh yeah? We’re gonna show those Chinese who the best aircraft crashers are! We’ve got a long tradition going all the way back to John McCain!

  • Explosion at US natural gas plant raises risk of shortages in Europe The Guardian

Freeport LNG, operator of one of the largest US export plants producing liquefied natural gas (LNG), will shut for at least three weeks after an explosion at its Texas Gulf coast facility, raising the risk of gas shortages in Europe.

The plant, which provides about 20% of US LNG processing, announced the shutdown late on Wednesday after appraising damage to the massive facility.

On Thursday, European gas prices rose by up to a fifth as traders feared lost US shipments would stress a market already struggling with reduced Russian supplies.

  • Pentagon relies on Russia and China for critical mineral RT

A group of US congressmen from both parties is moving to give the Pentagon even more money in order to replenish the largely depleted stockpile of strategic minerals, alarmed that most of the antimony used by the American defense industry comes from China. The metal is crucial in the production of semiconductors, batteries and ammunition, among other things.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) “is concerned about recent geopolitical dynamics with Russia and China and how that could accelerate supply chain disruptions, particularly with antimony,” said a report released on Wednesday.

Antimony is usually combined with lead and tin to make bearings and lead-acid batteries. It is also used in semiconductor devices. Its military applications range from bullets and explosives to night-vision goggles and even nuclear weapons, according to Defense News.

“China is the largest producer of mined and refined antimony and a major source of imports for the United States,” said a 2020 report by the US Geological Survey, noting that there is “no domestic mine for antimony.”

The last domestic source of the metal, an Idaho goldmine, stopped operations in 1997. It had been the alternative source of antimony for the US during the Second World War, when hostilities with Japan prevented imports from China.

However, China has recently lost market share to Russia – currently under a US embargo – and nearby Tajikistan.

  • Biden Struggles to Fulfill His Promise to Take 100,000 Ukrainian Refugees Newsweek

Since President Biden made a public commitment in March to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, the U.S. has only admitted about 27,000 people, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security.

C’mon, Jack! The jails at the border are already full! How we gonna send these Slav kids through it if there’s no room?! Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that…

  • Investors should take some chips off the table as the US could see either stagflation or a recession soon, says top economist Mohamed El-Erian Business Insider

  • ‘Nothing to suggest’ US will have a recession: Yellen Yahoo

  • The housing market is entering the ‘most significant contraction in activity since 2006,’ says Freddie Mac economist Forbes

The pandemic’s housing boom is finally running on fumes. Home sales are falling. Inventory levels are rising. And home sellers are cutting list prices at the fastest clip since 2019.

This Great Deceleration is a lot bigger than a seasonal cooldown. The economic shock of higher mortgage rates means borrowers are getting stretched thin to a degree unseen since 2006. That’s why home shoppers in April and May finally balked at record home prices. This shift, Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi tells Fortune, is the start of a full-blown housing correction. Zandi predicts the year-over-year rate of U.S. home price growth will plummet from the all-time high of 20.6% to 0% by this time next year.

  • The wealth of American households has declined for the first time since the pandemic began, due to a $3 trillion stock-market wipeout Business Insider

The wealth of American households declined for the first time in two years due to a stock market slump that wiped out $3 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

US household wealth fell to $149.3 trillion in the first quarter of 2022, down from a record $149.8 trillion at the end of 2021, according to a Fed report released on Thursday. That’s a $500 billion fall in net worth.

  • Gas prices keep inflation at highest level in 40 years in May WaPo

As the national average for a gallon of gas climbs toward $5, new government data to be released Friday is expected to show that inflation remained at a 40-year high in May.

Inflation could clock in close to the March peak of 8.5 percent, compared with the year before, in the latest snapshot from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, known as the consumer price index. The inflation benchmark eased slightly in April, giving policymakers some nascent hope that inflation had finally peaked. However, there are few signs that it has dropped in a meaningful way, raising the urgency for policymakers to rein in prices.

“March inflation may have been the peak, but it’s likely to be a rocky peak,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM.

If anything, the stunning run-up in gas prices has become one of the most visceral ways people feel inflation in their daily lives. In some parts of the country, particularly on the West Coast, it’s becoming more common to drop $100 to fill up a gas tank. The national average has set a record every day since May 28, according to AAA, although prices are still below 2008 levels, when adjusted for inflation.

  • Pentagon divulges number of US-funded biolabs in Ukraine RT

The US government has supported 46 facilities in Ukraine over the past 20 years, but as part of a peaceful public health project rather than to develop biological weapons, the Pentagon said on Thursday. The US military accused Russia and China of “spreading disinformation and sowing mistrust” about its efforts to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The work of these biolabs was “often” conducted in partnership with bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and was “consistent with international best practices and norms in publishing research results, partnering with international colleagues and multilateral organizations, and widely distributing their research and public health findings,” the Pentagon insisted.

Regardless of whether the US is doing research on biological agents designed to do harm (I personally think it’s more likely than not), the fact that the United States has 46 (46!) biological laboratories in Ukraine is really strange to me.

Global

  • IMF expects further cut in global growth outlook Reuters

The International Monetary Fund expects to further cut its forecast for global economic growth in 2022 next month, an IMF spokesperson said on Thursday, following moves by the World Bank and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to cut their own forecasts this week.

That would mark the IMF’s third downgrade this year. In April, the IMF had already slashed its forecast for global economic growth by nearly a full percentage point to 3.6% in 2022 and 2023.

Fund spokesperson Gerry Rice told a regular IMF briefing that the overall outlook still called for growth across the globe, albeit at a slower level, but that some countries may be facing a recession.

“Clearly a number of developments have taken place that could lead us to revise down further,” Rice told reporters. “So much has happened and (is) happening very quickly since we last came with our forecast.”

  • The World Is Scrambling For Lithium Supply Oil Price

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions, the race is on around the world to find new sources of lithium. The prospect of running out of the rare element is a worst-case scenario for many countries. After all, it is a crucial component in the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. As EV demand rises off record gas costs, so too are lithium consumption and lithium prices.

Countries like China are currently focusing their lithium search in Africa, which has proved a treasure-trove of “green” minerals. China is not only one of the largest EV markets in the world, but it produces around 80% of global lithium. Still, the country wants more. It’s estimated that half of the world’s total lithium resources are in South America and Australia. However, Africa is now being looked at with renewed interest.

According to this analysis by news agency Reuters, companies around the world are re-considering projects they’ve previously overlooked. Moreover, China’s interest in Africa has helped spur dozens of nations to follow suit. Back in May, the leading African mining countries gathered for a unique “Investing in African Mining Indaba” in Cape Town. The goal was to discuss the significant business potential of green metals and other valuable minerals.

Delegates were of the opinion that the transition to a low-carbon future would drive the demand for green metal resources. According to this report, the South African Minister of Mineral and Energy Resources, Gwede Mantashe, reminded the delegation that Africa has abundant and untapped resources. Among the most valuable are lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, and zinc.


Military

The Ukraine War

  • Russian telegram:

The Dnepropetrovsk Aggregate Plant, which produces Neptune anti-ship missiles, was hit by a Russian missile.

Intelslava references an intelligence report by the Independent:

Ukrainian troops are 20 times inferior to Russian troops in artillery, 40 times in ammunition, and 12 times in range.

The Ukrainian side has almost completely run out of missiles for the Smerch and Uragan MLRS.

Ukraine still has the Grad MLRS and howitzers that hit a maximum of 20-30 km.

Anti-tank Javelins and NLAW were very useful in the first phase of the war, they are useful now, but they cannot hit the enemy’s long-range artillery.

The Russians can hit the concentrations of Ukrainian troops with rockets from a distance of many tens and even hundreds of kilometers. There is a situation of “absolute inequality on the battlefield, not to mention the complete dominance of enemy aircraft in the air.” It is rare to shoot down Russian planes and helicopters.

“Heavy fighting” has a serious demoralizing effect on Ukrainian troops, in connection with which the number of cases of desertion among Ukrainian soldiers is growing.

The Russians are well aware that the number of powerful weapons sent by Western countries is still quite small, and it reaches the front slowly. So they try to use their (overwhelming) advantage while it lasts.

After a series of exchanges, Ukraine has 550 captured Russians, while the Russians have more than 5,600 Ukrainians, and Moscow demands a 1:1 exchange. Note that according to the authorities of Russia and the LDNR, more than 7,000 people are in captivity.

  • Defense Politics Asia:

Russia captures another village on the Izyum front in the direction of Slovyansk.

Russia captured a village near Zolote, south of Severodonetsk, more-or-less encircling it on three sides.

  • More heavy weapons promised to Ukraine RT

Kiev will receive more heavy weapon systems from France, President Emmanuel Macron said during a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday. According to French media, Paris will send more CAESAR howitzers to Kiev.

The promise appears to hint at the delivery of more French artillery pieces to Ukraine. Sources cited by Europe 1 radio said six more CAESAR guns could be sent by the end of the month. France delivered six of these weapon systems to Ukraine in late April, the report added.

The CAESAR is a truck-mounted 155mm artillery piece with an effective range of 40km. Initial reports in the French media indicate that the country will send 12 of them to Ukraine.

The Europe 1 report said the French military might be reluctant to provide a greater number of howitzers, considering it only had 76 of these weapons that were operational before the first shipment to Ukraine. It takes about one year to produce a new CAESAR weapon system, it said.

  • Likely delays in arms supply to Ukraine revealed RT

Ukraine is likely to be further disappointed with the supply of heavy weapons promised to it by Germany, as Berlin will have to overcome various hurdles before delivering many of the items, the German version of Business Insider has reported.

The offer of the IRIS-T SL air defense system, touted by Chancellor Olaf Scholz as one of the most advanced in the German arsenal, reportedly came as a surprise to his own defense ministry. Officials said they none in their stockpile, meaning Ukraine would have to get them directly from Diehl, the producer, the outlet claimed.

According to BI sources, the proposed delivery would require Germany to snub Egypt, which ordered several IRIS-T SLs and allow Ukraine jump the line. Regardless, Kiev will only be able to acquire the equipment by the end of the year at best.

The German arms package for Ukraine also includes a three-way deal with Greece, which is to get German Marder infantry fighting vehicles in exchange for delivering Soviet-made equivalents to Ukraine.

The Greeks were reportedly surprised by Scholz’s announcement of the scheme. The Soviet-era vehicles are in use on their islands and replacing them with more modern German hardware may be perceived as an escalation by Turkey, BI said.


Climate and Space

  • Why flooding could be more common in Colorado this summer Denver Post

When rain falls, if it does, Colorado faces a rising risk of flooding, mudslides and rockfalls — like those that closed Interstate 70 last year — due to an “expanding bullseye” of barren, scorched and less-stable terrain.

And Colorado officials say everybody will need flood insurance and other protection — not just residents living in federally-designated hazard zones.

The “bullseye” concept describes the growing area in Colorado where hard rain and hail pack more punch — caused by a shift to aridity amid a 22-year severe drought and wildfires burning more land, state climatologist Russ Schumacher said. Some 36 burn scars from fires cover more than 700 square miles.

“If burn scars are larger, the rainstorms that happen every summer are going to be more likely to hit a burn scar,” Schumacher said.

  • China’s coastal areas face increasing risks from rising sea levels Asia News

China’s coastal sea level will rise by 68 to 170 millimeters over the next 30 years, and coastal regions face growing threats from rising sea levels, according to a bulletin by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Last year, the country saw its highest coastal sea level since 1980, which has been 84 mm higher than that of normal years. The coastal sea level rose at an average rate of 3.4 mm per year from 1980 to 2021, more than the global average over the same period, according to the bulletin.

With accelerated urbanization, China’s coastal areas face increasing risks from the rising sea level, said the bulletin.

  • Most companies buying renewable energy certificates aren’t actually reducing emissions The Conversation

Wow. Literally nobody could have seen this coming.

Big companies are increasingly setting voluntary greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that are derived from the 1.5 C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. As part of these science-based targets or longer-term net-zero targets, companies commit to rapidly reducing the emissions that come from their electricity consumption.

One approach is to purchase renewable energy certificates, which represent solar, wind and other green energies flowing into the electricity grid.

Our new study shows that companies largely rely on renewable energy certificates to report steep electricity emissions reductions and that this is unlikely to actually reduce emissions.


Dipshittery and Cope

Iran

  • Iran Has Overplayed Its Hand in Nuclear Talks Bloomberg

Even allowing for Iran’s well-honed skill at shooting itself in the foot, its actions over the past couple of weeks have been exceptionally self-defeating. As a consequence, the regime in Tehran is more isolated that it has been in years, giving the Biden administration a golden opportunity to seize the advantage in nuclear negotiations.

Awesome, we’re already in a completely different universe to this author. In this reality, Iran ended the deal and not the United States, thus shooting itself in the foot and not Iran, and Iran is becoming more isolated, rather than it becoming less isolated due to increasing interaction with Russia and the Eastern bloc and Europe looking towards it for oil.

In its initial blunder, the regime in Tehran refused to give the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, satisfactory explanations for traces of uranium found in sites that Iran had failed to declare to the agency’s monitors. This made it inevitable that the agency’s 35-member board of governors would vote to censure Iran.

Then, as if its concealment of information wasn’t suspicious enough, Tehran threatened unspecified retaliation if the censure vote went through. Per usual, it sought to portray itself as a victim of American chicanery. But that narrative was demolished when the vote was held on Wednesday: In addition to the US, 29 members — ranging from Argentina and Burundi to Malaysia and Vietnam — were in favor of the censure. Only China and Russia voted against, and three others (India, Pakistan and Libya) abstained.

It was, in diplomatic terms, a stinging rebuke of Iran’s recalcitrance. But far from being chastened, Iran has chosen to paint itself further into a corner by reducing its cooperation with the international community. On Thursday, the nuclear watchdog said Iran had begun removing IAEA surveillance cameras from nuclear sites across the country. (Iran had already withheld some footage from the agency for over a year.)

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has warned that if full monitoring isn’t restored in the next three to four weeks, the agency will no longer be able to piece together Iran’s nuclear activities and account for its nuclear material. This accounting is the centerpiece of the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with the world powers, and Grossi said that failure to restore the monitoring mechanisms “would be a fatal blow” to reviving the deal.

The US pulled out of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018; President Donald Trump said it didn’t provide adequate safeguards against Iran developing a nuclear weapon. President Joe Biden has made reviving the deal a foreign policy priority, but Iran has rejected overtures and instead raced ahead with its uranium enrichment program.

The IAEA reported late last month that Tehran had already accumulated enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb. While its ability to actually make a bomb is uncertain and the regime maintains it has no desire to do so, the arc of its known activities suggests weaponization is the next step: It has nearly 100 pounds of uranium enriched to 60%, far beyond the levels required for any peaceful purpose.

Until now, the Biden administration has been treating Iran with kid gloves. Since Trump withdrew from the JCPOA unilaterally and without adequate consultation with the other signatories, Tehran was able to portray itself as the wronged party, even as it stonewalled the IAEA and accelerated enrichment. Even the European signatories — Germany, France and Britain — pressed for a quick American return to the deal and indulged Iran’s flouting of its terms.

In an attempt to soften the Iranians, Biden eased up on implementation of economic sanctions imposed by his predecessor. Among other things, this has allowed Iran to export substantial quantities of oil, mostly to China. The goodwill hasn’t been reciprocated by Tehran, which refuses to allow American representation to negotiations in Vienna for a revival of the JCPOA.

But the IAEA vote demonstrates that indulgence for Iran has worn thin, and not only among the US and the European troika. Biden now has the opportunity to build an international coalition to ramp up pressure on Tehran to return to compliance with the JCPOA.

Imagine if Iran had ended the deal in 2018. Imagine what these idiotic motherfuckers would be bleating right now. “Iran ended the deal! Why should we give them any favourable terms? Why should we restart the deal at all! Clearly they aren’t trustworthy! We should just invade them!” But because it’s the other way around, they’re all like “Hmm, well, sure, we did end the deal, but that doesn’t mean we should treat them with the kid’s gloves now that we’re trying to make a new one… we’re obviously trustworthy and reliable partners… we should show Iran more hostility to make them realize their tenuous position!"

Israel

  • Is The Iron Beam Laser Defense System A Military And Economic Game-Changer For Israel? Forbes

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has repeatedly hailed the Iron Beam laser defense system that Israel is developing as a major military and economic advance.

“Rafael’s laser system is a strategic game-changer for the State of Israel and the world as well, a system that already today knows how to shoot down mortar rounds, UAVs and rockets,” Bennett said during his visit to a Rafael facility on May 31. “This is a game-changer because we can not only strike the enemy militarily but also weaken it economically.”

“Until today it would cost us a lot of money to intercept every rocket,” he added. “Today they can invest tens of thousands of dollars in a rocket and we can invest two dollars to cover the cost of the electricity in shooting down the rocket.”

Aside from turning the table on its enemies economically, Bennett believes the addition of the Iron Beam to Israel’s high-tech air defenses will also strengthen Israel’s economy since it will hugely reduce the cost of countering rocket and drone threats, explained a senior Israeli official.

I love how Israel is treating this situation. Like, “Okay, we’ve got a ton of extremely angry people in the West Bank and they keep firing missiles at us, which is a very big problem for us. Now, the solution to this is obvious. No, what the fuck are you talking about, stop settling in their territory? Are you one of those BDS weirdos? We need lasers!"

To be fair, the rest of the article does go into how it’s probably not going to work the way Israel is saying it will, so kudos to Forbes for only bending the knee and not proceeding to lick the boot, I guess.

Russia/Ukraine

  • Putin the Great? Russia’s President Likens Himself to Famous Czar. NYT

Among President Vladimir V. Putin’s motives for invading Ukraine, his view of himself as being on a historic mission to rebuild the Russian Empire has always loomed large. On Thursday, Mr. Putin went further, comparing himself directly to Peter the Great.

It was a new, if carefully staged, glimpse into Mr. Putin’s sense of his own grandeur.

Mr. Putin on Thursday marked the 350th anniversary of Peter’s birth by visiting a new multimedia exhibit about the czar in Moscow. He then held a town-hall-style meeting with young Russian entrepreneurs and opened it by reflecting on Peter’s conquest of the Baltic coast during his 18th-century war with Sweden.

Mr. Putin described the land Peter conquered as rightfully Russian.

“He was returning it and strengthening it,” Mr. Putin said, leaning back in his armchair, before hinting with a smile that he was now doing the same thing in his war in Ukraine. “Well, apparently, it has also fallen to us to return and to strengthen.”

Mr. Putin said that when Peter founded the city of St. Petersburg on the captured land, “none of the countries of Europe recognized it as Russian.” That remark seemed to be a clear reference to the present day, when no Western country has recognized Moscow’s claim to Crimea, much less to the parts of eastern and southern Ukraine Russia has seized in the last three months.

Mr. Putin seemed to suggest that the West, as it did centuries ago, would eventually come around and recognize those regions as Russian.

Peter, Russia’s first emperor, has always been an object of fascination for Mr. Putin, who himself comes from St. Petersburg. The Russian president keeps a bronze statue of the czar by his ceremonial desk.

But in recent days, Russian officials have been promoting the comparison between Mr. Putin and Peter with special energy; the governor of St. Petersburg on Thursday said that he felt the same pride for today’s Russian soldiers in Ukraine “as we take pride in the memory of Peter’s warriors.”

There is at least one historical problem with the official Putin-Peter comparisons.

The czar is known for opening Russia’s “window to Europe,” building St. Petersburg in a European mold and bringing Western technology and culture to Russia. Mr. Putin’s Ukraine invasion, many Russians fear, has slammed that window shut.

Last week a Russian journalist asked the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, whether the window to Europe was closing. He responded: “No one is planning to close anything.”

On Thursday, Mr. Putin repeated that message in his meeting with entrepreneurs, insisting that Russia would not close itself off from the rest of the world as the Soviet Union did. Even if the United States and the European Union do not want to do business with Russia, he said, countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa will.

“Our economy will be open — whoever isn’t interested will be robbing themselves,” Mr. Putin said. “It’s impossible to fence off a country like Russia, and we are not planning to put up a fence like that around us ourselves.”

  • Build Back a Better Ukraine? Better Get Started Bloomberg

When war is raging in Ukraine, talk of reconstruction may seem premature. How can the country rebuild anything given the constant threat of attack?

And yet, it’s right that governments and multilateral fora, along with Ukraine itself, are focusing on rebuilding.

Although the first principle of help for Ukraine has to be military aid along with humanitarian support, it is not too early to plan some aspects of reconstructing the country. The emphasis here should be on planning. Although there is some emergency restoration work and other support needed now, the big disbursements will largely come later and will require Ukraine itself to pursue certain reforms. But setting up the structures and pathways is essential. It should also be led by Europe, not least because a dysfunctional or unstable Ukraine would have profound political, economic and security consequences for the continent.

It’s clear that degrading Ukraine’s economy is part of Russia’s plan, as rocket attacks on the huge grain silo of Mykolaiv and the theft of grain stocks demonstrate. Vladimir Putin has also refused humanitarian corridors, blocked grain exports and attacked factories, plants and social infrastructure, along with roads, ports and railways.

Yeah, that’s not fair, you aren’t allowed to - checks notes - destroy your enemy’s infrastructure which allows them to produce and deliver military equipment to fight you during a war. And, of course, when the United States did similar things in Korea, and Vietnam, and throughout the Middle East, that was justified because those were bad countries and we were the good guys.

Ukraine’s gross domestic product is expected to contract by 45% this year, and 99% of companies in the country have reported losses. Roads, railways, grain elevators, telecommunications networks, real estate, schools and hospitals have been damaged, destroyed or seized by Russian forces. Maritime transport has been shut down. Millions have fled the country; millions more are internally displaced. A running tally by the Kyiv School of Economics puts key infrastructure loss at $105 billion.

And that will only be a small part of the total bill. The U.S. spent 5% of Europe’s GDP over a period of four years on the Marshall Plan after World War II — around $179 billion in today’s money. Amounts five, six or 10 times that are being bandied about for the rebuilding of Ukraine. Some quarters are pushing to put frozen Russian assets to use for the purpose, though the legal basis for doing so is dubious.

Okay, how do you plan on doing the Marshall Plan 2 with most of your industry shipped overseas since then?

There is a large body of economic research on post-conflict reconstruction, with case studies ranging from Iraq to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Haiti and others, and the upshot is that these efforts often flop.

Huh, that’s weird. Why is it that those countries didn’t get a shitload of money and infrastructure construction after their “conflicts”?

That doesn’t have to be the case in Ukraine. It may be Europe’s poorest economy, but at least it doesn’t have the kind of baggage of countries trying to rebuild due to internal conflict. Its greatest strength is its democracy and civil society, and the war has magnified the importance of both.

Oh, yeah, internal conflict is the reason why those other countries didn’t get any reconstruction efforts. None of that in Ukraine, of course. Sunshine and rainbows since 2014.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government also has received high marks since the start of the war for both competence and vision — and anyone who has followed Ukraine’s bumpy post-Soviet trajectory will know just how unusual that is. From the first day of Russia’s attack, it moved to safeguard financial stability and simplify taxation, making it easier for those displaced to access services.

???

Still, there is no textbook for this, as European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Managing Director Matteo Patrone acknowledged in a Zoom call. How much money should be allocated to which rebuilding priorities? How much should be in the form of grants and how much loans? Who should oversee the disbursements, with what timing and what conditions? Should frozen Russian assets be repurposed for reconstruction?

We must means-test rebuilding Ukraine.

There are different stages to any reconstruction project of this scale, but Patrone notes an immediate need to make repairs to vital infrastructure to enable exports to flow again, particularly those crucial to food security. Restoring some rail, roads and inland waterways will also help reestablish some normality in parts of the country.

To attract serious investment again, investors will obviously need to feel safe from Russian artillery attacks. But Ukraine’s government must also prepare the way with a range of institutional reforms. The agenda looks similar to what foreign donors, the European Union and EBRD wanted before the war, including judicial reform, corporate governance reform and privatizations in banking and other areas of the economy where the state remains dominant.

Patrone says the Ukrainian officials he works with are wise to the challenge and know that, with so much public support, now is the time to tackle the really difficult reforms.

But change won’t be easy, and not just because Ukraine is fighting; it also has to kick old habits and structures. The country came 122 out of 180 on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index in 2021, with 23% of public-service users saying they paid a bribe in the previous 12 months.

To be fair, the government has been trying harder. There is a round-the-clock hotline so that citizens can address corruption issues and an electronic register that allows the public to inspect the assets of public officials and civil servants. Innovations such as the open-source e-procurement system ProZorro (a play on the Ukrainian word for transparently, prozoro) put the UK’s to shame.

Still, Ukraine has a very long way to go. Talks about EU membership may be motivating, but they’re likely to be slow and contentious. The country will have to press on with reforms even without that carrot.

The big prize, if Ukraine can get it, is the third word in the “build back better” slogan. Ukraine wants its reconstruction program to be a catalyst for greener, more sustainable growth. Given the country’s educated workforce and strength in IT, that’s not unrealistic. Diversifying away from fossil fuels is also a security imperative, though one that will take time. Ukraine’s supply of nuclear energy, which already accounts for 50% of the energy needs of the country, must be modernized and more renewable energy sources built.

The Marshall Plan was generous, but its genius was in creating the right environment for recovery and investment. It was also targeted, separating humanitarian aid from reconstruction support, and came with strict conditionality. The design of any reconstruction plan will have to be heavy with conditionality as well and encourage further political and institutional reforms.

Rebuilding Ukraine will be slow, expensive and fraught with risks. But the alternative is unthinkable. And the longer the war drags on, the higher the costs will be. While it’s important to prepare for reconstruction, the biggest downpayment the democratic world can make to Ukraine’s future stability is investing in the country’s defense now.

The alternative is perfectly thinkable and I imagine many countries, including the United States, is thinking it right now.

  • Ukraine says so many Russians were killed that the Russian army is storing dead soldiers in a meatpacking plant turned morgue Yahoo

United States

  • Top Senate Democrats sound the alarm about Russian interference in the 2022 midterms Business Insider

Oh god, here we go again.

Leading Senate Democrats are sounding the alarm about Russian interference in the 2022 midterm elections.

A group of 17 Senate Democrats led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged some of the nation’s top military, intelligence, and national security officials to stay vigilant against interference in a new letter obtained by Insider.

“As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an increase in Russian disinformation and warnings of potential cyberattacks, we urge you to ensure that your agencies are prepared to quickly and effectively counter Russian influence campaigns targeting the 2022 elections,” the senators wrote in Thursday’s letter.

  • U.S. says there is ‘extraordinary’ lack of transparency over Chinese activity in Cambodia Reuters

A decision by Cambodia to expand its biggest naval base and allow the Chinese military exclusive use of a portion of it shows an extraordinary lack of transparency, a senior U.S. defense official said on Thursday.

The United States believes that the expansion plans for the base included exclusive use of the northern portion of the base for China’s military and neither country had shared full details about the extent of Beijing’s plans to have a unilateral military base there.

“The lack of transparency has been extraordinary…(it is) in direct contravention of months and months of denial by them that there was any PRC involvement,” the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.

The official said the two countries had taken steps which were “bordering on the absurd” to hide Chinese military activity, including disguising Chinese personnel during visits by foreign officials to the base.

Why won’t they let us see all their plans! THIS IS AGAINST THE RULES-BASED INTERNATIONAL ORDER! LET US SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING AT ALL TIMES! ONLY ORWELLIAN HELLSTATES DON’T GIVE US DIRECT ACCESS TO THEIR ENTIRE GOVERNMENT AND ITS INTERNAL CORRESPONDENCES!


Bloomerism and Hope

  • Super Moustache: how a Venezuelan cartoon turned into a political campaigner The Conversation

Super Bigote

“Stupid idiots! Can’t you overthrow him? He’s just a bus driver!” rages a blonde, coiffed character from inside a White House-style building located “somewhere on planet Earth”. The cartoon villain looks like a cross between Donald Trump and The Incredibles antagonist Syndrome. He’s shrieking in Spanish, with a heavy US accent, into a mobile phone.

“We’ve tried everything!” simper the two characters he’s addressing, who look very much like Venezuelan opposition politicians Henry Ramos Allup and Julio Borges. The villain presses a red button that jettisons a drone through the roof of the “White House”. A cartoon map shows the drone heading towards a region that closely resembles the northern coast of South America, before targeting a country shaped very much like Venezuela.

So begins the first episode of the Venezuelan animated cartoon, Súper Bigote (Super Moustache) – starring a heroic character with a moustache like that of the Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

The Venezuelan government is so fond of Súper Bigote that it promotes the cartoon via social media. President Maduro recently encouraged his followers to download Instagram filters to take photographs of themselves as Súper Bigote. And when sharing an episode in which the US attempts to block the entry of COVID-19 vaccines into Venezuela, vice-minister of business Luis Villegas Ramírez tweeted: “It’s great! Don’t miss it!”

Throughout the country, images of Súper Bigote appear to be multiplying. In northern Venezuela, governor Rafael Lacava has controversially renamed a plaza after Súper Bigote and included an image of him on the walls of a remodelled hospital. In the carnival processions this year, a time when children traditionally parade in fancy dress, Súper Bigote was a popular costume, at least according to vice-president Delcy Rodríguez.

While government supporters celebrate the cartoon and their solidarity with an “indestructible” president who is “hero and defender” of the country against threats and difficulties, many others see Súper Bigote as a cynical attempt to create a personality cult. With low popularity ratings, Maduro needs to strengthen his image for the 2024 presidential elections, argues Venezuelan sociologist Trino Márquez.

The cartoon was first broadcast on Venezuela’s state TV channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) in December 2021. To date, nine episodes of Súper Bigote have been broadcast on VTV. Each depicts the character using his superpowers to foil dastardly plots devised and financed by the “great villain” to the north, with the aim of sowing chaos and division in a fictional version of Venezuela. It was recently announced that an illustrated comic strip is now planned based on the same character.

  • Palestine’s New Resistance Model: How The Past Year Redefined The Struggle For Freedom Popular Resistance

What took place between May 2021 and May 2022 is nothing less than a paradigm shift in Palestinian resistance. Thanks to the popular and inclusive nature of Palestinian mobilization against the Israeli occupation, resistance in Palestine is no longer an ideological, political or regional preference.

In the period between the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and only a few years ago, Palestinian muqawama – or resistance – was constantly put in the dock, often criticized and condemned, as if an oppressed nation had a moral responsibility in selecting the type of resistance to suit the needs and interests of its oppressors.

As such, Palestinian resistance became a political and ideological litmus test. The Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat and, later, Mahmoud Abbas, called for ‘popular resistance’, but it seems that it neither understood what the strategy actually meant, and certainly was not prepared to act upon such a call.

The article discusses the history of Palestinian resistance, and then:

The May 2021 rebellion and the Israeli war on Gaza – known among Palestinians as the Unity Intifada – served as a paradigm shift. The language became unified; self-serving political references quickly dissipated; collective frames of reference began replacing provisional, regional and factional ones; occupied Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque emerged as the unifying symbols of resistance; a new generation began to emerge and quickly began to develop new platforms.

On May 29, the Israeli government insisted on allowing the so-called ‘Flag March’ – a mass rally by Israeli Jewish extremists that celebrate the capture of the Palestinian city of al-Quds – to once more pass through Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem. This was the very occasion that instigated the violence of the previous year. Aware of the impending violence which often results from such provocations, Israel wanted to impose the timing and determine the nature of the violence. It failed. Gaza didn’t fire rockets. Instead, tens of thousands of Palestinians mobilized throughout occupied Palestine, thus allowing popular mobilization and coordination between numerous communities to grow. Palestinians proved able to coordinate their responsibility, despite the numerous obstacles, hardships and logistical difficulties.

The events of the last year are a testament that Palestinians are finally freeing their resistance from factional interests. The most recent confrontations show that Palestinians are even harnessing resistance as a strategic objective. Muqawama in Palestine is no longer ‘symbolic’ or supposedly ‘random’ violence that reflects ‘desperation’ and lack of political horizon. It is becoming more defined, mature and well-coordinated.

This phenomenon must be extremely worrying to Israel, as the coming months and years could prove critical in changing the nature of the confrontation between Palestinians and their occupiers. Considering that the new resistance is centered around homegrown, grassroots, community-oriented movements, it has far greater chances of success than previous attempts. It is much easier for Israel to assassinate a fighter than to uproot the values of resistance from the heart of a community.

  • For the Peoples of our Region, the Failure of Biden’s Summit of the Americas Would be a Welcome Event Popular Resistance

I quote in full.

I applaud the decision by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador not to attend this week’s so-called Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles and hope that by Wednesday a majority of the nations in our region would have joined him. However, I am hoping that unlike President Lopez Obrador who is still sending the Mexican foreign minister, other nations demonstrate that their dignity cannot be coerced and stay away completely. Why do I take this position?

If the threat by the Biden Administration as host of the Summit not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all sovereign nations in the Americas’ region, was not outrageous enough, the announced rationale that the administration did not invite these nations because of their human rights record and authoritarian governance is an absurd indignity that cannot be ignored.

I firmly believe that the U.S. should not be allowed to subvert, degrade, and humiliate nations and the peoples of our region with impunity! A line of demarcation must be drawn between the nations and peoples who represent democracy and life and the parasitic hegemon to the North which can only offer dependence and death. The U.S. has made its choice that is reflected in its public documents. “Full spectrum dominance,” is its stated goal. In other words – waging war against the peoples of our regions and, indeed, the world to maintain global hegemony. It has chosen war, we must choose resistance – on that, there can be no compromise!

The peoples of our region understand that. It is historically imperative that the representatives of the states in our region come to terms with that and commit to resistance and solidarity with the states that are experiencing the most intense pressure from empire. The rhetorical commitment to Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela is not enough. The people want actions that go beyond mere denunciations of imperialism. The people are ready to fight.

And part of this fight includes the ideological war of position. We cannot allow the U.S. to obscure its murderous history by dressing that history up in pretty language about human rights.

The idea that the U.S., or any Western nation for that matter, involved in the ongoing imperialist project, could seriously see itself as a protector of human rights is bizarre and dangerous, and must be countered. The fact that the U.S. will still attempt to advance this fiction reflects either the height of arrogance or a society and administration caught in the grip of a collective national psychosis. I am convinced it is both, but more on that later.

A cognitive rupture from objective reality, the inability to locate oneself in relationship to other human beings individually and collectively in the material world are all symptoms of severe mental derangement. Yet, it appears that this is the condition that structures the psychic make-up of all of the leaders of the U.S. and the collective West.

It is what I have referred to as the psychopathology of white supremacy:

A racialized narcissistic cognitive disorder that centers so-called white people’s and European civilization and renders the afflicted with an inability to perceive objective reality in the same way as others. This affliction is not reducible to the race of so-called whites but can affect all those who have come in contact with the ideological and cultural mechanisms of the Pan-European colonial project.

How else can you explain the self-perceptions of the U.S. and West, responsible for the most horrific crimes against humanity in the annuals of human history from genocide, slavery, world wars, the European, African and Indigenous holocausts, wars and subversion since 1945 that have resulted in over 30 million lives lost – but then assert their innocence, moral superiority and right to define the content and range of human rights?

Aileen Teague of the Quincy Institute points out that the U.S. position on disinviting nations to the Summit of the Americas because of their alleged “authoritarian governance,” is “hypocritical” and “inconsistent,” noting the U.S. historical support for Latin American dictators when convenient for US policy.

Yet is it really hypothetical or inconsistent? I think not. U.S. policymakers are operating from an ethical and philosophical framework that informed Western colonial practice in which racialized humanity became divided between those who were placed into the category of “humans” which was constitutive of the historically expanded category of “white” in relationship to everyone else who was “not white,” and therefore, not fully human.

The “others” during the colonial conquest literally did not have any rights that Europeans were bound to recognize and respect from land rights to their very lives. Consequently, for European colonialists they did not perceive any ethical contradictions in their treatment of the “others” and did not judge themselves as deviating from their principles and values. This is what so many non-Europeans do not understand. When Europeans speak to their “traditional values,” it must be understood that those values mean we – the colonized and exploited non-Europeans are not recognized in our full humanity.

Is there any other way to explain the impressive solidarity among “white peoples” on Ukraine in contrast to the tragedies of Yemen, the six million dead in the Congo, Iraq – the list goes on.

That is why it was so correct for the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) to call for a boycott of the Summit of the Americas by all of the states in our region. BAP argued that the U.S. had no moral or political standing to host this gathering because it has consistently demonstrated that it did not respect the principles of self-determination and national sovereignty in the region. But even more importantly, it did not respect the lives of the people of this region.

A boycott is only the minimum that should be done. However, we understand it will be difficult because we know the vindictiveness of the gringo hegemon and the lengths it will go to assert its vicious domination. In the arrogance that is typical of the colonial white supremacist mindset, the Biden White House asserts that the “summit will be successful no matter who attends.”

Yet, if Biden is sitting there by himself, no manner of will or the power to define, will avoid the obvious conclusion that the world had changed, and with that change, the balance of power away from the U.S.

And the people say – let it be done!


Extra

Link back to the discussion thread.