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  • Russia Looks To Lure Asian Buyers With Higher Quality Crude Oil Price

Russia has improved the quality of its flagship Urals crude grade in the past two months, making it lighter and sweeter, and even more attractive for buyers in Asia who aren’t shunning Russian oil, Reuters reported on Monday, citing data obtained by industry sources.

  • Exports to Russia from China plummet, study shows WaPo

Over roughly two months after the invasion began Feb. 24, exports to Russia from sanctioning countries fell by about 60 percent while exports from non-sanctioning countries fell by about 40 percent, according to the study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which analyzed data from 54 countries.

The available data ends on April 30, so the analysis doesn’t give a picture up to the current day, Martin Chorzempa, senior fellow and author of the study, said in an interview. But a separate analysis of China-only data through the end of May shows that China’s exports to Russia remained well below prewar levels, suggesting that Beijing is wary of helping Moscow, Chorzempa said.

“After the European Union, China is the second-largest contributor to Russia’s import decline since the invasion, despite President Xi Jinping’s promise of ‘no limits’ cooperation,” Chorzempa wrote, referring to a partnership Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced shortly before the war in Ukraine began.

Not unexpected - China is much more vulnerable to sanctions than Russia is, though hopefully their growing partnership will change that. Russia is still self-sustainable enough to hold on in the meantime.

“Despite Russia having all this oil and gas money coming in, it is not able to buy much, even from countries not imposing sanctions,” Chorzempa said.

If it continues to struggle with imports, Russia’s economy will degrade over time, with manufacturers required to shut down and lay off employees, economists warn.

Russia “so far has not experienced a collapse. A significant economic downturn is nonetheless very likely going forward as supply chain issues accumulate and fiscal problems emerge,” said Oleg Itskhoki, an economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles.

  • Oil shippers are hiding Russian cargoes by paying in Chinese yuan, exchanging weapons for crude, and ‘going dark’ Business Insider

Oil shippers are using several tactics to conceal that their crude cargoes are from Russia, sources told the Guardian, as Europe and the US try to stem imports.

One workaround being used to mask the origin of Russian oil is paying in China’s yuan rather than the US dollar, the standard currency for trade, sources told the newspaper. Alternatively, sellers will exchange Russian oil for goods like gold, food or weapons instead of a currency.

Yuan-ruble trading volumes have soared 1,067% since Russia began its war with Ukraine, though this is broadly seen as a sign of the allies strengthening ties to help weaken the influence of the US.

Another masking ploy is to make ship-to-ship transfers of Russian oil on the high seas, which typically involves a Russian ship unloading oil to another vessel from a neutral party. That’s increasingly becoming common practice as a way to hamper tracking and as buyers try to keep quiet any affiliation to sanctions-hit Moscow.

To achieve this, more and more vessels are “going dark” , meaning shippers turn off the tanker’s ID system to make it difficult to monitor its movements.

“If a country or oil operator wants to hide the source of crude or oil products, it can very easily do so,” Ajay Parmar, an oil market analyst at ICIS, told the Guardian.

While trading Russian oil is not illegal, the practice undermines Western allies’ attempts to hamper Moscow’s efforts to fund its war in Ukraine by squeezing the market for its oil. The EU has agreed to ban seaborne Russian oil imports by the end of the year, while the US and UK have imposed their own sanctions measures.

But Greece, Cyprus, and Malta have doubled the quantity of Russian oil they ship since the war began, and Russian oil products are likely ending up in the US after being refined in India, according to reports.

  • Empty shelves, huge discounts as Russia’s Decathlon stores close Reuters

Empty shelves and prices discounted by as much as 70% greeted shoppers who visited Decathlon stores in Russia over the weekend before the French sports equipment retailer closed its stores on Monday, hampered by supply constraints.

One shopper, Lyubov, said Decathlon’s departure was “sad”, but was adamant that Russian consumers would cope.

“We are flexible people, we will adapt,” she said.

Another customer, Ivan said: “It really is a shame that it’s closed. As a climber, I’ll miss Decathlon, but what can you do? In principle, there are other things we can buy, but still, Decathlon will be missed.”

  • Russian Industry Faces Code Crisis as Critical Software Pulled Bloomberg

Russia’s reliance on foreign software to run its factories, farms and oil fields is turning into one of the biggest headaches for domestic industry as more IT providers pull out of the market in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

International sanctions and tensions over the war have forced industrial manufacturers from Siemens AG to SMS Group GmbH to wind down operations in what was once one of their biggest markets. Their computer programs might be missed more than their machines.

Sourcing software for computer-aided design and manufacturing is turning into a major issue that will be a drag on development, according to Elena Semenovskaya, a Russia-focused analyst at IDC.

“Russian analogues in this area are much weaker and the need is high,” Semenovskaya said. “But for now the approach is to rely on piracy and outdated copies, which is a dead-end and not sustainable.”

Foreign software is often baked directly into industrial machinery and controls high-precision processes. Equipment makers closely guard their intellectual property and in many cases don’t give clients access to the codes used to run their plants, Sergey Dunaev, the chief information officer of Severstal PJSC, said in an interview.

In steelmaking, which can require accuracy within a few hundredths of a millimeter for high-value products, even small deviations can render output worthless, according to Dunaev.

While the Russian economy, helped by high commodities prices, has fared better than most forecasts since the war began, it is facing a period of structural adjustments pushing it into recession. Steel production nationwide is down 25% to 30% since the invasion, Severstal’s owner, Alexey Mordashov, said this month.


  • Russia threatens ‘to cut off oxygen’ to EU member RT

Moscow’s response to the Lithuanian ban on Kaliningrad transit could be tough enough to “cut off oxygen” to the Baltic countries, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has warned.

In an interview with the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper, Medvedev claimed that the EU did not insist on imposing restrictions and thus Lithuania “obsequiously bowed to American benefactors, once again demonstrating its moronic Russophobic attitudes.”

Emphasizing that the transit ban was a part of a “proxy war” unleashed by the West against Russia, Medvedev promised that retaliatory measures from Moscow would be “very tough.”

  • Lithuania hit by cyber attack Reuters

Lithuanian state and private institutions were hit by a denial-of-service cyber attack on Monday, the Baltic country’s National Cyber Security Centre said in a statement released by the defence ministry.

“It is very likely that attacks of similar or greater intensity will continue in the coming days, especially in the transportation, energy and financial sectors,” the centre said.


  • France suggests replacement for Russian oil RT

The French government wants to replace Russian oil by allowing sanctioned crude from Iran and Venezuela to return to the global market, news agencies reported on Monday, citing President Emmanuel Macron’s office.

Paris also wants a proposed mechanism to cap the price of oil to be as broad as possible and not limited to Russian exports, Reuters cited an official at the Élysée Palace as saying.


  • Russian Gas Cuts Threaten World’s Largest Chemicals Hub WSJ

For years, BASF SE, one of the world’s largest chemicals companies, built its business model around cheap and plentiful Russian natural gas, which it uses to generate power and as feedstock for products that make it into toothpaste, medicines and cars.

Today, dwindling Russian gas supplies are proving a threat to the company’s vast manufacturing hub here—the world’s largest integrated chemical complex spanning some 200 plants. Earlier this month, Russia started throttling back its supply of gas to Germany and other European countries. In response, company executives are doing what was unthinkable just a few months ago: considering how to potentially shut down the complex if gas supplies fall further.

The threat isn’t just to BASF and its 39,000 employees in Germany. Because BASF and other chemicals companies sit at the beginning of most industrial supply chains, their disruption would reverberate well beyond the sector, threatening Europe’s economy at a time of high inflation and slowing growth. A throttling of BASF’s ammonia output, a key ingredient in fertilizers, could exacerbate the world’s growing food crisis, analysts say.

“Stopping production here would be a mammoth task,” Peter Westerheide, BASF’s chief economist, said from an office overlooking Ludwigshafen’s dense matrix of pipelines, plants and railroads. “We’ve never faced such a situation before,” he said. “It’s difficult to imagine.”

  • Hydrogen-powered trains to be used in Germany’s capital region CNBC

Siemens Mobility is to build several hydrogen-powered trains for a network in the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region of Germany, in the latest example of how hydrogen-based technology is being used in rail transport.

In a statement Monday, Siemens Mobility said it had been commissioned by rail operator Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn to provide seven of its Mireo Plus H trains. The two-carriage vehicles will use fuel cells and lithium ion batteries, and are slated to be delivered in the fall of 2024.

  • Lufthansa says the Ukraine war is contributing to flight delays because it’s restricting European airspace and causing ‘massive bottlenecks’ in the sky Business Insider

Asia and Oceania

  • Central banks in Asia spend billions to slow currency declines Bangkok Post

After years of building their foreign-exchange reserves, central banks in Asia are tapping into their stockpiles to bolster their weakening currencies against a rising US dollar.


  • ‘Systemic challenge’ or worse? NATO members wrangle over how to treat China Reuters

NATO’s first new strategy concept in a decade will cite China as a concern for the first time but member states remain at odds over how to describe the country with the world’s largest military and its relationship with Russia, NATO diplomats say.

Both a summit of the G7 rich industrial democracies now underway in Germany and a NATO summit to follow will tackle China’s deepening ties with Russia after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and what is seen as the growing inclination of China to flex its geopolitical muscle and coercive economic might abroad.

A White House official voiced confidence on Sunday that the document would include “strong” language on China, but said the negotiations were continuing ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid on June 29-30.

  • Xi Jinping says China has consulted millions of citizens about its government as part of a ‘whole-process democracy’ that Beijing claims is better than the West’s Business Insider

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Sunday that China had conducted a nationwide campaign that gathered public opinion on what the country’s senior leadership should look like in the next five years.

He called it an example of a “whole-process people’s democracy,” which Beijing has touted as being better than the West’s model of democracy. This brand of democracy practiced in China appears to include holding local elections and frequent public consultation on issues.

State media outlet Xinhua said Chinese authorities gathered 8.54 million online opinions on China’s upcoming National Congress, where changes to the country’s top leadership positions are announced every five years.

While the Xinhua report was vague about what people said, it cited Xi saying that “a myriad of constructive ideas and suggestions” were submitted.

The Chinese leader said the poll should “offer a reference” to how the country’s government will be structured.

However, the biggest decision appears to have already been made, with the consensus among experts being that Xi is practically guaranteed an unprecedented third term as China’s president and preeminent leader.

“If the people are awakened only to cast a vote but become dormant afterward, that is no true democracy,” China’s Chargé d’affaires in Australia wrote in December, taking a jab at Western democracy. “If the people are offered great hopes during electoral campaigning but have no say afterward, that is no true democracy.”


  • Japan says hard to confirm impact from Russia’s debt default Reuters

Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said on Tuesday that it was “a little difficult” at present to confirm the definite impact on Japan from Russia’s debt default.

Suzuki, who commented on the issue after being asked about it by reporters at a news conference following a regular cabinet meeting, added that any moves in Russian government bonds were likely to have a limited impact on Japanese investors.

  • Japan’s Inflation Spread to Biggest Share of Items Since 2001 Bloomberg

Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka suspends fuel sales as economic crisis worsens Iraqi News

Cash-strapped Sri Lanka announced a two-week halt to all fuel sales except for essential services starting Monday and called for a partial shutdown as its unprecedented economic crisis deepened.


  • Cambodia Considers Monorail Project for Phnom Penh Laotian Times


A decade of colossal debt accrual and economic mismanagement by communist authorities in Laos has finally tipped the country towards bankruptcy, with its foreign reserves incapable of meeting its loan obligations without outside help.

Long lines for fuel, rapidly rising food prices, and the inability of households to pay their monthly bills have also led to rare public criticism from around the land-locked country where authorities take a dim view of anyone who disagrees openly with government policies.

It would be too easy to blame China, which accounts for about 47 percent of Laos debt accumulated on the back of major infrastructure project, and its “debt traps,” which have left their mark on countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Fiji.

Nor is the war in Ukraine or the crushing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic an excuse. The chief reason behind Laos’ economic collapse is the perennial thorn in the side of many Asian countries: corruption.

Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh has admitted as much, telling the National Assembly this week that embezzlement by executives and staff, combined with poor management, are the main reasons for the chronic losses racked-up by 178 state enterprises.

“Administration of these enterprises typically did not follow a sound business plan. In addition, the recruitment of executives and staff was largely based on nepotism, with these factors being the main reason for deep-seated management failure,” state-run media said, politely.

South Korea

  • South Korean military to join US-led major, multinational cyber exercise for first time Asia News

South Korea plans to participate in the US-led multilateral cyber defense exercise this year for the first time, in a bid to step up cyber cooperation with the US.

The South Korean military will dispatch more than 20 personnel to the Cyber Flag exercise scheduled to be held this October in Virginia, South Korea’s Defense Ministry and Rep. Kang Dae-sik of the ruling People Power Party confirmed Monday.

Middle East


  • Putin has arrived in Tajikistan to meet Rahmon, leaving Russia for the first time since the Ukraine conflict began.


  • Afghanistan sees aid pour in from across Middle East following earthquake MEE

On Saturday afternoon, back-to-back aid flights from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar landed at the virtually abandoned Khost Airport in southeastern Afghanistan.

The flights were part of an international response to a 5.9-magnitude earthquake last week that killed more than 1,100 people in the provinces of Khost and Paktika. The deliveries from the on-again, off-again rivals were placed on pallets next to each other on the airport’s tarmac.

This aid from Abu Dhabi and Doha - mostly basic foodstuffs - was much needed for people in some of the most remote and undeveloped parts of Afghanistan.

The deliveries were also a test of the Taliban’s ability to muster international support at a time when the economy of its Islamic emirate is seriously hampered by ongoing sanctions, asset withholding and aid cutbacks.


  • Russia-Ukraine conflict could force African countries to become more self-reliant - Ramaphosa News24

The Russia-Ukraine conflict could have a silver lining for African countries in the long run, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, because it forces them to be more self-sufficient as they look to bolster their food supply.

He said African countries faced a similar concern during the Covid-19 pandemic when they had no choice but to manufacture their own vaccines.


  • Egypt to buy 180,000 tonnes of Indian wheat, supply minister says Reuters

Egypt has contracted to buy 180,000 tonnes of wheat from India, less than previously agreed, but is looking at ways to extract more flour from grain and even use potatoes in bread making as it tries to trim imports, the supply minister said on Sunday.

North America

United States

  • U.S. manufacturing shows resilience despite rising interest rates Reuters

New orders for U.S.-made capital goods and shipments increased solidly in May, pointing to sustained strength in business spending on equipment in the second quarter, but rising interest rates and tighter financial conditions could slow momentum.

The nearly broad rise in orders reported by the Commerce Department on Monday occurred despite deteriorating business and consumer sentiment as well as heightened fears of a recession. The gains partly reflected higher prices. The Federal Reserve is aggressively tightening monetary policy to quell inflation.

  • Biden raises U.S. tariff rate on certain Russian imports to 35% Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday raised the tariff rate on certain Russian imports to 35% as a result of suspending Russia’s “most favored nation” trading status over its war in Ukraine, according to a proclamation issued by the White House.

The higher 35% duty applies to imports of “certain other products of the Russian Federation, the importation of which has not already been prohibited,” the proclamation said.

  • US farmers hit by chemical shortages RT

US farmers have curbed the use of common weedkillers and changed their planting plans over persistent shortages of agricultural chemicals, Reuters reported on Monday, citing interviews with industry players.

They told the new agency that spraying smaller volumes of herbicides and turning to less-effective fungicides increase the risk of weeds and diseases crippling crop production at a time when global grain supplies are already tight.

“This is off the charts … Everything was delayed, delayed, delayed,” said Shawn Inman, the owner of distributor Spinner Ag in Zionsville, Indiana. According to him, supplies are currently the tightest in his 24-year career.

Prices for glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides soared more than 50% from last year, Inman said. The costs of glyphosate reached $50-60 a gallon, up from less than $20 a gallon in mid-2021.

Chemicals giant BASF told Reuters that the supply situation with glufosinate and other herbicides will not improve significantly next year.

South America


  • Russia’s Putin and Brazil’s Bolsonaro discuss global food security Inquirer

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, discussed global food security and confirmed their intention to strengthen their strategic partnership, the Kremlin said on Monday.

Putin assured Bolsonaro in a phone call that Russia would fulfil all its obligations to supply fertilizers to Brazil, the Kremlin said in a statement.


  • Pessimism Reigns at Qatar Forum Qatar

Delegates at the second annual Qatar Economic Forum last week painted an increasingly pessimistic picture of the state of the economy.

Nouriel Roubini, nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his bearish views, forecast a US recession by the end of the year. History suggests that whenever inflation in the US is above 5% and unemployment is below 5%, “any attempt by the Fed to essentially raise rates to fight inflation causes a hard landing rather than a soft landing,” he said.

Day two of the event started with Harrods Managing Director Michael Ward cautioning on staff shortages. Logistical snags had forced the London luxury emporium to delay its famed sale, he said, though demand was booming. “It’s almost impossible to find the right staff. We’ve lost significant amounts of people as a result of Brexit,” he said.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun then delivered a bleak view of the supply-chain crunch afflicting his industry, predicting issues at component makers will persist at least until the end of next year. Mid-tier parts manufacturers are worst affected by a staffing shortage, he said. British Airways parent IAG, meanwhile, said the firm wasn’t immune from strikes sweeping the European airline sector, as a staffing shortage and spiraling inflation stoke wage demands. BA workers at Heathrow voted to strike a day later.

On the energy front, Exxon Mobil said it is investing in Qatar’s $29 billion North Field East project to boost Doha’s gas exports, joining other western energy firms. The Gulf state, among the world’s biggest LNG exporters, is one of few nations that can substantially replace Russian gas supplies to Europe – but the project will start operating only in early 2026. Energy Minister Saad Al-Kaabi blamed underinvestment for high gas prices and called for higher spending, while Exxon’s CEO said global oil markets may remain “tight” for another three to five years.

  • G-7 leaders pledge $4.5 billion to combat food shortages caused by war in Ukraine NBC


The Ukraine War

  • A Ukrainian TV host crowdfunded $20 million to buy Bayraktar drones. The company making them refused the money and said it’d donate the aircraft instead. Business Insider

The Turkish defense manufacturer Baykar said it had turned down $20 million in crowdfunded cash to buy its drones for Ukraine and will donate three military drones to the country instead.

  • On Front Lines, Communication Breakdowns Prove Costly for Ukraine NYT

In the waning days of the battle for the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, a Ukrainian National Guard sergeant had a problem: His platoon’s flank was exposed and he needed to tell his men the Russians were approaching.

But he couldn’t. For 15 soldiers spread across a defensive line stretching roughly 200 yards, he had only two radios. And no matter how much he yelled into the surrounding forest, over the din of artillery and machine gun fire there was no response.

By the time the sergeant, who goes by his nom de guerre, “General,” managed to run to his men’s position, three of them had been killed.

As government leaders in Kyiv clamor for more high-tech, longer-range weapons to compete with Russia’s superior firepower, shortcomings on a much smaller, but just as important scale, are undermining the ability of Ukrainian forces to defend what territory they still hold in the east and retake what they’ve lost.

The breakdown in communication that General’s platoon suffered earlier this month is not an anomaly for Ukrainian forces fighting in the east; it is a widespread issue across the front lines and touches nearly every aspect of the war — coordination on the battlefield, delivering supplies, troop movements.

The New York Times interviewed nearly two dozen Ukrainian soldiers over the last several weeks who all pointed to similar problems: Russians jammed their radios constantly; they didn’t have enough communication gear; and they often had difficulty getting through to a commander to call for artillery support. Talking to units stationed nearby was also an issue, they said, which has led to Ukrainian forces occasionally firing on one another.

“The ability to coordinate different types of forces on the battlefield is essential, but both sides struggle with communications and effective command and control,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russian studies at C.N.A., a research institute in Arlington, Va.

Frontline Ukrainian troops are often unable to communicate with the artillery units supporting them with howitzers and multiple rocket launchers. That prompts those artillery units to often rely on their own drones and often U.S.-supplied intelligence, soldiers and U.S. defense officials said. This disconnect has left soldiers on the front lines increasingly on their own, prone to taking casualties, and has made some artillery batteries slow to react to Russian breaches along the front line.

“What artillery shall we ask for support?” one soldier said after coming off the front near the eastern city of Bakhmut, requesting that he not be identified for security reasons. Adding that “we don’t have communications,” and that his side’s artillery “shot two times, and we were hit 300 more times.”

This breakdown between troops and units, where a shared understanding of what’s happening on the battlefield is difficult for any standing military, has been exacerbated by Russia’s technologically superior military. Not only can Moscow’s troops unleash far more artillery fire, but they also have proven effective at jamming communications.

A foreign fighter stationed in the eastern Kharkiv region recalled a recent incident where a half-dozen Ukrainian units were stationed in a roughly two-mile-wide section of woods and fired on each other, killing two friendly soldiers.

“None of them communicate with each other,” the foreign fighter, a former British Royal marine, said.

The General faced similar issues during the defense of Sievierodonetsk when his platoon was on the front line near a small river. On the opposite bank was another platoon with which he had no way to communicate. So almost every time the enemy attacked, the other unit would not just shoot at the Russians but also, unknowingly, at the General’s men who were in the line of fire — with everything from rifles to heavy machine guns.

“Nobody knew how to connect with them,” the General said. “Every day as we were standing there, for over 20 days, as far as I understood, nobody could connect to that unit next to us and let them know they were firing on their own.”

Dipshittery and Cope

  • With the world distracted, Cuba cracks down on dissident artists WaPo

Man, this article has all the words in it! The WaPo editorial board has thoroughly consulted their thesarus used almost every synonym for “brutal”. Once you’re ready, enter the adverb paradise that is this article:

It has been nearly a year since Cuba’s streets erupted in mass protests. July 11, 2021, sent a thrill through supporters of freedom around the world — and a fearful chill down the spines of Cuba’s rulers. The dictatorship brutally suppressed the revolt and has spent the months since systematically bolstering its apparatus of political control. As part of that, the regime has been rounding up and punishing those who took part in the demonstrations, and in the dissident ferment that preceded them. Some 725 people are in detention, according to the U.S.-based human rights group Cubalex. And on June 24, the regime delivered stiff prison sentences to two of the movement’s best-known leaders, Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

No doubt the Cuban regime has issued these punishments on the assumption that they will receive little notice, or condemnation, from a world distracted by war in Ukraine, inflation and other serious problems. All the more reason to spend a few moments understanding the nature of these brave men’s protests — and why the dictatorship finds them particularly threatening.

Like many of the most oppressed and alienated people in Cuba, both Mr. Castillo and Mr. Otero are Black. Both come from humble economic circumstances. Both have made innovative careers in Cuban popular culture: The former is a rapper; the latter, a performance artist and sculptor. And both have defiantly expressed resistance to the regime through art. Mr. Otero is one of the founders of the San Isidro Movement, begun in 2018 by journalists, academics and artists to protest heightened censorship. In tandem with Black Cuban artists in exile, Mr. Castillo and Mr. Otero took part in a music video for the hip-hop freedom anthem “Patria y Vida” — “Fatherland and Life” — which went viral in February 2021. A clever, catchy reversal of the regime’s slogan “Patria o Muerte” — “Fatherland or Death” — the piece eventually won song of the year at the Latin Grammys. On July 11, its words were on the lips of many who joined the protests.

The regime is now getting payback for this devastating blow to its international image. Having been savagely beaten by state security agents two months after the video’s release, Mr. Castillo, 39, was arrested in May 2021 and has been in prison ever since. The nine-year sentence he just received was for murky offenses such as “contempt” and “defamation of institutions and organizations, heroes and martyrs,” as well as “assault,” an apparent reference to his attempts to fend off the police. (Three others were penalized for helping Mr. Castillo resist arrest, including one man sentenced to five years.) Mr. Otero got five years for similar trumped-up offenses, as well as “insulting national symbols,” an apparent reference to his use of the Cuban flag in his performances.

This latest gross human rights violation vindicates President Biden’s refusal to permit Cuba’s attendance at the recent Summit of the Americas; it should embarrass Latin American governments, led by Mexico, that protested that exclusion. Any regime that jails peaceful artists deserves all the denunciation the world can muster.

I’ve spent the last 10 minutes trying to mentally process that last line and think about what to say about it. It’s truly a nexus of dipshittery. There’s so many different angles to attack it from that you end up with dunk paralysis, the cousin of analysis paralysis.


  • China’s 5.5% GDP Obsession Has $8 Trillion Dark Side Forbes

China is going to grow 5.5% this year, even if it can’t. This is, in a nutshell, the signal Xi Jinping is sending to global investors.

Just about no one looking at global events seriously thinks Asia’s biggest economy can make this year’s gross domestic product target. But then, this is no normal year for Xi, who’s angling in the months ahead for a third term as leader.

This norm-breaking feat will be much easier for the Communist Party to accept if Xi’s “zero-Covid” scheme isn’t crippling its GDP. It is, of course. Xi’s massive lockdowns have some economists forecasting 2% growth, at best. For China, that effectively is a recession.

But if Xi does manage to pull off the impossible and engineer a GDP rebound, it’ll be better news for him than China’s 1.4 billion people. Getting closer to 5.5% might help Xi’s political goal in the short run. But it could exacerbate China’s debt troubles in dangerous ways.

On Wednesday, Xi pledged that “we will step up macroeconomic policy adjustment, and adopt more forceful measures to deliver the economic and social development goals for the whole year and minimize the impact of Covid-19.”

This, Beijing watchers agree, is unusually forceful language for a Chinese president. Yet, it avoids pledges to deemphasize giant lockdowns of the kind seen in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Shutting down entire metropoles may have worked in 2022 [sic]. In the more transmissible Omicron era, not so much.

This means that the coming stimulus shock and awe might have to be rather epic in size. It could include the People’s Bank of China adding waves of fresh stimulus. More likely, though, it will feature already highly indebted local governments ramping up borrowing to finance infrastructure no one needs.

Since before Xi’s day, back in the 2008-2009 era, Beijing relied on municipal leaders to order up huge public works projects: six-lane highways; monorails; international airports; stadiums; conference and shopping centers; city hall complexes; corporate campus districts; five-star hotels; massive museums.

There was a clear incentive structure. What quicker way for an ambitious local powerbroker to get Beijing’s attention than routinely turning in above-average GDP rates? And it’s an incentive system Xi had been pledging to alter.

Back in 2012, when he first took power, Xi promised to let market forces play a “decisive” role in Beijing decision making. And at times, he did just that. Over the last five years, for example, Beijing worked to reduce leverage in the financial system and curb risks among property developers.

Yet Xi’s real economic legacy is growing the size of the state sector. This dynamic has come at the expense of the private sector he is pledging to empower.

One of the bigger examples is Xi’s draconian crackdown on Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma and other tech billionaires. It’s erased nearly $2 trillion of market capitalization. It’s also undermining China’s most innovative industries with the greatest scope to disrupt the economy.

Now, top-down incentives are swinging back in the direction of government stimulus and away from deleveraging. This means China’s problems with excess credit and debt will get even worse. The same goes for the return of incentives for unproductive investments that put China on its current trajectory.

The problem is China’s extreme opacity, which in many ways grew worse in Xi’s watch. In September 2021, well before Xi’s “zero Covid” lockdowns, economists at Goldman Sachs Group estimated that hidden local government financing vehicles, or LGFVs, had increased to more than half the size of China’s $14.7 trillion economy. They put the number at about 53 trillion yuan (roughly $8 trillion) from 16 trillion yuan in 2013.

The important point is that the amount of LGFV debt is bigger than official outstanding government debt. And given the lag between when these local-government debts are taken on and reporting, it’s safe to assume the overall amount has swelled markedly since then. And may continue to grow going forward.

“In our view, infrastructure is the most important driver of Chinaʼs ambitious 5.5% GDP growth target this year, and local government special purpose bonds are a key funding source,” says analyst Zoey Zhou Qianyun at research company CreditSights.

Yet this $8 trillion dark side just means that once the Covid era ends, the debt troubles with which Beijing must contend will be bigger than ever. Xi may indeed get his wish for a third term. If his government isn’t careful, Xi may spend much of it paying the price for that success.


  • G7 leaders vow to support Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’ Politico

Leaders of the G7 advanced economies promised Monday to extend their financial, military and humanitarian support to Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” stressing that the country must be able to safeguard its sovereignty and “choose its own future.”

Well, you better start shipping those 1000 howitzers then.

  • In Ukraine’s South, Counter Attacks Offer Kyiv Hope for Turning Back Russia WSJ

Russia was able to occupy a swath of southern Ukraine in the first days of the war in late February with little resistance, but Ukrainian forces started to push back at the end of March, making tactical counterattacks. Late last month, the Ukrainian military said they had managed to capture positions in three small towns, Andriyivka, Bilohirka and Krynytsia.

“The Russians were pushed back from their positions and they’ll never take them back,” said Maj. Nazar, a deputy commander of a battalion in Ukraine’s 63rd Brigade who gave only his first name. “The operation was massive and it took some time, but it gave us the result we needed.”

Ukraine has reeled from last week’s fall of Severodonetsk, a small town in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. For two months, Ukrainian forces held off the Russians, who scored an important symbolic win in a region that the Kremlin says is central to victory in Ukraine.

But in the south, the prospect of taking back the strategically vital city of Kherson has offered Ukrainian forces a glimmer of hope. Ukrainian officials say counter-offensives have pushed through a first line of Russian defense, said Ukrainian officials last week. President Volodymyr Zelensky heralded more victories in the region, days after he publicly awarded medals to officers serving on the southern front.

“In our south we are …gradually liberating Kherson,” he said in an address last week.

Kherson was the first major city to fall in the Russian invasion and it remains a linchpin of Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine. Kyiv’s taking of the city would give it for the first time since the start of the war full access to the Dniepr River, an important transit route for shipping, and would put Ukrainian troops at the doorstep of Crimea, which Mr. Zelensky has vowed to return to Ukraine after it was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

“I am sure the Ukrainian armed forces will raise the Ukrainian flag above Kherson very soon, just like it will over Simferopol, Sevastopol,” said Maj. Nazar, referring to Crimea’s two largest cities.

For the record, the Ukrainian counteroffensive on the Kherson has, even if you’re being unfairly pro-Ukraine, produced at best mixed results. In reality, Russia and Ukraine seem to just be trading positions back and forth, with no indications that Ukraine will even reach Kherson in a reasonable timeframe (before the Donbass operation wraps up) let alone be able to take it. Breaking through the “first line of defence” is meaningless if you have many lines of defense, especially if it’s at great cost to yourself.

  • Russian Forces ‘Increasingly Hollowed Out’ in Ukraine—U.K. Intel Newsweek

The scale of the onslaught by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine amid a fierce ongoing fight for a city in the eastern Donbas region is “unsustainable” in the long term, British defense officials have said.


  • Russian Oil Sanctions Upended the World. Gold Bans Won’t Bloomberg

Last month, sanctions on Russia upended the oil market, the world’s biggest commodities trade. Now, Group of Seven leaders are proposing to repeat the trick with the second-biggest trade, gold. Don’t expect the same reaction.

Between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen first proposing sanctions on crude in early May and the package being introduced a month later, prices for Brent rose about 14%, on top of the 8.4% rise they’d seen since the invasion of Ukraine began in February.

Gold has had a quieter year, down 3.9% since Russian forces rolled across the Ukrainian border. Despite Moscow’s status as the third-biggest producer of the yellow metal, the import bans set to be announced at the G-7 meeting this week in Germany aren’t likely to reverse that bout of weakness.

Partly, that’s just a function of market scale. In a normal year, Russia accounts for about 12% of the world’s crude exports. Almost every barrel that comes to the surface is used within the year, barring movements in the 90 days or so of reserves that major energy importers hold onto.

Gold, because of its price and density, is far easier to stockpile. You could easily place enough bullion to buy the 1 million barrels in a typical oil tanker onto a six-seater dining table. 1 As a result, inventories are vast, with mining adding just 3,500 metric tons a year or so to a 205,000 ton stockpile. Roughly a quarter of gold consumption in a typical year comes from selling or melting down jewelry, coins, bars and industrial metals — and those recycling numbers tend to creep up whenever a shortage of mine supplies puts upward pressure on price.

Russia is unquestionably a major player. The 300 tons it produced last year was only exceeded by China and Australia, and accounted for a crude-style 10% of the global total. What counts for global trade isn’t production, however, but net exports — and on that basis Russia is a minnow.

  • Only one way for Russian oil price cap to work – Germany RT

Limiting Russian oil revenues would only be possible if enough countries participated in the scheme, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Monday ahead of a meeting of EU energy ministers in Luxembourg.

“The price caps proposed by the US for the purchase [of Russian oil] are only a good idea if enough countries participate in this. Let’s see how they will move forward,” Habeck told reporters, as cited by RIA Novosti.

Good Takes that are Dope

In May and June of 2022 two milestones were passed in the world’s battle with Covid and were widely noted in the press, one in the US and one in China. They invite a comparison between the two countries and their approach to combatting Covid-19.

The first milestone was passed on May 12 when the United States registered over 1 million total deaths (1,008,377 as of June 19, 2022, when this is written) due to Covid, the highest of any country in the world. Web MD expressed its sentiment in a piece headlined: “US Covid Deaths Hit 1 Million: ‘History Should Judge Us.’”

Second, on June 1, China emerged from its 60-day lockdown in Shanghai in response to an outbreak there, the most serious since the Wuhan outbreak at the onset of the pandemic. The total number of deaths in Mainland China since the beginning of the epidemic in January 2020 now stands at a total of 5226 as of June 19, 2022.

To put that in perspective, that is 3042 deaths per million population in the US versus 3.7 deaths in China due to Covid. 3042 vs. 3.7! Had China followed the same course as the US, it would have experienced at least 4 million deaths. Had the US followed China’s course it would have had only 1306 deaths total!

The EU did not fare not much better than the US with 2434 deaths per million as of June 19.

When confronted with these numbers, the response of the Western media has all too often been denial that China’s numbers were valid. But China’s data have been backed by counts of excess deaths during the period of the pandemic as the New York Times illustrated in a recent article. Actually this is old news. The validity of China’s numbers, as shown by counts of excess deaths, was validated long ago in a February 2021 study by a by a group at Oxford University and the Chinese CDC. This was published in the prestigious BMJ (British Medical Journal) and discussed in detail here.

Clearly China put the saving of lives above the advance of the economy with its “dynamic zero Covid policy.” But contrary to what was believed in the West at the time, saving lives also turned out to be better for the economy, as shown in the following data from the World Bank:

During the first year of the pandemic, 2020, China’s economy continued to grow albeit at a slower rate. In contrast the US economy contracted dramatically, dropping all the way back, not simply to 2019 levels, but to pre-2018 levels!

Interestingly the plot also shows the year that the Chinese PPP-GDP surpassed that of the United States, 2017, heralding a new era for the Global South.

The World Bank has not yet released data for 2021, but the IMF has PPP-GDP data for 2021 shown here. The U.S. economy grew at 5.97 percent and China’s at 8.02 percent. Unlike the World Bank data shown in the graph above for the years up to 2020, these data for 2021 are not corrected for inflation which for 2021 ran at 4.7% in the U.S. whereas China’s was 0.85%. So China’s growth would be even greater in comparison to the US, were inflation taken into account.

The bottom line is that for the first two years of the pandemic through 2021, China’s growth was always positive and greater than that of the US. China’s policy not only saved lives but protected the economy. Win-win, one might say.

During the recent lockdown in Shanghai, the Western press was awash with proclamations, all too many laced with an unseemly Schadenfreude, that China’s dynamic Zero Covid policy was not sustainable. This is all too reminiscent of decades of predictions that China’s extraordinary success in developing its economy to number one in the world in terms of PPP-GDP was a passing phase, a Ponzi Scheme that was – what else – “not sustainable. Recently the same press has gone silent, always a sign that China has met with success. So what are the results?

The Shanghai Lockdown ended on June 1 and from that day until today, June 19, there have been no deaths due to Covid on the Chinese Mainland. Cases nationwide are also way down to 183 per day from the peak of 26,000 on April 15. That was the largest number of cases in a single day for the entire period of the pandemic in China. For comparison, the peak in the US was 800,000 in a single day.

Both the Wuhan and Shanghai lockdowns demanded sacrifices and patience over the roughly two-month period for each. However, these difficulties are generally exaggerated In the West and based on anecdotes of the worst of the difficulties encountered. Such sordid journalism reached rock bottom in a NYT piece equating China’s hard working health care workers to Adolph Eichmann!

For the moment China’s approach has succeeded although we cannot say what the future holds. But the public health measures that have worked so well in Mainland China should not be lightly dismissed let alone be the subject of mean-spirited attacks. Such measures may be a means of saving millions of lives when the next variant or the next pandemic strikes.

Turning again to the US, what does it say when the US, one of the richest nations in the world, spending over $1 trillion a year on its “national security” budget, could not muster the means to deal with Covid-19 and ended up with more deaths than any other nation on earth? China’s handling of the pandemic certainly shows a completely different outcome is possible. The US death toll was not an inescapable act of nature.

That being so, should there not be a People’s Tribunal to investigate those in charge in the US government over the course of three administrations? That, and not an official white wash, is certainly needed? And should not punishment appropriate for a crime against humanity be meted out? The one million dead deserve no less.

Bloomerism and Hope

  • If Ukraine loses, democracy loses - Italian PM RT

“If Ukraine loses, it will be more difficult to maintain that democracy is an effective model of government,” Draghi stated during a virtual meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Group of Seven (G7) leaders in Germany.

New large-scale fossil fuel projects have become mostly unworkable in the Pacific Northwest, with dozens canceled over the past decade due to fierce opposition from local communities. But the industry’s blitz is not yet over. Instead, rather than building new pipelines, it is seeking to expand existing infrastructure in a way that will provoke less pushback.

Since 2012, an estimated 55 coal, oil, and natural gas projects have been proposed for the Pacific Northwest — encompassing Oregon and Washington, as well as British Columbia. But more than 70 percent of them have been defeated, according to a recent study from the Seattle-based Sightline Institute.

“The fossil fuel industry really was trying to turn the Pacific Northwest into a coal, oil, and gas export hub,” Emily Moore, a senior researcher at Sightline Institute, told DeSmog. “We could be looking at a really different picture right now if all of those had gone through.”

I have met so many people through this fight,” says Nancy Bouldin of Monroe County, West Virginia. “If you look at any benefits of all this, it’s the people and the connections that have been made.”

When Bouldin says, “all this,” she refers to the years-long battle communities across West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina have waged against the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its proposed Southgate extension.

When Bouldin and fellow organizers Lynda Majors and Donna Pitt met for a discussion via Zoom in March of 2022, the MVP’s prospects seemed dim.

Originally priced at $3.7 billion, the MVP’s costs have ballooned to over $6.2 billion, the project is over three years behind schedule and has faced millions of dollars in fines for violations of clean water protections. A number of recent legal setbacks have set the pipeline back further, but years of experience have made these organizers cautious.

“Victory is when they cancel the pipeline,” Majors says. “Until that happens, in my mind, there is no victory. We stay vigilant. And then [after the pipeline’s defeat,] our attention turns to restoration.”

  • Kentucky Amazon Workers Are Starting to Organize a Union Jacobin

After the victory on Staten Island, Amazon workers across the country have expressed interest in organizing a union. The latest site for potential unionization: the SDF1 Amazon facility in Campbellsville, Kentucky.

Littrell says the organizing drive within SDF1 has been building for months. Earlier this month, Amazon called the sheriff’s office on him and several others who were flyering outside of the facility. As Littrell told the Washington Post shortly after the incident, “We were completely within our rights to be there.” That fact didn’t stop a process assistant, a low-level management position at Amazon, from asking Littrell, “How’s the revolution going?”

While no one was arrested that day, it seems Amazon management at SDF1 may not have learned from the way siccing the cops on Amazon Labor Union (ALU) president Christian Smalls backfired in Staten Island, helping the ALU win the first union at an Amazon facility in the United States.

As for what his coworkers want to change at SDF1, Littrell mentions Amazon’s slow responses to issues like the heat, as well as the grueling productivity quotas that lead to frequent write-ups for time off task, policies that workers say are unevenly enforced. Additionally, some employees allege that they never received promised sign-on bonuses — as much as $3,000 — as the company attached conditions regarding eligibility that they had not understood when accepting positions.

“Most of the workers don’t know what the hell a union is, especially if they’re young,” says Littrell, who explains that he usually begins organizing conversations by asking coworkers about their concerns:

“I talk to them about what solutions a union can offer — especially about the fact that a contract would mean Amazon can’t roll back improvements — and how if we had a shop steward, they wouldn’t be getting harassed about their rates anymore.”

  • Thousands protest in Madrid against NATO summit EU Reporter

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to threaten the organization, the leaders of member countries will be meeting in Madrid on 29-30 June amid tight security.

Demonstrators sang, “Tanks yes but of beer with tapas,” claiming that NATO’s call for an increase in defense spending in Europe was a threat.

“I’m fed up with this business of killing people and arming myself with weapons. Their solution is to increase the number of arms and wars, and we pay for it. “So, no NATO, no (army), bases, let us go, and leave us alone with wars and arms,” Concha Hoyos, a former resident of Madrid, stated to Reuters.

Jaled, a 29-year-old protester, said that NATO was not the answer to the conflict in Ukraine.

Although organizers claimed that 5,000 people participated in the march, authorities in Madrid estimated that there were 2,200.

Link back to the discussion thread.