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Europe

  • More EU members speak out against proposed Russian tourist ban RT

Cyprus and Portugal are refusing to back a proposal by several other EU nations to ban Russian tourists, as part of anti-Moscow sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

“Portugal believes that the fundamental objective of the sanctions is to punish the Russian war machine and not the Russian people,” the Portuguese Foreign Ministry said in a statement to news website ECO on Friday.

Kornelios Korneliou, General Secretary of the Cyprus Foreign Ministry, said his country also opposes a blanket ban on Russian travelers. “It would be a decision in the wrong direction,” Konreliou told Politico magazine on Friday. “We believe in people-to-people contacts.”

Cyprus has a sizable population of Russian-speakers, around 50,000 of whom live in the southern city of Limassol, according to Politico.

“We shouldn’t prevent these communities from coming into contact with families and friends,” Korneliou said. “The main weapon is European unity and our partners should respect the sensitivities of others on this issue.”

Greece suspended issuing visas to Russians in late June, but resumed the following month. Like Cyprus, Greece is a popular tourist destination for Russians, and, according to Politico, Athens also opposes a total ban on Russian visitors.

The matter will be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague on August 31.

  • Russian gas transit to EU via Nord Stream to be halted – Gazprom RT

Russian energy giant Gazprom announced on Friday that transit of natural gas to the European Union via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline will be halted from August 31 to September 2 for maintenance.

“On August 31, the only working Trent 60 gas compressor unit will be shut down for three days for maintenance,” the company stated, noting that all repairs will be carried out jointly with specialists from the German manufacturer, Siemens.

Gazprom added that “Upon completion of work and the absence of technical malfunctions of the unit, gas transportation will be restored to the level of 33 million cubic meters per day,” representing roughly 20% of the pipeline’s full capacity.

  • Europe Looks To Reduce Dependence On China’s Critical Minerals Oil Price

While the European Union and the UK are trying to shake off dependence on Russian oil and coal in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is also taking steps to reduce its dependence on China for critical minerals and rare earth elements that are crucial to the energy transition.

China is the dominant player on the markets for the materials used in solar panels, batteries, and magnets. European countries have recently ramped up efforts to establish local supply chains and diversify imports away from one dominant supplier, especially if this supplier is Russian ally China.

The EU has created the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA), which aims to make Europe economically more resilient by diversifying its supply chains, creating jobs, and attracting investments to the raw materials value chain. By 2030, ERMA’s activities are expected to increase the production of raw and advanced materials and address Circular Economy by boosting the recovery and recycling of Critical Raw Materials.

The UK, for its part, unveiled last month a Critical Minerals Strategy, which sets out a plan to secure the UK supply chains, by boosting domestic capability, attracting investment, and playing a leading role in solving global challenges with the UK’s international partners.

According to the European Commission, China provides 98% of the EU’s supply of rare earth elements (REE).

Ukraine

  • Ukraine calls Germany ‘addict’ while offering supply RT

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba condemned the German “addiction” to Russian gas on Friday while at the same time Kiev’s transit operator said it was willing to carry all the Russian energy Berlin might need, for a fee.

The conflicting communications from Kiev came after a senior Bundestag official called for the opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and as Gazprom informed the EU that Nord Stream 1 would shut down for maintenance at the end of August.

“Calls by some German politicians to launch NS2 for a little while and close it later are totally irrational,” Kuleba tweeted out on Friday, in English. “This resembles drug addiction, when a person says ‘Just one last time!’ without realizing the devastating consequences of each ‘last time.’ Addiction to Russian gas kills!”

While Kuleba did not name any names, a prominent German politician did in fact call for the opening of Nord Stream 2. Wolfgang Kubicki, a Bundestag vice-president from the ranks of the Free Democrats (FDP), said on Thursday that the brand-new pipeline ought to be used to at least fill up Germany’s gas storage for the winter.

“There is no good reason not to open Nord Stream 2,” Kubicki told the broadcaster RND. “If more gas is delivered to us this way, maybe even the entire amount guaranteed by the contract, it will help people not to freeze in winter, and our industry will not suffer serious damage.”

Opening Nord Stream 2 up is so obviously the right decision that it’s basically proof that America is definitely up to no good in German politics.

Russia

  • Russian operator takes over Sakhalin-2 RT

Russian company Sakhalin Energy LLC stated on Friday that it has officially started operating Sakhalin-2, a major Russian oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) project that was transferred to domestic management two months ago.

“Sakhalin Energy is carrying out production and commercial operations. Our absolute priority is still given to the key principles – staff safety, health and care, maintenance of uninterrupted and reliable production while fulfilling all the current obligations,” Andrey Oleinikov, the head of the company, said in a statement.

Sakhalin-2, one of the world’s largest LNG projects with an annual output of 12 million tons, was launched back in 2009 as a joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom, Japan’s Mitsui and Mitsubishi, and UK-based Shell. The enterprise, located on the Russian island of Sakhalin in the Pacific Ocean, north of Japan, supplies LNG mainly to Asian markets.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the reorganization of the Sakhalin-2 LNG enterprise, transferring ownership to a new domestic company. The move came in response to sanctions from ‘unfriendly states’.

Separately, Asahi, one of Japan’s biggest media outlets, reported on Friday that several Japanese utilities were ready to sign contracts with the new Russian operator. The new agreements reportedly offer electricity and gas companies the same terms that were offered under the previous ownership.

  • Japan’s Mitsui nears decision to join new Sakhalin-2 operator, Nikkei reports Reuters

Japanese trading firm Mitsui & Co is close to making a final decision to join a new Russian operator for the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, the Nikkei newspaper said, without citing sources.

Registered on Aug. 5, the new entity replaces project operator Sakhalin Energy as Moscow rewrites the rules for foreign firms operating in Russia, amid global sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

Mitsui, which does not see any conditions that disadvantage it, will make a final decision by the end of this month and notify Russia, the paper added.

The company and peer Mitsubishi Corp together held a stake of 22.5% in Sakhalin-2. The latter is still considering whether to join the project, the paper added.

The project is critical to the energy security of resource-poor Japan, which imports about a tenth of its LNG from Russia, mainly from Sakhalin-2. Japan has asked both companies to “think positively” in joining the new entity.

Germany

  • German dependence on China growing ‘at tremendous pace’, research shows Reuters

The German economy became more dependent on China in the first half of 2022, with direct investment and its trade deficit reaching new heights, despite political pressure on Berlin to pivot away from Beijing, according to research seen by Reuters.

At the same time, growth in German exports to China weakened significantly, the German Economic Institute (IW) said in its study, citing economists pointing to a trend towards more local production in the Chinese market.

“The German economy is much more dependent on China than the other way round,” said Juergen Matthes, who authored the study.

He warned that this dependence posed a political problem as Beijing’s stance on the Ukraine war and its military posture towards Taiwan placed German business with the world’s second-largest economy under scrutiny.

“Yet despite these dangers and problems, economic interdependencies with China have been moving in the wrong direction at a tremendous pace in the first half of 2022,” the economist said.

  • Record jump in German producer prices adds to gloomy outlook Reuters

German producer prices jumped at the fastest pace on record in July, underscoring the gloomy outlook for Europe’s largest economy, which is stuck in a stranglehold of soaring costs and weakening growth due to the Ukraine war.

Producer prices – a leading indicator for inflation – surged 37.2% on the year, the biggest rise since records began in 1949, the federal statistics office said on Friday. The month-on-month rise, 5.3%, was also the highest on record.

  • Energy Prices Trigger Deindustrialization In Germany Oil Price

German factories are struggling to cope with soaring energy costs, which may prompt many to leave the country for a cheaper location, Bloomberg has reported, citing industry sources.

“Energy inflation is way more dramatic here than elsewhere,” Ralf Stoffels, chief executive of BIW Isolierstoffe, a silicon parts supplier to a range of industries. “I fear a gradual deindustrialization of the German economy.”

Energy prices in Europe’s biggest economy and the EU’s powerhouse hit a record earlier this week, with the year-ahead price per MWh reaching 530.50 euro, or $534.45.

“The longer these price rises go up, the more this will be felt across the economy,” Daniel Kral, Oxford Economics senior economist, told Bloomberg. “The magnitude of the increase and magnitude of the crisis isn’t comparable to anything in the past few decades.”

  • Low water levels on Danube reveal sunken WW2 German warships Inquirer

Europe’s worst drought in years has pushed the mighty river Danube to one of its lowest levels in almost a century, exposing the hulks of dozens of explosives-laden German warships sunk during World War Two near Serbia’s river port town of Prahovo.

The vessels were among hundreds scuttled along the Danube by Nazi Germany’s Black Sea fleet in 1944 as they retreated from advancing Soviet forces, and still hamper river traffic during low water levels.

However, this year’s drought – viewed by scientists as a consequence of global warming – has exposed more than 20 hulks on a stretch of the Danube near Prahovo in eastern Serbia, many of which still contain tonnes of ammunition and explosives and pose a danger to shipping.

United Kingdom

  • British consumer confidence slumps to record low RT

Consumer sentiment in the UK fell to record lows in August as the cost-of-living crisis continued to deepen, and inflation hit a four-decade high.

British consumer confidence declined to minus 44 in August from minus 41 in July, the lowest level since the survey began in 1974, data tracked by research firm GfK shows.

Sentiment has been falling steadily throughout 2022, and declined by a further three points in August. A year ago it stood at minus 8.

“A sense of exasperation about the UK’s economy is the biggest driver of these findings. Our sub-measure on the general economy over the past year has decreased month-on-month since December 2021,” GfK client strategy director Joe Staton said.

According to Staton, all five measures included in the index, which tracks changes in personal finances over the preceding 12 months, plunged this month, reflecting mounting concerns over the cost of living crisis. The major purchase index reportedly slid by four points in August.

British retail sales surprisingly rose overall in July but consumer confidence is at a record-low level as the UK heads towards recession under a new leader, data showed Friday.

Sales by volume gained 0.3 percent last month following a slight drop in June, the Office for National Statistics said, while analysts’ consensus had been for another fall.

Online purchases “were boosted by a range of offers and promotions”, said Darren Morgan, ONS director of economic statistics.

“However, fuel sales fell with some evidence suggesting the very hot weather meant fewer people travelling.”

  • Energy Inflation Threatens Thousands Of UK Businesses Oil Price

Thousands of small and medium businesses in the UK are finding it increasingly hard to keep the lights on as energy prices continue to rise.

Earlier this week, official data showed UK inflation had reached a four-decade high of over 10 percent. This has affected consumer spending, which these businesses depend on for survival.

It is going to get worse, too. The Bank of England forecasted that consumer price inflation will reach 13.3 percent in October, CNBC reported today. The report cited a new survey showing consumer confidence had fallen to the lowest on record.

In July, a survey showed that as much as 82 percent of British businesses saw inflation as a growing concern. Now, the number is probably even higher as energy inflation remains excessively high, driving all other prices higher, too.

  • Blame Putin for economic failings – UK chancellor RT

The next UK prime minister needs to point the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin and blame him for Britain’s economic woes, the UK chancellor of the exchequer has said, according to a Times report on Friday.

Speaking at a public event on Friday, Nadhim Zahawi reportedly argued that the Conservatives need to “remind” people that global gas prices have soared due to Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine. If they fail to do so, the Labour Party could gain political capital by criticizing the Tories for their inability to tackle the crisis, he reportedly added.

  • UK Travel Chaos Stretches Into Weekend With National Rail Strike Bloomberg

Disruptions to Britain’s transport system are extending into the weekend as train workers seeking to preserve jobs and earn higher pay hold another nationwide walkout.

The latest action comes a day after London’s subway network ground to a halt as its workers went on strike, and follows an earlier stoppage by train staff on Thursday.

Only about 20% of Britain’s rail network will be open on Saturday, with a skeletal service running between 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., according to Network Rail, which manages the UK’s stations and tracks. More disruption is expected on Sunday as a knock-on effect from the walkout, the group said on its website.

The labor actions come against a worsening economic backdrop, with inflation at a four-decade high driving up the cost of everything from food to energy and clothing. The Bank of England expects price growth to top 13% in the coming months, while real wages are falling at a record pace.

France

  • France Prefers LNG Terminals To New Gas Pipeline Oil Price

New LNG terminals in northern and eastern Europe would be a better option to alleviate the European gas crisis than a new natural gas pipeline from Spain to France, the French energy transition ministry said on Friday.

A new gas pipeline between Spain and France would take years to become operational and would cost at least $3.01 billion (3 billion euro), the French ministry said in a statement carried by Reuters.

Last week, Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said that another natural gas pipeline could soon become operational in Europe to connect Spain and France, and the new link could start operations in around nine months.

“This new interconnection, this gas pipeline could be operating in about 8 or 9 months on the southern border side, that is, from the Pyrenean to Spain,” Ribera said.

Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed the idea of a gas pipeline to connect Portugal, Spain, and central Europe via France and said he supported the new connection.

Asia and Oceania

China

  • China issues first nationwide drought alert in 9 years CNN

Chinese authorities issued a nationwide drought warning for the first time in nine years as the country copes with below-average rainfall and one of the strongest heat waves seen in six decades.

The “yellow” alert, which was issued Friday, is the third-highest on China’s four-tier scale. It indicates that at least two provinces are facing drought-like conditions, and more dry weather or drought is expected.

China’s meteorological agency said Friday that at least 244 cities across the country could see temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), while another 407 could see the mercury rise to more than 37C (98F). Forecasters expect the heat wave to could continue for another week, while the next three days will see little rain and continued drought development.

As of Wednesday, about 830,000 people across six provinces have had their water supplies affected by drought conditions, according to the Ministry of Water Resources. More than 300,000 people are experiencing temporary difficulties even accessing drinking water. It’s a significant number of people impacted, but a fraction of China’s population of 1.4 billion.

  • China’s farmers struggle to save crops as heatwave, drought drag on Inquirer

As the tinder-dry countryside along China’s Yangtze river basin withers under a heatwave that has lasted more than two months, veteran farmer Chen Xiaohua recalled the last severe drought to hit his crops more than 60 years ago.

“This year is drier than 1960,” said Chen, 68, from his plot of land in the village of Fuyuan in the rugged rural fringes of the Chongqing region in China’s southwest. “The temperature is higher.”

Chen’s small plot, situated close to the Yangtze river and its tributary, the Longxi, normally relies on fresh water from mountain streams, but that has dwindled to nothing in recent days, drying out his main crops, which includes sweet potato.

“In the past, at this time, August, sweet potato leaves grow very thick,” said Chen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect himself from the fierce sun. “From August to September, sweet potato should bloom.”

As many as 66 rivers across 34 counties in Chongqing have dried up, state broadcaster CCTV said on Friday as weather service data showed a district in the region to be the country’s hottest, hitting 45 degrees Celsius ((113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Rainfall in Chongqing this year is down 60% compared to the seasonal norm, and the farmland in several districts is severely short of moisture, CCTV said, citing local government data. The local government also said crops in 10 districts were suffering badly.

  • China’s July Russian coal imports hit 5-yr high as West shuns Moscow Reuters

China’s coal imports from Russia jumped 14% in July from a year earlier to their highest in at least five years, as China bought discounted coal while Western countries shunned Russian cargoes over its invasion of Ukraine.

China brought in 7.42 million tonnes of coal from Russia last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Saturday. That was the highest monthly figure since comparable statistics began in 2017, up from 6.12 million tonnes in June and 6.49 million tonnes in July 2021.

  • China banks to repay more customers after protests Iraqi News

Chinese regulators on Friday offered repayments to more customers of rural banks whose withdrawals were frozen, in the ongoing saga of one of the country’s biggest-ever banking scandals that triggered rare mass protests.

Protests aren’t that rare in China. There were 500 protests every day in 2012. Not sure about ‘mass protests’ though. Of course, if you have too many protests then that proves you’ve failed as a nation, and if you have too few, that means your people are oppressed and you’ve failed as a nation. The perfect number is… huh! It’s exactly the number that the US has every year! Weird!

China’s rural banking sector has been hit hard by Beijing’s efforts to rein in a property bubble and spiralling debt, in a financial crackdown that has had ripple effects across the world’s second-largest economy.

Four banks in Henan province froze cash withdrawals in mid-April as regulators cracked down on mismanagement, locking hundreds of thousands of customers out from their funds and sparking sporadic protests.

Middle East

  • Middle East Producers Expect To Bank Additional $1.3 Trillion From Oil Exports Oil Price

The major oil exporting countries in the Middle East are expected to receive an additional $1.3 trillion from oil by 2026, thanks to high oil prices and the global oil market turmoil after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Gulf states in particular are set for “additional cumulative oil revenues of $1.3tn through 2026,” Jihad Azour, IMF director for the Middle East and North Africa, told the Financial Times this week.

According to IMF experts, the oil revenue bonanza will bolster the coffers of the large sovereign wealth funds of the major exporters in the Middle East and prop up the monarchies in those states.

  • Why the Middle East may be too hot to live in by the end of the century CNN

London got so warm this summer that newspapers splashed with headlines saying temperatures in the city had exceeded those of scorching hot Dubai.

One after another, European countries such as Spain and Portugal registered record highs this year.

The northern hemisphere did indeed witness record temperatures, with wildfires engulfing parts of Europe and drought threatening food supplies. And, often, European cities witnessed hotter conditions than those in the Persian Gulf.

But experts say that temperature alone isn’t an adequate measure of the livability of a city – a combination of heat and humidity is. And that’s why the Middle East is far less livable than Europe even at the same temperatures.

The Middle East is still quite hot. The Iranian city of Abadan set the record for the hottest dry heat temperature this year when it hit 53 degrees Celsius (127 degrees Fahrenheit) on August 5. But combine that with the high levels of humidity in the region and it becomes an even more inhospitable place for human beings. It’s harder to cool down when the weather is humid, as our bodies struggle to transfer their heat to “wet” air rather than dry air, making it harder to sweat it out and lower our body temperatures.

The measure of heat combined with humidity is called the wet bulb temperature. The name stems from the way this condition is measured, literally by wrapping a wet cloth around a thermometer and measuring the temperature as the water evaporates.

“The wet bulb temperature is the lowest temperature that can be reached by evaporative cooling,” Tapio Schneider, a professor of environmental science and engineering at the California Institute of Technology, told CNN.

The Middle East is especially vulnerable to rising global temperatures. “The region is already warm and can be humid,” he said. “Therefore, global warming can push it into the zone where human health is endangered.”

On July 19, the UK experienced its hottest day on record, surpassing temperatures of 40C for the first time, with a high of 40.3C in eastern England. On the same day, average temperatures in both London and Dubai were 34C – but the wet bulb temperature in London was 20C, while Dubai was a more painful 27C.

The Persian Gulf is one of the few places in the world ever to record a wet bulb temperature that exceeds the threshold of human survivability, 35C. Since 2005, there have been nine separate occasions of this on record.

A wet bulb temperature of 35C means the body can no longer cool itself to a temperature that can maintain normal functions.

“It is a hard threshold for survivability in that independent of age and fitness, humans cannot survive in those conditions; they will die within hours without special exertion,” said Schneider.

Wet bulb temperatures just under 35C aren’t ideal either. “Humans experience heat stress at lower wet bulb temperatures too,” he said. “And the degree to which they can survive such heat stress does depend on fitness, age, and pre-existing conditions.”

The oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf have equipped themselves against the heat, with energy-intensive air conditioning, but other regional countries haven’t been as privileged.

In Iraq, employees in the city of Basra were asked to stay home due to high temperatures earlier this month. However, households only get up to 10 hours of electricity from the national grid, with those who can afford it paying private generator providers to cover the other hours.

In Gaza, residents cool off in the three to four hours of electricity they get per day, suffering for periods of up to 20 hours with no electricity daily. Similarly, Lebanon’s government no longer provides more than two hours of electricity per day.

Iran

  • Iran nuclear deal ‘imminent’ with crippling sanctions removed Al Jazeera

A European proposal to revive the nuclear agreement between Western countries and Iran is imminent and includes the release of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian funds and oil exports in return for the scaling back of its nuclear programme.

The new deal will be carried out in four phases over two 60-day periods, sources with knowledge of the proposed agreement told Al Jazeera Arabic.

Iran recently voiced optimism about an agreement on a renewed version of the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other foreign powers, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran’s negotiating team adviser Mohammad Marandi said earlier this week “we’re closer than we’ve been before” to securing a deal and the “remaining issues are not very difficult to resolve”.

  • Iran drops nuclear deal demand RT

Iran has dropped its demand that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US terror blacklist, CNN reported on Friday, citing an unnamed senior US official. The issue has so far been a major stumbling block in talks to salvage the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

According to the news network’s source, Iran did not include such a demand in its response to the “final” text of the agreement, proposed by the EU on August 8, to revive the nuclear deal. “The current version of the text, and what they are demanding, drops it,” the official told CNN. “So if we are closer to a deal, that’s why.”

The official also indicated that Iran walked back on its demands to delist several companies with ties to the IRGC, the country’s elite military unit.

The Biden administration has been adamant that it will not lift sanctions on the IRGC. Earlier, high-profile US lawmakers and officials from both sides spoke against any efforts to drop the restrictions placed on the military unit.

The designation was made in 2019 under former President Donald Trump, and marked the first time the US had labelled a part of another government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

CNN’s source said that while reviving the Iran nuclear deal now seems “closer than it was two weeks ago, the outcome remains uncertain” as the sides have to reach an agreement on a number of other points.

Those include Iran’s reported insistence that the US should pay a fine if it unilaterally withdraws from the deal again, and the demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should drop its investigation into Tehran’s nuclear program.

  • Foes and friends of Iran deal ready for another D.C. clash Politico

With Washington and Tehran on the verge of restoring the Iran nuclear deal, supporters and critics are prepping for a public relations clash reminiscent of the battle over the original agreement in 2015.

Like seven years ago, lobbyists, activists, foreign officials and lawmakers are using everything from selective media leaks to ad buys to letter-writing campaigns to make their points. The hubbub is likely to grow in the coming days, especially if negotiators in Vienna can agree on terms after months of talks.

For its part, the White House says it’s ready for the fight.

On Thursday, for instance, James Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a deal critic, tweeted that Iran was pushing President Joe Biden to accept terms that could let it “accelerate nuclear weapons work.” The White House National Security Council took the unusual step of tweeting a rebuke: “Nothing here is true. We would never accept such terms.”

A White House official on Friday declined to get into details when pressed on the administration’s messaging plans, saying it was premature to talk about tactics or strategy since there’s not yet a deal to revive the agreement.

“If a deal is reached,” the official added, “we are fully prepared to advocate for it publicly, brief the Hill, experts and stakeholders, and coordinate with allies and partners, as we have done throughout this process and consistent with our approach to all policy priorities.”

The back-and-forth this time is likely to be less intense than in 2015, when President Barack Obama’s administration was mocked by the right for trying to create a media “echo chamber” to sell the deal to the public.

But once again, the geopolitical stakes are high, and the fight will likely center on Congress, where lawmakers will get a chance to review, in essence, the deal to revive the deal. And while the White House can once again count on a presidential veto as a backstop in the unlikely case lawmakers get enough votes to kill the revival effort, this time there will be a looming midterm election to consider.

To be clear, the negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, could still collapse or be delayed. Iran is pushing for changes to the proposed road map to restore the agreement, and the U.S. is weighing options. That said, after more than a year of talks, there’s noticeable optimism among the various parties that the deal can soon be revived.

So the battle lines are hardening once more — on think tank panels, television appearances and in quiet conversations in secure government facilities.

Israel, the foreign government most vocally opposed to the nuclear deal, is sending its national security adviser to Washington next week to air the country’s well-known concerns directly with the White House. Meantime, Israeli officials are turning to the media to publicize their reservations and take jabs at Biden and his aides.

Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan offers raisins for Russian oil RT

Afghanistan wants to import Russian crude oil and goods in exchange for its minerals, as well as raisins and medicinal herbs, Minister of Industry and Trade Nuriddin Azizi told RIA Novosti on Friday.

“We can provide some of our minerals in exchange for imports from Russia, including for products and energy resources,” Nuriddin said, noting “In addition, we have, for example, dried fruits, raisins and medicinal herbs.”

The minister pointed out that Afghanistan has historically supplied large volumes of raisins to Russia. “We can supply hundreds of tons of such products. For example, prices for medicinal herbs are now very high, and Russia needs such raw materials for medicine. And we can use them in barter trade. We can supply raw materials to Russian factories, as we are already doing with China,” the minister explained.

Earlier this week, Nuriddin stated that Kabul wants to purchase a million barrels of Russian crude or even more, noting the government would “like to consider the option of barter trade.”

Africa

  • Horn of Africa drought places 22 million people at risk of starvation, says UN Guardian

The number of people at risk of starvation in the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa has increased to 22 million, the UN’s world food programme (WFP) says.

Years of insufficient rainfall across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have caused the worst drought in 40 years and conditions akin to famine in the hardest-hit areas, aid groups say.

An unprecedented four failed rainy seasons has killed millions of livestock, destroyed crops and forced 1.1 million people from their homes in search of food and water.

North America

United States

  • US natural gas prices could spike 60% this winter as the global energy crisis drags on, Truist analyst says Business Insider

US natural gas prices could spike as high as 60% this winter as the global energy crisis drags on, according to estimates by Truist director Neal Dingmann.

“Natural gas prices this year have hit 14-year highs, and we don’t think that’s the end of it. We think we could even see a super-spike potentially this winter that we would put them back to 20- or 25-year highs,” Dingmann said in an interview with CNBC.

Henry Hub natural gas is currently priced at $9.35 per million British thermal units as of 1:00 pm ET. Dingmann thinks that could surge to $12-$15 in the upcoming months, which could represent a hike of 22%-61%.

That threatens to send the US into its own energy crunch this winter alongside Europe, with constraints largely driven by the limitations to how much gas US companies can produce.

  • ‘I feel stuck’: Inside the growing US student debt crisis Al Jazeera

Dara Zucker says she’s stuck. The 28-year-old has been making monthly payments on her student loans since she graduated with a degree in psychology from Kenosha, Wisconsin’s Carthage College in 2016, but her balance has only gone up.

“I feel stuck in my life,” she told Al Jazeera, about the $39,000 she still owes on her $35,000 loan.

And Zucker is not alone – Americans owe nearly $1.75 trillion in student loan debt, an increase from $481bn in 2006, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, the highest level of student debt in the world.

As the country’s student loan debt crisis deepens, borrowers, policymakers, and economists agree that something must be done – but what exact steps need to be taken remains up for debate.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration halted student loan interest and later suspended loan payments as lockdowns spurred mass layoffs and business closures. President Joe Biden, who campaigned on a promise to “immediately cancel a minimum of $10,000 of student debt per person”, has repeatedly extended that moratorium.

However, the payment freeze expires at the end of August, and unless Biden extends it, 45.4 million student loan borrowers will be expected to resume monthly loan payments on September 1. The average monthly student loan payment in the United States is $393.

Zucker, who says that she used the pause in payments to help her disabled parents buy groceries, just received a promotion and raise at the background check company where she works as a business development representative. But the raise also means her salary-dependent, monthly student loan payment will double to $220 when payments resume.

“I’m grateful for my job and salary,” she said in an interview. “But the fact that I can make my payments and still can’t live my life as an adult by buying a house or having a wedding – I just can’t do those things.”


Military

The Ukraine War

  • Foreign fighters eliminated in Ukraine – Russia RT

US nationals were among the foreign fighters killed in high-precision Russian airstrikes on nationalists’ combat positions in Kharkov Region in northeastern Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed at its daily briefing on Saturday.

Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov said Russian aircraft had struck “the positions of the nationalist unit Kraken and the units of foreign mercenaries” near the village of Andreyevka.

“More than 100 militants were killed, including up to 20 American mercenaries,” Konashenkov stated. He added that the Russian forces hit other targets in eastern Ukraine and Donbass, destroying seven command centers and intercepting six drones.

Perhaps the Reddit Brigade just received another downvote?

  • Latest U.S. aid package to Ukraine includes surveillance drones -official Reuters

President Joe Biden’s latest security assistance package for Ukraine includes surveillance drones and for the first time mine-resistant vehicles, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.

Since Russian troops poured over the Ukrainian border in February in what Russian President Vladimir Putin termed a “special military operation,” the conflict has settled into a war of attrition fought primarily in the east and south of Ukraine.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the package would be valued at $775 million and also include additional ammunition and 16 Howitzer systems.

The package would include 15 Scan Eagle surveillance drones, 40 MaxxPro MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles) and about 1,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles.

This would bring the total U.S. military aid sent to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion by Russia to $10.6 billion.

Healthcare pls.

  • Europe’s largest nuclear plant is under threat. But experts say a Chernobyl-sized disaster is unlikely CNN

The threat of nuclear calamity has hung for months over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Those fears were renewed last week after shelling intensified around the massive Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, which has been under Russian control since March.

Attacks at the complex, which have ramped up as fighting flares in Ukraine’s south, have sparked concerns about the specter of nuclear disaster, leading the United Nation’s watchdog and world leaders to demand that a mission be allowed to visit the site and assess the damage.

So just how real is the risk that the fighting poses?

Nuclear experts are keen to defuse some of the more alarmist warnings, explaining that the main threat is closest to the plant itself and doesn’t justify Europe-wide alerts. Experts are particularly wary of any comparisons to the Chernobyl disaster, a repeat of which is incredibly unlikely, they said.

“It’s not very likely that this plant will be damaged,” Leon Cizelj, president of the European Nuclear Society, told CNN. “In the very unlikely case that it is, the radioactive problem would mostly affect Ukrainians that live nearby,” rather than spreading throughout eastern Europe as was the case with Chernobyl, he said.


Climate and Space

  • The world’s rivers are drying up from extreme weather. See how 6 look from space CNN

To be stuck “up a river without a paddle” is an expression for a sticky situation you just can’t get out of. But if that river happens to be in the northern hemisphere this summer, it’s likely the paddle won’t be helpful, anyway.

A painful lack of rain and relentless heat waves are drying up rivers in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Many are shrinking in length and breadth. Patches of riverbed poking out above the water are a common sight. Some rivers are so desiccated, they have become virtually impassable.

The human-caused climate crisis is fueling extreme weather across the globe, which isn’t just impacting rivers, but also the people who rely on them. Most people on the planet depend on rivers in some way, whether for drinking water, to irrigate food, for energy or to ship goods.


Dipshittery and Cope

For bad takes, awful analysis that makes you wonder why these people get paid, predictions that reveal a staggering lack of knowledge, and hope for a future that would be worse than the present.

China

Okay, I will admit, I don’t know much about this. China is obviously fully capable of doing bad things. I am assuming, however, that whatever the WaPo tells me about China is a lie, so I feel safe in saying that this is either an overblown issue or, at a minimum, orders of magnitude less bad than what happens in western psychiatric facilities, with which some of my friends and family have had very negative experiences with.

  • The Countries Most In Debt To China [Infographic] Forbes

The point of the article is pretty obvious. I imagine there’s already a 150k upvote thread on Reddit with this as the headline. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Countries heavily in debt to China are mostly located in Africa, but can also be found in Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, data from The World Bank shows. China is currently the preferred lender to the world’s low-income countries, which owe 37% of their debt to China in 2022, compared to just 24% in bilateral debt to the rest of the world.

The Chinese “New Silk Road” project, a program to finance the construction of port, rail and land infrastructure across the globe, has been a major source of debt to China for participating countries. At the end of 2020, of the 97 countries for which data was available, those with the highest external debt to China were all involved in the project, namely Pakistan ($77.3 billion of external debt to China), Angola (36.3 billion), Ethiopia (7.9 billion), Kenya (7.4 billion) and Sri Lanka (6.8 billion).

The Paris Club used to hold the majority of low-income countries’ debt, which was ultimately restructured and largely forgiven after the turn of the millennium for those nations that were unable to make payments and qualified for debt relief. Whether such a process will be available for Chinese debt is unclear. The President of the World Bank, David Malpass, called the level of debt many countries once again hold “unsustainable” in January.

The idea that China could gain significant leverage over countries and their infrastructure in the case of repayment issues has been cited often, like in the case of a troubled Sri Lankan port that was built with Chinese funds and that China ultimately took a 70% stake in. The Laotian railway that has been burdening the country with debt is also 70% Chinese-owned. However, in the case of Sri Lanka, UK think tank Chatham House has pointed out that the partial ownership takeover has so far been largely symbolic. Still, such ownership structures could be used to China’s advantage in the future.

  • China must show it’s not an ‘agent of instability’ on Taiwan, US Ambassador to China says CNN

Global demonic entity that embodies chaos and destruction to divide its enemies and exert its influence on the world tearfully says that China must stop trying to exert control of an island that both China, that island, and the demon itself agrees are the same country.

China needs to convince the rest of the world it is not an “agent of instability” and will act peacefully in the Taiwan Strait, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said in his first TV interview since taking up his post in Beijing six months ago.

Burns spoke candidly about Beijing’s reaction to a visit by United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan earlier this month, to which China responded by launching extensive military drills around the self-governing island and suspending key diplomatic communications with the US.

“We do not believe there should be a crisis in US-China relations over the visit – the peaceful visit – of the Speaker of the House of Representatives to Taiwan … it was a manufactured crisis by the government in Beijing. It was an overreaction,” Burns told CNN Friday from the US Embassy.

“I think that China must act really sensibly here and not do anything stupid like invading a country over a single provocation. Hey, Vietnam, you’re concerned about that, aren’t you? Aren’t you? See, China, you’re scaring Vietnam!"

  • How the Rivalry Between China and South Korea May Help America Bloomberg

Funny how that tends to be the case when two countries have rivalries.

United States

With headlines like “Rate hikes and recessions are still in the cards” and “Danger ahead: The U.S. economy has yet to face its biggest recession challenge,” the media continues to stoke the public’s fears of an economic downturn on the horizon.

The media is simply echoing what experts are saying: A June survey found that two-thirds of economists are predicting a recession by this time next year.

If you examine the economy with rising prices in mind, it looks like we’re in a recession. But if you measure an economy by looking at the labor market, we’re about as far away from a recession as we’ve been in decades.

Any economist who refers to the labour market as a source of genuine strength in the US economy has not held a conversation with somebody earning below a six-figure income in at least two decades.

  • Biden’s chief of staff says president is comparable to historic predecessors Guardian

In a bullish interview, the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, compared Joe Biden’s achievements in his first two years in office to historic successes under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson.

Speaking to Politico, Klain said: “The president has delivered the largest economic recovery plan since Roosevelt, the largest infrastructure plan since [Dwight D] Eisenhower, the most judges confirmed since Kennedy, the second-largest healthcare bill since Johnson, and the largest climate change bill in history.”

And he’s killed the most people with a preventable communicable disease since Ronald Reagan.

  • America’s small businesses are running out of workers CNN

The pandemic forced Freed Bodyworks, a wellness center offering massage therapy, yoga, acupuncture, mental health counseling and other services, to shut down for four months. But while clients returned when it reopened in the summer of 2020, workers did not.

Almost two years later, owners Frances Reed and Jessica VonDyke were forced to shut the business' doors.

“I couldn’t hire anyone,” said Reed. “We never had trouble with our demand for services. It was 100% a supply issue for us.”

Pay them mor– wait, did you name your business by combining the first letter of your first name, and your last name?

  • It’s on: U.S. enters the ring to battle China on clean energy Politico

A clean energy arms race between the U.S. and China — the world’s two superpowers and largest greenhouse gas emitters — has been the dream of climate advocates for decades.

It may have just begun.

The Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed on Tuesday will pour $369 billion into clean energy and help to build a domestic clean tech manufacturing sector designed to displace China as the key supplier of critical equipment for solar, wind and batteries.

It also spurred hopes that U.S. economic competition might succeed where the diplomacy of Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry has largely failed — by extracting new commitments from Beijing to reduce China’s greenhouse gas output.

“What this does is show to the Chinese that the U.S. is actually going to be real in this game and not actually just going to talk about it, and I think that’s a benefit to everyone,” said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director of international climate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental research and advocacy group. “The planet will benefit from that healthy competition.”

I think for the United States to actually be real in this game and not actually just talk about it, they would have to stop their bullshitting around the Uighyur act which is stopping around ten megawatts' worth of solar panels from entering the US, just for starters. And they should probably invest a little more than less than half of their military budget into renewable technology. This act won’t change shit. The gap between China and the US only continues to widen, and not in the US’s favour.

Russia/Ukraine

  • Explosions at a Russian base knocked out over half the Black Sea fleet’s combat jets, crippling its warfighting ability, Western officials and intelligence say Business Insider

I bet they have. Good job, Ukraine! You’ve knocked out 500% of Russia’s jets and counting so far in this war! Those things must grow on trees or something!

  • Ukraine’s Southern Forces Wage a Slow Campaign to Wear the Russians Down WSJ

Ooo, projection! Haven’t seen that one before!

  • Ukrainian Strikes May Be Slowing Russia’s Advance NYT

It’s the same article by two different authors! That’s a great sign that you absolutely have NOT been told by the Ukrainian government to write these articles using the exact same base of information.

  • Ukrainian spies snuck into Russia ahead of the invasion and found a lot of drunk Russian troops had traded supplies for alcohol: report Business Insider

Okay, this one is also just projection about the fact that Ukrainian troops are selling military equipment to the Russians in exchange for money, right?

  • The Enduring Lessons of the Ukrainian Hero Who Stood Up to Soviet Russia in 1944 WaPo

Against all odds, the Ukrainian hero does not APPEAR to be a Nazi, at least explicitly. I’m just as shocked as you are that the Washington Post isn’t fervently honouring the legacy of a fascist drooling for the genocide of minorities in this particular article. There’s still plenty of those elsewhere, though.

Stalin’s communist regime. (Adriana Zehbrauskas for The Washington Post) To understand Victor Kravchenko and his role in history, we need to go back to 1932, when he was among the Ukrainian Bolsheviks dispatched to the nation’s countryside to seize the land belonging to peasants, so that the agrarian sector could be nationalized. A Soviet apparatchik, Mendel Hatayevich, told him and 80 other young Communists, “Throw out your bourgeois humanism and act like Bolsheviks worthy of Comrade Stalin. … The last weak remnants of the capitalist peasant must be uprooted at all costs.”

When the uprooting work took Kravchenko to tiny Podgorodnoye, Ukraine, he observed the cruelty of one fellow Communist. “This beast drags the peasants out of their houses in the middle of the night, cursing and threatening them with his Mauser,” Kravchenko would later write, referencing a semiautomatic rifle.

But Kravchenko stifled his outrage. He rose in the Communist ranks, and in 1943, as the Soviet Union and the United States allied in the war against Hitler, he came to Washington to serve as a Red Army captain.

When he first arrived in Washington, he did not make an impression. His fellow residents at a Park Road NW boardinghouse would remember him as a quiet non-English speaker awaiting the stateside arrival of his wife. But on April 1, 1944, without authorization from his Soviet bosses, he stole off to Washington’s Union Station clutching two suitcases. On the lookout for “dangers and omens,” he would later write, he took the train north to Manhattan. Amid a freak April snowstorm, he hosted a news conference at which he resigned from his job and lambasted the Soviet government for its failure to “grant political and civil liberties.” The U.S.S.R., he said, was subjecting citizens to “unspeakable oppression and cruelties, while the NKVD” — the Soviet secret police — “acting through its thousands of spies, continues to wield its unbridled domination over the people of Russia.”

A man without a country, pursued by NKVD operatives, Kravchenko spent several months on the lam, hiding out in a succession of friends’ New York apartments, writing all the while. In 1946, the publishing house Scribner released “I Chose Freedom.”

Man, why do grifters always do shit like this? They see like, a bunch of cruel landlords whose family and ancestors have ruled over a thousand years over collective millions of people dying of starvation and deprivation finally getting what they deserve and walked off to jail and a significantly better, more equitable system put in place, and they’re like “I simply cannot believe the inhumane cruelty taking place in this totalitarian state. I will run off to the bastion of freedom, where races are equal and people are not imprisoned en masse and made into literal slaves - the United States of goddamn America - and write a book exposing this. I will call it “Tyranny and Oppression” and then make ten million dollars.” Actual clown shit.

Mark Twain: “There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”


Good Takes that are Dope

For good, or at least decent, analysis of an event or situation - particularly one that hasn’t been covered endlessly before or has a fresh angle.

  • Thatcherism is an obsolete ideology – but it’s the only one that Sunak and Truss have Guardian

It’s generally agreed that the last dozen years have been some of the most turbulent in our modern history. So much has changed or been called into question: our climate, the cost of living, the state’s ability to protect us, capitalism’s ability to spread prosperity, the continuation of the United Kingdom, our relationship with Russia and the EU, even our sense that we can be a functional society. To an extent that was almost inconceivable in 2010, when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took office, this has become a different country.

Some politicians have tried to adapt. Labour has moved leftwards and then back towards the centre. The Lib Dems have moved rightwards, supporting Tory austerity, and then become more hostile to the Conservatives under Ed Davey. The SNP has become more assertive in its push for independence. Meanwhile some Tories, such as Boris Johnson and Theresa May, have at least talked about governing in new ways, by “levelling up” or helping the “just about managing”.

Yet one group of politicians, who have gradually become the most powerful in the country, and are about to become our rulers, whoever wins the Tory leadership contest, have seemingly not adjusted their thinking at all amid the chaos and flux. As a result, we may face our worst peacetime crisis since the 1930s under a government with a disastrously out-of-date worldview.

Eleven years ago, five Tory MPs first elected in 2010 – Liz Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore – set out this worldview in a now largely forgotten book, After the Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain. “The future of Britain’s prosperity lies in … free market values,” declared its introduction. Taxes should be cut, “the ‘handout’ culture” should be ended, and “Britain should seek to regain control” from the EU, and negotiate “its own trade deals”. If these steps were taken, the book concluded, “Britain’s relative decline … is not inevitable”.

In its optimism and broad-brush solutions, its combativeness and air of utter conviction, the book now reads just like a leadership race speech by Truss. It also prefigures many of the promises currently being made by her rival, Rishi Sunak, who became an MP five years later than the Tory class of 2010 but shares much of their outlook. While Truss has become known for sometimes dressing and posing exactly like Margaret Thatcher, last month Sunak told the Telegraph: “My values are Thatcherite.”

When Truss and Sunak first began promoting that version of Conservatism in the 2010s, it was already showing its age. Thatcher’s heyday had been a quarter of a century earlier. Much more recently, the 2008 financial crisis had discredited deregulated capitalism. And then came the stagnant wages and regional decline of the 2010s: problems serious enough to persuade May and Johnson that a Conservative government could no longer just be about liberating business and confining the state.

Yet though Truss, Sunak, Raab, Patel, Kwarteng and Skidmore all served in these mildly heretical Tory governments, and could easily have noticed that British free market capitalism was in difficulties, they never renounced the Thatcherite faith. Why not?

One answer is that May and Johnson’s economic rethinks rarely produced more than rhetoric. Their governments remained good places for economic rightwingers to build careers. Another answer is that the rightwing press – which has become even more important for the Tories as newspaper readerships and Conservative voters have aged – remains essentially Thatcherite in its economic assumptions. In its pages, unions and regulation are nearly always bad, and shareholders and homeowners are the interest groups that matter.

Meanwhile, Toryism increasingly values politicians who refuse to change direction, and instead become more dogmatic – who “double down”, as political reporters often admiringly put it. The success of the leave campaign, built on decades of stubbornness and escalation, has helped make rigidity seem a virtue. The fact that the Conservatives have not lost a general election for 17 years, despite how detached they have often seemed about Britain’s alarming socioeconomic shifts, has convinced many Tories that fresh thinking is a luxury they don’t need. Since 2010, a greater and greater proportion of the party’s supporters have been people who grew up under Thatcher, and who probably still see her governments as the gold standard.

Much of the party’s funding also comes from people who want Thatcherite policies to continue. Hedge funds, private equity firms and property developers tend to favour looser regulation, and are often not hugely concerned about the social consequences of their working practices. The government has prioritised these interests, through housing market subsidies and plans to further deregulate finance, while increasingly neglecting other businesses, such as the many small manufacturers and exporters being steadily choked by Brexit.

It’s hard to think of a modern precedent for the broader problems Britain now faces: much of the population and the state in deep financial trouble, while the governing party – if that’s not too generous a description – becomes less, rather than more, flexible in its thinking. When the financial crisis happened, Labour had been in power for a similarly long time; but by then it had become increasingly self-doubting and prepared to change its policies, as Gordon Brown’s largely improvised rescue of the banking sector demonstrated. Even Thatcher could be less conventionally rightwing in a crisis than her disciples like to think. During the recession of the early 1980s, she allowed her chancellor Geoffrey Howe to raise taxes – the opposite of Truss’s promised approach.

When the Tories finally deign to give us a new premier, Truss or Sunak might surprise us. As chancellor, Sunak’s response to the pandemic did temporarily break with the free market dogma that economic hardship should be largely for individuals rather than the state to solve. Yet that transgression, partly because it involved raising taxes, is one of the reasons that he trails Truss in Tory membership polls.

She has a history of occasional big U-turns, over Brexit and even her choice of party. But they are in the fairly distant past. Her more enduring attitudes, exemplified by the recording leaked this week of her saying that British workers needed to show “more graft”, are of the Norman Tebbit school: Tory governments are meant to toughen us up.

Such an approach amid an economic catastrophe could lead the Conservatives to a heavy election defeat. But that outcome would also require many more voters to realise how old-fashioned the party has become. Until a large part of the electorate finally renounces Thatcherism, too, her disciples will march on.


Bloomerism and Hope

For events that show that a better, more equitable, and happier world is possible than the neoliberal hell we inhabit.

  • After Nine Days on Strike, DC-Area Paratransit Workers Won Better Pay and Benefits Jacobin

On August 9, paratransit workers for MetroAccess filled an assembly room at the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 headquarters in Forestville, Maryland. On the other side of the bargaining table sat two lawyers representing the public transportation operator Transdev.

It was a striking visual: a sea of workers, some of whom had brought their children to this first day of contract negotiations, directly confronting their corporate employer for better working conditions. They’d been on strike for eight full days.

A day later, after nine days on the picket line, the workers walked away victorious, securing a tentative contract agreement that included wage increases and dental and vision insurance.


Link back to the discussion thread.