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Isn’t that ‘Medicare for all’? Trump administration rolls out interesting plan for funding Covid-19 treatments in US

RT | April 3, 2020

The Trump administration has said it intends to pay providers treating coronavirus patients at ‘Medicare rates’ and prohibit additional billing – in effect, testing a flagship progressive proposal for nationalized healthcare.

“We will send money to providers through the same mechanism used for testing,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Friday, referring to the $100 billion in funds earmarked for healthcare providers in the CARES stimulus act.

The government will reimburse any patients with Covid-19 that lack health insurance at Medicare rates, and will ban them from “balance-billing” those patients, Azar added, noting that this will give the millions of newly unemployed – and therefore uninsured – Americans a better deal than falling back on “Obamacare” insurance exchanges.

This did not escape the attention of President Barack Obama’s former healthcare czar Andy Slavitt, who hinted that this basically amounted to “Medicare for all” – a proposal for single-payer healthcare championed by Senator Bernie Sanders as part of his bid for the Democrat presidential nomination.

Azar’s announcement amounts to a field test of Sanders’s proposal, at a time when the US economy has been crippled by the weeks-long shutdown ordered as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, mainstream Democrats – such as the establishment favorite Joe Biden and 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton – have clamored for the government to reopen Obamacare exchanges, condemning Trump for not doing so, only to get “outflanked from the left” by the White House.

The CARES Act is an ambitious $2.2 trillion package passed by Congress last week, intended to deal with the pandemic but also offset the economic fallout of the measures imposed to combat its spread. As of Friday, the US has registered almost 274,000 cases of Covid-19, with just over 7,000 deaths.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , | 1 Comment

China Produces Record Amount Of “Fire Ice”

By Irina Slav | Oilprice.com | March 30, 2020

In a world awash in oil and gas, you’d think it couldn’t get any worse. Well, it can: China just announced that it had extracted a record amount of what has been poetically called fire ice.  It is, however, a form of natural gas trapped in frozen water.

At 861,400 cubic meters, this record might not be a whole lot of gas, but it may well be the start of something new, and gas producers may not like this ‘something’.

Gas hydrates don’t garner a lot of media attention as a rule, simply because they have yet to become an addition to the world’s energy mix. But when they do—if they do—they may change the international oil and gas market even more than the coronavirus outbreak has changed it now by decimating demand for hydrocarbons.

First, what are gas hydrates? 

Gas hydrates are molecules of natural gas, most commonly methane, trapped in a “cage” made from water molecules. They exist in cold climates, such as beneath the Arctic permafrost and Antarctic ice, but also in sedimentary deposits–the same kind of deposits where oil and gas collect along the margins of continents and also under the seabed of specific basins such as the South China Sea.

Because they only exist in cold places, research on gas hydrates has been challenging. As geologist Hobart M. King explains in an article on hydrates for Geology.com, hydrates are only stable in the environment where they formed.

To study them, researchers need to remove the samples from their environment. The change in temperature in pressure, however, melts the water cage, and the methane escapes.

Why bother with hydrates at all, then? Because they may be more abundant than all other hydrocarbons taken together: oil, gas, and coal.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the world’s methane gas hydrates could be as vast as 250,000 to 700,000 trillion cu ft. According to the UN Environmental Programme, the world’s reserves of gas hydrates could be as large as 3,000 to 30,000 trillion cubic meters. But these are just enormous figures that are difficult to digest.

Here’s an estimate that might be more palatable: the world’s gas hydrate reserves could be between 100,000 and 1.1 million exajoules. For context, the world’s total annual energy consumption as of 2014 when the UNEP paper was written was about 500 exajoules.

This means we might be sitting on enough gas to power the world for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

It’s packed tightly, too. According to the Department of Energy, a single cubic meter of hydrate can release as much as 164 cubic meters of natural gas. Talk about energy density.

China is among just a handful of countries pursuing research into gas hydrates with a focus on extraction. With its dependence on imported oil and gas, this is hardly surprising. The first extraction experiments in the South China Sea, in 2017, resulted in an output of 300,000 cubic meters extracted over a period of two months. Now, the Ministry of Natural Resources has reported an output of 287,000 cubic meters achieved in a single day. This is quite a significant progress in three years.

And that’s not all.

According to the ministry, the output achieved during this phase of the gas hydrate trials provided a “solid technical foundation for commercial exploitation.”

This is probably the last thing gas producers around the world want to hear right now, but it is what they need to hear. Full-scale commercial production may be years or even decades away, but China is getting there. It seems, however, that it is getting there in strides rather than baby steps. This could spur others into action or, as it were, faster action.

Back in 2012, the United States and Japan reported successful production of methane from gas hydrates in the Alaskan North Slope. Then, a year later, Japan reported successful production again, this time from an offshore deposit at home. Those tests ended sooner than expected because of technical problems. In 2017, Japan again announced the first successful longer-lasting extraction of methane from a gas hydrate deposit offshore.

Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey updated its estimate for gas hydrate reserves in Alaska to 53.8 trillion cu ft. While this is significantly lower than the initial estimate from 2008, which said there were 85 trillion cu ft of recoverable fire ice in the North Slope, it is still substantial enough to motivate exploration. Only perhaps not right now, given the price environment.

China’s announcement comes at a sensitive time for the world gas industry. Prices are severely depressed by a rare if not unprecedented combination of unusually low demand and excessive supply. Energy firms are retrenching and preparing to wait out the crisis. Exploration budgets are being slashed and plans are being revised. And now, China has announced that it is working on its self-sufficiency in gas. It is going to be an ugly year for the energy industry, but maybe a good year for research into what could be the world’s most abundant fossil fuel resource.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Economics | | 1 Comment

We need to cut around 10 mln barrels per day of oil production, Russia is ready to act with US on oil markets – Putin

RT | April 3, 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country is ready to work with the Trump administration to halt the freefall of oil prices. His comments come after a phone call with President Trump earlier this week.

Putin also noted that the daily oil output should be cut by around 10 million barrels, as there is lower demand due to coronavirus. Oil prices started dwindling after OPEC+ countries disagreed on production cuts, with Saudi Arabia refusing to lower the output.

With an ongoing “price war” between Russia and Saudi Arabia driving prices even further down, US president Trump said on Thursday that “it would be great” if the two countries could make a deal to limit production.

Putin had already spoken to Trump by phone earlier this week, and on Friday announced that he is ready to cut production by 10 million barrels per day.

The Russian leader said that moving forward, Moscow would be comfortable with a price of $42 per barrel, roughly $10-15 higher than current levels.

Oil prices jumped prior to Putin’s Friday announcement, after Trump spoke of a pending deal.

No talks between Moscow and Riyadh have yet taken place, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday. However, non-OPEC member Azerbaijan announced that the petroleum bloc and its allies will hold discussions on Monday aimed at restoring “balance to the oil market.”

Saudi Arabia, ramped up its production on Wednesday to a record high of more than 12 million barrels per day, after previous OPEC+ production cuts expired at the end of March.

During a televised meeting with Energy Minister Alexander Novak Putin said the Saudi crown is flooding the market to force competing shale oil producers out of business, among them the US and Russia.

Novak noted that he doesn’t know when the world’s plummeting demand for oil will finally bottom out.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , | 1 Comment

Despite US Sanctions, Iran’s Revolutionary Public Health System Curbing COVID-19 Outbreak

Sputnik – April 3, 2020

Iran has managed to contain its coronavirus outbreak even under crippling US trade sanctions that have limited the country’s access to medical equipment and other resources, Sayyed Mohammad Marandi, an American studies and postcolonial literature professor who teaches at the University of Tehran, told Sputnik’s Loud & Clear Thursday.

Marandi told Sputnik the situation in Iran is “significantly better than in the US,” despite Washington’s adamant refusal to lower economic sanctions frustrating trade with Iran, which have made buying medicine and equipment for hospitals difficult.

“It has been managed, and that’s largely because – despite all the sanctions in the last four decades – after the [1979] revolution, Iran established a primary health care network across the country,” Marandi told host Brian Becker.

“It exists in villages, in towns, in cities, it’s a huge network. This is the foundation upon which the resistance or the fight against the coronavirus was based,” Marandi said, noting that “Iran had much less time” to prepare for the outbreak than did European countries or the US, being one of the first hit after the virus broke out of China’s Hubei Province.

“But since Iran had less time, Iran was obviously less prepared. And because of the sanctions, because the US government was trying to prevent Iran from being able to fight the virus by preventing Iran from purchasing [test] kits, by preventing Iran from purchasing masks, ventilators – the US government was doing everything it could, basically through the sanctions, to turn the coronavirus into a biological weapon to use against Iran. And they still do,” Marandi said.

“But despite all of that, and despite the hardship that the Iranians went through initially, not being able to purchase their needs, because of this very powerful and very extensive primary health care network that exists in the country, they were able to contain the virus. And now the situation in Iran, despite being hit very hard and being the first to be hit without knowing clearly what it was and how to deal with it – the situation in Iran is remarkably better than what we are seeing sadly in Europe and unfortunately in the US,” Marandi told Sputnik.

The latest data reveals that there are more than 50,000 cases of the virus in Iran, and more than 3,000 people have died as a result. The US has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 242,000 cases and almost 6,000 deaths from the disease.

In a recent statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif referred to the US sanctions against Iran as “economic terrorism.”

“We had always said the sanctions are unjust, but coronavirus revealed this injustice to the world,” Zarif added.

In a Saturday tweet, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Iran’s “concerted effort to lift US sanctions isn’t about fighting the pandemic” but is rather about Iran’s leaders “trying to avoid responsibility for their grossly incompetent and deadly governance.”

Even though the US claims that its sanctions don’t prevent the sale of medicine and medical devices, the secondary sanctions on financial institutions and businesses have prevented Iran from buying necessary items like ventilators that could save the lives of coronavirus patients, the New York Times reported.

Renewed Tensions With Iran in Iraq

In the midst of the pandemic, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday took to Twitter to warn Iran against attempting to attack US troops or assets in Iraq after claiming that Iran or its proxies “are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq.”

One day later, Zarif tweeted: “Don’t be misled by usual warmongers,” adding that the US “surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates,” while Iran “only acts in self-defense.”

“Iran starts no wars, but teaches lessons to those who do,” the minister added.

According to Marandi, Trump may be threatening Iran in an attempt to distract American citizens from the catastrophic mismanagement of the coronavirus within US borders.

“Iran is an extremely powerful country. If the US carries out an attack on the country, it will have devastating consequences for the Americans, and I think the Americans know that. The Americans had to leave Iraq about a decade ago when the small resistance with light weapons put up a fight against an American force with all its allies that were well over 150,000 troops. Now, the Americans in Iraq have 5-6,000 troops. They’re all alone, almost. Almost all of their allies have left, and the Popular Mobilization Forces of the Iraqi Armed Forces is itself well over 100,000. So, I can’t see a situation where Trump can win in Iraq, win in Iran,” Marandi added.

April 2, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , | 1 Comment

COVID-19: What the Virus Might Do to the American Empire

By Tony Kevin | Consortium News | April 1, 2020

Canberra, Australia – Under current CV19 lockdowns, there is much quiet time at home in which to reflect on how dramatically the virus is even now changing our familiar New Cold War world, and how such changes will gather force as the weeks of crisis unfold.

Australia is a good place from which to reflect: an excessively obsequious minor member of the U.S.-led anti-Chinese and anti-Russian Western strategic alliance, Australians are also conflicted by our need to earn a living and our obvious economic dependence on our major trading partner and Asia-Pacific strategic neighbor China. Two contradictory imperatives are gnawing at the minds of thinking Australians.

Meanwhile, the 120-year old Australian federal system is under strain: a symptom of world politics also under strain. The federal Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with the task of protecting as much as he can of the shrinking national economy, failed like President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take the hard lockdown decisions early enough. It has been a case of too little too late, with the state premiers finally this week seizing the baton from him, locking down and isolating their states to preserve their populations’ lives – with the federal government following belatedly behind.

Only today, a leading Australian mining-industry oligarch, Andrew Forrest, announced that the public interest, charity arm of his company, Fortescue Minerals, had negotiated with the Chinese government to secure ample supplies for his home state Western Australia of desperately sought Chinese-made personal protective equipment (PPE) which will be essential to combat the virus as it expands into WA.

Minutes earlier, WA Premier Mark McGowan had warned the federal Australian government in tough public language to rapidly move the Covid-19 quarantined German cruise ship Artania away from Perth, and away from Western Australian coastal waters. He asserted that his primary duty was to protect West Australians from CV19, and he would not let Perth become known as a safe haven for homeless, stricken cruise ships. The matter remains unresolved.

Changing How We Think

Around the world, borders are closing down to all but essential travel. Online, we still seem to be one world. I can, thank goodness, easily plug in to what people in Beijing and Moscow, as well as in Washington and London, are saying. But globalization is rapidly becoming anachronistic (in its original literal Greek meaning– “in the wrong time”) in terms of mass global flows of people and, increasingly even, of goods and services themselves.

For instance, it is hard to see the (largely American-created) massive cruise ships industry, or mass airborne global holiday tourism, recovering quickly — or even, ever — from CV19. For a long time, people are going to want to stay closer to home and avoid such risky disruptions in their and other people’s lives. The globalization model is broken.

The pandemic’s brutal, erratic course around the world – from China to Korea and Italy, thence to Spain, the U.K. and worst of all to the USA, is rapidly changing the way we will think about the world and about our respective countries’ and elites’ participation in it. CV19 is a disease with our rich elites’ fingerprints all over it: their privileged globetrotting lifestyle, serviced by armies of Third World serf labor, is in an ugly spotlight now.

Old Ideologies Dissolve

One cannot predict what the world will look like after this pandemic runs its course. One certainty: it will be very different from the world before CV19, with the knowledge of other such viruses potentially to come.

Let’s look at the de-coupling of supply lines: a concept first touted by U.S. strategic thinkers before CV19 struck, as part of warfighting Cold War Redux. Western governments wanted to reduce dependence on superstar firms like Huawei, to “de-couple” strategic Western industries from the risk of Chinese sabotage. The plan was to reduce markets for Chinese suppliers of key information technology, despite Chinese mastery of the lowest-cost capitalist production mode.

Now the boot is on the other foot. Goaded by sanctions and other Western interference, China and Russia are well on the road to research, industrial and agricultural self-sufficiency for the Eurasia-centered heartland. Meanwhile the U.S., caught at the end of global supply chains that all seem to start in China, is begging for much-needed ventilators and PPE: in competition with people like Andrew Forrest, who know how to deal with China.

Two groups of people in our Western societies are finding it particularly hard to get their heads around the rapid dissolving of old ideological certainties.

First, the brave and bold radical movements in the West. Used to exposing a constant diet of disinformation from Western Deep State sources, they find it hard to believe that CV19 can be more than another propaganda trick by the Deep State to strengthen its control over society. They refuse to see the real threat CVI9 poses to decent human societies, by the fact of its extreme virulence, delayed visible symptoms, and generation-sensitive lethality. They cling to their familiar worlds of friends and enemies, and lose sight of medical and epidemiological realities. They try to rationalize CV19 away.

More significant here is the Western strategic community, caught now in a similar, increasingly anachronistic world of familiar friends and enemies. Cold War Redux, which by one measure began around 2013 with Western-instigated anti-Russian violent regime change in Ukraine, Russia’s vulnerable underbelly, is now so deeply embedded in Western strategic thinking that even the most thoughtful Western strategists find it hard to see beyond its familiar boundaries of thought and policy.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to fulminate thoughtlessly and vindictively, threatening ever-crueler sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. The White Helmets continue to foment false chemical warfare allegations, in the war against the legitimate Syrian government, which their side are losing. NATO continues automaton-like to arm and exercise against the imagined Russian threat.

Coronavirus patients at the Imam Khomeini Hospital in Tehran, Iran. (Fars News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

A ‘Pitiful, Helpless Giant’

CV19 is collapsing this dangerously illusory world. Let’s look first at military logistics. Spectacular news broke on Tuesday that the captain of the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, on station near Guam, has requested the immediate evacuation of 90 percent of his crew of 4,000 into individual quarantine after the carrier reported an outbreak of CV19 on board. Over 70 crew members have tested positive for CV19 and in cramped ship conditions the disease is spreading fast. The captain recommends a skeleton crew of 400 be left on board, to safeguard the ship’s weapons and reactors while it is quarantined and sanitized.

More contradictions: The U.S. has been forced to suspend a planned attack on pro-Iranian Shia militia in Iraq, because of spreading CV19 in U.S. bases in Iraq. Planned massive NATO maneuvers this summer on the Russian border have had to be scaled back severely due to CV19 risks. Faced by horrendous mortality facts and projections in New York, Trump is forced to send the U.S. Navy’s largest hospital ship there to bolster local overstretched medical resources. China and Russia – the putative enemies – are flying much-needed medical relief supplies in to the U.S.

The U.S. may be sliding towards becoming the “pitiful, helpless giant” which Richard Nixon warned against in 1970.

The familiar diplomatic fabric of our former world is also under intense pressure now. The UN and the UN Security Council, for long theaters for ritualistic Cold War games, is being energized by the CV19 world crisis. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has denounced the anachronism and cruelty of wars and sanctions by powerful countries in the new CV19 world. He has called for a “ceasefire.” His call was supported by the Pope, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and so far 53 UN member nations. More and more, the U.S. and its NATO allies look like a resentful and recalcitrant rump of ill-wishers. The U.S. blocks a motherhood UN Security Council resolution calling for unified world action against CV19, because China and Russia reject draft resolution language claiming that the virus originated in China.

The Dark Web

Let’s look at that troubling question. In what country did the CV19 virus first break out? In wet wild animal markets in Wuhan, or in germ warfare laboratories? Did it break out accidentally or was it deliberately released? The Dark Web is full of disturbing allegations and counter-allegations. So far, none of the major powers have dignified any such allegations at the level of official government statements. The ships of states sail on, but there is angry gossip just below decks.

Trump, Putin and Xi would undoubtedly know of these ugly stories. It is no coincidence that in recent days the three leaders are again talking cordially. Trump’s Cold War hawks in Washington have been silenced for now. Trump knows he has to maintain civility towards his partner leaders who are now helping his stricken country. He needs them. And they are too professionally gracious to humiliate or reprimand him in America’s hour of need. All three will observe the courtesies, whatever the Dark Web is alleging.

Let me draw this together: the pre-CV19 economic, strategic and diplomatic world is starting to unravel in myriad ways which are not yet clear. In its death throes, the dying Cold War world will take casualties: NATO, conceived as a Euro-American aggressive military alliance against Russia; the war-mongering Pompeo and the U.S. fondness for economic sanctions against its enemies.

What Might We Expect?

In the new diplomatic landscape, which can as yet only be dimly seen, old verities going back to 1945 will be rediscovered. The UN Security Council will again find its proper role as a collective instrument of world solidarity against aggression by any – any – powerful nation that goes rogue. The U.S. will learn again how to practice real diplomacy based on nations’ sovereignty and mutual respect, instead of crude great power bullying. Russia and China will generously put their past hurts behind them, secure in their new strength after Putin’s establishment of an invulnerable, nuclear MAD deterrent and the nightmare experience of CV19.

In this model future – I will admit, an optimistic model, but not grossly so – the world will begin to recover its sanity. We will gradually step back from the precipice of nuclear devastation on which we have teetered for at least the past seven years. We will work together to build less environmentally destructive systems of global trade and travel, armed with the new knowledge that having survived CV19 lockdowns will bring. We will concentrate on rethinking societies, and on rebuilding public order and confidence and respect for all classes in Western societies after the terrible wounds CV19 is inflicting on the weak and poor as I write. We will work together to put in place more resilient, less fragile systems of global trade and cooperation.

I argue here, in sum, that the U.S. and its obedient allies cannot go on fighting an anachronistic Cold War Redux against China and Russia, while the world struggles to defeat CV19, this stealthy new common enemy.

And that when this war is won — as it will be won: to then go back to Cold War Redux will seem increasingly distracting and pointless. I think Trump, for all his faults, dimly gets this already. As Xi and Putin certainly do.

Tony Kevin is a former Australian senior diplomat and the author of six published books on public policy and international relations.

April 2, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Business as Usual” Isn’t Even a Choice

By Anatoly Karlin • Unz Review • April 1, 2020

A few days ago, I joked on Twitter:

The choice isn’t between boomer genocide and an economic collapse.

The choice is between boomer genocide and economic collapse, or producing millions of 5 cent masks and making people wear them.

Reality is, it is only boomer genocide that isn’t a choice.

74% of Americans support a national quarantine, and that even includes 72% of Republicans. In France, there is a near consensus on lockdown at 96%. In Italy it is 94%.

In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro – the only President of a major democratic polity who continues to insist on treating coronavirus as a nothingburger – has been made into a lame duck, his commands ignored by 24 out of Brazil’s 27 governors and even by his own Health Minister.

Meanwhile, as predicted by Ron Unz, Trump has performed a volte face, extending federal social distancing guidelines past Easter up to April 30 and now touts 100,000 deaths as a “good scenario.”

Which is just as well, because as we know see, modern democracies are simply incapable of “powering through” even through what is a fairly low-mortality pandemic in historical terms.

Consequently, the only choices are:

  • Nip it in the bud early on through mass testing-tracing-treatment, border controls, and limited lockdowns, resulting in limited economic damage. [for example]
  • Wait until later, necessitating progressively more massive, longer, and economically ruinous lockdowns. [for example]

So the only correct move is to clamp down close to the start, and to clamp down hard. This is what was done in all the East Asian polities, be they chaotic democracies, city-state technocracies, or Communist single-party states.

Because in the latter scenario, there will eventually come a time when you are simply sidelined by your own underlings and by regional authorities, adding a political crisis on top of a healthcare and economic one.

In my post on Trump’s initial decision, I speculated:

Far out scenario: Blue states may outright defy Trump on abandoning containment measures, in which case they too would be doing starkly better than Red states (unless it also sparks a Constitutional crisis into the bargain).

Well, on that note, here’s a Tweet from California governor Gavin Newsom today. That’s some interesting wording there:

So again, good on Donald Trump to have come to terms with Corona reality and averting what could have become a very dangerous experiment.

This brings us to another interesting question: Will we get a “clean” experiment anywhere?

As per above, I don’t think it’s going to happen in any democracy. Britain backed away from its “herd immunity” idea two weeks ago, on realizing that their models didn’t include a term for ventilator shortages. The Dutch followed soon afterwards. With Sweden’s coronavirus mortality trajectory beginning to radically diverge from those of its Nordic cousins, I believe it is only a matter of time before they go into lockdown as well.

My guess is that our best “hope” – inappropriate as that expression may be – lies in Belarus, which is run by a decidedly non-coronapilled dictator.

April 2, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , | 2 Comments

America’s rich work from home & whine while poor lose jobs or get exposed to coronavirus – poll

RT | April 1, 2020

Poorer Americans are more likely to have lost their job or be forced to work as usual amid the coronavirus epidemic. But those in the upper classes can work remotely while stressing out about the crisis.

At least that’s the indication of an Axios/Ipsos poll about the working status and emotional wellbeing of people in the US. Almost half of upper middle class Americans have switched to working from home amid the health crisis. The same is true for 39 percent of the upper class.

In contrast, only three percent of lower economic strata had the same luxury. Between 26 and 34 percent of lower-to-middle class Americans are working the same way as they did before the outbreak, exposing themselves to a greater risk of being infected. And 15 to 20 percent have lost their jobs.

But the Americans who are better off tend to be more upset about the situation than their economically struggling compatriots, according to the poll. Almost half of the rich (47 percent) said their emotional well-being has gotten worse, compared to 34 percent on the other side of the socioeconomic scale.

“Ironically, those with the most resources and the least exposure are significantly more likely to say their emotional health is taking a hit,” Axios noted.

There are 189,633 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US, according to the Johns Hopkins University board, with the death toll standing at 4,081.

April 1, 2020 Posted by | Economics | | 1 Comment

Can the United States decline peacefully?

By Kevin Barrett | Press TV | March 31, 2020

Professor Atta-ur-Rahman from Pakistan recently in an interview argued that this coronavirus pandemic may have originated as a US bioweapon. He’s not just any doctor, but he’s the chairman of (Pakistani Prime Minister) Imran Khan’s National Task Force on Science and Technology. And Pakistan’s former UN Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon said the same thing.

This is very interesting. The US, of course, has been very close to Pakistan in the past. And today Pakistan is trying to balance between the US and China. Hearing this kind of statement from high level people in Pakistan is a wakeup call that the world needs to take this seriously.

I think that the context is such that anybody who’s seriously paying attention to contemporary history has to admit that from the circumstantial evidence alone, it seems very likely that we should see this as a deliberate US biological attack on China, and perhaps on Iran or perhaps the Israelis did that.

The reason for this is that the US has entered into a period of great power competition with a rising China, not just a rising China but with a very rapidly rising China, if we listen to serious geostrategic analysts such as John Mearsheimer, a very brilliant man who tries to tell the truth as he sees it, as we all know, from his analysis with, with Walt on the Israel lobby here in the United States.

In October 2014, just about six years to the day before the US military sports team came to Wuhan, China, perhaps bringing that virus and while at the same time an exercise was being run, “Event 201”, mimicking exactly what would happen in the case of this kind of pandemic, John Mearsheimer published an article called, Can China Rise Peacefully? His answer was no.

John Mearsheimer is an American political scientist and international relations scholar. And he argued that the United States is going to take extraordinary measures to kill Chinese economic growth, which has been averaging 10% since 1980, and which is still up at 7%, putting China on a course to grossly eclipse the United States in economic and enhanced technological and military power within a decade or two at the very most.

Mearsheimer says the United States will undoubtedly do what it takes to stop this no matter what. Here’s a quote from his article he said,

“All of this tells us the United States has a profound interest in seeing Chinese economic growth slowed considerably in the years ahead. That outcome might not be good for American prosperity, much less for global prosperity, but it would be good for American security, which is what matters most.”

So that prediction was that the US would be willing to kill not only the global economy, but the American economy as well in order to stop this precipitous Chinese ascendance in the world. That’s what’s happened obviously.

If China’s growing at over 7% and the US is growing at a couple of percent at most, that differential leads to quick Chinese dominance of its region and then the world, whereas if the whole world’s growth is killed, and China’s dives down to a percent or two, and even if the US growth goes a little bit negative, this change doesn’t happen, the US maintains its current global military supremacy or so it may think.

So clearly, from the background, the historical background in the context everybody in the world who knows anything about history needs to be talking about, this as a US bioweapon attack on China just as the Chinese are saying, just like the Iranian government’s saying just like the Russian government’s saying and now just like the top people in Pakistan are saying.

Kevin Barrett is an American author, journalist and radio host with a Ph.D. in Islamic and Arabic Studies.

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, War Crimes | , , | 6 Comments

Trump tiptoeing toward energy market management

Oil price war in the time of Covid-19
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | March 31, 2020

On Monday, the US President Donald Trump literally bit the bullet by telephoning Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the state of the energy markets, which are at a crisis point not seen in history. As of last weekend, global oil prices collapsed by over 50 percent and are the lowest seen in almost twenty years.

A defining moment has come. Starting April 1, OPEC+ countries (OPEC plus Russia) are at liberty to pump as much oil as they please. The increased oil volumes are sure to flood the oil market. Saudi Arabia has talked of offering 12.3 million barrels per day to the market.

The combination of a massive supply overhang and a significant demand shock at the same time has created an unprecedented situation in the oil market history. It threatens to have a multiplier effect on the deep recession in the world economy due to the coronavirus and the consequent lockdowns in large swathes of China and the industrial world.

For the US, the oil market bust could mean that over half of its shale industry, which has been charioting the country’s newfound oil superpower status, may go bankrupt. Breakeven price for US shale industry ranges from $40-50 per barrel — and prices have plummeted to around $20.

A similar crisis had arisen in 2014-2016 period but shale industry survived through a combination of pushing costs lower and retrenching — and bouncing back with higher profits once the crisis was over. However, this time around, shale drillers were already facing substantial hurdles with cash flow problems and maturing debt and the dramatic fall in income simply drives them bankrupt. Again, whereas the problem earlier was one of fall in oil prices, today it is also combining with the biggest demand slump in the history of oil.

The US shale sector is getting completely killed and tens of billions of dollars in equity could get wiped out. 13 US senators wrote to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman earlier this month urging halt to efforts to boost production and lower prices. They threatened to take action against Saudi Arabia if the “economic warfare” continued.

Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas told CNBC on Monday: “The Saudis are hoping to drive out of business American producers, and in particular shale producers, largely in the Permian Basin in Texas and in North Dakota. That behaviour is wrong, and I think it is taking advantage of a country that is a friend… If they don’t change their course, their relationship with the United States is going to change very fundamentally.”

However, the Saudis are not backing down from the oil price war for market share and are planning another increase in its oil exports starting in May. A prominent Saudi establishment commentator Bernard Haykel wrote recently that Riyadh’s decision reflects a broader and more fundamental strategic shift led by the Crown Prince. To quote Haykel, “He (Crown Prince) has embarked on a policy of capturing market share rather than trying to set the price.”

Indeed, the warning bells are ringing already for the shale industry. Tens of thousands of roughnecks are getting laid off. The Oil Price magazine forecasts that layoffs in the US oil industry could be as high as 200,000 jobs.

Tens of thousands are getting laid off in the US shale patch

The Brookings Institution anticipates in a study that the Midland-Odessa region of West Texas, where Occidental Petroleum and Parsley Energy have dominated, could be decimated. A top oil executive, Dan Eberhart, CEO of Denver-based Canary has been quoted as saying, “There’s definitely blood in the water. The weakest oil and gas companies, oilfield service companies and banks with heavy energy exposure might submerge beneath the waves before the end of the cycle never to surface again.”

The ripple effect is staggering. When the fracking companies go bankrupt and cannot repay debts, the credit market and the banks face a crisis, which in turn threatens the whole system of oil stock exchange.

Simply put, Saudi Arabia and Russia have dealt a lethal blow to the decade-old American fracking industry, which they have seen as a mortal enemy. The crux of the matter is that they are independently fighting the US and are determined to take the price war forward to conclusively finish off the American encroachment into their market share. (See my blog Oil price war is more about market share)

Recently, the chairman of Russia’s state-owned Rosneft, Igor Sechin, who is a longstanding associate of President Vladimir Putin, stated bluntly that as soon as US shale leaves the market, prices will rebound and could reach $60 a barrel.

The bottom line is that for President Trump, the political costs are exceedingly high. For one thing, his boast that the US has become the most significant player in global oil markets is coming unstuck and his agenda to secure “energy dominance” on the back of a shale boom is exposed as a pipedream.

More importantly, Trump’s trademark policy of weaponisation of sanctions against Iran, Venezuela and Russian oil industry and its flagship Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project to grab these countries’ market shares is running into headwinds.

Russia is moving in quickly to turn the “oil war” also into a war for natural gas market share in Europe. Russia has watched with unease the arrival of shale gas on European shores that could potentially erode its commanding position as the single largest supplier of natural gas to Europe. The US has been touting the LNG sales to Europe as “freedom gas”, which helps European countries to reduce their high level of dependence on Russian supplies.

The US sanctions against Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which connects Russian fields with Germany and northern Europe and was nearing completion, is a case in point. The sanctions targets Russia’s Gazprom from expanding and consolidating its towering presence in Europe’s energy market. Unsurprisingly, Moscow is in an unforgiving mood.  

Following Trump’s phone call to Putin, the White House said the Russian and US leaders “agreed on the importance of stability in global energy markets.” The US Department of Energy Spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes hyped it up further and told TASS, “[US Energy] Secretary Brouillette will discuss with his Russian counterpart, Minister Novak, ways the world’s largest producers can address volatility in the global oil markets during this unprecedented period of turmoil.”

But the Kremlin readout merely said, “They (Trump and Putin) exchanged views on the current state of the global oil market and agreed that Russian and American energy ministers should hold consultations on this topic.”

The big question is whether Trump’s phone call to Putin signifies Washington’s first step in a historic move to cooperate with Moscow in energy market management. Objectively speaking, the oil crisis needs a joined-up international response, and, arguably, the solution lies in looking beyond OPEC (and OPEC+) at a wider coalition — OPEC++ that includes the US. In principle, Saudi Arabia and Russia would favour the idea that the high-cost producers outside the OPEC+ group must finally share the burden of balancing the oil market.

Given the fact that Trump is vying for re-election this year and a significant portion of his supporters are engaged in shale oil and gas production, he may bite the bullet — at least, as a one-off, time-limited bite.

 

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Virginia Goes Zionist

Jewish power manifest in the Old Dominion

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • March 31, 2020

Politicians, bureaucrats and media talking heads have long turned a blind eye to legislation and policies that benefit the state of Israel to the detriment of United States’ interests. The U.S. Treasury is plausibly describable as a gift that never stops giving to the people and governments of Jewish state. Since the foundation of Israel in 1948, the federal government in Washington has provided some $142.3 billion in direct aid of various kinds. Currently, Israel receives $3.8 billion per annum guaranteed for ten years, a sum that is supplemented by various giveaways, tax concessions and co-production arrangements from the government. Private “charitable” donations from individuals, businesses and foundations, some of which are fraudulent, considerably augment those numbers, making the total that Israel receives annually from the United States well in excess of $10 billion. A considerable proportion of that money is technically illegal, as it goes in support of the Israeli settlements on Arab land. No other country has received anything even approaching what Israel gets from the American taxpayer in one form or another and the one-way flow of money is also remarkable in that it has been guaranteed well into the future.

Other benefits obtained by Israel from the United States are less easy to quantify, to include the theft of U.S. military technology, which is then copied and sold by the Israeli arms industry, directly eliminating American jobs in one of the few manufacturing sectors that is relatively speaking thriving. There is also the observable transfer of high-tech jobs from the U.S. to Israel, engineered by Jewish billionaires like Paul Singer who are able to influence such decisions in the corporate world.

Israel also benefits enormously from the United States-Israel Free Trade Agreement of 1985, which is, by design, intended to give the Jewish state free access to the huge U.S. market without any real reciprocity for U.S. companies to enter the tiny Israeli market. Israel also is able to bid on U.S. government contracts, including classified defense contracts, a practice that has led to several lawsuits when the Israeli company gets a contract by lowballing the bid but then fails to perform. In some cases, Israeli companies have submitted low bids to obtain contracts at state and federal levels even when they had no relevant experience and no facilities that can actually perform the work. They pocket the subsidies and advance payments they receive from local governments and states and then effectively disappear.

The desire of some American Jews who occupy powerful positions to aid Israel at the expense of the United States is despicable, sustained by the lie that Israel is an ally and that both countries ultimately benefit from the process. Israel’s ability to impose its own priorities at the levels of Congress and the White House has long been observed, but its political manipulation and ability to corrupt U.S. democracy of behalf of a foreign power have lately been extended to the state and local levels. This shift is due in part to the desire on the part of Israel’s promoters to shut down the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It has proven difficult to pass an unconstitutional national level ban on non-violent criticism of Israel going through Congress, so the Israel firsters have instead concentrated on the states. Twenty-eight states now have some form of legislation that denies state services or jobs to anyone who does not sign an agreement to not boycott Israel. A particularly draconian bill being considered in Florida equates any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, enabling any critic to be sued in courts for hate speech.

A particularly egregious and also unique example of a state’s economic policies being manipulated by a dedicated Israeli fifth column in government is the Virginia Israel Advisory Board. Grant Smith, long a critic of the VIAB, heads the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRMEP). He has written a new book entitled The Israel Lobby Enters State Government: Rise of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board, which documents in considerable detail how the conspiracy by powerful Jews in Virginia to benefit Israel has actually operated, much of it secretly through special arrangements and deals. He has also had a long interview with Scott Horton of Antiwar.com regarding the book which is well worth listening to.

The VIAB is unique because it is actually part of the Virginia state government. It is funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia and is able to access funds from other government agencies to support Israeli businesses. It is staffed by Israelis and American Jews drawn from what has been described as the “Israel advocacy ecosystem” and is self-administered, appointing its own members and officers. While there are many Israel business promotion entities active in the United States, only Virginia has such a group actually sitting within the government itself, ready to make secret preferential agreements, to arrange special concessions on taxes and to establish start-up subsidies for Israeli businesses. Israeli business projects have been, as a result, regularly funded using Virginia state resources with little accountability. Bear in mind that this agency exists not to promote Virginia businesses but rather to give an advantage to Israeli businesses, some of which might even be competing with existing Virginia companies and putting local people out of work.

Virginia already runs an estimated $500 million trade deficit with Israel due to the federal Free Trade Agreement and the promotion of Israeli businesses in the state, which repatriate their profits to Israel, adds considerably to that sum. Smith reports how VIAB is not just an economic mechanism. Its charter states that it was “created to foster closer economic integration between the United States and Israel while supporting the Israeli government’s policy agenda.” Smith also has observed that “VIAB is a pilot for how Israel can quietly obtain taxpayer funding and official status for networked entities that advance Israel from within key state governments.”

Jewish federations and groups active on behalf of Israel were present in Virginia before VIAB was founded in 1996. Its Godfather was Eric Cantor, a state legislator who later entered Congress as the only Jewish Republican, where he was a powerful advocate for Israel. The board grew significantly under governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration (2014-2018). McAuliffe, regarded by many as the Clintons’ “bag man,” received what were regarded as generous out-of-state campaign contributors from actively pro-Israeli billionaires Haim Saban and J.B. Pritzker, who were both affiliated with the Democratic Party. McAuliffe met regularly in off-the-record “no press allowed” sessions with Israel advocacy groups and spoke about “the Virginia Advisory Board and its successes.” That was, of course, a self-serving lie by one of the slimiest of the Clinton unindicted criminals.

And wherever Israel goes there is inevitably going to be the usual hanky-panky. Many of the Israeli companies chowing down on the Virginia feed bag are located on land stolen from Arabs on the West Bank. They are illegal under international law, even if President Donald Trump and company have declared otherwise. And then there are the conflicts of interest. VIAB board member Aviva Frye, whose family mostly resides in Israel and who worked to obtain the government approvals for an Israeli solar and wind energy company called Energix, located on the West Bank, was subsequently rewarded with a company directorship. And one hand inevitably washes the other. Board member Eileen Filler-Corn, a leading advocate for Israel, recently became the first woman to become speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. Grant Smith reports how she benefited greatly in her campaign by virtue of large donations from other board members as well as from Jewish groups and Israeli companies.

The VIAB is little more than a mechanism set up to carry out licensed robbery of Virginia state resources being run by a cabal of local American Jews and Israelis to benefit their co-religionists in Israel. Grant Smith observes how some pushback is finally in evidence, due to fraud in accounting procedures that have been exposed as well as environmental devastation for various projects that were never completed. Some human rights groups have also begun to challenge the illegality of the Israeli West Bank settlement-based companies involved. But it is not enough and it is probably too late as Israel is never held accountable for anything by the American Establishment. For my part, as a Virginia resident I have written and called the governor’s office and the offices of my state Senator and Delegate. No one has returned my calls or responded to my letters. Whose America is it? one might well ask.

Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a 501(c)3 tax deductible educational foundation (Federal ID Number #52-1739023) that seeks a more interests-based U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Website is councilforthenationalinterest.org, address is P.O. Box 2157, Purcellville VA 20134 and its email is inform@cnionline.org.

March 30, 2020 Posted by | Book Review, Corruption, Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 5 Comments

Black Swan author Taleb urges UK to let Branson’s airline go bust

RT | March 29, 2020

Famed author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb has trained his sights on billionaire Richard Branson, urging the UK government to let the airline owned by the “tax refugee” to go bankrupt.

Branson has had a torrid fortnight, drawing the ire of politicians of all stripes for putting all Virgin Atlantic staff on unpaid leave because the carrier has been walloped by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tycoon has led the calls for a state-sponsored bailout of the aviation sector, but plans to use the funds to cover fixed costs, rather than pay its staff.

Taleb wrote The Black Swan, which is widely touted as one of the most influential books of the century. His writings give his words extra weight in the current global situation as they focus on the extraordinary impact of rare events.

The risk analyst has given short shrift to the suggestion of bailouts for airlines, saying that the industry was hugely influential in preventing governments from calling a halt to flights from China as the outbreak spread in the Asian country.

However, the author reserved his most scathing analysis for Branson, whom he dubbed a “tax refugee” who “walks around virtue-faking with [the] TED [and] Davos crowd.”

“He lives in the British Virgin Islands and since the UK has no worldwide taxation, [he] pays no taxes. Yet wants the UK taxpayer’s backstop,” Taleb said, in a blistering tweet. “Let him go bust. Planes will fly with new owners!”

Virgin Atlantic has been particularly badly hit by the Covid-19 crisis as it does not have the cash reserves of some of its larger competitors. It reportedly approached the UK government and the Rothschild investment bank, who are said to be handling negotiations, for a package worth hundreds of millions of pounds in loans and guarantees.

March 29, 2020 Posted by | Economics, Progressive Hypocrite | , | 1 Comment