Russian lawmaker suggests kidnapping NATO defence minister in Ukraine
Guy Faulconbridge – May 31, 2022
LONDON (Reuters) – A senior Russian lawmaker has suggested kidnapping a NATO defence minister in Ukraine and bringing them to Moscow for questioning about what “orders” the West has been giving to Kyiv.
Oleg Morozov, first elected to the Russian parliament in 1993 and a member of the dominant United Russia party, said the supply of Western arms to Ukraine posed a direct threat to Russia and might require Moscow to review its military aims.
“You know, perhaps it is a fantastical plot that I have brewing … that in the near future, at some stage, a war minister of some NATO country will go by train to Kyiv to talk with (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskiy,” Morozov told the “60 Minutes” talk show on Rossiya-1 state TV late on Monday.
“But he would not get there. And would wake up somewhere in Moscow,” Morozov said.
“You mean we abduct them?” TV host Olga Skabeyeva, one of the most pro-Kremlin journalists on television, asked with a smile.
“Yes. And then we would sort out who gave which order for what, who is responsible for what exactly,” Morozov said. “It is not such a mythical picture … There are new rules in the world now. Let all those war ministers gathering in Kyiv think a little about what it would be like to wake up in Moscow.”
Neither Morozov nor Skabeyeva could be reached for comment.
A succession of Western politicians have visited Kyiv to show solidarity with Ukraine – including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who travelled there in April with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
President Vladimir Putin casts the 97-day-old war as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and halt what he sees as the persecution of Russian-speakers by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists. He also accuses the United States of using Ukraine to threaten Russia through NATO enlargement.
Ukraine and its Western backers say Russia is waging an unprovoked war against a sovereign state which is fighting for its existence.
Russia has repeatedly warned the West that the supply of advanced arms to Ukraine risks escalating the war. Ukraine has called for the West to send more long-range weapons.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Gareth Jones)
Putin has commenced blaming (firing, exiling to Siberia, jailing or who knows what else) those he believes failed his vision of a reborn Soviet Empire. Based on a keen sense of self preservation, browbeaten close advisors surely decided to refrain from trying to stop him blundering into the senseless and self destructive war/invasion of a Democratic, peaceful, industrious and successful neighbor, for merely exposing Putin and his Kleptocratic criminal enterprises tenuous hold on an emerging partially-woke Russian populace.
Putin believed Ukrainian’s would welcome his poorly trained military conscripts with open arms and kisses of gratitude for rounding-up all the Nazi’s left over from WWII. Unfortunately, no one with an ounce of authority dared remind him Ukraine was a Democratic nation led by a Democratically elected Jew, who’s great grand-parents died when the Nazis burned their village and his grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers all entered the Soviet Red Army, but only his grandfather survived.
He also believed those hoodwinked low paid conscripts would engender as much nationalistic determination as the patriotic Ukrainian’s fighting for their lives and loved ones and their nation and Democracy.
Likewise, the cowed generals seated at the block long conference table, peed their highly decorated uniforms every time they had to fend off taunts and darts fired by Putin at 60 paces. No one had the courage to stop a madman bent on destroying a peaceful neighbor, and with it their own Russian Federation.
Putin can’t blame the Russian zombie nation he keeps behind his Iron Curtain of propaganda, but the rest of the world can and will. His facade though, is showing as many cracks as the vaunted Russian war machine. In spite of Putin’s flashback to Czarist Russia, this is the 21st Century, where information grapevines steeped with minute-by-minute news and world views are influenced and possibly distorted by Facebook, Instagram, twitter, Snapchat etc. etc.
Putin’s information wack-a mole isn’t keeping pace with modern day technology. Each time he quashes another independent media source, a couple more pop up.
It could be Radio Free Europe broadcasting through the maze. It might be a courageous state sponsored news room producer dancing across the nightly news set behind an unaware spokesperson, with a sign begging viewers to open their eyes and ears.
Or Arnold Schwarzenegger using Twitter and Telegram to speak directly to his Russian followers, telling them about his fathers actions during the siege of Leningrad, which caused him a lifetime of both physical pain from a broken back and shrapnel and mental pain from guilt, for participating in an unjust war. He pleaded for the Russian soldiers to keep from making the same tragic mistakes his father made.
It might even be a few reformed self preserving oligarchs clearing their conscience and or spilling the beans in return for titles to their confiscated multimillion dollar condos, yachts and jets.
It could be the more than 200,000 Russians fleeing the country, a massive brain drain not witnessed since the worst of the Soviet Union’s dark days. It could be the growing thousands of Russian protestors courageous enough to risk a quick trip to a gulag and 15 years in prison for calling Putin’s invasion and war just what it is.
Yes, the lack of information/abundance of ignorance will be a challenge to overcome; approximately 65% of the Russian public believe Putin is acting responsibly, is standing up for and preserving the mother-land, is not a diabolical monster, is going god’s work faithfully endorsed by the State Sponsored Russian Orthodox Church Military Industrial Kleptocratic Complex, all based on what stories Putin jambs down their throat.
It’s unlikely Putin’s ultra ego will allow him to turn tail and flee back to Russia in disgrace; he will continue to pummel and plunder innocent civilians until the heavily sanctioned citizens of Russia get tired of living in terror, in financial depravation and in national disgrace. Will Putin take a bullet, fire himself, hang himself, flee the country, maybe to one of his yachts and just drift into oblivion.
During an interview, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked spokesperson for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, about his intension of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
“I need to ask you this, because the world is afraid, and I want to know whether Putin intends the world to be afraid of the nuclear option. Would he use it?” the CNN anchor asked Peskov.
Putin “intends to make the world listen to and understand our concerns” about the perceived “anti-Russia” threat from the West, said Peskov.
“I want to ask you again. Is President Putin, because, again, the Finnish president said to me that when he asked Putin directly about this, because President Putin has laid that (nuclear) card on the label, President Putin said that, if anybody tries to stop him, very bad things will happen. And I want to know whether you are convinced or confident that your boss will not use that option.”
“Well, we have a concept of domestic security, and, well, it’s public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used,” Peskov responded. “So, if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used, in accordance with our concept.”
But since the only existential threat to the Russian Federation is clearly Putin himself, I guess he should nuke himself and all the cowards in the Kremlin and the Federal Assembly, who failed to stop him from blundering into his existential threat to humanity.
Putin claimed he was invading Ukraine in order to save it from Nazi overlords who disdain Russian speaking Ukrainians. But what exactly does President Putin and the Russian war mongers have to offer Ukraine, or anyone for that matter? Terrorized families, more than 10 million refugees, millions of women and children fleeing for their lives, grand parents hiding in cellars because they’re too disabled or feeble to flee. Beautiful historic cities bombed into dust. Starving innocent people dogging rockets and missiles, and mass graves when they fail that. A ruling government that commanders 85% of a nations wealth and hands it over to a handful of connected oligarchs. Leadership that invests the balance of that GDP in military weapons of war and a domestic police state apparatus that suppresses descent, choice, individualism and above all, freedom. Ukraine has clearly seen this playbook before and are determined to fight with every ounce of their battered bodies to preserve their Democracy.
Putin has no one to blame but himself, for creating this Putinopia of his own imagination and for investing in a brutally structured Kleptocratic czarism, instead of in the Russian people.
When and if Putin finally cries uncle, there must be no plausible justifications or excuses condoned and no face saving plea deals negotiated this time. Ukraine, Europe and the entire world demands long overdue justice from this Russian marauder. Only a reckoning before the World Criminal Court for the perpetrators and supporters of this conflagration will suffice, and reparations for a plundered, innocent, sovereign nation must be exacted.
This time, for the good of the world and human existence, the civilized world cannot let this megalomaniac off the hook; the businesses who pulled out of Russia must refuse to return until Putin and his lot are disposed of. A free and fair election of all government officials supervised by a United Nations tribunal could go a long way to eventually returning Russia to some semblance of respect and legitimacy.
The crippling sanctions must remain in place until Ukraine is guaranteed security, reparations and justice. The thousands of war protestors, including political prisoners like Alexis Navalny must be exonerated. I guess it’s better late than never that countries who prospered from riches stolen from Russia are finally taking international money laundering laws serious, but if they and the U.S. had done more to crack down on Russia’s ruling Kleptocrats during the last two decades of Putin’s criminal reign, maybe he wouldn’t have had the means to launch this war.
America and the West must also come to terms with it’s own failings. Access to Russia’s oil and gas can no longer justify allowing Vladman the Madman to threaten the entire world order and existence with a nuclear holocaust. And if the Russian people and their cowed institutions can’t keep Putin or his successors in check, NATO and the United Nations must.
And blindly obedient Trump cult followers, far right government haters and our right wing media must also wake up. Idolizing, enabling and refusing to hold Autocrats and tyrants like Putin and his adoring want-a-be Donald J. Trump accountable for criminal conduct encourages and enables catastrophic tragedies like we’re witnessing in Ukraine today.
The blatant lies used by Putin to invade a peaceful, sovereign Democratic nation reminds us of the 2020 election “Big Lie” Trump still propagates to delude his faithful. But as Ukraine and the world tragically now realizes, condoning lies and ignoring the truth and facts can have apocalyptic consequences. In addition to Putin’s senseless war of choice, Trump and his sheeple used lies and conspiracies to try to overturn a free and fair election and attempt to overthrow our own Democracy. Putin and Trump are one in the same when it comes to truth telling.
Fake news collaborators can’t be ignored or downplayed. The Foxification of Russia’s state run media and the Russification of our own far right wing nationalistic media, undermines democratic fundamentals and the rule of law in both countries.
The Biden administration just finally passed a $1.2 trillion long overdue infrastructure bill. If Russia stopped the war today, it would probably cost more than that to rebuild Ukraine. And how many generations will it take before the millions of tons of forever chemicals and toxic military materials can be scrubbed and leached from Ukraine’s homeland soil and water. This war has set back environmental and climate change progress in Europe for a decade or more and self serving maniacs like Putin and Trump couldn’t care less.
I’ve written about tarbabys many times and said that a certain one might be the biggest one yet, but this Ukraine tarbaby latched on by Putin might just top all those others combined. Brer Rabbit Putin thought he could just waltz into his neighbors backyard and take by force what the industrious and forward thinking Ukrainians have nurtured since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But considering the crippling lasting sanctions on Russia’s economy and Russian society, Putin’s blatant disregard for anyone but himself, the consequential damages inflicted on Ukraine and it’s defenders, the pain and grief and misery suffered by so many, this tar on Russia’s national reputation will take many generations to erase.
Climate Change Is Pushing Wildfires to New Heights
The Conversation May 26, 2021
By Mojtaba Sadegh, John Abatzoglou, and Mohammad Reza Alizadeh
The western U.S. appears headed for another dangerous fire season, and a new study shows that even high mountain areas once considered too wet to burn are at increasing risk as the climate warms.
Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. West is in severe to exceptional drought right now, including large parts of the Rocky Mountains, Cascades and Sierra Nevada. The situation is so severe that the Colorado River basin is on the verge of its first official water shortage declaration, and forecasts suggest another hot, dry summer is on the way.
Warm and dry conditions like these are a recipe for wildfire disaster.
In a new study published May 24, 2021, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, our team of fire and climate scientists and engineers found that forest fires are now reaching higher, normally wetter elevations. And they are burning there at rates unprecedented in recent fire history.
While some people focus on historical fire suppression and other forest management practices as reasons for the West’s worsening fire problem, these high-elevation forests have had little human intervention. The results provide a clear indication that climate change is enabling these normally wet forests to burn.
As wildfires creep higher up mountains, another tenth of the West’s forest area is now at risk, according to our study. That creates new hazards for mountain communities, with impacts on downstream water supplies and the plants and wildlife that call these forests home.
In the new study, we analyzed records of all fires larger than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in the mountainous regions of the contiguous western U.S. between 1984 and 2017.
The amount of land that burned increased across all elevations during that period, but the largest increase occurred above 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). To put that elevation into perspective, Denver—the mile-high city—sits at 5,280 feet, and Aspen, Colorado, is at 8,000 feet. These high-elevation areas are largely remote mountains and forests with some small communities and ski areas.
The area burning above 8,200 feet more than tripled in 2001-2017 compared with 1984-2000.
Our results show that climate warming has diminished the high-elevation flammability barrier—the point where forests historically were too wet to burn regularly because the snow normally lingered well into summer and started falling again early in the fall. Fires advanced about 826 feet (252 meters) uphill in the western mountains over those three decades.
The Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado in 2020 was the state’s largest fire in its history, burning over 208,000 acres (84,200 hectares) and is a prime example of a high-elevation forest fire. The fire burned in forests extending to 12,000 feet (3,650 meters) and reached the upper tree line of the Rocky Mountains.
We found that rising temperatures in the past 34 years have helped to extend the fire territory in the West to an additional 31,470 square miles (81,500 square kilometers) of high-elevation forests. That means a staggering 11% of all western U.S. forests – an area similar in size to South Carolina – are susceptible to fire now that weren’t three decades ago.
In lower-elevation forests, several factors contribute to fire activity, including the presence of more people in wildland areas and a history of fire suppression.
In the early 1900s, Congress commissioned the U.S. Forest Service to manage forest fires, which resulted in a focus on suppressing fires—a policy that continued through the 1970s. This caused flammable underbrush that would normally be cleared out by occasional natural blazes to accumulate. The increase in biomass in many lower elevation forests across the West has been associated with increases in high-severity fires and megafires. At the same time, climate warming has dried out forests in the western U.S., making them more prone to large fires.
By focusing on high-elevation fires, in areas with little history of fire suppression, we can more clearly see the influence of climate change.
Most high-elevation forests haven’t been subjected to much fire suppression, logging or other human activities, and because trees at these high elevations are in wetter forests, they historically have long return intervals between fires, typically a century or more. Yet they experienced the highest rate of increase in fire activity in the past 34 years. We found that the increase is strongly correlated with the observed warming.
High-elevation fires have implications for natural and human systems.
High mountains are natural water towers that normally provide a sustained source of water to millions of people in dry summer months in the western U.S. The scars that wildfires leave behind—known as burn scars—affect how much snow can accumulate at high elevations. This can influence the timing, quality and quantity of water that reaches reservoirs and rivers downstream.
High-elevation fires also remove standing trees that act as anchor points that normally stabilize the snowpack, raising the risk of avalanches.
The loss of tree canopy also exposes mountain streams to the sun, increasing water temperatures in the cold headwater streams. Increasing stream temperatures can harm fish and the larger wildlife and predators that rely on them.
Climate change is increasing fire risk in many regions across the globe, and studies show that this trend will continue as the planet warms. The increase in fires in the high mountains is another warning to the U.S. West and elsewhere of the risks ahead as the climate changes.
Mojtaba Sadegh is an assistant professor of civil engineering at Boise State University; John Abatzoglou is an associate professor of engineering at University of California, Merced; Mohammad Reza Alizadeh is a Ph.D. student in engineering at McGill University.
More than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, it is becoming clear that the economic pain has not abated for many Americans — and is worsening for some.
Researchers at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the University of Notre Dame Department of Economics are using monthly Census data to capture a nearly real-time snapshot of American poverty. Last month, even as the unemployment rate fell and more states relaxed restrictions on business operations, the poverty rate hit a pandemic high of 11.7 percent — a full percentage point greater than it was in early 2020.
For some of the most marginalized populations, the rate of poverty in March was even higher. Black poverty had retreated from the 23.3 percent high it touched last August but, at 21.2 percent, remained close to double that of the overall rate. Childhood poverty soared to a rate of 17.4 percent, and was high for less-educated people, as well, rising to 22.2 percent among those with only a high school education or less.
In both January and February of 2020, the poverty rate held steady at 10.7 percent — although even those metrics masked the challenges faced by some populations. Black poverty, for instance, was 20.7 percent in February 2020, compared to a rate of 8.9 percent for whites. The poverty rate for people without any college education was also elevated, at 19.6 percent in February 2020.
Experts say the monthly research illustrates just how instrumental Congressional fiscal aid such as the CARES Act and subsequent stimulus programs at keeping families out of poverty have been — and offers a glimpse of what could happen once those programs wind down if employment has not rebounded significantly.
“It’s astonishing that we’re seeing a high now. It does underscore how vulnerable so many people are that we still have not recovered enough that once the government aid starts tapering down… you can’t just cut off this aid overnight before the jobs come back,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “You’d hope by now things would have recovered,” he added.
Significantly, the researchers found that the poverty rate actually dropped in the early months of the pandemic, hitting a trough of 9.1 percent in May. James Sullivan, an economics professor and director of the Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame and one of the research authors, said this was almost certainly a function of the combination of $1,200 stimulus payments that were distributed to most Americans, expanded unemployment benefits including benefits for gig and self-employed workers, and an extra $600 weekly benefit on top of existing state benefits.
“I feel like the most important takeaway from the work we’ve been doing since the start of the pandemic is the clear relationship between poverty and government relief efforts,” he said. “At the time, people were a little bit surprised, but then you look at the magnitude of the CARES Act, and it really makes sense that poverty would fall in the short run.”
The pandemic wreaked havoc on the finances of millions of households, but that pain was not spread evenly. Many people who were able to make the transition to working from home kept their jobs — although some did have their pay or hours reduced. But for people who worked in shuttered hotels, restaurants and malls, there were no alternatives.
“The economic impacts of the pandemic have been incredibly disparate,” Sullivan said. More recently, economists have noted the K-shaped recovery that has bifurcated Americans into haves and have-nots in the ensuing months.
The project’s authors note that while the unemployment rate has improved markedly since last April, weekly jobless claims filed still are being filed at a rate five times higher than before the pandemic. Sullivan suggested the April snapshot might show a brighter picture, though, since more families will have received financial assistance from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law last month. “The latest relief package is going to provide significant additional resources to households, but we haven’t seen that in the data yet,” he said.
Stettner said those dollars would benefit the broader economy, not just the recipients. “Overall, the economy is doing very well, given the pandemic. That has a lot of do with the fact that we’ve supported people at the bottom. A lot of the consumer spending in our economy is by low- and middle-income workers. When they don’t have money, the economy suffers,” he said.
As a result, he added, it is important for policymakers to keep their foot on the gas and commit to fiscal support until the labor market recovery picks up steam. “In many sectors of the economy, it’s not going to open overnight,” Stettner said. “It’s going to take time for that activity to ramp back up.”
Trump shuns ‘ex-presidents club’ — and the feeling is mutual
Trump left the White House without attending Biden’s swearing-in, the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in 152 years.
By The Associated Press January 23, 2021
WASHINGTON — It’s a club Donald Trump was never really interested in joining and certainly not so soon: the cadre of former commanders in chief who revere the presidency enough to put aside often bitter political differences and even join together in common cause.
Members of the ex-presidents club pose together for pictures. They smile and pat each other on the back while milling around historic events, or sit somberly side by side at VIP funerals. They take on special projects together. They rarely criticize one another and tend to offer even fewer harsh words about their White House successors.
Like so many other presidential traditions, however, this is one Trump seems likely to flout. Now that he’s left office, it’s hard to see him embracing the stately, exclusive club of living former presidents.
“He kind of laughed at the very notion that he would be accepted in the presidents club,” said Kate Andersen Brower, who interviewed Trump in 2019 for her book “Team of Five: The Presidents’ Club in the Age of Trump.” “He was like, ‘I don’t think I’ll be accepted.’”
It’s equally clear that the club’s other members don’t much want him — at least for now.
Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton recorded a three-minute video from Arlington National Cemetery after President Joe Biden’s inauguration this week, praising peaceful presidential succession as a core of American democracy. The segment included no mention of Trump by name, but stood as a stark rebuke of his behavior since losing November’s election.
“I think the fact that the three of us are standing here, talking about a peaceful transfer of power, speaks to the institutional integrity of our country,” Bush said. Obama called inaugurations “a reminder that we can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other’s common humanity, and that, as Americans, we have more in common than what separates us.”
Trump spent months making baseless claims that the election had been stolen from him through fraud and eventually helped incite a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He left the White House without attending Biden’s swearing-in, the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in 152 years.
Obama, Bush and Clinton recorded their video after accompanying Biden to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider following the inauguration. They also taped a video urging Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Only 96-year-old Jimmy Carter, who has limited his public events because of the pandemic, and Trump, who had already flown to post-presidential life in Florida, weren’t there.
Jeffrey Engel, founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Trump isn’t a good fit for the ex-presidents club “because he’s temperamentally different.”
“People within the club historically have been respected by ensuing presidents. Even Richard Nixon was respected by Bill Clinton and by Ronald Reagan and so on, for his foreign policy,” Engel said. “I’m not sure I see a whole lot of people calling up Trump for his strategic advice.”
Former presidents are occasionally called upon for big tasks.
George H.W. Bush and Clinton teamed up in 2005 to launch a campaign urging Americans to help the victims of the devastating Southeast Asia tsunami. When Hurricane Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast, Bush, father of the then-current president George W. Bush, called on Clinton to boost Katrina fundraising relief efforts.
When the elder Bush died in 2018, Clinton wrote, “His friendship has been one of the great gifts of my life,” high praise considering this was the man he ousted from the White House after a bruising 1992 campaign — making Bush the only one-term president of the last three decades except for Trump.
Obama tapped Clinton and the younger President Bush to boost fundraising efforts for Haiti after its devastating 2010 earthquake. George W. Bush also became good friends with former first lady Michelle Obama, and cameras caught him slipping a cough drop to her as they sat together at Arizona Sen. John McCain’s funeral.
Usually presidents extend the same respect to their predecessors while still in office, regardless of party. In 1971, three years before he resigned in disgrace, Richard Nixon went to Texas to participate in the dedication of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidential library. When Nixon’s library was completed in 1990, then-President George H.W. Bush attended with former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
Trump’s break with tradition began even before his presidency did. After his election win in November 2016, Obama hosted Trump at the White House promising to “do everything we can to help you succeed.” Trump responded, “I look forward to being with you many, many more times in the future” — but that never happened.
Instead, Trump falsely accused Obama of having wiretapped him and spent four years savaging his predecessor’s record.
Current and former presidents sometimes loathed each other, and criticizing their successors isn’t unheard of. Carter criticized the policies of the Republican administrations that followed his, Obama chided Trump while campaigning for Biden and also criticized George W. Bush’s policies — though Obama was usually careful not to name his predecessor. Theodore Roosevelt tried to unseat his successor, fellow Republican William Howard Taft, by founding his own “Bull Moose” party and running for president again against him.
Still, presidential reverence for former presidents dates back even further. The nation’s second president, John Adams, was concerned enough about tarnishing the legacy of his predecessor that he retained George Washington’s Cabinet appointments.
Trump may have time to build his relationship with his predecessors. He told Brower that he “could see himself becoming friendly with Bill Clinton again,” noting that the pair used to golf together.
But the odds of becoming the traditional president in retirement that he never was while in office remain long.
“I think Trump has taken it too far,” Brower said. “I don’t think that these former presidents will welcome him at any point.”
What China is saying about the pro-Trump insurrection at the US Capitol
Beijing usually leaps at the opportunity to highlight when liberal democracies stumble, and use those moments to bolster its claims that its authoritarian model is superior. The pro-Trump mob storming of the US Capitol on Jan. 6 provided the perfect opportunity.
Much of the media coverage focused on connecting the reaction to the mob with the US’s support of the Hong Kong protests, and the apparent hypocrisy of the US political establishment and media in supporting protests in another country but not their own (that comparison is disingenuous given Hong Kong’s protests were a fight for free and fair democratic procedures, while the Trump protests were a denial of them.)
The outlet also offered a side-by-side comparison of scenes from the Hong Kong protests, such as when activists stormed the city’s legislature in July 2019, with the flag-waving, pro-Trump mob inside the Capitol.
The insurrection was featured on the front page of the Global Times’ Chinese website, accompanied with headlines such as (link in Chinese) “An iconic humiliation! The madness of the Capitol [incident] has dragged the US’s standing [as a democracy] into its Waterloo!”
Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said today (link in Chinese) that China hopes the US will return soon to peace and stability. She also commented US media coverage and political responses to the pro-Trump demonstrations versus the Hong Kong protests, equating the two. “What words did they use on Hong Kong, and what words did they use [on storming of the Capitol]?…such a difference and the reasons behind it is worth us reflecting on seriously,” said Hua.
Xiakedao, a social media account run by the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the Party’s largest mouthpiece, also zeroed in on Pelosi’s “beautiful sight” remark. The term has become a buzzword among Chinese internet users, who used it to mock the US democratic system, which they say only supports social unrest in other places, but not in its own country.
“The US Congress at the moment…what did Pelosi say before?” Xiakedao posted today, alongside nine pictures showing the pro-Trump mob breaching the building, as well as lawmakers hiding under their seats.
China’s Communist Youth League, a Party-affiliated political organization for Chinese youngsters, posted photos of the mob holding up pro-Trump banners in front of the Capitol, and captioned it with “a world-famous painting.”
As of noon on Thursday, the hashtag #Trump supporters stormed into the Capitol Hill had generated nearly 500 million views on Weibo. Many users said the riots marked the beginning of a deeper divide in the US, with some even asking if it might culminate in a second Civil War.
It is a familiar tactic for Beijing to utilize flashpoints in democracies to justify its own approach to governance. The country’s blanket censorship of foreign websites means most of the country relies on domestic, often state-owned, media for information, allowing the authorities to promote a narrative that a one-party state can provide far more stability than the chaos of a democracy.
White House struggles to understand the ACA case it supports
If the White House is going to fight to take health care benefits from millions of families, it should at least try to get the details right.
By Steve Benen, Repeated from June 30, 2020
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on May 1, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP
Last week, Donald Trump and his team asked the Supreme Court to tear down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, despite the ongoing pandemic. If the president succeeds in getting what he wants, his own country’s health care system would be left in shambles, and tens of millions of families would lose benefits they’ve come to rely on.
It was against this backdrop that White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared on Fox News yesterday morning, and one of the co-hosts asked about the potential political fallout of destroying the existing system without having a replacement ready. The president’s chief spokesperson made the case that it’s actually Democrats who’ll have a political problem.
“Look, the American public looks at this and what they say is this: If Democrats passed an unconstitutional law several years ago, then it’s on Democrats to come forward with a solution.”
McEnany went on to argue that the Affordable Care Act represents a “government takeover of health care” (that’s not true), that the White House has “put forward solutions” (that’s not true), and that Democrats are moving toward “eliminating Medicare” (that’s not true).
There was, in other words, quite a bit wrong with the press secretary’s pitch. But let’s focus on two key elements.
First, to hear McEnany tell it, if Supreme Court conservatives agree to destroy the existing health care system, it will be because Democrats “passed an unconstitutional law several years ago.” She’s confused: the pending ACA case is not a test of the original law’s constitutionality. That case has already come and gone.
Rather, the current case relates to the Republicans’ 2017 tax plan and the GOP’s apparent belief that it altered the ACA in such a way as to render it unconstitutional. It’s the sort of detail the White House really ought to know while it tries to take health care coverage from millions of families.
Second, it’s almost amusing to hear McEnany insist that it’s “on Democrats to come forward with a solution.” In other words, if Republicans make a mess, the White House expects Democrats to clean it up.
In reality, however, it’s Democrats who’ve already “come forward with a solution” — it’s the ACA, and it’s working — which they continue to take steps to improve. Meanwhile, it’s Republicans who’ve spent more than a decade promising to craft an alternative to “Obamacare” that does more and costs less.
At least so far, McEnany’s party has failed to keep that promise.
Oil Plunges Below Zero for First Time in Unprecedented Wipeout
Catherine Ngai, Olivia Raimonde and Alex Longley April 20, 2020
Oil Prices Will Remain Low in Short-Term: Goldman Sachs’ Tilton
(Bloomberg) — Of all the wild, unprecedented swings in financial markets since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, none has been more jaw-dropping than Monday’s collapse in a key segment of U.S. oil trading.
The price on the futures contract for West Texas crude that is due to expire Tuesday fell into negative territory — minus $37.63 a barrel. The reason: with the pandemic bringing the economy to a standstill, there is so much unused oil sloshing around that American energy companies have run out of room to store it. And if there’s no place to put the oil, no one wants a crude contract that is about to come due.
Underscoring just how acute the concern is over the lack of immediate storage space, the price on the futures contract due a month later settled at $20.43 per barrel. That gap between the two contracts is by far the biggest ever.
“The May crude oil contract is going out not with a whimper, but a primal scream,” said Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning oil historian and vice chairman of IHS Markit Ltd.
“There is little to prevent the physical market from the further acute downside path over the near term,” said Michael Tran, managing director of global energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets. “Refiners are rejecting barrels at a historic pace and with U.S. storage levels sprinting to the brim, market forces will inflict further pain until either we hit rock bottom, or COVID clears, whichever comes first, but it looks like the former.”
Since the start of the year, oil prices have plunged after the compounding impacts of the coronavirus and a breakdown in the original OPEC+ agreement. With no end in sight, and producers around the world continuing to pump, that’s causing a fire-sale among traders who don’t have access to storage.
The extreme move showed just how oversupplied the U.S. oil market has become with industrial and economic activity grinding to a halt as governments around the globe extend shutdowns due to the swift spread of the coronavirus. An unprecedented output deal by OPEC and allied members a week ago to curb supply is proving too little too late in the face a one-third collapse in global demand.
There are signs of weakness everywhere. Even before Monday’s plunge, buyers in Texas were offering as little as $2 a barrel last week for some oil streams. In Asia, bankers are increasingly reluctant to give commodity traders the credit to survive as lenders grow ever more fearful about the risk of a catastrophic default.
In New York, West Texas Intermediate for May delivery dropped as low as negative $40.32 a barrel. It’s far below the lowest level previous seen in continuation monthly data charts since 1946, just after World War II, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Brent declined 8.9% to $25.57 a barrel.
Crude stockpiles at Cushing — America’s key storage hub and delivery point of the West Texas Intermediate contract — have jumped 48% to almost 55 million barrels since the end of February. The hub had working storage capacity of 76 million as of Sept. 30, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Despite the weakness in headline prices, retail investors are continuing to plow money back into oil futures. The U.S. Oil Fund ETF saw a record $552 million come in on Friday, taking total inflows last week to $1.6 billion.
The price collapse is reverberating across the oil industry. Crude explorers shut down 13% of the American drilling fleet last week. While production cuts in the country are gaining pace, it isn’t happening quickly enough to avoid storage filling to maximum levels, said Paul Horsnell, head of commodities at Standard Chartered.
”The background psychology right now is just massively bearish,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc said in a phone interview. “People are concerned that we are going to see so much build up of inventory that it’s going to be very difficult to fix in the near term and there is going to be a lot distressed cargoes on the market. People are trying to get rid of the oil and there are no buyers.”