Wednesday, February 8, 2023

"Earthquake: Pregnant Syrian Woman Gives Birth While Buried Under Rubble But Dies as It's Revealed Baby Girl Is Family's Sole Survivor"

One of tens of thousands of stories that will be emerging for years.

From IBTimes, February 7:

A baby was rescued from the remains of a collapsed building in Syria minutes after the girl was born under the rubble. Video footage shows the miracle baby being carried to safety in the arms of a rescuer in Jenderes, in the northeastern region that was ravaged by Monday's 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

However, the mother tragically died while giving birth under the rubble as she couldn't be rescued on time. Another earthquake struck Turkey early on Tuesday morning after two other quakes devastated Syria and its neighboring countries, killing more than 5,000 people and trapping countless others beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings.....

https://data.ibtimes.sg/en/full/65205/turkey-earthquake.jpg?w=612

....MUCH MORE

The O'Biden-Harris administration should probably get around to lifting the sanctions on Syria one of these days.
(the O'Biden moniker comes from the time in March 2020 the then-candidate said "I’m An ‘OBiden-Bama’ Democrat") 

"White House says blog post on Nord Stream explosion 'utterly false'"

Huh. A Mandy Rice-Davies moment dead ahead.*

From Reuters via MSN, February 8:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House on Wednesday dismissed a blog post by a U.S. investigative journalist alleging the United States was behind explosions of the Nord Stream gas pipelines as "utterly false and complete fiction."

Reuters has not corroborated the report, published by U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, which said an attack was carried out last September at the direction of President Joe Biden.

"This is utterly false and complete fiction," said Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council. Spokespeople for the CIA and State Department said the same....

"blog post" is a nice touch.
 
See, the U.S. apparatchiks have to say that because admitting they did it would be admitting an act of war, in the same way that Russia cutting off the Keystone XL pipeline would be an act of war. Except the Biden Administration did it. Saaaay....
*Mandy Rice-Davies is [was, RIP] a former model and showgirl known for her role in the Profumo affair.
When informed by the prosecuting attorney that Lord Astor disputed her version of events and denied having an affair she responded:
"Well, he would, wouldn't he?" 

For British politicians of a certain age [often referred to as octo or nona-genarians -ed] the scandal surrounding Secretary of State for War John Profumo's affair with the alleged mistress of a Russian spy was highlighted by the testimony of Miss Rice-Davies, a friend of the alleged mistress, Christine Keeler.
From Wikipedia:
While giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward, charged with living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and Rice-Davies, the latter made a famous riposte. When the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her, she replied, "Well, he would, wouldn't he?"
—from our 2012 post "Mandy Rice-Davies Sighting at FT Alphaville"  which among other occurances included:
One of my favorite usages:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey:  My Lords, I am proud of many things that this Government have done. I pause to anticipate the interjection—"He would say that, wouldn't he?"...
Lords Hansard text for 6 Feb 2002
Earlier:
Updated—Seymour Hersh Is Back With A Big Story: "How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline"

Updated—Seymour Hersh Is Back With A Big Story: "How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline"

Mr. Hersh, one of the best investigative journalists in the world (My Lai; Abu Ghraib; Libya - Syria gunrunning ratline etc.) was almost drummed out of the business by what now appears to have been a coordinated U.S. Intelligence/captive media smear operations. And now he's back.

UPDATE: I forgot one of his investigations, on the CIA's domestic spying program MHCHAOS, which led to the Church Committee

UPDATE II: "White House says blog post on Nord Stream explosion 'utterly false'"

From his new Substack, February 8:

The New York Times called it a “mystery,” but the United States executed a covert sea operation that was kept secret—until now

The U.S. Navy’s Diving and Salvage Center can be found in a location as obscure as its name—down what was once a country lane in rural Panama City, a now-booming resort city in the southwestern panhandle of Florida, 70 miles south of the Alabama border. The center’s complex is as nondescript as its location—a drab concrete post-World War II structure that has the look of a vocational high school on the west side of Chicago. A coin-operated laundromat and a dance school are across what is now a four-lane road.

The center has been training highly skilled deep-water divers for decades who, once assigned to American military units worldwide, are capable of technical diving to do the good—using C4 explosives to clear harbors and beaches of debris and unexploded ordinance—as well as the bad, like blowing up foreign oil rigs, fouling intake valves for undersea power plants, destroying locks on crucial shipping canals. The Panama City center, which boasts the second largest indoor pool in America, was the perfect place to recruit the best, and most taciturn, graduates of the diving school who successfully did last summer what they had been authorized to do 260 feet under the surface of the Baltic Sea.

Last June, the Navy divers, operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning....

....MUCH MORE

Previous links on Mr. Hersh  

Indonesia's President Jokowi ‘confident’ Tesla Will Invest (TSLA)

We've been pitching Indonesia for a while. The introduction to June 2021's "Indonesia and Coal":

An indigenous battery industry would capture some of the value-added from the country's world-class nickel resource. Elon Musk went to New Caledonia to secure a supply. He should have gone to Indonesia. And maybe built a gigafactory.

As we saw back in April regarding Sulawesi:

Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk has said nickel is the metal that concerns him most as he looks to scale up battery-cell production, and last year he promised a “giant contract” for miners to encourage production. Without new sources of supply, the robust EV industry could face a critical shortage within a few years.....

Capture some of the downstream profits and you have a bit more wiggle room to deal with the coal.

Now we have two stories via Mining.com. First up, the headliner from Reuters, February 1:

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is confident Tesla Inc will finalize a deal to invest in a production facility in his country, having offered the US car maker incentives ranging from tax breaks to a concession to mine nickel.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy has been wooing Tesla to invest in battery and car manufacturing since 2020, seeking to leverage its rich reserves of nickel ore, which can be processed for use in EV batteries.

The president, widely known as Jokowi, has held talks with Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk twice, meeting him in person at his SpaceX facility in Texas last year and a telephone call, to try to secure a deal.

“I said to him that if you invest in Indonesia, I will give the concession of nickel,” Jokowi said, referring to Indonesia’s offer of a mining concession.

Other incentives include tax breaks and a subsidy scheme on EV purchases to build a market for Tesla in the world’s fourth most populous country, he said, adding that his ministers were finalizing the subsidies.

The president said he was “confident” Indonesia had the edge over other countries Tesla might be considering for investment because it has the largest nickel reserves and a big domestic market.

Jokowi said it was up to Tesla to take up the offer to mine nickel, underlining that Indonesia is open to investment in the EV battery and electric car supply chain.

“If they want to start from EV battery, it’s OK,” he added....

....MUCH MORE

And February 6:

Like Musk, nickel-rich Indonesia has high electric vehicle ambitions

Armed with the world’s largest reserves of nickel and a ban on the export of nickel ore, Indonesia is making itself indispensable for the electric vehicle industry, which uses the metal extensively.

In just three years, Indonesia has signed more than a dozen deals worth more than $15 billion for battery and electric vehicle production in the country with manufacturers including Hyundai Motor, LG Group and Foxconn.

Next up is the mammoth Tesla Inc, the world’s most valuable automaker. President Joko Widodo has pulled out all the stops to convince CEO Elon Musk to manufacture electric vehicles or batteries in the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.

“I’m very confident this industry will grow quickly, will grow very fast,” the president, popularly known as Jokowi, said in an interview last week.

Indonesia has a total of 21 million tonnes in proven reserves with nickel content, according to the US Geological Survey. That is nearly a quarter of the world’s reserves.

The country mined 1.4 million tonnes of nickel in January-November last year, according to the International Nickel Study Group. That’s far ahead of the second-biggest producer, the Philippines, which mined 290,000 tonnes in the same period, and more than double Indonesia’s output of 606,000 tonnes in 2018.

Jokowi banned exports of nickel ore in 2020, but allowed export of higher value nickel products – forcing companies to process and manufacture onshore.

Indonesia’s exports of processed nickel then swelled to more than $30 billion in 2022 from about $1 billion in 2015.

Indonesia is expected to account for half of the global production increase in nickel between 2021 and 2025, according to the International Energy Agency, as demand for electric vehicles surges. Each vehicle uses up to 40 kg of nickel....

....MUCH MORE
Previously on Indonesia:

 And very related:

"Why Biden’s 4% buyback tax could boost stock prices and dividends"

As we've said over the years, stock buybacks are nothing more than a tax dodge, magically turning cash flows that would otherwise be taxed at ordinary income rates as dividends into higher stock prices due to monotonic and incessant buying pressure from corporations, which cap gains are taxed at much-lower capital gains rates.

The buybacks have an added bonus, at least from management's perspective, of dramatically increasing the value of shares based compensation by using corporate assets—the cash flows that otherwise would be distributed as dividends— to boost a company's stock price, as opposed to the whims of an actual market.

The flaw has two parts, 1) The November 17, 1982 SEC ruling on Rule 10b-18 which opened the floodgates of kleptocratic value extraction of American businesses by giving corporations a safe harbor against charges of stock manipulation when buying their own shares and 2) The smart kids, members of Phi Scamma Jamma, are still pitching a differential between tax on earned income and tax on capital gains even though the efficacy of capital gains tax breaks in performing their original purposes, investment and job creation, has been declining since the 1970's and is now just an excuse for a loophole. See "TAXES, CAPITAL AND JOBS" for an exceptionally lucid discussion, again, if interested.

The new law, and the Administration's proposed increase, are a fig leaf slapped over the naughty bits, designed to give the appearance of doing something while having no discernible real-world effect on behavior.

From MarketWatch, February 7:

The tax applies only to net buybacks, which are much smaller than gross repurchases

The Biden administration’s new stock buyback tax will have little impact on the overall stock market. It might even actually help it. I’m referring to the new 1% excise tax on share repurchases that went into effect on Jan. 1.

This tax has set off alarm bells in some corners of Wall Street, on the theory that buybacks were one of the biggest props supporting the past decade’s bull market — and anything weakening that prop could lead to much lower prices.

Even more alarms went off after President Joe Biden telegraphed his intent to quadruple federal taxes on buybacks, to 4%. [State of the Union speech]

While this proposal is considered dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, the focus on possibly increasing this tax from 1% reduces the likelihood that it will be eliminated anytime soon.

Tax applies to net repurchases

Yet stock-market bulls shouldn’t worry. One reason is that the new excise tax — whether 1% or 4% — is applied to net buybacks — repurchases in excess of how many shares the corporation may have issued.

As has been widely reported for years, the shares that many companies are buying back often are barely enough to compensate for the new shares they issue as part of their compensation of company executives. As a result, net repurchases — on which the new tax will be levied — are an order of magnitude smaller than gross repurchases....

....MUCH MORE

William Lazonick, Professor Emeritus of Economics at UMass has done some very interesting work on the interplay of resource mis-allocation (those cash flows) with declining innovation and financialization/value extraction versus value creation in tech industries. His book, "Sustainable Prosperity in the New Economy? Business Organization and High-Tech Employment in the United States", although going on fifteen years old is still pertinent. Here's an example.

In June 2021 we linked to a New York Times article in "How the World Ran Out of Everything" which, among much else had these three little throwaway lines:

....Still, the shortages raise questions about whether some companies have been too aggressive in harvesting savings by slashing inventory, leaving them unprepared for whatever trouble inevitably emerges.

“It’s the investments that they don’t make,” said William Lazonick, an economist at the University of Massachusetts.

Intel, the American chip-maker, has outlined plans to spend $20 billion to erect new plants in Arizona. But that is less than the $26 billion that Intel spent on share buybacks in 2018 and 2019 — money the company could have used to expand capacity, Mr. Lazonick said.....

Twenty months later we read at Barron's:

Intel’s Quarter Was Brutal. There’s Still No Bottom In Sight.
“The magnitude of the deterioration is stunning," one Wall Street analyst wrote on Friday. There's no easy fix in store for the chip maker.

Related:

Pitch Deck Values Forbes at $800M With $285M in Revenue

 As someone once said: Bwa ha ha ha!

From TalkingBizNews, February 8:

A pitch deck from India-based Sun Group is trying to lure tech billionaires and Hollywood types to join its bid for Forbes, which values the firm at $800 million, reports Sara Fischer of Axios.

Fischer reports, “In the deck described to Axios by sources pitched on the opportunity, the investor group argues that Forbes — which it values at roughly $800 million today — could one day be worth billions across three new business lines.

  • Forbes Valley, a business segment based on the idea that the company will be able to make more money from Forbes’ digital audience through things like e-commerce and recommendations, could be worth $4 billion by 2028, it argues. Forbes currently owns 40% of a recommendations business called Forbes Marketplace that investors think will grow to nearly $400 million in revenue by 2027....

....MUCH MORE

Some previous go-rounds on Forbes' valuation:
January 2014
Is Forbes Past Its Peak? Financial documents being shown to potential buyers raise questions about its future growth.
July 2014
How Forbes Got to a $475 Million Valuation
September 2014
The Deal for Forbes Is Finalized, Bono Is Out and What it Means for the Future of Journalism
April 2021
Media: "Forbes considers SPAC, and investor bid for $700 million" 

I don't think anyone who follows business media would put a penny into Forbes Magazine.
Under current editorship it has become something of a garbage property. And although Steve Forbes is head of the parent Forbes Media, he sure as heck is not his father.....

August 2021
ICYMI—"Forbes Going Public In SPAC Deal That Values Century-Old Brand At $630 Million" (FRBS)

The SPAC deal fell apart. So here we are.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

"The West Makes Serbia an Offer It Can’t Refuse"

First up, naked capitalism, February 6:

Serbia has resisted various forms of pressure since NATO began its war against Russia in Ukraine and remains the only European country refusing to join in Western sanctions on Russia.

Washington and Brussels have apparently had enough and issued Belgrade an ultimatum in January. The exact contents of the proposal haven’t been made public, but statements from Serbian officials hint at the following:

Carrot

Serbia must normalize relations (as opposed to full recognition) with Kosovo and accept its membership in international organizations like the UN, NATO and the Council of Europe. (NATO seized Kosovo from Serbia in 1999, following the bombing of the country. Most EU countries and the US support Kosovo independence, which was unilaterally declared in 2008. Serbia continues to view the region as part of its territory.)

In return Serbia would supposedly get some financial rewards and join the EU in 2030.

It remains unclear if joining sanctions on Russia is part of the ultimatum. One of many reasons that Belgrade and Moscow enjoy close ties is that Russia routinely blocks Kosovo’s UN membership, which it could still do even if Serbia recognized Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić believes the ultimatum is more the result of the West’s agenda, “which includes the defeat of Russia and everything that stands in the way on this agenda, will be crushed.”

Stick

Should Belgrade refuse the ultimatum, it can expect the following:

EU and US investment in the country evaporates.

Serbia’s EU candidacy dies.

A ban on lending by European banks, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the IMF....

....MUCH MORE

And at Serbian Monitor, former World Bank head of research, Branko Milanović, January 23:
Can Serbia survive EU’s economic ultimatum?

(I am writing this article in English although my main audience is in Serbia. But I am doing it also because very few people in the world, preoccupied by other world crises, such as the war in Ukraine, US-China issues, Covid and the like, know what is happening in the Balkans and what is the nature of the EU game there. Branko Milanovic)

The current EU ultimatum, delivered three days ago, to Serbia and Kosovo, whose exact content is unpublished (at the request of the EU delegation) is the result of more than 20 years of frustrations in the relations between EU and Serbia (and also between EU and Kosovo).


The essential reason is disappointed expectations. EU has less and less to offer to Serbia and other non-members simply because the membership cannot any longer be promised with any credibility and all other advantages are small. So, the EU can only offer sticks. No carrots. And in Serbia, the support for EU membership is now consistently below 50%..

EU reminds me of the bullies that were roaming the area around my high school in Belgrade. They would accost younger pupils and offer to sell them…a brick. The kid would say, “But I do not need the brick”. Ah, the bully would retort, “Yes, I know that you do, and it would cost you ten dinars”. The poor kid would pay 10 dinars knowing that the refusal would lead him to be beaten, hit in the head, kicked – and yet the ten dinars would be taken from his pocket.

That’s how the EU comes to Serbia today. Everybody of normal intelligence would say, “You have nothing to sell and we do not want to buy the brick”. But the EU then begins to list the ultimatums. We do not know the text of the ultimatum, but it does not take great imagination to realize that threats must range from the suspension of EU negotiations, elimination of EU support funds (that Serbia gets as a candidate member), reintroduction of visas, discouragement of EU investors, to possibly additional financial sanctions (say, no access to short-term commercial loans), a ban on long-term lending by the European banks, EBRD and possibly the World Bank and the IMF, and for the very end elements of a true embargo and perhaps seizure of assets. Serbia does not have oligarchs but it does have National Bank reserves and many companies that keep money in foreign banks in order to finance trade.

The question then becomes: can the country survive such sanctions that may last from five to ten to twenty years? Perhaps even longer. First, one needs to realize that such costs are imposed on 99% of the population for whom the acceptance of the ultimatum does not make any economic difference. Perhaps only 1% of the ethically Serbian population, those who live in Kosovo, might lose some rights due to the non-economic requests contained in the EU proposal. One needs to be clear on that fact: rejection means a loss for 99% of people to provide some, perhaps illusory, protection for 1%.

But what would be the consequence of rejection? Domestically, it will further stimulate the growth of nationalism. Not only–nationalists will say—that we knew all along that Europe does not want us and hates us, but now it is clear that they want to destroy us. Under such conditions, all kinds of crazy schemes would be hatched. Russia will support this craziness, not because Russia much cares about it, but because it has the incentive to create as many problems at any place in the world to make the West get busy working on something other than Ukraine.

There would be thus an explosion of nationalism under the conditions of reduced GDP. The loss could be, depending on the severity of sanctions, up to 5-10% of GDP in the first year. This would divide the public. Although currently all parties are in favor of the rejection of the ultimatum, and the pro-European parties, having been cheated by Europe many times, have taken a strongly anti-acceptance stance, seemingly stronger than the government, it is likely though that after a few years, the body public would seriously split between the “party of rejection” and the supporters of new negotiations with the EU. If such parties become equal sides and start violently accusing each other, it might end in a civil war....

....MUCH MORE

Related on Serbia:

January 2022: "Skullduggery In Serbia"
December 2022: "Will Europe's Largest Lithium Deposit Ever Be Developed? A View From Serbia"
January 2023: "The Inside Story of Europe’s Weirdest Crypto Mining Boom"
January 2023:   "Rio Tinto–backed firm InoBat plans to build battery gigafactory in Serbia"

Milanović wraps up his piece with a bit of a history lesson:

....To accept the deal does not mean that you have to like it. Serbia has thrice  rejected similar ultimatums. In 1914, when in fact it accepted 9 out of 10 points of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum (and asked for the clarification on the tenth), only to be attacked by the Austrians.  The second time it accepted membership in the Axis in 1941, for a grand total of 72 hours, and then, after a military coup, de facto rejected it. As a punishment it was brutally attacked by Germany, leading to massive bombing of Belgrade, occupation,  break-up of the country, four years of war, and more than 1 million deaths. The third time Serbia rejected NATO ultimatum in Rambouillet in 1999, and was duly bombed for three months until it accepted another version of the same thing.  These are the antecedents one should keep in mind. They are not very cheerful.

Fed Chair Powell says 'disinflationary process has begun' in the US economy but...

Equity traders got exuberant for a couple minutes then gave it all back and took the rest of the day off.

From Yahoo Finance, February 7:

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday the "disinflationary process" in the U.S. economy has begun, and said additional rate hikes will likely be necessary to bring inflation back to its 2% target.

Speaking in an interview with David Rubenstein at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Powell reiterated his comments from last week regarding inflation pressures, saying: "The disinflationary process has begun. It has begun in the goods sector, which is about 25% of the economy."

Powell said this process, "is going to take quite a bit of time, and is not going to be smooth."

"We will likely need to do additional rate increases," Powell said, as the Fed works to bring inflation back to its target.

Asked about Friday's stronger-than-expected January jobs report, Powell said the strong labor market, "shows you why we think [disinflation] will be a process that takes a significant period of time."....

....MUCH MORE

CNN: "Expert says Ukraine must cross Putin's 'red line' to win"

From CNN's YouTube channel, February 6:


Here's the General at The Economist:

I Am Beginning To Doubt NORAD Can Really Track Santa

From the New York Post, February 6: 

NORAD missed Chinese spy balloon flights during Trump admin, general admits

Pardon me for a bit, I need to take a moment to let this all sink in. 

Russians Ruin Christmas With Retelling Of Traditional NORAD Santa Tracker Story

Recently:  

Neunundneunzig Luftballons

 

 

 

Capital Markets: "No Turn Around, but Consolidation Featured"

From Marc to Market:

Overview: After large moves yesterday, the capital markets ae quieter today. Stocks are mostly firmer, and the 10-year US yield is a little softer near 3.62%. Strong nominal wage increases in Japan and a hawkish hike by the Reserve Bank of Australia helped their respectively currencies recover, though remain within yesterday's ranges. The euro briefly traded below $1.07, and sterling has been sold through $1.20. That said, a consolidative tone the main feature today through the European morning.

Gold has steadied after falling $63 an ounce last week. News that China boosted its gold holdings for the third consecutive month should be placed within the context of its overall reserve growth. Consider that the dollar value of its reserve rose by nearly $56.8 bln last month. Its gold purchases were less than $800 mln. March WTI is recovering from yesterday's drop to a two-month low near $72.25 to approach $76 today. News that Saudi Arabia unexpectedly lifted prices for Asian customers ostensibly helped crude extend the recovery that began yesterday. US natgas is steady after snapping a three-day slide at the end of last week....

....MUCH MORE

And Mr. Chandler's intro to the new month, February 4:
February 2023

Monday, February 6, 2023

Copper Supply/Demand Is So Close To Balance That Extrinsic Factors...

....like the strength or weakness of the dollar, play an oversized role.

From Reuters via Mining.com, February 3:

Graphic: Disruptions raise the chance of copper supply tightness

Production disruptions in major copper producing regions Latin America and Africa have raised the stakes for a tighter market this year, but analysts say it is too soon to downgrade forecasts for global supplies.

Interruptions to supplies in Latin America combined with the easing of covid measures in top consumer China fuelled a rally in copper prices last month, taking them to a seven-month high of $9,550.50 a tonne....

....MUCH MORE

Here's the chart from whence came our headline:

https://www.mining.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/image-4.png

and another chart that bears watching, NYMEX front futures via FinViz:

Copper Chart Daily

A smaller-than-2% up-move could reverse to a down-move visit to the gap at $3.94 and possibly much lower.

$4.0475 up 0.0125.

DXY (cash) 103.47  -0.15    

Related, earlier today: "Dollar reversal breaking people's dreams?"

And from back on November 24, 2022:

Copper: What's Your Timeframe?

Four from Mining.com:

Tomorrow through month-end? Dollar Index down again is almost mechanistically supportive for commodities priced in bucko's.

Next month? "World’s biggest copper mine moves closer to strike"

Next year? "BHP sees 2-3 years of elevated costs, near-term copper oversupply"

Next decade? "Codelco sees copper deficit at 8 million tonnes by 2032"

For now and into Q2 2023 the West and maybe China have a recession they have to get through.

And enough with this nonsense: "Copper price rises on China’s property support".

As we've said a few times, government support of the overindebted property developers is not nearly the same thing as supporting the construction of new housing.

February U.N. FAO Food Price Index Continues Decline

From The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, February 3:

» The FAO Food Price Index* (FFPI) averaged 131.2 points in January 2023, down 1.1 points (0.8 percent) from December, marking the 10th consecutive monthly decline. With this latest decline, the index has fallen 28.6 points (17.9 percent) from the peak it reached in March 2022. The drop in the index in January was driven by declines in the price indices of vegetable oils, dairy and sugar, while those of cereals and meat remained largely stable.

» The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 147.4 points in January, up fractionally (0.1 percent) from December and 6.7 points (4.8 percent) above its level one year ago. Among the major cereals, world prices of rice and maize rose, while those of barley and wheat fell in January. International rice prices increased by 6.2 percent month-on-month, influenced by tighter availabilities, a strong local demand in some Asian exporting countries and exchange rate movements. World maize prices also increased, albeit marginally (0.5 percent), mostly influenced by a strong demand for exports from Brazil and concerns over dry conditions in Argentina, offsetting a downward trend in US export prices amidst slow sales. Among other coarse grains, world prices of sorghum increased slightly (0.9 percent), mainly influenced by the strength in maize markets and lower production in the United States of America, the top global exporter, while the decline in barley prices (1.0 percent) reflected spillover from the global wheat market. Meanwhile, international wheat prices fell for a third consecutive month in January, by 2.5 percent, as global supplies increased with larger than previously estimated production in Australia and the Russian Federation.

» The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index averaged 140.4 points in January, down 4.2 points (2.9 percent) month-on-month and standing nearly 25 percent below its level a year ago. The decrease reflected lower world prices of palm, soy, sunflowerseed and rapeseed oils. In January, international palm oil prices dropped for the second consecutive month, largely weighed by subdued global import demand, as major importers replenished their stocks during the past few months. World soyoil quotations also fell moderately, linked to sluggish import demand due to uncompetitive prices compared with those of other vegetable oils, as well as improved weather conditions in Argentina lately, raising production prospects. In the case of sunflower and rapeseed oils, international prices fell on ample global export supplies.

» The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 136.2 points in January, down 2.0 points (1.4 percent) from December, hitting its lowest level in 12 months. The decline in January reflected lower international prices of butter and milk powders. World butter prices fell for the seventh consecutive month, underpinned by subdued import demand for long-term supplies at prevailing prices, stemming from market expectations for prices to fall further and increased supplies from Oceania. Meanwhile, international whole milk powder prices declined on lighter demand from leading importers and increased supplies from New Zealand, despite seasonally declining milk output. Skim milk powder prices also fell, mainly due to a sluggish global demand. By contrast, world cheese prices increased slightly, driven by a recovery in food services and retail sales in Western Europe, following the new-year holidays, and currency movements.

» The FAO Meat Price Index* averaged 113.6 points in January, down marginally (0.1 points and 0.1 percent) from December, continuing the decline for the seventh consecutive month, but it still stood 1.5 points (1.3 percent) above its year-earlier level. Lower world prices of poultry, bovine and pig meats underpinned the decline in the index in January. World poultry meat prices fell further as global export availabilities from leading suppliers continued to exceed import demand, despite widespread avian influenza outbreaks. Meanwhile, pig meat prices fell slightly due to ample supplies of slaughter-ready pigs, especially in Brazil and the United States of America, and lower-than-expected imports by China ahead of the Spring Festival. Likewise, international bovine meat prices declined, with increased supplies of slaughter-ready cattle, mainly in Oceania. By contrast, ovine meat prices rose on higher import demand, notwithstanding increased slaughter volumes in Australia....

....MUCH MORE

Neunundneunzig Luftballons

Some years ago Deutsch-Welle asked a provocative question:
to which we linked and off which we riffed:
Coming up, Did Helmut Kohl secretly write Neunundneunzig Luftballons to counter Reagan's desire to base U.S. missiles in Germany?
That's next on:

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftse3.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DOVP.cAQH2KykBVqPFXX2D13hSgHgFo%26pid%3DApi&f=1

"99 Jahre Krieg ließen keinen Platz für Sieger"

Well, Nena's back in the spotlight (Berliner Zeitung: Nach USA-Abschuss des China-Ballons: Baerbock sollte jetzt Nenas „99 Luftballons“ hören), what with balloons and war (krieg) imagery and stuff:

 

And here's more on balloons, from Laughing Wolf:

The Termites Are In The Woodwork

I’ve waited to write about the Chinese balloons for several reasons, including the fact that I really didn’t want to post a mass of invective in place of reasoned thought. The invective is still there, but I have it on a leash for now. Sort of.

I will start by saying that right now I don’t believe a word of what is being said by any branch, part, or employee of the Federal government — nor should you. Until it is confirmed by a reliable and reputable source, don’t trust it or them.

Have balloons been used for intelligence work before? Yes, pretty much since those wacky French brothers got things going on this side of the world. Did the Chinese float three across the U.S. under Trump? No. That story is deflating fast, but not fast enough.

Are balloons being researched for a range of options including aimed delivery of precision weapons, drones, or even chemical/biological payloads? Smart money says yes. Are they the optimal platform for such? Magic Eight Ball says maybe. There are a host of factors that go into such an assessment, and for a number of reasons I will just stick with maybe for now.

Anyone telling you that balloons are no different that satellites and it’s no big deal is a liar and a complete and total idiot to boot. Satellites are moving, and moving fast. There are limits to what they can observe, when they can observe, and on the data they collect. A balloon can be a remarkably steady platform, especially if it can be steered and controlled. Using modern optics, hyperspectral and multispectral imaging, and other sensing systems (and you can pack a lot on a truss that size), you would be amazed at the data that can be collected. Especially if you have nuclear thermocouples or other systems for the real power hogs so that solar can go to other systems including steering.

An amazing amount of data. Data that was collected and transmitted back to China.

Notice also that corporate media, and far too many others, have pretty much dropped coverage of the fact that there was at least one other balloon acknowledged. If you can find any coverage, go back and note just how carefully the government didn’t say where it had been, much less exactly where it was located at that time other than Latin America — which could be anywhere from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. There were “unconfirmed” reports from non-governmental sources that indicate it was possible that balloon had travelled down the West Coast. You know, where all the military bases that would be responding to actions by China are located.

As it is, the government and corporate media are dropping like a hot potato any mention that the balloon we did finally shoot down may have spent three days loitering over Malmstrom AFB, which happens to house the majority of our Minuteman missiles. Among other things. Look at all the bases and such along the flight path of the balloon. Want to place a bet that if the data is not already being shared with Moscow, it soon will be?

And let’s not forget that the balloon(s) were allegedly not picked up before they were over the Aleutian Islands. If that is true, that would indicate that multiple systems failed in their job. No one, not two, but multiple systems....

....MUCH MORE

And regarding the unnamed Pentagon person who mentioned three balloons during the Trump era - that would be the only negative aspersion not cast against Trump during his entire administration. I'm guessing if it had happened, we would have been told. Immediately.

Either that or General Milley was keeping Secrets from his Commander-in-Chief

Neunundneunzig Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Hielt man für Ufos aus dem All
Darum schickte ein General
′Ne Fliegerstaffel hinterher
Alarm zu geben, wenn's so wär′
Dabei war'n dort am Horizont

*****

Ninety-nine balloons
On their way to the horizon
One could take them for UFOs from space
Therefore a general sent
A flying squadron after them
To give the alarm if it was so
There were present on the horizon
Only ninety-nine balloons

IRS Boosts Tesla, Ford, With Redo of Tax Credits for Key EVs (Tesla RAISES Price Of Model Y)

First up, Barron's, February 3:

The Internal Revenue Service does seem to listen to comments when it proposes a rule. 

The agency, which is responsible for implementing the new electric-vehicle purchase tax credits passed as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, has redone the eligibility price limits for several EVs. The changes benefit Tesla (ticker: TSLA), Ford Motor (F) as well as General Motors (GM). 

The Tesla Model Y, which is the best-selling EV in America, now qualifies for the $7,500 credit if it is priced under $80,000. That essentially means the IRS is giving the Model Y the same tax benefit available to SUVs or trucks. Earlier, a Model Y had to be priced below $55,000. That’s the price cap for cars. 

The Cadillac Lyriq and the Ford Mustang Mach-E were in the same boat as the Model Y. Other similar-sized vehicles such as the Audi Q5 were treated like SUVs in terms of eligibility from the start.....

....MUCH MORE

And from Yahoo Finance, February 6:

Tesla hikes Model Y prices after EV tax credit expansion

Tesla (TSLA) is taking the opportunity to ram through some price increases, thanks to Uncle Sam.

On Friday the IRS released new guidance changing the definition it used to classify vehicles as SUVs, using the formulation the EPA uses for EV tax credits. This then allowed many vehicles like some versions of the Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen ID.4, and Cadillac LYRIQ to use the higher $80,000 MSRP price cap for EV tax credit exclusion.

Like clockwork, Tesla raised the price of the Model Y long range, currently the cheapest Model Y available, by $1,500 to $54,990. The Model Y Performance model also rose $1,000 to $57,990.

Of course these new prices are still considerably lower than what the vehicles cost prior to the massive price cuts Tesla initiated back in early January, which the company used to gin up demand (and also address shortcomings in EV tax credit eligibility for the 5-passenger versions of the Model Y)....

....MUCH MORE  

It's not quite an airline revenue management or Amazon continuous pricing model but Tesla pricing seems pretty dynamic.

"Dollar reversal breaking people's dreams?"

The fact the reversal has come on three large jumps rather than a series of steps looks more like the short-covering you see in tradable instruments. That said, after some to-ing and fro-ing we do expect the dollar to trade back above 110 on the DXY and quite possibly above the last cycle high—114.75-ish.

TradingView Chart

TradingView

DXY (cash) 103.654 last, up 0.662.

From ZeroHedge, February 6:

Did the dollar story change this week?

DXY closing "well" above the 21 day moving average is a start. Next big level is at the 50 day (103.75).

Source: Refinitiv

Mighty euro and the wedge

Euro closed below the 21 day moving average. Close it a little lower and this will break a huge rising wedge. First support around the 1.07 area, right where the 50 day comes in.

Source: Refinitiv

Euro "surprising"

Citi economic surprises, Europe vs US, has reversed sharply lower. Everybody is all in on the European long story, but previous reversals in this spread has led to the dollar making a strong comeback....

....MUCH MORE 

A couple correlations we are keeping an eye on, dollar/copper and dollar/emerging-market equities.

Re/Insurance: Despite Widespread Death and Destruction, "Turkey earthquake unlikely to impact cat bond performance"

There may be five to ten-thousand dead.

The only possible positive note on the human scale of the disaster is that at least it wasn't Istanbul.

Two from Artemis, February 6, 2023:

Turkey hit by M7.8 earthquake. USGS gives 34% chance damages rise above $1bn

Significant fatalities and damage have been reported after Southern Turkey was struck by a major Magnitude 7.8 earthquake this morning close to Gaziantep, near the Syrian border. The US Geological Survey (USGS) gives a 34% chance that the economic impact will reach above US $1 billion.

This earthquake is one of the largest ever recorded in Southern Turkey, although the region is particularly seismically active.

The death toll is already reported to have risen above 500 people, with that figure expected to rise much higher and the USGS Pager data suggests a 47% chance more than 1,000 deaths will have occurred from the quake.

More than 1,700 buildings are reported to be damaged or destroyed in Turkey alone, according to a statement from the Vice President, with some cities particularly badly impacted.

Kahramanmaras, a city of more than 1 million people, has been hit hard, as too have Malatya, Hayat region and reports suggest up to 10 major cities heavily affected by collapsing buildings.

Northern Syria has also seen significant damage, with over 200 reported dead in the country.

The USGS said, “On February 6, 2023, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred in southern Turkey near the northern border of Syria. The earthquake was followed 11 minutes later by a magnitude 6.7 aftershock. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake resulted from strike-slip faulting at shallow depth. The event ruptured either a near-vertical left-lateral fault striking northeast-southwest, or a right-lateral fault striking southeast-northwest.....

....MUCH MORE

And:

The devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck southern Turkey this morning is unlikely to have a noticeable effect on the performance of catastrophe bonds, given Turkish quake risk is only a minor component of some retrocessional deals, Plenum Investments has said.

We reported this morning about the terrible damage caused by this earthquake, which is now thought to have killed more than 1,000 people, over 900 in Turkey alone, with another few hundred killed in Syria.

More than 2,000 buildings are thought to have collapsed in Turkey alone, raising the prospect of a particularly costly catastrophe event for this part of the world, with some ramifications for insurance and reinsurance markets.

In particular, as we reported earlier, the Turkish Catastrophe Insurance Pool (the TCIP) reinsurance tower is thought likely to respond to such a damaging earthquake, which means some international reinsurers could be on the hook for a share of losses.

Some major reinsurance firms have retro catastrophe bonds that feature Turkish earthquake risk as one of the perils covered, and cat bond focused investment manager Plenum commented on this today....

....MUCH MORE

....Update: A second magnitude 7.5 quake has struck the same region today, with officials initial response being that this was not considered an aftershock. 

In 2017 we looked at some of the perils:

 "Risk:Today's 6.7-Magnitude Turkish Earthquake Was Not The 'Big One'

"Risk: Massive Earthquake Could Hit Istanbul at any Moment with just SECONDS Warning, Say Scientists".  

An Istanbul Earthquake: Since 1939 The Magnitude 7+ Quakes Are Moving Progressively Closer To Istanbul

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Anatolian_Plate.png

And related: 

Sultan Erdoğan's Dream: "Construction of Kanal İstanbul to start on June 26, despite opposition" 

"As neighbours build dams, Iraqis watch twin rivers dry up"

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Sure, You've Heard Of The Svalbard Global Seed Vault; But What About The Seed Detective Of Wales?

From Gastro Obscura, July 28, 2022:

Meet the Great Seed Detective
Adam Alexander preserves heirloom vegetables and the history they represent. 

Tucked away behind a modest-sized home in Wales is a living repository of human history. Here, on a 3.5-acre garden, Adam Alexander grows around 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables at any given time. The fertile ground contains the progeny of seeds scooped up at markets from Aleppo, Syria, to Yangon, Myanmar. Carefully stored inside his home are jars containing more than 500 different types of heirloom seeds. At least 20 varieties are ones that might have gone extinct without Alexander’s intervention.

By some estimates, as much as 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared, replaced by monocultural fields of corn, wheat, and soy. While nowadays a handful of varieties of corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables dominate the produce aisle, humanity once cultivated a wildly more biodiverse array of plants. In his forthcoming book The Seed Detective: Uncovering the Secret Histories of Remarkable Vegetables, which comes out September 29, Alexander traces the origins and evolution of vegetables that have shaped human civilization.

The book is the culmination of more than three decades of Alexander’s efforts to save endangered heirloom seeds from around the globe, as well as the stories they represent. He’s sometimes referred to as the “Indiana Jones of Vegetables,” although unlike Harrison Ford’s character, he has no interest in pillaging treasures only to let them rot in a museum....

....MUCH MORE

Now, if only he can get Martha Stewart to offer a tour of his house as a fundraising sweepstakes prize. From January 2018's "The Guy at Svalbard Who Might Save the World":

...In other Svalbard news, I'm not clear on all the details but apparently Martha Stewart is doing some fundraising for Crop Trust with a sweepstakes prize for donating:

The trip is in February so bring your mittens should you win.

"Hustle bros are jumping on the AI bandwagon"

From The Verge, February 2

The world of financial influencers promise viewers they can use ChatGPT to make big bucks with no effort. The schemes they suggest are dubious, but reveal how the AI chatbot might erode our online world. 

The grind-set, side-hustle, passive-income crew has a new favorite toy: ChatGPT. On YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, a motley assortment of established and would-be financial influencers are pumping out videos advising how you — yes, YOU — could be making tens of thousands of dollars in your sleep with the help of OpenAI’s chatbot. 

“It’s one of the craziest softwares I’ve ever seen on planet Earth, and you can become a millionaire just using ChatGPT I guarantee you,” advises a young man in one video wearing a “CEO” beanie.

https://duet-cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/0x0:3840x2160/1080x608/filters:focal(1920x1080:1921x1081):format(webp)/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/24403689/youtube_chatgpt_thumbnail_gore.jpg

A selection of YouTube thumbnails for videos offering advice on how to make money using ChatGPT.
Image: The Verge / YouTube

“If you start today, you could literally have a million-dollar course creation business by this time next year,” says a woman in another tagged “#investinyourself,” #6figuresidehustle,” and “#7figurebusiness​​.”....

....MUCH MORE

So we aren't doing FTX Token (FTT) anymore? sadz

A "CEO" beanie would be nice though.

Far Beyond ChatGPT: Artificial General Intelligence

From Dallas Innovates, February 2:

Exclusive Q&A: John Carmack’s ‘Different Path’ to Artificial General Intelligence
The iconic Dallas game developer, rocket engineer, and VR visionary has pivoted to an audacious new challenge: developing artificial general intelligence—a form of AI that goes beyond mimicking human intelligence to understanding things and solving problems. Carmack sees a 60% chance of achieving initial success in AGI by 2030. Here’s how, and why, he’s working independently to make it happen. 

North Texas’ resident tech genius, John Carmack, is taking aim now at his most ambitious target: solving the world’s biggest computer-science problem by developing artificial general intelligence. That’s a form of AI whose machines can understand, learn, and perform any intellectual task that humans can do.

Inside his multimillion-dollar manse on Highland Park’s Beverly Drive, Carmack, 52, is working to achieve AGI through his startup Keen Technologies, which raised $20 million in a financing round in August from investors including Austin-based Capital Factory.

This is the “fourth major phase” of his career, Carmack says, following stints in computers and pioneering video games with Mesquite’s id Software (founded in 1991), suborbital space rocketry at Mesquite-based Armadillo Aerospace (2000-2013), and virtual reality with Oculus VR, which Facebook (now Meta) acquired for $2 billion in 2014. Carmack stepped away from Oculus’ CTO role in late 2019 to become consulting CTO for the VR venture, proclaiming his intention to focus on AGI. He left Meta in December to concentrate full-time on Keen.

We sat down with the tech icon during a rare break in his work to conduct the following exclusive interview—a frank conversation that took Dallas Innovates weeks to arrange. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


What sort of work are you doing now to ‘solve’ artificial general intelligence, John, and why are you taking your particular approach? 

I sit here at my computer all the time, thinking up concepts, documenting them, making theories, testing them. That’s the work right now, as nobody really knows the full path all the way to where we want to go. But I think I’ve got as good a shot at it as anyone, for a number of reasons.

Some people have raised billions of dollars to pursue this. And while that’s interesting in some ways, and there are signs that extremely powerful things are possible right now in the narrow machine-learning stuff, it’s not clear that those are the necessary steps to get all the way to artificial general intelligence. For companies that are happy to do that, it’s not a bad bet, because there are plenty of off-ramps where there are valuable things, even if you don’t get all the way. There’s still stuff that’s going to change the world, like the narrow AI. 

But it’s a worry that if you just take the first off-ramp and say, ‘Hey, there’s a billion-dollar off-ramp right here’—where we know we can just go take what we understand and revolutionize various industries. That becomes a very tempting thing to do, but it distracts everyone from looking further ahead and focusing on the big far distance stuff. So, I’m in a position where I can be really blunt about what I’m doing, and that is: zero near-term business opportunities....

....MUCH MORE

Big Money: "The $400 Billion Man Running America’s Clean Energy Transition"

No, not John Podesta, he only has $370 billion to dole out. (NYT, Sept 2, 2022)

From Mother Jones, February 4:

Jigar Shah heads a loan program that was “dormant” under Trump, but now it’s hopping.

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Deep in the confines of the hulking, brutalist headquarters of the US Department of Energy, down one of its long, starkly lit corridors, sits a small, unheralded office that is poised to play a pivotal role in America’s shift away from fossil fuels and help the world stave off disastrous global heating.

The department’s loan programs office was “essentially dormant” under Donald Trump, according to its head, Jigar Shah, but has now come roaring back with a huge war chest to bankroll emerging clean energy projects and technology.

Last year’s vast Inflation Reduction Act grew the previously moribund office’s loan authority to $140 billion, while adding a new program worth another $250 billion in loan guarantees to retool projects that help cut planet-heating emissions. Which means that Shah, a debonair former clean energy entrepreneur and podcast host who matches his suits with pristine Stan Smiths, oversees resources comparable to the GDP of Norway: all to help turbocharge solar, wind, batteries and a host of other climate technologies in the US.

With a newly divided Congress stymieing any new climate legislation in the foreseeable future, Shah has emerged as one of Washington’s most powerful figures in the effort to confront global heating. Shah says such focus on him is “hyperbolic” but the White House is pinning much of its climate agenda on an office that barely had a dozen people when Shah joined in March 2021. It now has more than 200 staffers as it scrambles to distribute billions in loans to projects across the US.

John Podesta, senior adviser to Joe Biden on clean energy, said that the loans office is “essential to the effective implementation” of the administration’s goal to eliminate planet-heating emissions by 2050. “Jigar is laser-focused on working with all levels of government, project sponsors, and affected communities to deliver on that mission and realize results for the American people,” Podesta said.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that’s been put on to this office, clearly Congress gave us those additional resources,” said Shah, who has been busy connecting the newly enriched loans office with all corners of the emerging clean energy economy, not just wind farms and solar operators.

Shah said there was “some rust on the gears” among those tasked with reanimating the office following the tenure of Trump, a president so wary of even the most lo-fi environmental technology that he complained energy efficient lightbulbs made him look orange and became fixated upon the weak flushing ability of water-saving toilets.

But the clean energy loans now appear to be gaining momentum, with 125 current applications seeking $119 billion worth of loans to act as the “bridge to bankability,” as Shah puts it. About $2.5 billion has been given to Ultium Cells to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for electric cars in three states, $700 million has gone to a project that will mine lithium in Nevada—despite concerns this will negatively affect a rare flower in the region—and more than $500 million for the world’s largest facility creating “green” hydrogen, to be used to fuel trucks and industry, in Utah....

....MUCH MORE

"The Montreal Mafia Murders: Blood, Gore, Cannolis, and Hockey Bags"

 From Vanity Fair, January 18, 2023:

A Fargo-esque tale of hapless hit men, Mob moles, and two naive pawns who were lured into their web.

On the morning they were arrested for allegedly burning bodies as part of a series of Mafia murders, Marie-Josée Viau and Guy Dion had already finished breakfast and packed their daughter off to elementary school. A hand-drawn Mother’s Day card hung on the fridge next to family photographs. Viau, 44, didn’t have to go to her shift at the roadside poutine restaurant until later that day, so she tried baking something new: blueberry phyllo puffs. The pastries were still on the stove top when police arrived at 9:56 a.m. on October 16, 2019.

“We’re normal people,” Viau swore to the arresting officers, through her tears, after she and her husband were each charged with two counts of first-degree murder. “We didn’t kill anyone.”

Undercover recordings made by investigators told a different tale. The interception division of the Sûreté du Québec had secretly taped Viau and Dion speaking about how they’d disposed of bodies for members of the Calabrian Mafia. By their own admission, they’d incinerated corpses in their yard in a bonfire. “We did what we could with what we had,” she explained, when police questioned her about the cremations.

“But setting the bodies on fire?” a sergeant detective asked. “Was that [idea] from Guy, as he’s a fireman?”

Guy Dion was the tall, burly, 48-year-old fire chief of their small Quebec township. To make ends meet, he moonlighted for a paving company and refereed minor-league hockey games. His wife, Viau, worked as a cook and cashier at a fast-food chain called La Belle Province. Yearning for a way out of that dead-end job, she’d been taking online courses in business administration and freelancing as a building inspector. She had a hard face with sharp eyes and hair as long, dark, and wild as Dion’s was short, thin, and graying. The two lived in the countryside beyond Montreal, in the farming community of Saint-Jude (population 1,326), a village named after the patron saint of desperate cases. That’s precisely the higher power the couple needed when a dozen law enforcement vehicles converged on the property.

Before being taken away in an unmarked cruiser, a visibly shaking Viau requested a moment to switch outfits. She also wanted to know what would happen to their daughter when she got home from school. Officers informed her that childcare procedures were already under way. Outside the front window, the fall foliage had started changing color. The couple’s lawn, shrouded in dead leaves, was cordoned off with police tape. One maple tree stood out from the others, so red and orange that it seemed covered in flames.

The mayor of Saint-Jude told reporters that he fell off his chair when he learned that two seemingly upstanding locals had been accused of such nightmarish undertakings: “It shows you never really know people you think you know.”

Like real-life characters from Fargo, Viau and Dion had gotten all mixed up with killers for hire. What prosecutors wanted to know was: Were the husband and wife merely rubes who’d been duped into participating in the gruesome homicides—or had they cooperated knowingly and willingly? Seeking teeth, bone fragments, and other traces of the victims, investigators started combing through their yard, their garage, and the quiet stream across the street.

THE MURDERCYCLE

Three and a half years earlier, on May 27, 2016, Rocco “Sauce” Sollecito got into his BMW for the very last time. The 67-year-old director of operations for Montreal’s Sicilian Mafia drove through the parking lot of his luxury condo complex, wads of hundreds bulging in his pockets. The Chopard on his wrist caught the morning light, showing exactly 8:30.

From across the street, a lookout on a motorcycle tracked the BMW. His helmet’s dark visor shielded his face. When he saw consigliere Sollecito steering onto the boulevard, the man on the speed bike raced ahead, cuing other members of his crew to get into position. A black Acura then sliced in front of the BMW. At the next stop sign, the Acura braked to a full halt, blocking the way for several seconds, long enough for Sollecito to notice a man with a motorcycle helmet at the bus shelter to his right. The man pulled out a 9-mm Taurus handgun.

Sollecito didn’t try to escape. He didn’t ram the Acura. He simply watched as the man approached and began firing through the passenger side window. “I emptied the loading clip into him,” the gunman later recounted. “He ate it all.” One of the nine hollow-point bullets ripped Sollecito’s heart apart, killing him.

The Acura veered off while the assassin fled around the corner to join the motorcyclist who’d sped by a minute earlier. He jumped onto the bike’s back seat, and the two men headed into the crisp spring air. By the time police and paramedics arrived, the culprits had evaporated.

“It’s not complicated. It’s a Mob hit,” a police spokesperson said in the aftermath. It was clinical: no DNA, no usable clues. But Sollecito was a highly symbolic casualty in the war between Montreal’s Sicilian mafiosi and their Calabrian counterparts. The Calis, as the city’s Calabrese crooks called themselves, were suddenly poised to seize control of a vast underworld operation connected to New York, Latin America, and the old country.

Whoever killed Sollecito would be sure to gain the respect of ‘Ndrangheta: “The most extensive and powerful criminal organization in the world,” as Interpol calls the group. ‘Ndrangheta, based in Calabria, operates in dozens of countries and generates $50 billion per year. Its chief stronghold outside Italy is Canada, where Ontario’s Camera di Controllo makes decisions affecting an entire global network. Montreal, however, had long eluded ‘Ndrangheta’s grasp.....

....MUCH MORE

Big money.

Former NATO Supreme Commander Stavridis: "Expect the Unexpected in 2023: Cyberattacks and the Next Covid"

Admiral Stavridis is very sharp but he's no Alfred Thayer Mahan.
The thing to remember about officers at his level is that they are as much politicians as they are military strategists. For Stavridis that is most exemplified by his current positions as Managing Director of the Carlyle Group, and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation....

And at Bloomberg Opinion, January 2, 2023:

Ukraine, Taiwan and Iran top the list of potential crises, but the US isn’t prepared for less-obvious global cataclysms.

With the new year upon us, the big worries for global security are pretty obvious. We should be concerned about a springtime escalation in the Russia-Ukraine war, with the potential for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, in increasing desperation, to use a tactical nuclear weapon. While highly unlikely, a nuclear yield could further distort the world’s military, economic and diplomatic foundations.

A second clear danger is a Chinese attack on Taiwan, which would be even more seismic — in regard to everything from a huge impact on the manufacture of high-end microchips to reordering global trading patterns as sanctions are levied against Beijing.

Third, there is the intense popular unrest in Iran. Potential outcomes there range from the theocracy being overthrown to a brutal crackdown by the mullahs and a lashing out against regional foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.

US policymakers and analysts will spend a great deal of time anticipating and planning for these dramatic, low-likelihood scenarios. When I was supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, we would war-game various scenarios, including some in which Russia played the nuclear card. It never ended well for either side. And during the many years I spent in the Pacific commanding destroyers, I had plenty of chances to look at our war plans in case of an attack on Taiwan.

These are areas for which the Department of Defense is reasonably well prepared, even if the risks are high and costs would be great. Yet what things are swimming just beneath the surface that could end up creating unexpected global turmoil? What are we failing to foresee? At the top of my list is a growing potential for a global series of cyberattacks....

....MUCH MORE

Previously on the Admiral: 

"How To Avoid A Naval Cold War In The High North"
....The Admiral's book title [Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans] is remarkably similar to that of Captain Mahan's "The Influence of Sea Power upon History". I've read the latter and not the former but if I had to guess, I'd say the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard's thinking is closer to Mahan's than to Admiral Stavridis':
“We need to look differently at what an icebreaker does... We need to reserve space, weight and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it... U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security... If they remain unchecked, the Russians will extend their sphere of influence to over five million square miles of Arctic ice and water.”

And:
Bloomberg Opinion: "China’s Targeting Underwater Internet Cables"
The writer, James Stavridis, is about as wired into the military industrial complex as it gets.
Not that there's anything wrong with that....