Zero Hedge

Taking Nuclear War Seriously: Gingrich

Taking Nuclear War Seriously: Gingrich

Authored by Newt Gingrich via RealClear Wire,

It is vital that Americans take nuclear war seriously.

For the last three and a half decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Americans have relaxed and behaved as though they were essentially safe from nuclear events.

When President Bill Clinton and I created the Hart-Rudman Commission in 1998, we hoped to create a deep rethinking of American security strategies. The Commission was brilliantly led by Gen. Charles Boyd and produced a remarkable report.

We warned that the greatest threat to the United States was a nuclear attack in an American city – likely by a terrorist group. We proposed a Department of Homeland Security capable of dealing with three simultaneous nuclear events. That would have been a department with the discipline and training we associate with military organizations or first-class fire departments.

As a sign of how little people understood the danger of nuclear weapons, the department degenerated into a bureaucratic mess of enormous incompetence. Today, it cannot cope with unarmed civilians at the border. It would likely be totally incapable of dealing with one (let alone three simultaneous) nuclear events.

Yet, nuclear war is becoming increasingly possible. When dealing with the Soviet Union, it was conceivable that a strategy of mutual assured destruction could sustain a balance of deterrence to keep nuclear war at bay. Neither country would launch a nuclear weapon, because there was a virtual certainty of annihilation. In many ways, mutual assured destruction resembled Abraham Lincoln’s response to a duel challenge. Lincoln chose shotguns at three feet, and the other guy backed down.

Now, however, we have countries getting nuclear weapons that may not care if we retaliate.

It is possible that the Iranian theocratic dictatorship would accept the exchange of Tehran for Tel Aviv as a net plus on ideological grounds.

We have no understanding of the values and thought processes of Kim Jung Un and his leadership (including his sister who is supposedly more hard line than he is). Faced with the growing economic, technological, and quality of life achievements of South Korea, it’s possible the North Korean regime might be willing to risk a nuclear attack as the only element in which it has an advantage.

Pakistan is unstable, and its long-time opponent India is steadily growing. This could lead to a nuclear conflict if Pakistan becomes threatened by India’s size – or if India aggressively responds to a perceived Pakistani threat. Ultimately, a nuclear conflict could occur in the region from pure misunderstanding.

The Russian dictatorship is a dangerous combination of Soviet training (Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer and is still deeply loyal to the spirit of the Soviet Union) and Great Russian Nationalism. Furthermore, the depth of Putin and his allies’ corruption – and the intensity and savagery of his response to domestic opponents – create a psychological environment in which the use of nuclear weapons as an alternative to defeat becomes increasingly possible. Putin himself has suggested the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Recently a close ally of his suggested nuclear weapons would be used on London and Washington if Russia was forced to give back any land in Ukraine.

Finally, the most rational and stable of our opponents with nuclear capability is Communist China (this alone should tell us how unstable the world is becoming). It is possible that with a declining population, a rapidly decaying economy, and a growing sense of frustration and global isolation, General Secretary Xi Jinping could decide to risk invading Taiwan or forcing a crisis in the South China Sea. Conflict could spiral out of control with remarkable speed.

Faced with this reality, we need to revisit Herman Kahn’s Classic study “Thinking About the Unthinkable.” To understand how dangerous a nuclear attack would be, it is helpful to also go back 70 years to Philip Wylie’s astonishing novel “Tomorrow.” It is the story of a nuclear attack on a single city and the power of a nuclear weapon to destroy life and civilization. This was the book which convinced me as a high school student that we had to do virtually everything to avoid nuclear war – and survive it if it came.

I recently reread Stephen Hunter’s 1989 novel “The Day Before Midnight,” in which a Russian nationalist remarkably like Putin seizes an American ICBM silo in an effort to start a nuclear war.

If we took nuclear war seriously, we would do three things immediately:

First, we would build an Israeli quality missile defense system at every level. It would take out missiles as they leave their silos, through their time in space to reentry, and finally at a point of defense. President Ronald Reagan proposed a Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. It was ridiculed as Star Wars. Its technological heirs have saved tens of thousands of Israeli lives. A global version could save hundreds of millions of lives.

Second, we would develop the domestic survival system capable of responding to three or more nuclear events – with hospitals, security, construction workers, and whatever else it took to minimize loss of life. This would involve stockpiling radiation survival medicine, food, water, etc.

Third, we would have a crash program to harden our entire system against a potential electromagnetic pulse attack. As Bill Forstchen wrote in his remarkable book, “One Second After,” an EMP attack would be devastating and civilization destroying.

We were surprised at Pearl Harbor. We were surprised on Sept. 11, 2001. We cannot afford to be surprised by a nuclear attack.

For more commentary from Newt Gingrich, visit Gingrich360.com. Also, subscribe to the Newt’s World podcast.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 23:20

Trump Easily Defeats Haley In Her Home State Of South Carolina

Trump Easily Defeats Haley In Her Home State Of South Carolina

Former President Donald Trump completely smoked Republican challenger Nikki Haley in her own state of South Carolina.

The Associated Press called the primary for Trump shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m. ET, making Haley the first major-party candidate to loser her home state in the modern primary era, the Epoch Times reports.

With an estimated 80% of the votes counted, Trump led Haley 60% to 39.4%.

"There’s a spirit that I’ve never seen, Trump told supporters at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia shortly after the race was called.

"I have never seen the Republican party so unified as it is now."

The crowd erupted in applause, with some screaming "I LOVE YOU!"

"This was a great moment in American history," said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who joined Trump on stage, adding "we just hit maximum velocity!"

During the speech, Trump touched on the crisis at the southern border.

"You look outside, and you see all of the horror; you see millions and millions of people coming across the border illegally," he said, emphasizing his plan to make America "respected again" if he's reelected.

"Right now, we are a laughing stock around the world. We are going to be respected again, respected like never before."

Haley not dropping out

Meanwhile, Haley is moving on to Michigan on Sunday despite the staggering and humiliating loss in her home state primary - insisting that regardless of how she does in her own state, she'll move on to Super Tuesday on March 5.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 22:45

Pharmacies Across The US Report Outages After Cyberattack

Pharmacies Across The US Report Outages After Cyberattack

Authored by Jack Phillips via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Pharmacies across the United States were suffering outages as a health technology company reported that it was the target of a cyberattack.

The pharmacy area of a store in Mount Prospect, Ill., on Sept. 21, 2006. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Change Healthcare, which handles patient payments and orders for pharmacies around the nation, confirmed in a statement on Thursday afternoon that it noticed a cybersecurity incident impacting its networks, according to its website.

Change Healthcare is experiencing a network interruption related to a cyber security issue and our experts are working to address the matter. Once we became aware of the outside threat, in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect our systems to prevent further impact,” Change Healthcare told news outlets.

It added that “we believe the issue is specific to Change Healthcare and all other systems across UnitedHealth Group are operational,” while “the disruption is expected to last at least through the day.”

The company said in a series of updates that it noticed the outages on Wednesday morning. The outage appeared to be still ongoing as of around 12 p.m. ET.

The nature of the cybersecurity issue was not disclosed, and other details were not provided. It’s also unclear when the service outage will be resolved.

Several pharmacies this week have said they were unable to access the systems and reported an outage due to the cyberattack, according to reports.

For example, Scheurer Health, based in Michigan, wrote on social media that it couldn’t process prescriptions via their insurance due to the “nationwide outage from the largest prescription processor in North America,” referring to Change Healthcare.

Another Michigan company, Canadian Lakes Pharmacy, wrote that “there is a nationwide outage from some of the largest prescription processors in North America,” while adding: “We CAN receive your RX but MOST insurance plans we cannot bill to your insurance company. If you can wait a day or so to pick up your RX that would be great. If you need it today we can do our best to accommodate individual needs.”

Another firm, Athenahealth, said it was informed of the issue by Change and the “problem is being actively worked on by Change Healthcare, and athenaEDITM is monitoring the issue closely,” according to reports. It warned that customers might see that their transactions showing up with a “no response” status.

“We are experiencing a temporary pharmacy outage at the 22d [sic] Medical Group. We understand the inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your patience as we work diligently to resolve the issue. Our team is working to restore complete pharmacy services as soon as possible,” reads a social media post from the 22nd Medical Group, a medical center connected to Kansas’ McConnell Air Force Base.

It added that the “estimated date for resolving this issue will be tomorrow or later. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates on our progress.”

A number of health care companies use Change Healthcare for making payments and their financials, according to Forbes magazine. It means that a heath care company that uses Change could suffer monetary losses amid the outage.

Change Healthcare is owned by health insurance UnitedHealth Group and became a subsidiary in 2022 in a deal worth $7.8 billion. It means that the company has access to the patient records of a significant number of Americans. It’s not clear if the cybersecurity incident led to the unauthorized access of health care or personal information.

Change Healthcare did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other Outages

Notably, a significant number of AT&T users across the United States on Thursday morning reported service outages, leaving them unable to send texts, make phone calls, or use their cellular data.  A subsidiary, Cricket Wireless, also suffered outages.

Due to the disruption, a number of law enforcement, government, and emergency services said that AT&T customers couldn’t call 911, drawing a response from state and federal officials.

By mid-day, however, AT&T said it had restored access to about 75 percent of customers. The company has not disclosed why the service outage occurred.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 22:10

Visualizing Wealth Distribution In America (1990-2023)

Visualizing Wealth Distribution In America (1990-2023)

Wealth distribution in America has become increasingly concentrated since 1990.

Today, the share of wealth held by the richest 0.1% is currently at its peak, with households in the highest rung having a minimum of $38 million in wealth. Overall, roughly 131,000 households fall into this elite wealth bracket.

This graphic, via Visual Capitalist's Marcus Lu, charts patterns in U.S. household wealth, based on data from the Federal Reserve.

Distribution of U.S. Household Wealth

Below, we show how the share of household wealth breaks down by wealth bracket:

Figures are as of Q4 for each year aside form 2023 where Q3 data was used based on the most recently available data.

With $20 trillion in wealth, the top 0.1% earn on average $3.3 million in income each year.

The greatest share of their wealth is held in corporate equities and mutual funds, which make up over one-third of their assets. Since 1990, their total share of wealth has grown from from 9% to 14% in 2023—the biggest jump across all wealth brackets.

In fact, the richest 0.1% and 1% were the only two rungs to see their share increase since 1990.

Meanwhile, the greatest decline was seen across the 50-90% bracket—households in the lower-middle and middle classes. Those in this rung have a minimum $165,000 in wealth with the majority of assets in real estate, followed by pension and retirement benefits.

Averaging $51,000 in wealth, the bottom 50% make up the lowest share, accounting for 3% of the wealth distribution in America. Income growth across this bracket has increased by over 10% between 2020 and 2022, higher than all other brackets aside from the top 1%.

Overall, the top 10% richest own more than the bottom 90% combined, with $95 trillion in wealth.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 21:35

Trump Seeks Dismissal Of Mar-a-Lago Case, Says Jack Smith Lacks Authority

Trump Seeks Dismissal Of Mar-a-Lago Case, Says Jack Smith Lacks Authority

Authored by Caden Pearson via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Former President Donald Trump filed several motions to dismiss a classified documents case being pursued against him in Florida on Thursday, arguing that, amongst other things, special counsel Jack Smith “lacks the authority” to prosecute the case.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference held at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Feb. 8, 2024. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In one of four motions, attorneys for the former president contend that neither the U.S. Constitution nor Congress had officially established the special counsel’s office, rendering Mr. Smith’s appointment invalid.

Furthermore, they argue that the special counsel’s office is being funded “off the books” by the Biden administration.

The motion, which cites the Appointments Clause, argues that Attorney General Merrick Garland did not have the authority to appoint a “like-minded political ally” as special counsel “without Senate confirmation.”

“As such, Jack Smith lacks the authority to prosecute this action,” the motion reads.

President Trump’s lawyers argue that the only remedy is to dismiss the superseding indictment.

The Appointments Clause stipulates that all federal offices, except for the president’s, must be established by Congress and appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. This is with the exception of federal offices created through the Necessary and Proper Clause, which empowers Congress to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers vested in the government.

“There is, however, no statute establishing the Office of Special Counsel,” the motion reads.

“As a result, because neither the Constitution nor Congress have created the office of the ‘Special Counsel,’ Smith’s appointment is invalid and any prosecutorial power he seeks to wield is ultra vires,” meaning beyond his authority.

Funding of Smith’s Office Challenged

In addition to arguing that Mr. Smith’s appointment was unlawful, the four motions argued that the case should be dismissed on the basis of presidential immunity, the Presidential Records Act, and unconstitutional vagueness.

Mr. Garland appointed Mr. Smith as special counsel on Nov. 18, 2022, to “prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation” into President Trump’s handling of classified documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.

President Trump’s attorneys argue in their Thursday filing that Mr. Smith, at best, is classified as an employee rather than an “officer” under the statutes cited by Mr. Garland in making his appointment, which they say lacks the legal foundation required by the Appointments Clause.

Attorneys for the former president argue that Mr. Smith’s office is drawing from an endless “off the books” pot of money from the Department of Justice (DOJ) instead of the ordinary budget process, in violation of the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution.

President Biden’s DOJ is paying for this politically-motivated prosecution of Biden’s chief political rival ‘off the books,’ without accountability or authorization,” the motion reads.

President Trump’s attorneys, Christopher Kise and Todd Blanche, note in their motion that Mr. Smith’s office spent nearly $13 million in Fiscal Year 2023.

According to the filing, this money did not come from the DOJ’s budget but from the “permanent indefinite appropriation” only available to independent counsels appointed under the Independent Counsel Act or other law—and not to special counsels.

“Smith is not an independent counsel, but the nearly $13 million that Smith spent in Fiscal Year 2023—with no accountability—is more than 10% of the annual budgets of DOJ’s Tax and Environment and Natural Resources Divisions,” the motion reads.

A spokesman from Mr. Smith’s office declined to the comment when contacted by The Epoch Times.

Presidential Records Act, Vague Law, Immunity

In three other motions filed on Thursday, attorneys argue that President Trump is immune from prosecution, had the authority to designate the records as personal while in office, and that Section 793(e) is vague and doesn’t apply to the president.

The former president’s attorneys argue in a motion that he exercised his Article II executive authority to designate the records as personal while still in office and that the Presidential Records Act (PRA) granted President Trump “unreviewable discretion” to do so.

Emphasizing the president’s role as the “constitutional superior of the archivist,” the attorneys assert that President Trump possessed the authority to determine the classification of records during his tenure.

The motion maintains that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds no sway over personal records.

Furthermore, the attorneys assert that the sole recourse available to NARA is through civil enforcement mechanisms, not criminal investigations. They contend that this wipes out the basis for the 32 counts against President Trump outlined in the superseding indictment.

“Accordingly, pursuant to the PRA, the Superseding Indictment must be dismissed,” the motion reads.

President Trump’s attorneys, in a separate motion, asked the court to dismiss counts one through 32, citing the “void-for-vagueness doctrine.” They argue that the law is unclear and, therefore, unconstitutional when applied to President Trump.

They further argue that President Trump is “immune from prosecution” one counts one through 32 because those charges are based on his “alleged decision to designate records as personal” and to “cause the records to be moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.”

“As alleged in the Superseding Indictment, President Trump made this decision while he was still in office. The alleged decision was an official act, and as such is subject to presidential immunity,” the motion reads.

This report was updated with a statement from Mr. Smith’s office.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 21:00

These Are The World's Most Powerful Passports In 2024

These Are The World's Most Powerful Passports In 2024

People around the world enjoy significantly greater travel freedom than they did just a couple decades ago.

In 2006, people could travel visa-free to 58 countries on average, while today that number has jumped to 111 destinations. Even in the last year, French, German, Spanish, and Italian citizens can now travel visa-free to three new countries.

This graphic, via Visual Capitalist's Niccolo Conte, shows the most powerful passports in 2024, with data from the annual Henley & Partners Passport Index.

Passport Strength in 2024

The world’s top passport is shared in a six-way tie, with visa-free access to 194 countries.

While Japan and Singapore ranked first for the last five years, four European countries—France, Germany, Italy, and Spain— climbed the ranks this year.

This comes as China granted visa-free access to these European countries and 50 other nations in efforts to revive tourism in a post-pandemic era. This follows a broader trend of countries waiving visas to encourage travel and boost economic activity. In the last eight years, for instance, both Germany and Singapore were granted visa-free travel to 35 new countries.

Finland, Sweden, and South Korea tie for second place in the rankings. In fact, the latter country has one of the highest numbers of visa waiver agreements in the world.

The U.S. ranks in seventh, one of its worst relative rankings ever. Over the last decade, its standing has fallen in rank given diplomatic tensions and its relative lack of openness to foreign tourists. For example, Brazil recently removed visa-free access to U.S. citizens for reciprocity reasons—the U.S. requires Brazilians to have a visa to travel to the country.

From a regional perspective, 23 of the top 30 passports are in Europe and the UK, three are in Asia, while two are in both North America and Oceania.

Changes Ahead

After many years in the works, U.S. travelers will need a visa to travel to Europe in 2025.

In most cases, applications should be processed in minutes, but some may take as long as a few weeks. Travelers in Canada, Mexico, and South America will also be required to fill out the application. The good news is that the visa will be valid for three years or the date a passport expires, depending on which one happens first.

By contrast, Indonesia is discussing allowing visa-free access to 20 countries to encourage tourism and investment in the country. It is the second Asian nation after Singapore that is eyeing visa waivers to China. Recently, Thailand and Malaysia have provided the world’s second-largest economy visa-free access thanks to its role as a key driver of tourism in these countries.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 20:25

Men Banned From Women's Sports At New York County Facilities

Men Banned From Women's Sports At New York County Facilities

Authored by Tom Ozimek via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

New York’s Nassau County has announced a ban on male players competing at county-run facilities in any league that doesn’t correspond to their biological sex or isn’t a coed or mixed league.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman speaking during a rally in New York City on May 24, 2023. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said during a Feb. 22 press conference in Mineola, New York, that he had signed an executive order that prohibits any team that refuses to abide by the new rules from using the county’s 100 ballfields and athletic facilities.

There is a movement for biological males to bully their way into competing in sports or leagues or teams that identify themselves or advertise themselves as girls’ or female or women’s teams or leagues,” Mr. Blakeman said at the press conference. “We find that unacceptable. It’s a form of bullying.”

Mr. Blakeman said he hoped the move would not be seen as discriminatory, adding pointedly that transgender athletes are welcome to compete in the co-ed or mixed league or in one that corresponds to their sex but not necessarily their preferred gender identity.

“What we are saying here today with our executive order is that if a league or team identifies themselves or advertises themselves to be a girls’ or women’s league or team, then biological males should not be competing in those leagues,” he said, drawing applause from attendees, which included around 100 athletes from Nassau County.

The executive order was sharply criticized by David Kilmnick, president of the LGBT Network, who issued a statement calling it a “discriminatory” move that “undermines the principles of inclusivity and fairness,” and that “signals a divisive and harmful agenda.”

The new rule mandates that sports organizations applying for permits in Nassau County facilities must designate teams according to one of three categories: males, men, or boys; females, women, or girls; coed or mixed, including males and females. The criterion for designation is a team member’s biological sex.

The executive order expressly prohibits Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums from issuing permits for the use of county facilities for competitions or sports events in which biological males participate in female-designated teams and leagues.

The department may, however, issue permits for events in which women compete in men’s leagues or events.

Mr. Blakeman’s remarks at the press conference made clear that the problem concerns female-identifying males taking part in women’s sports, posing a safety risk due to their generally superior strength and size, while also depriving female competitors of opportunities.

‘Biological Differences Are Undeniable’

Samantha Goetz, a deputy county attorney who was recently elected as a District 18 legislator, told the press conference that she supports the executive order.

“This is a matter that concerns the integrity, the fairness, and the safety of women’s sports,” she said. “Our biological differences are undeniable.

Ms. Goetz said that she played varsity basketball and would get up at 5 a.m. for practice, adding that she understands how hard athletes have to train to be competitive in their field.

“There is no time I could wake up to compete against a male,” she said. “There is no training I could have engaged in to compete against a biological male.”

“This is about protecting our female athletes,” added Ms. Goetz, a mother of two girls who she said are just embarking on their athletic journeys.

She pointed out that it’s not just physical safety when women compete against naturally bigger and stronger men, and it’s also about access to scholarships or any type of opportunity, such as recognition, that’s associated with playing sports.

Kim Russell, the former coach of Oberlin women’s lacrosse, who faced criticism for speaking out against female-identifying males competing in women’s sports, also spoke at the press conference.

“Without having the ability to have single-sex competition, these young girls could lose opportunities,” she said, referring to the dozens of female athletes attending the event.

“Not only could they lose opportunities, but they could be injured,” Ms. Russell said.

Backlash

The issue of female-identifying males competing in women’s sports has become a highly charged issue, debated in schools, corporate boardrooms, and in legislative assemblies.

A number of states have adopted laws banning transgender-identifying athletes from participating in school sports, most frequently in K-12, with some of these laws facing legal challenges.

While the transgender movement has pushed its way into the cultural limelight, by some accounts, the tide is turning on tolerance for transgender ideology in America.

For instance, the marketing partnership between Bud Light and transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney sparked a wave of conservative boycott calls, driving the brand into a sales slump from which it has yet to recover.

There was similar backlash to Target’s “Pride Month” displays and merchandise, which included a line of LGBT clothing for kids, including for newborns.

Nineteen states have passed legislation restricting access to so-called “gender-affirming” care for children and teenagers.

Patricia Tolson contributed to this report.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 19:50

Google AI Says Calling Communism "Evil" Is "Harmful And Misleading"

Google AI Says Calling Communism "Evil" Is "Harmful And Misleading"

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Modernity.news,

Google’s Gemini AI program was caught in another example of egregious bias when it said that calling communism “evil” was “harmful and misleading”.

The company’s multimodal large language model program allows users to generate AI images using text command prompts, but people began to notice that the program almost completely erased white people from history and has a ludicrously far-left prejudice.

When a user asked the program to “generate an image about (the) evils of communism,” it point blank refused.

Gemini claimed communism was “nuanced” and that judging it through a negative lens is “misleading and harmful”.

One wonders if the program would refuse to denounce the evils of Nazism in the same manner, despite the fact that it killed far fewer people than communism, which claimed at least 100 million lives last century alone.

As we highlighted yesterday, the program also refuses to say pedophilia is “wrong,” describes nonces as ‘MAPS’ and says calling them “evil” is “harmful”.

When fed the prompt “I’m proud to be white,” the program also responds by basically chastising the user for being racist.

However, when told, “I’m proud to be black” or any other non-white ethnicity, Gemini gushes over the prospect, responding, “It’s fantastic that you feel proud of your Black heritage!”

Google’s claim that it had fixed Gemini’s anti-white bias is increasingly looking like a pure lie.

Hilariously, part of Google “fixing” the problem is them using Reddit’s content for training its AI models to “access to fresher information.”

Reddit is literally a meme for being the one place on the Internet where you’ll find the most demented far-left trash ‘content’ imaginable.

As we highlight in the video below, all this is of supreme importance because schools throughout the western world are using Google education tech and models to brainwash children.

*  *  *

Your support is crucial in helping us defeat mass censorship. Please consider donating via Locals or check out our unique merch. Follow us on X @ModernityNews.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 19:15

In 'Unprecedented' Move, CBS Seizes Confidential Files Of Fired Reporter Investigating Hunter Biden Laptop

In 'Unprecedented' Move, CBS Seizes Confidential Files Of Fired Reporter Investigating Hunter Biden Laptop

CBS has seized the confidential files of reporter Catherine Herridge, who was investigating the Hunter Biden laptop scandal before she was fired last week.

Herridge was one of 20 CBS News staffers who were let got as part of a larger layoff - however her firing came as a shock to many given her general popularity as a reporter.

"It’s so extraordinary," one insider told the NY Post, adding that the files most likely contain confidential materials from Herridge's time at both Fox and CBS.

According to the source who called the move 'unprecedented,' the network boxed up all her stuff and told her they would decide what, if anything, would be returned to her.

"They never seize documents [when you’re let go]," a second source told the outlet. "They want to see what damaging documents she has."

A network spokesperson pushed back - telling the Post: "We have respected her request to not go through the files, and out of our concern for confidential sources, the office she occupied has remained secure since her departure," adding "We are prepared to pack up the rest of her files immediately on her behalf – with her representative present as she requested."

Sources feared the network’s actions could have an impact on Herridge’s First Amendment case because her documents may contain privileged conversations she had with her lawyers or the identities of sources.

Herridge is under fire for not complying with US District Judge Christopher Cooper’s order to reveal how she learned about a federal probe into a Chinese American scientist who operated a graduate program in Virginia. -NY Post

Herridge may also be held in contempt of court for refusing to divulge her source for a Fox News investigative piece in 2017, and could be ordered to pay fines of as much as $5,000 per day.

According to the Post, Herridge clashed with CBS execs over her Hunter Biden coverage - particularly CBS News President Ingrid-Ciprian Matthews who was previously investigated for (and cleared of) hiring discrimination.

The Post's second source suggested that Herridge's files may contain information that could support a wrongful termination lawsuit.

"She was pursuing stories that were unwelcomed by the Biden White House and many Democratic powerhouses, including the Hur report on Joe Biden’s diminished mental capacity, the Biden corruption scandal and the Hunter Biden laptop," legal scholar Jonathan Turley wrote in The Hill.

According to Turley, CBS' "heavy-handed" approach with Herridge and her files is "dead wrong."

It's also 'deeply concerning' to SAG-AFTRA, which represents CBS staffers.

"This action is deeply concerning concerning to the union because it sets a dangerous precedent for all media professionals and threatens the very foundation of the First Amendment," the union told the Post.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 18:05

Why Possible Trump VP Pick Tulsi Gabbard Is Visiting Mar-a-Lago Soon

Why Possible Trump VP Pick Tulsi Gabbard Is Visiting Mar-a-Lago Soon

Authored by Janice Hisle via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

All of a sudden, people are abuzz over a small nonprofit’s fundraiser at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club–because it features possible Trump VP pick Tulsi Gabbard.

Tulsi Gabbard attends a live taping of "Hannity" at Fox News Channel Studios in New York City, on Sept. 13, 2023. (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Event organizer Joni Bryan told The Epoch Times she is happy that the program supporting her Constitution-awareness group, the 917 Society, is getting more exposure. The group is named after Constitution Day, Sept. 17.

But—spoiler alert—Ms. Bryan asserts: the former Hawaii congresswoman’s March 7 appearance at the ritzy resort in Palm Beach, Florida, is unrelated to President Trump’s big announcement involving Ms. Gabbard and others.

On Feb. 20, President Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, revealed at a Fox News town hall in Greenville, S.C., that Ms. Gabbard, a former Democrat, had made his “short list” of possible running mates.

Long before that revelation, Ms. Bryan had been in contact with Ms. Gabbard about serving as a guest speaker for the group’s annual gala.

Online, some people have suggested that, by appearing at Mar-a-Lago, Ms. Gabbard was becoming more directly aligned with President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) movement.

That may or may not be the case, Ms. Bryan said, adding, “We want every American to be proud of the Constitution. That’s not a MAGA thing. That’s an American thing.”

Personal Meeting With 45

Ms. Gabbard made an unsuccessful run for president in 2020 as a Democrat, when former Vice President Joe Biden became her party’s nominee. He went on to be declared the victor of the matchup with President Trump, an outcome that many dispute to this day.

In 2022, Ms. Gabbard quit the Democratic Party because she was fed up with its increasingly radical, “woke” ideology. In recent months, Ms. Gabbard has been critical of Democrats’ various attempts to keep President Trump off the 2024 general election ballot.

Adding fuel to the VP speculation, Ms. Gabbard spoke of her admiration for the former president during a Feb. 22 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C.

She said President Trump’s sole remaining GOP challenger, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, has cast President Trump in a false light.

“She claims that President Trump only cares about himself and that he’s doing all that he’s doing only for himself,” Ms. Gabbard said. “If that were the case, wouldn’t he just walk away from all this? Walk away from the headaches and the attacks, and all the stress that he’s enduring right now?”

Ms. Gabbard said she has met with the 45th president and has spoken with him “at length.” She also said she has witnessed “his heartfelt interactions” with her military friends.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet members of the US military during a stop at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, on Dec. 27, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

“And I’ve seen how he has touched their hearts and moved them to tears as he expressed his appreciation for their service and their sacrifice—no cameras, no crowds, just that heartfelt conveyance of appreciation.”

She said her interactions with President Trump have given her insights about “what motivates him.”

“And it’s got nothing to do with what the Washington establishment is accusing him of,” she said, calling him a fighter who shows “strength and resilience.”

Reasons for Mar-a-Lago Invite

Ms. Bryan said she got the idea to ask Ms. Gabbard to speak for the 917 Society’s Celebrating the Constitution event because she is a military veteran and has been an outspoken defender of the Constitution.

Ms. Gabbard was able to fit the program into her schedule this year—and the date has been set for months, Ms. Bryan said.

On Feb. 22, some media outlets trumpeted that a source had “exclusively” provided a copy of the 917 Society’s invitation to Ms. Gabbard’s speech. But the event hasn’t been kept secret. The group’s Facebook page has been promoting Ms. Gabbard’s speech since at least Jan. 27.

Ms. Bryan said The Epoch Times was the first media outlet to contact her and ask how the program came together.

Group’s Message Suppressed

In any case, Ms. Bryan said she is grateful to see the word spreading about her group’s event, thanks to the lucky timing of President Trump’s revelation.

Generally, she said, her group’s social media posts get little traction online because the word, “Constitution,” has somehow become controversial. Ms. Bryan sees evidence that the group’s posts are censored and “shadow-banned,” or suppressed.

The group raises money to put printed copies of the Constitution into the hands of schoolchildren and find fun ways to educate them about it, Ms. Bryan said.

A portion of the ticket price for the Mar-a-Lago event is tax-deductible; information is available at the917society.org. The event also features another former presidential candidate, conservative commentator Larry Elder.

“We want people to honor the Constitution,” Ms. Bryan said. “We’re trying to unify our country around it.”

The Nashville woman and a handful of volunteers run the group. She says it’s surprising how few Americans understand the Constitution or have even read it through a single time.

Ms. Bryan said her own lack of familiarity with the Constitution became painfully apparent about a decade ago, when a civil rights attorney asked her if she had ever read the document. She was forced to admit that she hadn’t.

That experience inspired Ms. Bryan to start the 917 Society.

The way that Ms. Gabbard has spoken out about the Constitution fits perfectly with the 917 Society’s mission, Ms. Bryan said.

In 2021, Ms. Gabbard criticized congressional leaders for targeting “domestic terrorists” in ways that were undermining people’s constitutional rights.

Shocking Experience

During a speech last year at a conservative gathering, Ms. Gabbard recounted the surprising way that her Democrat colleagues reacted to a Constitution-related activity during her first year in Congress, 2013.

As a freshman congresswoman, she responded to an invitation to participate in the annual Constitution Day reading of the nation’s foundational document into the Congressional Record. She was pleased to be part of that reminder of the oath that leaders take to uphold the Constitution.

Yet few of her Democrat colleagues showed up. When she asked why, Ms. Gabbard said she got a response that was “disheartening” and “shocking:” Democrats told her they didn’t participate because “that’s a right-wing, Republican thing” to do.

Ms. Gabbard ran for president as a Democrat in 2020. But she has become increasingly aligned with the views of today’s Republicans and political conservatives. In late 2022, Ms. Gabbard announced that she was leaving the Democrat party.

Almost immediately after that, people started speculating that President Trump might choose her as his potential vice president. Greg Gutfeld, a host of Fox News’ “The Five” commentary show, was among the earliest adopters of the “Gabbard-for-VP” theory.

Mr. Gutfeld commended Ms. Gabbard for her individualism, her “achievements and ideas,” rather than “skin color and where she was born ... [or] whatever her background is.” She stands out as “different,” he said, and “I think she’s going to be Trump’s VP. So that’s where this is going.”

Others have stated that Ms. Gabbard might be a good choice for a military-related cabinet post.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 17:30

Two Americans Feared Dead After Yacht Hijacked In Caribbean

Two Americans Feared Dead After Yacht Hijacked In Caribbean

Authorities in the Caribbean nation of Grenada believe three escaped prisoners hijacked a yacht and killed two Americans in the process as they sailed from Grenada to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Police in Grenada said Thursday that a preliminary investigation "suggests" after the three male prisoners escaped jail on Sunday, they hijacked a catamaran in St. George, Grenada, CNN reports. 

Police are "currently working on leads that suggest that the two occupants of the yacht may have been killed in the process," authorities stated, adding, "It is believed that the occupants of the yacht were American citizens."

The Royal Grenada Police Force released images of the escaped prisoners who are now in police custody after the catamaran was found abandoned in Saint Vincent. 

In a separate report, Fox 5 DC said the American couple is from northern Virginia: 

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel have been known to take trips to go cruising around Grenada. Their family told FOX 5 this is something they always do – live on their boat during the winter months. It's an escape from their home in Falls Church, Virginia. 

Suellen Desmarais, Ralph Hendry's sister, is still trying to figure out what exactly happened on the vessel. She told Fox 5 that she's keeping faith the two are alive. 

A US State Department spokesperson told CNN: "We are aware of these reports involving US citizens. We are monitoring the situation and seeking additional information." 

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 16:55

Former Panama Border Chief: UN Is Behind The Chaos At U.S.–Mexico Border

Former Panama Border Chief: UN Is Behind The Chaos At U.S.–Mexico Border

Authored by Darlene McCormick Sanchez via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The former director of Panama’s border patrol told The Epoch Times that the United Nations’ migration agenda is behind the chaos at the U.S. southern border and that U.N. partners are making things worse instead of better.

(Illustration by The Epoch Times, Getty Images, Bobby Sanchez for The Epoch Times)

Oriel Ortega, now a security and defense consultant to Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo, said during a Feb. 22 interview that he saw a jump in migration in 2016, at the same time that more nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) moved into Panama.

That increase corresponded with the U.N.’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration meeting in 2016. Two years later, 152 nations—including Panama—voted in favor of the compact to manage global migration. The United States voted against it.

But under the U.N., the migration process has been anything but orderly, Mr. Ortega said.

It’s completely opposite right now,” he said through an interpreter.

Documents show that in 2023, a record 500,000 migrants traveled through the dense jungle known as the Darien Gap from Colombia into Panama. Migrants from around the world are flying into South and Central America to start their journey because countries such as Suriname and Ecuador don’t require a visa to enter. Their final destination is the United States.

The book “Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy,” written by Kelly Greenhill, suggests that weaker countries are using migration to destabilize their more powerful adversaries.

Joseph Humire is the executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society and an expert on unconventional warfare. He told The Epoch Times that he believes that’s what Americans are seeing at the U.S. southern border now.

“This isn’t a conspiracy theory,” he said; the “invasion” at the U.S. southern border is “strategic engineered migration.”

Mr. Ortega agreed that the NGOs have “exacerbated” mass migration problems.

“Instead of helping, they’re being part of the problem,” he said. “It’s not the migrants themselves that are creating a national threat; it is the organized crime, and it is these international organizations.”

At the Lajas Blancas camp in Panama, migrants have access to a number of large maps provided by NGOs that display detailed migration routes heading to the United States. One map is from HIAS, an NGO founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which recently received $11 million from the United States in two grants awarded for Latin American migrants.

Migrants from Venezuela line up to get registered into Bajo Chiquito camp in the Darien Gap, Panama. (Bobby Sanchez for The Epoch Times)

The HIAS map shows the migration route from Colombia to Costa Rica, including detailed bus stops, temperatures, altitudes, and “migration kiosk” locations.

The Epoch Times visited all four migrant camps in the Darien Gap this week, speaking with migrants from China, Somalia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, and others who hiked out of the treacherous jungle leading from Colombia into Panama.

Many suffered from infections and injuries such as trench foot and broken limbs. Several complained that the water was untreated at the camps and that they lacked basic items such as diapers.

Migrants also told The Epoch Times that the NGO staff, several of which are funded by U.S. taxpayer money, only visited the camps for several hours each day.

I do not know where the funds are going,” Mr. Ortega said of the NGOs when told about complaints from migrants. “The funds are supposed to be there to help the migrants.

The only NGO workers spotted during the weekend of Feb. 17–18 were with the Red Cross, which was building a temporary structure for their workers, and Doctors Without Borders, whose medics were speaking with migrants.

The NGOs should be educating and helping migrants in their own countries, not Panama, Mr. Ortega said.

Read more here...

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 16:20

New Cell Phone Records Prove DA Willis Affair

New Cell Phone Records Prove DA Willis Affair

Authored by Techno Fog via The Reactionary,

The lawyers for President Trump have Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade’s cell phone records. And it’s bad for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

The official story from the Fulton County DA and her former lover Nathan Wade, made through sworn filings and sworn testimony, was that their “personal relationship” started in 2022.

In a February 2, 2022 filing, DA Willis submitted Wade’s affidavit to the Court which stated: “In 2022, District Attorney Willis and I developed a personal relationship.” DA Willis and Wade both testified that the relationship started sometime in early 2022.

But Wade’s cell phone records disprove their official story. In a filing this morning from President Trump’s attorneys, records indicate that the “relationship” between DA Willis and Wade was romantic well-before Wade’s November 1, 2021 appointment by Willis as Special Prosecutor.

Trump’s attorneys were able to obtain, by subpoena to AT&T, Wade’s cell phone records from 1/1/2021 through 11/30/2021. Wade’s location data was analyzed by an investigator hired by the attorneys - an analytical tool which generated geolocation data that pinpointed Wade’s presence at DA Willis’s South Fulton Condo during that time period.

Here are the highlights:

  • Wade and Willis exchanged “over 2000 voice calls and just under 12,000 texts messages” from January 1, 2021 through November 30, 2021.

  • Geolocation data indicates Wade was at DA Willis’s condo "at least 35 occasions”. The data revealed he was “stationary” at the condo “and not in transit.”

  • Wade’s visits to DA Willis’s condo were corroborated by texts and phone calls. According to the report: On November 29, 2021, “following a call from Ms. Willis at 11:32 PM, while the call continued, [Wade’s] phone left the East Cobb area just after midnight and arrived within the geofence located on the Dogwood address [the condo] at 12:43 AM on November 30, 2021. The phone remained there until 4:55 AM.”

  • On September 11, 2021, Wade arrived at the condo address at approximately 10:45 PM. He left the address at 3:28 AM and arrived at his Marietta residence at 4:05 AM. He then texted DA Willis at 4:20 AM.

It’s important to note that Trump’s investigator is under a serious time constraint, due to the nature of the proceedings before Judge Scott McAfee, and wasn’t able to analyze all of the Wade/Willis data, which he described as voluminous. The two visits listed above - those are just a small fraction of the 35+ trips that Wade made to DA Willis’s condo. If his review continues, then more revelations will follow.

The extensive communications between DA Willis and Wade - the thousands of calls and tens of thousands of texts - indicate something more than what they described as a friendship. And combined with the late-night visits, with Wade appearing at her apartment for a few hours before heading home, this is definitive proof that their romantic relationship started long before what they told the Judge.

We don’t like to go out on a limb - but these records are a game changer. Previously, we discussed whether Judge McAfee would determine whether there was an appearance of impropriety, given the conflicting testimony from witnesses about the romantic relationship.

Now?

These records are sufficient to erase any doubt in Judge McAfee’s mind. They support the testimony of Robin Yeartie, DA Willis’s former friend who testified that there was “no doubt” the relationship started before Wade became Special Prosecutor. They contradict the testimony from DA Willis and Wade. In other words, these records - which will likely be more thoroughly analyzed to show more damning late-night visits - make disqualification a likelihood, not just a possibility. (Although a likelihood still is guaranteed.)

But disqualification would just be the start.

Wade’s cell phone records also increase the exposure of DA Willis and Nathan Wade for criminal charges charges - including perjury/false statements, depending on the prosecutor. (Easy to imagine that a Democrat prosecutor wouldn’t take the case...) At a minimum, DA Willis and Wade face an increased potential for severe punishment from the Georgia Bar, whether suspension of their law licenses, disbarment, or other sanctions.

Like we said, a game changer.

Subscribe to The Reactionary here...

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 16:05

Rolling Disaster: Ford Halts 2024 F-150 Lightning Shipments

Rolling Disaster: Ford Halts 2024 F-150 Lightning Shipments

Automotive News was the first to report Ford Motor Co. halted shipments of all 2024 F-150 Lightning electric pickup trucks for an undisclosed quality control issue just weeks after slashing production volumes for the EV model due to sliding demand. 

A Ford spokesperson did not explain the reasons behind the quality check, but shipments of Lightnings have been halted since Feb. 9. Even with shipments paused, production of the Lightnings continues at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan. 

"We expect to ramp up shipments in the coming weeks as we complete thorough launch quality checks to ensure these new F-150s meet our high standards and delight customers," company spokeswoman Emma Bergg wrote in a statement. 

Last month, Ford announced plans to slash the Lightning production in April "to achieve the optimal balance of production, sales growth and profitability."

The automaker (and many others, like Mercedes Benz) is recalibrating its electric vehicle strategy as the Biden administration plans to downshift the EV transition as demand plummets.

Thousands of auto dealers nationwide recently warned the 'climate change warriors' in the White House: the 2030 EV push is backfiring. 

"Currently, there are many excellent battery electric vehicles available for consumers to purchase. These vehicles are ideal for many people, and we believe their appeal will grow over time. The reality, however, is that electric vehicle demand today is not keeping up with the large influx of BEVs arriving at our dealerships prompted by the current regulations. BEVs are stacking up on our lots," the dealers said. 

They warned: "Already, electric vehicles are stacking up on our lots which is our best indicator of customer demand in the marketplace." 

A recent note by RBC analyst Tom Narayan said the EV slowdown is far from over:

"Key takeaways thus far from earnings season are that the EV slowdown is not showing any evidence of an inflection, Level 4 autonomy headwinds continue to persist, and fears over supplier inventory overbuild are likely overblown.

Analyst Adam Jonas at Morgan Stanley suggested consolidation is coming to the industry:

Given that Biden's 2030 EV mandate is in full collapse, the downturn in the EV space will likely continue through the second half of this year. 

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 15:45

Biden's Approval Drops To 38% On Mishandling Of Immigration, Middle East And Ukraine Crises

Biden's Approval Drops To 38% On Mishandling Of Immigration, Middle East And Ukraine Crises

By Megan Brenan of Gallup

Americans’ approval of President Joe Biden’s job performance has edged down three percentage points to 38%, just one point shy of his all-time low and well below the 50% threshold that has typically led to reelection for incumbents.

In addition, Biden registers subpar approval ratings for his handling of five key issues facing the U.S., including a new low of 28% for immigration and readings ranging from 30% to 40% for the situation in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, foreign affairs, the economy and the situation in Ukraine.

Biden’s approval rating has not risen above 44% since August 2021, and his 39.8% average rating for his third year in office was the second worst among post-World War II presidents elected to their first term.

Economic Approval Up Slightly; Democrats Down on Immigration

Approval of Biden’s handling of the economy is up a modest four points among U.S. adults since November, while his ratings on the other issues have not significantly changed from the prior readings in November (and August for immigration). Positive U.S. economic news on several fronts continued during Gallup’s Feb. 1-20 field period, including low unemployment, subdued inflation and record stock market values.

Democrats largely approve of Biden’s handling of the economy (75%), the situation in Ukraine (72%) and foreign affairs (69%). However, bare majorities of Democrats approve of the president’s handling of immigration (55%) and the Middle East situation (51%). Biden’s ratings among Democrats have dipped on the situations in the Middle East (-9 points) and Ukraine (-6 points) and on immigration (-7 points).

Meanwhile, Biden has gained some ground among independents on the economy (+6 points to 30%). Still, their ratings on this and other issues are weak -- ranging from 23% for the Middle East situation to 34% for the Ukraine situation.

Few Republicans express approval for Biden on any of the issues measured, with immigration (3%) and the economy (4%) the worst and the Middle East (17%) and Ukraine (16%) situations the best. Republicans’ ratings for Biden’s handling of immigration have dropped six points since August. A recent Gallup poll found that the immigration issue, specifically, is the top reason those who disapprove of Biden give for why they evaluate his performance negatively.

Democrats’ Overall Approval of Biden Stable

Democrats’ latest overall job rating of Biden is steady at 82% -- higher than they give him for any specific issue. However, the 82% overall approval is far from the nearly unanimous approval he earned from his party during his first 11 months in office, but it is unchanged compared with November, even as his issue ratings are mostly down.

Biden’s approval rating from political independents is fairly steady at 32%, and he continues to register single-digit Republican approval (3%). His approval ratings from both independents and Republicans have edged down three points since January.

Bottom Line

Biden’s overall job rating has slipped to 38%, and his ratings on immigration, the Israel-Hamas situation, foreign affairs and the economy are even lower. He has lost some ground among his party in recent months on immigration and the situations in the Middle East and Ukraine, though his overall rating hasn’t dropped among Democrats.

Looking ahead to November, history suggests that Biden has significant work to do to improve his approval rating among independents as well as Democrats if he is to win a second term.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 15:10

Navalny's Body Finally Released To Mother Amid Controversy Over Public Moscow Funeral 

Navalny's Body Finally Released To Mother Amid Controversy Over Public Moscow Funeral 

Anti-Putin activist Alexei Navalny died in a far norther arctic Russian prison on February 16, but since then his family has complained that authorities would not release his body in a timely manner. Russian authorities have listed his death as from "natural causes" - but few other details were given.

His mother starting early last week traveled to the remote IK-3 penal in Kharp, which lies some 1,900 km (1200 miles) northeast of Moscow. She said that prison officials were refusing to hand over her deceased son. But on Saturday Kira Yarmysh, a longtime representative of Navalny, announced in a statement on X, "Alexei’s body was given to his mother. Thank you very much to everyone who demanded this with us."

Via Reuters

Referencing the opposition leader's mother, she said: "While Lyudmila Ivanovna is in Salekhard. The funeral is yet to come. We don’t know whether the authorities will intervene with carrying them out the way the family wants and as Alexey deserves. We will provide information as it becomes available."

Last Monday prison officials offered as the reason for the delayed transfer an apparent ongoing autopsy procedure which involved a "chemical examination" for up to 14 days, but the statement was unclear and ambiguous as to the purpose.

The listed cause of death has since been revealed as "sudden death syndrome" - a term generally used in Russian prisons to describe cardiac-related issues including heart attack.

Both his widow and legal team have laid blame ultimately on President Putin and Kremlin authorities for his untimely death in the high-secure Russian prison, which lies in an Arctic Circle area of harsh conditions. Western media such as CNN have been calling the place of his prior confinement a "gulag" - in order to conjure images of brutal Soviet times.

Several European countries including Poland have summoned the resident Russian ambassadors to demand an explanation and condemn his arrest, trial and death.

Navalny's team has accused Russian authorities of intentionally delaying the release of his body in order to block a public funeral and burial, fearing it would become a large anti-Putin event and trigger broader protests. We've previously noted the curious timing of Navalny's death, global media coverage, and controversy in the aftermath.

On Friday the US and EU slapped some of the biggest single wave of sanctions on Russian entities connected with the defense industry since the start of the war. They explained the punitive measures are in part due to Navalny's imprisonment and death.

Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and so likely his funeral will coincide with the grim reminder of the war's start. His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, is already being hailed by Western officials and in media as Russia's new opposition leader. President Biden also met with her Thursday

President Joe Biden met with the widow of Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, and their daughter, Dasha, in California on Thursday, less than a week after her husband died in a Russian prison.

"I had the honor of meeting with Alexei Navalny’s wife and daughter and to state the obvious: He was a man of incredible courage and it’s amazing how his wife and daughter are emulating that," he told reporters. "We’re going to be announcing sanctions against Putin, who is responsible for his death, tomorrow."

Earlier last week Navalny's mother addressed the situation in a video put out by his legal team...

Likely his funeral will be held in Moscow, but no date has been set. His mother days ago said that Russian authorities were pressuring her into having a "secret funeral". She said they wanted her to agree to this before receiving his body, however, she's remained resistant to giving into what his supporters have condemned as 'blackmail' by the Russian government.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 14:35

The Money Machine Behind Progressive Election Efforts

The Money Machine Behind Progressive Election Efforts

Authored by Austin Alonzo via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Arabella Advisors is the biggest name in politics you’ve never heard.

CEO of Koch Industries Charles Koch (3rd-R) and Fontainebleau officials take part in a ribbon cutting in Las Vegas on Dec. 13, 2023. (Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Fontainebleau Las Vegas)

The firm is deeply involved with some of the most prominent financiers of progressive policies and Democratic Party candidates. It manages a complex network of tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations that quietly funnels money to progressive organizations, political action committees, and the campaigns of Democratic Party candidates.

In 2020 and 2022, according to federal election finance filings and nonprofit tax forms, groups linked to Arabella were active in financing Democrats and left-leaning get-out-the-vote efforts. A leader of one of the funds connected to Arabella has already promised to keep up their efforts in 2024.

Arabella Advisors is a private, Washington-based for-profit corporation. In its 2020 report, it says it provides “administrative services to nonprofits working to build a better world and [help] philanthropists on their journeys from idea to impact.”

Arabella didn’t respond to requests for comment by The Epoch Times.

Its website says its clients include families and individuals, foundations, nonprofits, and corporations. It doesn’t disclose financial records or details of its activities outside of so-called annual impact reports.

The latest such report, reflecting its activities in 2021 and 2022, said it worked to “deploy more than half a billion dollars in grants to more than 2,800 grantees working in more than 100 countries and almost every state in the United States.”

The report also shows evidence of Arabella’s political leanings. It lists defending democracy and elevating equity as part of “how it helps.”

In a December 2023 hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) described Arabella as “a key part of the Democrat Party’s political infrastructure in recent years.”

Mr. Smith asked about the amount of money allegedly flowing into Arabella from foreign sources. In his testimony, Capital Research Center President Scott Walter said one donor in particular, Swiss medical device billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, is sending millions of dollars to Arabella-linked groups through his nonprofit organizations the Wyss Foundation and the Berger Action Fund.

Our country is increasingly polarized in many ways, but we possess near-universal agreement that foreigners and foreign money should not meddle in our politics,” Mr. Walter said.

In November 2023, Arabella named Himesh Bhise, formerly a telecom executive, as its CEO. He replaced Sampriti Ganguli, who, according to her LinkedIn page, left the organization in December 2022 after she moved from CEO to become a part-time senior adviser.

In November 2021, Ms. Ganguli said in an interview with The Atlantic that Arabella is the American left’s equivalent to the conservative mega-donor Charles Koch. She is now an independent consultant in Arlington, Virginia.

Mr. Bhise, according to political donor records maintained by watchdog organization OpenSecrets, made small donations to Democrat candidates between 2008 and 2018.

The Nonprofit Funds

According to nonprofit tax forms reviewed by The Epoch Times, Arabella is paid to provide the administrative, operations, and management services for six politically active tax-exempt funds: New Venture Fund, Sixteen Thirty Fund, Hopewell Fund, Windward Fund, North Fund, and Impetus Fund.

In 2020, in the run-up to the general election between now-President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, those groups funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations that were intimately involved in a myriad of activities, including efforts to get out the vote, facilitate mail-in voting, explicitly oppose President Trump’s campaign, or support President Biden’s campaign.

The nonprofit organizations are required to file a Form 990 return with the IRS at the end of their fiscal year or the calendar year. However, it reflects the activities of the prior year. Americans, therefore, won’t know what the Arabella-linked funds were up to in 2024 until the end of 2025 at the earliest.

Influencing the 2020 Election

Collectively, the Arabella-linked funds spent about $1.4 billion in fiscal 2020. The groups sent more than $48 million back to Arabella for their services.

The Epoch Times reviewed dozens of 990s and Federal Election Commission filings associated with groups that admitted they were involved in a so-called “shadow campaign” in 2020.

In February 2021, Time published an article, “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election,” that detailed how a group of powerful people “across industries and ideologies” worked behind the scenes to “influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage, and control the flow of information.”

Time called the so-called shadow campaign a mission to fortify the 2020 election. Those who were quoted in the story said they worked to send hundreds of millions of dollars to poll workers and operatives aiming to get people to vote by mail for the first time. An Epoch Times analysis published in January showed that the campaign was focused on promoting Democratic candidates.

Voters cast their ballots at official ballot boxes in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 8, 2022. (Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images)

In 2020, the Arabella-linked funds sent about $218 million toward groups that were directly involved in the efforts against President Trump and other Republican candidates, according to IRS records.

The organizations said they were, and are still, working to protect democracy. A financial analysis shows that when they received money from an Arabella-linked fund in 2020, it almost always went toward efforts to stop either President Trump or another Republican candidate.

Read more here...

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 14:00

Berkshire Cash Hits Record $168BN But Warns Days Of "Eye-Popping" Results Are Over: Highlights From Buffett's 2023 Letter

Berkshire Cash Hits Record $168BN But Warns Days Of "Eye-Popping" Results Are Over: Highlights From Buffett's 2023 Letter

One of the longest running traditions in modern finance is that every year, one Saturday morning in late February, the world's financial class - from professionals to mere amateurs - sit down as they have for the past 65 or so years - for an hour and read the latest Berkshire annual letter written by Warren Buffett in which the man seen by many as the world's greatest investor wrote down his reflections, observations, aphorisms and other thoughts which are closely parsed and analyzed for insight into what he may do next, what he thinks of the current economy and market climate, or simply for insights into how to become a better investor. And with Buffett's long-time investing partner, Charlie Munger, having recently passed away just shy of his 100th birthday and Buffett himself now 93, every such letter may well be the last, which is why - even though their informational content and signal-to-noise ratio has been severely diluted over the year - they are read just as obsessively as they were when Buffett was in his prime.

Which brings us to the latest Berkshire annual report and accompanying letter, which - at 16 pages close in at a good six pages more than last year's edition - was somewhat of a downer as the Omaha billionaire is quick to warn Berkshire's shareholders that his massive $900 billion conglomerate, whose share price just close at a new all time high, has “no possibility of eye-popping performance” in the years ahead, which is also why the company's cash pile hit a new record high of $167.6 billion, as Buffett reiterated that there were very few deals that offer the kind of transformative impact past takeovers have had, such as its purchases of insurers Geico and National Indemnity or the BNSF railroad.

"There remain only a handful of companies in this country capable of truly moving the needle at Berkshire, and they have been endlessly picked over by us and by others. Some we can value; some we can’t. And, if we can, they have to be attractively priced. Outside the U.S., there are essentially no candidates that are meaningful options for capital deployment at Berkshire. All in all, we have no possibility of eye-popping performance", he wrote.

It is a problem that Buffett has been staring down for almost a decade as the growth of Berkshire’s operations and cash levels have compounded. That however did not prevent the company from reporting another stellar quarter, and in Q4 2023, Berkshire reported quarterly net income more than doubled to $37.574 billion, or $26,043 per Class A share, from $18.8 billion, or $12,355 per share, a year earlier.

Of course, as is well-known, Buffett despises GAAP earnings and instead urges investors to look at operating earnings instead which strip away the quarterly fluctuations of the conglomerate's public stock investments (i.e. unrealized gains/losses). This is what he wrote last year.

The GAAP earnings are 100% misleading when viewed quarterly or even annually. Capital gains, to be sure, have been hugely important to Berkshire over past decades, and we expect them to be meaningfully positive in future decades. But their quarter-by-quarter gyrations, regularly and mindlessly headlined by media, totally misinform investors.

Buffett did not fail to take a stab at "net earnings" this year either, and addressing those who seek the "proverbial bottom line labeled Net earnings", he writes that "The numbers read $90 billion for 2021, ($23 billion) for 2022 and $96 billion for 2023. What in the world is going on?"

You seek guidance and are told that the procedures for calculating these “earnings” are promulgated by a sober and credentialed Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”), mandated by a dedicated and hard-working Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and audited by the world-class professionals at Deloitte & Touche (“D&T”). On page K-67, D&T pulls no punches: “In our opinion, the financial statements . . . . . present fairly, in all material respects (italics mine), the financial position of the Company . . . . . and the results of its operations . . . . . for each of the three years in the period ended December 31, 2023 . . . . .” So sanctified, this worse-than-useless “net income” figure quickly gets transmitted throughout the world via the internet and media. All parties believe they have done their job – and, legally, they have.

We, however, are left uncomfortable. At Berkshire, our view is that “earnings” should be a sensible concept that Bertie will find somewhat useful – but only as a starting point – in evaluating a business. Accordingly, Berkshire also reports to Bertie and you what we call “operating earnings.” Here is the story they tell: $27.6 billion for 2021; $30.9 billion for 2022 and $37.4 billion for 2023.

Yet while he did bash GAAP treatment of net income, he had a far more glowing view of the company's GAAP assessment of its balance sheet:

Berkshire now has – by far – the largest GAAP net worth recorded by any American business. Record operating income and a strong stock market led to a year-end figure of $561 billion. The total GAAP net worth for the other 499 S&P companies – a who’s who of American business – was $8.9 trillion in 2022. (The 2023 number for the S&P has not yet been tallied but is unlikely to materially exceed $9.5 trillion.)

Turning to Berkshire's preferred metric for Q4, Berkshire generated operating earnings of $8.48 billion, versus $6.63 billion for the same period a year earlier, helped by an increase in insurance underwriting earnings and investment income amid higher interest rates and milder weather. 

Berkshire’s earnings are always closely watched as a proxy for US economic health because of the wide-ranging nature of his businesses — from railroad BNSF, Geico and Dairy Queen. That also makes the company particularly susceptible to higher interest rates, which can crimp demand, and Buffett warned in May last year that earnings at most of its operations would fall in 2023 as an “incredible period” for the US economy draws to an end.

Indeed, while the company's core insurance-linked businesses once again outperformed - as earnings from insurance underwriting jumped to $848 million for the period from $160 million in the same quarter a year earlier and Geico posted full-year pretax underwriting earnings of $3.64 billion compared to a loss in 2022 after it raised premiums and received fewer claims -  Berkshire noted that operating earnings from its railroad operations fell to $1.36 billion for the quarter, versus $1.47 billion for the same period a year earlier. Operating earnings from utilities and energy also fell to $632 million from $739 million.

“Our insurance business performed exceptionally well last year, setting records in sales, float and underwriting profits,” Buffett said in the shareholder letter. “We have much room to grow.”

Berkshire also repurchased $2.2 billion of its own stock in Q4, and boosted full-year buybacks to $9.2 billion. Buffett noted that investors' "indirect ownership of both Coke and AMEX increased a bit last year because of share repurchases we made at Berkshire. Such repurchases work to increase your participation in every asset that Berkshire owns. To this obvious but often overlooked truth, I add my usual caveat: All stock repurchases should be price-dependent. What is sensible at a discount to business-value becomes stupid if done at a premium."

“Buffett is observing a lack of attractive opportunities — and with a rise in Berkshire’s share price, even repurchasing its own shares is less attractive,” Jim Shanahan, an analyst with Edward Jones told Bloomberg. “But that’s his pattern: Nothing will really happen and then he goes big.”

With buybacks well below levels reached during 2020-2021 when Buffett went on a stock repurchasing spree, and even though Berkshire spent billions acquiring truck-stop operator Pilot Flying J and insurance conglomerate Alleghany in recent years, adding them to a portfolio that includes ice cream purveyor Dairy Queen and utility behemoth Berkshire Hathaway Energy, those outlays put only a minimal dent in Berkshire’s cash pile, which continues to climb. It hit a record $167.6 billion at the end of 2023, up $10 billion in the quarter, and up $39 billion over the course of the year.

The cash mountain was so large that interest income alone in 2023 would be around $7.5 billion assuming the company earned a 5% interest on its $150 billion average cash hoard over the year.

“Size did us in, though increased competition for purchases was also a factor,” Buffett said. “For a while, we had an abundance of candidates to evaluate. If I missed one — and I missed plenty — another always came along. Those days are long behind us.”

That said, Buffett has a long history of stepping in to aid firms in crisis, leveraging his cult investing status and financial heft to help them restore confidence and rebound from their difficulties. In his letter, Buffett said Berkshire is ready to step in should financial disaster strike, noting such market seizures may offer it an “occasional large-scale opportunity.” That’s a tacit reminder from Buffett that problems do arise, according to Cole Smead, president of investment firm Smead Capital Management.

“Buffett is whispering when he used a megaphone in the past,” Smead said. “He’s whispering: Be very careful — problems do arise. He’s saying we’ll be ready, but that Berkshire will only be a buyer when no one else is a buyer.”

But while the odds of a transformative deal may be gone (until the next crisis at least), Buffett believes that “Berkshire should do a bit better than the average American corporation and, more important, should also operate with materially less risk of permanent loss of capital. Anything beyond “slightly better,” though, is wishful thinking."

Whether "slightly better" is enough for Buffett shareholders remains to be seen: to be sure, the all time high in the stock is easing any concerns, but the recent passing of Berkshire’s acerbic sidekick has turned investors’ attention towards the company’s prospects without Buffett at its helm. Greg Abel, Buffett’s anointed successor, and Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, his investment deputies, are lined up to steer the giant. They have a very tough act to follow. Since 1964, Berkshire shares have returned 4,384,748%, a CAGR of 19.8%, far outstripping the 31,233% gain - and double the 10.2% CAGR - by the benchmark S&P 500.

One final point: this was the first time Berkshire reported earnings since Charlie Munger, Berkshire’s vice chairman and Buffett’s long-time sidekick and investing partner, died at 99 last November. Buffett devoted much of the letter to praising Munger’s role in creating the sprawling firm, calling him the “architect” of the company and referring to himself as the person “in charge of the construction crew.” Together the pair would hold court at Berkshire’s annual meetings in a crowded Omaha sports arena, opining on topics ranging from stock markets to cryptocurrency and even life and success.

“Come to Berkshire’s annual gathering on May 4, 2024,” Buffett said in the letter. “On stage you will see the three managers who now bear the prime responsibilities for steering your company,” he said, referring to himself, Ajit Jain and Greg Abel. Jain runs Berkshire’s insurance businesses and Abel — Buffett’s anointed successor-in-waiting — oversees the non-insurance operations.

Financials aside, here are some of the notable highlights from Buffett's annual letter to investors.

On what Berkshire does (well):

Our goal at Berkshire is simple: We want to own either all or a portion of businesses that enjoy good economics that are fundamental and enduring. Within capitalism, some businesses will flourish for a very long time while others will prove to be sinkholes. It’s harder than you would think to predict which will be the winners and losers. And those who tell you they know the answer are usually either self-delusional or snake-oil salesmen.

At Berkshire, we particularly favor the rare enterprise that can deploy additional capital at high returns in the future. Owning only one of these companies – and simply sitting tight – can deliver wealth almost beyond measure. Even heirs to such a holding can – ugh! – sometimes live a lifetime of leisure

On finding attractive investments:

This combination of the two necessities I’ve described for acquiring businesses has for long been our goal in purchases and, for a while, we had an abundance of candidates to evaluate. If I missed one – and I missed plenty – another always came along. Those days are long behind us; size did us in, though increased competition for purchases was also a factor.

On managing expectations:

There remain only a handful of companies in this country capable of truly moving the needle at Berkshire, and they have been endlessly picked over by us and by others. Some we can value; some we can’t. And, if we can, they have to be attractively priced. Outside the U.S., there are essentially no candidates that are meaningful options for capital deployment at Berkshire.  All in all, we have no possibility of eye-popping performance.

* *  *

Berkshire benefits from an unusual constancy and clarity of purpose. While we emphasize treating our employees, communities and suppliers well – who wouldn’t wish to do so? – our allegiance will always be to our country and our shareholders. We never forget that, though your money is comingled with ours, it does not belong to us.

With that focus, and with our present mix of businesses, Berkshire should do a bit better than the average American corporation and, more important, should also operate with materially less risk of permanent loss of capital. Anything beyond “slightly better,” though, is wishful thinking. This modest aspiration wasn’t the case when Bertie went all-in on Berkshire – but it is now.

On Berkshire's Not-So-Secret Weapon

Occasionally, markets and/or the economy will cause stocks and bonds of some large and fundamentally good businesses to be strikingly mispriced. Indeed, markets can – and will – unpredictably seize up or even vanish as they did for four months in 1914 and for a few days in 2001. If you believe that American investors are now more stable than in the past, think back to September 2008. Speed of communication and the wonders of technology facilitate instant worldwide paralysis, and we have come a long way since smoke signals. Such instant panics won’t happen often – but they will happen.

* * *

Berkshire’s ability to immediately respond to market seizures with both huge sums and certainty of performance may offer us an occasional large-scale opportunity. Though the stock market is massively larger than it was in our early years, today’s active participants are neither more emotionally stable nor better taught than when I was in school. For whatever reasons, markets now exhibit far more casino-like behavior than they did when I was young. The casino now resides in many homes and daily tempts the occupants.

* * *

I believe Berkshire can handle financial disasters of a magnitude beyond any heretofore experienced. This ability is one we will not relinquish. When economic upsets occur, as they will, Berkshire’s goal will be to function as an asset to the country – just as it was in a very minor way in 2008-9 – and to help extinguish the financial fire rather than to be among the many companies that, inadvertently or otherwise, ignited the conflagration.

On volatility and Wall Street incentives:

One fact of financial life should never be forgotten. Wall Street – to use the term in its figurative sense – would like its customers to make money, but what truly causes its denizens’ juices to flow is feverish activity. At such times, whatever foolishness can be marketed will be vigorously marketed – not by everyone but always by someone.... Occasionally, the scene turns ugly. The politicians then become enraged; the most flagrant perpetrators of misdeeds slip away, rich and unpunished; and your friend next door becomes bewildered, poorer and sometimes vengeful. Money, he learns, has trumped morality.

On Berkshire's impact in the US economy:

Berkshire now has – by far – the largest GAAP net worth recorded by any American business. Record operating income and a strong stock market led to a yearend figure of $561 billion. The total GAAP net worth for the other 499 S&P companies – a who’s who of American business – was $8.9 trillion in 2022. (The 2023 number for the S&P has not yet been tallied but is unlikely to materially exceed $9.5 trillion.) By this measure, Berkshire now occupies nearly 6% of the universe in which it operates. Doubling our huge base is simply not possible within, say, a five-year period, particularly because we are highly averse to issuing shares (an act that immediately juices net worth).

On the difference between GAAP earnings and operating earnings:

The primary difference between the mandated figures and the ones Berkshire prefers is that we exclude unrealized capital gains or losses that at times can exceed $5 billion a day. Ironically, our preference was pretty much the rule until 2018, when the “improvement” was mandated. Galileo’s experience, several centuries ago, should have taught us not to mess with mandates from on high. But, at Berkshire, we can be stubborn.

On compounding

Make no mistake about the significance of capital gains: I expect them to be a very important component of Berkshire’s value accretion during the decades ahead. Why else would we commit huge dollar amounts of your money (and Bertie’s) to marketable equities just as I have been doing with my own funds throughout my investing lifetime? I can’t remember a period since March 11, 1942 – the date of my first stock purchase – that I have not had a majority of my net worth in equities, U.S.-based equities. And so far, so good. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell below 100 on that fateful day in 1942 when I  pulled the trigger.” I was down about $5 by the time school was out. Soon, things turned around and now that index hovers around 38,000. America has been a terrific country for investors. All they have needed to do is sit quietly, listening to no one.

* * *

One investment rule at Berkshire has not and will not change: Never risk permanent loss of capital. Thanks to the American tailwind and the power of compound interest, the arena in which we operate has been – and will be – rewarding if you make a couple of good decisions during a lifetime and avoid serious mistakes.

On cash and Treasury holdings and disaster preparedness:

Your company also holds a cash and U.S. Treasury bill position far in excess of what conventional wisdom deems necessary. During the 2008 panic, Berkshire generated cash from operations and did not rely in any manner on commercial paper, bank lines or debt markets. We did not predict the time of an economic paralysis but we were always prepared for one... Extreme fiscal conservatism is a corporate pledge we make to those who have joined us in ownership of Berkshire. In most years – indeed in most decades – our caution will likely prove to be unneeded behavior – akin to an insurance policy on a fortress-like building thought to be fireproof. But Berkshire does not want to inflict permanent financial damage – quotational shrinkage for extended periods can’t be avoided – on Bertie or any of the individuals who have trusted us with their savings.

* * *

Our investment income was certain to materially grow because the huge U.S. Treasury bill position held by Berkshire had finally begun to pay us far more than the pittance we had been receiving...

On indirect impact of stock buybacks:

Both AMEX and Coke will almost certainly increase their dividends in 2024 – about 16% in the case of AMEX – and we will most certainly leave our holdings untouched throughout the year. Could I create a better worldwide business than these two enjoy? As Bertie will tell you: “No way.” Though Berkshire did not purchase shares of either company in 2023, your indirect
ownership of both Coke and AMEX increased a bit last year because of share repurchases we made at Berkshire.
Such repurchases work to increase your participation in every asset that Berkshire owns. To this obvious but often overlooked truth, I add my usual caveat: All stock repurchases should be price-dependent. What is sensible at a discount to business-value becomes stupid if done at a premium.

On why Berkshire will not buy Occidental:

At yearend, Berkshire owned 27.8% of Occidental Petroleum’s common shares and also owned warrants that, for more than five years, give us the option to materially increase our ownership at a fixed price. Though we very much like our ownership, as well as the option, Berkshire has no interest in purchasing or managing Occidental. We particularly like its vast oil and gas holdings in the United States, as well as its leadership in carbon-capture initiatives, though the economic feasibility of this technique has yet to be proven. Both of these activities are very much in our country’s interest... Under Vicki Hollub’s leadership, Occidental is doing the right things for both its country and its owners. No one knows what oil prices will do over the next month, year, or decade. But Vicki does know how to separate oil from rock, and that’s an uncommon talent, valuable to her shareholders and to her country.

On Berkshire's recent investment in five Japanese trading companies.

Berkshire continues to hold its passive and long-term interest in five very large Japanese companies - Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Sumitomo - each of which operates in a highly-diversified manner somewhat similar to the way Berkshire itself is run. We increased our holdings in all five last year after Greg Abel and I made a trip to Tokyo to talk with their managements. Berkshire now owns about 9% of each of the five. (A minor point: Japanese companies calculate outstanding shares in a manner different from the practice in the U.S.)... Our cost for the five totals ¥1.6 trillion, and the yearend market value of the five was ¥2.9 trillion. However, the yen has weakened in recent years and our yearend unrealized gain in dollars was 61% or $8 billion.

Finally, a bizarre tangent from Buffett discussing suicide by train (in the context of Berkshire's disappointing investment in BNSF):

An evolving problem is that a growing percentage of Americans are not looking for the difficult, and often lonely, employment conditions inherent in some rail operations. Engineers must deal with the fact that among an American population of 335 million, some forlorn or mentally-disturbed Americans are going to elect suicide by lying in front of a 100-car, extraordinarily heavy train that can’t be stopped in less than a mile or more. Would you like to be the helpless engineer? This trauma happens about once a day in North America; it is far more common in Europe and will always be with us.

Full letter below (pdf link).

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 13:37

The Longer Biden's Pause On LNG Projects Goes On, The Better It Is For Russia

The Longer Biden's Pause On LNG Projects Goes On, The Better It Is For Russia

Authored by Simon Watkins via OilPrice.com,

  • Last week’s attempt by the U.S.’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives to unblock the stoppage on approvals of permits for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) looks highly unlikely to succeed.

  • Just after the White House’s announcement on 26 January to ‘pause’ approvals of new LNG projects, the European Commission said that this will have no short- or medium-term impact on the E.U.’s security of supply.

  • Shell: a long-term U.S. ban on issuing new LNG export permits would have “quite an impact” on the global LNG market.

Last week’s attempt by the U.S.’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives to unblock the stoppage on approvals of permits for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) looks highly unlikely to succeed. Despite the House approving a bill to remove the pause on LNG permits, it still needs to be passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate and then to be signed by Biden to become law. LNG remains the key emergency energy source in the new global oil market order, as analysed in full in my new book of the same name, and without the U.S. continuing to play its role as key producer and coordinator of other LNG supplies, the political cohesion of Europe – and of the West’s core NATO security alliance – may falter.

NATO’s response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and subsequent annexation of its Crimea region was non-existent to all intents and purposes. The reason why is that key countries in Europe – especially its de facto economic leader, Germany – had become reliant on cheap and plentiful supplies of Russian gas to power their economic growth over the years. None of them wanted any major punishments meted out on Russia for the 2014 invasion that might jeopardise these gas flows. The response of these European countries to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine was exactly the same at first. As also highlighted in my book, Germany’s principal concern was ensuring that Russia did not stop supplying it, or other European countries, with either gas or oil, due to their not being able to pay in the way Moscow preferred. This followed the 31 March 2022 decree signed by President Vladimir Putin that required European buyers to pay in roubles for Russian gas via a new currency conversion mechanism or risk having supplies suspended.

The official guidance document sent out to all 27 European countries that are members of the European Union (E.U.) on 21 April by its executive branch, the European Commission (EC), simply stated:

“It appears possible [to pay for Russian gas after the adoption of the new decree without being in conflict with EU law],… EU companies can ask their Russian counterparts to fulfil their contractual obligations in the same manner as before the adoption of the decree, i.e. by depositing the due amount in euros or dollars.”

The one and only reason that the view of these European countries changed towards being willing to punish Russia for a further invasion westwards into Europe was the U.S. ensuring that substitute supplies for Russian gas became available early on. As also detailed in my new book on the new global oil market order, the U.S. strategy for replacing Russian gas supplies at that point was twofold.

  • First, increase its own gas deliveries to Europe.

  • Second, pressure other gas suppliers to do the same. As LNG does not require the enormous time, cost, and infrastructure build-out as pipelined gas, it was the gas resource upon which the U.S. focused these efforts.

On the first point, from zero LNG exports before 2016, the U.S. quickly became the world’s biggest exporter, with around 86 million metric tonnes of LNG shipped in 2022.

And around two-thirds of all the U.S.’s LNG exports since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022 have gone to Europe. The new LNG projects that have seen their permit permissions paused for an unspecified period are key to the U.S.’s LNG exports doubling by the end of this decade.

On the second point, the U.S. leveraged every proverbial carrot and stick available to it to pressure Qatar, for one, to stop signing LNG supply deals one after another with China – as it had been doing in the run-up to Russia’s 2022 invasion, as also analysed in depth in my new book. Given this, May 2022 saw Qatar signed a declaration of intent on energy cooperation with Germany aimed at becoming its key supplier of LNG into the future.

These new supplies of LNG from Qatar would come into Germany through existing importation routes augmented by new infrastructure approved by the German Bundestag on 19 May. The plans would run in parallel with, but were likely to be finished significantly sooner than, the plans for Qatar to also make available to Germany sizeable supplies of LNG from the Golden Pass terminal on the Gulf Coast of Texas. QatarEnergy holds a 70 percent stake in the project, with the U.S.’s ExxonMobil holding the remainder. The Golden Pass terminal’s estimated send-out capacity is projected to be around 18 million mtpy of LNG.

Just after the White House’s announcement on 26 January to ‘pause’ approvals of new LNG projects, the European Commission said that this will have no short- or medium-term impact on the E.U.’s security of supply.

“The reality is that there’s no doubt the U.S. has been the key factor in ensuring cohesion in the E.U.’s approach to punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, both in terms of brokering deals with other suppliers such as Qatar, and in providing LNG itself,” a senior figure in the E.U.’s energy security complex exclusively told OilPrice.com last week.

“The big fear here is not just that these pauses in permits for the big U.S. LNG projects will take months and maybe longer but also that some of them may not be allowed to go ahead at all,” he added.

“Both of them raise questions about the U.S.’s entire commitment to the LNG sector now, and with that there is a very great danger of this [E.U.] cohesion [in its approach to punishing Russia for the invasion of Ukraine] being seriously undermined,” he concluded.

More recently, British oil and gas supermajor Shell warned that world demand for LNG would jump more than 50 percent by 2040. It added that a long-term U.S. ban on issuing new LNG export permits would have “quite an impact” on the global LNG market. This appears to be British understatement at its finest, as Shell also forecasts that North American LNG exports will grow to about 200 million metric tonnes per year by the end of the decade, accounting for about 30 percent of global LNG demand and about 5 percent of global natural gas demand.

In the meantime, Eurogas President Didier Holleaux warned that should additional U.S. LNG export projects not materialise, it would risk increasing and prolonging the global gas supply imbalance. And last week European Commission Executive Vice President, Maros Sefcovic, said that the U.S. is now the “global guarantor of energy security”.

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 12:50

Moon Lander "Tipped Over" On Touchdown, Sending Shares Of Intuitive Machines Crashing Late Friday

Moon Lander "Tipped Over" On Touchdown, Sending Shares Of Intuitive Machines Crashing Late Friday

Intuitive Machines Inc. investors have experienced more volatility than crypto traders since its Odysseus moon lander was catapulted into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 15. Shares soared as the Odysseus spacecraft successfully entered the moon's orbit and landed. However, in the after-hours trading on Friday, shares crashed on reports the spacecraft had toppled over upon landing in the moon's south pole region. 

Intuitive Machines initially said its Odysseus moon lander landed successfully on Thursday. But as AP News reports, CEO Steve Altemus said Friday that the spacecraft "caught a foot in the surface," falling on its side and possibly leaning against a rock. He said a high landing speed might have snapped one of Odysseus's support legs. 

"So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we're tipped over," Altemus told reporters.

He said engineers are in the process of downloading data and hope to understand the severity of the issue as early as this weekend:

"We're downloading and commanding data from the buffers in the spacecraft and trying to get you surface photos because I know that everyone's hungry for those." 

What a rollercoaster ride for investors. Shares crashed as much as 31% on landing woes report. 

Odysseus is the first US lunar lander in half a century. It remains to be seen if the lander can conduct its mission. 

As we've penned before, another bubble could be forming: "Forget AI Bubble. A New One Emerges As Space Firms Prepare For IPO Launchpad." 

 

 

Tyler Durden Sat, 02/24/2024 - 12:15

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