|Thursday 15th of April 2021
China Fighter Jets Will Fly Over Taiwan to Declare Sovereignty, State Media Says @Newsweek
Law & Politics
Chinese fighter jets will fly over Taiwan to "declare sovereignty" if relations between Washington and Taipei continue to improve, a prominent state media figure said after Beijing sent 25 warplanes toward the island on Monday.
Hu Xijin, chief editor of China's nationalistic Communist Party newspaper the Global Times, fired back at recent comments by Secretary Antony Blinken and said the military operation was a response to the State Department's loosening of interaction guidelines between officials from the U.S. and Taiwan.
The People's Liberation Army would "step up military pressure" in the event of a further warming of U.S.-Taiwan ties, he said. "If Taiwan forces open fire, that will be the moment of all-out war across the Taiwan Strait," he added.
The People's Republic of China claims ownership of democratic Taiwan despite having never governed it in the seven decades since its founding after the Chinese Civil War.
The Chinese government has never renounced the use of force in its ultimate goal of "reunifying" the island, while Taiwan continues to be run as a de facto state and maintains several unofficial, yet crucial, global partners in an ambiguous existence known as the status quo.
Despite Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's insistence that her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) intends to maintain the status quo, her efforts to make the country less reliant on the Chinese economy—and her demand that its democratically elected leaders be treated with parity by their cross-strait counterparts—have been perceived by Beijing as incremental moves toward de jure independence.
The U.S., Taiwan's most important security partner, has signaled its approval of the Taiwanese government's posture and lent its support as China's military intimidation escalated in recent years.
Beijing's "increasingly aggressive actions" were of "real concern" to the Biden administration, Secretary of State Blinken told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday as he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment toward Taiwan and its self-defense through the Taiwan Relations Act.
Asked about the possibility of a Chinese invasion of the self-ruled island, Blinken said it would be "a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force."
In a short video posted on the Global Times website, Hu criticized the remarks and described them as "deceptive."
He charged Washington and Taipei with being the "real destroyers" of the status quo, citing the U.S.' failure to stop the DPP's rejection of Beijing's "one-China principle," under which Taiwan exists as a Chinese region.
"If the U.S. and Taiwan authorities continue their current policy, the mainland will definitely step up military pressure," Hu said.
"If the U.S. and Taiwan take further prominent actions, PLA fighter jets will fly over Taiwan island to declare sovereignty."
After 25 Chinese warplanes, including 18 fighter jets and four nuclear-capable heavy bombers, flew sorties into Taiwan's air defense zone on Monday, Hu said it was a response to the Biden administration's amended U.S.-Taiwan communication guidelines, which reportedly allow officials from Taipei to visit federal buildings.
"The guidance underscores Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and an important security and economic partner that is also a force for good in the international community," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement announcing the protocols last Friday.
"In my opinion, this is a response to the State Department's new U.S.-Taiwan interaction guidelines," Hu wrote on his Weibo account while announcing China's warplane figures on Tuesday.
PLA warplanes around Taiwan had caused the government in Taipei a considerable amount of pressure, the state media personality continued in Chinese.
"The Taiwanese government fears PLA warplanes will fly over Taiwan to assert national sovereignty, and fears a misfire which could trigger a war."
He said Taiwan and the U.S. needed to "stop provocations" or "be prepared to welcome more PLA planes, closer to Taiwan proper and even directly above the island."
The Chinese government's newfound bullishness in the skies and seas around Taiwan has led analysts to restart the debate about America's "strategic ambiguity" regarding the defense of Taiwan.
While researchers in Taipei believe there is a trend toward "strategic clarity," Taiwan Strait watchers are divided over whether such a declaration would deter or incite a conflict.
US Annual Threat Assessment Director of National Intelligence
Law & Politics
In the coming year, the United States and its allies will face a diverse array of threats that are playing out amidst the global disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and against the backdrop of great power competition, the disruptive effects of ecological degradation and a changing climate, an increasing number of empowered non-state actors, and rapidly evolving technology.
The complexity of the threats, their intersections, and the potential for cascading events in an increasingly interconnected and mobile world create new challenges for the IC.
China increasingly is a near-peer competitor, challenging the United States in multiple arenas—especially economically, militarily, and technologically—and is pushing to change global norms.
Russia is pushing back against Washington where it can globally, employing techniques up to and including the use of force.
Iran will remain a regional menace with broader malign influence activities, and North Korea will be a disruptive player on the regional and world stages.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to strain governments and societies, fueling humanitarian and economic crises, political unrest, and geopolitical competition as countries, such as China and Russia, seek advantage through such avenues as “vaccine diplomacy.”
No country has been completely spared, and even when a vaccine is widely distributed globally, the economic and political aftershocks will be felt for years.
Countries with high debts or that depend on oil exports, tourism, or remittances face particularly challenging recoveries, while others will turn inward or be distracted by other challenges.
Ecological degradation and a changing climate will continue to fuel disease outbreaks, threaten food and water security, and exacerbate political instability and humanitarian crises.
A 23-Year-Old Coder Kept QAnon Online When No One Else Would @BW
Law & Politics
Two and a half months before extremists invaded the U.S. Capitol, the far-right wing of the internet suffered a brief collapse.
All at once, in the final weeks of the country’s presidential campaign, a handful of prominent sites catering to White supremacists and adherents of the QAnon conspiracy movement stopped functioning.
To many of the forums’ most devoted participants, the outage seemed to prove the American political struggle was approaching its apocalyptic endgame.
“Dems are making a concerted move across all platforms,” read one characteristic tweet. “The burning of the land foreshadows a massive imperial strike back in the next few days.”
In fact, there’d been no conspiracy to take down the sites; they’d crashed because of a technical glitch with VanwaTech, a tiny company in Vancouver, Wash., that they rely on for various kinds of network infrastructure.
They went back online with a simple server reset about an hour later, after the proprietor, 23-year-old Nick Lim, woke up from a nap at his mom’s condo.
Lim founded VanwaTech in late 2019. He hosts some websites directly and provides others with technical services including protection against certain cyberattacks; his annual revenue, he says, is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Although small, the operation serves clients including the Daily Stormer, one of America’s most notorious online destinations for overt neo-Nazis, and 8kun, the message board at the center of the QAnon movement, whose adherents were heavily involved in the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Lim exists in a singularly odd corner of the business world. He says he’s not an extremist, just an entrepreneur with a maximalist view of free speech.
“There needs to be a me, right?” he says, while eating pho at a Vietnamese restaurant near his headquarters.
“Once you get to the point where you look at whether content is safe or unsafe, as soon as you do that, you’ve opened a can of worms.”
At best, his apolitical framing comes across as naive; at worst, as preposterous gaslighting.
In interviews with Bloomberg Businessweek early in 2020, Lim said he didn’t really know what QAnon was and had no opinion about Donald Trump.
What’s undeniable is the niche Lim is filling. His blip of a company is providing essential tech support for the kinds of violence-prone hate groups and conspiracists that tend to get banned by mainstream providers such as Amazon Web Services.
It’s almost impossible to run a real website without the support of invisible services such as web hosting, domain name registration, and protection against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which involve crashing a site by bombarding it with junk traffic.
Getting banned by AWS, Cloudflare, or other infrastructure providers, as the Daily Stormer and 8kun have been, is a step beyond a ban from Facebook or Twitter.
It puts the American far right on a short list that includes child pornographers and terrorist organizations such as Islamic State—groups that promote and incite violence and basically aren’t allowed to have websites.
“Every time I see an article attacking social media companies—and they deserve it—I think it’s more important to go after the companies that are hosting terrorist material,” says Rita Katz, founder of SITE Intelligence Group, a nonprofit that tracks terrorist activity online.
“There’s already a good recipe that was used for ISIS. Why don’t you use it on the far right?”
It’s tougher to keep a site such as the Daily Stormer offline as long as somebody like Lim is willing to support it. U.S. laws governing domestic extremism are less expansive than those focused on international terrorism, partly to protect the rights of U.S. citizens with unpopular political views.
And even the big web-hosting companies have struggled to set consistent standards. While Cloudflare has refused to work with the Daily Stormer, it supports other sites peddling racism, including those for Stormfront and the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.
The overlap between Republican Party officials and the belief systems that sparked the Capitol attack, which started out as a Trump rally, can make it all the tougher to draw clear lines.
Voices from across the U.S. political spectrum have registered concerns about companies setting up litmus tests to ban groups from the internet. That said, the voices Lim supports tend to come from the same general neighborhood.
He sought out Andrew Anglin, who runs the Daily Stormer, to offer the neo-Nazi free tech support.
He says his largest customer is 8kun, and he has a personal relationship with Ron Watkins, the site’s former administrator and one of its key leaders since its inception.
Lim argues that the real political crisis facing the U.S. is not extremist violence but erosion of the First Amendment. He says that restrictions on online speech have already brought the U.S. to the verge of communist tyranny, that “we are one foot away from 1984.”
After a moment, though, he offers a sizable qualifier: “I never actually read the book, so I don’t know all the themes of the book. But I have heard the concepts, and I’ve seen some things, and I thought, ‘Whoa! That’s sketchy as f---.’ ”
VanwaTech’s headquarters is a squat, one-story house in a sidewalkless subdivision that’s just over the state line from Portland, Ore.
Lim inherited the place from his grandparents, according to state records. While he regularly talks about VanwaTech as a growing enterprise with a dedicated staff, he seems to be the only one around who’s working at the company.
He rents rooms on the cheap to friends from high school who help keep the party going. The crew has nicknamed the house Vansterdam.
When Lim greets visitors, the front door swings open to a view of a coffee table covered in cold McDonald’s fries and a collection of half-smoked joints.
The backyard is littered with weightlifting equipment and bongs, along with a shed full of computer servers for mining cryptocurrencies.
Lim attributes his entrepreneurial streak to a need to “put food on the table” during an underprivileged childhood, even though classmates remember him driving other kids around in his dad’s Lamborghini and posting videos of the rides to YouTube.
High school peers say Lim was obsessed with ostentatious displays of wealth and talked constantly about Bitcoin and The Wolf of Wall Street, the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a much more glamorous version of con man Jordan Belfort.
When he’s not doing wheelies on his bicycle, Lim now gets around in an Audi A6 with a Harvard Law School license plate holder, which he calls a gag. (He didn’t go to Harvard, or to law school.)
One of his early forays into entrepreneurship was OrcaTech, a service for website owners to test how well they could withstand DDoS attacks, essentially by launching simulated attacks at them.
For a certain kind of customer, the tool could also help execute attacks on others. Lim says that he never looked into whether it was used for malicious purposes, but he adds that protecting against abuse is almost impossible, comparing himself to a locksmith who can’t be sure customers are bringing him their own keys.
He eventually shut down the operation out of concern that he’d be implicated in illegal activities.
Lim says he “got famous” after reaching out to Anglin. He’d read about the difficulties the Daily Stormer was having staying online.
He wrote to Anglin on Gab, a social network popular among the rightist fringe, and offered free use of BitMitigate, his latest DDoS protection product.
When asked why he wanted to do business with one of the U.S.’s most notorious White supremacists, Lim shrugs: “They were censored, so that’s what was interesting about them.”
He then launches into a rambling justification, questioning whether the Daily Stormer is actually serious about the racism that defines it. “They could be joking,” he says. Either way, he adds, “I just don’t care. To me, it’s not illegal speech.”
If it’s working right, infrastructure should be invisible. As with sewers and electrical grids, sturdy domain name servers and distributed hosting services allow the people who rely on them to focus on more pressing matters.
It’s possible to run websites in the face of hostility from the huge companies that host most sites and protect them from attack. But it’s not easy, and the sites that do it tend not to work that well.
The Daily Stormer’s infrastructure troubles really began shortly after White supremacists rioted in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
After the riot, Anglin posted an article mocking Heather Heyer—the counterprotester murdered by a neo-Nazi in attendance with his car—and a handful of tech companies pulled the support the site needed to stay online.
This started with GoDaddy Inc., which had provided its domain name registration, the service that links the location of content on a server to a URL someone can type into a web browser.
Cloudflare, which had protected the Daily Stormer against DDoS attacks, also banned it, as did a handful of other service providers.
The site began bouncing around between permissive, offshore hosting providers, leading to periodic service outages and a general deterioration of its usability.
Rob Monster, CEO, Epik: Monster bought Lim’s service BitMitigate in 2019, shortly after becoming an outspoken critic of efforts to cut off controversial sites such as Gab.
Over the past few years, several other sites have been similarly hobbled or taken offline after their users were implicated in racist massacres.
In 2018, Gab went offline after a mass murder at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by a person who kept a profile marked by anti-Semitism on the social network.
The people who ran Gab denied they were running an extremist website, describing theirs as an open forum for anyone seeking a less censorious alternative to Facebook.
When Gab lost its domain name registration, a Seattle-based company named Epik made a show of taking it on.
At that point, Epik had spent years in the mundane business of nonideological domain registration, and Rob Monster, its awkwardly named chief executive officer, had a reputation for personally handling customer service calls and posting on arcane industry forums.
But Monster had also been radicalized during the Trump years, subjecting his staff to florid conspiracy theories in staff meetings and spending more and more of his energy on politically charged work at Epik.
Jim Watkins, owner, 8kun: Lim flew to Japan to celebrate with Watkins and his son when they launched 8kun, the successor to 8chan and a hotbed of QAnon conspiracies.
Around this time, Lim and Monster began collaborating. It’s not clear how they met, but they quickly grew close, with Monster becoming a kind of mentor to Lim, according to Joseph Peterson, then Epik’s director of operations.
In 2019, the company bought BitMitigate, the Lim service that was supporting the Daily Stormer. As part of the deal, Lim became Epik’s chief technical officer.
By the time Lim arrived, Monster’s political fixation had come to dominate Epik, says Peterson, who describes himself as progressive.
Peterson says he agreed with Monster’s view that domain registrars shouldn’t refuse clients based on their political views.
He likens the business to the hospitality industry, arguing that a hotel shouldn’t kick out otherwise untroublesome guests whom the proprietor overhears saying racist things.
It’s a different matter, he says, when a registrar becomes a beacon for racists urging violence.
The blowback that followed Epik’s support of Gab led Monster to prioritize working with extremist sites such as Alex Jones’s InfoWars.com, according to Peterson.
“Once a hotel invites the neo-Nazis, hosting their convention year after year, that’s no longer ethical,” he says. “That’s where I feared Epik was going.”
Rob Davis, Epik’s senior vice president for strategy and communications, said in an email that Peterson was biased and that the idea Epik would pursue extremist clients was “categorically nuts.”
He said Epik cut ties with BitMitigate’s previous clients, including the Daily Stormer, and had no direct contact with Anglin.
Peterson says he quit the company soon after Monster began a staff meeting by telling attendees to watch a video of the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
He says the CEO claimed the video would convince his employees that the massacre had been faked.
Before killing 51 people, the perpetrator of the New Zealand massacre had posted a manifesto to 8chan, the precursor to 8kun.
That August, another young man followed the same pattern, crediting the site for radicalizing him before a mass murder in El Paso.
“I’ve only been lurking here for a year and a half, yet, what I’ve learned here is priceless,” the shooter wrote of 8chan before killing 23 people.
In the wake of the shooting, Epik declined to support the site, citing “inadequate enforcement and the elevated possibility of violent radicalization on the platform.”
About the same time, Lim left Epik and announced he had started VanwaTech. The new service would prove critical to getting 8kun online and keeping it there.
Lim was central enough to the effort that he flew to Japan to celebrate the site’s launch with Jim and Ron Watkins, the site’s owner and administrator, who are father and son.
On Election Day, Ron announced that he’d stepped down as 8kun’s administrator. He was later banned from Twitter for promoting election-related conspiracy theories.
In October, Bloomberg Businessweek emailed Monster, requesting an interview to discuss Epik’s political philosophy and its relationship with Lim. Davis, the Epik executive, sent a nine-page response arguing that Epik had been demonized unfairly and had done a great job of combating extremism.
Davis accused the news media of trying to destroy the lives of Epik employees and said the interview request itself was part of an attempt to manipulate the 2020 presidential election.
“The long and short of it,” he wrote, “is that we don’t give interviews to traitors of our country that participate in attempted coups sponsored by offshore money.”
He cc’d close to 100 other recipients, including the Republican chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the antitrust division of the Federal Trade Commission, and Fox News host Sean Hannity.
In response to follow-up questions about Lim’s connection to Epik, Davis wrote that Lim was just a short-term consultant.
He described the line of questioning as a ploy to “cover the tracks of pedophiles and smash small businesses.”
Along with the vagaries of Lim’s napping schedule, the sites relying on VanwaTech might have to worry about its proprietor’s conflicts with the likes of SITE Intelligence; Fredrick Brennan, 8chan’s repentant founder, who occasionally sparred with Lim online; and Ron Guilmette, an internet researcher and activist.
For more than a decade, Guilmette has dedicated most of his time to chasing spammers and people who sell phony vitamins around the internet.
He’s developed a deep knowledge of the architecture of the web, and his tactics include pressuring his targets’ tech-support partners to stop working with them.
The Californian, whose political views are a hodgepodge of mostly liberal ideas, says he chased bad actors because he thought they were crooks, not for ideological reasons—until this summer, when he found himself increasingly agitated by QAnon’s influence on U.S. politics.
Guilmette decided to try to take down 8kun. “I set myself the task of causing as much trouble as possible for this one particular website,” he says.
Guilmette decided the best way to get to 8kun was Lim. In October, he persuaded CNServers, the Oregon company that guarded VanwaTech’s 254 internet protocol addresses against DDoS attacks, to cut it off.
When CNServers did so, 8kun went offline for about an hour before VanwaTech switched to another service provider. He now uses DDoS Guard, a Russian company less sensitive to pressure campaigns.
When asked why he wanted to do business with one of the U.S.’s most notorious White supremacists, Lim shrugs
Web hosting for 8kun has since been spread over 11 IP addresses held by three different companies, all based in Moscow and in business with DDoS Guard, says Guilmette.
Scattering the site across numerous servers appears to be a tactic designed to make it harder to take offline.
“I feel like I’ve been chasing them, like the foxes and the hound,” Guilmette says, adding that the Daily Stormer and 8kun are being “kept alive and breathing on the internet only because Mr. Nick Lim is keeping them.”
The politics of web hosting rose to national prominence after the insurrection at the Capitol.
Parler, which has replaced Gab as the buzziest right-wing social network, went offline after Amazon deprived it access to AWS.
It stayed down for a month, increasing the conviction among many conservatives that the companies who run the internet are aligned against them. The site came back online in February and has been mostly stable since then.
Lim sees the rising concerns around high-tech censorship as a business opportunity. He had nothing to do with getting Parler back online, but the incident aggravated distrust in large tech companies in a way that could work to his benefit.
He says he’s been furiously buying extra racks of computers on EBay to keep up with the increased business.
Over the course of several conversations, Lim also repeatedly suggests he’s going to focus more on hosting pornographic websites, which aren’t exactly digital pariahs like some of his other clients but are controversial enough to face hostility from some service providers.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, that’s an abuse of free speech to post nude pictures,’” he says. “Some people won’t service a nude website. We don’t care.”
09-NOV-2020 :: The Spinning Top
Law & Politics
The demise of the Reality TV Star turned seriously vaudeville with Mr. Giulani mounting the last stand from the Four Seasons Total Landscaping next to Fantasy Island Adult Books across the street from the Delaware Valley Cremation Center.
Some Folks seem convinced that the Prophet of Populism Donald J. Trump is going to lead his 70m Disciples into some major 5th generational chess moves but surely just as likely is an Unfolding psychological breakdown played out in front of our eyes on TV like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of Salesman
“You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit.”
“If personal meaning, in this cheer leader society, lies in success, then failure must threaten identity itself.”
I’m tired to the death. The flute has faded away. He sits on the bed beside her, a little numb. I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.
Counterintuitively, The Trump Vladislav Surkov Talking Points which of course always feature George Soros are strangely ineffective and a little like a receding tide.
“My take on Trump is that he is an inevitable creation of this unreal normal world,” Adam Curtis says. “Politics has become a pantomime or vaudeville in that it creates waves of anger rather than argument. Maybe people like Trump are successful simply because they fuel that anger, in the echo chambers of the internet.”
Brazil’s COVID-19 Crisis and @jairbolsonaro Presidential Chaos @NewYorker @jonleeanderson
Is the President’s do-nothing approach to the pandemic finally becoming a threat to his political future?
Among the images by the Brazilian photographer Mauricio Lima that accompanied a recent Times article about his country’s covid-19 crisis, two tell a story that should feel familiar to Americans.
In one, supporters of the country’s populist right-wing leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, many of them draped in the colors of the national flag, protest against lockdown measures.
In the other, health-care workers disguised in hazmat suits demonstrate in support of such measures.
Other photographs offer glimpses of a society overwhelmed by the pandemic—doctors tending to patients in an emergency field tent, a coffin-maker and a gravedigger at work.
Today, Brazil ranks second only to the United States in the total number of deaths from covid-19, with more than three hundred and fifty thousand fatalities.
In the past few weeks, it has had the highest covid death count, and it is the home of the most worrisome variant, P.1, which is now spreading through Brazil’s neighbors in Latin America and several other nations, including the United States.
(P.1, which is sometimes called the Manaus variant, for the Amazonian city where it was first detected, last year, is thought to be up to almost two and a half times more transmissible than the other known covid variants. Thousands of people have already died of covid-19 in Manaus, from where it spread throughout the Amazon region.)
A third of all covid-19 deaths are now occurring in Brazil, which has less than three per cent of the global population, and the country’s vaccination rollout has been slow—about twelve doses per hundred people. (Chile, by contrast, has delivered sixty-two doses per hundred.)
On April 5th, with close to four thousand Brazilians dying every day, some from asphyxiation due to a lack of oxygen supplies, and the I.C.U.s of many Brazilian hospitals at near-maximum capacity, an opinion piece published by the authoritative British Medical Journal argued that the colossal scale of Brazil’s health emergency could have been avoided.
The authors, three Brazilian medical professionals, state that Bolsonaro has been intentionally negligent in adopting a strategy to “achieve herd immunity through contagion.”
They conclude, “In our opinion, the federal government’s stance may constitute a crime against humanity.”
Brazil’s predicament does seem to have been driven by Bolsonaro’s responses, which have been imitative of those adopted by former President Donald Trump, whom he openly admires.
From the outset of the crisis, Bolsonaro has waffled on mask-wearing, opposed lockdowns, promoted hydroxychloroquine as a preventative remedy, and eschewed a federal response to the pandemic.
In public statements, he has derided covid-19 as “mere sniffles,” while telling Brazilians that “we all have to die sometime.”
Even after he contracted the virus himself, he rarely wore a mask in public.
Most recently, he berated Brazilians for “whining” and told them to stop being “sissies,” while discouraging them from getting vaccinations—and joking that, if they do, they might “turn into crocodiles.”
He has also inveighed against governors and mayors who sought to mandate lockdowns, on the ground that they violated individual freedoms and would harm the economy, and said that he would not deploy “his” troops to enforce such measures.
And his government initially did nothing when pharmaceutical manufacturers started making vaccines available last year, rejecting an offer to buy tens of millions of doses from Pfizer and publicly ridiculing China’s vaccine program; the then foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, accused China of intentionally spreading covid-19, which he called the “communavirus.”
Bolsonaro’s do-nothing approach to the pandemic notwithstanding, his popularity among his base, which accounts for some thirty per cent of the electorate, has remained steady.
But, in recent weeks, other pillars of his support—including in the military and the powerful agribusiness sector, and also a right-of-center coalition in the National Congress—have begun expressing discomfort, leading to talk in political circles of possible impeachment proceedings against him.
In a country where two Presidents have been impeached in the past thirty years, such talk has to be taken seriously.
And it follows a Supreme Court decision last month to annul the criminal convictions of Bolsonaro’s nemesis, the former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is now free to run for office again.
All of which is said to have Bolsonaro extremely worried for his political survival.
The next Presidential election is scheduled for October of 2022. Lula has not yet declared his candidacy, but it is widely assumed that he will do so; recent polls show him ahead of Bolsonaro.
Then came a stunning cabinet shakeup last month, which saw the replacement of Bolsonaro’s health minister (the fourth in a year) and the resignations of his foreign minister, Araújo, and defense minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, followed by those of the chiefs of the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army. (In all, six cabinet ministers left office.)
There were rumors that Bolsonaro had attempted to involve the military in what is traditionally known in Latin America as an autogolpe—a self-coup—wherein leaders seize dictatorial powers in an effort to extend their authority.
It emerged that, in fact, Araújo was asked to resign because members of Congress, as well as figures in the influential agribusiness sector, had complained that his far-right, anti-Beijing rhetoric was upsetting Brazil’s principal customer for soy exports, and also complicating vaccine-purchase negotiations.
Bolsonaro apparently fired Azevedo because he had refused to replace the Army commander, General Edson Pujol, who had stressed the need for the military to be independent from politics.
In public comments that were seen as a rebuke of Bolsonaro, Pujol and another senior officer had also defended tougher measures against covid.
The resignations of Pujol and the other two military chiefs, in solidarity with Azevedo, signified a clear breach between Bolsonaro and the senior military establishment.
Azevedo, in his resignation letter, seemed to be speaking for all of them when he said that, during his year in the job, he had “preserved the institutional integrity of the armed forces.”
While Bolsonaro may have alienated some top military officials, he still has significant support among the rank and file, and military men continue to hold many posts in his government, including the Vice-President, Hamilton Mourão.
Bolsonaro also replaced the minister of justice with a federal police chief who has worked closely with the so-called Bullet Bench, a congressional lobby that supports a looser gun-ownership law that Bolsonaro has been trying to get approved.
Analysts say that the appointment shows Bolsonaro’s intention to curry favor among the police forces and conservative law-enforcement circles more broadly.
Prominent observers, including Oliver Stuenkel, a political scientist at São Paulo’s Getulio Vargas Foundation, think that Bolsonaro is laying plans to stage his own “January 6th,” in order to stay in power, if next year’s elections don’t go well for him.
(Already, Bolsonaro, echoing Trump, has been warning of election “fraud.”) Eduardo Bolsonaro, a member of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house in Congress), who is the most hard-line and outspoken of the President’s four sons, publicly lauded the storming of the Capitol, saying that, if the insurrectionists had “been organized,” they could have kept Trump in the White House.
(Eduardo is close to the former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who named him to represent South America in the Movement, his mooted global organization of right-wing nationalist leaders.)
Stuenkel believes that Bolsonaro is working to shore up his support in the military—at least, among those who have not demonstrated a preference for working in a democratic framework—while also trying to insure that he would have the backup of the military police.
“If the Army stands back during a Brazilian January 6th, and the military police are with him,” he said, “I think it could be enough for things to end his way.”
With the cabinet shakeup, then, Bolsonaro has secured some room for political maneuvering, and he is also showing an ability to alter course for survival’s sake.
In the past few weeks (and after Lula told Brazilians to “get vaccinated”), Bolsonaro declared that he is in favor of vaccines, after all, even as he continues to promote a questionable “covid kit,” comprising a cocktail of hydroxychloroquine and other drugs, which hospital officials say has unproved benefits and possibly fatal consequences; several Brazilians have reportedly been hospitalized and died after taking it.
Richard Lapper, a longtime British observer of Brazilian politics and the author of the forthcoming book “Beef, Bible and Bullets: Brazil in the Age of Bolsonaro,” told me that,
“if Bolsonaro continues with the existing covid policy, he is going to lose the more traditional conservative part of his base and be much more dependent on the hard-line ideological supporters, and that, in turn, sets the scene for much greater conflict.”
Lapper predicts that there will be more external pressure on Bolsonaro, too, as the P.1 variant spreads further across Latin America; several neighboring states have already banned flights to and from Brazil.
I recently asked Lula how he views the situation. Last Tuesday, in a WhatsApp message, he replied, “I have said for many years, and history teaches, that when people negate politics, what comes next is always worse. And in Brazil there was a very violent campaign against politics, to take the left out of the government, which ended up resulting in Bolsonaro, in a phenomenon similar to Trump in the United States.”
He added, “You overcame Trump, and Brazilian society will overcome this accident called Bolsonaro.”
In the meantime, he said, “We need to speed up vaccinations, provide economic assistance to those who are unemployed and starving, and create a credit line to help micro- and small business.
President Bolsonaro needs to stop talking and doing nonsense. But the solution to the coronavirus problem can only be a global one.
It is necessary for rich countries to forget geopolitical divergences in order to discuss the production of vaccines and the vaccination of all.
What we are experiencing is a war of nature against humanity, and for the time being the only weapon is the vaccine.
That is why it has to be transformed into a public good financed by the states, so that the vaccine is guaranteed to all the inhabitants of the planet.
We will not beat covid with each country acting individually.”
That day, forty-one hundred and ninety-five Brazilians died of covid-19, nearly three thousand more than had died the day before—with, as things currently stand, many more deaths to come.
Model-based evaluation of transmissibility and reinfection for the P.1 variant of the SARS-CoV-2
The variant of concern (VOC) P.1 emerged in the Amazonas state (Brazil) and was sequenced for the first time on 6-Jan- 2021 by the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
It contains a constellation of mutations, ten of them in the spike protein.
The P.1 variant shares mutations such as E484K, K417T, and N501Y and a deletion in the orf1b protein (del11288-11296 (3675-3677 SGF)) with other VOCs previously detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa (B.1.1.7 and the B.1.351, respectively).
Prevalence of P.1 increased sharply from 0% in November 2020 to 73% in January 2021 and in less than 2 months replaced previous lineages (4).
The estimated relative transmissibility of P.1 is 2.5 (95% CI: 2.3-2.8) times higher than the infection rate of the wild variant, while the reinfection probability due to the new variant is 6.4% (95% CI: 5.7 - 7.1%).
“If a deadly virus pops up within several kilometers of the only bio-weapons lab in Asia, the simplest explanation, according to Occam’s razor, is usually the right one. Ergo, SARS-CoV-2 came from the Wuhan Lab.” - Dr. Peter Navarro
Yet after testing thousands of animals, no virologist has found a similar “direct progenitor” of China’s second SARS virus.
It is therefore extremely unlikely SARS-CoV-2 came from the Wuhan wet market. That leaves the competing Wuhan Lab theory.
As to whether SARS-CoV-2 was genetically engineered, it is here where Dr. Fauci enters this dangerous picture:
In 2017, without sufficient warning to the Trump White House, Dr, Fauci and his NIH colleague Dr. Francis Collins re-authorized the use of so-called gain-of-function research inside China’s Wuhan Lab.
Gain-of-function is a genetic engineering tool that improves the ability of a virus to cause disease.
In pushing for gain-of-function, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins unilaterally overturned a 2014 decision by the Obama White House to restrict such experiments because of their inherent dangers.
In fact, SARS-CoV-2 exhibits several highly unusual functional characteristics that suggest the virus has been genetically engineered.
For example, unlike SARS-CoV-1 and most other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is characterized by a high degree of “asymptomatic spread.” This makes the virus far more contagious — and therefore far more deadly.
The high degree of asymmetric spread — along with the rapid and deadly mutations of the virus we are now observing — suggest the possibility of a weaponized virus.
Here, the U.S. State Department has revealed that the Wuhan Lab has engaged in research on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army since 2017 — the same year Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins approved gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
last piece of this “Fauci as the Father of the Pandemic” puzzle is this: Dr. Fauci’s NIH funneled American taxpayer dollars — some $7 million — into the Wuhan Lab through a shadowy figure named Peter Dasak.
Mr. Dasak, himself, bragged about genetically engineering viruses at the Wuhan Lab prior to the pandemic.
If Dr. Redfield and Occam’s razor are right that the Wuhan Lab spawned SARS-CoV-2, history will judge the Chinese Communist Party and Dr. Fauci to be two of, if not the strangest, then certainly most deadly of bedfellows in history.
For it was Dr. Fauci — and these facts are not in dispute — that provided the Wuhan Lab with both the funding and the green light for gain-of-function experiments. This is a congressional investigation waiting to happen.
01-MAR-2020 :: The Origin of the #CoronaVirus #COVID19
“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.”― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow “There's always more to it. This is what history consists of. It is the sum total of the things they aren't telling us.”“A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on.”
‘Make or Break’ Call on Inflation Is Stumping Global Investors @markets
World Of Finance
Bond veteran Greg Wilensky has seen hype about a surge in inflation crushed too many times to get carried away with this year’s great reflation trade.
“I’ve been managing bond portfolios for 25 years, through very large monetary programs, big deficits, and the Fed trying to raise inflation expectations,” the Janus Henderson money manager said in an interview.
“As much as I can see legitimate reasons why it might happen this time -- I could have said that very often over the last 12 years too.”
Wilensky’s skepticism epitomizes the cooling investor enthusiasm for bets linked to a rapid economic recovery and higher prices.
Trades favoring economically-sensitive value stocks, steeper yield curves and a rebound in commodities have faltered after a stellar first quarter.
The MSCI AC World Value Index has lagged its growth counterpart by about 6 percentage points since March 8.
Benchmark Treasury yields have retreated some 13 basis points already this quarter, even as U.S. inflation data begin to beat expectations.
And Tuesday’s strong 30-year Treasury auction suggested demand for even the most interest rate-exposed bonds is returning.
One of the biggest questions money managers confront now is whether the stimulus-fueled rebound in growth and inflation -- in particular in the U.S. -- can transition to a sustainable expansion that will keep pushing equities and bond yields higher.
The International Monetary Fund recently upgraded its 2021 global growth forecast to the strongest in four decades, but the outlook beyond that is less clear-cut.
Envisaging a trajectory for price levels beyond this year is even harder for investors given the warping effect of coronavirus shutdowns, temporary supply bottlenecks and base effects from last year’s disinflation.
A surge in five-year U.S. breakevens-- a gauge of inflation expectations -- has petered out since they hit their highest since 2008 in mid-March.
“Inflation and rates, especially as a bond investor right now, is the call that you have to make,” said Elaine Stokes, fixed income portfolio manager at Loomis Sayles. “It’s the make-or-break call of your year.”
The response to the stall for many investors has been to pare back some trades geared to the sharpest stage of the economic rebound. Vishal Khanduja, fixed income fund manager at Eaton Vance Management, has halved his portfolio’s overweight in U.S. inflation-linked bonds from the start of the year.
“Inflation expectations were dislocated in 2020” in a “surgical recession,” Khanduja said.
“The typical post-recession positioning that you see happen over multiple years is quickly going through the market.”
As for some traditional inflation hedges in the commodities markets, the story is about to get more complicated than the year-to-date rebound in oil and copper prices would suggest.
Strategists at the BlackRock Investment Institute anticipate a divergence within the asset class, as factors such as climate risks are more fully captured in pricing.
“The lift for oil from the economic restart is likely to be transitory, while some metals may benefit from structural trends such as the ‘green’ transition for years to come,” a team including Wei Li wrote in a note this week.
Meanwhile, in the bond market, traders are not reacting to signs of inflation as one might expect.
On Tuesday, data showed U.S. consumer prices climbed in March by the most in nearly nine years, yet 10-year Treasury yields fell five basis points to their lowest in three weeks.
“The tremendous challenge right now, especially this year is that the quality of almost any of the numbers we’re looking at, whether it’s the short-term inflation numbers, the economic growth numbers, these things are being very much distorted by the economic volatility,” Janus Henderson’s Wilensky said.
Zimbabwe Finance Minister Begins Roadshow to Win Over Investors @markets
Zimbabwean Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube began a global roadshow to win over investors and highlight policy changes in the nation’s economy.
Ncube met officials from South African fund manager Allan Gray Ltd. on Wednesday, according to a post on his Twitter account.
“The objective of the pitch is to position Zimbabwe as an economy and investment destination in recovery,” Ncube said by phone from Cape Town.
“The positive outlook on economic performance for 2021, on the back of successful economic reforms and good rainfall season, among other factors, speaks strongly to recovery.”
Justin Bgoni, chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange said the roadshow aims to ensure investors understand recent macro-economic developments, including its currency reforms.
Plans are underway to take the roadshow to London and New York, he said.
The pair will also meet with officials from Johannesburg-based lender Investec Plc, Bgoni said.
Congo: Sassou Nguesso wins another term but still faces two big threats @africaarguments
On 21 March, the Republic of Congo held elections in which relatively few citizens bothered to participate, a fact that even President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s campaign conceded.
These were the third polls since the 77-year-old reclaimed power in the 1997 civil war and he won again with a decisive 88.57%.
Sassou Nguesso has already been president for 36 years, over two periods. He will now rule for another five years and could add one more term after that, extending his long record of corruption, economic mismanagement, and human rights abuses.
“Governance by terror”
The 2021 election was notably different to the Congo’s tumultuous previous vote in 2016.
Months before those polls, Sassou Nguesso organised a constitutional referendum that promised to remove term limits, give him immunity from domestic prosecution, and forbid his extradition to the International Criminal Court. Congolese citizens were outraged.
Tens of thousands took to the streets in the largest protest movement for decades. Diaspora activists returned to the capital Brazzaville.
Former allies denounced the “constitutional coup” and joined the opposition.
Nonetheless, Sassou Nguesso claimed victory in the October 2015 referendum and subsequent March 2016 elections.
On 4 April, frustrated activists set fire to the government’s administrative headquarters in Makélékélé, Brazzaville. The regime responded with a brutal crackdown.
On 5 April, the military launched an aerial assault against the ethnic Lari population in Pool, which had long opposed Sassou Nguesso.
The government claimed it was pursuing the Ninja rebel group, which had, in reality, disbanded nearly 15 years earlier.
Its assault continued through 2016. Civil society groups estimated that 15,000 citizens died and perhaps 100,000 were displaced.
Claudine Munari, a one-time Sassou Nguesso minister, called the campaign a “genocide”.
At the same time, the government engaged in widespread repression in Brazzaville. In June 2016, authorities arrested General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, an icon of the pro-democracy movement of the early 1990s and a leading opposition candidate in the March election.
A few months later, they detained André Okombi Salissa, another opposition candidate. Both were subsequently convicted of “undermining state security” and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The government also arrested prominent journalists and opposition activists, including Colonel Marcel Ntsourou, Modeste Boukadia, Ghys Fortuné Dombé Bemba, Christ Dongui Nganga, and Andy Bemba.
Other opposition leaders, including Munari and Charles Zacharie Bowao, were placed under long-term house arrest.
The Congolese Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH), one of the few remaining human rights groups, called it “governance by terror”.
The 2021 masquerade
In the lead up to 2021, the government made clear it would tolerate no dissent. Between 2015 and 2020, it purchased over 500 tons of weapons from Azerbaijan.
Authorities detained journalists and activists, including Raymond Malonga, Alexandre Ibacka Dzabana, and Dongui Nganga.
The March election itself was carefully managed. Officially, it featured six opposition candidates.
In reality, four are widely believed to have been puppets paid by Sassou Nguesso to compete, recognise his victory, and give the election a veneer of legitimacy.
Congo’s largest opposition party, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), chose to boycott the proceedings altogether.
One of the genuine opposition candidates was former finance minister Mathias Dzon, but it was the other that provided the greater threat. Guy Brice Parfait Kolélas, affectionately dubbed Pako by his supporters, is the son of Bernard Kolélas, an icon of the early-1990s pro-democracy movement.
He inherited his father’s political party and ethnic Lari base. Ahead of the election, Kolélas was also endorsed by Serge Yhombi-Opango, the son of the former president in 1977-79 who was from the same area as Sassou Nguesso.
This endorsement let Kolélas bridge the north-south cleavage that has animated Congolese politics since independence.
The government ensured, however, that this counted for little. Authorities prevented Dzon and Kolélas from travelling to their own campaign rallies, refused to permit election monitors trained by the Catholic Church, banned mobile phones from polling stations that could be used to document fraud, and blocked internet access.
When the internet returned, outraged citizens disseminated evidence of fraud. One picture allegedly showed dozens of ballot boxes sitting unopened in a government building days after the election.
Another seemed to show results from a Brazzaville polling station that recorded 131 voters yet 841 votes for Sassou Nguesso.
Based on the Congo’s previous disputed elections, none of this was surprising, but two events did come as shocks.
First, the 61-year-old Kolélas contracted COVID-19 late in the campaign. His condition deteriorated rapidly. On 19 March, his campaign released a video in which, between breaths of supplemental oxygen, he called on his “dear compatriots” to “rise up” and “vote for change”.
Three days later, he died. Kolélas leaves behind a complex legacy. He was reportedly key in persuading his father, who spent much of the 1980s incarcerated by Sassou Nguesso and whose supporters have repeatedly been brutalised by his regime, to make a deal with the president in 2005.
This pact allowed the family to return to Congo and re-enter politics. Kolélas became a minister and even helped direct Sassou Nguesso’s 2009 campaign, but the move sowed the seeds of the MCDDI party’s loss of legitimacy.
Second, when the results were announced on 23 March, Sassou Nguesso claimed 88.57% of the vote up from 60.12% in 2016.
Like the 2016 military assault on Pool, this was interpreted as a signal that the president could claim a “Stalin-esque” victory, as some called it, and that no one could do anything about it.
The only precedent for this degree of electoral theft was 2002, when, after having retaken Brazzaville by force and with virtually the entire political class in exile, Sassou Nguesso awarded himself 89.41%. Then, as now, his power rests on the threat of violence.
The opposition called on the Constitutional Court to nullify the election due to fraud and the fact that Article 70 of the 2015 Constitution requires an election be annulled if a candidate is incapacitated, as Kolélas was.
Given that Sassou Nguesso appointed the court’s judges, the petition stands little chance of success.
Sassou Nguesso’s two threats
Sassou Nguesso has largely undermined the Congo’s political opposition, but he does face two challenges.
The first regards his decade-long attempts to quietly transfer power to his son, Denis Christel. Having cut his teeth in the national oil company, Denis Christel was elected to the National Assembly in 2012 with 99.88%.
However, he enjoys relatively little support from the security apparatus, is regarded by Congolese citizens and the international community as profoundly corrupt, and remains the subject of ongoing legal proceedings in France and the US.
President Sassou Nguesso first considered handing power to his son ahead of the 2016 elections. It was only when those attempts failed that he resorted to the constitutional amendments.
According to a source in the ruling family, he intended to try again ahead of the 2021 elections, but this plan was thwarted by an attempted palace coup in March 2020.
This is what reportedly led Sassou Nguesso to impose a nightly curfew and close Congo’s borders, rather than – or at least as well as – the threat of COVID-19.
The second threat facing Sassou Nguesso’s hold on power is General Mokoko. Although he has been in prison since 2016, the pro-democracy icon arguably commands more respect in Congo than any other living figure and is uniquely capable of bridging the north-south divide.
Born in Mossaka, Cuvette, not far from Sassou Nguesso’s native Oyo, Mokoko personally guaranteed the security of the National Conference that brought Pascal Lissouba, a southerner, to power in 1992.
When he emerges from prison, he will do so as a martyr. Citizens will rally behind him, on the streets or at the ballot box.
Sassou Nguesso knows this. His strategy is to ensure this does not happen. The French government has pushed the government to release Mokoko, whose health is deteriorating quickly.
Turning To Africa
Democracy from Tanzania to Zimbabwe to Cameroon has been shredded.
We are getting closer and closer to the Virilian Tipping Point
“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street''
Political leadership in most cases completely gerontocratic will use violence to cling onto Power but any Early Warning System would be warning a Tsunami is coming
World-Beating Currency Draws Ire of Mozambique’s Farm Minister @markets
Mozambique’s world-beating currency has left some investors confused after a March terror attack threw its economic prospects into doubt.
Now, even the country’s agriculture minister has implied the metical’s 32% appreciation this year is overdone.
A strong Mozambican currency is always good, but it has to be because of strong fundamentals and not because of administrative measures, state-owned Radio Mocambique cited Celso Correia as saying.
The minister, who’s one of President Filipe Nyusi’s closest confidants and his election campaign manager, wants the monetary and fiscal authorities to respond to the need to promote agricultural exports, he said.
That may suggest he wants the central bank to reverse a surprise 300 basis-point hike in its benchmark interest rate in January -- the first globally this year.
Inflation accelerated to 5.76% year-on-year in March, but well below the double-digit levels that Banco de Mocambique Governor Rogerio Zandamela had previously feared.
Part of the currency’s strength may be linked to the resumption of some mining exports from Mozambique.
Vale SA, the Brazilian mining giant, was due to complete maintenance and resume production in the first quarter at its coal mines in central Mozambique.
Coal is the nation’s biggest export after aluminum, and Vale produces nearly all of it.
Gemfields Group Ltd. last week said it sold nearly $60 million worth of rubies from its Mozambique operations, in the first auctions in over a year.
Correia’s remarks will be heard by the central bank, which is due to hold its next monetary policy committee meeting on May 19. It maintained its policy rate at 13.25% on March 17.
Much of Mozambique’s economic fortunes rest on the $20 billion natural-gas export project that Total SE put on hold last month after insurgents attacked the closest major town to the site, where many of its sub-contractors and suppliers were based