|Friday 17th of December 2021
From ‘tempestuous’ child to little rocket man: 10 years of Kim Jong-un @guardian H/T @mmnjug
Law & Politics
Some observers said he would survive a few months as the head of a nuclear-armed state but, a decade later, the North Korean leader has proved them wrong
It was not, perhaps, the image Kim Jong-un would have wanted to project in his first public appearance as the latest authoritarian leader of North Korea in 2011.
As wailing citizens exhibited their grief along the snowbound streets of Pyongyang, Kim, then only in his late 20s, cut a forlorn figure.
Dressed in a long black coat, Kim walked with grim purpose alongside the hearse carrying his father, Kim Jong-il, one hand resting on the bonnet of the 1970s Lincoln Continental, the other executing an awkward salute.
He was later seen crying and drying his eyes at the burial service, in footage broadcast on state television.
The younger Kim’s sudden ascent to lead an unpredictable, nuclear-armed nation on 17 December 2011 offered little indication of how – and for how long – he would rule the secretive state.
Some observers predicted an early political demise for a young man who had yet to earn the loyalty of the inner circle of the ruling Korean Workers’ party and the generals of the country’s million-strong army.
The state machinery, observers predicted, would use the succession to exploit Kim’s inexperience, plunging the country and the world into unprecedented uncertainty.
Just two days into Kim’s leadership, Victor Cha, the former White House Asian affairs director, wrote: “Whether it comes apart in the next few weeks or over several months, the regime will not be able to hold together after the untimely death of its leader, Kim Jong-il.”
Others, more in hope than expectation, predicted a new style of leadership under the “cosmopolitan” Kim Jong-un, who had been educated at an exclusive Swiss boarding school and professed a love for NBA basketball.
In the best-case scenario, its new, free-spirited leader would address the regime’s nuclear ambitions and appalling human rights record.
Now, as he embarks on a second decade in power, Kim leads a country assailed by international sanctions, natural disasters and the unprecedented challenges posed by Covid-19.
A year that began with him being named general secretary of the Workers’ party – his late father’s title – has ended with fears over food shortages, the pandemic and the economy, with a return to nuclear talks only a distant possibility.
In October 2020, Kim offered an extraordinary public apology to the people of North Korea, tearfully acknowledging that he had failed to guide the country through difficult times.
Faced with food shortages and more economic pain caused by the Covid-enforced closure of the border with China, he called on his people to embark on another “arduous march”, appearing to compare the situation to a 1990s famine during which hundreds of thousands of people died.
And yet, predictions that his regime is in danger of collapse are as hopelessly wide of the mark now as they were a decade ago.
Thirteen days after the death of Kim Jong-il, his youngest son was formally declared supreme commander of the Korean People’s army, a year after he had been briefly introduced at a military parade.
That appearance confirmed that the then 26-year-old was preferred ahead of his older half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, who had fallen out of favour in 2001 after an embarrassing encounter with Japanese immigration officials.
“It was a mistake for some people to assume that he would be a reformer,” says Duyeon Kim, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
“Being educated in the west does not automatically mean one will subscribe to democratic values. At the end of the day, it’s all about ensuring the Kim dynasty lasts forever, so it is only natural that Kim will do anything to maintain a firm grip on absolute power.
“Kim has maintained his grip on power through a combination of the regime apparatus, keeping the elites happy who help sustain a Kim family leadership system, and employing brutal practices to enforce loyalty and eliminate threats.”
Addressing the first major party congress in decades, Kim in 2016 outlined his byongjin policy – a vision of a North Korea that married economic development with acquiring status as a genuine nuclear power.
He also revealed a “tempestuous” side that, according to Kim Jong-il’s former sushi chef, had marked him out as a leader-in-waiting when he was still a child.
In 2013, he ordered the execution of his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful adviser who had walked immediately behind him as they mourned three years earlier.
Jang would be just one of dozens of officials purged or executed by Kim, whose determination to tighten his grip on power had made him deeply distrustful of many of those around him, including his own family.
Sixteen years after his unsuccessful attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland, Kim Jong-nam was waiting to check in at Kuala Lumpur airport when two women – groomed by North Korean agents – smeared an oily substance on his face that turned out to be the nerve agent VX, one of the most deadly chemical weapons in the world.
Twenty minutes later, he was dead. Few believe the assassination could have happened without the approval of Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-nam and Jang Song-thaek were not the regime’s only high-profile victims.
In 2017, the world reacted in horror after the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student who had been detained in North Korea, reportedly after attempting to steal a poster as a memento of his visit.
Although details of his death remain murky, we do know that the 22-year-old university student was medically evacuated from North Korea on 13 June that year and flown to the US, where he died on 19 June.
North Korea’s 24 million people have also suffered under Kim, whose human rights abuses include the torture, humiliation and sexual assault of criminal suspects and the use of a network of gulags for the politically “impure”.
Many of the defectors who have made it to the South during Kim’s time in power said they had been motivated by worsening poverty and malnutrition.
The regime’s response – according to high-profile defectors, including Thae Yong-ho, a senior diplomat at the North Korean embassy in London – was to resort to executions and killings as a form of “terrorism” to crush dissent.
The Seoul-based human rights organisation the Transitional Justice Working Group said it had identified hundreds of sites where witnesses say North Korea carried out public executions and extrajudicial state killings as part of an arbitrary and aggressive use of the death penalty designed to intimidate its citizens.
Meeting Trump the ‘dotard’
At the end of 2016 the world held its breath with the election of a US president every bit as idiosyncratic as his North Korean nemesis.
Fears grew that tensions fomented during the Obama administration could spill over into a military conflict as Donald Trump spent the first months of his presidency trading insults with the “little rocket man” in Pyongyang, who responded in kind with public denunciations of the “dotard” in the White House.
Having exhausted their arsenal of insults, the two men embarked on an unprecedented round of nuclear summitry, in Singapore in 2018 and Hanoi in 2019, as well as a historic meeting at the demilitarised zone, the heavily fortified border that dissects the Korean peninsula.
Kim had embarked on a furious round of diplomacy that included three summits with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, six meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and one with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The Singapore summit marked Kim’s debut as a statesman and ended with a loose agreement to “denuclearise” the Korean peninsula.
The Hanoi summit, however, ended in ignominy after the two leaders failed to agree on how North Korea would be rewarded for dismantling its nuclear weapons.
To date, Kim has not abandoned a single nuclear weapon, and only this month, satellite imagery showed the regime continuing to produce nuclear-grade plutonium at its main Yongbyon plant.
At around the same time, Kim was in a strong enough position to begin crafting the North Korean state in his own image, albeit one that stylistically borrowed heavily from his grandfather, from his dark Mao suits and short-back-and sides to his visible weight gain.
He has since stepped out of the shadow of his predecessors, using a constitutional revision in 2019 to expunge all mention of his father’s songun “military-first” policy.
South Korean media reported this month that portraits of former leaders have been removed from meeting rooms, while officials now use the term “Kim Jong-un-ism” to underline the break with the ideologies of his predecessors.
“Kim has manipulated the strategic levers of power to survive and thrive,” says Patrick Cronin, chair for Asia-Pacific security at the Hudson Institute in Washington.
“He revived party power and discipline, co-opted elites, opened more markets, developed strategic arms, and balanced outsider powers.”
Kim’s greatest test
Much of what the outside world knows about North Korea comes from satellite imagery, brave citizen journalists equipped with contraband mobile phones, recent defectors, South Korea’s spy agency, the North’s state-run media and, inevitably, a degree of guesswork and speculation.
That applies as much to Kim’s health as it does to his nuclear weapons. Official photos offered watertight proof that he piled on the pounds in his first few years as leader and that his weight had caused him occasional discomfort.
Prolonged absences from public life triggered speculation he was suffering a serious illness.
A three-week absence in 2020 sparked rumours of heart surgery, with some reports suggesting he had died.
A more plausible theory – that he had simply been isolating as a precaution during the pandemic – emerged after Kim reappeared, apparently in good health.
More recent photos suggest the leader has been advised to make lifestyle changes and has subsequently lost enough weight to tighten the strap on his favourite $12,000 watch.
Little is known about his diet or drinking habits – we know his father was fond of Hennessy cognac – but he has frequently been photographed with a cigarette in his hand.
South Korean intelligence officials recently told MPs that an apparently healthy Kim had lost 20kg, and dismissed reports a body-double had been enlisted to make public appearances.
In the 10 years since he shed tears beside his father’s corpse at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun mausoleum, Kim has turned North Korea into a nuclear power, withstood unprecedented economic pressure from the UN security council and cemented North Korea’s role as a constant source of geopolitical frustration for three US presidents and counting.
His greatest test, though, could be largely home-grown, says the Hudson Institute’s Cronin.
“The biggest unknown for Kim remains the true impact of Covid, which has stifled North Korean progress and may yet undermine the regime in ways not yet visible to the outside world,” he says.
Some analysts expect Kim to mask pandemic and economic shortcomings by bolstering his reputation as a friend of the people, an image nurtured during photo opportunities with children and “ordinary” civilians, and public appearances with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, with whom he reportedly has three children aged between four and 11.
While drawing heavily on traditional methods of quashing dissent, Kim’s public persona “is that of a loving supreme leader who cares most about his people’s welfare and putting on a human face by openly acknowledging policy failures and even crying to tug at his people’s heart strings, while trying to show the world that he is a normal leader of a normal state,” says Duyeon Kim.
With UN security council sanctions still in place, warnings of more economic hardship and the prospect of an unvaccinated population facing another wave of Covid, North Korea’s situation is anything but normal.
But having defied the odds for so long, the consensus is that Kim Jong-un is here to stay. As Cronin says: “More likely than not, North Korea will be celebrating 20 years of ‘glorious’ leadership under Kim.”
A screaming comes across the sky North Korea.
Law & Politics
Gravity’s Rainbow is a 1973 novel by Thomas Pynchon which is about the design, production and dispatch of V-2 rockets by the German military.
In particular, it features the quest undertaken by several characters to uncover the secret of a mysterious device named the “Schwarzgerät” (black device), slated to be installed in a rocket with the serial number “00000”.
As the world watches PyongYang, I cannot help wondering if Kim Jong-Un has read Pynchon which speaks of “A screaming comes across the sky”
“But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice -guessed and refused to believe -that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chance, no return.’’
Putin, Xi running circles around Biden’s hybrid war @asiatimesonline @RealPepeEscobar
Law & Politics
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin spent an hour and 14 minutes in a video conversation on Wednesday.
Geopolitically, paving the way for 2022, this is the one that really matters – much more than Putin-Biden a week ago.
Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov, who generally carefully measures his words, had previously hinted that this exchange would be “extremely important.”
It was obvious the two leaders would not only exchange information about the natural gas pipeline Power of Siberia 2.
But Peskov was referring to prime time geopolitics: how Russia-China would be coordinating their countercoups against the hybrid war/Cold War 2.0 combo deployed by the US and its allies.
While no substantial leaks were expected from the 37th meeting between Xi and Putin since 2013 (they will meet again in person in February 2022, at the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics), Assistant to the President for Foreign Policy Yuri Ushakov did manage to succinctly deliver at least two serious bits of information.
These are the highlights of the call:
Moscow will inform Beijing about the progress, or lack thereof, in negotiations with the US/NATO on security guarantees for Russia.
Beijing supports Moscow’s demands on US/NATO for these security guarantees.
Putin and Xi agreed to create an “independent financial structure for trade operations that could not be influenced by other countries.”
Diplomatic sources, off the record, say the structure may be announced by a joint summit in late 2022.
They discussed the Biden-hosted “Summit for Democracy,” concluding it was counterproductive and imposed new dividing lines.
Of all of the above, the third point is the real game-changer – already in the works for a few years now, and gaining definitive momentum after Washington hawks of the Victoria “F**k the EU” Nuland kind recently floated the idea of expelling Russia from SWIFT – the vast messaging network used by banks and other financial institutions to make money transfer instructions – as the ultimate sanctions package for the non-invasion of Ukraine.
Putin and Xi once again discussed one of their key themes in bilaterals and BRICS meetings: the need to keep increasing the share of the yuan and ruble in mutual settlements – bypassing the US dollar – and opening new stock market avenues for Russian and Chinese investors.
Bypassing a SWIFT mechanism “influenced by third counties” then becomes a must.
Ushakov diplomatically put it as “the need to intensify efforts to form an independent financial infrastructure to service trade operations between Russia and China.”
Russian energy businesses, from Gazprom to Rosneft, know all there is to know not only about US threats but also about the negative effects of the tsunami of US dollars flooding the global economy via the Fed’s quantitative easing.
This Russia-China drive is yet another dimension of geoeconomic, geostrategic and demographic power rapidly shifting towards Eurasia and possibly foreshadowing the advent of a new world system related to other matters Putin-Xi certainly discussed: the interconnection of Belt and Road with the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), the expanded reach of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the coming Chinese presidency of BRICS in 2022.
The US – with US$30 trillion in debt, 236% of its militarized GDP – is virtually bankrupt.
Russia-China have already experimented with their alternative payment systems, which will inevitably integrate.
The most important banks in both countries will adopt the system – as well as banks across Eurasia doing business with them, and then vast swaths of the Global South. SWIFT, in the long run, will be used only in exceptional cases if China and Russia have their way.
Now to the heart of the geopolitical puzzle.
Ushakov confirmed that the Russian Federation has submitted proposals on security guarantees to the US.
As Putin himself had confirmed even before talking to Xi, it’s all about “indivisible security”: a mechanism that has been enshrined all across the territory of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe since a 1975 summit in Helsinki.
Predictably, under orders of the powers that be, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg already rejected it.
Both Xi and Putin clearly identify how Team Biden is deploying a strategic polarization gambit under good old divide-and-rule.
The wishful thinking at play is to build a pro-American bloc – with participants ranging from the UK and Australia to Israel and Saudi Arabia – to “isolate” Russia-China.
That’s what’s behind the narrative thunderously splashed non-stop all across the West – to which Biden’s Summit for Democracy was also tied.
Taiwan is being manipulated against Beijing while Ukraine is being literally weaponized against Russia. “China aggression” meets “Russian aggression.”
Beijing has not fallen into the trap but has asserted at different levels that Taiwan will eventually be integrated into the mainland motherland, without any ludicrous “invasion.”
And the wishful thinking that massive American pressure will lead to cracks inside the Chinese Communist Party is also likely generating zero traction.
Ukraine is a much more volatile proposition: a dysfunctional nightmare of systemic instability, widespread corruption, shady oligarchic entanglements and poverty.
Washington still follows the Zbigniew Brzezinski-concocted Maidan plan laid out for cookie distributor Nuland in 2014.
Yet seven years later, no American “strategist” managed to understand why Russia would fail to invade Ukraine, which has been part of Russia for centuries.
For these “strategists”, it’s imperative that Russia faces a second Vietnam, after Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Well, it’s not going to happen because Moscow has no interest whatsoever in “invading” Ukraine.
It does get more complicated. The ultimate fear dictating all US foreign policy since the early 20th century is the possibility of Germany clinching a new version of Bismarck’s 1887 Reinsurance Treaty with Russia.
Add China to the combination and these three actors are able to control just about the entire Eurasian landmass. Updating Mackinder, the US would then be turned into a geopolitically irrelevant island.
Putin-Xi may have examined not only how the imperial hybrid war tactics against them are floundering against them, as well as how the tactics are dragging Europe further into the abyss of irrelevance.
For the EU, as former British diplomat Alastair Crooke points out, the strategic balance is a disaster:
“The EU has virtually ruptured its relations with both Russia and China – at the same time. Washington’s hawks wanted it. A ‘European Brzezinski’ certainly would have advised the EU differently: never lose both in tandem – you are never that powerful.”
No wonder the leadership in Moscow-Beijing can’t take anyone in Brussels seriously – be it assorted NATO chihuahuas or the spectacularly incompetent Ursula von der Leyen at the European Commission.
A faint ray of light is that Paris and Berlin, unlike the Russophobic Poland and the Baltic fringe, at least prefer having some sort of negotiation with Moscow over Ukraine as opposed to slapping on extra sanctions.
Now imagine Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explaining the ABCs of foreign policy to a clueless Annalena “Grune” Baerbock, now posing as German foreign minister while displaying a fresh mix of incompetence and aggressiveness. She actually placed the phone call.
Lavrov had to meticulously explain the consequences of NATO expansion; the Minsk agreement; and how Berlin should exercise its right to pressure Kiev to respect Minsk.
No leaks about it should be expected from Ushakov. But it’s fair to imagine that with “partners” like the US, NATO and the EU, Xi and Putin should conclude that China and Russia don’t even need enemies.
A Wild, Emotional Year Has Changed Investing—Maybe Forever @BW
World Of Finance
There was a huge merger in 2021: the combination of popular culture and modern finance.
Tom Brady and Matt Damon were suddenly shilling for cryptocurrency exchanges.
Digital tokens that started off as elaborate pranks represented tens of billions of dollars of paper wealth.
And cartoon pictures of apes were selling for millions of dollars on something called the nonfungible token market, which almost no one had heard of in the long-ago days of 2020.
This wasn’t always a friendly merger. Small individual investors teamed up to buy shares of GameStop Corp. and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. with the express intention of bankrupting the hedge funds that were betting against the companies.
Many Wall Street pros were as flummoxed as anyone else by the rise of new crypto markets.
Everyone seemed to want in, from high school kids trading on their phones during Zoom school to older folks who missed out on dot-com-era riches and were determined not to let another bubble pass them by without claiming a piece of it.
It’s difficult to know exactly how many people turned themselves into traders. Yet as one indicator, verified users of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase alone grew to 73 million by September, from 32 million at the beginning of 2019.
Warnings from sober-minded financial advisers to avoid this type of stuff appear to have gone unheeded.
The percentage of the affluent using self-managed accounts for at least part of their investments jumped to 69% in 2021, from 35% in 2015, according to a report from research firm Cerulli Associates.
What, pray tell, are they doing with those accounts?
“Investors are most likely to concentrate their attention on more volatile offerings, including securities gathering widespread media attention, such as GameStop, AMC, or cryptocurrencies, or within niche themes or sectors in which the investor perceives opportunity for outsized growth in the short to medium term,” according to Cerulli.
That’s all the more remarkable considering how easy it was to make money the passive way: A boring S&P 500 index fund is up about 25% so far this year.
Not so long ago, the Certified Serious People of finance were worried that too many investors had migrated to index funds, and that this would distort the markets. How cute.
These days we wonder if there will ever be systemic financial risk from joke dog-themed crypto tokens such as Dogecoin.
It’s easy to chalk all this up to an excess of the same emotions that have fueled markets since forever: greed and fear. (In this case, the fear of missing out.)
That’s certainly a huge part of the story. Yet there’s another emotion at work here: fascination.
The crypto and NFT space has swiftly evolved into a bottomless rabbit hole of innovation and intellectual intrigue.
For meme-stock traders, it’s a fascination with the complexities of market plumbing and how professional traders work the pipes.
You aren’t figuring out only what AMC’s business model is, but also whether your team can outfox the money managers on the other side.
The phrase “proof of work”—the computational effort required to run blockchain networks like Bitcoin’s—can also be applied to the motivations of this new breed of traders.
Riches appear there for the taking if you work hard enough, read enough online white papers, listen to enough podcasts, watch enough YouTube videos, study enough social media, learn technical chart patterns, or simply refresh the trading app on your phone frequently enough that you hit the buy button at the right time.
It all revolves around something funny that happened when the coronavirus forced the humans of this planet to isolate from one another:
New virtual communities were formed. In this hybrid of financial and popular culture, these communities meet in Reddit forums and under Twitter hashtags, in Discord and Slack chats, or even simple text message threads.
I have a group of friends who for years have met on Friday nights to play poker. Recently they instead met over Zoom with an NFT expert to discuss parlaying some of their crypto token riches into monetized JPEG files.
It’s easy to spot the most enthusiastic members of these communities. The crypto true believers, like Tom Brady, have laser beams shooting from their eyes in their social media pictures.
“Degenerates” of the WallStreetBets Reddit group—11.3 million strong and growing—have some version of a cartoon kid in a banker’s suit and sunglasses.
You have to look closely at the whimsical apes that are showing up on people’s online profiles: It could be a member of the “Ape Army” marching to war for AMC stock, or a member of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT project sporting one of this year’s hottest digital status symbols.
The value of many such assets is derived solely from the strength and influence of the communities surrounding them.
With crypto projects especially, there’s often no underlying cash flow or real fundamental economics at work at all; nor is any blockchain innovation necessarily required. The barriers to entry are practically nonexistent.
Want to start your own meme coin? Just copy the open source code from the last one, give it a name, make a few tweaks, and you’re in business.
The price of the token will be determined by how well its community pumps it up on social media.
Get Elon Musk or another influencer interested, and you’ll be rich in no time. Or maybe you can at least make a dent in your student loans.
It all seems a little crazy. And it is. It all sounds like it will end terribly. And it probably will.
Someone, somewhere has to buy at the top, setting the most ridiculous price so it can be printed in the record books for future generations to laugh at and wonder what was wrong with all of us.
Fortunes will be lost, both large and small. Social media profile pictures will change back to professional headshots. When that actually occurs is anyone’s guess.
Maybe when the U.S. Federal Reserve shifts to a tighter monetary policy, or when those pandemic-swollen savings accounts finally revert back to normal. Or maybe not.
Boom or bust, the spectacular growth and influence of online communities and the fascination they’ve created is the real legacy of 2021 and beyond for the financial world.
Some analysts and writers have taken to calling the phenomenon “identity investing.”
“All investors, in my experience, behave in a way that is broadly consistent with their fundamental personality,” is how Chuck McNaughton, senior wealth adviser at ScotiaMcLeod, put it this year.
He was talking mainly about stocks and bonds and the risk tolerance appropriate for each. But could some investors now identify with a cartoon of a shiba inu dog? Or a drawing of an ape? Well, welcome to 2021.
“It’s easy to laugh at, but it’s real,” Steve Kurz, global head of asset management at Galaxy Digital, a crypto investment firm, told me during an interview on the What Goes Up podcast in November.
“You wear that badge and you own a piece of that network as it grows. We have to imagine a world where identity investing has value.”
Who knows which of these new assets will end up being worth keeping, the way Apple and Amazon.com were worth holding on to during and after the dot-com crash, when the Nasdaq Composite index tumbled almost 80%.
But some certainly will be. Squint and you can see in the flurry of crypto the emergence of what believers call Web3—a whole new future internet built around the blockchain technology that fuels all those tokens and art projects.
“Like Facebook, where we didn’t know what the economic model or the valuation was going to be until well after the network had grown, it’s possible that we’re just in the early stages of some of this,” Kurz said. “And I think it would be silly to dismiss the value of some of that.”
The laser-eyes crowd will certainly tell you that if you dismiss the future, you’re NGMI (Not Gonna Make It).
But it would be even sillier at this point to ignore the lessons of the past, and you don’t even have to reach as far back as the dot-com episode.
Meme stocks and crypto aren’t so much bubbles that have continuously inflated but a series of waves that have already swelled and crashed onto shore, only to be followed by the next one.
The ARK Innovation ETF—Cathie Wood’s Tesla-and-Bitcoin-heavy fund that took off in 2020 and peaked in February—is off almost 40% from its high.
AMC is down more than 60% from the price it touched this summer. Dogecoin faded as NFTs rose.
Still, a rising market overall may have cushioned investors from a lot of this pain, while creating the feeling that you can always find something going up.
“You have a new generation of investors coming into the market that have not experienced the big losses of the past,” says Christine Benz, director of personal finance at fund researcher Morningstar Inc.
But valuations are high even for the plain-vanilla S&P 500, and fund management giant Vanguard Group is telling investors to expect far more modest returns in the coming decade.
Benz recalls what happened to many traders after the 2000 tech wreck: People threw in the towel not just on specific stocks, but also “on the idea of themselves being individual stock investors.”
We’ll have to see if that turns out to be the case with this dazzling new world of identity investing.
In the meantime, many are wondering if and when that Facebook narrative will collide with the crypto story line, and if Web3 turns out to be the financial system of the metaverse.
But for anyone strapping on the VR goggles and diving in head-first, remember: The reality may be virtual. The money you are investing ain’t. —
29-NOV-2021 :: Regime Change
[AND A REGIME CHANGE IS UNDERWAY] There is no training – that can prepare for trading the last third of a move, whether it's the end of a bull market or the end of a bear market. @ptj_official
https://bit.ly/2Wzp4FgThere is no training – classroom or otherwise.. that can prepare for trading the last third of a move, whether it's the end of a bull market or the end of a bear market. There's typically no logic to it; irrationality reigns supreme, and no class can teach what to do during that brief, volatile reign.
Kenneth Rogoff Warns of ‘Accident Waiting to Happen’ in Emerging Markets @markets
Inflation has Kenneth Rogoff worrying that quicker Federal Reserve interest-rate hikes could spell trouble for emerging markets.
“Developing economies are just an accident waiting to happen,” the Harvard University economics professor said on Bloomberg TV on Wednesday, before the Fed’s policy decision.
“There are already a lot of problems in what we call the frontier emerging markets.”
A full percentage-point of Fed rate increases next year could shut some countries out of markets, further straining already vulnerable fiscal situations.
He pointed to Egypt, Pakistan and Ghana as nations already battling large debt obligations, narrower market access and, in some cases, double-digit inflation.
In a major policy pivot, the Fed ramped up its battle against inflation by accelerating the wind-down of asset purchases and signaling -- through its so-called dot-plot projections -- three quarter-point hikes in the benchmark federal funds rate next year.
Back in September, its last forecast showed officials were evenly split on the need for any rate increase at all in 2022.
Emerging markets are “very sensitive to the hiking-more-quickly scenario,” Rogoff said. “Many, many countries that have access right now, suddenly wouldn’t. That would really be catastrophic.”
“If we’re talking about inflation, there is time to act,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that the longer you wait, it doesn’t get longer and more unpleasant to unwind it.”
Earlier this year, he warned in a paper co-authored with World Bank chief economist Carmen Reinhart that emerging markets faced more difficult choices than advanced economies in dealing with debt burdens that exploded during the Covid-19 pandemic.
WHO regional overviews Epidemiological week 6 – 12 December 2021 African Region
The African Region reported over 167 000 new cases, an increase of 111% as compared to the previous week and the highest number of new weekly cases since early August 2021.
Marked increases were observed in over two thirds (33/49; 67%) of countries in the Region with the majority (30/33; 91%) reporting increases of 25% or greater, as compared to the previous week.
The highest numbers of new cases were reported from
South Africa (109 053 new cases; 183.9 new cases per 100 000 population; a 76% increase)
Zimbabwe (26 479 new cases; 178.2 new cases per 100 000; a 479% increase)
Mauritius (6415 new cases; 504.4 new cases per 100 000; a 775% increase)
The Region reported just under 500 new deaths, a number similar to the number reported in the previous week.
Libyans in dark over election with eight days to go @Reuters
Eight days before Libyans were meant to cast presidential votes, there is utter confusion over the fate of an election that has not yet been formally delayed but that even an electoral official now says will be impossible to hold on time.
The planned Dec. 24 vote, along with a parallel election for a new parliament, was meant to help end Libya's past decade of chaos by installing a political leadership with national legitimacy after years of factional division.
On Saturday the electoral commission said it would not announce the final list of eligible candidates, drawn from the 98 who registered, until after legal discussions with the judiciary and parliament.
Since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has had no political stability and in 2014 the country split between warring eastern and western factions.
29-NOV-2021 :: Regime Change
Regime Change came to Saddam’s Iraq and for a while regime change was de rigeur.
Muammar Gaddafi was decapitated and the domino effect only stopped when Vladimir Putin decided he was going to put a stop to it and intervened on behalf of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
28 OCT 19 :: From Russia with Love
“Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else, and we strongly oppose any geopolitical games involving Africa.” “Russia regards Africa as an
important and active participant in the emerging polycentric archi- tecture of the world order and an ally in protecting international law against attempts to undermine it,” said Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov
Andrew Korybko writes Moscow invaluably fills the much-needed niche of providing its partners there with “Democratic Security”, or in other words, the cost-effective and low-commitment capabilities needed to thwart colour revolutions and resolve unconventional Wars (collectively referred to as Hybrid War).
To simplify, Russia’s “political technologists” have reportedly devised bespoke solutions for confronting incipient and ongoing color revolutions, just like its private military contractors (PMCs) have supposedly done the same when it comes to ending insurgencies.
Putin has created a hybrid model with an exponential ROI. I would imagine he is on speed dial.
A Year of War in Ethiopia Batters Investors and Citizens @Reuters @usnews
When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018, Ethiopia was one of the world's fastest growing economies. His pledges to open up one of Africa's last untapped markets thrilled investors.
But a year of war between the government and rebellious forces from the northern Tigray region has damaged government plans to modernise the economy and deterred some foreign investors.
Parts of Tigray are in famine, the currency's value has plummeted and annual inflation has topped 35%.
"Ethiopia is uninvestable at the moment," said Kevin Daly of London-based investment company abrdn.
"The political situation is very tenuous, and there is a lack of information and clarity on the economy, and on how things are going to be resolved."
The economy was on track to grow just 2% this year after consistently topping 10% before the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in its world economic outlook published in October. It did not include growth projections for 2022 to 2026, citing an "unusually high degree of uncertainty".
Officials in Ethiopia's finance ministry and the prime minister's office did not respond to requests for comment.
However, State Finance Minister Eyob Tekalign Tolina has accused Western media of exaggerating the war's impact.
The government projects growth of 8.7% for the fiscal year ending in June 2022. "Ethiopia is a very strong country, and we are talking about a conflict in one part of the country, but the rest of the country is thriving," Eyob told India's DD TV channel last month.
Not everyone agrees.
Fighting ruined harvests in rich agricultural regions, including a swathe of disputed territory claimed by Tigray and neighbouring Amhara, while drought and locust invasions also hit crops.
Around 9.4 million people need food aid in three regions affected by the war, according to the United Nations, compared with 4 million before the war.
Far from the fighting, inflation is hitting the urban poor in the capital Addis Ababa.
At an open-air market, Legesse Yadataa despaired at the price of teff, a staple grain. A kilogram (2.2 lb) cost nearly 50 Ethiopian birr ($1.04), 25% higher than a year ago. That's a third of his daily earnings on intermittent construction jobs.
"Merchants keep increasing the price because of the war," he said. "We don't have enough to eat. Paying rent is getting beyond our means. Life is very difficult."
The fighting has shuttered many firms operating in Tigray. Authorities have also targeted Ethiopian companies suspected of working with the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the party that controls most of the region.
Frans Van Schaik, chief executive of the New York-based Africa Asset Finance Company, said the firm's equipment leasing business in Ethiopia lost agricultural equipment worth nearly $1 million in the war.
GPS trackers showed Ethio Lease's tractors moving towards the border with Sudan before losing contact.
Next, the central government took control of the agricultural cooperative leasing the equipment, he said.
Their bank accounts were frozen, the board dismantled and caretaker leadership installed unfamiliar with its operations.
"It's a typical casualty of war," he said.
The conflict has also hurt companies outside the war zone.
U.S. apparel giant PVH Corp.. said last month it was closing a manufacturing facility south of Addis Ababa after the United States terminated Ethiopia's duty-free access to its markets from Jan. 1 over allegations of rights abuses in Tigray.
The Ethiopian Investment Commission did not respond to requests for comment.
Ethiopia is one of three African nations that applied for debt restructuring under the G20 Common Framework, designed to provide permanent relief to poorer countries.
But progress reworking the external debt has been slow. The government has not disclosed the total amount of debt, which the World Bank last year put at $28.4 billion.
Foreign investors had hoped that Abiy's economic reforms would ease foreign exchange shortages.
Instead, they have worsened since war erupted. Ethiopia has reserves of $2.4 billion, government data shows, enough to cover two months of imports - below the three months usually considered adequate.
The war has also hurt Ethiopia's ability to raise additional funds from capital markets or other creditors, with yields on its $1 billion dollar bond soaring well above 20% in recent months.
Anders Faergemann, a London-based emerging markets portfolio manager at PineBridge Investments, which holds the bond maturing in 2024, said a coupon payment was made last week. The payment due was around $32 million.
Ethiopia's credit rating, however, has slid further into junk territory.
"We don't have certainty about whether the conflict could escalate ... and don't feel comfortable buying Ethiopian debt at current levels," said Yvette Babb, a fund manager at William Blair in the Netherlands.
Despite the risks, some investors still cultivate Ethiopia's large and growing market, said Patrick Heinisch, emerging markets economist at Helaba Bank in Germany.
Spanish-listed wind turbine maker Siemens Gamesa, which in January agreed to build its first power project with state-run Ethiopian Electric Power, said it was business as usual.
The awarding of an operating licence to a consortium led by Kenya's Safaricom boosted foreign direct investment(FDI) in the second quarter of 2021 to $1.9 billion, from less than $750 million in the first quarter.
FDI will continue to provide a "financial lifeline" to the government, said Heinisch, adding that the government's need for cash gives investors more bargaining power if other state-owned firms are privatized.