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Fri, 24 Sep 2021
The World for People who Think

Cardboard Box

The world is still short of everything. Get used to it!

© Tim Gruber/NYT
Kirsten Gjesdal stopped ordering some products for her kitchen supply store.
Like most people in the developed world, Kirsten Gjesdal had long taken for granted her ability to order whatever she needs and then watch the goods arrive, without any thought about the factories, container ships and trucks involved in delivery.

Not anymore.

At her kitchen supply store in Brookings, S.D., Ms. Gjesdal has given up stocking place mats, having wearied of telling customers that she can only guess when more will come. She recently received a pot lid she had purchased eight months earlier. She has grown accustomed to paying surcharges to cover the soaring shipping costs of the goods she buys. She has already placed orders for Christmas items like wreaths and baking pans.

"It's nuts," she said. "It's definitely not getting back to normal."

The challenges confronting Ms. Gjesdal's shop, Carrot Seed Kitchen, are a testament to the breadth and persistence of the chaos roiling the global economy, as manufacturers and the shipping industry contend with an unrelenting pandemic.

Comment: This dire global supply-demand crisis is a direct result of mandated lockdown measures, not the virus. The focus was on calculated maneuvers to produce just such an outcome in order to cripple industry and reduce access to goods and services. Who does this serve? Not industry. Who benefits? Not the people.

Oil Well

Skyrocketing energy prices could cripple Europe's economy

oil refinery
© Unknown
Surging energy prices in Europe are hurting more than just consumers. The price spikes have started to hit industrial activities, threatening to deal a blow to the post-COVID recovery in European economies with a triple whammy of reduced consumer purchasing power, lower industrial production, and higher operating costs.

Giant European firms, from chemicals and mining to the food sector, say sky-high gas and electricity prices are hitting their profit margins and forcing some of them to curtail operations.

Some factories have shut down because of record natural gas prices. More idling of industrial activity across Europe is likely in the coming weeks, analysts say.

Meanwhile, the record European natural gas prices are sending Asian spot prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to record levels for this time of the year — between peak summer demand and ahead of the winter heating season.

Europe's tight gas market, low wind speeds, abnormally low gas inventories, and record carbon prices have combined in recent weeks to send benchmark gas prices on the continent and power prices in the largest economies to record highs. Almost daily, gas and power prices in Europe surge to fresh records, putting pressure on governments as consumers protest against soaring power bills.

Comment: Biden administration wonders why oil prices are rising...could it be supply can't reach the demand? That's what happens when the economy is disrupted, the population sequestered, transport is banned and you look for someone else to blame:
The Biden administration is looking into prices at the pump and why they are higher than they are supposed to be. Quoted by Bloomberg, Biden said on Thursday:
"There's lots of evidence that gas prices should be going down -- but they haven't. We're taking a close look at that. We're also going after the bad actors and pandemic profiteers in our economy."
U.S. gas prices have risen by as much as 50 percent since the start of the year. Earlier this week, the average reached $3.19 per gallon, Bloomberg noted, citing data from the AAA, which is the highest since October 2014. The reason for the rise appears to be a strong rebound in fuel demand as the U.S. reopened after pandemic lockdowns. Still, the Biden administration has signaled it had its suspicions about other factors at play.

Last month, the director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, has approached FTC head Lina Khan with a request to monitor the U.S. gasoline market and address any illegal conduct that might be contributing to price increases for consumers at the pump. At the time, President Biden also acknowledged the climbing prices at the pump, saying he wanted to make sure that there was nothing preventing gas prices from falling:
"Recently, we've seen the price that oil companies pay for a barrel of oil begin to fall, but the cost of gasoline at the pump for more American people hasn't fallen. That's not what you'd expect in a competitive market."
Also last month, the Biden administration called on OPEC+ to boost oil production in order to help U.S. retail gas prices to fall. The call caused a sour reaction in Alberta, which is the biggest supplier of foreign oil to the United States, and no reaction from OPEC+.
Meanwhile in Lebanon, gas prices rise...again:
The Lebanese energy ministry hiked petrol prices again on Friday - this time by almost 38 percent - as the country continues to dial back fuel subsidies to tackle crippling shortages. The price of 20 litres of 95-octane and 98-octane gasoline increased to 174,300 ($11.24) and 180,000 ($11.64) Lebanese pounds respectively. That is equivalent to just over a quarter of the country's minimum wage.

Mikati has said that lifting fuel subsidies is a crucial step towards pulling the country out of an economic crisis that the World Bank has ranked among the world's three worst over the past 150 years.

George Braks of the Petrol Station Owners' Syndicate told Al Jazeera that Lebanon is heading towards lifting all fuel subsidies by the end of the month.
"Hopefully, we will not be moving from one problem to a new one with whatever new pricing mechanism is adopted. If they decide to price the dollar at the market rate, then this is something we would welcome, because we would continue with the Lebanese pound and not struggle to find US dollars."
Fuel subsidies had allowed importers and distributors to sell fuel at an officially pegged rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar. But as the value of the pound plummeted by roughly 90 percent, the pegged rate was replaced by an informal rate in the wider market. Economists and analysts say keeping the subsidies ultimately incentivised smuggling, notably into Syria, to sell at a profit. So far, diesel fuel subsidies have officially been lifted, as power cuts plague homes, hospitals and businesses.

Iran-backed Hezbollah delivered the first shipment of diesel fuel from Tehran on Thursday, to be donated to some institutions and sold to others at a discounted price in the local currency. It was one of four vessels of fuel expected to dock in Syria and be delivered to Lebanon.

Laury Haytayan, a gas and oil policy expert, fears that if gasoline is priced in dollars after subsidies are lifted, there would be greater demand for the gasoline distributed by Hezbollah and its web of institutions. He said:
"I don't know how the government would take care of that - having one product in Lebanese pounds and the other in dollars, one is smuggled the other is legitimate. Maybe next we'll see a monopoly in the Iranian product ... because it's priced in Lebanese pounds and discounted as we understood from Nasrallah, and the others are in the market price."


British meat industry warns of looming production halt: Firms running low on CO2 supply amid Covid, Brexit pressure

butcher arranges different cuts of meat in his shop in Budapest, Hungary
© Laszlo Balogh / Reuters
The UK's meat industry has warned that problems regarding the supply of CO2 could halt production in coming weeks with some firms reporting as little as five-days' supply of the gas used to stun animals before slaughter.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors Association told Sky News that the UK was just weeks away from seeing British-produced meat start to disappear from supermarket shelves because of a shortage in carbon dioxide (CO2) used in the slaughter of animals.

Comment: Winter is coming: European energy crisis 'could get very ugly' as EU delays Russian gas supplies

Alarm Clock

Why are global shipping costs continuing to skyrocket?

global shipping

Analysts believe the global shipping costs will not return to more manageable levels during 2021.
Global shipping costs are reaching rarely seen levels, putting strain on logistics teams and product purchasers alike. Here's a closer look at some of the reasons for this phenomenon.

Worsening Container Delays Create Bidding Wars

Port backups were among the issues of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, they persist now, limiting the number of containers each port can efficiently accommodate. Relatedly, the shipping customers outpace the available space in each container. That problem makes prices rise so high that some entities lose out because they cannot afford to pay them.

Port Backups Cause Headaches

Some port backups are so severe that ships arrive unable to dock. That's an ongoing situation at Washington State ports in Tacoma and Seattle. U.S. Coast Guard representatives helped redirect some vessels as they waited days or weeks to unload. Some ended up in unusual locations, such as off the Puget Sound. The offloading delays also cause a container shortage that affects new freight.


Bad Guys

Winter is coming: European energy crisis 'could get very ugly' as EU delays Russian gas supplies

snow paris umbrella
© Reuters / Gonzalo Fuentes
Europe is bracing for a difficult winter, having turned to weather-dependent sources of energy like wind and solar power over fossil fuels while natural gas storages have run low.

"It could get very ugly unless we act quickly to try to fill every inch of storage. You can survive a week without electricity, but you can't survive without gas," Marco Alvera, CEO of Italian energy infrastructure company Snam SpA, told Bloomberg.

European gas prices broke historic records this month, edging close to an unprecedented $1,000 per 1,000 cubic meters. The price spike can be partly blamed on supply chains being unable to meet the rising energy demand in both the household and industry sectors as the global economy gets back on the rails after the global Covid-19 crisis. However, experts say major Western economies have become too dependent on renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. And this doesn't seem to pay off, with the Wall Street Journal reporting last week that low winds in the North Sea were brewing chaos for energy networks.


Goldman warns of blackout risk for European industry this winter

industry waterfront
© Peter Boer/Bloomberg
Europe's soaring energy markets are exposing the risk of power blackouts this winter, especially if freezing weather worsens the region's already exceptionally low natural gas inventories, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

While higher gas prices can trigger supply and demand adjustments to offset the tight market, these are largely already priced in, Goldman analysts including Samantha Dart said in a note. As a result, a colder-than-average winter would mean Europe needing to compete with Asia for supplies of liquefied natural gas, driving prices even higher.

And there's a "non-negligible risk" that LNG directed to Europe won't be enough to prevent a depletion of gas inventories by the end of winter, especially if weather is cold in both Europe and Asia, the analysts said.


Israel boasts to New York Times about how it assassinated Iranian scientist using 'A.I.-Assisted Killer Robot'

Comment: They're so supremely confident these days, unassailable in their position as 'Rulers of the World', that they can gloat about their crimes...

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh
© Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the father of Iran’s nuclear program, kept a low profile, and photographs of him were rare. This photo appeared on martyrdom posters after his death.
Iran's top nuclear scientist woke up an hour before dawn, as he did most days, to study Islamic philosophy before his day began.

That afternoon, he and his wife would leave their vacation home on the Caspian Sea and drive to their country house in Absard, a bucolic town east of Tehran, where they planned to spend the weekend.

Iran's intelligence service had warned him of a possible assassination plot, but the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, had brushed it off.

Convinced that Mr. Fakhrizadeh was leading Iran's efforts to build a nuclear bomb, Israel had wanted to kill him for at least 14 years. But there had been so many threats and plots that he no longer paid them much attention.

Despite his prominent position in Iran's military establishment, Mr. Fakhrizadeh wanted to live a normal life. He craved small domestic pleasures: reading Persian poetry, taking his family to the seashore, going for drives in the countryside.

And, disregarding the advice of his security team, he often drove his own car to Absard instead of having bodyguards drive him in an armored vehicle. It was a serious breach of security protocol, but he insisted.

So shortly after noon on Friday, Nov. 27, he slipped behind the wheel of his black Nissan Teana sedan, his wife in the passenger seat beside him, and hit the road.

iran map
© Jugal K. Patel

Comment: Black Mirror, brought to you by Mossad.


The so-called 'cradle of the revolution' against Assad has been liberated - the West's campaign to topple him is all but over

Syrian flag
© Vanessa Beeley
After three years of a fragile ceasefire and a campaign of assassinations of Syrian government 'loyalists' by embedded fundamentalist armed groups, the Syrian flag has once more been raised in Daraa Al Balad.

Western media persists in portraying the emergence of extremist armed groups in Daraa, south of Damascus, as the "cradle of the revolution" to overthrow the Syrian government. The reality is that Daraa was the touchpaper lit by hardline Libyan mercenaries imported into the city prior to 2011.

From Daraa, the "revolutionary" flames fanned by the US, UK and Israeli-led coalition headquartered in Jordan, funded by Gulf-state blood money, would engulf Syria for ten long years. In Daraa, the CIA/MI6-backed Muslim Brotherhood extremist gangs fronted the orchestrated uprising, power multiplied by Libyan arms and terrorist factions and given credibility by the colonial media complex spearheaded by the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.


Tucker Carlson: Mark Milley committed treason, and others were implicated

Tucker Carlson
© Richard Drew/AP
Tucker Carlson

Milley colluded with China, our chief military rival, to undercut the elected president of the United States

There's something about the term "deep state" that sounds paranoid, even nutty. As of just a few years ago, you mostly heard the phrase from relics on the far-left, the kind of people who lecture you about the United Fruit Company and the toppling of Mosaddegh. The term, then and now, suggests that our democracy is fake. Elections and domestic politics are a sideshow. No matter who you vote for, in the end, the same people still run everything. That's a pretty dark understanding of the American system. If you're a normal person who grew up here, it's the last thing you want to believe about your country. It seems crazy.

Comment: Meanwhile Trump believes this is a fabricated story, read more about his take here.


Today's cowardly liberal comedians loved Norm MacDonald: Why can't they be funny like him?

Norm MacDonald death comedy
© Revolver
Comedian Norm MacDonald
Norm MacDonald was fearless. He always believed that 'a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.' As The Atlantic recently noted:
[Norm] hated comedy that pandered to a like-minded crowd, once saying in an interview that stand-ups should hunt for laughter, not applause. "There's a difference between a clap and a laugh. A laugh is involuntary, but the crowd is in complete control when they're clapping. They're saying, 'We agree with what you're saying; proceed!'" he said. "But when they're laughing, they're genuinely surprised. And when they're not laughing, they're really surprised. And sometimes I think, in my little head, that that's the best comedy of all."
Norm MacDonald was, in other words, the absolute opposite of what passes for a comedian today. And since today's comedians are some of the least funny to ever bear that name, that means Norm MacDonald is firmly entrenched as quite possibly the funniest comic of all time.