Weekend Edition of News Items.

John Ellis
10 min readJun 4, 2022

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Birds in synch.

1. Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan and opposition leaders have called a series of protests after the government increased fuel prices to try to salvage an IMF loan and stave off a balance of payments crisis. The government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has raised fuel prices by more than a third in two separate moves this month after requests by the IMF to remove subsidies, according to Pakistani officials. The move is designed to facilitate the disbursement of the next $1 billion tranche of a stalled $6 billion IMF loan program. Pakistan’s foreign reserves of about $9.7 billion have fallen below two months’ worth of imports, prompting concern that the country could follow South Asian neighbor Sri Lanka in defaulting on its foreign debts. But raising fuel prices could prove politically perilous for Sharif’s new government, which took power after Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April. Pakistan is facing growing political unrest over a painful economic crunch and double-digit inflation, with widespread protests in recent weeks. (Source: ft.com)

2. Al-Qaida has a haven in Afghanistan under the Taliban and “increased freedom of action” with the potential of launching new long-distance attacks in coming years, a UN report based on intelligence supplied by member states says. The assessment, by the UN committee charged with enforcing sanctions on the Taliban and others that may threaten the security of Afghanistan, will raise concerns that the country could once again become a base for international terrorist attacks after the withdrawal of US and Nato troops last year. (Sources: theguardian.com, un.org)

3. Sophie Pinkham:

Russia is warming 2.5 times as fast as the world on average, and the Arctic is warming even faster. The cliché, avidly promoted by Moscow, is that the country will be a relative winner in climate change, benefiting from a melting and accessible Arctic shipping route, longer growing seasons, and the expansion of farmland into newly thawed areas. Gustafson counters, with a dry but persuasive marshaling of facts, that in the redistribution of wealth and power that will result from climate change, Russia is doomed. After reading Klimat, Russia’s attack on Ukraine begins to look like the convulsion of a dying state.

About two thirds of Russia is covered in permafrost, a mixture of sand and ice that, until recently, remained frozen year-round. As permafrost melts, walls built on it fracture, buildings sink, railways warp, roads buckle, and pipelines break. Anthrax from long-frozen reindeer corpses has thawed and infected modern herds. Sinkholes have opened in the melting ground, swallowing up whole buildings. Ice roads over frozen water, once the only way to travel in some remote regions, are available for ever-shorter periods. The Arctic coast is eroding rapidly, imperiling structures built close to the water. (Source: nybooks.com)

4. After 100 days, Russia’s war on Ukraine is turning into a bloody slog with no end in sight, causing mounting devastation in Ukraine and prolonged costs world-wide. The biggest conflict between European states since World War II has undergone swings of fortune that offer a reminder of war’s unpredictability. The failure of Russia’s early blitzkrieg fueled Ukrainian confidence that is ebbing as Russia concentrates its firepower on a narrower, grinding advance. On Friday, Russian forces advanced behind heavy artillery barrages in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, where they have slowly but steadily gained ground, sending tens of thousands of civilians fleeing westward. Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky marked 100 days of war with a somber but defiant video message. “The armed forces of Ukraine are here,” he said. “Most importantly, our people–the people of our nation– are here. We have been defending our country for 100 days already. Victory will be ours! Glory to Ukraine!” (Source: wsj.com)

5. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is redrawing the world’s energy map, ushering in a new era in which the flow of fossil fuels is influenced by geopolitical rivalries as much as supply and demand. Over the past half-century, oil and natural gas have moved with relative freedom to the markets where they commanded the highest prices around the world. That ended abruptly when Russian tanks rumbled across the Ukraine border on Feb. 24, triggering a barrage of trade sanctions by the U.S. and Europe targeting Russia that have plunged global commerce into disarray. This week, the European Union agreed to its toughest sanctions yet on Russia, banning imports of its oil and blocking insurers from covering its cargoes of crude. Whatever new order emerges won’t be fully clear for years to come. But traders, diplomats and other experts in energy geopolitics generally agree that it will be more Balkanized, and less free-flowing, than what the world has seen since the end of the Cold War. (Source: wsj.com)

6. Russian companies have been plunged into a technological crisis by western sanctions that have created severe bottlenecks in the supply of semiconductors, electrical equipment and the hardware needed to power the nation’s data centres. Most of the world’s largest chip manufacturers, including Intel, Samsung, TSMC and Qualcomm, have halted business to Russia entirely after the US, UK and Europe imposed export controls on products using chips made or designed in the US or Europe. This has created a shortfall in the type of larger, low-end chips that go into the production of cars, household appliances and military equipment. Supplies of more advanced semiconductors, used in cutting-edge consumer electronics and IT hardware, have also been severely curtailed. And the country’s ability to import foreign tech and equipment containing these chips — including smartphones, networking equipment and data servers — has been drastically stymied. “Entire supply routes for servers to computers to iPhones — everything — is gone,” said one western chip executive. The unprecedented sweep of western sanctions over President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is forcing Russia into what the central bank said would be a painful “structural transformation” of its economy. (Source: ft.com)

7. The German parliament has voted to approve a €100 billion fund to modernize the country’s armed forces, reflecting the fundamental shift in Berlin’s defense and security policy triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Ahead of the vote, Christine Lambrecht, defense minister, told the Bundestag that “security has its price”, and Germany “must be able to defend its values by military means”. Annalena Baerbock, foreign minister, said Germany owed it to its Nato and European allies to beef up its armed forces, which have been starved of investment for years. “We are at a moment where Germany is saying we are there when Europe needs us, and Europe needs us now,” she said. (Source: ft.com)

8. Estonia’s government collapsed after the Baltic country’s prime minister launched a blistering attack on her coalition partners, accusing them of working against the nation’s values and failing to protect its independence in the aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At the request of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, the president, Alar Karis, yesterday dismissed all seven ministers from the Centre party, which used to have formal ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. “The security situation in Europe does not give me any opportunity to continue co-operating with the Centre party, which is unable to put Estonia’s interests above those of the party,” said Kallas, adding that Centre was “actively working against Estonia’s core values”. She will now try to form a new coalition with two smaller parties, but if she fails Jüri Ratas, Centre’s leader and former prime minister, will have the opportunity to try to form his own government alternative. “Estonia quickly needs an operational coalition and government, President Karis said on Friday. (Source: ft.com)

9. Janet Yellen, worried by the specter of inflation, initially urged Biden administration officials to scale back the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan by a third, according to an advance copy of a biography on the Treasury secretary. “Privately, Yellen agreed with Summers that too much government money was flowing into the economy too quickly,” writes Owen Ullmann, the book’s author and a veteran Washington journalist, referring to former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who severely criticized the size of the aid plan. The book is due out on Sept. 27. A Treasury spokesperson disputed the claims. (Source: bloomberg.com)

10. Money managers rattled over the potential for Federal Reserve rate hikes to spur an economic downturn and hit junk bonds can find solace in at least one credit metric: Most debt isn’t maturing for years. US dollar company junk bonds coming due by the end of 2024 represent only about 7% of outstanding notes, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The peak year for maturities in that market isn’t until 2029, with euro-denominated debt peaking in 2026. (Source: bloomberg.com)

11. Mehmet Oz emerged as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania Friday after GOP rival David McCormick conceded, ending weeks of intrigue in the closely contested race as a recount showed no signs of changing the outcome. The decision, more than two weeks after the May 17 primary left the two candidates separated by fewer than 1,000 votes, allows the celebrity surgeon widely known as Dr. Oz to move forward as the undisputed GOP nominee. He can now fully launch his general election campaign while the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. John Fette, remains sidelined by a stroke, with no clear timetable for returning to the campaign trail. (Source: inquirer.com)

12. A cardiologist who examined Lt. Gov. John Fetterman following his stroke last month said Friday the Democratic Senate nominee has a type of cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. He said the pacemaker-defibrillator Fetterman received — along with diet, medication, and exercise — should allow him to continue with his campaign. The campaign disclosed the new medical condition for the 52-year-old in a news release, which also acknowledged that Fetterman had ignored his doctor’s advice for five years. They declined a request to make his physician available for an interview. “The prognosis I can give for John’s heart is this: If he takes his medications, eats healthy, and exercises, he’ll be fine,” said Ramesh Chandra of Alliance Cardiology in a letter provided to the media. “If he does what I’ve told him … he should be able to campaign and serve in the U.S. Senate without a problem.” (Source: inquirer.com)

13. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Friday that monkeypox may be spreading person-to-person in the United States, after the agency confirmed three cases in individuals with no recent links to international travel. The public health agency has confirmed 20 monkeypox cases in 11 states. Most of the patients have traveled internationally and were likely exposed overseas, the CDC said, but three did not, and either may have had contact with a known case or didn’t know how they were infected. (Source: politico.com)

14. After two decades of research and experimentation, Israeli defense officials now say they have a working prototype of a high-powered laser gun that can intercept rockets, mortar shells, drones and anti-tank missiles in flight. Officials said that the system performed successfully in a recent series of live fire tests in the southern Israeli desert, destroying a rocket, a mortar shell and a drone, and prompting a standing ovation from officials watching the action onscreen. The government has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the weapon, which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described this week as a “strategic game changer.” He has pledged “to surround Israel with a laser wall.” (Source: nytimes.com)

15. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s……..a blimp. Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s secretive project to build huge electric airships is scaling up rapidly, as Lighter Than Air (LTA) Research prepares its first major test flights later this year. The tech billionaire is hiring hundreds of aerospace engineers in Silicon Valley and Akron, Ohio, at a site made famous by the Goodyear blimp, to build airships intended to run humanitarian missions to remote areas or disaster zones. (Source: ft.com)

16. A large new study found that people who lost significant amounts of weight through bariatric surgery gained a striking benefit: Their likelihood of developing cancer fell sharply. The study, published on Friday in JAMA, followed more than 30,000 adults with obesity for about a decade. It found that those who underwent weight loss surgery had a 32 percent lower risk of developing cancer and a 48 percent lower risk of dying from the disease, compared with a similar group of people who did not have the surgery. On average, the people who had weight loss surgery lost about 55 pounds more than those who did not over the course of the study. The researchers found that the more weight people lost, the more their cancer risk fell. (Source: nytimes.com, jamanetwork.com)

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Quick Links: Scientists say old myths about auroras ‘speaking’ may actually be true. Novel approach identifies highly specific anti-cancer compounds. The first privately funded killer asteroid spotter is here. China nears launch of third carrier, turning up pressure on Taiwan. Aircraft carriers are sometimes called “sitting ducks.” Time favors Ukraine in its grim struggle for national survival. West Point expected to be ordered to take down portrait of Robert E. Lee. Miranda Carter on the world’s longest-running interview show: Desert Island Discs. Diana Krall: Night and Day.

Political Links: Foreign Affairs interview with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Larry Summers talks Fed. Ex-Goldman CEO Blankfein urges ‘dial back’ on negativity over economy. The day before January 6th, 2021. Gene Munster says Sheryl Sandberg may run for political office. Time is running short! Quartz says it’s “not too late” for Sheryl Sandberg to “rehabilitate her image.” Kara Swisher explains why Sheryl Sandberg failed to live up to Kara Swisher’s high standards. Meet Sheryl Sandberg’s replacement, Javier Olivan. One of the more annoying and self-important conceits of the tech community is that bad Facebook elected bad Trump. The rubes were led astray by those Russian videos! Much better (and far more accurate) explanations are here, here and here.

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John Ellis

Founder and Editor, News Items. Political analyst. Founder of and contributing editor to Bird News Items. Former columnist for The Boston Globe.