Where finance and media intersect with reality

In the Blind Spot today (Polish sanctions, Biolabs, Covid)

Screenshot 2022-03-14 at 11.52.52

Finance, economics, markets…

  • Goldman’s GQG fund has cut Russian exposure to $222m. This follows the IPO of GQG Partners on the ASX in October 2021, where it was valued at $5.9bn (AUD) and priced at $2 per share. It’s now trading at $1.2 per share. More background here.
  • Everybody missed that on February 18, a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Qatargas was very quick to dismiss media reports about unplanned shutdowns of two of its LNG trains.
  • Foxconn halts production as Shenzhen goes into lockdown.
  • The Citadel of crypto?
  • Russia may be forced to pay foreign currency debt in roubles.
  • India considers buying discounted Russian oil and commodities. [This is why it pays to be apolitical. At those prices, it wasn’t going to be long before prisoner’s dilemma kicked in.]

From the “Fake News” Zone:

  • The Russians allegedly have evidence about Ukrainian/American bioweapon programmes. [To get to the bottom of these claims join me today at 2pm UK time on Twitter Spaces when I will be chatting with world experts in the field Filippa Lentzos and Gregory Koblentz about what’s really going on. Also be sure to check out Part one of my Spotlight analysis on biological warfare here.]
  • Infection rates are higher in the triple vaccinated than in the unvaccinated across all age groups, UKHSA data shows.
  • Trevor Noah jokes noone would have ignored “President Wildcard” the way they are ignoring Biden.

From the “Truth Zone”:

  • Poland and Hungary are to be hit with sanctions after EU MEPs vote in favour of punishing both countries. [I don’t know as much about the Hungarian side of this story, but with respect to the Polish side I do think Western reporting has been entirely skewed. I’ve been researching the background to the judicial reforms that gave rise to these sanctions, and even the liberal minded analysts/experts I have spoken to agree that the judicial system in Poland was definitely in need of reforming. What’s more they admit it was skewed against Conservative/right-wing/nationalist interests for decades, was prone to corruption and that many of the reforms being implemented were not without precedent in the EU more widely. What I find particularly frustrating is that most Western media reports fail to address these legitimate issues, or the fact that communist influence was structurally baked into the Polish judicial system after the collapse of the Soviet Union thanks to the strategic appointment of lifetime judges. What’s more, it’s worth noting that the US has been a prominent backer of very similar reform in Ukraine’s own judicial system. As the Ukraine story notes: “Despite the fact that the recently adopted [Ukrainian] approach goes beyond established European recommendations on the judiciary, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe positively evaluated the proposed international engagement in the cleansing of Ukraine’s judicial governance bodies.”

    *A quick post-publication supplementary note to stress the graphic isn’t mine, it’s just something that’s been doing the rounds on the internet. I used it so as to illustrate that there are two sides to this story, and one side is being somewhat under reported. That doesn’t mean the standing narrative doesn’t have truth to it either or that the ruling Party haven’t overegged the claims. But the point of The Blind Spot is to figure out where groupthink is losing sight of some important counter realities and discrediting valid points for tribal and emotional reasons rather than properly evaluated ones. I’m just conscious of the selective bias in the Western framing. What’s more, and this is the signal I usually respond to most, is that I’ve found so many of those authoriatively repeating the line that Poland should be sanctioned for breaking the rule of law, don’t know anything about the wider background to this story. In some cases they don’t even know the ruling party is called the Law and Justice party. It shouldn’t be treacherous to analyse the other perspective!
  • A Russian pianist’s shows are canceled, even though he condemns the war in Ukraine. [Look, I’ll come clean. As a Pole, I’ve been guilty of a bit of Russophobia myself. It’s one of the biases that’s been baked into the fabric of my being because of my cultural upbringing. This bias is centred on historical distrust, suspicion, and a little bit of contempt in the case of the outwardly flashy and rude mobs that descend upon Kensington and Courchevel, and act like they own the place. But I have always kept in mind that you can’t generalise. There are so many amazing Russian thinkers, dissidents and people in general. And normal Russians are losing in this situation too. The problem with the Twitter and cancellation outrage mobs is their lack of nuance as well as their binary state of mind. I’m very much against “You’re either with us or against us” type of thinking. I tend to think there is good and bad in us all and when people attack entire groups of people indiscriminately I tend to want to come to their defence. It is, I think, a really poor way to assessing our modern interconnected way of life. Someone was trying to justify the rabid cancellation of everything Russian to me on the basis that it’s intended to put pressure on the regime to stop the war. I get that. But it’s still a form of hostage taking and extortion. Perhaps it’s realpolitik, and perhaps I’m being naive — but if your war is against a supposed mafia state that uses exactly these sorts of tactics on a daily basis, I consider this precisely the sort of behaviour that undermines “our side”. ]
  • The Royal Society’s report on the disinfo environment stresses “that censoring or removing inaccurate, misleading and false content, whether it’s shared unwittingly or deliberately, is not a silver bullet and may undermine the scientific process and public trust.” [Allelujah! Though in a wartime scenario, it’s going to be even harder than usual to advocate for this.]
  • The pregnant woman pictured being evacuated from bombed Mariupol hospital has died with her baby. [I know there has been chatter online that this collateral damage was somehow faked because the hospital was already evacuated and that one of the women was a model or an actress — chatter no doubt initiated by the Russian side. I haven’t looked at these claims or counter claims in detail, my only comment is that this demonstrates the scale of distrust we’re dealing with in the system. Censoring those who think the footage is fake however is not the solution. I think the only way to get past this sort of thing is from the top down. Perhaps it’s time to lead by example and add a new amendment to the Geneva Protocol centred on a common agreement by all signatories that they will prohibit the use of disinformation, or at the very least deepfakes — i.e. active lies rather than tactful obfuscation of the truth — in all forms of active and psychological warfare. Whether it can be enforced is another question.]

WW3 Watch:

  • Moscow is preparing for a possible blockade of Kaliningrad.
  • Twitter is turning to the Dark Web to allow for dissident posting from Russia. [This is all very well and good, but as Russell Brand is getting super traction on YouTube for saying, you lose your own population’s trust if you don’t live by those rules yourself.]
  • A drone that crashed in Croatia may have been carrying a bomb – but nobody is really sure.
  • The FT’s Demetri Sevastopulo (who now goes only by “Demetri” on Twitter and sports an updated profile with some err interestingly ambiguous refs) has another war-baity scoop that “Russia has asked China for military equipment and other assistance to support its invasion of Ukraine”. [My two cents on the story are this: If China takes up this offer it escalates the war to a hitherto unseen level. What I find concerning is the glee with which these sorts of stories seem to be being promoted. It also makes me wonder if the real proxy war isn’t for Ukraine but for Russia. Perhaps this has been obvious for a while and I’m just late to the game? After all what good is Chinese control over Russia without access to Ukrainian wheat supply and Black Sea access?  But there is an inconvenient truth at the heart of all this that we need to face up to quickly. In an actual WW3 scenario Russia + China vs The West is a winning combination for the former not the latter. Only in a Russia + The West vs China situation, does Western liberalism stand a chance. The problem is The West decided years ago that it can’t be seen collaborating with Putin. This is despite a longstanding history of happily cooperating with other despotic regimes for the sake of “the greater good”. Better the devil you know does not work in Putin’s case for some reason. At this point, however, we are beyond any change of heart. That boat long sailed with the RussiaGate scandal. Where that has left Putin is managing an increasingly ailing Russian state that is set to become collateral damage in the much bigger standoff between Chinese and Western supremacy one way or the toher. Of course, if Putin is displaced in an Ides of March type plot, it seems reasonable to think we might still get Russia on side vs a larger standoff with China.]
  • Here’s a counter indicator on the China is backing Russia line: A Beijing insider has called for the international community (and China specifically) to give Putin an offramp.
  • Multiple Iranian ballistic missiles have smashed into US army base in Iraq.

Gosplan Watch:

  • Apparently in December 2021, China’s Global Times reported that: “Afghan officials discuss digital currency with Chinese businessmen: sources”. [This is an important story because it indicates what China might be planning for the Belt and Road countries more widely. Notably “you will get our investment but only if you are prepared to adopt our CBDC-social credit system”. I’m also getting circumstantial info that a deal between the Russians and Chinese on the rollout of respective domestic CBDCs using shared strategies/resources may have been cut in bilateral negotiations in 2017.]

Covid hasn’t gone away:

  • China battles worst Covid outbreak for two years as cases double in 24 hours. Shenzhen faces lockdown. [What we in the West  have to factor in is the breakdown to supply chains yet again. Just as we are already facing Russia-conflict related shortages.]

Famine Watch:

Woo watch:

  • How Gnosticism is making a comeback. (Did it ever leave?)

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