This back-to-work edition of the Blind Spot Wrap offers a compilation of the most important stories you may have missed while you were holidaying, plus a review of the top news events that failed to get the media traction they deserved in 2022. We’ve also got a hindsight capital analysis from Ben Munster in Rome on why everyone, bar the Italians, failed to spot the rise of Meloni.
Business, Finance, Econ etc:
- People were asking “What’s going on with Credit Suisse and the CLO market?”
- Australian house prices tumbled the most since 2008.
- The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) warned that Jeremy Hunt’s tax raid will leave Britain stagnating on the world stage.
- A Barron’s writer suggested Elon’s Twitter loans were being margin called. The story turned out to be fake news, and the author walked it all back. But the news travelled far and wide before it finally got fact checked.
- German bund yields finished 2022 at multi-year highs (chart courtesy of Trading Economics).
- Kids accused two high-profile YouTubers of creating an artificially scarce market in the energy drinks they openly hype and sponsor.
If you haven’t heard of the Prime energy drink phenomenon, you probably don’t have close contact with the Tween demographic. Suffice it to say, it has turned out to be one of the festive season’s premier FOMO events, straight out of the crypto pump and dump playbook.
The phenomenon started when influential tween YouTubers, KSI and Logan Paul, started endorsing the drink on their channels.
Wily British teenagers with access to their parents’ credit cards soon realised they could make a quick buck by importing bulk sums to later flip them to mates at a premium. The strategy was replicated over and over, until stock ran out, squeezing the market even further. By December, the hype got so insane that tweens were asking for the energy drink to be given to them as Christmas presents. One tween told The Blind Spot he was able to resell not just the energy drink but empty Prime branded bottles too.
They say there is a sucker born every minute. What’s notable on this occasion is just how young the latest batch of suckers being pulled into a sub”PRIME” 2.0 debacle are. – IK
- The world’s helium shortage stood to be resolved. But the solution depends on Russia’s Amur project coming back online in the next year.
- A mysterious cold that feels like Covid, but isn’t, gripped Britain.
- Japan recorded its highest single-day of Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic.
- In Italy, Meloni passed a pro-growth budget that aims to reduce bureaucracy while legalising the hunting of wild boar on Italian streets.
- Former army-Ranger-turned-investigative-journalist Jack Murphy claimed the CIA was using a NATO ally’s spy service to conduct sabotage operations in Russia.
The story was spicy enough on its own. But the end note, some might argue, was even spicier. As Murphy noted: “Many will ask why an article of this importance is appearing on my personal website rather than in a prestigious publication. I will not detail the entire journey this article took at this time, but will say that while working with editors at mainstream publications I was asked to do things that were illegal and unethical in one instance, and in another instance I felt that a senior CIA official was able to edit my article by making off the record statements, before he leaked a story to the New York Times to undermine this piece.” – IK
The Return of the Malthusians:
- Substacker and author of Apocalypse Never, Michael Shellenberger, debunked the claim that humans were causing a sixth mass extinction.
- Elon Musk had some thoughts on Neo Malthusians too.
- Billionaire apocalypse bunkers were still a thing being reported on.
One World, Two Systems:
- Non-Western central banks bought up gold in a big way. Phil Pilkington argued the trend was reminiscent of that seen just before Bretton Woods collapsed.
The World Gold Council first reported on the outsized buying phenomenon at the start of November. As they noted at the time: “Global central bank purchases leapt to almost 400t in Q3 (+115% q-o-q). This is the largest single quarter of demand from this sector in our records back to 2000 and almost double the previous record of 241t in Q3 2018. It also marks the eighth consecutive quarter of net purchases and lifts the y-t-d total to 673t, higher than any other full year total since 1967. The level of official sector demand in Q3 is the combination of steady reported purchases by central banks and a substantial estimate for unreported buying. This is not uncommon as not all official institutions publicly report their gold holdings or may do so with a lag. It’s also worth noting that while Metals Focus suggests purchases occurred during Q3, it’s possible they may have started earlier in the year. In turn, this may result in future revisions as more information becomes available.” – IK
- Putin and Xi vowed to deepen their bilateral cooperation.
- Concerns that Germany could be on the verge of a renewed geographic schism grew.
- China’s Global Times (a state media service) was one of few international publications to cover the Biological Weapons Convention noting that China had backed an outcome document that sought to establish a verification mechanism for the convention.
Bloomberg’s Riley Griffen reported on the event too. She corroborated my earlier report in Unherd explaining that the reason the US remains reluctant to back a verification mechanism is due to the fluster Russia caused when it last asked to inspect Pfizer facilities back in the 1990s. – IK
- China came close to cracking the secret to manufacturing super-efficient microprocessors.
This, suffice it to say, is a big deal (if true). If China can produce chips independently, it can supply Russia with the chips it needs to restock weaponry and create high-grade electronic items. – IK
From the “Fake News” Zone:
- Another Russian tycoon kicked the bucket in mysterious circumstances.
- ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone landed $20mn in funding for their Deepfake VFX Studio.
- A Japanese Qanon chapter were arrested after breaking into a vaccination centre.
- Elon Musk claimed that almost every conspiracy theory about Twitter turned out to be true.
- The Daily Sceptic‘s Will Jones argued there is little evidence that China was aware that Covid was spreading as early as November. In contrast, US intel services supposedly knew something was brewing well before December.
There is still so much that doesn’t add up about the early days of the pandemic. So many sources remain contradictory. Jones himself suggests the only theory that accounts for all the strangeness is a double-bluff from the US side. i.e. it’s not just that Covid didn’t originate from the wet market. It could well be that it did not originate from a Wuhan lab leak either. “It is that the virus was deliberately released in China by some group or groups within the U.S. intelligence and security services. The purpose of such a release would be partly to disrupt China and partly as a live exercise for pandemic preparedness”. China, in other words, may have been framed. This, of course, is a standard Chinese conspiracy theory that’s been doing the rounds for years. It’s also very Columbo. – IK
- Politico spoke truth to power by calling out the year’s top narcissists. Some people didn’t like it.
- GCHQ boss Sir Jeremy Fleming guest edited a Radio 4 programme over the Christmas period. Guests included web pioneer Vint Cerf, who argued during the show that the world needed “an internet driving license”.
- Glenn Greenwald defended Matt Taibbi after the mainstream media tried to imply he had mental health issues.
- Forbes admitted it was in talks to sell itself to a consortium of investors which included a mysterious low-profile entity called Sun Group, with over 58 years of experience working in Russia and which has in the past flaunted its Kremlin ties.
We will be coming back to the question of who or what is Sun Group in future reporting. For now, it’s worth noting that the group’s vice chairman, Shiv Khemka, has a habit of photographing himself with Steven Seagal. Canadian deputy PM Chrystia Freeland has also referred to him as a “good friend” in the past. – IK
Stories You May Have Missed in 2022
- Russia’s Gazprom-owned Amur gas plant caught on fire, while a coup was attempted in Kazakhstan.
Arguably the first in a series of unfortunate events or “accidents” to strike Russian oil and gas facilities and spheres of influence on 2022.
- GoFundMe removed the donation pages of Canadian truck drivers protesting against vaccine mandates.
A formal inquiry into the events surrounding the imposition of the Canadian Emergencies Act to deal with the trucker protest against vaccine mandates has ensured most people are now in the know about what transpired in February. But at the time, it was one of the biggest “formally” under-reported stories of the digital era.
- The BBC’s Andrew Verity got his hands on some extraordinary audio that proved that it was Libor whistleblowers, more than anyone else, who were sent to jail in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
As Verity notes: “Audio recordings, obtained exclusively by BBC Radio 4, reveal Peter Johnson, known at work as “PJ”, was repeatedly instructed by senior managers at Barclays to engage in the fraud, known as “lowballing””
The audio series is a must-listen for anyone who works in banking or who fears they might one day be exposed to retrospective legal action. As Verity noted to me, what transpired with the Libor imprisonments looks to have been a huge miscarriage of justice.
- Sri Lanka faced one of its biggest economic and political crises of recent decades.
Millions struggled to purchase food, medicine and fuel as inflation hit over 50 per cent, with food prices soaring by 80 per cent. According to Michael Shellenberger the underlying reason for the fall of Sri Lanka was that its leaders fell under the spell of Western green elites peddling organic agriculture and “ESG”.
- It became abundantly clear that models used by SAGE to justify Covid lockdowns were grossly inaccurate.
Sadly, the entire question of poor Covid modelling escaped proper scrutiny in 2022. This was despite the fact that SAGE modeller professor John Edmunds admitted the findings were only supposed to be “one component” of decision-making but were leaned on too much by ministers. The Spectator stood apart from the rest of the media in beating the drum about the issue early on.
- Dutch farmers took to the streets to protest government plans to force nitrogen reductions on the agricultural industry in a bid to lower carbon emissions.
While the protests started in June, it took a good month for any English-language media to pick up on the story.
- Chris Bryant MP agreed to admit that his claims that billionaire Christopher Chandler was connected to Russian intelligence and money-laundering operations were erroneous.
The background to the story is pretty fascinating, not least because it sheds some light on the world’s least scrutinised billionaires, the Chandler brothers, best known for being notable investors in Russia in the 90s and for investing in UK media assets like GB News.
- Astrazeneca said it may not stay in the vaccine business.
The news came after the UK government said it had no plans to order more supplies of its Covid vaccine and after multiple jurisdictions banned its product because of blood clot risk.
- The US experienced a major shortage of the anti-attention deficit disorder drug Adderall.
The shortage does not appear to have gone away. Redditors are still reporting an inability to renew prescriptions.
- Weak demand for bunds prompted Germany’s Finanzagentur to tap 18 outstanding bonds by €3bn each, to use in the repo market so it had additional flexibility to cover energy financing costs.
Strange goings on in the bund market — a function of German deindustrialisation fears — were entirely overshadowed in the month by the LDI and Truss affair.
- ASX, the Australian stock exchange, finally ended its daliance with blockchain.
While the world obsessed about the collapse of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried and effective altruism, an arguably more important bubble was popping in the real economy.
- Amazon said it is shutting down Alexa.com.
The announcement followed an earlier admission by Amazon that its devices division, which makes Alexa and Kindle, has been deeply unprofitable and will be downsized. The company is now expected to lay off as many as 20,000 people as its stock price continues to tumble. Some fear the company’s primary cash cow, AWS, could also be due for a slowdown. The question the investing world wants answering at this point is whether the Amazon model is too big to fail?
The Rising Italian Political Force Nobody Outside of Italy Saw Coming
By Ben Munster in Rome
One of this year’s most disturbing political moments was surely the election in Italy of a far-right coalition led by Giorgia Meloni, of the Brothers of Italy party, which has its roots in postwar fascism. The Atlantic lamented “The Return of Fascism to Italy” after the September result, and countless others—not exactly wrongly—followed suit. The narrative is that beautiful, broken Italy is the latest Western country to fall for empty right-wing grievance politics.
But has the Overton window really shifted? Did the Italian far-right smash through key resistance levels and establish a new support? Is the country witnessing a fresh, bullish floor price for vitriol against immigrants?
I would argue … no. Take the political situation in Italy almost three months after Meloni’s victory. Compared with the election of, say, Trump, whose ascendancy triggered widespread panic and mass protests, the election of Meloni has gone off with a puttering wheeze. Protests have been minimal, the Italian media remains as confusingly partisan as has ever been, and the markets have scarcely heaved an eyelid. (Consider that Liz Truss, on the other hand, has never openly discussed “ethnic substitution.”)
The truth is that most Italians knew perfectly well that the far-right would win eventually. Dark right-wing currents have bubbled at the margins of Italian politics since Mussolini was strung from the rafters of a Milanese gas station, and its expression in high office is hardly new. Indeed, Brothers of Italy’s own ancestor, the “postfascist” Movimento Sociale Italiano, was a fixture on the political scene from the postwar period up until the emergence of Silvio Berlusconi, who pointedly “constitutionalised” the party by inviting it into a number of his many coalitions—and that was the 1990s!
You may have heard of the League, too, the nativist Brothers of Italy precursor whose leader, Matteo Salvini, snagged the Ministry of the Interior and received unfavourable comparisons to Trump when he blocked migrant vessels and sped up deportations—but Salvini’s time was around 2018, and the League, formerly the Northern League, had been a potent force in governments going back to 1994.
Meloni only beat the League because she didn’t make the mistake of joining the coalition formed by carpetbagging former ECB chief Mario Draghi, leaving her the only political figure with populist nationalist credibility. (Read: She hadn’t yet been proven incompetent in government.) Pundits immediately jumped to the conclusion that she would win at the next election, and so she did.
So yes—Italy has a long tradition of flirting with the ghost of the hanged man with the black shirt and the big chin. But it’s worth remembering that Meloni’s party only got 26 percent of a vote with historically low turnout. Hers was a comparatively weak victory, one that was in large part a quirk of proportional representation’s tendency to reward fleeting marriages of convenience, conjuring a skewed image of the electorate’s political breakdown.
It’s nevertheless undeniable that this particular reactionary strain does inhabit dark expanses of Italian society, and it apparently just needed some time to find its authentic expression in the marketplace of terrible ideas. To put it in highbrow cryptotokenomic terms, Meloni simply bought the dip after the League rugged its electorate by selling out to the Draghi regime. But the eventual political ascension of her “postfascist” ideology was long ago priced in.