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Post Check Your Sources: Ritter, Berletic, Mercouris (from Edward Mears)
Created by John Eipper on 06/09/22 8:00 AM

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Check Your Sources: Ritter, Berletic, Mercouris (from Edward Mears) (John Eipper, USA, 06/09/22 8:00 am)

Edward Mears writes:

I've been mostly quiet about what has been going on in Ukraine and the postings on WAIS about the same, but I couldn't help digging into the backgrounds of some of the commentators mentioned in Tor Guimaraes' recent posts, as I had never heard of them (with the exception of maybe Scott Ritter).

I always appreciate contrarian views (such as those of Mearsheimer and Kissinger) on current events, if only to help see the issues more clearly and appreciate many of these same contrarian views on WAIS for that reason, but I also realize that the same level of skepticism most of these contrarians apply to the mainstream media should also be applied their views/reporting, especially in a world where information (and specifically SNS like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) has become weaponized by very powerful and increasingly sophisticated state actors.

Since Tor seems to imply that we should take these individuals at their word based on their professional credentials and his praise for their insight, I thought some due diligence was necessary. I hope the results below are helpful to other WAISers in parsing the credibility/impartiality of these individuals (without commenting on the substance of their arguments).

Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer who was most notably one of the UNSCOM weapons inspectors tasked with chasing down weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the first Gulf War. During his time with UNSCOM he was adamant that Iraq had WMD and zealously pursued leads during his weapons inspections (sometimes too zealously, to the consternation of the Clinton administration), and he came to loggerheads with with then-Senator Joe Biden, who accused Ritter of trying to "appropriate the power to decide when to the pull the trigger of military force against Iraq." He resigned from UNSCOM following this confrontation, and went on to become an outspoken commentator on WMD issues, where he curiously changed his position on the presence of WMDs in Iraq, and (perhaps to his credit) was one of the few commentators who forcefully pushed back on the Bush administration's insistence that Iraq had WMDs in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003. He is married to a Georgian-born wife, Marina, whom he met as a weapons inspector in Russia in 1989. It has been asserted that Marina has ties to the KGB/FSB, as in her role as translator for the weapons inspections team she was very likely required to report to the KGB on the inspections teams' movements and conversations. He has also been accused of spying for Israel. According to this New York Times profile from 2012, he was in serious debt and struggling financially after leaving his role as a UNSCOM and struggled to find steady work as a TV commentator. While maybe not directly material to his online presence, its worth noting that he is also a convicted sex offender, having been arrested twice for the solicitation of minors online (charges for the first arrest were dismissed, while he pled guilty to charges in the second arrest in 2009 for exposing himself online to an undercover police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl). These arrests and convictions all but put a nail in Ritter's career with the mainstream media. He has since pivoted to appearances on Russian state media (RT) and his own personal SNS accounts to espouse his views, which are often critical of the US government and which curiously echo many pro-Kremlin talking points.

"Brian Berletic" (if that is even his real name) is a supposed former US Marine mechanic (previously based in Japan--I suspect in Okinawa) who is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He claims to be an "industrial designer" working there and first gained notoriety for his vocal support of the ultra-royalist / salim movements in Thailand. He previously posted under the name "Tony Cartelluci" where he consistently voiced pro-CCP, pro-Russia and pro-Myanmar junta commentary until Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others suspended his accounts under that name in 2019. He has since reemerged under the Brian Berletic moniker. Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat is fairly certain that Brian/Tony is the "individual based in Thailand associated with New Eastern Outlook, a Russian government-funded journal based in Moscow" referenced in this Reuters article about actions taken by Facebook to take down a large network of fake accounts and coordinated inauthentic behavior. It seems his posts and videos are consistently picked up and publicized on known CCP propaganda networks and he has appeared on other pro-CCP propaganda outlets like CGTN along with a motley crew of other westerners who shill for the CCP like David Dumbrill and Lee and Oli Barret.

See: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-accounts-idUSKCN1UK0KE

Alexander Mercouris is a former British barrister who was disbarred in 2012 for engaging "in conduct likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession" for repeatedly lying to his client and the court about an offered settlement and even going so far as to forge a letter from Baroness Hale (Brenda Marjoie Hale), a former British supreme court justice, in relation to the settlement. Following disbarment, he "remade" himself as a commentator for Russian TV news outlets, and is most well known today as an editor at the news site The Duran, a Cyprus-based right-leaning news and opinion website with ties to Russian state media (The Duran's director is Peter Lavelle, the host of RT's political debate program CrossTalk; the president and chairman of The Duran's operating entity--DRN Media PLC--is Moscow native Alex Christoforou). Media Bias Fact Check (which itself is not without its faults but is nevertheless helpful and is fairly transparent about its methodology) gives The Duran a "Low Credibility" rating for promotion of Russian propaganda, conspiracy, poor sourcing, lack of transparency, plagiarism and failed fact checks.

Looking at the profiles of these three individuals, I struck by some of the similarities.  After getting ensnared in legal/financial trouble and in serious debt/facing considerable fines, both Alexander Mercouris and Scott Ritter have reimagined themselves as commentators who are generally seen as sympathetic to the causes of authoritarian governments. While I have no proof of this and it is pure speculation, I suspect that working on behalf of CCP/ Russian-affiliated outlets was one of the few lucrative opportunities available to them in the aftermath of their professional downfalls.

Although I haven't been able to find much about "Brian Berletic's" current or prior life, I would not be surprised if there were similar circumstances for him as well. I also suspect that bot networks operated by China / Russia or their close affiliates play a large role in propagating and popularizing these viewpoints on SNS services frequented by Westerners such as YouTube, Twitter and others by manipulating their algorithms, as hinted in the Reuters article above and as we saw during the 2016 election.

The information war is rapidly evolving, and I feel it is incumbent upon us to be even more discerning and skeptical about all information sources.

JE comments:  Fine sleuthing, Eddie!  Your research raises excellent questions about the possible motivations of these three commentators, yet you stay clear of the ad hominem argument.  You teach us a profound lesson:  just because one is distrustful of the MSM (mainstream media), it doesn't necessarily confirm the legitimacy of alternate viewpoints.

This post will inspire a lot of discussion.

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  • In Defense of Scott Ritter; Thoughts on the Strong Ruble (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/12/22 7:23 AM)
    I greatly appreciate Edward Mears (June 9th) doing homework on the personal side of two of my favorite military analysis specialists. My opinion is that if any expert on a specific topic committed any crimes, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But that is not my business. Further, their personal issues are not important to me as long as they produce information that is accurate and informative in some way.

    Scott Ritter was interviewed by a Russian blogger and once again produced some very interesting information about some critical military/political issues. Of course I would be extremely grateful if anyone can show evidence he stated something inaccurately. Our government should listen to him more instead of a bunch of neocons benefitting the military-industrial complex.


    John Eipper commented on my last post: "On the surface, the ruble's strength looks like a win for Putin, but the currency does not trade freely. Moreover, forcing customers to buy oil and gas with a stronger ruble actually generates less money for the Russian regime ... and what about India and China? This recent CNN piece discusses India's ninefold increase in purchases, which are nonetheless hampered by inadequate infrastructure. Pipelines take years to build."

    Small price to pay for Russians whose economy we hoped to collapse. Meanwhile, Russians can use their relatively high rubles to buy stuff from friendly nations not participating in the sanctions. Further, the Chinese are fast excellent builders of infrastructure in general. The tight situation the Russians are in is creating the impetus for massive strategic changes in geopolitical economics, which will produce two blocs of nations with us in the losing bloc. That is what we should be worried about.

    JE comments:  I cannot help but assume the ruble is being propped up artificially, as the Argentine peso was during the era of "convertibilidad," 1991-2000.  Putin sees an expensive ruble as a sign of domestic strength.  But can someone in WAISworld walk us through the nitty-gritty of the following:  Is the high ruble exclusively due to the requirement to make energy payments in rubles, or is Putin unloading his foreign reserves to buoy up that currency?  Also, and importantly, is there such a thing as "convertibility" for the average Russian?  Can s/he actually buy dollars or euros?

    The answer, apparently, is no:  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-17/in-ussr-flashback-russians-are-hunting-for-black-market-dollars

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    • A Strong Ruble is Economic Window Dressing; from Michael Frank (John Eipper, USA 06/13/22 3:22 AM)
      Michael Frank writes:

      The Russians have taken some aggressive steps to prop up the official ruble exchange rate. One of the most important of these measures is requiring ruble payment for oil. In an ironic twist, the West's sanctions result in few rubles escaping Russian borders. (Contrary to Tor Guimaraes's theory, nobody is buying Russian stuff.) These two factors unexpectedly account for a massively favorable balance of trade, and a strong ruble. The Russian central bank has also made it next to impossible for capital to be transferred out of Russia: the companies that bravely shuttered their Russian operations simply flipped the keys to the new owners and went home. Kleptocracy in action. So once again, currency itself is a commodity subject to supply and demand. International ruble demand has been artificially propped up while supply has been restricted.

      The situation with global exchange rates isn't reflected in Russia's internal situation. A favorable exchange rate under these circumstances is window dressing. The exchange rate obfuscates a crumbling economy. Current projections are that the Russian economy will contract by 10% for the full year 2022, comparable to the US in 1932. Inflation is above 17%, which isn't what you would expect with a strong currency. With the borders closed, there's no place for the rubles to go.



      JE comments:  The Brave New World of Russian economics under wartime sanctions.  One would never associate a strong currency and favorable balance of trade with inflation and a shrinking economy.  Michael, what can you tell us about Chinese exports to Russia?  Most reports say they are declining, due to the fear among Chinese companies of losing their Western markets in retaliation.  Is this an accurate assessment?

      If even the Chinese are reluctant to sell to Russia, then it is absolutely true:  the rubles have nowhere to go.  You can eat at Vkusno & Tochka only so many times...


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      • Why the "Strong" Ruble? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 06/14/22 3:35 AM)
        Ric Mauricio writes:

        As a consultant to high tech and venture capital firms here in Silicon Valley, I have had projects opening offices in many parts of the world, many in Asia and Australia, and a few in Central and Latin America, as well as the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region. The challenge in opening these offices was the coordination of the movement of FOREX (taxes are a big part of this challenge, as is the timing of repatriation).

        In terms of currencies, I find that the word "strong" is an absolute that cannot be utilized. The ebb and flow of currency valuation more aptly requires the comparative words "stronger" or "weaker." As for the Russian ruble (funny that in a previous post, John E revised my tongue-in-cheek spelling of rubble to ruble), yes, it is stronger than its previous low. But I would not say that it is "strong." In fact, much of that previous low was caused by short selling from forex traders, so an artificial pricing. But it certainly is not "strong" when comparing it to other currencies. Incidentally, these same forex traders had to cover their "shorts" when the sanctions started to take hold, thus causing the price to increase. Couple this with purchases of Russian oil resources from China and India, requiring movement from the renminbi and rupee (ah, interesting that all these currencies begin with "R") to the ruble and yes, the ruble will strengthen against itself. I also read that there is quite a movement of finished petroleum products out of India (to the US?), thus circumventing the sanctions.

        When valuing currencies, it is important to look at its Purchasing Power Parity.

        The relative worth of one holder's currency pegged to another's in consideration of the purchase of the same basket of goods and services is referred to among economists as the purchasing power parity (PPP). The parity is a theory that suggests "exchange rates between currencies are in equilibrium when their purchasing power is the same in each of the two countries."

        In order to better understand the purchasing power parity and how it adversely affects the Russian middle class, the following example will better illustrate its practicality:

        Consider the two countries, Russia and the US. A Big Mac (probably called a Big V now) costs approximately 420 ₽ or an American equivalent of $6.00; however, in the US, an identical product costs $4.00. The PPP between Russian and the USA for a Big V is the price paid in Russia in US dollars ($6.00) divided by the price paid in the United States in US dollars ($4.00).

        Simple arithmetic leads to the conclusion that for this item, the PPP between Russia and the US is approximately 1.50, which means the consumers pay $1.50 to make a purchase in Russia that would cost $1.00 in the United States. Alternatively, Russian consumers are using their weaker national currency to pay a 50 percent premium on a Big V. Apply this to the purchase of an apartment, college education or vehicle, and the numbers and basic economic principle alone illustrates how worse-off the Russian middle class is than that of its western counterpart.

        I read somewhere where an economist computed the inflation rate in Russia is 61%, rather than the 8% that the government is reporting. That's quite a disparity.

        One can think of a 98-pound "weakling." One can get this person to a gym and train them with weight resistance exercises. Thus they will get stronger, but one cannot say they are "strong," especially if one compares them to someone who has been training for a longer period of time.

        Another subject I'd like to address is "inflation." Such a benign word: inflation. It conjures up an image of getting bigger, like bigger muscles. Bigger is better, right? Well, no, not in this case. Inflation really means that the consumer is losing purchasing power. It'll cost them more to acquire whatever it is they're buying. Or the new word: shrinkflation. What you are buying is getting smaller. Same price, less goods. I wonder how the economic powers-that-be are taking shrinkflation into account.

        But why is there inflation? First of all, the blame is the creation of fiat money. Every country does this, not only the US. This is one reason inflation is global, not just in the US. Then there are tariffs and sanctions (economic warfare). Who do the governments think this affects? Manufacturers and shippers will pretty much pass these tax costs to the consumers. Ah, inflation. But wait, here in California, our gas prices have increased to $6.50 to $9.60 per gallon, a 98% increase. Chevron's first quarter net income increased 355% in the last year. As a former controller of a fuel distribution company, I know how this works. When oil prices increases, we raised our prices in line with our cost of goods going up. But when oil prices decrease, we hold our prices, thus increasing our margins. And now oil prices have again once increased to previous highs, and again, prices are being increased at the rate of increase of this latest increase. You gotta love it if you own the oil companies.

        Then, of course, now that the pandemic has increased utilization of offices and cars once again hit the road, demand has increased, thus the oil companies are not only increasing their margins, but increasing the volume of gas sold. And this fuel cost, of course, feeds into the delivery of goods and services, so inflation is compounding upon itself.

        All this leads to a possible recession or stagflation. Wait, is that why the markets are selling off? Despite many companies recording good earnings growth (to be sure, there are many who are not exhibiting such growth), you have a selloff that is waiting for its final capitulation. As I have often been asked lately, "Are we there yet?" Sounds like the kids on a car trip, right?

        Almost there, guys. I hope.

        JE comments:  There's nothing like driving with impatient kids to the bottom of a market.  The trip itself is nightmarish, but the destination is not exactly Disney World (or around here, Cedar Point).

        Short-selling the ruble after February 24th sounded like a clever move.  Oops for those folks.  But how, I wonder, can you even "cover" your shorts when the ruble is no longer available on the open market?

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        • Accountancy Primer: LIFO, FIFO, and Windfall Oil Profits (from Michael Frank) (John Eipper, USA 06/14/22 3:04 PM)
          Ric Mauricio wrote on June 14th: "When oil prices increase, we raised our prices in line with our cost of goods going up. But when oil prices decrease, we hold our prices, thus increasing our margins. And now oil prices have again once increased to previous highs, and again, prices are being increased at the rate of increase of this latest increase. You gotta love it if you own the oil companies."

          Michael Frank replies:

          The tax police would like to know the name of that company. An oil company, any company, can account for its inventory on a LIFO, last-in-first-out, basis. Or it can report on a FIFO, first-in-first-out-basis, or it can use average cost. It has to use the same inventory method for tax purposes as for financial reporting, and it has to be consistent. What it can't do is report on a rapacious mixed LIFO-FIFO basis.

          When costs rise, the price of the finished product increases immediately under LIFO, and the difference between current cost and true inventory cost appears on the balance sheet as a reserve. When prices fall, the reserve is reduced, with the effect that the "windfall" on the way up is reversed on the way down (no doubt resulting in calls for tax relief). To illustrate the LIFO effect, here's a chart comparing the prices of gasoline and crude oil over the last five years. You can judge for yourself how well they track:

          JE comments:  It's a little hard to decipher the above, but RB=F (dark blue) is the gasoline price, and BZ=F (light blue) is the crude oil price (Brent crude).  Michael, for us laypeople, could you explain what RB=F stands for?  Is it simply the wholesale price for a gallon of gasoline?  I suspect this, because the current RB=F is $4.16, which seems more or less to line up with our current $5+ retail.

          It certainly feels like gasoline prices spike immediately when crude increases, and a corresponding decrease is very slow to arrive at the pump.  But the chart above suggests otherwise.

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          • What is RB=F? Michael Frank Explains (John Eipper, USA 06/16/22 4:10 AM)

            Michael Frank writes:

            JE inquired about the meaning of RB=F.

            In Yahoo world, RB=F is the month-ahead future for gasoline. BZ=F is the comparable quote for Brent crude. Either quote assumes the wholesale purchase of 1000 barrels (42,000 gallons). There can be a disconnect between the wholesale price and what you pay at the pump, based on when retailers fill their tanks. Also, the LIFO method is a choice, not mandatory. An independent retailer can use average pricing or FIFO, and in these cases, the wholesale price will take time to impact the pump price. Or they can simply be price gouging.

            Gasoline retailing is a low-margin business, so if an opportunity to score a few pennies comes along, a retailer may just bend the rules. The major oil companies aren't blameless, but sometimes the problem lives just down the block.

            LIFO is a controversial practice, and generally isn't permitted in jurisdictions other than the US. The reason is that during periods of rising prices, LIFO effectively understates profits, reducing tax liability. And during periods of weak performance, LIFO reserves can be drawn down to engineer the illusion of profitability. There are periodic calls for eliminating it from the accounting standards. The holdup is that many important companies have large LIFO reserves on their balance sheets, and a conversion to less aggressive accounting methods would result in a massive tax hit. I'm not sure where repeal efforts are at the moment, I think the effort died out during the Trump years.

            JE comments:  Michael, this is very informative.  Accounting is famously dismissed as a boring profession, but is there any other field that allows for more creativity?  A skillful accountant can generate profits (or losses, as needed) with a flick of the keyboard.

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          • How to Gouge: Futures Prices and Spot Prices (from Ric Mauricio) (John Eipper, USA 06/17/22 6:44 AM)
            Ric Mauricio responds to Michael Frank (June 14th):

            Ah, mystery solved. The chart is a chart of futures pricing, not spot pricing. The chart is of COMEX (Commodity Exchange) trading of futures contracts, not of spot prices. Futures prices are bets placed by commodity traders, be they speculators or those who hold actual inventories, so not a true picture of what the consumer will pay at the pump.

            Now look closely at the chart you posted. It shows that fuel distribution companies were selling their gas at prices lower than the Brent crude for two years; from mid 2018 to mid 2020. By the way, Brent crude is the oil from the North Sea and thus mostly supplies European markets. Here in the US, the most often quote per barrel of oil is WTI, or West Texas Intermediate. Raise your hand if you believe that your local gas station was losing money for two years.

            Michael Frank further wrote: "The tax police would like to know the name of that company" in his prior post. Then he launches into accounting practices of inventory accounting, hinting that the company is performing aggressive non-compliant accounting practices by the random utilization of FIFO or LIFO. The consistent utilization of either FIFO or LIFO is the generally accepted accounting principle. But yes, in a rising cost environment, LIFO would result in more advantageous profit reporting (less profit). But in practice, in the fuel distribution industry, it is a moot point due to the rapid flow of product through the pipeline. And also keep in mind, that in a downward cost environment, LIFO would exacerbate the profit picture. Regular gasoline gets replenished at the most every two days. Other grades a little longer, but not by much. So whether one utilizes FIFO or LIFO, or aggressively tries to finesse it, results in wasted time and energy. Either way, you will pay the normal tax on your profits. The fact is: fuel distribution companies make the most (their margin increases) when oil prices retreat because they hold their prices aloft longer than the price of oil.

            But let's take a look at actual spot prices. Keep in mind that these numbers are the national average and do not include FET (federal excise tax), SET (state excise tax), and sales taxes. I've always had an issue of why the sales tax is computed not only on the price of the product but the FET and SET here in California. There was an idea floated in the California legislature to waive the sales or SET tax to help drivers, but it was voted down (I am non partisan, but the Democrats voted it down). Instead, Governor Newsom wanted to send every car owner a flat $400 per car. Wouldn't it cost the state more money to generate and mail those checks? OK, that really doesn't help the person who has to commute every day to work because Elon Musk insists on a minimum 40-hour week at the office. Just ranting, sorry.

            OK, here are the spot prices at particular times of this year.

            March 8, 2022: Oil WTI spot is at $119.65. Gas priced at an average $3.6392 (again, no tax).

            March 16, 2022: Oil WTI spot is at $91.59 (down 23.4%); Gas priced at an average $2.9520 (down 19%; raise your hand if you saw the gas price at your local gas station fall this much in mid March). Here in Silicon Valley, the gas stations did not change the price from March 8th to March 16th. It stayed at $5.89 per gallon for regular, so we did not benefit from falling WTI.

            June 9, 2022: Oil spot is at $122.11 (up 33.3%); Gas is at $4.2752 (up 45%).

            As you can see, your local gas station is not only making more margin (profit) on the upside but also on the downside (especially here in California where they did not change the price from March 8th to March 16th).

            This has nothing to do with inventory accounting. It is just plain and simple gouging. Unfortunately, if the government mandated price controls, it would result in chaos not unlike the long lines and mandated filling according to your license plate that we had in years past.

            This is why profits at Chevron were up 355% in the first quarter. Can't wait for the 2nd quarter earnings.

            JE comments:  My "oilmen" family members have confirmed to me what we already know:  life is very good at present in their business.  Yet they are also cautious:  burned by the hard times of just two years ago, they are investing almost nothing in new development.  It's not a viable long-term strategy, but it does have the added benefit (for them) of keeping the prices high.

            Ric, what are your thoughts on combating price gouging?  During the depths of Covid there were a few symbolic prosecutions of hand-sanitizer and PPE speculators, but what about an industry as huge as the oil business?  Price controls are famously disastrous, but what are the other options?

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            • How Do You Combat Price Gouging? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 06/23/22 3:58 AM)

              Ric Mauricio writes:

              Economics has a lot of moving parts, so controlling the numbers is at best an inexact science. Indeed, it may be more art than science.

              If one were to strip away manipulations by corporations and/or government, pricing the cost of goods (inflation/deflation), would come down to basically a supply and demand equation.

              More supply and less demand should eventually lead to lower prices. Vice versa, less supply and more demand should lead to higher prices. Currently, limited supplies and more demand due to more employees commuting back to the office, there is the opportunity for fuel distributors to charge what the market will bear. People ask me if the gas stations raising their prices in lockstep proves collusion amongst the fuel distributors and thus an anti-trust situation. Well, the government will have to have definitive proof that fuel distributors talk to each other and agreed to increase their prices in lockstep. Good luck with that. No, our guy doesn't talk to any other fuel distributor when he sets the prices. He has an algorithm that takes into account the cost of goods (fuel) and determines whether to raise or lower the retail price. He was the highest-paid employee on the payroll. He also has to determine what the market will bear in specific areas. It's complicated, which is why he gets paid the big bucks.

              John E asks what options we have to combat this? Taking the above supply/demand equation, one would simply (simply in this case is not easy) increase supply or decrease demand or both. At this point, it would be easier to decrease demand by allowing more companies to allow more work-from-home employees. Again, easier said than done. Musk requires his employees to come into the office. On the supply side, increased importing of fuel from Canada would help supply. The shutdown on the Keystone XL pipeline inhibits the import of oil. It has been said that the pipeline is environmentally unsafe, but that is not true. In fact, transporting the fuel by truck is not only inefficient, using more fuel that goes into the air, but is inherently more dangerous on the roads.

              Personally, I have taken steps to combat inflation. I refuse to pay the higher grocery prices that some products are now priced at. I am driving less and planning trips more efficiently, oftentimes bundling many stopovers to avoid the mileage. I am in the midst of xeriscaping my front yard (already did the backyard) to save water. I time my showers and utilize an on/off switch at the shower head to soap up. I noticed my personal gas/electric bill is half of what my neighbors are quoting. Yes, all my lighting is LED, but I am conscious of turning off the lights when I am not in the room.

              I would like to figure out how to harness the wind (we have a good strong breeze coming in from the Bay) to generate electrical power. In fact, I noticed that between houses, the wind is the strongest, so it seems like a good location for a wind turbine.

              If every person in the US were to personally combat their personal inflation, I am optimistic that we can overcome the headwinds. But it would take a concerted effort, which I am not sure the American people are up to. We are just too comfortable as things are.

              But let's talk about comfortable music. "The best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive" (Paul McCartney). He was describing Karen Carpenter. Yes, to answer John E's query, I did set up the sound system at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium in July 1971. The Carpenters were the headliners with Mac Davis. I really never got to interact with Karen or her brother, Richard. We were just too busy. But I tell you, she made our sound system sound like a million dollars. What a voice. I totally agree with Paul McCartney. I did get to talk with Mac Davis. Really nice guy. His biggest hit was, "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me." What impressed me more was his composing talent. He composed songs that were performed by Elvis that I count as my favorite Elvis hits: "In the Ghetto," "Memories," "Don't Cry Daddy." If there was anyone that I would have loved to have the voice and looks, it would be Elvis, the svelte Elvis. OK, ok, I'll settle for the voice of Englebert Humperdinck or Roy Orbison. But Karen Carpenter's tragic story is sad. The story was she was abused by her husband which led to anorexia nervosa, which eventually killed her.

              JE comments:  Amen, Sir Paul.  Karen Carpenter's greatest strength was her low range.  Flashy sopranos get all the attention, but a powerful alto touches the depths of your soul.  (I don't know if this image makes sense, but I really like the voice of Karen Carpenter.  She was also a first-rate drummer.)

              Reducing demand is the best antidote to price gouging, and Ric, you've lowered your carbon (and water) footprint admirably.  What are other WAISers doing?  We're driving less, to be sure, and also thinking of installing solar panels at WAIS HQ.  Does anyone have advice?  It's very windy here too, but I don't think our Home Association allows windmills.  Possibly it's for the best; I'll have to do my tilting elsewhere.

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    • Further Thoughts on the Strong Ruble (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/15/22 8:35 AM)
      John Eipper commented, "Putin sees an expensive ruble as a sign of domestic strength. But can someone ... [answer] the following: Is the high ruble exclusively due to the requirement to make energy payments in rubles, or is Putin unloading his foreign reserves to buoy up that currency? Also, and importantly, is there such a thing as 'convertibility' for the average Russian? Can s/he actually buy dollars or euros?"

      Putin has been accumulating gold for several years, probably thinking it might help stabilize the currency whenever necessary.  Strong gold reserves helped set the ruble background for quick recovery against the dollar, but raising Russian bank interest rates to twenty percent helped dramatically. The rates have been lowered subsequently, so the ruble would stop rising too much and become another factor to a Russian recession.

      Just the temporary talk of pegging the ruble to gold per gram at 5000 rubles startled the global markets with that possibility because rumors among gold traders is that the US government has been suppressing the price of gold. With a 5000 rubles per gram, the price of gold would jump to around US$2,500 per ounce, a major jump from the present US$ 1,880-2,000 per ounce.

      Last, the Petro/gas ruble requirement also surprised the markets for its implications worldwide and helped boost the ruble. Furthermore, while everyone understandably seems focused on Russian oil and gas (and wheat), there are many other commodities which the world desperately needs from Russia. Their natural wealth is the primary reason why the West Masters would like to weaken it, and profit from the enormous natural wealth, it like Iraq, Congo, and a few other small countries rolled up into a big one. This re-enforces my suspicion that Ukraine is just a useful tool to potentially accomplish that, if we can somehow stop Putin.

      Can the average Russian actually buy dollars or euros? Probably not, but what kind of Russian would want do that when the ruble is stronger than the reserve currency. It would only make sense if you want skip the country.

      JE comments:  I have a strong suspicion that many Russians would like to convert their rubles into something safer.  I've read that there is a 20% premium on black market (i.e., obtainable) dollars.

      Betting on the ruble is nothing less than a bet on Putin.  Does anyone truly believe the ruble is going to remain as strong as it is now...even if Putin "wins"?

      And c'mon, Tor:  shouldn't we stop Putin because he is waging an unjust, brutal war against a neighbor?

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      • Ukraine War and Wheat Exports (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/16/22 6:49 AM)
        When responding to Tor Guimaraes (June 15th), our esteemed moderator very understandably wrote, "C'mon, Tor: shouldn't we stop Putin because he is waging an unjust, brutal war against a neighbor?"

        I am tempted to answer NO.  To attempt to stop Putin is self-defeating or at the very best may temporarily improve the political situation of the leaders of the Empire.

        Russia will not lose the war no matter what, not even if it turns into WWIII, or if nuclear weapons start exploding. Is the internal front of the Empire ready to face the holocaust of the 21st century?  As we have seen in the past, I would say that the US internal front is weaker than the Russian one. Besides, with the Empire's warmongering and occupation of foreign countries in the past, does it have the moral position to judge someone else?

        Furthermore, it may sound controversial, but whoever shoots the first bullet does not necessarily have the responsibility for starting a war.  If I am not wrong Ukraine did not respect the Minsk Accord and chose to eliminate the secession of the ethnically different Donbas with war and not with diplomacy.

        The Pope, decidedly against any war and practically forgetting the old Catholic doctrine of "just war," said in an interview in May:  "I am simply against reducing the complexity (of this war) to the distinction of Good and Evil... The war in Ukraine has been provoked or not avoided." 

        Of course, you may understand His words as you like, but...

        Today Russia has reduced the gas supply to Germany by 40% (plus another 33%?) and to Italy by 15%, officially due to the lack of spare parts blocked by the (let me repeat a thousand times) self-defeating sanctions.

        The Italian media is making a great fuss about the blockade for one reason or other of Ukrainian wheat due to be exported.  But Ukrainian wheat, the 2021 harvest, should already have been mostly shipped by the end of February 2022. Worldwide, 749.5 million tons of wheat are produced, and the production of Ukraine is 26 million tons (Italy produces 8 million). This means that more or less 3% of wheat is missing, or better considering only the exported wheat it may be some 8%. This missing amount should not be enough to cause millions of deaths as our media claims. Probably the media is defending the interests of the new owners of the Ukrainian wheat--the US Companies Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge and Cargill; see the OXFAM report.

        Oh, by the way, China has bought 5% of the productive land of Ukraine.  Before the Putin era, Russia was importing wheat, now it is the principal exporter.

        JE comments:  I was surprised to learn of the world's largest wheat producer:  China.  Russia is third and Ukraine eighth.  The loss of both exporters (Russia and Ukraine) would have a significant impact on world food levels.


        Eugenio, you are no doubt correct that no nation can "suffer through to victory" better than the Russians.  But is the analogy with WWII relevant?  The Soviets against Hitler were defending their homeland and their very survival; presently all they have to do is free themselves of Putin and everything will return to normal.

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