|Monday 07th of October 2019
07-OCT-2019 :: China turns 70 @TheStarKenya
“Longing on a large scale makes history.” ― wrote Don DeLillo and
these words streamed into my consciousness as I watched the
celebrations in Tiananmen Square, which were marking the 70th
Anniversary of Chinese Communist Party Rule. Xi Jinping and the Party
were seeking to project national power and confidence on a grand
scale. Nothing and Nobody was going to rain on this Parade. The Pomp
and Pageantry included a Parade that involved 15,000 soldiers and
sailors, 160 planes, 580 tanks and other weaponry including what Hu
Xijin [President Xi's trusted Mouth-piece] described as
''This is the legendary DF41 ICBM. But it is not a tale. Today it is
displayed at Tiananmen Square I touched one about four years ago in
the production plant. No need to fear it. Just respect it and respect
China that owns it'' Hu Xijin
My Friend Herve Gogo and I were simultaneously bamboozled by the all
women militia, selected from the militia force in Beijing's Chaoyang
District, who were a Sun-Tzu level Knock-Out Blow and certainly more
than the legendary DF41 ICBM which Mr. Xijin is welcome to keep as
long as he hands over the Ladies who are most welcome to stream in my
President for life Xi has been fending off a Trade War and been
dealing with a Flaring Up on the Periphery but last week was his
opportunity to paint on a blank canvas and show the World who he is
and what China wishes to be.
"No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging
ahead", he said.
The President for Life was seeking to project a sense of inevitable
forward Motion and a fulfilment of the promise that Mao Zedong made on
the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 that
China would stand up. They have “stood up.” Xi's Model is one of
technocratic Authoritarianism and a recent addition to his book shelf
include The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos. Xi is building an
Algorithmic Society. Some of the Xi-era slogans are short and simple,
in the manner of Western advertising, such as the “Chinese Dream,” the
catchphrase embodying the party’s aim to become a global power by
2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People Republic of
China.In a way, this is also nothing new. But Xi has taken the
propagation of ideology and the cult of personality to extremes not
seen since the days of Chairman Mao. Xi in fact has replaced Jesus in
Churches and Mohamed in the mosques.
"Unity is iron and steel; unity is a source of strength,"
"Complete reunification of the motherland is an inevitable trend..no
one and no force can ever stop it!" he added
Today we know the Chinese Economy is slowing. but Xi is relying on
“If there is a decoupling between the two economies, so be it. The
Chinese people can endure more pain than the spoiled and hubristic
The Folks in Hong Kong [whom Xi is seeking to unmask so he can
exercise algorithmic control over them] are in open rebellion. Joshua
Wong told German Media "Hongkong ist das neue Berlin" referencing the
"Ich bin ein Berliner" speech given by United States President John
F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. I am sure Xi sees
Hong Kong and Taiwan like a Virus and he is looking to impose a
quarantine just like he has imposed on Xinjiang. The Chinese Dream has
become a nightmare at the boundaries of the Han Empire. The World in
the c21st exhibits viral, wildfire and exponential characteristics and
Feedback Loops which only become obvious in hindsight.
I would venture that Xi's high water mark is behind him. Shorting the
renminbi is a bit of a No-Brainer. The Pork Apocalypse speaks to a
very fragile Food situation. The Periphery requires a lot more finesse
than more blunt force. But he can rely on a US President whose
dereliction of his international duty is now in plain sight
“China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the US, and we
trust that the American people will be able to sort out their own
problems," China's very subtle Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in
response to questions around Trump's pursuit of Biden and his personal
political agenda at the price of the US' international Agenda.
Ex- @CreditSuisse CEO Calls Negative Interest Rates 'Crazy' @economics
Oswald Gruebel, who led both of Switzerland’s two biggest banks during
his career, criticized negative interest rates and argued they’d lead
to a further decline of the country’s financial sector.
“Negative interest rates are crazy. That means money is not worth
anything anymore,” Gruebel said in an interview with Swiss newspaper
NZZ am Sonntag.
“As long as we have negative interest rates, the financial industry
will continue to shrink.”
Gruebel served as Credit Suisse CEO from 2004 to 2007 and as UBS Group
AG’s top executive from 2009 to 2011.
The Swiss National Bank has used negative interest rates since 2015 to
rein in an appreciation of the franc, arguing the policy -- together
with a pledge to intervene in currency markets -- is crucial to
protect the economy.
Yet banks are suffering. Credit Suisse plans to impose charges on more
wealthy clients as it prepares to spread the pain of subzero rates,
Bloomberg News reported in September.
Policy makers are aware of the burden. At their last meeting in
September, they decided to offer banks additional relief by exempting
a larger amount of their deposits from the charge.
The move was seen as giving the SNB some leeway to cut rates further if needed.
In the interview, Gruebel also addressed the spying scandal that has
rocked the Swiss financial sector. He previously called for current
Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam to step down over a decision to hire
private detectives to trail the former head of wealth management Iqbal
Khan as he was about to defect to UBS.
Credit Suisse Chief Operating Officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned
and assumed responsibility for ordering the spying, which Credit
Suisse said “resulted in severe reputational damage to the bank.”
Thiam, who has claimed he wasn’t aware, was cleared of any
responsibility in the scandal in a report commissioned by the bank.
Gruebel argued Credit Suisse’s handling of the situation has hurt the
standing of Switzerland as a banking hub.
“Foreign media are bursting with glee,” he was quoted as saying. “In a
business that above all requires expertise, there’s nothing worse than
to look ridiculous.”
Gruebel resigned from his post at UBS in 2011 shortly after it was
revealed that a trader had lost $2 billion. He took the decision “to
save the bank’s reputation,” he told NZZ.
“The CEO must take responsibility. In such incidents, the boss cannot
blame anyone, even if he did not know it.”
In response to a question whether Credit Suisse would be well advised
to install a local at the top, Gruebel told NZZ that while it is
helpful to have employees with global experience, Swiss banks are
“less global” these days and “it would make sense to use a Swiss CEO
2 Vanity[a] of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens[b] to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,[c]
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things[d] yet to be
among those who come after.
Jorge Luis Borges, The Art of Fiction Paris Review
At diagonally opposite corners of the room are two large, revolving
bookcases that contain, Miss Quinteros explained, books Borges
frequently consults, all arranged in a certain order and never varied
so that Borges, who is nearly blind, can find them by position and
size. The dictionaries, for instance, are set together, among them an
old, sturdily rebacked, well-worn copy of Webster’s Encyclopedic
Dictionary of the English Language and an equally well-worn
Anglo-Saxon dictionary. Among the other volumes, ranging from books in
German and English on theology and philosophy to literature and
history, are the complete Pelican Guide to English Literature, the
Modern Library’s Selected Writings of Francis Bacon, Hollander’s The
Poetic Edda, The Poems of Catullus, Forsyth’s Geometry of Four
Dimensions, several volumes of Harrap’s English Classics, Parkman’s
The Conspiracy of Pontiac, and the Chambers edition of Beowulf.
Recently, Miss Quinteros said, Borges had been reading The American
Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, and just the night before
he had taken to his home, where his mother, who is in her nineties,
reads aloud to him, Washington Irving’s The Life of Mahomet.
Eleven Poems of Catullus 75
Lesbia, I am mad:
my brain is entirely warped
by this project of adoring
and having you
and now it flies into fits
of hatred at the mere thought of your
doing well, and at the same time
it can’t help but seek what
your affection. This it will go on
hunting for, even if it
means my total and utter annihilation.
China and Hong Kong: the ultimate test of authoritarian rule @FT Big Read
Law & Politics
As the Dongfeng 41 — a new Chinese missile capable of delivering 10
nuclear warheads to anywhere in the US — rumbled along Beijing’s main
avenue this week in China’s biggest ever military parade, Hu Xijin did
not attempt to conceal his glee. “Don’t mess . . . with the Chinese
people or intimidate them,” tweeted Mr Hu, editor of the popular
state-owned tabloid, Global Times, which often articulates the
feelings of senior officials.
Just hours later in Hong Kong, which returned to China’s rule in 1997,
a very different scene played out. Hundreds of thousands of
pro-democracy protesters thronged the streets, some clashing violently
with police. In one location, a crowd gathered to throw eggs at a
portrait of Xi Jinping, the powerful Chinese leader who led the parade
in Beijing. Every time an egg hit Mr Xi’s face, a cheer surged up from
Such were the polarised narratives that vied to define China on the
70th anniversary of Communist party rule this week. But how should the
world read them? Was Mr Xi’s missile-packed pageantry indicative of an
emerging superpower or a brittle, paranoid regime? Are the
demonstrations in Hong Kong a last redoubt for democratic aspirations
on Chinese soil or the start of something new? What are the
implications of Beijing’s assertiveness for the wider world? These are
big questions at a time when the creed of western liberalism that has
held sway over global affairs since the second world war is in
retreat. For some, China’s advancing power represents an attractive
alternative to the struggling west, a model of state-capitalist poise.
But to others — especially in the west and Beijing’s immediate
neighbours — China’s vision and influence is to be challenged,
resisted or balanced.
In the absence of direct elections, the popularity of authoritarian
regimes is hard to gauge. But the outpourings of pride on Chinese
social media this week suggested that Mr Xi’s parade was a genuine hit
with ordinary Chinese.
“Most Chinese viewed the parade with enormous pride and euphoria,”
says Yu Jie, senior China research fellow at Chatham House, a UK
think-tank. “It is not just that the Communist party told them to
celebrate but rather that most parts of the population willingly
celebrated their own staggering success through hard work and
resilience over a span of just 70 years.”
In a government report called “China and the World in a New Era”
released in the run-up to the anniversary, Beijing did not underplay
its progress. “In just a few decades, China has completed a course
that took developed countries several hundred years,” it said.
The report set forth key aspects of China’s transformation: the
country’s annual gross domestic product growth rate averaged 8.1 per
cent between 1952 and 2018; some 770m people living in rural China
have been raised from poverty since 1978; and life expectancy has
risen from 35 in 1949 to 77 today. More than $2tn in foreign direct
investment entered over the past 40 years.
In an important regard, China’s success seems to stand as an
advertisement for authoritarianism. Ruchir Sharma, chief global
strategist at Morgan Stanley, has found that since 1950 there have
been 43 cases in which an economy grew at an average annual rate of 7
per cent or more for a full decade. A full 35 of these booms — or 81
per cent — took place under an authoritarian government.
The story does not end there. Mr Sharma also found that over a longer
timeframe, autocracies tended to lose their way either through sudden
policy reversals or the leaden hand of the state.
Democracies, by contrast, generate stabilising effects that produce
slower but more dependable growth.
“The stabilising effect of democracy . . . accounts for a simple fact:
every large economy that has seen average per capita income grow to
more than $10,000 is a democracy,” says Mr Sharma.
“China, with an average income approaching $10,000, is trying to
become a large, rich autocracy but it would be the first.”
Beijing has no intention of abandoning its political model. “Due to
China’s vast territory and complicated national conditions, the
governance of China is uniquely difficult,” said the government
“Without centralised, unified and firm leadership, China would have
tended toward division and disintegration and caused widespread chaos
beyond its own borders.”
This leaves China aiming at an unprecedented goal; a durably
successful autocracy. But some scholars do not bet against it.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, for one, describes in a recent book, China
Tomorrow, how Beijing is building a “new authoritarian equilibrium”
that could sustain its dictatorship for decades to come.
All this explains why Hong Kong, where authorities invoked emergency
powers against the demonstrators on Friday, is so crucial. It shows
the limits to China’s autocratic vision.
“Hong Kong is another data point illustrating the same troubling trend
of a government that believes might is right and is totally dismissive
of the enormous risks and potentially catastrophic consequences of its
actions,” says Minxin Pei, professor at Claremont McKenna College in
Hong Kong illustrates how trying to impose elements of China’s
“centralised, unified and firm” system upon a cosmopolitan population
with an average per capita income of $39,000 — four times more than
the mainland’s average — can create a powerful backlash.
The animosity is deep and sometimes personal. Protesters have made
posters likening Beijing to a Nazi regime, burnt the Chinese flag and
defaced images of Mr Xi.
In one frequent protester taunt, mainlanders are described as “caged
birds” too scared to emerge from behind their bars.
The current cycle of protests, which have lasted four months, is heir
to the “Occupy Movement” of 2014. Then Hong Kong people took to the
streets against Beijing’s attempts to curtail democratic freedoms
protected under the “one country, two systems” formula through which
Beijing reassumed control over Hong Kong in 1997.
But Beijing is finding that Hong Kong is not the only place to where
repression does not travel. Voters on the island of Taiwan — which
Beijing pledges to take back before 2049 as part of its plan for the
“great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” — have also been alienated
by the mainland’s assertiveness.
Recent opinion polls have shown strong support for pro-independence
candidates in next year’s presidential elections.
In the west and the rest of Asia too, China’s approval ratings have
tanked. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center this summer
found that in the US, 60 per cent of people have an “unfavourable”
view of China, up from 47 per cent in 2018.
In Japan and South Korea the “unfavourable” rating was 85 per cent and
63 per cent, respectively.
The US is particularly unambiguous in its official attitude. Having
spent nearly 40 years pursuing a policy of engagement with Beijing,
the Trump administration is now set upon decoupling — cutting ties in
diplomacy, commerce, education and increasingly in finance too.
The main reasons for this, say senior US officials, include the theft
of intellectual property, unfair investment practises, state-sponsored
cyber-hacking and human rights abuses in the Chinese regions of
Xinjiang and Tibet.
“The nature of the regime should be clear by its actions in Hong Kong,
Xinjiang and Tibet,” says Brigadier General Robert Spalding, a former
senior official in the Trump administration’s National Security
“It is a totalitarian dictatorship bent on spreading its vision of
IT-based social control as a means of securing the Chinese Communist
party’s continued rule.”
The US is also seeking to influence allies in the west to steer clear
of certain Chinese technologies. The UK, for instance, is under
pressure to eject Huawei, China’s leading telecoms company, from its
The South China Sea is another arena of rising anxiety. At least seven
Chinese ships have entered Vietnam’s “exclusive economic zone” in
recent months to conduct what appear to be oil and gas surveys of the
Given that Beijing claims almost the entire area of the 1.4m square
mile (3.5m square km) sea, its unilateral actions unsettled not only
rival claimants to disputed waters but also nations that use its
crucial shipping lanes.
“The Chinese survey vessel [is] . . . seriously violating Vietnam’s
sovereign rights,” said Le Thi Thu Hang, a spokeswoman for the
Vietnamese government, this week.
Such statements underline the symbolic importance of Mr Xi and his
performance at the military parade. Though he set out the narrative of
China’s epic struggle against poverty and oppression over the past 70
years, there was one particular debt that he did not acknowledge: that
to the west.
For China’s rise, at least in its early decades, was enabled by the
policy of engagement adopted by the US, Europe and other nations.
They opened their markets to Chinese goods, made their investments in
China’s “special economic zones”, transferred knowledge, skills and
But this aspect of China’s recent history is no longer mentioned.
Instead, there is a tough, uncompromising message to the world. In his
speech on Tiananmen Gate — the hallowed spot once occupied by Mao
Zedong as he proclaimed the new China in 1949, Mr Xi warned: “There is
no force that can shake the status of this great nation. No force can
stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging ahead”.
China breeds giant pigs the size of polar bears as African swine fever causes pork shortage @SCMPNews
Law & Politics
In a farm deep in a southern region of China lives a very big pig that
is as heavy as a polar bear.
The 500kg (1,102lbs) animal is part of a herd being bred to become
giant swine. At slaughter, some of the pigs can sell for more than
10,000 yuan (US$1,400), over three times the average monthly
disposable income in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous
region, where Pang Cong, the farm’s owner, lives.
Although Pang’s pigs may be an extreme example of the lengths farmers
are going to fill China’s pork shortage problem, the idea that bigger
is better has been spreading across the country, home to the world’s
most voracious consumers of the meat.
Pang’s prize specimen is heavier than an average adult male polar
bear. Meanwhile, in the northeastern province of Jilin, high pork
prices are prompting farmers to raise pigs to reach an average weight
of 175 to 200kg, far heavier than the normal weight of 125kg. They
want to raise them “as big as possible”, Zhao Hailin, a hog farmer in
the region, said.
there is frequently a "coming to Jesus" meeting in Beijing where any number of things can happen
Law & Politics
there is frequently a “coming to Jesus” meeting in Beijing where any
number of things can happen to a trustee – from forcing him to sell
off non-policy debt-inducing assets, to accepting “retirement” to
charges of corruption and a life sentence in prison…
Alibaba’s Jack Ma is still young, healthy, and his company is firing
on all cylinders. Yet, he recently stepped down as chairman at a
handsome ceremony – posing as a rock star and singing a few tunes.
The musical theme was appropriate. He has been whistling past the
graveyard for many years – as is the lot of prominent businessmen in
the People’s Republic of China.
How a private business operates in a Communist Party-run state is a
perpetual head scratcher. However, a Western businessman with over
three decades experience in China offered some insights.
You see, the Jack Ma’s of China may be entrepreneurs, but they are as
much “Chinese Communist Party (CCP) corporate trustees.” And Ma’s
usefulness as a CCP corporate trustee has reached the end of its
The businessman continued:
Jack Ma and Alibaba were in effect used by the Party to counter eBay’s
unexpected and stunning success in China. And in China, the Party
always wins. As eBay’s fortunes sagged and Alibaba’s took off so did
the career of Jack Ma.
Under the mild-mannered Premier Hu Jintao, Ma became a national and
international icon. He served many roles the Party wanted China and
the world to see.
When Xi Jinping came into power Davos was not big enough for Xi and
Ma. Someone had to go. It was clear to a lot of people that Ma began
to chafe under Xi’s increasing expectation that trustees like Ma
subordinate themselves entirely to Xi.
Ma perhaps didn’t know when to say “when.” In 2015 he purchased
28,000 acres of pristine upper New York state forest lands. This was
okay under Hu, not under Xi. As far as is known Ma still has the land
that he designated “preserved for the environment.”
As long as he steps down from Alibaba, acknowledges Xi’s supremacy,
and only talks about the environment he may be able to keep the land
(and his house on Hong Kong’s Peak).
If he falls afoul, Beijing will claim Ma purchased the land with
“black money” and will want asset ownership turned over to the PRC
government….a frequent tactic now when foreign real estate is the
One might expect Ma to declare his philanthropic future by building a
conference and retreat center on the property where CCP officials and
their corporate trustees can retire for rest, reflection, appreciation
of the environment…..and meet Wall Street tycoons and American
business leaders (and former U.S. State Department officials) to pitch
the benefits of investing in China.
Indeed, maybe Jack Ma’s crowning achievement is not building Alibaba
into a major global corporation. Rather, it is staying both alive and
out of jail as long as he has.
The businessman further explained:
Alibaba, like Huawei, HNA and similar ventures, are licensed and
documented as “private” companies when in fact they are better thought
of a as state-owned-private-enterprise companies (SOPE’s)…an
expression the Western businessman coined.
The company “founders” are loyal CCP members (something Jack Ma kept
hidden for many years) running the company effectively as CCP
The companies receive all kinds of perks (including protection),
subsidies and access to whatever is needed to create powerful
“champion’” companies across most major lines of business and
Trustees are given executive responsibility to a great degree to run
companies as they see fit – and thus appear like “regular” CEO’s of
the Western sort. But in doing so, they must follow these guidelines,
noted the businessman:
-Must use company to fulfill CCP policy objectives (serve the party
first and foremost)….these include political, business, brand-building
and China nationalism objectives
-Build large entities in scope and scale, capability and capacity in
their special field of endeavor
-Develop and/or acquire leading-edge technology
-Acquire Top 500 Company world status
-Be a major contributor to establishing new global standards for their
respective business field (breaking the U.S. monopoly of the past 60
years or more)
These SOPEs have a deep line of credit with the CCP and the People’s
Bank of China’s SAFE (State Administration of Foreign Exchange) should
they need U.S. dollars for their overseas activities.
As long as they stay within the CCP’s policy objectives FX (foreign
exchange) authorizations continue.
Try paying overseas in Chinese Yuan and it’s only a few degrees better
than using Zimbabwe dollars.
There’s a reason why moving one’s wealth overseas and turning it into
U.S. dollars or other convertible currencies has been a national sport
in China for years – even for CCP elites.
The businessman continued: The trouble starts when the celebrity
trustee (they attain huge celebrity status in China) begins to get
full of himself and starts to enter into transactions beyond his
This is usually where the debt problem begins to appear because there
is no automatic FX payment to bail them out of a non-policy
transaction gone bad. Trying to fix the problem only makes its worse.
The attempted remedies don’t work – piling more debt on top of more
The CCP will fund SOPE debt as long as it goes to supporting policy
objectives. They will not fund non-policy debt. Non-policy, usually
debt-ridden ventures get sold off at fire sale prices.
And there is frequently a “coming to Jesus” meeting in Beijing where
any number of things can happen to a trustee – from forcing him to
sell off non-policy debt-inducing assets, to accepting “retirement” to
charges of corruption and a life sentence in prison….and no more
access to the CCP’s official black hair dye #6.
Indeed, CCTV showing court proceeding clips where the former celebrity
tycoon now has white hair is the greatest indignity that can be levied
on a person in political China. The citizenry knows justice (such as
it is) has been served.
As a recent example of the CCP taking back one of its SOPEs….there is
Anbang Insurance Company which got into a lot of things around the
world other than insurance.
The company was taken over by the government, renamed and rebranded as
“Dajia Insurance.” Its owner got 18 years in prison.
And the HNA conglomerate’s boss, Wang Jian, died in a fall in France
last year after the company got overextended. An accident? The
French police said so.
But Chinese tycoons that run into trouble die with improbable
frequency. And as one observer put it: “Typically, a man of Wang’s
stature in China does not stand next to a 50 foot drop-off…especially
for a photo.”
But isn’t Alibaba different? Yes and no. Jack Ma wisely avoided the
“overreach” that landed Anbang, HNA, and others in trouble. But in
the PRC success can be as dangerous as failure.
And CCP leadership just might view highly profitable Alibaba as a
juicy ripe peach. The Party is the state (and everything in it),
The businessman note that, of course, not all Chinese companies are
SOPEs. Small and medium size Chinese companies that you find seconded
in distant parts of Los Angeles, for example, are wild-west outfits
running up all kinds of debt in U.S. dollars.
These are not SOPEs, do not have high-level backing and do not receive
much consideration, if any, from SAFE.
When these guys go broke you don’t want to be their creditor.
So, despite Jack Ma’s considerable abilities and success, he can only
be as successful and free as the CCP allows him to be.
I can hear it now…”Newsham you’re all wrong!” Perhaps. But here’s a
test: Have Jack Ma announce that he’s changed his mind and is going
to retake Alibaba’s helm – running it as he sees fit and spending the
earnings as he wishes.
Will he be invited to a celebratory dinner in Zhongnanhai? Maybe.
But if so, he’ll do well not to pose for photos afterwards on the
This CCP sword of Damocles also hangs over foreign companies in China.
But there’s no shortage of Western executives who think it will be
different for them.
They’ve got well-connected Chinese friends who love them, and anyway,
they are smarter than everyone else.
But this only ends one way. Just wait a while and watch what happens
to Elon Musk and Tesla after going all-in on China.
Musk should be glad he’s not Chinese. He’ll only lose his company.
'Sack me if you dare,' @BorisJohnson will tell the Queen @thesundaytimes
Law & Politics
Boris Johnson will dare the Queen to sack him rather than resign as
prime minister in an attempt to drive through Brexit on October 31,
cabinet ministers have revealed.
In an unprecedented escalation of the constitutional crisis, senior
aides said Johnson would not stand aside if his proposals were
rejected by Brussels and MPs tried to unseat him to avert a no-deal
They said Johnson was prepared to “squat” in Downing Street even if
MPs declare no confidence in his government and agree a caretaker
prime minister to replace him.
Sources say MPs and peers have even discussed the idea of Commons
Speaker John Bercow taking on the job, although some involved in the
talks do not think he could command majority support.
Did @realDonaldTrump Just Self-Impeach? @NewYorker
Law & Politics
In the ten days since the House of Representatives launched its
impeachment inquiry, President Trump has spoken and tweeted thousands
of words in public. He has called the investigation a “coup” and the
press “deranged.” He has demanded that his chief congressional
antagonist, the California representative he demeans as “Liddle’ Adam
Schiff,” be brought up on treason charges. He has attacked the “Do
Nothing Democrats” for wasting “everyone’s time and energy on
There have been so many rationales coming from the President that it’s
been hard to keep them straight. “How do you impeach a President who
has created the greatest Economy in the history of our Country,
entirely rebuilt our Military into the most powerful it has ever been,
Cut Record Taxes & Regulations, fixed the VA & gotten Choice for our
Vets (after 45 years), & so much more,” he complained via tweet last
week, in a less-than-accurate recap of his Administration’s record. He
called the charges against him a “hoax” and, quoting his lawyer Rudy
Giuliani, said that he was “framed by the Democrats.” He has blamed
the “#Fakewhistleblower” and the “fake news” for the impeachment
investigation, which has now replaced the Mueller investigation in
Trump’s rhetoric as “the Greatest Witch Hunt in the history of our
country.” Trump has also insisted, over and over again, that there was
nothing at all wrong with his July 25th phone call with the President
of Ukraine. The call—in which he asked for the “favor” of having
Ukraine investigate his 2020 political rival, the former
Vice-President Joe Biden, even as he was holding up hundreds of
millions of dollars in U.S. military aid—triggered the impeachment
inquiry in the first place. But Trump says it was “perfect.”
On Thursday morning, Trump appeared to dispense with excuses
altogether, no longer even bothering to contest the charge that he
leaned on Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. How do we
know this? Because Trump did it again, live on camera, from the White
House lawn. In a demand that is hard to interpret as anything other
than a request to a foreign country to interfere in the U.S. election,
Trump told reporters that Ukraine needs a “major investigation” into
the Bidens. “I would certainly recommend that of Ukraine,” the
President added, shouting over the noise of his helicopter, as he
prepared to board Marine One en route to Florida. He also volunteered,
without being asked, that China “should start an investigation into
the Bidens,” too, given that Hunter Biden also had business dealings
there while his father was in office. Trump, minutes after threatening
an escalation in his trade war with China, suggested that he might
even personally raise the matter of the Bidens with the Chinese
leader, Xi Jinping.
You could practically hear the collective gasp in Washington.
Republicans had spent days denying what Trump had more or less just
admitted to. “As President Trump keeps talking, he makes it more and
more difficult for his supporters to mount an actual defense of his
underlying behavior,” Philip Klein, the executive editor of the
Washington Examiner, a conservative magazine, soon wrote.
It was as though Richard Nixon in 1972 had gone out on the White House
lawn and said, Yes, I authorized the Watergate break-in, and I’d do it
again. It was as though Bill Clinton in 1998 had said, Yes, I lied
under oath about my affair with Monica Lewinsky, and I’d do it again.
Twitter wags immediately began wondering if the President had just
committed the nation’s first act of self-impeachment. On CNN, a chyron
read “trump admits to very offense dems looking to impeach over.” His
2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, tweeted, “Someone should inform the
president that impeachable offenses committed on national television
still count.” But that is not, of course, how Trump sees it. He now
faces an energized Democratic majority in the House that’s ready to
impeach him for abusing his power. But with little prospect that the
Republican Senate will dare to convict him and remove him from office,
he isn’t even bothering to deny the facts. He’s saying, Yes, I did
it—and so what?
Several weeks ago, back when Ukraine was an obscure Washington
controversy about delayed military aid relegated to the inside pages
of the Times, Trump already seemed to be a President on the verge of a
nervous breakdown. His behavior, always erratic, had become noticeably
more combative, angry, and extreme. He was hurling insults at a record
pace, and he cancelled an August trip to Denmark in a fit of pique
because its leader had mocked his offer to buy Greenland from her.
Looking at his tweets back then, I found that Trump had amped up the
volume to a striking degree, sending out hundreds more in August of
this year than he had in previous summers—and many more of them were
provocative, highly personal attacks on targets ranging from the “fake
news” media to his Federal Reserve chairman.
Well, we hadn’t seen anything yet. Trump produced six hundred and
ninety tweets in August; in September, he reached a record for his
Presidency of eight hundred and one tweets, according to Factba.se, a
company that tracks Trump’s statements. There were whole new bizarre
episodes—remember Sharpiegate? Trump’s aborted Camp David invite to
the Taliban?—and an angry parting of ways with John Bolton, his third
national-security adviser. All of those incidents, of course, now seem
as though they took place long ago. The sharpest spike in Trump’s
tweets, not surprisingly, came late in the month, when news of the
Ukraine whistle-blower’s complaint became public and congressional
impeachment, until then an unlikely outcome, became a new political
reality. Trump, in fact, was so publicly agitated about this swift and
unexpected turn in his fortunes that the week of September 23rd was
the single most active tweeting week of his Presidency. Trump sent out
two hundred and forty tweets to his followers that week, easily
beating his previous record of two hundred and seven, set during the
week of July 7th.
Reading back over those tweets now, one can see the real-time
realization by the President that, whatever he was doing, it wasn’t
working. Confidence about his “perfect” call with Ukraine’s leader
descended into self-pity, after he released the White House summary of
the call and the controversy escalated instead of disappeared. Soon
there were laments of “presidential harassment.” By September 26th,
Trump was talking about “the greatest scam in the history of politics”
and retweeting validation from his son, his White House counsellor,
his communications director, and his congressional allies. Over the
weekend and into this week, the message seemed increasingly frenetic
and muddled. One minute, Trump seemed to be shoring up his Republican
base and attempting to change the subject to his policy feuds with
Democrats; the next, he was deep into the details of the scandal,
assailing the credibility of the whistle-blower and the investigators.
On Wednesday, in two separate appearances alongside the visibly
uncomfortable President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, Trump ranted in
such agitated and confused fashion that the dialogue at times
resembled an absurdist play:
finnish reporter: Finland is the happiest country in the world.
trump: Finland is a happy country.
finnish reporter: What can you learn from Finland?
trump: Well, you got rid of Pelosi, and you got rid of shifty Schiff.
Finland is a happy country. He’s a happy leader, too.
Trump, as that exchange so memorably suggests, just can’t get over it.
He can’t even formulate a sentence in public that doesn’t capture his
obsessive focus on the political scandal that he created. Where
previous embattled Presidents refused to discuss their plights, Trump
can talk about nothing else.
The President’s ability to capture public attention, however, is
diminishing. He is caught in a cycle of greater and greater rhetorical
excess, a cycle that predates the Ukraine scandal but helps explain
his otherwise inexplicable behavior in responding to it. According to
Factba.se’s week-by-week tracking, Trump began his escalatory spiral
this spring, when the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on
Russia’s 2016 election interference was released. Up until that point,
the President had already been notable for his aggressive use of
Twitter, his combative public statements, and his hostile relationship
to the truth. But, in both frequency and volume, he was significantly
more muted than he has been since the Mueller report’s release. In the
first two years of his Administration, there were only seven weeks
when Trump tweeted more than a hundred times; since the Mueller report
was made public, in April, he has done so every week except for two.
The Mueller investigation, and Trump’s festering grievance about it,
appears to have shaped his public persona more than any other event of
his tenure. Trump publicly proclaimed victory with the report’s
release, portraying it as “complete and total exoneration.” “I won,”
he said, but Trump did not take the win. Instead, he launched his
Attorney General, William Barr, on what we know now was an
international quest to investigate the origins of the Mueller
investigation, pressuring U.S. allies from Britain to Italy to
Australia, and also Ukraine, to unearth information that undermined
the Mueller probe’s credibility. Who knows what will come out next.
The impeachment investigation has just begun, and although it is
starting out as tightly focussed on Ukraine, we have no real idea
where it might end up. What we do know about Trump, though, is
unlikely to change: the restraints on him are gone, and they are not
He has no discipline he is combusting in front of our eyes - This is
Reality TV on a whole new level Compare @BillClinton who exercised
discipline and control in a similar situ
"Stupid Watergate" Is Worse Than the Original @NewYorker
Law & Politics
Comparatively speaking, Richard Nixon has been getting a lot of
glowing press these days. As if to propose the never-before-in-history
uniqueness of our current moment, we rush to remind ourselves of the
lovelier sides of Tricky Dick: his constructive cunning in foreign
affairs, particularly the opening to China; his sporadic moments of
progressivism, including the creation of the Environmental Protection
Agency; and, finally, his scowling acknowledgement of the inevitable
in August, 1974, when he received the leaders of the Republican Party
and accepted their counsel that support for him had vanished in the
Senate and the public at large. John Oliver’s way of paying wiseass
tribute to the sepia past is to cast our twenty-first-century travails
as “Stupid Watergate”—a scandal that is at least as horrific as the
bell-bottomed original, but one in which “everyone involved is stupid
and bad at everything.”
This not only ignores the countless miseries in Nixon’s policy record,
from Vietnam to domestic spying, it also vastly underrates the
darkness of Watergate itself. “Watergate” is an umbrella term, and yet
it had at its center a conspiracy in which Nixon and his confederates
plotted to destroy at least one of his strongest-seeming rivals in the
1972 election campaign. Republican operatives set out to destroy
Edmund Muskie, of Maine, in order to face a far weaker opponent,
George McGovern, of South Dakota. (Nixon, of course, got his wish, and
won a forty-nine-state landslide over McGovern.)
“Watergate” also stands for the fullness of Nixon’s deceptions, his
resentments, and his plots, some abandoned, others fulfilled. To get
the full, rancid flavor of Nixon’s conspiratorial frame of mind, it’s
necessary to spend many hours with the White House tapes, which were
finally forced into the public domain by the Supreme Court. One random
morsel, but a typical one: in June, 1971, the New York Times began
publishing the Pentagon Papers, an immense classified study of the
Vietnam War, its origins and its ugliest truths. The whistle-blower of
that era was Daniel Ellsberg, a defense analyst at the rand
Corporation who leaked the documents to Neil Sheehan, of the Times. We
know from the tapes that Nixon’s reaction to their publication hardly
does credit to any notion of Presidential probity or restraint. At a
meeting in the Executive Office Building late in the day on July 2,
1971, with his aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, the President
suggested the revival of the old House Committee on Un-American
Activities. “You know what’s going to charge up an audience,” Nixon
said. “Jesus Christ, they’ll be hanging from the rafters. Going after
all these Jews. Just find one that is a Jew, will you.”
That same summer, in a similarly paranoid spirit, Nixon suspected that
someone at the Brookings Institution was in possession of documents
describing how he may have illegally interfered in peace talks with
the North Vietnamese before he ascended to the White House. Nixon told
Haldeman and Henry Kissinger, his national-security adviser,
“Goddammit, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” The
following day, he returned to the theme: “Get it done! I want it done!
I want the Brookings safe cleaned out!” G. Gordon Liddy, a
particularly aggressive operative in the Watergate drama, even drew up
plans to firebomb Brookings. The building still stands.
There are volumes of such moments. And yet Donald Trump brings us to a
different level of crazy. The President’s klieg-light brazenness, his
utter lack of shame, is on daily, public display. What Nixon muttered
in the Oval Office, Trump bellows to reporters on the White House
lawn. As Carl Bernstein, who, with Bob Woodward, broke the crucial
stories in the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post, told me,
“When Nixon talked about his crimes, he talked about them in private.
He conspired in private. Trump is out front and center about his
crimes, his corruption.” The text messages between and among diplomats
that were released on Thursday are merely confirmation that Trump’s
diplomats, aides, and operatives were furtively, and anxiously,
discussing what their master makes no effort to conceal.
We know from Bernstein and Woodward’s book “The Final Days,” and
subsequent corroborating accounts, that Nixon spent his last weeks in
office as an erratic mess, drinking heavily, roaming the White House
late at night, talking to the portraits of Presidents past. Bad
Shakespeare. Trump does not drink; he is as comfortable in the
television lights as Nixon was not. He may be worse than he once was,
more unhinged, more furious, more undisciplined, but he is not
“Nixon, even on the tapes when he is talking conspiratorially and
criminally, held himself together emotionally until the very end,”
Bernstein said. “His emotional collapse came only in the final weeks,
when he knew how cornered he was. It was only then that he started
talking to the pictures on the walls. This loss of control is ongoing
with Trump. It’s not about the final days. And his corruption is
totally as we see it, out front. He doesn’t try to hide it. He doesn’t
try to hide the conflicts of interest or the lying. He is not a
Donald Trump’s behavior echoes Nixon’s in one sense: he and his
confederates appear to have been engaged in an effort to undermine the
integrity of a Presidential election. From all the evidence and
reporting now available––and there will be more––it is increasingly
clear that Trump set out to destroy his potential Democratic rival Joe
Biden by getting the leaders of foreign nations to investigate the
Biden family: an unmistakable misuse of power. All this while he is
engaged in crucial foreign-policy matters ranging from the
Russia-Ukraine conflict to a trade war with China.
Trump’s shamelessness leaves Nixon far behind. There is every
indication that Trump cares only about his personal fate, and little
about the diplomatic or economic consequences to the country. But can
this really be news? How many officials who left Trump’s inner circle
have waved their hands to tell us that he is not merely a man of
limited intelligence and discipline but a very real danger to the
national security of the country? James Mattis. H. R. McMaster. Gary
Cohn. John Kelly. Rex Tillerson. History will judge their calculations
and actions, but is there any mistaking their judgment of the man they
Where Watergate and “Stupid Watergate” might diverge most radically is
in the potential endgame. We soothingly remind ourselves that, after
many months of reporting revelations, court decisions, and hearings in
the House and the Senate, Nixon bent to reality and left the capital
in Marine One. What makes anyone imagine that Trump will do the same
before he has exacted maximal damage? And what institution will force
his hand? The Republican Party?
The G.O.P. is radically more conservative now than it was during the
Watergate era. When the House Judiciary Committee voted on three
articles of impeachment against Nixon, all twenty-one Democrats voted
yes on two or more articles, and seven of the seventeen Republicans
voted for at least one. At this point in the Trump drama, at least, it
is hard to imagine congressional Republicans doing the same.
Trump also knows that he lives in an immensely different
public-opinion universe than Nixon. In the seventies, there was no Fox
News, no Breitbart, no social media, no bots, no trolls. Nixon
certainly hated the mainstream media––the three networks, the Times,
the Post, and so on––but there was no alternative. In 1970, while he
was working as a media consultant for Nixon, Roger Ailes started
thinking about ways to circumvent what he saw as the liberal hegemony,
particularly in television. And, of course, he invented Fox News. And
yet Trump is in such a state now that his new talking point is that
Fox News is not sufficiently accurate (read: sufficiently obsequious).
He is talking about starting a network of his own.
“Look, nothing is going gently into the night at the end of this
drama, no matter who wins,” Bernstein told me. “Nixon was a reflection
of Nixon. Watergate was not about the country. It was, above all,
about Nixon. The Trump story is all tied up with the country itself. I
felt even before this started that we are in a cold civil war. And
Trump has brought the cold civil war to the point of near ignition.
It’s much worse and deeper than just polarization. It’s not just
political, it’s cultural. These are different times than the Watergate
era. We’re a different people than we were in 1972 to 1974. And the
Republican Party is a different party.”
22-JUL-2019 :: Trump tweets in wrestling-speak: "lightweight Marco Rubio was working hard last night. The problem is, he is a choker, and once a choker, always a choker! meltdown.
Law & Politics
His linguistics actually derive from the world of wrestling and
between 1988 and 2013, he ran wrestling events, appeared ringside
(notably in the Battle of the Billionaires), and was even inducted
into the world wrestling entertainment Hall of Fame.
Despite being presented as a competitive sport, professional wrestling
is scripted. The competitors, results, pre-match and post-match
interviews — all of it is make-believe. The broadcasters give their
audience all the things you’d expect in a work of fiction: backstory,
suspense, symbolism and so forth. [Financial Times’ Stephen Grosz].
In wrestling, as in literature, names are never neutral. Naming a
character is an essential part of creating them.
There’s always a “face” (short for baby-face, or hero) and a “heel”
(villain). Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are faces. Jake
“The Snake” Roberts and Rick Rude are heels.
Wrestling pits good against bad, a genuine he-man against a phoney
rascal. To emasculate his opponents, Trump uses this trope: “low
Energy Jeb”, “Mr Magoo” (Jeff Sessions) “Lyin’ James” (Comey), “Rat”
(Michael Cohen), “Highly conflicted Bob Mueller”.
As part of his two-fisted swagger, Trump tweets in wrestling-speak:
“lightweight Marco Rubio was working hard last night. The problem is,
he is a choker, and once a choker, always a choker! meltdown.
23-SEP-2019 :: Streaming Dreams Non-Linearity Crude Oil; Netflix
“People went from broad to narrow,” he said, “and we think they will
continue to go that way—spend more and more time in the niches—
because now the distribution lands- cape allows for more narrowness’’.
And this brought me to Netflix. Netflix spearheaded a streaming
revolution that changed the way we watch TV and films. As cable TV
lost subscribers, Netflix gained them, putting it in a category with
Facebook, Amazon, and Google as one of the adored US tech stocks that
led a historic bull market [FT].
Netflix faces an onslaught of competition in the market it invented.
After years of false starts, Apple is planning to launch a streaming
service in November, as is Disney — with AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Com-
cast’s NBCUniversal to follow early next year.
Netflix has corrected brutally and lots of folks are bailing big time
especially after Netflix lost US subscribers in the last quarter. Even
after the loss of subscribers in the second quarter, Ben Swinburne,
head of media research at Morgan Stanley, says Netflix is still on
course for a record year of subscriber additions.
Optimists point to the group’s global reach. It is betting its future
on expansion outside the US, where it has already attracted 60m
And this is an inflection point just like the one I am signaling in
the Oil markets. Netflix is not a US business, it is a global
The Majority of Analysts are in the US and in my opinion, these same
Analysts have an international ‘’blind spot’’ Once Investors
appreciate that the Story is an international one and not a US one
anymore, we will see the price ramp to fresh all-time highs.
I, therefore, am putting out a ‘’conviction’’ Buy on Netflix at
Friday’s closing price of $270.75.
Short sellers pile into @WeWork debt @FT
More than 10% of property group’s bonds now on loan — the most on record
Investors have placed a record level of bets against WeWork’s bonds
since the lossmaking property group abandoned its initial public
offering and its credit rating was slashed deep into junk territory.
More than $67m of the company’s $669m of corporate debt was on loan,
according to data provider IHS Markit. This is a proxy for “short
positioning” in the bond, where investors profit if the price of the
WeWork’s bonds, which mature in 2025, have fallen dramatically in
recent weeks. The debt traded hands for less than 85 cents on the
dollar on Wednesday, a record low.
That was down sharply from a high of 105 cents on the dollar after
WeWork made public its IPO plans in August. By Thursday morning, they
had edged just above 85 cents.
“It makes sense as a ‘pile on’ trade,” said John McClain, a portfolio
manager at Diamond Hill Capital Management. “All the sentiment, all
the headlines have been bad. It’s led to a feasting on a failed
WeWork’s bonds now offer a nearly 12 per cent yield to maturity, just
short of the average yield on a Credit Suisse index of triple C-rated
On Tuesday, Fitch Ratings had cut WeWork’s credit rating by two
notches to triple C plus with a negative outlook. Under Fitch’s
definition of triple C, bonds carry “substantial credit risk” and
default is seen as “a real possibility”.
Short sellers borrow debt — often from banks — for a fee and then sell
it into the market. If the bond price declines, they are then able to
buy the bond back at a lower price. The short seller then returns the
bond to the bank, pocketing the difference between their purchase and
Sam Pierson, a director in IHS Markit’s securities lending division,
noted that the cost to borrow WeWork debt to short had skyrocketed and
that it was now among the most expensive bonds to short in the $9.5tn
US corporate debt market.
More than 10 per cent of WeWork’s debt was now on loan, according to
the IHS Markit data, eclipsing a period last year when the company was
expected to win new financing from SoftBank, news that drew a large
number of short sellers into the debt.
The company earlier this year repurchased $33m of the $702m bond,
according to filings with US securities regulators.
WeWork has been in turmoil since it pulled the plug on its hotly
anticipated IPO last month and co-founder and chief executive Adam
Neumann stepped down from his role at the head of the company.
Institutional investors have raised serious concerns over the
company’s business model, Mr Neumann’s sway over the company and his
The two executives installed to take up his post — Artie Minson and
Sebastian Gunningham — are now at work to secure a new financial
lifeline for the office space provider.
The company had planned to raise at least $3bn in its now-aborted
listing and a further $6bn through a loan from a consortium of banks
led by JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.
But that debt package was contingent on the IPO, and WeWork parent the
We Company is now negotiating a far smaller loan from the group of
banks, according to people briefed on the matter.
In a bid to solidify its finances, WeWork is considering selling off
companies that it has recently acquired, including Managed by Q,
Meetup, Conductor, SpaceIQ and Teem, as well as its stake in The Wing.
It has also dramatically slowed its pace of new lease signings, and
last week temporarily halted the signing of new property contracts.
The company has burnt through capital as it has expanded from its
founding in a single office in New York’s SoHo district to more than
Credit-rating agencies have swiftly cut their views of the company and
warned creditors of the stresses on WeWork’s balance sheet.
Analysts at Fitch warned it was likely WeWork had $1.5bn of cash at
the end of the third quarter, down $1bn from the end of June, and that
it faced “material restructuring cash charges”. The company is
expected to lay off thousands of its employees in the coming weeks.
the crowd at Nzeng Ayong stadium in Libreville chanted, "Ya Ali", "Ali, the great," Bongo looked relaxed as he responded, "I'm here, I'm here for you, and I will always be here." @bpolitics
Bongo suffered the stroke while attending a conference in Saudi
Arabia, and spent months abroad recovering before returning to the
capital. His office initially said the 60-year-old was absent from the
country because he was severely fatigued.
His few public appearances since his return in March have fueled the
speculation that the stroke has caused lasting damage. Opposition
activists sought the courts to determine whether Bongo’s fit to rule,
though hearings have been delayed. Libreville is rife with speculation
over who’s in charge.
Bongo appeared in front of the crowd with his head of cabinet, Brice
Laccruche Alihanga, and his wife, Sylvia Bongo. “You can’t even
imagine the joy I feel being here among you,” he said.
WHY CLOSING THE CONGO-RWANDA BORDER COULD SPREAD EBOLA @theintercept @nickturse
A CHORA CHORA IS a resourceful man, a clever man, a man who can get
things done. He wears no uniform, but he has an easy way with
soldiers. He’s no diplomat, but he knows something about international
relations. The literal translation of chora chora is unimportant. In
street Swahili, it’s a smuggler. One evening, as I laid low in a
compound bordering the no man’s land between Congo and Rwanda, I
peeked over the wall as a chora chora plied his trade. He crossed the
border twice within an hour — first to fetch water and then to buy
juice — just to show me how easy it was. What a chora chora does might
be illegal, but it’s also as inconsequential as it is common. After
all, in the grand scheme of things, does smuggling a little whiskey or
used clothes really matter? Perhaps the only reason to care is a
virus, a hemorrhagic fever, and a disease that all goes by one
terrifying name: Ebola.
Ebola may be the most feared disease on the planet. Its fatality rate
can reach 90 percent. While new drugs hold out the promise of a cure,
stopping Ebola still means halting its spread. For more than a year,
the virus has smoldered and flared in the far east of the Democratic
Republic of Congo, or DRC. Governments near and far, the World Health
Organization, the International Organization for Migration, aid
groups, and others have all mobilized to contain the outbreak, and
still, almost 3,100 people have come down with Ebola and more than
2,100 of them have died — a devastating case fatality ratio just shy
of 70 percent. This is where things get worrisome when it comes to
chora choras and the many others who find ways to cross out of eastern
Congo without a health screening. While the overwhelming majority of
people leaving the DRC, formally and informally, are healthy, there’s
a danger when public health measures are circumvented — a chance,
however slim, of the disease taking hold in a second country.
“The first thing that we can do is to continue to support the DRC, the
WHO, and nongovernment organizations in the DRC to stop the spread of
Ebola,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on
a recent trip to the DRC and its neighbors Rwanda and Uganda. “But we
must recognize that the threat of spread into other neighboring
countries is very real. With hundreds of thousands of people crossing
very porous borders, this is a very real threat.”
Ebola travels by motorbike and fishing canoe. It’s spread in private
clinics and during burial rites. It’s carried in the bodies of
preachers and traders and children. The nightmare scenario, according
to experts, is the virus loose in an African city with lots of close
contact and insufficient public health resources. The results could be
catastrophic — worse than the West African outbreak earlier this
decade that killed more than 11,000 people.
In June and again in August, Congolese infected with Ebola crossed
into Uganda, the first times the disease jumped the border during this
outbreak. In August, suspected cases surfaced in neighboring Tanzania.
In July, a pastor who ministered to Ebola victims carried the virus,
undetected, through three health screening posts to Goma, the capital
of Congo’s North Kivu province and the primary crossing to Rwanda,
prompting WHO to declare the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of
International Concern. Days later, a miner traveled to Goma from Ituri
Province and infected his family. Last month, a mother and child with
Ebola traveled through Goma to Mwenga, becoming the first cases in
South Kivu province.
“Since Goma is a city of millions of people, and since it has an
international airport, it is a great concern. If Ebola could get into
Goma and spread in Goma, that increases the likelihood that it could
spread beyond the DRC into neighboring and distant countries. That was
why even one case in Goma was kind of like the straw that broke the
camel’s back,” Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Intercept.
Many people, including the U.S. president, believe that closing
borders is the key to stopping the spread of Ebola. “KEEP THEM OUT OF
HERE!” Donald Trump tweet-shouted about American health workers who
became infected with the virus while providing care as the largest
Ebola epidemic in history raged in West Africa in 2015. They should,
he wrote, “suffer the consequences” because “Ebola is much easier to
transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting,”
before pivoting to his preferred panacea for America’s supposed ills.
“The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected
countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’
Act fast!” he insisted.
It may seem counterintuitive, but closing borders in the face of Ebola
is the worst possible response, according to experts. Met with border
or travel restrictions, people who rely on crossing borders to feed
their families — from chora choras to traders — will find a way to do
so. “I emphasize that WHO does not recommend any restrictions on
travel or trade, which rather than stopping Ebola, can actually hamper
the fight,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general,
noting that “restrictions force people to use informal and unmonitored
border crossings, increasing the potential for the spread of disease.”
More than 100 million Ebola screenings have occurred during the
outbreak. Twenty-eight times, health checks have stopped people with
the Ebola virus in transit. But many are crossing borders without
anyone ever taking their temperature or checking them for symptoms. An
investigation by The Intercept found that Congolese and Rwandans are
regularly traversing the frontier between the two countries without
safeguards and health screenings. Some are bypassing public health
efforts at formal borders. Others are slipping through informal
crossings. Recent actions by the Rwandan military — efforts that seem
to employ the Trumpian logic of closed borders — may also serve to
encourage even more clandestine crossings and a greater chance for
Ebola to find its way into that country. “These are a huge danger,”
said Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesperson and medical doctor who also
responded to the West African Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016.
“These crossings are happening all the time.”
With around $100 million in cross-border commerce, the DRC is Rwanda’s
largest trading partner. All that trade means lots of traffic. The
International Organization for Migration, or IOM, is currently
supporting 106 Ebola screening points at international borders in the
provinces of North Kivu, Ituri, and South Kivu. Goma has the largest
of them. About 14,000 people per day cross at Grand Barrière,
according to Dede Ndungi Ndungi, chief of the technical division of
the DRC’s National Program of Hygiene at Borders. About two miles
away, the incongruously named Petit Barrière, connecting Goma and
Gisenyi, Rwanda, is one of the busiest border crossings in the world.
If there’s a front line to this fight, this is it.
“We’ve had too many instances of people crossing borders or coming
from the infected areas down to Goma, and Goma is the gateway to
Rwanda and the rest of the world,” said Harris. “It’s the point at
which Ebola will most likely be transmitted abroad.”
Every day, between 25,000 and 50,000 people pass through Petit
Barrière, mostly on foot. Small-scale trade in foodstuffs is the
largest driver of movement and constitutes a “survival economy” for
tens of thousands on both sides of the border.
Not so long ago, you walked along an open sewer through a Congolese
market, crossed Petit Barrière, and that was that. Now, instead of
proceeding straight toward the border gate, you’re diverted into a
mucky fenced-in pen where you begin the Ebola equivalent of Martin
Scorsese’s Copacabana sequence from “Goodfellas.”
Off to the right, two women sit at a blue plastic table, pens in hand.
They’re waiting to record you on a fiche de pointage de voyageurs au
point d’entree, which is nothing more than a big grid divided into 600
tiny numbered boxes, three sets of 200. If you’re the 401st person to
cross that day, one of them puts an “X” across the third number one on
the form. To the left, you stop at supersized wooden picnic tables
topped with huge black plastic tanks, where taps of water and .05
percent chlorine solution empty into bright purple, orange, red, and
blue buckets. As the smell of bleach wafts up from your freshly washed
hands, you walk toward a man dressed in a white butcher’s apron
holding what looks like a 1950s-vision of a ray gun.
The man is there to take a hard look at you. If you appear sick or
febrile, he puts the gun to your head and pulls the trigger. In an
instant, he can tell if you’re running a temperature. If you pass this
first screener, you enter a hangar-like structure, turn right down a
short corridor to another observation station where you’re sized up
again. If you pass muster, then it’s a quick left down a long hallway,
with an obstacle course of orange safety cones. A little further
ahead, one man clad in a neon-yellow IOM vest sits on a tall stool
while another stands, nominally looking at a thermal camera pointing
your way. If you have a fever, it comes to life. “Beep, beeep,
Set off that alarm and one of the IOM team checks your temperature
with his ray gun. If, at any time, you’re flagged as potentially
infected, you’re quickly escorted to an isolation room, a bright white
concrete hut near the entrance of the Copa border zone. Continuing
down the hallway, you encounter two officials from the DRC’s
Directorate General for Migration. If they allow you to pass, you walk
through a doorway out into the light of day and the heavily trafficked
no man’s land between Congo and Rwanda. Continue onward, beneath a
sign reading “Welcome to the Republic of Rwanda,” and you begin a
“Petit Barrière is the second-busiest land crossing on earth, and the
flow of people is just constant,” Harris said. “I’m really impressed
with the International Organization for Migration. They insist on
everybody washing their hands, they watch people at about two or three
different points. Even though it looks ugly, even chaotic, when you
look at what they’re doing, they really are following everybody coming
and going to Rwanda.”
“Goma is the gateway to Rwanda and the rest of the world. It’s the
point at which Ebola will most likely be transmitted abroad.”
And that’s exactly how it worked — when I visited on a slow Sunday
afternoon. It was a marvel of efficiency and efficacy in a country
that too often lacks both. But when I went early on a Monday morning,
it was a different situation, as traders bumped and jostled into the
screening maze. Most people followed the protocols, but at least two
merely feigned hand-washing. The first screener was there, but the
second checkpoint was not. In the midst of a large group, the thermal
scan can miss you. And all of that presumes that you’ve entered the
surveillance scheme at all.
“The [Rwandan] health ministry is engaged in screening individuals
coming from the Eastern DRC and the impacted zone, and we continue to
work with Minister [of Health, Diane] Gashumba and the Ministry of
Health in Rwanda to assist them with technical support and expertise
on enhancing the screening procedures,” said Azar on his trip to the
region. But you don’t need to spend weeks watching the border to begin
seeing a significant number of people who bypass the Copa complex
entirely. I watched, for example, a woman on crutches exchange angry
words with screeners on both sides of the border and avoid
hand-washing and a temperature check. There are also many able-bodied
women who followed the same path, avoided the hand-washing and
screening in Congo and simply crossed the border to join the queue for
entry in Rwanda. Do Rwanda’s Ebola surveillance measures catch them?
Maybe. But when I visited the border one Tuesday, they had run out of
water for hand-washing on the Rwandan side. Then there are the
smugglers out to beat the duties on alcohol and other items, as well
as Rwanda’s tariffs and impending total ban on the import of
secondhand clothes. They mill around Petit Barrière, walk nonchalantly
near the Rwandan side, and wait. One afternoon, for instance, I
watched as a woman in a blue dress and a woven bag walked
matter-of-factly through the gate where Rwandans exit their country.
None of the many uniformed officials stopped her. That same day, a
woman wearing a long, tight-fitting green, yellow, and orange dress
crossed the border at least six times without ever passing through the
DRC screening maze. None of these women looked even remotely sick, and
there is no reason to suspect that they were infected with Ebola virus
— or anything else — but it’s clear that border controls are in no way
ironclad. The question is whether it’s worth incentivizing
border-screening evasion to collect taxes or keep out cast-off
American T-shirts, or whether the danger, however remote, from
unscreened smugglers necessitates a change in policy? And this, keep
in mind, is the best-regulated border point in all of Goma.
Officially, the city has 11 points of entry. But in the two miles
between Petit Barrière and Grand Barrière, 14 separate footpaths
connect Rwanda and Congo, according to a Congolese soldier who works
at these informal crossing points and spoke on the condition of
anonymity. A high-ranking police official, who also spoke on
background, put the tally at 18.
For the entirety of the Ebola outbreak — and long before it —
unofficial agreements between troops on opposite sides of the border
have resulted in unregulated foot traffic between Congo and Rwanda,
according to soldiers, police, officials from the Directorate General
of Migration, and dozens of people living or working along the
frontier. But at the beginning of August, after Goma saw its second
death from the disease, Rwandan authorities closed the border for
everyone other than Congolese citizens leaving their country. WHO
immediately requested Rwanda’s scientific justification, needed to
uphold treaty obligations, for closing the border. Hours later, people
were again passing through Petit Barrière and have been ever since.
But it’s clear that Rwanda has throttled back the foot traffic,
slowing the number of traders entering their country. Experts say that
border closures, as well as travel bans and restrictions, just don’t
work. A 2014 study in the journal Eurosurveillance found that travel
bans could only delay, not prevent, the international spread of the
Ebola outbreak and only “at the risk of compromising connectivity to
the region, mobilization of resources to the affected area and
sustained response operations, all actions of critical value for the
immediate local control of [Ebola virus disease] and for preventing
its further geographical spread.” A 2016 retrospective epidemiological
study of the West African epidemic found that “travel restrictions
were not effective enough to expect the prevention of global spread of
Ebola virus disease.” The research, in PLOS One, found that it was
“more efficient to control the spread of disease locally during an
early phase of an epidemic.”
“If people’s children go hungry, they’re going to find a way to cross.”
At about the same time as the August border closure, the Rwandan
government made potentially more dangerous changes along its frontier.
Instead of instituting public health and screening measures — such as
hand-washing stations and temperature checks — the Rwandan army
transferred almost all of the soldiers that had been manning
neighborhood crossings to other duty stations elsewhere in Rwanda,
according to those with an intimate knowledge of the border. This had
the effect of disrupting informal agreements between Congolese and
Rwandan troops and, as a result, local trade — of secondhand clothes,
signature Congolese wax fabric, foodstuffs, and hard liquor — that
provides the primary source of income for many people on both sides of
The Rwandan Ministry of Defense did not respond to repeated requests
for an interview about these personnel changes.
“Congolese and Rwandans are both really suffering,” said a Congolese
official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Many people,
according to the official, lack the necessary documents to travel to
Rwanda or carry out legal trade, but were dependent on crossing the
border to make ends meet. This was echoed by numerous Congolese
military personnel and civilian officials. “If people’s children go
hungry, they’re going to find a way to cross,” remarked another
soldier who works on the border.
That desperation, say experts, is a recipe for a catastrophe. Aurelien
Pekezou Tchoffo, another WHO doctor specializing in emergency
preparedness, strenuously discouraged closing the border as a public
health mechanism. “People are always going to find a way to cross,” he
said as we stood together in the no man’s land of Petit Barrière. “It
will just make it more difficult to screen people.”
That difficulty, in turn, means giving Ebola the opportunity to spread
undetected. Closing or even slowing down legal crossings and imposing
onerous restrictions increases the likelihood that people will use
alternative means to bypass formal sites and encourages evasion of
The Graveyard Crossing
The dead are laid to rest out on the edge of town, not far from Goma’s
international airport. Behind a tumbledown neighborhood lie fields
crisscrossed by walls of cement and volcanic rock topped with shards
of broken glass and a forest where a herd of cattle grazes amid the
trees, and men and women who arrive separately on foot and bicycle
couple up in relative privacy. Beyond are the graves: some made of
white tile topped with a cross; others look like jail cells, caged in
by metal bars to prevent desecration.
A decade ago, almost as many people crossed between Congo and Rwanda
at the Gabiro cemetery as at Grand Barrière. Today, this graveyard is
not nearly as heavily trafficked, but it’s still in use — and bereft
of any of the elaborate health checkpoints at Petit Barrière.
After being tipped off to an impending crossing, my fixer, driver, and
I sat in the graveyard for a couple hours. As dusk approached, two men
on a motorbike buzzed by a couple times. It wasn’t long before seven
more with hard stares stalked down the road toward us — several of
them carrying lengths of rebar. They stood on both sides of the car
and shouted questions, indicating that it was time for us to go.
A few nights later, we went back again in a different car. A lot of
people were hanging around and they weren’t from the local
neighborhood. There were soldiers too. One came over to talk, climbed
in the back seat of our car, and rested his Kalashnikov across his
lap. As I shifted my leg down so the barrel rested atop my knee,
instead of pressed into the side of it, he told us that many people
were crossing the border. Since then, he and others stationed there
said, the traffic has only increased.
Soldiers, police officers, and other government officials would speak
only on the condition of anonymity because, officially, this is a
criminal enterprise and in many cases they’re involved in some way.
“Of course, it’s happening. Those informal entrances are functioning,”
said a senior police official who insisted that his forces were
serious about securing the border. Several soldiers, however, admitted
that they and their local commanders were involved in cross-border
trade. But instead of facing reality and reducing the Ebola risk
through the type of screenings performed at Petit Barrière and other
formal border crossing points, both Rwanda and DRC are turning a blind
There is, in fact, no need to take such chances. “IOM supports
screening at informal border crossing points,” Daco Tambikila, a
spokesperson for the organization told The Intercept, noting that
medical screenings can “easily be established at informal BCP.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s most endangered neighbors: Burundi,
Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda have all taken steps to halt Ebola at
their borders and joined with partners to strengthen their public
health systems. But many challenges remain. “The worst-case scenario
is if it spreads into some neighboring African countries that have
very vast populations,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID.
Wracked by poverty and years of civil war, South Sudan has very little
effective public health infrastructure and sophisticated medical care
is all but nonexistent. “If it gets into a country like South Sudan,
where it would be difficult for their health system to contain it,
then it could really spread and cause a lot of havoc in that country,”
said Fauci. Rwanda’s relatively good infrastructure, especially the
smooth, paved roads from the DRC border to its capital, Kigali, poses
its own unique risks. “The more sophisticated the infrastructure, the
better the transport, the more quickly the disease can spread,” notes
the WHO’s Margaret Harris.
Several cases of a disease with Ebola-like symptoms in Tanzania have
led to a recent standoff between that country, which claims it has no
suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, and the WHO which says that
vital clinical data and the results of the investigations and
laboratory tests have been withheld from it, making it impossible to
accurately assess the situation. Tanzania, like all of Congo’s other
“priority two” neighbors (Angola, Central African Republic, the
Republic of Congo, and Zambia) lacks sufficient “financial support for
implementing emergency preparedness activities,” according to the WHO.
“The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is
a poignant reminder of the importance of a strong surveillance
system,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.
But neither Congo, Rwanda, nor any of the other 45 member states of
the WHO African Region — despite being signatories to the 2005
International Health Regulations and thus, legally bound to work
together to stop the international spread of disease — meet all the
required IHR capacities and have the full capability needed to prevent
outbreaks from spreading beyond their borders. More worrying still,
WHO doesn’t even have sufficient funds to fight the outbreak in DRC
into the near future. In a recent financial update, WHO said it needed
at least $120 million to pay for its own operations and $287 million,
in total, to fund its partners until the end of the year. To date, the
organization has only received $60 million, about a fifth of the money
Since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in August 2018, the U.S.
Agency for International Development has provided close to $150
million in funding for the Ebola outbreak in Congo and almost $10
million to enhance preparedness in neighboring countries. “U.S. health
care workers, including some of the brave heroes of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention,” are also “operating in the front
lines of the response,” according to Azar.
In 2015, these “brave heroes” were just the sort of people citizen
Donald Trump said should “suffer the consequences” and be barred from
returning to the United States. Whether President Trump’s thinking on
Ebola has evolved in the years since is unclear. Does he still favor
border restrictions as a response? A senior administration official
offered only stale talking points about the Ebola outbreak but
wouldn’t comment on the president’s understanding of the disease and
ways to combat it.
The World Health Organization’s Margaret Harris, now a veteran of the
response to the two largest Ebola outbreaks in history, has no qualms
about explaining exactly what such restrictions mean in the real
world. “Closing borders will just force the disease underground,” she
told The Intercept. When virus transmission went underground in Guinea
during the West Africa outbreak, due to fears about seeking treatment,
it allowed Ebola to take root and then cross into Sierra Leone. The
results were catastrophic. “It was like a bushfire,” Harris recalled.
“I was in Freetown when it hit. It’s not something that you want to
see in a populated area. There were people dropping dead in the
Mozambique Says Exxon to Back Africa's Biggest Ever LNG Project @markets
Mozambique’s government said Exxon Mobil Corp. will sign off on a
final investment decision for a liquefied natural gas project that
could cost as much as $33 billion to build -- the biggest ever in
A ceremony marking the decision will take place Oct. 8 in Maputo, the
capital of the southeast African nation, the Ministry of Mineral
Resources and Energy said in a statement Saturday.
Exxon’s project in the northern Cabo Delgado province will cost
between $27 billion and $33 billion, according to a report that
Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group Ltd. published in March.
The 15.2-million ton per year gas liquefaction and export project is
even bigger than the one that Total is building nearby, and both will
transform Mozambique’s $15 billion economy.
“We look forward to progressing the Rovuma LNG project and working
with the government to maximize the long-term benefits that this
project will bring,” a spokesman for Exxon said in an emailed response
The final investment decision could boost President Filipe Nyusi’s
chances in general elections scheduled a week later. A promise to
develop the country’s natural gas industry has formed a big part of
"Invoking the repulsive prospect of alleged forced labor is a new nomenclature for seeking to bar Zimbabwe's diamonds from the international markets." the southern African nation's government said in a statement. @business
Zimbabwe angrily denounced a U.S. government decision to curb imports
of diamonds from its Marange field, branding the claim the country
uses forced labor at the operations “a shameless lie.”
“Invoking the repulsive prospect of alleged forced labor is a new
nomenclature for seeking to bar Zimbabwe’s diamonds from the
international markets,” the southern African nation’s government said
in a statement.
“This move constitutes a grave and serious attack on Zimbabwe’s
interests and is no less than a manifestation of undeclared
The Kimberley Process, which aims to ensure that the proceeds of
diamond mining aren’t used to fund conflict, confirmed that it has no
restrictions on trade in Zimbabwean diamonds. The body represents 81
countries, accounting for 99.8% of global rough diamond production.
Zimbabwe, suffering its worst economic crisis since 2008, is desperate
to end sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union on
politicians and state companies. The government blames the U.S.
measures, in place for almost two decades, for hindering investment in
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency announced the so-called
withhold release order on the Marange diamonds in an Oct. 1 statement,
without giving details of the allegations against Zimbabwe.
“A WRO allows importers an opportunity to re-export their goods or to
provide evidence that their goods are not produced with forced labor,”
the agency said in a response to questions.
The order can be imposed on the evidence of news reports or
allegations made directly to it by non-governmental organizations, the
It also imposed the same measures on gold from artisanal mines in the
Democratic Republic of Congo and a variety of products made by
companies in China, Malaysia and Brazil.
“If they had concerns they should have contacted us, our doors are
open,” Polite Kambamura, Zimbabwe’s deputy mines minister, said by
“If they request to go to Marange, our doors are open. It’s so
disturbing that they made this announcement.”
Marange, in eastern Zimbabwe, is not without controversy. The field,
by far the biggest diamond operation in the country, was seized by the
government from African Consolidated Resources Plc, a U.K. company, in
The company fought the decision in court for several years but failed
to overturn the state’s decision. The field was originally discovered
by De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond company.
After the seizure, Marange was overrun by thousands of informal miners
before being commandeered by the military. Non-governmental
organizations including Human Rights Watch and the opposition movement
for Democratic Change accused the government of abuses including
widespread smuggling --- and of using revenue to fund ruling party
militia during election campaigns.
New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the military of killing as
many as 200 informal miners at the site and demanded that the
Kimberley Process sanction the diamonds. The army has denied the
Between 2009 and 2016, Chinese and South African companies mined the
deposit in partnership with the government. In 2016, then president
Robert Mugabe ordered them off the deposit, saying that the state had
been illicitly deprived of $13 billion in potential revenue.
The only company now mining at Marange is the state-owned Zimbabwe
Consolidated Diamond Co. The company produced 2.8 million carats of
gems in fiscal 2018 and plans to more than double that to 6.12 million
in its 2020 financial year, it said in a presentation on Friday.
“We are a responsible state miner that operates within the laws of the
country and we observe strict adherence to critical tenets of
corporate governance,” the company said. “ZCDC employs labor in terms
of the Labour Relations Act and there is no compromise on that.”