Mitt Romney Calls On NATO To Prepare For Potential Russian Nuclear Strikes
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-11:40]

Mitt Romney Calls On NATO To Prepare For Potential Russian Nuclear Strikes

Authored by Jack Phillips via The Epoch Times,

The United States and other NATO nations should prepare a devastating response to a possible Russian nuclear strike, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on Saturday.

Romney, in an opinion article for the New York Times, said that “Russia’s use of a nuclear weapon would unarguably be a redefining, reorienting geopolitical event,” adding: 

“We should imagine the unimaginable, specifically how we would respond militarily and economically to such a seismic shift in the global geopolitical terrain.”

There is little evidence to suggest that Russia is going to use a nuclear weapon in its conflict with Ukraine, as doing so would risk a significant escalation under the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. Several weeks ago, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson downplayed concerns Moscow may use nukes in a bid to avoid defeat in Ukraine, where Russian forces have struggled.

But Romney, 75, claimed that if Russian President Vladimir Putin “loses in Ukraine, he not only will have failed to achieve his life’s ambition to reverse what he sees as the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th century—the collapse of the Soviet Union—but he will also have permanently diminished Russia as a great power and reinvigorated its adversaries.”

Neither Putin nor other top Kremlin officials have said they would launch a nuclear strike in connection with the Ukraine war, although Russia’s leadership has often said they would respond with nuclear force if Russia’s existence is threatened.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said in May that Russia would use a nuclear weapon if conditions written into its military doctrine are met.

One of those says that Russia can use nuclear weapons if its enemies are also using them or using other weapons of mass destruction against Russian territories or allies. If Russia’s critical military or government sites are attacked, that could also trigger a nuclear response.

Romney, a former GOP presidential candidate in 2012, also suggested that the United States or NATO “could engage” in Ukraine and “potentially obliterat[e] Russia’s struggling military” if nuclear weapons are deployed.

As President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion military package Saturday to provide assistance to Ukraine, Western nations, Romney said, should continue to provide support to the country by sending weapons or other forms of aid in its fight against Russia.

It comes as Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines suggested that Russia may use a nuclear weapon if top officials believe they are losing the war.

“We’re supporting Ukraine, but also we don’t want to ultimately end up in World War III, and we don’t want to end up in a situation where actors are using nuclear weapons,” Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 10.

“We perceive that as something that [Putin] is unlikely to do unless there is effectively an existential threat to his regime and to Russia from his perspective.

But in somewhat of a contrast to Romney’s comments, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) last week called on the White House to deescalate the conflict and guarantee that the United States won’t engage in a first-use nuclear strike against Russia. Markey called on the administration to announce a no-first-use during a Senate hearing with Haines.

“I think that, increasingly, people in our country and around the world are worried that this could escalate and that nuclear weapons could become involved,” Markey remarked. “So, from my perspective, I think it would be wise for our country to say flat out, ‘We will not use nuclear weapons if nuclear weapons have not been used against Ukraine or the United States.’”

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 23:40
US Navy Sailors Deserting At "Staggering" Rate Amid Mental Health Crisis
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-11:20]

US Navy Sailors Deserting At "Staggering" Rate Amid Mental Health Crisis

A troubling new statistic shows U.S. Navy desertions are soaring and may point to an even more significant issue of an emerging mental health crisis in the service. 

NBC News reports the Navy has 342,000 active sailors. In 2021, there were 157 deserters, compared with 98 in 2020 and 63 in 2019. The total number of deserters who remain at large last year increased to 166 from 119 in 2019. Most of them were under the age of 25. 

An expert who reviewed the federal statistics obtained by NBC described the trend as shocking. 

"That's staggering," said Benjamin Gold, a defense attorney for U.S. service members.

Navy officials couldn't explain what was causing the desertion rate to skyrocket. They pointed to "many different stressors" in the service. 

Other military branches didn't observe soaring desertions during the last several years. In fact, desertions in the Army and Marine Corps declined. The Coast Guard didn't have any. 

The average active-duty enlisted age was 21.6 years. Many at this stage in life don't plan too far out and aren't expecting harsh conditions upon joining the military. In fact, servicemen and women sign a multi-year contract that is nearly impossible to break. For a young person who joined the military and their expectations were immediately crushed, it's near impossible to leave. 

"It's hard for a young person at that age to grasp the amount of power and control that their employer has over their lives," said Rick Jahnkow, an organizer with the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, a nonprofit group. "They don't understand the commitment." 

The jump in desertions follows a string of deaths, many of which are suspected suicides, outlining rising mental health issues plaguing the service. 

Over the last year, seven crew members of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier have died, including four by suicide. 

This all suggests that youngsters who signed up for the military are locked in unbreakable contracts that some fear trapped if things don't turn out the way they expected. This may cause them to become a deserter or, in extreme circumstances, take their own life. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 23:20
Immigration Disappears From Kamala Harris' Public Schedule
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-11:00]

Immigration Disappears From Kamala Harris' Public Schedule

Authored by Philip Wegmann via RealClear Politics (emphasis ours),

It was her first overseas trip, and Vice President Harris, recently deputized to address what the White House calls “the root causes of migration,” was in Guatemala trying to break through with a simple message. “Do not come,” Harris told would-be migrants last June. “Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders.”

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

They did not listen, or if any migrants did hear Harris last year, many ignored her message. Just last month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, 234,088 migrants were apprehended at the southern border, the highest mark ever recorded.

Asked that same month if President Biden had confidence in Harris and her ability to handle the situation, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki replied, “he absolutely does.” But as the flow of migrants accelerates across the southern border, immigration has disappeared from the vice president’s public schedule.

A compilation of that schedule by the Los Angeles Times, reviewed by RealClearPolitics, shows that Harris has not hosted an immigration-specific event since last summer. The last one, a meeting with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander leaders in the White House last August, touched briefly on immigration.

White House officials dispute any characterization that Harris’ public schedule tells the whole story. “The vice president continues to lead implementation of the Root Causes Strategy and has been engaging with Cabinet and other Administration officials on this effort,” Harris’ Press Secretary Kirsten Allen told RCP.

Addressing the challenge remains part of the vice president’s policy portfolio. She leads top-level meetings that are not always made public, and she has taken point in diplomatic efforts in the region. For instance, it was Harris who traveled to Honduras for the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro in January. Administration officials hoped to find a new ally in that executive, someone who would help stem the flow of the millions of people heading north through Central America to the southern border. According to an official White House readout, Harris and Castro discussed “a broad range of issues.” Among them migration, but also coronavirus and the economy as well as corruption and gender-based violence.

Despite those efforts, the influx has not slowed, and Biden is expected to end enforcement of Title 42, the pandemic policy that allowed Border Patrol to turn away hundreds of thousands of migrants on public health grounds. Warnings from some Democrats in border states, including Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, have gone unheeded.

The Department of Homeland Security is bracing for more record-breaking numbers at the border, and NBC News reports that there is concern in the department that they won’t have enough funding to address a surge if Title 42 is lifted, compounding a challenge that Biden has faced since the beginning of his presidency.

As the number of interdictions started to rise and chaotic images from the southern border flooded cable news, concern grew, even among Democrats. Biden’s own pollsters, the New York Times reported, warned that the issue was “a growing vulnerability." Biden still insisted that he could get the situation under control, albeit with divine intervention.

“Is there a crisis at the border?” RCP asked the president as he walked out of the East Room of the White House after a speech last March.

“No,” Biden replied over his shoulder. “We’ll be able to handle it,” he said while walking side-by-side with Harris. “God willing.”

Two weeks later, the Associated Press reported at the time, Biden tapped Harris to lead the administration efforts to tackle the migration challenge at the southern border and work with Central American nations to address root causes of the problem. Republicans were eager to assign blame and dubbed Harris “border czar.”

The vice president rejected that framing and sought to clarify her mission. As the White House press secretary explained to reporters last March, Harris “will be helping lead that effort, specifically the root causes – not the border,” admitting that there has been “some confusion over that.”

The president was also confused: When Biden and Harris met with the Congressional Black Caucus in April that year, he praised his vice president, saying she would do “a hell of a job” handling immigration, according to a new book by New York Times’ reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. But Harris corrected him then and there, the two write. “Excuse me,” she said, “it's the Northern Triangle – not immigration.”

Biden eventually clarified the mission. “It’s not her full responsibility,” he later told reporters, but “when she speaks, she speaks for me.”

Whether she wanted the job or not, Harris embraced the challenge. She has made three trips to the region, and she traveled to the southern border to hear directly from Border Patrol. The vice president has met both with law enforcement and migrant groups, stressing all the while that the question “cannot be reduced to a political issue.”

Politics were there from the beginning though, and some feared that deputizing Harris to tackle such a mammoth challenge ran the risk of unfairly saddling her with a thankless mission for which there is no easy solution. “She is qualified to do the job,” Chuck Rocha told RCP of Biden’s decision to turn this part of his policy portfolio over to his vice president. Rocha helmed Latino outreach for Sen. Bernie Sanders in both of that candidate’s presidential bids, and Rocha credited Harris for being “a staunch advocate of the progressive wing of the immigration movement.”

All the same, Rocha warned last year that expectations should be tempered: “It has been an issue that we have been trying to fix for generations, one that I don’t think any one person can totally solve.”

Biden has called on Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform since he got to the White House. There is no bipartisan appetite on Capitol Hill for the bill that he sent to Congress on his first day in office. The administration has subsequently been left to its own devices, and Harris released a 20-page plan last July to address the problem.

We will build on what works, and we will pivot away from what does not work,” Harris wrote in an introduction to the plan that focuses on creating partnerships with Northern Triangle countries to combat corruption, violence, and poverty.

“It will not be easy, and progress will not be instantaneous,” the vice president warned, “but we are committed to getting it right.” Biden should know. He was deputized by then-President Obama to deal with a similar mission amid an earlier surge of migrants, many of them unaccompanied children. On a tour of Central and South American nations in 2014, he offered U.S. help to root out corruption, provide economic opportunity, and ensure safety in the Northern Triangle nations.

“We have to deal with the root causes,” Vice President Biden told reporters gathered for a press conference in the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, echoing the exact phrase his administration now uses eight years later.

Biden understands the challenge, and that tackling it without help from Congress is arduous and thankless, if not impossible.

“I said when we became a team and got elected, that the vice president was going to be the last person in the room,” he joked last March when he announced that Harris would helm the mission. “She didn’t realize that means she gets every assignment.”

“I gave you a tough job, and you’re smiling, but there’s no one better capable of trying to organize this for us,” the president continued after the levity. The vice president didn’t flinch. She thanked him “for having confidence in me.” Then Harris added, “there’s no question that this is a challenging situation.”

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 23:00
"It's Sick": Polish PM Says Norway Should Share "Gigantic" Oil & Gas Profits
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-10:40]

"It's Sick": Polish PM Says Norway Should Share "Gigantic" Oil & Gas Profits

One by one European countries have cut energy ties with Russia, but often at a significant cost, and inter-EU rifts are beginning to show as the inevitable consequence of higher prices are felt. At the same time, Norway as western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer is reaping the profits windfall.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has taken the unusual step of urging for Norway to share its "gigantic" profits made as a result of soaring oil and gas prices, posing during a Sunday Q&A at a political youth forum, "But should we be paying Norway gigantic money for gas — four or five times more than we paid a year ago?" He then asserted in the negative, "This is sick."

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, via AP.

"They should share these excess profits. It’s not normal, it’s unjust. This is an indirect preying on the war started by Putin," the Polish leader stressed.

That's when he presented the controversial 'solution', saying: "Write to your young friends in Norway…They should share it, not necessarily with Poland [but] for Ukraine, for those most affected by this war. Isn’t that normal?"

There will likely be further such possible similar scathing rebukes to come and sour grapes expressed at least behind close doors, given some 'frontline' European countries see themselves as first to make the greatest energy and economic sacrifices for the sake of supporting the West's economic war on Putin, while others on the periphery indirectly reap the benefits.

Poland, as a prime example, had weeks after the Russian invasion terminated a badly needed deal to receive Russian gas by way of the Yamal-Europe pipeline. Warsaw refused to pay according to Putin's mandated rubles mechanism. As others sat on the fence or else like Hungary defied pressure to cut off Russian supply, Poland prided itself on its stoic resolve no matter what... "Gas was like our drug" one prominent Polish economic pundit was previously quoted as saying:

Pawel Różyński, an economic commentator in the conservative daily, Rzeczpospolita, said Russia was "like Pablo Escoabar". "Gas was like our drug and turned out to be very addictive because it was cheap, efficient and more ecological than other sources of energy. Poland has been forced to get sober very fast … but we have lost a lot of time defending coal because we thought it protected our sovereignty … and one of the side-effects will be much higher energy costs."

Ironically it was Scandinavian countries Norway and Denmark, which previously inked a deal with Poland to deliver gas from the North Sea via the €2.1bn Baltic Pipe project, that have played an instrumental part in Poland's ability to reduce energy supply from Russia in the first place. Baltic Pipe is expected to come online in 2023, which Warsaw has seen as essential in diversifying its energy sources amid a years-long struggle to wean itself off Russia.

Baltic Pipe, via baltic-pipe.eu:

Bloomberg writes of Poland and its energy demand, "The country sees its gas needs rising by about 50% over the current decade as its utilities build new power plants in place of aging coal-fired units." Further the report notes that "The deal with Norway and Denmark to build the link from the North Sea was crucial for the Polish ruling Law & Justice party’s policy to cut energy ties with Russia."

Poland has long been at the European forefront of warning that Moscow at any time held the power to 'weaponize' its energy hold over Europe, something which it should be remembered former US President Trump a few short years ago came under fire for. He had irked many Western leaders, and was condemned and his arguments dismissed in Western mainstream press, by calling them out as "captives to Russia" (in remarks at the time aimed squarely at Germany).

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 22:40
Elon 'Mad As Hell' Musk Just Blew Up 2022
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-10:20]

Elon 'Mad As Hell' Musk Just Blew Up 2022

Commentary by Franke Miele via RealClear Politics,

The most significant political event in the last 18 months happened last week. No, it wasn’t the Pennsylvania primary, and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with the sham Jan. 6 committee.

(Patrick Pleul/Pool via AP, File)

It was the announcement by Elon Musk that he’s as mad as hell, and he’s not going to take this anymore. OK, he didn’t use those exact words from the 1976 movie “Network,” but he might well have been channeling the character Howard Beale when he announced to the world that he was voting Republican this year.

News anchor Beale was characterized as “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves” when he realized the system he worked in – network television – was rigged, and that powerful forces were manipulating him and the audience. In a soliloquy eerily relevant today, Beale threw out the script and started telling the uncomfortable truth.

“I don't have to tell you things are bad,” he told his viewers. “Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work, or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it! … I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you've got to get mad!”

Well, Elon Musk has gotten mad – and when the world’s richest man gets mad, he just might shout loud enough that everyone will hear him.

The entrepreneurial wizard who founded or co-founded Tesla, SpaceX, and PayPal had already been in the news for his announced plan to purchase Twitter and take it private with the intention of restoring free speech to the platform. That alone could have earned him the title of “The Mad Prophet of Silicon Valley,” for like Howard Beale, Musk had discovered that powerful forces were manipulating him and his audience on Twitter, and Musk wasn’t taking it anymore.

By making a legitimate buyout offer, Musk gained the right to inspect the books, so to speak, and what he started to uncover about the social media giant was distressing. Long-blocked accounts were suddenly resurrected. Fake accounts (or bots) were confirmed to be inflating user numbers. Unhappy Twitter employees started to out themselves as operatives of the Democratic Party – or as one employee said, in an undercover Project Veritas video, “commies.”

But all of that was child’s play compared to Musk’s next move, which was to expose the left’s “diversity is us” sloganeering as a sham. That he did so on Twitter just added icing to the cake. Here was Musk throwing down the gauntlet on Wednesday:

“In the past I voted Democrat, because they were (mostly) the kindness party. But they have become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican. Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold,” Musk wrote, adding a popcorn emoji to suggest the show was just getting started.

The next day, Musk commented on his own post: “Judging by the relentless hatestream from the far left, this tweet was spot on.”

That hate is not unexpected. As many conservatives have noted since Musk made his announcement, “Welcome to our world.” There is only one permitted narrative, and it is that Republicans are dangerous white supremacists who live in a fantasy world and are mostly Russian propagandists. Democrats, on the other hand, are noble social justice warriors who ensure an open border, keep women’s sports safe for men, and punish schoolchildren for using the “wrong” pronouns.

Yep, you can bet that the mainstream media will try to silence, smear, cancel, and crush Musk. But like Donald Trump, Musk can take it. Being a billionaire has its advantages.

I can’t say I love everything about Elon Musk or his public persona, but I love that he has 91 million followers on Twitter and isn’t afraid to offend them. He is to the younger generation what Steve Jobs was to mine, and his refusal to bow to cancel culture will inspire many to do the same. The fact that a person identified as a liberal icon, someone who has been welcomed in Democrat circles for years, would publicly recant his previous support for leftist ideology speaks volumes about where we are as a nation.

A genius who knows how to put together cars and rockets has deconstructed contemporary American politics with penetrating simplicity: The party of “kindness” is now the party of “division & hate.” Wow.

That truth bomb just blew up the 2022 midterm elections, and maybe beyond!

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 22:20
How Inflation Changed The Price Of A Burger
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-10:00]

How Inflation Changed The Price Of A Burger

With inflation standing at 8.3% year-over-year in April, everyday items are becoming pricier for U.S. consumers. As Statista's Katharina Buchholz details below, food prices in particular took some significant steps up, as seen in the example of shopping for hamburger ingredients.

Infographic: How Inflation Changed the Price of a Hamburger | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

Meats experienced some of the highest price increases among food items: Ground beef now costs almost 15 percent more than in April 2021 and bacon is 17.7 percent more expensive than one year ago.

On the other hand, the price of tomatoes was up just 0.4 percent over the course of one year, showing that some item suffered less inflation than others.

At a 6.2 percent price increase, fresh vegetables as a whole saw the lowest rate of inflation of any food category.

Energy – the most volatile item in the Consumer Price Index together with foods - drove overall price increases even more. In short supply following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing sanctions, energy costs rose by 30.3 percent since April 2021. This increase is independent of the base effect as energy prices had already reached pre-pandemic levels again one year ago.

Inflation had already started to rise in 2021 in the aftermath of Covid-19 lockdowns that continue to affect global supply chains. It was further pushed up by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that saw energy supply disrupted by sanctions and Ukrainian products missing from world markets. As a result, inflation is reaching an increasingly broad range of products. For example, while the price of used cars and trucks had already skyrocketed in 2021, new vehicles have now also become 13 percent more expensive than they had been a year ago.

Given the high price of gas and cars, inflation is indirectly encouraging another behavior - using public transportation. The category became 2.7 percent more expensive over the past year.

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 22:00
Five Major Challenges Facing The Energy Industry
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-09:40]

Five Major Challenges Facing The Energy Industry

Authored by Irina Slav via OilPrice.com,

Record-high prices at the pump, a looming diesel shortage right when the summer season is starting, and an uncooperative OPEC are probably reasons for many headaches among government officials around the world.

Yet these are, in fact, manifestations of deeper problems in the energy industry.

Underinvestment 

In the past decade or so, Europe and, to a lesser but no less significant extent, North America, have made it their mission to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and increase their reliance on renewable energy.

This has spurred an investor exodus from oil and gas and the emergence of the so-called ESG investing trend. Money for new oil and gas developments has become more difficult to tap as banks join the ESG movement, and companies have had to cut back on spending.

Saudi Arabia's oil minister warned that underinvestment in oil and gas would have a boomerang effect on consumers earlier this year, and he is not the only one. Many OPEC officials have made the same warning but, apparently, to no avail. After all, none other than the International Energy Agency said last year the world does not need new oil and gas exploration because we won't be needing any more new oil or gas supply.

Of course, it was only a few months later that the IEA changed its tune, calling on OPEC to boost production, and it demonstrated one of the harsh realities of the energy industry: you cannot reverse a process that has been going on for years in a matter of months.

Low discovery rates

A topic that doesn't get much talked about, the average rate of new oil and gas discoveries is, in a way, comparable to the average conversion rate of solar panels: it is well below 30 percent.

Bloomberg recently reported that three wells that Shell had drilled offshore Brazil had come up dry. The supermajor had paid $1 billion for drilling rights in the area and had spent three years drilling to come up empty-handed. Exxon had also failed to tap any significant oil reserves in its Brazilian blocks, which cost it $1.6 billion.

The news highlights the risky nature of oil and gas exploration even in places like Brazil, which has been touted as the next hot spot in the industry, probably alongside Guyana. Brazil has become a magnet for supermajors because of its prolific presalt zone, but, as one local energy consultant told Bloomberg, the big discoveries have already been made—back when the discovery rate was close to 100 percent.

The average successful discovery rate for the oil and gas industry is much lower than that, however, at 24.8 percent, according to Bloomberg. And there are fewer and fewer big discoveries to be made.

Production cost inflation

Broader inflation trends, in large part driven by soaring energy costs, have not passed the energy industry itself. In the U.S. shale patch, production costs have risen by some 20 percent. Two companies recently warned they would be reporting higher costs for their second quarters, Continental Resources and Hess Corp, and they are far from the only ones experiencing these higher costs.

Shortages of raw materials such as frac sand and, earlier this year, steel piping for wells, are one reason for the production cost inflation, not just in the shale patch but everywhere where these raw materials are used in oil fields. A shortage of labor is a special problem for the U.S. shale patch, too, helping to drive production costs higher. Lingering supply chain problems from the pandemic are also in the mix.

The bigger problem is that the industry is not expecting any respite in the coming months, either, as Argus recently reported, citing oil and gas executives. The production cost squeeze comes at a time when the federal government really needs more oil and gas, which is probably the worst possible time as it has discouraged drillers further from spending more on new drilling.

Cyberattacks

Cybersecurity has become a cause for concern in the energy industry in the past few years as cyberattacks have multiplied significantly. The Colonial Pipeline hacking really helped out things in perspective on the cybersecurity front, but little action followed, it seems.

A brand new survey by DNV, the Norwegian risk assessment and quality assurance consultancy, revealed this week that the industry is quite uneasy about cyberthreats and, what's worse, not really prepared to handle them.

According to the study, 84 percent of executives expect cyberattacks will lead to physical damage to energy assets, while more than half—54 percent—expect cyberattacks to result in the loss of human life. Some 74 percent of the respondents expect environmental damage as a result of a cyberattack. And only 30 percent know what to do if their company becomes a target of such an attack.

Geopolitics

The most chronic risk in the energy industry, geopolitics is never far away when prices start swinging wildly or, as is the case right now, remain stubbornly high. The prospect of an EU oil embargo on Russia, although dimming in the past few days, is one big bullish factor for oil prices. The lack of progress on Iran nuclear talks is another. And then there is, of course, OPEC's evident unwillingness to respond to calls from the West for more oil.

Russia itself does not seem bothered by the embargo prospects at all. "The same oil that they [the EU countries] bought from us will have to be purchased elsewhere, and they will pay more, because the prices will definitely rise; and once the cost of delivery and freight increase, it will be necessary to invest in building the corresponding infrastructure," Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said this week.

Iran is meanwhile boosting its oil exports, which go almost exclusively to China. The country has signaled it will not agree to a deal with the U.S. unless the U.S. meets its demands, and it appears that the ball is now in Washington's court. In the meantime, China will have Iranian oil, but no one else will.

For the U.S., the price problem has become so dire that now President Biden is seeking a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, whom he has consistently refused to communicate with, instead communicating with his father, King Salman. Biden has also been openly critical of MbS for his alleged role in the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist, calling the Kingdom a "pariah" with "no redeeming social value." Geopolitics can be awkward.

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 21:40
Average Age Of Vehicles On US Highways Keeps Getting Older 
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-09:20]

Average Age Of Vehicles On US Highways Keeps Getting Older 

The average age of vehicles on US highways rose for the fifth consecutive year and to a record high, as supply-chain disruptions and inventory challenges prompt owners to hold on to their cars and trucks longer, according to research from S&P Global Mobility

Semiconductor shortages and inventory challenges were the top drivers in pushing US average vehicle age to 12.2 years, another all-time high. 

Chip supply constraints have caused continued parts shortages for carmakers, who have been forced to cut production. The constrained supply of new cars and light trucks, amid a strong demand for personal transportation, could have influenced consumers to continue operating their existing vehicles longer, as inventory levels for both new and used vehicles were depleted across the industry. - S&P Global Mobility

The finding reflects that used car life cycles are being extended because new vehicle supplies are tight. Kelley Blue Book recorded average new car prices at $46,526 in April, another obstacle for prospective buyers. Despite used car prices reversing from lofty levels, they remain out of reach for many, thus consumers are holding on to their vehicles longer. 

About a decade ago, a used vehicle with over 100,000 miles would've been deemed a lemon by a consumer, though now, it's common to see multiple owners for one with 200,000 miles. 

The increasing average vehicle age and higher mileage point to a "notable increase in repair revenue in the coming year," Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions at S&P Global Mobility, told Bloomberg

There's reason to believe the average age of vehicles on US highways will continue marching higher as tight supplies of new and used cars have sparked an unaffordability crisis. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 21:20
Pfizer Moves To Dismiss Lawsuit From COVID-19 Vaccine Trial, Citing 'Prototype' Agreement
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-09:00]

Pfizer Moves To Dismiss Lawsuit From COVID-19 Vaccine Trial, Citing 'Prototype' Agreement

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Pfizer has asked a U.S. court to throw out a lawsuit from a whistleblower who revealed problems at sites that tested Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, at the New York Stock Exchange in New York on Jan. 17, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Brook Jackson, the whistleblower, alleged in a suit that was unsealed in February that Pfizer and associated parties violated clinical trial regulations and federal laws, including the False Claims Act.

In its motion to dismiss, Pfizer says the regulations don’t apply to its vaccine contract with the U.S. Department of Defense because the agreement was executed under the department’s Other Transaction Authority (OTA), which gives contract holders the ability to skirt many rules and laws that typically apply to contracts.

That means that Jackson’s claim that Pfizer must still comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulations “is simply wrong,” Pfizer said.

Warner Mendenhall, a lawyer who is working on Jackson’s case, said in a recent interview that Pfizer has “clearly not followed federal procurement laws.”

“And now they’re saying, ‘of course we didn’t follow federal procurement laws, we didn’t have to—this was just for a prototype,'” he added.

Mendenhall, who declined an interview request, said lawyers for Jackson are working on figuring out legal ways to counter Pfizer’s argument.

“We may lose on this issue because their contract imposes … none of the normal checks and balances on quality control and consumer protection that we fought for decades in this country,” he said.

The contract in question was outlined in a base agreement and a statement of work for the agreement, which was signed in the summer of 2020.

The government agreed to pay up to $1.9 billion for 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine pending U.S. regulatory clearance. That included the manufacturing of the vaccine on top of researching and developing it.

The contract was granted under the “prototype” provision, which falls under the OTA. The rules for prototypes state that just one of four conditions must be satisfied. The condition that was satisfied in the Pfizer contract was the involvement of a “nontraditional defense contractor.”

Federal law defines nontraditional defense contractors as “an entity that is not currently performing and has not performed” a contract or subcontract for the Department of Defense for at least one year preceding the solicitation of the OTA agreement. Pfizer has dozens of contracts with the military.

That means the government certified “an absurd fiction” to use an OTA to grant the contract, Kathryn Ardizzone, counsel with Knowledge Ecology International, told The Epoch Times in an email.

The Department of Defense and other government agencies have increased the use of the OTA over time. Thirty-four such agreements were hammed out in fiscal year 2016; by fiscal year 2018, that number was 173, according to the Government Accountability Office (pdf).

Because the agreements shield contract holders from some regulations and laws, “the increasing use of OTAs, which includes in contexts where it’s inappropriate to do so, is undermining the rule of law and jeopardizing the public’s interests,” Ardizzone said. The Pfizer contract is an example of an inappropriate context, because the contract “was not about producing a prototype,” she asserted.

As far as Pfizer’s argument, about the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) not applying to the agreement, it’s not clear that is the case.

The base agreement only mentions the regulations pertaining to the handling of classified information. The statement of work does not mention any.

“I’m not sure what it means when an OTA is silent on a regulation that appears in the FAR,” Ardizzone said. “That would be up for the judge to decide, and it might side with Pfizer since the prevailing view is that FAR regulations do not necessarily apply for an OTA.”

Pfizer, in its motion to dismiss, noted that the government did not join Jackson’s suit—it was filed on the government’s behalf—nor have regulators rescinded clearance of its vaccine, which was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late 2020, after Jackson revealed issues at sites managed by Ventavia Research Group, a Pfizer subcontractor.

“The agreement makes no mention of the FDA regulations and FAR provisions cited in relator’s complaint,” Pfizer said. “The agreement instead conditions payment, more simply, on Pfizer’s delivery of an FDA authorized or approved product. Pfizer’s vaccine has satisfied that condition since December 2020, as the complaint acknowledges, and the vaccine continues to satisfy that condition today. The Court should reject Relator’s express certification claim for this reason alone.”

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 21:00
Ukraine War Pushes Globe's Total Displaced Persons Past 100 Million For 1st Time Ever
  [Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/fullrss2.xml 2022/05/24-08:40]

Ukraine War Pushes Globe's Total Displaced Persons Past 100 Million For 1st Time Ever

The United Nations Refugee Agency has cited conflicts not only in Ukraine but also disasters and war in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to calculate that the world's total number of displaced persons has now surpassed 100 million for the first time in recorded history.

"One hundred million is a stark figure — sobering and alarming in equal measure," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Monday. "It’s a record that should never have been set" - which should "serve as a wake-up call," according to the official.

Refugee center for fleeing Ukrainians, via AP

"To reverse this trend, the only answer is peace and stability so that innocent people are not forced to gamble between acute danger at home or precarious flight and exile," Grandi said.

Specifically on Ukraine, the new UN statement said, "In 2022, the war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million within the country this year and forced around 6 million to leave the nation."

The UN is expected to release a comprehensive official report covering the new data in June. "The number of refugees, who are primarily driven out of their homes and living situations by war, conflict and disasters, now represents more than 1 percent of the entire world population and would equal the 14th most populous country if the people represented a nation," according to preliminary details from the UN.

Many among the total 100 million are internally displaced persons in conflict zones and disaster stricken regions, such as Yemen. Significantly, that figure represents 1% of the world's total population.

A quarter of those are under the age of 18. "This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes," Grandi urged.

An estimated 38 million were internally displaced within their home countries in 2021, which includes 14.4 million impacted by conflict, and 23 million fleeing natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes.

The UN statement added that "Meanwhile, weather-related events such as floods, storms and cyclones resulted in some 23.7 million internal displacements in 2021, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region."

* * *

Meanwhile according to the latest note from Rabobank:

Inflation and geopolitical instability aren’t going to go away any time soon. Linking the two, as one should, a former German ambassador to Moscow tells @Tagesspiegel that President Putin is hoping his blockade of Ukraine’s grain supplies will lead to a migration crisis, with starving people then fleeing to Europe, that destabilizes the EU and pushes them to soften sanctions on Russia. Does he look wrong in that call when Germany, France, and Italy are already hardly hawkish? More pointedly, does the West have any answers to a hybrid warfare that weaponizes food, as in the past?   

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/23/2022 - 20:40