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Taibbi: The Press That Cried Wolf

Taibbi: The Press That Cried Wolf

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Taibbi: The Press That Cried Wolf Tyler Durden Wed, 08/19/2020 - 10:00

Authored by Matt Taibbi via taibbi.substack.com,

Suddenly, the Postal Service is the biggest story in America. Donald Trump’s latest “assault on our democracy” jockeyed for the lead theme on the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention. Multiple speakers used the phrase “defund the post office” to describe efforts by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy – the latest in a long line of Trump acolytes occupying the Oil Can Harry role in news coverage – to pull a seeming postal slowdown.

Hashtags like #SaveThePostOffice are flying around social media. John Ratzenberger, the actor who played beer-drinking mailman Cliff Clavin on Cheers, recorded an Instagram video on behalf of the beleaguered service. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis described seeing a man wearing a “red cap” with “white letters” towing a postal truck away made her wonder:

Conspiracy? Outright attempt at stealing the election by denying the access of the USPS?

Pictures of mailboxes being moved or warehoused behind fencing rocketed around the Internet. Another tweet making the rounds looked like a graphic made by the postal workers’ union, and was retweeted by the likes of Hillary Clinton:

The graphic wasn’t made by the postal union, but whatever. The post office’s journey from America’s most serially-ignored public institution to subject of a massive international sympathy campaign – the U.S.P.S. is currently the world’s largest baby trapped at the bottom of the world’s largest well – is the latest bizarro development of the Trump years, when news coverage has devolved into a never-ending procession of moral panics, some real, some less so. Which is this?

In April, Trump called the U.S.P.S. a “joke” and tied a $10 billion emergency loan to a request that the it quadruple prices on packages, ostensibly as a way of sticking it to Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and the “fake news” Washington Post. I hate Bezos as much as the next red-blooded American, but Trump’s comments ended up mostly serving as kindling for a later national wig-out.

On May 9th, the Postal Service’s Board of Governors announced that DeJoy, the CEO of a company called New Breed Logistics and a major Trump donor, would become the new Postmaster General. Almost immediately, DeJoy began implementing a series of moves that seemed designed to reduce the efficiency of the post office, from removing 20% of letter sorting machines to moving or removing large quantities of mailboxes. Then on July 29th, the U.S.P.S. appears to have sent letter to multiple states warning that mail-in ballots might not be received on time to be counted, because the states’ deadlines are incompatible with the postal service’s “delivery standards.”

This was followed by Trump going on Fox and announcing he was unwilling to spend money to keep funding the Post Office as part of a Covid-19 relief package, saying, “They want $25 billion… if they don't get [it], that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because you they're not equipped to have it."

Even by Trumpian standards, this was a semi-crazy thing to say out loud. It gave outlets like The Week the ammo to say Trump was “sandbagging the Post Office to prevent Americans from voting by mail.” The logic is simple: about 72 percent of Democrats say they are at least somewhat likely to vote by mail, compared to 22 percent of Republicans. A slowdown of the post office means a torpedo in the hull of the Biden campaign.

By this week, images of mailboxes became synonymous with voter suppression, and the postal service supplanted the Muslim ban, “kids in cages,” Muellermania, the Brett Kavanaugh fiasco, the campaign to save the job of Jeff Sessions, the Ukraine whistleblower, and a dozen other episodes to become the latest all-consuming Media Fire That Never Dies.

In the Trump years, the news has been covered as an ongoing emergency, borrowing from techniques pioneered by Fox News and perfected through episodes like Benghazi. That story was blown into a frenzy for years, as Fox created the impression that litigating every detail of the Libyan mission narrative was at least 95% of what the average person should be caring about at any given moment.

CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post are now following the same script with the Trump panics. The pattern is consistent. Day one involves spectacular claims of corruption. By day two, placard-bearing protesters are hitting the streets (“You can’t fire the truth!” a protester in Times Square proclaimed in the Sessions affair), celebrities are taping video appeals, and experts are quoted suggesting Trump is already guilty of crime: OPEN TREASON in Helsinki, “bribery” in Ukraine, or in this case, election interference (some are already speculating that Trump could get a year for the mail slowdown).

Almost always, by day three or four, key claims are walked back: maybe there was no direct “promise” to a foreign leader, or the CIA doesn’t have “direct evidence” of Russian bounties, or viral photos of children in cages at the border were from 2014, not 2017. By then it doesn’t matter. A panic is a panic, and there are only two reportable angles in today’s America, total guilt and total innocence. Even when the balance of the information would still look bad or very bad for Trump, news outlets commit to leaving out important background, so as not to complicate the audience response.

That’s the situation with this story, where the postal slowdown is probably more serious than other Trump scandals, but people pushing it are also not anxious to remind readers of their own histories on the issue.

Take the New York Times, currently cranking out about a feature an hour about the U.S.P.S. Paul Krugman is now telling us “The Postal Service facilitates citizen inclusion. That’s why Trump hates it.” Apparently, until recently, all decent Americans had bottomless affection for the communal spirit of the Postal Service and supported it without hesitation. Yet in April, 2012, in the middle of the Obama presidency, the Times ran a very different house editorial.  

The paper argued mounting losses necessitated swift action to reduce costs. The Times worried that “lawmakers in both houses” would “procrastinate as usual,” and blasted the Senate for devising a bill that “timorously aims at part-time ‘downsizing,’ not closing, lightly used post offices.” The paper added that decreased revenue thanks to email could mean losses of “more than $20 billion a year by 2016,” and hoped that, so long as “courage trumps procrastination,” the U.S.P.S. could be granted the “flexibility of a modern business.”

If you look back, you’ll find the overwhelming consensus in both the Bush and Obama years was that a fully-staffed post office was a money pit, and “flexibility” was needed to allow the service to budget-slash its way back to relevance in the Internet age.

For a significant period – between the mid-2000s and the Trump years – it was hard to find a big-name politician who would talk about the post office at all. An exception was Bernie Sanders, whose office labored to get major news media organizations interested (I got some of those calls) in an alternative narrative about the post office.

During the Bush years, the U.S.P.S. was put on the “high risk” list by the General Accounting Office, headed at the time by a future Pete Peterson foundation CEO named David Walker who would later come out in favor of privatizing the post office. The GAO recommended cuts and other measures to address the “rapidly deteriorating” financial situation of the U.S.P.S.

But when an analysis by the Office of Personnel Management was released in November, 2002, it turned out the U.S.P.S. had a “more positive picture” than was believed. The U.S.P.S. was massively over-paying into its retirement fund, headed for a $70 billion surplus. Then in 2003 the Postal Pension Funding Reform Act was passed, which among other things forced the U.S.P.S. to pay the pension obligations of employees who had prior military service.

A few years after that, in 2006, the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” passed with overwhelming support in both houses, forcing a series of incredible changes, the biggest being a requirement that the U.S.P.S. fully fund 75 years worth of benefits for its employees. The provision cost $5.5 billion per year and was unique among government agencies. “No one prefunds at more than 30%,” said Anthony Vegliante, the service's executive vice president, at the time.

The bill also prevented the post office from offering “nonpostal services” as a way to compete financially. This barred it from establishing a postal banking service, but also nixed creative ideas like Internet cafes, copy services, notaries, even allowing postal workers to offer to wrap Christmas presents. Coupled with the pre-funding benefit mandate and other pension changes, this paralyzed the post office financially, making it look ripe for reform.

By 2012, those took the form of calls for the U.S.P.S. to eliminate 3,700 post offices (a first step toward eventually closing as many as 15,000) and 250 mail processing centers. Sanders, along with other Senators with large rural constituencies like Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill, managed to change the bill and save a lot of the mail processing centers. The Senate that year also cut the amount of required pre-funding for benefits and began refunding the U.S.P.S. for about $11 billion in overpayment for retirement costs.

A few years after that, in 2015, the Post Office Inspector General issued a blistering report about CBRE, the company that had served as sole real estate broker to the U.S.P.S. from 2011 on. The report found that CBRE had been selling and/or leasing post office properties at below-market prices, often to clients of CBRE – a company chaired by Richard Blum, the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein. This chronic problem had a financial impact on the Postal Service, and would have become a much bigger problem had the U.S.P.S. been forced earlier on to sell off a massive quantity of infrastructure through that broker, as originally hoped.

The thread running through all of these stories was that panic over the financial condition of the U.S.P.S. was often a significantly artificial narrative, caused by a bipartisan mix of stupidity, greed, and corruption. This high-functioning civil service organization, which provided tremendous value to the public through everything from subsidized news deliveries in the Pony Express years to the well-maintained public meeting places built in remote rural locations, has not had real backers in either party for most of the last thirty or forty years.

None of this means the Trump-DeJoy story isn’t serious. It just means that Trump is not the first person to try to gut the U.S. Postal Service. Going back decades, it’s been stuck with impossible funding mandates, used as a piggy bank by both parties in congress (which refused to let it stop making massive retirement overpayments for fear of the “adverse” impact on the federal budget), artificially prevented from expanding or innovating by lobbyists, and ripped off by connected contractors.

Combine that with the maddening sloppiness of these panic stories – one wild report after another of mailboxes ripped from the streets “right before our eyes” in a “plan to steal the election” turns out later to be another old photo or a shot of a routine maintenance operation – and it becomes increasingly difficult for nonpartisan news audiences to know what they’re dealing with.

Is this unprecedented corruption, something a little worse than normal, or just the usual undisguised? If press outlets never dial back excesses, we may miss it when we’re actually supposed to panic. 

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China Suggests It Could Maintain ‘Zero COVID’ Policy For 5 Years

China Suggests It Could Maintain ‘Zero COVID’ Policy For 5 Years

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

China has suggested it will…

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China Suggests It Could Maintain 'Zero COVID' Policy For 5 Years

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

China has suggested it will maintain its controversial ‘zero COVID’ policy for at least 5 years, eschewing natural immunity and guaranteeing repeated rounds of new lockdowns.

“In the next five years, Beijing will unremittingly grasp the normalization of epidemic prevention and control,” said a story published by Beijing Daily.

The article quoted Cai Qi, the Communist Party of China’s secretary in Beijing and a former mayor of the city, who said that ‘zero COVID’ approach would remain in place for 5 years.

After the story prompted alarm, reference to “five years” was removed from the piece and the hashtag related to it was censored by social media giant Weibo.

“Monday’s announcement and the subsequent amendment sparked anger and confusion among Beijing residents online,” reports the Guardian.

“Most commenters appeared unsurprised at the prospect of the system continuing for another half-decade, but few were supportive of the idea.”

Although western experts severely doubt official numbers coming out of China, Beijing claimed success in limiting COVID deaths by enforcing the policy throughout 2021.

However, this meant that China never achieved anything like herd immunity, and at one stage the Omicron variant caused more more coronavirus cases in Shanghai in four weeks than in the previous two years of the entire pandemic.

Back in May, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus suggested that China would be better off if it abandoned the policy, but Beijing refused to budge.

As we previously highlighted, the only way of enforcing a ‘zero COVID’ policy is via brutal authoritarianism.

In Shanghai, children were separated from their parents in quarantine facilities and others were left without urgent treatment like kidney dialysis.

Panic buying of food also became a common occurrence as the anger threatened to spill over into widespread civil unrest.

Former UK government COVID-19 advisor Neil Ferguson previously admitted that he thought “we couldn’t get away with” imposing Communist Chinese-style lockdowns in Europe because they were too draconian, and yet it happened anyway.

“It’s a communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought,” said Ferguson.

“And then Italy did it. And we realised we could,” he added.

*  *  *

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Tyler Durden Tue, 06/28/2022 - 18:05

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No sign of major crude oil price decline any time soon

Bullish pressure on crude oil markets doesn’t seem to be easing Crude oil prices fell last week, notching their second weekly decline in the face of…

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Bullish pressure on crude oil markets doesn’t seem to be easing

Crude oil prices fell last week, notching their second weekly decline in the face of concern that rising interest rates could push the global economy into recession.

Yet the future of crude oil still seems bullish to many. Spare capacity, or lack of it, is just one of the reasons.

The global surplus of crude production capacity in May was less than half the 2021 average, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported on Friday.

The EIA estimated that as of May, producers in nations not members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had about 280,000 barrels per day (bpd) of surplus capacity, down sharply from 1.4 million bpd in 2021. It said 60 per cent of the May 2021 figure was from Russia, which is increasingly under sanctions related to its invasion of Ukraine.

The OPEC+ alliance of oil producers is running out of capacity to pump crude, and that includes its most significant member, Saudi Arabia, Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Timipre Sylva told Bloomberg last week.

“Some people believe the prices to be a little bit on the high side and expect us to pump a little bit more, but at this moment there is really little additional capacity,” Sylva said in a briefing with reporters on Friday. “Even Saudi Arabia, Russia, of course, Russia, is out of the market now more or less.” Nigeria was also unable to fulfil its output obligations, added Sylva.

Recent COVID-19-related lockdowns in parts of China – the world’s largest crude importer – also played a significant role in the global oil dynamics. The lack of Chinese oil consumption due to the lockdowns helped keep the markets in a check – somewhat.

Oil prices haven’t peaked yet because Chinese demand has yet to return to normal, a United Arab Emirates official told a conference in Jordan early this month. “If we continue consuming, with the pace of consumption we have, we are nowhere near the peak because China is not back yet,” UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said. “China will come with more consumption.”

Al-Mazrouei warned that without more investment across the globe, OPEC and its allies can’t guarantee sufficient supplies of oil as demand fully recovers from the pandemic.

But the check on the Chinese crude consumption seems to be easing.

On Saturday, Beijing, a city of 21 million-plus people, announced that primary and secondary schools would resume in-person classes. And as life seemed to return to normal, the Universal Beijing Resort, which was closed for nearly two months, reopened on Saturday.

Chinese economic hub Shanghai, with a population of 28 million-plus people, also declared victory over COVID after reporting zero new local cases for the first time in two months.

The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented curbs to stop the spread of the omicron wave from March to May.

But the easing of sanctions should mean oil’s price trajectory will resume its upward march.

In the meantime, in the U.S., the Biden administration is eying tougher anti-smog requirements. According to Bloomberg, that could negatively impact drilling across parts of the Permian Basin, which straddles Texas and New Mexico and is the world’s biggest oil field.

While the world is looking for clues about what the loss of supply from Russia will mean, reports are pouring in that the ongoing political turmoil in Libya could plague its oil output throughout the year.

The return of blockades on oilfields and export terminals amid renewed political tension is depriving the market of some of Libya’s oil at a time of tight global supply, said Tsvetana Paraskova in a piece for Oilrpice.com.

And in the ongoing political push to strangle Russian energy output, the G7 was reportedly discussing a price cap on oil imports from Russia. Western countries are increasingly frustrated that their efforts to squeeze out Russian energy supplies from the markets have had the counterproductive effect of driving up the global crude price, which is leading to Russia earning more money for its war chest.

To tackle the issue, and increase pressure on Russia, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is proposing a price cap on Russian crude oil sales. The idea is to lift the sanction on insurance for Russian crude cargo for countries that accept buying Russian oil at an agreed maximum price. Her proposal is aimed at squeezing Russian crude out of the market as much as possible.

So the bullish pressure on crude oil markets doesn’t seem to be easing.

By Rashid Husain Syed

Toronto-based Rashid Husain Syed is a respected energy and political analyst. The Middle East is his area of focus. As well as writing for major local and global newspapers, Rashid is also a regular speaker at major international conferences. He has provided his perspective on global energy issues to the Department of Energy in Washington and the International Energy Agency in Paris.

Courtesy of Troy Media

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WTI Extends Gains After Unexpected Crude Draw

WTI Extends Gains After Unexpected Crude Draw

Oil prices are higher today following relatively positive news from China (easing some of its…

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WTI Extends Gains After Unexpected Crude Draw

Oil prices are higher today following relatively positive news from China (easing some of its COVID quarantine restrictions), Macron-inspired doubts over the ability of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to significantly boost output, and unrest in Ecuador and Libya helped lift prices.

“We’re in the crunch period, it’s hard to see any meaningful price relief for crude,” said John Kilduff.

There’s a lot of strength with China relaxing its Covid restrictions and starting its independent refiners, “we’re going to have another chunk of demand for crude oil,” as China relaxes its Covid-19 restrictions.

With no EIA data released last week due to a "systems issue" (they have issued a statement confirming that the data - and the newest data - will both be released tomorrow), the only guidance we have for now on the past week's inventory changes is from API...

API (last week)

  • Crude +5.607mm

  • Cushing -390k

  • Gasoline +1.216mm - first build since March

  • Distillates -1.656mm

API (this week)

  • Crude -3.799mm

  • Cushing -650k

  • Gasoline +2.852mm

  • Distillates +2.613mm

Crude stocks unexpectedly fell last week, almost erasing the major build from the week before (according to API). Gasoline stocks rose for the second straight week

Source: Bloomberg

WTI was hovering around $111.75 and pushed up to $112 after the unexpected crude draw...

Finally, we note that the tight supply situation in oil (especially European) is revealing itself in the WTI-Brent spread, grew to $6.19, the widest in almost three months.

“European demand will remain robust, especially as natural gas supplies run out, while the North American demand for crude is weakening,” said Ed Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda.

This is not good news for President Biden as prices are rising...

And his ratings are hitting record lows.

Tyler Durden Tue, 06/28/2022 - 16:37

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