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Here’s why the latest anti-Russian sanctions will actually HURT the US economy

US sanctions on Oleg Deripaska and Rusal create chaos in world aluminium market, hurt US pension funds, force US Treasury to backtrack

Alexander Mercouris

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In the immediate aftermath of the US Treasury Department’s extraordinary decision to impose sanctions on the Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska and by extension his Rusal group, a very interesting article penned by the financial analyst Tim Ashe appeared in the Financial Times.

Discussing the sanctions imposed on Deripaska and Rusal, Ashe made this highly interesting comment

The sharp drop in Russian markets over the past few days and the limited contagion to global markets will have been noted by the US sanctions team. I think they have previously been very nervous over this idea of backdraught from their actions, hurting US institutional investors and causing systemic risks to other emerging markets and indeed global markets. The fact that the April 6 sanctions designations only really impacted Russian markets raises the prospect that the US can roll out asymmetric sanctions against Russia, that officials can be less worried about their actions having a more global impact. This means the Treasury is more likely to follow on from its April 6 actions, assuming no improvement in the relationship with Russia.

(bold italics added)

Rarely have comments spoken with such confidence been proved wrong so quickly.  In fact they provide a classic case study of why when analysing events it is essential to hold back and see how they will develop before rushing to give dogmatic opinions about them.

Since Ashe wrote those words on 10th April 2018 Russian markets have stabilised as has the rouble, which has proved resilient in face of the pressure which is hitting hard the currencies of other so-called ’emerging market’ economies and which is coming from the stronger dollar and from talk of more interest rate hikes in the US.

The rouble at least for the time being appears to have stabilised at a rate of 62 to 64 roubles to the dollar – an exchange rate which I consider healthy – despite the Russian Central Bank refusing to take steps to support it, and refusing to raise interest rates.

By contrast the currencies of other so-called ’emerging market’ economies have taken a hammering, with the worst performer being the Argentinian peso, which is coming under exceptionally heavy pressure, forcing the Argentinian Central Bank to raise interest rates to an eye-watering 40% to support it.

In the meantime, as Russian markets have stabilised, the world aluminium market in which Rusal – the world’s second biggest aluminium producer – is a major player, has descended into chaos.

Aluminium prices at one point surged up 30%, with the hike in aluminium prices and general shortages of aluminium caused by the sanctions impacting on industrial users of aluminium worldwide, including the US and German car industries.

It is only a matter of time before the instability in the world aluminium market also hits the other major industrial consumer of aluminium: the aircraft building industry, in which the US is a major player.

Meanwhile the sudden increase in risk for holders of Russian debt caused by the US Treasury Department’s implicit threat to impose sanctions on any and every Russian businessman (“oligarch”) perceived as too close to the Kremlin irrespective of what they do, has hurt Western institutional investors including US pension funds.

The result is that the US Treasury Department is – without of course admitting the fact – beating a retreat.

Investors have been given more time to unwind their positions in Rusal – though that does not explain how they are supposed to do that if the sanctions remain in place – US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that the US has no wish to destroy Rusal, and – following not so secret negotiations between the US and the Kremlin which are known to have taken place – a compromise is being sought whereby Deripaska will sell some but by no means all his stake in Rusal’s parent company in return for the sanctions on Rusal being lifted.

Meanwhile Bloomberg is calling the sanctions a mess

I remain convinced that Deripaska was chosen because his company deals in aluminum — the target of Trump’s import tariffs, which are meant to revive domestic production. The opportunity to kill two birds with one stone — punish Russia and get a major foreign player off the U.S.  aluminum market — must have looked too good to pass up.

But no one in the Treasury Department appeared to have considered the consequences for the global aluminum market, where Rusal was included in international value chains.

Aluminum prices jumped (which can only be bad for U.S. buyers), Australian-British Rio Tinto was forced to search frantically for new buyers for its alumina (a raw material for aluminum production), and a Rusal plant in Ireland was threatened with closure, creating the potential for job losses and an alumina shortage throughout Europe.

These problems, reported to Treasury, appeared to soften Mnuchin’s heart. “The U.S. government is not targeting the hardworking people who depend on Rusal and its subsidiaries,” his department quoted him as saying. The U.S. government’s problem, Mnuchin said, was limited to Deripaska himself.

The new edition of the Rusal sanctions gives the company an extra six months, until October 23, to wind down its U.S. operations, but Mnuchin has clearly indicated that if Deripaska divests Rusal shares, the company could be taken off the sanctions list.

Business partners will still be leery of dealing with Rusal, and they’ll still work on contingency plans, but at least there’ll be less urgency about it. That’s been reflected in an aluminum price drop almost as sharp as the spike after the original sanctions announcement.

The sanctions the US Treasury Department imposed on Deripaska and Rusal were the most ambitious and far reaching sanctions that the US has imposed on Russia since the sectoral sanctions which the US and the EU imposed on Russia in July 2014.

What this episode has illustrated is a point which I have repeatedly made: the 2014 sanctions were carefully calibrated to cause the maximum hurt to the Russian economy, and the minimum hurt to the US economy and to the world economy upon which the US depends.

Any sanctions that go significantly beyond the sanctions which were imposed in 2014 risk hurting the US as much or even more than Russia in that, even if their economic effect is less their political effect risks being greater.

Certainly no US President is going to risk a cost crisis in the US car and aircraft building industries simply out of some juvenile desire to spite Russia.

A US President like Donald Trump, whose electoral success depends heavily on the votes of blue collar workers with jobs in the US manufacturing industries, which he has set out to revive, is going to be even less willing to risk such a crisis.

Trump’s decision to refuse to impose the further sanctions on Russia that people like Nikki Haley and Steven Mnuchin were pressing him to impose following the Syrian missile strike illustrates the point.

The big question is whether following the Rusal debacle the US will now draw back, finally accept that the sanctions route of pressuring Russia has been exhausted and has failed, and starts looking instead for other ways of dealing with Russia.

Given the pathological hatred of Russia of so much of the US political class a further sanctions offensive against Russia is not impossible, with officials in the US Treasury Department possibly hunting around for targets against whom sanctions would cause less disruption to the US and world economies than the sanctions against Deripaska and Rusal did.

My own view is that so long as Donald Trump remains in the White House that is unlikely to happen, not because Trump is some sort of stooge of Russia but because he has now seen the hurt further sanctions on Russia can cause to the people who make up his electoral base.

If so then with the Rusal debacle ‘peak sanctions’ has passed.

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New Zealand enacts new weapons ban just six days after massacre

The American left is sure to pick this up and start screaming for an “assault weapons ban” because this supports their agenda so well.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Reuters reported on Thursday, March 21 that the Prime Minister of New Zealand enacted a sweeping change, banning weapons of the type that were used in the massacre of at least fifty Muslims, who were gunned down on livestream while in Friday prayer services in Christchurch last week. We quote from the Reuters piece below, with added emphasis:

New Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws following the killing of 50 people in its worst mass shooting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.

In the immediate aftermath of last Friday’s shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, Ardern labeled the attack as terrorism and said New Zealand’s gun laws would change.

“On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place,” Ardern told a news conference.

“All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday 15 March will be banned.”

Ardern said she expected the new laws to be in place by April 11 and a buy-back scheme costing up to NZ$200 million ($138 million) would be established for banned weapons.

All military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles would be banned, along with parts used to convert weapons into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines.

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were killed.

Ardern said that similar to Australia, the law would allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers for pest control and animal welfare.

“I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride.”

This is undoubtedly going to be real red meat (or perhaps real vegetables) for the anti-gun lobby in the United States. This is because New Zealand strongly resembled the US in terms of firearm rights and the penetration of numbers of guns in the populace of this remote island nation. Reuters continues, with statements that would probably surprise, even horrify some gun owners in the States, but which are doubtlessly useful for the application of pressure on such individuals:

New Zealand, a country of fewer than 5 million people, has an estimated 1.2-1.5 million firearms, about 13,500 of them MSSA-type weapons.

Most farmers own guns while hunting of deer, pigs and goats is popular. Gun clubs and shooting ranges dot the country.

That has created a powerful lobby that has thwarted previous attempts to tighten gun laws.

Federated Farmers, which represent thousands of farmers, said it supported the new laws.

“This will not be popular among some of our members but … we believe this is the only practicable solution,” a group spokesman, Miles Anderson, said in a statement.

The main opposition National Party, which draws strong support in rural areas, said it also supported the ban.

The changes exclude two general classes of firearms commonly used for hunting, pest control and stock management on farms.

“I have a military style weapon. But to be fair, I don’t really use it, I don’t really need it,” said Noel Womersley, who slaughters cpoliticalattle for small farmers around Christchurch.

“So I’m quite happy to hand mine over.”

To be absolutely fair, the attack on the mosques was an awful event, made the worse by the shooter’s deliberate attempts to politicize various aspects of what he was doing and what he “stood for” as an attack ostensibly against US President Donald Trump, some seven thousand miles away in the United States.

The immediate reaction of the people interviewed, some among them related or friends with the victims of the massacre, was to embrace the weapons reform laws:

Nada Tawfeek, who buried her father-in-law killed in the attacks, Hussein Moustafa, on Thursday, welcomed the ban.

“It’s a great reaction. I think other countries need to learn from her [Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern],” Tawfeek said.

Mohammed Faqih, a member of the Islamic clergy who flew in from California and attended the funerals for some victims on Thursday, said he was “extremely grateful” for the gun ban.

“I wish our leaders in the States would follow on her footsteps and do the same thing,” he said.

One can expect there to be quite the outcry among American liberals about gun control, especially if anything remotely resembling this event takes place or is thwarted in coming days in the US.

It may seem very cold and cruel to focus on the political angle of this story rather than the human tragedy that it is. However, in this situation we have seen signs that the most vile form of human tragedy has actually taken place – the murder of dozens of innocent people for a mere political point. Indeed this thought has been noted and vilified already, as Mr. R.X. Dentith, writing for the New Zealand website Spinoff here quoted:

American paleo-conservative Rush Limbaugh was one of the first to note: “There’s an ongoing theory that the shooter himself may, in fact, be a leftist who writes the manifesto and then goes out and performs the deed purposely to smear his political enemies, knowing he’s going to get shot in the process. You know you just can’t – you can’t immediately discount this. The left is this insane, they are this crazy. And then if that’s exactly what the guy is trying to do then he’s hit a home run, because right there on Fox News: ‘Shooter is an admitted white nationalist who hates immigrants.’”

…[P]eople like Limbaugh… can’t stomach the idea the terrorist action in Otautahi might be motivated by the kind of rhetoric Limbaugh helps disseminate – tend to think there is a culture war going on, and they are on the losing side.

This war has many names, and the enemy is easily identified: it is the battle against Cultural Marxism; the fight against Toxic Feminism; the resistance to Identity Politics; and the fear of the Great Replacement, the thesis at the heart of the terrorist’s own manifesto.

The Great Replacement thesis posits that the majority white European countries are being “invaded” by non-white, non-European peoples. Not just that, but due to declining birth rates in the West, this “invasion” constitutes a wholesale replacement of the white population over time.

Mr. Dentith tries further to knock down this notion of the Great Replacement. However, he misses a much more basic point.

Someone who goes and takes human lives and broadcasts them for any reason is not a mere political operative. The person who does this is a very sick, deranged human being indeed. Evil is certainly appropriately used here.

However, evil is often quite cunning, and despite the intellectual arguments about the reality or non-reality of any particular manifesto statement, in this case, the killer played the media with infernal intelligence, and they took the bait. It is possible that Prime Minister Ardern also took the bait, in this most awful of bad situations, and to give her credit, she took swift actions to try to “correct” what was wrong.

But the problem here was not the type of weapons used. The problem is the fact that they were used by a person who thought these fifty people’s lives were worth nothing more than a bit of policy change. One of the worst examples of human evil in recent times, this incident shouts to the world that there is a problem, but the problem remains unsolved, even though many people will hand over their firearms out of a genuine wish for compassion to those lost and the hope that somehow this action will prevent a future incident.

But the logic of this emotional reaction is nil. And what is worse is that the American Left knows this, but does not care. The movers and shakers of liberalism will likely milk the actions of sincerely horrified New Zealanders for all they are worth to try at affecting change in American constitutional rights.

And the innocent dead will not rest in peace, because the real problem has not even been examined.

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Upstart Populist Party Shocks In Dutch Election Upset, 2 Days After Utrecht Attack

International reports have described the FvD as receiving “a surge of last-minute support” in the days following the Utrecht attack.

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Via Zerohedge…


Dutch voters have sent shock waves through Europe at the polls on Wednesday in the wake of Monday’s deadly Utrecht terror shooting, in which a now detained 37-year old Turkish man went on a terrifying tram killing spree which left three dead and three injured.

Euroskeptic party, Forum for Democracy (FvD), has emerged victorious in key provincial elections this week, paving the way to making it one of the two largest groups in the Dutch Senate, and representing growing Dutch frustration with the recent unprecedented refugee influx in Europe.

Newcomer Forum for Democracy party is led by 36-year-old Thierry Baudet, who is a critic of the EU and of the Netherlands’ immigration policies, via EPA

International reports have described the FvD as receiving “a surge of last-minute support” in the days following the Utrecht attack, which investigators have since described as having a “terror motive” based on a letter found in shooter Gokmen Tanis’ possession.

Forum for Democracy party leader Thierry Baudet had immediately placed ultimate blame  for the incident on the government’s “lax immigration policies” and provocatively stated a day before the elections (referencing his political rival)

If people want more deadly shootings like the one in Utrecht, then they have to vote for the VVD.

Baudet, riding a wave of renewed Euroskeptic sentiment, and whose party also wants to see more military spending, green initiatives, and an easing on income tax while greatly restricting the borders, said in the aftermath of Wednesday’s vote: “The voters in the Netherlands have spread their wings and shown their true power.”

Referencing the Utrecht attack and other deadly terror incidents on European soil, he added: “We have been called to the front because we have to. Because the country needs us.”

Three were killed and several injured in Monday’s Dutch tram terror attack, which raised the country’s emergency threat level to five as it was unfolding, its highest level.

Interestingly, the 36-year old Baudet and his party continued campaigning down to the last moments even as others stopped in the wake of Monday’s attack which rocked the Netherlands. According to Al Jazeera:

Following the lead of US President Donald Trump, Baudet opposes immigration and emphasises “Dutch first” cultural and economic themes. He opposes the euro and thinks the Netherlands should leave the European Union.

Baudet had continued campaigning when other parties stopped after Monday’s attack in Utrecht, in which a gunman shot three people dead on a tram. The populist leader blamed the incident on the government’s lax immigration policies.

The FvD is now set to take 12 seats in the upper house of parliament, which is equal to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD Party, a scenario before this week considered unlikely according to many observers.

The FvD slightly outscoring the VVD means Rutte’s government has lost its majority for the 75-seat Senate ahead of upcoming May elections.

In a post-election speech on Wednesday, Baudet described further that what’s now being described in international media as “an upstart populist party [that has] shocked the Dutch political establishment” as punishing the arrogance of elites.

In his pro-Western civilization themed remarks, Baudet added, “We are standing in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilization in the world.”

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Will The Trump White House finally punish Facebook for censorship?

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 113.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at US President Trump’s tweet where he has said that he would be “looking into” a report that his social media chief, Dan Scavino Jr. has been censored by Facebook.

Are we finally about to see the Trump White House move to punish social media outlets for their blatant and bias censorship of alternative narratives that dare to stray from globalist neo-liberal and radical left ideology?

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“Conservatives face a tough fight as Big Tech’s censorship expands”, authored by Donald Trump Jr., via The Hill…

As Big Tech’s censorship of conservatives becomes ever more flagrant and overt, the old arguments about protecting the sanctity of the modern public square are now invalid. Our right to freely engage in public discourse through speech is under sustained attack, necessitating a vigorous defense against the major social media and internet platforms.

From “shadowbans” on Facebook and Twitter, to demonetization of YouTube videos, to pulled ads for Republican candidates at the critical junctures of election campaigns, the list of violations against the online practices and speech of conservatives is long.

I certainly had my suspicions confirmed when Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, “accidentally” censored a post I made regarding the Jussie Smollett hoax, which consequently led to me hearing from hundreds of my followers about how they’ve been having problems seeing, liking or being able to interact with my posts. Many of them even claimed that they’ve had to repeatedly refollow me, as Instagram keeps unfollowing me on their accounts.

While nothing about Big Tech’s censorship of conservatives truly surprises me anymore, it’s still chilling to see the proof for yourself. If it can happen to me, the son of the president, with millions of followers on social media, just think about how bad it must be for conservatives with smaller followings and those who don’t have the soapbox or media reach to push back when they’re being targeted?

Thanks to a brave Facebook whistleblower who approached James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, we now know that Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant developed algorithms to “deboost” certain content, limiting its distribution and appearance in news feeds. As you probably guessed, this stealth censorship was specifically aimed at conservatives.

Facebook appears to have deliberately tailored its algorithm to recognize the syntax and style popular among conservatives in order to “deboost” that content. “Mainstream media,” “SJW” (Social Justice Warrior) and “red pill” — all terms that conservatives often use to express themselves — were listed as red flags, according to the former Facebook insider.

Facebook engineers even cited BlazeTV host Lauren Chen’s video criticizing the social justice movement as an example of the kind of “red pills” that users just aren’t allowed to drop anymore. Mainstream conservative content was strangled in real time, yet fringe leftists such as the Young Turks enjoy free rein on the social media platform.

Despite the occasional brave gesture, politicians have been far too sluggish in recognizing the extent of the problem. But the Republican Party and the conservative movement are becoming more vigilant against the suppression of our speech, as we saw at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Silicon Valley lobbyists have splashed millions of dollars all over the Washington swamp to play on conservatives’ innate faith in the free-market system and respect for private property. Even as Big Tech companies work to exclude us from the town square of the 21st century, they’ve been able to rely on misguided conservatives to carry water for them with irrelevant pedantry about whether the First Amendment applies in cases of social media censorship.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has been making a name for himself as a Republican prepared to stand up to Big Tech malfeasance since his time as Missouri’s attorney general. He delivered a tour de force interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel in front of the CPAC crowd, one that provided a clear-eyed assessment of the ongoing affront to the freedoms of conservative speech and expression.

Hawley demolished the absurd notion that “conservative principles” preclude taking action to ensure free debate online simply because Big Tech firms — the most powerful corporations in the world — are private companies.

Hawley pointed out that Big Tech companies already enjoy “sweetheart deals” under current regulations that make their malfeasance a matter of public concern. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for instance, allows them to avoid liability for the content that users post to their platforms. To address this problem, Hawley proposed adding a viewpoint neutrality requirement for platforms that benefit from Section 230’s protections, which were originally enacted to protect the internet as “a forum for a true diversity of political discourse.”

“Google and Facebook should not be a law unto themselves,” Hawley declared. “They should not be able to discriminate against conservatives. They should not be able to tell us we need to sit down and shut up!”

It’s high time other conservative politicians started heeding Hawley’s warnings, because the logical endpoint of Big Tech’s free rein is far more troubling than conservative meme warriors losing their Twitter accounts. As we’re already starting to see, what starts with social media censorship can quickly lead to banishment from such fundamental services as transportation, online payments and banking.

Left unchecked, Big Tech and liberal activists could construct a private “social credit” system — not unlike what the communists have nightmarishly implemented in China — that excludes outspoken conservatives from wide swaths of American life simply because their political views differ from those of tech executives.

There is no conservative principle that even remotely suggests we are obligated to adopt a laissez-faire attitude while the richest companies on earth abuse the power we give them to put a thumb on the scale for our political enemies.

If anything, our love of the free market dictates that we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that the free marketplace of ideas remains open to all.

Donald Trump Jr. is executive vice president at The Trump Organization.

 

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