Seeing Red: Is The Heydey Of Pandemic Stocks Over?

Seeing Red: Is The Heydey Of Pandemic Stocks Over?

The stock market, and the stocks that flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, are off to a rough start in 2022. As Visual Capitalist’s Jenna Ross points out, if you’ve been watching your investment accounts, chances are you’ve been seeing a lot of red. Shaken by the uncertainty of a pandemic recovery and future interest rate hikes, investors have been selling off their stocks.

This market selloff—which occurs when investors sell a large volume of securities in a short period of time, leading to a rapid decline in price—has investors concerned. In fact, search interest for the term “selloff” recently reached peak interest of 100.

Which stocks were the hardest hit, and how much are their prices down so far this year?

The Lackluster Returns of Pandemic Stocks

Pandemic stocks and tech-centric companies have suffered the most. Here’s a closer look at the year-to-date price returns for select stocks.

Netflix fueled the selloff after it reported disappointing subscriber growth. The company added 8.28 million subscribers in the fourth quarter, which is less than the 8.5 million it added in the fourth quarter of 2020. It also projects to have slower year-over-year subscriber growth in the near term, citing competition from other streaming companies.

Meanwhile, Coinbase stock lost nearly a quarter of its value so far this year. As the price of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have plummeted, investors worry Coinbase will see lower trading volume and therefore lower fees.

The contagion also spread to other pandemic stocks, such as Zoom and DocuSign, as investors began to doubt the staying power of stay-at-home stocks.

Following the Herd

While investor exuberance drove many of these stocks up last year, 2022 is beginning to paint a different picture.

Investors are worried that rising rates will negatively impact high-growth stocks, because it means it’s more expensive to borrow money. Not only that, but they also may see Netflix’s growth as harbinger of things to come for other pandemic stocks.

The psychology of the market cycle also plays a role—amid these fears, investors have adopted a herd mentality and begun selling their shares in droves.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 18:00

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/3GVrf8j Tyler Durden

Unmask America

Unmask America

Authored by Jeff Deist via The Mises Institute,

Enough is enough. It is time to stop wearing masks, or at the very least to eliminate mask mandates in all settings. 

This is especially urgent for children in schools and universities, who suffer the effects of masks for long hours each day despite being at exceedingly low risk for death or serious illness from covid.

We have a responsibility, once and for all, to reject the ludicrous, ever-shifting narratives underpinning masks as effective impediments to the spread of covid infections.

Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus

– former US Surgeon General Jerome Adams in February 2020. 

The story changed from “masks don’t work,” to “masks may work,” to “masks work and you must wear one.” Now the narrative switches yet again: “cloth masks don’t work, so you should wear a surgical or ‘well-fitted’ mask,” or even wear two!

Note that even as covid evolves into a less dangerous omicron variant, we are supposed to increase the hysteria level by wearing masks intended for surgeons maintaining a sterile environment over open wounds. We are told this by the same political, medical, and media figures who have been “frequently wrong but never in doubt” about all things covid over the past two long years. And they spoke with just as much bogus certainty then as they do now.

Perversely, the Biden administration recently ordered 400 million surgical N95 masks for distribution across the country. Since N95 masks are considered disposable, and meant to be worn at most perhaps 40 hours, it is unclear what happens in a week or two when 330 million Americans run out of their “free” personal protective equipment.

The UK has sensibly ended its mask mandates, both in public places (offices and other workplaces, bars, restaurants, sporting events, theaters) and thankfully schools. One young university student broke down in tears at the news, lamenting the inhumanity of her experience over the past two years. As British Health secretary Savid Javid stated, “We must learn to live with covid in the same way we live with flu.”

Amen.

The arguments against masks are straightforward.

  • Masks don’t work. Or at least cloth masks don’t.

Even the CDC now admits what Dr. Anthony Fauci told the world in February 2020: cloth masks don’t work and there is no reason to wear one: 

“The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”

I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location.

CNN’s dubious medical expert Dr. Lena Wen, previously an uber-masker, now tells us cloth masks are “little more than facial decorations. And heroic skeptic Dr. Jay Bhattacharya cites both a Danish study and a Bangladeshi study which found cloth masks show little efficacy in preventing covid. 

Are we seriously prepared to wear tight and uncomfortable surgical masks all day to evade omicron?

  • Masks are filthy.

Humans lungs and our respiratory system are designed to inhale nitrogen and oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is literally a waste product, removed from the blood via our lungs. Masks may not trap injurious levels of carbon dioxide against our nose and mouth, but they certainly get filthy very quickly unless changed constantly. They also encourage mouth breathing, which can cause “mask mouth” symptoms including acne, bad breath, tender gums, and lip irritation.

Why would we ever interfere with natural breathing unless we felt sick, displayed symptoms, and were worried about infecting others? And in that case, why not just stay home?

  • Masks are dehumanizing.

Humans communicate verbally and nonverbally, and masks impede both forms. Masks muffle and distort our words. Our facial expressions are important cues to everyone around us; without those cues communication and understanding suffer. Infants and toddlers may be most affected, as a lack of facial engagement with parents and loved ones impedes the human connections and attachments formed during childhood.

Perhaps most disturbing, however, are the symbolic effects when millions of Americans dutifully wear masks based on flimsy evidence provided by deeply unimpressive people. Facelessness–the lack of individual identity, personality, and looks– is inherently dehumanizing and dystopian. Like prison or military uniforms, masks reduce our personal characteristics. Mask are muzzles, symbols of rote acquiescence to an ugly new normal nobody asked for or voted for.

  • Risk is inevitable.

Risk is omnipresent, and heavily subjective (e.g., covid risk varies enormously with age and comorbidities). Nobody has a right to force interventions like masks onto others, just as nobody has a right to a hypothetical germ-free landscape. Exhalation is not aggression, short of purposefully attempting to sicken others. People wearing masks arguably shed slightly fewer covid virus particles than those not, but this does not justify banning the latter from public life. As always, the overwhelming burden of justification for any intervention—including mask mandates—must rest on those proposing it, not those opposing it. 

In sum, Americans are not children. Tradeoffs are part of every policy, whether government officials admit this or not. We know how to coexist with flu, just as we live with countless bacteria and viruses in our environment. We will similarly coexist with covid. The goal is not to eliminate germs, and zero covid is an absurdity. A healthy immune system, built up through diet, exercise, and sunlight will always be the best frontline defense against communicable disease. But diet, exercise, and sunlight cannot be outsourced to health officials or mandated by politicians.

Whatever slight benefits masks may provide are a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. People who feel sick with symptoms should stay home. We can all wash our hands frequently and thoroughly. Otherwise it is time for Americans to assert themselves against the dubious claims and non-existent legality of government covid measures. 

It is time to get back to normal life, and that starts with visible human faces.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 17:30

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/3nRrfyq Tyler Durden

Here Comes The Pivot: JPM Sees Sharp Slowdown In US Economy, “No Further Hawish Developments From The Fed”

Here Comes The Pivot: JPM Sees Sharp Slowdown In US Economy, “No Further Hawish Developments From The Fed”

For much of the past month we have been warning that as the broader investing public has been fascinated by the mounting speculation that the Fed will hike 4 times (or even “six or seven” times, thank you Jamie Dimon) and commence shrinking its balance sheet, the US economy had quietly hit a major air pocket  and – whether due to Omicron or because the vast majority of US consumers are once again tapped out (see more below) – US GDP growth is now rapidly collapsing and may turn negative as soon as this or next quarter as the US economy contracts for the first time since the covid shutdowns in Q1/Q2 2020.

Throw in the lack of a new Biden stimulus (BBB is dead as a doornail, courtesy of Manchin), and soaring gas prices (Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America all see Brent hitting triple digits in the near term, while a Russia-Ukraine war would send oil to $150 and crash the global economy), and we are willing to go on the record that a recession before the November midterms is virtually assured.

But while this is obviously a wildly contrarian view for now, especially with the labor market still supposedly helplessly backlogged with a near record number of job openings coupled with still soaring inflation, others are starting to notice…

… and so is the bond market, which traditionally is the first to sniff out major market inflection points, and which after surging to multi-year highs earlier this week, yields have suddenly slumped.

Nowhere is it clearer what is coming than in the ongoing collapse in the yield curve which at the fulcrum 5s30s, is just 30bps away from where the Fed was when it ended its tightening cycle in 2018.

So it was with some surprise that we were reading the latest big bank weekly reports where precisely this slowdown is being increasingly flagged. Consider the following from JPMorgan’s latest Fixed Income Strategy note by Jay Barry (available to professional subs), who writes that JPMorgan’s Economic Activity Surprise Index (EASI) “has swung sharply into negative territory in recent weeks, indicating data have underperformed relative to consensus expectations.”

This was punctuated by the December retail sales data, as the important control group fell 3.1% over the month (consensus: 0.0%).

The weakness in data, JPM explains for the benefit of the Fed which in hopes of recovering its “credibility” after destroying it in 2021 when it said inflation was transitory and is now scrambling to fix its error is now willing to crash the market just to reduce aggregate demand, “indicates consumption should moderate in 1Q22.” And since consumption accounts for 70% of US GDP, guess what that does to overall US growth?

Or don’t guess and read what JPM now expects: “we forecast growth decelerated from a 7.0% q/q saar in 4Q21 to a trend like 1.5% in 1Q22.” It’s not just retail sales, however, or that recent Empire Fed Manufacturing Survey, which just suffered its 3rd biggest monthly drop in history (with only March and April 2020 worse)…

… more locally, initial claims surged 55k to 286k in the week ending January 15, their third straight increase and the highest weekly reading since October.

And while the seasonal volatility in claims around the new year could be amplifying the rise, this was the survey week for the January employment report and presages a much weaker payroll growth this month. In fact, as we discussed in our December jobs report commentary, it is now likely that January payrolls will be negative.

Of course, one can blame the Omicron spike in December for much of this slowdown, and many do – especially those who confused the surge in inflation in 2021 as a “transitory” phenomenon – and are now using covid as a smokescreen to argue that the current slowdown is transitory, but the reality is that there is much more to the current sharp slowdown, and Bank of America’s  Michael Hartnett put it best on Friday when he said that the “End of Pandemic = US Consumer Recession” (more here).

Here is the punchline of what the BofA CIO said: “retail sales 22% above pre-COVID levels…

…payrolls up 18mn from lows, inflation annualizing 9%, real earnings falling a recessionary 2.4%, stimulus payments to US households evaporating from $2.8tn in 21 to $660bn in 2022, with no buffer from excess US savings (savings rate = 6.9%, lower than 7.7% in 2019 & and the rich hoard the savings), and record $40bn MoM jump in borrowing in Nov’21

… “shows US consumer now starting to feel the pinch.”

Alongside the realization that an exit from covid means the US is entering a consumer recession, comes Hartnett’s admission that any Fed hiking cycle will be short (it not sweet) and will be followed by easing as soon as 2023!.  Indeed, according to Hartnett, while the broader economy certainly needs more hikes to contain inflation, it will take far fewer rate hikes to crash markets, because “when stocks, credit & housing markets have been conditioned for indefinite continuation of “Lowest Rates in 5000 Years” might only take a couple of rate hikes to cause an event (own volatility)”.

And since Wall Street always leads Main Street (sorry peasants), it is Hartnett’s view that the current “rates shock” is grounds for an imminent “recession fear”, and as noted above, the Fed hiking into a slowdown guarantees not only an economic a recession but also a market crisis.

The only question at this point is when will the Fed realize that it can’t possibly hike rates enough to offset the surge in inflation which incidentally is not demand driven, but is due to continued supply constraints, over which the Fed has no power!

Which is why JPMorgan’s economists go on a limb and perhaps seeking to assure markets, write that “next week’s FOMC meeting will not present the case for further hawkish developments”…. and “is only likely to ratify expectations next week and not surprise market participants with another hawkish pivot.”

Putting it all together is Goldman Sachs, which agrees with JPMorgan that there will be no hawkish surprises from the Fed, and wrote on Friday that if anything, the Fed will be more dovish than expected, and as such Goldman sees “the conditions in place for a large cover rally into and around the FED next week and when month-end new capital comes back into the equity markets, with corporates dry powder.”

Of course, there is always the risk that Joe Biden, now beyond dazed and confused and terrified of the upcoming Democratic implosion after the Nov midterms…

… does not realize how devastating a market crash will be for the US economy where financial assets are now 6.3x greater than GDP…

… and will order Powell to keep hiking and tightening just to break inflation’s back (as discussed above, and as Blackrock also noted recently, the Fed is completely powerless to halt supply-driven inflation), even if it means the destruction of the entire wealth effect that the Fed spent the past 13 years trying to create. In that case, all bets are off.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 17:00

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/3qQfRoq Tyler Durden

Bulls & Bears Collide In Crypto-Land: Hot-Hands Versus HODLers

Bulls & Bears Collide In Crypto-Land: Hot-Hands Versus HODLers

Bears are on the hunt for Bitcoin HODLers profits, whilst supply dynamics approach a new equilibrium, and derivative markets remain heated…

Amid the “fear and panic” in the crypto markets, as Bitcoin drops 50% from all-time-highs, Glassnode.com’s ‘Permabull Nino’  details the current uncertainty that overhangs the Bitcoin market, and the psychology of its participants attempting to regain their footing in the following areas:

  • HODLer profits sitting at key historical levels, and the overall observable investor response

  • Zoomed out supply dynamics and spending behavior among short-term and long-term holders, and what it indicates about investor sentiment in the medium to long term

  • Derivative activity, and what it can imply about shorter term expectations towards Bitcoin price action

HODLers Profits Under Siege

The Bitcoin price is currently trading down ~50% from the ATH set in November 2021. As the drawdown worsens, an increasingly significant volume of BTC supply has fallen into an unrealized loss. Approximately 5.7 million BTC are now underwater (~30% of circulating supply).

As the bears apply pressure to the in-profit cohort of holders, Bitcoin bulls are defending a historically significant level of the Percent of Supply in Profit metric. This magnitude of ‘top heavy supply’ was defended in two instances in the last few years:

  • May 2020 – July 2020, the quiet recovery period following the extreme move downwards from Covid-related panic.

  • May 2021 – July 2021, the choppy and accumulative period following a historical deleveraging event.

The reaction from this level will likely provide insight into the medium term direction of the Bitcoin market. Further weakness may motivate these underwater sellers to finally capitulate, whereas a strong bullish impulse may offer much needed psychological relief, and put more coins back into an unrealized profit.

Live Chart

We can establish an appreciation of market-wide psychology by observing who is parting ways with their coins, and why and when these spends are taking place. The Percent of Transfer Volume in Profit chart displays the proportion of coins spent on-chain that were last moved at lower prices, as a gauge for macro fear and greed.

  • Percent of Transfer Volume in Profit > 65% signals that a large amount of coins are being spent in profit. This historically occurs during bullish impulses, as holders take advantage of market strength.

  • Percent of Transfer Volume in Profit < 40% signals that on-chain volumes are dominated by coins acquired at higher prices. This historically occurs in market downtrends and especially capitulation events.

The sell-off this week saw less than 40% of spent volume in profit, reaching levels that historically coincide with capitulation events. Past instances at this level have preceded a bullish reversal, and a period of general risk-on behaviour.

Live Chart

The low levels of profitable coin spends is also evident in the Realized Profit chart, which shows the profitability of BTC moved, on a USD basis. In-profit holders are displaying a notable unwillingness to spend coins, with consistent Realized Profit values below $1 Billion/day. In the face of tumultuous and unconvincing price action, this signals that this cohort of holders are patiently waiting for higher prices to spend their respective supply.

Climbing realized profits, especially above the $1 Billion level and accompanied by positive price performance, signals demand absorption of coins, and is a metric to watch in the coming weeks.

Live Chart

Meanwhile, Realized Losses remain elevated and trending higher, as underwater holders spend coins that were acquired near the market top through October and November.

On average, daily Realized Loss values are ~$750 Million/day, behavior that is comparable to the May – July 2021 capitulation lows. The consistency of large loss realization events is indicative of uneasiness within the market, however also reflects an estimate of demand inflows to absorb these spent coins.

Sustained periods of large realized loss does put the onus on the bulls to prove sufficient demand support. A macro decline in realized loss values would be a more encouraging signal for the bulls, as it provides an early indication of sell-side exhaustion.

Live Chart

The stalemate at play between price action, Realized Profits, and Realized Losses is visible in the 28-day Market Realized Gradient (MRG), which compares the momentum in Market Cap (speculative value) versus the Realized Cap (real capital inflows).

  • Positive values signal that a bull trend is in tact, and upwards momentum in spot markets is growing.

  • Negative values signal that a bear trend is in play, and momentum favors the bears.

  • Large values signal that Bitcoin is possibly overbought (positive) or oversold (negative), as market valuation deviates from more fundamental capital inflows or outflows, respectively.

The MRG trend and values indicate that current market pricing is nearing a point of equilibrium with capital inflows, with a month’s long bullish divergence developing. A firm break above zero would signal a bullish reversal is in play, whilst a break down would suggest momentum is accelerating to the downside.

Live Workbench Chart

Cohorts and Psychology

We can also analyse the psychology and spending behaviour of both Short-Term Holders (STH) and Long-Term Holders (LTH) by looking at changes in their respective Realized Caps and supply dynamics.

The following metric is calculated as the difference between the daily change of LTH and STH realized caps. Interpretation is as follows:

  • Negative Values (red) signal that the STH Realized Cap is increasing more on a daily basis than the LTH Realized Cap. This occurs during bull runs when long term holders distribute supply into new holders.

  • Positive Values (green) signal that the LTH Realized Cap is increasing more on a daily basis than the STH Realized Cap, which occurs during bearish accumulation markets as STH activity decreases, and unspent coins mature into the LTH cohort.

Values currently sit near zero with a general trend to the upside, indicative of a softening of distribution by LTHs, the market reaching a new equilibrium, and a potential reversal into accumulation. Note however, that the process of establishing similar market equilibrium and possible macro bottoms has historically taken several months to resolve.

Live Workbench Chart

The modest distribution of coins from LTHs to STHs is reflected in the Total Supply Held metric, as the net volume of coins held by the STH cohort has increased in recent months.

The supply held by this cohort sits at ~3 Million BTC, a relative historical low, and a level that signifies a transition into a HODLer dominated market. This has been in effect since the May 2021 deleveraging event. Low STH supply levels are typical of bearish trends, as old coins remain dormant, and younger coins are slowly accumulated by high conviction buyers.

Live Chart

Next we turn to the Realized Cap HODL Waves, which reflects the breakdown of the Realized Cap by coin age, and cost basis. The chart below has been filtered for coins younger than 3 months to further highlight the forces at play within the shorter term holder cohort.

Generally speaking, lower values in this metric speak to a bearish trend where old coins are dormant, and young coins are gradually accumulated and taken off market.

At present, around 40% of the Realized Cap is held in coins under 3mths old, owned by buyers entering near the market top, or during the present correction. The 1-3m band is expanding and a constructive view would see these coins continue to mature into the 3m+ band, creating a net decline in young coins. A more bearish observation would be if older coins start being spent, causing these bands to swell, and signifying an additional influx of liquid supply that must be absorbed.

Live Chart

Derivatives Fireworks on the Horizon

Amidst downwards pressure in Bitcoin holder profitability but yet favorable medium to long term supply dynamics, futures markets remain a powder keg for short term volatility with Perpetual Futures Open Interest at ~250k BTC – a historically elevated level.

Since April 2021, this has paired with large pivots in price action as the risk for a short or long squeeze increases, resolved in market wide deleveraging events.

Live Chart

Alongside high open interest, funding rates this week moved into negative territory, indicating that shorts were increasingly hungry for leverage. As perpetual swap markets were pushed below spot prices, it does add further bias towards a potential oversupply of short positions in close proximity to the current price.

Live Chart

In addition to large outstanding open interest, and negative funding rates, trading volume continues to drip lower, currently around $30B per day. This is coincident with levels in December 2020, and reflects a marked reduction from the 2021 bull market highs, hitting well above $70B/day. Should a deleveraging event occur, thinner trading volumes may accentuate the impact.

Live Chart

As Open Interest continues charging for a big move, funding rates drop, and futures volumes contract, Crypto-Margined Open Interest continues its march downwards versus Cash-Margined Open Interest.

With only 40% of Open Interest sitting in Crypto-Margined products and in a convincing downtrend since May 2021, Cash-Margined Futures data becomes increasingly higher signal and worthy of more market participants’ attention. Note that this trend is primarily driven by a relative reduction in crypto-margin on Binance, Bybit, Huobi and OKEx exchanges.

Live Chart

In summary, there is evidence that the market is reaching some form of price and momentum equilibrium, within what is a broader bearish market structure. Bitcoin bears certainly have the upper hand, however modest bullish divergences are appearing across a number of on-chain metrics and indicators. Coupled with elevated future open interest, and a bias that appears to be a short heavy market, a risk of a deleveraging to the upside remains on the table.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 16:30

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/3GTqegN Tyler Durden

1 Cop Killed, 2 Critically Wounded In Harlem Shooting

1 Cop Killed, 2 Critically Wounded In Harlem Shooting

NYC Mayor Eric Adams is off to a rocky start to his four-year term at Gracie Mansion.

Two weeks after 17 were killed (including 8 children, according to the mayor’s revised numbers) in a disastrous fire in a Bronx high rise, the deadliest fire the city had seen in decades, Adams is facing a rash of police-involved shootings, including one incident Friday that left one cop dead and two others critically wounded.

It’s the latest development in a crime wave that has been worsening across the US, with NYC seeing violent crime surge to levels unseen in years.

The news was reported Saturday afternoon by the New York Times. The shooting occurred in Harlem, where the officers were responding to a domestic violence call, according to the report. The shooter opened fire on them while inside the apartment.


Source: NYT

Police initially erroneously said that two cops had died, but later revised the total to 1. The shooter was shot in the head and is in critical condition.

The office killed was Jason Rivera, 22, who joined the department in 2020.

Police Commission Keechant Sewell addressed the media during a press briefing outside the hospital where the two wounded cops had been taken, the NYT reports.

Speaking at a news conference at the hospital where the two officers were taken after being shot, Keechant Sewell, the police commissioner, described Officer Rivera as a “son, husband, officer and friend” who had been “killed because he did what we asked him to do.”

“I’m struggling to find the words to express the tragedy we are enduring,” said Ms. Sewell, her voice rising in anger. Like the man who hired her, Mayor Eric Adams, she began her job overseeing the largest police force in the United States this month.

“We’re mourning, and we’re angry,” she added.

Mayor Adams had been in the Bronx earlier attending a vigil for a baby who had been shot in the face with a stray bullet Wednesday night, another high-profile crime that drew intense media attention.

“This was just not an attack on three brave officers,” he said. “This was an attack on the City of New York” and “an attack on the children and families of this city,” Adams said at the news conference.”

Even the NYT acknowledged that the stream of major crimes had “tested” Adams’ pledge to tackle the resurgent crime problem in the city, a major piece of his successful primary campaign in a city beset by more progressive candidates vying for the spotlight.

During the briefing, the NYPD’s chief of detectives delivered a breakdown of the incident that led to the fatal shooting.

Around 6:30 p.m. on Friday, three officers from the 32nd Precinct answered a 911 call from a woman who said she was fighting with her son. When the officers arrived at the apartment, they were met by the woman and a second son. There was no indication from the 911 call, officials said, that there were weapons in the apartment.

The woman told the officers that the son she had been fighting with was in a back bedroom at the end of a long, narrow hallway. As officers Mora and Rivera approached the bedroom, the door swung open and Mr. McNeil began firing. After shooting the two officers, Mr. McNeil tried to leave the apartment and was shot by the third officer, whose name has not been released.

Mr. McNeil, 47, was on probation after being arrested in New York on a felony drug charge around 2003, officials said. He also had four arrests in other states, all more than a decade ago.

Unfortunately this isn’t the only cop shooting to happen recently. Friday’s shooting brings the total number of NYPD officers shot since the start of 2022 to 5; 4 were shot, with the first cop shooting taking place just hours into the New Year. Another officer was shot on Tuesday, meaning four cops have now been shot in the span of 72 hours.

And progressive DAs want to let more violent criminals out of prison.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 16:00

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/33M9utw Tyler Durden

No Arbitration of Claims Against Scientology After Plaintiffs Had Left the Church

From Bixler v. Superior Court, decided Wednesday by the California Court of Appeal (Justices Laurence Rubin, Carl Moor, and Lamar Baker):

Petitioners … are former members of the Church of Scientology who reported to the police that another Church member [Daniel Masterson] had raped them. They allege that, in retaliation for their reports, the Church encouraged its members to engage in a vicious campaign of harassment against them. {[T]hey state no cause of action against Masterson for sexual assault. Instead, they allege causes of action against all defendants for stalking, physical invasion of privacy, constructive invasion of privacy, [and] intentional infliction of emotional distress ….}

After petitioners brought suit in superior court against the Church and related entities and persons, some of those defendants moved to compel arbitration, relying on agreements that provided all disputes with the Church would be resolved according to the Church’s own “Ethics, Justice and Binding Religious Arbitration system.” That system was created to decide matters “in accordance with Scientology principles of justice and fairness.” …

The contract on its face apparently applied to all litigation against the Church:

My freely given consent to be bound exclusively by the discipline, faith, internal organization, and ecclesiastical rule, custom, and law of the Scientology religion … in all my dealings of any nature with the Church, and in all my dealings of any nature with any other Scientology church or organization which espouses, presents, propagates or practices the Scientology religion means that I am forever abandoning, surrendering, waiving, and relinquishing my right to sue, or otherwise seek legal recourse with respect to any dispute, claim or controversy against the Church, all other Scientology churches, all other organizations which espouse, present, propagate or practice the Scientology religion, and all persons employed by any such entity both in their personal and any official or representational capacities, regardless of the nature of the dispute, claim or controversy.

But the court concluded that, as a matter of California law, the arbitration agreement couldn’t be enforced after the parties left the Church:

Individuals have a First Amendment right to leave a religion. We hold that once petitioners had terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct occurring after their separation from the Church and do not implicate resolution of ecclesiastical issues….

According to plaintiffs, Scientology forbids members from contacting police to report a crime committed by a member. It instructs members that reporting such incidents is considered a “high crime” and subjects the reporting member to punishment. Scientology utilizes so-called “Fair Game” tactics to “attack, harass, embarrass, humiliate, destroy, and/or injure individuals who Defendants declare to be an enemy of Scientology, known in Scientology as a ‘Suppressive Person’ ….” Masterson is a television actor; Scientology granted him special treatment when he achieved “celebrity status.” To that end, Scientology worked to prevent plaintiffs from reporting Masterson’s crimes and, once they did, declared plaintiffs Suppressive Persons. Scientology then mobilized an aggressive Fair Game campaign against them.

While the Fair Game campaigns against each plaintiff differed, collectively plaintiffs allege Scientology’s agents committed the following acts against them: surveilled them, hacked their security systems, filmed them, chased them, hacked their email, killed (and attempted to kill) their pets, tapped their phones, incited others to harass them, threatened to kill them, broke their locks, broke into their cars, ran them off the road, posted fake ads purporting to be from them soliciting anal sex from strangers, broke their windows, set the outside of their home on fire, went through their trash, and poisoned trees in their yards. This conduct was alleged to be pursuant to Scientology’s policies and procedures.

According to plaintiffs’ complaint, Scientology’s directives are that Suppressive Persons are to be silenced by whatever means necessary. Scientology instructs members “to damage the person’s professional reputation, file frivolous lawsuits, and harass and surveil ‘the enemy.'” Scientology’s “policies and procedures encourage and/or instruct followers to ‘ruin [the individual] utterly.'” …

In addition to events occurring while still a Scientology member, each petitioner alleged an invasive Fair Game campaign occurring entirely after she had left the church. Bixler alleged that she formally terminated her relationship with the Church in October 2016, then reported Masterson to the police. It was only after her report that she was declared a Suppressive Person and she and her husband were subjected to the Fair Game campaign.

Jane Doe #1 learned in June 2005 that she had been declared a Suppressive Person and was no longer permitted to engage in religious services at the Church. More than a decade later (after she asked the LAPD to reopen its investigation into Masterson), the Church commenced its Fair Game campaign against her. Jane Doe #2 ceased practicing Scientology entirely in 2004. In 2017, she reported Masterson’s assault to the LAPD, at which point the Fair Game harassment began….

This case involves both petitioners’ First Amendment rights to leave a faith and Scientology’s right to resolve disputes with its members without court intervention. When applied to a dispute that arose after petitioners left the faith, and which can be resolved on neutral principles of tort law, we find petitioners’ right to leave the faith must control….

An individual possesses an “inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes her right to change her religious beliefs ….” “The constitutional freedom to question, to doubt, and to change one’s convictions, protected by the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, is important for very pragmatic reasons. For most people, religious development is a lifelong dynamic process even when they continue to adhere to the same religion, denomination, or sect.”

California precedent counsels against enforcing agreements that would violate an individual’s right to change religions. The issue arose in In re Marriage of Weiss (Cal. Ct. App. 1996). There, prior to marrying her Jewish husband, a woman converted to Judaism and executed a written “Declaration of Faith,” in which she pledged to rear all their children “‘in loyalty to the Jewish faith and its practices.'” After the couple divorced, the woman returned to Christianity.  She was attending church and had enrolled the couple’s child in Sunday school. The child also attended a weekly club meeting at the church and had attended church summer camp. The father “acknowledged [the mother] had the right to expose the minor to her religion, but objected to the minor’s being indoctrinated in the Christian faith or being enrolled in any activity ‘that would be contrary to his Jewish faith.'”

The trial court refused to restrain the mother’s religious activity with the child. The father appealed, arguing the court erred in not enjoining the mother from engaging the child in Christian religious activity. The Court of Appeal affirmed, recognizing the rule in California that a parent cannot enjoin the other parent from involving their child in religious activities in the absence of a showing of harm to the child.

The father argued that the written antenuptial agreement should be enforced as an exception to that rule and that the mother should be bound by her promise. … [T]he Weiss court disagreed. The court concluded the agreement was legally unenforceable for two reasons: enforcement would result in improper judicial entanglement in religious matters and would violate the mother’s First Amendment right to change her religion.

As Presiding Justice Klein wrote, “Further, in view of [the mother’s] inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes the right to change her religious beliefs and to share those beliefs with her offspring, her antenuptial commitment to raise her children in [the father’s] faith is not legally enforceable for that reason as well.”  While a parent’s religious freedom may yield to other competing interests, “‘it may not be bargained away.’ [Citation.]” …

Just like written antenuptial agreements to raise children in a particular faith are not enforceable against a parent who has left the faith, Scientology’s written arbitration agreements are not enforceable against members who have left the faith, with respect to claims for subsequent non-religious, tortious acts. To hold otherwise would bind members irrevocably to a faith they have the constitutional right to leave….

Scientology argues that petitioners simply agreed to be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures no matter what. As Scientology puts it, “An ‘irrevocable‘ agreement to ‘forever‘ waive civil proceedings and submit to Scientology Ethics and Justice Codes in ‘any dispute’ with Churches of Scientology is a condition for participation in the religion.” It argues that this agreement should be enforced like any other agreement.

Enforcing this provision without regard to petitioners’ First Amendment rights would mean that if the Church or a Church member committed any intentional or negligent tort against a former member of the Church, that former member would be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures regardless of the fact that the member had left the Church years, even decades, before the tort. In effect, Scientology suggests that one of the prices of joining its religion (or obtaining a single religious service) is eternal submission to a religious forum—a sub silencio waiver of petitioners’ constitutional right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high….

The Church of Scientology also argued that having this rule would discriminate against religious arbitration agreements, in favor of secular arbitration agreements. No, said the court, suggesting that a similar rule might apply to secular arbitration agreement as well:

[The Church] has provided no authority upholding an arbitration agreement ad infinitum, and the California case on which Scientology relies for this proposition is distinguishable. In Buckhorn v. St. Jude Heritage Medical Group (Cal. Ct. App. 2004), … [t]he Fourth District Court of Appeal [upheld an arbitration agreement provision in a contract], on the basis that his tort claims “stem[med] from the contractual relationship between the parties,” and were therefore within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Here, petitioners’ claims against Scientology do not stem from the contractual relationship; they stem from the alleged “Fair Game” campaign Scientology engaged in as retribution for reporting Masterson to police after they left the Church. This harassment allegedly arose because of petitioners’ relationship with Masterson and their reporting his conduct to police, not because of their prior affiliation with Scientology. Indeed, plaintiff Riales alleged a similar Fair Game campaign of harassment, and it is undisputed she was never a member….

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No Arbitration of Claims Against Scientology After Plaintiffs Had Left the Church

From Bixler v. Superior Court, decided Wednesday by the California Court of Appeal (Justices Laurence Rubin, Carl Moor, and Lamar Baker):

Petitioners … are former members of the Church of Scientology who reported to the police that another Church member [Daniel Masterson] had raped them. They allege that, in retaliation for their reports, the Church encouraged its members to engage in a vicious campaign of harassment against them. {[T]hey state no cause of action against Masterson for sexual assault. Instead, they allege causes of action against all defendants for stalking, physical invasion of privacy, constructive invasion of privacy, [and] intentional infliction of emotional distress ….}

After petitioners brought suit in superior court against the Church and related entities and persons, some of those defendants moved to compel arbitration, relying on agreements that provided all disputes with the Church would be resolved according to the Church’s own “Ethics, Justice and Binding Religious Arbitration system.” That system was created to decide matters “in accordance with Scientology principles of justice and fairness.” …

The contract on its face apparently applied to all litigation against the Church:

My freely given consent to be bound exclusively by the discipline, faith, internal organization, and ecclesiastical rule, custom, and law of the Scientology religion … in all my dealings of any nature with the Church, and in all my dealings of any nature with any other Scientology church or organization which espouses, presents, propagates or practices the Scientology religion means that I am forever abandoning, surrendering, waiving, and relinquishing my right to sue, or otherwise seek legal recourse with respect to any dispute, claim or controversy against the Church, all other Scientology churches, all other organizations which espouse, present, propagate or practice the Scientology religion, and all persons employed by any such entity both in their personal and any official or representational capacities, regardless of the nature of the dispute, claim or controversy.

But the court concluded that, as a matter of California law, the arbitration agreement couldn’t be enforced after the parties left the Church:

Individuals have a First Amendment right to leave a religion. We hold that once petitioners had terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct occurring after their separation from the Church and do not implicate resolution of ecclesiastical issues….

According to plaintiffs, Scientology forbids members from contacting police to report a crime committed by a member. It instructs members that reporting such incidents is considered a “high crime” and subjects the reporting member to punishment. Scientology utilizes so-called “Fair Game” tactics to “attack, harass, embarrass, humiliate, destroy, and/or injure individuals who Defendants declare to be an enemy of Scientology, known in Scientology as a ‘Suppressive Person’ ….” Masterson is a television actor; Scientology granted him special treatment when he achieved “celebrity status.” To that end, Scientology worked to prevent plaintiffs from reporting Masterson’s crimes and, once they did, declared plaintiffs Suppressive Persons. Scientology then mobilized an aggressive Fair Game campaign against them.

While the Fair Game campaigns against each plaintiff differed, collectively plaintiffs allege Scientology’s agents committed the following acts against them: surveilled them, hacked their security systems, filmed them, chased them, hacked their email, killed (and attempted to kill) their pets, tapped their phones, incited others to harass them, threatened to kill them, broke their locks, broke into their cars, ran them off the road, posted fake ads purporting to be from them soliciting anal sex from strangers, broke their windows, set the outside of their home on fire, went through their trash, and poisoned trees in their yards. This conduct was alleged to be pursuant to Scientology’s policies and procedures.

According to plaintiffs’ complaint, Scientology’s directives are that Suppressive Persons are to be silenced by whatever means necessary. Scientology instructs members “to damage the person’s professional reputation, file frivolous lawsuits, and harass and surveil ‘the enemy.'” Scientology’s “policies and procedures encourage and/or instruct followers to ‘ruin [the individual] utterly.'” …

In addition to events occurring while still a Scientology member, each petitioner alleged an invasive Fair Game campaign occurring entirely after she had left the church. Bixler alleged that she formally terminated her relationship with the Church in October 2016, then reported Masterson to the police. It was only after her report that she was declared a Suppressive Person and she and her husband were subjected to the Fair Game campaign.

Jane Doe #1 learned in June 2005 that she had been declared a Suppressive Person and was no longer permitted to engage in religious services at the Church. More than a decade later (after she asked the LAPD to reopen its investigation into Masterson), the Church commenced its Fair Game campaign against her. Jane Doe #2 ceased practicing Scientology entirely in 2004. In 2017, she reported Masterson’s assault to the LAPD, at which point the Fair Game harassment began….

This case involves both petitioners’ First Amendment rights to leave a faith and Scientology’s right to resolve disputes with its members without court intervention. When applied to a dispute that arose after petitioners left the faith, and which can be resolved on neutral principles of tort law, we find petitioners’ right to leave the faith must control….

An individual possesses an “inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes her right to change her religious beliefs ….” “The constitutional freedom to question, to doubt, and to change one’s convictions, protected by the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, is important for very pragmatic reasons. For most people, religious development is a lifelong dynamic process even when they continue to adhere to the same religion, denomination, or sect.”

California precedent counsels against enforcing agreements that would violate an individual’s right to change religions. The issue arose in In re Marriage of Weiss (Cal. Ct. App. 1996). There, prior to marrying her Jewish husband, a woman converted to Judaism and executed a written “Declaration of Faith,” in which she pledged to rear all their children “‘in loyalty to the Jewish faith and its practices.'” After the couple divorced, the woman returned to Christianity.  She was attending church and had enrolled the couple’s child in Sunday school. The child also attended a weekly club meeting at the church and had attended church summer camp. The father “acknowledged [the mother] had the right to expose the minor to her religion, but objected to the minor’s being indoctrinated in the Christian faith or being enrolled in any activity ‘that would be contrary to his Jewish faith.'”

The trial court refused to restrain the mother’s religious activity with the child. The father appealed, arguing the court erred in not enjoining the mother from engaging the child in Christian religious activity. The Court of Appeal affirmed, recognizing the rule in California that a parent cannot enjoin the other parent from involving their child in religious activities in the absence of a showing of harm to the child.

The father argued that the written antenuptial agreement should be enforced as an exception to that rule and that the mother should be bound by her promise. … [T]he Weiss court disagreed. The court concluded the agreement was legally unenforceable for two reasons: enforcement would result in improper judicial entanglement in religious matters and would violate the mother’s First Amendment right to change her religion.

As Presiding Justice Klein wrote, “Further, in view of [the mother’s] inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes the right to change her religious beliefs and to share those beliefs with her offspring, her antenuptial commitment to raise her children in [the father’s] faith is not legally enforceable for that reason as well.”  While a parent’s religious freedom may yield to other competing interests, “‘it may not be bargained away.’ [Citation.]” …

Just like written antenuptial agreements to raise children in a particular faith are not enforceable against a parent who has left the faith, Scientology’s written arbitration agreements are not enforceable against members who have left the faith, with respect to claims for subsequent non-religious, tortious acts. To hold otherwise would bind members irrevocably to a faith they have the constitutional right to leave….

Scientology argues that petitioners simply agreed to be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures no matter what. As Scientology puts it, “An ‘irrevocable‘ agreement to ‘forever‘ waive civil proceedings and submit to Scientology Ethics and Justice Codes in ‘any dispute’ with Churches of Scientology is a condition for participation in the religion.” It argues that this agreement should be enforced like any other agreement.

Enforcing this provision without regard to petitioners’ First Amendment rights would mean that if the Church or a Church member committed any intentional or negligent tort against a former member of the Church, that former member would be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures regardless of the fact that the member had left the Church years, even decades, before the tort. In effect, Scientology suggests that one of the prices of joining its religion (or obtaining a single religious service) is eternal submission to a religious forum—a sub silencio waiver of petitioners’ constitutional right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high….

The Church of Scientology also argued that having this rule would discriminate against religious arbitration agreements, in favor of secular arbitration agreements. No, said the court, suggesting that a similar rule might apply to secular arbitration agreement as well:

[The Church] has provided no authority upholding an arbitration agreement ad infinitum, and the California case on which Scientology relies for this proposition is distinguishable. In Buckhorn v. St. Jude Heritage Medical Group (Cal. Ct. App. 2004), … [t]he Fourth District Court of Appeal [upheld an arbitration agreement provision in a contract], on the basis that his tort claims “stem[med] from the contractual relationship between the parties,” and were therefore within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Here, petitioners’ claims against Scientology do not stem from the contractual relationship; they stem from the alleged “Fair Game” campaign Scientology engaged in as retribution for reporting Masterson to police after they left the Church. This harassment allegedly arose because of petitioners’ relationship with Masterson and their reporting his conduct to police, not because of their prior affiliation with Scientology. Indeed, plaintiff Riales alleged a similar Fair Game campaign of harassment, and it is undisputed she was never a member….

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The Three Types of US-Led Regime Change

The Three Types of US-Led Regime Change

Authored by Joe Lauria via Consortium News,

Throughout the long, documented history of the United States illegally overthrowing governments of foreign lands to build a global empire there has emerged three ways Washington broadly carries out “regime change.”

From Above. If the targeted leader has been democratically elected and enjoys popular support, the CIA has worked with elite groups, such as the military, to overthrow him (sometimes through assassination).  Among several examples is the first CIA-backed coup d’état, on March 30, 1949,  just 18 months after the agency’s founding, when Syrian Army Colonel Husni al-Za’im overthrew the elected president, Shukri al-Quwatli. 

The CIA in 1954 toppled the elected President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala, who was replaced with a military dictator. In 1961, just three days before the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, who favored his release, Congolese President Patrice Lumumba was assassinated with CIA assistance, bringing military strongman Mobutu Sese Seko to power.  In 1973, the US backed Chilean General Augusto Pinochet to overthrow and kill the democratically-elected, socialist President Salvador Allende, setting up a military dictatorship, one of many U.S.-installed military dictatorships of that era in Latin America under Operation Condor


Chilean presidential palace during U.S.-backed coup, Sept. 11, 1973. (Library of the Chilean National Congress/Wikipedia)

From Below. If the targeted government faces genuine popular unrest, the U.S. will foment and organize it to topple the leader, elected or otherwise. 1958-59 anti-communist protests in Kerala, India, locally supported by the Congress Party and the Catholic Church, were funded by the CIA, leading to the removal of the elected communist government. The 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was a combination of bottom-up CIA (and MI-6)-backed street protests, and top-down conservative clergy and military to destroy democracy and return a monarch to the throne. The US-backed Ukrainian coup of 2014 is the latest example of the US working with genuine popular dissent to help organize and steer the overthrow, in this case, of an OSCE-certified elected president. 

Through Military Intervention.  If a coup is not feasible, the US turns to indirect or direct military intervention. One of earliest examples was the US expeditionary force that invaded Russia in 1918 during the civil war in an attempt to help overthrow the new Bolshevik government.  More recently, in 1983 the U.S. military invaded Grenada to overthrow a Marxist president; in 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama to overthrow former CIA asset Manuela Noriega.

Another hybrid operation was the US bombing of Serbia in 1999 and the State Department funding of the opposition group Otpor!, which led to the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic. The most prominent recent examples of direct military invasion to overthrow governments are the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Indirect military intervention through proxies to overthrow governments happened in the 1980s Contra war against Nicaragua; and the 2011 to present jihadist war to overthrow the Syrian government. 


Tanks in the streets of Teheran, 1953. (Public domain/Wikipedia.)

Not From Thin Air

Economic sanctions are commonly imposed by the US in advance to “soften up” the target. In non-military interventions, the US does not create regime change out of whole cloth:  it works with pre-existing dissent, whether in the population or in the military or another elite group. It will harness it, fund it, train it and organize it, but not create it.  

In other words, in regime change that doesn’t involve invasion and occupation, it is not a question of either US involvement or genuine dissent. It is almost always both.

And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar: there are legitimate revolts that are not taken over by the US because the uprisings are against US clients’ and Washington’s interests: for instance, the 2010 uprising in Bahrain. In such cases the US will support crushing dissent (as it is ready to do at home as well). 

Kazakhstan

Last week, Consortium News ran two pieces on the uprisings in Kazakhstan. The first, by Craig Murray, made the argument that the CIA was not involved and that the uprising was genuine, given the country’s economic inequality and increases in fuel prices that were quickly reversed.

Murray is a former British ambassador to neighboring Uzbekistan and knows Central Asia. There is no doubt that inequality, the fuel price hikes and decades of authoritarian rule fueled the protests. But by its very covert nature, it is close to impossible to know what the CIA is up to anywhere in the world until declassification of documents usually decades later, or if a whistleblower or leak emerges earlier. 

Anyway, the CIA did not need to be directly involved. It’s been known since at least a 1991 Washington Post article that the CIA is ostensibly no longer required for regime change. After the 1975 Church Committee revelations of its crimes and corruption, the CIA, facing a public backlash, resorted to new methods. The establishment of the U.S. National Endowment of Democracy in 1983 does openly what the CIA once did secretly, the Post argued. “The old era of [CIA] covert action is dead,” Post columnist David Ignatius declared. 

“The world doesn’t run in secret anymore. We are now living in the Age of Overt Action. … the triumph of overt action [is] a network of overt operatives who during the last 10 years have quietly been changing the rules of international politics. They have been doing in public what the CIA used to do in private — providing money and moral support for pro-democracy groups, training resistance fighters, working to subvert communist rule. And, in contrast to many of the CIA’s superannuated Cold Warriors, who tended to get tangled in their webs of secrecy, these overt operatives have been immensely successful.”

But as CN founder Robert Parry explained in an 2015 article republished today on Consortium Newsthe CIA had a direct hand in the establishment of the NED, even in the writing of the Congressional legislation that authorized the U.S. Agency for International Development to fund it with U.S. government money. The continued hand of the CIA was to be hidden in the “Age of Overt Action.” 

The NED in Kazakhstan

Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1990 after the breakup of the Soviet Union the country has been run by one man, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Though he formally stepped down in 2019 in favor of his hand-picked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Nazarbayev is still the power behind the throne. Nursultan, the new capital city, was named after him in 2019.


Protestors setting up a yurt in Aktobe on Jan. 4. (Esetok/Wikipedia)

Kazakhstan’s political system has few democratic features. Not that that matters much to the United States. In its long history of overthrowing governments abroad, the US has toppled dictators just as readily as elected democrats. It is immaterial. What matters is whether leaders are furthering or standing in the way of US interests.

The lack of democracy was of no interest either to former President Bill Clinton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who both cozied up to Nazarbayev for lucrative paydays. London and other Western centers have little problem taking investments from undemocratic Kazakh elites. The lack of democracy in Kazakhstan could be useful to Washington. The population’s rage at being suppressed politically and economically is the kind of raw material needed to drive a coup from the bottom up. 

In 2020, the NED spent $1,082,991 on 20 programs in Kazakhstan.  One was $50,000 to “promote freedom of peaceful assembly” through “strategic litigation to support activists facing repression.” Another, for $65,000 was to “promote civic engagement among youth in Kazakhstan.”

Genuine Kazakh Revolt

This money was poured into a country with pre-existing tensions that exploded from Jan. 2 to Jan. 11, leaving 227 people dead, 9,900 arrested and vast sections of city centers looted and destroyed. At the start the government tried to quell the protests by again capping fuel prices, the government resigned and Nazarbayev stepped down as chairman of the national security council. It didn’t work. Shoot to kill orders were issued against the rioters. 

Ultimately, Russian troops as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization mission restored order. In a news analysis on Jan. 6, The New York Times Eastern Europe bureau chief made an unattributed, editorial comment: “And once Russian troops arrive, they seldom, if ever, go home.”  Normally the corporate media are fed such lines by unnamed US officials. In this case the US government line seemed to work in reverse.

The next day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.” Moscow reacted furiously, pointing out that the US should examine its history of the invasions of Vietnam and Iraq. “If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped,” the foreign ministry said.

The Russian and other CSTO troops left Kazakhstan on Wednesday. 

US Interests in Kazakhstan 

Installing a government hostile to Russia and China, which both border Kazakhstan, would be advantageous to the US It could disrupt China’s Silk Roads initiative through the country and the U.S. could put a military base in Kazakhstan. Since April the US has been trying to find a Central Asian country for a base to further the encircling pressure on Russia. There are also oil and gas deposits beckoning.

Despite these interests, the second article that Consortium News ran last week advised the U.S. stay out of Kazakhstan.  Saying there was no evidence of U.S. involvement with the protests, Anatol Lieven wrote: 

“If the Kazakh government collapses or is gravely weakened, it would be very surprising if hard line elements in Washington did not see this as an opportunity to use Kazakhstan as a base to undermine Chinese rule in Sinkiang — even if (as in Syria) this led them into de facto alliance with Islamist extremist forces.

For America to use Kazakhstan in this way would be both a crime and a blunder, that would recall the worst aspects of U.S. policy in Africa, Asia, and Central America during the Cold War. It would in fact cast America in the role in which American commentators like to cast Russia — that of a cynical troublemaker, absolutely indifferent to the consequences of its actions for unfortunate populations on the ground.”

Circumstantial Evidence of the Causes 

Was in fact the US not involved in the uprising, as Lieven maintains?

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “The events in Kazakhstan are not the first and far from the last attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of our states from the outside.” He told other CSTO leaders on Jan. 10: “The measures taken by the CSTO made it clear that we would not let anyone destabilize the situation at our home and implement so-called ‘color revolution’ scenarios.”


Putin speaking with other CSTO leaders, Jan. 10. (Kremlin pool)

Putin also said, “Elements of force and information support of protests were actively used, and well-organized and well-controlled groups of militants were also used … including those who had obviously been trained in terrorist camps abroad.”

The possible presence of jihadists followed reports that a Kazakh policemen had been beheaded. The Kazakh government had a slightly different take, according to long-time Moscow correspondent Fred Weir, writing in the Christian Science Monitor: 

“Kazakh leaders have offered a different explanation, pointing to high-ranking internal traitors who utilized the pretext of price increases to trigger protests, then unleashed specially trained armed units in an attempt to stage a coup d’état. At least one top former official, the recently dismissed head of the security services, Karim Masimov, has been arrested and charged with plotting against the state.

Other experts note that no movement has claimed responsibility for the uprising, and no set of unified demands or discernible leaders have emerged from the turmoil. That highly unusual circumstance is hard to square with an organized rebellion, Galym Ageleulov, head of the independent human rights group Liberty, told the Monitor from Almaty on Monday.

‘I think what happened was that a peaceful civil meeting of people who are tired of authoritarian government got used by elites in their internal struggles,’ he says. ‘It was a spontaneous upsurge without leaders because there is no permitted legal opposition, and civil activism is not able to grow.’ …

‘All the elements are there: socioeconomic tensions, elements of outside interference, and a half-completed transfer of power’ from the aging autocrat Mr. Nazarbayev to his chosen successor, Mr. Tokayev, [Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Russian foreign policy analyst] says. “’It is well known that some groups behind Nazarbayev were not happy with his choice. There is a feeling among many observers that it was not a purely spontaneous outburst.’”

Normally in regime change operations, the US has a leader in exile ready to be installed. Mukhtar Ablyazov, leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, is in exile in Paris. He says he has not accepted Western money, asked for Western sanctions, which have not come, and egged on what he called the revolution unfolding in his country. He claimed Russia was “occupying” Kazakhstan, only to see the uprising end and Russian troops leave. 

The beheadings, the organized nature of the uprising, the seizing of the airport, the NED funding, and the leader in exile are all circumstantial evidence of possible U.S. involvement. Many commenters on social media and on this site took the view that if it walks like a duck, it must be a U.S.-backed coup. 

But journalism needs to be held to a higher standard of proof. CN rightly criticizes corporate media for repeating unnamed U.S. intelligence officials without skepticism. Skepticism must also be applied when the US is accused of being involved in a coup. Circumstantial evidence is not enough.  Even in an “Age of Overt Action” a smoking gun is needed, usually arriving with the declassification of documents that has proved the history of U.S. regime change.     

In 2014 in Ukraine, there was also the circumstantial evidence of NED involvement. Then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland told the U.S.-Ukrainian Foundation on Dec. 13, 2013, that Washington had spent $5 billion over a decade to support Ukraine’s “European aspirations,” in other words to pull it away from Russia.

But there was also a smoking gun. It came in the form of the leaked telephone call between Nuland and the then US ambassador to Ukraine in which they discussed who the new Ukrainian leader would be, weeks before the coup occurred.

In Kazakhstan, despite the circumstantial evidence, there is no smoking gun so far. Therefore the question of whether there was direct and decisive U.S. involvement in the Kazakh uprising must remain inconclusive.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 15:30

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US Embassy In Ukraine Shows Off First Biden ‘Lethal Aid’ Shipments To Arrive

US Embassy In Ukraine Shows Off First Biden ‘Lethal Aid’ Shipments To Arrive

The US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday is showing off the first part of a $200 million “security assistance” package for Ukraine’s army which has arrived rather quickly after the Biden administration approved it. 

“The donation, which includes close to 200,000 pounds of lethal security assistance, including ammunition for the front line defenders of Ukraine, demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to Ukraine’s sovereign right to self-defense,” the U.S. embassy said in posts on Facebook and Twitter.

In total Washington has issued over $2.7 billion in defense aid going back to the 2014, with the latest commitment of $650 million more being pledged last year.

The embassy featuring photographs of the newly arrived lethal aid is meant as assurance to its Ukrainian ally, but is also aimed at Moscow in a bit of continued muscle-flexing as the West has condemned its troop build-up near the border. This despite that Friday talks in Geneva between Antony Blinken and Russian FM Sergey Lavrov seemed to open a path toward de-escalation talks.

The US embassy-Kiev described

“The United States will continue providing such assistance to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces in their ongoing effort to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression. As President Biden told President Putin, should Russia further invade Ukraine, the United States will provide additional defensive material to Ukraine above and beyond that already provided.”

Likely much of this initial defense aid features anti-tank missiles and other anti-armor weaponry, and additional munitions. Of most concern for the West and Ukraine’s national forces remains thwarting Russia’s tanks if they were to enter Donbass.

The Biden White House had authorized a rush delivery of US-made weapons to be transferred to Kiev via Baltic allies, namely Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. The UK has already made multiple deliveries on large Globemaster transport planes – and even The Netherlands has signaled it will join the NATO allies.

However, Germany has stuck by its policy of not delivering weapons to potential conflict hot spots, and has made it clear to allies that no German arms should be transferred.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 15:00

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Saudis Bomb Hospital & Youth Soccer Field In Yemen, Over 200 Killed

Saudis Bomb Hospital & Youth Soccer Field In Yemen, Over 200 Killed

Authored by Andrea Germanos via Common Dreams,

A series of Saudi-led airstrikes were blamed Friday for killing scores of people in Yemen as civilians, including children, continue to suffer deadly consequences of the U.S.-backed conflict that has lasted for years. Overnight bombings included one that targeted a prison holding mostly migrants in the northern city of Sa’ada, an area described as being under the control of Houthi forces.

“It is impossible to know how many people have been killed. It seems to have been a horrific act of violence,” said Ahmed Mahat, MSF’s (Doctors Without Borders) head of mission in Yemen. A hospital in the city “has received 138 wounded and 70 dead” [later revised to over 200 killed] and is “so overwhelmed that they can’t take any more patients,” MSF said.

Strikes also hit further south in the port city of Hodeida. According to Agence France-Presse: “Video footage showed bodies in the rubble and dazed survivors after an air attack from the Saudi Arabia-led pro-government coalition took out a telecommunications hub. Yemen suffered a nationwide internet blackout, a web monitor said.”

The humanitarian group Save the Children said that at least three children, as well as more than 60 adults, were reported killed by the series of strikes, though the number of confirmed casualties would likely rise.

The children killed as a result of the Hodeidah strike had been playing on a nearby football field, the group said. “Children are bearing the brunt of this crisis,” said Gillian Moyes, the group’s country director in Yemen.

“They are being killed and maimed, watching as their schools and hospitals are being destroyed, and denied access to basic lifesaving services,” she said. “They are asking us: Does it matter if I die?”

“The initial casualties report from Sa’ada is horrifying,” Moyes added. “Migrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families, Yemeni civilians injured by the dozens, is a picture we never hoped to wake up to in Yemen.”

In the U.S., the Biden administration—like previous administrations—has faced calls to stop supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons and other support being used to wage the bombing campaign on Yemen that’s estimated to have killed over 300,000 Yemenis since 2015 and unleashed what the United Nations called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

In The New Republic earlier this month, the Quincy Institute’s Trita Parsi and Annelle Sheline wrote:

Despite Biden’s promise to end the war in Yemen and his pledge to make the Saudis “pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are,” he has fallen back into America’s hegemonic role in the Middle East: taking sides, making America a party to conflicts, and selling more weapons—U.S. interest, peace, stability, and human rights be damned.

Responding to news of the overnight airstrikes, journalist Spencer Ackerman tweeted: “America is complicit in this, as it has been complicit in every Saudi or UAE airstrike of this horrific war that Biden and his senior officials once promised to end. I hope they see these children when they sleep at night.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross sounded alarm about the recent intensification of violence in Yemen.

“It is essential that we protect the lives of people in armed conflict. The human toll that we witness in Yemen is unacceptable,” Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, said in a statement Thursday.

“Civilians living in densely populated areas have been exposed to increased attacks,” he continued, “causing death and injury and deepening the psychological trauma among the affected communities after seven years of war.”

The deadly strikes came after a Tuesday statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also expessing concern about the uptick in violence in Yemen.

“In recent days,” said spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, “there have been dozens of airstrikes and artillery strikes launched by the parties with seemingly little regard for civilians.”

“The fighting has damaged civilian objects and critical infrastructure, including telecommunication towers and water reservoirs, as well as hospitals in Sana’a and Taizz. With frontlines shifting rapidly over large areas, civilians are also exposed to the constant threat of landmines,” she said. “As has been shown time and time again,” added Shamdasani, “there is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen.”

Tyler Durden
Sat, 01/22/2022 – 14:30

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/3tQwceI Tyler Durden