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    August 03, 2020


    The British news agency Reuters is again distributing false claims about 'Russian hacking':

    Exclusive: Papers leaked before UK election in suspected Russian operation were hacked from ex-trade minister - sources

    Classified U.S.-UK trade documents leaked ahead of Britain’s 2019 election were stolen from the email account of former trade minister Liam Fox by suspected Russian hackers, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

    The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a law enforcement investigation is underway, said the hackers accessed the account multiple times between July 12 and Oct. 21 last year.

    They declined to name which Russian group or organisation they believed was responsible, but said the attack bore the hallmarks of a state-backed operation.

    The highlighted date of July 12 is interesting.

    The Telegraph was the first to report from the leaked papers:

    Leaked documents expose lack of progress in US-UK trade talks


    That was on July 10 2019, two days before the 'Russians hackers' allegedly got their hands on the British-U.S. trade documents!

    Cont. reading: Another 'Russian Hacker' Story Debunks Itself

    Posted by b at 18:37 UTC | Comments (28)


    The Trump administration is working to dispossess the Chinese company ByteDance by blackmailing it to sell its valuable TikTok business to a U.S. company for a bargain price. This to the benefit of yet unknown people.

    False allegation over the security of TikTok user data were used to threaten the prohibition of the video app in its U.S. market. In the U.S. alone the app is used by more than 80 million people. It plays an important part in the youth culture and music business. Faced with a potential close down of its prime business in one of its most profitable markets ByteDance had no choice but to agree to negotiate about a sale.

    ByteDance declined an offer by two of its U.S. based minority investors to buy the business for $50 billion as that price was far below its presumed value. The White House stepped in to find a new buyer with enough change to pay for a deal. As the largest social media companies - Facebook, Apple, Google and Twitter - are already under congressional investigations for their monopoly positions in U.S. markets none of them could be the potential buyer. Facebook has in fact just launched a rip-off of the TikTok product under the name Reels. It is trying to poach TikTok 'creators' for its own service. Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg has warned of Chinese competition. He  would be the biggest winner should TikTok be thrown out of the U.S. market.

    The White House finally came up with Microsoft as a potential buyer. But Microsoft has historically been unsuccessful in the social media business. It also does other business with China and is reluctant to get involved in a move that could damage that business.

    Despite Microsoft's lack of interest President Trump personally pressed for a shotgun marriage. The Democrats are supporting him in this. But neither ByteDance nor Microsoft really want to make the deal.

    ByteDance would prefer to move the TikTok business into an independent company:

    Cont. reading: Trump Presses Microsoft, TikTok Into A Deal That Neither Wants - Who Profits From It?

    Posted by b at 17:47 UTC | Comments (47)

    August 02, 2020


    Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

  • July 27 - A Significant Decline Is Coming For The U.S. - by Passer by
  • July 28 - The Epidemic And Hizbullah Add To Netanyahoo's Problems
    Netanyahoo called up the thugs to attack those who protest against him:
    The Israeli Mafia Behind the Violence at Anti-Bibi Protests - Daily Beast
  • July 29 - U.S. Officials Disseminate Disinformation About 'Virus Disinformation'
    The Russians Are(n’t) Coming!: Paul Reveres, the Washington Hawks Are Not - Antiwar
    UK ‘Russia report’ fear-mongers about meddling yet finds no evidence - Gareth Porter
  • July 30 - Covid-19 Update - Heart Damage And Aerosols
    We Need to Talk About Ventilation - Atlantic
    How does SARS-CoV-2 cause COVID-19? - Science
    An Update on Covid-19 Testing, Treatments, and Vaccines (vid) - UCSF Grand Round
    How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air” - Vanity Fair
  • > Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert. <
  • July 30 - TikTok - How The White House Helped U.S. Investors To Raid A Chinese Company
  • ---
    Other issues:

    Cont. reading: The MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2020-61

    Posted by b at 13:50 UTC | Comments (160)

    August 01, 2020


    In 2017 the Chinese company ByteDance bought the Shanghai-based video app in a $1 billion deal and relaunched under the name TikTok. The app allows its users to create and share short videos with special effects.

    It was a great success and the app now has more than 80 million active users in the U.S. alone. The Chinese version Douyin is separate and has even more.

    ByteDance has other apps, mostly in the  Chinese market, that also generate advertising revenues. The company is valuated at some $140 billion. The TikTok part is valuated at at least $50 billion. Some 70% of the ByteDance outside investors are U.S. private equity firms.

    At one point these U.S. investors decided to raid the successful business. The White House found that to be a great idea and actively supported the plan.

    The company was put under investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). That made little sense as neither ByteDance nor TikTok planned to acquire a U.S. company. The published reason was that Chinese access to user data of TikTok might have national security implications. That made little sense.

    TikTok does not collect user data beyond what is needed to run the application and to share the videos. Its Chief Executive Officer is an American citizen. The user data is stored in the U.S. and TikTok has hired nearly 1,000 people for its U.S. team and is looking for more. The Chinese government is unlikely to have interest in the preferred video motives of U.S. teens.

    But the pressure to sell the very successful business continued to increase:

    Last week, the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs unanimously passed a Bill that would bar US federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices. It will be taken up by the full Senate for a vote. The House of Representatives has already voted for a similar measure.

    Then the U.S. investors in ByteDance made an offer:

    Cont. reading: TikTok - How The White House Helped U.S. Investors To Raid A Chinese Company

    Posted by b at 18:23 UTC | Comments (101)

    July 31, 2020


    News & views ...

    Posted by b at 13:44 UTC | Comments (172)

    July 30, 2020


    In 2019 the U.S. was ranked as the country best prepared for a pandemic. This year it is again at the top. As the Wall Street Journal headlines:

    U.S. Leads the Globe as Coronavirus Deaths Pass 150,000, Hospitalizations Rise

    The Washington Post adds another highlight:

    U.S. reports 1,400 coronavirus deaths in a day — about one per minute


    The number of new cases in U.S. have somewhat peaked for now as the sunbelt states have taken some measures to decrease new infections. But I am afraid that the trend down will (again) be very slow and that we will see another rise as some other states - Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky - show upticks in new infections. They may be the next ones who will get into trouble. The curve of new deaths from Covid-19 follows the new cases curve by three to four weeks. Deaths will probably peak at the end of August.

    The economic damage the pandemic has caused in the U.S. is extreme:

    The U.S. economy shrank at an annualized 32.9% rate in the second quarter — the worst-ever contraction on records that date back to 1947, the government said on Thursday.
    The staggering contraction beats the last record set in 1958, when GDP shrank at an annualized 10% rate.

    Interestingly the contraction in 1958 was a direct result of the 1957/58 H2N2 influenza pandemic.

    Globally the situations is mixed. South-east Asia seems to have the problem under control. India is a mess. South America has huge problems. Western European countries seem mostly okay for now but I expect another big rise there as people are beginning to lose discipline. East Europe looks bleak. There is little reliable dataavailable for the Middle East and Africa.

    Over the last six month scientists and doctors have learned a lot about the virus and the diseases it causes. I use the plural here as the virus is causing so many different troubles that it is hard to see them as one malady.

    A number of professors at the UCSF have written a very good piece which describes all the different effects they see in their patients:

    We Thought It Was Just a Respiratory Virus - We were wrong.

    Cont. reading: Covid-19 Update - Heart Damage And Aerosols

    Posted by b at 18:23 UTC | Comments (186)

    July 29, 2020


    In another round of their anti-Russian disinformation campaign 'U.S. government officials' claim that some websites loosely connected to Russia are spreading 'virus disinformation'.

    However, no 'virus disinformation' can be found on those sites.

    The Associated Press as well as the New York Times were briefed by the 'officials' and provided write ups.

    AP: US officials: Russia behind spread of virus disinformation

    Two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort meant to reach American and Western audiences, U.S. government officials said. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

    The information had previously been classified, but officials said it had been downgraded so they could more freely discuss it. Officials said they were doing so now to sound the alarm about the particular websites and to expose what they say is a clear link between the sites and Russian intelligence.

    Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, the websites singled out Tuesday published about 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the U.S.

    Among the headlines that caught the attention of U.S. officials were “Russia’s Counter COVID-19 Aid to America Advances Case for Détente,” which suggested that Russia had given urgent and substantial aid to the U.S. to fight the pandemic, and “Beijing Believes COVID-19 is a Biological Weapon,” which amplified statements by the Chinese.

    The first mentioned piece, Russia's Counter-COVID Aid To America Advances The Case For A New Detente, is by the well known author Andrew Korybko,  a U.S. political analyst living in Moscow. It was published at The essay discussed the Russian Coronavirus aid flown in early April from Russia to the U.S. The analyst concludes that such aid can be seen as the beginning of a new détente between the U.S. and Russia.

    There is zero 'virus disinformation' in the Korybko piece. The aid flight did happen and was widely reported. In a response to the allegations the proprietors of OneWorld point out that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a recent Q&A also alluded to a new détente with Russia. Was that also 'virus disinformation'?

    Cont. reading: U.S. Officials Disseminate Disinformation About 'Virus Disinformation'

    Posted by b at 16:56 UTC | Comments (110)

    July 28, 2020


    The Israeli government under Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahoo faces two crises. Hizbullah, the Lebanese resistance organization, has announced that it will take revenge for one of its soldiers Israel killed.  A botched handling of the Covid-19 epidemic by the government has come under much criticism. Together with the criminal proceedings against Netanyahoo any of the above could lead to his fall.

    Yesterday Israel claimed that Hizbollah soldiers had crossed its northern border but were pushed back:

    Israeli forces on Monday exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants along the volatile Israeli-Lebanese frontier, as Israeli civilians living in the area were ordered to remain indoors amid the heaviest fighting between the bitter enemies in nearly a year.

    The fighting occurred in an area known as Chebaa Farms, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and is claimed by Lebanon. Residents of southern Lebanon near the border reported Israeli shelling that continued for more than an hour.

    The fighting came as Israel was on heightened alert for a possible attack by Hezbollah, after an Israeli airstrike in Syria killed a Hezbollah militant last week. Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, targeting what it says are Iranian weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah had promised that his organization would take revenge for each of its soldiers killed in Israeli attacks in Syria. Knowing that some hit will come the Israeli army was put on high alert and additional forces were moved towards the border area

    But the long nervous guarding of the border while waiting for Hizbullah's hit must have induced some hallucinations. There was no Hizbullah there:

    Hezbollah said its fighters were not involved in any fighting along the border with Israel.

    In a statement following the clashes, the group said all claims by Israeli media about an infiltration attempt by Hezbollah into Israel "are not true at all, and are attempts to invent illusive victories."

    Hezbollah said the group's retaliation for its member killed by an Israeli strike in Syria "is definitely coming, and the Zionists should remain waiting for the punishment for their crimes."

    The Israeli army claims it has footage of the incident:

    Israeli defense officials scoffed at the terror group’s denial, saying the infiltration attempt had been filmed by military security cameras and that the operatives who took part in it were armed. The Israel Defense Forces said it was considering releasing the footage from the incident.

    But a day after the incident no footage has been released. The Israeli press is suspicious about the army's claim:

    Cont. reading: The Epidemic And Hizbullah Add To Netanyahoo's Problems

    Posted by b at 16:58 UTC | Comments (49)

    July 27, 2020


    by Passer by

    In response to several comments in the last open thread (slightly edited).

    Actually there is even some real, and not only relative, decline for the US, for example US life expectancy is dropping. This is a pretty bad sign for a developed country. Same for the UK by the way.

    On the issue of China gaining during the Covid crisis, they gained in raw power, for example gained in GDP relatively to the US. And they gained in debt levels too, relatively, as US debt levels exploded due to the crisis. Now you have V-shaped recovery in China and poor, W-shaped double dip recovery in the US. With far more debt added.

    Of course there is the issue of public relations and soft power. On the one hand the US blamed China for the pandemic, but on the other hand it embarrassed itself due to its poor performance in containing the pandemic, compared to other countries. And the US lost points around the world due to rejecting WHO right in the middle of the pandemic. Europe and developing countries did not like that at all. Don't forget that Covid also weakened the US military, they have problems with it, including on ships and overseas bases, and even broke the biggest US exercise planned in Europe for the last 30 years. And the pandemic in the US is still raging, its not fixed at all and death rates are increasing again.

    Here for example, the futurologists from Pardee Canter that that China gained during the crisis, in raw capabilities. Future research and relative power between countries is their specialty:

    Research Associate Collin Meisel and Pardee Center Director Jonathan Moyer use IFs (International Futures) to explore the long-term impact of COVID-19 in China in this Duck Of Minerva blog post" "Where broad measures of material capabilities are concerned, the picture is clear: COVID-19 is closing the gap in relative capabilities for the U.S. and China and accelerating the U.S.-China transition. Through multiple long-term forecast scenarios using the International Futures tool, Research Associate Collin Meisel and Pardee Center Director Jonathan Moyer explain on the Duck of Minerva blog that China is likely to gain approximately one percent of global power relative to the U.S. by 2030 due to the economic and mortality impacts of COVID-19. This share of global power is similar to the relative capabilities of Turkey today.

    On the issue of the USD, Stephen Roach also says that there will be a significant decline in the medium term. And the argument is pretty logical - if the US share in the global economy is declining (and it will be declining at least up to year 2060), and if the level of US debts is reaching all time high levels, then the USD will decline. I agree with that argument. It is fully logical.

    On the chip/semiconductor issue. David Goldman is skeptical that the US will be able to stop China on this:

    The chip ban gives the world an enormous incentive to circumvent the US

    Cont. reading: A Significant Decline Is Coming For The U.S.

    Posted by b at 17:53 UTC | Comments (220)

    July 26, 2020


    Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

  • July 20 - Industrial Accidents In Iran Are Just That
    Iran protests to UN after US jets approach flight over Syria - AFP
    Top Iranian official: US has decided to kill Hezbollah chief Nasrallah - Israel Hayom
  • July 21 - Is Trump Finally Getting It?
  • July 22 - U.S. Claims Diplomatic Immunity For Covid-19 - Shuts Down Chinese Consulate
  • July 24 - U.S. - China Spat Over Quarantine And Consulates Continues
    Men seen forcing open backdoor of China's Houston consulate after closure
  • July 22 - U.S. Asks China To Make More Nuclear Weapons
    Officials Push U.S.-China Relations Toward Point of No Return - NYT
    Whose century? - Adam Tooze / LRB (long read)
  • ---
    Other Issues:

    U.S. Civil War of 2020:

    Near and Present Anarchy - Susan Zahkin / The Baffler (long read)
    Buildings damaged in Minneapolis, St. Paul after riots - Star Tribune
    Meet the Youth Liberation Front behind a militant marathon of Portland protests - Seattle Times

    Boeing 737:

    Boeing 737 Max Ungrounding Pushed Back Again; WSJ Sources Say Early 2021 - Naked Capitalism
    Southwest says slowed delivery of Boeing 737 MAXs could slip more - Seattle Times
    FAA warns engine on Boeing 737 jets could shut down mid-flight, issues emergency order directing airlines to inspect, replace critical part - Chicago Tribune
    Boeing to delay 777X as demand drops for big jets: Sources - Channel New Asia

    Use as open thread ...

    Posted by b at 14:26 UTC | Comments (228)