Good morning, Q-MHI Daily Brief


(13 Januari 2022) US inflation numbers were startling. But the 7% year-on-year rise in consumer prices should be taken with a pinch of omicron.The spike was driven by increases in the prices of shelter, used and new vehiclesgasoline, and other consumer goods such as household furnishings, food, and apparel.

But context matters. In this case, December proved to be a whole new phase of the pandemic—one in which a new virus variant was on the loose, tripping up industries and supply chains, even as the country shunned lockdowns and consumption levels stayed high in a holiday season.

The combination of a new variant on the one hand and consumption-as-usual on the other—a recipe for higher prices—was relatively novel. During the first wave of the pandemic, in 2020, widespread lockdowns kept people at home and diminished their abilities to spend. Even during the spread of the delta variant, in March-April 2021, spending patterns were recovering, and the supply chain crisis that would tax US ports had not yet peaked.

The combination of a new variant on the one hand and consumption-as-usual on the other—a recipe for higher prices—was relatively novel. During the first wave of the pandemic, in 2020, widespread lockdowns kept people at home and diminished their abilities to spend. Even during the spread of the delta variant, in March-April 2021, spending patterns were recovering, and the supply chain crisis that would tax US ports had not yet peaked.

Russia and NATO continue to be at an impasse. Hours of talks did not end with an agreement that Russia would not invade Ukraine. Meanwhile, the US proposed sweeping sanctions on Russian officials should an invasion happen, and the International Energy Agency accused Moscow of purposefully causing Europe’s natural gas crisis.

U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a bill to impose sweeping sanctions on top Russian government and military officials, including President Vladimir Putin, and key banking institutions if Moscow engages in hostilities against Ukraine.

The proposed legislation, backed by the White House, includes provisions to help bolster Ukraine’s security and encourages the United States to “consider all available and appropriate measures” to ensure the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – a “tool of malign influence of the Russian Federation” – does not become operational.

“This legislation makes it absolutely clear that the U.S. Senate will not stand idly by as the Kremlin threatens a re-invasion of Ukraine,” Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who unveiled the bill, said in a statement.

Electric vehicle sales surged impressively in China in 2021. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reported a 160% increase, thanks to manufacturing quotas set by Beijing.
Sales of plug-in hybrids more than doubled to 600,000 units. Strength in such “new-energy” vehicles more than offset a 5% slump in other automobiles, including conventional gasoline-fueled models, amid a semiconductor shortage.
The surge reflects Beijing’s push to pivot to electrics as it works to make China a power in the auto industry. Manufacturers are required to have new-energy vehicles make up a certain share of production and sales, and the government extended for two years subsidies that had been set to expire at the end of 2020.
These measures helped spur budget electric cars priced in the $5,000-to-$10,000 range, especially in rural areas. Meanwhile, luxury electric models from Tesla and upstart manufacturers also sold well. China is estimated to account for roughly 60% of global EV sales.
Sales of electrics are also growing in America and Europe. U.S. auto sales rose 3.2% to 14.93 million in 2021, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Based on the association’s data, EV sales rose 87% to 430,000 units.
Although EV sales in Japan grew 49%, the number of vehicles sold remains relatively low at 20,000. Overall new-auto sales last year declined 3% to 4.44 million vehicles.

Anti-vaxxers attempted to storm Bulgaria’s parliament building. Approximately 3,000 people pushed past police lines in Sofia in protest of a mandatory health pass.They stopped short of breaking in and called on lawmakers to come out and address their demands. Several people, including police officers, were injured during the brief clashes.

Waving national flags and flags of the ultra-nationalist Revival party, which organised the rally, they chanted “Freedom” and “Mafia” and decried all measures against the virus.

“I do not approve of the green certificates. I do not approve that the children are being stopped from attending classes. I do not see the logic of these things,” 39-year old engineer Asparuh Mitov told Reuters at the start of the rally.

A senator and soldier were killed in Cameroon. The two separate attacks have stoked concern for security at the Africa Cup of Nations, which has already been disrupted by covid.

Henry Kemende, a senator for the Social Democratic Front party, was shot dead in Bamenda city in the north-west region. His party, who blamed separatist fighters for the attack, said gunmen forced him from his car and shot him in the chest.

In Buea in the neighbouring south-west region, separatist rebels killed a soldier with an improvised explosive device during an attack in which rebels exchanged gunfire with the army, Cho Ayaba, the head of the rebel Ambazonia Defence Forces, told Reuters.

Four teams competing in the Cup of Nations – Mali, the Gambia, Tunisia and Mauritania – are based in Buea, where many clashes between the army and the rebels have occurred. Ayaba said the aim of the attack was to disrupt preparations for two Group F games that are being played on Wednesday in Limbe, a coastal city about an hour’s drive south from Buea.

No group has claimed responsibility for Kemende’s death, but assassinations by armed separatists of figures deemed to be working with Cameroonian authorities are common in the anglophone regions.

Boris Johnson apologized for partying during lockdown. The Downing Street gathering was in the worst possible taste, admitted the UK PM, who repeated that, at the time, he just considered it a work event.WHAT TO WATCH FOR.
“Mr. Speaker, I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want, or to do the things they love.

“And I know the rage they feel with me, and with the government I lead, when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make them. And though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know that there were things we simply did not get right. And I must take responsibility.

“Number 10 is a big department with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus. And when I went into that garden just after 6 on the 20th of May 2020 to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.

“With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them. And I should have recognised that, even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside, and to them, and to this house, I offer my heartfelt apologies. And all I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established and I will of course come back to this house and make a statement.”

Replying to Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer who asked if he would resign, Johnson said:
“I thought it was a work event and …I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening, Mr Speaker, as I said, and I take responsibility and I apologise, Mr Speaker. But as for as for his political point, I don’t think that he should preempt the outcome of the inquiry.”

An animated gif of actors Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio from the Netflix film Don't Look Up. The caption reads, Tell me this isn't really happening.

Netflix’s hit Don’t Look Up uses a planet-killing comet as a clunky metaphor for climate change, with scientists aghast at society’s inability to manage an obvious existential threat. Well, the comet is here, according to assessments this week from meteorologists.

On Jan. 10, the EU’s Copernicus satellite agency reported that the planet’s hottest seven years on record (since 1950) were the last seven, “by a clear margin,” with 2021 ranking fifth. For the US, 2021 was the fourth warmest according to records that go back to 1894, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the same day. More data will be available in NOAA’s full annual climate report today.

Still, there’s a key difference between a comet and climate change. A comet is terminal, one-and-done. But with climate change, every fraction of a degree matters—so it’s never too late to make the future a little less scary.CRYPTO INVESTORS ARE SUING KIM KARDASHIANKim Kardashian, boxer Floyd Mayweather, and former professional basketball player Paul Pierce are being sued for allegedly misleading investors about a little-known cryptocurrency token called EthereumMax. In the past seven months, the token has lost about 97% of its value
.A line chart showing EthereumMax trading volume over time. The trading volume of the digital token spiked about $100 million in May 2021 before swiftly falling to almost $0 in July.

A class action lawsuit alleges misleading promotions and celebrity endorsements artificially increased interest and pricing of EthereumMax tokens while they were available for public trading, “causing investors to purchase these losing investments at inflated prices.” Some regulators accuse Kardashian and other celebrities of engaging in a “pump and dump” scheme, meaning they hyped speculative digital assets while the share price was high before selling them off.CRYPTO MINERS ARE USING BITMAIN’S RIGSThe people who made the most money in the California Gold Rush were those who sold picks and shovels. That same logic is driving the success of Bitmain Technology, one of the world’s largest makers of crypto-mining “rigs”—computers that solve puzzles to be rewarded with new bitcoin. The latest Company email digs into Bitmain’s prospects. Try a seven-day free trial of Quartz membership for access to all our member-exclusive newsletters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson Apologizes For Attending a Drinks Party, When The U.K. Was In Lockdown


A Chinese woman was documenting her neverending blind date. Abrupt lockdowns in Zhengzhou caused her to be stranded at his place for a week, but it’s not going too badly.
Over 100 virus cases have been reported in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou since last week, as China battles to contain multiple local outbreaks of the Delta and Omicron variants.
Parts of the city were abruptly placed under lockdown last Wednesday (Jan 5) when a woman surnamed Wang was having dinner at her blind date’s house.
“Just after I arrived in Zhengzhou, there was an outbreak and his community was put under lockdown and I could not leave,” Wang told Shanghai-based outlet The Paper on Tuesday (Jan 11), adding that she went there for a week-long trip to meet potential suitors.
“I’m getting old now, my family introduced me to 10 matches… The fifth date wanted to show off his cooking skills and invited me over to his house for dinner.”
Since then, Wang has posted short videos documenting her daily life in lockdown, which show her date cooking meals for her, doing household chores and working at his laptop while she sleeps in, according to clips published by local media.

Luxury yacht builders in the US are buying up illegal Myanmar teak. Sanctions against the ruling military junta don’t seem to rattle those who very much want fancy boats.
Shipments over the last year of the highly coveted hardwood prized by luxury yacht builders were nearly equal to 2020 despite U.S. sanctions imposed on Myanmar’s largest state-owned lumber company, Myanma Timber Enterprise, nearly three months after the Feb. 1 military takeover.
The timber trade helps finance repression and human rights abuses, according to Justice for Myanmar, an advocacy group that investigates the business dealings of the nation’s military. More than 1,400 people have been killed by security forces since the democratically elected civilian government was deposed. Atrocities by the military are on the rise, particularly in Myanmar’s border regions where armed resistance has intensified.
“Continuing trade in timber from Myanmar supports the illegal military junta that is committing atrocity crimes with total impunity, including the indiscriminate murder of children,” Yadanar Maung, a spokesperson for Justice for Myanmar, said in a statement upon release of the group’s report. “We call on the U.S. government to ban all Myanmar timber imports to prevent further revenue from reaching the illegal military junta.”
Myanmar’s government generated $100 million in taxes and royalties on the timber trade during the 2017-18 financial year, according to the most recent data available published by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Timber, along with oil, gas, minerals and gems, form the backbone of the country’s natural resources industries. The junta is intent on exploiting and exporting them to prop up an economy in free-fall after months of unrest.

A bartender helped police identify an arsonist in Florida. Your servers will remember your face when you continually fail to tip.
A tourist made a big impression in a Key West bar by ordering drinks three times on New Year’s Eve without leaving a tip. That enabled the staff to easily track him down after police released webcam video showing vandals setting fire to a Christmas tree.

The arson caused more than $5,000 in damage to the city’s landmark buoy marking the southernmost point in the United States, and sent the island’s “coconut telegraph” gossip chain into high alert, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday.

Like other locals across the city, bartender Cameron Briody watched the video, and recognized the 21-year-old man who had stiffed him at Irish Kevin’s on Key West’s famous Duval Street. “I knew immediately that I had served him and that he had used a card, so his name would be on the slips,” Briody told the Herald.
The bar’s general manager, Daylin Starks, turned to recordings from the “ton of cameras” that watch over the bar each night, and matched credit card receipts to time-stamped videos of the man and his 22-year-old friend.
“We could follow them the whole time, in and out of the bar,” Starks said. “We could see them getting rejected from all the girls they were trying to hit on.”
Armed with their identifications and matching their movements to the vandalism down the street, police swiftly announced arrest warrants for the vandalism suspects, and city workers quickly restored the 20-ton concrete monument, which proclaims it stands just 90 miles from Cuba. Key West visitors couldn’t wait to pose for more pictures at the spot.
“We’ve all been that age and made dumb mistakes and we just learn from them.” Starks told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “So I hope that’s what they do is learn from the mistake.”

Turkmenistan’s president is closing the country’s main tourist attraction. The “Gates to Hell” is a giant crater that’s permanently on fire.President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has reportedly ordered the closure of the site, which is officially named the Darvaza Crater after the town where it is located.

The crater was formed in the early 1970s, when the ground collapsed during a Soviet gas drilling expedition. Scientists reportedly lit the massive hole on fire to prevent the spread of natural gas, and it’s been burning ever since.

Although the crater has become a tourist attraction, Berdymukhamedov has asked his cabinet to find a way to close the proverbial gates, according to state-run newspaper Neytralny Turkmenistan.

There were several reasons given for extinguishing the famous fire: negative effects on health of people living nearby; wasting of valuable natural gas resources; and environmental damage.

According to the newspaper, Turkmenistan’s deputy prime minister “was instructed to gather scientists, and if necessary, to attract foreign consultants and find a solution for extinguishing the fire.”

Pope Francis popped into a music store and got a CD. Miracles and CD stores do exist!
Pope Francis grew up listening to the opera on the radio, is a fan of Argentine tango and thinks Mozart “lifts you to God.”
But it still came as a something of a shock to see the 85-year-old pontiff coming out of a downtown Rome record shop late Tuesday with a CD in hand. He had made an unannounced visit that was caught on camera by a Vatican reporter who happened to be nearby.

Javier Martinez-Brocal, director of the Rome Reports news agency, said he was in the neighborhood of Rome’s Pantheon when he noticed a white Fiat 500 with Vatican license plates and some police cars parked in front of the Stereosound shop.

Francis had slipped inside and stayed for about 12 minutes, chatting with the owners, Martinez-Brocal reported.

They then recounted what had transpired: It turns out the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a customer during his visits to Rome, and had promised them he’d come visit when he met with them at the Vatican.

Francis, an Argentine whose love of tango and milonga is well known, didn’t buy anything. But the shop owners gave him a CD of classical music, Martinez-Brocal wrote.
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