The “Wartime President” Temptation
Mideast Conflict Metastasizes
What happened in the Middle East yesterday was as predictable as it was unfortunate.
Alas, there’s no end in sight. Goaded by Republican warmongers like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), the husk of Joe Biden is surely tempted to order airstrikes on Iran and seek the glory of being a “wartime president” to bolster his shot at reelection.
The only voices of reason are those on the far edges of political discourse — i.e., this ex-Green Beret seeking a House seat for the GOP in Washington state…
… and one of the Democrats’ most courageous antiwar voices, seeking a return to Congress after more than a decade…
At the same time there are still more economic consequences of U.S. support for Israel’s attack on Gaza…
Contrary to what you might suspect, the Red Sea isn’t completely shut down to international shipping.
It’s true that many ships are avoiding the Red Sea and Suez Canal as Yemen’s Houthi faction harassess Israeli- and American-linked shipping — the Houthis’ act of solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza. Instead, those ships have to make the long trip around the southern tip of Africa, adding 40% to travel time and fuel costs.
But at the same time, the Houthis have guaranteed safe passage to Chinese and Russian vessels.
“Our goal is to raise the economic costs for [Israel],” Houthi spokesman Muhammad al-Buheiti tells Russia’s Izvestia news agency. But for China and Russia, “their shipping in the region is not threatened."
“Chinese shipping interests appear to be aware of this exception,” reports the trade publication The Maritime Executive. “Many China-linked ships have been broadcasting ‘All Chinese’ or ‘Chinese Ship’ as their AIS ‘destination’ during transits through the Red Sea. Likewise, some ships with Russian cargoes have been broadcasting some variant of ‘Vessel No Contact Israel.’”
Meanwhile, American ships have to turn around — even with U.S. military escorts, as we saw in Friday’s edition.
It’s worth pointing out that until recently, the Houthis weren’t targeting American commercial ships, unless they were headed to or from Israeli ports.
But once the Biden administration decided to start bombing the Houthis on Jan. 11, all bets were off.
“An ill-advised US policy of airstrikes against the Houthis has been an enormous gift to them while in no way diminishing their ability to fulfill their mission,” writes Daniel McAdams at the Ron Paul Institute.
“What will you do next, Joe Biden? They are immune to your bombs. They have no military-industrial complex. They just shoot your ships. Are you going to launch a ground invasion? In an election year? Dead Americans in Yemen for Israel? Really?”
Probably not. But bombing Iran? That’s much more politically palatable.
Not that it would end well for U.S. forces — but that’s a story for another day. We have other business to tend to…
Apple at the Crossroads
It’s a make-or-break week for Apple…
On Friday, I mistakenly said four of the “Magnificent 7” stocks are set to report their quarterly numbers this week. It’s actually five: Turns out Apple has moved up its release schedule. So AAPL reports this week along with Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Amazon and Meta (Facebook).
As you see in the chart above, Apple is the only one of the bunch whose share price is struggling to set all-time highs here in early 2024. And the pressure is on: Four quarters in a row, AAPL has reported falling sales. Wall Street will not take kindly to a fifth.
Apple reports its numbers after the closing bell on Thursday. Then on Friday morning, the company formally launches the Vision Pro “mixed reality” headset.
The Vision Pro buzz has been off the charts — “Apple’s Vision Pro Era Begins. Will Consumers Buy In?” says The Wall Street Journal — but the media is missing the real story, as usual.
Paradigm’s own James Altucher has identified an opportunity no one else is seeing — one that could make you 10X your money from the announcement. He’s so excited, he’s organizing a special event just hours ahead of the announcement.
You’re invited to join him Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. EST.Click here for guaranteed access to James’ Apple Market Disruption Event.
In addition to tech earnings and a Federal Reserve meeting this week, traders are keeping a nervous eye on China.
Over the weekend, a court ordered the liquidation of the deep-in-debt property developer Evergrande Group. At the same time, Chinese regulators imposed new limits on short selling.
Good grief, they never learn. China banned short selling during a financial scare in 2015 and it made no difference. Ditto for U.S. regulators during the 2008 financial crisis. (Why doesn’t it work? We briefly revisited the question last spring.)
But with the Shanghai Composite Index stuck near five-year lows, the regulators apparently believed “something must be done”... curbs on short selling are “something”... and therefore it must be done.
With so many market-moving events on the horizon later this week — we haven’t even mentioned the job numbers Friday — the major U.S. indexes are treading water today.
At last check, none of the major indexes has moved even a tenth of a percent one way or the other. The S&P 500 is down less than a point at 4,890.14 — four points off Thursday’s record close.
Precious metals are little moved, either — gold at $2,024 and silver at $22.92. Crude is off a buck at $77.03. Bitcoin has pushed past $42,000.
“Dark Landlords” Confronted by Squatters
“I’d be terrified in Atlanta to lease out one of my properties,” says Matt Urbanski — owner of a home cleaning and construction firm.
Over the years, we’ve chronicled how Wall Street investors have acquired more and more single-family homes, turning them into rentals. It’s one of several factors fueling the housing shortage in this country.
And in Atlanta — the biggest U.S. market for these “dark landlords” — the situation is turning dire.
“Squatting in vacant rental homes has reached such extremes,” reports Bloomberg, “that owners offer intruders money to leave and many property managers won’t check on suspect houses alone.”
Nearly a year ago, one of Urbanski’s employees arrived to clear out a squatter’s belongings. They got into a scuffle that escalated into a four-mile car chase — and the employee getting shot in the leg.
The National Rental Home Council estimates squatters occupy about 1,200 vacant rentals in metro Atlanta — far more than anywhere else. The issue is “hitting big names in America’s single-family-rental business, including Starwood, Cerberus Capital Management’s FirstKey Homes and Amherst Group,” Bloomberg says.
“Dark landlords” own 72,000 homes in the Atlanta area — and 34,000 in Phoenix. They have a presence all over the country.
It’s a story that began with a sweetheart deal between Wall Street and the feds in 2012 — a story little noticed at the time, although your editor was on it nearly from the beginning. Publisher Matt Insley recently debriefed me about it on the Paradigm Press YouTube channel. If you didn’t see our original link a few days ago, here’s where you can get up to speed.
A Free-Speech Victory
We’re pleased to report an unexpected victory in the battle over online censorship.
On occasion during the pandemic era, we’ve cited the writings of C.J. Hopkins — an American essayist and playwright living in Berlin for the last 20 years.
He’s been a vocal critic of COVID lockdowns, restrictions and mandates — the “new normal,” as it was dubbed by some of the control freaks and power trippers.
His essays were collected in a 2022 book called The Rise of the New Normal Reich. In August of that year, he posted two tweets in German about how “masks are ideological-conformity symbols.” Included in those tweets were the cover art for the book…
As you might be able to make out, the masks include the image of a swastika.
Now… given Germany’s history, there are strict legal limits on swastikas and other Nazi imagery. If they’re used to further “the aims of a former National Socialist Organization,” then their use is banned. But other uses — for “civic education, countering anti-constitutional activities, art, science, research and education, coverage of historic and current events,” etc. — are acceptable.
Even though it’s obvious to everyone that Hopkins was not glorifying sieg-heiling Nazis or otherwise promoting “the aims of a former National Socialist Organization,” German prosecutors went after him starting last May — threatening 60 days in jail or a fine of 3,600 euros ($3,893).
The agenda was just as obvious: Hopkins comparing Germany’s “new normal” COVID regime to the authoritarianism of the Nazi era was verboten.
Reading Hopkins’ Substack dispatches as his case made its way through the courts, it seemed as if the fix was in.
As he wrote for an American audience at the start of this year, “the German constitution and statutes guarantee my freedom of speech no less than the First Amendment.
“The problem here is not that the German laws are weaker than the First Amendment. The problem is that the German authorities are just using the law as a blatant pretext to punish me for publishing political dissent, and to make an example of me (and more famous public persons) to intimidate those who would challenge their power, which has nothing to do with enforcing the law.”
And yet… he’s been acquitted.
“I’ll write about my day in court in detail once I’ve slept for a week,” he writes now. “I’m exhausted.”
The Mailbag: Elites, Nukes, Snopes
“I'm afraid the elites are in for a rude awakening,” a reader writes after Friday’s edition, “when they realize that it's their own existence that is endangered by their current attitudes.
“Only a prosperous, productive and growing society can afford to subsidize non-productive creative and academic institutions. Apparently, they've forgotten that (or never learned it).
“Relearning it at this point of their existence will be a painful lesson.”
“You left out a critical part,” a reader writes after our 90 Seconds to Armageddon issue last week.
“During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Soviet submarine officer named Vasili Arkhipov prevented a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
“In October 1962, the Soviet submarine B-59 was discovered by the US Navy near Cuba and was subjected to depth charges in an attempt to force it to surface. The submarine was equipped with a nuclear torpedo, and the captain and political officer believed that a war had already started and wanted to launch the torpedo.
“However, Arkhipov, who was the second in command, refused to authorize the launch and convinced the captain to surface instead. This decision prevented a nuclear war between the two superpowers.”
Dave responds: We had to leave a lot out. But yes, Arkhipov’s discretion saved the day.
Ditto for a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces named Stanislav Petrov during a scare in September 1983. Jim Rickards wrote about that episode a few days ago in The Daily Reckoning.
“Do you really use Snopes as a fact-checking tool?” a reader writes incredulously after Thursday’s edition.
“They were discredited years ago! I really enjoy your articles, but this makes me question your sources!”
Dave responds: We use Snopes as we use Wikipedia, The New York Times or Fox News — judiciously, and ideally with corroboration from other sources.
Believe me, we have our issues with Snopes — not least its failed nit-picky, word-parsing attempt to debunk Jim Rickards’ “Biden Bucks” thesis in the fall of 2022.
But for tracking down the authenticity of a quotation — especially one from Barack Obama — we’ll usually give it the benefit of the doubt.
Good question — thanks for giving us the opportunity to describe a little about the standards and judgment we apply day to day.
Managing editor, Paradigm Pressroom's 5 Bullets