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In Putin’s evil vs. good war against Ukraine, the forces of good prevailed at NATO this week

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Frederick Kempe is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlantic Council.

This is a story of evil versus good.

It’s the story of a despot’s ruthless attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine, versus the historic, but nonetheless insufficient, rallying of democratic states to save the country.

At midday on Monday, in the central Ukrainian industrial city of Kremenchuk, sitting serenely astride the Dnipro river, about 1,000 men, women and children wandered the Amstor shopping mall, trying to enjoy some normalcy amidst a brutal war.

Some 185 miles away and a few thousand feet overhead, Russian bombers flying over Russia’s Kursk region likely Tupolev Tu-22M3s, released at least two Kh-22 medium-range, 2,000 lb. nuclear-capable cruise missiles, developed in the 1960s to destroy aircraft carriers.  An air raid siren wailed, and Ukrainians, well-practiced in the fifth month of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war, scrambled for safety.

Around the same time at Schloss Elmau luxury retreat in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, the Group of Seven leaders, representing the world’s largest democracies, huddled around conference tables in an effort to add to their far-reaching sanctions on Putin and Russia. They debated options to choke the finances that fuel Putin’s war, including putting a price cap on oil sales to Russia that could reduce the $1 billion dollars the world pays Russia every day for energy.

As they struggled to make progress, one of the missiles screamed down on the shopping mall.  A CCTV video captured a bucolic day, with wispy clouds adorning the otherwise blue sky, and then the massive fireball of the blast and the curling up of a gigantic black smoke plume. Shattered glass and debris flew past the camera.

A day later, as Ukrainian officials tallied the death toll — at least 20 dead and 59 wounded in a war where Putin’s military has already killed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians — NATO leaders gathered for the summit that had brought me to Madrid. They were abuzz about the timing of Putin’s shopping mall strike, knowing that it was aimed as much at them as Ukraine.

“Talk as much as you want,” Putin seemed to be saying to them. “Sign whatever documents you like. I’ll outlast you and your spoiled societies with my war of attrition, restoring imperial Russia and sealing my place in history even as your decadent West continues its decay.”

Putin could be confident that despite historic agreements in Madrid this week and even though arms deliveries from the United States and its partners are increasing in numbers and quality, no one was yet willing to provide the heavier, longer range, precision weaponry that could have prevented the shopping mall strike and so many others, and might allow an urgently needed counteroffensive.

Even so, NATO reached a level of unity unseen in more than 30 years.    

At the end of a marathon, hours-long negotiating session involving NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, the sides reached an agreement that cleared the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO and end, in Sweden’s case, two centuries of neutrality.

The following day NATO leaders would sign off on a new Strategic Concept, highlighting Russia as their most present danger but including China for the first time as a matter of common concern. The leaders of Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand attended a NATO summit for the first time as partners and guests.

NATO’s China language signaled that the alliance understood it faced a global and interrelated challenge. Considering that 30 countries needed to sign off on the text, many of them still with China as their number one trading partner, it’s a powerful read.

“The People’s Republic of China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values,” it said. Later it continues, “The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic minerals and supply chains. It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence. It strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in space, cyber and maritime domains.”

There was a lot of celebratory talk among allies about their increased unity and deepened purpose, including President Joe Biden’s declaration that NATO was sending an “unmistakable message” to Putin.

Among other agreements, NATO acted to shore up its eastern and southern flanks, and the U.S. Army will send a corps headquarters to Poland and more troops to the Baltics and Romania. NATO pledged to increase its high-readiness forces from 40,000 to 300,000, even as Sweden and Finland brought it significant new military weight.

 Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares heralded the summit as potentially as significant as Yalta (heaven help us) or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

At a NATO Public Forum that the Atlantic Council co-hosted on the margins of the summit, I asked French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna how she would rank the historic moment.

“History will tell,” she said.

No one should miss Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s message to G-7 leaders this week that they must provide him the means for a counteroffensive to push back Russian troops before winter sets in and Ukraine’s allies lose interest in the face of growing economic headwinds.

“Russia is waging two wars right now,” writes Greg Ip in the Wall Street Journal. “A hot war with Ukraine whose costs are measured in death and destruction, and a cold war with the West whose costs are measured in economic hardship and inflation.”

Putin might fold over time in the face of a more determined West and better armed Ukraine, writes Ip, but he’s wagering that he can “inflict enough short-term cost on Western consumers that political support for Ukraine will crumble.”

I leave Madrid encouraged by an increased consensus among European and Asian democracies that a Ukrainian defeat would be disastrous for Europe and world order as other despots calculate their own opportunities.

Yet I also come away discouraged that for all this week’s progress, the military support and sanctions still aren’t equal to the historic stakes.

In this contest between a determined despot and rallying democracies, the forces for good had an excellent week. If they don’t build upon it, and fast, it won’t be enough.  

 



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Tim Draper predicts bitcoin will reach $250,000 despite FTX collapse

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Tim Draper, founder of Draper Associates, onstage at the Web Summit 2022 tech conference.

Ben McShane | Sportsfile via Getty Images

Venture capitalist Tim Draper thinks bitcoin will hit $250,000 a coin by the middle of 2023, even after a bruising year for the cryptocurrency marked by industry failures and sinking prices.

Draper previously predicted that bitcoin would top $250,000 by the end of 2022, but in early November, at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, he said it would take until June 2023 for this to materialize.

He reaffirmed this position Saturday when asked how he felt about his price call following the collapse of FTX.

“I have extended my prediction by six months. $250k is still my number,” Draper told CNBC via email.

Bitcoin would need to rally nearly 1,400% from its current price of around $17,000 for Draper’s prediction to come true. The cryptocurrency has plunged over 60% since the start of the year.

Digital currencies are in the doldrums as tighter monetary policy from the Fed and a chain reaction of bankruptcies at major industry firms including Terra, Celsius and FTX have put intense pressure on prices.

FTX’s demise has also worsened an already severe liquidity crisis in the industry. Crypto exchange Gemini and lender Genesis are among the firms said to be impacted by the fallout from FTX’s insolvency.

Last week, veteran investor Mark Mobius told CNBC that bitcoin could crash to $10,000 next year, a more than 40% plunge from current prices. The co-founder of Mobius Capital Partners correctly called the drop to $20,000 this year.

Nevertheless, Draper is convinced that bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, is set to rise in the new year.

“I expect a flight to quality and decentralized crypto like bitcoin, and for some of the weaker coins to become relics,” he told CNBC.

What is DeFi, and could it upend finance as we know it?

Draper, the founder of Draper Associates, is one of Silicon Valley’s best-known investors. He made successful bets on tech companies including Tesla, Skype and Baidu.

In 2014, Draper purchased 29,656 bitcoins confiscated by U.S. Marshals from the Silk Road dark web marketplace for $18.7 million. That year, he predicted the price of bitcoin would go to $10,000 in three years. Bitcoin went on to climb close to $20,000 in 2017.

Some of Draper’s other bets have soured, however. He invested in Theranos, a health startup that falsely claimed it was able to detect diseases with a few drops of blood. Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’ founder, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for fraud.

‘The dam is about to break’

Draper’s rationale for bitcoin’s breakout next year is that there remains a massive untapped demographic for bitcoin: women.

“My assumption is that, since women control 80% of retail spending and only 1 in 7 bitcoin wallets are currently held by women, the dam is about to break,” Draper said.

Crypto has long had a gender disparity problem. According to a survey conducted for CNBC and Acorns by Momentive, twice as many men as women invest in digital assets (16% of men vs. 7% of women).

“Retailers will save roughly 2% on every purchase made in bitcoin vs dollars,” Draper added. “Once retailers realize that that 2% can double their profits, bitcoin will be ubiquitous.”

Payment middlemen such as Visa and Mastercard currently charge fees as high as 2% each time credit cardholders use their card to pay for something. Bitcoin offers a way for people to bypass the middlemen.

However, using the digital coin for everyday spending is tough, since its price is very volatile and the coin is not widely accepted as currency.

“When people can buy their food, clothing and shelter all in bitcoin, they will have no use for centralized banking fiat dollars,” Draper said.

“Management of fiat is centralized and erratic. When a politician decides to spend $10 trillion, your dollars become worth about 82 cents. Then the Fed needs to raise rates to make up for the spend, and those arbitrary centralized decisions create an inconsistent economy,” he added. Fiat currencies derive their worth from their issuing government, unlike cryptocurrencies.

Meanwhile, the next so-called bitcoin halving — which cuts the bitcoin rewards to bitcoin miners — in 2024 will also boost the cryptocurrency, according to Draper, as it chokes the supply over time. The total number of bitcoins that will ever be mined is capped at 21 million.



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Three pharmaceutical stocks were top performers last week

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George Clooney, Gladys Knight among Kennedy Center honorees

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from left, and his wife, Evan Ryan, left, join 2022 Kennedy Center Honorees, front row from left, Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, George Clooney, Tania León, and Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter, back row from left, Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein, along with fellow 2022 Honorees Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge, and Bono for a group photo at the State Department following the Kennedy Center Honors gala dinner, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Washington.

Kevin Wolf | AP Photo

Performers such as Gladys Knight or the Irish band U2 usually would be headlining a concert for thousands but at Sunday’s Kennedy Center Honors the tables will be turned as they and other artists will be the ones feted for their lifetime of artistic contributions.

Actor, director, producer and human rights activist George Clooney, groundbreaking composer and conductor Tania León, and contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant will join Knight and the entire crew of U2 in being honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The organization honors a select group of people every year for their artistic influences on American culture. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their respective spouses are slated to attend.

The 61-year-old Clooney — the actor among this year’s musically leaning group of honorees — has television credits going back into the late 1970s but became a household name with the role of Doug Ross on the television show “ER.” conductor Tania León, and

From there he starred in movies such as “Three Kings,” “Ocean’s Eleven” (and “Twelve” and “Thirteen”), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and his most recent film, “Ticket to Paradise.” He also has extensive directing and producing credits including “Good Night, and Good Luck.” He and his wife, humanitarian rights lawyer Amal Clooney, created the Clooney Foundation for Justice, and he’s produced telethons to raise money for various causes.

“To be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. This is a genuinely exciting surprise for the whole Clooney family,” said Clooney in a statement on the Center’s website.

Knight, 78, said in a statement that she was “humbled beyond words” at receiving the Kennedy honor. The Georgia-born Knight began singing gospel music at the age of 4 and went on to a career that has spanned decades.

Knight and family members started a band that would later be known as Gladys Knight & The Pips and produced their first album in 1960 when Knight was just 16. Since then she’s recorded dozens of albums with such classic hits as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Along the way she’s acted in television shows and movies. When Knight and the band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Mariah Carey described Knight as “a textbook you learn from.”

Sometimes the Kennedy Center honors not just individuals but groups; “Sesame Street” once got the nod.

This year it’s the band U2. The group’s strong connection to America goes back decades. They performed in Washington during their first trip to America in 1980. In a statement the band — made up of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. — said they originally came to America with big dreams “fueled in part by the commonly held belief at home that America smiles on Ireland.”

“And it turned out to be true, yet again,” read the statement. “It has been a four-decade love affair with the country and its people, its artists, and culture.”

U2 has sold 170 million albums and been honored with 22 Grammys. The band’s epic singles include “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Lead singer Bono has also become known for his philanthropic work to eradicate poverty and to raise awareness about AIDS.

Christian music performed Amy Grant said in an interview with The Associated Press that she’d never even been to the Kennedy Center Honors even though her husband, country musician Vince Gill, has performed during previous ceremonies. Grammy winner Grant is well known for crossover pop hits like “Baby, Baby,” “Every Heartbeat” and “That’s What Love is For.” She’s sold more than 30 million albums, including her 1991 record “Heart in Motion,” which introduced her to a larger pop audience.

Composer and conductor León said during an interview when the honorees were announced that she wasn’t expecting “anything spectacular” when the Kennedy Center initially reached out to her. After all, she’s worked with the Kennedy Center numerous times over the years going back to 1980, when she was commissioned to compose music for a play.

But the 79-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner said she was stunned to learn that this time the ceremony was going to be for her.

León left Cuba as a refugee in 1967 and eventually settled in New York City. She’s a founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series.



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