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EU urges Russia to revoke Ukraine Black Sea grain deal suspension

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A view shows silos of grain from Odesa Black Sea port, before a shipment of grain as the government of Ukraine awaits signal from UN and Turkey to start grain shipments, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine July 29, 2022.

Nacho Doce | Reuters

The European Union on Sunday called on Russia to reverse its decision to pull out of a U.N.-brokered grain deal, a move that undermined efforts to ease a global food crisis, and that Ukraine said Moscow had planned well in advance.

Moscow suspended its participation in the Black Sea deal on Saturday, effectively cutting shipments from Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters, in response to what it called a major Ukrainian drone attack earlier in the day on its fleet near the port of Sevastopol in Russian-annexed Crimea.

“Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risk the main export route of much-needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.

“The EU urges Russia to (reverse) its decision.”

On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden called the move “purely outrageous,” saying it would increase starvation, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of weaponising food. On Sunday, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, snapped back, saying the U.S. response was “outrageous” and made false assertions about Moscow’s move.

Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol with 16 drones early on Saturday, and that British navy “specialists” had helped coordinate what it called a terrorist attack.

Russia said it had repelled the attack but that the ships targeted were involved in ensuring the grain corridor out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow used the explosions 220 kilometres (137 miles) away from the grain corridor as a “false pretext” for a long-intended move.

“Russia has planned this well in advance,” Kuleba said on Twitter. “Russia took the decision to resume its hunger games long ago and now tries to justify it,” he said, without offering any evidence.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff accused Russia on Saturday of inventing attacks on its own facilities.

Kyiv often accuses Russia of using the Black Sea Fleet to fire cruise missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets, a charge supported by some military analysts, who say that makes the fleet a legitimate military target.

Moscow also accused British navy personnel of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, a claim that London said was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

Russia’s departure from the grain deal marks a new development in an eight-month war that began with Russia’s invasion in February and that has recently been dominated by a Ukrainian counteroffensive and Russian drone and missile attacks that have destroyed more than 30% of Ukraine’s generating capacity and hit populated areas.

Each side has accused the other of being prepared to detonate radioactive bombs.

Zelenskyy called for a strong response from the United Nations and Group of 20 (G-20) major economies to what he called Russia’s nonsensical move on the grain deal.

“This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Saturday, adding that Russia should be kicked out of the G-20.

‘Hunger games’

The grain deal had restarted shipments from Ukraine, allowing sales on world markets, targeting the pre-war level of 5 million metric tons exported from Ukraine each month.

More than 9 million tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soy have been exported under the July 22 deal.

But ahead of its Nov. 19 expiry, Russia had repeatedly said that there were serious problems with it. Ukraine complained Moscow had blocked almost 200 ships from picking up grain cargo.

When the agreement was signed, the U.N. World Food Programme said some 47 million people were suffering “acute hunger” as the war halted Ukrainian shipments, causing global food shortages and sending prices soaring.

The deal ensured safe passage in and out of Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports in what an official called a “de facto ceasefire” for the ships and facilities covered.

Russia told U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday in a letter, seen by Reuters, that it was suspending the deal for an “indefinite term” because it could not “guarantee safety of civilian ships” travelling under the pact.

Moscow asked the U.N. Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss the Sevastopol attack, Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.

More than 10 outbound and inbound vessels waited to enter the humanitarian corridor on Saturday and there was no agreement for the movement of vessels on Sunday, Amir Abdulla, the U.N. coordinator for the deal, said on Saturday.



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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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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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