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A publication from Organized Change Consultancy
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2014 December

One more, with feeling.
Various
The plunge in the price of oil continues its political consequences: As of today, NYMEX oil (Texas Intermediate) is $67 per barrel. While the minimum price for profitability of US Shale is between $55 and $70 per barrel, investment in marginal production may be reduced a bit. Venezuela, Iran and Russia, all in deep economic trouble, will suffer the most: 96% of Venezuela’s exports come from oil. Russia has just nixed a southern-route gas pipline, while the Kurdish region of Iraq, has for the first time, made an agreement with the Iraq federal government for sharing oil revenue.

2014 November

The price of oil is falling. Will it make regimes fall?
Various
Brent oil as we publish has dropped to $84/ barrel, and NYMEX to $82. Iran needs about $95/barrel to meet its needs; Venezuela, more than that. Russia, already hurt by sanctions and capital flight, needs $95/barrel. Mr. Maduro of Venezuela is already in trouble; This may put more pressure on Iran to make concessions in its nuclear talks; and Putin’s economy is already in recession. Saudi Arabia’s attempt at keeping market share may some interesting political ramifications.

2014 October

Fragmentation pause
Various sources

Scotland has agreed to stay part of the United Kingdom, but the question remains concerning any independent rights England has; The Supreme Court of Spain has invalided ability of the Catalan government to hold a non-bind referendum on its independence; Fighting is still occurring in Ukraine and Iraq/Syria.

2014 September

The Control of the Senate may hinge on granite
The Economist, August 30, 2014

New Hampshire is electing a Senator this November. The Granite State can choose from a telegenic (and former model) Scott Brown, former senator of Massachusetts, and Jeanne Shaheen, a plodding speaker at best. Polls show her slightly ahead, but it is still weeks away from the vote. He does not run a typical Republican ticket; He is pro abortion rights. He is a newcomer to the state, and Ms. Shaheen has been long here.

2014 August

Arming and sectarian divides
Middle East Briefing, Aug 11, 2014
The United States and others are in the processing of arming the Kurds to fight against the (paradox of paradoxes, American supplied) ISIL (or da-esh, in Arabic). This raises the question as to whether Syrian Kurds should be armed as well, or whether their Iraqi brethren will send some bullets their way. Unfortunately, this may change the dynamic of who is fighting whom. If this arming is done, it risks becoming (perceived as) a Kurdish-Arab fight, rather than a government vs terrorist fight.

2014 June


Political Turmoil, round 3

various

Ukraine has a new President; Whether he has a country is the question. Al-Assad is looking to win a sham election in Syria; There are two Prime Ministers in Libya, each of whom deny the other’s position; the President of Lebanon’s term has expired, with no successor; and there is a military junta in Thailand.

2014 May

Turmoil at the Top
Various sources
Iraqi elections are finished, but whether the war-torn country will choose its current prime minister (Al Maliki) is an open question; Libya chose a new prime minister, but critics say that the vote was illegal; General al-Sissi will be elected president this month; and in Thailand, the date for elections have been set. Whether the current prime minister can survive allegations of corruption for that long is an open question.

2014 April

More fun in the Spring
Various sources
With a significant win in local elections by PM Erdogan in Turkey(with cries of foul by opponents), continued unrest in Venezuela, protests in Hong Kong by those wanting the direct election of their head of State, and the possible dismissal of the Thai PM by an ant-corruption commission, it looks as if April will be an interesting month.

2014 March

All eyes on the Ukraine
Various sources
While the tensions in Ukraine have produced some temporary drops in the stock market, some of the longer-term implications are unclear. Mr. Putin the sheep has finally had his mask torn off, and the wolf underneath is apparent. His bullying tactics in encouraging suppression of Ukrainian protests have backfired, making him change to military means. Ukraine is a major transshipment point for natural gas to Europe, and a major exporter of wheat. If the crisis continues, we may see wheat prices climb, and the resulting unrest in developing countries may cause further political turmoil.

2014 February

The splits in the splits
WSJ
February 4, 2014
Just as the Republicans are split or unsure about raising the US debt ceiling, and how far to go on immigration reform, the Democrats have their issues as well. Some have suggested increasing sanctions on Iran during negotiations; Senate Majority Leader Reid publically against giving fast-track authority to the President on trade treaties; and the grousing of some about the Affordable Care Act(Obamacare).

2014 January

Heating up, cooling off, and prepping for

Various

South Sudan continues its civil violence, with tens of thousands of refugees seeking shelter. A (former) vice president leads the revolt, with peace talks only beginning. Iran continues to negotiate with the Western powers, and is coming close to an implementation agreement that defines the steps needed to implement an accord signed earlier. Prime Minister Erdogan’s government is reeling from a corruption investigation. Three ministers have so far resigned, with one calling for Erdogan’s resignation. Whether this will affect the PM’s plans to run for President is unclear.


2013 December

Ukraining your neck to see which way the wind blows

CNN and The Wall St. Journal websites.

Ukraine, a country formerly part of the Soviet Union, is having a hard time making up its mind whether to turn east or West. Many in the country want to eventually integrate into the European Union, and an “accession treaty” is ready to be made. However, Mr. Putin’s Russia has put the screws on Ukranian imports, and hinted that natural gas prices would rise significantly is that move was made. The Ukranian prime minister recently rejected the EU treaty in favor of a Russian-led economic consortium. Protests in the streets were brutally repressed.

2013 November

The Ominous Health Consequences of War

The Wall St. Journal, 10/29/2013

There have been 10 confirmed cases of polio in Syria, the UN announced today, with another 12 cases being investigated. Polio was almost eliminated from the planet a few years ago, but conservative elements in Nigeria stopped vaccinations. It then spread to India and Pakistan, and now to Syria. As almost all vaccinations are given with a weakened polio virus, there remains the possibility of vaccinated individuals infecting those who are not vaccinated.

2013 October

One step forward, so many back

Various websites

The Syrian opposition is in turmoil again. While hoping for a military strike by the US to (incidentally) change the ground game in their war, they have been flustered by the diplomatic moves by Russia for a containment and control of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons. Opposition groups in the area have recently distanced themselves from the US-selected umbrella group.

2013 September

All Eyes are on...

Various

All eyes were on the British Parliament last week, that voted down a proposal to open hostilities with Syria. This week, President Obama of the United States takes his case to Congress. Though he need not do so, he is allowing a vote on a resolution that would allow limited offensive involvement by US forces, though there would be no “boots on the ground.”


2013 August

The More Things Change, the More Things Stay the Same

Various sources

Middle East politics has heated up again; With the “soft” coup engineered by the Egyptian military, with its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood possibly precipitating a civil war; Al Assad’s forces winning a neighborhood of Homs; and the beginning of final status talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, (Hamas has rejected the talks), it will be a hot summer in an already-warm place.

2013 July

The Judges have Spoken

CNN website, Wall St. Journal website, June 22-26, 2013

The US Supreme Court handed down a number of landmark decisions this week: It invalidated a section of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states to get approval from the Justice Dept. to change voter registration rules; said that race may be used, but more narrowly in college admissions; Struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to disregard same-sex marriages in determining federal tax and benefits; and allowed to stand the ruling of unconstitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban.

2013 June

Tempest in a Tax Teapot

Various sources

By now, many of you may have heard that some IRS employees target specific groups seeking tax-exempt status for themselves, asking them for significantly more detail in their operations and their donors than is usual. Whether guilty of politics, or being too systematic is an open question, but their focus is due to a peculiarity of tax law: 501(c)(3)s are charities, pure and simple: The don’t say where there money comes from, but they can’t do anything political; 527s are purely political, but they must fully disclose their donors. The problem arises in the in between type: the 501c(4). It can use up to 49% of its donations on political matters, but only has a limited requirement to disclose sources of money. It seems an easy way to dodge disclosure and perhaps require extra scrutiny.


2013 May

Obama Joke

CNN, April 28, 2013

As a small departure from political news, we bring you a bit of levity. There has been a tradition since 1983 to make a “roast” of the current president and politics in Washington at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Below is a link to some comedic highlights:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2013/04/28/raw-video-whcd-obama-reaching-out-joke.cnn


2013 April

From Gridlock to SlowMo

Various sources

Maybe, just maybe, there are signs of movement in Washington. It seems there is a compromise on immigration, with both business and labor coming to an agreement; Immigration reform has the beginnings of consensus; And the Senate passed a budget for the first time in four years. Dare we talk about an American Spring?


2013 March

Kerry Provides Carrots and Sticks.

CNN, March 3, 2013, The Wall St. Journal, various dates

US Secretary of State Kerry provided a few incentives and protests his week: The US agreed to provide additional refugee assistance and other non-lethal assistance to Syrian rebels (the English will provide some military hardware); Protested vigorously against Turkish Prime Minister Erdorgan's anti-Israeli remarks while he was in Europe; and agreed to release $250 million in aid to Egypt, after assurance of reforms by Mohammed Mursi, the Egyptian president.


2013 February

Your Choice: 28 787’s, or Political Money

CNN political blog, Feb 1, 2013

The Federal Election Commission published its records for spending on US political campaigns in 2012: Seven billion dollars. This includes all elections for Federal offices. This works out to 28 787 airplanes (with or without flaming batteries), or 50 billion polio vaccinations. A breakout of the numbers: Candidates directly spent $3.2 billion; Party Committees, $ two billion; and outside groups (such as super Political Action Committees, or Super PACs), another $ two billion.


2013 January

But will they all be Brothers?

The Wall St. Journal, Dec. 22, 2012

The constitutional referendum in Egypt passed this weekend, despite its hasty writing and lack of input from any other than the Muslim Brotherhood and salafists. The initial round of voting, focused mostly in major cities, showed 57% support for the constitution. The second round in rural areas, increased that percentage country-wide to 64%. Constitution or not, the passing of this referendum will not (at least immediately) bring peace and prosperity to the country.


2012 December

Exhaling, and Waiting to Again

Various

With the leadership positions of the two largest economies now decided, the world holds its collective breath again as the American fiscal cliff gets closer. It is hard to tell the difference between serious negotiating positions and the political polemics, but my guess is a framework agreement will be defined a few days before Christmas, and the final agreement in February. In regards to the Chinese, despite calls from the new leadership for reform and reduced corruption, they did not place any reformers in their highest body, the Standing Committee of the Politburo.


2012 November

Tighter, But Will Predictions be all Wet?

CNN and WSJ state by state polls

The US Presidential race has tightened somewhat, with only Virginia, Florida and Colorado still in contention. Third-party votes for the Constitution Party and Libertarian parties may siphon enough votes away from Mr. Romney to decide those states. North Carolina seems to be in Mr. Romney’s hands, but third-party candidates may play spoilers here too. However, with Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio in Mr. Obama’s hands, Romney has few options for winning. An open question is whether hurricane Sandy will affect voting next week.


2012 October

All eyes on the prize, and on Wednesday

Various sources

The American presidential elections will yield its first debate on Wednesday, pitting the incumbent President against his Republican challenger. With Obama ahead in almost all “swing” states, Romney must deliver a stellar performance and Obama must stumble badly for these debates to change the equation of this election. With the US economy slowly improving, and the majority of Americans blaming the previous administration for the economic downtown starting in 2008, the odds are in the current President’s favor.


2012 September

Romney, Ryan, and lots of money

Various sources

With the word “presumptive” removed from his nomination status, former Governor Romney now has access to additional campaign funds that President Obama had from his announcement of candidacy. Whether this and “Super Pac” money will sway the election, only time will tell. It is less than 70 days until election time, but the majority of votes in some swing states will be decided by the end of September, given the large number of ballots cast absentee.


2012 August

Obama leads in battleground states

CNN.com, August 1, 2012

Barrack Obama currently leads in three battleground states; in Florida 51%-45%, in Ohio 50%-44%, and in Pennsylvania 53%-42%. If one adds these states to those firmly or leaning towards the current President, Barrack Obama will win his second term.


2012 July

Portents in Politics

Various Sources

Many people around the world held/will hold their breath this week for all the political changes that have just/will soon happen:The election of a moderate Islamist in Egypt, with his promise to choose a Christian for one vice presidential post, and a woman for another; Mexico selects its President; America’s Affordable Health Care Act (informally known as Obamacare) will be judged by the Supreme Court; Pakistan’s prime minister was removed; and Paraguay impeached and removed its President; and Crown Prince Nayef of Saudi Arabia died, to be replaced by his 73+ year old brother.


2012 June

On the border, barely

CNN.com, June 1, 2012

The most recent poll shows President Obama with a 49% to 46% lead on Mr. Romney, just within the margin of error of the poll. Where the question becomes, however, is the percentage of various constituencies who will be voting this November. The President seems to have a lock on the Hispanic vote, a significant advantage in several swing states. However, they are not as enthusiastic as in 2008, as is another voting block who went for Mr. Obama in 2008, the under-25 vote.


2012 May

Musical chairs in Egypt, as the country to soon run out of currency reserves

Various sources

The electoral commission in Egypt dismissed all the front contenders in its Presidential elections, including one fundamentalist firebrand disqualified because his mother has American citizenship. Its currency reserves are running dangerously low, providing an increasing risk of not subsidizing bread to the masses: The Muslim Brotherhood has not yet signed on an IMF loan that would tide them over.

Gee, I wonder if Egypt will be on the front page of newspapers again, as it was a year ago?


2012 April

Battle probably won, the war probably lost

The Wall St. Journal, April 3 and 4, 2012

Mitt Romney has won Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, probably sewing up the Republican nomination. Unfortunately, recent polls suggest he is doing poorly among Hispanics (perhaps only 16%), and among women. Though single women tend to be solidly democratic in any case, his loss of Hispanics due to his endorsement of a rather strict Arizona immigration law probably cost him the nomination. John McCain had 31% of the Hispanic vote during his presidential run, and George Bush Jr., 40%.


2012 March

Jeb Bush and the Circular Firing Squad

CNN.com

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, son of one President and brother of another, is on the wish list of many Republicans to be a Presidential candidate, warns that the continuing bashing of Republican presidential candidates of each other is becoming a “circular firing squad”. All seem to be violating Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: Though shall not speak ill of other Republicans. With Mr. Santorum forcing Mr. Romney to tack further to the right, he risks losing the independent vote, and Hispanics. Indeed, one poll shows President Obama ahead of either by 8-11 percentage points (though another shows them to be dead-even).


2012 February

Primary musical chairs

CNN.com

Floridians go to the polls on Tuesday, with the chief combatants, Newt Gringrich and Mitt Romney battling it out. Most polls give Mr. Romney a 15-20 point edge. The question remains whether he can sustain his momentum, and still use his cash hoard to give the perhaps final blow to Mr. Gingrich at the March 6 Superprimary, where many Southern states choose their delegates.


2012 January

Death of a Dictator is Not the Only Change

Various sources, and The Economist, December 17, 2011

With the death of Kim Jong Il, and the ascendency of his animal-torturing son, many eyes are on the Korean Peninsula in 2012. This will be especially true, as it will also be the centennial birth celebration of Kim Il Sung, the dearly departed’s father. South Korea, too is facing changes that change the complexion of its relations. Many of the young have no recollection of the Korean War, and thing North Korea is a poor neighbor to the North. Many there wonder whether it will be worth it to integrate North Korea into South Korea, once the former collapses. Social issues in Korea must be taken into account also: Though they had a population boom in the 1970’s, births per Korean woman are down to 1.15, significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1 Its heavy emphasis on education, where an average of 16% of household income is on private tutors and schools, creates a tremendous burden on Korean women to raise children and work. With 71% of high school graduates in college, the extreme focus on education as a necessary prerequisite for any job creates significant social tensions. Many children are in “cram schools” from 7am to 4pm, seven days a week.


2011 December

Chaos breeds chaos

(from various sources)

Just a brief recap in the last 30 days, in case you missed a few: the Supercommittee of the US Congress failed to formulate a deficit reduction plan; Republican presidential contenders rise and fall in the polls every day; Qadaffi was found and killed; Kuwait’s government resigned; Berlusconi in Italy resigned; A new government took power in Spain and Italy; Yemen’s President resigned; Egypt voted; Tunisia voted; Morocco voted. Enough change for you?

2011 November

Deaths and Births in Falltime

(from various sources)

Tunisia has voted in a moderate Islamist party, and two secularist parties that pledge to work with it. The body they were voted to is not a Parliament, but rather a constitutional assembly designed to create new constitution. Not far away, a man in power for 42 years lies in a meat locker, buried secretly. A Jordanian king fumbles around, seeking new prime ministers, and the descendants of the Pharaohs tensely await an election. A Crown Prince dies, and another is selected, but whether he will become the King is in doubt. The killings are ongoing in Syria, and over Bahrain, a tense silence reigns. And we are all waiting to exhale.


2011 October

No certainty yet

(from various sources)

Republican presidential contenders have still not sorted themselves out yet, with Florida playing the latest role in upsetting things. Governor Perry of Texas seems to have the lead, but darkhorse Herman Cain won the Florida straw pole, and Florida’s decision to change the timing of its primary may substantially affect the sequence of which state votes first. This potential in changing the sequence may alter whatever momentum a candidate has. The next three months will be critical.


2011 September

Decisions soon to home to roost

(from various sources)

With the German electorate beginning to turn away from Bundeschancellor Merkel, the Finns and the Slovaks resisting contributing to the European Stability Fund, the huge drop in consumer confidence in the US(due in large part to the deficit reduction talks), this Fall will be an interesting political season. The current darling Republication presidential candidate, Gov. Rick Perry, though touting his conservative credentials, supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, and once supported Al Gore for President. It still seems the candidate that can win the Republican nomination will have trouble winning independents, and the ones who can win independents can't become the Republican nominee.


2011 August

A sigh at the end of tension, or is the peace an opportunity to reload?

CNN.com, and the Wall St. Journal, various publication times.

The United States has (finally) come up with a two-step debt reduction plan, with a 900 billion dollar down payment on the federal deficit. The real fun begins with a bi-partisan “super committee” of Congress that will come up with recommendations on further reductions, which may also involve changes in the tax code. If they do not come to an agreement, or if Congress does not agree with their plan, spending cuts, divided equally between civilian and military spending will result. A hidden fact lost in the shuffle: Debt service, that is the percentage of GDP that is used to pay interest on the federal deficit, is actually half of what it was during the Reagan and Bush Sr. years. Back then, the percentage was around 3.2 % of GDP. Now, it’s 1.6%


2011 July

A Greek Game of Chicken

(from various sources)

Greece has structural problems, in that few pay taxes and the country as a whole had low productivity; It has political problems, because it is uncertain whether their Parliament will “bite the bullet It has liquidity problems, and needs cash from others just to pay its debt; and can’t afford to pay off the debt in the foreseeable future. So what to do? Bondholders are reluctant to take a “haircut”, that is accept less than face value for their bonds; German taxpayers are horrendously upset for bailing out their profligate neighbors; The French are trying to get the banks to “rollover” some of their debt, in a bid to help French banks who own a fair amount of Greek sovereign debt and a fair proportion of Greek banks; The ECB (European Central Bank) is adamant against any haircut, unless it is voluntary; and the ratings agencies(Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s) saying they will downgrade the banks ratings if they accept a haircut, voluntary or no. With European banks still shaky, even though they passed weakened stress tests, a downgrade by the ratings agencies would be a severe blow.

So the question becomes, who will give up what they insist on, or will this game of Greek chicken become a headless rush for disaster?

2011 June

The Republican Field Presidential Field Narrows, Expands, and Becomes more Confusing

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com & CNN.com Retrieved from CNN.com


In the last 30 plus years of American politics, a single candidate has emerged early in the party’s primaries. Political debate about who that candidate should be was principally confined to inner circles, and Ronald Reagan’s dictum of “Though shall not speak ill of fellow Republicans” held sway. This neither of these regularities are happening. Newt Gingrich lambasted the Republicans deficit reduction plan, specifically those aspects relating to Medicare. Gov. Pawlenty has entered the race, Sarah Palin has “fire in the belly” to become President, and Mitt Romney raised $10 million dollars in one day. The question becomes how much wasted resources will Republicans use to fight each other, and how can the ones who can capture Independents’ votes possibly capture the Republican nomination, and how can the ones you capture the Republican nomination possibly capture the Independent’s votes?

2011 May

Will a Worthy Opponent Please Come Forth?

(from various sources)

Who the Republican nominee for President will be is a good question nowadays, with a number declaring they won’t run, and with Donald Trump beating all in a straw poll a few weeks ago. The Republican party, really a mixture of rebels/Libertarians, Social Conservatives (read fundamentalist Protestants) and Neocons, will have a hard time agreeing on a candidate. The one candidate with national stature, former Governor Romney, might have a chance to beat President Obama, but has a small chance winning the Republican nomination due to his Mormon faith and his previous championing of health-care reform that mirrors much of “Obamacare”. Ron Paul, the Tea Party favorite, along with Sarah Palin, would easily disaffect independents, the swing voters in any election.

2011 April

All Quiet on Some Fronts, but Why?

(from various sources)

With Libya in civil war, Egyptian citizens approving amendments to their soon-to-be defunct constitution, a weakened but still potent opposition in Bahrain,and continuing civil protest in Syria, the on-again-off again departure of Salah in Yemen, the question remains: Why haven’t the other countries in the MENA region gone the same way? Saudi Arabia is the question mark most on people’s minds, but the Shi’ia protests show no sign of expanding beyond their demands for greater economic opportunity and the release of political prisoners. The protests do not seem to have much steam beyond Qatif. I suppose 136 billion dollars King Abdullah announced buys much quiet, and the Shura Council just approved laws allowing home mortgages. The King has also announced the building of 500,000 new houses. Perhaps this is enough in the short and intermediate term. Oman had protests in February, but the Sultan just sacked his government, is distributing a billion dollars a year(from the GCC) to citizens, and is opening up the political process a bit. Jordan recently had violence, but that seemed to be a result of two opposing groups getting a little too close to each other in dueling protests. Algeria has only had some unrest, and perhaps will not have much more: Many are too afraid of restarting the violence of the 1980’s with its 200,000 dead. The Moroccan king has made substantial reforms, and even his critics have praised him. All is quiet in the Emirates and Qatar, but why?

2011 March

A multitude of missing ministers

(from various sources)

President Saleh of Yemen is apparently in negotiations with opposition members of the Yemeni Parliament, apparently causing consternation among those protesting in the streets; Egypt’s Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq resigned Thursday and was succeeded by a U.S.-educated former transport minister, Essam Shara. Tunisia’s Prime Minister also resigned last week, saying he did not want to be the cause of bloodshed, after several protesters were killed; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced a $36 billion-dollar initiative, mostly aimed at government workers, and those students with loans to the government.

2011 January

Playing with Dominoes again

(from various sources)

In the 1950’s one of the drivers of American Foreign policy was the Domino Theory: if certain pivotal countries fell to Communism, it would have a domino effect on the region. This was the one of the reasons the United States supported South Vietnam in the 50’s and 60’s.

It seems that dominoes are back in fashion in the MENA region. Like the fall of the Berlin wall caused cascading effects on Communist governments in Eastern Europe, the same is happening again. The autocrats of Tunisia are gone, Egypt will soon follow suit, as will Yemen. The question now is, will the autocrats who are left in Algeria, Libya, and Syria be soon to follow, or will they change course enough to avoid revolution?

Clearly though, besides the autocrats, Al Qaeda is the loser. Marketed as the only way to make governments change through its violent tactics, we see hear the masses of people have done without that group. One wonders how chagrined the leaders of Al Qaeda are, given they are no longer the only “change game” in town.


2010 December

Demographics is destiny, once again.

(from various sources)

The latest US Census figures show the continued movement of population from the East to the South and West. People seeking sunshine, however, have more effects than buying more suntan lotion: As a result of Congress’ proportional representation, it means that traditionally Democratic states in the Northeast will lose representation in the House, and more Republican states in the South and West will gain. This first-blush conclusion, however, is not so clear, given why the population has increased: Hispanics make up the bulk of the population gain, and they tend to vote Democratic.


2010 November

Can an artillery shell have a soft landing?

(from various sources)


Or so the hope is for politicians and the rest of us concerned about North Korea. With South Korea restraining itself from initially retaliating, and with a new defense minister at the military helm, most are asking how the North can survive in the long term. China feels it must support the present regime, though recent wikileak entries suggest it is becoming increasingly frustrated with Kim Jong il and his ilk. North Korea has an aging and barely equipped military, with its pilots having perhaps only 25 flight hours per year of training; It has newer subs and some newer missiles, but its million-man army is barely fed. After an initially sharp and violent confrontation, the country would probably collapse. The huge refugee problem would fall mostly on China, which wishes to avoid this humanitarian catastrophe for its own reasons. The North Korean regime is under increasing pressure, given the strains inherent in Kim’s promotion of his son to “general”, though he has no military experience. Another source of pressure: cheap DVDs from South Korea, showing the North their “puppet” neighbor is a bit better of f than they thought.

2010, October

Politics as Usual

(from various sources)

All eyes turned towards the US mid-term elections this week. As expected, the Republicans at the national level retook the House of Representatives, with the largest change of seats since 1948. Democrats retained control of the Senate, but with a number of long-tenured moderates losing their seats. The questions now becomes whether the gains made by some (but by no means all) Tea Party winners in the Republican ranks can coalesce their conflicting agendas in to something positive, whether they will work with more traditional Republicans, and whether they will put forth anything more than legislation they know will be turned down by the Senate and President. Will their strategy, if they have one, be to put forth legislation they know cannot win, continue to be the party of “No”, or work with the rest of the Congress to forge consensus-based, meaningful legislation? The next six months will be telling ones.


2010, October

U.S. Narrows Role of Nuclear Arms

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

President Obama has created a nuclear weapons strategy that weakens the ability of the US to respond to any attack enforced by allies or enemies in an event to create mass destruction. The US will not focus on countries that do not have nuclear means and will also not focus on countries who have threatened to use chemical or biological weapons. The policy does not state that the role of the US Arsenal is to deter any nuclear attack that is taken on the US. However, It does state that those countries who have not and do not abide by their obligations under the international nuclear treaties will remain targeted.

2010, October 5


Will the slings and arrows of Bundesbank members shoot down the next ECB chief?

(from various sources)

The almost fait accompli of current Bundesbank’s chief Axel Weber’s succession to head the European Central Bank (ECB) is in doubt, following comments by one of the Bundesbank’s other members, Thilo Sarrazin. Mr. Sarrazin made comments in recent weeks about unique genes in Jews, and disparaged Germany’s growing Muslim minority. Only Germany’s president can fire Mr. Sarrazin for his comments, and it is uncertain whether he will do so. That leaves Mr. Weber to defend an unpopular member of the Bundesbank to protect the Bundesbank from attempts at political interference. As a result, Mr. Weber’s almost-certain replacement of the erratic ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet is now somewhat in doubt. This has significant implications for ECB monetary policy, as Weber only gave grumbling assent to the ECB bailout funds for Greek sovereign debt, and looks askance at additional help for them. (Reported in the WSJ, Aug. 31, 2010).


2010, September 1

Mid-term Elections

(from various sources)

Many are suggesting that Republicans will make major gains in the upcoming mid-terms elections in November. If and how much is the question: Traditionally, opposing parties usually gain in the mid-terms, a plus for the Republicans. On the other hand, there are a couple of unique factors in this election that make it more of a guessing game than usual:






First of all, there have been a number of “Tea Party” candidates that have won the Republican nominations, including those in Nevada, New Hampshire and Alaska. Their nominations have split the local Republican parties, and sometimes forcing non-Tea Party Republicans to shift to the right. As a consequence, this may alienate independent voters, who tend to be more middle-of-the-road in terms of their politics. This has given the Democratic nominees an edge, including Harry Reid in Nevada.


Second, recent Supreme Court rulings have eviscerated campaign finance laws, including some dating back to 1948. As a result, those previously constrained by those laws, especially large corporations and labor unions will have free financial reign to support their candidates with fewer reporting requirements than before. How this will play out in practice is a good question, but Fox (News) Corporation has already gotten into a bit of a public relations pickle by giving $50 000 to the Republican party.


2010, April 29

Orban’s Triumph

The Economist. Retrieved from Economist.com

Viktor Orban won with two thirds of the vote in the Hungarian parliament. Orban ran under the Fidesz party and promised overly anticipated actions to the Hungarian people. He intends to reduce taxes, enforce dual citizenship for those of mixed nationality( Hungarian and other), and crack down on crime.

The article mentioned controversy with Orban’s nationalist views in hungry and nationalism tends to make the west uneasy. The country still is dealing with massive unemployment and must have a delusion of large governments rescuing the country’s problems.


2010, April 6

U.S. Narrows Role of Nuclear Arms

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

President Obama has created a nuclear weapons strategy that weakens the ability of the US to respond to any attack enforced by allies or enemies in an event to create mass destruction. The US will not focus on countries that do not have nuclear means and will also not focus on countries who have threatened to use chemical or biological weapons. The policy does not state that the role of the US Arsenal is to deter any nuclear attack that is taken on the US. However, It does state that those countries who have not and do not abide by their obligations under the international nuclear treaties will remain targeted.


2010, March 1

White House Faces Tough Fight on Climate Push

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

Regulating green house emissions, specifically gas emissions have stirred a political battle between congress and the courts. In addition, union workers have also made their point known of this pressing subject.

Congress has proposed a bill to discontinue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ability to regulate gas emissions. On the other hand, the US Federal Courts do not want to take power away from the agency but would rather challenge the EPA rule that limits regulation.

There have been accounts that twenty-four state regulators have urged the EPA to either postpone new limits or discontinue efforts to implement new limits all together. Building and construction unions have also warned the agency that if limits are passed it could have a negative impact on building and construction too serious to be ignored.


2010, January 27

Political Risk Takes Center Stage

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

Risk aversion has been on the fore, fronts of the minds of policy makers these past two weeks. With the growing number of markets shifting away from risk, damage to the economic indexes has seen a variety of increases and decreases. The S&P500 fell from its peak nearly 5%, the volatility index has reached a high for the third straight month, and the U.S. high-yield bond spreads over Treasurys have increased almost a half a point from their lowest numbers. In addition, Markit iTraxx Europe’s index has seen steady increases in the cost of default insurance for more than six months.

The sell off of risk is due to many factors. For instance, China’s has limited their spending, Greece is increasing in their debt and is fearful of bank regulation, and investors alike are requiring a larger risk premium then ever before. Higher premiums’ means it costs more to borrow funds and reduces the credit availability to many who attempt to obtain credit.

It is important to not that President Barack Obama’s plans for bank regulation may be the start of a global regulatory shift that leaves banks unable to earn before they can truly finance themselves. “The International Monetary Fund continues to warn that refinancing is a key concern.”


2010, January

Local Nuclear War, Global Suffering

Scientific American. Retrieved from Sciam.com

The threat of regional wars is an issue of concern for those around the world. For instance, India and Pakistan, at odds, can collectively use their substantial nuclear arsenals to create a global winter. A local nuclear war's effects can linger 10 years or more, which can harm health and uncharacteristically cool the globe, according to scientists and simulations. This article brings the policy of nuclear abolition to the forefront, though leading by example may be the first choice.


2010, January 7

Latinos and American Politics: Power in Numbers

The Economist. Retrieved from Economist.com

Hispanics have gone from being relatively unnoticed in the political arena to "political kingmakers." They played a large role in electing current President Barack Obama. This growing influence is partially contributable to the growing Hispanic population to nearly 16% of the US population. Along with this growth, they are becoming more politically active due to fears and anger, as well as their support of conservative family issues.


2010, January 6

Bill's Veto Imperils Rescue Aid to Iceland

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

Due to public resistance, the president of Iceland used his executive power to veto a bill. Iceland's president is also the head of state which provides him the ability to veto bills when he sees fit. This the second time in the Iceland's history that the president has used this power. The bill was first passed in December but has been put to a stop in January. The bill stated that it would reimburse the U.K and the Netherlands monies it used to bail out consumers of a failed Iceland bank that collapsed in October 2008. Once the veto was ordered, Iceland's foreign-currency rating was deemed junk and the long-term currency rating was downgraded to BBB-plus.


2010, January 4

Battle over Use of 'Allah' Continues in Malaysia

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

Tensions rose between Malaysia's ethnic-Malay Muslim majorities, after its government vowed to challenge a court ruling allowing local Roman Catholics to refer to God as Allah. The Arab word Allah has been used by Malay-speaking Christians for centuries, much as it is used by Christians in Arabic-speaking countries or in Indonesia, where, like Malaysia, the concept of a single God was introduced by Arabic-speaking traders.




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