Friday, November 18, 2011

The Eurozone's Roubini

Nouriel Roubini, the economic doomsayer who predicted the 2008 financial crisis became one of the most sought-after economic consultants after being able to say "I told you so." Bernard Connolly, Europe's most outspoken pessimist, is confident that he too will end up on the right side of history.

“The current policy of lending plus austerity will lead to social unrest,” Connolly said in the New York Times.

As an Oxford educated economist in the early years of the European Union, he helped oversee the very first designs for European financial integration. When he expressed negative views about a common currency, he was dismissed. In 1998, just before the Euro was introduced, he predicted that Europe's smaller, less financially stable countries would cause problems for the entire region. As Connolly told the Times, Europe will face a "“downward spiral from which there is no escape unaided. When that happens, the country concerned will be faced with a risk of sovereign default.”

Connolly, like Roubini before him, is now profiting from spot-on economic forecasting. The European debt crisis that threatens not only Greece and Portugal, but larger countries like Spain and France has launched Connolly's consulting career. Unlike Roubini, who is now the head of Roubini Global Economics, a consulting firm in New York City, Connolly is an independent analyst. But this doesn't mean he profits less. Connolly reportedly churns out over 20,000 words of analysis per week, and while the price of his opinions is not publicly available, competitors are known to charge as much as $100,000 for complete services that include written reports as well as individualized meetings and phone calls.

When Connolly worked at AIG in 2005, he convinced a small group of investors to buy credit default swaps of the most vulnerable European countries. When Greece, Portugal, and Ireland came to the brink of default around 2008, the value of the swaps increased enormously, which turned the investors a hefty profit and earned him a devoted group of followers.

Today, the Connolly disciples are looking to spread his words of doom for the greater good. As a former colleague at AIG, James Aitken, insisted, “He sees where this is going and is warning against the human tragedy.”

Yra Harris, a trader on Chicago's Mercantile Exchange offered to pay $75,000 out-of-pocket to republish The Rotten Heart of Europe, Connolly's 1997 denunciation of the Euro's predecessor, the European exchange rate mechanism.

Still in the thick of the European crisis, it remains unclear whether Connolly's Eurozone death knell will ultimately ring true. One thing, however is quite certain- as the crisis continues, Connolly's stock continues to rise.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is Music a Universal Language???

Throughout the years, America’s image has been getting more and more ugly in the public eyes of Pakistanis. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center “Roughly six-in-ten (59%) Pakistanis describe the U.S. as an enemy, while just 11% say it is a partner.” This is because of many reasons including the fact that the war the United States has declared in Afghanistan has spread into their territory which has caused many innocent Pakistanis their lives. The image gets even more unattractive since the United States has been strengthening their ties with Pakistan’s archenemy India. Citing the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the State Department, Robert Blake, “We recently have begun an effort to try to enhance state-to-state ties between our two countries... because we believe there are quite significant opportunities for individual American states to do more with their Indian counterparts.” Some may even go further and say that America dislikes the Muslim world because of our constant intervention in trying to promote democracy abroad. Even though I do not believe this to be true, America has a reason to try to save face in the region. Because of this, the U.S. embassy has been trying to find informal modes of diplomacy to be used in an attempt to save its unfavorable image. One of the avenues that was used was targeting the younger generations through music.

The U.S. embassy’s cultural diplomacy program in Islamabad, Pakistan has been bringing over multiple musical groups in conjunction to its American Festival of the Arts. This festival, according to the State Department, is meant to promote cultural exchanges between the two countries. Acts that have participated in this Festival have included the Ari Roland Jazz Group and Mary McBride, a country music artist. This week, the State Department has brought over a hip hop troupe from Chicago for a 10 day trip through the region to perform for an educated young audience of Pakistanis. The Chicago troupe, the F.E.W Collective dances, sings, raps and recites poetry. The purpose of this tour through the region is to get the face to face contact of non-governmental Americans, and to try to find a commonality among the two countries through music.

Hip Hop universally looks different but is found everywhere. This form of expressive arts can be used to bring youth from all over together. The target audience for the festival is the youth, the future leaders of Pakistan. This is extremely strategic in my eyes because, as we have seen through the Arab Spring and many other uprisings, that the youth are key in trying to achieve change. Getting through to this group and building the American relationship earlier in their lives, is important an ingredient in the recipe to try and fix Pakistani-American relations. This idea is pretty remarkable to me. Even though I might be a bit biased because I love hip hop, I do believe that even if countries are culturally separated, something that could bring differing communities together is music. This new, cutting edge idea of using music to build relations between the two countries has not been used before on a big scale and I am really interested to see the end result. Whether U.S. officials agree or not if this program is going to work is not important because it is something that could actually blend the two cultures together. It’s this out of the box thinking that could continue to create new waves of building relations. With face-to-face contact with a few could possibly change the perception of Americans and break down stereotypes that the Pakistani youth have of the United States. This would not only strengthen the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan but paint a more positive image of the United States in the region.

Alexis Roe

Al-Shabab recruits Kenyan youths to fight in Somalia

Al Jazeera interviewed parents of Kenyan youths who were recruited by a terrorist group, Al-Shabab, to overthrow the government in Somalia.

Al-Shabab is an Islamist militant group, an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union, which was removed from power by Ethiopian troops back in 2006. Al-Shabab, or The Movement of Striving Youth, aims to overthrow the Somali government and it has control over some territories in south Somalia. In these places the group has already imposed its own form of Sharia law, which is even stricter than usual.

Many of the recruited Kenyans come from slums in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and some estimate their numbers to be in the hundreds. Most of them are not native Somali; they come from other ethnic tribes; therefore, they are more difficult to spot by the authorities. Since the Somali army has been fighting Al-Shabab, the parents fear retaliation.

Several of the recruited youths do not come from Islamic families; they convert to it. However, experts believe the recruitments have nothing to do with religion. It is purely human trafficking for the purpose of jihad.

-Adrienn Szlapak

End of Occupy Wall Street?

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg ordered to clear Zuccotti Park today, consequently leading to the arrest of around 200 protestors who have been camping in the park for nearly two months on the grounds that “health and safety conditions became intolerable.”

Bloomberg has been torn between whether to take any direct measures against the protests ever since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street. In the time that has passed, he has supported people’s right to protest but in recent weeks, in the wake of growing complaints from neighbours about how the protest has disrupted the neighbourhood and hurt local businesses, the mayor decided to act. Mayor’s sudden decision comes as a big surprise to the American public. The clearance of Zuccotti Park demonstrates fading of the American promise and commitment to democracy. It is never a good sign when non-violence is met with violence. If the citizens of the United States are prohibited in voicing their opinion, and thus are being taken away their freedom of speech by their own governors, how does America plan to maintain its exemplary role as global promoter of peace and democracy? After today’s event, can America still be referred to as democratic? Or is the country simply hiding its less open domestic politics behind a created illusion of worldwide promotion of democracy?

Despite the criticism that Bloomberg is currently receiving from the protestors and the supporters of Occupy Wall Street, the mayor is clever in his approach: He announced that “New York City is the city where you can come and express yourself. What was happening in Zuccotti Park was not that.” The mayor said the protesters had taken over the park, “making it unavailable to anyone else.” Furthermore, by laying the blame on poor health and safety conditions the decision to clear Zuccotti Park becomes an undisputed case as it would indeed be improper of the protestors to argue against public health after the numerous health care debates in the U.S. in recent years. Bloomberg is right in that the Park, initially created for everyone, has for the past two moths been an occupied space, with several access limitations for citizens who do not wish to participate in the protests. Especially, taking into account rumours about lack of health measures, it is not surprising that these conditions prevent ‘visitors,’ apart from the protestors themselves, on the territory of Zuccotti Park. Consequently, it can also be argued that the occupied space is a limitation to freedom for everyone.

Whether this marks the end of Wall Street Protests remains unknown. The possibility for continued protests is high, especially in the immediate aftermath of police’s forceful clearance of the Park. The public in support of the protests is in rage over mayor’s decision. However, Wall Street never sleeps, hence even if protestors relocate, Wall Street will continue to keep its eyes on those who oppose it.

- Inga

Assad is Still in Power (O yea....and he has killed 4,000 of his own people)

Jordan's King Abdullah told the BBC yesterday that if he were Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he would step down as president. 'I would step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status-quo that we’re seeing.' On Saturday, the Arab League suspended Syria and called on its government to stop the violence against protesters. The League said that it will impose economic and political sanctions on the Syrian government and will also meet with opposition leaders in the country. They are also expected to make a similar condemnation this week, along with most Western leaders.

The White House added yesterday that President Assad was increasingly isolated, and said that he had lost his legitimacy to lead. 'It is clear that the Assad regime is continuing to be isolated, that the political pressure on them is building,' said White House spokesperson Josh Earnest.

40 Syrians were reported to have been killed in fighting yesterday between forces loyal to President Assad and anti-government forces.

This all appears to be productive, but is in fact futile. Assad knows that Russia and China will never back similar measures that they did against Libya and he knows that international sanctions can only go so far. The conflict in Libya helped secure, not deter Assad’s reign and condemned four thousand activists to death. With the Euro crisis, 2012 US elections, the wider Arab Spring, Russia and China’s veto and Iran’s nuclear program, world leaders have their plates full and don’t want and in some cases can’t handle and even afford another issue to deal with. As long Assad keeps this now, civil war in his country as a domestic conflict and affair and not let the troubles in his country escalate beyond his boarders, it is pretty clear he will be the Syrian President this time next year – especially if the West has nothing to with it. They can just congratulate each other about a successful Libyan mission.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Korean Bridge in G20

As the G20 Cannes Summit focuses on bailing out the Eurozone, super powers such as United States, Russia and China gathered all the attention. Among the rest of the G-20 members exist, overlooked yet relatively important, nations such as Korea, Mexico and Indonesia. Though relatively peaceful, these countries can play bigger roles in pushing the global system than their shares in media these days. South Korea, for example, is bridging the developed with the emerging and developing world.

As a heavily export-dependent economy, S. Korea is a beneficial of open market and free trade. It has one of Asia's largest economies, one that survived and thrived from 1997 Asia financial crisis and once again, weathered and resumed strong growth after a brief downturn as a result of the global economic downturn of 2008. In either of the situation, S. Korea was able to avoid deeper recession and move to growth is a result of actively involving in the global market. This experience of South Korea, along with similar ones by other medium-sized G20 countries, makes it an exemplary open markets and a firm supporter of free trade. On G-20 Cannes Summit, as a result, President Lee Myung-Bak promotes the idea of market liberalization in combating economic crisis from spread and stands against protectionism

When it comes to euro zone rescue plan, President Lee states that S. Korea has noticed readiness to help from neighbor countries Japan and China, in an interview with French media, he says "We ourselves are planning to see at the G20 summit how other countries will organize and what resources they will deploy. Discussions are planned. If it's necessary, obviously, (South) Korea is willing to cooperate."

South Korea's willingness to act as a bridge between the advanced, emerging, and developing worlds and its adoption of the "Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth." has indicated Koreans efforts in drawing a consensus on an array of agenda issues including development aid and free trade. The exemplary efforts have drawn proclamation by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in his developmental finance report to all G20 leaders.

Posted by Yinan Hu.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

G-20: Let's Talk Turkey

Oh how the times change. This past week's G-20 summit in France proved that there's a new "Sick Man of Europe," and it's certainly not Turkey.

As reports, The "Sick Man" is actually the "Sick Men-" the consortium of troubled Eurozone economies that includes Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and perhaps even Spain. The Cannes gathering mainly focused on the European debt saga that just seems to grow worse, and amid the European panic, Turkey played it cool. France's Nicolas Sarkozy met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul to agree on a broad platform of domestic as well as international financial reforms, and it was also announced that Turkey will play host to the G-20 meeting in 2014. The real story however, came after Cannes. Planning for the future, traditionally Westward-looking Turkey has taken note of the tumult in Europe and is now opting to diversify its trading partner portfolio.

The stable Erdogan government boasts the 17th largest economy in the world and at the beginning of 2011, Turkey recorded a 10.3 percent double-digit growth rate while many Western powers stood at the brink of a double-dip recession. And this is likely to continue. Turkey has a robust population of 70 million with the youngest average age in Europe at 29, and its diverse economy remains attractive to foreign investment.

Situated at the crossroads of east and west, Turkey has a geographic advantage when it comes to trade. As an Islamic state with a staunchly secular government, Ankara has no problem wooing both the Europeans and its partners in the Middle East. Nearly any any energy deal or pipeline from the Caspian to Europe goes through Turkey, and as an associate member of the European Union with a Customs Union agreement, it runs little risk of falling to Russian political manipulation like the Gazprom shenanigans up north in Ukraine. But with so much drama unfolding to the west with Europe and the east with the revolutions of the Arab Spring, Turkey has turned its eye outside its immediate region and has found a kindred secular spirit in Southeast Asia.

Turkey and Malaysia, while both secular regimes, have strong financial sectors that conform to Sharia law. This particular brand of 'Islamic Banking,' prohibits usury and investment in goods or services that are considered contrary to Islamic principles. Recently, Turkey and Malaysia have signed agreements to increase trade and work together on originating Sukuk, the bonds unique to Sharia-style finance. Malaysia has a dual banking center that trades both Islamic and customary financial assets. Turkey, looking to open up its own financial sector, can look to Malaysia for guidance and support.

At a G-20 rife with gloomy financial woes, Turkey has emerged as one of the few points of optimism, and Ankara's shrewdness predicts its continued success.