28 January 2015

Selected International Developments

I haven't been covering all of these stories in daily detail, but some major international developments deserve mentioning:

European Economic Crises

* Greece was bailed out by the European financial community a while ago in the face of a sovereign debt crisis, in exchange for imposing austerity measures of dubious economic merit.  Opposition mounted to this deal and a few days ago, Greek elections gave a far left party 149 out of 300 seats with parliament after it ran on an anti-austerity platform.  This party allied itself with a far right party that is also opposed to the austerity measures that won 12 seats.  This produced a far left prime minister with majority backing who wants to disavow the deal and either renegotiate or default on the bailout deal.  This outcome has looked likely for a long time.  As a result, the Greek stock market has lost 15% of its value in the last three days and 50% of its value in the last ten months.

* International sanctions related to Russia's military incursions into Ukraine, and falling oil prices, have conspired to do deep harm to the Russian economy.  Among other things, the bonds that finance its national debt have been down graded to junk bond status.  Russia is hanging tough and appears to have popular support (in part due to controls over the media), but is enduring lots of economic pain as measured by a variety of economic indicators.

* A dramatic change in the policies of the central bank of Switzerland has caused the value of the Swiss Franc to rise dramatically (ca. 50%+) in a matter of days.  This matters because mortgages and other loans in many of Europe's less economically developed countries (e.g. about 45% of mortgages in Poland), are denominated in Swiss Francs rather than Euros.  The Swiss Franc has historically been one of the most stable currencies in the world, so few people anticipated that this would produce a dramatic increase in their effective repayment obligations in the absence of hyperinflation of the Euro which has not occurred.  This international payments crisis continues to unfold.

European Independence Movements

* Voters in Scotland rejected a referendum giving its independence from the United Kingdom, but won substantial new economic subsidies and autonomy concessions in the process.  The referendum was also notable because sixteen and seventeen years olds were allowed to vote.

* The autonomous Catalonia region in Spain has called for an independence referendum, and has staged events making it clear that such a referendum would pass if it was held by wide margins.  Spain has vehemently opposed any effort to conduct such a referendum, whether or not it is officially binding, and so far, no referendum has been held.

Conflict and Change In The Islamic World

* The moderately pro-Western, pro-Saudi government of Yemen collapsed, giving rise, de facto, to military law and a renewed division of the country into North Yemen and South Yemen.  But, the government was so ineffectual to start with that the chaos before this happened was only moderately less than the chaos afterwards.  Among other things, this makes the prospect of repatriating Yemeni individuals held at Guantanamo Bay by the U.S. military to their home countries (a process that Congress has thwarted despite President Obama's efforts to shut down the military prison camp in U.S. controlled territory in Cuba).

* The recent attacks in France on a satirical newspaper that had lampooned the Muslim Prophet, customers at a Kosher deli, and French law enforcement officers was led by individuals in France with ties to violent radical Islamist movements in Yemen and connected to ISIS.

* Saudi Arabia's sixth king died.  In Saudi Arabia, a successor king is chosen somewhat democratically by the senior male members of the roughly 5,000 strong royal family, from among a pool of several dozen family members who would be eligible for the office, rather than automatically passing to an eldest child.  In this case, the seventh king of Saudi Arabia is a 79 year old collateral relative (as opposed to a child) of the previous king.

* U.S. led international coalition air strikes on ISIS have killed about 6,000 ISIS soldiers (out of 12,000-18,000 on active duty and about 32,000 available in all to ISIS), in addition to many of its military bases and much of its heavy armaments.  Until last week, this wasn't accompanied by much in the way of territory leaving ISIS control.  But, in the last few days, Iraq's Kurdish militias supported by the air strikes and allowed to reach the field of battle across roads in Turkey finally drove ISIS out of Kurdish city (formerly of about 60,000 people most of whom have fled as refugees to Turkey) near the Turkish border with Syria.

* The radical Islamist Boko Haram group in Northern Nigeria and parts of the African Sahel in neighboring countries has massacred thousands in a Northern Nigerian village and continues its genocidal wave of mass murders and mass kidnappings of young women, while the central Nigerian government led by Jonathan Goodluck who is facing an election challenge that is nearing its final days, has been completely unable to get its own military, whose inclinations has been to flee or refuse to confront Boko Haram, dent the violence.

* In the "tribal areas" of Pakistan, the government has vigorously and largely effectively waged a military war on the Taliban in Pakistan (which had previously had support from some military and intelligence community factions), prompting a suicidal massacre at an Army sponsored school by a group of Taliban supporters.

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