Tag Archives: Gordon Brown

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The global economic crisis continues to expand.  Despite the announcement of a tentative agreement on a $827 billion stimulus package in the U.S. Senate and announcement of a $200 billion lending facility by the U.S. Federal Reserve intended to encourage more lending by banks and credit card companies, the economic numbers continue to decline.  Despite being relatively insulated from global markets, Brazil announced a large slump in output and a decline in jobs last week.  Following an announcement that the national economy contracted by 4.6 percent in December—the largest contraction since reunification in 1990s—and more than 2 percent last year, the German Economic Minister, Michael Glos, offered to tender his resignation.  Many observers are also concerned that some of the stimulus packages proposed by national governments may rekindle protectionist measures.  (Indeed, the Financial Times now carries a special section, updated regularly, on “The New Protectionism.”)   

In news from outside the financial crisis last week:

1.  In the first major foreign policy speech of the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden proposed to “press the reset button” on relations with Russia, noting that despite policy differences in many areas, the U.S. and Russia could still work together on areas of mutual interest and concern.  The conciliatory tone did not include a review of the U.S. missile defense system, which has angered Russia.  In recent weeks, the Russian government has announced a series of initiatives, including plans to establish naval and air bases in Abkhazia, an air defense treaty with Belarus, and a collective security organization which includes many of the former Soviet republics.

2. A Pakistani court last week released Abdyl Qadeer Khan from house arrest.   Khan is the nuclear scientist responsible for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.  He is also believed to have played a key role in the proliferation of nuclear equipment and know-how to North Korea, Iran, and Libya.  Khan’s role in the Pakistani nuclear program made him a national hero, and many Pakistanis believe the evidence against him was fabricated.  But under threat of sanctions, the Pakistani government placed Khan under house arrest five years ago.  His release was greeted by disappointment from the United States and France.  Despite the move, Pakistan is still hoping to woo more aid from—and potentially a closer relationship with—the United States.

3.  With elections for the Israeli Knesset scheduled for Tuesday, polling over the weekend suggested the race would be much closer than anticipated.  Early polling had suggested that the center-right Likud party would cruise to an easy victory, as most Israelis were identifying security as their primary concern and Likud was seen as strong on security.  But recent polling data suggests that neither Likud nor the center-left opposition Kadima party will win a majority, forcing either to enter into negotiations with minority parties to form a government.  Meanwhile, polls from Gaza show a sharp spike in support for Hamas following Israel’s three-week military offensive in the Palestinian territory,  suggesting that Hamas may actually have been strengthened by the campaign.

4.  The longstanding drought in Argentina continues.  The drought, the worst in nearly fifty years, threatens the collapse of Argentina’s agricultural exports.  As one of the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural commodities and livestock, the projected collapse of exports from Argentina threaten global food supplies.  World food prices had declined form their record highs set in 2007-08 in part on projections of increased production from Argentina.  Global market prices for rice, wheat, and soy have already increased 20 percent in the last two months, and with declines now projected for Argentina’s wheat, corn, and soy output, world prices are projected to continue to increase.  In an unrelated development, the Chinese government declared an emergency in response to drought conditions in central and northern China.  The Chinese drought undermined wheat production.

5.  Relations between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy stumbled late last week after Sarkozy declared that Brown’s proposal to temporarily cut the value-added tax in an attempt to stimulate the economy would have “absolutely no impact,” arguing that Britain “doesn’t have any industry left” and its banks were “close to ruin.”  Brown is already facing strong domestic opposition from the opposition Conservative Party, whose leader, David Cameron, sized on the French president’s comments.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been a dramatic week.  Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected President of the United States.  For many, the election marked not just that historic first but brought the possibility of dramatic policy changes in the U.S.  There was also a series of reports bringing bad news for the global economy, including a dramatic uptick in the unemployment rate in the United States (now at its highest point since the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks.   It was, in short, a busy week.  Here’s five stories you might have missed amid the flurry of news.

1. Following a report showing U.S. car sales sank to their lowest levels in 25 years and reflecting the widespread impact of the global financial downturn, both the U.S. and Germany auto industries pressed for rescue packages from their respective governments.  In the United States, the Democratic Congressional leadership has requested Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson to assist the American auto industry as part of the $700 billion rescue passed by Congress last month.  BMW is pushing for similar relief from the German government.

2.  In   move widely seen as an attempt to open the presidency for Vladimir Putin’s return, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday called for consituttional reforms which would extend the tenure of the Russian president from four to six years.  Putin, who remains incredibly popular among the Russian population, is currently serving as Prime Minister after being termed out of office by constitutional limitations.  Medvedev’s term is currently set to expire in 2012, at which time Putin would be eligible to stand for the office again.  However, some observers argue that Medvedev may resign before that, allowing Putin to return to the presidency even earlier.

3. An anonymous official within the U.S. government said that hackers with ties to the Chinese military successfully hacked into the White House and Department of Defense computer networks.  The source said that the hackers were not able to access classified documents during the attack, but did have access to unclassified communications between high ranking government officials.  In unrelated attacks also believed to originate with the Chinese government, computers belonging to both the McCain and Obama campaigns were also compromised, allowing hackers to obtain internal policy documents from both presidential campaigns. 

4.  The political future of Israel’s current government remains unclear.  Although polls indicate that Tzipi Livni’s ruling Kadima party holds a narrow lead in popular opinion, Israel’s current political instability undermines the ability of the government to move forward with peace negotiations with the Palestinians.  This week, Israeli’s living in Jerusalem will elect a new mayor.  But the election will likely shed little light on the future direction of the country, as the major parties have all opted not to field a candidate for the position

5. Proving the old rally ‘round the flag adage, Gordon Brown’s ruling Labour Party won an important by-election on Thursday, effectively ending discussion of both an early general election and a leadership challenge from within the party.   Brown, who served as the U.K.’s Chancellor of the Exchequer in Tony Blair’s government, had seen his popularity decline precipitously since coming into office.  But Brown’s handling of the credit crisis in the United Kingdom has effectively averted a deeper crisis in the United Kingdom and has been used as a model for governments elsewhere in the world.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been another busy week.  The Olympic games are gearing up, Obama and McCain have been going after one another on the campaign trail, and the US (and the global) economy continues to struggle.  So what are the top stories of the week?

1. After losing soundly in a Scottish by-election, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown now faces challenges for his leadership position.  Speculation that Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who some view as having Tony Blair-like charisma, may challenge Brown’s leadership before the next election has the Labour Party looking like it is in total disarray.

2. Suffering from an ongoing corruption scandal, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he will step downfrom his position at the next election, scheduled for two months from now.  Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu used the opportunity to call for snap elections.  Olmert’s departure throws current peace negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria into uncertainty, with many speculating that no progress can be made before a new government takes office, and leaving room for lots of speculation about who will replace him.

3. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, narrowly survived a High Court ruling which could have dissolved the AKP.  Turkey’s constitution prohibits “anti-secular activity.”  The AKP had been charged with attempting to introduce sharia law through political reform.  The High Court ruled that the AKP had been involved in such activities, and imposed financial penalties for their actions.  But the Court declined the shut the party down.

4. With world food prices increasing dramatically over the past year, the Russian government announced last week that it would seize control of up to half the country’s grain exports.  Russia is the world’s fifth largest grain exporter, and western analysts fear the move may be an attempt by the Kremlin to use grain as a tool for Russian foreign policy, much in the same way the Kremlin has effectively used Russia’s vast oil exports as an instrument of foreign policy.

5. Members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation singed an agreement to work together to fight terrorism.  The initiative includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.  But tensions between India and Pakistan over the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul threaten to undermine the agreement before it even comes into force.