Thursday, June 21, 2012
As a happy hour gift to the global economy, late Thursday afternoon Moody's credit rating agency announced the credit downgrade of 15 international banks. Among the banks to get the smackdown were Bank of America, Credit Suisse, CitiGroup, Morgan Stanley and UBS. This adds still more uncertainty and volatility to a worldwide financial market already cowering from specter of possible Eurozone collapse. On a practical level, the downgrade will increase the cost of borrowing for these banks, and these increased costs have a way of finding their way down to bank customers. Outside the walls of those banks, the added uncertainty led to a stock market tumble of roughly 2 percent. Many feel the move by Moody's represents an overcompensation after being caught being dead wrong about rotten investments that led to the financial collapse of 2008. For its part, Moody's claims the downgrades were made in response to instability in the global financial system, some of which, ironically, has been caused by Moody's downgrades. The safest investments now may be with companies like Serta, since shaky banks and increased fees may lead many people to go back to hiding money in mattresses.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
World leaders from almost 200 nations are gathering in Rio for a summit on sustainable development. Taking place 20 years after the original Earth Summit in Rio back in 1992, which resulted in agreements that have obviously solved all the world's climate and environment issues, many hope Rio+20 will encourage sustainable development around the globe in ways that are helpful to the world economy and sensitive to the needs of the poor. Recent summits have produced few, if any tangible results and many environmentalists fear events like this are more show than substance. The draft agreement is already being called "weak," with its authors admitting is more aspirational than prescriptive; sort of like planning to get rich by hoping to get rich. Still, some simple agreements have been reached, like shutting the lights off after the meetings end and establishing a separate bin for recycling used water bottles. Planet saved.
Monday, June 18, 2012
It's official: Ron Paul has won Iowa. "But wait," you may ask, "Didn't Mitt Romney win Iowa before a clarified vote count declared Rick Santorum the winner of Iowa several months ago?" Well, all this did happen in the Iowa Republican primary election, but since the state's Republican Party determines its delegates through state convention results rather than from the primary, Ron Paul's supporters were able to take control of the state convention and raise their man to the top. The majority of Iowa's delegates will be Paul supporters. This does not endanger Romney's march to the nomination, but will give a more powerful voice to the libertarian contingent at the Republican national convention. In spite of the fact that Paul's own son, Rand Paul, has endorsed Mitt Romney, Ron Paul has refused to give up his presidential run. Clearly his persistance has paid off, since he is now the third candidate to win Iowa this year. Considering all the time Gingrich spent running in the state, it must sting that he is one of the few candidates to not win there.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The day after North Carolina voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that bans same-sex marriages and civil unions, President Obama at last clarified his own stance on the issue, saying at last that he supports same-sex marriage. While all indications were that Obama quietly supported the idea personally, he was reticent to make a public statement, often addressing the question by saying his views were "evolving." Vice President Biden brought the issue to light Sunday by stating his own support of same sex marriage. Further driving the discussion was Mitt Romney's Wednesday statement that he unequivocally opposes marriage between people of the same gender. Obama cited conversations with friends and family, as well as talks with U.S. service members who had lived under years of Don't Ask Don't Tell for solidifying his beliefs that all people should have the right to marry who they please. Some consider this a risky political move as it draws a distinct line between the parties on this often contentious social issue, but polls indicate that public opinion is rapidly growing in favor of same-sex marriage. On the Republican side, if one follows the logic of Romney's recent statements claiming credit for saving the auto industry by being against bailing it out, the fact that he has come out against gay marriage may mean he'll later claim credit for its legalization.
Monday, May 7, 2012
Things are even more uncertain than usual in Europe after Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election on Sunday. Hollande ran on an anti-austerity platform and is seen as a leader in the growing backlash toward German-led efforts to contain Europe's debt problems. Adding even more instability is the fact that Greece's Sunday election did not produce a sufficient majority to form a new government, so if a coalition isn't formed soon, Greece could be led by a caretaker technocrat government just as new bailout austerity measures are about to kick in. This could lead to Greece's default and exit from the Eurozone or perhaps a collapse of the Eurozone itself. With austerity becoming an increasingly dirty word, many believe that growth is the only way out of the crisis. Of course the fact that many of these countries are buried in mountains of debt and have had their credit downgraded makes lending difficult, thus making the idea of growth pretty tricky, too. It's hard to say how all this will play out and how it will impact the U.S. economy, however we can be certain of one thing: if there is a negative impact here, Republicans and Democrats will find ways to blame each other for it.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
On NBC's Meet the Press, Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor of same-sex marriage, saying he is "absolutely comfortable" with it. He went on to say that heterosexual and homosexual men and women have the exact same rights and liberties. While saying that it is the President who sets policy, this statement does put Biden ahead of his boss on this issue, since President Obama has traditionally dodged the same-sex marriage question by saying his views are "evolving." Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement praising Biden and urging President Obama to finally speak definitively in favor of same-sex marriage. While Obama has reached out to the LGBT community with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and removal of enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act, many feel he hasn't spoken strongly enough on the marriage issue. In his interview, Biden also gave a nod to one of the most influential elements in the cultural acceptance of gays and lesbians: the sitcom Will and Grace, which he cited as having done more to educate the American public than anything so far.
French citizens are heading to the polls in a runoff presidential election that may have a large impact on both the future of the country and the handling of the European debt crisis. Riding a wave of anti-incumbent anger resulting from unpopular austerity measures and high unemployment, Socialist candiate Francois Hollande has an excellent chance of unseating current conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy. One of the main architects of the Eurozone austerity plan, Sarkozy has taken a lot of heat from a frustrated population. Six other European nations, including Greece, also are holding elections at some level on Sunday Many see the French election as a bellwether of a possible shift in European policy. A wave of support for a debt strategy based on growth rather than austerity may push policymakers in a new direction. Voter anger toward those in office also reinforces a growing international trend toward voting against rather than for someone.