Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Perilous predictions for 2011

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Afghan Boy

It’s the season to be merry – and to make forecasts about next year. Across the finance industry fine minds spend December crafting outlooks and extrapolations about how the world will fare, in the hope of a decent return over the next 12 months and avoiding the bear traps that will swallow an investment. The banks, strategic advisories and political risk consultants trumpet their analytical prowess, of course, but are also meeting a natural human need to peer into the future. We all want guidance to take the sting out of living in an uncertain world.

Nowhere is prediction more fraught with peril than in politics and world affairs. The success rate is in inverse proportion to the costs that unexpected acts in the real world can impose on the investor. So despite the difficulty of providing a reliable guide to the future there are huge incentives to try to chart the way ahead. Here’s  Control Risks, a risk consultancy firm, on its view of 2011, while competitor Eurasia reveals in early January, as does the World Economic Forum. Nomura has a list of 10 political challenges to prosperity that range from the prospect of gridlock in US domestic politics to brinksmanship on the Korean peninsula.

So which voices warning of political perils should one heed? There’s a crowded field of commentators, perhaps because political outcomes are not as reducible to numbers as economic indicators, where the industry of forecasting has statistical validity. If you work for a well-known investment bank or strategic studies institute your thoughts carry  institutional gravitas. However, and this is somewhat a statement of the obvious, only a track record of smart forecasting earns you an audience. That, and saying something worthwhile. Worse than getting a prediction wrong is being so blandly vacuous and broad in scope that your forecasts are both right and uninformative.

Respected voices suggest that beyond pointing to areas of dispute and potential tension, political forecasters are attempting the impossible. “The science of prediction is a contradiction in terms,” says Nigel Inkster, a former British intelligence officer who analyses international political risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There are so  many potential variables that could come together in so many potential configurations that it is really difficult to identify anything about which you can be really confident,” says Inkster.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

After Holbrooke, chances of political settlement in Afghanistan fall

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holbrookeReading through some of the many thousands of words written about Richard Holbrooke,  for me two stories stood out in their ability to capture what will be lost with his death:

The first was in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's obituary in the Washington Post:

"While beleaguered members of Mr. Holbrooke's traveling party sought sleep on transcontinental flights, he usually would stay up late reading. On one trip to Pakistan, he padded to the forward of the cabin in his stocking feet to point out to a reporter a passage in Margaret Bourke-White's memoirs of the time of India-Pakistan partition and independence. Bourke-White quoted Pakistani leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah telling her that Pakistan would have no problems with the Americans, because 'they will always need us more than we need them.' Mr. Holbrooke laughed, saying, 'Nothing ever changes.'"

from MacroScope:

The long and short of it

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Fashionomics followers will be familiar with the Hemline Index, a theory presented by economist George Taylor in 1926 that suggests that hemlines on women's dresses rise along with stock prices.

FRANCE-FASHION/

Based on this theory, micro-minis can be seen in good times as women take more risks, while maxi dresses (floor-sweeping dresses) reflect uncertainty and conservatism during a recession.

Top 10 from my Nobel night

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NOBEL/

The Nobel banquet must be one of the most extravagant annual dinner events on the planet. Every year the organisers allow a few journalists to join the festivities and rub shoulders with prize winners, royalty and other notables. This year, I got to go. The food and wine were certainly fit for a king (a good thing, too, since there was a king dining among us), and there is really nothing quite like dancing to a 20-person brass band. In a time-honoured journalist tradition, I’ve made a “top 10 list”.

10. Bling. Everywhere. Jewel-encrusted handbags, gold tableware and all those tiaras. I was blinded.

from Reuters Investigates:

China’s rebalancing act puts consumer to the fore

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consumerWal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, now has 189 stories in China, according to its website. Soon it will have many more.  The U.S. chain has announced plans to open a series of "compact hypermarkets", using a bare-bones model developed in Latin America, the Financial Times said.

Wal-Mart stores are a bit different than the one's you might find in, say, Little Rock Arkansas. They sell live toads and turtles for one thing, The Economist reported. But they also sell the appliances, gadgets, and housewares that Wal-Mart stores merchandise everywhere.

This year’s Nobel winner on the importance of a good read

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SWEDEN/The most important thing that ever happened to newly minted Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa? It wasn’t the news two months ago that he had won the prize for literature, or the first time he ever published a book. It was, he said, learning how to read.

Vargas Llosa came to Stockholm to give the traditional pre-award lecture and he told a throng of listeners how books enriched his life, breaking the barriers of time and space. He said writing them helped him create a parallel life where one could take refuge against adversity, where the extraordinary was natural and the natural extraordinary.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan talks up al Qaeda/Taliban split

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british soldierPakistan is increasingly talking up the need for a political settlement in Afghanistan which would force al Qaeda to leave the region. And while there is little sign yet Washington is ready to hold serious negotiations with Afghan insurgents, analysts detect a new tone in Pakistani comments about driving Osama bin Laden's organization out of its haven on the Pakistan border.

A senior security official said the Afghan stalemate could be lifted by setting a minimum agenda in which insurgents broke with al Qaeda. There were indications, he said, they could renounce the organisation and ask it to leave the region. Senior politician Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a pro-Taliban member of the ruling coalition, also said a settlement "would squeeze the room for al Qaeda."  "Al Qaeda will have to fall in line or leave the region," he told Reuters in an interview late last month.

from Summit Notebook:

Does Germany need Europe?

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Jim O'Neill, the new Goldman Sachs Asset Management chairman who is famous for coining the term BRICs for the world's new emerging economic giants, reckons he knows why Germany might not be rushing to bail out all the euro zone debt that is under pressure. Europe is not as important to Berlin as it was.

Speaking at the Reuters 2011 Investment Outlook Summit being held in London and New York, O'Neill pointed out that in the not very distant future Germany will have more trade with China than it does with France.

from Africa News blog:

Ivory Coast puts African credibility on the line

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IVORYCOAST-ELECTION/Mediation has already started after another bad election in Africa.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki was in Ivory Coast at the weekend to try to sort out the mess after election results ratified by the United Nations were rejected by the Constitutional Court, the army and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who had himself sworn in again as president quickly. His opponent Alassane Ouattara said he was president.

Mbeki, all smiles as he met Gbagbo, is used to brokering deals. He helped negotiate the deal for Zimbabwe’s unity government between President Robert Mugabe and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, ending months of turmoil at the time. Tsvangirai had led in the first round in early 2008 but boycotted the second after violence against his supporters.

It was news, but not as we know it…

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wolfesimon1HR.jpgFor days now, Twitter, the blogosphere and even newspaper headlines have been filled with the news – NASA was about to announce something big about extraterrestrial life! But it was embargoed by the journal Science, so no one would know the details until today.

As often happens, those details leaked out early and now we can tell you what it was — bacteria, very much Earthbound bacteria, that can live on arsenic.

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