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 Tales from the Trail:

McCain sees India, U.S. teaming up against “troubling” China

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SUMMIT-WASHINGTON

As President Barack Obama begins his visit to India, his erstwhile rival John McCain is voicing hope that Washington and New Delhi will tighten up their military cooperation in the face of China's "troubling" assertiveness.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a think-tank audience in Washington on Friday that the two huge democracies were natural allies in the quest to temper China's ambitions.

from Tales from the Trail:

State Dept seeks new ally vs. North Korea: PETA

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North Korea -- you have been warned.

The State Department on Monday held out the possibility that the isolated Stalinist state's belligerent rumblings could earn it a powerful new foe on the world stage:  animal rights activist group PETA.

RTRFRGY_CompAsked at a news briefing about North Korea's latest move, which saw it fire a barrage of artillery shells into the ocean near South Korea, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was blunt:

Defiant North Korea takes case to UN press corps

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North Korea's UN Ambassador Sin Son-ho (center)

North Korea's UN Ambassador Sin Son-ho (center) speaks to reporters at UN headquarters.

Officials working for the government of communist North Korea seldom appear in public — especially in front of reporters from countries they view as hostile. But Pyongyang’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sin Son-ho, turned to the U.N. press corps in New York on Tuesday to defend his nation against Seoul’s allegtions that the North Korean military torpedoed a South Korean naval ship on March 26, killing 46 sailors.

The incredible shrinking Kim Jong-il

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KOREA NORTH/KIMNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il emerged from his reclusive life last week for a rare visit to China looking every bit the part of a man nearing 70 recovering from serious illness. Kim, who was widely suspected of suffering a stroke about two years ago, walked with a slight limp, had a thinning head of hair and shed the trademark paunch that once pressed snugly against his jumpsuits. The most telling pictures of his change can be seen in the posed shots he took with Chinese President Hu Jintao, born just 10 months after Kim in 1942, and looking much younger  today.  Pictures taken in October 2005 when Hu visited Pyongyang and from earlier this month when Kim was in Beijing show how much the North Korean leader has changed.

The world has few chances to see Kim free from the filter of his state’s official media and the trip to China reminded people just how frail the man known at home as the “Dear Leader” is.  He is a man of diminished physical stature whose policy blunders have caused the state’s economy to grow smaller since he took over in 1994 when his father died.  His pursuit of  nuclear arms and a missile arsenal have driven his state further into isolation. While Soviet satellites crashed down to earth with the end of the Cold War, Kim’s North Korea just plodded along as a historical anomaly, planting even more propaganda banners proclaiming the brilliance of its socialist system.KOREA NORTH HU

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il says bye-bye bouffant. Hello China?

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NORTH KOREANorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to have abandoned his trademark bouffant, relegating one of the world’s most noticeable hair styles to the scrap heap of history.

Reports have said that Kim may travel to China this month for a visit that would be the reclusive leader’s first trip abroad since apparently suffering a stroke in 2008. Kim’s trips to China, his destitute and isolated state’s biggest benefactor and the closest thing it can claim as a major ally, have often led to moves that decrease the security threat Pyongyang poses to the economically vibrant region. This would be Kim’s first trip abroad since falling seriously ill.

Balancing powers in the Malacca Strait

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SINGAPORE-SHIPPING/THREAT  Singapore’s warning of a terrorist threat in the Malacca Straits has again highighted the issue of who is in charge of security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

 Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have stepped up sea patrols in the strait after Singapore’s navy said on Thursday it had received indications a terrorist group was planning attacks on oil tankers.

The comic books that brainwash North Koreans

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By Geoffrey Cain

SEOUL, South Korea — Heinz Insu Fenkl, a literature professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz, has cracked one secret to understanding the bizarre regime of North Korea: by reading its comic books.

The academic, who refers to himself as an American-Korean, spends hours in his office tucked away in upstate New York, churning out English translations of the rare books (called “gruim-chaek” in North Korea) after he gathers them at shops in China and from colleagues who travel to Pyongyang.

Interview with North Korea border crosser Robert Park

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KOREA-NORTH/CROSSING

 (Photographs by Lee Jae-won)

North Korea said on Tuesday it had  detained a U.S. citizen who entered its territory, apparently confirming a report that an American activist crossed into the
state to raise awareness about Pyongyang’s human rights abuses.   Robert Park, 28, walked over the frozen Tumen river from
China and into the North last Friday, other activists said. The Korean-American told Reuters ahead of the crossing that it was his duty as a
Christian to make the journey and that he was carrying a letter calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to step down.

Park had an exclusive interview with Reuters last week before starting on his journey. The following are excerpts from the conversation. He requested that the comments be held until he was in North Korea.  

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il likes to collect trains

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While some people enjoy collecting model trains and building tiny stations along scaled down tracks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to have taken this passion to a new level. According to a report in South Korea’s largest daily newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, Kim has six private trains and 20 stations around the country built just for him.

Kim’s train is armored and also contains conference rooms, an audience chamber and bedrooms. Satellite phone connections and flat screen TVs have been installed so that the North Korean leader can be briefed and issue orders, the paper said quoting intelligence sources.

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