domingo, 22 de octubre de 2017

Cómodas cuotas


Europa sigue adelante con su autodestrucción en cómodas cuotas. Hoy le toca a Lombardía y Véneto decidir que sus habitantes son superiores al resto de los italianos. Sigan así, chicos, que van bárbaro. La nota que sigue es de Daniel Verdú para el diario español El País:


Título: Lombardía y Véneto celebran hoy un referéndum para pedir más autonomía

Subtítulo: Las dos prósperas regiones votan en una consulta constitucional y no vinculante solicitar al Gobierno Italiano el traspaso de algunas competencias y mejor financiación

Texto: Lombardía y Véneto, dos de las tres regiones más ricas en industrializadas de Italia votan durante todo el día de hoy en un referéndum para solicitar al gobierno de Italia más autonomía. La consulta, a la que están llamados unos 12 millones de ciudadanos, no es vinculante y se realiza dentro del marco de la constitución y la “unidad” de Italia, como la propia pregunta subraya, y servirá para que los dos presidentes regionales (de la Liga Norte ambos) tengan más fuerza a la hora de negociar en Roma mayores competencias. La participación, pues, es la clave que permitirá valorar los resultados.

Lombardía, presidida por Roberto Maroni, no se ha fijado un mínimo legal para dar validez al mandato que salga de las urnas. Su presidente, ha señalado, se conformaría con un 34%. Sin embargo, la región de Véneto, liderada por Luca Zaia, se ha comprometido a no tomar en consideración los resultados si no se llega al 50% de la participación. Ambos procesos, liderados por una Liga Norte que ha inisistido en separarlo totalmente de lo que sucede en Cataluña, y respaldados públicamente por Silvio Berlusconi y Forza Italia, comenzarían a ejecutarse antes de las elecciones de primavera y serán una pieza importante de la campaña electoral.

Están en juego 23 competencias que pueden ser transferidas —educación, tutela de la sanidad, complemento de pensiones— y unos 27.000 millones de euros para pagarlas (en el caso de Lombardía) ya que se trata de la mitad del déficit fiscal que alegan y que reclamarán. Los críticos alegan que se podía pedir sin referéndum. De hecho, Emilia-Romania, gobernada por el PD, seguirá ese procedimiento. Pero Roberto Maroni discrepaba en una entrevista con EL PAÍS la semana pasada. “En 16 años, muchas regiones lo han pedido, pero el Gobierno siempre lo ha negado. Así que si mucha gente vota ahora, nos daría más fuerza para negociar”.

Y el margen es amplio. La votación se celebra desde las ocho de la mañana hasta las once de la noche de hoy. Ambos gobiernos han comprado miles de iPads (la celebración del referéndum costará unos 66 millones de euros repartidos entre ambas regiones) para llevar a cabo unos comicios telemáticos y acelerar el recuento, que ya de por si empezará tarde. Sin embargo, esta mañana ya han empezado los primeros problemas técnicos.

Más allá de la cifra de participación, el referéndum reabre la polémica sobre la falta de solidaridad del norte con el sur y puede complicar el discurso en clave nacional de La Liga Norte de Matteo Salvini. De hecho, uno de sus principales aliados –Fratelli di Italia, de Giorgia Meloni- ya se ha desmarcado de él y lo ha criticado abiertamente. Siun embargo, grandes alcaldes del PD en la región, como Giuseppe Sala (Milán) o Giorgio Gori (Bérgamo) se han apuntado a la iniciativa y han mostrado abiertamente su apoyo. El goberanador de Véneto, Luca Zaia, ha acudido a votar a primera hora de la mañana en el colegio de San Vendemiano, en provincia de Trevisto, ya ha instado a "todos a votar" porque, dijo en Twitter, "solo así demostraremos que somos un pueblo".


sábado, 21 de octubre de 2017

Habló Xi


Mientras Occidente sigue enfrascado en su propia cadena de burbujas, nubes gaseosas, grandilocuencias y demás pavadas, los chinos siguen con su plan de rediseñar el planeta (incluyéndonos a todos nosotros) con criterios propios. Algún día los historiadores se rascarán la cabeza preguntándose en qué estaban pensando los "lideres" globales mientras el Oriente decidía su futuro. La nota que sigue es de Pepe Escobar para Asia Times:
  

Título: Xi’s road map to the Chinese Dream

Subtítulo: China's Belt and Road Initiative – the New Silk Road – will spark the country's development and turn the dream into reality

Texto: Now that President Xi Jinping has been duly elevated to the Chinese Communist Party pantheon in the rarified company of Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory, the world will have plenty of time to digest the meaning of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

Xi himself, in his 3½-hour speech at the start of the 19th Party Congress, pointed to a rather simplified “socialist democracy” – extolling its virtues as the only counter-model to Western liberal democracy. Economically, the debate remains open on whether this walks and talks more like “neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics”.

All the milestones for China in the immediate future have been set.

- “Moderately prosperous society” by 2020.

- Basically modernized nation by 2035.

- Rich and powerful socialist nation by 2050.

Xi himself, since 2013, has encapsulated the process in one mantra; the “Chinese dream”. The dream must become reality in a little over three decades. The inexorable modernization drive unleashed by Deng’s reforms has lasted a little less than four decades. Recent history tell us there’s no reason to believe phase 2 of this seismic Sino-Renaissance won’t be fulfilled.

Xi emphasized, “the dreams of the Chinese people and those of other peoples around the world are closely linked. The realization of the Chinese dream will not be possible without a peaceful international environment and a stable international order.”

He mentioned only briefly the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as having “created a favorable environment for the country’s overall development”. He didn’t dwell on BRI’s ambition and extraordinary scope, as he does in every major international summit as well as in Davos earlier this year.

But still it was implicit that to arrive at what Xi defines as a “community of common destiny for mankind”, BRI is China’s ultimate tool. BRI, a geopolitical/geoeconomic game-changer, is in fact Xi’s – and China’s – organizing foreign policy concept and driver up to 2050.

Xi has clearly understood that global leadership implies being a top provider, mostly to the global South, of connectivity, infrastructure financing, comprehensive technical assistance, construction hardware and myriad other trappings of “modernization”.

It does not hurt that this trade/commerce/investment onslaught helps to internationalize the yuan.

It’s easy to forget that BRI, an unparalleled multinational connectivity drive set to economically link all points Asia to Europe and Africa, was announced only three years ago, in Astana (Central Asia) and Jakarta (Southeast Asia).

What was originally known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road were endorsed by the Third Plenum of the 18th CCP Central Committee in November 2013. Only after the release of an official document, “Visions and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Roads”, in March 2015, the whole project was finally named BRI.

According to the official Chinese timeline, we’re only at the start of phase 2. Phase 1, from 2013 to 2016, was “mobilization”. “Planning”, from 2016 to 2021, is barely on (and that explains why few major projects are online). “Implementation” is supposed to start in 2021, one year before Xi’s new term expires, and go all the way to 2049.

The horizon thus is 2050, coinciding with Xi’s “rich and powerful socialist nation” dream. There’s simply no other comprehensive, inclusive, far-reaching, financially solid development program on the global market. Certainly not India’s Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC).


Have BRI, will travel

It starts with Hong Kong. When Xi said, “We will continue to support Hong Kong and Macau in integrating their own development into the overall development of the country”, he meant Hong Kong configured as a major BRI financing hub – its new role after a recent past of business facilitator between China and the West.

Hong Kong’s got what it takes; convertible currency; total capital mobility; rule of law; no tax on interest, dividends and capital gains; total access to China’s capital market/savings; and last but not least, Beijing’s support.

Enter the dream of myriad financing packages (public-private; equity-debt; short-long term bonds). Hong Kong’s BRI role will be of the Total Package international financial center (venture capital; private equity; flotation of stocks and bonds; investment banking; mergers and acquisitions; reinsurance) interlinked with the Greater Bay Area – the 11 cities (including Guangzhou and Shenzhen) of the Pearl River Delta (light/heavy manufacturing; hi-tech venture capitalists, start-ups, investors; top research universities).

That ties up with Xi’s emphasis on innovation; “We will strengthen basic research in applied sciences, launch major national science and technology projects, and prioritize innovation in key generic technologies, cutting-edge frontier technologies, modern engineering technologies, and disruptive technologies.”

The integration of the Greater Bay Area is bound to inspire, fuel, and in some cases even mould some of BRI’s key projects. The Eurasian Land Bridge from Xinjiang to Western Russia (China and Kazakhstan are actively turbo-charging their joint free trade zone at Khorgos). The China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor. The connection of the Central Asian “stans” to West Asia – Iran and Turkey. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Xinjiang all the way to Gwadar in the Arabian Sea – capable of sparking an “economic revolution” according to Islamabad. The China-Indochina corridor from Kunming to Singapore. The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor (assuming India does not boycott it). The Maritime Silk Road from coastal southeast China all the way to the Mediterranean, from Piraeus to Venice.

Yiwu-London freight trains, Shanghai-Tehran freight trains, the Turkmenistan to Xinjiang gas pipeline – these are all facts on the ground. Along the way, the technologies and tools of infrastructure connectivity – applied to high-speed rail networks, power plants, solar farms, motorways, bridges, ports, pipelines – will be closely linked with financing by the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the security-economic cooperation imperatives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to build the new Eurasia from Shanghai to Rotterdam. Or, to evoke Vladimir Putin’s original vision, even before BRI was launched, “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

Xi did not spell it out, but Beijing will do everything to stay as independent as possible from the Western Central Bank system, with the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) to be avoided in as many trade deals as possible to the benefit of yuan-based transactions or outright barter. The petrodollar will be increasingly bypassed (it’s already happening between China and Iran, and Beijing sooner rather than later will demand it from Saudi Arabia.)

The end result, by 2050, will be, barring inevitable, complex glitches, an integrated market of 4.5 billion people mostly using local currencies for bilateral and multilateral trade, or a basket of currencies (yuan-ruble-rial-yen-rupee).

Xi has laid China’s cards – as well as the road map – on the table. As far as the Chinese Dream is concerned, it’s now clear; Have BRI, Will Travel.


viernes, 20 de octubre de 2017

Fisuras

Se aprecian fisuras en la postura europea frente a Rusia en estos días. Las fisuras vienen, no casualmente, de la Europa del Este, aunque Alemania y Francia posiblemente apoyen en las sombras una solución a la andanada de sanciones comerciales que vienen del Imperio. Habrá que ver. La nota que sigue es de Alex Gorka para el sitio web Strategic Culture Foundation:


Título: Cracks in EU Unity on Russia Sanctions Get Wider

Epígrafe: When small countries are at one, their opinion starts to carry weight. In Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the voices calling for changing the European policy on Russia are getting louder.

Texto: Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said in an interviewwith BBC that the relations between the West and Russia should improve despite all the existing differences. She does not consider Moscow as an enemy. According to the president, the West is ready to meet Russia halfway but Moscow should be first to make steps aimed at normalizing the relationship. Estonia has always been a staunch advocate of tough stance on Russia, now it appears to soften its stance.

Speaking at the 137th meeting of Inter-Parliamentary Union in Saint Petersburg (Oct.14-18), Andrej Danko, Slovakia’s Speaker of Parliament, said that, despite the sanctions, the economic ties between the West and Russia are thriving. Many EU and US companies were involved in economic activities in the country. He also mentioned the existence of special relationship between Slav nations. Talking to Saint Petersburg’s governor Georgy Poltavchenko, the speaker emphasized the importance of cultural ties and the need to teach Russian language in Slovak schools.

As a result of Austrian legislative elections held on 15 October 2017, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) emerged as the largest party in the National Council. The winner is led by the country’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz who advocates normalizing the relations with Russia, including easing or lifting the EU sanctions. The Austria's right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) came in third place in the election, gaining 51 seats - only one seat less than the Social Democrats (SPÖ) with 52 seats. With the two current governing parties, SPÖ and ÖVP, in a "deep dispute in every respect”, the Freedom Party has a good chance to join a ruling coalition. The party calls for lifting Russian sanctions and recognizing Crimea as part of Russia. FPÖ politicians have traveled to Crimea, demonstrating their opposition to the policy adopted by the EU.

The legislative election in the Czech Republic is scheduled to be held on October 20-21, 2017. Eurosceptic Andrej Babis, the second-wealthiest man in the country and the leader of ANO (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens) Party, ispoised to win. The party, which has attracted voters from both right and left, is pulling support away from traditional parties and is leading in polls. Babis opposes sanctions on Russia and seeks more trade with Moscow. He has previously called the Russia sanctions “nonsense.” The politician attacks the European Union and says NATO’s mission is outdated.

President Milos Zeman, a politician advocating friendly ties with Russia, has said that if ANO wins, he will name Babis prime minister. In a speech to the Council of Europe on October 10, Miloš Zeman deemed the sanctions ineffective and the reunion of Russia with Crimea “irreversible.”

On October 5, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev blasted the punitive measures as “harmful” for his country’s business.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has always strongly opposed the anti-Russia EU policy. In late August, the Hungarian leader welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to Budapest as a guest of honor. During the visit, the Russian president announced that Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, would launch the construction of two new blocks at the Paks nuclear power plant in early 2018, a project valued at €10.8 billion. The Russia-Turkey Turkish Stream gas pipeline is to go via Bulgaria and Serbia to reach Hungary. When US President Donald Trump pledged to deliver US liquefied natural gas to CEE states in July, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto signed a road map agreement with Russian Gazprom. Despite its EU membership, Budapest is conducting business as usual with Moscow.

Croatia and Slovenia maintain good relations with Russia and call for easing the sanctions.

Poland is the only CEE country taking a tough stance against on Russia but it faces a conflict with the EU.

The desire to normalize the relations with Russia is evident. A Pro-Russian belt is being shaped in Eastern Europe as the sanctions hurt the countries of the region more than others. It’s not the relatively small states of CEE only. The German government had a sharp reaction to the round of sanctions imposed by the US Congress over Russian meddling in the US presidential elections in 2016. It has been lobbying for Nord Stream 2 gas project despite problems with EU legislation. German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has always been critical of Russia sanctions. Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus see the sanctions as a problem.

The trend is obvious. Russia sanctions are growing unpopular in the region. The process is gaining momentum because the punitive measures run counter to the national interests of CEE countries.


jueves, 19 de octubre de 2017

Proyecto kurdo en caída libre


Malas noticias para los independentistas kurdos en estos días. El gobierno de Irak ha ordenado la recuperación de su territorio nacional, relegando la región de Kurdistán iraquí a sus fronteras de 2003. Estamos hablando de petróleo, chicos. De paso, buenas noticias para Siria: algo similar va a ocurrir en ese país. La foto de arriba muestra a miembros de las fuerzas iraquíes ocupando la oficina del ex gobernador de Kirkuk hace dos días. Así lo cuenta Elijah Magnier, corresponsal de guerra de Medio Oriente para el medio árabe Al Rai:


Título: Barzani's Failed Kurdistan Project: A Deathblow To The Partition Of Iraq And Syria

Texto: The project to divide Iraq was dealt a deathblow by a decision of the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi to send the Army and the security forces to recover all Iraqi territories controlled by the Kurds of Massoud Barzani. The Kurdish leader was riding the horse of Iraqi partition (in fact, a lame horse) to establish a Kurdish state in the northern part of the country. Following the failure of Barzani’s project in taking advantage of the fight against ISIS and therefore declaring his “state”, every country in the Middle East is abandoning him because no one likes to be associated with failure.

Barzani sent envoys (I personally met some) around the globe who returned with apparently promising results: “over 80 countries promised to recognise the new State of Kurdistan”. These promises turned out to be false (“no friends but the mountains”), other (existing) political alliances turned out to be stronger and Barzani was left alone with his empty promises and unreliable advisers.

Countries of the region – France, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to start with – are now establishing a clear and unambiguous relationship with Baghdad’s government. Abadi, following an authorization of parliament, used a fist of iron to fragment the partition project – not only of Iraq – but of the entire region, that was supposed to be sparked off by the Kurds in Iraq and in Syria and via the regime change attempt in the Levant.

In less than 48 hours, the Iraqi army, with all its security services (army, popular mobilization units, Counter-Terrorism, Federal Police), extended its control over Kirkuk, Khanaqin (Diyala), Bashiqa, Makhmour (Nineveh) and Sinjar - the city that leads to the borders with Syria. All territories that were established for Baghdad’s control under the US administrator Paul Bremer in 2003-2004 (with the limits of Kurdistan) are back now in place.

Abadi forced the Kurdish Peshmerga to return to the old areas they controlled in 2003 after they took advantage of the “Islamic State’s” (ISIS) occupation of large Iraqi territories in the north and north-east and north-west of Iraq in 2014.

Most importantly, the Baghdad government has started its recovery of territory (following Kurdistan referendum) from the rich province of Kirkuk – which produces more than 65 percent of Iraq’s northern oil (about 500,000 bpd) - a region which accounts for about 40 percent of Iraq’s total national oil production. Kirkuk includes the oil fields of Tawke, Peshkabir, Atrush, Shaikan, TaqTaq, Khurmala Dome Avana Dome, Bab Jambur, BaiHasan: all were recovered and are now under Baghdad’s central government control.

Thus, by recovering Kirkuk (and its oil fields), Abadi stopped the rise of the “State of Kurdistan”, which cannot exist with the remaining northern oil without substantial financial support from Baghdad to pay the salaries of the army (Peshmerga) and official employees, and this as long as Erbil delivers the full production of oil: in exchange 17% of its revenue will be due to Kurdistan. Massoud Barzani will have to withdraw from the political scene because he will be unwilling to beg for the return to the archaic relationship with Baghdad government and obey the Prime Minister- this might prove just too humiliating.

Pavel Talabani, the son of the Iraqi ex-President Jalal Talabani, declared that the Kurdish army in the eastern regions of Khanaqin-Sulaymaniyah was under the command of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, thus taking his distance from Erbil, further isolating the Kurdish Leader Masoud Barzani: who is in fact the biggest loser today in Iraq.

The first to abandon Barzani was Turkey, which has announced that it will close its border (after days of hesitation awaiting the concrete results of Massoud’s separatist rejection of biding by the constitution and Baghdad’s reaction to it) with Kurdistan and handed over the main crossing point between the two countries to the central government in Baghdad and its forces. Saudi Arabia followed immediately with direct contact with King Salam, who offered his congratulations to Abadi and rejected Barzani’s rebellion.

With the collapse of the Barzani project, the United States had much less hope than before of pushing Syrian Kurds towards independence from Damascus. Baghdad has regained control of the crossings between Iraq and Syria in Sinjar – Rabi’a. Two more crossings remain outside of Baghdad’s control: Tanf under US control temporarily and al-Qaem under ISIS. This means no support, no exit and no entrance will remain legally available to the Syrian Kurds. The new situation will lock down the airspace from Syrian al-Hasaka which is surrounded by Turkey in the west, by the forces of Damascus in the south and by the regular Iraqi forces in the east.

Nope. Recent events dealt a deathblow to partition:

The Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided the Levant in the wake of World War I, was revived after analysts and diplomats called for the redrawing of the borders of the Middle East region, especially Iraq and Syria, the creation of a new state called Kurdistan (Iraq and Syria), a new Sunnistan (for Sunni in Anbar-Iraq and Idlib – Syria) and Shiistan in south of Iraq.

Turkey has begun to review its policy with Iraq and it will certainly find common ground with Baghdad so that it withdraws its troops from Bashika and other areas now that Abadi has showed his teeth against Erbil’s decision and his willingness to wage war against those who want to divide Iraq (and without considering the cost).

The attractive commercial relationship, that has been at the centre of the attention of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will prevail, and will encourage Iraq and Turkey to re-establish good neighbourly relations ( Turkish-Syrian relationships will certainly follow after the war ends in Syria).

The US will be forced today to reconsider its presence in the north-east of Syria because such a presence has now become meaningless. The US forces are stationed in al-Tanaf without any strategic purpose and in al-Hasaka/Raqqah with the Kurds, whereas ISIS has been defeated in its Syrian capital. In fact, it is possibly easier for its own proxies – the Syrian Kurds – to give up this alliance in time, before this same US drops them. Kurdish interests don’t lie with Washington but with Damascus, ready to establish a constructive dialogue with them if they stop being seduced by the US’s temporary interest in the Levant.

And lastly, Haider al-Abadi gave himself the political impetus he had missed in recent years. Yes, Iran played a key role in warning Masoud Barzani, a day before the start of the Iraqi operation to recover all territories from the Peshmerga: the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Qasem Soleimani alerted Barzani to the gravity of the situation (but in vain). He pressed the Iranian-Talabani ally to stand down and take distance from Barzani, and to support Abadi in countering Kurdistan’s “partition plans”.

But it was Abadi’s final decision to act. He rendered a huge service to Syria and to his own country. Abadi has secured himself a strong place in the Iraqi political arena and the upcoming elections as a Prime Minister for a second term. It will be very difficult to compete with him, he who destroyed ISIS but, above all, the “hero” who exploded the biggest danger of all: the partition of Iraq … and Syria.


miércoles, 18 de octubre de 2017

Mientras tanto, en Madagascar...


¿Creían que con el Sida y el Ébola teníamos bastante? Finalmente nos llegan noticias de la tierra de los baobabs y los lemúridos. Cierta plaga bacteriana transmitida por ratas está causando pánico en Antananaribo, capital de Madagascar, así como también preocupación entre los infectólogos de todo el mundo. La nota que sigue es de Mac Slavo y apareció en su sitio web SHTFplan.com:


Título: 57 Dead, Over 680 Infected As Madagascar Plague Outbreak Escalates

Subtítulo: An outbreak of the plague in Madagascar is spreading at an unprecedented rate.

Texto: With the ease of spreading the plague, the likelihood that this disease will move to other more densely populated regions of the planet has become a huge concern for many.

So far, the plague has claimed 57 lives and infected more than 680 others. These figures are from October 12, however, and the disease is spreading rapidly. An estimated 329 of these cases and 25 of the deaths were in the capital city of Antananarivo. Of the 684 cases reported as of October 12, 474 were the pneumonic plague, 156 bubonic and 1 septicemic plague. A further 54 were unspecified, according to the World Health Organization. Of Madagascar’s 114 districts, 35 have reported cases of plague, including at least 10 cities.

Plague is caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is typically spread through the bite of infected fleas, frequently carried by rats. The bacteria will eventually end up causing the often fatal plague. Symptoms can include painful, swollen lymph nodes, called buboes, as well as fever, chills, and coughing. Pneumonic plague is more virulent or damaging and is an advanced form of the disease characterized by a severe lung infection. The infection can be transmitted from person to person via airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing. The incubation period is extremely short too, and an infected person may die within 12 to 24 hours of contracting the bacteria making cures in underdeveloped regions of the globe difficult at best.

According to CNN, the cases were reported by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Bureau for Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC) in Madagascar. They include probable and suspected cases as well those that have been confirmed by laboratory tests. And while the country experiences regular outbreaks, with an estimated 400 cases of plague each year, this time things are very different, experts warn.

This year, health officials report the infections started much earlier than usual, and they’re occurring in new areas, including urban settings. They’ve also seen an unexpected number of cases of pneumonic plague, which transmits more easily from person to person. Historically dubbed the “black death” the bubonic plague has been responsible for several worldwide pandemics in the past.

Early detection of the plague is key since both forms of it can be cured with antibiotics. But, occasionally there can be cases of septicemic plague, where the infection has spread to a person’s bloodstream and can cause bleeding and necrosis of tissue, turning it black.

The government of Madagascar has mobilized resources to spray schools and other public places to fight fleas and rodents and curb the spread of the infection. People have also been lining up at pharmacies in the capital while wearing face masks to get medications or protection. To further reduce the spread of the disease, public schools are closed and the government has forbidden public gatherings, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

Internationally, this outbreak is also being taken seriously. WHO delivered more than 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and released $1.5 million in emergency funds earlier this month. The Red Cross has released more than $1 million to deploy a treatment center and has mobilized more than 1,000 volunteers and is upgrading their skills on community surveillance, finding and monitoring people who have been in contact with infected patients and insightful messaging to stop the spread of this disease.

martes, 17 de octubre de 2017

Se encoge el Kurdistán


¡Qué poco duran los mandatos de referendums independentistas hoy en día! Hace un rato los kurdos se mandaron a guardar y le prometieron al gobierno de Irak volver el Kurdistán a sus fronteras de 2003. En fin, chicos, que el independentismo paga poco, o directamente no paga (atentti Cataluña!). La primera de las dos notas que posteamos hoy es del sitio web Moon of Alabama y sirve de contexto a la segunda; acá va: 


Título: Syria, Iraq - Why The Kurdish Independence Project Died

Texto: The bid of the Kurdish Barzani clan for an independent Kurdistan in north Iraq and beyond has utterly failed. Masoud Barzani, the strongman of the Iraqi Kurdish  region, had called for the referendum to divert from his government's financial problems. Other Kurdish powerhouses saw it as a last attempt by Barzani to save his failing political position. The referendum asked for independence including in "Kurdistani areas outside the (Kurdistan) Region". It was an annexation bid. National Iraqi forces as well as the international powers turned against it. Masoud Barzani and his family are now likely to lose their leading position.

The various unilateral Kurdish assertions since 2003 will be driven back. The dream of Kurdish independence in Iraq and Syria is, for now, dead. This is a positive development for both countries.

Since 2003 and especially since 2014 the Kurds had pushed far beyond their original borders. They occupied areas with diverse populations and with critical Iraqi oil reserves. With backing from the Iraqi parliament, public opinion and international support the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Abadi had for months demanded a return of the 2003 borders. It condemned the illegal independence bid.

The ruling Barzani family mafia sold the oil and pocketed the money that by law was owned to Iraq's federal government. The Barzani militia mafia occupied the federal border stations to neighboring countries and kept all custom income to themselves. Meanwhile teachers and other public workers in the Kurdish region went unpaid.

The Barzani family clan is only one of the powers in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Historically its main competitors are the Talabani clan. Both clans control their own political parties (KDP and PUK) and militia. Both had been fighting against each other during a civil war in the 1990s. Then the Barzanis called in help from Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to defeat their local enemies.

Over the last decade the Talabanis were handicapped by their ailing patriarch Jalal Talabani. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq he eschewed a major role in the Kurdish region in exchange for the ceremonial position of a president of Iraq. When Jalal Talbani died on October 2 his family immediately asserted its position. It negotiated a deal with the central Iraqi government to reign in the Barzanis' quasi dictatorial powers. The Iranian General Qassam Suleiman helped to arrange the agreement.

When the Iraqi government forces, as previously announced, moved to retake Kirkuk from the Kurds the Kurdish militia forces (peshmerga) under PUK/Talibani command retreated as planned. The militia under KDP/Barzani command were left in an indefensible position and had to flee in haste.

Yesterday and today Iraqi national forces retook control of various large oil fields the Kurds had occupied. They are also back in control of border stations with Syria and Turkey. After three years the Yazidi can finally go back to Sinjar. The Mosul Dam is again in government hands. Without oil and customs dues the Kurdish region lacks the assets and income to finance any regional independence. While his project collapsed in front of everyone's eyes, not a word was heard from Masoud Barzani.

The Iraqi government will not only retake full control of the areas the Kurds under Brazani had illegally usurped. It will also demand new regional elections. It is doubtful that Masoud Barzani, or any of his sons, can win such local elections after all the mismanagement and disasters they caused.

In Syria the Kurdish YPG/SDF forces today took full control of Raqqa. It will take months to clear the last remands ISIS left behind. It will take years to rebuild the city as it was largely destroyed by U.S. air support during the fight against ISIS.

In Deir Ezzor the last Islamic State positions are collapsing under attacks of Syrian government forces. In a few more days and weeks the city and countryside will also be fully liberated.

The war against ISIS is coming to an end. The Kurdish independence project in Iraq has died. The Kurds in Syria will now also be cut back to size. With less than 8% of the population the YPG led Kurds had taken control of 20% of the land and some 40% of the hydrocarbon resources. They will have to give up those gains.

The Kurdish forces in Syria had material and personal support from U.S. forces. Most of the equipment and munition was transported by U.S. planes to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in Iraq, and from there by land through Iraqi-Syrian border stations under Barzani's control. The Iraqi government in Baghdad will now be back in control of those crossings. The flow of U.S. material into the Kurdish-Syrian areas is no longer assured.

The U.S. had long supported Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. It has now taken the side of the Iraqi central government. The (Barzani) Kurds were left hanging. The Kurds in Syria surely recognized that and they will calculate appropriately.

Meanwhile Turkish forces have invaded Idelb governate in north-west Syria and nearly surrounded the Kurdish enclave of Efrin. Only Russia is holding Erdogan back from moving any further. Last weekend the military leader of the YPG/SDF in Syria, Sipan Hamo, visited Moscow. He wants Russian protection for Efrin but for that he will have to pay a price.

The Kurds in Syria will have to reconcile with the Syrian government. Political support from Washington is obviously not reliable. Without U.S. air support the Kurdish military positions are way overstretched. The flow of material support to them is now under latent control of the Baghdad which is allied with the Syrian government side. Only Damascus and its allies in Moscow can prevent the fall of Efrin.

There is no trump card left to play for the Kurds. They can hope that Russia will help them to achieve some bits of federal autonomy in areas of Syria where they are the majority. They will have to give up their other gains.

Zionist forces, which want to split up Syria, will try their best to prevent a U.S. retreat from Syria. Some in the U.S. military will want to continue their alliance with Syrian Kurds. But Turkey as well as Iraq are against further U.S. support for Kurdish forces. Without any assured air, land or sea route the U.S. military can not sustain a long term involvement in Syria. Moreover - there is nothing to gain for it.

I expect that President Trump will declare victory over ISIS in Raqqa and order the U.S. military to leave the country. There will likely be some minor involvement for months to come but the main operation will be wrapped up. What is left of ISIS in Syria's east will be rolled up by the Syrian army and its allies.

Over the last decades, and especially since the (foreign induced) Salafi insurrection weakened the states of Syria and Iraq, the Kurds had made huge territorial and political gains. But they became overly greedy and did not see that these gains were not sustainable. Iraq and Syria reasserted themselves. The "western" allies of the Kurds rediscovered that their strategic interests are best served by intact nation states.

As I wrote elsewhere, the Kurds are an extremely diverse people:

There are four Kurdish languages which are not mutually understandable. There are a dozen religions among Kurds though a majority are (Sufi) Sunni. They have been schooled and socialized in four different states. There are tribal conglomerates or clans like the Barzani and Talibani which have their own political parties and are led by patriarchal family mafias. There are members of the anarcho-marxist cult of Özalan while neighboring Salafi Kurds have joined ISIS to then kill the neighboring Yezidi Kurds. None of these groups has any enlightened or democratic understanding of the world.

The Kurds never got a state and will never get one because they are so hugely diverse and have little national unity. They will rather fight each other than accept some common leadership.

Over centuries the Kurdish people never found the agreement among themselves that is needed to form a viable nation state. The fall of their latest independence bid only confirm this weakness.


***

La segunda nota, por su parte, viene de Zero Hedge:


Título: Iraqi Kurd Army Agrees To Return To 2003 Border, Oil Slides

Texto: In a dramatic de-escalation of recent hostilities in Iraqi Kurdistan, where in a blitz campaign the Iraqi army was able to recapture Kirkuk , effectively regaining control of the oil-rich region, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, i.e. the army of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan told Sky News Arabia that it has agreed to return to the 2003 Iraq border, which if confirmed would be a major concession to Iraq which has been pushing for just this conclusion for the past month.

The opportunistic Kurdistan Regional Government increased its territory by at least 40% during the war with Islamic State, bringing many of these disputed areas under its control after the Iraqi army withdrew in the face of advancing ISIS militants. However, as Iraqi forces and pro-govt militias have already regained control of many of these areas, including Kirkuk, over the past 48 hours, the Iraqi Kurdistan region had no other choice. According to the Kurdish news service Rudaw, the pre-2003 borders "exclude disputed areas such as Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Tuz Khurmatu, Makhmour, and Zumar from the Kurdistan Region."

Incidentally, at the start of September, Rudaw reported that Baghdad wants the Kurdistan Region to withdraw from disputed areas and return to pre-2003 borders between the autonomous region and Iraq, said Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani. At the time Barzani vowed that the Peshmerga will not retreat from any areas that were taken "with the blood of fallen soldiers." It took one month for him to change his tune.

Barzani said at the time that the planned independence referendum can work as a peaceful tool to settle outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad. In retrospect it turned out to be an epic disaster for the Kurdish autonomous region, which is about to lose a substantial portion of its territories.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi recalamation of Kirkuk appears to have gone without bloodshed, with US Coalition forces stating that aside from one incident of "miscommunication" no further reports of armed conflict between ISF-Kurdish Peshmerga.

If Sky News Arabia is confirmed, it would imply that a major geopolitical risk factor, and a potential upside catalyst for oil prices, has been eliminated. Tangentially, earlier today Goldman released a report called the "return of oil's geopolitical risks" in which it claimed that "Geopolitical risks to the oil market have continued to intensify, with Iraq’s military seizing oil fields formerly controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) yesterday, Monday, October 16 and President Trump decertifying the Iranian deal on Friday."

Well, at least half of these risks may now have been resolved, and if so expect the price of oil to react appropriately, which it is indeed doing...


Finally, Masoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdish Iraqi region, issued the following statement on Tuesday:

Salahadin, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, (Krp.org)- President Masoud Barzani issued a statement today regarding the recent events in the Kurdistan Region which commenced with the attack on the city of Kirkuk in the hands of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces.

The statement begins by referring to the fact that the people of Kurdistan have throughout history been oppressed and have lived with injustice. This injustice and this oppression have stemmed, the President says from the Kurds' defense of their identity. They have been, he adds, subjected to genocide and mass murder, the most recent of such atrocities was in the hands of the terrorists of the Islamic State. The statement reminds the people of Kurdistan, Iraq and the world that in spite of these atrocities, the people of Kurdistan have always been against waging wars and have worked in pursuit of peace.

In reference to the recent events in Kirkuk, the President states that some people from a certain political party had unilaterally paved the way for such attack whose result was the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces from Kirkuk. 

The statement reassures the people of Kurdistan that all of the resources of the Kurdistan Region will be allocated for the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region.

President Barzani calls upon the political entities of the Kurdistan Region to work towards unity. He also commends the endurance of the people of the Kurdistan Region. He also calls upon all of the media outlets of the Kurdistan Region to work responsibly during these arduous times facing the people of the Kurdistan Region.

The President concludes the statement by saying that those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for Kurdistan have not been lost in vain, and the same shall be true for those who voted for an independent Kurdistan.


Nihilismo en el aire


Habrán notado que el mundo no es un lecho de rosas en estos últimos tiempos. Ocurre que la caída del Imperio viene en cámara lenta, mientras que poco a poco se desperezan fuerzas centrífugas en distintos pueblos y naciones. Fuerzas liberadas a su antojo, aprovechando el vacío de poder que deja el Imperio y la timidez de un nuevo orden, un nuevo equilibrio de fuerzas, que tarda en hacerse ver. A todo esto aparece Donald Trump y rompe todo, desconoce acuerdos, amenaza a medio planeta y traiciona cada uno de los principios que sostuvo para acceder al poder. Hay violencia en el aire, chicos: estamos viviendo los famosos tiempos interesantes. La nota que sigue habla de estas cosas; es de Wayne Madsen y apareció hoy en el sitio web Strategic Culture Foundation



Título: The American Century’s Final Curtain

Texto: History will show that the United States, more than a decade after being drawn by rabid neo-conservative war hawks into costly and ill-advised conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, saw the final curtain drawn on its post-Cold War “American Century.” The inauguration of Donald Trump, who acts more like the Roman emperors Caligula or Nero than an American statesman, is hastening the final act in the Pax Americana stage play.

Crafty world leaders are using the dysfunctionality of US foreign policy to push the envelope, while America is pre-occupied with what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called a moron, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Corker called a child in need of adult day care, and the North Korean government called a senile “dotard” in the Oval Office. The final chapter of the American Century has given problematic leaders like Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Saudi King Salman, and Moroccan King Mohammed VI encouragement to carry out their own agendas in the absence of America’s past framing of the geo-political map.

Trump has outsourced American policy in the Middle East primarily to Israel, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates acting as cheerleaders for the Israelis. The first clue that Trump would hand Middle East policy to Israel came with his nomination of the anti-Palestinian Zionist David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel. That was followed by Trump’s appointment of his pro-Likud son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a special envoy to the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a friend of the Trump family since the 1980s, has taken advantage of a powerless State Department to annex more Israeli-occupied lands in the West Bank in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. Netanyahu is also a close friend of Kushner and his father, Charles Kushner.

In just a few days, Trump carried out two act that were not in America’s interest but had been pushed by Netanyahu. These were the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), because Trump viewed it as overly anti-Israeli, and Trump’s official denouncement of the P5+1’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. Previously, Trump scrapped America’s participation in the Paris Climate Accord, making the United States the world’s only outlier in rejecting the accord.

The eclipse of US influence on the world stage has seen several world leaders begin to push the envelope against Washington either by directly confronting the United States or by reneging on international treaties and agreements. Trump, who has made scrapping international treaties his stock-in-trade, sets a bad example for other leaders to pull out of long-honored agreements and pacts. 

Perhaps no leader has taken advantage of American foreign policy and military turmoil more than Turkey’s Erdogan. Last year, Erdogan's dictatorial government arrested American Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson on charges that he was involved in the so-called "Fethullah Terrorist Organization" coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016. Erdogan attempted to swap Brunson for Gulen, a billionaire businessman and cleric now living under official political asylum in Pennsylvania. Erdogan's request was not acted upon, so, as is the case with bullies, he grabbed another hostage, Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee of the US Consulate-General in Istanbul. Erdogan’s government unsatisfied with America’s inaction on Gulen, arrested a second employee of the US Consulate-General, along with his wife and child.

The US retaliated by suspending the processing of all non-immigrant visas for Turks wishing to enter the United States. Erdogan ordered the Turkish visa offices in the United States to do the same with US visa applications for travel to Turkey. Erdogan has reportedly ordered the arrest of a half-dozen Turkish-American citizens on similar trumped up charges of aiding in the 2016 coup and of being connected to Gulen's organization.

The Kim Jong Un government in North Korea has engaged in a war of words with Trump after the US President resorted to calling the North Korean leader "rocket man" in tweets and before the United Nations General Assembly. North Korea, sizing up Trump's attacks on the JCPOA nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, has no desire to reach a nuclear deal with anyone after witnessing that anything the United States signs is not worth the paper it's printed on. It is also noteworthy that North Korea signed the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement Trump has renounced.

Similar breakdowns in international law are popping up all over the world with Washington's preoccupation with a president considered even by his closest military and national security aides to be too mentally unbalanced to be trusted with the nuclear launch codes. Ukraine, which has been encouraged by promises from some parties in the Trump administration of receiving US lethal weaponry, has walked away from the Normandy Quartet and Minsk Agreements between Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany on cessation of hostilities in eastern Ukraine. After witnessing Trump turn international agreements into toilet paper, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, who presides over a kleptocracy that includes rich Ukrainians linked to the Trump and Kushner criminal organizations, sees no reason to abide by agreements with Russia worked out through the diplomatic offices of France, Germany, and Belarus.

Even though the European Court of Justice ruled last year that Morocco could not claim the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which is recognized as an independent state by 40 nations, Morocco is now reneging on an agreement to hold a referendum in Western Sahara on independence. With Trump referring to the UN as an exercise in mismanagement, Morocco's King Mohammed feels emboldened to ignore repeated UN resolutions on Western Sahara.

Taking a page from King Mohammed, Papua New Guinea's scandal-plagued prime minister, Peter O'Neill, is reneging on carrying out a Bougainville independence referendum prior to 2020. A referendum is guaranteed by the UN-endorsed Bougainville Peace Accord of 2001. The referendum, if passed, would require Papua New Guinea to grant independence to Bougainville.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also shown signs of wanting to violate the 1998 Noumea Accord, which requires a referendum on independence for its South Pacific colony of New Caledonia to be held prior to November 2018. France appears inclined to see more French mainland citizens move to New Caledonia in advance of the poll to ensure a "no" vote wins in the referendum.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a political heir of Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco, is threatening to impose direct rule on secession-minded Catalonia, with the nodding approval of the European Union. Such a move would terminate Catalonia's self-government institutions, a return to Franco’s policy toward Catalonia.

Saudi Arabia, with Trump's encouragement, led an economic and transportation boycott of Qatar, which violates several international agreements, including the UN Charter. The Saudis even contemplated shooting down a Qatar Airways passenger jumbo jet, claiming it violated Saudi airspace. The United Arab Emirates apparently triggered the Qatar crisis by hacking the Qatar News Agency and inserting a story that quoted Qatar's emir of being critical of the Saudi king. It was later revealed that Israel was involved in the hacking through one of its lobbying organizations in Washington, the neo-con Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The Saudis also pressured tiny Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, to expel 500 Qatari peacekeeping troops monitoring the Djibouti-Eritrean border. The Saudis have also ignored a recent UN report on genocide committed by its coalition forces against children in Yemen.

The scrapping of international agreements around the world has followed America's preoccupation with an unstable president and his disdain for international accords. Trump’s unilateral actions against the JCPOA, UNESCO, and the Paris Climate Accord are likely to be followed by other brusque actions on the international stage.

Norway, perhaps emboldened by the anti-Russia saber rattling of its former prime minister-turned-NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, is violating the terms of the 1920 Svalbard Agreement. The agreement guarantees free international access to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Norway has started to illegally impose Norwegian visa regulations for the islands, which, the most part, are designed to keep out Russian nationals.

The minute Trump was sworn in as president, new and long-dormant flashpoints began lighting up around the world, from the Rock of Gibraltar and Africa's Caprivi Strip to the Sikkim-Tibet border and the Arabian Sea’s island of Socotra. As Trump descends into further madness, many of these flashpoints will ignite into conflict. The Trump era will be known in future history books as not only the end of the “American Century” but as a time when America's lack of leadership and international engagement plunged the world into violence-ridden nihilism.

lunes, 16 de octubre de 2017

Ophelia


Los atentos lectores de Astroboy habrán fruncido el ceño cuando, esta mañana, se anunció la llegada del huracán tropical Ophelia a... Irlanda! Sí, chicos, extrañas cosas pasan en el Atlántico Norte en estos meses. ¿Cambio climático? Nada que ver; seguramente el evento obedece a que la Luna se puso esta semana en Sagitario, o a algún tipo de intervención malintencionada de los rusos en el oeste europeo. De paso, el huracán no aportó lluvias sino fuertes vientos secos a la Península Ibérica, motivo por el cual se aceleró la ola de incendios que arrasa dicha región en estos días. De todo esto habla la nota que sigue, de Josep Fita para el diario catalán La Vanguardia


Título: Ophelia, el peor aliado en la lucha contra los fuegos de Portugal y Galicia

Subtítulo: El ciclón tropical, que ya se encuentra sobre Irlanda, ha contribuido al efecto devastador de los incendios

Texto: En Portugal y Galicia viven horas críticas. Sólo en tierras gallegas hay ahora mismo (14:00) un centenar de incendios activos , de los cuales 17 afectan directamente a núcleos urbanos. El fuego ha dejado por el momento cuatro muertos en Galicia y 31 en el país vecino.

Ya de por sí es complicado hacer frente a tal cantidad de incendios; pero si, además, se une a ellos un aliado en forma de huracán, la tarea se complica. Eso es lo que ha pasado en las últimas horas en Galicia, cuando los vientos del huracán Ophelia se han dejado notar.

Y el problema no era sólo el viento, que soplaba a unos 80 km/h, sino su procedencia. “Ophelia impulsaba vientos del sur, lo que ha hecho que la humedad relativa bajara”, explica a La Vanguardia Mònica Usart, meteoróloga de RAC1 y 8tv. Y no sólo eso: “Ese viento cálido hizo que se dispararan las temperaturas, con máximas de entre 30 y 34 grados en un mes de octubre, y todo ello en una época de sequía”, añade.


La tormenta perfecta

O sea, que se ha dado la combinación perfecta para que el fuego encontrara el mejor ecosistema para seguir creciendo: viento fuerte y cálido, temperaturas altas, baja humedad relativa y sequía.

El problema es que Ophelia sólo dejó viento en Galicia, y no lluvia. Y es que la precipitación quedó circunscrita sobre el océano. “Pero las borrascas que se irán desprendiendo de este fenómeno sí acabarán afectando a Galicia”, vaticina Usart. Los mapas indican que para esta noche podrían llegar chubascos generosos en la zona, y que el martes por la tarde habría otro episodio de lluvias.


Un huracán anómalo

Poniendo el acento exclusivamente en el aspecto meteorológico, el huracán Ophelia “será motivo de estudio”, asevera esta meteoróloga. Y es que “un categoría 3 nunca había llegado a esas latitudes”, agrega.

Efectivamente, es extraño que un fenómeno de estas características haya llegado tan al norte. “Que se mantengan las características tropicales a esas latitudes es muy raro, porque el motor de estos fenómenos es el agua, y en esas zonas está más fría”, concluye Usart.

Al final acabará ocurriendo lo que acontece en muchos incendios. Hay un momento en que la meteorología no ayuda (sería el caso de Ophelia), pero luego es la misma meteorología, en forma de lluvia generosa, la que ayuda a sofocar el fuego.

domingo, 15 de octubre de 2017

¿Adiós al petrodólar?


¿Fin del petrodólar a la vista? Son varios los analistas que lo vienen sosteniendo desde hace ya varios años. No todos coinciden en el por qué de las cosas, sin embargo. Posteamos hoy dos notas. La primera es más convencional. Fue escrita por Kristian Rouz para Sputnik News:


Título: End of Petrodollar: Rise of Economic Protectionism to Reshape Global Trade

Subtítulo: The era of petrodollar recycling is drawing to an end as shifts in technology and international politics render it redundant, meaning the US is entering volatile times.

Texto: The rise of economic protectionism and nationalism in politics of the recent years, including the gradual implementation of US President Donald Trump's agenda and Brexit reshaping the contours of European trade, are poised to bring an end to the petrodollar recycling. These developments signal the first overhaul of international economic relations since the Nixon administration in the early 1970s in the United States.

The petrodollar system entailed the end of the gold standard in the US, which had its national currency pegged to the value of gold at $35 per ounce in the aftermath of World War II. However, the severe challenges that global economy faced in the late 1960s pushed the administration of Richard Milhous Nixon to abandon the system.

"The essence of the deal was that the US would agree to military sales and defense of Saudi Arabia in return for all oil trade being denominated in US dollars," The Huffington Post explains.

The shale revolution in oil production in the early 2010s rendered this system irrelevant in the US, as North America is becoming increasingly independent of crude oil imports and has, in fact, increased its own oil and petrochemical exports under President Trump.

However, President Trump's push for greater protectionism faces obstacles, mainly in the form of a significant Saudi investment in US Treasury bonds accrued over the past 40 years. The petrodollar system has allowed Saudi Arabia to increase its foreign reserves, and many other prominent oil-producing nations have followed the same foreign investment pattern.

The US, on its part, was able to increase its money supply by printing dollars, which has produced major dollar devaluation, by over 30 percent since the early 1980s. Subsequently, other oil importers, in order to pay for energy, had to buy US dollars first.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, "It does matter slightly that the trade typically takes place in dollars. This means that those wishing to buy oil must acquire dollars to buy the oil, which increases the demand for dollars in world financial markets."

This has guaranteed a sustainable demand for the dollar in overseas markets, supporting its FX rate: during the period of ultra-high inflation in the late 1970s, whilst domestic prices in the US were advancing at a 20 percent per annum pace, the dollar held its position firmly in the foreign markets.

The end of the petrodollar system would mean lower demand for the US dollar internationally, on the one hand, and would hinder the US Federal Reserve's ability to print greenbacks and get away with it, on the other.

Many economies are trading oil in their respective currencies, including mainland China and Russia, and Russia and Venezuela, whilst Iran and several Middle-Eastern oil producers are exploring similar deals with the EU.

This means, in the medium term, the US dollar's FX rate will decline against its major peers, allowing the Fed to normalize domestic monetary conditions and boosting US exports in manufactured goods. However, money printing is becoming a less viable option for the Fed, but the weakening dollar is poised to drive domestic US inflation at a pace rapid enough for the central bank to continue raising its interest rates.

Subsequently, the newly acquired US oil independence — bolstered by the prospect of a US-Canadian bilateral trade deal — will bring back the profitability of non-financial Main Street economic investments — due to base borrowing costs going up and commercial rates increasing as well.

The declining international demand for US Treasuries is expected to put upward pressure on Treasury yields, pushing natural interest rates up, and allowing the US to tackle its national debt problem.

On the flip side, however, the end of petrodollar recycling would mean a diminished US political influence in international affairs, which — apparently — corresponds to the Trump administration's goals as well.


***


La nota que sigue, por su parte, apunta a motivos más complejos: geopolítica y tecnología en primer lugar. Fue escrita por John Curran para Barron's:


Título: The Coming Renaissance of Macro Investing

Subtítulo: The petrodollar system is being undermined by exponential growth in technology and shifting geopolitics. Coming: a paradigm shift.

Texto: In the summer of 1974, Treasury Secretary William Simon traveled to Saudi Arabia and secretly struck a momentous deal with the kingdom. The U.S. agreed to purchase oil from Saudi Arabia, provide weapons, and in essence guarantee the preservation of Saudi oil wells, the monarchy, and the sovereignty of the kingdom. In return, the kingdom agreed to invest the dollar proceeds of its oil sales in U.S. Treasuries, basically financing America’s future federal expenditures.

Soon, other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries followed suit, and the U.S. dollar became the standard by which oil was to be traded internationally. For Saudi Arabia, the deal made perfect sense, not only by protecting the regime but also by providing a safe, liquid market in which to invest its enormous oil-sale proceeds, known as petrodollars. The U.S. benefited, as well, by neutralizing oil as an economic weapon. The agreement enabled the U.S. to print dollars with little adverse effect on interest rates, thereby facilitating consistent U.S. economic growth over the subsequent decades.

An important consequence was that oil-importing nations would be required to hold large amounts of U.S. dollars in reserve in order to purchase oil, underpinning dollar demand. This essentially guaranteed a strong dollar and low U.S. interest rates for a generation. Given this backdrop, one can better understand many subsequent U.S. foreign-policy moves involving the Middle East and other oil-producing regions.

Recent developments in technology and geopolitics, however, have already ignited a process to bring an end to the financial system predicated on petrodollars, which will have a profound impact on global financial markets. The 40-year equilibrium of this system is being dismantled by the exponential growth of technology, which will have a bearish impact on both supply and demand of petroleum. Moreover, the system no longer is in the best interest of key participants in the global oil trade. These developments have begun to exert influence on financial markets and will only grow over time. The upheaval of the petrodollar recycling system will trigger a resurgence of volatility and new price trends, which will lead to a renaissance in macro investing.

Let’s examine these developments in more detail. First, technology is affecting the energy markets dramatically, and this impact is growing exponentially. The pattern-seeking human mind is built for an observable linear universe, but has cognitive difficulty recognizing and understanding the impact of exponential growth.

Paralleling Moore’s Law, the current growth rate of new technologies roughly doubles every two years. In the transportation sector, the global penetration rate of electric vehicles, or EVs, was 1% at the end of 2016 and is now probably about 1.5%. However, a doubling every two years of this level of usage should lead to an automobile market that primarily consists of EVs in approximately 12 years, reducing gasoline demand and international oil revenue to a degree that today would seem unfathomable to the linear-thinking mind. Yes, the world is changing—rapidly.

Alternative energy sources (solar power, wind, and such) also are well into their exponential growth curves, and are even ahead of EVs in this regard. Based on growth curves of other recent technologies, and due to similar growth rates in battery technology and pricing, it is likely that solar power will supplant petroleum in a vast portion of nontransportation sectors in about a decade. Albert Einstein is rumored to have described compound interest (another form of exponential growth) as the most powerful force in the universe. This is real change.

The growth of U.S. oil production due to new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has both reduced the U.S. need for foreign sources of oil and led to lower global oil prices. With the U.S. economy more self-reliant for its oil consumption, reduced purchases of foreign oil have led to a drop in the revenues of oil-producing nations and by extension, lower international demand for Treasuries and U.S. dollars.


ANOTHER MAJOR SECULAR CHANGE that is under way in the oil market comes from the geopolitical arena. China, now the world’s largest importer of oil, is no longer comfortable purchasing oil in a currency over which it has no control, and has taken the following steps that allow it to circumvent the use of the U.S. dollar:

• China has agreed with Russia to purchase Russian oil and natural gas in yuan.

• As an example of China’s newfound power to influence oil exporters, China has persuaded Angola (the world’s second-largest oil exporter to China) to accept the yuan as legal tender, evidence of efforts made by Beijing to speed up internationalization of the yuan. The incredible growth rates of the Chinese economy and its thirst for oil have endowed it with tremendous negotiating strength that has led, and will lead, other countries to cater to China’s needs at the expense of their historical client, the U.S.

• China is set to launch an oil exchange by the end of the year that is to be settled in yuan. Note that in conjunction with the existing Shanghai Gold Exchange, also denominated in yuan, any country will now be able to trade and hedge oil, circumventing U.S. dollar transactions, with the flexibility to take payment in yuan or gold, or exchange gold into any global currency.

• As China further forges relationships through its One Belt, One Road initiative, it will surely pull other exporters into its orbit to secure a reliable flow of supplies from multiple sources, while pressuring the terms of the trade to exclude the U.S. dollar.

The world’s second-largest oil exporter, Russia, is currently under sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union, and has made clear moves toward circumventing the dollar in oil and international trade. In addition to agreeing to sell oil and natural gas to China in exchange for yuan, Russia recently announced that all financial transactions conducted in Russian seaports will now be made in rubles, replacing dollars, according to Russian state news outlet RT. Clearly, there is a concerted effort from the East to reset the economic world order.


ALL OF THESE DEVELOPMENTS leave global financial markets vulnerable to a paradigm shift that has recently begun. In meetings with fund managers, asset allocators, and analysts, I have found a virtually universal view that macro investing—investing based on global macroeconomic and political, not security-specific trends—is dead, fueled by investor money exiting the space due to poor returns and historically high fees in relation to performance. This is what traders refer to as capitulation. It occurs when most market participants can’t take advantage of a promising opportunity due to losses, lack of dry powder, or a psychological inability to proceed because of recency bias.

A current generational low in volatility across a wide spectrum of asset classes is another indicator that the market doesn’t see a paradigm shift coming. This suggests that current volatility is expressing a full discounting of stale fundamental inputs and not adequately pricing in the potential of likely disruptive events.


THE FEDERAL RESERVE is now in the beginning stages of a shift toward “normalization,” which will lead to diminished support for the U.S. Treasury market. The Fed’s total assets stand at approximately $4.5 trillion, or five times what they were prior to the financial crisis of 2008-09. The goal of the Fed is to “unwind” this enormous balance sheet with minimal market disruption. This is a high-wire act a thousand feet in the air without a safety net or prior practice. Additionally, at some not-so-distant future date, the U.S. will need to finance enormous and growing entitlement programs, and our historical international sources for that financing will no longer be willing to support us in that endeavor.

The market participants with whom I met theoretically could have the ability to accept cognitively the points made in this article. But the accumulation of many small losses in a low-volatility and generally trendless market has robbed them of confidence and the psychological balance to embrace any new paradigm proactively. They are frozen with fear that the lower- return profile of recent years is permanent—ironic in an industry that is paid to capture price changes in a cyclical world.

One market legend with whom I spoke suggested he wouldn’t have had the success he enjoyed in his career had he begun in the past decade. Whether or not this might be true, it doesn’t mean that recent lower returns are to be extrapolated into the future, especially when these subpar returns occurred during the quantitative-easing era, a period that is an anomaly.

I have been fortunate to ride substantial bets on big trends, earning high risk-adjusted returns using time-tested techniques for exploiting these trends. Additionally, I have had the luxury of not participating actively full-time in macro investing during this difficult period. Both factors might give me perspective. I regard this as an extraordinarily opportune moment for those able to shed timeworn, archaic assumptions of market behavior and boldly return to the roots of macro investing.

The opportunity is reminiscent of the story told by Stanley Druckenmiller, who was promoted early in his investment career to head equity research at a time when his co-workers had vastly more experience than he did. His director of investments informed him that his promotion owed to the same reason they send 18-year-olds to war; they are too dumb to know not to charge. The “winners” under the paradigm now unfolding will be market participants able to disregard stale, anomalous concepts, and charge.


RELATEDLY, THERE IS a running debate as to whether trend-following is a dying strategy. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that short-term and mean-reversion trading is more in vogue in today’s markets (think quant funds and “prop” shops). Additionally, the popularity of passive investing signals an unwillingness to invest in “idea generation,” or alpha. These developments represent a full capitulation of trend following and macro trading.

Ironically, many market players who wrongly anticipated a turn in recent years to a more positive environment for macro and trend-following are throwing in the towel. The key difference is that now there is a clear catalyst to trigger the start of the pendulum swinging back to a fertile macro/trend-following trading environment.

As my mentor, Bruce Kovner [the founder of Caxton Associates] used to say, “Nobody rings a bell at key turning points.” The ability to properly anticipate change is predicated upon detached analysis of fundamental information, applying that information to imagine a plausible world different from today’s, understanding how new data points fit (or don’t fit) into that world, and adjusting accordingly. Ideally, this process leads to an “aha!” moment, and the idea crystallizes into a clear vision. The thesis proposed here is one such vision.