I’m looking to make some changes to future briefings to make sure they don’t become stale 5-5 ratios of domestic and international news. I’ll always have at least ten articles but I may decide to switch up categories and focus, for example, on some economic or green energy stories one day and then international stories another. But these are all experiments that happen as we go along. For now at least, enjoy today’s briefing!
- The new Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, testified before Congress that the Federal Reserve currently has no legal power to regulate Bitcoin but that it would be appropriate for Congress to decide what’s considered appropriate in our monetary system. Yellen was responding to a series of concerns raised by Senator Manchin who pointed to harsher stances on Bitcoin held by both European and Asian governments. For now at least, Yellen stated that U.S. regulatory law would suffice.
- New reports by the Treasury confirm that our budget deficit fell faster last year than at any point since World War II. While the economy may be improving, the bulk of the decline comes from austerity and rising tax rates which are actually holding the economy back from performing even better than it would ordinarily.
- The United States Navy is looking to update its naval plans for the Arctic as new reports show that up to 160 days of open water activity per year could be available by 2020 with the melting of polar ice caps. The U.S. joins Canada and Russia in looking to expand its foothold in a region that will see increased commercial activity and resource exploitation.
- The Environmental Protection Agency has revealed a new rule that would require oil refiners to strip out sulfur from American gasoline, citing the potential economic benefits of reducing sulfur related diseases. Oddly enough, the regulation isn’t drawing the usual level of opposition (the Governor of Utah even offered positive remarks). However there is dispute as to how much this could affect gasoline prices with EPA estimates ranging around 1 cent/gallon and the American Petroleum Association’s reaching around 9 cents per gallon.
- The Republicans, spearheaded by Paul Ryan, are about to announce a series of sweeping welfare reforms that claim to overhaul a huge number of social welfare programs, including medicare and medicaid. However, if this report is anything like his infamous budget proposals from two years ago, then it will be nothing more than calls to radically slash spending, bring in more privatization, or (in the case of more minor programs) eliminate them entirely.
- The United States Government has conceded at this point that Russia has “operational control” over the Crimean Peninsula. In the wake of the remarkably smooth Russian occupation, the West is essentially powerless to do anything besides the usual diplomatic wrist-slaps. It could suspend Russia from the G8, pursue travel bans, economic sanctions, etc. While certainly worth considering, it’s not clear if these actions will in anyway help the floundering Ukrainian Transition Government. For now at least, the focus is definitely on whether Russia intends to invade Eastern Ukraine.
- The Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, has ordered the closings of private schools owned and operated by the influential cleric Fethullah Gulen whom he accused of undermining and attempting to overthrow Turkey’s current government. Erdogan himself has faced a number of corruption charges alongside massive protests in recent months and has lashed out at Gullen, who’s famous for preaching respect for democracy, science, and inter-faith dialogue, for allegedly being behind corruption probes.
- Israel is experiencing massive protests by members of the ultra-Orthodox community against proposals to end their exemptions from military enlistments. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, now approaching 20% of Israel’s population, have long enjoyed these special exemptions on the claim that they devote themselves entirely to studying the torah. It seems they worry about the direction their youth will take should they be exposed to broader Israeli society.
- A new report by the HSBC Purchasing Manager’s Index shows that Chinese manufacturing declined for a third straight month. While possible reasons could include Chinese New Year celebrations, the report raises concerns about possible a possible slowdown in the Chinese economy. The government is set to keep the growth forecast around 7.5% of GDP.
- China is blaming possible Xinjiang separatists for the mass stabbing attack conducted by a group of men and women in a Kunming train station this past Saturday. The Chinese government has repeatedly sounded alarm bells about Uighur separatists and Islamic extremists in Xinjiang though some have seen it as a justification for crackdown in a region that the then newly formed PRC annexed in 1949. In the meantime, outpourings of grief and outrage at the attacks have poured in from across China with state media even describing it as China’s 9/11.