The economic crisis is taking its toll on Europe. Eastern Europe has been hit especially hard. It has borrowed $1.7 trillion from abroad, mostly in the form of short-term debt. Of that, $400 billion—one third of the region’s gross domestic product—must be paid back or rolled over this year. Economists are concerned that this region’s problems could spread to the whole European Union.
The financial crisis claimed its first EU victim as Latvia’s government resigned February 20. On January 13, Latvia experienced its worst protest since the fall of the ussr. What began as a peaceful protest of around 10,000 disgruntled citizens turned violent as the main demonstration drew to a close. Many Latvians are worried about their future. Their economy shrank by 10.5 percent in 2008, and it is expected to shrink by another 12 percent this year.
The Swiss National Bank announced in March that it is actively engaged in depreciating the Swiss franc. This will make Swiss goods artificially cheaper abroad, and make imports into Switzerland more expensive. Yet more problems for other European countries will inevitably result.
At the same time, this crisis is drawing Europe together. Romania announced on February 25 that it wants to adopt the euro before its current target of 2014. A day earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said the EU should relax the rules on adopting the euro to allow other countries to adopt it faster.
German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück speculated on February 18 that the more stable countries in the eurozone may have to bail out the smaller ones. This would mean Germany—what the International Herald Tribune called Europe’s “traditional, though increasingly reluctant paymaster”—stepping in to help the weaker economies. Of course, in return for this aid, Germany would demand more power.
As economies go down, extremist parties are gaining strength. Austria’s main far-right party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (bzö), won a landslide victory in regional elections in Carinthia on March 3. After far-right governor Jörg Haider died last October, critics thought the bzö’s control would slip; instead, the party gained an astounding 45.3 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats won only 28.6 percent. These election results show how mainstream some of the far-right parties are becoming. When economic conditions deteriorate, voters tend to turn from mainstream parties and back more extreme ones.
In eastern Germany, 6,000 neo-Nazis descended on Dresden on February 14 in one of the largest extremist gatherings since World War II.
At the beginning of March, NATO foreign ministers agreed to restart talks with Russia. NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated on March 5 that the NATO-Russia Council (nrc) would resume after being frozen for seven months, since Russia’s invasion of Georgia. The nrc is the main avenue of dialogue between the two sides. “Russia is an important player, a global player,” said Scheffer. “Not talking to them is not an option.” Russia and Europe have too many common interests to stop talking for long.
Pakistan’s Islamist-leaning opposition is gaining ground. Ongoing protests, including a March 15 riot in the capital of Punjab province, resulted in President Asif Ali Zardari bowing to the demands of his rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. On March 16, the government agreed to reinstate the chief justice, whose cause Sharif had been championing, as well as other judges, and to reverse constitutional changes made by former President Pervez Musharraf. This is a significant victory for Sharif and the Islamists who support him, including Jamaat-e-Islami, an influential Islamist political party that advocates an Iranian-style religious dictatorship for Pakistan.
While seemingly a victory for democracy, these moves will further destabilize the country. The fight against the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan will become even more difficult with the increasing popularity of Sharif and his Islamist allies—who either oppose the use of force to fight the jihadists or at least take a soft stance. This will not be a welcome development for the U.S.
Neither will the fact that the provincial government in the North-West Frontier Province in February made a deal with Taliban-affiliated Islamist terrorists whereby sharia law will be enforced in exchange for peace. The deal undermines the Pakistani government’s authority in the country, is a significant victory for the Islamists and a further setback for U.S./NATO efforts next door in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Germany is seeking the assistance of intelligence contacts in Saudi Arabia to help in the fight against the Afghan insurgency. Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of the Saudi intelligence service, spent several days in Berlin at the invitation of State Secretary August Henning to discuss how to “improve the security in the Pakistani region bordering Afghanistan,” according to the Interior Ministry. Prince Turki has a long history of working with German intelligence in Afghanistan—from the days of the Soviet occupation. The Trumpet has said for some time that Germany seeks to strengthen its involvement in Afghanistan—notwithstanding German media reports to the contrary. Prince Turki’s connections in Afghanistan may once again help Germany be a bigger player in the region.
Since the conclusion of the Israeli counterstrike against the Gaza Strip in January, Hamas’s popularity has increased among Palestinians. In a poll released March 9, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had 2 percent more support among Palestinians than Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. Three months earlier, Abbas was 10 points ahead of Haniyeh.
The international community promised $5.2 billion in aid to help rebuild Gaza at an international donors conference on March 2. This money will benefit Hamas, both directly and indirectly. A large chunk is expected to go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (unrwa), which systematically provides political cover for Hamas. “unrwa openly collaborates with Hamas,” wrote the Jerusalem Post. “Its workers double as Hamas combatants. Its refugee camps and schools are used as Hamas training bases and missile launch sites” (February 26).
Meanwhile, Hamas is escalating its rocket attacks on Israel. Just six weeks after Operation Cast Lead ended, the Israel Defense Forces (idf) said the numbers of rockets hitting Israel were back to pre-war levels. The idf said Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza have rebuilt their missile arsenals through both Iranian and local sources. Such is the result of Israel’s lack of will to win even a battle, let alone a war.
On March 8, Israel’s top military intelligence officer warned that Hamas’s main sponsor, Iran, has achieved independent nuclear capability. It has also recently emerged that Iran has accumulated enough low-enriched uranium hexafluoride for a nuclear bomb, has started running tests at its Bushehr nuclear power plant, and has test-fired a new air-to-surface missile.
President Dmitri Medvedev vowed on March 17 to press forward with plans to rearm and reorganize the Russian military. He believes nato still intends to expand toward Russian borders and told his military chiefs to raise the combat readiness of their troops. He promised massive rearmament, weapons upgrades and organizational changes, in what will represent the most dramatic transformation of the Russian military since World War ii. This military renaissance is bound to frighten Europe and hasten the formation of a prophesied pan-European army.
Russia struck a landmark energy deal with China on February 17. Transneft spokesman Igor Dyomin said that under the terms of the deal, the Chinese Development Bank will lend $25 billion to Russian energy firms to build a pipeline connecting the Eastern Siberian-Pacific Ocean Pipeline to China. In exchange, the Russians have pledged to supply the Chinese with 15 million tons of oil annually for the next 20 years. Russia is the second-largest oil producer in the world, while China is a relatively oil-deficient region with a booming economy. An energy partnership between these two nations would greatly benefit both parties. The only real obstacle is the lack of oil-transporting infrastructure traversing the Siberian wilderness. Once Russia gets pipelines in place, however, it will likely become one of the chief energy suppliers for East Asia.
The biggest challenge facing China is unemployment. The jobless rate stands at around 4 percent, yet analysts are predicting this figure could rise to 14 percent before the economic crisis subsides. This means the number of unemployed Chinese could rise to 170 million in the coming years. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said on March 5 that if the Chinese economy does not grow by at least 8 percent this year, the country risks political destabilization and social unrest. In the midst of this economic downturn, the Chinese government is increasing military spending by 14.9 percent. China may soon seek to avert social catastrophe and alleviate its unemployment problems through massive military conscription. The Bible foretells of a time when an Asian military alliance will amass an army of 200 million men (Revelation 9:16).
Southeast Asian government officials signed a series of trade deals on March 1 designed to integrate their nations’ economies and construct an economic and political union modeled on the EU by 2015. The heads of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (asean), meeting in Thailand, agreed to the Cha-Am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for an asean Community (2009-2015). This plan looks to transform asean into a single integrated market, albeit without a common currency, within the next six years. In addition, asean leaders signed a free-trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand. As Southeast Asian nations integrate economically with each other and with nations such as China and Japan, the groundwork is being laid for future political and military alliances. Resources from Australia and New Zealand will feed this growing alliance with food and raw materials. This is exactly what the Bible prophesies.
Zimbabwe’s inflation can no longer be figured without a scientific calculator: Some economists estimate inflation has reached 10 sextillion percent. Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister on February 11 after a violent election process that yielded him only minimal power; on March 6, he was injured and his wife killed in a car accident. Tom McDonald, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe from 1997 to 2001, suspects the crash was intentional because the prime minister’s political rival, President Mugabe, “has a history of strange car accidents when someone lo and behold dies—it’s sort of his M.O. of how they get rid of people they don’t like.”
Like many African countries, the little-known failed state of Guinea-Bissau is a brutal example of man’s inhumanity to man. On March 2, President Joao Bernardo Vieira was shot and killed, just one day after his political rival—the chief of the armed forces—was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. Guinea-Bissau was already a reliable transshipment point for cartel leaders seeking to smuggle drugs into Europe. Now it could well become the central hub for Europe’s drug trade.
At the beginning of March, the U.S. Navy released official figures on efforts to prosecute pirates, and the results are discouraging. Of 238 suspected pirates investigated, about half were prosecuted. Many of those prosecuted were sent to prison in Puntland, a northeastern region of Somalia, where pirates generally either escape or are released when someone pays a bribe to get them out.
U.S. President Barack Obama has begun the process of lifting restrictions on Cuba. While the initial changes do not remove the travel embargo—they are instead geared toward things like allowing Cuban-Americans to send money home and make annual visits—the direction is clear.
On February 15, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez won his referendum to remove presidential term limits from the Constitution, enabling him to continue to win elections of questionable veracity for life.
It appears the drug war in Mexico is being won by the cartels. Violent mafias are taking over the country one town at a time. Last year, gangs killed over 500 police officers. Read “Is Mexico About to Collapse?” in the March Trumpet for more on the deteriorating state of the U.S.’s southern neighbor.
In March, one month after spending more money than anyone in history with a $787 billion spending bill, President Barack Obama signed another bill for $410 billion more in spending. The Federal Reserve then pumped another $1 trillion into the financial system, buying up mortgage securities and treasury bonds. However, U.S. treasury bonds could be the next bubble to burst. In the aftermath of the popped housing bubble, which the Trumpet anticipated in 2003, investors are pumping money into the perceived safety of the T-bill. But with high prices and low yields, treasuries could be the next market to crash—and China knows it. On March 13, Premier Wen Jiabao said, “We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S., so of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.” The U.S. should be too.
In other financial news, 2008’s richest man in the world, American investor Warren Buffett, commented in March on the global financial landslide that turned into an avalanche last September. The national economy came days and perhaps hours away from destruction, he said, and since then, “It’s fallen off a cliff.” Buffett, 78, added that “not only has the economy slowed down a lot, people have really changed their behavior like nothing I’ve seen. … When people get scared, they change their buying habits. When they quit buying as much, people lay off. We are in a very, very vicious negative feedback cycle.”
In British-American news, the Brown administration continues to suffer slights from the Obama White House. After removing a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and forgoing a joint press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his visit to the U.S., Obama gave Brown a gift of 25 dvd movies. Coming from the executive of the most powerful nation in the world, the gift was seen as a snub. A State Department official involved in planning Brown’s visit told the Sunday Telegraph, “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.” Later, the White House proved incredibly difficult to contact by Downing Street to plan the G-20 summit in London, according to the head of Britain’s civil service.
hiv/aids infection rates in Washington, D.C., are higher than in West Africa, according to the District’s hiv/aids Administration. The threshold for a “generalized and severe” epidemic is a 1 percent infection rate. D.C.’s rates are triple that. The 2008 epidemiology report found that over 15,000 residents are infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported March 18 that 40 percent of all American births in 2007 occurred out of wedlock.
The U.S. is losing even its notional status as a religious country. The recently released “American Religious Identification Survey” found that from 1990 to 2008, the number of professing Christians in the U.S. dropped 10 percent. The report also found that the number of Americans who claim no religious identity rose from 8 percent to 15 percent.