Category Archives: Business & Economy

Thursday Review articles about business and the economy.

Top Wounded Warrior Project Execs Fired by Board

 

Photo by Thursday Review staff

Photo by Thursday Review staff

The two top executives with Wounded Warrior Project have been fired by the organization’s board, with word that the non-profit’s founding member may return to take over management soon; Wounded Warrior Project raised millions for veterans, but spent lavishly and on an epic scale: parties, events, travel, posh hotels, high-end training, expensive publications, food and alcohol. Read the full story by Earl Perkins here.

Seattle’s Dig: Bertha is Still Stuck, for Now

berthatunnel

Seattle’s massive tunnel project, featuring as its star the boring machine Bertha, is at a standstill while engineers complete repairs. With the project two years behind schedule, is it possible for this mega project to be completed within its budget?  Read the full Thursday Review article here.

The Keystone’s Never-Ending Fight

Photo courtesy TransCanada.com

Photo courtesy TransCanada.com

Thursday Review looks at the ongoing battles over the Keystone XL Pipeline; many Democrats oppose it; plenty of Republicans support it; President Obama says he will veto any legislation which includes money to expand the pipeline. Both sides claim the moral high ground. Politics Page article: The Keystone’s Never-Ending Fight; February 25, 2015; Thursday Review.

The FCC Rules on Net Neutrality, Again

 

Image courtesy of White House

Image courtesy of White House

Thursday Review’s Alan Clanton looks at the recent vote by the FCC to define broadband providers as public utilities like power companies; but will the big internet providers agree to such an arrangement, or will the lawsuits topple the FCC’s position, again. Media Page article: The FCC Rules on Net Neutrality; Thursday Review, March 4, 2015.

Target Withdraws From Canada

Photo: Thursday Review

Photo: Thursday Review

Thursday Review looks at Target’s losses in Canada; its failed experiment north of the border has cost the retailer millions, and now it plans a tactical retreat. Can Target’s new CEO turn things around?  Business article here: Target Withdraws From Canada; Thursday Review.

Expedia Will Buy Orbitz

expediaorbitz

Thursday Review looks at the merger of two of the largest web-based travel services, Expedia and Orbitz, leaving only Price Line as the major competitor; what effect will this have on online booking for tickets and hotels?  Front Page article here: Expedia Will Buy Orbitz, Thursday Review; February 13, 2015.

Protesters Return to Streets in Hong Kong

hongkongrevisit

Thursday Review looks at the pro-Democracy movement Occupy Central in Hong Kong; after a year of activity, the movement looked exhausted, but have the protesters staged a comeback?  And will their protests change the way China wants to manage Hong Kong’s 2017 elections? Thursday Review Front Page article: Protesters Return to Streets of Hong Kong; February 2, 2015. 

Caterpillar: Suffering Worldwide?

catdozer

Caterpillar is one of those companies that economists watch carefully for signs of ups or downs, as its movements often serve as a harbinger of things to come; will Caterpillar weather the storm of a tough global economy? Thursday Review Business article: Caterpillar: Suffering From Low Oil Prices? February 3, 2015.

The Really BIG Apple!

 

Image courtesy of Apple

Image courtesy of Apple

Thursday Review looks at how Apple became the company with the biggest profit of any company in the history of bookkeeping (in any country), and how the California-corporation has more cash than any entity in the world. But can Apple keep it up? Or will it reach a plateau? Read the article: The Really BIG Apple; Thursday Review staff; January 30, 2015.

California High-Speed Rail Project Under Way

 

CALIFORNIA HIGH SPEED RAIL TWO IMAGES_crop

Thursday Review’s Alan Clanton takes a careful look at the contentious, controversial high-speed rail project now under construction in California. When completed in 2033, it will been the most expensive public works project in U.S. history, but–its proponents say–it will also be a game-changer for transportation and high-speed travel. Read more: California High-Speed Rail Project Under Way. Or find it on the Thursday Review Front Page.

Oil, Debt, Venezuela on the Brink

maduropewresearch

Oil prices have fallen worldwide, giving citizens of the U.S. cheaper gasoline at the pump. Thursday Review examines how the oil glut is affecting the already troubled and fragile economy of Venezuela, where inflation and shortages are now widespread. Can Venezuelan President Nicolas Madura turn around his sinking economy? Read more: Oil, Debt, Venezuela on the Brink.  Or go to our Front Page article.

Hacker Versus Hacker

spyvsspy

Thursday Review examines the new and potentially complex question of business cyber wars: when is it appropriate for U.S. companies to engage in cyber retaliation against criminal hackers and thieves?  And in the context of recent cyber attacks against JPMorgan Chase and Sony Pictures, what options are available to law enforcement in the U.S. and other countries.  See more at http://www.thursdayreview.com/HackerVersusHacker.html

High Speed Rail: Hurry Up & Wait

highspeedrail

Thursday Review’s R. Alan Clanton looks at how three states (California, Florida, Texas) are bringing the long-deferred dream of high speed rail to the start of reality. Will these expensive mega projects be useful in helping Americans commute from city to city as fast as regional air travel.  Second in a series of articles: http://www.thursdayreview.com/HighSpeedRailProjects.html

Was It Worth All The Fuss?

Image courtesy of AOL

Image courtesy of AOL

It may be the worst movie to have ever received this much advance attention or publicity. And in the end, it may have been at the center of the costliest corporate data breach since the great Target retail hack of 2013. Was all the fuss over The Interview worth it?  And where does Sony Pictures go from here?  One in a series of articles about cyber-security and freedom of the press: http://www.thursdayreview.com/TheInterviewSonyHack.html

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Pena Nieto Campaign

Published November 30, 2014: Can Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto turn back the tide of violence and corruption which has become such an integral part of the nation’s social and political fabric? Thursday Review’s Alan Clanton looks at the challenges Mexico must overcome if it is to return to a viable force in the global economy. Read more: Once Upon a Time in Mexico; Thursday Review Front Page article.

http://www.thursdayreview.com/MexicoMurdersIguala.html#sthash.AHsl8tz7.dpuf

What Now for Hong Kong’s Occupy Central?

occupycentral

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

Hong Kong’s intense political pressures just won’t go away. This is bad news for Beijing, which hoped to once and for all quash the demonstrations and minimize disruptions by systematically clearing out protesters from key city areas and from central locations.

The protests, which have been escalating—sometimes moving in ebbs and flows of activity and intensity—since late spring and throughout the summer, entered a new phase this week as hundreds of protesters barged into the city legislative facility, entering through a side door and overpowering security guards and bailiffs. The government responded by dispatching a large contingent of riot police armed with batons, shields, and pepper spray—but the security forces did not attempt to enter the building. Instead, a standoff ensued in which police now confront the determined protesters. A larger group of protesters massed outside, many deterred by the police.

Those protesters, like the tens of thousands which have occupied the streets and city squares for months, are demanding free elections—which, in this case, means elections without the interference of Chinese officials.

At the heart of the contentious struggle is the issue of how candidates for Hong Kong posts will be chosen. China has mandated that all candidates be screened and more-or-less handpicked by a select committee of party officials in Beijing. The Hong Kong protesters—who are generally known as Occupy Central—want the right to choose their own candidates through direct, local voting. The movement also seeks universal voting rights for all Hong Kong citizens. Occupy Central is named for the area in downtown Hong Kong called “Central,” a large financial and business center with some wide open spaces between the high rise structures.

Under agreements reached when Hong Kong was cut loose from the United Kingdom in 1997, at which time the city was reunited China, Beijing would allow Hong Kong residents to maintain their traditional of democracy despite the mainland’s template of a single party system—i.e., the Communist Party. The partnership was called “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would be given its autonomy, but it would still be a part of greater China.

But this uncomfortable relationship has been slowly, and some would say predictably, breaking down in recent years.

China has mandated that any candidate running for public office in Hong Kong must first meet a screening requirement by a committee in Beijing. In fact, no candidate’s name can be placed on a ballot without first being approved by this special committee. Occupy Central sees this as an unacceptable form of micromanagement by Chinese officials, who seek to hand-select candidates who will reflect the prevailing party view set down in Beijing. Further, many in Hong Kong see this meddling by Beijing as the first of many steps toward forcing the city-state into complete, docile compliance with the top party officials. In short: what is the point of holding elections if citizens have no control over how candidates are chosen?

But the authorities in Beijing don’t see it that way. There, where generations of political chiefs and government operatives have risen and fallen based on allegiance and loyalty to a single party (or to the doctrine set down by s single individual) a freewheeling process of selecting candidates based on the messy and unpredictable template of mass primaries, competing parties and clashing personalities would be tantamount to utter chaos. Beijing wants no part of the sort of disorder that democracy produces when it comes to the initial selection of candidates. Elections for all major city and state positions are scheduled for 2017.

But China needs Hong Kong’s vibrant economic engine and its power to pump millions of dollars each day through the financial sector. For this reason, protesters angry at China’s unvarnished meddling in Hong Kong’s politics have chosen the financial district and its dozens of banks, insurance companies, investment firms, brokerage houses, and corporate offices as the primary target for disruption. Financial watchdog groups and international business analysts have worried all year about the impact that Occupy Central might have on Hong Kong’s financial power. As the protests have become larger and more disruptive, so too have the disruptions to the economy. Worse, some business analysts suggest that Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s democracy may suppress future investment, damage confidence, and force a downgrade in Hong Kong’s otherwise reliable financial ratings. A postponement of the 2017 elections would be a disaster for confidence in Hong Kong, and may lead to an exodus by businesses and investors who would simply take their offices and cash elsewhere.

Though much of the Occupy Central movement’s activities have been peaceful, there has been an increase in violence over the last few weeks. The protesters who broke into the legislative chambers were angry because of official edicts and court orders requiring the immediate removal of barricades, hand-painted signs, roadblocks, food vendors, and tents placed by protesters in certain areas of the financial district.

And though widely followed in the western media and in much of the Asian press, the Occupy movement receives scant attention within the media of China. When it does receive attention, the movement is often characterized as hooliganism, or dubbed “an illicit campaign.” Beijing regards Occupy Central as tantamount to anarchy and lawlessness, and considers Occupy’s goal of open elections to be a first step toward social breakdown.

Not all Hong Kong business leaders agree with the Occupy movements methods, even if they do agree with the general principles of democracy, universal suffrage, and open elections. Several major business groups and trade groups along with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, have denounced the protesters for their disruptions to the marketplace and the economy. But the Hong Kong Bar Association, along with several smaller business trade organizations, have denounced instead the police and the Chinese government for smothering democracy and for using excessive force to quell the mass demonstrations.

Since August and September, when the protests began to reach their crescendo, Occupy Central has grown into one of the biggest anti-Beijing movements since Tiananmen Square. The movement consists of tens of thousands of protesters, many of them students and young people, along with an estimated two thousand tents, three thousand sleeping bags, and hundreds of street vendors set up to provide material support and food service. The protests grew so large in early October that some businesses in the area around Central were forced to close or maintain irregular hours. And though by early November the movement lost some of its peak numbers, thousands of students still remain. Now, there are concerns in both Hong Kong and Beijing that things might ramp up again—with tens of thousands occupying Central and adjacent streets.

But parallel to Occupy Central’s key demand that Beijing recognize Hong Kong’s right to democracy without interference from a committee, is economics—not global economics, the market realities of one of the most crowded places on Earth. Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places to live, with real estate prices and rental costs that greatly outstrip income levels. Many survive by going deeply into debt, and others simply share cramped spaces in Hong Kong’s many sleek high-rise towers. Younger people tend also to live at home with parents and grandparents, sometimes well into adulthood, and in fact on average, middle-income Hong residents tend to stay with parents until well into their early 30s. Hong Kong has the dubious distinction of having mortgage rates and home prices which are now 15 times gross annual revenue—prices driven up by millionaire investors and over-speculation. This makes an already overcrowded city (Hong Kong’s population density is roughly 17,000 people per square mile) even more economically challenging for middle class residents.

For many political analysts and business experts, the question becomes: how much longer will Beijing tolerate the disruptions of Occupy Central without a heavy-handed crackdown? Or, conversely, at what point does the protest movement win the day—triggering an acknowledgement by China, and perhaps even concessions, establishing Hong Kong’s right to democracy, even in it messiest incarnation?

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/HongKongProtests.html#sthash.eSiBaEWC.dpuf

Tesla: A Case of Supply Versus Demand

tesla

By Thursday Review staff

Billionaires can afford to lose some money, and sometimes it makes perfect sense—especially if what they seek is a game-changing result for all that toil and investment.

Elon Musk’s automotive division, Tesla Motors, just closed another unprofitable quarter, reporting to investors a loss of about $74.6 million for the third quarter of 2014. This is about twice Tesla’s loss when compared to the same quarter in 2013. But that’s only the bad news for the unconventional car maker: Tesla has seen its overall sale steadily increase.

More importantly, Tesla’s sales figures topped the industry analysts’ estimates, confirming Musk’s vision as being less risky than some have suggested. Tesla has been selling its cars at a healthy clip, and figures indicate that it may reach $1 billion in overall sales by the end of this year. Currently, Tesla is reporting nearly $932 million in sales for the first nine months of 2014—up from about $600 million for the same period last year.

Musk and his team at Tesla explain the discrepancy this way: production of cars cannot keep up with demand, and, as a direct result, lots of extra cash is being spent trying to find a way around the production problems. Tesla, which is plans to invest billions to open a massive battery plant in partnership with Panasonic, has been hampered by the inability to produce its innovative lithium-ion batteries fast enough. Though demand for the pricey cars continues to rise, the battery problem remains intact.

Still, industry experts see fortune on the road ahead for Tesla. Battery partner Panasonic—convinced of the potential profits for Tesla’s green cars—has committed to a long-term investment in producing lighter, more efficient batteries. So sure is Panasonic of future earnings, the Japanese conglomerate recently announced plans to begin ramping down its production of many other consumer products, redirecting its energies toward smart batteries and green car components.

Tesla also plans to revamp its current factories to improve production of its cars, which include its bigger seller, the Tesla Model S Sedan. In addition, Tesla hopes to be ready no later than one year from now to be selling its newer Model X.

Musk does not see demand as the central issue, and many automotive analysts agree. Musk’s problem, ironically, is producing the vehicles fast enough. The factory retrofit may help, as Tesla intends—if at all possible—to reach an output of 100,000 new cars during 2015.

“Despite losing almost a month of production due to factory retooling,” Musk said in a press statement posted on the Tesla website, “we delivered the highest number of Model S vehicles ever, with several new records set in North American and worldwide.” Tesla also hopes to continue its rapid construction and maintenance of its recharging stations, which are currently located in about 126 locations across North America (about 123 of these are in the contiguous 48 states). Tesla hopes to roughly double that number by the end of 2015.

Tesla car-owners can use Tesla’s Supercharger stations at no cost, and cars can typically be recharged between 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the life left in the battery when charging begins. The Tesla website says that “optimal” charging takes about 40 minutes. Tesla currently has its stations located in strategic spots along major highways and interstates, and its marketing material invites car owners to consider taking the time to get a meal or shop while the vehicle is being recharged. Tesla cars can also be charged overnight in a driveway or garage.

Delays rolling out the new Model X, which is a small SUV, have also hampered some of the sales estimates. On this point Musk accepts responsibility personally, telling reporters that he sometimes lets his perfectionist side interfere with the calendar and timetables. But most auto analysts and green energy analysts see Tesla’s long range plan as solid, and cite Panasonic’s massive investment as evidence that others in collateral industries must agree wholeheartedly with the positive outlook for the California carmaker.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/TeslaMotorsProfits.html#sthash.mihowu1F.dpuf

Apple: Bent, But Not Broken

Image courtesy of Apple

Image courtesy of Apple

By Thursday Review staff

When something goes wrong at Apple, it can be a big deal. The company has long been associated with cutting edge technology and the coolest of the cool apps and gadgets, and its empire is built largely upon the reliability and cache of its sleek, dazzling products.

Back years ago, when some Apple phones had a problem with reception and clarity because of a glitch antenna, Steve Jobs famously (and clumsily) suggested that people simply try holding the phone in a different way. That official reaction to a product problem caused a minor marketplace and industry fracas, and internally Apple resolved never to go down that path again.

So when the release of its new iPhone 6 was accompanied—24 hours later—by a high-impact problem, the blowback was immediate. Apple apologized to its customers, acknowledged that it had an issue, and set to work immediately to resolve the glitch as quickly as possible.

The new phone, which went on sale days ago amid lots of publicity and long lines of Apple aficionados (many of whom camped out for days to buy the new devices), contained many tre’ cool features, including a thumbprint tool and a payment platform. But one small thing the device was also supposed to do was make phone calls, and a glitch (in its iOS 8 mobile software) prevented some iPhone users from doing exactly that.

In addition, the newest phone, which is slightly larger than previous versions, has faced a withering storm of concern over its inability to sustain more than a scant few degrees of bending. As of early this week, Apple had already received an undisclosed number of complaints and returns by customers whose new phones broke or were damaged by bending, in most cases as a result of customers placing phones—as is common practice—in hip-pockets or back pockets.

On Facebook, Twitter and other social media, the brouhaha has been termed “Bendgate,” and the controversy has led to a lot of back and forth over the issue of low-rider jeans, tight jeans, and the kind of jeans that would otherwise appear to painted on save for the outline of the phone. In addition, the lightweight aluminum and composite shell—which is obviously unable to sustain the routine pressure placed on it if its user sits on it while it is stored in a pocket—may be a case of less is less, rather than less is more. Some newer phones have also been shown to bend very easily when stored in a front pocket, and in cases where the user leaves it in the front pocket when climbing into an automobile or sitting at a desk.

Apple went to work immediately on the problem of the software, and provided users with ways to resolve the glitch. One easy solution was to reverse the software update, and Apple quickly provided guidance on how to do that. Many other customers simply carried their iPhone 6 back to the nearest Apple store to get a quick fix implemented on site.

The issue of the bending and breaking, however, may be more problematic for both Apple and its millions of loyal customers. At issue, at least in part, is the age old struggle between form and function. Customers often express an interest in smaller, lighter phones and handheld devices. But smaller can sometimes be too small, especially depending on the type of applications being used. So, some phones are larger—offering decidedly more surface area and screen space.

This tug of war often pushed phone design toward the very edge of what one might call a tablet (larger phones), while other phones meet the demand of those users who simply want a small enough device to be placed in a purse, pocket, or backpack. Optics also plays a part, as some applications on a phone require more surface area than others. Apple and Samsung have been engaged in a small rear-guard battle over optimal surface area for several years, but neither side has prevailed in a market where new applications are introduced almost on a weekly basis. The iPhone 6 is slightly larger in surface area than its Apple predecessors; the iPhone 5s, for example, is about 4.1 inches long, whereas the new iPhone 6 is nearly 5.5 inches long. More surface area means more chances for bending when stored in tight spaces, like front pockets.

Most manufacturers of phones—Samsung, Nokia, LG, Apple, Sony—officially discourage users from placing phone in pants pockets (especially back pockets!), since the resulting damage can sometimes be fast, and extreme. Designers with several of the major device makers have been experimenting off and on for several years with materials which will allow for maximum flexibility in pockets and other tight spaces, though no phone—as yet—offers more than a tiny degree of flex before damage can occur.

Apple says that only a handful of customers have complained directly about the bending problem (on Thursday the company said it had received only nine genuine complaints), but only time will tell if Bendgate will go away.

Still, despite a few glitches and a lot on chatter on social media (a You Tube video on the bendgate problem has been viewed more than six million times this week), Apple’s rollout of the iPhone 6 has been a sale success. As of Monday it had shipped out approximately ten million units to retailers and buyers.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/AppleiPhone9-25-14.html#sthash.PBdFARRy.dpuf

Hong Kong’s Economy May Suffer From Political Chaos

Photo courtesy of Hong Kong.gov

Photo courtesy of Hong Kong.gov

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

They call themselves Occupy Central, and their goal is to establish an “era of civil disobedience” in Hong Kong, the once British colonial outpost which reconnected with the People’s Republic of China in 1997.

Occupy Central intends to raise the stakes in a variety of non-violent ways—blocking busy intersections and thoroughfares, camping out in large numbers in financial districts, and protesting in ever-more-dramatic ways what the group sees as China’s ongoing and heavy-handed attempts to control Hong Kong’s politics and minimize the organic processes of democracy. Occupy Central’s ranks have grown larger in the past months, even as officials in Beijing warn that Hong Kong cannot be governed by what it views as “the chaos” of civil disobedience or the “lawlessness” of democracy.

At the heart of the issue has been Beijing’s steadfast insistence on controlling and managing nominations for key political posts, including that of the city’s next top leader. Despite what the protesters say was the long-held template for democracy, China has said it must screen and vet all candidates; no candidate’s name can be placed on the ballot without Beijing’s approval.

Many in Hong Kong are disappointed and frustrated by China’s decision to micromanage nominations, and pro-democracy advocates worry that by establishing a pro-Beijing committee to screen candidates, China is seeking to establish a precedent by which it can control the future of Hong Kong and eventually snuff out opposition and dissent.

This has led the Occupy Central movement—which includes various smaller groups aligned with its cause—into larger forms of protest and disruption. It plans to expand its efforts to include mass sit-ins and sit-downs in public spaces, marches, and blockades of roads and intersections.

Financial watchdogs and ratings organizations suggest that as the protests grow larger and more potent, the disruptions to Hong Kong’s otherwise robust economy could become substantial. Moody’s, a major ratings agency, said in September that continued political turmoil—especially over the electoral process—would discourage investment, undermine business confidence, and eventually lead to major problems for the semi-autonomous state. Moody’s said that “diminished confidence” would be Hong Kong’s worst economic enemy.

Though Occupy Central and its allies share a genetic lineage with the Occupy movements which sprang into existence in New York (Wall Street), London, Madrid, Seattle, and Oakland, it bears little resemblance in its stated end game: the creation of the sort of unimpeded, quasi-laissez faire economic and political democracy of precisely the brand and tone despised by its American and British counterparts. The common link is that Occupy Central and its brethren in other countries fear oligarchs and the politically powerful, and seek to empower street-level voices.

Hong Kong and China reunited in 1997, and the agreed-upon formula for coexistence was called “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain itself as a semi-autonomous zone of market independence and economic power. In fact, the top brass in Beijing were seemingly happy to see Hong Kong remain the engine of capitalism that it was before reunification.

There have been struggles, including contentious fights over the establishment of a minimum wage, a shrinking job market, and an island-wide problem with the extreme costs of rents, leases and mortgages. In fact, Hong Kong has the second most expensive real-estate in the world. Many Hong Kong workers—white-collar financial, technology sector, or blue-collar—pay dearly for even the smallest flats and apartment-style homes. At $22,500 per year, the median income in Hong Kong makes home ownership very difficult, and renting becomes a heavy burden for many middle class citizens.

Some in the larger protest movement consider these issues critically important, but perhaps secondary to issues of democracy.

Occupy Central is at the forefront of several pro-democracy groups seeking to put pressure on Beijing. Most protesters regard China’s insistence on screening candidates as tantamount to reneging on Beijing’s past promises to allow Hong Kong to maintain its political self-guidance and autonomy.

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, with more than seven million people packed into an area roughly 425 square miles. That’s 17,000 people per square mile. The former British protectorate and trading post manages this population density with a dazzling array of high rise buildings for business and residential purposes.

But because construction costs are high, and because rental rates and mortgage costs are among the highest in the world as compared to incomes, Hong Kong beats out its closest runners-up in “least affordability,” San Francisco and Vancouver. Home prices in Hong Kong climbed to nearly 15 times gross annual revenue during 2013, and prices may climb more this year. Analysts worry that much of the demand is artificial, driven in part by speculators in mainland China who are engaged in a spending spree—buying up condos, houses and apartments.

The Occupy Central movement is paralleled by mass student movements, most of which have insisted that the Occupy forces may be moving too slowly. The students plan to raise the stakes of the tenor of the protests by staging sit-ins, classroom boycotts, mass marches, and other public demonstrations. Later this month student leaders plan to encourage tens of thousands of students to basically shut down schools as a way of triggering a cascade of political protest.

Sober political analysts and economic experts suggest that Beijing is unlikely to be moved by these demonstrations and mass actions. And though there is little chance China would risk the spectacle of another Tiananmen Square—Beijing may soon institute tougher measures to quell the disturbances, especially if it appears that the protest movements and acts of civil disobedience have the power to disrupt Hong Kong’s powerful economic engine.

Still, there is the more tempered view which says that despite the growth of the protests—and for better or for worse—Hong Kong’s healthy budget surplus may be substantial enough to offset any blowback from potential market disruptions. Economists estimate that Hong Kong’s massive surplus is equal to about 35% of its gross domestic product, which means the government can use at least part of that cash reserve to mitigate the damage from economic downturns.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/HongKongProtests9-18-14.html#sthash.cFiA4vkx.dpuf

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

britishflag

By Thursday Review staff writers

After an intensive and hard-fought political campaign fraught with emotional ups and downs, voters in Scotland decided that divorce from the United Kingdom was not in their best interest. The marriage which has lasted for more than 300 years will remain intact, though observers insist that in the end it will still come with costs for both sides.

Voter turnout was high—one of the biggest turnouts in Scottish history—and included the participation of citizens as young as 16. The final tally showed that 55.3 percent of Scots supported remaining a part of the Kingdom, while 44.7 percent wanted independence.

Supporters of independence, led by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, had gained considerable momentum over the past months, and the total “yes” votes cast show the deep reach of the independence movement: 1.6 million voters sided with Salmond. But a late surge of opposition to independence, fueled in part by Gordon Brown, brought the two sides to within a hair’s breadth in most polls. In the final days and hours leading up to the vote (Thursday), the outcome was too close to call.

But on the day voting began, it was clear that the undecided voters were breaking decidedly toward a “no” vote, and in the end the vote was not nearly as close as many had predicted.

The “yes” wins were most decisive in four Scottish councils: Dundee City, West Dunbartonshire, Glasgow (City), and North Lanarkshire. A look at the overall council area map of Scotland shows that the “no” vote clearly gained unexpected momentum in the final days, as several councils tilted toward a “no” vote by close to 55%. The most decisive pro-unity votes came in Dumfries & Galloway, Scottish Borders, and the Orkney Islands.

Economics and market power became the central source of argument in the long debate over Scottish independence. Questions of over economic stability and viability were raised, triggering fears that an independent Scotland could face rough times if uncoupled from the British economy. The issue of what currency would be used became an emotional flashpoint as well. And concerns about the healthcare system, banking, and the disposition of billions of pounds’ worth of North Sea oil drilling and refinery equipment—not to mention the steady source of income—became troubling in the extreme for some voters.

The heightened force of the independence movement, despite its loss on Election Day, nevertheless spurred British Prime Minister David Cameron into a number of public concessions, including the shifting of more autonomy to Scottish policy-makers and greater input into the Union’s political and economic affairs. Also forged from the campaign were promises by Cameron and other opponents of independence that more powers would be ceded to the Scottish Parliament in specific areas: welfare spending, public works, and taxation.

Younger voters were generally believed ahead of time to have the potential to tilt the momentum toward pro-independence, and the fact that 16-year-olds would qualify to participate seemed to be a harbinger of the success of the “yes” movement. But toward the last days of the campaign, and as the narrative became more heated and emotional, opinion polls showed that even younger voters were split almost evenly on whether to leave the U.K. or to remain a partner with the Kingdom.

Opinion polls showed that the race was getting very close after Salmond gave a better-than-expected performance in a widely-watched television debate on the issue of Scottish independence. His opponent in the debate was a former Labour Party chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling. But a last-minute surge of campaigning by politicians opposed to independence may have driven the momentum back toward the “no” position.

Financial markets were jittery in the days leading up the referendum, but seemed to rally and stabilize after the “no” vote win. Economic concerns seemed to take center stage on many of the arguments, pro and con. When the polling places opened on Thursday, few were willing to predict the outcome. The “no” victory was larger than expected on both sides.

Nevertheless, even downhearted supporters of independence acknowledge that London’s acceptance of many of the concessions toward greater autonomy constitutes a moral victory, and Cameron has stated he intends to make good on those promises to shift more financial and economic power toward Edinburgh.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/ScotlandVoteUK.html#sthash.UDSJBRJm.dpuf