Friday, June 30, 2017

Trump Open to Opening More of Atlantic, Arctic to Drilling

The White House has sent signals that it could open up more of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to oil exploration, which would reverse prior Obama administration policy prohibiting petroleum drilling in those areas. The Interior Department is also exploring opportunities to allow more drilling off the coast of most of the US mainland.

These steps comes as Trump aims to make the US a greater player in the world oil market, though the possible expansion in supply comes at a time when oil prices are at a low point. Additional increases in supply could translate into reduced costs in the rest of the economy, but greater losses for many oil producers.

Senate Republican Health Care Bill Faces Uncertainty

Senate Republicans have unveiled their version of the GOP plan to repeal, or at least, rollback Obamacare, though getting a bill through the Senate, let alone getting it enacted into law, is far from certain.

The plan leaves a large chunk of the framework of Obamacare in place, such as the subsidies for those seeking to purchase private insurance. However, it repeals the individual and employer mandates, cuts Medicaid spending, and reduces the amounts of available subsidies.
The bill has encountered public opposition, with only 17% supporting it, according to a NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll (though 24% reported not knowing enough to make an opinion of it).

The opposition has led to Senate Republicans seeking to change the bill, with some suggesting that certain proposed tax cuts, which are projected to benefit more wealthy Americans, could be rolled back to provide greater assistance though subsidies and Medicaid spending. Such a tax that could be left in place is a 3.8% tax on investment income on individuals making more than $200,000 per year.

Any compromises are likely to alienate many of the senators needed to push the bill to final passage through the Senate. Too many cuts to social spending could dissuade moderates such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to oppose the bill, while leaving too much of Obamacare’s structure could dissuade some like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) from opposing it. Moderate Democrats, most notably Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), have ruled out supporting the bill in its current form, but have remained open to working with the Senate GOP on another proposal that does not attempt an Obamacare repeal.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

British Exit Polling Threatens Hung Parliament, Results Begin to Come In

British Prime Minister Theresa May's gamble of
holding a snap election nearly three years before
scheduled seems to have ended unfavorably for her
as Conservatives seem to have failed and with
election possibly resulting in a hung parliament

Credit: The Northern Echo

Credit: The Northern Echo
The snap general election in the UK called by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May back in April aimed to expand the Conservative majority in the British Parliament as the government heads into discussions with the European Union to begin Brexit negotiations. Her goal of a larger Conservative presence in Parliament does not seem to have been met, however, based on early returns and exit polling and predictions.

An exit poll released shortly after polls closed at 10 PM local time indicated that Conservatives would fall just short of a majority in Parliament, with 314 seats (out of 326 needed for a majority) with the Labour Party coming in second with 266. It predicted a sharp decline for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), with slight gains for the Liberal Democrats and a decline for the Scottish National Party (SNP).

If no party gains a majority, a party would be forced to form a coalition with smaller parties. The Liberal Democrats, who formed a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010-2015, have sworn off such a solution involving them. The SNP has said it would join with Labour to form a coalition government should it be possible. The Conservatives can rely on two small center-right parties to create a coalition.

Results can be followed here. As of 2:48 local time, Conservatives have gained 6 seats, Labour 9. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Manchester, Kabul Bombings Shine Spotlight Again on Terrorism

The bombing of Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England on May 22 once again raised the ugly specter of terrorism. The suspected perpetrator, Salman Ramadan Abedi, was a sympathizer of the Islamic State (IS), and IS claimed responsibility for the attack the day after it occurred.
The attack killed 22, injuring 116 more. It was the deadliest attack in the UK since the 7/7 attacks on London transportation systems in 2005.

Terrorism has not been limited to Western countries this May, with over 90 killed and 463 more injured in a truck bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. No one has yet claimed responsibility for that attack.

These attacks follow two years of other deadly Islamist attacks, often claimed by IS, including the two 2015 Paris attacks, the 2016 Belgian attack, and truck attacks in Nice and Berlin.

Trump Returns from Abroad, Continues Face Fallout from Russian Probe

President Donald Trump returned from his foreign trip last week, ending his tour which took him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Italy, among others. The trip, which largely occurred without incident, also included a trip to the G7 summit in Sicily, where Trump met with the bloc’s leaders. At the meeting, Trump criticized NATO members for many of them not dedicating at least 2% of their gross domestic product to defense spending, a guideline NATO members have agreed to meet by 2024.

While Trump’s approval rating edged up slightly following his trip, the President continues to face political problems over the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, along with investigations over whether any in his campaign had inappropriate ties with Russian agents. The controversy gained greater controversy following his abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey, who Trump initially said he fired over his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Democrats and other Trump opponents have accused him of firing Comey in an attempt to end the Russian investigation. Trump vigorously denies this.

Recent reports have said that Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner spoke with a Russian banker during the transition, though no evidence has come forth of any wrongdoing. Reports today have claimed Comey will testify next week, reportedly to say Trump pressured him to back away from the investigation of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who was fired by Trump for misleading him over lying about his meetings with Russian officials. Whether this will happen in next week’s hearing before the Senate remains to be seen.