Maurizio Stefanini

Politics
Populism’s vicious economic circle

The most developed countries in the world are now being swept by a wave of populism against a sclerotic elite. Whether this populism has a coherent economic vision has yet to be determined. But it makes us wonder about what will happen if this vision of reacting for negation’s sake succeeds.

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The axis of evil is back

“Axis of evil”was used by George W. Bush on January 29, 2002 in the first State of the Union speech after the attacks on 9/11 to describe a group of regimes he accused of “sponsoring terror” and threatening “America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.” 

Europe
The Dutch riot of parties

Even though Geert Wilders, the anti-Muslim candidate who was making all the headlines, did not win, he could still claim a victory of sorts. Others across the vast spectrum of parties had to adjust to his anti-Muslim, anti-migrant positions.

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The gall of the gauls

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres (Gaul is a whole divided into three parts): such is the frequently quoted phrase with which Julius Caesar begins his Commentaries on the Gallic War.

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Canada hedges its bets

Even though relations between the US and Canada have always been excellent, the tension created by Donald Trump’s protectionism has Canada looking to other markets for its exports.

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Genealogies of the future

February 7, 2017 was the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, but the date was not celebrated in a festive atmosphere. On June 23, 2016 a referendum took place in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar in which 51.89% of votes cast were in favor of leaving the European Union.

Featured briefing
The Trump effect beyond the wall

Paradoxically, both populist and liberal governments in Latin America are drawing inspiration from US events: one in the name of opposition to what the US was in the past, the other in the name of opposition to what the US could become under Trump.

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Of machines and men

On June 5, 2016 Swiss voters were called to vote on a referendum to introduce a guaranteed basic income for all. Since work was increasingly automated, the supporters argued, fewer jobs were available for workers. The proposal was therefore to pay a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,555) for adults, whether they worked or not, and also 625 francs for each child. The electors overwhelmingly rejected a proposal. 

Cuba
Cuba in the wake of Fidel

Now that Fidel Castro is no longer physically there to act as Cuba’s revolutionary conscience, the country is bracing itself for a more abrupt transition out of its Communist doldrums.

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Spain escapes from limbo

After months without a government, Spain’s former prime minister Mariano Rajoy is back in power. In the meantime, during the vacuum, Spain has done quite well economically. 

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Big Data and small data

Is it the fault of  Big Data, if Hillary Clinton lost the election? The Democratic candidate won the popular vote by more than a million. Donald Trump was elected because of the mechanism of the Electoral College, where he had 306 votes to 232, and which was in fact dismissed as “a disaster for democracy” and  “an arcane, insane 18th-century idea” by the radical leftist filmmaker Michael Moore, while a Change.org petition called “on the Electors to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for Secretary Clinton.”

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In Putin's head

Trump? “Good businessman, never sleeps. Doesn’t pay his taxes… legally,” a Red Sox fan in front of him in line says to Homer Simpson, who is about to vote in a web short released three weeks before the actual elections. Homer is instead for Hillary Clinton as President: “The candidate who forgave her husband no matter what he did, not the guy who really likes his daughter,” and has led businesses to bankruptcy six times. “That’s two more times than me!”

Latin America
The end of the Pink Wave

A series of scandals and crises have caused Latin Americans to spurn many of their leftist governments. But the new leaders tend to be in power thanks to the faults of others rather than because of their own merits.

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Fear of progress

On April 5, 1815 a huge eruption occurred on Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia. Reaching a climax on April 10, 1815, it was the largest observed eruption in recorded history, killing 92,000 people, and was followed by between six months and three years of increased steaming and small phreatic eruptions.

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Black Lives Matter backlash

On February 10, 2007, Democratic Senator from Illinois Barack Obama announced his candidacy to become the first Black president of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield: a highly symbolic site because it was also where Abraham Lincoln delivered his historic “House Divided” speech in 1858, about the problem of slavery and race in the US. 

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Brexit, actually

“As predicted, Scotland was voting strongly to stay in, to the extent that, even with a partial count, it was obvious what the Scots wanted. Less predictably, Northern Ireland and Wales where voting strongly to stay in. The unexpected results were from England."

Spain
Snap elections in Spain

The Spanish government is deadlocked and unable to form any workable coalition. In his effort to come to his country’s rescue, King Felipe VI has also shored up the monarchy’s recently tarnished image. But his task is not an easy one. 

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New modes of production

Released on June 16, 2015, Stephen Witt’s bestseller How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy tells precisely how in 2000 the massive introduction of exchange programs for peer-to-peer files on home computers hit a record industry that had just achieved the best account results in its history.

Featured briefing
Vale tudo in Brazil

The no holds barred tradition of fighting that was born in Brazil seems to be extending into politics. Everyone is under investigation and the entire political elite is at risk.

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Bracing for the new industrial revolution

Machines changed the way humans live and interact. Soon machines will be running and building themselves. Over time we will need to become increasingly intimate with the machines and systems that facilitate our lives.

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When Hillary met Donald

The prospect of Trump vs. Clinton is grim. But look carefully and 2016 offers a faint promise of something better,” the Economist commented. “Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; the man most likely to face her in November on the Republican ticket is Donald Trump…

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Islamic State terror in Europe

Although the surge of the Islamic State is related to a local conflict, the perception in the media and in public opinion is that of a global threat.

Crude oil's downward slide
Elbowing the frack out of the energy business

Lower oil prices have made extraction by means of fracking too expensive. As a result, many fledgling companies have gone bankrupt. Does this mean that fracking was just a flash in the pan? 

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Changes in China

The year 2016 was announced in China as a year of great reforms. The most commented upon by major international media was the dropping of the one-child policy, which had been adopted by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 in order to limit population growth and to boost the country’s economic development. 

Latin America
Latin America’s pink tide

In the past decade many Latin American countries have veered leftward. But there are distinct varieties of leftist governments, and the entire continent offers a wide range of possibilities in contrasting decades of predominately rights leaders.

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If you can’t stand the heat…
Will the ballots fix Spanish politics?
Spain always game for another party

Day by day Spain is moving away from a classic two-party system. New political movements, shifting alliances and independence movements risk bringing the country to a constitutional crisis.

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Who have and have not
How the car is changing
The car of the future

New technologies are available both within each automobile and among the countless cars to make up an interactive network of transport information. As the two technologies converge, driving as we know it will never be the same.

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Oh, Henry!
World economy
The oil wars

Wars have been fought for the oil that fuels our machines. But what about the oil that fuels our bodies? There, too, business interests have been vying with each other to become a mainstay in our diet. Yet most people are unaware of the kind of oil they may be eating.

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Germany through the centuries
BRICS
Putin it under one umbrella

Since the US has long controlled NATO and the IMF, Russia and other powers are looking to form economic alliances and security arrangements that could mitigate America’s hegemony. But they are hindered by their own diverging interests.

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Beware of Greeks receiving gifts
Trade
Atlanticism and its discontents

In many respects, the ideology of globalization is the legacy of the Atlantic ideology born after the discovery of America. Today the various trade agreements that try to integrate the global economy are both manifestations of Atlanticism and signs of its demise.

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Anti-politics and the crisis of democracy
The rising allure of the tangible
Scratching an itch for vinyl

It may be that the sound quality is better, or it may just be due to the frustration of enjoying music – already an ethereal art form – without having anything to hold on to. Whatever the case, vinyl albums and turntables are making a comeback.

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The Chinese challenge to American hegemony
Singapore
The man who woke a tiny tiger

Lee Kuan Yew led Singapore to independence and turned it into an economic miracle. He was more than just an astute authoritarian leader. He laid the foundations for a renaissance throughout much of Asia.

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The turning point for oil
Fiscal paradise lost
The perennial Swiss hedge

Over the centuries the Swiss have learned how to protect themselves and their interests. Now that banking secrecy has come under attack, they are trying to adapt to the manifold ramifications.

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Capitalism and democracy
Cuba libre
Bye-bye old Cuba

Opening up to Cuba has been on the agenda of many US presidents, but something always happened to block a lifting of the embargo. What can Cubans expect from this unprecedented agreement between Obama and Raúl Castro?

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HUMINT
Global terrorism
The coffers of terror

Like any organization that wants to recruit, expand and influence, even terrorist groups need to secure a steady income. Different groups have found different solutions. They must all adapt to market forces. 

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Books and beyond
The new world of cheap oil
Drilling into wealth

Caught in the midst of a leftist wave, Latin American countries with abundant gas and oil still differ as to how those reserves should be used and to what extent the government is willing to nationalize the industry.

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The Islamic State
­­­Sowing the seeds of better food policy­
When bumper crops bum farmers out

A recent drop in grain prices will have repercussions across the agricultural sector. In the meantime analysts are scrambling to understand what, besides unusually good crops, is behind the dip, and what the risks may be.

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In search of a new world order
China
From Hong Kong with love

Hong Kong is stirring again, its citizens calling for freer elections. As the Occupy Central movement draws attention to their wishes in as peaceful a manner as possible, they recall decades of tension with the mainland.

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The future of Germany
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Here’s my story, vote for me
Finance
Banking minus the interest, or so it seems

The history of banking has long dealt with the issue of usury. In Islamic banking the general rule is that all parties concerned in the transaction must share some of the risk. Over time, many ingenious ways of circumventing the proscription against interest have been devised.

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Unorthodox economists
­­­The not quite pacific Indian Ocean
Naval bases: far-flung and homegrown

With two of the most important shipping lanes at each side, the Indian Ocean is a very important strategic point. Naval bases along its rim will be key to military supremacy in the 21st century.

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Hard power is back
Avoiding the dark
Palladium: the makings of a perfect storm

With so much attention on gas and Russia, it is easy to overlook a crisis brewing in the world of palladium, a little-known metal that is crucial for petroleum cracking and also promises many more uses in the future.

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Banks, bankers, Europe and inequality
World economy
The tango effect

Again Argentina’s economy is taking a big dip. It seems the Latin American country is destined to rise and fall, sway and glide in its fitful efforts to become a major regional actor in economic terms.

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Putin’s Russia
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Second-guessing America’s 9/11 wars
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The legacy of Nelson Mandela
Holy glasnost
A very Latin American papacy

The current pope has brought to Rome an aura of the New World, with a very particular brand of populism indigenous to Latin America.

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A new American century­
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Weapons of mass destruction
Global rush in telecommunications
The web wars

The high-tech digital world is a jungle – economically speaking. Companies rise to world domination and die out in a fraction of a generation. Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia is emblematic of how quickly things need to shift in such a volatile environment.

World economy
Cracks in the BRICS

As the developed countries begin to taste the fruits of recovery, it would seem that the BRICS boom is tapering off. The big question is whether other economies will rise up to join the growth club, or if
this slowdown will affect the entire emerging world.

Times of protest
The scoring class

Despite its growing middle class and the general anticipation before the World Cup and Olympics, or perhaps because of them, Brazil has seen its population take to the streets in protest, seizing the opportunity to set things straighter in a country long skewed by corruption.

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The evolution of capitalism
Nile
Thirst and power

A projected new dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia is expected to diminish Egypt’s water supply by up to a fifth. Is this a casus belli for Egypt or an opportunity for greater cooperation among African countries?

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What the frack?
Trade
Caught in a web of world trade

 

With the election of a Brazilian as the new head of the WTO, everyone is trying to figure out what the implications for the multi-layered web of free trade agreements that span the globe will be.

 
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To thatch
 or not to thatch?
Global Economy
The new crop of challengers

Many companies are not only growing rapidly, they are also growing globally. These new “Global Challengers” give an indication of where the most dynamic economies in the world will be in the near future.

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The geopolitics of Catholicism
Venezuela
Big Daddy’s funeral

Venezuela mourns the death of Hugo Chavez. In the inevitable vacuum left by the charismatic leader, various players are lining up to vie for power. At stake is the future political alignment of all Latin America’s nations.

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How the West will be lost
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The bookish pope

The first pope to use Twitter, the first pope to abdicate since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, Benedict XVI, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Germany, was considered one modern history’s more intellectual pontiffs. His mission was a philosophical and theological battle to face the challenges of modernity by advocating a return to fundamental Christian values. Indeed, as President of the International Theological Commission, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission from 1981 to 2005 he had been the “brain” behind the politics of reestablishing and updating the Catholic Church. In particular, he viewed relativism’s denial of objective truth as the central problem of the 21st century. But already when he became a professor at the University of Bonn in 1959 his inaugural lecture was on “The God of Faith and the God of Philosophy.”
Over the years he has written 66 books. But the writing that consecrated his fame as a theologian was Einführung in das Christentum: a 1968 book published in English as Introduction to Christianity. In 1985 he had a bestseller with Rapporto Sulla Fede; in English The Ratzinger Report. It was a series of interviews given by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori, a notorious Catholic traditionalist. The book focuses on the state of the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council, strongly criticizing the “hermeneutic of rupture” associated with the liberal “spirit of Vatican II” within the Church. Also very important in the theology of Cardinal Ratzinger was the 1988 Eschatologie, Tod und ewiges Leben, in English Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. The book is the indeed the study of the “eschaton,” the times of the end, or “last things,” such as the Second Coming, heaven, and hell. His last important title before becoming pope was published in 2004 Glaube – Wahrheit – Toleranz: Das Christentum und die Weltreligionen. In English, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. It is a discussion about  faith, religion, culture, freedom, and truth, with special emphasis on the Christian religion, how it relates to the other, and whether it can continue to make an absolute claim as the true religion. In the preface it is stated that “beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the question about truth.” Among the 20 titles published since he became pope in 2005 the elections, the most important is the Trilogy about Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth, the first one, was issued for Benedict XVI’s April 16, 2007 birthday, “no way an exercise of the magisterium,” but rather an “expression of his personal search for the face of the Lord,” and  stops short of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and subsequent Passion and Resurrection. The second volume: Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, was published in 2011. This book’s introduction states that he has “attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to a personal encounter,” trying “to maintain a distance from any controversies over particular points and to consider only the essential words and deeds of Jesus.” The third and last volume of the Trilogy was Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, released November 20, 2012.

Global markets
The Starbucks zeitgeist

Sipping one of Starbucks’ many permutations of the tried-and-true cup of coffee while settling into a couch and perusing a computer screen to the soundtrack of a hip playlist has become more than a passing fad in America and throughout the world. It’s now a cultural statement. 

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Management for underdogs
Industry
Storm of steel

Once the foundation of European and American industry, the world’s biggest steel producers are now Asian. In many ways the evolution of the steel industry reflects what’s to come in other sectors.

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SOS Europe
Financial markets
Capitalizing on catastrophe

Hedging against natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes is a growing segment of the insurance industry. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, “catastrophe bonds” have gained prominence and promise to attract more interest in the expectation of further calamities.

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Militaria
Talking heads
Would-be splitters

On October 15 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond signed a 30-clause agreement granting the Scottish government the power to hold a referendum on independence before the end of 2014. Also on October 15, the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya Artur Mas i Gavarró threatened to draw the European Union into its independence row with Spain, after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would block the referendum on independence that Mas plans to hold during a four-year term that starts after regional elections on November 25. On October 14, at the Belgian provincial and municipal elections, Bart De Wever’s separatist NV-A party made sweeping gains throughout northern Flanders, and De Wever himself won the race to become mayor of Antwerp, Europe’s second biggest port city. On October 13, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) chairman Íñigo Urkullu Renteria, candidate to head the Basque government in upcoming elections to the Basque Parliament on October 212012, responded to Rajoy that he has no project for Basque independence in the immediate future, but that the Basque nationalism is not the devil. Both Mas and Urkullu praised the “Scottish way” and the example of the British democracy.  
These are all different situations. Scotland had a long existence as an Independent state, but at present its linguistic assimilation into the English is quite complete: just 1% of the population of Scotland can speak Gaelic, even if 85% Scotland’s adult population speaks a Scots dialectal variety of English. On the contrary, roughly 94% of the population of Flanders speaks Flemish, 48% of the population of the Basque Country speaks Basque and 47% of the population of Catalonia speaks Catalan. But historically neither Flanders nor Catalonia and the Basque Country has a history of independence, even though they have long held strong nationalist feelings. Yet due to the continent’s economic crisis, moves toward separatism in the EU have been getting more attention.

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Geopolitics
Wealth protection
Diamonds in rough times

The evolution of the diamond industry has led gem producers to treat their products more like other commodities. As wary investors scramble for scarce safe havens, they have begun to consider the world’s hardest substance – once valued primarily for its dazzle.

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Defining the Middle East
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Fear of the future
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Olympic Games
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The Arab Spring: one year later
International trade
A fistful of rare earths

Relatively new commodities such as lithium, coltan and rare earths – crucial to high-tech manufacturing – are impacting geostrategic relations. Upstarts are cashing in on resources and established players are trying to consolidate their positions.

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The fate of Western civilization
Land rush
Trimming land for better hedges

Invest in land, they’re not making it anymore, the old adage goes. This advice has now been taken to heart by governments and private industry with the idea of hedging against future scarcity.

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Israel: holy land, profane politics
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China rising on the horizon
Gold
A glittering history

In volatile times people have historically turned to gold as a hedge against turbulence. Since the financial crisis the price of the precious metal has risen dramatically. But it may be revealing to see who has it, who’s accumulating it, who’s selling it, and why.

Markets
Money, blood and chocolate

The ups and downs of cocoa have been influencing markets and geopolitical maneuvers since Europeans discovered the precious New World commodity. Perhaps the reason why strife over chocolate has tended to fly under the radar is because of the comestible’s unequivocally pleasure-inducing qualities.

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BRICs and BRICS
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Thanks for the memories
Thailand
Thailand’s power plays

Apart from the recent devastating floods, Thai politics have experienced a flood of governments, alliances and factions sporting colored T-shirts. The main players, however, have all had to deal with the ever-increasing power of the Shinawatra family – especially now that Yingluck Shinawatra is prime minister.

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Gathering intelligence: yesterday and today
Infrastructure
Just say no to infrastructure

As the formerly underdeveloped countries have emerged and begun to take the reins of the global economy, their citizens have taken to the democratic tradition of resisting projects seen by local communities as a danger to their survival.

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The decline of the Dollar Empire
Tangoing on eggshells
Italian companies in Latin America
Tangoing on eggshells
The Mexican paradox

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the Mexican Drug War. Yet despite being mired in a civil war against various drug cartels, who are trying to replace the government and impose a monopoly by force of arms, Mexico’s economy keeps growing.

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The future of the war on terror
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European debt crisis
Cuba
Cuba’s new Rum Socialism

As Fidel Castro lingers over the reforms his brother and successor Raúl implements, a new generation of leaders is positioning itself to take over the reins of an economic system that has been in shambles since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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The nuclear debate
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European losers

When a democracy is struggling economically, citizens will express their discontent via the ballot box. Recent regional elections do not bode well for anyone currently ruling Europe’s biggest countries. It doesn’t matter if they are on the right, as in France and Italy, or on the left, as in Spain. It doesn’t even matter if the economy is going strong, as is the case with Germany. There is a general sense of malaise, and those in power are expected to pay, as in Ireland on February 25 and Finland on April 17. Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates also lost elections on June 5, and they were legislative elections. In all Western European countries where in 2011 there were elections, the ruling government parties lost.

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Who’s afraid of the IMF
Talking heads
Sons and daughters of power

Four heirs to power ­­find themselves on the firing line. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, son of former President Hafez al-Assad, is facing a Revolution. Keiko Fujimori, daughter of President Alberto Fujimori, could be elected President of Peru on June 5. Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the Front National party, is now its leader. She stands a chance of reaching the second ballot at the next French presidential vote. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, is now leading the loyalist forces in Libyan Civil War.    

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Killing Osama bin Laden
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Putting the pop into populism

Historian Loris Zanatta has described populism is “the modern expression of an ancient heritage… typical of eras dominated by the sacred, according to which human societies are seen as natural organisms, comparable in essence and function to the human body, whose health and the balance of which involve the subordination of the individual to the collective level that transcends them.” In other words, a holistic view “not comparable to the many ‘isms’ of the 19th and 20th century,” although it can sometimes combine with them, and that “it does not exist in itself, but is closely linked to the historical circumstances in which it occurs.” 

Iceland
Iceland rewrites its fate

Iceland is the land of writers, and Icelanders’ love of stories, texts and genealogies explain not only the relative importance of their publishing industry, but also their interest in the codified sagas of genetics.

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Jihad in Belgium

It was the Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart D’Engremont in 1977 to launch the definition of “consociational democracy.” Lijpjhart spent his life studying the elections and electoral systems in a career made mainly in the United States, but his analysis stemmed from the observation of his homeland, the Netherlands.

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Enviromental wars
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European Muslims
Mega$port
Home field disadvantage

As host of the World Cup this year, perennial favorite Brazil will have to contend with a slew of social issues and polemics brewing outside of the stadiums. The “beautiful game” has always expressed the soul of this nation, but never as much as this year.

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Pinochet: 40 years later