What is Europe?

What is this thing we call the “Europe”? Is it an aspiration or a government? Is it a business agreement or a marriage? Is it simply a mass of land that many different people share?

While Ukraine fights a nasty civil war over the desire by many to join Europe, the UK is starting to question whether it belongs. Where the European Central Bank (ECB) has given its stamp of approval or withheld it for many important banks a scramble has taken place to comply at all cost.

Whatever it is, Europe has always moved in many directions at once. The last few months even moreso.

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Putin Losing the Real War

The devastation continues in Ukraine as the civil war shows no signs of ending. As many as 3,700 people have been killed as human rights abuses have been alleged on both sides of the conflict. Eastern Ukraine is in ruins.

But the real loser in this conflict may yet be Russia. Wars these days are fought not just with gunpowder but with money, and while Putin has generously given weapons to his allies in Ukraine he is sitting on a very weak nation that has been sealed off from the West. We can expect him to keep fighting, as would be his style, in both ways – but this could be an extremely long Winter for both nations.

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Credit Card System: Fail

As we head into the holiday shopping season, one thing that everyone is looking forward to is the flash of plastic sliding out of wallets all across America. It’s the make or break time for retailers everywhere and season for dedicated shoppers to show their prowess for hunting down bargains. All of it is fueled by credit cards, both online and in person.

But before you whip out the card is there someone waiting to give the term “swipe a card” a different meaning? You may think you can trust a retailer, but can you be sure that they aren’t already a victim of a hacker? The short answer is no, you can’t be sure of anything this year. And a series of high profile hacks throughout 2014 have shown us that the entire credit card system needs to be judged as insecure by everyone.

And hardly anyone in the mainstream media is talking in these terms, probably to avoid the reasonable panic that would ensue.

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Shia vs Sunni

There are many conflicts that have seized the attention of the world today – Ukraine vs Russia, Gaza vs Israel, even Hong Kong vs China. There is also an Ebola epidemic and a general failure of the world’s economy to gain traction.

But there is one conflict simmering just below these headlines which has the potential to affect the entire world more profoundly than any of them – the growing conflict between Sunni and Shia Moslems, now stretching across the Middle East.

It has taken many forms on many fronts, but they all point to a potential for a much wider and nastier war than we have ever seen. And the US, as usual, has a position that might only encourage instability and ultimately make us one of the great losers if things get much worse.

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Senate Shakedown

Will the Senate go Republican? Nearly everyone believes it is likely, and has for a long time. It’s hard to see how that will be any different from today, given the ability to filibuster absolutely anything in that body.

Beyond Democrats and Republicans, there is a third option that is growing – some kind of independent fueled chaos and perhaps a heavy dose of Joe Biden in the works. The possibilities are absolutely delicious for many reasons. Not only would it give us all something to write about, a Senate in chaos would probably more accurately reflect the mood of the nation. Here’s how it goes.

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Up is Down, Until It’s Just Up

It’s been one week since Barataria made the prediction that if good news came in on jobs the stock market would tank. The good news came in, with the headline unemployment number slipping below 6% for the first time since 2008. Immediately, the market proved Barataria to be wrong. Then right. Then wrong. Then right, again.

It’s been a roller-coaster of a week. How does that stack up with any prediction at all?

It’s probably time to make another prediction. Let’s stick with the first one, that the stock market is due for a decent but not horrific “correction” that re-affirms that we’re really still in a secular bear market. But with the focus on Fed action we are also entering a time when the logic of the market finally turns rightside up – and good news will once again become unalloyed good news.

We just have to get through the ride before we know what’s up – literally up.

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Yellen’s Dashboard – Update

Another quarter has come, and it arrived with good news on jobs. The stock market didn’t tank right away, but most investors agree that the daze of puffed-up valuations for everyone are over. The consensus seems to be that rather than a general fall, investors will have to be more selective and careful. This is consistent with an economy that is changing and gradually turning over, ahead of the next Big Thing that will propel a real bull market in coming years.

But where do we stand with respect to Yellen’s Dashboard – those key economic indicators that Fed Chair Yellen said she’d be watching for movement where there has been so little over the past few years? We don’t have all the data to fill in where 3Q14 stands, but we have most of it. And it all looks good. Which is to say bad, if you’re so minded, because it really does look like the Fed is going to raise rates.

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