As spring warms its way to summer, the seasonal lists just keep coming: the top ten beach reads; the likely best (and worst) of the upcoming summer movies; and even ten great films about summer! But all is not frivolity, as recent summers have shown. Every summer has its big story. But at least in 2014 the most serious summertime event will not likely be about a soon-to-come government shutdown, triggered on the last day of summer 2013 by a vote in the House of Representatives to keep funding the U.S. only if Obamacare was defunded. Nor will it concern the 2012 Presidential nominating conventions and campaign, although the 2016 race has certainly already started and everybody but California Chrome seems to be running. Neither will the Greek-triggered Eurozone sovereign debt crisis that emerged in 2010 repeat itself, although Europe still has its troubles.
The summer of 2014 will have a lead story all its own, and there are already many candidates for top honors. So follows a suggested "top 19" list of the stories most likely to dominate the news (if not the beach reading) this summer. There will always be surprises and sports stories (after all, there will be the World Cup in Brazil and the NBA finals will finally be, final), but let's leave those matters aside and concentrate on this blog's sense, in ascending order of likelihood, of the issues and events with the greatest potential impact on world affairs in the coming three months.
#10. The Global Climate Debate: Of course we always have big weather stories in the summer, including the California fire season and the annual hurricane risk prediction -- this year tempered by the expected emergence of a new El Nino that could also bring relief to the California drought. But both drought and storm severity have become entwined in the ongoing debate as to the reality, let alone any possible mitigation, of climate change, so that any particularly acute aberrations in summertime weather will have broader consequences than those inflicted in the "cone of uncertainly" that accompanies them. Moreover, the issue of the reliability and adequacy of government technology resources that has emerged in the case of Obamacare and even the Veterans Affairs scandals has now also been attached to the Weather Bureau's IT! Stay tuned for your local forecast.
#9. The Iran Nuclear Negotiations and Sanctions: lately the main event in the sanctions world has regarded those applying to Russian oligarchs and commercial interests in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis. But key decisions on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions and related sanctions are due this July. Time will tell whether Tehran (or Tel Aviv) will be "Happy Dancing."
#8. Benghazi: Yes, the GOP would like this item higher on the list, and Hillary Clinton would like it off the list, but there will be plenty of theater, if not blood, so this item might just wind up at least on the top ten video list, even if the next hearing doesn't produce anything new apart from John Kerry's take on it all. After his Syria, Mideast and Kiev problems, Secretary Kerry may find a House Committee a relief, although they are not likely to confine themselves to the Benghazi matter in his presence. The temptation will be too great to resist.
#7. Pope Francis: A son of the Church and a born newsmaker, can it be that he will also shake up the Middle East as well as his own flock? Don't bet against it. He is already there, attempting to convert a dying peace process with at least a living prayer process with a meeting at the Vatican with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents. Camp Francis, perhaps? Plus he has round one of his own summit of bishops coming up to take on the question of Catholic teaching on the family and sexuality -- that ought to make the fall top ten list.
#6. NSA Reforms: No secret that this issue remains front and center at the moment, with the House of Representatives' recent approval of legislation to rein-in collection and perusal of mass telephone call records by the NSA, requiring a court order to obtain such records from the phone companies (who will now be the ones to keep them) on persons with certain degrees of connection with suspected terrorists. No side of the debate is quite satisfied, so this issue is predicted to be "the fight of the summer" on Capitol Hill. Hopefully, some news anchor or other will ask Edward Snowden how many Presidential daily security briefings he studied before unilaterally deciding to declassify a large part of the NSA.
#5. The Veterans Administration's Hospital Scandal: The search for accountability goes on, including calls by certain lawmakers to bring the Justice Department into the process, which shows a growing lack of confidence in any internal VA inquiries, and guarantee that this wrenching news will take the summer to 'get to the bottom." But meanwhile, why not let vets who can't get immediate care (both physical and mental) use and bill the government for private doctor and hospital system, which would in effect be an extension of the ObamaCare principle of subsidized private insurance. Perhaps if the GOP could swallow that analogy, the Administration might look more favorably on idea advanced by some politicians to privatize all or part of the VA health care system.
#4. Ukraine and Europe: One might say they deserve each other but will never find happiness. Europe, the feckless sanctioner of Russia; Ukraine the debt-ridden oligarchy in need of US aid to pay its gas bills to Russia. And what of Russia? Putin actually lost effective control of the whole country and has spun this defeat on the Street as somehow a victory over Obama in capturing his own port with masked Special Forces and probably ruining the Black Sea tourist trade in the process. Cry me a river! Sanctions have at least staved off an invasion that spared enough of a Presidential election that even Obama could claim a victory of sorts that the election was accomplished despite Russian provocations (but no invasion -- thank you, sanctions)! Meanwhile, just when Europe should be grateful that it has NATO and the EU to keep it from complete subservience to the same Russian gas pipeline that serves Kiev, its voters seemed to take out their economic frustrations on those same EU institutions. Spare us, at least for the summer.
#3. The U.S. Supreme Court: From corporate contraceptive insurance policy to patent trolls, (where Congress has just punted on reform in the face of divided tech industry), the Justices will hand down over a dozen decisions in June that will involve several high stakes business cases. But the big focus will be on whether family-owned businesses (but not IBM or Apple or other public companies) can claim religious exemptions to Obamacare rules. By next summer, the big case will be about gay marriage.
#2. Immigration: Put up or shut up time for both the Congressional Republicans and the President. Harry Reid has called the question by offering to delay reform past Obama's term, and we should know by August whether the House of Representatives will act, and how. For the November polls, this could be bigger than Obamacare was in 2010.
#1. But in terms of maximum electoral importance, it's still The Economy. Will we recover from essentially zero growth in the first quarter to GDP levels that can bring us in at 3 percent or more for the year as we finished 2013? Or was the Q1 slowdown about more than weather? And will the bond market continue to trade as though another recession may be coming, while stocks trade sideways and even into bear territory for high multiple tech and biotech names (another sign of growth fears)? Certain observers confidently predict a market crash in the next several months; others think the Federal Reserve will flinch from its withdrawal of stimulus because it's been wrong about the strengthening path of the economy. Either event would be a big summer story. But the sense here is that the Fed has been right all along despite the market's misgivings: it's not going to take a way the punch bowl, it just will finally stop spiking the punch with QE bond buying, and the economy will get back above 3% growth for the rest of the year -- the best summer news of all.
Terry Connelly is an economic expert and dean emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Terry holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and global head of investment banking at Cowen & Company. In conjunction with Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Terry co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education.
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