Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Agnese Boffano discuss Lebanon's ongoing economic crisis, plus more on Taiwan reopening to Chinese tourists, India launching its first space-based solar observatory, Trump’s arraignment in Georgia and a possible labor strike at two major liquefied natural gas plants in Australia.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, Vivian Wang, Awais Ahmad, Jimmy Lovaas and Alex Moore. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
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Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:
Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.
Today is Aug. 31.
In this week’s forecast we’ve got Lebanon’s historic economic crisis, Taiwan reopening to some Chinese tourists, India launching its first space-based solar probe, Trump’s arraignment in Georgia and a possible labor strike at two major liquefied natural gas plants in Australia.
You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.
Lebanon economic crisis
Information compiled by Agnese Boffano
JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis. For more on that I’ve got fellow Factal Editor Agnese Boffano
JIMMY: Hello, Agnese.
AGNESE: Hey, Jimmy.
JIMMY: So glad you're here. Hoping you can fill us in on what we need to know about the situation in Lebanon. So to start, can you give us a bit of a recap on how we got here?
AGNESE: Of course, yes. The Lebanon governments that we've had over the last couple of decades or so have all been basically accused of corruption and mismanagement that eventually led up to the financial meltdown in late 2019, when it was made very clear that the state no longer had the capacity to finance the debt that had accumulated over the years. And inflation rates have only worsened since then. And now, the Lebanese pound is estimated to have lost more than 95 percent of its value since 2019. And of course, this has had a devastating impact on the society; about eight out of 10 Lebanese are estimated to live in poverty, according to a late World Bank statistic. And the country continues to experience hours of power outages at a time, major infrastructure deficits. And all of this only made worse by the port blast in Beirut of August 2020, as we all remember, very vividly. And the economic situation, of course, goes hand in hand with politics and Lebanon has had years of political deadlock, made evident most recently by the fact that the country hasn't actually had a president since last year, even though there's been more than a dozen attempts at electing a figurehead. But unfortunately, you know, because of the sectarian system in which the government is set-up on, political rivalries always come in the way of moving forward. And there was some sort of hope when the IMF came out and said that they would grant Lebanon a $3 billion aid package, but of course because of the political vacuum that acts as a further inhibitor for corruption, the reforms that were required by the IMF were not met and so Lebanon again missed an opportunity to come out of the economic crisis there.
JIMMY: And what's the latest then? Are there any new developments?
AGNESE: Yes, definitely. We now actually have a new head of Lebanon's central bank as of this month, a guy called Wassim Mansouri, who is actually the interim governor after the previous official al-Salameh finished his 30-year tenure and is now facing not only corruption allegations at home, but also arrest warrants abroad. And when it comes to the latest with the economic situation, well the latest is that the central bank last Friday said that the institution would not be lending the government any more money to help bridge the current budget deficit, either in US dollars or in the local currency. And this was after the government passed the 2023 budget with a 24 percent deficit despite the central bank specifically asking for a deficit-free budget. And Mansouri also added in the press conference last week that he had no answer for depositors on whether they would be able to access their money from local banks, given that the country continues to impose strict withdrawal limits for customers to access their life savings.
JIMMY: How have the Lebanese people responded to the situation? And has there been any notable international reactions?
AGNESE: Yeah, you know, when we were monitoring the live press conference last week, and Mansouri came out and said that statement about the people not being able to withdraw their savings from the banks, we were instantly reminded of the spree of what on the surface seemed like bank robberies towards the end of last year, where sometimes armed individuals would enter banks and barricade themselves inside. But of course, in reality, it was very different from any other bank robberies, because what these individuals were trying to do was just try and get some of their own money from the deposits, which most people are unable to do to this day because of the strict withdrawal system that I mentioned earlier. So that was definitely a reaction that Lebanese people had. And aside from the bank robberies, we've also had numerous protests about the living conditions, about the political deadlock, and corruption, including the probe of the port explosion. I mean, it's been over three years since it happened and we have yet to see someone be held accountable for it. And one of the reactions as well that we've seen from the incredibly young and educated population of Lebanon is immigration, with more young people wanting to leave the country more than ever before, and by any means possible. And you ask about international reactions. Well, aside from the IMF attempt at giving a loan, we've had other numerous humanitarian aid packages sent from institutions like the EU, which most recently sent an aid package of $65 million. But the aid sector in Lebanon is really something else and often described amongst pessimistic NGOs time and again as putting a bandage on a bullet wound. You know, it might come with some short-lived breathing, but won't actually bring any long-term change.
JIMMY: Well, given all that, what do you think folks should be watching for in the time ahead?
AGNESE: So to close off, I wanted to bring in two things that I think we should be watching for next, one locally and one regionally. So firstly, of course, as I mentioned, the instances of protests, including the so-called bank robberies, are becoming more and more likely to take place again. You know, frustration on the ground is reaching levels unprecedented before and it's only a matter of time before this explodes on a nationwide civil level again. And I think it would be quite interesting, just to move on to the regional aspect, to see if the regional developments that have been taking place in the last couple of months might actually have an effect on the political situation in Lebanon. As you remember, quite monumental this year has been the deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which saw the two rival countries re-establish political relations. And of course, many countries and opposing regional powers are actually at play in Lebanon, not only physically speaking in terms of armed groups backed by such countries present in Lebanon itself, but also ideologically speaking in the country. So, I mentioned earlier the nature of the sectarian system in the country and how rival ideological parties are preventing political advancement. Well, you know, the Iran-Saudi deal has actually already pushed for several developments in the region. The Iran-backed Syrian regime in Damascus is being pushed to be reintegrated into the Arab League, more than a decade after its suspension. And in Yemen the deal has also helped broker the release of hundreds of Iran-backed Houthi prisoners and a somewhat more stable situation with its neighbor Saudi Arabia. And so, just because we've had an incredibly pessimistic few minutes talking about this, Jimmy, I'd like to say that although this deal between Riyadh and Tehran happened a few months ago, perhaps there's still a chance for it to impact Lebanon, if not in political advancements, at least a step out of the stalemate that has just worsened and worsened the living condition for the Lebanese people.
JIMMY: Well, thank you. I suppose we'll stop here for today, but always appreciate you catching us up to speed on what we need to know.
AGNESE: Thanks so much, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Take care
Taiwan to reopen borders to Chinese tourists, mainland business travel
Information compiled by Vivian Wang
JIMMY: Taiwan will once again begin allowing some mainland Chinese citizens to enter the island tomorrow.
That is, if they’re on group tourist or business visas.
The change comes after a three-year hiatus and despite limited reciprocity and heightened military tensions across the strait.
Travel between mainland China and Taiwan has been curbed since 2019, when China halted individual tourism permits for Taiwan amid tensions over sovereignty claims.
The coronavirus pandemic then suspended virtually all travel between mainland China and Taiwan.
Taiwan largely retained restrictions on mainland Chinese visitors even after reopening its borders to most parts of the world last year.
Of course, China continues to conduct military exercises that cross the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait.
It recently even held a day of drills around Taiwan to express its ire over Vice President William Lai’s brief stopovers in the United States.
Now, China has been gradually expanding the list of international locations its citizens are permitted to visit.
Still, it has yet to add Taiwan or respond to Taiwan’s olive branch.
Beijing did express a willingness to welcome Taiwan tour group visits earlier this year, however.
That, in a push for closer ties ahead of presidential elections on the island next January.
Launch of India's first space-based observatory to study the sun
Information compiled by Awais Ahmad
JIMMY: India will launch its first ever space-based observatory to study the sun, on Saturday.
Named after the Sanskrit word for the sun, Aditya-L1 aims to “get a deeper understanding of the sun” through studying concepts like solar winds, which can cause disruptions here on the Earth.
The spacecraft is expected to take about four months to reach the halo orbit around the Lagrange point 1(L1) of the Sun-Earth system, around 932,000 miles from the Earth.
The solar probe’s launch comes days after India became the first country to land a spacecraft on the unexplored south pole of the moon.
The country’s space program is also lauded for its cost-effective missions, with its latest moon mission costing less than the budget for the Hollywood space films “Gravity” and “The Martian.”
Trump and co-defendants to be arraigned in Georgia
Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas
JIMMY: Former President Donald Trump and his co-defendants will be arraigned in Georgia on Wednesday.
A grand jury in Fulton County indicted Trump along with 18 others on Aug. 14.
The 41-count indictment accuses Trump and his co-defendants, including lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, with unlawfully conspiring to “conduct and participate in a criminal enterprise” after Trump lost the 2020 election.
Trump and several of his co-defendants have denied any wrong-doing.
Now, while Trump is already facing three other indictments, the Fulton County, Ga., case is drawing much attention as it is under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law.
Also known as the RICO law, something usually reserved for the mafia.
Chevron LNG workers in Australia plan industrial action
Information compiled by Alex Moore
JIMMY: Workers at two major liquified natural gas plants in Australia are due to go on strike starting next Thursday.
Negotiations between unions and Chevron, the owner of the plants, are ongoing over pay and working conditions in order to avert the looming strikes.
While the exact details of the strike actions remain unclear, Reuters reports that employees are set to strike for three hours beginning Sept. 7 and progressively increase the time spent striking.
Now, gas prices surged at the announcement of the impending strike given that the two plants combine to account for more than 5% of global liquified natural gas production.
European prices in particular rose sharply on the news given the continent’s reliance upon global liquified natural gas supplies following the decline in imports from Russia in the wake of last year’s full invasion of Ukraine.
JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.
Today’s episode includes work from Factal editors Vivian Wang, Awais Ahmad and Alex Moore. Our interview featured editor Agnese Boffano and the podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
Music: 'Factal Theme' courtesy of Andrew Gospe