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Forecast: Twitter faces uncertain future, U.S. Senate holds hearing on FTX, and a possible U.S. rail strike

The Shanghai Marathon, pictured above in 2011

Week of Nov. 25-Dec. 2

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is just four weeks old, but has already led to massive layoffs and calls for advertisers to boycott the platform. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Joe Veyera discuss the latest developments and what to watch for next. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

A Look Ahead

Nov. 25  – EU to discuss migration problems  

The European Union’s Home Affairs Council will hold an extraordinary meeting on Friday, where they will discuss an action plan on the Central Mediterranean migrant situation.

What’s happened so far 
The Czech Republic, which currently holds the presidency of the European Council, called the extraordinary meeting amid an increase of traffic in the Central Mediterranean route by over 50 percent this year compared to last year. This year so far, more than 1,300 people have gone missing on the migration route. At least 88,000 people who arrived by boat in Italy this year were rescued by coast guard authorities.

The impact 
The action plan, published this week, proposes 20 different measures around three pillars aimed at reducing irregular and unsafe migration, providing a coordinated approach to emerging challenges on search and rescue and reinforcing the implementation of the “voluntary solidarity mechanism.” It is unclear how member states will respond to the proposals on such a controversial topic for many European countries, which often place migration as a central part of their political agendas. The issue caused tensions between Italy and France this month over 200 migrants aboard the Ocean Viking cruise ship. Most migrants ended up disembarking in France after Italy blocked access to its ports, while Norway took 20 others.

Nov. 26 – Imran Khan asks supporters to gather in Islamabad  

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked supporters of his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to resume his long march to Islamabad on Saturday after he was shot and injured during a rally earlier this month. 

What’s happened so far 
Khan has called on his supporters to gather in Faizabad on Saturday, an area of Rawalpindi bordering the capital city, where a camp will be set up a day prior for protesters arriving from across the country, according to a senior PTI official. The former premier has announced that he will have a “surprise” for everyone on Sunday, but it remains to be seen what that entails and how that might affect the political future of both the country and Khan himself.

The impact 
Khan’s relationship with the government continues to remain strained after he accused Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and some other senior officials of an assassination plot following the Nov. 3 shooting attack. This allegation, combined with security concerns, has put Islamabad police on alert for possible closure of all entry points into the capital city to ensure a peaceful rally and avoid repetition of the unrest during PTI’s last long march in May. 

Nov. 27 – Cuba municipal elections  

On Sunday, Cuba will hold its first municipal elections since the 2019 constitution’s approval.

What’s happened so far 
Representatives for 12,427 districts will be elected in the vote for a period of five years. The municipal delegate candidates are chosen by residents of electoral districts, and more than 200,000 designated electoral authorities have participated in the nomination of candidates since Oct. 21 across neighborhoods. The role of municipal delegates within the Cuban system, according to the country’s parliament, is to enforce the central government’s rule, intervene in decisions to affect the community and receive complaints from residents of their districts. A runoff date has been set for Dec. 4 for those constituencies where a candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the votes.

The impact 
A high voter turnout is expected on Sunday. More than 7 million Cubans— over 80 percent of the country’s population — participated in the last municipal election in 2017. Despite the government’s claims of a democratic election, Cuban opposition groups say there have been obstacles in the race for independent candidates. Some activists who had expressed their intention to run were forbidden from attending meetings at the early stages of the process. Other dissidents in the past have said their participation was disrupted through detentions or claims of “anti-revolutionary behavior.” A sector of Cuban opposition abroad has called to boycott the vote in protest for its lack of transparency.

Nov. 27 – Shanghai Marathon  

The Shanghai Marathon will be held Sunday after the 2021 marathon was postponed and then canceled in January due to concerns over coronavirus.

What’s happened so far 
This year, only permanent Shanghai residents over 20 years old are allowed to participate due to government restrictions. The Shanghai Marathon is the second major event to resume after the Beijing Marathon, which took place on Nov. 6. While questions were raised after coronavirus cases soared in the capital, it’s not yet clear whether a recent rise in nationwide infections will affect the Shanghai event.

The impact 
The resumption of large-scale sports events follows recent easing of China’s zero-covid policy as strict lockdowns have taken its toll on the economy and frustrated residents. The resurgence of cases in recent days, however, has already caused local governments to tighten restrictions again, with Beijing shutting parks and museums and Shanghai tightening rules for people entering the city. This marathon will likely serve as a test case for the continuation of large-scale events in Shanghai, particularly as the city gradually recovers from a May lockdown.

Nov. 29 – U.S., Russian officials discuss key arms control agreement  

American and Russian diplomats will meet Tuesday in Egypt to discuss New START, the final remaining treaty regulating each side’s respective strategic nuclear forces.

What’s happened so far 
New START represents the latest in a string of agreements over the last half-century to freeze and roll back the sizes of Moscow and Washington’s respective deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles. The treaty, which is set to expire in early 2026 following a five-year extension after President Joe Biden’s election, represents the final remaining nuclear arms control pillar between the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals after the deaths of multiple other agreements.

The impact 
The meeting follows Russia’s announcement in early-August that it was suspending on-site weapons inspections, part of the treaty’s verification mechanisms. Though on-site inspections have been suspended since 2020 due to the pandemic, meaning the announcement had little practical impact, it did raise fears over Russia’s willingness to negotiate a follow-on treaty given the context of Moscow’s nuclear threats in Ukraine. Political pressures for a follow-on treaty also exist on the American side given the reflexive hostility to arms control arrangements displayed by Republicans over the last two decades. As such, Biden has emphasized his desire to “expeditiously” negotiate a follow-on treaty.

Nov. 29 – EU poised to unblock billions in funds for Hungary  

On Tuesday, the European Union’s executive body is reportedly set to release nearly 15 billion euros (more than $15 billion) in funding for Hungary as part of rule of law consultations. 

What’s happened so far 
The EU, as part of its long-running dispute with Viktor Orban’s government over Hungary’s eroding rule of law, froze billions in funding earmarked for Budapest as part of development and coronavirus recovery funding. Now, following rule of law and corruption concessions from Budapest, the EU is poised to begin unfreezing the funds.

The impact 
Hungary is disproportionately reliant upon EU funding, and the pot in question represents nearly 10 percent of Budapest’s GDP. The release of the funds became a political necessity for Orban’s government as it faces economic woes that threaten his long-ruling coalition’s political dominance. The situation is worth monitoring this week given the hesitance of some EU lawmakers to release the funds due to Budapest’s position as the most pro-Russian country in the bloc, as well as what they say are not serious enough rule of law improvements. 

Dec. 1 – French President Macron visits White House  

U.S. President Joe Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on Thursday for the first full-scale state visit of his term.

What’s happened so far 
The White House said Macron’s visit will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship” between the United States and France. Tensions between the two nations rose in late 2021 after Australia scrapped a submarine supply deal with France in favor of a new agreement with the United Kingdom and United States, but the two leaders have since aligned responses on key global issues including Russia’s war in Ukraine.   

The impact 
Energy is expected to be a key topic of discussion during Macron’s visit, particularly U.S. clean energy subsidies, which are due to come into force Jan. 1, 2023. France and Germany are concerned the economic measures will encourage green European businesses to shift operations to the United States, damaging Euro-area investment at a fragile time for the region’s economy. Macron is expected to underscore Europe’s significance to the U.S. as a trade partner, both in the context of energy as well as China’s growing influence. 

Dec. 1 – U.S. Senate to hold FTX hearing  

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on the sudden collapse of cryptocurrency exchange platform FTX. 

What’s happened so far 
Sam Bankman-Fried, a renowned crypto expert and founder/CEO of FTX, filed for bankruptcy last week for his exchange-trading empire that now owes $3.1 billion to its major creditors. The collapse of the company has led to further pressure within the already troubled cryptocurrency market. After Bankman-Fried’s balance sheet was made public by the Financial Times, suspicions arose over the bankruptcy filings details, large amounts of missing funds, draconian discrepancies in assets, liabilities and venture investments.

The impact 
The FTX collapse is rippling through both the cryptoworld and across politics. While it is unclear whether Bankman-Fried’s actions leading to the company’s collapse are criminal, the fact remains that he and FTX were the single biggest political donors in 2022, which will inevitably be brought up in both the congressional hearing and the U.S. House hearing later in December. Many politicians and financial experts are already calling for more regulation and oversight into cryptocurrency markets, and the hearing’s contents may push for bills to be signed. What seems clear is cryptocurrencies have taken a strong hit financially, morally and reputationally due to the FTX collapse, posing an uncertain future for the decentralized economies. 

What Else Matters

A CSX train crosses the Harper’s Ferry tunnel, entering the station close to the Potomac river in West Virginia. CSX is one of the rail companies affected by a potential rail workers strike in the United States. (Photo: Mariano Mantel / Flickr)

Turkish operation in Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Tuesday Ankara’s intent on “rooting out” suspected Kurdish militants in Syria “as soon as possible.” The announcement comes following a deadly explosion on Nov. 13 on a busy road in northern Istanbul, in which six people were killed and more than 80 others were injured. Turkey’s interior ministry claimed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was behind the attack, despite both the PKK and its Syrian branch, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), denying any involvement.

Watch for: Erdoğan’s announcement signals a possible ground offensive against Kurdish militant groups primarily based in northern Syria. Although there is no exact timeframe for the intended operation, Turkey has already intensified operations as the last week saw a series of cross-border strikes that killed at least 31 people and injured 40 others targeting “terrorist elements” in both Syria and Iraq. Turkish forces are also likely to continue with country-wide raids with the aim of arresting suspected PKK members.

Twitter uncertainty 

Elon Musk’s chaotic ownership of the social media platform continues with no signs of stabilizing. Musk reactivated former President Donald Trump’s account for the first time since he was banned for inciting violence following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Recent reports suggest the company only has 2,700 employees left, down from the 7,500 it employed last month. Former employees say many critical teams at Twitter have little to no one left

Watch for: 
Twitter could stop working at any point following the massive layoffs. If it’s down for a sizable period of time, it could lead to a mass exodus of users. It could also be a safety issue for agencies that announce evacuations or other public safety warnings on the site, and the company’s revenue may also plummet. Dozens of the site’s top advertisers have stopped since Musk’s takeover and more could join them. Regulatory filings last year showed that almost 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from advertising.

Possible U.S. rail strike 

One of the largest rail unions in the United States has declined to approve a deal with freight railroad operators in a dispute over pay and working conditions. Transportation workers voting in a ballot held by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) narrowly rejected a proposed deal, brokered by President Joe Biden, as potential industrial action looms. Three other unions also rejected the terms.

Watch for: Lack of a deal or a further breakdown in negotiations could lead to industrial action as early as Dec. 5. An extended rail strike could cause serious disruption to business supply chains across the United States, especially those working on a “just in time” basis. The White House is keen to avert this, given disruption to shipping might contribute further to an air of instability in the economy, as the federal government attempts to quell fears of a deepening economic slump. President Biden is said to be personally involved in the process to end the impasse. The four unions are however back at the negotiating table with freight railroad operators, with hopes that they’ll be able to reach a deal.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Nov. 25-Dec. 2

Nov. 25

  • International day for elimination of violence against women
  • EU to discuss migration problems at extraordinary meeting

Nov. 26 

  • Taiwan holds mayoral elections
  • Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov to visit Azerbaijan
  • Imran Khan tells supporters to gather in Islamabad
  • Tokayev to be sworn in as president of Kazakhstan

Nov. 27

  • Shanghai Marathon
  • Cuba municipal elections
  • China’s Xiamen marathon

Nov. 28

  • EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels
  • SpaceX launches Japanese moon lander
  • Russian Gazprom says it will begin reducing supplies through Ukraine to Moldova

Nov. 29

  • NATO foreign ministers meet in Bucharest 
  • Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will visit Japan
  • Twitter relaunches blue check subscription
  • U.S.-Russia meeting on nuclear agreement in Egypt
  • Belgian railways strike

Dec. 1

  • World AIDS Day
  • President Biden hosts French President Macron at White House
  • OSCE meets in Lodz, Poland
  • Israel-South Korea trade deal takes effect
  • FTX hearing at U.S. Senate

Dec. 3-9 

Dec. 4

  • OPEC+ meets in Vienna

Dec. 5

  • Eurogroup meeting
  • Possible U.S. rail strike
  • G7 plans to cap the price of Russian crude oil

Dec. 6

  • Runoff in Georgia Senate race
  • EU-Western Balkans summit

Dec. 7

  • UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal
  • Bank of Canada policy decision

Dec. 10-16

Dec. 10

  • Louisiana runoffs

Dec. 13

  • Washington hosts U.S.-Africa summit

Dec. 14

  • EU-ASEAN Summit
  • Fijian House of Representatives election

Dec. 17-23 

Dec. 18

  • Guinea-Bissau parliamentary elections

Dec. 21

  • Deadline to end Title 42 on U.S. border expulsions of migrants

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