World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
Feb. 28 marks the 10th anniversary of the last major outbreak of organized religious violence in India. Indeed, the riots in the western state of Gujarat in February and March 2002 might be said to be the last major episode of communal hatred in which the state was conspicuously an agent.
The violence began in the small town of Godhra on Feb. 27, 2002, when 58 Hindu pilgrims were killed when a train compartment in which they were travelling was set on fire, allegedly by a Muslim mob. When the news of the incident spread through Gujarat, not only were the state’s Hindus inflamed, the streets of many parts of Gujarat were besieged by right-wing groups that saw the moment as being ripe to attack members of the state’s substantial Muslim minority. By all accounts, the administration of the state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then only five months into his tenure, did little to curb the violence. Muslim neighborhoods and buildings in the state’s biggest city, Ahmedabad, were attacked, buildings set on fire, women raped, and people burned alive or hacked to pieces. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the violence and by the police.READ MORE
On the face of it, Brazil’s annual Carnival, which ended last week, was a success. The two-day national holiday is always a high-point of the year: Samba street parties unfold all over the country, tourists flock in, beer is drunk and a good time is had by all.
But not every Brazilian loves it. The phrase "I hate Carnival" is increasingly rebounding on blogs all over the country, as Brazilians post videos explaining why they don’t like the chaos, the drunkenness, the promiscuity and the sight of people urinating in the street.READ MORE
On Feb. 1, with little fanfare, the China Securities Regulatory Commission released a list of 217 companies seeking approval to hold initial public offerings in the coming months. It included manufacturers, property developers and, if you looked hard enough, a firm primarily engaged in the business of selling bile extracted from the gallbladders of live bears.
Bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat a range of ailments including pain, fever and inflammation, the treatment of gall stones and vision problems. But farming bears for their bile is an unconscionably cruel act, long derided by activists in and outside of China.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
The Egyptian establishment, in addition to some local defenders of democracy, has long regarded foreign financing of Egyptian civil society with marked skepticism, if not outright trepidation. Now, with the testimony by Egypt’s planning and international cooperation minister, Fayza Abul Naga, published last week -– in which she accused the U.S. of fomenting “chaos” in her country through the non-profit organizations it funds -– those sentiments have dramatically ratcheted up. Some Arab and Egyptian commentators wrote this week that the road to a new, and more balanced, era in U.S.-Egyptian relations should, in fact, come from tightly controlling civil society groups backed by Washington and its allies.
The issue first erupted Dec. 29, 2011, when Egyptian authorities raided the offices of 17 local and U.S.-supported non-governmental organizations, including Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the National Republican Institute, which together receive substantial U.S. government funds for promoting democracy and transparency around the world.READ MORE
Russia's ruling tandem has always been a bit of a good cop - bad cop act. President Dmitri Medvedev has been at pains to look humane, in contrast to the strong-arm approach preferred by his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Now there is no longer a tandem, and Putin clearly intends to run Russia single-handedly after he wins the March 4 presidential election. So there would seem to be no reason for the show to go on. But it does, and the two old friends are mixing their signals like never before.READ MORE
Almost 120 years ago, on Sept. 11, 1893, a young Indian man, clad in saffron robes, stood up at a massive gathering in Chicago and delivered one of the most rousing and frequently quoted speeches of modern religious history. The speaker's name was Narendranath Datta, but in India he went by Swami Vivekananda, and this is how he is now remembered. The event was the first-ever World Parliament of Religions, a visionary attempt to start a global dialogue among people of all faiths.
Vivekananda's speech, and his subsequent work in the U.S. promoting the school of Hinduism called Vedanta, made him the first Indian to significantly impact the American cultural consciousness. Touring the country widely after his Chicago speech, Vivekananda opened a view in America of Hinduism, and Indian civilization, as something much more complex and vigorous than had been granted so far. As the commemorative plaque in Vivekananda's honor installed in 1995 at the Art Institute of Chicago, where Vivekananda made his speech, says, "His unprecedented success (at the Parliament) opened the way for the dialogue between Eastern and Western religions."READ MORE
Brazil’s airports are bursting at the seams. In 2011, about 180 million passengers traveled through the 66 airports run by the government aviation body, Infraero -- 24 million more than in 2010.
This is partly because air travel is no longer a luxury reserved just for the upper classes: More Brazilians are flying than ever before. Data Popular, a market research company, estimates that 7 million lower-income Brazilians took their first flight last year.READ MORE
On Feb. 14, American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. posted a thought on Twitter about Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese-American basketball sensation who has become the most compelling story for the National Basketball Association this season. He wrote: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise."
Quickly, Mayweather became the subject of withering accusations of racism from sports fans and commentators -– in the U.S.READ MORE
The battle lines are drawn in Russia's political standoff: It's the movie stars against the literati.
The movie people are assembled in the camp of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the leading candidate in presidential elections scheduled for March. Nationalist film director Stanislav Govorukhin is running the campaign. A roster of Putin's 499 top campaign functionaries, released last week, contains big showbiz names such as actor Oleg Tabakov and film director Vladimir Khotinenko. And when Putin declined to participate in televised debates, following a tradition started by Boris Yeltsin, he sent Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov in his stead.READ MORE
Later this week, the city of Mumbai will witness a most unusual election: rambunctious, widely watched and keenly contested, even by India's feverish standards.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) of Mumbai is both the oldest such entity in India (it was set up in 1882) and the richest. It is in charge of public works -- road-building, water supply, sanitation, garbage collection, maintenance of parks and public spaces -- that affect the lives of the 20 million citizens of the nation's commercial capital, and one of the most densely populated (and some would say dystopian) metropolises in the world. Every five years the corporation holds elections for representatives from each of the city's 227 wards, which each have an average population of 45,000.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
It's been noted that the monarchs of the Mideast have weathered the first year of the Arab revolts better than leaders of republics. But recent debate in Kuwait raises questions about year two.
The immediate cause for discussion is the election earlier this month in which Islamist-leaning candidates captured a majority of the seats in a reconstituted parliament, which has limited powers under the rule of Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah. These forces previously commanded 20 of 50 seats and now have 34.READ MORE
On Feb. 3 millions of Beijing families woke up to some odd news from the All-China Women's Federation -- the city’s oldest, and most important, women’s organization. To be eligible for their new "Capital Harmonious Family" award, a family living in Beijing should own a library of at least 300 books, have an Internet connection and subscribe to at least one newspaper. It also wouldn’t hurt if your family traveled frequently, ate out regularly and practiced a low-carbon lifestyle.
It was an elitist turn for an organization that was established in March 1949 to support the Communist Party, the rights and equality of women, and strong families. In the Confucian tradition, harmony in the home is considered a prerequisite to achieving harmony in society. So, in the early 1950s, the ACWF established the “Five Good Families” award for model families that exhibited five virtues, such as “marital harmony” and unwavering support of the party.READ MORE
"WAR IN BAHIA," screamed the Feb. 7 front page of the Sao Paulo tabloid Mais. "Army enters conflict, fires gas bombs and rubber bullets, deaths reach nearly 100."
In little more than a week since it began Jan. 31, a strike by thousands of police in the northeast Brazilian state of Bahia has led to a soaring murder rate -- and raised fears that chaos will engulf this year's Carnival holiday.READ MORE
Add one more imponderable mystery to Russia's collection: Just how many people showed up in central Moscow on Saturday to demonstrate against the government of Vladimir Putin?
Given the sub-zero temperature, anything more than a handful should be considered a victory, if only a provisional one, for the opposition. The newspaper Kommersant did the math: The Interior Ministry’s figure of between 33,000 and 34,000 sounded like a defeat, since more than 100,000 attended the last rally in late December. The paper then noted that the demonstration's organizers estimated attendance to be no fewer than 120,000, probably closer to the truth.READ MORE
If you believe yourself interested in Indian affairs, and haven't heard of Justice Markandey Katju, this means that -- there is no charitable way of saying it -- there is something negligent or insincere about your commitment.
This is because, for at least three months now, the good justice, recently retired from the Supreme Court of India, has been trying to reach all Indians, and further, all those in touch with Indian opinion. He has been telling them what stage of history India has reached, what is wrong with the fourth estate, what the purpose of art is, how the ancients and the philosophers of the Enlightenment lived, what the guiding principles of the citizenry should be, and who the writers worth reading are. He has published heroically long essays in newspapers, prepared a lecture for every invitation to deliver one, and appeared repeatedly in television debates. Recently, he started his own blog, where he publishes tracts on the history of India, the country's languages, women's emancipation and the caste system. Last week, he debuted on Twitter, where his feed is accompanied by a photograph of him in his judicial robes. What explains this sudden, unstoppable eruption of this 65-year-old comet across the sky?READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
A year of Mideast tumult has left the militant Palestinian organization Hamas in flux. As the regional states on which the group largely depends adjust, Hamas is trying to find a new place in the world.
That left regional commentators debating whether the Islamist group is moving toward moderating its extreme positions, or just maneuvering to stay afloat.READ MORE
Russia's protest movement faces a major test this weekend, as Moscow plays host to a cacophony of competing demonstrations. The greatest danger: Signs of fatigue among the tens of thousands who have been calling since early December for free and fair elections.
The main event, a march organized by the group "For Honest Elections," got the green light in an eleventh-hour deal struck last week. City authorities allowed the event to go ahead as planned on Feb. 4, moving along a route that will terminate with a meeting on Bolotnaya Square in central Moscow. The weather forecast has also improved: Temperatures may hit relatively balmy highs in the teens or twenties Fahrenheit. The oppositionists have a war chest of two to three million rubles to cover expenses for the stages, “toilets, and other amenities,” including “vehicles with loudspeakers," opposition politician Boris Nemtsov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Organizers are expecting a turnout of about 50,000 -- less than half the number of the last rally on Dec. 24.READ MORE
Anchor Carlos Nascimento began the nightly news program on Brazilian television channel SBT Jan. 19 in unusual fashion. "Look," he told viewers, "either all Brazilian problems have been solved or we have become perfect idiots. Because it is unbelievable that two subjects so trivial have called the attention of the entire country."
Most viewers knew exactly what he was talking about.READ MORE
On Jan. 26, the fourth day of the Chinese New Year holiday, most Chinese in Beijing, and across the country, were lazing and paying little attention to anything other than celebratory events. It was a perfect day to break the law.
The managers at Beijing’s Fuheng Real Estate, a subsidiary of a state-owned company, surely knew this. For years, they’ve wanted to demolish the former courtyard residence of Liang Sicheng, the undisputed father of modern Chinese architecture, and his wife and collaborator, Lin Huiyin, so as to build a 28-story high-rise on the property. Their attempt in 2009 created such national outrage that China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage felt compelled to name the house an “immovable cultural heritage.” It’s a low-level designation as historic sites go, but nonetheless one that requires a government-issued permit if a developer -– state-owned or not -- wants to redevelop the site.READ MORE
The Times of India and The Hindu are the two best-known English newspapers in India. Both are well over 100 years old, and are family-owned. Over the decades their gaze on Indian society and politics has made readers impute to each of them a kind of human aura, identified with the cities from which they are published.
The Times is often called "The Old Lady of Boribunder," a nod to the district in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) where the newspaper has its offices. The Hindu is known as "the Mahavishnu of Mount Road," after an Indian god, suggesting not just the site in the south Indian metropolis of Chennai (formerly Madras) where it is published, but also an Olympian gaze and detachment. The Times dominates the west and the north of the country; The Hindu's stronghold is the south. Their cumulative impact on the public sphere is vast. Between them they sell close to 5 million copies daily, in one of the few markets in the world where the audience for printed newspapers is growing.READ MORE