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On Dec. 19, not long after news of Kim Jong Il's death went public, the Chinese Communist Party issued a note of condolence reminding the North Korean people that he was "a close friend of the Chinese people."
It’s an innocuous phrase, the sort of thing that the party says about its allies all the time. But unlike past expressions of sympathy and friendship, this one has found little to no support among China’s microblogging masses. As of Dec. 21, they have tweeted 8 million comments related to the Dear Leader on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging platform, and nearly all of them are scathingly negative. Indeed, rather than join party leaders in literally bowing down to Kim Jong Il, China’s microbloggers seem far more intent on mocking him and his impoverished country.READ MORE
In Brazil, a country that loves nothing more than a good party, at times even funerals can feel like a festival.
This was particularly true on Dec. 19 in Sao Luis, as a multitude turned out to dance to the beat of massed samba bands at the funeral of Joaosinho Trinta, the celebrated "Carnivalesco" -- effectively, creative director -- of some of Rio de Janeiro’s most famous samba schools.READ MORE
Russia's event of the week was a television call-in show, in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spent nearly five hours fielding questions on many topics, including mass demonstrations demanding an end to his regime. His message to the protesters: Bring it.
In one telltale episode, Putin sought to turn the white ribbons that have become the protests' symbol into a crude joke. "When I saw those ribbons on screen," he remarked, "I thought this was anti-AIDS propaganda -- that they were, pardon me, contraceptives." Condoms, that is. "I just couldn’t understand why they were unfurled."READ MORE
The word "India" is a kind of unicolored canopy thrown over an extraordinarily dense, diverse and tangled set of political histories, a behemoth threatening to drown out "the small voice of history" -- to borrow a phrase from the historian Ranajit Guha -- unless the little traditions find a way to assert themselves.
Many Indians, especially those of my generation, were reminded of the necessity of disaggregating the threads of history this week when the state of Goa celebrated the 50th anniversary of its annexation by India.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Seven months after the competing Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation pact, some Arab commentators say they may finally enact it. It's not that Fatah and Hamas are suddenly reasonable, they argue, but that they are out of other moves.
The factional split occurred in 2007. After winning legislative elections in 2006, Hamas, a militant Islamist group, took control of the Gaza Strip, limiting the authority of Fatah, the largest party within the Palestine Liberation Organization, to the West Bank. In advance of meetings that started this week in Cairo aimed at implementation of the pact, columnist Khairallah Khairallah wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai al-Aam, "The Palestinians no longer have any other choice but that of national reconciliation.” He added, "Everyone needs reconciliation because everyone is at an impasse."READ MORE
How do you eroticize a massacre? The marketing campaign for the new Chinese film “The Flowers of War,” a historical epic set against the bleak backdrop of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, provides some instruction. In the build-up to its Dec. 16 release in China, the film’s producers have promoted it via sexually-charged articles and images that have roiled Chinese audiences and critics more accustomed to somber memorials of the dark event.
Earlier this week, Ma Xiaolin, the influential founder of blshe.com, a blogging platform favored by Chinese intellectuals, asked a question on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog, that summarizes the Chinese public’s sentiment about the film:READ MORE
The mass demonstrations held Saturday to protest manipulation of Russia's parliamentary elections achieved something even greater than a turnout of some 50,000 in Moscow: They showed that rebellion doesn’t have to involve violence.
The peaceful outcome surely owed something to marchers’ preparedness to deal with often heavy-handed riot police. Writing for the opposition online paper The New Times, journalist Olga Romanova offered a detailed “User’s Guide for Protestors.” Once detained, she advised, “don’t resist. Relax and yield to the arresting officers, put your chin to your chest and cover your head with your arms. . . . Politely confirm the ranks and last names of the policemen. Don’t shout, argue or threaten." Crucially, “don’t say you just happened to be walking by” and got caught in the protest, “or they could slap you with the charge of hooliganism." Instead, she counseled people to state clearly that they came to protest, "to attend a meeting that was lawfully announced beforehand," straightforward counsel for a generation too young to be daunted by the Soviet legacy of fear and repression.READ MORE
Voters in the Brazilian state of Para went to the polls on Dec. 11 in a historic referendum. It was the first time Brazilian voters had been consulted on a territorial question: Should the sprawling, Amazonian jungle state, which covers 1.2 million square kilometers, split into three new states?
The result of the vote left Para united politically -- but more split than ever emotionally.READ MORE
It has become commonplace to compare and contrast the two rising Asian powers. The faster pace of China's growth is attributed to the simpler command chain of authoritarianism and one-party rule. Meanwhile, many bemoan Indian red tape, indecision and chaos, the apparent cost of the state's democratic character and its accommodation of diverse points of view.
But might it be too simplistic to explain the development patterns of the two countries as simply the difference between autocracy and democracy? Might it be that India's growth is slower not so much because the country is democratic per se, but rather because of the kind of democracy it is? To get a sense of its pitfalls look no further than the debate about foreign investment over the past month, which culminated with the government's reversal in one week of the exact steps taken the week before.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Many “decisive turning points” have been proclaimed for Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. This time, Arab commentators seem to mean it.
With American troops set to leave by the end of the month and regional tensions mounting, many Arab media figures are convinced that Iraq is at a tipping point that will determine the future course of the country and, possibly, the Middle East. With what result?READ MORE
On Nov. 19, Yu Ping, a Beijinger and concerned father of one, mailed a simple request to officials at the Beijing Environmental Protection Agency. He asked if they would publicly disclose all of the air-pollution data they collect. After mailing his letter, Yu tweeted about it on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog.
Two years ago, Yu's petition might have been the end of the matter: Chinese government officials are notorious for their lack of responsiveness to the public. But that was before the advent of the Chinese microblogs that now have hundreds of millions of followers. Despite rumors and evidence of Internet and media crackdowns, ordinary Chinese are using microblogs as platforms for activism.READ MORE
Soccer in Brazil often feels like a matter of life and death. Never more so than on Dec. 4, when the Corinthians team faced their bitter rivals Palmeiras in the last game of the Brazilian Championship at Sao Paulo’s Pacaembu stadium.
Known as the "Team of the People" to their army of 30 million fans, Corinthians needed either a draw or a victory to clinch the championship. Palmeiras would have done anything to stop them.READ MORE
Much like any government trying to push through an unpopular decision, India's leaders first tried telling the opposition to rise above partisan politics. That was to no avail (this will come as no surprise to Americans).
Then they tried to bring around their political allies, but some of them dissented openly. Then the government went to the people with notices in newspapers ("For the country, for the people of the country"), but thousands took to the streets in protest instead. The leaders tried insisting that theirs was an executive decision, not open to a vote, but found that Parliament refused to apply itself to any other issue. They offered a vision of millions of new jobs, and argued they had made a rational, carefully calculated policy move, but found themselves ambushed instead by all manner of conspiracy theories.READ MORE
Anyone with an Internet connection can easily see why throngs of protestors have been clashing with riot police in the wake of Russia's Dec. 4 parliamentary vote. Check out the map, posted by independent monitor Golos, showing the number of election violations in cities and towns throughout Russia. Or search Youtube for "vote rigging 2011" (фальсификация выборов 2011) and take your pick from clips displaying everything from pre-stuffed ballot boxes to election officials furtively filling in votes.
Officially, ruling party United Russia won just 49.5 percent of the vote, compared with 64 percent in 2007. Widespread indignation over the apparent fraud, though, brought thousands of Muscovites into the streets in what the Moscow Times called “one of the biggest liberal opposition rallies in recent years.” The paper initially estimated the turnout at 5,000, but then upgraded it to somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000. Though sanctioned by city authorities, the event ended in mass arrests that included the detention of veteran liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, highly respected anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, and even the rock critic Artem Troitsky. Among the slogans protestors chanted: "We need new elections," "Russia without Putin," "Revolution" and "Shame."READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Lebanese politicians are famous for their ability to construct temporary fixes for the deep problems that have dogged their country.
So, relatively speaking, it wasn't entirely outlandish that the prime minister, billionaire businessman Najib Mikati, reached into the pockets of his own ministry last week to pay the $32 million the Lebanese government owed the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a Hague-based international court set up to try those accused in the 2005 murder of ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Still, it was bold enough to provoke controversy.READ MORE
Early in the morning on Nov. 25, Ren Zhiqiang -- one of China’s wealthiest, most famous and arguably most detested real estate developers -- posted a question to his 5 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblog. He asked: “Is there any country in history that has managed to grow its economy stably after a property bust?”
This was no philosophical inquiry. Over the course of the last two months, government officials have tried to turn China’s heated property market into something more equitable for middle-class home buyers. As a result, they have forced home prices down in at least 33 cities.READ MORE
Russians will face a wide range of options when they cast their ballots in parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 4. That doesn’t, however, mean they'll have much choice.
United Russia, the party of President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, leads the pack among those already represented in the State Duma, and is projected to garner roughly half the votes, according to a detailed election guide in The Moscow Times.READ MORE
Could it be that Brazil’s Minister of Labor, Carlos Lupi, is only hanging onto his job because of the comedy value he brings?
Lupi has been in the spotlight for nearly a month, dodging corruption allegations -- the sixth minister in President Dilma Rousseff’s government to face such charges since she took office in January.READ MORE
Welcome, Wal-Mart. India's coalition government made a surprise move last week by liberalizing the country's retail sector. Halfway into its second term, the governing United Progressive Alliance, long accused of being too passive and too wedded to the welfare state, ended years of hedging by successive governments by giving its consent to foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in India, allowing global supermarket chains to set up shop and help spur economic growth
The move was probably, along with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), the most significant policy decision made by an Indian central government in the last decade. And while the NREGA is redistributive, the decision to open retail trade was aimed at increasing the size of the pie, promising to revolutionize the relationship of Indians in both cities and villages to consumption and production, and to stimulate the inflow of huge amounts of much-needed capital to modernize the country's creaking supply chain. The move also signaled the government's commitment to what are called "second-stage reforms," which follow the liberalization of the Indian economy two decades ago.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) -- As Egyptians went to the polls after 10 days of clashes between protesters and security forces, many Arab observers focused on a different fissure -- between Islamists and the rest of the opposition.
The recent street demonstrations, opposing efforts by the interim military regime to hold onto power, included both the Muslim Brotherhood and secular movements initially. When security forces bent on clearing Cairo's Tahrir Square began attacking protesters, the Brotherhood's members were noticeably absent. Eventually, the group organized its own large rally -- directed not against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces but against Israel -- in another part of the city. Critics responded that the Brotherhood was trying to position itself favorably with the military in advance of the start of parliamentary voting. The full parliament will be elected in a series of votes ending in March.READ MORE