World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
Returning to New Delhi early last month, after two weeks on the road without much exercise, I passed my neighborhood park (where 10 laps every evening provide the reflective state of mind and the adrenalin that lead to columns such as this one) and realized there would be no run for me that day.
It was the festival of Dussehra -- the day on which the victory of the godly king Rama of Ayodhya over his 10-headed antagonist Ravana of Lanka, and indeed of Good over Evil, is celebrated across India. In the middle of my park towered three effigies, each 40 feet high, of the bloodthirsty Ravana, to be burnt to ashes that evening like hundreds of other effigies across the city. As dusk fell, the streets of my neighborhood filled with hundreds of visitors, mostly families resplendent in festival finery, the children wearing red horns and piping on whistles and bugles, rippling with pleasure at the prospect of the shared narrative and spectacle that would soon unfold in front of them.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Oct. 31 -- Since the Arab uprisings began in Tunisia almost one year ago, commentators in the regional media have debated what elections might mean for states liberated from dictatorship.
Tunisia, appropriately enough, spoke first, with national voting last week producing better than expected results for the Islamist party Ennahdha, which took 41% of the seats in the constituent assembly. Among secular commentators, worries about the outcome were muted, given the moderate nature of Ennahdha. Still, concerns were high that more conservative Islamists would do well in parliamentary elections in Egypt, to be held in three rounds starting in November. In the Egyptian daily Al-Masri al-Youm, columnist Dr. Amro az-Zanat wrote:READ MORE
"Ten reasons to be indignant about corruption," proclaimed the Oct. 26 issue of Brazilian news weekly Veja as it hit newsstands. On its cover, the magazine listed what could be done with the 85 billion reais "embezzled by corrupt Brazilians in the last year."
Options included eradicating extreme poverty, constructing 150 miles (241 kilometers) of new subway lines, reducing the interest rate by 1.2 percentage points and funding 2 million scholarships for master's degrees.READ MORE
Not long ago, many in Russia and abroad perceived Dmitri Medvedev, Russia's current president and likely future prime minister, as a liberal counterweight to Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister and likely future president. Lately, the illusion has faded.
Protesting students awaited Medvedev at a recent visit to the journalism department of Moscow State University. According to news service Lenta.ru, they bore placards with messages such as “Don’t You Regret Spending Budgetary Funds On Such ‘Elections,’” “Why Did You Fire [former Finance Minister Alexei] Kudrin" and “Why Are You On Twitter While Khodorkovsky Sits In Prison,” referring to jailed former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Federal Guard Service quickly rounded them up and took them to a nearby detention center, not quite the response one would expect from a liberal administration.READ MORE
How is China, the world’s largest basketball-loving nation, taking to the National Basketball Association’s ongoing labor strife and the increasingly likely prospect that the 2011–2012 season will be cancelled? Not well.
On Oct. 24, Guan Weijia, vice-director of the basketball department at Titan Sports, China’s leading sports newspaper, wrote a column about the player lockout in the Beijing News titled, “Everybody is a demon.” In it, he said that NBA Commissioner David Stern was “the demon of all demons and he is Satan who is the King of demons in this labor dispute.” Guan was not much kinder to Billy Hunter, the executive director of the NBA Player’s Union, and his role in the fruitless negotiations:READ MORE
In a first in India's electoral history, a sitting legislator, Umlesh Yadav, was disqualified from office last week by the Election Commission of India for providing a false account of the expenditures incurred on her election campaign.
At first glance, the disqualification didn't appear to be of great consequence: it applied not to a member of Parliament but rather to a lawmaker in a state legislative assembly; the politician in question belonged to a minor political party; she was disqualified on what appeared to be an accounting technicality; and she had only four months left of her tenure in any case. But the precedent set by the Election Commission's decision had enormous implications for India's rambunctious and rule-bending electoral politics, where the stakes are so high and money flows so freely that politicians (many of whom own or control media outlets themselves) have succeeded in buying out sections of the fourth estate at elections, guaranteeing masses of propaganda that are published in newspapers as reporting.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Oct. 24 -- Almost every dramatic turn in this year's Arab uprisings has provided the Mideast's main actors a chance to indulge in utter hypocrisy. The demise of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi proved no exception.
From Lebanon, the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah congratulated “the Libyan people for turning the page on a regime that has delivered oppression and tyranny to the country for more than four decades.”READ MORE
In the wake of the Russian diarchy’s decision to swap roles following 2012 presidential elections, President Dmitri Medvedev has become surprisingly candid about the lack of difference between him and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
“We are really not competitors, but have been close comrades and friends for the past twenty years," Medvedev said in remarks carried by the television channel Vesti 24 and reported by the newspaper Vedomosti. "If it had been otherwise, I wouldn’t have had any career in politics in Moscow at all.” He cautioned against expecting much from his upcoming stint as prime minister: “We have to figure out how to change our government, undramatically but firmly.”READ MORE
On the sultry evening of July 21, 2005, I was having dinner in an American restaurant in Shanghai favored by expats. Shortly after 7:00p.m., over the course of less than five minutes, my four dinner companions' phones buzzed with the same news: China’s central bank had begun to allow the currency to appreciate from its seven-year peg of 8.27 yuan to the U.S. dollar, to 8.11 yuan.
This was a major surprise. Much of China’s export economy has been built on low-cost exports that a depreciated yuan made possible. While U.S. members of Congress advocated for currency revaluation, there was little reason to believe that China's bankers, or powerful manufacturers, would be interested in acceding to their wishes.READ MORE
Brazilian unions conducted two strikes that ended in October, with very different results. Bank workers came out smiling with a generous deal. Postal workers lost a court decision, humiliatingly, in what commentators called their union's worst result in 15 years. The different outcomes said a lot about modern Brazil.
On Oct. 15, following a 21-day strike, Brazilian bank workers got what they wanted: a package of benefits, including increased profit shares, and a salary increase of 9 percent. They didn't have to make up time lost on strike.READ MORE
One Sunday morning a few months ago, there was a knock on the door of my little flat in Bombay. I opened it sleepily to find three officers of the state, who said they wanted to speak to me about something important.
If this were Stalin's Russia, I'd have been off to the gulag for the crime of poking fun at communism in my deeply allegorical novel. If this were a story by Franz Kafka, I'd have been led off for an offense mysterious even to those who had come to seize me. If this were a scenario imagined by my grandfather (a retired bureaucrat profoundly disappointed by my decision to earn my living as a wandering storyteller) then my visitors' intent would have been to persuade me to begin a career, belatedly, with the Indian Civil Service.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Oct. 17 -- Almost from the moment the U.S. announced it had broken up a plot by Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the global media expressed skepticism about the case.
The Saudi-funded media proved a stark exception. As far as those outlets, which dominate the Arabic-speaking world, were concerned, there was little doubt: Iran had been caught red-handed engaging in terrorism, and the repercussions should be severe.READ MORE
For years, the town has been known for its ambitious entrepreneurs. In 1979, the Chinese government granted Zhang Huamei a business license, making her China’s first, post-Cultural Revolution government-approved entrepreneur. She quickly became rich by using cheap labor to manufacture buttons and is known in some circles as “Capitalist Number One.” Others followed her lead, quickly amassing their own fortunes.READ MORE
The critics of Russia's ruling elite refuse to go quietly into the night. Ousted last month for publicly criticizing president Dmitri Medvedev, soon to switch roles with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin keeps loudly voicing his distaste for the future prime minister's budget policies.
“I would give less money to the military and more to health services," Interfax quoted Kudrin as saying. "This is the substance of my conflict with the current president." Innocuous as the statement may seem, Medvedev doesn’t take open dissent lightly. Natalia Timakova, the president’s press secretary, termed Kudrin's criticism “incorrect and unsubstantiated.”READ MORE
The news that broke on Oct. 7 wasn't what the government, the central bank, or anyone else wanted to hear in a country as increasingly expensive as Brazil.
"Official inflation went up 0.53 percent in September and hit a high of 7.31 percent in 12 months, overtaking the target roof of 6.5 percent for the sixth consecutive month," said Exame, a financial magazine. The magazine illustrated its story with a photo of a worried-looking Alexandre Tombini, president of Brazil's central bank, explaining himself at a lectern.READ MORE
Late last month, the Hindu newspaper published an interview with Parveena Ahangar, the chairperson of an organization with one of the strangest and saddest names: the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Kashmir. The persons who "disappeared," now numbering in the thousands, were all Kashmiri youths. Picked up by the police or the Indian Army over the last two decades, they were never seen again, and remain alive in public memory only because of the collective will of their grieving parents.
For years, the parents of the disappeared have tried not to make the traumatic connection between their missing sons and unofficial reports of bodies buried secretly, sometimes by the dozen, by Indian security forces after "encounters" with alleged militants in the restive, unhappy and highly militarized Kashmir Valley. In turn, the Indian state denied that it killed anybody other than militants, and insisted that the missing had escaped across the Kashmiri border into Pakistan.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Oct. 10 -- China and Russia put Arab commentators in a tough spot after exercising a rare double veto against a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria's regime for its violent crackdown on protests.
The immediate impulse of many in the Arab world was to side with the two countries against the European powers and the U.S., which led the effort to pass the resolution last week. As columnist Hazim Saghiyeh wrote in the Saudi-owned, London-based Al-Hayat daily, "Whenever Russia and China are mentioned together, a positive meaning emerges in the Arab conscience." The typical calculation is "what weakens America strengthens us, and what strengthens it weakens us."READ MORE
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s impending reinstatement as president, expected though it was, has provoked a surprisingly negative reaction in the vestiges of the country’s free press.
“It is a measure of Russia’s lack of civil society and the subservience of its political class that, even though no one wants Putin back, no one doubts for a second that he will win next year’s presidential election,” wrote Alexei Bayer in an op-ed for The Moscow Times. "Members of the country’s bureaucratic class, having prospered in the cesspool of corruption created and deepened during Putin’s rule, are more than glad to have their license to steal renewed for another six or more years.”READ MORE
Even in a city as murderous as Rio de Janeiro, the killing of Judge Patricia Acioli on Aug. 12 was a shock. According to police she was ambushed by two motorbikes and at least one car as she returned to her condominium that morning, and killed in a hail of 21 bullets. She left behind three children.
The assassination continues to reverberate in the local media almost two months later, not only for its brutality, but because it was apparently carried out by corrupt police -- highlighting a growing menace as Brazil tries to get its crime-ridden favelas under control.READ MORE
The skeletons in the cupboard of Narendra Modi, the controversial Chief Minister of Gujarat, have once again spilled out into the open.
Last week, a suspended police officer who had turned whistleblower in the investigation of the gruesome Gujarat riots of 2002 was suddenly arrested on the charge of fabricating evidence and taken into judicial custody. The controversy broke out less than two weeks after Modi had organized an ornate, even narcissistic, three-day pageant of "goodwill" in his state after escaping censure from India's Supreme Court in another case pertaining to the riots.READ MORE