World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
In Hollywood, few things are less certain than whether a summer movie will actually become a blockbuster and earn back its investment.
But in China, where summer movie season--normally starring American blockbusters--has become a fixture for the country’s small number of paying movie-goers, the spirit of central economic planning has brought a bit of predictability to the new Chinese film, “Beginning of a Great Revival” (also sometimes translated as “The Founding of a Party”).READ MORE
All too often, real-life tragedies interrupt the ceaseless stream of Kremlin intrigues, accounts of corruption, and official pronouncements dominating the headlines in Russia.
So it was when, just before midnight on 20 June, a RusAir Tu-134 crash-landed on a highway near the airport of Petrozavodsk, a city in northwestern Russia, killing forty-five people. Human error may well be to blame. Sergei Shmatkov, an air-traffic controller at the nearby airport, told lifenews.ru: "I asked [the pilot] several times to circle again. There was poor visibility - only 2100 meters -- because of the thick fog, darkness, difficult weather. But he said he would land the plane at his own risk."READ MORE
Can political corruption in India be addressed by reforming the institutions currently assigned to check it, or does the country need a new vigilance institution to help restore trust in its corruption-blotted democracy? Has the Indian Parliament reneged on its primary function, which is to debate and pass laws? And if so, can citizens’ groups, or “civil society,” come up with draft bills of laws, or would such a step be extra-constitutional?
Should the position of an ombudsman, or “Lokpal” -- from the Sanskrit roots "lok" (people) and "pal" (protector) -- be set up to investigate corruption and maladministration at the highest level? What kinds of checks and balances would be placed upon the office of the Lokpal itself? And would its powers of investigation extend to the highest office in the land -- the prime minister -- and to the judiciary? More widely, are hunger strikes to the death a legitimate method of exerting pressure on the government to address the issue? And wider still, what are the duties and responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy and have Indian citizens been remiss in fulfilling them?READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
As the Syrian leadership continued to come in for criticism across much of the Arab media, several commentators turned their attention toward Turkey and the role Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan is said to be assuming in both cajoling and chastising his former "friend'' in Damascus, President Bashar Assad.
Erdogan -- whom some writers are calling the "Islamic Prime Minister" -- stood on the balcony of his party's headquarters to celebrate his recent win in parliamentary elections, wrote Al-Hayat columnist Elias Harfoush, and announced that ``the victory of Ankara is that of Damascus, and the victory of Izmir is that of Beirut, and the victory of Diar Bakr is that of the West Bank and Jerusalem and Gaza.''READ MORE
After 36 years, countless petitions and protests, and several supreme-court cases brought by environmentalists and indigenous populations, Brazil's giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam has finally received the go-ahead from the federal government.
Construction is expected to begin later this year on the Amazon Basin project -- but not without a fight.READ MORE
In Russia, the open wounds of history are all too seldom treated with the balm of truth. Exhibit A: the case of a convicted killer who received a hero's funeral, and whose own murder could yet spark inter-ethnic violence.
Yury Budanov, a decorated colonel and veteran of Russia's brutal war in the southern republic of Chechnya, served eight years in prison for the 2000 murder of an 18-year-old Chechen girl, Elza Kungayeva, who he said he believed to be a sniper. The verdict angered Russian nationalists, who came to idolize Budanov. Chechens and other minorities, to put it mildly, felt less charitably inclined.READ MORE
June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Maqbool Fida Husain, the most famous and flamboyant and most marketable Indian painter of the 20th Century, and, in the eyes of many, the greatest, passed away June 9 at the ripe age of 95.
What was especially tragic about his demise was that this versatile and vigorous interpreter of Indian history and mythology, whose work also gave voice to many of the great currents and tumultuous developments in the past century of Indian life, was at the time of his death a reluctant, if resigned, Qatari national. In 2006, Husain fled India after repeated harassment from Hindu right-wing groups, which used antiquated libel laws to attack what they considered a Muslim's insolence in depicting Hindu gods and goddesses.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
June 13 (Bloomberg) -- Much of the commentary in the Arabic media in recent days has focused on the realignments taking place across the Middle East as a result of the various Arab uprisings.
Ammar Nehmeh, an occasional columnist at the Beirut-based leftist daily As-Safir, wrote that forces that traditionally resist U.S. policy in the region, and that initially supported the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, now find themselves on a collision course with the Muslim Brotherhood, the vast Islamic movement , which is trying to steer events according to its own beliefs and interests. In practical terms, Nehmeh wrote, this means that the Lebanese political party and military group Hezbollah, for example, is now discovering that its long honeymoon with the Brothers everywhere is ending.READ MORE
I saw two large crowds this week in Shanghai. The first was lined up – and I’m using that term loosely – for a Saturday night screening of "Kung Fu Panda 2" in 3D with good-natured aplomb. A few days later I came across the second, a group of grim-faced parents and grandparents waiting behind barricades set up to keep them from rushing into a school where the gaokao – China’s fate-determining, suicide-inducing college entrance exam – was being administered to their children.
Unlike the jovial "Kung Fu Panda" crowd, the gaokao crowd seemed like they were at a funeral. Which, for many of them, the gaokao is: 18 years of parenting and education are often directed toward success on the test. The consequences of a low score isn’t a fate that ambitious parents, or students, want to contemplate.READ MORE
Last week’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev are not political prisoners was a major public relations triumph for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
There is now speculation that Putin might crown his triumph with a display of magnanimity, releasing Khodorkovsky and Lebedev from jail before their sentences are up in 2016. Vladimir Frolov in the English-language Moscow Times opines that:READ MORE
Two important Indian entities, one individual and the other corporate, hit a rough patch last week. The first is Baba Ramdev, a prominent yoga guru with millions of followers.
The second is the Indian government, which at its lowest moment in the crisis appeared to have the support of no one but the members of its parliamentary majority. The two produced a spectacle -- some would say a farce -- that riveted the country, along with a story so rich in rhetoric and incident that it seems almost criminal to sketch it out in just a few paragraphs.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
With violence and unrest worsening this past week across a number of Middle Eastern states, a number of commentators coalesced around one point, in particular: things are probably going to get worse for just about everyone before they get better.
Here's Jihad el-Khazen, a columnist with the London-based, Saudi-owned Al-Hayat: “I found not a single news story that Arabs or Muslims might see in a positive light.”READ MORE
The price of carrots is rising again. Riding the elevator this morning, one of my Shanghai neighbors -- an elderly man with whom I’ve exchanged English words in the past -- told me, unprompted, “Carrots are too expensive.”
To emphasize the point, he waved a clear plastic bag of them at me. There wasn’t much I could say, and there wasn’t much else he could do but get out of the elevator and go cook his carrots. Political advocacy, even on a subject like the high price of food, won't get a retiree far.READ MORE
The neck-and-neck race leading up to the June 5th election to succeed President Alan Garcia pits the former army officer Ollanta Humala against congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori.READ MORE
You might expect a comparison between Russian prime minister (and former spymaster) Vladimir Putin and one of Jesus' 12 apostles to include a reference to 30 pieces of silver. In its report on an eccentric Russian sect, however, Reuters revealed that Judas isn't the appropriate apostolic reference:
“a nun-like sect in the Nizhny Novgorod region thinks that . . . [Putin is] the reincarnation of the apostle Paul. Or, if not that, he may in a past life have been the founder of the Russian Orthodox Church."READ MORE
In the India of the eighties and nineties in which I grew up, the word "abroad" carried a fantastic charge, uttered with pride by those in the middle class who had been outside the country (even if that meant a week's vacation in Thailand, or employment in a Gulf state) and with envy by those for whom leaving the country on any pretext was yet a dream.
In the two decades after the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991, that has changed. Plane-loads of Indian tourists descend on European and Asian capitals; almost every middle-class Indian family has either a child or a relative in America; and Australia is a new top destination for higher education and tourism.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
The sparring between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama continued to reverberate across the English-language blogosphere.
Yet the attention of many leading Arabic-language commentators turned to a different source of conflict: the deepening unrest and violence gathering momentum in several pivotal regional states. Among these, Syria and Yemen stood out for providing some of the more surprising rhetorical attacks by voices traditionally considered friendly to the regimes in Damascus and Sana'a.READ MORE
In 1950, Brazilians suffered what one playwright dubbed the "Hiroshima tragedy." With 11 minutes left in the World Cup final, Uruguayan footballer Alcides Ghiggia kicked the ball past Brazil’s goalkeeper, Moacir Barbosa. Ghiggia’s goal silenced a crowd of nearly 200,000 at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium and delivered a crushing defeat to the host nation. Barbosa agonized over the loss for the rest of his life.
As Brazil gears up to host the World Cup for the second time, in 2014, it could be setting itself up for another embarrassing defeat at Maracana -- this time because the stadium may not be refurbished in time to host any games. Veja Magazine projects that at the current pace of construction the stadium will be ready for kickoff in … 2038.READ MORE
Natural disasters have long been agents of social and political change in China, and droughts especially so. In part, it was the control of droughts and floods along China’s Yangtze River -- Asia’s longest -- that inspired the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the 2500-yard long superstructure that stands as a symbol of the Communist Party’s careful, successful stewardship of China’s economy over the last 30 years.
It has long been an object of controversy in China, but its pedigree -- it was a pet project of Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s modern economy -- made it a mostly off-limits subject for criticism.READ MORE
Is Russian justice going soft? On Tuesday afternoon, RIA Novosti reported that the Moscow City Court had reduced the sentences of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, who have been serving time in a remote Siberian prison since 2005 on charges of fraud, embezzlement, and money-laundering.
Alas, the sentences were reduced by just a single year -- from 14 years to an unlucky 13. Lest Russians forget the pair's Kafkaesque legal odyssey, Vadim Zaitsev of Kommersant-Online provided a detailed summation, which commenced with Khodorkovsky’s arrest at Novosibirsk’s airport in 2003. Many bizarre episodes followed, including an occasion in November 2006, when "prisoner Alexander Kuchma inflicted a knife wound on Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s face as he slept. He justified his act as a response to sexual harassment from the former oligarch, but later recanted his words."READ MORE