Monthly Archives: January 2013

Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer and ardent internet activist who played a key role opposing 2011 anti-piracy legislation, was found dead on Friday at age 26.

His family confirmed that he hanged himself in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

Friends and fans of Mr Swartz’ work flooded social media feeds and web sites over the weekend with grief-stricken tributes to a coder they considered a “genius” and a “hero”. Many offered lengthy defenses of his activist work to make legal and academic documents available for free online – work that garnered the attention of government prosecutors and led to criminal charges still outstanding at the time of his death.

“I’m so sorry for Aaron, and sorry about Aaron,” said friend Cory Doctorow in a blog post. “We have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.”

When he was 14, Mr Swartz helped develop the code for RSS, the online tool that allows internet users to subscribe to news and other web content. He was also an early builder of Reddit, the popular news and information site.

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Britain’s debate about the EU is not just about Europe – it is also about the US.For the fiercest eurosceptics – who want Britain to leave the EU – the US is the promised land across the ocean. They have long insisted that it is a mistake for Britain to tie itself to a sclerotic Europe with an alien political culture. Instead the UK should look to the English-speaking world and, above all, to its “special relationship” with America.

The anti-Europeans’ heroine is Margaret Thatcher. It was Lady Thatcher who said “no, no, no” to ever-closer union in Europe – but “yes, yes, yes” to the US of President Ronald Reagan. The picture of Ronnie and Maggie, tootling around together in a golf buggy, is a powerful, nostalgia-filled image of the “special relationship” at its warmest.

The advance south in recent days by Mali’s Islamist rebels has caught the region and wider world on the back foot and precipitated a move by former colonial power France to the front foot.

Speaking to diplomats in Paris on Friday, President François Hollande, confirmed France’s willingness to intervene militarily on behalf of the Malian government under the terms of existing UN Security Council resolutions. Only hours later on Friday, France said it had initiated military action in support of a government offensive to take back lost ground by government troop. Air strikes followed. Read more

Reading to take you into the weekend…  Read more

Demonstrators outside the offices of Southern Weekend in Guangzhou, January 8 (AFP/Getty)

Demonstrators outside the offices of Southern Weekend in Guangzhou on January 8 (AFP/Getty)

Any government that is intent on controlling public debate has traditionally had a number of tools at its disposal. Direct ownership of the press, punishment of unruly journalists or artists and the promotion of malleable ones, book burning, propaganda … the list goes on. The internet, a sprawling, uncontrollable and ever-growing beast may have given birth to a new set of challenges for modern totalitarian powers, but China has thrown its resources at the problem with gusto, keeping a lid on simmering dissent with a mix of technology, commercial incentives, legal restrictions and carefully selected pressure valves.

That is partly why the open revolt by journalists in Guangzhou this past week was so surprising – because it suggested that, just occasionally, spontaneous anger and frustration could yet circumvent the great firewall of China, even if only briefly.

In the FT

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Mario Monti (L) with Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011 (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Mario Monti (L) with Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011 (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

This week’s alliance between Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party and the right-wing Northern League was the last piece of the jigsaw ahead of Italy’s general elections, scheduled for 24-25 February.

With six and a half weeks to go, the situation is still too fluid to make a call on who will win. But, for those not versed in the art of Italian politics, we thought it would be helpful to explain the main players involved, and outline the chances of the two very different men who have held the most influence over Italy in the past few years – Mario Monti and Silvio Berlusconi.

The parties

  • A centre-left coalition dominated by the Democratic Party, in alliance with the more left-wing Left, Ecology, Freedom party
  • Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance between his People of Freedom and the Northern League
  • A centrist coalition led by Italy’s technocratic prime minister, now turned politician, Mario Monti. This includes the PM’s own list, Civic choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy
  • The Five Star Movement, brainchild of the comedian-cum-blogger, Beppe Grillo
  • A left-wing group, Civil Revolution, set up by the former anti-mafia judge Antonio Ingroia

The Houses

Italy’s cumbersome electoral law, which is different for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, makes the lives of the phsephologists even harder. Here’s what we know about the situation in each house. Read more

The world news desk brings you the best reads from around the world…  Read more

As we begin 2013 in drizzly rain and chill temperatures (at least in the UK), we thought it would be a good time to share our thoughts on some of the best books we read in 2012 to help see you through to spring. The FT Weekend published its Books of the Year before Christmas, but let’s face it, you probably polished that list off over the festive break and are now, like us, desperately scrolling through amazon reviews to find your next tome. Call off the search! Here are some special recommendations from two of our regular bloggers. You’re welcome.

Gideon Rachman: As President Obama reshuffles his foreign affairs team, it makes sense to look back at the record so far. A good place to start would be “Limited Achievements: Obama’s Foreign Policy” by Zaki Laidi (Palgrave Macmillan). It’s a new study by a French scholar, based at Science Po in Paris. The conclusion is in the title, but this is a systematic and thought-provoking examination of the gap between aspiration and achievement in US foreign policy, dealing with all the major topics from the war on terror to the Arab Spring.

Lest this seem like a harsh verdict from France, its worth noting that a similarly cautious verdict is is reached by “Bending History” (Brookings), which came out last year. The muted verdict is notable because this is a study by three scholars at the Brookings Institution – a think-tank that has probably provided more foreign-policy officials to President Obama than any other. Read more

Demonstrations over censorship in China and Obama’s pick for US defence secretary
Could the demonstrations over censorship at Southern Weekend newspaper be a significant turning point in the battle for free speech in China? Kathrin Hille reports from Guangzhou. In Washington, President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel, to be the next US defence secretary. But the former Republican Senator is a controversial figure, with some pro-Israel groups going so far as to accuse him of antisemitism. So why select him, and why now? Washington-based diplomatic correspondent Geoff Dyer joins Gideon Rachman to discuss.

As if concerns over whether Syria’s chemical weapons might fall into the wrong hands amid the increasingly violent civil war weren’t enough to worry about, behind the scenes nuclear experts are now expressing fresh fears over the security of what may be 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium in the country.

As the FT’s diplomatic editor James Blitz reported on Wednesday, concerns centre on the whereabouts of this as yet unconfirmed stash. It is believed by some to have been meant for Syria’s supposed al-Kibar nuclear facility – before Israel destroyed it in a secret mission back in September 2007, a mission that David Makovsky dissected in the New Yorker last September.

For its part, Syria has always denied ever having a nuclear programme. So, did it have one or not? Below are some interesting articles that wade into these extremely murky waters. Read more

The FT’s world news desk brings you their picks of the day… Read more

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By Gideon Rachman

If you needed confirmation that American liberals and conservatives inhabit parallel universes, just consider the reaction to last week’s deal on the fiscal cliff. Conservatives saw a ruthless Barack Obama, ramming through his agenda. Liberals lamented a limp surrender by the president. Read more

It is inevitable that a lot of the commentary and controversy about the nomination of Chuck Hagel as US Defence secretary has centered on his tetchy relationship with the Israel lobby – or the “Jewish lobby”, as Mr Hagel once injudiciously called it.

This argument is undeniably gripping. But the focus on Israel it is also obscuring the fact that Mr Hagel has surprisingly interesting views on a range of other topics – from Afghanistan to the use of military force. Some of these views place him at odds, not just with the politically correct views in Washington – but also, on the surface, with President Obama himself. Read more

Barack Obama’s decision to press ahead with Chuck Hagel as the next Pentagon chief is a sign of a confident president – he feels strong enough to face down the influential pro-Likud groups in Washington. At a time when Mr Obama’s liberal critics are worried he will cave into Republican blackmail on the sovereign debt ceiling, he is showing spine by sticking with Mr Hagel. It also risks provoking some of Mr Obama’s allies: many of the former Republican senators’s biggest detractors are in the Democratic Party.

The nomination also tells us a lot about Mr Obama’s second term foreign policy goals. Following John Kerry’s nomination for the state department, the Obama national security team will now be headed by two decorated Vietnam war veterans both of whom are deeply sceptical of war. Unlike so many of their critics, both men were twice awarded Purple Hearts and both were nearly mortally wounded in combat. In Mr Hagel’s case this will give him credit with the starred generals, most of whom share his scepticism about war with Iran. Whatever exigencies hit the Persian Gulf in the coming months, Mr Obama’s two most senior department heads will be instinctively mistrustful of the military option. Read more

Controversy has swirled around the candidacy of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defence, centred on past comments the Republican former senator made about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating congress, sanctions and military action against Iran, and the Pentagon budget.

Amid the his nomination, there have also been an increasing number of opinion pieces in the US press dissecting what James Fallows in The Atlantic describes as a “de-legitimizing campaign” against the decorated Vietnam veteran.

  • Fallows uses a headline from the US satirical news website The Onion to suggest that the imminent nomination could be a “this is bullshit” (‘this’ being the campaign against Hagel) moment for President Barack Obama.
  • Commentary fiercely critical of the nomination has been published, among others, in the neo-con Weekly Standard, citing a top Republican Senate aide emailing: “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.” In the Wall Street Journal, Brett Stephens also aired his disapproval at Hagel’s perceived prejudices against the Jewish community.

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The fiscal cliff agreement: lasting solution or just a brief respite?
Politicians in Washington have managed to avoid plunging the United States off the “fiscal cliff”, which would have imposed deep spending cuts and tax rises. Instead, President Obama and Congress agreed limited tax rises, while deferring discussion of spending cuts. But is this a solution, or just a respite? Richard Macgregor, Washington bureau chief, and Martin Sandbu, economics leader writer, join Gideon Rachman.

There was a big kerfuffle in October when the IMF made a point of saying that it (along with a bunch of other forecasters) had underestimated the effect of fiscal tightening on European economic growth over the past couple of years, with obvious implications for the troika’s austerity programmes for the likes of Ireland, Greece and Spain.

The admission got some predictable pushback from troika members who have drunk deep from the austerian well. It was also questioned by my colleague Chris Giles, who pointed out that the results were highly sensitive to the inclusion in the sample of outlier countries – especially Germany (which, despite its frugal prescription for others, has itself followed expansionary fiscal policy and enjoyed good growth) and Greece (the opposite) – and possibly the exclusion of the Baltic states, which followed aggressive fiscal tightening to better effect than Greece. Read more