Monthly Archives: April 2013

♦ The ever-growing ranks of unskilled and unemployed youth in Spain not only pose a challenge to the economy but are also threatening the fabric of Spanish society – a problem Madrid is only now beginning to address.
♦ Voter outrage sparks José Manuel Barroso’s concerns about eurozone belt-tightening.
♦ Paul Kevin Curtis, who has been cleared in the ricin letter investigation, might have been framed, according to his lawyer. James Everett Dutschke, another entertainer, is now the focus of the investigation and it seems that the two men’s lives have coincided before.
♦ Thirteen female corrections officers were charged with federal racketeering at a state prison in Maryland, US.The indictment described a jailhouse seemingly out of control. Four corrections officers became pregnant by one inmate. Two of them got tattoos of the inmate’s first name, Tavon — one on her neck, the other on a wrist.”
♦The 200m emails to be kept in the George W. Bush Presidential Center are creating years worth of work for archivists, a growing problem for the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the federal agency that keeps the nation’s trove of historic documents.
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Prospects for a new Italian government
The political chaos in Rome seems to be about to come to an end as the bickering parties prepare to form a broad coalition government led by Enrico Letta of the centre-left Democrats. Will the coalition be able to rise to the challenges facing Italy, including an economy now entering its eighth consecutive quarter of contraction. Ferdinando Giugliano, FT leader writer, and Guy Dinmore, Rome correspondent, join Ben Hall to discuss.

Esther Bintliff

A kind of digital shiver went across the internet on Tuesday, after the Associated Press sent out a message saying two explosions had taken place at the White House, and that Obama was injured. Several things were suspicious about the tweet, and within minutes, AP announced that their official account had indeed been hacked:

Tweet from AP: "The @AP Twitter account has been suspended after it was hacked. The tweet about an attack on the White House was false."

While markets recovered their losses almost immediately, the incident leaves troubling questions about the capabilities of the group that claimed responsibility for the hack: the so-called ‘Syrian Electronic Army’. As one former US official involved in cyber security told the FT’s Michael Peel and Geoff Dyer on Wednesday:

“When you start to do things that have a big impact on the stock market, you are getting away from hacking and moving much closer to something that resembles an actual cyber attack on the US – which takes things into a different area altogether.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the SEA have become good at what they do. They were already in full swing two years ago, when Max Fisher and Jared Keller looked at their efforts for The Atlantic.

“The SEA has aggressively engaged in a wide range of online activities to punish perceived opponents and to force the online narrative in favor of the Assad regime… their primary means of attack has been to overload the social networking profiles of government institutions and Western media outlets…”

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♦ Martin Wolf argues that the UK industrial revolution shows the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis on debt is not always right.
♦ Frigide Barjot and her fellow protesters have taken the heat off Hollande as people take to the streets to protest over gay marriage rather than the state of the economy.
♦ The planting of sugar cane has exacerbated the effects of the worst drought in more than four decades in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
♦ Critics say that Nelson Mandela’s family members have been using his status for their own enrichment. Two of his grandchildren are involved in a US reality show called Being Mandela and his daughter has launched a wine business called House of Mandela.
♦ FT Alphaville take a typically irreverent look at the ‘tweet retreat’ in their Occupational Indifference series.
♦ The number of people in Britain receiving emergency food rations has more than doubled in the past year as inflation eroded incomes and government spending cuts have pushed hundreds of thousands into crisis.
♦ Jacob Heilbrunn at The National Interest examines Israel’s fraying image and the possibility that US interest in Israel’s fortune could wane: if Israel remains stymied in dealing with the Palestinians… its predicament is likely to intensify. And the range of options for dealing with the country’s mounting problems is likely to expand toward more radical solutions.”
♦ Japanese drivers are getting televisions installed in the front of their cars. “Japanese law prohibits “staring” at a screen while driving, without saying anything about glancing at one.”
♦ The New York Times is debating the usefulness of Nato.

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Ferdinando Giugliano

Beppe Grillo on the campaign trail

Two months ago Beppe Grillo came out as the big winner of Italy’s general elections. His Five Star Movement, which was created only in 2009, came within a whisker of becoming Italy’s single largest political force. His vote tally in the Lower House was an extraordinary 8.7m, more than Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party and only a few hundred thousand votes less than the centre-left Democratic Party. Read more

David Gardner

In this image made available by the Syrian news agency (SANA) on March 19, medics attend to a man at a hospital in the northern Aleppo province. (AFP)Someone who worked closely with Bashar al-Assad, before and after he inherited Syria’s presidency from his father, once remarked to me that he “is not really very bright”. Perhaps. But he is not lacking in cunning.

Now, as in the past, he feels his way forward by probing and constantly testing the limits of what his adversaries will tolerate before provoked to respond. Having sometimes found that these limits are surprisingly elastic, he has developed a tendency to overreach. Yet, as his regime and his country crumble around him, he is still there – just about – and it looks as though he is still testing the limits, this time by the limited use of portions of Syria’s reportedly vast chemical weapons arsenal.

In recent months, allegations have been flying that the Assad regime has fired nerve-gas shells at Syria’s rebels. On the most cited occasion last month, near Aleppo, the country’s besieged commercial capital in the north, loyalist troops were among the casualties, and the government claimed that jihadi terrorists – part of an international conspiracy against Syria in the Assad narrative – were responsible.

Last week, Britain and France told the UN there was “credible evidence” the Assad regime has started using chemical weapons. This week, a top Israeli military intelligence officer categorically asserted the government was using them. The UN team of experts tasked with investigating these claims is meanwhile stranded in Cyprus, denied entry by Damascus.

There is, thus, no certainty about what is going on, but the mounting circumstantial evidence is spine-chilling.

President Barack Obama, who has brushed aside the advice of his security officials in his determination to stay out of Syria, nevertheless warned Damascus last August any use of chemical weapons would provoke unspecified action by the US.

Obama said at the time: “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.” On a visit to Israel last month, he reinforced the point, saying the use of chemical weapons inside Syria would be a “game changer” for the US.

So far, however, the White House and State Department are officially withholding judgment on the veracity of Syria’s alleged use of these arms, about which few close observers of the conflict now harbour doubts. There is probably more here than simply the president’s caution. Read more

Gideon Rachman

US military chief Gen Martin Dempsey meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. AP

Perhaps it is excitement over the new Chinese leadership. Perhaps it is simply a tribute to the growing centrality of the Middle Kingdom. But Beijing seems to be full of foreign visitors, trying to get the measure of the place.

There is me for a start – enjoying the first clear day since I arrived in the city on Sunday. Lionel Barber, the editor of the FT is also in town – or so I infer from his Twitter feed. Twitter also tells me that Niall Ferguson, the Harvard historian is here. In fact, I think he gave a talk in the hotel I’m staying in – although I have yet to bump into him in the lobby. Read more

The Austerity Debate
Europe may have hit the political limits of how far it can go with austerity-led economic policies because of the growing opposition in the eurozone periphery, according to the president of the European Commission.
Tim Harford tells the story of Thomas Herndon, the student who uncovered a mistake in a famous economic paper that has been used to make the case for austerity cuts, and considers what it means for austerity economics.

Italy Deadlock
Choking back tears in his inauguration address, Giorgio Napolitano, who at 87 reluctantly accepted an unprecedented second mandate as Italy’s president, slammed the country’s political parties for their failure to reach agreement and for the “unforgivable” lack of political reforms.
♦ Tony Barber argues that public outrage is not bred only by economic crisis, and that politicians in Italy (and elsewhere in Europe) should get their houses in order.
♦ Italy’s political and economic torpor is epitomised in the ruined and abandoned city of L’Aquila.

Elsewhere
In northwest Pakistan, militants are using bombs as campaigning tactics ahead of the May parliamentary elections.
♦ It’s the UK’s turn to host the G8 and Richard Dowden, director of the Royal Africa Society, wants to know if it will do anything to stop companies avoiding tax in poor countries: “More important than giving aid would be to stop doing bad things to poor countries. The worst thing we – the British – do is to maintain the world’s most iniquitous secret tax havens.”
♦ In the past year, two trillion dollars has not been reported to the IRS because “ordinary Americans have gone underground, and, as the recovery continues to limp along, they seem to be doing it more and more.”
Kidnappings of ordinary Syrians are on the rise as lawlessness spreads.
♦ The byline was borne of a need to make reporters more responsible for what they wrote about the Civil War in the US.
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By Gideon Rachman

Is France on the brink of revolution? Is President François Hollande in danger of being dragged to the guillotine? These sound like silly questions. In fact, they are silly questions. Yet talk of a new revolution is surprisingly common in France these days. This week’s edition of Le Point, a leading news weekly, asks on its cover, “Are we in 1789?”, and illustrates the question with a picture of Mr Hollande, dressed up as Louis XVI, the hapless monarch executed by the revolutionaries. Even academics are making the comparison. Dominique Moïsi, a visiting professor at the University of London, has argued that the president “looks ever more like a modern Louis XVI” and that France is in the grip of a “regime crisis”.

A protest in memory of Savita Halappanavar in November 2012 (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty)

A protest in memory of Savita Halappanavar in November 2012 (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty)

The first time a referendum on abortion was held in Ireland, it was 1983 and I was 12. Our local church in a small town in the south east was crowded and silent as the priest told those who supported the ‘right to abortion’ to leave now.

No one left, or if they did, I was too transfixed on the pulpit to see them go. If the Catholic church didn’t fight this, I remember the priest saying, then it would slide into irrelevancy, not much good for anything except perhaps fighting to save the whale. In those pre-environmentalist days, it was a reference that completely baffled me and I assume much of the congregation. Who wanted to save the whale?

Outside the church, there were people with collection tins and petitions. Later I remember a debate at my convent school; a teacher asked who agreed that abortion was murder and got a unanimous show of hands. A pro-life campaigner came to school and I remember not just the three foot foetus on the projector but also the scary realisation that anyone who did have an abortion would most likely end up in a wheelchair.

Nearly 30 years on and several referendums later, an inquest this week investigated the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who died in an Irish hospital last October after a miscarriage. Her family say hospital staff repeatedly refused her requests for an abortion. A midwife told her an abortion was not possible because Ireland was a “Catholic country”. On Friday – what would have been her fifth wedding anniversary – the inquest found her death was by ‘medical misadventure’. Her husband said his wife’s treatment had been “barbaric and inhuman”. Read more