Monthly Archives: June 2013

When US President Barack Obama swept into a packed university auditorium at a campus in Soweto township and addressed his youthful audience, he spoke of a “more prosperous, more confident” Africa. It was, he said, “a region on the move.” He then handed over the baton to young Africans, giving them their chance to probe him at the “town hall”-style gathering at the “Young African Leaders Initiative.” And they did not disappoint.

They may have been addressing the world’s most powerful leader, a man whose election as the US’s first black president inspired a wave of optimism across the continent, but the youngsters from South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya – the birthplace of Obama’s father – showed few signs of nerves and certainly no deference. Rather they displayed an articulate confidence – one that reflects the aspirations of a youthful continent that is increasingly enjoying a more prominent role on the global stage. Read more

In America, the cultural divide that defines politics is between red and blue states. In Turkey, the divide is between “black” and “white” Turks. This is not a reference to skin colour but to social attitudes and class. The “white” Turks tend to be secular, relatively well-off and more urban. The “black” Turks are pious Muslims and tend to be poorer and more provincial. Read more

The allegations against Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, an accountant in the Vatican’s internal accounting administration, are – albeit tangentially – the latest in a litany of scandals to affect the Vatican bank. Over the last three years, the 71-year-old Institute of Religious Works, as the bank is officially called, has been tainted by claims of money-laundering, corruption and incompetence.

The crisis began in September 2010 when it came under investigation by Italian authorities who had frozen €23m the bank was trying to transfer to accounts in Italy and Germany without releasing full details of the intended beneficiaries. The bank denied any wrongdoing. The funds were released but the investigation continues.

The Vatican responded with striking rapidity to the bank’s top two officials, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and Paolo Cipriani, being placed under investigation; Father Frederico Lombardi, the chief spokesman, even wrote to the FT defending the two menRead more

♦ In Syria, loyalists proclaim their success, but there are plenty of reminders that their progress is limited and potentially reversible.
♦ In Egypt, critics accuse Mohamed Morsi and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood of ineptitude and authoritarianism that has damaged the economy and fuelled public discontent.
♦ Greece is struggling to avoid the collapse of a second big privatisation – bidders for the state gaming monopoly want to change the terms of a deal agreed last month.
♦ The New York Times looks at how Barack Obama engaged with Nelson Mandela’s history.
♦ The former second ranking officer in the US military is now the target of a Justice Department investigation into the leak of information about a covert US cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear programme.
♦ DNA testing has gained in popularity as people go searching for their African roots.
♦ Eric Lewis, a partner at an international litigation firm, argues based on the Supreme Court’s decisions this week that, “
Even with the jubilation surrounding the defeat of DOMA, this has been a strange and sad week for the Court and the nation.” Read more

♦ Italy faces billions of euros in potential losses, after restructuring eight derivatives contracts last year. Italy’s judiciary is investigating whether the Treasury risked too much monetary loss in its management of the public debt, according to the FT. The inquiry began after a 2012 treasury report was leaked to the FT and Italian daily La Repubblica.
♦The New York Times asks “Is the Civil Rights Era Over?” as it gets experts to ponder Tuesday’s rejection of the Voter’s Rights Act and Wednesday’s same-sex ruling to recognize legally married gay couples. The FT finds a polarised national response to the measures.
♦ The Sydney Morning Herald finds a historical precedent of backstabbing underlying Australian politics and the run up to elections for prime minister. Julia Gillard “died by the sword,” the Herald says, after competing against Kevin Rudd and Labor power broker Bill Shorten for the role of Australian prime minister.
♦ The Daily News Egypt sees no “safe possible outcome” and certain military involvement with the approach of the “Tamarrod,” the nationwide protest movement scheduled for June 30 to demand new presidential elections in Egypt to replace president Mohamed Morsi.
♦ Foreign Policy asks why Mr Snowden missed his flight from Moscow to Ecuador — did Russian military intelligence detain him for questioning or security services question his dubious travel documents, was he afraid the plane would be grounded in the US or simply shy of journalists?
♦ The FT analyses aggressive EU lobbyists in Brussels funded by American tech companies that advocate for more liberal internet privacy rules. The issue has moved to the top of the EU legislative agenda, as the EU summit begins Thursday.
♦ A BBC interactive maps children’s chances of success around the worldin health, education, work, and general well being. Read more

Edward Snowden is fast becoming a hot potato nobody wants to handle. Russia does not want him – so he can’t leave the legally-grey area of the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on foot. He could fly away – that is Putin’s preferred solution and, indeed, it seems that he now has travel papers, after Ecuador granted him a “safe pass” for temporary travel, according to images of travel documents posted by Spanish language Univision late on Wednesday.

But Snowden’s flight path to the apparent safety of possible political asylum in another country, such as Venezuela (which has offered the possibility) or Ecuador (which has said it would consider it), is blocked by a problem. All commercial flights between Moscow and Quito or Caracas touch down in third countries with which the US has extradition agreements. And that includes Cuba. Read more

China’s cash crunch
It’s been a nervous few days on Chinese stock markets in the wake of last week’s cash crunch, which saw interbank lending rates in China rise to as high as 28 per cent. The Chinese central bank has made reassuring statements, but some commentators have talked about China being on the brink of a new financial crisis. Stefan Wagstyl, emerging markets editor and editor of the FT beyondbrics blog, and Simon Rabinovitch, Shanghai correspondent, join Shawn Donnan to look at the state of the Chinese economy.

♦ In Qatar, the emir, voluntarily resigned in favour of his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as he spoke of the need for younger blood in government. This move is a sign that some monarchies are still more open to change than those in neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia that have “hardened arteries.” Qataris debate whether Sheikh Tamim will follow in his father’s footsteps or take a more conservative, religious, or nationalistic stance, the FT reports.
♦ In Syria, the government and the rebels fight for control of the oil fields, and one gas and electricity plant is representative of the strife. Foreign Policy reports that Obama’s current strategy in Syria is contradictory, taking separate military and diplomatic courses that clash.
♦ If Edward Snowden were Chinese, Americans would respect him as a “brave dissident.”
♦ The European Commission raided the London offices of oil companies – BP, Shell and Norway’s Statoil – as well as Platts, the price reporting agency, for colluding to manipulate prices of oil on the international markets, the BBC reports.
♦ The US Supreme Court amended parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a measure that required mostly southern states to obtain Washington’s approval to change election practices because of discrimination against black voters – but some legislators now see it as an intrusion on state’s rights and no longer relevant – the Wall Street Journal and New York Times report. The Times sees this amendment as a usurpation of Congress and denial that discrimination still exists in the South on the part of the Supreme Court. For the New Yorker, it is all apart of the Republican’s systematic undermining of Democratic influence.
♦ In Foreign Affairs, the military historian Rick Atkinson gives a colourful depiction of London on the eve of D-Day. Read more

Berlusconi at a rally (Getty)

Will he or won’t he? Since a court in Milan on Monday sentenced Silvio Berlusconi to seven years in prison on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of office, Rome-watchers have wondered whether this ruling will have consequences for the Italian government led by Enrico Letta. Mr Berlusconi’s People of Liberty is one of the three parties backing the cabinet, alongside the centre-left Democrats and the centrist formation, Civic Choice.

Mr Letta and Mr Berlusconi met on Tuesday to discuss the road ahead for the coalition. Top of the agenda was the government’s economic policy and, in particular, how to spare Italians of a rise in VAT, which is planned for July 1st but which Mr Berlusconi wanted to avoid at all cost. It is hard to imagine, however, that in their three-hour long meeting, Mr Letta and his predecessor did not discuss the consequences of the ruling in Milan.

 Read more

Julia Gillard addresses parliament (Getty)

Just a couple of days ago, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former communications chief, tweeted that he had met Julia Gillard and that the then Australian prime minister was an impressive woman. But, Campbell added, the Labor party needed to unite if it was to have a chance of victory in the upcoming Australian election.

The Australian Labor party, however, appears to have its own ideas on the matter. It responded to Gillard’s dramatic “back me or sack me” snap leadership election by ditching her and replacing her with her long time deadly rival, Kevin Rudd. The decision to switch leaders at this late stage testifies to the party’s desperation as it heads to what pundits expect will be a landslide defeat by the conservative opposition led by Tony Abbott.

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♦ Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, compared big investors to feral hogs who have unfavourably influenced Ben Bernanke to slow bond buying, the FT reports. Bernanke, he said, should not slow bond buying.

♦ George Magnus, adviser to UBS, finds the stubborn stance of the People’s Bank of China could lead either to ultimate failure if it pursues credit creation too vigorously or to success if it reduces the risk of a more serious credit crunch later, the FT reports. Read more

Qatar’s outgoing ruler likes to be known as a maverick in a conservative Gulf apprehensive of change. True to his reputation, he becomes the first Arab leader to abdicate in favour of his son, Crown Prince Tamim.

More changes are expected in Doha this week, not least the departure of Hamad bin Jassim, the powerful prime minister and architect of the country’s controversial foreign policy.

Whether he is ill, as many believe, or simply wanting to get ahead of the curve, the 61-year-old Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani has undoubtedly annoyed his neighbours with his move. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

The world is so busy cheering on the emergence of democracy in Myanmar that it is in danger of averting its eyes from the assault on democracy in another Asian state – Sri Lanka.

Rafael Correa (Getty)

While no one knows with certainty where Edward Snowden is heading after leaving Hong Kong on Sunday, Ecuador appears to be his most likely destination – a small country on the equator, as its name tells us, with fiery Rafael Correa as its outsize president. However, Correa is not the only larger-than-life politician that Ecuador has produced for the world. Indeed, for much of its history, Ecuador seems to have drawn its political inspiration from the gigantic volcano Chimborazo depicted on its coat of arms. Furthermore, like many of the titans who have dominated Ecuadorean politics, Correa has brought a rare stretch of political continuity to his country, although, as critics might argue of him but certainly his forebears, it has been at a cost. Read more

Jacob Frenkel, currently a chairman of JPMorgan International, will return as governor of the central bank of Israel, 13 years after leaving in 2000. He is taking over from the respected Stanley Fischer who will resign June 30, in an economic environment of slowing growth and rising property prices. Here is a handful of interesting reads (and a video) on his appointment and his past. Read more

♦ Evan Osnos discusses how the Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has been embraced by US Republicans.
♦ The US Supreme Court rules this week on the constitutionality of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed at the height of the civil rights movement and requires jurisdictions where there has been a history of racial discrimination to submit any proposed voting changes to the Justice Department for approval.
♦ A five-year farm bill was defeated on the US House of Representatives last week. E.J. Dionne argues that it is a lesson in the real causes of Washington dysfunction: “Our ability to govern ourselves is being brought low by a witches’ brew of right-wing ideology, a shockingly cruel attitude toward the poor on the part of the Republican majority, and the speaker’s incoherence when it comes to his need for Democratic votes to pass bills.”
♦ The Atlantic looks at why Edward Snowden would look to Ecuador for asylum.
♦ Jon Stewart appears on the show of Bassem Youssef, his Egyptian counterpart.
 Read more

The news that Edward Snowden has arrived in Moscow has a pleasantly nostalgic feeling to it. It sounds like the Cold War all over again. It is a shame for Snowden that Burgess, Maclean, Philby et al are all long gone, or he would have had a ready-made circle of friends. Then again, according to the FT, Snowden may only be passing through Moscow en route to Cuba and then to Venezuela. By the end of such a long journey, he could be completely Caracas. Read more

A student prepares a barbecue protest against the rise in bus fares (Getty)

Protests in Brazil are running in to their fifth night, a sign that Brazil’s previously polite manner of protesting has done little to bring about change.

After more than three centuries of colonial rule followed by intermittent dictatorships, confrontation isn’t the preferred style of protest for Brazilians. Samantha Pearson, the FT’s São Paulo correspondent, spoke to so-called BBQ activists - people who organise public barbecues to protest anything from police aggression to homophobia.

The idea of protesting via the medium of a grilled sausage may seem rather unusual, but food and social activism have a long history together. Read more

Mr Bernanke scared markets after announcing Wednesday that the Federal Reserve will take a more heavy-handed role in the US economy with an “ambitious timetable” of quantitative easing. The announcement fueled a sell-off in equities, bonds and commodities causing world-wide financial turbulence and hitting emerging markets the hardest. People are questioning his earlier optimism in the US economy, the FT reports.

♦ Ashin Wirathu, leader of a radical Buddhist group in Myanmar, has launched a campaign against the country’s Muslim minority, according to the New York Times.

Manhattan-based analysts at United Against Iran, a “privately funded advocacy group,” are trying to keep Iranian merchant ships from breaking economic and trade sanctions via satellite transmissions, navigational data and computer algorithms.

♦ The FT’s Phillip Stephens finds the election of Iranian president Mr. Rohani will likely not stop the country’s development of a nuclear weapon.

China’s central bank has refused to ease the country’s credit crunch by injecting extra cash into the market, which has led to suspicions that the government is to blame.

♦ Actor James Gandolfini died Wednesday, having achieved recognition late in life for his lively characterization of Tony Soprano in the hit television seriesRead more

Nigel Farage at the European parliament (Getty)

In the crystal balls of the European Union’s political and bureaucratic establishments looms a mortifying vision: voters in next year’s European parliament elections punish mainstream parties and vote en masse for their populist, radical right and anti-EU nemeses.

The humiliation of such a result would be compounded if, as has happened in every ballot for the EU assembly since direct elections began 34 years ago, turnout were to sink to a record low. Between 1979 and 2009 turnout fell from 62 to 43 per cent, a trend cited by the EU’s critics to reinforce the argument that the bloc’s shortcomings are not just economic but democratic in nature.

Eurosceptic, anti-establishment and ultra-right parties certainly have their tails up at the moment. To varying degrees, voters in many of the EU’s 27 countries are fed up with economic recession, mass unemployment, the erosion of the welfare state, political corruption and perceived high levels of immigration. A Gallup poll conducted last month in six member-states – Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK – showed that absolute or relative majorities in every country agreed that the EU was “going in the wrong direction”.  Read more