Monthly Archives: September 2013

In honour of the airing in the US on Sunday of the final episode of Breaking Bad, the hit television drama that lifts the lid on the dark world of crystal meth, here are five things worth knowing (and dropping at your next dinner party) regarding the global trade of the illicit drug. (With a deep bow to Wonkblog, the New Yorker, and Slate, all of which have done extensive plot analyses)

1. North America dominates the world of methamphetamine. And those Mexican cartels are indeed hard at work.

According to the UN Office of Drug Control’s 2013 World Drug Report, North America accounted for 54 of the 88 tons of methamphetamine seized worldwide in 2011, the latest figures available. Leading the pack in North America was Mexico, where the cartels have turned mass producing crystal meth into a fine art. Read more

♦ The FT’s James Politi visits a military base struggling to cope with the effects of sequestration.
♦ One of the FT’s new readers had some questions about her first edition of the pink paper, including: “Why is George Osborne taking legal action against the EU cap on bankers’ bonuses when it says here that these chaps at ICAP were demanding bonuses in return for manipulating the Libor market?
♦ Hassan Rouhani has raised hope among his countrymen of a solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme.
♦ The ebb in support for Argentina’s president Cristina Fernández has been matched by the rise of Sergio Massa, one of the strongest potential candidates for the 2015 elections.
♦ News reports of the US-intercepting messages between the heads of Al-Qaeda and AQIM, discussing an imminent terrorist attack, have caused more immediate damage to counterterrorism efforts than Edward Snowden’s leaks.
♦ The New York Times profiles Rosario Crocetta, the gay, Catholic leftist taking on corruption in Sicily.
♦ In Damascus, a war-weariness has settled over the city: “there is a sense that the war will continue, perhaps for years, making the country’s rifts progressively harder to heal.”
♦ When Romanian prosecutors announced that Alexandru Visinescu would be put on trial over his role in Communist-era abuses, it raised hopes that Romania may be able to shake off its national amnesia about its brutal past. Read more

The arrest of the leader and deputy leader of Golden Dawn – alongside other Golden Dawn MPs and party members – has been greeted with applause by liberals inside and outside Greece.

There is little doubt that Golden Dawn is a genuinely nasty party whose members are guilty of rhetorical and actual violence against immigrants and whose leadership revels in paramilitary and fascist imagery. All those who fear that economic turmoil will undermine Greek democracy have been able to point to the gains made by Golden Dawn.

And yet, while the party is undoubtedly authentically horrible, I wonder whether the crackdown is really such a great idea. Mass arrests of legitimately elected politicians should always spark unease. As several commentators have pointed out, the last time this kind of thing happened in Greece was after the fall of a military junta, in 1974. Read more

♦ Philip Stephens argues that the best hope of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran is to persuade Tehran that its strategic interests are otherwise.
Rural Ireland is struggling to bounce back, even as cities such as Dublin and Cork start to grow again.
♦ Thomas Erdbrink at the the New York Times looks at how Fars news agency, once a defender of Ahmedi-Nejad and an influential conservative voice recently, reported on the translation of Hassan Rouhani’s comments about the Holocaust.
♦ The University of Alabama has ranked the states of America by some unsavoury categories, and set up a map showing which states are worst for binge-drinking and bestiality.
♦ Aidan Hartley speaks to two friends about how they survived events at Westgate mall.
♦ Wired magazine takes a tour through Github’s new hacker heavenRead more

It is encouraging that the UN Security Council seems to be edging towards a resolution on Syria. It is even possible that a diplomatic breakthrough there, could lead to wider Russian/US co-operation on a peace process for Syria.

But while the diplomatic picture is improving outside Syria, the situation on the ground gets ever more complicated — in ways that will make it even harder to find a political solution that outside powers can endorse, and that has a chance of sticking. Read more

Soldiers clear the top floor of the Westgate mall (CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

As Kenya began three days of national mourning for the victims of the country’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years, the country’s security forces continued to comb Nairobi’s Westgate mall for victims. Read more

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani address the UN General Assembly (Getty)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been at the UN in New York all this week, opening up the possibility of engagement with the US over Tehran’s nuclear programme. One of the most striking features of his performance is the way he has used different settings to push forward different messages about how he views the world.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Rouhani took what sounded like a very traditional Iranian line. It may have had none of the apocalyptic and offensive rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, on such occasions. But the speech contained plenty of passages which implied a strong attack on America’s “coercive economic and military policies.” Many experts were disappointed that it failed to deviate from Iran’s traditional script.

Mr Rouhani has also found plenty of time, however, to meet US media, and here his tone has been very different. With CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, he read out a message in English of goodwill towards Americans.

 Read more

Sunny Stockholm – Getty

Stockholm looks bright and brisk today, unlike some of the scientists and government officials who were heading into a large brick conference centre on the city’s waterfront at 8am this morning.

They had been working through the night until 2:30am to finalise the most comprehensive climate science report in six years for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The bulk of the report is finished, having been drafted by 259 scientists from 39 countries over the last four years, with the help of more than 600 contributing authors.

The Stockholm meeting, which started on Monday and is closed to the public and journalists, is finishing its most widely-read section: a 31-page summary for policymakers that governments have to approve before release, in consultation with some of the scientists who wrote it.

The summary is based on the larger report and its basic conclusion – that human influence on the climate caused most of the global warming recorded since 1951 – cannot change.

But the way its many findings are expressed are very much up for debate and with just one day left before the summary is due to be released on Friday morning, delegates are braced for another long night tonight. Read more

♦ Michela Wrong thinks the events at Westgate mall jeopardise international justice because the west has realised that it needs Kenyatta and Ruto.
♦ On paper, Ted Cruz looks like a country club establishment Republican, but with every sentence he uttered in his 21-hour “filibuster” against Obamacare, he made clear that his primary mission in Washington was to rid his party of any lingering remnants of compromise.
♦ Xan Rice speaks to Ahmed Jama, the owner of a successful restaurant in London and a naturalised Briton, who decided to return to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, and open a restaurant there, even while Somalia was at war.
♦ As conventional oil reserves diminish, the Kremlin is pinning its hopes on Siberian shale to maintain the nation’s standing, but stern geological and commercial challenges lie ahead.
♦ Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses in Qatar. A Guardian investigation reveals how Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day this summer labouring in preparation for the World Cup.
♦ Richard Gowan, associate director of the Centre for International Cooperation at New York University, asks how much the UN’s moral voice is worth as a peacekeeping toolRead more

Climate change special: should we be worried by the latest findings on global warming?
As the world’s leading climate scientists gather in Stockholm to discuss new findings on climate change, Clive Cookson, science editor, is joined by environmental correspondent Pilita Clark and Simon Buckle, policy director at Imperial College’s Grantham Institute of Climate Change, to discuss climate sensitivity and the steps that the international community must take to mitigate against global warming.

Ted Cruz takes the Senate floor

Ten things about Senator Ted Cruz, 42, the junior senator from Texas, who has been talking for more than 14 hours on the Senate floor in a bid to cut off funding for President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

1) Cruz was one of only three senators to vote against the nomination of John Kerry as secretary of state. “We’ve got two pending nominations, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, both of whom are very prominently anti-US – less than ardent fans of the US military.”

2) In his speech in July 2012, after winning the Republican nomination to run for the Senate he invoked Milton Friedman, the economist. “We should take it as a providential sign that today would be the 100th birthday of Milton Friedman,” Mr Cruz said. “A true champion for liberty, and we are walking in Uncle Milton’s footsteps.” Read more

By Sally Davies
♦ Qatar looks set to strike a more conciliatory tone in the Middle East, after ruffling feathers with its support of Islamists in Egypt and the rebels in Syria, writes Simeon Kerr in the FT.
♦ Across the gulf, Iran is suffering under anti-nuclear sanctions. James Blitz looks at the prospects for a deal ahead of U.S. secretary of state John Kerry’s much-hyped meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, while Geoff Dyer says Obama has come full circle on Middle East diplomacy.
♦ The Obama doctrine: the president is absorbing some tough lessons from the international conflicts he’s observed – and intervened in – over the last five years, writes David Sanger in the New York Times.
♦ Amway is funding a Harvard scholarship to schmooze bigwigs in the Chinese Communist Party. It seems to be working: the household-goods chain has more than quadrupled its sales in China since the program began.
♦ Christine Lagarde examines how women’s under-participation in the workforce hobbles economic growth, on the back of an IMF report.
♦ The haunted house that gave even China’s Red Guards the spooksRead more

By Thomas Hale
♦ The Wall Street Journal looks closely at Janet Yellen and the ‘tougher tone’ she may bring to the Fed.
♦ Meanwhile, Roger Cohen ponders Merkel’s election success and her role as the ‘great consolidator’.
♦ Iranian Qassem Suleimani, a supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, has been described as the most powerful operative in the Middle East today. The New Yorker profiles this elusive figure.
The demographic for budget travel is changing – the New York Times looks at business people in hostels.
♦ Christian Caryl’s book Strange Rebels suggests that the 21st century was heavily moulded by the pivotal events of 1979. David Runciman’s review in the LRB is an exhilarating analysis of the future for progressive politics.
♦ Are the lines between the natural and artificial worlds becoming blurred? Sue Thomas expounds on the fascinating notion of technobiophilia in Aeon magazine.
♦ The New York Times looks closely at China’s forays into Central Asia, specifically their recently acquired share in Kazakhstan’s oil.
♦ Paul Mason, writing for Channel 4, weaves together Western intervention in the Middle East with the mercurial plot of HomelandRead more

This is a map, courtesy of the Berlin returning officer’s website, of the constituency votes in Berlin. Blue is the Christian Democratic Union of Angela Merkel and purple represents the Left party, which was formed from the remnants of the communist SED that ruled East Germany as well as leftwing defectors from the centre-left SPD, shown in red. (The Greens are, um, green.) Read more

Can Iran and the west finally do a deal on the Iranian nuclear programme, ending the decade long stand-off that has plagued international diplomacy? As we watch the extraordinary set of encounters at the UN General Assembly in New York this week between leading Iranian and US figures, that question will be on the mind of every diplomat and journalist.

The atmospherics between Iran and the US this week are certainly exceeding expectations. All the attention on Tuesday will be on whether an encounter occurs between Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. But whatever happens on that front, other important encounters are already being scheduled that say a lot about just how much the mood has changed. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
When pundits analyse Angela Merkel’s political success, they tend to fall back on a few well-worn ideas. The German chancellor is said to be a cautious pragmatist, a scientist who proceeds through trial-and-error, a reassuring mother-figure, a natural politician with an instinctive rapport with voters. All these things are true. But they miss out one vital element. Ms Merkel is also a political visionary. In the midst of a sometimes terrifying currency crisis, she has redefined Germany’s relationship with the EU – on a new and more sustainable basis.

Interactive by John Burn-Murdoch


This week scientists, policymakers and leaders meet in Stockholm to finalise The Physical Science Basis – the first part of the long-awaited fifth assessment report (known as AR5) by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This, essentially, sets out the latest state of thinking on the impact of climate change and is the fifth of its kind in 25 years.

This report’s projections, like those of its predecessors, will be heavily scrutinised in keeping with the controversies that surround this field of science.

Here, we show how the projections for temperature and sea level rise set out in the fourth Assessment Report in 2007 compare with actual measurements. We can see that global average temperatures have not accelerated at the rate predicted in some scenarios but sea levels have risen at the upper end of predicted ranges.

 Read more

Alexei Navalny, opposition leader and blogger, who came second in Moscow's mayoral election (Reuters)

Little by little, more air is set to be let into Russia’s tightly managed democracy. Opposition members from outside Kremlin-approved parties ­– the so-called non-system opposition ­– will be allowed to compete in, and even win, local-level elections. The recent polls in Moscow and Yekaterinburg were the start.

Those are conclusions that can be drawn from four days of discussions last week among invited Russian and foreign experts at the annual Valdai Club conference, and off-record meetings with some very senior Russian officials. They provided some grounds to hope that the worst of the clampdown that followed the demonstrations of winter 2011-2012 may be over. Having established some ground rules, the Kremlin seems to be elaborating a new approach to the oppositionRead more

♦ China’s political elite at the Central Party School are beginning to consider the unthinkable: the collapse of Chinese communism.
♦ Since Kenya sent troops into Somalia to fight al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in 2011, the risk of reprisal has been growing.
♦ Janet Yellen, the frontrunner to replace Ben Bernanke, is “motivated by genuine fascination with the questions she deals in” and seems to be unusually well-adjusted.
♦ Secret recordings have revealed Hosni Mubarak’s belief in far-fetched conspiracy theories and his worry that Washington was trying to oust him as president.
♦ The veteran foreign correspondent who lent credibility to a claim that Syrian rebels had admitted responsibility for the August chemical attack has denied writing the article.
♦ Vienna has adopted “gender mainstreaming” in its urban planning, to take account of how women move about within the city. Read more


The first official German election results are in and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats enjoyed a huge swing in the polls, but remain five seats short of achieving the first absolute majority since 1957.

That fires the starting gun for coalition talks, raising some interesting questions, especially after the chancellor’s existing coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party, has crashed from its best-ever election result in 2009 to parliamentary annihilation, failing to reach the five per cent threshold. Read more