♦ Wild card candidates for the Iranian election have confused the regime’s orchestration of the vote.
♦ Dana Milbank thinks President Obama needs to show more engagement with his presidency: “He responded as though he were just some bloke on a bar stool, getting his information from the evening news.”
♦ The Guardian reports on climate refugees in Alaska, where people are losing ground to the sea at a dangerous rate.
♦ Devastating water shortages in China are putting a brake on economic growth and stirring political discontent, but Beijing’s high-spending responses to the problem have triggered widespread criticism.
♦ Shanghaiist has photos of Gansu’s Crescent Lake Oasis, where the government had to step in to preserve the lake in the Gobi desert. Read more
Seen from outside France, the country’s “cultural exception” – which protects its art, music and movie industries in trade negotiations – is like a long-running film franchise.
In the new sequel – Exception Culturelle 3D, if you will – Pierre Lescure, author of a government-commissioned report, has given the story a great new twist by suggesting a tax on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and e-readers to fund French cultural output. Read more
♦Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister, is confronting the country’s culture of casual racism, but the success of her proposed legislation depends on her fellow parliamentarians – some of whom have not been entirely complimentary about her.
♦ China is pushing to water down the World Bank’s Doing Business report, showing its increased assertiveness at international bodies and its willingness to challenge liberal economic prescriptions.
♦ Growth in Indonesia has reached its slowest pace in two years, hit by the slowdown in China and India, but investors are still feeling confident.
♦ David Gardner argues that Israel’s latest attacks on Syria play right into Assad’s hands supporting conspiracy theories about a western-conceived attempt to destroy Syria.
♦ Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, calls for a Marshall plan to help his country recover from decades of poverty, civil war and terrorism.
♦ Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil and Herminio Blanco of Mexico are scrambling to secure last-minute votes in a tight race to become the next head of the troubled World Trade Organisation.
♦ Hollywood film-makers are going to great lengths to satisfy the whims of Chinese censors. However, appearances by Chinese actors in the Chinese version of Iron Man 3 have not been to everyone’s taste – “One microblogger named Bumblebee Marz compared the new scenes to chicken ribs — a common expression denoting the most tasteless and undesirable cut of meat in Chinese cuisine.”
♦ Dexter Filkins looks at the White House debate over Syria. According to Gary Samore, who was President Obama’s chief adviser on weapons of mass destruction until February, “All the options are horrible”.
♦ Obama’s off-the-cuff remark about large quantities of chemical weapons crossing a “red line” have now put him into a bind, “his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.”
♦ Gabriel Kuris at Foreign Policy looks at how Latvia’s anti-corruption bureau managed to pass through reforms and take down oligarchs. Read more
♦ Ireland’s head of state says the EU must drop its “hegemonic” economic model and reform the ECB, or risk social upheaval and a loss of popular legitimacy.
♦ The Great Tax Race series turns to Ireland, looking at how Ireland has remained attached to aggressive tax policies that favour businesses even as ordinary people have struggled to get by. (If you’re trying to get your head around how all of this even works, watch this handy explainer from Matt Steinglass)
♦ Richard McGregor thinks President Obama needs to circumvent Congress if he wants to get his agenda moving.
♦ Western clothing companies are scrambling to address public concerns over working conditions in Bangladesh – the Walt Disney Company ordered an end to the production of branded merchandise in the country before Rana Plaza collapsed. John Gapper today makes the argument against western companies withdrawing: “Despite everything, the industry provides better-paid jobs than the alternative – working on rural farms – and has helped to emancipate women.”
♦ Despite violence and corruption, Afghan entrepreneurs are still making opportunities for themselves.
♦ The Kremlin is putting pressure on VKontakte, a Russian Facebook clone, pushing CEO Pavel Durov to leave the country.
♦ Slate is publishing a series of excerpts from the memoirs of Mohamedou Oul Slahi who was a prisoner at Guantánamo for nearly 11 years.
♦ Mafia historian goes underground into the bunkers of the Ndrangheta, Europe’s biggest cocaine traffickers and Italy’s most powerful organised crime group. Read more
By Richard McGregor in Washington
It is remarkable that Barack Obama, only months after a convincing re-election, seems to keep falling back on his self-professed powerlessness when pressed about his second-term agenda.
Be it on closing down Guantanamo Bay, ending the across-the-board budget cuts (known as sequestration), restricting firearms sales or bringing Obamacare into life, Mr Obama talks more about what he can’t get done than the other way round.
The president suffered the indignity at a Tuesday press conference of being asked if his second-term administration still had any “juice” left, joking in response that maybe he should “just pack up and go home”. Read more
Barack Obama is meant to be the most powerful man in the world. But it looks increasingly as though he may be dragged into a conflict in Syria, against his own better judgment. Read more
♦ In the first installment of our Great Tax Race series, Vanessa Houlder examines how the Netherlands and Luxembourg managed to book more foreign direct investment than the US, UK and Germany together. Exploitation of cracks in the international tax system has ignited intense anger from an austerity-weary public. Matt Steinglass looks at how the Netherlands wants to change its tax haven image, but is wary of scaring businesses away.
♦ Italy has a new government and it has already been met with mayhem.
♦ Just after winning the most votes in Iceland’s parliamentary elections, the head of the centre-right Independence party has said the government needs to focus on restoring growth.
♦ Anne-Marie Slaughter thinks President Obama should keep the Rwandan genocide in mind when weighing up action in Syria.
♦ The 26-year-old Chinese entrepreneur who was kidnapped by the Tsarnaev brothers describes his harrowing experience. The Boston Globe has also pulled together a timeline of the hunt for the bombing suspects.
♦ William Zinsser, author of “On Writing Well”, is still counselling people on the subject at the age of 90. He holds one-to-one sessions with people who read their writing out to him, as he cannot see, and only accepts sandwiches as payment.
♦ Maryam Sharif takes to the street to canvass for her father who is likely to become Pakistan’s PM for a third time: “It’s a beautiful feeling to be loved”. Read more
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:
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…”
Photo by Getty
An energy and diplomacy deal that would reshape the map of the eastern Mediterranean might be proceeding faster than many people think.
It is just a few weeks since, in a bid to revive frozen diplomatic ties, Israel apologised to Turkey for a deadly raid that left nine Turkish citizens dead. The process was still sufficiently shaky for US Secretary of State John Kerry to come to Istanbul last weekend to chivvy both sides to go all the way and exchange ambassadors.
There are plenty of potential slips on the way ahead: compensation has to be agreed; the fate of Turkish court cases against retired Israeli commanders has to be decided (at present, they are going ahead); and Ankara still has to pronounce itself satisfied with the lifting of restrictions on civilian goods to Gaza (relevant, because the flotilla stormed by Israeli Defence Forces in 2010 was seeking to break the Gaza blockade). Read more
♦ “There is no such thing as good timing for a government when political scandal erupts,” says Hugh Carnegy, “but the tax fraud affair that has brought low François Hollande has hit the French president at a moment of severe economic difficulty.” Dominique Moïsi thinks Hollande must heed the lessons of Louis XVI: “in the wake of the Cahuzac scandal, France’s president looks ever more like a modern Louis XVI – the king guillotined by revolutionaries.”
♦ The FT looks at how Taiwan needs sweeping reform to preserve its status as one of Asia’s great successes.
♦ A recording of a private meeting between Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, and his campaign aides shows how they considered using Ashley Judd’s mental health and religion against her as political ammunition. Mother Jones, who published it, is also looking at the ethical questions it raises about McConnell’s staff.
♦ Sri Srinivasan, the Obama administration’s principal deputy solicitor general, is a candidate for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. According to Jeffrey Toobin, “if Srinivasan passes this test and wins confirmation, he’ll be on the Supreme Court before President Obama’s term ends.”
♦ Jon Lee Anderson at the New Yorker looks back at the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Augusto Pinochet. On the basis of that he argues that, “In a country where, for decades, history was buried, it is fitting for Chileans to dig up [Pablo] Neruda to find out the truth of what happened to him.” Comedian Russell Brand recalls a chance encounter with Margaret Thatcher and the less coincidental legacy she left: “She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.”
♦ The BBC has been looking at the changing state of modern journalism. Frank Rich, writing for New York magazine, thinks when it comes to journalism, “the last thing the news business needs is a case of nostalgia.” Read more