Smart Reads

• Putin is proving his skills as Russia’s great propagandist, with his use of Soviet-era symbolism alarming those fearful for the country’s democracy.

• The Ukraine stand-off offers Beijing a broader role on the global stage.

• The FT’s series on the Fragile Middle continues, with a look at how India‘s petty entrepreneurs face an uncertain future.

• About to take over a crisis-ridden company with a demoralised workforce? Look no further the Vatican under Pope Francis for a case-study in how it should be done.

• As forests of empty new housing towers fill the horizon in Chinese cities, yet more state sanctioned construction would amount to yin zhen zhi ke – “drinking poison to quench one’s thirst”.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker accused of fraud and one of the Kazakh president’s main political opponents, says the UK is being manipulated by a kleptocratic dictator after London decided to revoke his asylum status. Read more

• The FT continues its Fragile Middle series with a look at how one in five Chinese are only one pay packet away from losing middle class status.

War has created civilisation over the past 10,000 years – and threatens to destroy it in the next 40.

Turkey‘s social media curbs are darkening prospects for its technology sector.

• Despite the undue frostiness that has greeted Iran’s nuclear spring, politicians and diplomats are convinced Tehran wants a deal.

It took just four years for Kim Yong-chul to go from chief lawyer at Samsung to working in a bakery. Now the most high-profile whistleblower in South Korean history is back in the spotlight.

China is unlikely to have a Lehman-style moment – but danger is lurking in the shadows. Read more

• Twenty years ago Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point, but one man stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives.

• Beijing’s military build-up is generating a new Asian arms race as China’s neighbours seek to counter its growing might. Read more

♦ Thousands of young Muslims are being radicalised through social networks and propelled towards violence in Syria.

Latvia‘s ‘second class’ Russian residents are arguing for better rights, making many locals nervous amid the Crimea crisis.

Ukraine‘s ‘Kamikaze’ economy minister has one of the world’s toughest public administration jobs as he battles to deliver on unrealistic expectations.

♦ The rise of a US oligarchy amid widening inequality is threatening democracy, with both parties up for rent to wealthy lobbyists.

♦ ECB arch hawk Jens Weidmann often finds himself in a minority of one. But the appeal of being the person who is convinced everyone else is wrong seems to have waned. Read more

♦ In the new cold war, Russia could hit the US where it hurts – in Iran.

Vladimir Putin has confounded three US presidents as they tried to figure him out.

♦ The decision in Egypt to hand the death sentence to 528 Muslim Brotherhood members was widely condemned, but Egyptian TV told a different story.

♦ The US is losing its edge as an employment powerhouse after its labour participation rate fell behind the UK’s.

♦ Russia’s actions in Crimea have sent a chill through its former Soviet neighbours in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

♦ American economist Hyman Minsky is back in vogue as his ideas offer a plausible account of why the 2007-08 financial crisis happened.

♦ A report on how former Tunisian president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali changed the rules of business underlines the challenges still facing the country. Read more

♦ Many Iranians see basij– the ideologically-driven volunteer forces of the Revolutionary Guards – as stick-wielding thugs, but they show a softer side as they sip cappuccino and discuss art at Café Kerase.

♦ Although demographic and other factors are against the US Republicans, the Grand Old Party is seeing a strange revival.

♦ It’s not a good time for Japan to put its tax rates up, which is why the government is allowing retailers to act like they haven’t.

♦ Much has changed in Sarajevo since the day in 1914 when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, providing the spark that lit the flames of the first world war, yet much has remained the same.

♦ The Egyptian army’s gift of land for homes has prompted speculation over a closely guarded secret: the size of the army’s stake in the economy.

♦ A property boom across Germany‘s biggest cities has been dubbed a betongold – literally concrete gold – rush. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia

  • In the first of a three-part series, the FT examines the Chinese Debt Dragon. Although the Chinese government denies the country has a debt problem, the picture on the ground shows failing public services and unpaid wages as debt dependency rises to dangerous levels, reports Simon Rabinovitch.
  • “Vote me out of jail or I will bring the country down with me,” is the message from Silvio Berlusconi following his conviction for tax fraud – but to bow to this threat would be “accepting the age-old intuition that [Italian] politics will always be corrupt” and that there are better things to worry about, writes Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books.

 Read more

♦ 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.

 Read more

Esther Bintliff

Boston

♦ Overnight, one of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings was killed during a car chase. Officers have mounted a manhunt to find a man believed to be the other suspects, reports Robert Wright. The FBI has issued photographs of the suspects and details are beginning to emerge about their background. Updates throughout the day on FT.com

Gun control and a captured Senate?

♦ The US Senate on Wednesday voted down two measures that would have imposed tough new rules on who can buy guns. The Guardian reports this morning that all but three of the 45 senators who voted ‘No’ received money from firearms lobbyists.

♦ Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in 2011, lambasted the senators in an Op-Ed for the New York Times. “Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets… These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.”

Elsewhere

♦ The FT’s Guy Dinmore visited L’Aquila, four years after it was devastated by an earthquake. Reconstruction there has all but ground to a halt, through lack of money and paralysing politics – making the city “the ultimate symbol of Italy’s great stagnation.”

♦ Tom Feiling writes for the new digital magazine, Aeon, about why Colombia’s FARC guerrillas are still resisting the coming peace. “Is it drug money or the romance of revolution that’s to blame?“ Read more

Esther Bintliff

Reinhart-Rogoff Redux

♦ The FT’s Robin Harding and Chris Giles look at the perils of austerity theory, and argue that “the essential problem is limited data.”

♦ To catch up on the debate thus far, check out our reading list.

♦ Over on Counterparties, Felix Salmon has helpfully summarised a long blog by an econometrician, Arindrajit Dube. As Salmon puts it: the causation here seems about as clear as causal analysis can ever be: low growth causes high debt, rather than high debt causing low growth.

Elsewhere

♦ The FT’s Tom Mitchell, a Bostonian, writes about his response to the bombs at Monday’s marathon – “An attack on much more than a race.”

♦ A new Israeli guidebook “offers maps, tips, and tours through 18 areas of Israel where Palestinian villages once stood”. The Economist reviews it.

♦ Obama’s administration appears to hold varying views on the Syrian opposition, something that became obvious on Wednesday when Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made separate appearances before Congress, reports the New York Times.

♦ The European Central Bank’s newest game [wait, they do games?] was released on Wednesday. Alphaville’s Lisa Pollack has played it.

♦ Silicon Valley is welcoming a new kind of business pilgrim – “itinerant company executives who come from the benighted analogue world”, writes Richard Waters. Read more