World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
The most hotly debated issue in India in 2012 was finally resolved the first week of December, when the coalition government's decision to open up the Indian retail sector to foreign direct investment was put to a vote in both houses of parliament and went through.
The vote was something of an anomaly. The government's verdict on foreign investment in September, though hotly opposed by many political parties (including some of the very coalition that makes up the government), traders' guilds and periodicals, was an executive decision not ordinarily requiring a vote in parliament, as draft bills do. But persistent hold-ups over the FDI issue meant that something had to be done to resolve the logjam on legislative activity. In the build-up to the vote forced by the opposition, the managers of the Congress Party -- including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who in September made a rare address to the nation explaining the need for foreign investment -- worked overtime to bring around the skeptics in the coalition's own ranks.READ MORE
If Russian lawmakers have their way, the best intentions of a U.S. investor could soon result in tragedy for thousands of Russian orphans and the U.S. families who would adopt them.
In recent weeks, Russia’s parliament has been grasping for a response to the Magnitsky Act, a bill lobbied for heavily by U.S. investor Bill Browder and signed into law last week by President Barack Obama. The law replaces Cold War-era trade restrictions with a mechanism denying entry to the U.S. for Russian officials involved in human-rights violations -- and specifically in the 2009 jail death of 37-year-old Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who had been defending the interests of the Hermitage Fund, an investment fund run by Browder.READ MORE
The Shanghai gun range I have frequented most is located on one of the city’s most exclusive shopping streets, just steps away from Rado, Rolex and Van Cleef & Arpels.
To be sure, the range lacks the polish of its chic neighbors. The space is drab and dusty, the staff is ornery and the beer served at the bar is warm and stale (drinking and shooting machine guns is not only allowed, it’s encouraged). But in another sense, the range shares the spirit of its pricey neighborhood: The only barrier to entry, and to the right to fire a machine gun, is the ability to pay the range’s expensive charges for weapon rental and ammunition.READ MORE
Shankar was, to most of his peers in India and a vast audience around the world, the greatest sitar player of his era. But his influence extended far beyond his own innovations in technique, composition and collaboration. Beginning in the 1950s, when the sitar wasn't widely known outside South Asia, Shankar took the sublime sound of his 17-stringed classical Indian instrument into the concert halls and homes and studios of the West, leading to a wave of cross-fertilization that included collaborations with George Harrison, John Coltrane and Philip Glass, as well as the Concert for Bangladesh with Harrison, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden in 1971.READ MORE
(Corrects dates of Brezhnev’s rule in eleventh paragraph.)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has found an ironic way to mark the first anniversary of mass protests aimed at pushing the country toward democracy: On Dec. 10, he called for the revival of the Soviet Union’s highest peacetime honor, the Hero of Labor medal.READ MORE
On Monday night, the Chinese author Mo Yan accepted his Nobel Prize in Literature in Stockholm. It was a big event for him, and an even bigger one for China’s newspapers and microblogs.
The interest was predictable: Mo is the first non-dissident Chinese national to win a Nobel Prize, and his award is thus celebrated as a moment of international recognition that has long eluded the world’s most populous country. In 2010, Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese dissident author and activist won the Peace Prize -- the first Chinese national to win any Nobel - - much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the Communist Party he critiqued. Fair or unfair, Mo and his prize were destined to be viewed in Liu’s shadow, and Mo was destined to be asked about -- and perhaps made to answer for -- Liu.READ MORE
The police in Mumbai, India's financial capital and until quite recently its most cosmopolitan and liberal city, acted swiftly a few weeks ago to detain two dangerous troublemakers. The miscreants were young -- Shaheen Dhada, 21, and Renu Srinivasan, 20 -- but to those threatened by their actions their audacity was immense and their deeds were sinister.
Dhada had published a post on her Facebook page two days after the Nov. 17 death in Mumbai of Bal Thackeray, the thuggish, tyrannical and yet revered leader of the Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu chauvinist party (so chauvinist that it actually proudly accepts that description). Dhada wrote what was on the lips of thousands of citizens of Mumbai when she asked if it was fair for the entire city to be shut down by the Shiv Sena on the day of Thackeray's funeral and concluded:READ MORE
What’s happening with President Vladimir Putin’s spine? This is the question that has Russians guessing as their leader engages in the time-honored tradition of denying his health problems.
Top Russian officials have long preferred to hide their illnesses, an instinct that can turn even minor ailments into global media events. The practice harks back at least to the Soviet era, when Kremlin watchers divined policy shifts by noting which geriatric Communist leader was absent from the top of Lenin’s tomb as the May Day parade went by. General Secretaries Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were both hospitalized for months before the public knew of their conditions. Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, kept the world in the dark about a heart attack until after he had won the 1996 elections.READ MORE
On the morning of Dec. 1, “Mayans” entered the trending-keyword list on Sina Weibo, China’s leading Twitter-like microblog. This was not exactly surprising: For years, China’s netizens have been obsessed with Mayan prophecies supposedly suggesting the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012. (Or, perhaps, Dec. 22 in China, if time zones are accounted for.)
By the morning of Dec. 3, “the end of the world” had become the No. 2 topic of conversation on Sina Weibo, with an endless stream of Mayan-related tweets that, at their peak, were coming several per second.READ MORE
Two weeks ago, Chu Jixue, an investigator with the Propaganda Department at Beijing’s Municipal Communist Party Committee, received a panicked call from a cousin in his rural hometown. The local government, Chu was told, had demanded that the family relocate the ancestral burial plot, and all of its earthly remains, or the plot would be razed.
The government would make no exceptions, offer no chance for appeal, and provide just a small subsidy of 200 yuan (less than $35) for each flattened tomb and free cremation of any extracted remains. The occasion was a practical one: Zhoukou, one of China’s oldest cities, in the heart of Henan, one of China’s poorest provinces, had decided to free up farmland by razing the estimated 3.5 million graves that dot the municipality’s rural landscape.READ MORE
What European country has more U.S. dollars in circulation than it does its own currency? What capitalist democracy is home to a thriving black market in foreign exchange? Unlikely as either may seem, there is an answer: Ukraine.
Ukraine's affair with the dollar stretches back at least 21 years. Ukrainians learned to covet the U.S. currency during the hyperinflation of the early 1990s, and never quite kicked the habit to the extent that their neighbors in Russia did. The supply of the national currency, the hryvnia, is equivalent to $25 billion today, while about $80 billion in U.S. cash circulates in the Ukrainian economy, according to economist Alexander Okhrimenko.READ MORE
The Pakistani militant Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 25, sentenced to death in an Indian court two years ago, was hanged at the Yerwada jail in Pune last week. Kasab was the lone surviving member of the 10-man terrorist squad that, in an operation meticulously planned by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, slipped into Mumbai from the sea and attacked several soft targets on Nov. 26, 2008, killing 166 people. It was the first death sentence to be carried out in India since 2004.
In the four years between his rampage in Mumbai and his hanging in Pune, Kasab was housed at great expense in a high-security cell and was given a fair hearing by the many tiers of the Indian justice system. Sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, Kasab appealed unsuccessfully in both the Mumbai High Court and the Supreme Court of India, which upheld the sentence in August. In September, he wrote to the president in Hindi, a language taught to him by Abu Jundal, one of the handlers who directed the attack on Mumbai and who was recently handed over to India by the government of Saudi Arabia. A few days after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Kasab's mercy petition, the convict was spirited away to Pune in a top-secret operation and executed early on Nov. 21.READ MORE
For years, rumors have swirled that China’s young, diligent athletes were victims of sexual harassment (and worse). But the country’s vast sports bureaucracy has generally managed to escape large, public sexual-harassment scandals -- until Nov. 13.
That evening, Shanghai’s much-lauded women’s volleyball team, which includes three Chinese national team members, took on Tianjin’s team, a heated rival. The highly anticipated match resulted in a listless loss for Shanghai, leading some to wonder: What damped Shanghai’s competitive fires?READ MORE
President Vladimir Putin's fresh anti-corruption drive, possibly aimed at hijacking the opposition's political agenda, has opened a huge can of worms.
First, Putin fired his defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, and large-scale theft was allegedly uncovered in the Glonass navigation-satellite program and the Regional Development Ministry. Some commentators quickly decided this was mere window dressing to counter the corruption-fighting crusade of popular blogger Alexey Navalny, who in October received the most votes in an Internet-based election to the anti-Putin opposition's Coordinating Council.READ MORE
Finally, after ailing for several years, the maverick politician Bal Thackeray passed away in Mumbai on Nov. 17 at the age of 86, bringing the city to a grinding halt.
For three decades, he had enjoyed the power, when piqued or provoked (and this was often), to bring to a standstill the city of Bombay, which he succeeded in renaming Mumbai. In 1966, he set up the Shiv Sena (literally, "the Army of Shiva"), a political party with a nativist ideology and the spirit of a vigilante squad. He stayed the course until he finally won power in state elections in Maharashtra in 1995.READ MORE
India's central and state governments are edging closer to an agreement on a design and deadline for the Goods and Services Tax, a comprehensive value-added tax that will replace many smaller taxes and levies and will make India a unified market. The proposed tax reform has been described as having the potential "to be the single most important initiative in the fiscal history of India."
Long in the pipeline, the Goods and Services Tax has been on the to-do list of the current government, the UPA, since it came to power in 2004. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram laid out the need for the switch in 2006, saying in his budget speech that year:READ MORE
Is it possible to understand public opinion without actually having to listen to it? In the corridors of Chinese power, the answer is yes.
Take the curious case of China’s State Council, the country’s highest governmental body, and its recent move to join China’s social-networking craze. For much of its history, the 35-member State Council, which administers the laws and policies of the Communist Party, has communicated its work via the “Gazette of the State Council,” a compendium of rules and regulations issued every 10 days to a wide variety of Communist Party and government-affiliated outlets, including public libraries. Readership, presumably, has been narrow, and certainly not as wide as that enjoyed by the policies of local governments that have developed followings -- if not popularity -- by delving into China’s expanding social-media ecosystem.READ MORE
Talk about parallels. To Russians, the adultery-related resignation of Central Intelligence Director David Petraeus looks uncannily like a scandal that recently hit their own defense minister, Igor Serdyukov.
Petraeus resigned on Nov. 9, citing his “poor judgment” in conducting an extramarital affair, apparently with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Russian President Vladimir Putin fired Serdyukov on Nov. 6 amid rumors that the minister was having an affair with his subordinate, Yevgenia Vasilyeva.READ MORE
"Poor Americans! It's so hard for them to choose between Romney and Obama. Lucky Russians! They only had to choose between Putin and Putin."
On Nov. 7, this joke made the top 20 on anekdot.ru, a popular Russian humor website.READ MORE
Hundreds of thousands of Indians will rise earlier than usual tomorrow to join U.S. voters in tracking the final hours of the presidential election. The long campaign -- and particularly the candidate debates -- was closely watched in India, whose citizens asked themselves why it was so improbable that the leaders of their country's two major political parties would ever consent to a similar challenge.
In 2008, Barack Obama's historic campaign and skepticism-dissolving language caused a bubble of optimism about politics in the U.S. and around the world, and the weight of Indian support falls squarely behind him this time, too. But Indians have invested less, with both heart and head, in the election of 2012. Obama's possible re-election isn't as interesting. And in a campaign fought mainly over domestic issues, there has been no significant mention of India in either candidate's pitch.READ MORE