January 2

FT Why the Sustainable Development Goals are a bad idea

In an op-ed the Africa editor of the newspaper deplores the UN SDGs as a wishlist, out of it completeness and complexity actually unsustainable. “The sustainable development goals prioritize everything. In the real world, that is to prioritize nothing.” https://www.ft.com/content/ceedd447-a6d1-4773-9a8a-e3b25a50645c

FT The child care system in the U.S.A. is broken

The government wants to be rebuilding America’s industrial economy, and rebuilding its care economy. The latter goal is still in danger, and that has potentially big implications for the labor markets and inflation. Essentially child care is only affordable for elites and government support is needed. The government has acknowledged that but the funding law is very unlikely to pass. https://www.ft.com/content/1cb8cce0-89d9-4be6-8994-8fd29f3425d9

FT West Bank economy ravaged by Israel war with Gaza strip

Palestinians are very limited in travel to Israel for work or shopping. Hostilities with the Israeli settlers and fear of being taken by the Israeli soldiers are also limiting movement. This comes in addition to the withholding of payments to the Palestinian Authority, see January 5. https://www.ft.com/content/d734002c-4377-4d1a-a4d1-02daea6a6189

FT Can the unpopular incumbent in the U.S.A. beat his contender again?

The president’s struggles have triggered a whirlwind of discussion among Democrats about his capacity to win re-election — and whether anyone can do anything to change the dynamic. The elderly president hails the facts about his first term, economically successful, but it does not show in the polls. His opponent is only three years younger but does not suffer from the discussion of being too old to run. The present campaign is only for the party leadership, but the president has now turned to his opponents extreme accusations. https://www.ft.com/content/00e33739-7d5d-4cda-9304-89700d2135c3

FT Rival of PM in Bangladesh handed 6 month jail sentence

The 83 year old Nobel Peace Prize laureate is convicted for a labor conflict. His supporters see it as a vendetta by the authorities of the country. The microfinance banker is not a candidate but the incumbent cracks down generally on dissent. She is known for having described the convicted as a “blood sucker of the poor”. https://www.ft.com/content/94c92a43-eeeb-4c00-b3bb-5abc56696ea2

January 3

FT Women in Afghanistan take education online

Digital education platforms note a surge in demand for online training from Afghanistan since the rulers, who are not recognized by any other government, curbed female education to apply their take of the Koran. UNICEF calculated that some 1 Mn girls are affected by this rule. https://www.ft.com/content/3ac4860f-02dc-4015-88af-e2be74c9d1b9

FT Germany stuck between legal debt brake and investment for prosperity

The court ruling on government debt (see December 14) continues to fuel public debate. The German word Schuld means both debt and guilt, a blurring of morality and finance that, according to the economic historian Holtfrerich, is unique among big trading nations. Back in 2008 the former chancellor evoked the image of the “Swabian housewife” to express the deep conscience that binds the Germans to sustainability of public finance. Politicians of the left and economists want to quit the legal limits but a recent poll showed 61 percent support for the present rule. Among economists, support is 48 percent. Only 6 percent want to abolish it completely. https://www.ft.com/content/90b0a2d0-a9b0-49a9-beac-f8c3bd1b2914

FT Closed copper mine in the midst of independence drive of autonomous island Bougainville, now part of Papua New Guinea

In 1989 a local rebellion against pollution killed 10 percent of the island’s population and caused the closure of the mine. The energy transition increases copper demand to double to 50 Mn tons a year by 2035 compared with 2021. The present autonomous government sees the revival of the project as critical to the island’s economic destiny following a referendum in 2019 that almost unanimously backed independence from PNG. https://www.ft.com/content/2887fcc6-6a54-47d8-9f2b-0c83519fabaa

FT In South Korea opposition leader stabbed with knife and in hospital

The incident happened ahead of the parliamentary election in April. The victim lost the presidential election of 2022 with a margin of less than 1 percent. While South Korean governments are appointed by the president, the outcome of the parliamentary election will determine the government’s ability to pursue its legislative agenda. Polling suggests a close race. The president and the opposition leader differ in their approach to neighbor and former invader Japan. https://www.ft.com/content/07ff559e-992f-41c6-b567-0103079d6471

TT King in Morocco defies civil authorities in his ties with convicted friend

Top officials have broken the rule of staying silent in crown matters and started a claim to the friends’ family, calling them “notorious crooks”. The reports were seen as an attempt to persuade the king, 60, to cool the relationship. On their part the family concerned has started three defamation cases against an authorities friendly news outlet. The case of this friendship has already lasted six years. By mid-last year elites were relieved that the king showed more activity in his reign (see August 21) but he kept a very low profile during the September earthquake. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/king-of-morocco-approved-legal-action-against-website-x7x3xq0wm

January 4

FT Can democracy survive 2024?

The newspaper: “It is the most intense and cacophonous 12 months of democracy the world has seen since the idea was minted more than 2,500 years ago.” It will start on January 7, when Bangladesh will cast the first vote in their national election. The statistics for 2024 are illuminating: 2 Bn people will have elections, eight out of ten of the most populous nations and in total 70 countries are involved. This seems a success for democracy but in reality illiberalism is spreading. There are four distinct electoral cultures at stake: tyrannical leadership (jailing opposition), “performative democracy” (opposition is not allowed to win), “subtle erosion” (genuinely free and fair elections of leaders overseeing illiberal policies) and what the newspaper calls “older democracies” (populism doing its work). The newspaper stresses that diversity of views in a country is important. https://www.ft.com/content/077e28d8-3e3b-4aa7-a155-2205c11e826f

FT In South Africa opposition splinters in battle with ruling party

The fragmentation of the opposition into a host of smaller groups will see them fighting each other and not the ruling party. The main opposition party joined several others in a “charter”, but this is judged as “too little, too late”. The charter members have ruled out a coalition with the ruling party and the third political power, an ultraleft group. https://www.ft.com/content/f1f70d65-7198-4601-aeec-9912771fbafa

January 5

FT President of Sierra Leone until 2018 in court for treason charges

Tensions run high in the country after nationally and internationally disputed elections in which the incumbent won (see June 24). Later, a coup was attempted (see November 29). The president until 2018 was under house arrest but ECOWAS is in the process of mediating his position. He would travel to Nigeria “on a temporary basis”, but the court case continues. https://www.ft.com/content/b339ea42-0a1b-4665-90f1-826504a33f0e

FT Will the election of January 7 turn Bangladesh into a de facto one-party state?

The PM from 1996 – 2001 and from 2009 until now seeks a fifth term. The 170 Mn citizens strong country has been transformed from one of the world’s poorest to a major global industrial hub. The country suffered from global inflation, triggering worker strikes (see November 3), factory owner complaints about the low customer prices (see November 16) but also a clamp down on the opposition. The main opposition party claims at least 20.000 of its members are arrested. It boycotts the election. Some minor opposition candidates seem to tacitly support the ruling party. https://www.ft.com/content/5d853f66-0937-4ea0-bddf-e8541dbeb3c5

FT West Bank Palestinian authority (PA) PM feels his government is pushed to the edge of the edge

Israel in the context of its war with the Gaza strip restricted the PA, withholding hundreds of millions of shekels in tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the PA. The PM said he fears Israel wants to separate Gaza and the West Bank. He said any lasting settlement would require consensus among the Palestinian factions. https://www.ft.com/content/dc9a9d80-7b71-4ece-b9c7-68ef968daf3b

FT In Brazil attempts are underway to revive the historic center of Sao Paulo and save it from its criminal dominance

The operation looks like what happened in European cities in the 18th and 19th century and in New York in the mid-20th century. The question is the economic motor of the efforts. The local administration has over 6 Bn saved from a pension reform in 2017, and years of privatizations and austerity budgets. But citizens also need to be able to benefit from economic opportunity. https://www.ft.com/content/d7d68afb-eb79-40a0-ade0-17d069649fd6

FT In Poland parliament becomes media hit with government change

The YouTube channel of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, has attracted more than 650,000 subscribers, more than five times that of Germany’s Bundestag. The swearing in session of the new PM got 4.2 Mn views. Behind the success is the new speaker, the PM’s coalition partner and a former host of Poland Got Talent TV show. He got third in the last presidential election but wants to give it another try in 2025. https://www.ft.com/content/3d3bc484-b206-4383-b24b-408e50f9fc91

TT Vatican defends blessing of gay couples after protest of bishops

To placate traditional bishops, the Vatican note (see November 10) stressed the rule did not imply approval of gay marriage. It defined  the blessing as limited to morally acceptable behavior and a short act, 10 – 15 seconds. Bishops in Kazakhstan, Zambia and Malawi refused to adopt the new rule. The Vatican now warns priests of the danger and advises them to act prudently in situations where threats exist with regard to sexual orientation. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/vatican-defends-blessings-gay-couples-pope-francis-m3krr920d

January 6

FT Politicians in Germany concerned about protest violence

Following the debt brake ruling the government had to strike a budget deal with deep cuts in expenditure (see December 14). Farmers blocked a ferry with the Deputy Chancellor on board to protest the cuts, despite the already agreed concessions. This turned violent. The chancellor: “This violated all the rules of democratic coexistence”. His affected deputy stated: “The right to protest in Germany is a precious asset. Coercion and violence destroy this asset.” https://www.ft.com/content/2d0af8e4-d573-4bb6-a4c4-70e092802438

News from the World Evangelical Alliance

WEA Secretary General visits the Japan Evangelical Association. https://worldea.org/news/24531/wea-secretary-general-visits-the-japan-evangelical-association/

January 8

FT In Ireland political arm of former liberation army of Northern Ireland eyes power

With two other parties having led the country since partition in 1921, the progressive party is growing in the polls thanks to the charismatic leader. Her focus is on fixing a chronic housing crisis rather than on the party’s core pledge to reunite the island after a century of partition. And she declares to be talking to all other parties after the election, “because that is the democratic thing to do”. https://www.ft.com/content/89dd3b94-d2c8-495c-8be8-a610763e1422

FT Vice-president in Argentina seen as counterbalance to radical president

She built a career on cultural conservatism. She achieved an early win for the candidacy of senate leader, despite the ruling party’s minority in parliament. The president changed his mind on his promise to her and handed the security and defense posts to coalition parties. The vice-president is a gifted communicator and expected to become more vocal when the most rampant economic issues are settled. She is expected to pursue her vision of re-writing the recent history of the country. https://w.ft.com/content/aab162b5-ac73-4682-bc96-8c319eeac43b

FT Scandals surround PM in Japan

The government has just changed its pacifist policy in view of world events but at home nobody cares. Japan’s biggest political funding scandal in more than three decades, and the handling of the January 1 earthquake off the west coast that has killed more than 100 people is causing the ruling party to suffer in the polls. This puzzles the international partners. What will happen if the ruling party loses in elections? https://www.ft.com/content/7f1b0deb-bd0c-4370-a0c7-a2ea9e879ced

FT Elite university in U.S.A. has become ground zero in battle of academic direction

Harvard is a likely target in the country’s broader “culture wars” against higher education. Not only did its president fail to perform in a recent congressional hearing (see December 8), but the university is also accused of too much emphasis on diversity and insufficient breadth of political views. The presidents at more elite universities see strategy, communication and fundraising to be their most important roles, with crisis management an important consideration while far less time was being spent on student engagement. https://www.ft.com/content/16ded3c2-1894-4855-b939-a2b4b7902b04

FT Incumbent in Bangladesh wins fifth term in election

The government arrested thousands of opposition party supporters prior to the election. The main opposition party boycotted the election. Officials said about 40 per cent of eligible voters participated, down from around 80 per cent in 2018.  https://www.ft.com/content/e25fb885-8ddf-4361-99b1-1af393be6368

January 9

FT New government in Argentina faces test over court judgement in U.S.A.

The government has pledged it wants to stop being a notorious defaulter but faces meeting a looming deadline on the $16bn it owes to former private shareholders of a state energy company. The claim goes back to policy in 2012 and is handled by litigation funders. They might want to seize Argentina’s investments in the U.S.A., which is near to impossible as they are protected by U.S.A. law. https://www.ft.com/content/88731450-2019-4375-a544-24d2f511bf28

FT Brazil warns against surge in dengue mosquito-borne disease

The potentially fatal disease is increasing due to extreme weather conditions. It comes in four variants. All of them are now active in the country. Infection by one does not create immunity for the others. Vaccine supply is limited due to manufacturing bottlenecks. https://www.ft.com/content/2f3b9b80-7b9a-42d4-bf7f-ea8492a8da24

FT In Slovakia leader of coalition partner in new Eurosceptic government will run for presidency

The current president last June announced she would not seek another term. This changed the dynamics in the country. The Eurosceptics won the parliamentary election (see October 6). The presidential election will be on March 23 (with possible run off on April 6). https://www.ft.com/content/cde9bed8-d204-4c61-8748-9004d3b409b9

NYT Aide to former president of Gambia faces charges of crimes against humanity in Switzerland

The person is seeking asylum in the country. The former president himself resides in Equatorial Guinea and is also sought after. In recent years perpetrators of crimes against humanity have been convicted in Sweden and Germany. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/08/world/europe/gambia-switzerland-ousman-sonko.html

January 10

FT Violence erupts in Ecuador after drugs gang leader escapes from jail

The newly elected president had promised to reign in on surging violence, see November 28. He insists on continuing  to fight criminal gangs. The government yesterday declared a state of emergency for 90 days. Despite that, several violent incidents happened. https://www.ft.com/content/b40305cd-099b-42f4-a244-1ac16b8e9dd5

FT India grows faster than most larger economies

Extreme poverty has been reduced from 18.7 to 12 percent from 2015 – 2021. This was made possible partly by generous social transfers to the poorest by the government. The digitalization of the banking system was a factor to make this possible. Also the middle class is growing rapidly from 300 Mn in 2014 to 520 Mn now. Youth unemployment is still problematic and women employment actually reduced over the period. Infrastructure development has surged. https://www.ft.com/content/8299d318-7c35-49a0-9a9a-b8e5abeba7be

FT Pakistan top court paves the way for former PM to run in election

The ruling overturns a lifelong ban of politics for people with criminal convictions. The former PM returned from self-imposed exile in October. He was removed as prime minister by the Supreme Court in 2017 over “dishonest practices” following revelations of unaccounted family wealth. His successor as PM is now jailed. A general election is currently scheduled for February 8. https://www.ft.com/content/9e7448ec-caf1-4048-9b39-41ced13dd447

January 11

FT Government of France attempts a reboot to facilitate governance

The young, telegenic and quick-witted 34-year old education minister is appointed as PM by the president, by this favoring a popular politician over a technocrat. It is a risk against the backdrop of social discontent reflected in violent protests last year. The ruling party lacks a parliamentary majority. In an Editorial the newspaper concludes the president, despite a record of successes, is anxious to avoid his far-right opponent to win in 2027. This broader trend in Europe is more serious in France through its presidential system with its options to impose legislation. https://www.ft.com/content/aa96d572-4a49-4604-941c-311eb4d61178

FT Global minimum tax will boost tax havens, according to OECD

In those tax havens tax will increase. Companies will not easily relocate. The new regime, starting from January 1, will land multinationals taxed below a 15 per cent rate in one country to be charged a top-up levy in other countries. https://www.ft.com/content/9236c819-bdc7-401e-a9e2-fe59d06ebe29

NYT Papua New Guinea asks military to restore order after violent protests

Unrest started after hundreds of police and civil servants walked off their jobs to protest at the parliament building. Their wage had been reduced. The PM said that this was not an extra tax but due to a computer problem. The missing amount would be paid next month. The resource rich country suffers from high youth unemployment and other social issues. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/10/world/australia/papua-new-guinea-protest-military.html

January 12

FT The rising threat to democracy of Artificial Intelligence

Around half the adult population of the world can go to the polls in 2024. Online disinformation has been an issue for many years but is now strongly enhanced by AI, making it possible to fake others in a convincing way. The perpetrators remain mostly unknown and the precise impact on the result is impossible to gauge. The efforts of the US-based tech groups to invest in fact-checking and tackling misinformation has also become politicized. One scientist: “This will need a paradigm shift in our head.” https://www.ft.com/content/16f23c01-fa51-408e-acf5-0d30a5a1ebf2

FT Somalia is angry with Ethiopia over its deal to a de facto independent region

On January 1 Ethiopia opened dialogue to formally recognize Somaliland, in return for a 50-year lease of a 20km strip of land around the Gulf of Aden port of Berbera. At the moment Ethiopia exports 95 percent of its production via Djibouti. Having its own base at the sea would give the country more influence in the region. Somaliland declared independence in 1991 but is not recognized by any country. Ethiopia became landlocked in 1991 after Eritrea became independent. Behind the scenes UAE is exercising influence. https://www.ft.com/content/f1a7ffa3-03d8-46e4-a009-3710b4abc27d

FT Constitutional court in Poland shields central banker from prosecution with 3 vs 2 decision

At the same time the court validated the result of the October election. The current PM during election time has repeatedly criticized the central bank governor who reduced the interest rate. This was seen as support for the incumbent. This week two opposition parliamentarians were arrested despite a presidential pardon. https://www.ft.com/content/7e6c99cc-cc8c-47c9-af18-4361e3ff1667

January 13

FT Opposition politician in Serbia accuses secret service of maltreatment

He lodged a complaint with the UN committee against torture earlier this week. The secret service confirmed that the politician is in custody on charges of inciting ethnic hatred, but denied that any violence was inflicted upon him. The politician posted an apology for Serbian war crimes in Kosovo, where Serbians are a minority. He has pleaded for recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign nation. https://www.ft.com/content/46800b6f-e709-42e8-8efc-fe0290fe2367

January 15

FT National opposition party in South Africa  seeks to benefit from success on local level

The party still has the image of a white party and its main black politician deserted it five years ago. But as many of South Africa’s cities have fallen apart, Cape Town (run by them) has gained a reputation for economic growth and improved services. This is attributed to the local leadership but also to its stronger base in tax revenue and tourism. The Cape Town problems are all but solved and local efforts are limited due to the national gloom. https://www.ft.com/content/7acd9224-c5b1-4024-bc21-b3cc22b522c5

FT Half a year after election the winner takes office in Guatemala

Since his shock victory (see August 22) prosecutors, with support from radical rightwing groups in the country, have filed a number of cases against the election winner and anti-corruption candidate. His party also needs coalition partners. The president won with 58 percent of the vote but the party only has 23 out of 160 seats in parliament, the third largest in the country. https://www.ft.com/content/9cb507a8-d6c6-4ea9-8557-7d2907f99107

January 16

FT Third largest party is king maker after election in Taiwan

The party of the new president has 51 of the 113 seats in parliament. The China friendly contender took 52 seats. For the first time a third party stood up to the traditional two big parties. It accepted the cause for Taiwanese independence from China and drew young voters in big numbers by housing pledges. It has 8 seats in parliament and is a new organization founded less than five years ago. The direction of the party is still insecure and will show only after parliament starts. https://www.ft.com/content/8d197c43-ce38-4f29-89e0-7137f08295ee

TT Pope in TV interview claims isolation after lifting gay blessing ban

He refers to the resistance of conservative and regional leaders of the global church towards the recent decision of the Vatican to allow blessing of gay couples (see January 5). https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/pope-francis-gay-blessings-same-sex-catholic-church-vatican-n6fdch60c

January 17

FT Poland struggles in its efforts to let democracy take root

The newspaper dedicates an editorial on the issue and concludes: “if democracy is to take root in Poland long-term, the new government has to act with responsibility and restraint”. The administration has turned from conservative to liberal during the election but the president is still from the conservative party and shows his conviction. He shielded two convicted MP’s in his palace. The highest court also came to the rescue of a conservative appointee, see January 12. https://www.ft.com/content/7132d087-a5c6-4188-a733-fb5411507439

FT In Brazil government wants to deliver but perhaps by leaning on the failed strategy of the past

It looks to strengthen the role of the state in its bid to lift stagnant living standards in the nation of more than 200mn. The president: “I want to transform this country into a middle-class country where people can eat well, dress well, live well, relax well, and take care of their family.” A new tax law has improved the credit rating of Brazil, but relaxed spending rules are looming and cast a shadow of failures in the past. https://www.ft.com/content/5c9d5735-639e-47c0-9eb6-a1fae26096e8

FT North Korea abandons constitutional aim of unification with South Korea

The president ordered officials to close state agencies dedicated to unification and inter-Korean tourism. All reminders of the unification goal, including monuments, will be demolished. An analyst says the country is trying to resolve a “tricky ideological contradiction” between nuclear ambitions and cherishing historic compatriotism. https://www.ft.com/content/206dd3e6-19db-4cdf-932a-033c92a1a221

January 18

FT Lack of transparency is a risk for emerging economies

Foggy statistics add risk for investors, and can raise the cost of capital for developing nations. The problems can arise from government secrecy. A big informal sector can also influence the quality of information. https://www.ft.com/content/187e4183-8e7c-44f3-88c0-444aa0594791

FT PM of India set to attend consecration of temple at place where Hindu God Ram was born

The 161ft tall pink sandstone shrine (see December 29) nicknamed the Hinduism’s Vatican was funded by donations from Indians and the diaspora. The authorities built the accompanying infrastructure, including a new airport. It is one of the three contested sites with the Muslim minority. A decision on a mosque in Varanasi, which sits alongside the Hindu Kashi Vishwanath temple, is expected by June. India’s PM: “No country can progress without securing its heritage along with development.” https://www.ft.com/content/de699b3e-1e47-4248-a036-ad744af0f0b1

FT Amnesty law for separatists in Spain (see December 12) creates uncertainty in business climate

Business leaders and politicians from other regions criticized the law and a radical separatist group issued new threats to businesses. https://www.ft.com/content/bcf55b6b-5531-4c2a-9df8-dea6b6f200a4