AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 MINUTES | 20 MAY 2013

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Quick and dirty. Cleaning up open tabs from before the weekend.

INDIA

WHAT MAKES NARENDRA MODI A MIDDLE CLASS HERO?

Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi | India Ink | The New York Times

As India’s middle class grows in number and political clout, it has found a new hero in Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, who has emerged with a bold, right-wing narrative in a country with a staunchly socialist past.

Many Indians are still appalled over his alleged inaction or complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots, which killed 1,000 people, most of them minority Muslims. But Mr. Modi’s supporters and efficient public relations machine have positioned him as the panacea to India’s slowing economic growth.

The success of Mr. Modi’s narrative among the urban middle class is not surprising if you look at global trends in developing nations like Turkey, Sri Lanka, Russia and China. In countries where materialism has been unleashed after decades of self-effacement, people have told their politicians that they don’t really care about democracy, free speech or religious tolerance, as long as they help people get richer.

WHY INDIAN ELITES LIKE TO CALL THEMSELVES MIDDLE CLASS

Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi | India Ink | The New York Times

Like the rich in the United States who use the “job creator” tag to lobby for tax breaks, India’s elite has devised the middle-class narrative to capture more public resources like fuel, food and education subsidies, often at the cost of the country’s poor millions. Using their proximity to the center of power and media amplification, the rich, masquerading as the middle class, have a disproportionate influence in policy formulation and the Indian government’s allocation of funds.

The diesel subsidies — which cost India an estimated $18 billion, according to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission — illustrate the elite’s capture of subsidies and its consequences. Much of the subsidies benefit big industries and the so-called middle class, who use the fuel to run their cars and power generators.

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HAITI

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WHAT’S NEXT, LOCUSTS?

Pooja Bhatia | The London Review of Books
The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster by Jonathan Katz
Palgrave Macmillan, 320 pp, £16.99
Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti by Amy Wilentz
Simon and Schuster, 329 pp, £18.00

. . . The Big Truck That Went By chronicles the year that followed the quake, when nothing got better and a great many things got worse. (The joke among the reporters who stuck around that year went something like: ‘Earthquake, floods, cholera, riots – what’s next, locusts?’) Everyone’s nerves frayed. Katz recounts being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but his subject is the incompetence, wastefulness and hypocrisy of rich-country policies towards Haiti. The sins of foreign powers are legion in Haiti, and The Big Truck That Went By is supremely valuable for collecting the chatter, statistics and anecdotes into a damning dossier: ‘Having sought above all to prevent riots, ensure stability and prevent disease, the responders helped spark the first, undermine the second and by all evidence caused the third.’

. . . After the earthquake Wilentz stays away at first. She broods about seeing the Haiti she knows reduced to rubble and about the toll of bearing witness. She especially worries over the arrival of foreigners and aid groups, whom she pictures ‘slavering and ravening at the airport, at the wharves, in the camps and hospitals’. Of course, she goes – ‘I couldn’t even put it off for two weeks’ – only to discover all the opportunism she anticipated, even among doctors. One from Massachusetts seems to boast about hacksaw amputations and vodka sterilisations on a blog for the Huffington Post, and a European doctor shoos away a new emergency so that he can buttonhole Wilentz: ‘“When I do this,” the doctor was telling me, with a wide Romantic language gesture that encompassed the ignored man, the ambulance, the clinic tents, the long line of waiting patients, “it’s for me a kind of paradise. It’s a passion and an engagement. That’s why I’m with Doctors Without Borders.”’

She moves through Haiti scrutinising and often skewering aid workers, foreign businessmen, self-proclaimed humanitarians, Bill Clinton, the suburbanite she imagines sipping ‘beer or a Diet Coke’ on the couch while flipping absently through pictures of dead Haitians. Most of ‘us’ wither in her gaze. (Journalists too: after reading the first chapter I flipped through the rest praying I wouldn’t appear. I do, but in the safe space of acknowledgments.) Wilentz tries to find the orphans who appeared in The Rainy Season. They were street kids then, taken in by the priest who became president, and in her portrayal the rough boys gleamed: hard and sometimes cruel, but also brave and loyal and occasionally sweet. Now they are about as old as Wilentz was when she first started coming to Haiti, and about as old as Aristide when Wilentz started writing about him. But they’re half-men: homeless, thanks to the quake, and further from a job than ever.

jonathan katz - the big truck that went byfarewell fred voodoo - amy wilentz

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EUROPE

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FRANCE ENTERS RECESSION: PRESIDENT HOLLANDE PROPOSES EUROZONE RESTRUCTURING

Harry Merritt | Demos

The entire Eurozone contracted by 0.2% in Q1 2013, and the supposedly resilient economy of Germany grew by a mere 0.1%. Set against Angela Merkel, who is already campaigning for the election in September and unwilling to take significant action, President Hollande is proposing dramatic reform to the Eurozone at the supranational level as a means of rescuing its members from the debt crisis. Hollande has put forth a plan for “a united ‘economic government’ in the Eurozone, with its own full-time president, budget and harmonised tax system;” this unit would have the power to tax and spend a budget, and would be coupled with closer political union among its members two years later.

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MOZAMBIQUE

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MOZAMBIQUE’S MINING BOOMTOWN

Rowan Moore Gerety | Guernica

By the time people in Moatize learned of the coming mega-project, in 2009, it was already a fait accompli. Moatize, a rural district in the western reaches of Mozambique, would soon be home to the world’s largest opencast coal mine. The Brazilian mining giant, Vale do Rio Doce, and an Australian company, Riversdale, had already leased concessions in the area; more than two thousand families would have to move. But local officials assured village leaders that resettlement would bring the displaced a better quality of life—casas melhoradas, or “improved houses,” with concrete foundations, electricity and running water, as well as money for schools and medical clinics. And, of course, the mines would bring jobs.

Isabel Pedro, a farmer from the village of Malabo, remembers being skeptical about resettlement from the start. Now in her late forties, Pedro has cracked feet and strong, lined hands. She has grown food her whole life—corn, bananas, pigeon peas, cassava—using little more than a machete and a broad hoe to work her machamba, or garden, on the banks of the Revuboe river. In Tete province, arid and hot, land by the river makes farming viable. Selling sacks of charcoal to supplement their farming, over the years, Pedro and her husband built a house so big it took twenty-two sheets of zinc roofing to keep the rain out. Pedro knew Cateme, where the largest resettlement was planned, and she didn’t want to live there. Cateme lies 25 miles down the road from Moatize, where there is no town and no river. Pedro and her husband refused to move. And then, as her neighbors packed up and left, accepting the terms the government had negotiated with Vale, it dawned on Pedro that the mine would be built whether she moved or not. Estado é estado, branco é branco, she told me later, squinting at the sun: “The state is the state, white people are white people.”

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BRAZIL

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BRAZIL ISN’T GROWING. SO WHY ARE BRAZILIANS SO HAPPY?

The Economist

The underlying reason is that even though the country as a whole is struggling, most families’ incomes are still rising fast. Unemployment is close to record lows and pay rises are comfortably outstripping inflation, partly because of big hikes to the minimum wage, but also because of that tight jobs market. Meanwhile, the gradual weaving of a social safety-net is rescuing many Brazilians from destitution. The result is falling inequality, a growing middle class—and a disconnect between GDP growth and most Brazilians’ actual experience.

RACE TO THE TOP

Juliana Barbassa | Latitude | International Herald Tribune

The Law of Quotas, which was signed by President Dilma Rousseff in October 2012, gives Brazil’s 59 federal universities four years to ensure that half of their incoming classes are from public schools, which generally serve poorer students. Half of those students must come from families with monthly earnings of less than $500 per capita. The pool of admitted students must also be representative of the racial mix in the local population.

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ICELAND

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ICELAND’S ELECTIONS: A SHATTERED FAIRYTALE

Laurie Penny | The New Statesman

Iceland is a little human crucible bubbling away in the middle of the north Atlantic, and an experiment in how to build and run a modern democracy. For most of the past 30 years, it embraced aggressive free-market capitalism. Then its banks failed, its population lost faith in conventional politics, and it began to be an experiment in something else entirely. Desperate people across the eurozone cling to the fairy tale of Iceland as a plucky country holding out against austerity – but Icelanders see things differently.

In this election, the main choice seems to be between the centre-right parties that led the country into economic disaster and the leftgreen coalition that failed to lead it out again. Now fringe parties and protest groups are appearing to fill the ideas vacuum. Of these newcomers, the Pirates – a disparate group of hackers, anarchists and digital rights campaigners – are by far the most interesting. Elsewhere in the world, internet activists such as the hacker Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, the late Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz and many others have been prosecuted and imprisoned for fighting for freedom of information, but these ones are about to get into parliament.

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