EUROPE: “INTO THE ABYSS”?
-BIG PICTURE…That headline – “Into the Abyss” – reflects a real fear of those fiscal dominoes falling in a very bad way – soon – and taking investors’ portfolios and even entire economies with them. The concern remains as decribed here yesterday: Italian borrowing rates still at dangerously high rates; worries that Italy may not meet its financial obligations; no sign that the rest of Europe will bail out Italy; and confusion politically in the not-yet-post-Berlusconi era.
-WHILE ROME BURN$…Those Italian borrowing costs eased a bit today, but remain well above the dangerous 7 percent level that prompted bailouts in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Later today, the Italian government will auction off $6.8 billion of its one-year bonds which will serve as a test of an investors’ appetites. Meanwhile, Italian lawmakers are rushing to pass a package of austerity measures by Saturday, to assuage investors and speed the departure of Prime Minister Berlusconi. It’s expected that when he does, respected economist Mario Monti will head the new government. Clark BENTSON writes from Rome: As one major paper said it its headline today, “hurry up.” Many are predicting the bill to be passed by Saturday, Berlusconi gone by the weekend and Monti nominated by Monday.
-SELLING ROME?…Kelly COBIELLA and team note from Rome that the city has already leveraged its antiquities to raise cash – notably advertising campaigns on the Collosseum to pay for restoration projects. A closed-door meeting of the Treasury in September discussed privately ways to increase revenue from Italy’s cultural treasures (as opposed to selling any). In certain ways, of course, Italy as rich as any place on earth.
GREEK DRAMA…Greece has a new Prime Minister – someone with a background in economics who was also an adviser to former Prime Minister Papandreou. It’s to be Former European Central Bank vice-president Lucas Papademos.
PORTUGAL: ONE MORE EURO-MESS TO WORRY ABOUT…Sorry – it’s not just Greece and Italy today. Portugal’s Parliament is also debating more austerity measures, just months after accepting a $106 billion bailout from the European Union.
A SMALLER EUROZONE?…As the European Union warns the bloc could fall back into a recession, the Telegraph is among outlets reporting Germany and France have discussed plans to radically overhaul the EU, eliminating some countries so the rest can focus on deeper economic integration. It’s not clear which countries would be forced to leave the Eurozone.
NATIONALS CATCHER KIDNAPPED IN VENEZUELA
New details emerging this morning about the kidnapping of Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos outside his home in Venezuela, roughly 13 hours after the kidnapping took place. Police say they’ve found an abandones SUV they believe was used in the abduction. There has been no indication that the kidnappers have contacted Ramos’s family. From the Washington Post: A spokeswoman for the Aragua Tigres, Ramos’s winter league team in Venezuela, wrote on Twitter this morning that they have yet to receive an update on the situation. “We are still waiting for any news about Wilson Ramos,” Katherine Vilera said. “All the authorities are working in the case. We need to be [patient] and pray.” Even with the kidnapping Wednesday night, Venezuelan winter league president Jose Grasso told a Venezuelan television station the league will continue to play its season. Several Nationals players, including Venezuelan natives Jesus Flores, Henry Rodriguez and Sandy Leon, are playing in the league. “Suspending any ballgames will not help Wilson Ramos at all,” Grasso said. “Turning the lights off is not a solution. We will keep Wilson present in our thoughts and prayers, but suspending activity won’t help.” The Nationals have yet to offer a public comment or acknowledgment.
TURKEY: ANOTHER QUAKE, SAME SPOT
In eastern Turkey, the earth moved - again. At least eight are dead and scores missing after a 5.7 quake, the AP reports. A Japanese aid worker was pulled from the rubble of the Bayram Hotel (where our team stayed, two weeks ago), but he died soon after. Twenty-five buildings fell in Van, and rescue workers managed to pull 25 survivors from the rubble of three of the buildings. The other structures that collapsed had been evacuated after the Oct. 23 quake. Ozgur Gunes, a cameraman for Turkey’s Cihan news agency, told Haber Turk television that some trapped journalists had sent text messages to colleagues asking to be rescued. “There was dust everywhere,” he said, “and the hotel was flattened.”
AFGHANISTAN – FILM BLOCKED BY EU
A decision by the EU to block the release of a documentary highlighting the plight of women jailed for “moral crimes” in Afghanistan has sparked a bitter row between the EU, the film-makers and human rights activists. Per Nick SCHIFRIN: This is a very interesting story that goes to the heart of how poorly Afghan women are still treated when they are raped or try to escape abusive husbands – and how Western governments are tiptoeing around accusations of torture by the Afghan police and intelligence services. The documentary makers have provided video of Gulnaz, the engaging protagonist whose hope for justice has now been killed twice – once by the Afghans who accused the rape victim of adultery and then forced her to marry her rapist, and another time by the EU when it censored the film in which she appears. In Afghanistan, nearly half the female prisoners who are incarcerated are rape victims or women who run away from their abusive families. We have the video.
At least 26 people were killed yesterday, the opposition reports, one week after Syrian authorities pledged to ease their crackdown. The UN has issued a public warning of the prospect of civil war in Syria. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman yesterday urged the opposition not to take up arms, saying it would play right into the regime’s pretext for sending in fighters. Feltman also said some Arab leaders have conveyed a willingness to offer safe haven to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in hopes of ending the seven months of protests in Syria. “Almost all the Arab leaders, foreign ministers who I talk to say the same thing: Assad’s rule is coming to an end. It is inevitable,” Feltman said.
ISRAEL V. IRAN
Citing British intelligence sources, the Daily Mail reports that Israel could strike Iran by Christmas or early in the New Year, with American logistical support. “A senior Foreign Office figure has revealed that ministers have been told to expect Israeli military action.” (Interestingly, the Daily Mail took down that story soon after posting). Meanwhile, American officials will come to Israel early next week to discuss sanctions on Iran, Haaretz reports, before going on to Dubai for the same. They are reported to be Treasury undersecretary David Cohen and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides. Israel would of course love to see sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank and I expect we’ll start hearing more about military options if they feel the sanctions being discussed are too weak. Israel’s Foreign Ministry has reportedly launched a campaign to urge countries to impose new sanctions on Iran, telling all Israeli ambassadors to make it a top priority.
RUSSIAN SPACECRAFT: CRASH-LANDING AHEAD?
From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: Russia continues to make desperate efforts to re-establish contact with the pioneering Mars probe that now is hanging in a low-Earth orbit and could crash at any time. Russian space agency officials fear the Phobos spacecraft, which contains highly toxic fuel, could crash back to Earth. Roscosmos says that it has three weeks to reprogram the craft although Vladimir Popovkin the agency’s chief say that the system’s batteries can only last three days. “It will take a miracle.” From Gina SUNSERI: Roscosmos is still scrambling to save Phobos – the spacecraft is running out of fuel – so far sources (not NASA) say efforts to upload corrective code to the flight controller have failed because they have not been able to communicate with the spacecraft. It will run out of fuel in two days but orbital debris specialists say we shouldn’t expect it to crash back to Earth for a couple of weeks.
OBAMA TO ANNOUNCE NEW MILITARY PRESENCE IN AUSTRALIA
The WSJournal reports President Obama will announce a new and permanent U.S. military presence in Australia during his visit next week. The goal is to counter China’s influence and reassert U.S. interest in the region, an effort to refocus on Asia as U.S. forces pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Proposed locations for the new base are Darwin and Perth. No deal has been finalized.
JAMES MURDOCH UNDER FIRE
James Murdoch, News Corp’s Europe and Asia chief executive, has been testifying before Parliament again today after discrepancies were found in the phone-hacking evidence he gave this summer. The BBC reports Parliament’s culture, media and sport committee is pressing him on what he knew of the extent of the illegal practice at News International’s now-closed News of the World. (VIDEO: Live stream of the hearing on BBC)
INDIA CALLS FOR NEW CHAPTER IN PAKISTANI RELATIONS
Just a week after Pakistan announced it would normalize trade with archrival India, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the two countries need to stop wasting time trading barbs and open a new chapter in their relationship. Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met for about an hour Thursday on the sidelines of a South Asia regional summit to further discuss how to ease tensions between their nations. Singh praised Gilani as a man of peace and said the two neighbors needed to understand that their destinies are interlinked. “The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of our relationship,” he said, standing beside Gilani.
SOUTH AFRICA BRACES FOR VIOLENCE
From Dana HUGHES: Riot police have been deployed in downtown Johannesburg over concerns that supporters of the ANC’s brash and charismatic youth leader Julius Malema will react violently to his being suspended from the party for five years. The disciplinary committee of South Africa’s ruling party also ordered Malema to step down from his post as the youth league president. Malema has had a string of disciplinary problems with the ANC over the last two years, including publicly questioning president Jacob Zuma’s leadership, spewing hate speech by singing a song about killing white farmers at rallies, and most seriously calling for the removal of the democratically-elected president of neighboring Botswana. Unless the sentence is reduced, Malema’s political career with the powerful youth wing of the ANC is effectively over, as he will have aged-out of the group by the end of the suspension. Analysts say the sentence is President Zuma’s way of shoring up support while clearing away potential problematic opposition figures for his election next year. But Malema remains extremely popular with masses of young, unemployed South Africans and has shown himself to be fiercely independent. He can appeal the sentence, and no-one believes he’ll go down without a fight.
DIAGNOSING VEGETATIVE STATES
Dimitrije STEJIC spies this interesting item: According to a study published in the Lancet, scientists have discovered a new way of communicating with brain- damaged patients – who appear to be in vegetative state. Researchers gave patients instructions – and then measured electrical activity in the brain to detect a response. The results suggest that some of those tested were aware of what was going on. The system is portable and could be used in hospitals to make sure patients haven’t been misdiagnosed as being in a vegetative state.