EUROPE – AND THE WORLD: ALL EYES ON CENTRAL BANK CHIEF
-MAN OF THE MOMENT…It’s not often that the world pays this close attention to a European banker – and even if you’ve never heard of Mario Draghi, you may want to pay attention, too. As Richard DAVIES writes, Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, faces a stark question today with his widely anticipated bond buying program: Will it be enough to save the Euro? Markets will decide whether his announcement will force down crippling borrowing costs for Italy and Spain, and prevent the breakup of the single currency for 17 nations. So far, US Stock market futures and European stock averages like what they’ve heard of the ECB plan – and last month Draghi said he would do “whatever it takes” to save the Euro. The ECB’s plans have met with fierce opposition from Germany’s Bundesbank, which argues that central banks’ sole duty is to hold the line on inflation. But the leaders of Spain, Italy and France have led the call for buying distressed government debt. Among the many questions today: will the ECB announce a cap on the amount of bonds that it is prepared to buy, or is it unlimited? What types of government debt will be purchased? And will struggling governments be forced to ask for a bailout before bond purchases are made?
-HOW BAD IS IT?…While Europe has dithered, and argued, its debt crisis has pushed the eurozone toward recession and is dragging down the global economy. That’s the assessment from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which says growth in Germany is slowing and Europe’s largest economy could slip into recession by the end of the year.
RIGHTS REPORT: U.S. WATERBOARDING IN LIBYA
Before the U.S. led a campaign to oust Moammar Ghadafi, it sent terror suspects to be interrogated in his country – and then they were tortured. That’s the takeaway from a Human Rights Watch report, which says it has uncovered evidence of a wider use of waterboarding in American interrogations of detainees than has been acknowledged by the United States, at secret CIA-run prisons. The 154-page report paints a more complete picture of Washington’s close cooperation with the Gadhafi regime. The U.S. handed over to Libya the Islamist opponents of Gadhafi that it detained abroad with only thin “diplomatic assurances” that they would not be mistreated, and several of them were subsequently tortured in prison, HRW says. Full HRW report here.
FOUR SHOT DEAD ON VACATION IN FRANCE; TWO YOUNG GIRLS SURVIVE
The BBC reports that a 4-year-old British girl hid for eight hours beneath the bodies of slain family members in the back of their car before she was discovered by French investigators who had been guarding the vehicle, a prosecutor said Thursday. Three people — a man and two women — had been shot to death, as was a French cyclist whose body was found nearby. A second girl, about 7 years old, was discovered with bullet wounds and skull fractures nearby. Investigators have identified the driver of the car as Saad al Hilli, a British citizen from a London suburb who was born in Baghdad in 1962, according to the Sipa news agency. Various reports suggest he was working in aviation and/or satellite industries.
-GAUGES WORN BY TROOPS OFFER CLUES ON BLAST IMPACTS…About 7,000 U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan are now wearing blast gauges that enable neurologists in the war zone for the first time to gather detailed profiles of explosions that cause brain damage among service members. USA Today reports that the gauges, three of which are worn on a soldier’s body, track the direction, pressure and speed of a blast wave as it overtakes a service member in the milliseconds after an improvised bomb detonates.
-U.S. TO RETAIN ROLE AS JAILER…The New York Times reports that the United States military will continue indefinitely to operate a section of the Parwan complex holding foreign combatants, even as the two countries mark a transfer of authority.
WAR STORIES: WAR MAKES YOUNG BODIES OLD; ARMY SHORTENS DEPLOYMENTS
USA Today reports that researchers have found evidence that the newest American combat veterans — former GIs and Marines in their 20s and 30s — appear to be growing old before their time. Scientists see early signs of heart disease and diabetes, slowed metabolisms and obesity — maladies more common to middle age or later. Also worth noting that the army is allowing troops more time between combat deployments and has shorted deployments from a year to nine months. To date, the Pentagon says that since 2000, 244,000 service members have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
-U.S. PRESSES IRAQ ON IRANIAN FLYOVERS…The State Department has said that Iraq has an obligation under UNSC resolutions to insist that Iranian planes suspected of flying arms to Syria are inspected. “It’s something we’ve raised with the Iraqis in great detail,” said Patrick Ventrell, the deputy State Department spokesman, referring to the flights. The simplest solution would be for the Iraqis “to require these aircraft to land and be inspected in Iraqi territory,” he added.
TURKEY: BLAST KILLS 25 SOLDIERS
An explosion and blaze at an ammunition depot in western Turkey has killed 25 soldiers. Four other soldiers were injured. The blast struck in Afyonkarahisar at a section of the depot where hand grenades were kept. The soldiers’ remains were discovered early Thursday after a blaze caused by the blast was extinguished. Officials ruled out a terrorist attack and said the cause was accidental. “It was probably caused after a hand grenade was dropped,” one official told reporters. He added that some unexploded hand grenades were found strewn around the storage facility after the explosion and authorities were working to defuse them.
HILLARY CLINTON: WHILE HER HUSBAND RALLIES THE DEMOCRATS…
Hillary Clinton is in East Timor, praising that young nation for holding fair elections this year. She said it was up to the government of Asia’s newest and poorest nation to decide when and how to seek accountability for past violence during its struggle for independence. Clinton said her visit, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to East Timor, was “a visible sign of our support for all that has been accomplished by the people of this nation.” She and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao enjoyed coffee produced by a cooperative that helps supply the Starbucks chain. At a press conference with Gusmao, Clinton congratulated East Timor on “three sets of free and fair elections this year, and a peaceful transfer of power to a new president, government and parliament.” Clinton met Timorese officials as they prepared for the departure of the last of nearly 1,300 U.N. peacekeepers from half-island nation by year’s end. A Portuguese colony for three centuries, East Timor voted in 1999 to end 24 years of Indonesian occupation that left more than 170,000 dead.
IN INDIA, A TB NIGHTMARE
From The Washington Post: The discovery of an almost untreatable form of tuberculosis in India has set off alarm bells around the world and helped spur a dramatic expansion of government efforts to battle the killer lung disease…but any sense of complacency was dispelled in December when a doctor in Mumbai, Zarir Udwadia, discovered a strain of the disease that did not respond to any of the 12 frontline drugs. He declared a handful of patients at his chest clinic in Mumbai to be suffering from “totally drug-resistant TB.” Some 130 years after the discovery of the tuberculosis bacteria, and more than 60 years after the discovery of antibiotic treatment, “we have managed by a combination of complacency and incompetence to allow this bacillus to mutate into a virtually untreatable form,” he wrote in the journal of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology. His findings made national headlines and won him government condemnation for “spreading panic” and “spoiling the country’s reputation.” The government, however, recently announced a fourfold increase in the budget to fight tuberculosis in its next five-year plan, the expansion of a nationwide network of costly labs capable of detecting drug-resistant strains of the disease, and the first concerted effort to bring on board India’s poorly regulated private health-care sector.
APPLE’S COMPETITORS RACE AGAINST THE iPHONE 5
Apple Inc.’s competitors are racing to promote their newest smartphones ahead of next week’s expected unveiling of the iPhone 5, The Wall Street Journal reports, adding that in their haste they’re leaving out some key details. Nokia Corp., once the world’s largest mobile-phone maker, hoped to make a splash Wednesday when it introduced two phones, but its shares tumbled 16% after it didn’t say when the phones would become available, where to buy them or what they will cost. Rival Motorola Mobility, a unit of Google Inc., unveiled three phones on the same day to be sold by Verizon Wireless, but only had availability dates and prices for one of them. And Samsung Electronics Co. last week showed its own phone which, like Nokia’s new phones, is built on Microsoft Corp.’s operating system, but didn’t give a price or release time. Those omissions underscore a brutal new reality of the mobile market: Competitors hoping to catch up with Apple not only have to come up with great technology, they have precious little time to do it.
BRAZIL PRISONERS RIDE BIKES FOR PRISON REFORM
The LA Times reports that in Brazil’s notoriously troubled prison system inmates are now encouraged to ride stationary bikes, a move that generates power and keeps them out of trouble. For every three days bike riding shifts, the inmates shave one day off their sentences.
-BEER IN ASIA, THE DRINK OF ECONOMIC GROWTH…Beer has been brewed in Asia for 7,000 years but it’s only in the past few years that it has overtaken Europe and the Americas combined to become the biggest beer-drinking continent reports the BBC. It’s also the fastest growing beer market – a sign of a young, upwardly mobile, and increasingly hedonistic population.
-FRANCE EXPECTS LOWEST GRAPE YIELD IN TWO DECADES…France 24 reports that France’s wine producers are gearing up for their smallest grape harvest since 1991. The combination of bad weather, heavy rain and late frosts means that yield may be down as much as 20 percent from last year.
WORLD’S RICHEST WOMAN BACK WITH MORE ‘ADVICE’
The LA Times says the mining tycoon who drew international scorn for stating people who are jealous of the wealthy should drink less and work harder is speaking her mind again. Now Gina Rinehart of Australia says her nation’s mining industry cannot compete with countries that pay workers less than $2 a day. Her implicit suggestion, says the Times: employers should be free to pay workers whatever they please. Australia’s Prime Minister responded: “we support proper wages and decent working conditions.”
LOOK, UP IN THE SKY! IT’S A SCIENCE PROJECT
The Wall Street Journal writes about a British psychology professor who has rigged a series of hilarious and informative public experiments. In one test, he stares at the sky in the middle of the street to see if others will join him. And in another, a man asked a passerby for directions. Then, suddenly, a full-size wooden door is lugged between them. During that brief instant, the man seeking directions was replaced—by a very different looking, much shorter person. The passerby offering directions didn’t miss a beat and never noticed the switch.
NOW WE’VE SEEN EVERYTHING – THE GRAVESTONE BARCODE
From Nick SCHIFRIN in London: Technology is about to transform the traditional gravestone. Instead of name, age and dates of birth and death of the deceased, a unique barcode on the grave marker will provide an instant link to a memorial internet page with pictures and biography. First to have his grave marked with a barcode is Tim Tuttiett, an operations manager at Bournemouth airport who died of heart failure at 55 last November. His wife, Gill, had the code installed on his headstone in the churchyard at St Mary’s in Lytchett Matravers, near Poole, in Dorset. Mrs Tuttiett, 53, a nursery manager, says her husband embraced all kinds of technology and would have approved of the scheme. The QR barcode – short for Quick Response – can be read by a smart phone and links to a memorial page featuring a picture of Mr Tuttiett and a brief obituary. It includes information on his parents and siblings, his schooling, training as a butcher and the career change that led to his airport role. It celebrates the couple’s 31 year marriage and pays tribute to his character. “Thriving on every opportunity that came his way, Tim lived life to the full, enjoying many different sport activities,” it says. “A totally devoted family man, he will be greatly missed by his family and many friends. So sad that it had to end so soon. X.” The QR markers cost up to £300, with an additional charge of £95 for the online memorial which is administered by Chester Pearce.