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Times are tough all over…

The news this week that Bear Stearns took it in the shorts was not earth shattering. But it did give me pause to think about how those poor Executives are going to have a Merry Christmas without their bonuses.
Ok, I lied..I really laughed like a hyena when I read it. After all, why the hell […]

India seeks new ways to boost its economy

India and its special economic zones

India’s efforts to replicate China’s conspicuously successful development of special economic zones (SEZs) began to generate controversy as soon as the policy came into force in early 2006. Opposition has ranged from complaints by government ministers to violent protests against acquisitions of rural land for SEZs, prompting the government to place SEZ approvals on hold in January-April 2007. However, SEZ development now seems to be back in full swing, notwithstanding some recent tweaking of the guidelines to mollify critics. Some 36 new SEZs were approved on June 22nd, bringing the total number approved to 339.

The rationale behind India’s SEZ policy is quite straightforward. Inadequate infrastructure continues to head the list of companies’ woes in India, constraining firms that compete overseas in export markets and deterring foreign companies looking at India as a manufacturing base. Since establishing world-class industrial infrastructure throughout India will be an extremely expensive, long-term endeavour, the next best solution is to build pockets of excellent infrastructure in the form of SEZs. By offering various incentives to private developers, the government is also attracting private investment for setting up such zones, easing the financial burden of a task that has traditionally been the responsibility of the state.

Picking the world’s seven wonders

The seven wonders of the world

THE ancient Greeks had their list of the seven wonders, dotted in and around the Mediterranean, to aid and entertain travellers. Of these only the Pyramids at Giza, in Egypt, remain. But on Saturday July 7th at a glittering show in Lisbon, Portgual, the trick was repeated when a new list of seven wonders was unveiled.

Bernard Weber, a Swiss-Canadian explorer who devised this extravaganza, hopes it will put him on a par with Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman who revived the Olympics. An original list of 177 monuments was whittled down to 21 by a panel of architectural experts, chaired by a former boss of UNESCO. This included widely-recognised monuments such as the Acropolis in Greece and the hidden city of Petra in Jordan. But in an effort to go farther afield than the Greeks managed, the Easter Island statues and the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan, among others, were included too.

Taking on extremists in Pakistan

The siege in Pakistan continues

THE siege by Pakistan’s security forces of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, complex in central Islamabad, the capital, has now lasted a week. It has cost more than 20 lives–or several hundred, according to Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the defiant cleric in the mosque now exhorting his fellow besieged to seek “martyrdom”. Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, who is also head of the army, has promised them just that. In his matter-of-fact, soldierly way, he has told those who refuse to give up that they “will be killed”.

It is not, of course, as easy as that. Hiding in the mosque, say the authorities, are a few dozen extremists, some of them already wanted by the police. But they have taken refuge among an unknown number–probably in the hundreds–of students from the madrassa for girls adjoining the mosque, and the one it runs for boys elsewhere in Islamabad. More than 1,000 of their comrades have surrendered already. Mr Ghazi’s elder brother and senior mullah, Abdul Aziz, was caught trying to escape, shrouded in a burqa.

What may make the headlines this week

What may be in the news

• THE European Commission publishes its strategy for sports reform in the middle of the week. It is expected to address concerns about the fuzzy legal status of professional sports, the most contentious being football. European football’s governing body, UEFA, wants more legal certainty after a series of court challenges to commercial practices in soccer. UEFA wants football to be exempted from competition law. But early signs suggest that the Commission is minded to treat sport much like any other business.

• THERE are two weeks to go before the general election on July 22nd, but tensions are already rising in Turkey. This week official campaigning gets underway. The mildly Islamist AK party of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to do well against a fragmented secularist opposition. Then there is the question of the country’s Kurds, whose DTP party is expected to win at least 30 seats.

How the world fares in the fight against poverty

The Millennium Development Goals

MAKE poverty history is a compelling slogan. Halve it by 2015, in contrast, is a measurable commitment. That is the logic behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a host of targets in the struggle against global deprivation, disease and illiteracy, set by the world’s leaders at a United Nations jamboree in 2000.

The goals claim to convert campaign slogans into bankable pledges, complete with a number and a date. The world has, for example, resolved to cut the rate at which mothers die from child-birth by three-quarters from 1990 to 2015. The percentage of people without safe water will fall by half; infant mortality by a third. Quick to spot a resonant date in the calendar, the UN has declared Saturday July 7th as the official halfway point towards these 2015 deadlines.

Mexico’s year under Felipe Calderón

What Mexico’s Felipe Calderon has achieved

A year after hotly contested elections and seven months into his term of office, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has achieved more, and is more popular, than might have seemed possible after he beat off a heated challenge to his narrow electoral win. He has assertively launched an anti-crime offensive, forged a working relationship with the opposition and secured a least one important legislative victory thus far. He has also seen the prowess of his main political nemesis ebb in recent months. However, he still faces considerable challenges in advancing his agenda, and, if his latest fiscal reform plan is any indication, will have to make compromises to make his goals politically feasible.

July 2nd marked one year since the 2006 presidential elections. Mr Calderon’s defeated opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, called a mass protest to mark the occasion, and continues to insist that the election was stolen from him via fraud. However, though Mr Lopez Obrador still commands a large and loyal core following, the numbers drawn to his marches have shrunk. And he has failed to obstruct the workings of government, as he pledged to do after he lost his legal challenge to the Calderon win.

Tackling Islamist extremists in Pakistan

Pakistan finally cracks down on a group of Islamist extremists

A VIOLENT battle with Islamist extremism was fought this week in the heart of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. On Tuesday July 3rd the army besieged the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, and its adjoining madrassa for girls. A radical cleric and thousands of followers, some of them armed, had since January been resisting the government’s authority. In the ensuing clashes, at least 16 people died and dozens were injured. Thousands of inmates surrendered, but hundreds stayed on. The cleric, Abdul Aziz, had been caught trying to escape, cloaked in a burqa. On Thursday he urged militant students inside the mosque to surrender or flee.

To a government presenting itself as a bastion of “enlightened moderation”, the radical mosque had been a long and embarrassing provocation. The mullah’s followers had resisted eviction from land they had illegally encroached on. They had occupied a children’s library and kidnapped women. They had given the government a deadline to close brothels and music shops and tear down billboards depicting women. And they had threatened suicide-bombings should the government dare to use force.

Italy’s troubled centre-left

Uniting the centre-left in Italy

The maelstrom of Italian politics has intensified with the decision of Walter Veltroni, the popular mayor of Rome, to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the nascent Partito Democratico (PD). Plans to form the PD by merging the two major parties in Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s centre-left Unione coalition–the leftist Democratici di Sinistra (DS) and the centrist Democratizia e Liberta (DL), which together contribute more than half of the Unione’s seats in the chamber of deputies–have been in the works for some time. Mr Veltroni only appeared as a potential candidate in the past week and he formally announced his candidature on June 27th. The leadership election is scheduled for October 2007.

Plans to create the PD, with a view to consolidating the centre-left, were accelerated in February, when Mr Prodi’s coalition lost a foreign policy vote in the upper chamber of parliament, prompting the prime minister to resign–although he was reappointed very soon after. The task became even more urgent in the wake of the coalition’s poor showing in the May local elections. The project to create the PD has already suffered one serious setback: a group of prominent DS leftists, opposed to a merger with the DL, has resigned to form the Sinistra Democratica (SD).

Where next for Iraq’s economy?

How to share out Iraq’s oil

UNTIL Iraq’s economy recovers fully is there any chance of tackling its other woes? The prospects seem dim. Getting the economy in shape means, mostly, getting the oil industry back on its feet. Iraq has the world’s third-largest reserves but they are of little use as long as the crude remains mostly beneath the ground. The oil infrastructure is in parlous condition after 17 years of war and sanctions. Output remains well below the (depressed) pre-war peak of 2.5m barrels a day.

Producing more of the black stuff depends on investment by foreigners and locals, on getting effective security for oil workers, and on Iraq’s Shias, Sunnis and Kurds agreeing upon how to proceed. The last may be the most difficult. A tentative draft of an oil law was struck in February, but important details–notably the question of exactly how those revenues will be divided out and of how a national oil company may be formed–were not settled. On Tuesday July 3rd Iraq’s cabinet did pass an oil bill, sending it on to parliament for consideration next week. That is a tentative step forward, but the big issues remain unresolved.