Strong winds and unusually warm weather are hampering efforts to tackle savage bush fires in Australia. The island of Tasmania has been especially badly effected, with hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed. Firefighters from across the continent sized country are being drafted in to assist local authorities.
India has been gripped by waves of demonstrations following the brutal rape, mutilation and death of a young woman attacked while riding on a bus with her boyfriend last week. Local police face numerous allegations both with their immediate response to the case, and their general attitude to accusations of sexual assault.
Five men have been arrested. In spite of calls for mob justice, the family of the victim displayed remarkable humanity and have insisted on a fair trial for the accused.
India has also been engaged in a border skirmish with its perennial rival, Pakistan. At least one Pakistani soldier was reported killed, with Delhi claiming that two of its soldiers were also killed, and the bodies mutilated. Pakistan denies the accusation. The disputed Kashmir region had been at its most peaceful in decades, with both sides unofficially content with the status quo, whilst still publicly maintaining their territorial claims.
Journalists in China staged a rare public protests against censorship. The journalists from the prosperous coastal south of the country claim that their articles on corruption were replaced with articles praising the achievements of local communist party officials. They were met with ‘spontaneous’ pro-government counter protests and several arrests have been made.
President Obama unveiled Chuck Hagel and John Brennan as his nominees for the roles of Secretary of Defence and Director of the CIA. Both nominations are expected to be approved by the Senate. The prospective Secretary of Defence will be the first Vietnam veteran to hold the position.
The two men will hold sway over the powerful military and intelligence establishment in human history, yet will have to contend with a rising China, a resurgent Russia, Iran, Syria and destabilized Near East, all in a squeezed budgetary environment.
Veteran French Gerard Depardieu actor did his bit to halt Russian demographic decline, receiving as he did his new Russian passport. His move is the highest profile case of a wealthy French citizen leaving France to escape its punishing tax rates. Russia operates a flat tax of 13 percent, while France’s socialist government is pressing ahead with plans to increase its top rate to an eye watering 75 percent.
The Backbencher must have some readers in Brazil. Prostitutes in the city of Belo Horizonte are being offered free English lessons in preparation for the wave of tourist expected for the 2014 World Cup. Prostitution is legal in Brazil, although pimping is illegal (though the law is rarely enforced). The course is being offered through the local chapter of the rather unimaginatively titled Association of Prostitution.