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German Bund yields edge off highs, Italian politics in focus – Reuters



* Euro zone periphery govt bond yields

MILAN, Feb 8 (Reuters) – Euro zone core bonds yields were almost flat on Tuesday, edging off Monday highs, as Italy’s borrowing costs held near recent lows as Mario Draghi faces a last day of consultations with political parties.

Asian stock markets rose on Tuesday after a record-setting day on Wall Street but, in a sign that positive sentiment may run out in European trading, European stocks futures were down. Oil also hit 13-month highs, helped by rising optimism about a return in fuel demand.

“Reflation is set to remain the theme in rates markets,” ING analysts wrote in a note.

However, Italy was still in focus with its political developments.

Anti-establishment 5-Star Movement said on Monday it would consult members on whether it should back a government led by Draghi, increasing the uncertainty over the make-up of his coalition.

It is unclear whether Draghi will wait until the results of the 5-Star vote before reporting back to President Sergio Mattarella.

Italy’s 10-year bond yield was almost flat at 0.517% , near almost one-month lows hit on Friday. Its spread over benchmark 10-year Bund yields was around 95 bps , close to its tightest levels in five years.

Germany’s 10-year bond yield was flat on the day at -0.444% , after hitting five-month highs on Monday at -0.412%.

From the supply side, Germany will sell a new Bundei due in April 2033.

Spain mandated on Monday banks for a new 50-year bond to be issued soon, possibly on Tuesday.

“This might continue to pose some selling pressure at the long and extra-long end of EGB curves,” UniCredit wrote in a daily report.

Data on Monday showed that the European Central Bank money printing slowed in latest week.

ECB President Christine Lagarde said on Monday the ECB must keep copious stimulus in place to revive a recession-hit economy but needs governments to keep up spending.

Reporting by Sara Rossi, editing by Larry King

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Are There Politics on Mars? – The New Yorker



Photograph courtesy NASA / JPL / Caltech

This week, after a six-month, 292.5-million-mile journey, NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars. The United States is the only country to have successfully landed on the Red Planet, but spacecraft from China and the United Arab Emirates recently arrived in Mars’s orbit. In the fifty years since the Cold War space race was at its peak, other governments and private businesses have launched ambitious space programs. How long can the United States remain the leader in space exploration? Adam Mann joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss the Perseverance mission and the past and future of America’s space program.

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‘Victim Blaming’ and Sex Education in the Boys’ Club of Australian Politics – The New York Times



Scott Morrison’s words, critics said, revealed a disturbing sentiment.

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When Brittany Higgins first alleged earlier this month that she had been raped in a Parliament building, the Australian government’s initial response was silence.

The following day, it went into damage control, announcing a review of support processes and professional behavior among staff. Eventually, after consulting his wife — who he said clarified things by asking him to imagine that his own daughters had been assaulted — the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, apologized.

“There should not be an environment where a young woman can find herself in such a vulnerable situation,” Mr. Morrison said. “Despite what were the genuine good intentions of all those who did try to provide support to Brittany,” he added, “she did not feel that way.”

Critics denounced Mr. Morrison for his response: “Shouldn’t you have thought about it as a human being? What happens if men don’t have a wife and children? Would they reach the same compassionate conclusion?” asked one reporter. A Twitter account satirizing the government posted: “are women people.”

His words, critics said, were reluctant and patronizing. Worse, they revealed a disturbing sentiment: that when a woman is raped, and unable to enlist the support of her colleagues to bring the perpetrator to justice, the blame lies not with the accused, or the victim’s superiors, but with her. As Ms. Higgins herself said in a statement released last week, “The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the Prime Minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors.”

Mr. Morrison and others have not expressly blamed Ms. Higgins for having become too inebriated on the night she says she was raped, or for what she wore that evening — such obvious victim blaming belongs in the past. But they insinuate that the fault lies with her, women’s rights advocates say, by couching her allegations in terms of Ms. Higgins’s perception of the attack and her emotions in response to what followed.

As Jacqueline Maley wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald, “It may not have been deliberate, but the persistent use of Higgins’ first name, and Morrison’s comments about consulting his wife Jenny on how to handle the alleged rape, all gave the impression that this was a matter to do with Women’s Feelings.”

“Women’s Feelings,” she explains, “is a private emotional realm, tricky to navigate and best left to the ladies. It has little to do with male leaders, and nothing to do with important matters of state.” The problem, she adds, with this characterization is that it “minimizes what should be an obvious point: rape is a crime.”

Part of the problem is cultural, experts say. Australia has a dearth of sex education, so it should be no surprise that Mr. Morrison, the leader of among the most male-dominated spaces in the country, can’t fully comprehend issues of consent, or articulate an appropriately condemning response, they add.

“There’s a huge lack of willingness to talk about it,” said Sharna Bremner, an assault survivor and the founder of End Rape on Campus Australia. Australia, she added, is still enmeshed in a “blokey culture” and tends to be significantly behind other countries in addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“The boys’ club of politics is hardly a place that is invested in supporting a culture of enthusiastic consent,” said Rachael Burgin, a lecturer in criminology at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

“Talking about sex education doesn’t win elections,” she added.

So where does this leave us? Women’s rights advocates say Ms. Higgins has provided the country with an opportunity for self-reflection; with an opportunity to strip back a culture that is complicit in crimes of sexual assault and violence.

“If we want to fix misogyny and sexual assault, that’s the conversation we need to have as a country,” said Clare O’Neil, a member of the opposition Labor Party. “If our Parliament can’t do that, then how can we ask Australians to?”

We want to hear what you think: Has the rhetoric from the government around Ms. Higgins’s accusations bothered you? And what kind of sex education have you received in your own experience in Australia? Let us know at

Now, on to the week’s stories:

Cornell Tukiri for The New York Times

Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Last week, we asked how you felt about Facebook’s decision to ban news in Australia, and whether it had changed your social media habits. Here are some reader responses:

In its actions Facebook demonstrated both its arrogance and lies. And hypocrisy. Punishing — in their view — a nation of users because it didn’t like a law shows that Facebook sees itself above the law. I thought that Facebook couldn’t easily monitor content? That’s why they didn’t have to apply decency and fact-checking filters. But now we see that they can block links down to the resolution of individual users. Cognitive dissonance and bullying.

— Jenni L. Evans

Spent the weekend downloading apps for news sites. Who needs Facebook?

— Pamela Bryant

The Facebook news ban was the impetus I needed to finally delete my Facebook account for good.

— Caitlin Clarke

Enjoying the Australia Letter? Sign up here or forward to a friend.

For more Australia coverage and discussion, start your day with your local Morning Briefing and join us in our Facebook group.

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Modi harnesses cricket and politics to remake India – Financial Times



As England’s batsmen succumbed to India’s spin attack on the opening day of their cricket Test match, another Indian loomed even larger over the game, despite not bowling a single ball: Narendra Modi.

Indian politicians have long been deeply involved in cricket, basking in the money, power and glory of the country’s most popular pastime — to the dismay of purists who argue political meddling has held back the sport.

Modi, however, has taken India’s cricket politics to new heights. India and England played in Ahmedabad, his political hometown, at a newly rebuilt cricket stadium — the world’s largest — that was renamed for the prime minister shortly before Wednesday’s match.

To some observers, the grip of Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party over Indian cricket symbolises how they are remaking the country’s political and economic order.

“The stadium itself — the name, the way it has been funded, and the people who run Gujarat cricket as a state body — says a lot about the power structure in contemporary India under the BJP,” said Ronojoy Sen, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore and author of a history of Indian sports.

Narendra Modi’s supporters see world’s biggest cricket stadium as a symbol of India’s ambitions © AFP via Getty Images

The more than 100,000-seat ground was conceived when Modi ran the state-level Gujarat Cricket Association, before his ascent into national politics. His right-hand man Amit Shah, now home minister, became president of the body.

Stands at the ground, built for an estimated Rs8bn ($110m), were named after Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and Gautam Adani’s eponymous group, India’s two most powerful tycoons with deep ties to the prime minister.

Shah’s son Jay is secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the richest and most powerful cricket board in the world, while a father-son duo of Reliance executives has more recently helped lead the Gujarat association.

For Modi’s supporters, the stadium highlights an ambitious leader’s ability to deliver world-class infrastructure that will help India shine globally.

But for his opponents, it encapsulates what they decry as a nexus between the prime minister and his lieutenants and favoured tycoons, whose collective influence over India’s political and economic system has been hotly debated.

“Beautiful how the truth reveals itself,” Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, wrote on Twitter. “Narendra Modi stadium/Adani end/Reliance end/With Jay Shah presiding.”

The Motera stadium was renamed after the prime minister hours before the third Test between India and England © Amit Dave/Reuters

Indian leaders long flocked to cricket for its universal appeal — its popularity transcending regional, caste or religious divides — as well as for the ample opportunities for patronage. While early Hindu nationalist ideologues of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent organisation, decried cricket as a colonial import, later generations of leaders such as Modi and Shah have embraced it.

“Cricket is a cocktail of money, power and influence — even Bollywood,” said Mahesh Langa, a journalist for the Hindu newspaper in Ahmedabad.

The persistent involvement of politicians in local and national cricket bodies has stoked allegations of mismanagement and graft. As far back as 1959, legendary batsman Vijay Merchant bemoaned that “there is a lot of politics in our cricket”, according to Ronojoy Sen’s book, Nation at Play.

This has sparked reform drives, with limited success. In 2017, the Supreme Court overhauled the management of the BCCI to impose term limits and bar ministers from holding positions. Some of the reforms are being challenged in court.

Observers have questioned the will of the country’s leaders to maintain distance from the sport, especially with its rapid commercialisation, most notably after the Indian Premier League’s 2008 launch sparked an unprecedented windfall.

“The involvement of politics in cricket is very strong and getting stronger,” said Ayaz Memon, a sports writer and commentator. “It’s an axis into a massive sport which in the last 30 years has become phenomenally rich.”

Vinod Rai, a former auditor-general who was appointed to the BCCI by the Supreme Court to implement its recommendations, said: “It’s very few places where it’s not politicians who are controlling these institutions.”

He added that Modi and Shah, unlike many others, had at least managed to get things done. “A fine international stadium having been constructed is a huge feather in the cap,” he said.

The Motera stadium, as it was commonly known, was originally built in 1983 when the Congress party ruled Gujarat.

In 2009, Modi, then Gujarat’s chief minister, was elected to run the state’s cricket association, wresting control from Congress in a move that foreshadowed his triumph in national polls five years later. 

It was then that he set in motion plans to rebuild the stadium, which reopened to the public last year when former US president Donald Trump visited India. It hosted its first match against England this week.

That Ahmedabad, long-overlooked as a cricketing hub, is now on the global circuit alongside Mumbai, Sydney or London is a testament to what Modi’s supporters maintain is his transformative vision and execution.

Others said it highlighted how the prime minister has concentrated India’s power structures around himself and close allies — from centralised government policymaking to the extensive use of his image to promote welfare schemes or sports.

Sandeep Dwivedi, a columnist for the Indian Express, wrote that the centre of Indian cricket had shifted “from Mumbai to Motera . . . not even a blade of grass got trimmed in Indian cricket without the mandatory call to Ahmedabad”.

For Modi’s loyal base in Gujarat, this shift is long overdue.

Aditya Mehta, a 22-year-old masters student in biotechnology, said outside the ground: “Our prime minister and home minister have built the world’s largest cricket ground, and now every match possible can happen in this stadium.”

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