Monthly Archives: April 2008

Gideon Rachman

It is difficult not to feel sorry for Barack Obama. The whole Jeremiah Wright thing is a complete nightmare. I doubt that Obama’s late-in-the-day repudiation of his spiritual mentor of 20 years is going to do the trick. Wright will be an issue for the rest of the campaign.

And so he should be. Obama has responded to Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she is the candidate of “experience”, by talking about his superior judgement. But what does it say about his judgement that he chose Reverend Wright as his pastor? Read more

Gideon Rachman

One of the disadvantages of having my e-mail address printed in the paper is that I get a lot of weird people communicating with me. (I am not referring to the honoured readers of this blog.)

Most of the offers of cheap Viagra are caught in the FT’s capacious spam-filter. But I seem to get an awful lot of people trying to interest me in dubious-sounding business propositions. Most of them I delete without a second thought. But I think this particular communication has an unusual panache to it.

EMERALDS, FOSSILS AND RUBIES: YOUR VERY BEST ACQUISITION AGAINST ECONOMICAL CRISIS
 
GOOD DAY ULTRA-AFFLUENT PARTNER, DEAREST BROTHER:
  Read more

Gideon Rachman

It sounds like something from a political thriller by Michael Crichton. Arab sheikhs and Chinese communists amass billions of dollars. They wait for a moment of financial weakness in the US. Then they use their massive “sovereign wealth funds” to buy large stakes in strategic US firms. They secure places on the board. Then, at a crucial moment, they… Read more

Gideon Rachman

Some lunches end with coffee in the drawing room; others finish with a brandy on the terrace. But the final course of my lunch with Mikheil Saakashvili is taking place in a Dolphin helicopter, speeding towards a military base in the middle of Georgia.

President Saakashvili – affable over lunch on a terrace in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital – is ebullient once up in the air. As we lean back on our black leather seats, he puts on a CD at top volume: it is Charles Aznavour singing “Je N’ai Rien Oublié”. French is one of the many languages the president speaks and besides – he informs me – Aznavour is of Georgian origin.

Gesturing towards the countryside – and shouting to make himself heard over the helicopter blades and the Aznavour – Saakashvili says that if I look to my right I will see South Ossetia, a Georgian territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists. “We don’t want to fly too close to there,” he laughs. “The last time I did that, they shot a missile at my helicopter.” Read more

Gideon Rachman

You will be glad to know that the weather is beautiful in Paris. But the outlook is cloudy with showers for Nicolas Sarkozy.

I was here this time last year, on the eve of Sarko’s election. Almost a year later, all that hope and expectation has all but evaporated. A poll last week showed that 72 per cent of French people now have an unfavourable view of Sarkozy’s presidency. This is an astonishing achievement. It took Chirac more than a decade in office to achieve similar levels of unpopularity.

Sarkozy gave a long interview on television last night to try and repair some of the damage. He argued that reforming the French economy was always going to be difficult – and would inevitably piss off important interest groups. (A loose translation, obviously). This seems plausible enough to me. But I think that some of the problems of his presidency are more personal than that. The furore over his personal life has obviously hurt him – and he tried to draw a line under it last night. But in a broader sense, Sarko seems a bit unpresidential. While Chirac spoke slowly in a deep voice and sat very still, Sarko gets visibly agitated and seems fidgety and angry when put under pressure. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Brace yourself for the wave of 1968 nostalgia that will hit us next month – the anniversary of the May events in Paris. All those soixante-huitards will be strutting their stuff in the papers. Who knows Le Monde may even consent to start publishing again?

Well I’m not a soixante-huitard – more like a soixante-dix huitard. And I’m pleased to see that we 1978ers are also getting our small moment of nostalgic glory. This weekend they are re-staging the famous (well, quite famous) “Rock Against Racism” concert that took place in Victoria Park in Hackney in 1978. There was a big article last weekend in the Observer about the original concert.

I finally managed to impress my daughter by informing her that I had been at the original concert back in 1978. She is 14 – the same age as I was in 1978 - and is planning to go to the re-union concert this weekend. (I have been forbidden from coming along, even though I would quite like to.) Read more

Gideon Rachman

 

Why is the American presidential election such compelling viewing? Because it combines the formats of the games show, the talent contest, the television series and the sporting contest. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Tensions between Russia and Georgia seem to have ratcheted up a couple of notches, with the story that the Russians have shot down a Georgian drone.

The Georgians are already very anxious about what they regard as further steps in Russia’s “creeping annexation” of the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On April 16th, the Russians announced that they are opening “representations” in the two territories, to deal directly with Russian citizens there. David Smith of the Georgian Security Analysis centre in Tbilisi argues that – “This is big—tantamount to Russian annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” Read more

Gideon Rachman

The British papers this week have been contemplating the death of Joan Hunter Dunn – who was the muse who inspired that most English of poets, John Betjeman.

But never mind Betjeman. I have just come across something that struck me as quintessentially English, on the website of the Cambridge University Philosophy department. It is the biography of one of the members of the faculty, John Marenbon. The full version is here. But let me just highlight the first paragraph and a half: Read more

Gideon Rachman

What is the cure for anti-Americanism in Europe? I have always thought that there is a one-word answer to that question – China.

And so it has come to pass. The FT-Harris poll released this week shows that a narrow majority of Europeans now regard China as the biggest threat to global stability – ahead of the United States. Of course, these kind of polls always reflect recent events. So the news out of Tibet – and, to a lesser extent, Darfur – will have hurt China’s image. Meanwhile the decline in coverage of the Iraq war – and the fact that the Bush administration is winding down – will help the US. Read more