I am in Japan for the first time for a few years, which is good. However, my Blackberry isn’t working – which is bad. The only other place my BlackBerry refused to send me my drip-feed of diversionary e-mails this year was Afghanistan. But, actually, Japan is even more of a communications blackhole. At least my mobile phone worked in Kabul. No such luck here in Tokyo.
I was warned by the FT office here that this might happen. But I didn’t really believe them. How could a BlackBerry not work in a country that I still think of as at the most technologically-advanced in the world?But, apparently, that’s the problem. In Afghanistan, BlackBerries don’t work because the place is so backward. In Japan, they don’t work because the place is so advanced. The whole country has switched over to 3G networks, so if you turn up with your pitifully-backward western devices they just sit there, looking at you uselessly – refusing to ring, bleep or flash little red lights at you. Read more
There has been further terrible violence in the Mexican drugs war this week – thirteen people killed by masked gunmen in Oaxaca state, which isn’t even one of the areas that is normally regarded as in the frontline. The more this kind of thing happens, the more people will begin to ask whether President Calderon actually made a mistake in unleashing the “war on drugs” in 2006.
Perhaps the most articulate Mexican critic of the drugs war is Jorge Castaneda, the former foreign minister, who makes several telling criticisms of the whole effort, in this article for Foreign Policy. I sympathise with some of what Castaneda has to say. But it’s not clear to me what his proposed alternative is? Is he just suggesting that Mexico should have tolerated organised crime. That is certainly implied by his sentence – “Mexico is not Norway and it never was.” Read more
Thousands marched on the streets of Athens today. There was some tear gas, some shouting and some scuffles. But, by local standards, it was all reasonably peaceable. The big questions, however, are whether street protests could escalate – and whether Greece’s financial crisis actually imperils the country’s political stability.
On the plus side, George Papandreou, the prime minister has very high popularity ratings at the moment. The trades unions, are also closely linked to the ruling party, PASOK – which makes it less likely that popular protests against the austerity programme will get out of control. Of course, there must be a threat that if Greece is in for a long, long period of austerity and reduced living standards, there will be a drift to the political extremes. But, at the moment, the communist and extreme nationalist movements still seem relatively weak. I met Loukas Tsoukalis, an eminent Greek political scientist, in London earlier this week and he seemed completely confident that there is no plausible threat to Greek democracy. Read more
As Greece’s financial crisis rumbles onwards, it has become commonplace to argue that the roots of the problem stretch all the way back to the design of Europe’s single currency. Actually, it is worse than that. The Greek crisis is about the very basis on which European unity has been built for the last 60 years. It threatens not just the euro but the entire edifice of the European Union.
Continue reading “Greece threatens more than the euro”
To this day, the most successful article I have ever written was a column called “And now for a world government“. By successful, I don’t mean that it was a particularly good article – this is “success” defined in terms of internet hits.
I noticed the other day that if I type my name into Google, one of the first popular searches suggested is “Gideon Rachman world government” which yields over 40,000 results. Gideon Rachman and new world order produces 844,000 results. Slightly weirdly, another popular search seems to be “Gideon Rachman, Jewish”, which produces over 15,000 hits.
The common thread, I think, is that my world government piece was picked up by the loony right in America as grist for their conspiracy theory that there is a secret plot to create a world government and to deprive Americans of their freedom. At the time the article was published, there was a particularly persistent radio host who kept trying to interview me, by the name of Alex Jones. Something about him made me decide to steer clear. Maybe it was the crazed tone of the messages left on my answering machine. Maybe it was the fact that his programme is called “Prison Planet“. I had a vision of a shaven-headed nutcase speed-dialling me from a cell in San Quentin. Read more
Yesterday morning I went to a journalists’ breakfast in London with Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia. The last time I spoke to Saakashvili was for a “lunch with the FT” in April, 2008. A few months later, in August 2008, his country was briefly invaded by Russia – and something like 20% of Georgian territory remains under Russian occupation. So it was understandable that the Georgian president seemed a little more careworn and less ebullient than when I last met him.
Still, Saakashvili was bullishly insistent that the Georgian economy is bouncing back. He remains convinced, however, that the Russians are determined to overthrow his government, one way or another. As far as he is concerned, a further attack remains entirely possible. So the Georgians are extremely concerned by the proposed French sale of tanks and warships to Russia. Saakashvili said that the new armaments would make any future Russian invasion of Georgia much faster and more dangerous.
Exactly what happened in August, 2008, remains a subject of bitter dispute. So I have greatly enjoyed reading the painstaking reconstruction of events, by Ron Asmus, in a recently published book called, “A Little War that Shook the World” (Palgrave Macmillan). Asmus’s sympathies clearly lie strongly with the Georgian side. But his research seems to be impeccable.
For me, the most fascinating revelation in the book comes on p.186, where Asmus appears to reveal that Vice-President Dick Cheney was pressing for the US to bomb Russia’s invading troops in Georgia. Read more
President Obama’s decision to receive the Dalai Lama at the White House should be seen against the background of three related trends: the continuing deterioration in US-Chinese relations, China’s growing assertiveness and the pressure on the Obama administration to respond by “getting tough” with China. Read more
My column published earlier today asked why Mexico is the “missing BRIC”? I considered all sorts of serious explanations – from the drugs war to Mexican reliance on the US market. But there is a simpler explanation, perhaps Mexico is the unwitting victim of the power of the acronym. Read more
How does it feel to be Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman? Last year Forbes magazine listed him as the 701st-richest man in the world. But unlike other billionaires, Mr Guzman cannot enjoy his fortune by spending time on yachts or in fancy restaurants. As Mexico’s leading drugs baron, he has the country’s army on his tail – and so has to hide out in a mountainous region of 60,000 square kilometres.
Read the rest of the column and leave comments on it here.
As I was about to leave Mexico on Friday night, I got the text message everybody dreads – “Your flight has been delayed seven hours, please report to the airport at 2am.” I assumed that this was just the normal mishaps – “due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft, snow in London, sick passenger”, blah blah. But, in fact, it turns out, I was the victim of the latest transatlantic security scare. Read more