Monthly Archives: September 2010

Here is a short sharp piece from the FP Passport web-site, essentially pointing out that Obama’s foreign policy is a bit of a smoking ruin. I would love to be able to pick it apart. But I can’t really. It’s depressingly accurate. Enjoy – if that’s the word.

Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, is fond of saying that the predicted surge of protectionism in the wake of the Great Recession never happened. I hope he didn’t speak too soon. Things are getting pretty tense in US-Chinese trade relations. If they get seriously out of hand, the WTO will be handed a massive political problem that will threaten the very future of the organisation. Read more

Next week sees the retirement of the man described by Barack Obama as “the most popular politician on earth”. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, known simply as Lula, steps down after eight years in office, with a stratospheric approval rating of about 80 per cent. As a result, the Brazilian presidential election on October 3 will be a celebration of the past, as much as a signpost to the future. The almost certain winner will be Lula’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff.

David Miliband gave a dignified speech at the Labour Party conference today, in which he didn’t cry once. But I wish Ed Miliband, the new Labour leader, would stop emphasising how much he “loves” the brother whose career he has just destroyed. It’s all very schmalzy and unBritish.

On the other hand, if Ed insists on taking this line, he should really go for it in tomorrow’s leader’s speech. Here is a suggested line – “I love David. I adore him. (Dramatic pause). But that is why I had to destroy him. (Thumps lectern, tear trickles down his cheek). I hope you understand.” Read more

I’m sitting in the lobby of the Midland hotel at the Labour Party conference, here in Manchester. The atmosphere is much more subdued than at previous Labour conferences I’ve been too. I was wondering why until – duh – the obvious fact struck me: these guys don’t matter any more. They’re out of power. At every conference since 1997, Labour brought with them all the buzz, money, crowds and excitement that comes with proximity to power. That’s all gone. Instead, there is the flattening realisation that the long slog of opposition is beginning.

Yesterday, Labour made its single most important decision about how it will conduct itself in opposition. It chose a new leader – Ed Miliband. I have to say, I think they made the wrong call. It’s not that he’s the “red Ed” of the tabloids’ imagination or bad at public presentation. About half an hour ago (its now eight pm), I saw the new leader give a short, fluent speech to a bunch of Labour youth activists in the lobby of the conference. He was impressive in his way. Relaxed, confident, charming, fluent, self-deprecating in the prescribed British manner. A little bland, but clearly able. Watching him I thought – “What an impressive young guy.” (He’s 40) But I didn’t think – “This man could be prime minister tomorrow.” Read more

The far right in Sweden, arms in the Middle East and China’s relationship with Japan

In the podcast this week: Hints of a change at the top in North Korea, a surge in arms sales to the Middle East, the rise of the far right in Sweden and tensions between China and Japan. Presented by Gideon Rachman with Richard McGregor and David Blair in the studio, Andrew Ward in Stockholm and Christian Oliver in Seoul. Reports on North Korea and Sweden by Helen Warrell and Fiona Symon respectively. Produced by LJ Filotrani

It takes a lot to make life in Luxembourg feel uncomfortable. And yet, on a brief visit to the Grand Duchy, I have found the Luxembourgeoisie distinctly unnerved by a row with their large neighbour to the West, otherwise known as France. It all kicked off with the dispute between President Sarkozy of France and Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner from Luxembourg, over the French treatment of Roma migrants. Sarko’s supporters were so affronted by being cheeked by a commissioner from tiny Luxembourg, that Philippe Marini, a Senator in Sarko’s ruling UMP party, told a French radio audience this week that the world might be better off without Luxembourg. Read more

I find it hard to believe that, at this late stage, the organisers of the Commonwealth Games really will pull the plug on the plan to hold the games in Delhi next month. It is fairly routine to read panicky reports ahead of a major sporting event that the facilities are not ready – think of the Athens Olympics.

Still, the news coming out of Delhi does sound unusually damning. There were already fears about security and about an outbreak of dengue fever. Now the inspection committee has condemned the rooms for athletes as filthy and insanitary and a footbridge near the stadium has collapsed. Read more

The European Union has plenty to worry about: soaring debts, wobbling banks, declining influence, a war in Afghanistan. But at their most recent summit, EU leaders took a break from the serious stuff to have a blazing row about the fate of Europe’s gypsies.

I have just come back from a lunch at All Souls College, Oxford, to mark an important moment in the university’s history. Oxford has just recieved a £75m endowment from Len Blavatnik, an American industrialist, originally from the Soviet Union. It is using the money to set up the Blavatnik School of Government on new premises in the centre of the city. The intention is to challenge the monopoly of the leading US universities on the post-graduate education of future political leaders and administrators. The Blavatnik school is essentially Oxford’s answer to the Kennedy school at Harvard and the Wilson school at Princeton – although the Oxonians insist that the education they provide will be a little different and more rounded by, for example, including a compulsory science course. The new school is intended to get off to a fast start. It will admit its first students in 2012. Read more

In this week’s podcast: We look at the many controversies courted by France’s president Sarkozy, at the Pope’s visit to Britain and at the survival of the Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan.
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This morning, back in London, I moderated a discussion of the German Marshall Fund’s annual survey of public opinon of both sides of the Atlantic – Transatlantic Trends.

As usual, it makesfor fascinating reading. The major headlines, I guess were “Europeans still love Obama, but are wary of US foreign policy”  and “Americans think can Afghanistan can be won, Europeans don’t.” But there were lots of other gripping little snippets. Read more

It’s strange to recall that – just a decade ago – the World Trade Organisation was a deeply controversial organisation. It was the WTO that was fingered by the anti-globalisation movement as the handmaiden of ruthless western capitalism and oppressor-in-chief of the poor. The WTO summit in Seattle in 1999 degenerated into a street riot.

On Wednesday morning, however, the WTO staged a public forum in Geneva, without the need for riot police – and indeed without much public fuss at all. I chaired the opening session at the organisation’s modest headquarters on the banks of Lac Leman. Read more

FT column: Why 9/15 changed more than 9/11

My latest column is on the anniversaries of 9/11 and 9/15.

America commemorates two grim anniversaries this month: 9/11 and 9/15. Almost a decade has passed since hijacked aircraft flew into the twin towers, killing nearly 3,000 people and transforming America’s relations with the world. Two years have elapsed since the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered a global financial crisis and provoked fears of a new Great Depression.

As the friendly and not-so-friendly fire continues to pour down on me, following my article about economists, I am grateful for support from whatever source. But it’s particularly pleasing to get it from within the serried ranks of economists.

Phillippe Legrain, a former colleague and author of learned (and lively) books on trade and on the global economy, attempts to arbitrate in a friendly fashion between me and Tim Harford. Apparently we’re both right. Or possibly just talking at cross purposes.

Why should China’s communist rulers care about a modest book written in a language that most of their people cannot read that is not even for sale in the country? Apparently, they care very much. Soon after my book, ‘The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers’ was released in June, the Amazon page displaying the book was blocked by the Great Firewall in China. Read more

Follow President Obama’s press conference here live from 11am Washington time, with Washington Bureau Chief Edward Luce.

12:23pm - Most of the pundits expected a press conference that would be more dominated by the president’s economic woes in the context of the upcoming mid-term elections. Certainly that was a key part of it – and the least convincing in terms of the president’s performance.

But in the event, the real theme that emerged was about 9/11, Afghanistan, the crazy pastor in Florida and the need to treat American Muslims as brothers and sisters. It was striking how good, impassioned and convincing President Obama was on the second half of the 77 minute press conference that was dominated by the Islam theme (for want of a better heading) against the very familiar and unconvincing answers he gave on the economy in the first half. As the conference moved from the first to the second, President Obama appeared to pick up the energy, verve and persuasiveness that had been so lacking in the first half. Read more

In this week’s podcast: With the mid-term elections looming we look at where the Democrats are in the popularity stakes and we ask whether Obama’s promise to fight for an extension of tax breaks for the majority of Americans will be enough to save the party. After that we look to Australia and the formation of the first minority government in over 60 years.  Read more

Private Eye, the British satirical magazine, has a nice euphemism – “tired and emotional”, which stands for drunk. Sha Zukang, the senior Chinese diplomat at the UN, seems to have become a little tired and emotional at a recent dinner for senior UN officials, including the secretary-general, according to this interesting account from Foreign Policy’s “Turtle Bay” blog.

In truth, the actual quotes seem rather less explosive than Foreign Policy’s promise of an ” intoxicated rant against the United Nations, the United States, and his boss.” Still, embarrassing enough. Read more

I have been absolutely deluged with letters, comments and e-mails, provoked by my column on economists and historians. One of the most interesting notes I got was from a French economic journalist, Christian Chavagneux, who makes the following point: ” One way to advance your ideas would be to call for the end of the so called “Nobel Prize” in Economics. You know that Alfred Nobel never intended to reward economists as great scientists and that the Prize is given by the Bank of Sweden. Thanks to a cuckoo in the nest strategy it obtained to award it at the same time as the real Nobel Prizes to make believe that economists were as much scientists as physicians and mathematicians and as useful as doctors ! In our magazine we now write about Paul Krugman or J. Stiglitz as The Bank of Sweden prize economists.” Read more