Monthly Archives: February 2012

What is it with Mitt Romney? Having failed in what ought to be the relatively simple task of knocking out Rick Santorum, the decreasingly prohibitive Republican frontrunner now appears in danger of giving away his “home state” of Michigan – the primary that was supposed to be his firewall in the Republican contest.

It is embarrassing enough that Mr Santorum is now running ahead of him in many national polls, as well as Thursday’s latest numbers from Michigan, which votes in less than two weeks. Can it really be that hard to take out Mr Santorum? This is a rival, after all, who wastes few opportunities to disparage contraception, which is in widespread use among all categories of voter. Even the most hardened social conservative knows that Mr Santorum’s prelapsarian social views would make him unelectable against Barack Obama. Poll after poll shows that self-described evangelicals say their highest priority is to deny Mr Obama a second term. Read more

I am currently involved in a couple of online debates – one on Germany, one on whether America is in decline.

Clive Crook has written a thought-provoking riposte to my column on Tuesday, which he thought was too sympathetic to Germany in the current euro-row. Meanwhile, over on the Foreign Policy web-site, I have been debating with Bob Kagan on the vexed question of American decline. Read more

A woman walks past the Bank of Greece headquarters with a wall covered with graffiti, reading: "Rob to Get Money," in Athens on February  13, 2012. LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

Louisa Gouliamaki for AFP/Getty Images

Want to know a little of how it feels to live in Greece today? This photo, taken in Athens on February 13, could be a good place to start. The headquarters of the Bank of Greece defaced, the logo replaced with ‘Bank of Berlin’; a blood-like splatter of red paint; a scrawl of caustic advice to Greek citizens confronting pay cuts and tax rises: Rob to Get Money”. And in the corner, a woman, who is presumably trying to get on with the everyday reality of her life.

As the country flounders under unsustainable debts and the increasingly shrill demands of international creditors, the Greek people are facing their fifth consecutive year of recession- and that is before the latest round of austerity measures have even been enacted.

How much more can they take?And how long before the rest of Europe concedes defeat in its battle to prevent the country from a messy default? Read more

Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister, has more or less accused Germany of trying to force Greece out of the euro. Is he onto something?

It depends which Germany you are talking about.

My impression from talking to policymakers in Berlin recently, and following the debate subsequently, is that different bits of the German government have different views on the matter. The Foreign Ministry and people around the chancellor seem keen to keep the Greeks in – for a mixture of political and economic reasons. The Finance Ministry is much more equivocal. Read more

February is the month of balmy summer days in Latin America, although the season of beach holidays hasn’t stopped a delicious diplomatic storm from brewing.

At the heart of the thundery electrostatic is the perennial problem. Will Cuba attend the “Summit of the Americas” this April? Read more

The latest news from the EU is that the euro-group has postponed a meeting to approve the Greek bail-out. Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the group, announced – “I did not yet receive the required political assurances from the leaders of the Greek coalition parties on the implementation of the programme” . Insisting on iron-clad assurances from the Greek government is all very well. But there is one flaw in this strategy. Greece is due to hold elections in April. And the latest opinion polls suggest that the mainstream parties who are signing this deal could be swept away, anyway. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

The press review from around Europe does not make pleasant reading for the German foreign ministry these days. “Look at this stuff, it’s just unacceptable,” laments one diplomat – pointing to a front-page article from Il Giornale, an Italian newspaper owned by Silvio Berlusconi. The piece links the euro crisis to Auschwitz, warns of German arrogance and says that Germany has turned the single currency into a weapon. The Greek papers are not much better. Any taboos about references to the Nazi occupation of Greece have been dropped long ago.

Few can now doubt that Japan’s economy, hardly in the most robust of shapes anyway, has taken a battering from last year’s tsunami. On Monday, data showed that output fell between October and December for the third time in four quarters as companies battled a perfect storm of problems.  Read more

The Russians and the Chinese are getting a frightful ear-bashing over their decision to veto the UN resolution on Syria. My colleague, Philip Stephens, puts the case against the Russians eloquently today. But, if you listen to what western governments are saying about Syria, their position is a lot more equivocal than you might imagine. There is no love lost for Bashar al-Assad – and there is genuine horror at the bloodshed. But, equally, there is deep foreboding about what might follow the current regime. Read more

Putin faces a a growing Russian protest movement, Xi Jingping visits Washington, and emissions trading causes friction at the EU-China summit

Gideon Rachman and FT correspondents in Moscow, Washington, Beijing, and Brussels discuss how Vladimir Putin will react to Russia’s growing protest movement, Xi Jingping’s visit to Washington and tensions ahead of the EU-China summit over the emissions trading scheme.

Euro banknotes placed on a map of Greece. Photo: Dado Ruvic, Reuters

Dado Ruvic, Reuters

Welcome to our continuing coverage of the eurozone crisis.

All times GMT. By Tom Burgis and Esther Bintliff in London, and Anjli Raval in New York, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world.

23.13 European finance chiefs deferred ratifying a rescue package for Greece, pressing the government in Athens to put a newly struck austerity plan into action. Here are some closing remarks after talks this evening where no final decision on the deal was made:

  • Greece is in “the middle of the road,” and much work remains on its recovery, the country’s prime minister Lucas Papademos said in a statement.
  • Greece must pass its latest austerity package into law and identify €325m  in spending cuts before euro-area governments endorse a second bailout for the country, Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker said after chairing the emergency meeting of euro-area finance ministers. “Despite the important progress achieved over the last days we didn’t yet have all necessary elements on the table to take decisions today,” he said.
  • Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director said: ”There is clearly some very encouraging news coming out of Athens and … after the very heavy duty work that has been done lately, I think it’s positive.”

 Read more

If the Republican presidential candidates were your neighbours, Newt Gingrich would be in a bitter dispute with you about your fence. Ron Paul would keep foisting weird books on your teenagers about Austrians and gold. And the electronic gates to Mitt Romney’s residence would barely be visible through the rhododendrons.

Only Rick Santorum would fit the type who mowed your lawns and dropped off pecan pies. He may preach a bit and wear off-putting V-necked sleeveless sweaters. But it would always be with a cheery smile. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

A banner at the protests in Moscow on Saturday carried a stark message: “Mubarak, Gaddafi, Putin”. Mingling with the crowds, it was clear that what began in December as protests against rigged elections has become much more personal. The diverse group of liberals, nationalists and communists that tramped through the frozen streets is united by its loathing for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister and would-be president.

Lest it be thought that I regard all global economic governance as a crock and don’t give credit where it’s due, congratulations to the US for accepting that “zeroing” – a way of blocking imports by disregarding evidence you don’t like – is dead. In theory Washington will try to negotiate its reacceptance in multilateral talks at the World Trade Organisation, but everyone knows those are going nowhere.

It’s another illustration of two general principles: 1) WTO rules might be patchy, but where they exist, they have held up pretty well, certainly a lot better than protectionism doomsters have been warning; 2) say what you like about the Americans but when they sign up to a trade treaty, eventually, even after a lot of bitching and moaning, they generally stick to it.

This morning’s Moscow News urged anybody attending the anti-Putin protest to eat lots of food before venturing out into the -20 temperatures. So I started my day at the Starlight diner, loading up on bacon and pancakes, in the company of Arkady Ostrovsky – a friend and fellow journalist.

The march set off from October Square – just underneath the last surviving statue of Lenin in Moscow. The demonstrators are usually referred to as the “Moscow middle-class” – and there were certainly some chic fur-coats and fancy phones on display. But ideologically, they were a very diverse group. Read more

Diplomatic response to Syrian crisis in the balance and elections in Uttar Pradesh

With a diplomatic response to the crisis in Syria in the balance at the United Nations, Middle East correspondent Michael Peel, who recently visited Syria, and Middle East editor Roula Khalaf join Shawn Donnan to discuss the situation.
And, as India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, goes to the polls, FT south Asia bureau chief James Lamont and James Fontanella-Khan explain the importance of the election and the risk faced by the Congress party and the scion of the Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, in particular.

Vladimir Putin’s public appearances are always interestingly theatrical. His performance yesterday at the Russia Forum, here in Moscow, was characteristically peculiar. At times, Putin was all swagger. At other times, he seemed rather uncertain. At one agonising point, he lost his place in his notes. I was told later that this only lasted for ten seconds. It felt like ten minutes.

What was most interesting, however, was his interaction with the foreign visitors, who had the dubious privilege of sharing the stage with him. (I was in the audience.) Putin was clearly keen to show off his intellect. He argued at length that the world’s economic problems were a crisis of over-production. This sounded to me like re-heated Leninism. Paul Krugman, the Princeton economics professor, sharing the stage with him, fairly politely refuted the “over-production” argument – which I’m not sure you are meant to do, when the Tsar is outlining how the world works. Read more

 

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As with every eruption of violence in Egypt since the downfall of the Mubarak regime a year ago, the events at a football match on Wednesday evening were the result of the absence of an effective police force and the political failure of the generals who have let this state of affairs persist. Read more

“Outside” being the WTO, in this case

Dave Camp and Max Baucus, Congress’s two top dogs on trade, want the administration to try to make currency misalignment a WTO matter (originally Brazil’s idea). Good luck with that one. Since the WTO works by consensus, China can block this issue on its own. Regarding the renminbi, the consultancy fees for working out just how undervalued is undervalued would put international economists’ kids through college for decades to come. Read more