Monthly Archives: March 2012

Great expectations for Aung San Suu Kyi and the Obama administration’s healthcare bill

Gideon Rachman is joined by FT correspondents to discuss the great expectations for Aung San Suu Kyi in the upcoming by-election in Myanmar. They also examine the US Supreme Court case that will determine the fate of the Obama administration’s healthcare reform. Read more

Inside Obama’s re-election headquarters

As the Republican primary season drags on, the Obama re-election campaign has fired up its engines. This week on Luce Talk, Edward Luce,  the FT’s chief US commentator, takes us inside the Chicago headquarters and speaks with Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

By Gideon Rachman

Five years ago the Americans were refusing to speak to the Taliban. Now the Taliban are refusing to speak to the Americans. That is a measure of how the balance of power has shifted in Afghanistan. The western intervention there has failed. As Nato prepares to withdraw from the country in 2014, it is only the scale of the defeat that remains to be determined.

Anybody following a US presidential election is likely to be hit with a blizzard of figures: polling numbers, economic growth statistics, projected budget deficits and the like. But, to my mind, some of the most interesting figures are demographic and generational.

This blog post, by the excellent Thomas Edsall, makes some very interesting points about the make-up of the Republican electorate. In the GOP’s South Carolina primary, 98% of those who voted were white: this in a state where nearly 28% of the population is black. Republican voters are also relatively old: 72% in South Carolina were over the age of 45. Read more

Surprise choice for US nominee – and thus, let’s face it, immediate frontrunner - to be president of the World Bank. Jim Kim is a technocrat rather than a politico, so the White House has refreshingly eschewed partisan patronage if not nationality, and has deep (if somewhat narrow, being restricted to public health) development experience. Together with the traditional US lock on the position, those are very likely enough to carry him over the finishing line to the presidency. Read more

One of the more charming anecdotes that I’ve heard in connection with the Pope’s visit to Cuba next week is that of the crocodile who preceded the pontiff on the journey from Rome to Havana.

 The hapless caiman was apparently exported illegally to Italy, and was  returned as part of the Pope’s official reason for the visit, which has been dubbed as one of “reconciliation among Cubans”. Read more

Terrorism’s impact on the French election

With the first round of France’s presidential election a month away, how has the shock of the terrorist attacks changed the political climate? Paris bureau chief Hugh Carnegy and former Paris bureau chief Peggy Hollinger join Gideon Rachman.

Members of the Jewish community of Paris light candles on Place de la Bastille as they attend a silent march to pay tribute to the victims of the Toulouse school shooting. Franck Prevel/Getty Images

Members of the Jewish community of Paris light candles on Place de la Bastille as they attend a silent march to pay tribute to the victims of the Toulouse school shooting. Photo: Franck Prevel/Getty Images

On Wednesday, as French police surrounded a building in Toulouse where the suspect in the shooting of seven people was holed up, details of his background began to emerge.  A 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian descent, the man was known by investigators to have visited Afghanistan and Pakistan. He claimed to belong to al-Qaeda, and told police he had wanted revenge for Palestinian children, for French military involvement in Afghanistan and the decision of France to ban the wearing of burkas by women.

Many questions remain unanswered. But it is clear that, like the 7/7 attack in London, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and last year’s attacks in Norway by the far-right killer Anders Behring Breivik,  France’s motorcycle shootings will prompt great soul-searching across the country’s politics and society. Read more

Yesterday the FT opinion desk was offered a piece from a prominent French commentator, attacking President Sarkozy for having helped to create a climate of intolerance in France. A decision was made not to run it, on the grounds that we didn’t yet know who was responsible for the killings in Toulouse and Montauban. It was not yet clear that this was the work of right-wing extremists.

The rush to judgement was not confined to the French left. Also yesterday I heard a strange piece on the BBC’s “Today” programme (compulsory listening for the British middle-classes), where once again the premise of the discussion was that the killer of the French soldiers and the Jewish school-children was likely to be a right-wing extremist. This also struck me as very premature.

And so it seems. As I write the French police are surrounding the house of the chief suspect, who appears to have been an al-Qaeda member or sympathiserRead more

By Gideon Rachman

My book-shelves in London groan with titles such as Eclipse: Living In the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance and When China Rules the World. But travel to China itself, and you will find plenty of people who are sceptical about the notion that the country is a rising superpower.

What should we make of those leaked e-mails from the Assads? Writing about them in today’s paper, Roula Khalaf, suggests that they are an example of the “banality of evil”. That was the same phrase that struck me, reading about Bashar’s request for a copy of the latest Harry Potter film and I-tunes purchases (“Right Said Fred”?); or pf Asma’s suggestions that a friend take advantage of the Harrods sale. Could these be the same people who are presiding over the brutal and deadly repression of an insurgency? Apparently so. Read more

'Pussy Riot' perform in Red Square on January 20. Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

Late last week, a member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot agreed to chat with the Financial Times on Skype.

Famous for pulling stunts such as performing the song “Putin wet his pants” in the middle of Red Square, and “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, Expel Putin!” next to the altar at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the band has recently gone to ground after several members were arrested this month. Two are in jail awaiting trial for alleged “hooligan behaviour” in the cathedral stunt; a third member of the group was arrested on Friday, according to their lawyer.

So who are Pussy Riot? Read more

In 2008 Davis Guggenheim made a biographical video of Barack Obama based on hope – the young senator’s lack of experience was studiously avoided. This time round, in Guggenheim’s The Road We’ve Travelled, which, at 17 minutes, is almost twice as long as his first effort, experience is Mr Obama’s chief selling point. It barely even needs a script to press home, although Tom Hanks does a soothing narration. All that is required is to glance at the shots of the youthful president-elect in 2008 versus the grizzled man seeking re-election in 2012Read more

So says, well, the IMF in the staff report produced as fodder for the executive board to OK a €28bn loan to Athens on Thursday.

Not only is the Greek programme itself on a knife-edge – super-sensitive to yet more growth shortfalls, doubts over political commitment to implementation, the usual – but the Fund is close to the limits of its own flexibility on how much it can lend to a single country, under its snappily-named “exceptional access” criteria. Read more

Anxiety over Afghanistan and a power struggle in China

Jamil Anderlini joins Gideon Rachman to explain how the dismissal of Bo Xilai fits into the ongoing power struggle at the apex of the Chinese Communist Party. In Washington, where President Obama and British prime minister David Cameron are meeting this week, there is growing anxiety about Afghanistan, Geoff Dyer reports. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan itself, there is concern about what will happen to women’s rights once Nato leaves the country, Matthew Green reports from Kabul.

David Cameron’s visit to Washington has given us one important lesson
about the “special relationship” between Britain and the US: the British do not have to be slavish in their approach to Washington in order to maintain warm relations with their American partners. Read more

Yesterday, the European Commission slapped down a request by Ireland to defer a €3.1bn payment related to its banking debt.

“I actually wonder why this has to be asked at all,” said the EU’s top economic official, Olli Rehn. “The principle in the European Union and the long European legal and historical tradition is, in Latin, pacta sunt servanda – respect your commitments and obligations.”

So what commitment is Ireland trying to avoid, and why? Jamie Smyth, the FT’s Dublin correspondent, answers our questions.  Read more

No matter how many “cheesy grits” Mitt Romney professed to love, or “y’all”s he threw out, the deep south gave him two custard pies on Tuesday night with third place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi. In neither state was he expected to win. But to come behind a nearly-moribund Newt Gingrich in both was nevertheless a humiliation. 

And so, once again, this tortured Republican race has reminded us what makes it so peculiar: almost everybody still bets on Mr Romney getting the nomination; but the point at which it is likely to pay off keeps getting pushed over the horizon. The slim chance that Mr Romney will in fact fail to win the crown also gets a little less slim with each passing setback.  Read more

Exaggeration and contradiction, fairly obviously, but hear me out. As various people have pointed out, the rare earths case threatened at the WTO comes at an odd time given what is happening in the real world. Rare earth mineral prices have plummeted (h/t FT colleague Ed Crooks) and supply is coming on stream from elsewhere – indeed, Molycorp, the big US producer, is gearing up to export to China.

The timing has more to do with domestic politics in the US and the fact that the US and EU just won a similar case to establish precedent. (Precedent isn’t legally binding in the WTO dispute settlement process, as it isn’t a common law-type system, but it is certainly helpful.) Read more

REUTERS/David Gray

A worker at the Jinyuan Company's smelting workshop prepares to pour the rare earth metal Lanthanum into a mould near the town of Damao in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. REUTERS/David Gray


The US, EU and Japan teamed up today – arguably for the first time since the Cold War – to bring an unusual joint case at the World Trade Organisation against China over its export controls on rare earths. Read more