Daily Archives: December 5, 2012

What’s holding up a European banking union?
When European leaders resolved to finally solve the eurozone crisis, they swore that that a banking union would be a crucial part of the solution and that agreement would be in place by the end of this year. But with the latest negotiations bogged down, what’s happened and does it pose a threat to financial stability in Europe? Patrick Jenkins, banking editor, and Alex Barker, Brussels correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss.

Edward Luce

Alan Simpson (left) and Erskine Bowles Getty Images

If there is one thing at which Washington does not excel (an admittedly rich menu), it is self-deprecation. The city operates to a kind of Gresham’s Law in which self-importance drives out whatever humour is to be found. Which makes the latest intervention from Alan Simpson, the co-keeper of the nation’s fiscal conscience, along with Erskine Bowles, all the more enjoyable. At 81, the former Republican senator has made his fair share of gaffes – not least his remark in 2010 about the “lesser people” who rely on Social Security. He added: “We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310m tits.” He never really apologised.

With just three weeks to go before the US arrives at a deeply sobering fiscal cliff, Mr Simpson has developed a better line in humour since then. Last week, Mr Simpson said that he hoped that Grover Norquist, the keeper of the Republican anti-tax conscience, would “slip into” the same bathtub in which he famously wants to drown government. Then on Wednesday, Mr Simpson descended into the idiom of the lesser people – or at least the younger ones – with the releases of a “Gangam-style” video exhorting viewers to take to the social networks and campaign against the fiscal cliff . 

Roula Khalaf

Missing: Jihad Makdissi (Getty)

Every defection, or assumed defection, from the Syrian regime heartens its opponents and gives fresh impetus to the “this is a big blow to Bashar al-Assad” comments from western capitals desperate for a collapse of the government – and desperate not to be forced into military intervention to get rid of it.

But defections often come with a measure of disinformation, which is designed to protect the official or general until he or she is in safe hands and properly debriefed by whichever intelligence service assisted him. Families back home also have to be protected because there is no limit to the cruelty that could be inflicted on relatives of a defector.

So it is no surprise that the whereabouts of Jihad Makdissi, the suave, English-speaking mouthpiece of the foreign ministry, are still a mystery two days after the first report of his departure from Damascus emerged.