US politics

American elections – even midterm elections – always offer great entertainment: eccentric candidates, whooping crowds, bizarre attack-ads, pontificating pundits, the changing colours on electoral maps. But there is often a sneaking suspicion that the actual results may not have much relevance to real life. The turn-out in Tuesday’s midterm elections looks like it was about 40%. The majority of ordinary Americans may have felt that the 2014 elections were unlikely to change much. It is hard to disagree. Here are four arguments for the irrelevance of the mid-term elections. Read more

The funeral of Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee at the Washington National Cathedral was part state occasion, part Shakespearean drama. Stirring eulogies, martial strains and trumpets, and a gathering of courtiers high and low, laying to rest one of the great warrior kings of modern newspaper journalism, perhaps the greatest. Read more

US mid-term elections and their longer term repercussions

In next week’s US mid-terms, the Republicans are looking to win back control of the Senate and increase their majority in the House of Representatives, giving them control of the legislative agenda and the ability to further constrain President Barack Obama during his final two years in office. Ben Hall discusses the elections and their and longer term repercussions with Richard McGregor and Ed Luce.

  • Hungary’s introduction of the world’s first internet tax is just the latest in a batch of unorthodox uneconomic policies, dubbed ‘Orbanomics‘, that some say are leading to increased government control over the economy
  • Through their alliances with jihadis and actions that flout the democratic will, Libya’s Islamists are courting disaster for themselves and their country
  • The disappearance of 43 students has brought attention back to Mexico’s security woes and away from its economic reforms, threatening to tarnish President Enrique Peña Nieto’s record of success
  • Quantitative easing in the US has kicked back into gear Wall Street’s securitisation machine – providing a supply of risky assets that bundle together car loans, corporate debt and mortgages
  • The forgotten Yazidi refugees who once captured the world’s attention now sit outside the spotlight, wondering how they will survive the winter, reports Foreign Policy

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By Gideon Rachman
General Sir Philip Chetwode, deputy chief of Britain’s Imperial General Staff, warned in 1919: “The habit of interfering with other people’s business and making what is euphoniously called ‘peace’ is like buggery; once you take to it, you cannot stop.”

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the White House on September 10 2014

Barack Obama’s outline of plans for a US-led offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, is light on the politics that will be decisive in their defeat. Read more

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By Gideon Rachman
The people who prepare President Barack Obama’s national security briefing must be wondering what to put at the top of the pile. Should it be the Russian assault on Ukraine, or the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) in Iraq and Syria? And what items should go just below that?

The biggest development story of the last two decades has been the vast reduction in the number of the world’s extreme poor thanks to the rapid growth of China and other developing economies. But how does the US, the world’s richest economy, fit in when you apply the $2/day poverty line the World Bank and others normally use to grade much poorer countries?

In a fascinating new paper, researchers at the Brookings Institution look at exactly that question and come up with some potentially shocking findings, albeit ones that come with plenty of caveats attached. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Back in 1992 I was watching from the balcony of Madison Square Garden as Bill Clinton accepted the Democratic party nomination for the presidency. On stage with him was his wife, Hillary, and their young daughter, Chelsea. The music that blared from the loudspeakers as the Clintons took their bow was Fleetwood Mac singing “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”. It was a quintessentially American message – optimistic and forward-looking.

Leaked tapes of expletive-filled conversations involving senior Polish ministers are extremely embarrassing to the government in Warsaw and to some of its leading figures, such as Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister (above). And that, presumably, is exactly the intention.

Amidst all the uproar, relatively few people seem to be asking who would have the resources and expertise to expertly bug several Warsaw restaurants – over the course of a year – and then the motivation to release the tapes. The obvious answer, based entirely on circumstantial evidence, would be Russia’s intelligence service. Read more

By Richard McGregor in Guantánamo Bay

Wire-topped fence and a watch tower at the abandoned 'Camp X-Ray' detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Caption: AFP

There are many ways to measure the never ending “war on terror” but inmates in the US military detention centre at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba have one – this will be their fourth football World Cup in custody, and only the second they have been able to watch.

US military officers who led journalists around parts of the facility highlight very different things from when the camp was established in a rush in early 2002, to house alleged terrorists picked up off the battle field in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Read more

US and China taking climate change seriously
Gideon Rachman is joined by Pilita Clark, environment correspondent, and Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief, to discuss renewed efforts to tackle climate change. The Obama administration appears to have succeeded in making climate change a public health issue, and has set a target of reducing US power plant emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Meanwhile rumours abound that China could include strict targets in its next five year plan, although sustaining economic growth remains its priority.

  • If Narendra Modi becomes India’s next prime minister he may not be a tyrant (as his critics claim) but nor might he be an economic colossus (as his supporters believe), says the FT’s Victor Mallet. In fact, his economic accomplishments could turn out to be far more modest than market expectations.
  • Plans to restrict immigration in Switzerland are raising questions about the country’s relationship with the rest of the world and exposing the complications of the kind of arms-length relationship with the EU that eurosceptics around the continent crave.
  • Forty years after he first identified the deadly Ebola virus, the microbiologist Peter Piot returns to the village in the Democratic Republic of Congo where it all began.
  • Politico looks back at Hillary Clinton’s relationship with the media, which has spent decades raking over every aspect of her personal life as well as her political career, and how that could affect her decision to run for the presidency.
  • The New Republic reports from the Central African Republic on how the country is falling apart: “When looking for solutions to the horrors here, one is tempted to say that any ideas that don’t start or end with genocide qualify as good ones.”

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♦ Thousands of young Muslims are being radicalised through social networks and propelled towards violence in Syria.

Latvia‘s ‘second class’ Russian residents are arguing for better rights, making many locals nervous amid the Crimea crisis.

Ukraine‘s ‘Kamikaze’ economy minister has one of the world’s toughest public administration jobs as he battles to deliver on unrealistic expectations.

♦ The rise of a US oligarchy amid widening inequality is threatening democracy, with both parties up for rent to wealthy lobbyists.

♦ ECB arch hawk Jens Weidmann often finds himself in a minority of one. But the appeal of being the person who is convinced everyone else is wrong seems to have waned. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

As US President Barack Obama and the leaders of the EU huddle together this week, they will strive to look united and resolved. The reality, as Vladimir Putin knows, is that they are divided and uncertain. The Russian president has moved with a speed and ruthlessness that has left western leaders floundering. Russia swallowed Crimea, in less than a week, with scarcely a shot fired. It has now massed troops on Ukraine’s eastern border – and all that the west has so far offered the Ukrainian military is a supply of US army ready-meals.