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.
♦ Many Iranians see basij– the ideologically-driven volunteer forces of the Revolutionary Guards – as stick-wielding thugs, but they show a softer side as they sip cappuccino and discuss art at Café Kerase.
♦ Although demographic and other factors are against the US Republicans, the Grand Old Party is seeing a strange revival.
♦ It’s not a good time for Japan to put its tax rates up, which is why the government is allowing retailers to act like they haven’t.
♦ Much has changed in Sarajevo since the day in 1914 when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, providing the spark that lit the flames of the first world war, yet much has remained the same.
♦ The Egyptian army’s gift of land for homes has prompted speculation over a closely guarded secret: the size of the army’s stake in the economy.
♦ A property boom across Germany‘s biggest cities has been dubbed a betongold – literally concrete gold – rush. Read more
Both the US and the EU are stepping up their sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea. So far it has all been very personal; both the US and the EU have focused on making life difficult for key individuals in and around the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin. But that is unlikely to be the end of it. Both the US and the EU have threatened to impose further, broader, sanctions on the Russian economy. So in terms of trade, what might they target? Read more
Are Americans more on board with President Barack Obama’s efforts to clinch massive deals with the Pacific Rim and the European Union than most Democratic lawmakers give him credit for?
This week, the well-respected, bipartisan, NBC-WSJ poll found that 44 per cent of Americans were more likely to vote for a member of Congress who “favours new trade agreements with other countries”, compared to 20 per cent who said they were less likely to; 34 per cent said it made no difference, and 2 per cent were unsure. Read more
Credit Suisse executives testified before the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in what was at times a contentious hearing over allegations of tax evasion.
A scathing report from the subcommittee on Tuesday said that Credit Suisse made false claims in US visa applications, conducted business with clients in secret elevators and shredded documents to help more than 22,000 American customers avoid US taxes.
Credit Suisse chief executive Brady Dougan disputes the report’s claims, saying the bank conducted an expansive internal investigation, shut down client relationships and required US customers to prove tax compliance.
Obama’s zen-like State of the Union address
President Obama has just delivered his State of the Union speech to Congress. As usual, it was full of uplifting stories and calls for action, punctuated by standing ovations. But many believe that the sad reality is that this is a presidency that is running out of steam, and some of what Mr Obama had to say about the State of the Union was actually quite bleak. In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief and Edward Luce, chief US commentator, to assess the speech and the state of the presidency in general.
President Barack Obama went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening to make his fifth State of the Union address.
Mr Obama tried to get on the front foot earlier in the day with the news he will bypass Congress to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors.
The White House had lowered expectations for a speech that was short on big initiatives and long on “executive actions” – policies pushed by presidential decree, rather than going through lawmakers.
The test will be whether Mr Obama’s performance will achieve its objective of restoring his damaged popularity following the botched rollout of healthcare reform.
James Politi reported from Washington and Shannon Bond from New York
I arrived in VIP-full Davos with one prediction in mind: 2014 will be the year the world returns to normality or at least the semblance of normality with the tapered exit from quantitative easing.
After three days at high altitude, the prediction is intact and I have five other takeaways. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The official theme for this year’s World Economic Forum is predictably bland – “Reshaping the World”. But the unofficial slogan will be “America is back”. Predictions that the US economy will grow by 3 per cent this year – added to worries about emerging markets – mean that Davos is likely to be bullish on America for the first time in years.