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
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.
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.
By Toby Luckhurst
♦ Al-Qaeda: On the march Terror affiliates are active in more countries than ever, write Sam Jones, Borzou Daragahi and Simeon Kerr.
♦ The rise of a new US federalism. Edward Luce says with federal government largely paralysed, the future is being shaped in the cities.
♦ The Economist looks at the effect a new era of automation will have on jobs. Previous technological innovation has delivered more long-term employment, not less. But, it notes, things can change.
♦ The New York Times reveals how Iraq’s government is paying and arming tribal militias to fight as its proxies in the battle against militants.
♦ Rewriting the revolution. H.A. Hellyer in Al Arabiya News looks at the historical revisionism in play in Egypt.
♦ An infographic in the New York Times shows the cost per person of the US federal budget passed last week. Read more
First things first. Everything that happened on Friday, from President Barack Obama’s long-awaited speech on the National Security Agency to the long list of reforms published by the White House, would not have taken place without Edward Snowden.
When he first started leaking documents, the former NSA contractor said that all he wanted to do was initiate a debate. “I’ve already won,” he said last month. “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished.” Read more