Iowa offers first test for US presidential hopefuls
After months of build-up, the Iowa caucus will offers US presidential candidates their first chance to get ahead. Gideon Rachman reviews the chances of the Republican and Democratic rivals with Courtney Weaver and Edward Luce.

Welcome to White House countdown, a new daily newsletter which we hope will keep our readers on top of one of the most fascinating American elections in years. We welcome your feedback. Thanks for reading. You can sign up to receive it by email here. Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington Bureau Chief

After months of rhetoric, debates, campaign rallies, polls and old-fashioned political brawling, the centre of gravity of American politics has moved to Iowa where voters will soon have their say. The 15 presidential contenders (12 Republicans and 3 Democrats) are making their closing arguments in the midwestern state which officially starts the 2016 race for the White House when it holds its caucuses on Monday, February 1. Read more

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By Gideon Rachman
The EU has faced two major crises over the past six months — one involving the euro, the other involving refugees. By coincidence, the same two countries are at the centre of both problems — Greece and Germany. Last summer, Germany almost forced Greece out of the euro, rather than agree to the EU lending further billions to the Greek government. Now, Germany is reeling under the impact of the arrival of more than 1m would-be refugees, most of whom have entered the EU through Greece.

Vladimir Putin at a regional security summit in Tajikistan in September

It emerged this month that Tajikistan’s authorities had forcibly shaved the beards of almost 13,000 men last year as part of their grim struggle to stamp out militant Islam. But the big problem for Tajikistan and the rest of Central Asia in 2016 will not be beards. If the predictions of various western and Russian specialists are accurate, it will be the contribution of Russia’s economic troubles to religious radicalisation in the region. Read more

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At the height of the eurozone crisis, it almost seemed on Brussels summit days that the EU gathering itself was not the most important meeting in town. Many focused instead on the pre-summit gathering of Europe’s centre-right political family, known as the European People’s party (EPP)Read more

I am often asked what is the “mood” of Davos? I always find this question hard to answer – possibly because it is meaningless. However, after four days in the Congress Centre, or trudging from hotel to hotel, I do have a fairly sure grasp of this year’s preferred clichés at the World Economic Forum. Read more

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A trillion here, a trillion there, and very soon you are talking serious money. By Tuesday, the paper value of global stock market losses this year had hit $4tn – a number probably higher by Friday. China’s economic slowdown and the oil price collapse are the triggers for the market slide. The crunch is not all bad for all companies operating in emerging markets – although it has hit commodity-dependent Latin American countries particularly hard. The region has responded in ways that range from the good to the doubtful, the downright ugly and the somewhat creative. Read more


Protesters pour into the Moldovan parliament

Take a moment to consider the events that unfolded on Wednesday inside the parliament building in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, a small, deprived, appallingly governed nation of 3.5m people.

All eyes were on Pavel Filip, a former sweets factory manager who was about to be appointed as Moldova’s sixth prime minister in less than a year. “We’re forming a last-chance government for Moldova,” he told legislators, in remarks that carried only a touch of exaggeration.

What happened next? First, Mr Filip won the parliamentary vote. Then a gang of protesters forced their way into the chamber and started a brawl. One political party leader had blood dripping down his face.

Meanwhile, outside parliament, several thousand demonstrators were chanting anti-establishment slogans on the street. They were still there on Thursday. Read more

Lifting of sanctions offers hope to Iran’s ailing economy
The lifting of UN sanctions on Iran reconnects a potentially vibrant emerging economy to world markets, with the allure of a bonanza for international and local investors and a brighter future for a restive young population. The FT’s Siona Jenkins asks Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Tehran correspondent, Martin Arnold, banking editor, and Anjli Raval, oil correspondent, what obstacles remain and how soon the country is likely to see results.

Amid a backdrop of market turmoil in emerging markets and tumbling oil prices, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi monthly press conference is being closely watched for indications as to whether the ECB is ready to embark on more policy easing in 2016.

Few observers expect imminent action, in part because it is only six weeks since the central bank unveiled its last round of monetary stimulus. One possibility is March when the ECB’s staff unveils its latest projections for inflation and growth.

Key points so far:

  • In his opening remarks, Draghi says it will be necessary to review and possibly reconsider the monetary policy stance in March
  • Germany’s five year borrowing cost has dropped to a record low of minus 0.23 per cent as investors bookmark March for an ECB rate cut
  • Euro also down on Draghi’s hint that more stimulus is coming
  • Interest rates will “remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time” Mr Draghi says, opening the door to more rate cuts
  • The governing council was unanimous in opening the door to further measures
  • Benchmark main refinancing rate and deposit rate unchanged at 0.05 per cent and minus 0.3 per cent respectively

 

By Gideon Rachman
The death of David Bowie last week made me feel first wistful, then optimistic. At a time when the papers are full of war, terrorism and crashing markets, listening to Bowie reminded me not to get too worked up about the daily headlines. Music and art will last, long after the political and economic news has faded away.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Over the next few weeks, the international media will fixate on the New Hampshire primary – a crucial step in the race for the US presidency. It is a safe bet that the “Bulgarian primary” will not get a fraction of the same press attention. But Bulgaria’s decision about which candidate to support as the next UN Secretary-General, could have a major impact on international politics over the next five years. Read more

Brussels launches probe into rule of law in Poland
Poland’s conservative government has taken decisions about the courts and media that are causing concern across Europe, prompting the European Commission to launched an investigation into the rule of law in Poland. Gideon Rachman discusses the unprecedented move with Henry Foy, FT correspondent in Warsaw, and Neil Buckley, East Europe editor.

A Scottish terrier – favourite of presidents

When I arrived on Wednesday at Cyprus’s presidential palace to interview President Nicos Anastasiades, the first occupant I encountered wasn’t the president but Leo. He was in the car park enjoying the sunniest day of 2016 so far in Nicosia.

Leo is to Mr Anastasiades what Fala was to President Franklin D. Roosevelt – the head of state’s dog, a much-loved mascot of his administration. Like Fala, Leo is a black Scottish terrier, and like Fala at the White House in the 1940s, Leo is given pretty much a free run of the presidential grounds. Read more

  • Obama use his final State of the Union address to try to cement his legacy on issues from gun control to trade legislation — and give a boost to his possible successor.
  • Investors crave transparency from China’s financial regulators but for many, the response to last week’s market turmoil seems farcical
  • From a tube of black hair dye, to a stack of DVDs of a narco soap opera, El Chapo’s Mexico safe house offers a glimpse into a life on the run
  • Iran has poured concrete into the core of its nuclear reactor as it readies for the lifting of sanctions (The Washington Post)
  • The story of David Bowie’s role in helping bring down the Berlin Wall (Buzzfeed)

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By Gideon Rachman
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans populated the world. Now the world is populating Europe. Beyond the furore about the impact of the 1m-plus refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 lie big demographic trends. The current migration crisis is driven by wars in the Middle East. But there are also larger forces at play that will ensure immigration into Europe remains a vexed issue long after the war in Syria is over.

Iran-Saudi split damps hopes for regional conflict resolution
The year has begun with a sharp deterioration in the relationship between the two major powers in the Gulf region: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Gideon Rachman is joined by Roula Khalaf, foreign editor, and Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, to discuss the regional implications of the dispute.

Melchoir waves to the crowd

It is hard to escape politics in Spain these days, but the controversy sparked by Madrid’s much-loved Cabalgata de los Reyes parade came as a surprise all the same.

Every year, on the night before the January 6 feast of Epiphany, the three kings make a triumphant entry into the Spanish capital, at the end of a vast procession that snakes its way down the Castellana boulevard. By tradition, the Cabalgata parade offers up a peculiar blend of the religious (the kings), the commercial (company-sponsored floats with popular cartoon figures), the military (the Spanish cavalry), the agricultural (geese) and the circus (elephants and camels).

Tens of thousands line the route, hoping to catch a glimpse of the kings – and to pick up their share of the thousands of kilos of sweets that are thrown into the crowd. For children, it is the highlight of Spain’s festive calendar, made more exciting still by the knowledge that there is only one more night to go until they can unwrap their Christmas presents.

This year’s Cabalgata, however, was subtly different. Madrid elected a new mayor last year, ending more than two decades of rule by the conservative Popular party. The new chief is Manuela Carmena, a veteran left-wing judge and activist, who led an alliance of leftist groups to victory in May. Though not a member of Podemos, she is a close ally of Spain’s anti-austerity movement. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
When judging forecasts about 2016, beware of the “continuity bias”. This is the temptation to assume that this year will be a bit like last year — only more so. In fact, recent political history suggests that the events that define a year tend to be the big surprises and sudden discontinuities (call them “black swans” or “unknown unknowns”, if you must).