Congress

By Gideon Rachman
Watching the US budget crisis unfold, I was reminded of a famous passage in The Great Gatsby. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy,” wrote F Scott Fitzgerald, “they smashed up things, and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together.”

♦ The anxiety over Japan’s sales tax may seem bizarre to outsiders, but it will be a stern test of Shinzo Abe’s popularity.
♦ James Politi looks at the impact of the sequester on Head Start, arguably the most high-profile casualty among the anti-poverty programmes.
♦ Nicolás Maduro is looking to blame anybody else for Venezuela’s economic problems – even Spider-Man.
♦ While support for Cristina Fernández ebbs in Argentina, Sergio Massa has risen to become one of the strongest potential candidates for presidential elections in 2015.
♦ Slate magazine imagines how the US government shutdown would be covered by the US media, if it took the same tone that it does in its foreign coverage.
♦ The Washington Post is crowdsourcing for ideas as to how congress can be punished for the government shutdown.
♦ Smuggled letters from westerners caught up in the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood reveal that terrible prison conditions remained unchanged and there is a new willingness to subject westerners to the same treatment as Egyptians, according to the New York Times. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Ted Cruz (Getty)

There is an old joke that the foreigners should be allowed to vote in US presidential elections because the result matters so profoundly to the rest of the world. Worried global investors might now extend that idea to Congressional elections as well – as the US government shutdown shakes global markets, with the promise of far worse to come if Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling in a couple of weeks time, and the American government defaults on its debts as a result.

For much of the rest of the world, America’s actions seem bafflingly illogical and self-harming. The reality, however, is that the Republican congressmen who have pushed this over the brink are not (by and large), crazy. It is just that their political incentives are now stacked towards confrontation with President Obama.  Read more

James Blitz

Is there any point in the US pressing ahead with its planned missile strike on Syria? After President Obama made his surprise announcement on Saturday night that he will seek Congressional approval for the operation, the thought must have crossed the minds of more than a few diplomats and military chiefs in Washington and allied capitals.

The fundamental argument put forward by Mr Obama and his allies over the last week was that a missile strike is needed to send a message to the Assad regime that the US will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons in war. But if the strike eventually takes place, how resolute will the message to Assad look after so many weeks of debate and deliberation, after so much to-ing and froing in Congress and the British parliament Read more

♦ In Qatar, the emir, voluntarily resigned in favour of his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as he spoke of the need for younger blood in government. This move is a sign that some monarchies are still more open to change than those in neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia that have “hardened arteries.” Qataris debate whether Sheikh Tamim will follow in his father’s footsteps or take a more conservative, religious, or nationalistic stance, the FT reports.
♦ In Syria, the government and the rebels fight for control of the oil fields, and one gas and electricity plant is representative of the strife. Foreign Policy reports that Obama’s current strategy in Syria is contradictory, taking separate military and diplomatic courses that clash.
♦ If Edward Snowden were Chinese, Americans would respect him as a “brave dissident.”
♦ The European Commission raided the London offices of oil companies – BP, Shell and Norway’s Statoil – as well as Platts, the price reporting agency, for colluding to manipulate prices of oil on the international markets, the BBC reports.
♦ The US Supreme Court amended parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a measure that required mostly southern states to obtain Washington’s approval to change election practices because of discrimination against black voters – but some legislators now see it as an intrusion on state’s rights and no longer relevant – the Wall Street Journal and New York Times report. The Times sees this amendment as a usurpation of Congress and denial that discrimination still exists in the South on the part of the Supreme Court. For the New Yorker, it is all apart of the Republican’s systematic undermining of Democratic influence.
♦ In Foreign Affairs, the military historian Rick Atkinson gives a colourful depiction of London on the eve of D-Day. Read more

Today’s reading recommendations from around the world.  Read more