State of the Union

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.

By Toby Luckhurst

  • John Kay’s open letter to Bill Gates restates his argument that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.
  • Scarlett Johansson is at the centre of a growing storm surrounding a Soda Stream manufacturing plant in the occupied West Bank.
  • Borzou Daragahi reports on Egyptians’ zealous show of support for the military.
  • Syria’s Islamist rebels have gained control of the country’s oil and are selling fuel to the Assad regime in exchange for protection from air strikes.
  • Jan Cienski reports from Lviv – home to stalwarts of anti-Yanukovich sentiment and Ukrainian nationalism.
  • Upbeat duck accepts premature lameness, writes Edward Luce on Obama’s State of the Union speech.
  • Football stadia are at the forefront of the Chinese push for economic and political influence in Africa.

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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

 

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James Blitz

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama and Medvedev signing the 2010 treaty (Getty)

Can Barack Obama use his second term of office to push through another round of cuts in American and Russian nuclear weapons? After declaring in his State of the Union address that he will “engage Russia” on this issue, the question is suddenly back on the international security agenda.

In his first presidential term, President Obama and his then Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev pushed through big cuts in the number of deployed nuclear weapons each side possesses, with each pledging to have no more than 1,550 each by 2018. Now, Mr Obama has come back to the issue and says he wants to do more – with his officials indicating they want to see deployed US and Russian nuclear weapons coming down another third – to around 1,000 on either side.

Discussions about US- Russia arms control are very technical and the detail quickly gets mind-boggling. To the outsider, the subject also seems dispiriting. Even a big cut like the one Mr Obama is proposing would still leave both countries with massive capability to destroy each other and the world. Still, there are a number of reasons why Mr Obama’s attempt to get new cuts is worth attention in the months ahead. Read more

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