* First visit by a U.S. president to former pariah state
* Faces criticism from human rights groups for going too soon
* Obama denies visit is endorsement of government
* To announce resumption of U.S. aid
* Thousands line the street to greet him
By Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason
YANGON, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Barack Obama became the first serving U.S. president to visit Myanmar on Monday, trying during a whirlwind six-hour trip to strike a balance between praising the government's progress in shaking off military rule and pressing for more reform.
Obama's first stop was a meeting with President Thein Sein, a former junta member who has spearheaded reforms since taking office in March 2011.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers, including children waving tiny American and Burmese flags, lined his route to the old parliament in the former capital, Yangon. Some held signs saying "We love Obama". Approaching the building, crowds spilled into the street, getting close enough to touch Obama's vehicle.
Later Obama will meet fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the struggle against military rule.
Obama's trek to Myanmar is meant to highlight what the White House has touted as a major foreign policy achievement -- its success in pushing the country's generals to enact changes that have unfolded with surprising speed over the past year.
But some international human rights group object to the visit, saying Obama is rewarding the government of the former pariah state for a job they regard as incomplete.
Speaking in Thailand on the eve of his visit, Obama denied he was going to offer his "endorsement" or that his trip was premature. He insisted his intention was to acknowledge that Myanmar, also known as Burma, had opened the door to democratic change but there was still much more to do.
"I don't think anybody is under the illusion that Burma's arrived, that they're where they need to be," Obama told a news conference as he began a three-country Asian tour, his first trip abroad since winning a second term.
"On the other hand, if we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we'd be waiting an awful long time."
Obama arrives with his attention divided as he faces a mounting conflict in the Gaza Strip and grapples with a looming fiscal crisis at home.
But his Southeast Asian trip, less than two weeks after his re-election, is aimed at showing how serious he is about shifting the U.S. strategic focus eastwards as America winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The so-called "Asia pivot" is also meant to counter China's rising influence.
"Obama's trip to Burma risks providing an undeserved seal of approval to the military-dominated government that is still violating human rights," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said before the president arrived in the region.
Obama's aides said he was determined to "lock in" democratic changes already under way, but would also press for further action, including freeing remaining political prisoners and stronger efforts to curb ethnic and sectarian violence.
A senior U.S. official said Obama would announce the resumption of U.S. aid programmes in Myanmar during his visit, anticipating assistance of $170 million in fiscal 2012 and 2013, but this, too, would be dependent on further reforms.
"The president will be announcing that the United States is re-establishing a USAID mission in Burma, which has been suspended for many years," the official told reporters in Bangkok, declining to be named.
The United States has softened sanctions and removed a ban on most imports from Myanmar in response to reforms already undertaken, but it has set conditions for the full normalisation of relations, such as the release of all political detainees.
Asked if sanctions could be lifted completely at this stage, a senior administration official insisted they could not. "All these things are reversible," he said.
In a move clearly timed to show goodwill, the authorities in Myanmar began to release dozens of political prisoners on Monday, including Myint Aye, arguably the most prominent dissident left in its gulag.
Some 66 prisoners will be freed, two-thirds of them dissidents, according to activists and prison officials.
The government will also let the International Committee of the Red Cross resume prisoner visits, according to a statement late on Sunday, and the authorities plan to "devise a transparent mechanism to review remaining prisoner cases of concern by the end of December 2012".
In a speech to be given at Yangon University to an audience that will include several high-profile former prisoners, Obama will stress the rule of law and allude to the need to amend a constitution that still gives a great role in politics to the military, including a quarter of the seats in parliament.
"America may have the strongest military in the world, but it must submit to civilian control. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I cannot just impose my will on our Congress, even though sometimes I wish I could," he will say.
He looks forward to a future "where national security is strengthened by a military that serves under civilians, and a constitution guarantees that only those who are elected by the people may govern".
Violence between majority Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority in western Myanmar is a top concern, and Obama's aides said he would address the issue directly with Myanmar's leaders.
Myanmar considers the Rohingya Muslims to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and does not recognise them as citizens. A Reuters investigation into the wave of sectarian assaults painted a picture of organised attacks against the Muslim community.
At least 167 people were killed in two periods of violence in Rakhine state in June and October this year.
Obama did not refer to this in the copy of his speech released to media ahead of delivery, but he will recall the sometimes violent history of the United States, its civil war and segregation, and say hatred could recede with time.
"I stand before you today as president of the most powerful nation on Earth, with a heritage that would have once denied me the right to vote. So I believe deeply that this country can transcend its differences, and that every human being within these borders is a part of your nation's story," he will say.
Thein Sein, in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week, promised to tackle the root causes of the problem, the United Nations said.
Despite human rights concerns, the White House sees Myanmar as a legacy-building success story of Obama's policy of seeking engagement with U.S. enemies, a strategy that has made little progress with countries such as Iran and North Korea.
Obama's visit to Myanmar, sandwiched between stops in Thailand and Cambodia, also fits the administration's strategy of trying to lure China's neighbours out of Beijing's orbit.
In the aftermath of an exhausting reelection campaign, the most urgent decision facing the president is how to stop Iran from pursuing a military nuclear program. Presidents of both parties have long declared that "no option is off the table" in securing this goal. In the third presidential debate, the candidates agreed that this was a matter of the American national interest, even as they described the objective alternately as preventing an Iranian "nuclear weapon" or "breakout capacity" (President Obama), or a...
At Yale University, you can be prevented from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on your T-shirt. At Tufts, you can be censured for quoting certain passages from the Quran. Welcome to the most authoritarian institution in America: the modern university"”"a bizarre, parallel dimension," as Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, calls it.
Get FREE NRO NewslettersLog In | RegisterFollow UsOctober 29 Issue Subscribe to NR Renew October 29 Issue | Subscribe | RenewThe CornerThe one and only.Which Hurts More, Tax Increases or Spending Cuts?In the debate over the fiscal cliff, and beyond the politics, the president and Congress should be asking the following question: Between the choices of tax increases and spending cuts, which measures will hurt the economy the most? Over at...
At Princeton University, where I work, General Petraeus has been frequently mentioned as a candidate to succeed our president of 12 years. Shirley Tilghman has announced she is stepping down to return to her position as a professor of molecular biology. Having just left his job as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the general is now available to accept the university's presidency if selected by the Trustees.
This development raises an important question: Why would an educational institution want a military commander to lead it?
As a theoretical proposition, a man who has spent his career in the military will not have an easy time fitting into a learning community such as Princeton University. The school's mission statement for its undergraduates speaks of providing students a "humane and collaborative environment" that supports intellectual curiosity. If it can be considered a "theater of operations," the college is one that encourages independent thinking and intellectual curiosity. In few respects can students be analogized to military service enlistees who will be shaped into a collective fighting force.
Similarly, the university's faculty does not resemble an officer corps. They are a community of noted scholars who prize their independence as much as their collegiality. To varying degrees they share the institution's mission, but they often vigorously disagree over strategies for pursuing it. The university operates about as differently from the command and control hierarchical military as possible.
At Princeton we do differentiate between students and faculty, but we do not have a policy akin to the military's restriction on fraternization. Graduate students regularly socialize with faculty by frequenting the "faculty club," and undergraduates may invite a professor to share a meal at her college. Almost everyone at the university has complained on more than one occasion about the burden of committee service and the many meetings required for making major decisions.
These dissimilarities between the two environments thus raise the issue of whether a military commander could effectively lead a university. Although there are times when a university president may feel besieged by a cantankerous faculty, dissatisfied students, and a demanding community, resolution of these conflicts will not be facilitated by employing battle-tested strategies and tactics. Two-time former President Nannerl Keohane, of Wellesley College and Duke University, (and now a professor at Princeton) has applied her expertise in political philosophy and her leadership experience in carefully analyzing the presidency of the modern university. She notes:
"Given the highly traditional, distinctive culture of the academy, it is difficult for men and women trained in other professions to succeed in these posts. A leader who has excelled in a career with different mores and expectations inevitably finds it hard to understand the particular requirements of leadership in higher education."
The value of collaboration appears continuously throughout her work; the concept of commanding obedience is largely absent. History also suggests caution on the appointment of a general to lead an Ivy League university. Dwight Eisenhower assumed the presidency of Columbia University after retiring from the Army in 1949. His biographer suggests that this was not a good personal fit for either party, even if the university benefited from his fundraising prowess.
Still, it is fair to ask whether there is something special about David Petraeus that should overcome these reservations about a general's fit and qualifications to lead a university, and Princeton University in particular. General Petraeus is an alumnus of the graduate school, who spent two years on the Princeton campus. According to Princeton's student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, he initially enrolled in the Woodrow Wilson School's public policy master's degree program but decided to earn a doctorate by cramming in the required his course work during his limited leave time. This was an impressive accomplishment, but it also meant that he eschewed the rich extra and co-curricular offerings that are part of the full educational experience. He could not have availed himself of the valuable opportunities to meet with the distinguished academics and accomplished leaders who regularly visit campus or to socialize with his extraordinary fellow students who, like him, earned admission to Princeton's graduate programs.
A striking feature of The Prince's lengthy story on the general's "genuine interest" in the presidency is that the student author found several sources who claimed that David Petraeus would be unlikely to find the transition difficult. In particular, they noted his leadership qualities, his passion for higher education, and his commitment to mentor young people. Notably missing from the article, which was written while he was still in the government's employ, was any discussion of how his professional experience and leadership style may differ from the expectations of the University community that he would head. While the story speaks of his devoted loyalty to his alma mater, including ending emails with an acronym "PITNS!" (a university's motto: Princeton in the Nation's Service), that really only means that General Petraeus is in good company. This University can boast of having among the most loyal alumni in the world.
There is a legendary hubris among men who have achieved great acclaim for their success. Those whose leadership has involved life and death decisionmaking may perhaps be forgiven if they initially believe that they are subsequently qualified for any leadership position involving less consequential decisions. Perhaps this explains why, despite her lengthy and successful tenure as Princeton's president, Shirley Tilghman is not applying to head CENTCOM or the NATO Command. But from where I sit at Princeton, despite his availability and interest (and ignoring the publicity of recent weeks), I've not heard anything to suggest that General Petraeus would be an optimal choice to succeed President Tilghman.
Leslie Gerwin, a Public Voices Fellow at The OpEd Project, is the Associate Director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University and teaches in the American Studies Program. She is the parent of a Princeton alumnus. The views expressed here are her own.
I figured out why Michelle Obama wore the same dress for a second time on election night. At the time it seemed as if she were making a big fashion faux pas. But, oh, that poor woman! The truth is that she did not have time to think about what she was wearing. No! She was too busy wrapping those gifts! You know the gifts I mean. Apparently, Mr. Obama had used a "gifts-for-votes" tactic to get elected (thanks to Mitt Romney for this info), and Michelle must have been the one responsible for getting those presents ready for delivery. I am pretty sure that Sasha and Malia had to do their fair share of gift wrapping that night, too. No wonder they did not appear until almost 2 in the morning when the president gave his victory speech. They had been up half the night, probably sequestered in the Lincoln bedroom, with literally millions of gifts to wrap!
Mr. Romney revealed that Mr. Obama promised gifts to the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people to ensure their votes. But I voted for Mr. Obama, and so did a lot of other gays, and we deserve something, too! Reports claim that LGBT voters may have been a decisive force in tipping the election in Mr. Obama's favor, so I am hoping we get something really good.
I do not know what the others have received, but Mr. Romney claims that Mr. Obama was "very generous" in what he gave to "those groups." I have black and Latino friends, and I even know some young people, but they have all been pretty mum about the whole thing. In fact, I do not recall any of them mentioning anything about any gifts this entire election season. Perhaps Michelle had slipped a note into each of their gift boxes? Something like, "This is just between us! Thanks for backing Barack, but remember: Loose lips sink ships!" If this is true, then Mr. Romney has spilled the beans. But that is probably good for the rest of us, because we now know that if we voted for Mr. Obama, we should demand our rewards.
I am thinking that a trip to Paris or an island might be nice. Well, wait, this was for an American election, so I guess we should try to keep the gift within American borders. How about San Francisco? Or Hawaii! I have some free time in March, if airplane tickets are included. If a vacation is asking for a little too much, my partner and I would settle for some nice, tasteful kitchen items. We are remodeling in a sort of seafoam/cyan color scheme, so anything thoughtful that might match would be a welcome gift.
And, hey, listen, Mr. Obama: I realize that Sasha and Malia are back at school, and that Michelle probably has some more pressing matters to attend to this week, so there is no great rush. Maybe you could all take a little time when the kids are off for Thanksgiving break to attend to some more wrapping. Actually, my birthday is in December, so you could wait another few weeks, to coincide with that.
Wow, this election was a real win-win. Mr. Obama got my vote and won the election, and I will get a gift in return! Because, really, all I care about is instant gratification and myself. And, according to Mr. Romney, there are a lot of people just like me who do not really think about others or the country as a whole. We obviously voted for Mr. Obama for what we personally would get in return. If only Mr. Romney had realized this sooner! If he had just promised me that trip to Paris, I definitely would have voted Republican this election.
Something strange is happening to feminists. We’re winning. The election gave us the re-election of a feminist-friendly president, a record number of women in Congress, the first openly gay US senator and wins for marriage equality in four states. There’s energy and interest on feminist issues the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. This shift comes to us courtesy of the perfect storm of sexist Republican missteps, a vibrant online feminist movement and a nation of women unwilling to move backward. But with the election dust settling, we should examine why...
Nov 16, 2012 05:06 PM EST This post has been updated. Sometimes a dastardly conspiracy is just a dastardly conspiracy. Indeed the Benghazi episode, at least the response to the attack, is beginning to look more and more like the work of a partisan cabal afraid of upsetting the president’s reelection prospects, exactly as conservative critics have been saying for two months.House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is providing a glimpse of what occurred in hearings today in which former CIA director David Petraeus testified: Fox News reports:Watergate had...
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Friday that he agreed that former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's recent comment on a conference call with donors that President Barack Obama won reelection because of "gifts" to minority and young voters was wrong.
Christie was asked if he concurred with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who called Romney's remark "wrong."
"Yeah, sure," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," and then pivoted to discuss his fellow Republican governors.
Pressed on the remark, he said, "You can't expect to be a leader of all the people and be divisive. You have to talk about themes, policies that unite people, and play to their aspirations and their goals and their hopes for their family and their neighbors."
When asked if it was time for Romney to move on, he said, "That's up to him. Listen, Mitt Romney is a friend of mine. I understand he is very upset about having lost the election and very disappointed," adding that he's a "good man."
"Do I wish he hadn't said those things? Of course. But on the other hand, I'm not going to bury the guy for it," said Christie.
Romney's analysis of his loss was condemned by Republicans, eager to distance themselves from the defeated nominee. "The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift," Romney said Wednesday, mentioning the president's health care legislation and the Dream Act. "He made a big effort on small things."
One of the things that makes America exceptional is the genius, common sense and level-headedness of its people. They proved their mettle once again on this Election Day.
Immediately after the election, much of the media characterized the results as an indication that the country was divided and as a vote for the status quo. For example, The Washington Post observed in a November 7 editorial, "The nation was starkly divided before, and it remains starkly divided today." George Will, in his column on the same day declared, "A nation vocally disgusted with the status quo has reinforced it by ratifying existing control of the executive branch and both halves of the legislative branch."
Those viewpoints reflected the conventional wisdom. But, as occurs frequently, the conventional wisdom was wrong -- or, at best, incomplete and inaccurate.
When we peel back the layers on the onion, drill down into the numbers, and analyze the process from outside-the-Beltway-in instead of inside-the Beltway-out, we come to very different conclusions. The citizens of this nation are not nearly as divided as one would think. The national electoral vote was not for the status quo but for quo vadis (whither goest thou).
The electorate writ large unequivocally set out a mandate for moderation, good will, compromise, and a center left-center right approach to governing this nation. Looking at the manner in which Mitt Romney's campaign for president was conducted and examining the data from a variety of perspectives explain why this is the case.
During the Republican primaries, in order to win the nomination, Gov. Romney moved to the right of his conservative opponents such as Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. He went Tea Party crazy for a time. His last concession to the extreme conservative wing of the party, however, was to pick Paul Ryan to be his running mate. After that Romney tacked back to the middle as quickly as he could.
He assiduously avoided Ryan's controversial budget plan and Medicare voucher proposal. Beginning from the first debate, in policy terms, Romney became virtually the mirror image of Obama on almost all issues both domestic and foreign. Their positions were so similar that in subsequent debates, if Obama answered a question first, the governor going second could have simply responded "me too."
This movement to the middle ground continued through candidate Romney's concession statement which was graceful, human and authentic. In that speech Romney said, "The nation as you know is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work."
Romney's words were not meant to mollify the extremist Tea Party element of the Republican Party, but to acknowledge the need to bridge differences and to bring the country together to solve problems. They were a call for more civility rather than more hostility in our political discussions and negotiations
The reason for Romney's clarion call to the middle rather than a shout out to the radical right becomes clear when you look at how the independent or moderate voters split on Election Day -- about 50/50 (54 percent for Romney, 46 percent for Obama). That's because after Romney's initial debate performance and in subsequent debates, he became an acceptable alternative to the president because he appeared mainstream, rational and reasonable and not a candidate from the conservative lunatic fringe.
Romney lost nationally by more than 3 million votes, or approximately 2.5 percent, of the almost 121 million votes cast. Although it cannot be proven, it seems highly likely, that if Romney had continued to run for president as the uber-conservative candidate who won the Republican primaries instead of as the Obama look-alike, his margin of defeat would have been considerably larger. It is not hard to imagine a defeat of the type suffered by Barry Goldwater in 1964, George McGovern in 1972, and Jimmy Carter in 1980.
So much for the divide -- what we saw in the vote nationally was citizens united in their search for equanimity and balance in the manner in which they cast their ballots. We saw the same thing in some state contests where voters split their tickets to give Romney a considerable victory in the presidential race over Obama but the edge by a handy margin to the moderate Democrat in the senatorial race. Consider the following (rounded up or down to nearest whole percent):
- Indiana: Obama 44%. Donnelly 50%.
- Missouri: Obama 44%. McCaskill 55%.
- North Dakota: Obama 39%. Heitkamp 50%.
- Montana: Obama 42%. Tester 49%.
- West Virginia: Obama 36%. Manchin 61%.
This ticket splitting is evidence of what we would call the strength and power of the moderate center. This discriminating voting and ticket splitting also occurred in states such as Florida, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania where Obama won but the Democrat for Senate ran ahead of the president in terms of the victory margin.
We would be remiss if we did not comment on the special cases of the Senate races in Indiana and Missouri, where legitimate rape occurred. That rape was the one in which the two Republican candidate opened their mouths, inserted their feet, or some other portions of their anatomies, swallowed hard, spoke profanely; and, in doing so managed to snatch smashing defeats from the jaws of certain victories. God works in mysterious ways -- doesn't She?
As for this being about the status quo, forget about it. Status quo means things stay the same. In this election, the Democrats gained a net of two seats in the Senate and it appears a net of seven seats in the House. The number of female senators went to 20 -- an all-time high. Hispanics turned out and cast their ballots for Democrats in record numbers.
As for the game of campaign money ball, time and again small money and smart money trumped big money. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $24 million in 15 senate races but only backed the winner in two. In spite of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the various races, according to the Wall Street Journal the Super PACs' impact appears to have been limited. Here's some evidence to support that opinion.
The two Super PACs that Karl Rove is affiliated with, American Crossroads (Crossroad) and Crossroads GPS (GPS), spent $170 million this election. Crossroads backed winners with just over 1 percent of the money it expended. GPS spent 13 percent of its dollars for winners. It is reported that the billionaire Koch Brothers spent $23 million on a "slew of races" but only supported three winners. Last but definitely not least, there's billionaire casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson. Adelson spent $53 million this election cycle beginning with the Republican presidential primaries. On Election Day, only one Adelson-backed candidate (Dean Heller, R-NV) won.
It has been widely and correctly reported that President Obama enjoyed considerable margins with African American, Hispanic, youth and women voters. His performance with the moderate and independent voters has not been stressed or analyzed enough, however. The president needed to get the right level of support from these voters in order to carry the swing states and win the election. He did. We now move forward.
In conclusion, there was a mandate this Election Day. It was a mandate for the middle road and the middle class. It was a mandate for moderation and compromise. It was a mandate for the power of the average citizens' voice in shaping America's future. It was a mandate for exceptionalism over extremism.
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If one wanted to sum up the consequences of the entire 2012 election in a single issue, look no farther than Obamacare.The new health-care law is generally regarded as the signature achievement of the president’s first term. It’s certainly emblematic of Obama’s entire approach to government and what we can expect from his second-term initiatives.
Mitt Romney is receiving criticism from both sides after he claimed Obama won the 2012 election because of "gifts" he gave to black, Hispanic and young voters.
"The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift," Romney said in a call to donors on Wednesday. "He made a big effort on small things."
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who endorsed Romney for president and was once mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that she doesn't agree, but also doesn't know the "full context" of the comments.
"I don't agree with the comments," Ayotte said.
According to pool reports, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also reacted to Romney's "gifts" remark:
"That view of the American people of the electorate and of the election is at odds with the truth of what happened last week.
As we talked about a lot and the president talked about a lot, making it easier for Americans to go to college – that’s good for America. It’s good for all Americans. It’s good for the economy. Making health care available to young people who can stay on their parents’ plans. That’s good for those families it’s good for those young people so they aren’t bankrupted in their 20s by an illness. And it’s good for the economy and it’s good for all of us.
The president pursues policies that have at their core a desire to build the middle class, strengthen the middle class, make the middle class more secure, because that’s what makes America more secure. So it’s just not the view we take bout the decision the American people made last week."
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) was one of the first to criticize Romney's comment.
President Obama cast himself as an open-minded negotiator during his first, postelection press conference—even as his words amplified the administration’s increasingly tough stance on taxes.The president seemed unwilling to back down in any way on his call to raise taxes on the top 2 percent of American taxpayers roughly one week after the general election. “What I have told leaders privately as well as publicly is that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy,” Obama told reporters on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama is anti-business, according to some business leaders.
Check out the anti-Obama CEOs whose big businesses have thrived under Obama:
Before a final vote had been tabulated, the Beltway punditry were already at work speculating on how the newly reelected president would cope politically with the reactionary intransigence of Republican opposition and the so-called "fiscal cliff" that he had allowed them to frame as the most consequential issue in the public debate over the nation's future. As is often the case in prognosis, finding a cure is hampered by mistaking a symptom for the disease.
Lost in this "debate" -- now as during much of recent years -- is recognition of the fact that by letting the interests of the financial sector override any sense of what the Preamble refers to as "the general welfare," the world's largest economy has morphed into a model that has little hope of equitably distributing wealth and may therefore be largely unsustainable politically.
Through various tax and trade policies, our political leaders have allowed the more productive, value-added sectors of our economy to atrophy while the primary sources of capital have been allowed, if not encouraged, to exploit the global workforce and, through deregulation of the banking system, to engage in reckless speculation. Not surprisingly, this has led to downward pressure on real wages for the majority of citizens -- this in an economy overwhelmingly dependent on consumption. As a result, a greater dependency on debt financing by the general population has obtained in a system in which the same banks that have speculated globally are allowed to lend to consumers at rates that are nothing short of usurious.
This atmosphere of minimally regulated private sector markets -- championed as much by Clinton as Reagan -- has led to growing income disparities that will continue to grow in the current atmosphere, an atmosphere, regrettably, that Obama through Geitner has done precious little to change and which Romney profited from wildly and clearly championed. (Not all private equity is bad, but some models are worse than others and there are numerous examples of Bain's more, rather than less, predatory forms of speculative investment.)
These continuing inequities in how the private economy distributes wealth are not likely to change significantly during President Obama's second term. The president's team has shown great skill in marketing his candidacy, but limited skill in politically marketing a policy agenda. Whatever one may think of Obamacare substantively, its marketing to the electorate was insufferably wonkish, not to mention the president's dealings with the drug and insurance industries, which seasoned labor negotiators might well characterize as "bargaining against your own interests." The result was a "reform" that, while it may have some value in serving certain elements of the public interest, is woefully short of cost controls.
There was also the decision, apparently urged by Christina Romer, not to "market" the stimulus as an identifiable body of job-creating projects, but rather to funnel the money into "shovel ready" projects that, though they existed, had no public identity and therefore effectively did not demonstrably "exist" in the public mind. This lent credence to the opposition's claims of wasted money, despite independent research that revealed significant contributions the stimulus made in arresting the plunging rate of joblessness through retention and new job creation.
While a majority of voters apparently found the status quo preferable to handing the nation's leadership over to a champion of a financial plutocracy that bore -- and continues to bear -- primary responsibility for the misguided direction our economy has taken over the past 30 or 40 years, the administration's political métier of nominally progressive pragmatism suggests that the nation's economic circumstances will change little -- short of unanticipated events.
Given Obama's caution in the face of any extant emergency more threatening than the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, his legacy is therefore likely to result like the auto industry itself from the impact that runaway health care costs have on the economy and the federal budget in the years to come. With the opportunities to provide transformational leadership on that issue behind him, the president's legacy will at best be as the source of our nation's historic transition from mono-racial to biracial leadership, fraught with the risk that his more significant legislative achievement may fall victim to the industries to which he surrendered without a fight.
A Republican state legislator in Montana who once supported U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) for president is asking to be paid in gold and silver coins to guard against a collapse of the dollar.
State Rep. Jerry O'Neil (R-Columbia Falls) wrote to the state's Office of Legislative Services on Friday making the request, noting that concerns among his constituents about the national debt have prompted him to ask for payment in gold and silver coins "that are unadulterated with base metals." O'Neil, who is entering his sixth term, had not objected previously to being paid in dollars by the state for his services. Politico first reported the story on Tuesday.
"My constituents, when I went door to door, one of the things they were interested in was the $17 trillion national debt," O'Neil told The Huffington Post. "Some of my constituents said we would not have this problem if we had currency backed by gold."
(The Department of the Treasury, as of this writing, gave the U.S. federal debt as $16.2 trillion.)
O'Neil said these concerns inspired him to look into ways to best protect the people of Montana, and he felt the use of gold to pay his salary and possibly other state bills would be one solution. O'Neill backed Paul in his presidential campaign, one platform of which was a return to the gold standard.
In his letter to the state, O'Neil said that he believes that accepting gold and silver coins for his salary would allow him to fulfill his obligations to the U.S. Constitution as a legislator.
It is very likely the bottom will fall out from under the U.S. dollar. Only so many dollars can be printed before they have no value. The Keynesian era of financing government with debt appears to be close to its demise.
If and when that happens, how can we in the Montana Legislature protect our constituents? -- The only answer I can come up with is to honor my oath to the U.S. Constitution and request that your debt to me be paid in gold and silver coins that will still have value when the U.S. dollar is reduced to junk status. I therefore request my legislative pay to be in gold and silver coins that are unadulterated with base metals.
O'Neil has not heard back from the Office of Legislative Services about his request, but said he expects to discuss the issue with staff and other legislators during meetings later this week in Helena. He said he did call other legislators about the issue over the weekend.
"They were hesitant," O'Neil said of his colleagues. "None of them went with me on the letter. One said he'd sign a letter to the editor."
O'Neil said his monthly salary is $1,800, roughly the value of one gold coin, based on the market prices he quoted. Montana legislators are paid $10.33 an hour during the legislative session, with additional payments for interim session committee meetings. Legislators are eligible for state health benefits.
Sheryl Olson, the deputy director of the Montana Department of Administration, said O'Neil's request would cause a change in the state's payroll structure, noting that currently all employees are paid either by a state warrant or via direct deposit. She said that no other state workers have requested payment in gold coin.
"I have not had any requests for it," Olson told HuffPost.
O'Neil said that he was unsure over whether legislation would be needed to allow payment by gold coin. He also said he is unsure of whether such legislation would be able to pass.
There's been a short Greek and now a lean Mormon, and a guy whose ancestral tree was knotty enough to become a metaphor for his public image.For whatever reason, politicians from Massachusetts tend to run for president, tend to do well in the primaries, and then tend to get broomed unceremoniously into an elite historical dustbin.
I hope the president starts negotiations over a "grand bargain" for deficit reduction by aiming high. After all, he won the election. And if the past four years has proven anything it's that the White House should not begin with a compromise.Assuming the goal is $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the next decade (that's the consensus of the Simpson-Bowles commission, the Congressional Budget Office, and most independent analysts), here's what the President should propose:
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's definitive reelection victory has invited Democrats to imagine a new era of liberalism, in which they are no longer are forced to swallow policy complaints for the sake of winning a second term.
They may very well end up, once again, confronted with disappointment.
The president will meet with top progressive leaders and organized labor officials at the White House on Tuesday. (Scroll down for attendees.) And it is widely expected that participants will chart an agenda that includes areas unaddressed during the past four years.
But the idea that a legislative fountain will flow smoothly now that the president has no campaign to tend is more than likely misplaced. With high-stakes negotiations set to take place within days on crucial budget items, a delicate political dance is already occurring between the president and his progressive base.
The early outlines came to focus in the last week, when top congressional Democrats announced (in a not-so-subtle bit of line-drawing for the White House) what they won't stomach in a debt-reduction negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) started the cascade when he told reporters that Social Security reform should not be included in any deal that solves the expiring Bush tax cuts and the spending reductions included in the end-year sequester. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) quickly followed by saying Social Security must be considered apart from Medicare and Medicaid.
Union leadership was even more direct. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told The Huffington Post last week that his group would oppose any deal that cuts the three big entitlement programs.
"Yes. Yes. Yes. The voters yesterday rejected that notion soundly," Trumka said at a briefing on Nov. 7. "The answer is, if it includes benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, we'll oppose it."
Van Jones, co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, went further, noting that none of the progressive political institutions have "demobilized" since the election.
"We are still on a complete fighting posture because we knew we had to win the politics in November and then on the economy in December," Jones said. "For the progressives who threw ourselves on hand grenades for the president over the past 24 months and especially the past six months, we are not going to be happy at all if he turns around and takes a chainsaw to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in pursuit of some misguided so-called grand bargain."
This puts negotiators, mainly those inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., in more than just a small bind. During negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the summer of 2011, the White House was willing to agree to cuts to Medicare, changes to the program's eligibility age, and deductions in Social Security benefits, even without demanding an end to the top-rate Bush tax cuts. A year and a half later, progressives are saying, essentially, don't make that deal again.
The circumstances are, of course, much different than in July 2011. The composition of Congress will change in early January. And while that won't affect the lame-duck session, it may dramatically alter legislative business, from immigration reform to additional stimulus. Several of the Senate's centrist members were replaced by liberals (Chris Murphy for Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, Elizabeth Warren for Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin for Herb Kohl in Wisconsin).
Some moderate Democrats are up for reelection in 2014, making them reluctant to cast tough votes. But they already passed the president's preferred tax cut package (raising rates only on incomes above $250,000) and the election results showed that they can run on a no-apology, Democratic platform and win.
"Every signal we've been getting from them is they want to fight this thing and stick to the lines they've drawn on taxes," said a top Senate Democratic aide who spoke about caucus sentiment on condition of anonymity. "We passed that bill already. That was a huge deal. At the times people poo-pooed it. ... But having [Senators] Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill vote for that bill and win election is a huge deal in terms of morale and fortifying the ranks."
The White House also has more political capital now than before. The country just voted in favor of its agenda (parts of which can be accomplished if the president simply vetos the alternatives). And in addition to a self-proclaimed, quasi-mandate on tax policy -- which Vice President Joe Biden mentioned last week -- there is a sense from within the administration of stronger trust from the base.
"The relationship has come a long way since last summer and it is important to our success that we continue to work well with the progressive community," said one top White House official. "Now, everyone won't agree with everything we do, but having good communication and a foundation of trust is critical to achieving our shared goals."
But the White House does have other constituencies to which it must attend. Obama is meeting with business leaders on Wednesday. And at some point, political calculations must be made, not just with an eye towards resolving an impasse on tax policy and the sequester, but with long-term considerations for a second term agenda.
During the winter 2010 debate over the then-expiring Bush tax cuts, the White House gave in to Republican demands and passed a two-year extension. In return, Obama won the space and capital to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and pass a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Whether that pattern ends up duplicated is unclear. There will certainly be howls if it does from inside the Democratic tent. But not everyone in the party is advocating that the president immediately shoot for the moon in his second term.
"I think the idea of thanking the base in some sort of unified, symbolic way is either fantastical or a mistake. I think that is what George W. Bush did in the beginning of '05, when he tried to privatize Social Security, which was the ultimate gift to his base and turned out to be a disaster for him and derailed the rest of his agenda," said Matt Bennett, senior vice president for public affairs and a co-founder of the centrist-Democratic think tank, Third Way. "Obama will have learned that lesson and won't try to hit a grand slam that will solidify his base."'
With Reporting by Dave Jamieson.
Attendees at the Tuesday and Wednesday White House meetings, according to a White House official:
- Mary Kay Henry, SEIU
- Lee Saunders, AFSCME
- Dennis Van Roekel, NEA
- Rich Trumka, AFL-CIO
- Neera Tanden, Center for American Progress
- John Podesta, Center for American Progress
- Bob Greenstein, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities
- Laura Burton Capps, Common Purpose Project
- Max Richtman, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
- Justin Ruben, MoveOn
- Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change
- Mark Bertolini, president, Chairman and CEO, Aetna
- Ursula Burns, chairman and CEO, Xerox
- Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and CEO, American Express Co.
- David Cote, chairman and CEO, Honeywell
- Mike Duke, president and CEO, Walmart
- Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO, General Electric
- Andrew Liveris, president, chairman and CEO, Dow
- Robert McDonald, president and CEO, Proctor & Gamble
- Alan Mulally, president and CEO, Ford
- Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO, PepsiCo.
- Ginni Rometty, president, chairman and CEO, IBM
- John Watson, chairman and CEO, Chevron
I hope the president starts negotiations over a "grand bargain" for deficit reduction by aiming high. After all, he won the election. And if the past four years has proven anything it's that the White House should not begin with a compromise.
Assuming the goal is $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the next decade (that's the consensus of the Simpson-Bowles commission, the Congressional Budget Office, and most independent analysts), here's what the President should propose:
First, raise taxes on the rich -- and by more than the highest marginal rate under Bill Clinton or even a 30 percent (so-called Buffett Rule) minimum rate on millionaires. Remember: America's top earners are now wealthier than they've ever been, and they're taking home a larger share of total income and wealth than top earners have received in over 80 years.
Why not go back sixty years when Americans earning over $1 million in today's dollars paid 55.2 percent of it in income taxes, after taking all deductions and credits? If they were taxed at that rate now, they'd pay at least $80 billion more annually -- which would reduce the budget deficit by about $1 trillion over the next decade. That's a quarter of the $4 trillion in deficit reduction right there.
A 2% surtax on the wealth of the richest one-half of 1 percent would bring in another $750 billion over the decade. A one-half of 1 percent tax on financial transactions would bring in an additional $250 billion.
Add this up and we get $2 trillion over ten years -- half of the deficit-reduction goal.
Raise the capital gains rate to match the rate on ordinary income and cap the mortgage interest deduction at $12,000 a year, and that's another $1 trillion over ten years. So now we're up to $3 trillion in additional revenue.
Eliminate special tax preferences for oil and gas, price supports for big agriculture, tax breaks and research subsidies for Big Pharma, unnecessary weapons systems for military contractors, and indirect subsidies to the biggest banks on Wall Street, and we're nearly there.
End the Bush tax cuts on incomes between $250,000 and $1 million, and -- bingo -- we made it: $4 trillion over 10 years.
And we haven't had to raise taxes on America's beleaguered middle class, cut Social Security or Medicare and Medicaid, reduce spending on education or infrastructure, or cut programs for the poor.
Mr. President, I'd recommend this as your opening bid. With enough luck and pluck, maybe even your closing bid. And if enough Americans are behind you, it could even be the final deal.
ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage," now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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