Friday, November 18, 2011

Perry’s Latest Attacks Distort Obama’s Words and Past

Over the past several days, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has claimed that President Obama called Americans “lazy.” And then he sharpened the attack, suggesting that Mr. Obama grew up a child of privilege.

Since he began sliding in the polls last month, Mr. Perry has been increasingly trying to portray himself as the outsider and anti-Washington candidate, attacking the Internal Revenue Service, federal airport security officials and federal judges. He often highlights his own modest personal background, and he has occasionally contrasted it with his rival Mitt Romney’s wealthier upbringing, even suggesting that Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was born holding “four aces.”

As Mr. Perry has painted himself as the cure for Washington’s ills, however, some his recent attacks have drifted into the realm of falsehood, repeating some of the themes of past critiques suggesting that Mr. Obama is elitist.

Most notably, in a new television commercial released Wednesday, he attacks Mr. Obama for believing “that Americans are lazy.” Mr. Perry says in the ad: “That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington.”

The advertisement begins with a clip of Mr. Obama stating, “We’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades.”

But Mr. Obama’s statement was not about “Americans” generally, but about the country’s efforts to attract foreign investment. It came in response to a question put to him at a conference last weekend by W. James McNerney Jr., chief executive of Boeing, who had asked him how foreign investors looked at the United States.

Mr. Obama replied that the United States had been complacent in luring foreign investors: “There are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity — our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture.”

“But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades,” he said. “We’ve kind of taken for granted — well, people will want to come here — and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America.”

Mr. Perry was not the only Republican contender who sought to capitalize on the line: Mr. Romney also implied that Mr. Obama was referring to Americans generally, telling a South Carolina audience on Tuesday that the president “said that Americans are lazy. I don’t think that describes America.”

Mr. Perry, however, took things one step further on Wednesday night during an interview on Fox News. A Fox host, Sean Hannity, showed the new ad and asked the governor, “What does it reveal to you about his mind-set and his thinking?”

Speaking about Mr. Obama, Mr. Perry replied: “It reveals to me that he grew up in a privileged way. You know, he never had to really work for anything. He never had to go through what Americans are going through.”

Mr. Obama, whose background could be considered no better off than middle class, was raised partly by a single mother who at times, he has said, was on food stamps. He also achieved the pinnacle of legal education, winning election as president of the Harvard Law Review.

The attacks on Mr. Obama come as Mr. Perry enters a more aggressive phase of his campaign in terms of ad strategy. Up to now, his ads have mainly focused on biographical themes with positive messages. But with the Iowa caucuses less than seven weeks away, the campaign is shifting to a more pointed tone.

A spokesman for Governor Perry did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Obama Said Poised to Submit Three Trade Accords to U.S. Congress

President Barack Obama may send free- trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for consideration as soon as today, according to a person familiar with the administration’s plans.

The trade pacts reached under President George W. Bush and revised by President Barack Obama have been stymied in a stalemate with House Republicans over benefits for workers hurt by import competition. The Senate voted to extend the aid on Sept. 22, and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he would consider the program, called Trade Adjustment Assistance, in tandem with the trade deals once the Obama administration submits legislation to enact the agreements.

A second person, a Colombian government official who said he has been briefed on the plans, said he expected Obama to act on the accords today or tomorrow. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.

“I would fully expect them to move these as quickly as possible, and I would hope they would move them” today, Doug Goudie, director of international trade policy for the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, said yesterday in an interview. “Everything is ready for them to go.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the timing. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office didn’t confirm the Obama administration’s submission plans.

The administration may seek to advance the free-trade agreements before South Korean President Lee Myung Bak visits Washington Oct. 13, John Murphy, vice president of international affairs at the Washington-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s biggest business group, said in a Sept. 30 interview.

President Lee’s Visit

“The White House is clearly motivated to get a move on if at all possible because of President Lee’s state visit,” Murphy said. “There’s a belief in some quarters that if they could send up the FTAs as early as Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, that might allow them to get the FTAs and TAA out of the House maybe by the end of the week.”

The South Korea deal, the biggest since the North American Free Trade Agreement, would boost U.S. exports by as much as $10.9 billion in the first year in which it’s in full effect, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. The accord with Colombia would increase exports by as much as $1.1 billion a year.

Obama, in a Sept. 8 speech to Congress introducing his $447 billion job-creation plan, called on lawmakers to pass the trade accords and renew the worker aid.

“The president should send in the agreements,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said yesterday in an e-mail. The speaker is “confident we can get them done by mid-October,” Steel said.

--With assistance from Margaret Talev and Hans Nichols in Washington, Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro and Bill Faries in Buenos Aires. Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Obama nears decision on boosting auto fuel-efficiency standards

One White House proposal calls for the U.S. car and truck fleet to average 56 mpg by 2025, but automakers are lobbying Obama for concessions to reduce energy savings and for a review that could reopen bargaining in several years.

President Obama is nearing a decision to sharply increase vehicle fuel-efficiency requirements. But automakers — emboldened by a return to profitability two years after an industry bailout — are pushing hard for concessions that would reduce energy savings in the next generation of cars and trucks.

The companies are also calling for a review several years down the road that would potentially reopen the bargaining, which environmentalists say could enable the industry to drag its feet and eventually meet lower standards.

The most ambitious proposal on the table calls for the American car and truck fleet to average 56 miles per gallon by 2025. Although the industry has not publicly offered a counterproposal, it is believed to be seeking average mpg standards in the low- to mid-40s.

To increase pressure on Obama, a radio advertising blitz in seven politically important states is scheduled to start Thursday featuring warnings against overzealous government regulation and the threat of worker layoffs. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers will begin airing 60-second radio ads in the District of Columbia, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Missouri.

"Families would be hit with higher car prices," the ads say. "Small businesses dependent on vans, SUVs or pickups would face limited vehicle choice."

At issue in the negotiations between the White House and automakers, led by Detroit's Big Three — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — are fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks to be built starting in 2017. In addition to arguing that Obama wants to increase standards too much, manufacturers reportedly want to continue to have less demanding standards for light trucks, SUVs, minivans and full-size trucks.

Federal standards apply to a manufacturer's entire output, not to each individual vehicle. Makers can continue to produce less efficient vehicles but must ensure they sell enough of the more efficient units to make the total fleet average meet the overall fuel standard.

Industry resistance comes after a period of relative accord. In May 2009, chief executives of the nation's car companies stood with Obama in the White House Rose Garden in an unprecedented show of unity over raising fuel efficiency to about 34 miles per gallon by 2016.

What's changed is part politics and part economics.

Automakers are worried about being saddled with tough efficiency standards that might leave them out of step with consumer preferences. Despite the increasing popularity of fuel-efficient cars, the top-selling vehicles in America remain gas-hungry trucks. The industry says sharply higher standards could lead to layoffs, price increases of up to $10,000 per vehicle, diminished safety and the demise of some vehicle lines.

"You get into trouble when consumers want to buy one thing and what the fuel-efficiency standard said is to make another thing," said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of auto information company

But some industry analysts said the long lead time of the proposed new standards would give carmakers plenty of time to comply, that innovative new vehicles could boost their profits and savings on gas would help offset higher car prices for consumers. The United Auto Workers union, which for years echoed car companies' assertions that tough mileage standards would destroy jobs, now sees fuel-efficient vehicles as a way to keep factories open.

"President Obama saved the auto industry. He doesn't want to jeopardize that," UAW President Bob King said. "To direct this kind of criticism at the administration after what they've done is irresponsible."

The White House declined to comment on the negotiations, which include car companies, the state of California and other stakeholders, saying only that they are "constructive."

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Obama weighed military and political risk for Afghan plan

President Barack Obama's plan for pulling U.S. troops from Afghanistan will intensify risks in the thick of next year's fighting season, but Obama was right to factor in waning support at home for the war, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Reuters.

Gates, who steps down on Thursday after four and a half years as the U.S. defense chief, said Obama's advisers had put forward different options for gradually shrinking the 100,000-strong U.S. force in Afghanistan, where after almost a decade of war the Taliban remains a deadly, resilient enemy.

While the Pentagon's top brass argued for keeping the extra 33,000 troops Obama sent to Afghanistan until the end of 2012, Gates said, other advisers wanted them out as early as April, as patience wears thin for a war that now costs more than $110 billion a year.

Obama ultimately decided, in a move announced last week, to remove 10,000 troops this year and the remaining 23,000 troops of the surge force by September 2012.

"The president had a real tight-wire to walk in terms of balancing military risk and political risk," Gates said in an interview on the eve of his departure from the Pentagon.

"It wouldn't make any difference if the president said keep them there another two years if the Congress wouldn't vote the money ... Even some Republicans are beginning to talk about coming out sooner," Gates said.

The debate over the initial drawdown from Afghanistan has highlighted divisions between the White House and the Pentagon, where military leaders worry they will not have enough time and resources to solidify the headway they have made in pushing the Taliban out of strategic areas of southern Afghanistan.

Obama's top military advisers, including Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, were unusually candid in critiquing Obama's plan. They said they had initially been uncomfortable with an accelerated drawdown but ultimately backed it.


Under Obama's plan, most of the 23,000 troops leaving next year will likely come home during the 2012 summer fighting season, a time when the Taliban and other militants typically step up their attacks.

Yet Gates said Obama was right to be mindful of political concerns. Opposition is mounting in Congress to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan as lawmakers face pressure to cut spending, and support for the war has plummeted since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

"In terms of political sustainability at home, and keeping the risk as low as possible at the end of the summer, (Obama) struck about the right balance," Gates said.

Some 68,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan, focusing in large part on mentoring Afghan forces.

But security remains dire in much of Afghanistan's east and high-profile attacks continue to rattle even areas of the south and the capital Kabul. A coordinated attack on a landmark Kabul hotel by Taliban suicide bombers killed eight Afghans and one foreigner this week.

Gates said that after Obama's decision, commanders were now looking at options for thinning U.S. forces and seeking to mitigate increased risks.

"It may be that they can fill the gap with Afghan forces. They're just working their way through this now," he said.

Gates, who has steered the United States through two wars under two presidents, has also sought along with other U.S. officials to nudge Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan to crack down on militants who launch attacks from its tribal areas.

Gates said Washington continued to pay for historical mistakes with Pakistan, such as the decision to walk away from the region after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and imposing sanctions on Pakistan in response to its nuclear ambitions.

While Gates said the Obama administration had "bent over backward" to improve ties with Pakistan, the relationship remains tense. Islamabad has terminated a U.S. military training mission there.

"We all wish it were in a better place, but on the same token this relationship has ebbed and flowed for decades," Gates said.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Roadmap for the White House in 2012: Obama's Electoral Chess

"Running mate could be checkmate"

There is much focus on the electoral math from the point of view of the GOP, but if you consider it from Barack Obama's perspective it changes a bit. With lackluster national poll numbers and an economy that just won't turn over, the White House must be wondering if it's really worth fighting for all the states they won in 2008.

The classic chessboard of black and white pieces has transformed to an electoral map of red and blue.**

Last week I laid out my reasoning for why it's unlikely Obama will again steal Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado out of the Republican column.

To review, this makes the landscape Obama 310, GOP candidate 228.

As some have suggested, right now Obama is perhaps running more against the economy than the GOP. Nearly every poll since Obama's inauguration has shown that jobs and the economy are the number one issue on the minds of Americans. Our own national poll here at Suffolk University found that 46 percent of likely voters feel that the economy is actually getting worse.

On the state level, when it comes to electoral votes in play, Ohio and Florida will be key states for Obama to win if he's going to hold onto the White House. If both of these states flip Republican it's all over for Obama -- that's 47 electoral votes, making the map Obama 263, GOP candidate 275.

And, in these states, attitudes towards the economy aren't too bright.

Florida's 29 electoral votes are certainly in a great deal of jeopardy right now. A mid April Suffolk U. poll of Florida found 88 percent of registered voters said they did not believe the recession is over in the Sunshine State.

Ohio's 18 electoral votes are no safer. While it's certainly not among the highest in the country, the Buck Eye state's 8.9 percent unemployment rate is nearly on par with the national average.

Worse still, in 2010 both states elected Republican governors, albeit by razor-thin margins. Bottom line, it's going to be a very close race in these states.

What could Obama do to shore up his strength in these states in lieu of an improved economy? It's not out of the question for him to consider a new candidate for Vice President. Not unlike the Republican road to the White House I presented last week, to secure Ohio or Florida, Obama could greatly benefit with help from a VP who could deliver either of those states.

Joe Biden is a team player, and perhaps better than anyone he understands that every piece on the chess board should be in the best position to mate. Should his talks with the Gang of Five (formerly the Gang of Six) fall apart, he could take the political fall for failure and give Obama the license to pick a new running mate.

Unlike his 2008 run against Hillary Clinton, today Obama owns foreign policy success, and a VP with strong domestic credibility could shore up his campaign and balance the ticket.

The GOP move:

1 ) If the GOP nominee picks someone like Marco Rubio, Obama must employ the "Hispanic Defense" (similar to the Sicilian Defense in chess) and concede Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, but protect himself in all important Ohio and win New Hampshire to give him four more years.

2) If the GOP doesn't pick Rubio, Obama would be prudent to employ the "Florida attack" instead. Locking up Florida, and splitting states like New Mexico and Arizona also gives Obama the win.

When it comes to potential VP candidates for the President, by the numbers Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the clear choice. Over the last year Suffolk polls in Florida, Nevada, Ohio and New Hampshire have recorded stratosphere-like favorability -- far beyond Barack Obama's with strength among Independents. She's the combination of the first two strategies above -- popular with Hispanics, strong in Ohio, a generational rock star in Florida. "Rook to the last Republican row." Checkmate.

However, the reality is that it's unlikely Clinton is willing to continue playing second fiddle to Obama. With whispers about tension between the State Department and the White House and rumors about the possibility of Hillary Clinton moving to the World Bank, it's unlikely this scenario would ever happen.

If Obama were to pick a new VP it's tough to say who might be a suitable candidate, but they'd need to be able to help him play out one of the above strategies. Who do you think might be a good candidate for the VP position?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Obama administration extends moratorium on road-building in remote national forests

The Obama administration has extended for another year a rule that blocks most logging and mining in millions of acres of remote sections of national forests.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he wants to preserve the so-called roadless rule while officials wait for federal courts to resolve legal issues surrounding the decade-old moratorium that President Bill Clinton put in place in 2001.

The rule blocks most commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of national forests. A subsequent Bush administration rule cleared the way for more commercial activity. Vilsack imposed a new moratorium in 2009.

The rule does not apply in Idaho, which developed its own roadless rule. Officials in Colorado have submitted a separate plan that has yet to be approved by federal officials.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obama’s victory lap

The White House advance team put the presidential podium at an odd angle in the East Room, so that an oil painting showing George Washington would be in the shot behind President Obama. This made it appear from a certain view that Washington was patting Obama on the back.

It’s not such a stretch to think that the first president would join the backslapping over Sunday’s killing of Osama bin Laden. Heck, even Dick Cheney was congratulating Obama.

The nation was unified (for the moment) in a way it hadn’t been in nearly a decade. And Obama had returned at midday Monday to the East Room — the same room he used 12 hours earlier to share the news of bin Laden’s demise — for a victory lap.

“I think we can all agree: This is a good day for America,” the president told his White House audience, assembled for the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor to two U.S. soldiers who fought in the Korean War. “Our country has kept its commitment to see that justice is done. The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden.”

The killing of the al-Qaeda leader went a long way toward restoring American confidence after nearly a decade of war. For Obama, it offered the hope of instant renewal. The fight against terrorism, it is often said, doesn’t end with a treaty signing on a battleship, but this was perhaps the most visible marker of success.

Just last week, Obama found himself in the demeaning position of releasing his birth certificate to try to prove to doubters that he is legally qualified to hold his office. On Saturday night, he joked about his low poll numbers.

Now, all of a sudden, his political opponents dared not criticize him. Two would-be 2012 challengers — Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty — issued statements congratulating him. “2012 Election Cancelled,” the humorist Andy Borowitz wrote in a spoof news story on his Web site.

The unity after the 2001 terrorist attacks lasted a few months; this could go on for a few days, if that. On Monday morning, Japanese tourists had already supplanted the patriotic flash mob that had assembled outside the White House on Sunday night.

But Obama is now the guy who found and killed bin Laden (albeit with an apparent assist from the Bush administration’s interrogation program). And that could do much to reverse the growing impression of Obama as weak. “The possible long-term dividend for Obama is that it may address concerns he is not a strong leader,” said Andy Kohut, who runs the nonpartisan Pew Research Center polls. Only 53 percent of Americans viewed the president as a “strong leader” earlier this year, well below his standing in other attributes.

Monday’s Medal of Honor event was set well before Navy SEALs sent bin Laden to his just end, but Obama couldn’t have designed a better event for wrapping himself in the glory of the military. The room was full of men and women in military dress uniforms. Military buglers played “Ruffles and Flourishes,” followed by “Hail to the Chief.”

Obama entered briskly, erased a quick grin, then assumed a prayerful pose as a military chaplain spoke of being “stirred by the news of these past 24 hours.” He had a bounce in his step when he walked to the podium, and his delivery, done with old-fashioned text rather than a teleprompter, was more natural than usual.

“Today we are reminded that as a nation there’s nothing we can’t do when we put our shoulders to the wheel, when we work together, when we remember the sense of unity that defines us as Americans,” he said. “And we’ve seen that spirit, that patriotism in the crowds that have gathered here outside the White House, at Ground Zero in New York, and across the country.”

The commander in chief requested applause for his defense secretary and his joint chiefs. “And this is not in the script, but let me just acknowledge that, without the leadership of Bob Gates, Mike Mullen, Hoss Cartwright, today and yesterday would not have happened,” he ad-libbed.

The ceremony was to recognize two young men who died in battle 60 years ago, but it was a feel-good moment, too, for Obama.

Recounting the story of one of the men, he used some presidential prerogative: “Tony was a tall guy. He lived Hawaii, swimming in the ocean, playing basketball. Sounds like my kind of guy.”

A moment later, he added: “I went to high school with one of their cousins, Whitey. Tell Whitey I said, ‘Howzit?’ ”

No need to ask Obama howzit, though. The answer is obvious: Much better.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Air Force football team meets President Obama

President Barack Obama congratulated the Air Force Academy football team for winning the Commander in Chief trophy Monday.

Obama presented the trophy during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, noting that the Falcons will be taking it home to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the first time in eight years. According to a transcript provided by the White House, Obama told the team:
"Until this year, no one on this team knew what it felt like to beat Army, to beat Navy, to visit the White House, and to earn football bragging rights over the other branches. Now you know the feeling. They also know what it feels like not just to be a good service academy team, but to be a good team, period. Put up 350 rushing yards against Oklahoma. Finished 9-4 after what Coach Calhoun called the toughest schedule a service academy ever played. And to cap it all off, to win in a bowl game against Georgia Tech. That's impressive. Georgia Tech has three times as many students."
The trophy goes to the winner of a three-way season series between the major service academies. The Falcons defeated the Army and Navy teams last season. They last won the trophy in 2002.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Obama must corner labor vote for reelection

On Monday, President Barack Obama officially announced his intention to run for reelection in 2012. No longer the outsider, this time he's hoping to raise nearly $1 billion.

Last time around, Obama has huge support from unions and the young. The youth folk didn't turn out in 2010, at least not as much as the president would have hoped, and now he's got his work cut out for him with labor -- and he must have labor if he wants to win reelection.

In a video released announcing his candidacy, there isn't one frame Obama, just images of middle America and middle class Americans talking about why they support him.

Rather than a statement from the White House, the president is opting for the outsider approach by using emails and text messages, but this time he's running on more than hope. He has a record. And at a union rally in Oakland Monday afternoon, it was his record that was causing members to take a wait and see approach.

"We are going to weigh all our options and see if he's really supporting what we are fighting for," said Karen Hearne from Oakland.

"Well I think a lot of is going to depend on how he unfolds his campaign and how he's going to deal with the union issues," said Chris Candell from Oakland.

"I think we'll have to take stock of what the record is and what the consequences are of not possibly supporting Obama," said Di Rosario from Oakland.

Is this a problem for the president's reelection campaign? The chair of the California Republican Party, Tom Del Beccaro, thinks it is.

"I think Obama is going to have trouble with the left 20 percent of his party because they don't think he's delivered. So I think you're going to see an enthusiasm gap," said Del Beccaro.

Del Beccaro expects a significant part of that enthusiasm gap to be among union members. But the rally in Oakland was in support of workers in Wisconsin, who have been battling a Republican governor.

The tea party is taking an anti-union stance in several states, producing a video in Wisconsin where voters are selecting a Supreme Court judge that could turn the tide in that state's battle over collective bargaining and our political analyst says if unions feel threatened particularly in the middle of America, that's good news for the president.

"Often interest groups are more active when they're threatened than when they're not. Nothing mobilizes people like the fear or the understanding that if they don't win they're going to suffer badly," said ABC7 political analyst Prof. Bruce Cain.

Cain says the fact that some of these union struggles are occurring in swing states is particularly significant.

In a conference call with supporters over the Internet Monday evening, the president urged followers to get involved saying this time around he can't spend as much time campaigning, he has another job to attend to.

Lots of people are preparing to run for the Republicans, but no one has officially announced their candidacy yet.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Clinton vows to stay into second Obama term

Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she planned to stay on as secretary of state into US President Barack Obama's second term, presuming he wins re-election, to help with the transition.

"I will stay until the beginning of the next term because I know it takes a while for people to get appointed and confirmed," Clinton told ABC News in an interview.

"There needs to be a seamless transition with whomever President Obama decides to appoint after he is re-elected, which I am confident he will be," she said.

Obama selected Clinton, 63, to be his administration's top diplomat after defeating her in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

The former first lady told CNN last week that she has "no intention" of running again for the presidency. Her husband Bill Clinton was president from 1993-2001.

Clinton is the only former first lady in US history to be elected to the US Senate. She represented the state of New York from January 2001 to January 2009.

Clinton, the 67th secretary of state, told CNN that she had "a wonderful experience" in her 2008 presidential campaign and was "very proud of the support I had and very grateful for the opportunity, but I'm going to be, you know, moving on."

Her legacy as secretary of state could be shaped by the outcome of the United Nations-backed military strikes in Libya, aimed at protecting civilians from forces loyal to strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Clinton is widely reported to have been a strong advocate of the strikes. She helped shepherd through the UN Security Council a resolution imposing a no-fly zone, and she noted the "unprecedented" support of the Arab League.

In the interview with ABC, Clinton said she was "not going to characterize anybody's opinion" from inside the administration, regarding who was for or against the military strikes.

Clinton alluded to the many dramatic events in recent months, such as Arab uprisings and the Japanese earthquake.

"I do wake up and feel increasingly that we are living in a historic turning point on so many fronts, and that our country and the world has some hard thinking to do that needs to lead to transformational action. I don't think the old answers are good enough," she said in the ABC interview.

"And I just want to see the United States assume the role that we have historically assumed, which is that we are the people of the future, we are the ones who are innovating our ways and building our ways into a much better, more prosperous, peaceful future," she said.

"But it's going to take a lot of hard work, and our political system and the political systems of so many other countries have to be prepared to make some tough decisions."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Romney Says Obama Is Vulnerable on Economy

Mitt Romney was pretty clear over the weekend that he believes the best way for Republicans to defeat President Obama in 2012 is to focus on the economy. That’s not how he saw things in the fall before the midterm elections.

In a speech in Los Angeles in September, Mr. Romney suggested that the president would be “difficult to beat” in 2012 because of an improving economy. If Mr. Obama was vulnerable, he predicted, it would be because of a perception among some that he does not share the values of the American people.

“He will do everything he can to get the economy going back again, and most likely — at least in my view — the economy will be coming back,” Mr. Romney said at the time. “They will take credit for the fact that things are getting better. That will help the president’s re-election effort.”

Speaking to about 300 people at a New Hampshire hotel on Saturday night, however, Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a likely Republican candidate for president, said that Mr. Obama not only “doesn’t have a clue how jobs are created,” but also made the economic crisis worse.

“The consequence is soaring numbers of Americans enduring unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies,” Mr. Romney said. “This is the Obama Misery Index, and we’re not going to let the American people be fooled.”

In fact, the economy has improved, which makes Mr. Romney’s change in sentiment curious. In September, when he thought Mr. Obama was in good shape, the economy lost 95,000 jobs. In February, the economy gained 192,000 jobs, but Mr. Romney now sees the president as being vulnerable on the issue.

Mr. Romney’s rivals in the Republican party are sure to note the shift and to suggest it reinforces questions about whether he changes positions too easily. Asked about the different assessments, a spokesman for Mr. Romney reiterated the current message.

“President Obama is vulnerable on a number of fronts, but his Achilles’ heel is jobs and the economy,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, the spokesman. “The economy will come back eventually. None of us knows for certain when that will happen, but Mitt Romney believes President Obama through his actions has deepened and prolonged the recession.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Obama ex-enforcer closes in on Chicago mayor crown

US President Barack Obama's ex-enforcer Rahm Emanuel hopes to be crowned mayor of Chicago on Tuesday after capturing such a decisive lead that the only question is whether he will avoid a runoff.

The famously foul-mouthed Emanuel, 51, has been the clear front-runner in the race to run America's third-largest city ever since he resigned as White House chief of staff and moved back to Chicago in October.

His lead in the polls grew even as opponents dropped out of the once-crowded race to replace retiring Mayor Richard Daley, who has governed the Windy City for more than 22 years.

And so, in a move characteristic of rough and tumble Chicago politics, opponents tried to cut him off in the courts, saying he had abandoned his Chicago residency when he moved his family to Washington to work for Obama.

The challenge added ample drama to the otherwise pre-ordained race.

First, there was Emanuel's tenant, who refused to be bought out of his lease so Emanuel could move back into his northside home and then briefly entered the mayoral race himself.

Then there were the circus-like hearings in a cramped county hearing room with faulty microphones, where "citizen objectors" ridiculed the multi-millionaire for renting his home out in the first place.

It was a world away from the formality of the White House, but Emanuel proved to have a deep well of patience as he calmly answered the often bizarre questions and took every opportunity to prove his deep roots in the Windy City.

Emanuel, who was born in Chicago and served a slice of the city for years in the US House of Representatives, triumphed over objectors at the city's elections board and again at the county court.

Then, in a move that stunned Chicago, an appeals court ordered him off the ballot in a widely-criticized 2-1 ruling just days before early voting was set to begin last month.

Nearly 300,000 ballots had been printed without Emanuel's name when the state's top court issued an emergency stay, forcing city officials to tell printers to "stop the presses" and go back to the original proofs.

The Illinois Supreme Court handed him a decisive victory in a unanimous ruling two days later, and Emanuel had Chicago firmly in his grasp.

The shrewd politico, whose uncompromising style earned him the nickname "Rahmbo," is expected to replicate Daley's iron-fisted tactics and focus on maintaining Chicago's reputation as "the city that works."

"Chicagoans feel Chicago is a difficult city to rule," said Ken Janda, professor emeritus of political science at Northwestern University.

"You've got to be a guy who says no. And Emanuel is seen to be a guy who is tough and can say no."

A poll released last week showed Emanuel with 58 percent of the vote -- more than enough to get the majority needed to avoid an April 5 runoff between the top two candidates.

Emanuel is also favored because he has such high-profile support. Obama -- who remains wildly popular in his adoptive hometown of Chicago -- gave Rahm a glowing endorsement.

And former president Bill Clinton flew to the heavily Democratic city last month to campaign for Emanuel, who once served as his senior adviser.

Emanuel, who would be Chicago's first Jewish mayor, was also able to gain a lead in all demographic and geographical categories in the ethnically and economically divided city.

Rival Gery Chico won 24 percent, Miguel Del Valle had 10 percent and Carol Moseley Braun was the pick of six percent of respondents in the Illinois Retail Merchants Association survey.

A runoff is still possible given how many candidates are on the ballot, said John Brehm, a political science professor at the University of Chicago.

While it might be somewhat embarrassing to be forced into a runoff, "he'll brush it off," Brehm told AFP.

"I can't imagine a circumstance in which he would lose in a runoff."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Star’s editorial | Obama’s export goal needs a bigger push

President Barack Obama talked up the South Korean free-trade pact in his recent appearance before business leaders, continuing his positive rhetoric on trade.

But what’s still lacking is the kind of attention and urgency that would succeed in pushing the deal through Congress, which must approve it.

More worrisome, in his remarks, Obama made many wonder about the status of pending trade pacts with Panama and Colombia.

The odd language in his speech: “As we pursue trade agreements with Panama and Colombia …”

Pursue? Those agreements were negotiated years ago. The Colombian deal was then renegotiated.

Last week, the administration said it would “intensify” negotiations with Colombia and Panama, and one would be forgiven for wondering whether the White House plans to negotiate ad infinitum.

Those two countries lie in a strategically important region, one where U.S. influence is challenged by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Washington must do more to promote the spread of democracy and market economics. Free trade would provide U.S. allies with an important boost.

Economically, the South Korean deal is far more important. South Korea is our seventh-largest trading partner.

Trade is an area where Obama could work with the Republican majority in the House. Speaker John Boehner wants to combine all three pacts and move them on a single vote. It’s a good idea.

Obama has said he wants to double the nation’s exports by 2015. If he’s serious, he had better push harder for congressional approval of these deals.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Gingrich says Obama administration 'amateurish' on Egypt

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he's "concerned" about the Obama administration's handling of the situation in Egypt and what he sees as a divide between the White House and diplomat Franks Wisner.

"I think the fact that they appointed a very able diplomat Frank Wisner and within two days were publically contradicting him is you know so amateurish," Gingrich told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. "I was with John Bolton (former ambassador to the United Nations) last night. He said it's inconceivable that they would be this clumsy and this out of sync. I mean just with themselves, forget the Arab world. They can't even get the White House and their special envoy to be on the same page."

Wisner was sent to Egypt by the United States to negotiate directly with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the transition, and on his return said Mubarak should remain in office, at least for now, in order to hand over authority in an orderly manner.

At the White House press briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Wisner does not speak for the administration.

"His views on who should or shouldn't be the head of Egypt don't represent the views of our administration," Gibbs said. "The views of our administration are that those are the decisions that will be made by the Egyptians."

But the envoy's remarks were not entirely out of line with those of other officials who have noted that there are "certain legitimate legislative hurdles" that must be overcome by Mubarak and could take some time to accomplish.

Gingrich also said he's worried that the United States might reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition Islamist umbrella group in the country.

"I think this is absolute total misreading of history. The Muslim Brotherhood is a mortal enemy of our civilization, they say so openly," Gingrich said.

The Brotherhood, officially banned but still tolerated by the Egyptian government, is already in negotiations with other – but not all – opposition groups and Egypt's new vice president, Omar Suleiman. The Brotherhood was removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations in the 1970s and, at least in Egypt, has renounced violence.

The likely 2012 presidential candidate reiterated his "end of February and to March" deadline to make a decision and turned the discussion to former President Ronald Reagan, whose centennial birthday celebration he attended Sunday.

"Reagan did what he believed in when he thought it was right," Gingrich said. "I frankly try to study Reagan and (Margaret) Thatcher and (Abraham) Lincoln because I think they were the great truth tellers of modern politics, sometimes when telling the truth people in the establishment go nuts because it's not the truth they want to hear."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Obama Administration Works Behind the Scenes on Egypt Transition

The U.S. has increasingly worked behind the scenes at the highest levels after days of civil unrest in Egypt, with President Hosni Mubarak's Tuesday announcement he would step aside coming on the heels of prodding by a special U.S. envoy.

And after Mubarak told his country he wouldn't run for re-election later this year, he spoke with President Obama for a half hour by phone. Obama later said Mubarak recognizes that the status quo in Egypt is “not sustainable” and a “change must take place.”

Obama pointed out that historically Egypt is no stranger to governmental change and that the “voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments.”

Obama called on Egypt to form a responsive government where “broad spectrums of Egyptian voices are heard,” and he affirmed U.S. interest in a strong relationship with Egypt going forward.

The Mubarak regime for decades has been allied with the U.S., but since the outset of the demonstrations the Obama administration made clear that it was not taking sides. Yet it sent former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, a close friend with the embattled leader, to persuade Mubarak not to run for re-election.

Late Tuesday, Mubarak said in a national address he would end his career "for the sake of the nation" and use his remaining months in power to work toward a "peaceful transition of power."

Mubarak had harsh words for the political forces he alleged had "manipulated and controlled" the protests, which began a week ago -- but he said he would remain in Egypt and that his legacy would be "judged by history."

Whether Mubarak's decision will placate demonstrators remains to be seen. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the test for Egypt will be whether the Egyptian demonstrators accept Mubarak as their president through the end of the year. Otherwise, he said, the country could be thrown back into crisis.

But the Obama administration has been holding talks to make clear Washington's desire for a peaceful transition, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey met with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei in Cairo to convey that message. Crowley described the meeting as "part of our public outreach to convey support for orderly transition in Egypt."

At the Pentagon, officials said Defense Secretary Robert Gates conferred by phone with his Egyptian counterpart, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Also Tuesday, the State Department ordered nonessential U.S. personnel to leave Egypt. The order replaces an initial decision last week to allow nonessential workers who wanted to leave the country to do so at government expense.

The department said it would continue to evacuate private U.S. citizens from Egypt aboard government-chartered planes.

As the protests against Mubarak's three-decade rule escalated on Tuesday, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, was among the first to publicly say that Mubarak should "step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure."

"It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge `fair' elections," Kerry wrote in The New York Times. "The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation."

Egypt's army leaders are reassuring the United States that the powerful military does not intend to crack down on demonstrators, but is instead allowing the protesters to "wear themselves out," according to a former U.S. official in contact with several top Egyptian army officers.

The Egyptian officers expressed concern with some of the White House statements that side with the protesters, saying that stoking revolt to remove Mubarak could create a vacuum that the banned but powerful Muslim Brotherhood could fill, the official said. While the Brotherhood claims to have closed its paramilitary wing long ago, it has fought politically to gain power, and more threatening to the Mubarak regime, has built a nationwide charity and social network that much of Egypt's poverty stricken population depends on for its survival.

Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. military remains ready to help get Americans out of Egypt if asked but so far has received no requests.

On Monday, the U.S. evacuated more than 1,200 Americans from Cairo on such flights and said it expected to fly out roughly 1,400 more in the coming days. Monday's flights ferried Americans from Cairo to Larnaca, Cyprus; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey. On Tuesday, the department expects to add Frankfurt, Germany, as a destination.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Politics marks Obama, GOP battle over regulations

A Republican-run House hearing on eliminating federal regulations quickly erupted into partisanship Wednesday, as GOP lawmakers said many rules cost American jobs while Democrats insisted they protect public health, the environment and even national security.

The hearing witness, Obama administration chief regulatory official Cass Sunstein, insisted that rules are designed to protect the public and the economy, and are issued only after balancing benefits against the costs.

"Job creation is in the first sentence" of President Barack Obama's recent executive order to review all government regulations, Sunstein said.

The session by the Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee underscored the differences between the two parties, even though President Barack Obama issued an executive order last week ordering agencies to use the "least burdensome tools" when issuing regulations and to eliminate existing ones that are counterproductive.

GOP lawmakers challenged Sunstein on a range of rules, making clear that they have broad concerns about steps the administration is taking.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who chairs the full Energy and Commerce Committee, was worried about an Environmental Protection Agency plan to regulate emissions from large boilers that by court order may be issued soon. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, objected to a new federal agency overseeing health insurers created in the wake of last year's health care overhaul.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., asked about Obama's moratorium on offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico after last year's giant oil spill, and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., complained about the EPA's revoking a permit allowing a mine in the state to operate.

"Sometimes regulations aren't worth the cost, which is just plain dumb," said Upton.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who heads the investigations panel, also went on the offensive, accusing the Obama administration of a "rush to regulate" and basing job-killing decisions on political correctness.

At one point, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., asked Sunstein to promise that "during this time of economic crisis, that you will use your power to make sure the administration doesn't put a stamp of approval on any regulation that costs American jobs?"

Gardner tried limiting Sunstein to a yes or no answer, but the administration official responded, " A yes answer would be preposterous. If there's a regulation that's saving 10,000 lives and costing one job, it's worth it."

Democrats argued that in many instances like the 2008 financial crisis and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it was the lack of effective regulation that led to problems, not too much federal control.

"Regulations per se are not the problem. The mantra that regulations are inherently bad and kill jobs is wrong and dangerous," said Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, the investigations subcommittee's top Democrat.

Added Rep. Henry Waxman of California, leading Democrat on the entire Energy committee, "Let's prune unnecessary regulations where we find them. But let's also not hesitate to regulate where needed to protect our economy and children's future."

The two sides' differing views have led many to believe it will be hard for them to agree on rules that should be rolled back.

"A lot of what each party may want to go after is supported by some set of the public," said Peter Van Doren, editor of Regulation magazine, published by the Cato Institute, which favors limiting government's reach. He predicted numerous partisan clashes, "and in 2012 we'll have the election and see what happens."

Since Obama controls federal agencies and Democrats run the Senate, it will be tough for Republicans to force the administration to drop regulations the president likes. Either way, participants agree, the duel will have a distinct political flavor, with the GOP pushing for business interests' goals and Obama protecting Democratic constituencies like labor and environmental groups while also showing concern about stifling jobs.

"Clearly this White House is starting to think about 2012," when Obama faces re-election, said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, which monitors the regulatory process.

In one sign of the administration's changed sensibilities, it bowed to industry pressure Tuesday and delayed a proposal to require companies to keep separate records on workplace musculoskeletal injuries.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has asked about 150 companies and trade groups for suggestions on which regulations to eliminate. He has yet to release any responses, but letters obtained by The Associated Press give a taste for the rules that business dislikes and Republicans might battle:

--The Associated Builders and Contractors, representing the construction industry, has complained about Obama administration policies and rules pressuring contractors to use union workers, eliminate workplace hazards and limit lead exposure.

--The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing a dozen carmakers, favors a single national fuel economy standard over conflicting state requirements. The group is also unhappy about forthcoming rules on ethanol, fuel economy labeling and visibility out the rear of vehicles.

--The National Association of Manufacturers cites a study claiming that regulations contribute to an 18 percent cost disadvantage U.S. companies face against other major countries. They say curbs on greenhouse gases, emissions from boilers and ozone pollution combined with other rules "could cost millions of jobs and weaken an economy in a still fragile recovery."

The government issues 3,000 or more regulations a year, though most are minor, according to data compiled by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Ever since President Bill Clinton issued an executive order similar to Obama's, agencies have been required to evaluate their rules, but few are killed.

In a speech in November, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue said regulations cost Americans $1.75 trillion a year. Though he said many are necessary, he complained about a "regulatory tsunami" that is the country's "single biggest threat to job creation."

Democrats and their supporters say such claims are extreme and unfounded, underscoring the gulf between the two sides.

"Implementation of environment and health laws don't actually impose a big burden on the economy," said David Doniger, climate policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's an unproved big lie."