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Obama's real job: cleaner and group therapist

Business Times - 31 Dec 2009


Obama's real job: cleaner and group therapist

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

AS ONE of the most exhilarating - and yet depressing - years in the history of Washington comes to an end, many pundits are already writing the political obituary of the leading character in this chapter: Barack Obama is predicted to become a one-term president.

Indeed, some of Mr Obama's former groupies have become very melodramatic, depicting him as the Fallen Messiah or as the God that Failed, and insisting that they will not be stuffing envelopes or knocking on doors in Iowa on his behalf if Mr Obama decides to run for a second term in 2012.

It is certainly too early to start making political bets on the outcome of the next presidential race or, for that matter, on the Congressional midterm election in 2010.

But the collapse of the Cult of Obama and the recognition that he has become a 'normal' political figure and will probably not turn out to be a '…

Fall-out of Obama health-care reforms

Business Times - 29 Dec 2009


Fall-out of Obama health-care reforms

Despite passage of Bill, intense political fight over issue has weakened public support for US president

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

AFTER several months of nasty public debate and heated Congressional deliberations - marked by the political rise of Tea-Party crowd and the notorious 'birthers' and 'deathers' - the US Senate passed a modest but solid healthcare reform bill that could extend coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans.

The final passage of the bill, on a 60-39 vote along party lines with no Republican support, is seen as a huge political victory and a historic achievement for US President Barack Obama.

Most observers expect the Senate and the House of Representatives to fuse their respective versions of the health-care bill when lawmakers return to Washington early next year, and a final draft of the legislation will be signed by Mr Obama probably before he delivers his State of …

Senate, US public hold card

Business Times - 25 Dec 2009

PERSPECTIVE
Senate, US public hold card

That the US and China reached an agreement not to agree and to impose it on all others at the climate summit is probably the only good news that came out of Copenhagen

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

CRITICS of former US president George W Bush's unilateralist approach to foreign policy had assumed that President Barack Obama's commitment to pursuing a more multilateralist global agenda would finally help produce international agreements on a variety of issues, including climate change.

Hence, if the unilateralist Mr Bush opposed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and refused to submit the treaty for Senate ratification, then the multilateralist Mr Obama would play a leading role in getting a new climate-change accord approved in Copenhagen this year and would be able to mobilise American public and Congressional support for a new UN framework aimed at combating global warming.

Or those at least were the expectati…

Obama is doing all right; grade him well

Business Times - 22 Dec 2009


Obama is doing all right; grade him well

His admirers-turned-bashers should remember that he didn't promise to lead a revolution

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

IF YOU have been surfing American television news channels this past week, there is a good chance that in addition to commercials inviting you to take part in the shopping spree of the holiday season, you would have encountered another of those pompous pundits 'grading' US President Barack Obama's first year in office.

In fact, Mr Obama himself was asked to grade his performance during an interview with television host Oprah Winfrey. Mr Obama graded himself a 'good, solid B+' and maybe an A- if his healthcare reform bill ended up being approved by Congress.

'I think that we have inherited the biggest set of challenges of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt,' Mr Obama explained. He was assigning himself only a B+ because of the things that remain undon…

Obama's tiny change we can believe in

Business Times - 17 Dec 2009


Obama's tiny change we can believe in

Lack of progress on healthcare and financial reform shows it's business as usual in Washington

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and his aides have described their effort to reform an ailing and costly American healthcare system as the centrepiece of the ambitious social and economic programme of a president who had promised during his election campaign that it would not be 'business as usual' in Washington. When he occupied the White House, he pledged to deliver 'a change we can believe in'.

Indeed, the popular narrative among Mr Obama's supporters has been that a major overhaul of the nation's US$2.5 trillion healthcare system - America being the only large industrialised country where access to healthcare is not guaranteed by the state - would be another milestone in the implementation of a progressive agenda that goes back to president Theodore Roosevel…

Posting on the Huffington Post

Check-out my post on the Huffington Post, including the most recent one.

Tackling joblessness vs federal debt

Business Times - 10 Dec 2009


Tackling joblessness vs federal debt

Obama has to decide which is his administration's main priority in the coming months

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

FACING public discontent over continuing high unemployment, which stands now around 10 per cent, US President Barack Obama is now trying to demonstrate his commitment to tackling the problem that could endanger Democratic control of Congress if economically distressed Americans decide to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections next year.

Touting the success of his stimulus and economic recovery efforts, Mr Obama laid out what sounded like a new stimulus-style jobs programme. Speaking at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based liberal think tank on Tuesday, Mr Obama proposed a set of new ideas, including tax cuts for small business, new infrastructure spending on highways and rail, and a so-called 'cash for caulkers' programme that would give rebates to people who retrofit or …

Irate Americans want Bernanke out

Business Times - 08 Dec 2009


Irate Americans want Bernanke out

With unemployment at 10%, the US is searching for a scapegoat to blame

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

THAT the American economy seems to be in the midst of a very bumpy recovery was made clear last week with reports indicating that while new claims for jobless benefits fell for a fifth straight week, retail sales and activity in the service sector, however, were also down last month.

With unemployment at 10 per cent, job creation continued to be the focus in Washington, and President Barack Obama, who hosted a White House forum on that issue last week, told reporters that he 'was not interested in taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to creating jobs'.

Unfortunately this has turned the same institution that had been lionised during the economic-boom years - the US Federal Reserve - to being depicted in Washington and around the country as the chief villain for America's economic woes.

Poor, poor…

Escalating to drawdown in Afghanistan? Dream on

Business Times - 03 Dec 2009


Escalating to drawdown in Afghanistan? Dream on

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

FIRST, the good news (or sort of): In his much-anticipated address on Tuesday outlining his strategy for Afghanistan, President Barack Obama refrained from employing the kind of fantasy-infused rhetoric about democratising the Middle East that his predecessor tended to apply when marketing his own war plans.

Indeed, Mr Obama did not sound very Wilsonian or messianic when calling on the American people to support his plan to deploy 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan within six months. In the tenor of the speech, Mr Obama could only be described as the anti-Bush: very cautious and very methodical; not an idealist, but a realist.

After all, it has taken him several months to deliberate on the Afghanistan strategy, including numerous meetings with his national security advisers and outside experts. 'As your commander-in-chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, …

Will unemployment be Obama's Katrina?

Business Times - 27 Nov 2009


Will unemployment be Obama's Katrina?

After 22 months of job losses, Geithner has become a convenient target for populist rage

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

THERE have been some encouraging signs of recovery in parts of the American economy recently. Hence, the National Association of Realtors reported this week that sales of existing homes were up by more than 10 per cent in October, hitting the highest levels in two-and-a-half years.

At the same time, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been hovering above 10,000 for a while and retailers are hoping that more confident American consumers will spend more time - and money - in the shopping malls during the coming holiday season.

Indeed, most economists seem to agree that the Great Recession is over. But then, the same economists are also predicting several quarters of substandard growth and rising unemployment. Currently, the unemployment rate stands at 10.2 per cent, the highest level in 26 ye…

Forget about a climate change deal anytime soon

Business Times - 19 Nov 2009


Forget about a climate change deal anytime soon

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

AS someone who has been following the political and legislative debate over climate change in the US Congress, I was a bit startled that so many pundits seemed so very surprised when President Barack Obama was forced to acknowledge in Singapore over the weekend that a comprehensive climate deal was beyond reach this year.

Instead, he and other world leaders agreed that they would work towards a more 'modest' interim agreement with a promise to renew work towards a binding treaty next year.

Good luck with that! And here is a bold prediction: There would probably be no support in Congress during the rest of Mr Obama's term for any binding accord to address global warming, making it very difficult to negotiate any global accord to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.

The election of a charismatic Democratic US President who pledged during his campaign t…

Tough going for bid to pare Fed

Business Times - 17 Nov 2009


Tough going for bid to pare Fed

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

US LAWMAKERS have been drawing plans on how to reform financial regulations and prevent another deadly meltdown, more than a year after the economic crisis started.

At the centre of the debate on Capitol Hill has been the role that the US central bank should (or shouldn't) play in regulating financial institutions.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who is backed by President Barack Obama and his top economic aides, wants the Fed to take upon itself the responsibility of a top regulator. Both Republican and Democratic critics argue that the Fed has not had a very strong record as a regulator and want to deny the Fed any new regulatory powers.

Hence, while legislation offered by Democratic Representative Barney Frank of Massachussetts, the chairman of the House of Representatives' Financial Services Committee, posits a powerful bank regulatory role for the Fed, a bill proposed b…

From Seattle to Singapore

Business Times - 10 Nov 2009


From Seattle to Singapore

America's free market model has, since 1993, been challenged by major geo-strategic setbacks and the global financial crisis. By LEON HADAR

WHEN then US President Bill Clinton convened the first APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Blake Island near Seattle, Washington, on Nov 19-20, 1993, America and the world seemed to be going through very dramatic political changes - not unlike today, when the 17th annual APEC Economic Leaders Meeting opens in Singapore.

In 1993, the end of the Cold War, coupled with the ushering of the era of globalisation, had driven Washington to assert its leadership role in promoting free markets around the world and in liberalising global trade and investment. And the Pacific region was becoming a central arena for promoting this ambitious American geo-economic agenda.

Sixteen years later, in the aftermath of major geo-strategic setbacks and against the backdrop of the global financial crisis, America…

Obama's Asia trip sign of US role uncertainty

Business Times - 10 Nov 2009


Obama's Asia trip sign of US role uncertainty

It's part of effort to counter impression from Bush days that US is retreating from region

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

ONE of the complaints made by officials and pundits across the Pacific, and especially in South-east Asia, during the eight years that ex-president George W Bush was in charge of US foreign policy was that Washington wasn't paying enough attention to the strategic and economic changes that were taking place in East Asia - in particular, to the dramatic rise in Chinese influence in the region.

Indeed, American diplomatic and military energy since the attacks of 9/11 were directed at winning the campaign against terrorism pursued in the so-called Greater Middle East that included the two long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The perception among many East Asians has been that the US was 'underinvolved' in their region during the Bush administration, according …

GOP wins a referendum on Obama?

Business Times - 05 Nov 2009


GOP wins a referendum on Obama?

The recent elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey expose a deep political divide inside the Republican Party

By LEON HADAR
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

IT'S been a year since Barack Obama and the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress and the Republican Party was kicked out of power in the 2008 election. Many of the pundits celebrated those elections as 'historic' and 'transformative'.

They argued that its political significance went beyond the obvious - for the first time American voters decided to send an African-American to the White House, a choice that reflected a revolutionary change in American attitudes on race, an issue that has plagued the nation's political history, with the civil war between the Northern and slave-owning Southern states being the most dramatic example.

But against the backdrop of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s and …