Katie Couric may be best known for her unflattering interview with Sarah Palin. But her nightly news broadcast this past Monday night may be an indicator that the big liberal media are now turning their guns on Obama.
Couric said on “CBS Evening News” that Americans are growing “disenchanted” with Obama and are openly questioning his credibility.
“Is the honeymoon over?” anchor Couric said at the beginning of her correspondent’s report.
“Although President Obama has been in office less than a year, many Americans are growing disenchanted with his handling of the enormous problems he and the country are facing, from healthcare to unemployment to Afghanistan.
“His poll numbers are sliding, and at least one poll shows his job approval rating has fallen, for the first time, below 50 percent.”
Correspondent Chris Reid chimed in: “The president is getting battered on everything from the economy to foreign policy. Some polls show Americans are increasingly questioning his credibility.”
The report asserted that while Obama talks about dealing with unemployment, which is over 10 percent and expected to rise, he has developed “no new ideas” for dealing with the problem.
CBS also cited a poll showing that only 14 percent of Americans believe Obama’s claim that healthcare reform won’t add to the budget deficit, and only 7 percent believe that the stimulus has created any jobs at all.
The report also criticized the president for being “indecisive” on Afghanistan, and for returning from his recent Asian trip “with little to show for it.”
An expert was quoted as describing his trip as the “amateur hour,” as he did not line up agreements with foreign countries before venturing abroad
Japan launches 5th spy satellite An H-2A rocket carrying a spy satellite lifts off from a space center on the southern island of Tanegashima, on Saturday Nov. 28, 2009. Japan launched its fifth spy satellite Saturday in a bid to boost its ability to independently gather intelligence, the government said. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) (AP)
By SHINO YUASA The Associated Press Saturday, November 28, 2009; 2:02 AM
TOKYO -- Japan launched its fifth spy satellite into orbit Saturday in a bid to boost its ability to independently gather intelligence, the government said.
The domestically developed H-2A rocket carrying the $565 million satellite lifted off from a space center on the southern island of Tanegashima, said Hisashi Michigami, an official at the Cabinet Office.
"The satellite will gather intelligence for our defense and diplomatic purposes," Michigami said. "We hope to upgrade our ability to gather intelligence on our own. Intelligence gathering is vital to our national security."
Michigami said the launch was successful.
Japan has long relied on the United States for intelligence. But it launched its first pair of spy satellites in 2003, prompted by concerns over North Korea's missile program.
North Korea shocked Tokyo in 1998 when it test-fired a missile over Japan. Since then, Japan has launched spy satellites primarily to watch developments in North Korea.
In April this year, a North Korean long-range rocket flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean.
Michigami said Japan has three working spy satellites. The fourth spy satellite became unresponsive in 2007 due to apparent electrical problems. Each spy satellite will last around five years, he said.
Japan has long been one of the world's leading space-faring nations, having launched its first satellite in 1970. But it has been struggling to get out from under China's shadow in recent years.
While China put its first men into orbit in 2003, Japan has yet to send astronauts on its own, though Japanese have joined U.S. space missions.
Last year, Japan's parliament voted to allow the nation's space programs to be used for defense for the first time as part of Tokyo's push to give its military a greater international role.
In January this year, Japan launched its first satellite to monitor greenhouse gases, a tool to help scientists better judge where global warming emissions are coming from, and how much is being absorbed by the oceans and forests.
The country also plans to have a two-legged robot walk on the moon by around 2020.
President vs. party on troop increase Caucus wouldn't back a costly expansion of Afghan war
Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, November 26, 2009
President Obama will reveal his new Afghanistan war strategy in a speech Tuesday evening to cadets at West Point, but his most skeptical audience is likely to be the powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill who oppose a troop buildup.
This Story President vs. party on troop increase ANALYSIS: In his slow decision-making, Obama goes with head, not gut War speech to outline escalation and exit Q&A, Transcript: On how President Obama makes decisions Afghanistan investigating 5 current and former cabinet members Fine Print: Bad Karzai, good Karzai Obama's War: Mission in Afghanistan Special Report: The AfPak War View All Items in This Story View Only Top Items in This Story
Top Democrats have made it clear to Obama that he will not receive a friendly reception should he announce what is considered the leading option: sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The legislators have indicated that a request for more money to finance a beefed-up war effort will be met with frustration and, perhaps, a demand to raise taxes.
Even so, Obama appears ready to come close to accepting the recommendation of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, to add 40,000 more troops to the war effort. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday that several NATO countries will send an additional 5,000 troops to Afghanistan. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that Obama had not yet informed members of his war council of his decision.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described what she called "serious unrest" in her caucus over the prospect of another vote to finance billions of dollars for an expanded war. It is, she said, the most difficult vote she can ask of the members of her party. "We need to know what the mission is, how this is further protecting the American people and is this the best way to do that, especially at a time when there's such serious economic issues here at home," she told bloggers on a Tuesday conference call.
Pelosi met with Obama at the White House on Tuesday and later sat next to him at the state dinner he held that evening. Both sides declined to comment Wednesday about the substance of the roughly hour-long discussion.
In June, Pelosi strong-armed anti-war Democrats into voting for a $100 billion measure to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During an interview in July, she recounted her appeal to the lawmakers: "Will you change your mind and one more time vote for war funding?" She also promised not to ask again. "This is the very last time," she told them.
Now, barely five months later, Pelosi and Obama will soon have to go back to the war well, even as they seek difficult votes from the same Democrats on health-care reform, climate change legislation and regulation of the financial industry.
Those domestic policy efforts are far from settled, but Pelosi has described them only as "heavy lifts" that were "nothing" compared with the war votes of the past three years. "You have to go to somebody who is totally, completely, entirely opposed to war funding, and you need to have them vote on it. And you don't even want to vote on it yourself," she said in the July interview.
Obama plans to brief lawmakers at the White House just hours before he leaves for West Point to deliver his speech. The House Foreign Affairs Committee scheduled a hearing on the president's Afghanistan strategy for Dec. 2, the day after the speech. Among those asked to testify: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
McChrystal and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl W. Eikenberry, also are expected to testify next week.
Senior aides said the president's first task will be to seek the understanding of an uneasy nation for his new approach to a war that began eight years ago. Among the reassurances he will offer, they said, is a promise that an end is in sight.
"We are in year nine of our efforts in Afghanistan. We're not going to be there another eight or nine years," Gibbs said.
But members of the party's most liberal wing, such as Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), have expressed serious doubts about the overall direction of the president's strategy.
"Devoting billions more dollars and tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan is not likely to significantly improve conditions in that country, and it will not help -- and could even hurt -- our efforts to dismantle al-Qaeda's global network with safe havens in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and elsewhere," Feingold said.
Even the Democratic Party's more hawkish lawmakers, such as Sen. Carl M. Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, have said they have deep reservations about the wisdom of a troop buildup.
Kerry has said he is "very wary of it because of past experience and because of some of the challenges that I see." Levin has insisted that more be done to train Afghan troops before sending more Americans.
"Before we commit to additional combat forces, which has a distinct negative, not only for our overstretched troops but also the footprint argument, I believe we must do these other things that are the best way to succeed," Levin said in September.
Senior Democratic aides said no decision will be made on how or when to fund the expected troop request until Obama spells out his plan. One option would be a supplemental spending bill that could be considered early next year. Another would be to add the funding to one of the appropriation bills lawmakers are trying to pass by the end of the year to fund most of the federal government for fiscal 2010.
Such a vote would require much Republican support for passage, because dozens of the most liberal Democrats might oppose the measure. Obama has so far shown little ability to court GOP votes on major legislation, although Republicans have supported almost every war-funding bill since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Because Obama has not formally announced his Afghanistan plan, Republican lawmakers have remained muted in their support for it. The GOP approach has largely been to demand that Obama accept his generals' requests.
Several key GOP lawmakers are using the Thanksgiving holiday to visit Kabul, where they are expected to talk to McChrystal in meetings that could serve as bellwethers of Republican thinking on the plan.
Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) -- For the first time since the equity rally began in March, the biggest U.S. stocks are beating the smallest as the dollar’s descent sends investors to companies with the most business in international markets.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average of companies with $116.6 billion in median market value rose 7.9 percent this quarter, compared with the 0.2 percent loss by the Standard & Poor’s SmallCap 600 Index, whose members are worth $591.8 million on average. The Dow had trailed by 26 percentage points following the stock market’s low on March 9.
The largest corporations are winning now because they get more sales abroad, where growth in nations from Brazil to China exceeds the pace in the world’s biggest economy. The dollar’s drop helps Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc., Ford Motor Co. and McDonald’s Corp. by boosting the value of revenue when foreign earnings are brought back to the U.S.
“The large-cap multinational exposure to a weak dollar and non-dollar revenues has been causing them to outperform,” said Chris Hyzy, New York-based chief investment officer at U.S. Trust, a Bank of America Corp. unit overseeing about $188 billion. “That’s going to be stickier than many people believe. It’s not going to go away in the new year.”
Large Stock Shift
While the dollar has fallen since March, the 30-company Dow average didn’t start beating the rest of the stock market until this quarter. Now, investors are buying bigger stocks on concern the rally in equities will slow, said Henry Herrmann, the chief executive officer of Waddell & Reed Financial Inc., which manages $70 billion from Overland Park, Kansas. The S&P 500 posted its first monthly drop since February in October after a 56 percent jump and declined 0.2 percent last week to close at 1,091.38 on Nov. 20.
The Dow added 162.86 points, or 1.6 percent, to 10,481.02 at 10:51 a.m. in New York today. The S&P SmallCap 600 climbed 2.5 percent to 316.68.
The largest companies generate about 33 percent of their sales abroad, compared with 20 percent for the smallest, according to data compiled by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America.
Smaller companies are at a disadvantage because the dollar has declined against all 16 of the most-active currencies this year as the government sold record levels of new debt to support the $11.6 trillion that it spent, lent or guaranteed to end the worst recession since the 1930s. The Dollar Index has lost 16 percent from its three-year high on March 5, the steepest retreat since 1986.
‘Quietly Very Pleased’
President Barack Obama “has to be quietly very pleased about it,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “The dollar’s decline benefits big multinationals that happen to be getting a lot of their profits from abroad. That’s clear.”
Caterpillar, the biggest maker of bulldozers and excavators that got 66 percent of sales outside the U.S. in 2008, has added 16 percent this quarter on the New York Stock Exchange. Tokyo- based Komatsu Ltd., its top competitor, added 2.4 percent since Sept. 30.
Ford, the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, has risen 22 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with a 10 percent decline for Seoul-based Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea’s largest car manufacturer. Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford does 51 percent of its business abroad. South Korea’s won is the second- best performer among Asia’s 10 most-active currencies this year.
66% of Sales
McDonald’s has gained 12 percent since Sept. 30, while Darden Restaurants Inc., the owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, declined 6.4 percent.
Converting currencies into dollars will add 10 cents to 13 cents a share to 2010 profit at McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain said on Nov. 12. The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company, whose market value is more than 15 times bigger than Darden’s, gets 66 percent of sales from overseas, versus 3.6 percent at its Orlando, Florida-based rival.
“People are trying to determine who has pricing power, where can we see revenue growth, where is there potential for market expansion, where is the emerging market international exposure,” Waddell & Reed’s Herrmann said. “Most of those questions lead to the conclusion of bigger cap and higher quality.”
The dollar’s drop is also helping broader measures for the biggest U.S. companies outperform indexes for the smallest. The S&P 100 has risen 5.8 percent this quarter, compared with a 4.9 percent gain for the S&P 500 and 1.1 percent rise with the S&P MidCap 400. The Russell 2000 Index has lost 1 percent. Their median market capitalizations are $40 billion, $8.55 billion, $2.17 billion and $375 million, respectively.
Among companies in the S&P 500, those generating more than half their revenue abroad beat those doing business solely in the U.S. by 30 percentage points in 2009 through Nov. 17, according to data compiled by Bespoke Investment Group LLC, a Harrison, New York-based research firm. The stock measure has risen 61 percent since March 9.
Weakness in the U.S. currency will continue next year even after the Federal Reserve boosts interest rates, a move Chairman Ben S. Bernanke says is an “extended period” of time away, according to the top forecasters in Bloomberg’s ranking of 46 firms last month. Standard Chartered Plc, Aletti Gestielle SGR, HSBC Holdings Plc and Scotia Capital Inc. say the dollar will depreciate as much as 7.1 percent versus the euro.
Odds of a Fed increase don’t exceed 50 percent until September, according to trading in Fed funds futures contracts. The central bank cut its target rate for overnight loans between banks to as low as zero, a record, in December.
“Over the next 12 months, and more likely over the next few years, the dollar should fall,” said David Kelly, who helps oversee $480 billion as chief market strategist for JPMorgan Funds in New York. “Large-cap companies do have more exposure to the rest of the world, so they should benefit.”
Record foreclosures, frozen credit markets and $1.72 billion in bank losses and writedowns from the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market prompted government rescue plans that have accelerated the dollar’s retreat.
Policy makers say they want to end the dollar’s plunge. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet has argued for a strong dollar, calling it “extremely important” last month. Bernanke said during a Nov. 16 speech in New York that the Fed is “attentive” to changes in the currency’s value and “will help ensure that the dollar is strong.”
To keep their currencies from appreciating too fast, governments in developing nations have amassed record foreign- exchange reserves as their central banks bought dollars. Brazil imposed a tax on foreign investments in October to end a rally that’s driven the real up 34 percent against the dollar in 2009.
International sales haven’t guaranteed stock gains. Chicago-based Boeing Co., which gets 39 percent of revenue abroad, cut its full-year profit forecast on Oct. 21 following $3.5 billion in charges for the delayed 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 jumbo jet programs. Its shares lost 2.6 percent since Sept. 30.
Emerging markets remain a draw for corporations. The U.S. unemployment rate is 10.2 percent, the highest level since 1983, and Americans cut spending for the first time in five months in September, according to the Commerce Department.
The median of 63 economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg show that the U.S. may expand 2.6 percent in 2010, after increasing at a 3.5 percent rate in the third quarter of 2009 following a year of contraction. Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy, will grow 3.8 percent in 2010 and China, the most- populous nation, will gain 9.5 percent, according to the median forecasts.
“Large companies are in the sweet spot,” said Michael Obuchowski, chief investment officer of First Empire Asset Management Inc. in Hauppauge, New York, which oversees about $3.3 billion. “When the consumer is still slowly recovering, being able to boost the exports really helps the manufacturing part of the economy, the exporting part of the economy.”
ECONOMIC WOES TAKING A TOLL House Republicans call on Geithner to resign
By Brady Dennis, Zachary A. Goldfarb and Neil Irwin Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, November 20, 2009
Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration.
Angry Congress lashes out at Obama
44: White House adviser open to additional stimulus Episodes in both houses of Congress exposed the raw nerves of lawmakers flooded with stories of unemployment and economic hardship back home. They also underscored the stiff headwinds that the administration faces as it pushes to enact sweeping changes to the financial regulatory system while also trying to create jobs for ordinary Americans.
President Obama's allies in the Congressional Black Caucus, exasperated by the administration's handling of the economy, unexpectedly blocked one his top priorities, using a legislative maneuver to postpone the approval of financial reform legislation by a key House committee.
Two buildings away, at a session of the Joint Economic Committee, Republicans escalated their attacks on Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, including a call for his resignation.
"Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.). "For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?"
Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) took a different tack. "I don't think that you should be fired," he told Geithner. "I thought you should have never been hired."
Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a friend of the administration, suggested that Geithner had been inconsistent in addressing China's practice of keeping its currency low against the dollar.
And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said Wednesday on MSNBC that he thinks Geithner should step down, pointing to his handling of the aftermath of American International Group's meltdown.
Across Capitol Hill, senators signaled their opposition to rushing regulatory reform. While some Democrats voiced reservations about parts of the bill, Republicans went further, faulting Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) for pushing ahead before the roots of the crisis were understood.
Perhaps most troubling for the administration was that one of the few measures to succeed Thursday was an amendment by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) that would subject the Federal Reserve to unprecedented scrutiny. The amendment, which won bipartisan support in the House Financial Services Committee despite the reservations of administration officials, would allow the Government Accountability Office to audit all of the Fed's operations, including its decisions on interest rates and its transactions with foreign central banks.
Paul and allies in both parties -- more than 300 members of Congress have endorsed the measure -- are looking to increase oversight of an institution they consider partly to blame for the financial crisis. Federal officials and many private economists worry that the amendment could make future central bank policymakers reluctant to take unpopular steps to prevent inflation or support the economy for fear of second-guessing by Congress and government auditors.
The House committee had been set to vote to send the final piece of its regulatory reform package to the House floor after months of debate. That is, until the committee's chairman, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), told a shocked committee room that passage of the bill would be delayed until Dec. 1 because the Congressional Black Caucus wanted the administration to do more to help African American communities suffering in the economic decline.
Frank told committee members that black lawmakers were "frustrated by the response to the economic situation by the administration." He said the caucus had no issues with the legislation itself. "They want obviously to continue to have some bargaining power with the administration," he said after the hearing.
The caucus itself did not publicly detail its concerns Thursday, but one member, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), issued a statement: "The recession has created a unique systemic risk that threatens all parts of the African-American community, including the poor and the middle class."
The caucus began discussing its concerns with Frank and the administration several weeks ago. Frank hosted a meeting Monday night between caucus members, Geithner and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
"You're talking about people whose constituents have been badly hammered by this," Frank said. "Given the nature of this recession, there needs to be some more conversations."
Frank said the caucus had concerns about whether minorities were being fairly represented in helping carry out Treasury's bailout programs and other federal efforts to resolve the financial crisis. The government has contracted out much of the work to Wall Street firms.
Congressional aides said the caucus's concerns are similar to those of the Democratic Party's liberal wing. Caucus members are pushing for legislation that would directly lead to new jobs by providing tax benefits, for example, that would provide incentives for home renovations and funding for new infrastructure projects. They also want to extend health-care and unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, Geithner was taking a beating as he urged Congress to pass regulatory reform as quickly as possible, arguing that delay would create uncertainty for businesses across the country. Lawmakers sharply criticized him for his role in the crisis during the tense Joint Economic Committee meeting. They were particularly critical of his involvement in the decision, as president of the New York Fed, to bail out AIG.
But Geithner pressed forward: "To ensure the vitality, the strength and the stability of our economy going forward, we must bring our system of financial regulation into the 21st century. Nobody in my job should ever be in the position again of having to come into a crisis like this without those basic authorities."
Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, chose the marbled Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building -- site of past hearings on Watergate, Pearl Harbor and the Wall Street abuses during the Great Depression -- to open debate on a massive draft bill designed to achieve the most ambitious reworking of the financial system in decades.
"This is one of those moments in our nation's history that compels us to be bold," Dodd said.
But soon, ranking committee Republican Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) took the floor, and for 18 uninterrupted minutes he opined that nearly every element of Dodd's bill was misinformed, uninformed, unnecessarily rushed or just plain flawed. "This committee has not done the necessary work to even begin discussing changes of this magnitude. Nevertheless, you have laid a bill before the committee," Shelby said. "I will be opposing this legislation. Not because we disagree on its ends, but rather on its means."
Shelby said Dodd was wrong not to conduct an investigation into the causes of the recent financial crisis before pushing forward with legislation. He said rather than ending the problem of institutions that are "too big to fail," the current bill expands the government's ability to bail out big banks. Shelby apologized for the length of his critique, expressed his hope that the two men might "yet find some common ground," and yielded the floor.
"Well," Dodd said in the morning's only moment of levity, "I thank you for the endorsement."
Staff writer David Cho contributed to this report.
In China, Obama leaves more questions than he takes
By Dana Milbank Thursday, November 19, 2009
Listening to President Obama and his Chinese counterpart this week, it was hard to tell who was Hu.
One is the leader of a great democracy. The other is the head of a repressive regime. But as the two men faced reporters in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Obama deferred to the wishes of President Hu Jintao: They would not take questions. In lieu of this rite of freedom, the two leaders exchanged platitudes.
"We reached agreement in many important fields," the communist leader assured everybody.
"Our two governments have continued to move forward in a way that can bring even greater cooperation in the future," the democratic leader reciprocated.
It was, to put it charitably, a low-key way of spreading American values. A decade earlier, in that very same hall, President Bill Clinton criticized China's Tiananmen Square crackdown during a news conference with then-President Jiang Zemin. President George W. Bush, no fan of the media, made Hu squirm at the White House three years ago when he insisted that they take questions from U.S. and Chinese journalists.
Obama, by contrast, didn't hold a news conference in China. Instead, he answered questions in Shanghai from students, who were apparently members in good standing of the Communist Youth League (even so, the authorities declined to broadcast the session on state television). Elsewhere in Asia, Obama eschewed the usual format for news conferences with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, instead allowing one reporter from each side to ask a question at each appearance.
Members of the White House press corps traveling with Obama were baffled: Even Bush, the great unilateralist, had been more willing to mix it up with journalists, foreign and domestic, while abroad. After reporters complained to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about a lack of communication, he issued a 61-word written statement worthy of the Politburo Standing Committee: "President Obama's visit to China has demonstrated the depth and breadth of the global and other challenges where US-China cooperation is critical," it began.
Other elements of Obama's Asian trip -- the bow to the Japanese emperor, the handshake with the Burmese prime minister -- have earned more attention, but Obama's reluctance to be challenged in public is more problematic. It sends a message to the world that contradicts his claim to the Chinese students that he is a better leader because he is forced "to hear opinions that I don't want to hear."
Instead of facing questioners in public, Obama invited correspondents from each American television network to come to his hotel for a series of one-on-one interviews of about 10 minutes apiece.
For the president, this was a low-risk alternative. Each reporter had to cover multiple topics, and that, by the White House's design, left little room for probing beyond the superficial. Obama told Fox News's Major Garrett, for example, that the White House is "taking a look" at tax provisions to encourage businesses to hire, but he didn't offer any specifics. He told CBS News's Chip Reid that he is "fine-tuning" his Afghanistan strategy, but he didn't say what it is. He gave CNN's Ed Henry the news that he is "absolutely confident" that health-care legislation will pass, but he didn't say in what form.
Then there were the requisite human-interest questions that the TV morning-show hosts love. NBC News's Chuck Todd asked whether the president had lost weight. "I'm eating fine and I'm sleeping fine," Obama reported. "My hair is getting gray." Henry asked whether Obama would read Sarah Palin's book. "You know, I probably won't," the president answered.
In that sense, Obama's Asian tour continued a pattern he has developed at home. He had five full news conferences at the White House during his first six months in office but has had none since July. That puts him roughly on par with Bush, who had four full White House news conferences in the same time. For Obama, who pledged to bring a new level of transparency to the presidency, that's hardly an impressive record.
Instead of subjecting himself to public inquisition, Obama has opted for the calm and cordiality of the tête-à-tête. He had done an impressive 134 sit-down interviews as president before leaving for China, according to CBS News's Mark Knoller, and his four in China brought the tally to 138.
It's easy to see why Obama prefers this format. Consider some of the questions that have arisen during these sessions:
"You picked the Tar Heels to win the national championship, didn't you?
"You are very, very famous as a very cool man, but what don't you like about yourself?"
"Golf. What does it do for you?"
"How do you relax?"
"Have the girls had kids over after school?"
"Do you get to read them a story at night, tuck them in bed?"
With questions like these, even President Hu might start talking to the press.
China criticized over alleged 'black jails' November 12, 2009 6:34 a.m. EST
Human Rights Watch report:
Chinese citizens illegally detained in secret jails Chinese spokesperson: "I can tell you that there is no such black jails in China" HRW alleges facilities used to detain citizens who traveled to cities to file complaints Report says detainees beaten, abused, threatened and intimidated
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Chinese authorities should abolish secret jails used to unlawfully detain citizens who travel to the capital and other major cities to file complaints, Human Rights Watch says.
For the past six years, citizens have been held without communication in so-called black jails, often located in state-owned hotels, nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals, according to a new report from the human rights group.
Most of the detainees are from rural areas and travel to major cities to submit grievances at petitions and appeals offices, which address cases without going to court, Human Rights Watch said.
Government officials and security forces often beat, abuse, threaten and intimidate the detainees to ensure that their complaints do not draw attention, according to the report.
"The existence of black jails in the heart of Beijing makes a mockery of the Chinese government's rhetoric on improving human rights and respecting the rule of law," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.
"The government should move swiftly to close these facilities, investigate those running them and provide assistance to those abused in them."
China has repeatedly denied the existence of secret jails, and the ministry of foreign affairs reiterated that stance Thursday.
"I'm not sure what evidence the report of Human Rights Watch is based on," the office said in a statement. "However, I can tell you that there is no such black jails in China."
The judicial system will deal with relevant cases, the ministry said.
"If there is any suggestion or complaint from Chinese people toward our government, they can appeal to relevant departments through normal and legal channels, and their legitimate rights will be protected."
But the rights group said the jails are becoming more popular because officials are penalized if too many grievances come from their jurisdictions. Areas with fewer complaints are rewarded, it said.
In the report, titled, "An Alleyway in Hell," the group said it had interviewed 38 people who have been detained in the facilities.
The detainees include people under 18, which violates China's commitments to children's rights, Human Rights Watch said.
A 15-year-old told the group she was seized in Beijing while petitioning on behalf of her crippled father, who was subjected to beatings at his nursing home.
"To visit these kinds of abuses on citizens, who have already been failed repeatedly by the legal system, is the height of hypocrisy," Richardson said.
The New York-based organization urged the U.S. president to address human rights issues during his trip to Asia, which starts Thursday and will include a stop in China.
"President Barack Obama has spoken forcefully about the importance of defending human rights globally," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. " ... The test now is whether he will do so in a country where the government remains profoundly hostile to these concepts."
In Obama's China trip, a stark contrast with the past. The U.S. tone toward Beijing is now much more conciliatory
Obama travels to Asia
President Obama embarks on a nine-day tour of Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. Obama is expected to address topics such as security, environment, the economy and U.S.-Asia relations.
Obama travels to China
Explore key events highlighting U.S. relations with China since 1972.
By Andrew Higgins and Anne E. Kornblut Washington Post Staff Writers Wednesday, November 18, 2009
BEIJING -- President Obama has emerged from his first trip to China with no big breakthroughs on important issues, such as Iran's nuclear program or China's currency. Yet after two days of talks with the United States' biggest creditor, the administration asserted that relations between the two countries are at "an all-time high."
ANALYSIS: In Obama's China trip, a stark contrast with the past
Although one concrete advance emerged -- that the United States may offer a target for carbon-emission cuts to boost climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month if China offers its own proposal -- it was a relatively small step for a new president who had campaigned on a promise to enact far-reaching change in U.S. diplomatic interactions.
If there was any significant change during this trip, in fact, it was in the United States' newly conciliatory and sometimes laudatory tone. In a joint appearance with President Hu Jintao on Tuesday, Obama hailed China as an economic partner that has "proved critical in our effort to pull ourselves out of the worst recession in generations." The day before, speaking to students in Shanghai, he described China's rising prosperity as "an accomplishment unparalleled in human history."
Obama's trip stood in stark contrast to visits by his predecessors. But this reflected not so much a policy shift by a new administration in Washington as a dramatic and much bigger change in the power dynamic, particularly in economics, over the past decade -- a change that has been the central undercurrent of Obama's swing through China this week.
In 1998, when President Bill Clinton stood before television cameras in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, the United States owed more money to Spain than to China and did more than twice as much trade with Mexico. At a freewheeling news conference, Clinton criticized China's military crackdown a decade earlier in Tiananmen Square and traded spirited jibes with President Jiang Zemin.
On Tuesday, Obama stood in the same building alongside another Chinese leader. This time, with the United States in hock to China for more than $1 trillion dollars and flooded with Chinese-made goods, it was a Chinese-style news conference. Each leader read a prepared statement and eyed the other in silence. There were no questions.
Since leaving Washington last Thursday for an eight-day tour of Asia, Obama has occasionally nudged China on issues such as Tibet and Internet censorship. But he has more often trumpeted China's achievements and pleaded with Beijing for increased help on the world stage.
China returned the effusiveness in its music selection at a state dinner for Obama on Tuesday night. The People's Liberation Army serenaded him and other U.S. officials with "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "In the Mood" and "We Are the World," as Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat on either side of the Chinese president over a steak dinner.
In many ways, the United States and China have never been closer, as reflected in a raft of joint projects outlined during Obama's visit here. Ahead of meetings with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday, Obama said the relationship is deepening beyond trade and economics to cover climate, security and other matters of international concern. Those would include previously announced and now reinvigorated efforts on stem-cell research, crime prevention and military contacts. But with the rituals and even the substance of the two nations' interactions increasingly on Chinese terms, Obama advisers insisted that their overtures and polite tone are in pursuit of long-term results, a reflection of China's growing importance.
When President Clinton visited China in 1998, the United States was still basking in its position as Cold War victor and the world's sole superpower. It sought China's help on only a narrow range of international issues, such as the spread of missile technology and North Korea. China was just shaking off the stigma of the 1989 crackdown. It was the seventh-biggest holder of U.S. Treasury securities. Today, China is the nation's biggest creditor and its trade with the United States has grown sevenfold.
Also changed are the faces in the Chinese leadership. Jiang, Clinton's 1998 sparring partner in the Great Hall of the People, was an often boisterous character who liked to sing, and also comb his hair, in public. Hu, Obama's host, is a far more buttoned-down and cautious sort.
Clinton could not tell Chinese leaders what to do. Indeed, he had to abandon a big push on human rights when China simply said no. And his challenge to Jiang over Tiananmen was paired with a significant concession over Taiwan.
But Clinton and other U.S. presidents never needed China's help nearly as much as Obama's America needs Hu's.
Whether as a creditor, an emitter of greenhouse gases or a neighbor of Afghanistan, China has clout that the United States now desperately needs. "The U.S.-China relationship has gone global," said Jon Huntsman Jr., the new U.S. ambassador to Beijing and a fluent Chinese speaker.
At the same time, however, China has been far more insistent about asserting its will, most obviously in small but symbolically significant matters of stage management. A town hall-style meeting in Shanghai that the White House had hoped would allow the president to reach out to ordinary Chinese was drained of spontaneity by Chinese-scripted choreography. Tuesday's news conference had no questions, at China's behest.
The Obama White House said it pushed back against restrictions, and it denied that the nation's indebtedness to China has made it any less forceful.
Referring to the fact that China holds Treasury securities worth nearly $800 billion, as well as billions more in other forms of U.S. debt, Michael Froman, economic adviser on the National Security Council, said "the $800 billion never came up in conversation."
"The president dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches," he said.
U.S. officials insisted that, despite constraints, Obama still got his message to the Chinese public. State television provided live coverage of his Tuesday appearance with Hu, which featured an appeal by the U.S. president on human rights.
"America's bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights," Obama said, "are universal rights" that "should be available to all people." He also urged China to resume talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.
White House officials described Obama as even more forceful behind closed doors, suggesting that the administration is more eager to engage with reality than grandstand. Obama had "as direct a discussion of human rights as I've seen by any high-level visitor with the Chinese" when he met with Hu, said Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council's chief Asia hand, who also worked for President Clinton.
Furthermore, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, the administration had not expected "that the waters would part and everything would change
Yen Rises, Emerging-Market Stocks Fall as Bernanke Sees Risks
By David Merritt
Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The yen rose against major currencies and emerging-market stocks fell after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said “significant” challenges remain to revive the U.S. economy, the world’s biggest.
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index declined 0.3 percent at 10:20 a.m. in London as Russia’s Micex Index dropped 0.7 percent. The yen strengthened against 12 of the 16 most traded currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The Dollar Index, which gauges the currency against major trading partners and is down 7.7 percent this year, gained 0.2 percent. Gold retreated from a record.
“Our concern is that the underlying growth rate in this recovery is going to be much more muted than any other recovery we’ve seen in the past 50 years,” said Richard Batty, the global investment strategist at Standard Life Investments in Edinburgh. “That’s why we stick to assets like government bonds. We are not willing to chase riskier assets.”
The U.S. economic recovery will be restrained by the “headwinds” of reduced bank lending and a weak labor market, and “future setbacks are possible,” Bernanke said in a speech to the Economic Club of New York yesterday. Bank of England policy maker Andrew Sentance told Bloomberg Television late yesterday that it’s not yet time to consider reining in emergency stimulus measures.
Europe’s Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index fluctuated between gains and losses after reaching a 13-month high yesterday. UBS AG advanced 1.8 percent in Zurich. Switzerland’s largest bank said it aims to reach 15 billion Swiss francs ($14.9 billion) in annual pretax profit in the next three to five years. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped 0.3 percent.
Kuwaiti shares tumbled after the U.S. Department of Justice said yesterday that Agility, the Middle East’s biggest storage and logistics company, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to defraud. The Kuwait Stock Exchange Index dropped 3.1 percent, the biggest decline of 89 benchmarks tracked globally by Bloomberg and the lowest close since March. Agility lost 8.3 percent.
U.S. stock-index futures declined, indicating that the S&P 500 may retreat from a 13-month high. A report from the Fed due at 9:15 a.m. in Washington may show industrial production rose 0.4 percent following an increase of 0.7 percent in September, according to the median forecast of 75 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
A separate report from the Labor Department will show prices paid to producers rose 0.5 percent in October, reflecting higher food and fuel costs, according to the median estimate by economists. From a year earlier, producer prices probably fell 1.8 percent.
CIT Group Inc., the bankrupt 101-year-old commercial lender, posted a loss of $1.03 billion in the third quarter, according to a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. CIT filed for bankruptcy Nov. 1, blaming losses on subprime mortgages and tightening credit markets.
The S&P 500 has surged 64 percent since March 9 as the Fed held interest rates near zero percent and lent, spent or guaranteed $11.6 trillion to combat more than $1.6 trillion in losses and writedowns at the world’s biggest financial firms and the first global recession since World War II.
The yen rose, climbing 0.4 percent to 132.76 per euro and 0.1 percent against the dollar to 88.94. The Australian dollar fell from near the strongest level in 15 months after minutes from the central bank’s most recent meeting damped speculation that borrowing costs may increase a third time. The Aussie dropped 0.9 percent to 92.88 U.S. cents.
The pound climbed against the dollar and the euro after a government report showed U.K. inflation rose more than economists forecast in October. Sterling gained 0.2 percent to $1.6853 and strengthened 0.5 percent to 88.60 pence per euro.
Copper for delivery in three months fell 0.7 percent to $6,802.50 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange, retreating from its highest price for the year. Nickel, zinc and tin also declined. Gold for immediate delivery fell 0.5 percent to $1,134.02 an ounce in London, having reached a record $1,143.60 yesterday. Crude oil for December delivery dropped 0.4 percent to $78.55 a barrel in New York.
Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The options market shows investors are growing increasingly wary that U.S. debt sales may push yields higher even as inflation remains in check.
The cost to hedge against rising yields on Treasuries as measured by the so-called skew in options on interest-rate swaps is at a record high, according to Barclays Plc data. At more than 37 basis points, the measure is almost 40 times higher than the average before credit markets seized up in August 2007.
The 13-member committee of bond dealers and investors that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner depends on for advice, and includes officials of Pacific Investment Management Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., highlighted the surge on page 36 of a 67-page report on Nov. 3. On the same page, they showed inflation expectations are subdued based on gauges watched by the Federal Reserve. In their discussions, the group noted that a second year of government debt sales approaching $2 trillion may weigh on investors as the Fed stops buying notes and bonds.
“The forward inflation rates show that inflation is off the agenda for the foreseeable future, with some still seeing a risk of deflation,” said Moorad Choudhry, head of Treasury in London at Europe Arab Bank Plc and author of more than a dozen books on finance and markets. “However, at the same time everyone is buying protection against higher yields.”
Rising yields on Treasuries, which are used as a benchmark for everything from mortgage rates to corporate bonds, may hamper Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s efforts to reduce borrowing costs for businesses and consumers as the economy struggles to recover from the deepest recession since the 1930s and rising unemployment curbs consumer spending.
Federal Bank of San Francisco President Janet Yellen raised the prospect of a “jobless recovery” in a Nov. 10 speech in Phoenix, while Dennis Lockhart, who heads the Atlanta Fed, predicted a “relatively subdued pace of growth” this quarter and beyond. Unemployment climbed to a 26-year high of 10.2 percent last month.
The economic recovery will probably “run out of gas” as it heads toward a “new normal” of lower long-term growth and higher unemployment than over the previous decade, Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Nov. 6.
The yield on the benchmark 3.375 percent security maturing in November 2019 fell two basis points to 3.40 percent at 10:01 a.m. in New York, according to BGCantor Market Data.
Ten-year yields have risen from a low this year of 2.14 percent on Jan. 15 as bond prices fell, generating a loss for investors of 7.4 percent after reinvested interest, according to Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch U.S. Treasury, Current 10- Year Index. Yields will reach 3.8 percent by the end of June and 4.16 percent at the end of 2010, according to Bloomberg surveys that put a greater weighing on recent forecasts.
The option volatility skew soared to a record 37.65 basis points, or 0.3765 percentage point, on Oct. 30 from negative 13.65 basis points a year earlier. The skew measures the difference between volatility, which is a gauge of prices and demand, on one-year options that allow investors to lock-in paying fixed rates on 10-year interest-rate swaps and those that grant the right to receive fixed rates. The difference typically widens when traders anticipate a rise in yields.
“The supply/demand skew is totally imbalanced as more people want to buy the protection against higher rates and very few are willing to supply it,” said Piyush Goyal, a fixed- income strategist in New York at Barclays. The firm is one of the 18 primary dealers in U.S. government securities required to bid at Treasury auctions.
Next to the option volatility skew graph, the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, known as TBAC, included a chart of the so-called five-year five-year forward breakeven inflation rate. This rate, derived from yields on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities and nominal Treasuries, was 3.20 percent last week, compared with the average this decade of 2.65 percent, according to Fed data.
The presentation and minutes from Treasury meeting with the TBAC were released on Nov. 4, the same day the Fed said at the completion of a policy meeting that it would keep rates near zero for “an extended period” as long as inflation expectations are stable and unemployment fails to decline.
Outside of rising yields, there is little evidence that demand for Treasuries waned as the amount outstanding rose to $7 trillion in September from $4.34 trillion before credit markets seized up in August 2007.
Interest paid by the U.S. dropped by $67.8 billion in fiscal 2009 ended Sept. 30, government data show. Yields on 10- year Treasuries are less than half the average of 7.31 percent over the past 40 years. On average, investors bid for 2.58 times the amount of securities sold at each of the 68 Treasury auctions this year, compared with 2.18 times at the 44 auctions at this point in 2008, according to Bloomberg calculations.
Indirect bidders, the class of investors that includes foreign central banks, have taken 45 percent, or $805.7 billion, of the $1.799 trillion of notes and bonds sold by the Treasury through Nov. 10, compared with 28 percent, or $213.2 billion, of the $750 billion this time last year.
“As long as we continue our regular and predictable approach to financing the U.S. government, we will continue to attract domestic and international capital,” said Matthew Rutherford, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Federal Financing. “We expect that demand for our securities will remain extremely strong.”
Bank holdings of government securities and debt of mortgage companies Fannie Mae in Washington and McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac increased to $1.39 trillion in the week ended Oct. 21 from $1.26 trillion a year earlier.
What’s different now is that the Fed is no longer buying Treasuries as part of a so-called quantitative easing plan. The central bank finished a seven-month program in October to acquire $300 billion in Treasuries. It will complete the purchase of $1.25 trillion in agency mortgage-backed securities and about $175 billion of agency debt by April.
Buying agency debt is good for Treasuries because it displaces investors in that market, forcing them into Treasuries. Barclays strategists estimated in a Nov. 12 report that this accounted for another $750 billion of Treasury purchases.
“Federal Reserve purchases of securities has artificially reduced supply of fixed-income securities coming into the market,” the minutes from the Nov. 3 TBAC meeting with the Treasury said. “Next year, financial markets should expect even greater issuance with no support. Such an outcome could pressure rates,” according to the minutes, which don’t list individual speakers.
The TBAC was formed shortly after World War II and made official through a 1972 act of Congress. It offers quarterly recommendations to the Treasury Secretary on managing the government’s debt. Members are appointed by the Treasury in consultation with the group’s chairman, currently Matthew Zames, the co-head of fixed income at New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the vice chairman of the committee.
The group includes Paul McCulley, a managing director at Newport beach, California-based Pimco, the world’s biggest manager of bond funds; Scott Amero, chief investment officer of New York-based BlackRock Inc., which manages more than $500 billion; and Ashok Varadhan of Goldman Sachs in New York, who is vice-chairman of the committee.
‘Depth and Breadth’
“You have to be impressed with the depth and breadth of experience on this committee,” said David Ader, the head of government bond strategy at Stamford, Connecticut-based CRT Capital Group LLC.
The group is similar to the “Five Wise Men” of Germany, a government-appointed panel of economic advisers that has counseled the government on matters related to the economy and the nation’s finances for almost half a century. That group now includes one woman. Dana Emery, executive vice president at Dodge & Cox Inc., and Irene Tse, managing director at Duquesne Capital Management LLC, serve on the TBAC.
Treasury debt-management director Karthik Ramanathan said Nov. 3 that bond market participants should expect another year of government sales of as much as $2 trillion with the U.S. headed for a second straight year of budget deficits exceeding $1 trillion. The U.S. issued $1.9 trillion of so-called coupon securities during the fiscal year that ended in September.
Potentially putting more pressure on longer-term government securities is Treasury’s plan to increase the average maturity of Treasury debt to a range of between six and seven years, up from 4.42 years currently. The Treasury aims to lengthen maturities over the next three to five years.
‘Retain Our Flexibility’
That means more sales of longer-term debt. Thirty-year bonds fell Nov. 12 after the government auctioned $16 billion of the securities, a record for that maturity.
“Our current suite of issuance should allow the average maturity of the debt to gradually rise back to historic levels,” Rutherford said. “It is important to remember that this is simply a projection. We must retain our flexibility, given the uncertainty surrounding our financing needs.”
The new bonds drew a yield of 4.469 percent, higher than the average forecast of 4.424 percent in a Bloomberg News survey of five primary dealers and a sign of weak demand. The bid-to- cover ratio was 2.26, the least since May and below the average of 2.39 at the last 10 auctions.
“We are at a critical point as far as supply goes as we are now without the biggest buyer, which was the Fed,” said Jim Bianco, president of Chicago-based Bianco Research LLC. “The supply issue isn’t so much that it will raise rates across the board. The trick is going to be how much debt the Treasury can issue further out the yield curve without shooting up rates now that the Fed isn’t buying.”
Increasing diversity, born out of boom, forces Chinese to confront old prejudic
Presidential trips to China Explore key events highlighting U.S. relations with China since 1972.
» Obama travels to Asia
Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, November 15, 2009
As a mixed-race girl growing up in this most cosmopolitan of mainland Chinese cities, 20-year-old Lou Jing said she never experienced much discrimination -- curiosity and questions, but never hostility.
So nothing prepared Lou, whose father is a black American, for the furor that erupted in late August when she beat out thousands of other young women on "Go! Oriental Angel," a televised talent show. Angry Internet posters called her a "black chimpanzee" and worse. One called for all blacks in China to be deported.
As the country gets ready to welcome the first African American U.S. president, whose first official visit here starts Sunday, the Chinese are confronting their attitudes toward race, including some deeply held prejudices about black people. Many appeared stunned that Americans had elected a black man, and President Obama's visit has underscored Chinese ambivalence about the growing numbers of blacks living here.
"It's sad," Lou said, her eyes welling up as she recalled her experience. "If I had a face that was half-Chinese and half-white, I wouldn't have gotten that criticism. . . . Before the contest, I didn't realize these kinds of attitudes existed."
As China has expanded its economic ties with Africa -- trade between them reached $107 billion last year -- the number of Africans living here has exploded. Tens of thousands have flocked to the south, where they are putting down roots, establishing communities, marrying Chinese women and having children.
In the process, they are making tiny pockets of urban China more racially diverse -- and forcing the Chinese to deal with issues of racial discrimination. In the southern city of Guangzhou, where residents refer to one downtown neighborhood as Chocolate City, local newspapers have been filled in recent months with stories detailing discrimination and alleging police harassment against the African community.
"In Guangzhou, to be frank, they don't like Africans very much," said Diallo Abdual, 26, who came to China from Guinea 1 1/2 years ago to buy cheap Chinese clothes to ship back to West Africa for sale.
With the recession, his business has dried up, his money is gone, and he has overstayed his visa. Now, like many Africans here, he spends most of his days at Guangzhou's Tangqi shopping mall avoiding the police.
"The security will beat you with irons like you are a goat," he said. "The way they treat the blacks is very, very bad." He and others pointed out the spot where in July several Africans jumped from an upper-floor window to escape an immigration raid. One migrant was reported critically injured in the fall, and a large number of Africans marched on the local police station in protest.
The Guangzhou Security Bureau said in a statement at the time that it had a duty to check that foreigners living in the city were there legally.
In the 1960s, China began befriending African countries, supporting liberation movements in Africa and bringing African students to China in a show of Third World solidarity. Lately, China has further deepened its ties to the continent, with Premier Wen Jiabao pledging $10 billion in new low-cost loans at a China-Africa summit in Egypt last week.
But that official policy of friendship has always been balanced against another reality -- the widely held view here that black people are inferior, that white people are wealthy and successful.
"The kind of prejudice you see now really happened with the economic growth," said Hung Huang, a Beijing-based fashion magazine publisher and host of "Straight Talk," a nightly current affairs talk show. "The Chinese worshiped the West, and for Chinese people, 'the West' is white people."
Hung, 48, said her generation was "taught world history in a way that black people were oppressed, they were slaves, and we haven't seen any sign of success since. The African countries are still poor, and blacks [in America] still live in inner cities." Hung noted that Chinese racial prejudices extend to the country's own minority groups, including Tibetans and Uighurs -- or anyone who is not ethnically Han Chinese.
The view of African Americans as poor and oppressed fits into the official narrative of the United States as a place of glaring inequalities. China's most recent annual report on the United States' human rights record in 2008, released in February, made no mention of Obama's historic election. But it said, "In the United States, racial discrimination prevails in every aspect of social life."
"Black people and other minorities live at the bottom of the American society," the report said. "There is serious racial hostility in the United States."
Sherwood Hu, a Shanghai-based filmmaker, was one of the judges on "Go! Oriental Angel" who gave Lou high marks. "Before the Cultural Revolution, China considered black people our brothers and white people our enemies," Hu said. "But deep down, they're a little bit afraid of black people."
The racial animosity here reflects a prejudice dating to China's mainly agrarian past: Darker skin meant you worked the fields; lighter skin put you among the elite. The country is rapidly industrializing and urbanizing, but that historical prejudice remains. High-end skin-whitening products are a $100 million-a-year business in China, according to industry statistics.
'Are we racist?'
Chen Juan, 27, a secretary in an English-language training school in Beijing, regularly uses skin-whitening products and carries an umbrella on summer days. "For me, the whiter, the better. Being white means pretty," she said. "If someone looks too black, I feel they look countrified and like a farmer. . . . Being white is prettier than being black."
"In my impression, black people, especially Africans, are not clean enough," Chen continued. "To be frank, I just feel black people are too black. Definitely, I wouldn't consider having a black guy as my boyfriend even if he were rich."
P.C. Chike, a Nigerian businessman in Guangzhou who has been in China for five years, exports wigs and extensions made from Chinese hair to his home country. He married a Chinese woman from Beijing, and they have a son, with another on the way.
"Chinese don't like Africans. They don't like black skin," Chike said. "China trying to embrace Africa is a political statement. The question is, how do they treat black people?"
Li Wenjuan, Chike's wife, said she thinks racial attitudes are less coarse in Beijing than in Guangzhou, where the commonly used Cantonese term for blacks translates as "black ghosts."
Some here say Obama's presidency is causing a major shift in attitudes. Others, however, say many Chinese rationalize his election as a fluke of the American system or suggest that Obama, whose mother was white, isn't "really" black.
"It will be really interesting to see what happens when he comes to visit, because I really think the Chinese have a hard time with it," Hung said. "Nobody has dealt with this question of what this means to our sense of race. It's a kind of self-examination that Chinese -- including myself -- need to go through: Are we racist?"
Lou sees similarities between her life and Obama's: She also grew up without her father, whom she never knew. She read Obama's autobiography and watched his campaign speeches on television. She learned how to chant "Yes, we can!" in English and calls Obama "my idol."
Reading the withering online criticisms of her talent-show appearance, she recalled, she came across one post that asked: "Now that Obama is president, does that mean a new day for black people has arrived?"
"I think the answer is yes," she said. "Some Chinese people's perceptions of black people here have been transformed."
The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose -- and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point.
It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision -- whether or not it is right.
The cost of indecision is growing every day. Americans, our allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.
When Obama became commander in chief, his course of action seemed clear. He was bent on early withdrawal from Iraq and an increase in resources and emphasis on winning in Afghanistan -- the struggle he repeatedly called "a war of necessity."
He sent 21,000 more troops to hold it together through the Afghan election and named two generals, Stanley McChrystal to run the war and the retired Karl Eikenberry to manage the politics and reconstruction from the ambassador's office in Kabul.
McChrystal came up with a new plan of battle, emphasizing protection of population centers and requiring as many as 40,000 more troops. Eikenberry, we now know, balked, giving voice to the widespread fear that Hamid Karzai, the carry-over winner of the election that the ambassador helped arrange, was too weak and corrupt to govern the country effectively, even with an enlarged American force keeping order.
Their disagreement was echoed and amplified throughout the Obama administration. The secretaries of defense and state came down on McChrystal's side; the vice president and many on the White House political staff with Eikenberry.
The president, notwithstanding his earlier rhetoric and actions, has hesitated to resolve the issue. Obama needs to remember what Clark Clifford, one of Harry Truman's closest advisers, said: that the president "believed that even a wrong decision was better than no decision at all."
While Obama deliberates, his party in Congress shows increasing reluctance to make an all-out commitment to the war effort. The chairmen of two key Senate committees, Foreign Relations and Armed Services, are arguing for retraining Afghan troops -- if they can even be found -- and turning over more of the burden of fighting to them.
Meantime, events in Afghanistan support McChrystal's prediction that delay in expanding the U.S. troop commitment will almost certainly lead to gains for the Taliban and greater risk for U.S. and allied troops.
In all this dithering, it's easy to forget a few fundamentals. Why are we in Afghanistan? Not because of its own claim on us but because the Taliban rulers welcomed the al-Qaeda plotters who hatched the destruction of Sept. 11, 2001. The Taliban also oppressed its own people, especially women, but we sent troops because Afghanistan was the hide-out for the terrorists who attacked our country.
We knew that governing Afghanistan would never be easy. It had resisted outside forces through the ages, and its geography, tribal structure, absence of a democratic tradition and poverty all argued that once we went in, it would be hard to get out.
But George W. Bush said -- and Obama seemed to agree -- that withdrawal was not an option.
That imperative is reinforced by the presence of Pakistan, a shaky nuclear-armed power across a porous mountain border. If the Taliban comes back in Afghanistan, the al-Qaeda cells already in Pakistan will operate even more freely -- and nuclear weapons could fall into the most dangerous hands.
Given all of this, I don't see how Obama can refuse to back up the commander he picked and the strategy he is recommending. It may not work if the country truly is ungovernable. But I think we have to gamble that security will bring political progress -- as it has done in Iraq.
Obama did not believe that could happen there. But given what he inherited, and given what he has done so far, I think he has no choice but to play out that hand. If we can't afford to lose, then play to win.
>>From Fort Hood to Afghanistan, trying times for the commander in chief,,
Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, November 12, 2009
War and tragedy are putting President Obama through the most wrenching period of his young administration. Visibly thinner, admittedly skipping meals, he is learning every day the challenges of a wartime presidency. Health-care reform, climate-change legislation, the broken economy -- all are cerebral exercises compared with the grim responsibility of being the commander in chief.
Two weeks ago, Obama flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for a surprise middle-of-the-night salute to the fallen as their transfer cases were unloaded from a military transport plane. He met with grieving families.
Then, last week, a gunman went on a rampage at Fort Hood, and Obama made his first trip as president to visit wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Tuesday he flew to Texas to speak at the memorial service. More families. More hurt soldiers. More grief.
Wednesday the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and walked the grounds at Arlington National Cemetery, talking to families who were there to visit loved ones who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There are many honors and responsibilities that come with this job. But none is more profound than serving as commander in chief," Obama said in a speech in the cemetery's auditorium. He then mentioned the title of commander in chief a second time, and a third ("As long as I am commander in chief . . .").
Then he returned to the White House, to the Situation Room, for another Afghanistan war council, another session to contemplate sending more young men and women to war.
"It looks to me from the outside that the reality of being a wartime president is beginning to sink in," said Eliot Cohen, a former Bush official and a military historian at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
"From mid-September on, there's been something of an effort by the White House to relaunch President Obama as commander in chief," said Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke who worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton and Bush administrations. He said new presidents often struggle with this part of their job.
"It really involves the whole person, not just the mind," Feaver said. "It's a very emotional role. Emotional in a positive sense. You have to order men and women to risk their lives. That requires a moral courage, an emotional stability. It's very different from a policy wonk job."
Obama has often been described as possessing the political magic of John F. Kennedy, but his tenure so far has similarities to that of Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson: an ambitious domestic agenda built around a more vigorous federal government, paired with an increasingly thorny overseas war. Making things even more complicated, if Obama sends significantly more troops to Afghanistan, the sworn political enemies of his domestic policies could become his critical allies as he tries to sell his war plans to a skeptical nation.
"With this decision, he's really going to own this war, and he's going to be sending young men and women to their deaths. And when that realization sets in, it's a very grim thing. He may have known it intellectually before, but what I think is happening is he's learning it viscerally," Cohen said.
No military résumé
As Obama noted in his campaign, he grew up listening to his grandfather talk about fighting in Europe in World War II, but he never served in the military. He is of a generation whose college kids generally didn't go off to war.
Critics of the president have said he doesn't understand the language of warriors and too often speaks of military sacrifice rather than military victory. But Obama has tried to head off that kind of criticism by stocking his administration with retired military brass. His national security adviser is a retired general; so are his secretary of veterans affairs and his ambassador to Afghanistan. His intelligence chief is a retired admiral.
Obama has had multiple chances in recent days to polish the kind of rhetoric that goes with being a wartime leader. His remarks at Fort Hood on Tuesday were filled with references to courage, valor, fighting. He disagreed that the Greatest Generation has come and gone: "We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes."
He opposed the Iraq war early and consistently and campaigned on a promise to end it. He also vowed to put new effort into the war in Afghanistan, the training ground of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists. This spring, his administration conducted a review of Afghanistan policy and announced that 21,000 additional troops would be sent to that war zone. The president showed little sign that the decision weighed on his mind or provoked much internal White House debate.
Then Afghanistan degenerated. A national election was shot through with fraud. Casualties spiked. Body bags began arriving home by the dozen.
A new direction
Now Obama is crafting a new strategy, weighing four different options, according to the White House press secretary. Administration leaks point to a considerable increase in the number of troops as part of a broader strategic change.
"He's stepping up to the problem, and he's exercising a degree of skepticism and analytical depth that his predecessor didn't appear to engage in," said Richard Kohn, a professor of military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Wrong, Cohen said: Obama's dithering.
"I don't yet have the sense that he's willing to commit that much of his political energy to this, and yet if he doesn't, I do think there's a serious risk of failure," Cohen said.
No decision by Obama will escape condemnation from those who think they know a better way. Hawks will call him a compromiser with no stomach for the fight; doves will say that, having campaigned against one war, he is escalating another.
But even those who disagree with the president's policies will recognize him as a man who thinks through his decisions, reads his briefing papers and studies the lessons of history. Wednesday, before he left Arlington, Obama paused to read the most powerful texts imaginable, the names on grave markers. He stopped at the grave of Ross McGinnis, a Medal of Honor recipient. Born in Pennsylvania, McGinnis, 19, wound up in Iraq as a machine gunner, 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. An insurgent threw a hand grenade into his Humvee. He threw his body on it, absorbing the explosion. His four platoon mates survived.
Obama bent over McGinnis's grave, but the traveling press pool could not tell what the president was doing, much less what he was thinking.
(Staff writer Greg Jaffe contributed to this report)
Residents raise slogans during a rally, protesting against relocating Futenama Marine airfield on the southern island of Okinawa, in Ginowan, Japan, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009. Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Sunday that no deal on relocating U.S. troops on the Japanese island can be expected during President Barack Obama's visit this week, saying the issue needs more time to resolve. The banner reads: "Oppose relocation within the prefecture (state)." (AP Photo/Kyodo News) (AP)
Obama confronts an Asia reshaped by China's rise
The Associated Press Sunday, November 8, 2009; 8:22 AM
BEIJING -- Days after coming to power in September, Japan's new prime minister broached forming a new East Asian trading bloc with rival China - one that would exclude the United States.
Some in Washington took it as a snub from the nation that has been America's rock in Asia for decades. Even more, Tokyo's new rhetoric underscored how China's rapid rise to power is challenging Washington's once-dominant sway in the region.
This is the reality President Barack Obama confronts as he departs Thursday for his first Asia trip, perhaps his most challenging overseas journey yet. He'll find a region outgrowing a half-century of U.S. supremacy and questioning America's relevance to its future. More so than Obama's previous foreign trips, this nine-day, four-country tour has the president on something like a salvage mission.
The trip also comes at a delicate time for Obama at home.
He is wrestling with one of the toughest decisions of his 10-month presidency, a war strategy for Afghanistan, and is urging Congress to approve his biggest domestic priority, health care.
Those pressing concerns make it notable that he is spending so much time away - a sign of Asia's importance to the U.S. and the need to tend to relationships there without delay - though he put off his original departure by a day over the weekend because of Thursday's deadly shooting spree at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. Obama will speak to U.S. troops in Alaska and South Korea, with his much-awaited decision on more troops for the Afghanistan war probably still pending.
Obama stops first in Japan, a traditional U.S. stalwart now looking toward closer engagement with China and the rest of Asia. He makes a two-city stop in China, where leaders proud of their country's one-generation leap to prosperity seek a bigger say in shaping the region's affairs.
The president also visits Singapore for a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, where his participation is being cut by a day, and wraps up his trip in South Korea. Those countries are having to accommodate a more muscular China while wondering whether a U.S. weakened by financial crisis is in decline.
"Asia is changing very fast. It's undergoing a fundamental transition," said Huang Jing, a Chinese politics expert at the National University of Singapore. "This is not the kind of Asia or Asia-Pacific of America's traditional understanding. That old understanding is that America is dominant but friendly to the developing nations and Japan, America's perpetual ally, is No. 1. Asia is now totally different and China is the No. 1, not Japan."
Throughout his travels, starting with a scene-setting speech in Japan, Obama is expected to deliver a message of staunch U.S. commitment to old friends and newer partners alike, promising to help keep what for decades has been one of the fastest growing regions of the world secure and thriving, according to U.S. officials.
In Tokyo, he's likely to call for a reinvigorated alliance with Japan while insisting that new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama live up to a pending agreement on reconfiguring U.S. military bases. He's scheduled to take part in Beijing in the kind of pomp that Chinese leaders crave as a sign of respect, but also plans an event with Chinese university students aimed at telegraphing U.S. values to a broader Chinese audience.
On the sidelines of the gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders, he'll hold a first-ever summit with Southeast Asia's 10-nation alliance, a grouping whose economies are increasingly tied to a growing China but still are anxious about Chinese power. Included in that meeting will be Myanmar's leader - the first such meeting between a U.S. president and the head of a repressive government formerly shunned by Washington, though now part of a new outreach by the Obama administration.
Throughout, issues like North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs are likely to be raised repeatedly, though little concrete progress is expected.
While popular in some parts of the region, Obama does not have the rock-star appeal in Asia that he has in Europe and elsewhere. He will have to overcome strong suspicions among Asian leaders that he is more concerned about domestic battles over health care and the economy than about matters like freer trade that are so crucial to Asian nations and U.S. businesses.
Obama comes to Asia "bringing absolutely nothing to the table" on trade, said Michael Green, a White House Asia adviser during the Bush administration and now an analyst at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Without American leadership on trade, the fear is that the U.S. will be left behind while other nations roar ahead with their own agreements, Green said.
"There is a risk that he will come to Asia for just a star turn and photo opportunities while reserving his strength for other battles. But more is needed and should be expected of him," Simon Tay of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs said.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration gained a reputation in Asia for distraction and an overemphasis on security. Meanwhile, China has supplanted the U.S. as the top or leading trading partner of Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN nations. The Chinese economy, a decade ago only slightly larger than Italy's, is on track to next year surpass Japan's, the world's No. 2.
Chief among Obama's goals on the trip will be to make "vividly clear to the peoples of Asia that the U.S. is here to stay in Asia," Jeffrey Bader, Obama's top Asia adviser, said at a public event in Washington on Friday. "As Asia continues to grow and as new groupings and structures take shape, the U.S. will be a player and participant on the ground floor, not a distant spectator."
In Japan, where Obama and his election inspired the public, it looks like the president will have his most difficult stop.
Prime Minister Hatoyama won election on an Obama-like message of change. But he's begun rethinking the U.S.-Japan alliance in which Tokyo has often felt itself the junior partner. He proposed the East Asian community that initially excluded the U.S., though he has since sidestepped the issue.
His government plans to end Japan's Indian Ocean refueling mission that supports U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. His review of the agreement on basing 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan has caused particular tension, chiefly over relocating Futenma Marine air field on Okinawa. The U.S. has agreed to a more remote location on the island while Hatoyama has suggested moving the forces off the island. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month demanded Tokyo not put off resolving the issue until next year as Hatoyama has hinted.
In China, sizable distrust over trade tensions, Tibet and other human rights issues and Beijing's robust military buildup are likely to be papered over.
The Obama administration has tried to set a more constructive, cooperative tone for relations, calling Beijing a needed partner in tackling global issues like the economic downturn and climate change. The governments have identified clean energy as ripe for cooperation.
Chief among Obama's tasks in Beijing will be to establish the kind of trust that President Hu Jintao had with George W. Bush, according to Chinese scholars. China reacted angrily to recent U.S. moves to impose punitive tariffs to stem surging imports of low-cost Chinese-made tires, seeing it as reneging on Obama's promise earlier this year not to resort to protectionism during the economic crisis.
By Isabel Reynolds Reuters Friday, November 6, 2009; 2:38 AM
GINOWAN, Japan (Reuters) - The United States and Japan look set to avoid a collision over where to relocate a Marine base when President Barack Obama visits Tokyo next week, but the row could still fray security ties in the months ahead.
A dispute over a replacement facility for Futenma air base on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, a key part of a realignment of U.S. troops in Japan, has strained the alliance, seen as the core of regional security arrangements.
The row coincides with deepening questions about how China's rising military and economic clout will reshape security ties.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who took office in September pledging to forge more equal ties with Washington, had said before his party's election victory that he wanted to move the base off Okinawa to ease the burden on residents there.
But U.S. officials say they want to push ahead with a 2006 deal to move it from the crowded city of Ginowan in central Okinawa to a remoter site by 2014 as a prerequisite to moving 8,000 Marines off the island to the U.S. territory of Guam.
Washington has notified Japan it will not press for a decision by Obama's November 12-13 visit, but wants a resolution to the dispute by the end of the year, the Nikkei newspaper said.
But Hatoyama repeated on Friday that he had no plan to decide by the time of Obama's trip -- or to say when he would make up his mind.
"U.S.-Japan relations are not just about the Futenma issue," Hatoyama told a parliamentary panel.
"There are many issues that President Obama is concerned about and issues that Japan is concerned about, so we would like to discuss each theme," he said. "I am convinced it will be a meaningful trip."
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has also floated the end of the year as a de facto deadline, but Hatoyama has suggested he might wait until after an Okinawa mayoral election in January to get a reading on local public opinion.
Hatoyama faces a dilemma as he tries to live up to his campaign comments without disrupting ties with Tokyo's closest security ally as both countries try to adapt to China's growing clout.
Many residents of Okinawa, a subtropical island about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) south of Tokyo that hosts about half the 47,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan, have long resented what they see as an unfair burden for maintaining the security alliance.
A mass anti-base rally has been called for Sunday, just days before Obama arrives in the Japanese capital.
"I want to get rid of it," said Toshio Arakaki, 52, whose three children go to a primary school a stone's throw from the base. "If they are going to replace it, they should find somewhere not just outside Okinawa, but outside Japan. Okinawa has had enough."
Other Okinawa residents, though, worry about the economic impact of closing the bases, since the island is otherwise mainly reliant on an influx of tourists attracted by white sandy beaches, clear seas and a unique culture that owes much to China.
If Hatoyama decides before January to implement the original deal, perhaps with minor changes, that would almost certainly upset a small but vocal coalition partner ahead of an election for parliament's upper house in mid-2010.
Further delay would make deciding harder and risk angering Washington, although few analysts expect strains over security ties to affect trade and investment between the world's two biggest economies.
"In Japan, it is always legitimate to say, 'Let's start the negotiations from scratch', but the Americans are not going to put up with that," said Steven Reed, a professor at Chuo University.
Okada has proposed considering an alternative plan to merge the Marine base with another U.S. base on Okinawa, but Washington has rejected the idea. Both Hatoyama and Japan's defense minister have expressed disagreement with it.
A long forty six years have passed since I stepped on to American soil. I have had various odd jobs in the past until I recently retired. Examples include working with Steven Spielberg as assistant director in a film called "1941." I was supervisor and later became Public Relation representative for Toyota Group - USA. My last occupation was a Senior Research analyst working in Silicone Valley for a major news paper from Tokyo, Japan. My spouse, Christine is a flight attendant, traveling often to the Middle East and Africa. We have spent three quarters of our life together as world adventurers. This photo was taken in Argentina. We now live in swampy Louisiana.