27 March 2010

Why can't he talk to his friends?

“Arguing against globalization is like arguing against the forces of gravity.”
-Kofi Annan

In 2008, the urban population of the world overtook that of the rural population for the first time, and it is projected to continue to grow so fast that by 2050 two out of every three humans will live in a town or city.
-John McCormick, Comparative Politics in Transition

Social Security to See Payout Exceed Pay-In This Year
This year, the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes, an important threshold it was not expected to cross until at least 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The problem, he said, is that payments have risen more than expected during the downturn, because jobs disappeared and people applied for benefits sooner than they had planned. At the same time, the program’s revenue has fallen sharply, because there are fewer paychecks to tax.

Analysts have long tried to predict the year when Social Security would pay out more than it took in because they view it as a tipping point — the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency, unless Congress strengthens the program’s finances.

History on President Obama's side in health care debate
At first blush, the spasms of anger over the health care law signed into law by President Barack Obama this week seem strong enough to fuel a years-long argument over government power.

History suggests there is a better chance the passions over the country's new health care regime will cool with an alacrity that seems unthinkable amid the clenched fists and snarling insults of the recent debate.

This has been a familiar pattern since New Deal days: Government programs from Social Security to Medicare that were launched amid incendiary arguments within a short time became sacrosanctprotected by a bipartisan consensus that was nowhere to be found at passage.

In fact, historians of social programs see no correlation between the intensity of controversy at the birth of a program and its ultimate popularity.

That is why "it's damn hard to get things done," in the words of Yale expert Theodore Marmor, "and harder still to get them undone."

"I think that's what the Republicans were frightened of," said Marmor. "They think President Obama has a chance of making health care reform do for him," and perhaps for the Democratic Party, what "the Social Security Act of 1935 did for FDR."

Senate gone, Obama seats nominees
President Barack Obama will bypass the Senate and for the first time since taking office unilaterally install 15 nominees to his adminstration, including two members of the National Labor Relations Board, in a move that infuriated Republicans.

Obama used his executive power to install Craig Becker, who was blocked by a GOP filibuster last month, and Mark Pearce, who Republicans also oppose because of his ties to labor unions.

In announcing the recess appointments Saturday afternoon, Obama presented his decision as a last-resort move forced on him by the Senate Republicans. The president issued a statement in which he blamed “partisan politics” for bottling up 77 of his nominees.

“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,” Obama said in the statement.

Obama did not install Republican Brian Hayes, the other pending nominee to the five-member labor board, which some thought he might do to take the partisan edge off the Democratic appointments.

The White House tried to pre-empt the GOP criticism by outlining a detailed defense of the president’s decision. Officials even included the number of days the 15 nominees combined have been waiting: “3204 days or almost 9 years."

The administration was also quick to point out that Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had used the same presidential prerogative. Obama’s 15 recess appointments Saturday do not exceed Bush’s total at the same point into his first term.

For Obama, no buddies abroad
Fourteen months into the Obama presidency, one striking feature of an American president who took office to a swooning world is the absence of any strong personal ties – or even a go-to working relationship – with any other world leader. Where Ronnie had Maggie, and Bill and even George W. had Tony, Mr. Obama has no one leader. Instead, the former law professor has what seems to be a preference for big-themed foreign speeches (think Cairo; Prague, Czech Republic; Moscow; Accra, Ghana) and policy gatherings (his UN nuclear summit, the Pittsburgh Group of 20 economic summit, a White House nuclear nonproliferation summit in May) bereft of the warm and fuzzy.

Obama's cool, all-business demeanor with his global peers is all the more striking because it follows the polar-opposite style of George W. Bush. President Bush's policies were widely reviled overseas, and he was not particularly articulate. But he strove to forge personal links with a few key leaders. He cultivated Tony Blair's friendship on Iraq, and he developed a hierarchy of visit venues – White House, Camp David, his Texas ranch – that signaled where a leader stood in his estimation.

"It really is striking about Obama: Most presidents have had a special or close relationship with a foreign leader they could turn to," says Thomas Henriksen, a US foreign-policy scholar at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif. "But it appears to be his nature or personality, the so-called no-drama-Obama thing."

"Who knows if Sarkozy would have made the same decision if he hadn't suffered some of these slights on the part of Obama," he says. "What it comes down to is that relationships do matter."

Dale says he still has ringing in his ear the words of a senior European diplomat, who recently told him, "[Obama] talks to his enemies. Why can't he talk to his friends?"

S Koreans missing after ship sinks
A South Korean navy ship has sunk near the disputed maritime border with North Korea after an unexplained explosion, leaving 46 sailors missing.

A government source quoted by the South's Yonhap news agency said officials were investigating various possible causes: an attack by a North Korean torpedo boat, a mine laid by North Korea or an explosion of munitions aboard the ship.

Paul Chamberlin, a former US naval attache to South Korea, told Al Jazeera: "If it becomes clear this was an attack from North Korea, a major escalation that would lead to general war is very unlikely."

US and Russia agree nuclear deal
Barack Obama, the US president, and Dmitry Medvedev, his Russian counterpart, have finalised the terms of a new nuclear arms reduction agreement.

The two leaders approved the deal for a successor to the landmark Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start), which will cut the amount of missiles deployed by both countries by one third.

Under the terms of the treaty the two countries will reduce their number of warheads to 1,515 each.

Both countries will also be allowed no more than 700 active nuclear launchers worldwide.

The US has said it currently has about 2,200 nuclear warheads, while Russia is believed to have about 3,000.

Kremlin 'red-squares' with cold war rival
Moscow is gearing up for one of the biggest events of the year, the May 9 parade, the day when Russia rolls out its military hardware over Red Square.

...This year's parade - the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany - a contingent of US troops is being welcomed into the fold.

In the context of the "reset" in US-Russia relations, the Kremlin is more than aware of how striking the image of American and Russian troops marching together on Red Square will be.

2,000 House staffers make six figures
Nearly 2,000 House of Representatives staffers pulled down six-figure salaries in 2009, including 43 staffers who earned the maximum $172,500 — or more than three times the median U.S. household income.

Starting salaries on Capitol Hill are still low — many entry-level congressional jobs pay less than $30,000 a year.

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