Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from Andrew Malcolm

Category: Trade Issues

Did Obama get Republicans to stand -- or was it you?

House Minority Leader John Boehner, Whip Eric Cantor and Texas Republican Louie Gohmert before President Obama's State of the Union address Jan. 28, 2010
It happened early in the State of the Union address, when President Obama called for lifting restrictions on nuclear energy -- a policy long championed by Republicans. But House GOP leaders sat on their hands.

A little later, Obama tried to reach across the aisle again -- this time on an issue close to the heart of most Republicans.

Now, let me repeat: We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time home buyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.

Still, the members of the Grand Old Party sat on their hands. So Obama teased them, saying, "I thought I'd get some applause on that one."

But as the speech wore on, Republicans started to get up on occasion. They applauded when Obama talked about offshore drilling. They clapped for his embrace of trade and of America as a job creator.

The question: Did Republicans finally start getting to their feet in response to Obama's nudge? Or, as MSNBC's First Read suggested this morning, did they notice all the criticism they were getting on Twitter and various blogs and decide, finally, that they better get up on the right side of history?

Whatever their PR motive in rising or sitting during the televised speech, Republicans made clear that they are not going to suddenly start acting conciliatory. “I was very disappointed," said Minority Whip Eric Cantor. "You have to give the guy an incomplete.“

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: From left, Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas; Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House minority whip; and John Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, on the House floor before President Obama's State of the Union address Wednesday. Credit: Associated Press

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Google's China move wakes Washington

Customers leave flowers, fruits at Google's headquarters in Beijing after the company threatened to leave China over the government's Internet policies
 
It was almost like Google provided world leadership while Washington slept.

One day after the Silicon Valley giant threatened to bolt from China over its Internet policies and alleged cyber-attacks, Washington meekly offered support.

Asked Thursday if Google's move could imperil relations with China, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "The president has strong beliefs about the universal rights of men and women throughout the globe. Those aren't carved out for certain countries."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was faster, and stronger, in her embrace of Google on Wednesday night. “The Chinese government operates one of the most sophisticated operations in the world to control the Internet," she said. "It is essential that technology companies not assist in efforts that violate human rights or prohibit the free exchange of ideas.”

Google customers in Beijing were more outspoken -- leaving flowers, fruits and even a bottle of booze at Google's headquarters. And pressure is building on the Washington to do more.

With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton planning a speech on Internet freedom next week, four Republican congressmen are calling on Pelosi to speed a bill through Congress requiring companies doing business with repressive countries to report all attempts to hack their systems.

"The Obama administration needs to be standing up" against repressive governments, said Virginia Republican Frank Wolf, who also criticized the Bush White House for catering to Beijing. "Instead, we've seen a muted response at best."

Calling Google's move "a game-changer" that could finally spur Washington to act, Wolf added: "If the Obama administration fails, they will quickly find themselves on the wrong side of history,"

Comparing Google's move to the stance by companies protesting apartheid by pulling out of South Africa, he added, "God bless Google. They have been willing to speak out."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Associated Press

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Ron Paul to Federal Reserve: Open your books

FederalReserveinWashingtonDC

In February, Texas Republican and Libertarian darling Ron Paul introduced a bill directing the U.S. comptroller general to audit the Federal Reserve's books.

Paul, who ran for president last year, wants the Fed to open the door on all of its secret transactions -- the talks with foreign banks, the deliberations on monetary policy, the activities of the Open Market Committee, and the communications with the regional reserve banks.

In the shadows of Wall Street's collapse last year, he has attracted more 300 co-sponsors, including 130 Democrats.

But this week, he charged, the provision was gutted from the landmark financial reform legislation being marked up by Barney Frank's Financial Services Committee. Paul blamed the chair of the subcommittee on monetary policy, North Carolina Democrat Mel Watt, whose Charlotte district is home to the headquarters of Bank of America, the nation's largest commercial bank.

Arguing that the Fed is hiding the extent of U.S. dependence on printing new money, Paul -- who is hoping to get the provision restored in the bill before it gets to the House floor --  told MSNBC today that the big spending masks a serious crisis in the value of the dollar.

Critics worry that robbing the Fed of its ability to deliberate in private will result in a weakened central financial structure -- and put Congress in charge of managing the nation's money supply.

But Paul, a physician, argues that a doctor would never hide from a cancer patient the extent of his illness, and that hiding the Fed's books amounts to kidding ourselves about the impact of its policies.

"We're still kidding ourselves," he said. "You have to bite the bullet, you have to admit the truth.... It's sort of like trying to get somebody off drugs.... Keeping them on the drug -- which is  easy money, easy spending and huge deficits and all that -- that will kill the patient, and the patient for me is the dollar.... And when you see gold up at $1,100 at ounce, that's a little bit of a warning signal."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Bleier / Getty Images

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Saudis deny secret plan to ditch dollar in oil trades

Gold, gaining on dollar's demise as marker in international trade
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the dollar's demise may be exaggerated, but they are persistent.

Several British newspapers are reporting this morning that finance ministers and central bankers from Arab Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar -- have been holding secret meetings in Hong Kong with counterparts from China, Russia, Japan and Brazil to end the use of the dollar for oil trades.

Instead, according to the Independent, they are looking to peg oil trades to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen, the Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, yet-to-happen unified Arab currency.

This is all denied by the Saudis. The country's cental bank governor, Muhammad al-Jasser, in Istanbul for International Monetary Fund meetings, told reporters that there has been “absolutely nothing” of that nature discussed between Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and other countries.

Scrambling to protect the dollar's status as an international yardstick, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told reporters the United States will do “everything necessary” to maintain confidence in its currency. Also in Istanbul for the IMF session, Geithner said, "We recognize that the dollar’s important role in the system conveys special burdens and responsibilities on us, and we are going to do everything necessary to make sure we sustain confidence.”

But the truth is that ever since the global financial crisis last fall, the dollar’s role as the world’s main reserve currency has been in peril. As Bloomberg points out, China and Russia agreed to increase use of each other’s currencies in trade deals at a meeting last June. They and Brazil and India -- called the BRIC nations -- have talked about buying each other’s bonds and swapping currencies. 

And, as the Economy News suggested, Russia and China have both been vocal in their call to end the dollar's reign in international trade. As for the other players, said the EN, "Japan will clearly do what it feels necessary to protect its deflationary economy from an over-strong currency. France, of course, would take any opportunity to give Washington one in the eye."

Gold opened today at record highs.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

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Bill Richardson: vindication that Hemingway would appreciate

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, in Cuba on a trade mission in August, 2009, poses in imitation of an iconic Ernest Hemingway photo

Federal prosecutors have dropped a pay-for-play ethics investigation of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. You may recall back in the halcyon days of the Obama administration he had to withdraw his nomination as Commerce secretary to attend to the inquiry.

Now, top Justice Department officials have signaled their decision not to pursue indictments.

“It’s over,” one investigator told the Associated Press. “There’s nothing. It was killed in Washington.” The governor's office issued a statement hailing the move, saying the governor "has known all along that neither he nor any staff members committed any transgressions during their successful fundraising back in 2004. The U.S. attorney's thorough and lengthy investigation has apparently determined the same thing -- that no indiscretions occurred."

Political foes are not so sure. The state's Republican Party chair, Harvey Yates Jr., wondered whether the Obama administration dropped the inquiry for political reasons. “Was this decision made contrary to the advice of experienced, nonpolitical, career prosecutors and the FBI?” he asked.

For his part, Richardson has made no public comment. He and staffers are in Cuba for a trade mission, where he was photographed imitating an iconic Ernest Hemingway image from the author’s onetime home near Havana (photo above).

What next for the popular Latino politician? His term as governor expires in 2010, and New Mexico has term limits on its governors. So the Democratic politician with the long Washington resume will be looking for something to do.

Maybe it’s not too late to save Obamacare.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: Javier Galeano / Associated Press

 

New Orleans' Mayor Nagin: Free from Chinese quarantine

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

As Ticket reported the other day, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, along with his wife Seletha and their security guard, were quarantined by Chinese officials on their arrival in Shanghai on Sunday because one of the passengers on their plane -- a French student seated a few rows from them -- had the swine flu.

In China on a trade mission, Nagin was also in danger of missing a global warming conference in Sydney, Australia, where he was to be the keynote speaker. Meanwhile Fox News reported that Chinese officials were screening the mayor's calls, "to keep him safe."

The news that Nagin was waylaid in Shanghai occasioned great mischief on the part of the mayor's political foes. One radio talk show host, Jeff Crouere, suggested that the Chinese keep the controversial Nagin -- who after Hurricane Katrina urged African Americans to rebuild New Orleans as a "chocolate" city -- for the remaining 11 months of his term.

So, in the interest of keeping faith with all those Nagin fans and foes, the Ticket can now report that the Nagins have been released from quarantine and are heading to Australia. Nagin spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said this morning that the mayor will now complete the second leg of his trip, out of China.

--Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Max Whittaker / Getty Images

Obama promises Government Motors won't run General Motors (full text)

The 2011 Corvette

President Obama today made it official. The U.S. government will infuse another $30 billion into GM, the fabled American auto manufacturer that makes Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets and Hummers, and which filed a massive bankruptcy petition today.

With the U.S. government now owning at least 60% of General Motors, many are labeling the company Government Motors.

But Obama said taxpayers are "reluctant shareholders," and that GM executives, not the government, "will call the shots." Which is a relief to anyone who wants to buy a racy Corvette and doesn't want some Washington bureaucrat picking out the color.

Still, the government ownership comes with a lot of strings -- incentives for energy-efficient cars that so far have not wowed consumers, pay cuts for union workers and the like.

The political upside for Obama: if the deal works, putting GM back on its feet within a few years, he will be a hero to the American voters, especially in the battleground Midwest, whose jobs often revolve around the manufacturing sector. If it doesn't, look for Republicans to decry the Obama takeover of private industry and its disastrous impact on a private sector economy.

For his part, Obama seemed sanguine about his course. "What is good for General Motors and all who work there," he said, "is good for United States of America."

For more details, check out the White House fact sheet below, and the text of the president's remarks this morning.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: General Motors

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Vice President Joe Biden has left the house for Herzegovina

Democrat Vice President Joe Biden tells president Barack Obama he's going to Herzegovina this week

In fact, he's left the country. But not for a royal funeral yet.

With Herzegovina on everyone's mind these days, Vice President Joe Biden has been dispatched by the Obama White House to settle things down over there and ensure they understand what the new American administration wants and expects.

And the interpreters can clean up any Biden verbal gaffes or swearing before they get translated to the foreign leaders, some of whom Biden knows from his Foreign Relations Committee days and the many, many years he served in the Senate while Barack Obama was growing up.

Not as many Senate years as Robert Byrd, mind you. But then the ailing Byrd at 91 has a few years on Biden.

Also the vice president, who had a free weekend and then a graduation speech Monday, will travel to Serbia, Kosovo and one other place in southeastern Europe. What was it? Oh, Bosnia.

Joe left his basement VP bunker Monday for the jammed three-day trip and many meetings with people with difficult-to-pronounce names. Joe's probably sound asleep over the Atlantic as we write this. So read quietly.

The main point of the trip, according to a recent briefing by "a senior administration official," is not so much to change anything on the ground there but to demonstrate a renewed United States interest in the region and a continued commitment to its progress toward economic development and peaceful democratization as part of a greater Europe. 

A number of the world's lesser countries have learned over the years to be very wary when the U.S. government  demonstrates a renewed interest in them. American soldiers have often followed, demonstrating an armored American interest.

It does seem like some of this message-sending could have been handled via e-mail. But then you don't get to use the big plane. And maybe get some media coverage.

In Biden's absence the president will be left to handle the automotive emissions problem and the windmill building by himself. Then, on Friday Obama gives his third and final commencement address of the diploma season, at the U.S. Naval Academy, where abortion is not likely to be on the agenda. Protests neither.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press (Biden tells Obama he's going to Herzegovina this week).

Obama on Jon Huntsman and vice versa about 出任美国驻中国大使

RFepublican Utah Governor jon Huntsman Jr with his wife Mary Kaye as Democrat President Barack Obama announces his appointment as US ambassador to China 5-16-09 in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room

With his wife Michelle way, way out in California, giving an eagerly-awaited commencement address in Merced, which The Ticket already wrote about here, President Obama made a meaningful Saturday parental excursion outside the White House today to watch daughter Sasha play soccer.

But before that he made some major international and domestic political news.

As initially reported by The Ticket here late Friday evening (see what you'd already know if you checked back here more often!), President Obama appointed Utah's popular Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as U.S. ambassador to China. (Not much worry over Senate confirmation either with fellow Mormon Harry Reid of Nevada at the helm of the Democratic majority there.)

We fully examined the political import of this very savvy move a few hours ago here; be sure to check it out. Appointing the national co-chair of Sen John McCain's losing Republican presidential campaign against Obama is not only bipartisan, it is very useful; it gets the potential GOP candidate out of the country and on the Democrat's team with only 42 months until the next presidential election. Beijing's a long ways from those Lincoln Day dinners in Ames and Clear Lake.

Right now, we have the full remarks of both the president and his new bipartisan, bilingual team member -- and one who's not from New Hampshire. (As previously reported here, Vice President Joe Biden had today off in Delaware. Also tomorrow.)

Or as Gov. Huntsman might put it:** 

你好,我叫洪博培,我从犹他州来的

-- Andrew Malcolm

Remarks by President Obama nominating Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah as Ambassador to the People's Republic of China

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. I am here to announce today the distinguished public servant I'm appointing as our nation's new ambassador to the People's Republic of China. I'm making this appointment mindful of its extraordinary significance. 

Given the breadth of issues at stake in our relationship with China, this ambassadorship is as important as any in the world –- because the United States will best be able to deal effectively with....

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Wanna get "nasty"? For a good time call 1-900-WhiteHouse

Don't you just hate it when you recommend a great new restaurant to your parents and their minister and you write down the phone number and when your mother calls on the speakerphone to make a reservation, she gets a sultry come-on female voice asking if she wants to get "nasty" right now right there?

And your mother turns pale and the minister pretends not to hear and your father reaches for his cell to speeddial you? And he wonders out loud how you happened to possess that porn number or have it on your mind and you know that he knows that nothing you can say about innocently transposing two numbers will ever erase 100% of the doubt in anyone's mind.Phone

And suddenly you wanna get away on Southwest Airlines?

Well, that's sorta what happened today when the White House press office was facilitating an on-the-record conference call between stateside reporters and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  (oh, yes) and National Security Advisor Jim Jones, both in Europe with President Obama

Reporters called the number they were given and the woman's voice sure didn't sound like the former first lady and the issues at hand had more to do with credit card numbers than missile arsenals.

A quick call to the White House got the correct number for the call, which was joined in progress.

But apparently the boss took the presidential sense of humor with him on Air Force One. Because the deputy press secretary didn't find the incident as funny as the TV network.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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