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Entries tagged "Barack Obama"

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What Not to Do on Camera

October 4, 2012 ·

I think the Republicans set themselves up for a tough challenge when they cast Barack Obama as the outsider, Kenyan usurper while Mitt Romney was supposed to represent the traditional white establishment. Henry Kissinger even recognized it during the Vietnam War: "The guerrilla army wins by not losing; the conventional army loses by not winning." I'm pretty sure he stole that from Mao, who was a horrible ruler, but a smart guerrilla strategist.

Romney and Obama debateRomney needed to decisively rout Obama, while Obama simply needed to not fall flat on his face. In the end, I don't think many minds were changed. If Big Bird stood out as the most memorable phrase of the first presidential debate of 2012, then Romney's much-lauded performance failed to land an attack that will stick in voters' minds. It was a soft victory, elevated by low expectations going into the debate. Obama should have pushed back on those outrageous lies, but his weakness is that he always tries to stay "above it all," which comes across as aloof.

I watched it on CBS, which used a split screen for almost the entire debate. Romney's privileged smirk and mannerisms probably hurt him more than his own words. I'm curious to see if CBS viewers thought less of Romney because of his "off-camera" behavior compared to other network viewers.

Obama learned in 2008 that what you do when not speaking is matters. It's a lesson I've learned the hard way. I've probably done a hundred on-camera interviews over the years and it took me a long time to learn that I should never look around the room or move my head when I'm not speaking.

The camera can cut to you at any moment. If I'm distracted by the activity in the studio or other shiny things, my eyes dart back and forth. If the camera catches me in that moment, I look as shifty as a cartoon villain. Always look forward at the camera, at the person speaking, or downward while appearing to take thoughtful notes. Otherwise, the viewer doesn't see the distractions you're looking at and — at best — it makes you look disinterested.

Looking at anything the home viewer can't see is dangerous. Perception matters on TV. On the other hand, it's possible to take too many notes and come across as disengaged — as Obama learned last night.

Sanho Tree is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. IPS-dc.org

Obama Supported Financial Transactions Taxes - Before Summers Nixed It

September 20, 2011 ·

The hot new book in Washington, Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men, shines a bit of new light on the Obama administration’s lack of support for financial transactions taxes. 

Larry Summers wasn't asleep when financial transactions taxes came up.According to the book, based on 700 hours of interviews with high-level staff, President Obama supported the idea of placing a small tax on trades of stocks, derivatives, and other financial instruments. But, as with many other progressive policy proposals, it was blocked by Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary who was serving as Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council.

A major theme of the book is how Summers dominated daily morning economic policy meetings with Obama. Former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag reportedly told Suskind that Summers would often tell the President “I’ll make my argument first; you can go after me.” 

According to Pulitzer Prize-winner Suskind, Obama economic advisors said Summers hijacked a long list of their proposed policies. Here’s what he reports about FTT:  “A financial transactions tax on banks and financial institutions, to try to tame the trading emphasis that has swept those industries and along the way, raise money: Obama said, in one meeting, ‘we are going to do this!’  Summers disagreed; it never materialized.”  (page 365)

The story of Obama supporting the idea of taxing financial speculation is corroborated by off-the-record reports I’ve heard over the past couple of years from civil society leaders and foreign government officials. But it’s chilling to hear such strong confirmation that the idea was derailed by Summers, a man whose credibility should have been in the toilet long before Obama entered the White House. 

The Suskind book reminds us of Summers’s long trail of disasters, from his key role in pushing for reckless financial deregulation during the Clinton administration to his offensive remarks about women during his stormy tenure as president of Harvard University.  My first exposure to the guy was in 1991, when, as World Bank chief economist, he penned a scandalous memo suggesting that dumping toxic waste in developing countries made sense from an economic perspective. 

And yet Summers, renowned for his powers of intimidation, was apparently so forceful in his domination of economic policy matters in the Obama White House that, according to Suskind, it messed with Obama’s confidence. “Over time, some of Obama’s more admirable features, his joy of inquiry, his impulse to reach just a bit beyond his grasp, started to get planed down,” wrote the former Wall Street Journal reporter. “He was making fewer decisions, and almost none where he couldn’t manage to tease some supporting consensus from his senior staff.”

Summers left the administration late in 2010. According to Confidence Men, he was outraged over being passed over for the position as chair of the Federal Reserve. So much so that he submitted a list of demands for compensation, including a round of golf with Obama, to be able to walk with cabinet members into the State of the Union address, and a car and driver. 

However, even with Summers finally out of the picture, Treasury Secretary Geithner has worked to block financial transactions taxes. Recently, he even chastised Europeans for moving towards implementation of such taxes in their own territories, prompting angry words from the Austrian finance minister.

But let’s hope Obama’s recent tough talk on fair taxation signals a new chapter. It’s not too late for the president to revisit some of his earlier positions in support of progressive economic policies, including financial transactions taxes. 

Obama Falls Flat in El Paso

May 11, 2011 ·

Pity President Obama.

His supposedly important immigration speech fell flat. Nobody is taking him seriously on this issue, which could make or break his re-election campaign.

As House Republican leaders demand $2 trillion or more in budget cuts, Obama's political obligations to Latinos are obliging some hard-to-believe promise-making. By travelling to El Paso to steer the country to a different conversation about immigration, Obama escaped for a day the eternal gridlock of a divided Congress.

His blueprint for immigration reform, unveiled in El Paso, fails to advance the debate forward. Instead, it emphasizes the responsibility of "people living in the U.S. illegally" (the term Obama's speechwriters apparently prefer to "illegal aliens" or "undocumented workers.") Unbelievably, Obama's immigration plans would be far more punitive for undocumented people than any previous proposal. He's calling for "a series of fines," in addition to a requirement that immigrants pay back taxes as part of a path to legalization/citizenship. His plan would also make newly-legalized immigrants wait for eight years before they can apply for residence.

Under Obama's plan, immigrants would have to wait longer, pay more, than they do now, while enjoying fewer rights. Meanwhile, Republicans are committed to intertwining the issues of terrorism and immigration. 

On the same day, Republican House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, introduced the Secure Visas Act. It's a bill sold as an anti-terrorism measure that would make it easier to take away visas from individuals from certain countries without judicial review. Notably, Mexico is one of the countries on the list.

Obama says his hands are tied with regard to the high number of deportations occurring during his presidency, but advocates have already demonstrated that he can act on his own to provide relief to the undocumented people in this country, the majority of which have already been living here for a long time.

The American Immigration Council has delineated with clarity what he can do within the law to stop the deportations of certain individuals. Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has the ability to grant "deferred actions" on deportations, and allow undocumented individuals with good moral character to apply for an Employment Authorization Documents, or work permits as they are usually known. These documents don't grant permanent residency or voting rights, but they can be useful in facilitating the immigrant integration process. With an EAD, undocumented immigrants would be able to work legally, apply for a driver’s license, and get a credit card. Nothing from Obama’s speech touched on this issue, showing that he's not willing to risk anything politically. His pretty words about keeping families together are just that.

Unfortunately for him, Obama's considerable rhetorical skills aren't enough to convince the immigrant community, and its many allied voters, that he's serious about immigration reform.

Pity him. It might cost him his re-election.

Red, White, and Blue Frenzy

May 3, 2011 ·

Honking cars and shouting young people made their way to the White House on Sunday night. American flags were everywhere. Revving motorcycle engines rattled downtown Washington in the middle of the night. Hurried news reporters jostled to get the best footage of the jubilant crowds celebrating Osama bin Laden's death. Draped with red, white, and blue the crowd sang the national anthem and chanted "USA, USA!"

It all evoked the joyful scene at President Barack Obama's inauguration. This time, however, the aggressive euphoria of carousing soccer hooligans ruled. The mob consisted largely of local college students, many donning their school colors. One large group from Georgetown University sang their school's football song: "Ra, ra, ra, cheer for victory today!" An odd assortment of chants rang through the night. One group chanted, "Lower gas prices! Lower gas prices!" as they made their way around the Treasury Department.

Many in the cheering crowds seemed unclear on why they were celebrating. Newscasters were saying that this was a "mission accomplished" moment, as if the Afghanistan War and its tens of thousands of deaths, were all about capturing one man.

But did anyone really think that the whole of "Operation Enduring Freedom" was just a bin Laden snipe hunt in the lawless desert hills? What about the oil, the drugs, the other regional factors? What about the devastation and domination of an entire country? Those questions didn't seem to be on the revelers' minds.

"I am here celebrating. It's justice day," said Jeremy Stern, 21, a George Mason University student who was wearing the stars and stripes. Stern had traveled from his Fairfax, Virginia campus to participate in the festivities, walking over a mile at the end to avoid traffic congestion. "USA! It's about f**king time! Freedom is the only way!" he shouted.

Joyful scene at the White House in response to Osama bin Laden's death. Creative Commons photo by thisisbossi

When asked why he was so enthusiastic, Stern became more sober. "As a Christian, I do feel a little bit guilty that I'm celebrating a human being's death," he said. "I'm sorry, love thy neighbor. I feel that. And in the end, I am out here celebrating."

Young people seemed cheer for almost anything. A crossing guard, a young guy climbing a lamppost with an American flag, and a fiddler playing a foot-stomping bluegrass tune — they all got love from the crowd.

"Osama bin Laden has been hunted for over half my life," said the fiddler, Henry Meyers, 18. "It's unreal to see this happen," the Washington, DC high school student added.

For 10 years, many Americans have seen bin Laden as the personification of evil, especially those who were young when the attacks occurred on 9-11. The news of his assassination seemed to strike a chord with the younger generation.

"America, f**k yeah!" said the handmade sign held aloft by Sean Levy, 20, a George Washington University student. The slogan, shouted often by the crowd, is the title of a soundtrack from "Team America: World Police," a 2004 film known for ironic jokes about U.S. imperialism. Levy explained that his sign means that "America is one of the greatest countries ever." He added that bin Laden's death "means a lot to the country."

Few revelers had much to say about the impact of bin Laden's death. They weren't sure whether the death would change U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab world. Not many asked whether bin Laden's compound may have been known in advance to U.S. intelligence personnel. There were no questions being murmured about whether any official autopsy was performed on bin Laden's body before his "burial at sea." Or how many civilians were killed during the raid that ended his life. For all of the loud voices at the White House on Sunday night, there were few questions asked.

A much more subdued participant had some clarity as to why he was there.

"I've been a little motivated tonight. I'm a United States Marine," said the man, a war veteran in his late twenties who declined to give his name because he's not authorized to represent his branch of service. He was draped with an American flag  and wore a gray T-shirt reading "USMC." The man said he served in Afghanistan for a year.

"Today's a big deal to me because me and my friends, we all signed up after 9-11, and a lot of them didn't come home. So it means a lot to me that one of the main reasons that we signed up is now kind of over."

One thing is certain. There are now fewer excuses for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan or Iraq, and fewer reasons for the Pentagon to continue aerial drone attacks on people in Pakistan. No matter what the real reasons are for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, whether it's oil, drugs, money, influence, something else, Washington can't continue to cause death and destruction in the name of some unholy manhunt to find America's most wanted terrorist.

Now it's really time to call on the government to bring our troops home now and stop the needless killing in the Arab world. Let the death of bin Laden, and the decisions the Obama administration now faces, lead us away from military aggression, and towards peace.

Matias Ramos is the 2011 Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Lacy MacAuley is the Institute's Media Relations Manager. www.ips-dc.org

An Opening for Progressives? Obama to Step up Outreach to Africa in 2011

January 6, 2011 ·

Earlier this week, the AP reported that Obama is

[Q]uietly but strategically stepping up his outreach to Africa, using this year to increase his engagement with a continent that is personally meaningful to him and important to U.S. interests.

This story and the statement from Obama represent an opening for progressives in the United States. and in Africa to begin to push the Obama Administration on its short-sighted Africa policy. The last two years have been more or less a honeymoon where folks were so enthralled by a son of Africa in the White House that there was not enough hard criticism of the Administration’s policies, which continued rather seamlessly from Bush.

As you know, extractive industries - oil, gas and mining remain the dominant lens through which U.S.-Africa policy is set. AFRICOM and the expansion of U.S. militarism in Africa is a tool through which the United States can secure its narrow interests in Africa’s resources. In addition, the Obama Administration is pushing hard on its “Feed the Future” Initiative – which translates on the ground into land grabs for biofuels and genetically modified foods.

The key in the coming year will be the degree to which progressives can position ourselves to challenge harmful policies while pushing forward alternatives on food sovereignty (local food), land rights, human rights, environmental justice, economic justice (debt cancellation) and peace (stop the flow of weapons and military contractors). Many of these themes will be featured at the World Social Forum in Senegal next month.

The article focuses on elections noting that,

The administration is monitoring more than 30 elections expected across Africa this year, including critical contests in Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Out of the 30, there will be 12 key elections in Africa this year (including the referendum in Sudan and Presidential elections in Nigeria, Uganda, Liberia – all of whom now have oil). This will bring more sustained mainstream media coverage to Africa than in other years.

An Obama trip to Africa will intensify that coverage. Rumors are flying as to where Obama will go and when. My bet is on the UNFCCC which will be in South Africa in December.

But Big Oil and other powerful U.S. companies and the negative impact of U.S. guns and training will remain a serious challenge to peace and stability on the continent.

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