Archive

Reuters blog archive

from Breakingviews:

Smartest U.S. export to China could be Max Baucus

Photo

By John Foley
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Uncle Sam's new man in China arrives just as his employer seems to have lost interest in its biggest trading partner. Max Baucus, who starts as ambassador to Beijing this month, has little experience of China and even less of diplomacy. Yet used wisely by his bosses, Baucus may be well placed to prize open new trade agreements that would leave both sides better off.

China know-how inside the White House has waned even as the U.S. trade deficit with the Middle Kingdom has hit record levels. Kurt Campbell, the former Asia-tilted assistant secretary of state, and Tim Geithner, the Mandarin-speaking ex-Treasury secretary, left as President Barack Obama started his second term. Other key seats sit empty for now, like the Treasury's diplomatically crucial international affairs post.

At first glance, Baucus continues the theme. Despite having traveled to China numerous times he admits his knowledge of the place is scant. It's hard to see what he brings to the nuances of China's bitter territorial disputes with its neighbors. If anything, his appointment looks like an attempt by Obama to retain a key Democratic seat in the Senate to protect his bigger domestic project, the Affordable Care Act. Montana's Democratic governor can appoint a replacement to serve in the Senate until Baucus' term expires in January 2015.

from Full Focus:

Best photos of the year 2013

Photo

WARNING: SOME IMAGES CONTAIN GRAPHIC CONTENT OR NUDITY In this showcase of some of Reuters' most memorable photos, the photographers offer a behind the scenes account of the images that helped define the year.

from Ian Bremmer:

An optimist’s view of the White House

What will the White House screw up next? Democrats have watched as one calamity after another has befallen what was once the most promising Democratic administration since John F. Kennedy’s. Obamacare, the NSA, Syria, heck, even the administration’s campaign foibles are back in the news with the publication of the new tell-all book Double Down.

Yet all is not lost. The Obama administration has not exactly bungled its way through five years of power. Until this year, in fact, Republicans were complaining that the press had been too kind towards Obama. With all the dour news, it is worthwhile to take stock of all the good things for which Obama can take credit. Bear in mind, some of these successes may not have been Obama’s ideal objective -- but the end results are victories regardless. These are the top eight achievements that not even Edward Snowden can take away, in descending order of importance.

from Breakingviews:

Lael Brainard isn’t the only Fed no-brainer

Photo

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Lael Brainard isn’t the only Federal Reserve no-brainer. As Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, she has acquitted herself nobly helping the world understand Washington’s profligate and quixotic ways. The Senate would be as daft to block her potential nomination to the Fed board of governors as it would Janet Yellen’s to the chairmanship. Filling other central banking vacancies quickly is the president’s other obvious task.

from Breakingviews:

GOP’s best bargaining tactic: raise debt ceiling

Photo

By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Congressional Republicans might want to consider a new bargaining tactic: raising the debt ceiling. Using the prospect of imminent default to force the White House to a compromise on the government shutdown isn’t working. Removing it from the table would show that the GOP can be reasonable – and allow the funding debate to rage without roiling global financial markets.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Game theory and America’s budget battle

So far, the battle of the budget in Washington is playing out roughly as expected. While a government shutdown has theoretically been ordered, nothing much has really happened, all the functions of government deemed essential have continued and financial markets have simply yawned. The only real difference between the tragicomedy now unfolding on Capitol Hill and the scenario outlined here last week has been in timing. I had suggested that the House Republicans would give way almost immediately on the budget, if only to keep some of their powder dry for a second, though equally hopeless, battle over the Treasury debt limit. Instead, it now looks like President Obama may succeed in rolling the two issues into one and forcing the Republicans to capitulate on both simultaneously.

The ultimate outcome of these battles is now clearer than ever. As explained here last week, the Tea Party’s campaign either to defund Obamacare or to sabotage the U.S. economy was doomed by the transformation in political dynamics that resulted from November’s election -- above all by the fact that the president never again has to face the voters, while nearly every member of Congress must. This shift in the balance of power made the Republicans' decision to mount a last stand on Obamacare, instead of attacking the White House on genuine budgetary issues, politically suicidal as well as quixotic. But while the outcome now looks inevitable, the timing of the decisive battle is important. Financial markets and businesses have responded with a tolerance bordering on complacency to the shenanigans in Washington, but this attitude could change abruptly if the House Republicans’ capitulation is delayed too long. As they say in the theater, the only difference between comedy and tragedy is timing.

from The Edgy Optimist:

Obama, Syria, and the decline of the imperial presidency

In 1973, Arthur Schlesinger wrote about the tendency in American history for the president to assume sweeping powers in times of war and crisis. The balance of power established by the Constitution gets upended; Congress and the courts take a back seat; and the executive makes decisions about life and death largely unchecked. He called this “the imperial presidency.” Today, with President Obama turning to Congress to endorse a military strike on Syria, the imperial presidency is beginning to wane.

It’s about time. The 1990s seemed to presage a return to a more balanced government, with Cold War defense spending slashed and “the peace dividend” contributing to a more balanced budget. But then 9/11 happened; America launched a war on terror; and the rest, as they say, is history.

from David Rohde:

The debate we should be having on Syria

Photo

On Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama boarded Air Force One, departed for Sweden and left behind a looming political disaster. Despite the endorsement of Republican and Democratic House leaders, many members of Congress remain deeply skeptical about the president’s proposal to carry out cruise missile strikes in Syria. And they should be.

A few dozen missile strikes will not alter the military balance in Syria’s civil war. They will not punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the point where it moves him to the bargaining table. The Syrian autocrat is engaged in a ruthless fight for survival. Obama is not. As long as that dynamic continues, limited military action will have a limited impact.

from MuniLand:

An appeal to President Obama as he goes to Scranton

President Obama and his entourage are pulling into Scranton, PA for a speech on Friday. In many ways Scranton is the east coast equivalent of Detroit; a former industrial powerhouse reduced to the economic wilderness. The city’s unemployment rate was 9 percent in April 2013. Scranton almost ran out of cash last summer and the mayor reduced everyone to minimum wage to meet payroll.

The city of 76,000 has defaulted on contracts that can lead to loan defaults and is deficit borrowing at extremely high rates. It’s been in the state fiscal distress program for over two decades. The city has finally taken steps to right its fiscal ship. But it had to fight public unions tooth and nail to alter their path (page 14):

from The Edgy Optimist:

A new American dream for a new American century

In a major speech this week on the economy, President Obama emphasized that while the United States has recovered substantial ground since the crisis of 2008-2009, wide swaths of the middle class still confront a challenging environment. Above all, the past years have eroded the 20th century dream of hard work translating into a better life.

As Obama explained, it used to be that “a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity. Whether you owned a company, or swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain -- a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and decent benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and most of all, a chance to hand down a better life for your kids. But over time, that engine began to stall.” What we are left with today is increased inequality, in wages and in opportunity.

  •