Tales from the Trail

Mexico’s Calderon admires Second Amendment, but wants U.S. gun control

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has no problem with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the right to bear arms — he just wants the weapons flowing across the border into his country stopped.

MEXICO-USA/That’s what he told a joint session of the U.S. Congress, an honor not given to every foreign leader. And the way Congress received him — lengthy standing ovations — showed that Calderon was not just any foreign leader to speak from that podium but an especially close ally.

And perhaps it was the knowledge of that friendship between the two neighboring countries that allowed the Mexican president to fearlessly enter the lion’s den with red meat in hand.

“I fully respect, I admire the American Constitution. And I understand that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee good American citizens the ability to defend themselves and their nation,” Calderon said.

“Many of these guns are not going to honest American hands, instead, thousands are ending up in the hands of criminals,” he said.

Frankly, Mr. Karzai, the U.S. does give a damn

When two heads of state stand side-by-side in public, it’s all about reading into the words they choose and the body language.

AFGHANISTAN-USA/In the case of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama the word “frank” came up a number of times.

In Washington-speak when political leaders describe discussions as “frank” and “very frank”  it usually means they didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. And given the recent tensions between Karzai’s government and the U.S. government that the visit sought to ease, the use of the word “frank” showed that not everything was agreeable.

The coming conflict with China

2008 was the last presidential election when voters didn’t know or care about the candidates views on China, argues political risk analyst Ian Bremmer.

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/Bremmer’s new book “The End of the Free Market” argues that the Chinese economic model — which he calls state capitalism — is so fundamentally different from Western free market capitalism that tensions and economic conflict are inevitable in the years ahead.

The main goal of China’s state-directed capitalism is to harness economic growth to ensure political stability and keep the Communist Party in power, Bremmer says.  And since the financial crisis, China has seen the United States and the West as “less indispensable”.

Senator Kyl: show me the money to modernize U.S. nukes

Where’s the money?

A key senator says the Obama administration needs to commit to more funding for modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex if it is to convince him that the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia is a good idea. USA-COURT/SOTOMAYOR

Republican Senator Jon Kyl said that in any case it’s debatable whether the new START treaty signed recently by President Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev “is in the best interests of the United States.”

The new START treaty, which cuts the arsenals of deployed nuclear warheads in both countries by about 30 percent, must be approved by the Senate as well as the Russian parliament before it can go into force.

U.S. Ash Quest: Help 40,000 Americans cross the pond

Stranded in England…

(We could think of worse places to be stuck than the land of fish-and-chips and Shakespeare).

VOLCANO/That’s what happened to 40,000 Americans when their travel was disrupted due to the volcanic ash wafting over Europe from Iceland. But have no fear, the U.S. government is here.

(Not that it’s in any way a relevant comparison, but the number of Americans stranded in Britain is smaller than the Twitter followers of  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs  who has 55,643 following @PressSec).

Obama, Hu share moment of silence for dead miners

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao interrupted their high-powered diplomacy on Monday to share a moment of silence in memory of the miners who have died in recent accidents in both countries. NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/

Obama paused during vital talks ranging from sanctions against Iran to China’s yuan currency on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit to tell Hu about the 29 miners lost in a mine blast in West Virginia last week.

Recalling 85 miners had also died in China’s Shanxi province in the last 10 days, Obama asked both delegations to take a moment to honor the dead, the White House said.

Qat joins al Qaeda as Yemen threat

YEMEN-QAT/U.S. lawmakers, convening a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the threat posed by al Qaeda in Yemen, found themselves focused on another problem stalking the impoverished Arab country:  the mild drug qat, which permeates Yemeni society.

Rep.  Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, launched the discussion of Yemen’s drug problem in his opening remarks, noting that qat was “a narcotic plant that produces feelings of euphoria and stimulation, but ultimately undermines individual initiative — sort of like being in Congress.”

Berman noted that many people chew qat regularly  in Yemen — pushed close to the top of the U.S. security watchlist after the Christmas Day bombing attempt on a U.S. airliner by a Nigerian with Yemeni links  –  and that cultivation of the drug consumes about 40 percent of Yemen’s fast diminishing agricultural water supplies.

Healthcare reform may leave some legal migrants to U.S. in limbo

Immigration, particularly what to do with millions of illegal immigrants living in the shadows, has long been a divisive issue in the United States — so it comes as little surprise that undocumented migrants are excluded from benefits under President Barack Obama’s signature drive to overhaul healthcare.
 
But legislation to reform the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system to cut costs, extend coverage and regulate insurers could also exclude more than a million legal permanent residents living, working and paying taxes in this country of immigrants from core benefits, according to a study published this month.
 
The report by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute said 4.2 million lawful permanent residents in the United States are uninsured. More than 1 million of them could be excluded from Medicaid coverage or insurance subsidies outlined in the bill — five versions of which are currently on Capitol Hill — if Congress does not remove a five-year waiting period for eligibility.
 
Congress is set to debate the legislation in coming weeks, and the prospects for the overhaul are far from certain. But if legal residents are denied eligibility for Medicaid and insurance subidies, yet are nevertheless subjected to mandates requiring them to buy health insurance coverage, the study concluded, many of them would face a “significant burden.”
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“Leaving large numbers of legal immigrants out of healthcare reform would defeat the core goal of the legislation, which is to extend coverage to the nation’s 46 million uninsured,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, who co-authored the report.
 
The study also concluded that implementing verification systems to ensure that 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States do not receive benefits could prove expensive and may also discriminate against Americans.
 
“Document checks would be especially costly, and would have the biggest impact on U.S. citizens who cannot produce birth certificates or other forms of ID, leading to lost or delayed coverage,” said Marc Rosenblum, a co-author of the MPI study.
 
The measures denying undocumented immigrants benefits are likely to be welcomed by most Americans — one telephone survey in June found 80 percent of U.S. voters opposed providing government healthcare coverage to undocumented migrants. But activists say a bill that left many legal permanent residents in limbo would likely discourage some skilled migrants from seeking to move to the United States.
   
Aman Kapoor, the founder and president of advocacy group Immigration Voice said many high-skilled immigrants including engineers and software specialists were already wary about moving to the United States because of red tape and delays in processing applications for permanent residency.
 
“This will ring the alarm bells again around the world for the high-skilled community,” Kapoor said, adding that skilled foreign workers were “already considering other destinations like India, China and Brazil because the hassle of settling here has increased dramatically.”

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Senator Max Baucus and Senator Olympia Snowe shake hands after Senate Finance Committee passed healthcare reform bill, October 13, 2009)

Missiles before talks — what’s the message from Iran?

Everyone has their own way of broaching subjects they don’t like.

Iran has decided the best prelude to upcoming talks with Western powers that are inevitably going to end up in a finger-pointing session over Tehran’s nuclear program, is to test fire a bunch of missiles.

SWISS-BRAND/The United States has made clear it will focus on Iran’s nuclear program at the meeting Thursday in Geneva. Let’s see if the traditional neutrality of the Swiss venue makes a difference in keeping tempers in check (chocolates anyone?).

So what’s Iran trying to say with the missile launches which come inbetween last week’s disclosure that Tehran is building a second uranium enrichment plant and this week’s rare meeting between Iran and six major powers including the United States, China and Russia.