Tales from the Trail

Obama handles China delicately

It’s too early to tell whether President Barack Obama’s new approach to China will be more successful than his predecessor’s. But this week’s high-level dialogue in Washington underlined how the balance of power is shifting. CHINA-USA/OBAMA

The U.S. side, determined to be more respectful and less confrontational, tiptoed around the sensitive issue of China’s currency, avoiding any public appeal for an upwards revaluation in the yuan.

There was a passing reference to the rights of China’s ethnic and religious minorities, but no sign the other side would take any more notice of foreign interference in its internal affairs than it has in the past.

Not was there any evidence the Chinese and Americans were any closer on issues from climate change to how to deal with countries like North Korea and Sudan.

The Chinese, though, seemed less circumspect, more confident even in their public statements. Washington, they argued, should rein in its budget deficit and refrain from flooding the world with dollars.

Do looks matter in China?

BEIJING – Does having “a Chinese face” help two top U.S. officials in hard bargaining on energy and trade issues with the Chinese?

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whose grandfather came to the United States from China, told reporters in Beijing not necessarily so.

But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed pride in Locke and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s ancestory when he met with them on Thursday.

Governor Sanford’s walk in the woods

When Governor Mark Sanford walks out of the woods tomorrow, he’s sure for a big surprise.

The governor of South Carolina went hiking on the Appalachian Trail last Thursday to clear his head after a tough legislative session, according to his aides. Nothing odd in that – politicians need time off as much as anyone. Trouble is, when Sanford left he didn’t tell his aides where he was going. He didn’t tell the state’s lieutenant governor either. Or his wife.

rtxbyi6

His disappearance sparked speculation about his whereabouts, although Fox News reported he did call to check in two days into the trip. Tomorrow he is due to emerge from the trail and return to work and he will doubtless face many questions. For a possible presidential candidate in 2012, the distraction could prove awkward.

from FaithWorld:

Almost two million vanish from Obama’s estimate of U.S. Muslims

dawn-front-page002 (Dawn front page for Sunday, 21 June 2009)

Almost two million people have inexplicably disappeared from the estimates of the U.S. Muslim population that President Barack Obama has given recently. In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, he spoke about "nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today." On Sunday, the Karachi daily Dawn published an interview with him where he said "we have five million Muslims."

There was no explanation for the change, but his reason for citing the figure seemed to be the same. Shortly before his Cairo speech, Obama told the French television channel Canal Plus that "one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world." He cited no figure there but mentioned seven million in Cairo three days later.

Many blogs, FaithWorld included, questioned that figure and noted that estimates of the U.S. Muslim population range from 1.8 to 7-8 million. The U.S. Census Bureau cannot ask about religion on a mandatory basis but refers on its website to a Pew Forum study pegging Muslims at 0.6% of the population. The CIA World Factbook uses the same percentage figure. It translates into about 1.8 million.

German, U.S. ties strong, never you mind the wild speculation

DRESDEN, Germany – Were you under the impression that relations between the United States and Germany have been a bit frosty since President Barack Obama took office?
 
That Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t trust Obama because he went to Germany during his election OBAMA/GERMANYcampaign and cozied up to her opposition?
 
Or that Obama was offended by her refusal to let him deliver his big Berlin speech last year at the Brandenburg Gate, so he returned the snub by refusing to go to Berlin on this trip?
 
Well pish, posh. You’ve clearly been reading wildly speculative media reports.
 
“They are very wild and based on no facts,” Obama told a news conference Friday standing next to Merkel.
 
“The truth of the matter … is that the relationship, not only between our two countries but our two governments, is outstanding,” he added.
 
And Merkel’s assessment? Working with Obama is fun, in an analytical sort of way.
 
“Allow me, if I may, to … say that it’s fun to work together with the American president because very serious, very thorough analytical discussions very often lead us to draw the same conclusions,” she said.
 
Since they get along so well, why did Obama not travel to Berlin on this visit?
 
Simple matter of logistics. He was going to Dresden, going to Buchenwald, traveling to a U.S. air base and had to be in Normandy the following day for D-Day celebrations.
 OBAMA-GERMANY/
“There are only 24 hours in the day. And so there’s nothing to any of that speculation beyond us just trying to fit in what we could do on such a short trip. That’s all that there was,” Obama said.
 
A day after he spoke boldly to the Muslim world in a speech from Cairo, the U.S. president found himself boldly speaking again — this time to journalist speculators.
 
“So stop it. All of you,” he said, drawing titters from the assembled reporters. “I know you have to find something to report on, but we have more than enough problems out there without manufacturing problems.”
 
Speaking of those problems, what about those Guantanamo prisoners Germany had said it would take?
 
“Chancellor Merkel has been very open to discussions with us,” Obama said. “We have not asked her for hard commitments, and she has not given us any hard commitments beyond having a serious discussion about are there ways that we can solve this problem.”
 
Washington submitted a formal request in early May for Germany to take some Guantanamo prisoners.
 
“There are talks going on,” Merkel told the news conference, “and at the very end I am absolutely confident that we will find a common solution.”
 
For more Reuters political news click here.
 
Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Merkel listens to Obama during news conference; Merkel, Obama tour Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) in Dresden)

Michelle Obama’s close encounters with Elmo, Big Bird and U.S. diplomats

Michelle ObamaU.S. first lady Michelle Obama told an audience at the U.S. mission to the United Nations that she was “thrilled” to be back in New York for the first time since her husband Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. president in January. But she said some things are even more exciting than addressing an audience of 150 U.S. diplomats, military advisers and other government officials.

“I’m thrilled to be here but I was just at ‘Sesame Street’, I’m sorry,” she said, referring to the long-running U.S. children’s television program. “I never thought I’d be on ‘Sesame Street’ with Elmo and Big Bird and I was thrilled. I’m still thrilled. I’m on a high. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve done so far in the White House.”

Elmo
One of the biggest rounds of applause during the first lady’s 20-minute appearance at the U.S. mission in midtown Manhattan came when she read a letter the son of one of the mission staffers, Scott Turner, recently sent to the president.  According to Michelle Obama, Turner’s son Jack, a first grader,  wrote to the president:

from MacroScope:

Watch out for the G20 spin

Be careful this week about buying wholeheartedy into any G20-related spin about supposedly savvy, free-spending Britain and America doing more to combat the world economic crisis than supposedly stubborn, overly cautious Germany and France. The actual figures show it is much more complex than that.

A Reuters calculation on discretionary fiscal stumuli and the International Monetary Fund's assessment show that, if anything, Britain is the significant laggard and that German spending almost matches the United States over the next two years. Here are the IMF's numbers (% of GDP):

                                                          2009                     2010

Obama thanks Canadians who campaigned for his election

71OTTAWA – As if he were out on the campaign trail again, Barack Obama gave a special thanks on Thursday to people who helped him win the 2008 U.S. presidential election — in Canada.
 
The president, on a visit to the United States’ northern neighbor, ended a news conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper by thanking Canadians who came across the border to volunteer for his campaign.
 
“I want to also, by the way, thank some of the Canadians who came over the border to campaign for me,” he said, to laughter. “It was much appreciated.”
 
After the news conference, the president made a campaign-style trip to a local market where he shook hands with excited shoppers and looked for souvenirs for his daughters.
 
But Obama, whose whole trip lasted just several hours, did slip up a bit — campaign style — at the beginning of his remarks.
 
When saying it was good to be in Ottawa, he stumbled briefly, and started to say “Iowa.”

-Photo credit: Reuters/ Larry Downing (Obama waves after shopping at Ottawa market, February 19, 2009)

from FaithWorld:

Can the United States fix Durban II?

The United States has decided to participate in planning meetings for the United Nations Conference on Racism in April in order to influence its final declaration. The conference, a follow-up to the 2001 meeting in South Africa that the U.S. and Israel walked out on because the draft declaration called Israel racist (that language was later dropped). Israel and Canada have already announced they would boycott "Durban II," as the conference is being called, and the Bush administration was opposed to the conference. But the Obama administration has decided to wade into the debate in the hopes of getting a better result. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly, 26 Sept 2008/Eric Thayer)

Apart from the expected criticism of Israel, this conference in Geneva is also due to be a showplace for a drive by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to have the U.N. condemn defamation of religion. The U.N. General Assembly voted for just such a condemnation last December, for the fourth year running. While the non-binding resolution urged member states to provide "adaquate protection against acts of hatred, discrumination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general," the only religion it mentioned by name was Islam. Western countries opposed that resolution as contrary to the basic rights of free expression and opinion.

In statements in December, the freedom of expression rapporteurs of the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) have called on the United Nations not to issue any such resolution.

from FaithWorld:

If Hillary goes to Jakarta, can Barack be far behind?

Is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Jakarta a hint that President Barack Obama will pick Indonesia as the first Muslim country he visits in his drive to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world? There were lots of other suggestions when he first mentioned this back in December, including Egypt (the New York Times pick) and Morocco (judging by what might have been a write-in campaign on our comments page).

My tip at the time was either Indonesia or Turkey. In recent weeks, Turkey's star has probably faded as its relations with Israel soured recently. Those strains came after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of "knowing very well how to kill" in Gaza during a debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then stormed off the stage. (Photo: Hillary Clinton with Jakarta schoolgirls, 18 Feb 2009/Supri)

Clinton said all the right things today, like telling the country where Obama spent four years as a boy that it was proof that modernity and Islam can coexist. "As I travel around the world over the next years, I will be saying to people: if you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women's rights can co-exist, go to Indonesia," she said at a dinner with civil society activists. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda reciprocated by telling her Indonesia shared the United States' joy at Obama's election and she should tell the U.S. president "we cannot wait too long" for a visit.