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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Midterm elections,Obamanomics,NCC at White House;NATO's "threat";Cyprus-Russia;Turkey,YouTube banned again;Kosovo elections

If President Obama is looking for a succinct way to assess last night's elections, he can always replay predecessor George W. Bush's now-famous comment after the Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006. "It was a thumping," Bush said the day after. We doubt that Obama will quote W directly at his 1 p.m. ET news conference but won't be surprised if he echoes other things Bush and other presidents have said after midterms disappointed them -- he accepts the verdict of the voters, but the public demands that the two parties work together. Consider Bush's full statement: Look, this was a close election. If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close -- it was a thumping. But nevertheless, the people expect us to work together. That's what they expect. And as I said in my opening comments, there comes responsibility with victory. President Bill Clinton also struck the bipartisan theme after watching his Democrats lose control of Congress in 1994: With the Democrats in control of both the White House and the Congress, we were held accountable yesterday. And I accept my share of the responsibility in the result of the elections. When the Republican Party assumes leadership in the House and in the Senate, they will also have a larger responsibility for acting in the best interest of the American people. I reach out to them today, and I ask them to join me in the center of the public debate where the best ideas for the next generation of American progress must come. President Ronald Reagan struck a more optimistic note when Republicans got whupped in the 1982 midterm elections -- he pointed out that his party kept control of the Senate: Well, apparently it's turned out between 17 and 27 (seats) that we've lost in the House. But the main point is, and we're gratified, that we have not only maintained control of the Senate but that when we started two years ago we had 53, and we now have 54 Republican senators. And we look forward to working with this Congress. We'll know Obama's approach to a political setback early this afternoon.

It wasn’t just the economy, stupid. The historic losses suffered Tuesday by Democrats in the U.S. midterm elections owe as much to the unpopular and off-point agenda of President Barack Obama as it does to high unemployment. A policy pivot might have limited the damage, but the White House failed to recognize the trouble until too late. Of course, Democrats will understandably be tempted to blame the debacle almost entirely on the undeniably poisoned chalice George W. Bush handed them. The Great Recession was of a sort Americans hadn’t experienced since the one Franklin Roosevelt encountered. The two previous downturns were brief and job losses minor. Even now, Americans are as gloomy as they were at the downturn’s depths. But if the American public was blindsided, so was the White House. It recklessly predicted unemployment would never reach 8 percent if Congress passed its $816 billion stimulus plan. The economic team was also dismissive, even through this spring, of the notion that the U.S economy would suffer the slow-growth aftermath that typically follows deep financial crises. Still, the magnitude of Democratic losses – the worst drubbing in the House since the 1930s — certainly hints more at play than just economic frustration. In the 1982 midterms, for instance, Republicans lost just 26 House and zero Senate seats despite unemployment cresting at 10.8 percent. The damage was much worse in 1994 — Democrats lost 54 House seats and 8 in the Senate — when unhappiness over President Bill Clinton’s healthcare plan offset a growing economy. Likewise, voters saw the passage of Obama’s healthcare reform, which helped spawn the Tea Party movement, as at best a distraction from job creation. To this day, as many as two thirds of Americans polled think the stimulus was mostly a waste of money. That might be an overly harsh assessment. But even the White House admits the plan’s “shovel-ready” spending took too long to implement. And instead of cuts in marginal tax rates or payroll taxes, Team Obama chose poorly structured tax credits. Despite plunging polls, business complaints about regulatory uncertainty and populist rhetoric, and the stunning loss Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat last January, there was no major course correction. To the White House, it was all just a bunch of whining. It was only in September that the administration finally proposed a “second stimulus” of business tax cuts that were too little, too late to change the political or economic dynamic. The economy made a Republican win almost inevitable, but Obamanomics made it a wipeout.

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, was among some two dozen US religious leaders who met with President Barack Obama here on Monday, November 1, 2010 “to speak for the millions of Americans struggling to find jobs, make their next rent or mortgage payment, and put food on the table,” according to a press release issued by the National Council of Churches [NCC]. Also attending the meeting were His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and His Eminence, Archbishop Khajag S. Barsamian of the Armenian Church of America. While the leaders of both the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, the global humanitarian agency, thanked President Obama for passage of health reform legislation and for his robust engagement with the faith community, they also pressed him “to take a strong stance on behalf of families facing poverty and hunger. According to Metropolitan Jonah, poverty, education, the Middle East Peace Process, and unemployment were among the other issues discussed at the 45 minute meeting, which took place in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “The President warmly received the group of religious leaders, who represent about 45 to 50 million Americans,” Metropolitan Jonah said. “The leaders who spoke thanked the President for his leadership in these various issues and pledged to work together with him in the future to further these goals for the betterment of the human condition.” Photos will be posted as they are made available by the White House.

NATO’s secretary general expects two headlines out of this month’s annual summit meeting in Lisbon: an agreement to build an alliance-wide missile defense system, and NATO’s own “reset” with Russia, whose president has accepted an invitation to the meeting and says Moscow will explore cooperation on missile defense. NATO is still negotiating key points in a new strategic doctrine, its first since 1999, to be published in Lisbon. These issues include nuclear disarmament, which divides France and Germany, and the alliance’s relationship with the European Union, which gets tangled up, as always, in the complications of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. And there is the equally problematic issue of missile defense, starting with the basic rationale for having such a thing. The alliance’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, was reluctant in an interview to specify where such a missile threat might come from. “More than 30 countries in the world have missile technology, and some of them can hit targets in allied territory,” he said. The main threat is perceived to be from Iran, which is building sophisticated missiles to go with its nuclear program. But President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran. Russia is also not mentioned as a threat, given the desire for a better relationship with Moscow and the willingness of Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to come to Lisbon and discuss Russian participation in the new missile shield. Asked what he would tell anxious Georgians about the “reset” with Russia, Mr. Rasmussen said that the alliance would not recognize the independence, autonomy or annexation of the two provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia; that it continues to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; and that NATO would keep its promise to some day admit both Georgia and Ukraine. He argued that a closer alliance relationship with Russia would help Georgia regain its territory, saying, “I do believe that an improved relationship between NATO and Russia is the best chance to ensure peaceful solutions to such disputes.” Many Georgians and East Europeans, however, do not believe Russia will ever cede the two provinces or come to see NATO as a partner. Asked about planning to defend all NATO members, including the Baltic nations and Poland, which had previously been left unclear, Mr. Rasmussen said carefully: “We never go into details about our military plan. But I can assure you, and that goes for all allies, that we have the necessary plans in place to defend them against any threats.” NATO is trying to find a similar balance in its new doctrine between France, a nuclear-armed nation that insists on the primacy of nuclear deterrence, and Germany, which wants to enshrine the aspiration of a nonnuclear world. The point of the new doctrine is educational, trying to answer the question, “Why is NATO still here?” The summit meeting, one ambassador said, “is designed to turn an organization founded on territorial defense against an identified threat to a more dynamic, flexible organization that is about building security and enhancing the safety of its citizens through cooperating with others.”

Cyprus-Russia relations are based on principles, mutual cultural and historic origins and reciprocity and may be developed even further to the benefit of the two countries and their people, the President of the House of Representatives Marios Garoyan said today. Garoyan was addressing a conference in Nicosia, organized by the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs together with the Russian Cultural Center, entitled «The Republic of Cyprus and the Russian Federation: Past, Present and the Future Challenges». The House President noted in his speech that the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation linking the two countries are based on principled positions and remain on an excellent level throughout time. Moreover, he noted that during the past 50 years, Cypriot-Russian bilateral relations have considerably expanded in all areas, among others in the political, diplomatic, financial and cultural domains, as well as in defence and even on the social level. Referring to the recent visit by the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev to Cyprus, and the 15 bilateral agreements and memoranda signed by the two countries, Garoyan said that the course of bilateral relations leads to further development. He added that both countries evaluate their cooperation in international organisations as very significant, since they share a similar approach to various international issues. Cyprus is benefiting from Russian support when it comes to the Cyprus problem, while Russia may express its considerations and its views to EU circles, through the Republic of Cyprus, Garoyan said. The Republic of Cyprus will continue to actively underline the importance of reinforcing EU-Russia relations in all domains related to energy, external security, research and culture, the economy and justice, he added. Furthermore, the House President noted that Russian suggestions regarding a new security architecture may be further discussed, within the framework of the global security debate. Garoyan also said that tourism, as well as financial and trade relations are progressing and noted that the number of investment is increasing, with Cyprus constituting the base for numerous Russian enterprises that reinvest in many areas of the Russian economy. He underlined the fact that Cyprus constitutes an important route for channeling foreign investment to the Russian economy, and said that Cyprus ranks first among foreign investors and remains as a destination in the first rank among countries that attract the biggest investments from Russia. The signing of the Protocol to avoid double taxation will boost financial relations between the two countries even further, President of the House of Representatives noted.

A Turkish court ordered that access to Google Inc.’s YouTube website be blocked again, days after the site was reopened following a 30-month ban. The court in Ankara ordered the closure because the site posted videos showing former opposition leader Deniz Baykal, the state-owned Anatolia news agency reported. Baykal quit as leader of the Republican People’s Party in May after a video on the internet showed him in a bedroom with a female lawmaker. The court instructed Turkey’s telecommunications regulator to ask YouTube to remove the video, and block access to the site if it failed to comply, Anatolia said. YouTube was still accessible from Turkey as of 9 p.m. local time today. Turkey in the past week relaxed a ban on YouTube that had been imposed in May 2008 after videos on the site were deemed by courts to have insulted the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is a crime in the country. YouTube reposted the videos that led to that ban to make them accessible from outside Turkey, after deciding that they didn’t violate its copyright policies, Ozlem Oz, a spokeswoman for Google in Turkey, said yesterday. Turkish visitors to the YouTube site have been able to circumvent the ban by using so-called proxy websites. Las Vegas-based Gabriel Ramuglia, 27, manager of hundreds of proxy sites, told Istanbul-based Hurriyet Daily News that YouTube-specific traffic from Turkey, which made up a substantial portion of his revenue, had dropped by half in three days following the lifting of the ban. The newspaper didn’t give specifics of the decline in revenue. More than 4,000 other websites remain banned in Turkey, Hurriyet reported.

Parliamentary parties in Serbia do not have a common position on whether Serbs should take part in elections organized by Kosovo Albanian authorities. Belgrade still has not decided whether to call upon the Serbs to participate in Kosovo elections. Serbia's authorities say that there are "many pros and cons" to the decision. Ruling Democratic Party (DS) MP Jelena Trivan has assessed that the issue is difficult and complex, that it is not one for parties, but for the state and that DS will not make any announcements about it. Her statement came on Tuesday after a senior member of the party spoke over the weekend in favor of Serbs taking part in the elections. Head of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS)-United Serbia (JS) parliamentary group Branko Ružić also believes that the issue of the Serb participation in Kosovo elections is not a party issue but one for the state, and that Socialists expect that the government will discuss it and come up with a clear position. Although the government would like the entire political public to stand behind a decision, this will be hard to achieve as some opposition parties have a clear position on the issue. Serb Progressive Party (SNS) leader Tomislav Nikolić says that his party does not advise the citizens in Kosovo to vote in the early parliamentary elections but that SNS "would not judge them if they did". Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) MP Miloš Aligrudić says that his party also thinks that Serbs in Kosovo should not participate in the elections of “the fake state of Kosovo” because it would be a confirmation of the existence of such a state on Serbia’s territory. Aleksandar Martinović of the Serb Radical Party (SRS) also thinks that Serbs should not take part in the elections organized by the institutions from Priština because it would imply a recognition of the nonexistent state of Kosovo. However, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is so far the only party which advises Serbs to exercise their right and take part in the elections. LDP leader Čedomir Jovanović stressed that Serbs needed a place in the Kosovo institutions so they could excercise the rights which belonged to them in accordance with the Kosovo constitution. Ahead of the previous voting in Kosovo, the Serbian government called upon the citizens to boycott the elections but two Serb parties took part in the process.