Saturday, April 04, 2009

Obama Update from Air Force One

President Obama provides a five minute update on the substance of his European trip so far, from inside Air Force One in flight. Also here's a link to the video of President Obama's town hall meeting in Strausborg. After the acknowledgements, he makes a strong statement of his goals for America and Europe together addressing the challenges of the future, at this crossroads of history.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Triumph in London

After a week of handringing press about the Obamas facing hostility towards the U.S., their two days in London is an unqualified triumph--personally, politically and for the national and international economy, as well as for future U.S. relations with the world. See more in post below.
It was a personal triumph, the makings of instant legend: Barack breaks up a fight between France and China and gets an agreement, Michelle dazzles the Queen with some unroyal physical contact and the Queen's request to keep in touch. (One Brit reporter said she's never seen the Queen take a shine to any of the Brit leaders, let alone Americans, as she did to the Obamas.)

President Obama was such a hit at the G20 Conference that the leaders of Russia and Italy were grinning into the camera with him, and Andrea Merkel of Germany--so obviously stiff and distant from GW Bush--was captured smiling and relaxed around him. The London media was uniformly gushing, and many newspapers throughout Europe and Asia carried photos of President Obama meeting their country's leaders.

The conference itself was more successful than anyone had predicted or imagined (though President Obama said simply that they'd done "okay") and sent a powerful message about the 20 leaders who preside over more than 80% of the world economy, seeing the need to work together, and also to aid other countries in the worst trouble.

For it is the world's poor who are hit hardest most immediately by the global Great Recession. The World Bank estimates that from 200,000 to 400,000 children will die because of it. “In London, Washington and Paris, people talk of bonuses or no bonuses,” Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, said this week. “In parts of Africa, South Asia and Latin America the struggle is for food or no food.”

This was emphasized by Michelle Obama's emotional visit to a multicultural school for poor girls, and by President Obama in his press conference (full transcript here; the importance of this section to Obama administration policy was noted by Amy Sullivan):

"But in an era of integration and interdependence, it is also my responsibility to lead America into recognizing that its interests, its fate is tied up with the larger world; that if we neglect or abandon those who are suffering in poverty, that not only are we depriving ourselves of potential opportunities for markets and economic growth, but ultimately that despair may turn to violence that turns on us; that unless we are concerned about the education of all children and not just our children, not only may we be depriving ourselves of the next great scientist who's going to find the next new energy source that saves the planet, but we also may make people around the world much more vulnerable to anti-American propaganda."

As the Obamas head for the Continent, this reinvigoration of American leadership could be paying dividends at home already. By evening, both the House and Senate passed the Obama budget plan. There was also the sense that confidence might be returning, and that the Great Recession may be bottoming out. There yet may be shocks from the financial sector, but confidence can go a long way. And right now, the Obamas have provided a well-timed touch of hope.

In some ways it was like the Inauguration all over again, but this time for the whole world. This is our President and First Lady! Yes!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Not So Retro Today

Fewer Americans understand the dangers that nuclear weapons and nuclear war still pose. Few will recall that the peace symbol's original meaning was in support of nuclear disarmament in England. So it's fitting that it was in England yesterday that a new start to controlling nuclear weapons began. See the post below.
It's been nearly twenty years since most Americans felt the daily threat of thermonuclear war and the instant end of the world as we know it. With the demise of the Soviet Union, that threat seemed to disappear, but though it diminished, it did not really go away. The U.S. and Russia have enough nukes pointed at each other to destroy both countries, and subsequent studies show the chance of accidental nuclear war is even higher than it was in the 1980s.

Just months before he was killed, President Kennedy fought for and obtained the first treaty between the superpowers that even attempted to slow the nuclear arms race, with the nuclear test ban treaty. Other treaties followed, and nuclear weapons were even destroyed. But the Bushites withdrew American participation in such international treaties, including the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and made plans for more nukes.

So it was an historic step--but more than that, a vital step--that President Obama took yesterday in his meeting with the Russian president. You probably didn't hear about it, because after decades of one kind of denial, we're deep into another kind. We don't even know we're still in danger. We'd rather twitter about the Queen's new Ipod.

So for the record, there is this excerpt from the joint statement. Read it and rejoice:

As leaders of the two largest nuclear weapons states, we agreed to work together to fulfill our obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and demonstrate leadership in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear free world, while recognizing that this long-term goal will require a new emphasis on arms control and conflict resolution measures, and their full implementation by all concerned nations. We agreed to pursue new and verifiable reductions in our strategic offensive arsenals in a step-by-step process, beginning by replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new, legally-binding treaty. We are instructing our negotiators to start talks immediately on this new treaty and to report on results achieved in working out the new agreement by July.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Real Estate

First in Australia, then in China, then around the world: "From an Antarctic research base and the Great Pyramids of Egypt, from the Colosseum in Rome to the Empire State building in New York, illuminated patches of the globe went dark Saturday night to highlight the threat of climate change." Easy enough but symbolism marks emotion, and people care enough to vote in this way to address the Climate Crisis. Then in Germany: "Once booed at international climate talks, the United States won sustained applause Sunday when President Barack Obama's envoy pledged to "make up for lost time" in reaching a global agreement on climate change." Todd Stern, Obama's envoy, added: "we are seized with the urgency of the task before us."
The Climate talks are not the only venue for acting urgently. "Efforts to mitigate climate change could be hampered if nations do not agree to protect the world's forests by the end of the year, warn researchers. Earthwatch says it is vital for leaders attending a key UN summit in December to find a way to halt deforestation." In the U.S. Congress: The debate on global warming and energy policy accelerated on Tuesday as two senior House Democrats unveiled a far-reaching bill to cap heat-trapping gases and quicken the country’s move away from dependence on coal and oil. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants a bill passed by July.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"You will hardly know who I am or what I mean/
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless."-- Walt Whitman
click photo to enlarge.