Archive for February, 2009

4th February
written by englishnews

US President Barack Obama has said “I screwed up” over his handling of a controversy that led two politicians to decline posts in his administration.

Tom Daschle was to become the new secretary of health, and Nancy Killefer was Mr Obama’s choice to oversee budget and spending reform.

They both withdrew when questions were raised about their tax affairs.

The president said he was taking full responsibility and promised it would not happen again.

But the BBC Washington correspondent says the growing number of Mr Obama’s nominees facing tax problems appears to be undermining his calls for a new era of responsibility.

Speaking in a series of TV interviews late on Tuesday, President Obama also said he wanted to avoid including anything that might spark a trade war in a planned economic stimulus package.

Mr Obama was responding to EU and Canadian criticism of a “Buy American” clause in the $800bn (£567bn) package, which is being debated in the Senate.

Mr Obama said he did not want the US “to start sending a message that somehow we’re just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade”.

Distraction fears

Mr Daschle, a former senator and an early Obama backer, withdrew his nomination on Tuesday, after it was revealed last week that he had failed to pay some $130,000 in taxes.

President Obama: ‘We don’t have two sets of rules’

He said he would have not been able to operate “with the full faith of Congress and the American people”.

He also said he did not want to “be a distraction” from Mr Obama’s agenda.

The president said he had accepted his nominee’s withdrawal “with sadness and regret”.

Mr Daschle’s move came only hours after Nancy Killefer, nominated as budget watchdog, also withdrew over tax issues.

Ms Killefer said she did not want a personal tax issue -reportedly concerning household help – to delay Mr Obama’s plans.

Her appointment to the newly-created post of chief performance officer was intended to help cut wasteful government spending.

‘Setting an example’

In a statement, Mr Obama said: “Tom has made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged. He has not excused it, nor do I.”

Tom Daschle and President Barack Obama

The president went on: “Now we must move forward with our plan to lift this economy and put people back to work.”

But in his TV interviews Mr Obama said he regretted the way he had handled the case.

“I’ve got to own up to my mistake which is that ultimately it’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules,” he told NBC news.

“You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”

“I think I screwed up,” he told CNN. “And, you know, I take responsibility for it and we’re going to make sure we fix it so it doesn’t happen again.”

Car and driver

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said both nominees had come to the decision to withdraw on their own.

“They both recognised that you can’t set an example of responsibility but accept a different standard of who serves,” Mr Gibbs said.

Tom Daschle

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said Mr Daschle’s withdrawal was a great loss to the cause of health care reform.

“When the smoke clears and the frenzy has ended, no-one will believe that this unwitting mistake should have erased 30 years of selfless public service and remarkable skill and legislative expertise on health care,” he said.

Mr Daschle paid about $128,000 in back taxes and $12,000 in interest last month.

Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, he apologised for what he said had been a mistake. The tax issue stemmed from the use of a car and driver provided to him by a friend and consulting client.

The BBC’s James Coomarasamy in Washington says Mr Obama has been facing growing criticism over the contradiction between his pledge to create a new, ethical administration and the problems of his nominees.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was confirmed last week only after long arguments over his failure to pay $34,000 (£24,500) in taxes he owed until shortly before he was nominated.

In January, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced he was withdrawing from consideration as commerce secretary after an investigation was launched into a state contract that had been given to his campaign donors.

Republican Senator Judd Gregg was on Tuesday nominated instead, the second from his party to be asked to join Mr Obama’s cabinet.

3rd February
written by englishnews

The EU and Canada have warned that a clause in the US economic recovery package could promote protectionism.

The “Buy American” clause seeks to ensure that only US iron, steel and manufactured goods are used in construction work funded by the bill.

The EU ambassador in Washington said that if approved, the measure would set a “dangerous precedent”.

The $800bn (£567bn) rescue plan package is under discussion in the US Senate this week.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is expected to name Republican Senator Judd Gregg as commerce secretary.

Mr Gregg would be the third Republican in Mr Obama’s cabinet.

The president’s first choice for the post, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, withdrew following questions about his links to big business.

‘Dangerous precedent’

The BBC’s Jonathan Beale in Washington says Mr Obama will hope that Mr Gregg’s nomination can help him secure approval for the stimulus package.

It is unlikely that the package, which has already been approved by the House of Representatives, will be able to pass the Senate without Republican support.

The White House has said it is reviewing the “Buy American” part of the stimulus bill, although Vice President Joe Biden said last week that it was legitimate to have some portion of Buy American in the final measure.

EU Ambassador John Bruton said that if passed, the measure could sap global public confidence.

“If we have a series of protectionist measures introduced, then the possibility of real global leadership is put at risk,” he said.

“We regard this legislation as setting a very dangerous precedent at a time when the world is facing a global economic crisis.”

‘Retaliatory risk’

In a letter to Senate leaders, the Canadian ambassador in Washington, Michael Wilson, said that if “Buy American” was in the final legislation, it would set a negative precedent with global repercussions.

“The United States will lose the moral authority to pressure others not to introduce protectionist policies,” he wrote.

Canadian International Trade Minister Stockwell Day said Canada hoped to be exempted from any such measure, which he warned could lead to a global depression.

“These protectionist measures, in a time of recession, only make things worse,” he told broadcaster CBC.

“It can only trigger retaliatory action and we don’t want to go there.”

There is also opposition from some senior US Republicans who say the measure could start trade wars.

Mr Obama has urged the US Congress not to delay his stimulus plan over modest differences.

He said on Monday that he was expecting a “difficult next few days” as the Senate debated the package.

He also warned that more US banks are likely to fail as the full extent of their losses in the economic crisis becomes clear.

The Democrat leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, has said he hopes the stimulus can be approved by the end of the week.

1st February
written by englishnews

US President Barack Obama has congratulated Iraqis for holding a largely peaceful vote for provincial councils across the country.

He called the elections “an important step forward” for Iraqi self-determination. PM Nouri Maliki hailed them as “a victory for all the Iraqis”.

There was a strong turn-out in Sunni areas, which boycotted the last polls.

The first nationwide vote in four years is seen as a test of stability before a general election due later this year.

“I congratulate the people of Iraq on holding significant provincial elections today,” Mr Obama said in a statement.

“This important step forward should continue the process of Iraqis taking responsibility for their future.”

Mr Obama urged the newly elected councils to “get seated, select new governors, and begin work on behalf of the Iraqi people who elected them”.

Earlier, Mr Maliki said this was “a day of happiness for all the Iraqi people and for all those who love Iraq”.

Tight security

The BBC’s Andrew North in Baghdad says that while Iraq is not yet at peace, the election is a promising sign that it is on the way there.

Thousands of soldiers and police were deployed around polling stations.

The elections were held in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces, with more than 14,000 candidates competing for just 440 seats.

There was no voting in the three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of the north and the ballot was postponed in oil-rich Kirkuk province.

Iraq’s provincial councils are responsible for nominating the governors who lead the administration and oversee finance and reconstruction projects.

While the recent level of violence around Iraq is significantly lower than in past years, a major security operation took place across the country.

Iraq’s international borders were shut, traffic bans were put in place across Baghdad and major cities, and curfews introduced.

Voters had to pass through stringent security checks to reach the polling stations.

Despite warnings from Iraqi and US military commanders that al-Qaeda posed a threat to the elections, there were relatively few incidents reported.

As voting got under way, several mortar rounds landed near polling stations in Tikrit, hometown of late ruler Saddam Hussein, but no casualties were reported.

Associated Press news agency reported a shooting incident at a polling station in Baghdad, but it was unclear if one man had been killed or two injured.

There were also reports that a number of people were not listed on voter rolls, preventing them from casting ballots.

Hundreds of international observers monitored the vote, as well as thousands of local observers from the various political parties.

Sunni participation

The turnout was reported to be brisk across the country – including Sunni areas.

Jim Muir takes a look inside an Iraqi polling station

The head of the Iraqi electoral commission in Anbar province – a centre of the Sunni resistance to the US occupation – said he was expecting a 60% turnout.

Fewer than 2% voted in the 2005 election, with the result that Shia and Kurdish parties took control of parliament.

The drawing of alienated Sunnis back into the political arena is one of the big changes these elections will crystallise, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports from Baghdad.

On the Shia side, the results will also be closely watched amid signs that many voters intend to turn away from the big religious factions and towards nationalist or secular ones.