Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Chutzpah runs for president

November 4, 2012

This US presidential election campaign features chutzpah as never before, most notably on the Republican side. Chutzpah is a Yiddish word for extreme nerve, classically defined as murdering your parents then pleading for mercy as an orphan.

In the past, I’ve urged Americans to vote for Tan Shwe, Burma’s former dictator. This time, it’s about overcoming a process that’s broken and increasingly remote from the public interest. We can do better, and voting is the key first step.

This campaign’s glaring recent example of chutzpah is Republicans’ cry that Obama has failed to build bipartisanship in Washington. During the first two years of his term, when Democrats enjoyed a filibuster-proof Senate majority, Obama infuriated supporters by continually reaching across the political aisle, only to be rebuffed.

Since Republicans won the House majority in 2010 and broke Democrats’ stranglehold on the Senate, they’ve done all they can to thwart Obama. Most egregiously, Republicans turned formerly routine bipartisan votes to raise the debt ceiling, to pay for the checks Congress writes, into pitched political battles that have wrought chaos on financial markets and self-inflicted wounds, including the downgrade of America’s credit rating.

Obama didn’t reject bipartisanship, Republicans did and still do. But Republicans blame Obama for it – that’s chutzpah.

Similarly, Republicans blame Obama for failing to fix the economy they wrecked and cut the deficit they caused. They act as if a balanced budget is some distant dream when in fact the US had a budget surplus when George W Bush took office in 2001.

Republicans say that things have gotten worse for the middle class under Obama, and they’re right. It’s part of a three decade decline brought on by Republican policies that began under Ronald Reagan to make the rich richer that have reduced opportunities for upward mobility. Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan is leading advocate of expanding trickle down strategies that will further concentrate wealth at the top while cutting programs that give the middle class and poor a fighting chance.

Romney points to the millions of people on Food Stamps under Obama, as if Obama put them there, rather than an economy torpedoed by ultra-rich bankers gaming the system and getting bailed out (talk about socialism) after years of jobless growth. The number of people on Food Stamps would in all likelihood fall dramatically under Romney, because Ryan’s budget proposes to gut the program. To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat less.”

The Food Stamps example and Romney’s 47 percent remarks are part of a Republican myth that the fortunate ones in America aren’t the super wealthy who are earning a bigger share of national income and paying less in taxes – and now financing electoral politics to an unprecedented degree – but people who earn too little to pay federal income tax. So it’s better to earn $15,000 than $15 million, the Republicans contend, though you don’t see any of them volunteering to trade places.

This degree of chutzpah is a logical progression from the Karl Rove tactic of blaming your opponent first for whatever they might (more justly) accuse your side of doing. For example, with draft dodger, warmonger George Bush facing war hero, antiwar activist John Kerry in 2004, Republicans attacked Kerry’s military record, presenting apparent eyewitness accounts from people who were no where near the incidents they described, adding the words Swift Boat to the political lexicon.

For the past two election cycles, Republicans have cried class warfare when Democrats propose raising taxes on the wealthy. They’re right about class warfare. But it’s a war that Republican policies have instigated and perpetuated, and one that the rich are winning decisively.

Then, there’s healthcare. Obama’s health insurance reforms are almost a carbon copy of what his Republican opponent Mitt Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts, a policy that traces its roots to the conservative Heritage Foundation. But Republican interests spearheaded the faux populist Tea Party that found traction with a disinformation campaign against the reforms embodied by the sign, “Government hands off Medicare.”

So Romney has fiercely backtracked, denying his own record and attacking Obama for doing what he did. That’s another major theme of the Romney campaign: lying. For the past six years, Romney has been saying anything he thinks will get him elected president, contradicting his own longstanding and recent positions. Although the Bush name is never spoken, the same Republican establishment behind W are the folks supporting Romney, expecting him to be similarly empty vessel for them to fill.

We may not know what we’ll get from Romney, but you already know what you’ve gotten from Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Bolton and their ilk. And they have the chutzpah to want to give it to you again.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Diversification with Macau characteristics

July 20, 2011

The Wynn Resorts quarterly earnings announcement released this week underlines a key difference between Las Vegas and Macau. It’s a difference that Macau casinos need to address, particularly because Beijing says so.

Net revenue for Wynn’s Las Vegas operations in the second quarter totaled $390.8 million. Casino net revenues were $158.3 million, meaning non-casino revenues – from rooms, food and beverage, retail and entertainment – represented $232.5 million, or 59 percent of total revenues.

(During the earnings conference call, Wynn Resorts founder Steve Wynn trashed President Obama. Wynn’s personal attack extended an emerging tradition for the billionaire mogul.)

In Macau, Wynn registered net revenue of $976.5 million. Gross non-gaming revenue totaled $94.6 million, or less than 10 percent of the total. That figure must rise, Chinese central government officials urge, and Macau’s government has made diversification a priority.

Don’t expect Macau to mimic the Las Vegas patterns for non-gaming revenue. Instead, look for diversification with Macau characteristics. What works in Vegas overwhelmingly hasn’t worked in Macau and may never succeed. My Asia Times article examines reasons behind those differences. Beijing will need patience to see significant changes in Macau’s non-gaming revenue percentage.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at

ObamaCare index measures newfound civility

January 18, 2011

In the wake of the Tucson shootings and President Obama’s call for dialogue, not diatribes, there’s plenty of talk about greater civility in US politics. This week’s House of Representatives debate on repeal of healthcare reform will give an early indicator of whether Republicans really mean it.

The healthcare debate is a test for Republicans because, at least on this subject, they’re responsible for lowering the tone of the discussion. They’ve spread disinformation about a government takeover of healthcare, death panels of bureaucrats (from the government, as opposed to the insurance company variety) killing Grandma, that no one in the US goes without healthcare they need, that the best route to reform is more power for insurance companies, and that US healthcare is still the best in world. They confused the issue so much that people declared, “Government hands off Medicare.”

The biggest injection of invective came from dubbing reform “ObamaCare.” It echoes use of “HillaryCare” during the Clinton administration’s failed reform effort. As with invoking the name of Hillary Clinton – Christine O’Donnell was hardly the first alleged witch in politics – attaching Barack Obama’s name to reform was designed to turn people’s attention away from the issues and recast the discussion in terms of Obama’s inherent evil.

In other words, it made the debate personal. When it’s personal, there’s no room for rational discussion or compromise. How can there be, when one side represents good and the other side is evil? If politics are going to start getting civil, then politicians will have to stop making things personal. To measure whether it’s happening, check the healthcare reform repeal debate for use of the term “ObamaCare.”

Before the Tucson shootings, here’s what Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said about healthcare repeal: “ObamaCare is a job killer for businesses small and large, and the top priority for House Republicans is going to be to cut spending and grow the economy and jobs. Further, ObamaCare failed to lower costs as the president promised that it would and does not allow people to keep the care they currently have if they like it. That is why the House will repeal it next week.”

Here’s are Dayspring’s post-Obama Tucson speech comments on healthcare reform repeal: “As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health care bill next week. Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new healthcare law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country.”

Those comments alone took two points off the ObamaCare index, indicating the House Republican leadership has changed its tune. Stay tuned to see whether Cantor’s new tone carries over to the actual debate and filters down to the rank and file.

This week also marks 50 years since John F Kennedy’s inauguration. As I wrote in November, JFK’s inaugural address would be mocked in this age of politics as blood sport.

Like Obama’s words in Tucson, Kennedy’s speech also included a formula for civility among enemies holding differences far deeper than Republicans and Democrats. Re-reading Kennedy’s stirring words after the Tucson shootings, under the shadow of JFK’s assassination and that of Martin Luther King, the other great American we celebrate this week, reminds us how much work remains to become the nation future generations deserve.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Bangkok bounces back

January 1, 2011

Bulletin: My heartfelt thanks to all of you who voted for Twenty reasons Barack Obama stinks in the 2010 Prize in Politics. Your support made the piece the top vote-getter in the competition, helping it to advance to the final round. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t select Twenty reasons Barack Obama stinks as one of the three prize winners. In this case, I’ll defer to the wisdom of crowds.

Let me also take this moment to wish you and your loved ones a happy new year. I hope you find all you seek and more in 2011. And I hope you’ll keep stopping by here to read and comment on what I have to say.

Walking through CentralWorld Mall in Bangkok, you’d never suspect that the place had been torched in May by anti-government protests. There are few hints left of the thousands of the demonstrators that occupied the city’s main shopping district for two months and the crackdown that cleared them, events that left at least 90 people dead.

By every measure, Bangkok has returned to normal. Despite two months of virtual urban warfare, tourist arrivals will top last year’s total by a wide margin. Yet all is not well in Thailand. As I reported for Asia Times from the Thai capital, the rift between supporters and opponents of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, dating back to the 2006 coup that deposed him, and the underlying social and economic issues haven’t healed. With elections due within a year, Thailand may well see more fireworks.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Sands China rolls 7-8 craps in Macau

December 10, 2010

Bulletin: My blog entry Twenty reasons Barack Obama stinks has been nominated for the 3QuarksDaily Prize in Politics. Please vote here if you enjoy the piece. First prize is $1000, and, of course, a quark. So please vote now.

Macau aims to diversify its gambling-addicted economy, a course Beijing urges at every opportunity, as the city’s gaming revenue climbs beyond $2 billion a month. Last week, Macau rejected Sands China’s bid for Lots 7 and 8 to build a new casino resort in the Cotai entertainment district. But Macau’s decision may have no connection to economic diversification.

A subsidiary of US-based Las Vegas Sands, Sands China has spearheaded efforts to create an Asian version of the Las Vegas Strip in Cotai, a landfill connecting Macau’s outer islands of Coloane and Taipa. Following its $12 billion master plan, Sands China has already opened the Venetian Macao, and the Four Seasons/Plaza complexes, and has another 6,400 room casino resort under construction. Sands China says it invested more than $160 million in Lots 7 and 8 based on an informal grant from the Macau government several years ago.

In tiny Macau, land is the most valuable commodity, and the government controls it. Formal approval for land concessions in Macau routinely comes long after the designated developer begins work. Sands China has every right to feel that it got a raw deal. It has appealed the decision to Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on. The company could also take its case to court. But in Macau, where matters are habitually decided behind closed doors and without public explanations – news about Lots 7 and 8 came from Sands China, not the government – it’s tough to beat the house.

Losing Lots 7 and 8 hurts Sands China but, as I wrote in Asia Times, the meaning for Macau is far less clear. Denying the application seems to be a move to limit future gaming, but it’s likely that the land will be granted to one of Sands China’s rivals to build its own casino resort.

Macau’s government may have a grudge against Sand China, even though it’s the casino developer that provides the most diverse non-gaming amenities at its resorts, including shopping malls, a 15,000 seat arena, a Cirque du Soleil production, and a 1,000,000 square foot convention center, all money losers to date. Macau added insult to injury by staging an unprecedented vice raid Friday at the Venetian Macao during a visit by Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly has a rocky relationship with government leaders.

Or Macau could be signaling it will limit growth for outsiders, defined as anyone not named Ho – as in local gambling godfather Stanley Ho. Ho and his children have stakes in three of Macau’s six casino licenses.

The saga of Lots 7 and 8 unmistakably illustrates that Macau’s unelected, unaccountable government can and will act arbitrarily. Smart investors will understand that hard reality trumps Macau’s glittering casino revenue numbers.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Twenty reasons Barack Obama stinks

October 29, 2010

The US midterm Congressional election is a referendum on Barack Obama’s presidency so far. His Democratic Party is likely to lose one if not both houses of Congress due to a single simple fact: Barack Obama stinks. In case you haven’t been paying attention for the past two years, here are 20 key reasons why.

He was elected by a national vote.
Supreme Court Justices are much better qualified to choose a president.

Not a single US landmark has been destroyed by terrorists during his presidency.
George W Bush got a pair of landmark buildings destroyed and a third attacked in less than half the time Obama has dallied.

He has two daughters, but they’re not even twins.
Neither one has even been arrested for getting drunk either.

He’s part of the elite.
Bush only went to Andover and Yale because the rest of his family did.

Lived with much older white women while underage.
Called them “Mom” and “Grandma” – what a sicko!

Works in a government job and lives in public housing.
Geez, don’t they all.

Only cut taxes for middle class and poor.
He has a deep-seated hatred of rich people.

His father was never Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
His own vice president never patriotically funneled tens of millions in government contracts to his former company.

People say he’s Muslim.
Where there’s smoke, something’s not kosher.

He speaks proper English.
What does he think, he’s like better than us?

He’s never been arrested for drunk driving.
See above.

Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd died during his presidency.
Bush made the hard choices to keep them safe. Now it’s ObamaCare for all.

Says he roots for the Chicago White Sox.
But never even tried to buy the team and get a sweetheart land deal out of it.

Doesn’t have a ranch.
He owns a house across from a synagogue. Wow, there went that neighborhood.

Condoleezza Rice never called him “my husband.”
And Susan Rice isn’t even Condi’s sister.

Distinguished himself earning an advanced degree at Harvard.
As if Law Review matters more than poker at drinking clubs.

Name ends in a vowel.
Typical Chicago backroom politics.

Lousy bowler.
Lousy pool player, too.

Hasn’t invaded a single country under false pretenses.
Bush didn’t do that until his third year, but he had Congressional authorization for it by now.

Never warned anyone he would be the first black president.
At least with Bush, what you saw was what you got.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Speak up, moderates!

September 8, 2010

It’s a busy week, full of competing ideas and emotions. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, kicking off the high holiday season begins at sundown Wednesday. Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, ends Friday, giving way to the celebration of Id ul-Fitri. Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the US that left more than 3,000 dead. Amid the controversy over Cordoba House, an evangelical Christian pastor with a congregation of 50 in Florida has created an international furor with plans to commemorate the day by burning copies of the Qur’an.

On all sides, extremists have seized control of the debate. Moderates must raise their voices to be heard over the radicals and take back the conversation. In this last shared holy season between Muslims and Jews until the 2030s, Palestinians and Israelis have restarted peace talks; perhaps negotiators will be infected with the spirit of the season, as I suggested last year in The Guardian. It may not help to be hopeful, but as the old joke* instructs, “It couldn’t hurt.”

*For those who don’t know the joke: The legendary actor of the Yiddish theater Boris Tomashevski dies during intermission of a performance. The producer comes out from the closed curtain and tells crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, it breaks my heart to inform you that the great man, Tomashevski has passed away in his dressing room.”

From the back of the theater, a woman’s voice calls out, “Give him an enema.”

The producer ignores the cry and continues, “Of course, the performance will not continue, and we will refund your money. I’m sure you join me in sending deepest condolences to the family of the great man…”

“Give him an enema,” the woman repeats.

The producer can’t contain himself any longer. “Lady, Tomashevski is dead. An enema can’t help him.”

“It couldn’t hurt.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

America’s Muslim problem

August 28, 2010

I’ve been ignoring the controversy over Cordoba House – the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – hoping for a sudden outbreak of sanity across America. I took a similar approach to run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and, considering how well that worked out, I really should have known better.

Opposition to the community center – calling Cordoba House a mosque is like calling Columbia University a restaurant since it serves food, or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral a bar since it serves wine – makes me ashamed to be an American. Opposing Cordoba House does far more damage to America and its values than a few planes flown into buildings ever could.

The bigotry and narrow-mindedness behind much of the opposition to Cordoba House attacks the fundamental principles of our nation and does irreparable damage to America’s image overseas. Hostility toward Cordoba House proves radical Islamists’ point: Americans hate Muslims, so Muslims should hate them back. Building Cordoba House won’t help recruit terrorists to attack the US and Americans overseas; opposing Cordoba House is doing precisely that.

I was plenty ashamed about the Iraq invasion, but now American is making war on its own values. What’s particularly troubling is that, unlike the highly orchestrated Tea Party movement, the Cordoba House backlash truly is a grassroots movement. Two years ago, during another controversy involving Islam, I noted that many Americans consider “Muslim” a dirty word. Since writing that piece for The Guardian, the percentage of Americans who believe President Obama is a Muslim has doubled, and I doubt any of them laud his links with Islam.

The arguments against Cordoba House are specious at best, at worst against the very principles that make America the land of the free. Islam didn’t attack the US on 9/11, al Qaeda did. Assigning collective guilt to Muslims is no more logical than blaming Christians (or God) for Nazi Germany because its soldiers carried Bibles and wore belt buckles proclaiming “Gott Mitt Uns (God is with us).” Collective guilt, a fancy term for bigotry, means we all end up hating each other. When Newt Gingrich argues that the US shouldn’t allow Cordoba House because Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow churches or synagogues, he paints a grim vision for America. If our country doesn’t aspire to a higher standard than a theocratic monarchy, then what’s the point of America?

I’m shocked that so many Americans are acting this foolish, this bigoted, and this misinformed. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. How many years ago would there have been poll number similar to those opposing Cordoba House against living, working or going to school with Irish, Catholics, Jews, blacks, Hispanics? Opposing Cordoba House follows the tradition of Yankee hypocrisy that began with slaveholders who declared all men are created equal.

Americans can take no comfort that it’s just this one special case because it’s Muslims and Ground Zero, as if James Meredith and the University of Mississippi, or Rosa Parks and the Memphis bus, or Jews and the Ivy League, or women in the executive suite weren’t also special cases in their day.

America is either the land of the free, or it’s not – and right now, the Cordoba House controversy points which way the country is heading. It’s up to good people to take our country back, to stop making excuses and equivocating and stand up for liberty and justice for all.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Amid healthcare triumph, a sign of Democrats’ losing ways

April 7, 2010

Following passage of the US healthcare reform bill, I wrote about the impact of US reforms on medical travel in Asia for Asia Times. I promptly went into the hospital for three days of unscheduled research.

What could have sickened me was an article that broke just after the healthcare bill’s passage. The Associated Press reported that Republicans originated and supported the health insurance mandate in President Obama’s healthcare reforms. The mandate is now behind Republican cries of “Armageddon” and “the end of the American way of life,” to the extent there is anything behind those bleats beyond hot air.

According to the AP report, Republicans crafted the mandate during the 1990s as a private sector alternative to Clinton era healthcare reform proposals. At that time, Republicans didn’t see the mandate as socialism but instead called it taking responsibility. The individual insurance mandate is at the core the Massachusetts reform plan that Mitt Romney signed as governor and newly elected Senator Scott Brown supported as a state legislator.

What’s sickening to me isn’t that Republicans would so blatantly flip-flop strictly for political advantage and predict disaster from a policy they once championed. I’m appalled that during a 14 month fight for its political life, the Obama White House didn’t uncover and use the Republicans’ flip-flop against them. Unlike the arcane and windy arguments Obama and his team put forward to support healthcare reform, here was a sound bite sized argument that would put Republicans on the defensive about their opposition to reform they once championed.

At least one progressive political group uncovered Republican mandate support ahead of the AP, so why didn’t the White House? Heads should roll for failing to unearth such a tasty political truffle nestled right under their noses. Getting the healthcare bill passed doesn’t excuse the failure. There are plenty more tough battles to come – over financial reform and climate change, for starters – and the White House can’t afford to miss this kind of low hanging political dynamite, especially in an election year. Get some people in there who are smart enough and work hard enough to do the job right and give Obama the support he deserves.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Ask not how Obama changed Washington…

January 19, 2010

Assessing Barack Obama’s first year as president, I’m not surprised by the disappointing list of accomplishments and continued business as usual in Washington. But I didn’t expect the nation’s political conversation to get away from Obama’s White House as badly as it has, given what an astute campaign his team ran. I still hold out hope that president and his team are merely incompetent or just going through a bad patch and that the Nixon’s funeral rule doesn’t apply.

At the 1994 funeral of Richard Nixon (which I watched in Beijing during my first visit to China, right before cycling to Mao’s tomb in Tiananmen Square), I understood why all the living ex-presidents, regardless of party, and incumbent Bill Clinton felt obliged to attend. But when Clinton took the podium and said good things about Nixon, it taught me a key lesson: Clinton and Nixon and the rest of the politicians at that funeral were all on the same side, and that wasn’t the side I was on. I’m still hoping that someone on my side has finally gotten into the White House, and that they will deliver change we can believe in.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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