Saturday, June 27, 2009

Scandal burdens S. Carolina governor in economic task

Scandal burdens S. Carolina governor in economic taskBy Matthew Bigg
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. state of South Carolina faces economic problems that would tax any governor, let alone one embroiled in a sex scandal and fighting for his political survival, economists and politicians said on Friday.
Governor Mark Sanford admitted this week to an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina, and while he stepped down quickly as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he seems set to soldier on as South Carolina`s chief executive.
But he runs a state saddled with an unemployment rate of about 12 percent, one of the highest in the country, a declining textile industry and a struggle to reform an education system vital to producing the high-quality workers it needs.
The scandal has likely ruined any hopes Sanford might have had of running for president in 2012 on a Republican ticket. Questions over whether he misused state funds to pursue his overseas extramarital relationship could damage his credibility to try to turn around the Southern state`s economy.
"We really do need leadership. This state could flounder," said economics professor Douglas Woodward of the University of South Carolina.
Facing calls to resign from inside and outside the state, Sanford gave no hint during a Cabinet session on Friday that he would step down. Instead, he repeated the effusive apologies he made during a tearful news conference on Wednesday when he confessed his marital infidelity.
"I wanted generally to apologize to everyone of you all for letting you down," Sanford told Cabinet members at the session carried on local TV, in which issues such as hurricane preparedness, Medicare, insurance and tourism were discussed.
The state`s economic challenges reflect the worst U.S. recession in decades. But Sanford, who backs a limited government role in the economy, has a mixed record of cooperating with powerful state legislators on economic measures, exacerbating some of South Carolina`s problems, analysts said.
"My biggest criticism of the current governor ... has been the inconsistent work on economic development. Few new jobs have been created. In fact, we have lost jobs," said former Governor Jim Hodges, a Democrat whom Sanford defeated in 2002.
Battles between the governor and the state assembly, which is controlled by fellow Republicans, have marked Sanford`s six years in office and the Legislature has overturned a relatively high percentage of his vetoes, analysts said.
Sanford gained prominence this year by opposing Democratic President Barack Obama`s economic stimulus bill and rejecting $700 million of South Carolina`s portion of the funds on grounds it would undermine the state`s fiscal stability.
Democrats and some Republicans in the state criticized Sanford for rejecting the funds and the state Supreme Court this month overruled his opposition.
ENTRENCHED ECONOMIC WOES
One open question is whether a weakened governor in his final two years in office would be better than his Republican lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, who would take over if Sanford resigned, said Woodward.
Bauer is not an ally of Sanford and criticized his six-day absence starting last Thursday when, without informing aides or his security detail, he slipped away to Argentina to visit his mistress. Sanford was forced to confess his overseas affair when his secret trip to Buenos Aires was discovered.  Continued...
Original article

Obama, Merkel show united front at U.S. meeting

Obama, Merkel show united front at U.S. meetingBy Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel displayed a united front on Friday over Iran, climate and regulation, smoothing over -- at least in public -- differences that dogged their relationship.
Obama, who called Merkel a friend he could trust, said the two spoke with one voice in condemning the crackdown on demonstrators in Iran after its disputed election.
Merkel, who has criticized Obama`s economic stimulus plan, praised U.S. efforts to fight global warming and said a bill in the U.S. Congress would advance international talks on climate change later this year.
"The chancellor and I discussed the tragic situation in Iran," Obama said at the opening of a joint news conference.
"Today we speak with one voice. The rights of the Iranian people to assemble, to speak freely, to have their voices heard -- those are universal aspirations."
The two leaders also discussed accelerating the Middle East peace process, fighting extremism in Afghanistan, and creating a "more substantive" relationship with Russia, Obama said.
Merkel and Obama, who will attend the Group of Eight summit of wealthy nations in Italy next month, have clashed over the best way to lift the globe out of recession.
Democrat Obama presided over a $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus package shortly after taking office in January, while Merkel, a conservative, has spoken against massive spending to fix the world`s economic ills.
"I underscored our commitment to strengthening financial regulations, and I welcome Chancellor Merkel`s commitment to reform," Obama said in a nod to their respective priorities.
On climate change, Merkel was expected to press Obama to back a European Union goal of limiting increases in global average temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
But the chancellor, whose visit coincided with a vote in the House of Representatives on a bill capping carbon emissions, went out of her way to praise the U.S. legislation, which Obama supports, and its potential to boost U.N. negotiations in Denmark in December.
"It should not be underestimated what sort of opportunity this brings to us to come to a good, a sustainable result during the Copenhagen conference," she said.
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
Other areas of disagreement came up. Merkel`s government has resisted U.S. requests that it accept inmates from the Guantanamo prison that Obama plans to close by early 2010.
Obama said the two sides were discussing the issue.  Continued...
Original article

House passes landmark climate change bill

House passes landmark climate change billBy Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama scored a major victory on Friday when the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to slash industrial pollution that is blamed for global warming.
The House passed the climate change bill, a top priority for Obama, by a vote of 219-212. As has become routine on major bills in Congress this year, the vote was a partisan one, with only eight Republicans joining Democrats for the bill.
The Senate is expected to try to write its own version of a climate change bill, but prospects for this year were uncertain.
The House-passed bill requires that large U.S. companies, including utilities, oil refiners, manufacturers and others, reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, from 2005 levels.
They would do so by phasing in the use of cleaner alternative energy than high-polluting oil and coal.
"The scientists are telling us there`s an overwhelming consensus ... global warming is real and it`s moving very rapidly," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, the chief sponsor of the legislation.
In urging passage, Waxman also said the legislation would create jobs and help move the United States from its reliance on foreign oil.
But Republicans said the bill was a behemoth that would neither effectively help the environment nor improve an economy reeling from a deep recession.
`BIGGEST JOB-KILLING BILL`
House Republican leader John Boehner called the measure "the biggest job-killing bill that has ever been on the floor of the House of Representatives."
Representative Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the energy panel, said the measure would set unrealistic targets for cutting carbon pollution. "You would have to reduce emissions in the United States to the level that we had in 1910," Barton said.
At the core of the bill, which is around 1,500 pages long, is a "cap and trade" program designed to achieve the emissions reductions by industry.
Under the plan, the government would issue a declining number of pollution permits to companies, which could sell those permits to each other as needed.
"The federal government will be joining California in the effort to combat global warming and the framework for doing it is one that is very similar to the one that California has adopted," said that state`s top climate official, Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols.
California is recognized as having the most aggressive plan to fight global warming in the United States.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington and Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by Will Dunham)
Original article

Scandal burdens S. Carolina governor in economic task

Scandal burdens S. Carolina governor in economic taskBy Matthew Bigg
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. state of South Carolina faces economic problems that would tax any governor, let alone one embroiled in a sex scandal and fighting for his political survival, economists and politicians said on Friday.
Governor Mark Sanford admitted this week to an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina, and while he stepped down quickly as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he seems set to soldier on as South Carolina`s chief executive.
But he runs a state saddled with an unemployment rate of about 12 percent, one of the highest in the country, a declining textile industry and a struggle to reform an education system vital to producing the high-quality workers it needs.
The scandal has likely ruined any hopes Sanford might have had of running for president in 2012 on a Republican ticket. Questions over whether he misused state funds to pursue his overseas extramarital relationship could damage his credibility to try to turn around the Southern state`s economy.
"We really do need leadership. This state could flounder," said economics professor Douglas Woodward of the University of South Carolina.
Facing calls to resign from inside and outside the state, Sanford gave no hint during a Cabinet session on Friday that he would step down. Instead, he repeated the effusive apologies he made during a tearful news conference on Wednesday when he confessed his marital infidelity.
"I wanted generally to apologize to everyone of you all for letting you down," Sanford told Cabinet members at the session carried on local TV, in which issues such as hurricane preparedness, Medicare, insurance and tourism were discussed.
The state`s economic challenges reflect the worst U.S. recession in decades. But Sanford, who backs a limited government role in the economy, has a mixed record of cooperating with powerful state legislators on economic measures, exacerbating some of South Carolina`s problems, analysts said.
"My biggest criticism of the current governor ... has been the inconsistent work on economic development. Few new jobs have been created. In fact, we have lost jobs," said former Governor Jim Hodges, a Democrat whom Sanford defeated in 2002.
Battles between the governor and the state assembly, which is controlled by fellow Republicans, have marked Sanford`s six years in office and the Legislature has overturned a relatively high percentage of his vetoes, analysts said.
Sanford gained prominence this year by opposing Democratic President Barack Obama`s economic stimulus bill and rejecting $700 million of South Carolina`s portion of the funds on grounds it would undermine the state`s fiscal stability.
Democrats and some Republicans in the state criticized Sanford for rejecting the funds and the state Supreme Court this month overruled his opposition.
ENTRENCHED ECONOMIC WOES
One open question is whether a weakened governor in his final two years in office would be better than his Republican lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, who would take over if Sanford resigned, said Woodward.
Bauer is not an ally of Sanford and criticized his six-day absence starting last Thursday when, without informing aides or his security detail, he slipped away to Argentina to visit his mistress. Sanford was forced to confess his overseas affair when his secret trip to Buenos Aires was discovered.  Continued...
Original article

Obama: Violence affects U.S. hope for Iran dialogue

Obama: Violence affects U.S. hope for Iran dialogueBy David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, in some of his sharpest remarks to date, said on Friday hopes for U.S. dialogue with Iran were affected by what he called Tehran`s "outrageous" brutality following a disputed election.
"There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks," Obama told a joint White House news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"We don`t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran," he said.
Obama`s remarks came as protests continued in Iran over the country`s June 12 presidential election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor by a wide margin.
Ahmadinejad`s rivals, led former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi, said the election was stolen and hundreds of thousands of people have protested in Tehran and elsewhere. Security forces responded with a violent crackdown and one hardline cleric on Friday called for leading "rioters" to be executed.
Some Republicans have criticized Obama for his cautious reaction to the crisis but his tone sharpened this week after some demonstrators were killed.
Merkel, whose country is one of Iran`s main trading partners for sophisticated engineering technology, was an early critic calling for Tehran to permit peaceful protests and to recount votes in the disputed election.
"The Iranian people need to be given the right to peaceful demonstrations, that the Iranian people have the right to have votes be counted and the election results substantiated," Merkel told the news conference.
CREDIBILITY PROBLEM
Iranian leaders have accused Obama and other foreign officials of meddling in their affairs and encouraging the opposition but State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters their problem was self-inflicted.
"It`s not a matter of something that was brought in from the outside. A significant segment of the Iranian population believes that their voices have not been heard and that the results that ... the government has announced do not reflect the will of the people," he said.
Still, Obama said he remained open to resuming nuclear talks between Tehran and major world powers. Washington asserts Iran`s nuclear program is designed to produce atomic weapons, but Iran says it is for energy.
"There are going to be discussions that continue on the international stage around Iran`s nuclear program," Obama said. "I think the direct dialogue between the United States and Iran and how that proceeds, I think we`re going to have to see how that plays itself out in the days and weeks ahead."
Crowley said the administration hoped Iran would accept an offer for talks with the United States and other major powers about its nuclear program.
"We seek engagement with Iran," he said. "But so far ... we haven`t seen a meaningful response from Iran materialize."  Continued...
Original article
 

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