eyes on the U.S.

The Ambitious Agenda Of Obama II, And The Curse Of The Second Term

President Barack Obama, ready for his second term
President Barack Obama, ready for his second term
Corine Lesnes

WASHINGTON - It's called the "curse of the second term." American political commentators can go through each of the past two-term presidents and point to an unexpected phenomenon, a political error or some other trip wire set off in the second four-year stint in office.

All the occupants of the White House have experienced it, albeit to different degrees. Richard Nixon had Watergate, Ronald Reagan with the Iran-Contra arms scandal. For Bill Clinton, it was the Monica Lewinsky affair, for George W. Bush, Hurricane Katrina...

Without going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated less than two months after his second inauguration, historians also point to Woodrow Wilson, who was partially paralyzed by a stroke following an arduous tour he made to try and “sell” the Covenant of the League of Nations. Or Franklin Roosevelt, who overreached by trying to stack the Supreme Court in his favor.

How might Barack Obama be threatened by the “curse?” Until now, the 44th president has escaped scandal. His administration succeeded in distributing stimulus money amounting to over $700 billion without any major incidents of corruption. No sex scandals have tainted the White House; there has been no national humiliation comparable to the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979-80. Obama’s clean record is due to luck, say some pundits, but probably even more to the fact that he keeps close tabs on all decisions.

After November's election, Obama said that he was aware of what’s been written about presidents in their second term. He has also repeatedly said that there is more work to be done, and urged Americans to get involved.

Now that he is free of election worries, those who have supported him -- unionists, Latinos, anti-gun militants, those fighting poverty and others – are expecting results. Defenders of the environment are already camped outside the White House to try and prevent him from softening his stance – as some think he might -- on a decision regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, which was delayed until after the elections.

Butter and guns

Expectations are only a little less immoderate than they were in January 2009. Is there any less risk of disappointment? As is the tradition, Obama will use his January 21 inaugural address to present his vision for the United States over the next four years. He has yet to provide a detailed plan of action, any more than he did during the campaign. Many posts in the new administration remain unfilled, much less confirmed by the Senate. In fact, all the President has done so far is outline several broad themes in interviews he gave at the end of last year.

Despite fiscal issues, immigration was to be the first thing on the agenda but was supplanted by gun control after the Newtown (Connecticut) killings in December. But while immigration might see some bipartisan consensus, the President knows the risks in challenging the gun lobby.

Other issues on the President’s list include energy and modernizing the country’s infrastructure as well as some less expected matters like reforming the criminal justice system. In the interest of cutting government spending, Obama wants to reduce the huge U.S. prison population – the highest national rate of any developed country.

Asked to look ahead to 2016, Obama says he wants to leave office having brought about a return to fundamental values – like the idea that you can “make it” in America if you work hard – even as he has put the country on a path that embraces its demographic, technological and cultural changes.

So much for his intentions. But can Obama achieve anything at all in the political configuration of cohabitation that has followed him into his second term -- even if Democrats consolidated their majority in the Senate (they now will have 55 seats compared to 51 before November) and reduced the number of Republican seats in the House of Representatives from 242 to 233? Everything depends on the power dynamics the President manages with the divided Republican camp.

The first quarter will, in any case, be taken up with three fiscal issues -- at the end of February: the debt ceiling, presently at $16.4 trillion; March 1, the sequester -- $110 billion in spending cuts to military and domestic programs; at the end of March, the extension of the continuing resolution necessary because of the unresolved U.S. budget. The present continuing resolution ends on March 27. This is the fight the Republicans intend to concentrate on. A number of them are looking forward to “shutting down” the government, which they believe is far too big in the first place.

Bringing people together around the issues – across ideological, generational and economic lines -- is the big challenge Obama faces. It will be one of his toughest missions. The America of the post-November 2012 elections is a country in demographic transition, uncertain of its model. It hasn’t moved further to the left, but it is more divided: more progressive in the Democratic states but no less die-hard in its conservatism elsewhere.

While not having a demographic advantage, many conservative states nevertheless continue to carry disproportionate clout because of the constitutional system of checks and balances which -- via the Electoral College -- aims to give states with small populations more of a weight in presidential elections. That isn't a curse, it's the Constitution.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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