Missteps by Rebels Erode Their Support Among Syrians

Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Rebels firing on a man suspected of being a pro-government fighter in Idlib Province on Oct. 26

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria’s rebel fighters — who have long staked claim to the moral high ground for battling dictatorship — are losing crucial support from a public increasingly disgusted by the actions of some rebels, including poorly planned missions, senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of prisoners.

Pro-government fighters held by rebels in Idlib Province on Oct. 29. Some rebels are suspected of killing prisoners.

The shift in mood presents more than just a public relations problem for the loosely knit militants of the Free Syrian Army, who rely on their supporters to survive the government’s superior firepower. A dampening of that support undermines the rebels’ ability to fight and win what has become a devastating war of attrition, perpetuating the violence that has left nearly 40,000 dead, hundreds of thousands in refugee camps and more than a million forced from their homes.

The rebel shortcomings have been compounded by changes in the opposition, from a force of civilians and defected soldiers who took up arms after the government used lethal force on peaceful protesters to one that is increasinglyseeded with extremist jihadis. That radicalization has divided the fighters’ supporters and made Western nations more reluctant to give rebels the arms that might help break the intensifying deadlock. Instead, foreign leaders are struggling to find indirect ways to help oust Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

And now arrogance and missteps are draining enthusiasm from some of the fighters’ core supporters.

“They were supposed to be the people on whom we depend to build a civil society,” lamented a civilian activist in Saraqib, a northern town where rebels were videotapedexecuting a group of unarmed Syrian soldiers, an act the United Nations has declared a likely war crime.

An activist in Aleppo, Ahmed, who like some of the others who were interviewed gave only one name for security reasons, said he had begged rebels not to camp in a neighborhood telecommunications office. But they did, and government attacks knocked out phone service.

One fighter shot into the air when customers at a bakery did not let him cut into a long line for bread, Ahmed recalled. Another, he said, was enraged when a man washing his car accidentally splashed him. “He shot at him,” Ahmed said. “But thank God he wasn’t a good shot, so the guy wasn’t hurt.”

Twenty months into what is now a civil war, both supporters and opponents of the government are trapped in a darkening mood of despair, revulsion and fear that neither side can end the conflict. In recent months, both sides adopted more brutal — even desperate — methods to try to break the stalemate, but they achieved merely a new version of deadlock. To many Syrians, the extreme violence seems all the more pointless for the lack of results.

The most significant shift is among the rebels’ supporters, who chant slogans not only condemning the government but also criticizing the rebels.

“The people want the reform of the Free Syrian Army,” crowds have called out. “We love you. Correct your path.”

Small acts of petty humiliation and atrocities like executions have led many more Syrians to believe that some rebels are as depraved as the government they fight. The activist from Saraqib said he saw rebels force government soldiers from a milk factory, then destroy it, even though residents needed the milk and had good relations with the owner.

“They shelled the factory and stole everything,” the activist said. “Those are repulsive acts.”

Even some of the uprising’s staunchest supporters are beginning to fear that Syria’s sufferings — lost lives, fraying social fabric, destroyed heritage — are for naught.

“We thought freedom was so near,” said a fighter calling himself Abu Ahmed, his voice catching with grief as he spoke via Skype last month from Maarat al-Noaman, a strategic town on the Aleppo-Damascus highway. Hours earlier, a rebel victory there ended in disaster, as government airstrikes pulverized civilians returning to what they thought was safety.

“This shows it was a big lie,” Abu Ahmed said of the dream of self-government that he said had inspired him to lead a small rebel fighting group from his nearby village, Sinbol. “We cannot reach it. We can’t even think of democracy — we will be sad for years. We are losing victims from both sides.”

A chain of calamities has fueled disgust and frustration on all sides, dozens of interviews with Syrians show.

In July, a rebel bombing killed four senior officials in a heavily guarded Damascus building, bringing new insecurity to government supporters. The rebels’ growing use of large bombs that kill bystanders spurred concerns on both sides.

Poorly executed rebel offensives brought harsh consequences. In September, rebels launched an offensive in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, an ancient town that stood for centuries as the proud legacy of all Syrians. The fighting failed to achieve the turning point the rebels had promised.

The government, trying to curb soldiers’ defections and reduce the strain on the military, kept more forces on bases and turned to air power and artillery, flattening neighborhoods with abandon. But the change in strategy did not restore control or security.

After seeing a rebel bombing and small-arms attack on a downtown Damascus government building, a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman complained that conspicuous security measures made him “live in fear” — without being effective.

“I want someone from the government to answer me,” he said. “The government cannot protect its key military and security buildings, so how can it protect us and run the country?”

Even within Mr. Assad’s most solid base, his minority Alawite sect, discontent spilled over last month in a clash that began in a coffee shop in the president’s ancestral village, Qardaha. Some were shaken recently by heavy casualties in the disproportionately Alawite military and militias, according to Fadi Saad, who runs a Facebook page called Alawites in the Syrian Revolution.

On the rebel side, the Aleppo battle catalyzed simmering frustrations among civilian activists who feel dominated by gunmen. One Aleppo activist said she met with fighters to suggest ways to cut government supply routes without destroying the city, to no avail. “You risked the lives of the people for what?” the activist asked. “The Free Syrian Army is just cutting the nails of the regime. We want results.”

Nominal leaders of the Free Syrian Army say they embrace ethical standards, contend that the government commits the vast majority of abuses and blame rogue groups for bad rebel behavior.

But that did not ease the disgust after last week’s video. It shows men writhing on the ground, staring up and screaming in terror. Rebels stand over them, shouting a cacophony of orders and insults. They move like a gang, not a military unit, jostling and crowding, kicking prisoners, forcing them into a pile. Suddenly, automatic weapons fire drowns out the noise. Puffs of dust rise from the pile, now still.

“All the ugly stuff the regime practiced, the F.S.A. is copying,” Anna, a finance worker in Damascus, said of recent behavior.

She blamed the government for making society abusive, but she said the rebels were no better. “They are ignorant people with weapons,” she said.

In Maarat al-Noaman after the airstrikes, the disappointed fighter, Abu Ahmed, said Syrians would weep to see destruction in the city of “our famous poet and philosopher,” Abu al-Alaa al-Ma’arri.

The poet, a skeptic and rationalist born in the 10th century and buried in the town, wrote often of disillusion, and of the fallibility of would-be heroes: “How many times have our feet trodden beneath the dust / A brow of the arrogant, a skull of the debonair?”

Abu Ahmed said he found the town’s mosaic museum looted and littered first by soldiers, then by rebels. “I saw bodies of both rebels and regime forces, I saw beer bottles,” he said. “Honestly, honestly, words are stuck in my mouth.”

Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Beirut, and an employee of The New York Times from Aleppo and Damascus, Syria.


US Set to Restage Greek Tragedy


Congressional leaders in the US must reach agreement soon with the Obama administration on deficit reduction measures.Zoom


Congressional leaders in the US must reach agreement soon with the Obama administration on deficit reduction measures.

The US has more in common with heavily indebted southern European countries than it might like to admit. And if the country doesn’t reach agreement on deficit reduction measures soon, the similarities could become impossible to ignore. The fiscal cliff looms in the near future, and its not just the US that is under threat.

The US has finally voted and the dark visions of America’s future broadcast on television screens across the country — and most intensively in battleground states — have come to an end. Supporters of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had developed doomsday scenarios for what would happen if their candidate’s opponent were to win. Four more years of Obama, the ads warned, would result in pure socialism. A Romney presidency would see the middle and lower classes brutally exploited.

But following Obama’s re-election, Americans are now facing a different, much more real horror scenario: In just a few weeks time, thousands of children could be denied vaccinations, federally funded school programs could screech to a halt, adults may be forced to forego HIV tests and subsidized housing vouchers would dry up. Even the work of air-traffic controllers, the FBI, border officials and the military could be drastically curtailed.

That and more is looming just over the horizon according to the White House if the country is allowed to plunge off the “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of next year. Coined by Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke, it refers to the vast array of cuts and tax increases which will automatically go into effect if Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on measures to slash the US budget deficit.

In total, the cuts add up to $1.2 trillion over the next nine years, with half coming from the military and half from other government programs, and with $65 billion coming in the first year alone. They were enshrined in law with the Budget Control Act of 2011, which also increased the debt ceiling. And though a deadline of Jan. 2, 2013 was set, they were never meant to come into effect. The plan for deep across-the-board cuts was intended as a way to prod Democrats and Republicans into reaching agreement on a long-term plan to reduce America’s vast budget deficit.

Not a Bad Thing?

The “fiscal cliff” also includes the expiration of tax cuts for the rich, which were originally passed by President George W. Bush and extended by Obama. The elimination of the lower tax rates would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, result in $221 billion in extra tax revenues in 2013 alone. A temporary 2-percent federal income tax cut would also expire, resulting in an additional $95 billion flowing into government coffers next year.

There are also several other cuts and tax hikes included in the austerity package. Some $18 billion in taxes would come due as part of Obama’s health care reform, and welfare cuts would save $26 billion. Should lawmakers not reach agreement prior to the end of the year, the US budget deficit for 2013 would be cut almost in half, to $560 billion.

Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing. After all, the US is staggering under a monumental pile of debt and could potentially begin to face the kinds of difficulties that have plunged several euro-zone countries into crisis. It is a viewpoint shared by the ratings agencies — a year ago, Standard & Poor’s withdrew America’s top rating, justifying the measure by pointing to the unending battle over the debt ceiling. The agency noted that “the political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.”

From afar, it is difficult to argue; the ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans in the face of a horrendously imbalanced budget looks catastrophically absurd. As their country heads toward the edge of the abyss, lawmakers preferred to debate whether or not French fries and pizza should be considered vegetables.

Still, a significant element in the dispute is a fundamental conflict that won’t sound foreign to Europeans: How much austerity is too much?

Plunging Growth

As good as an instantaneous halving of the budget deficit might sound, the landing after a plunge off the fiscal cliff would be a hard one. Were taxes to be ratcheted up at the same time as state programs were slashed, it would have an enormous effect on the economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 2013 growth would immediately drop by four percentage points, making a recession unavoidable. The number of unemployed would be two million higher than without the cuts.

It is an eventuality that doesn’t just put fear into the hearts of Americans. In its annual report on the US, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) referred to the fiscal cliff as the largest risk currently facing America. Investors have already reportedly become more cautious in the face of the looming cuts. Should politicians not agree to a credible plan for reducing US debt, it could ultimately harm the credibility of the dollar as a reserve currency. More immediately, the IMF writes in its World Economic Outlook report published in October, the drastic cuts “would inflict large spillovers on major US trading partners.” In other words, an already fragile Europe would become even weaker.

As such, Germany won’t be the only country watching closely as US Congress struggles to reach an agreement in coming weeks. Should the US economy radically slow down next year, “it could in the current atmosphere of uncertainty result in a global loss of confidence that would lead to a collapse in investment worldwide,” according to the annual report of top German economic advisors released on Wednesday. Nevertheless, the experts warn, simply postponing measures to address the debt and budget deficit problems “would also have long-term costs in the form of still higher sovereign debt.”

The Greek Model?

What, then, is the solution? In the end, the US could arrive at a compromise similar to the one that appears to be forming for Greece: austerity measures combined with more time to achieve budget deficit reduction targets. The drastic cuts currently looming are essentially a kind of debt brake, but it is one with no flexibility built in whatsoever. The US economist Denis Flower proposed in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE that Washington should introduce a law mandating long-term debt reduction, but which allows higher deficits in times of crisis.

US politicians, no doubt, would not be fond of hearing their country compared to Greece. After all, the heavily indebted euro-zone country was used during the presidential campaign as a caricature for the horrors of European-style socialism. But their current finances are not dissimilar, with one difference being that the US can’t count on outside help as the Greeks have received.

It remains to be seen how US politicians choose to approach the problem. Republicans, having defended their majority in the House of Representatives, could simply let the country plunge off the cliff in the hopes that it would be blamed on Obama. Or, on the other hand, their willingness to compromise may have been increased by virtue of losing the presidential election badly. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner on Wednesday pledged to work closely with the White House as negotiations begin. He said that lawmakers won’t be able to solve the country’s problems overnight, but said that voters “gave us a mandate to work together to do the best thing for our country.”

Greece’s economic problems and the resulting austerity packages it has passed have plunged the country into five straight years of recession. Germany, Europe and the world are hoping that the same fate is not in store for the US.

Hu outlines “overall approach” for China’s modernization drive, stresses scientific development


Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chinese president, delivers a keynote report during the opening ceremony of the 18th CPC National Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 8, 2012. The 18th CPC National Congress was opened in Beijing on Thursday. (Xinhua/Huang Jingwen)


BEIJING, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) — Hu Jintao on Thursday outlined the “overall approach” for China’s modernization drive, which emphasizes development in five aspects — economy, politics, culture, society, and ecology.

“Our overall approach (in building socialism with Chinese characteristics) is to promote economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress,” Hu told more than 2,200 delegates gathered in the Great Hall of the People for the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

This is the first time that ecological progress has been incorporated into the country’s overall development plan by the CPC.

China started to advocate ecological progress in 2007, when the concept was written into Hu’s report to the Party’s 17th National Congress, against the backdrop of fast growing economy and deteriorating environment.

In his report to the Party’s 18th National Congress, Hu gave ecological progress a more prominent position by placing it into the country’s overall development approach together with economic, political, cultural and social progress.

Promoting ecological progress is a long-term task of vital importance to the people’s wellbeing and China’s future, Hu said.

“We must give high priority to making ecological progress and incorporate it into all aspects and the whole process of advancing economic, political, cultural, and social progress, work hard to build a beautiful country, and achieve lasting and sustainable development of the Chinese nation,” he said.

Over the past ten years, China’s economy has risen from the sixth to the second place in the world. Its productive forces and economic, scientific and technological strength have increased considerably. Its overall national strength and international competitiveness and influence have also been enhanced substantially.

However, China also faces increasing resource constraints, severe environmental pollution and a deteriorating ecosystem.

“We should remain committed to the basic state policy of conserving resources and protecting the environment as well as the principle of giving high priority to conserving resources, protecting the environment and promoting its natural restoration, and strive for green, circular and low-carbon development,” Hu said.


Reviewing China’s development over the past ten years, Hu said the theory of Scientific Outlook on Development is one of the most important achievements of the CPC during the period and it has become a theoretical guidance for the Party.

“Together with Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development is the theoretical guidance the Party must adhere to for a long time,” Hu said.

The Scientific Outlook on Development was proposed by the 16th CPC Central Committee in 2003. The concept has championed people’s interests and advocated comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development. At the Party’s 17th National Congress, the concept was written into the CPC Constitution.

The theory was formed by following the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents and by making courageous theoretical innovations on the basis of practices and developing closely interconnected new ideas and viewpoints on upholding and building socialism with Chinese characteristics, he said.

“This theory provides new scientific answers to the major questions of what kind of development China should achieve in a new environment and how the country should achieve it,” Hu said.

As China advances toward the future, thoroughly applying the Scientific Outlook on Development is of major immediate significance and far-reaching historical significance for upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics, Hu said.

“We must apply it throughout the course of modernization and to every aspect of Party building,” he said.


Looking back at China’s eventful modern history and looking to the future of the Chinese nation, Hu said a definite conclusion has been drawn: China must unswervingly follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

“An examination of both the current international and domestic environments shows that China remains in an important period of strategic opportunities for its development, a period in which much can be achieved,” Hu said in the report.

Hu said China needs to have a correct understanding of the changing nature and conditions of this period, seize all opportunities, respond with cool-headedness to challenges, and gain initiative and advantages to win the future and attain the goal of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020.

By 2020, the country’s 2010 GDP and per capita income for both urban and rural residents should be doubled, Hu said.

This is the first time that per capita income has been included in the economic growth target set for 2020. Previous targets set at the 16th and 17th CPC National Congress merely called for the growth of GDP, not of per capita income.

To complete the building of a moderately prosperous society, China must lose no time in deepening reform in key sectors and resolutely discard all notions and systems that hinder efforts to pursue development in a scientific way, Hu said.

In the process of strategic adjustment of the economic structure, China must firmly maintain the strategic focus of boosting domestic demand, speed up the establishment of a long-term mechanism for increasing consumer demand, unleash the potential of individual consumption, increase investment at a proper pace, and expand the domestic market, he said.

Europe: The all too visible dangers of the Islamic immigration

Emerging dangers of the Islamic immigration

There is much discussion concerning the social and historical background for the terror attacks in Oslo on 22 July 2011.
Something like this was not unlikely to happen, seen on the background of the irresponsible immigration policies on Islamic immigrants intoNorway over the past 50 years. We should be astounded, however, that it happened so early. Various Norwegian governments have been pursuing reasonably unconscious immigration policies towards hordes of Islamic immigrants over the last 5 decades. The policy lacks legitimacy in the Norwegian population. The socialist parties, and particularly the Labour Party, have been picturing those who warned against the dire consequences of the irresponsible immigration policy as clowns and laughable persons. Like for instance the charismatic leader of the Progress party, Carl I Hagen. Much of what he has said on immigration will come to pass.
European history is a well documented record of what has happened inEurope over the centuries. Norwegian governments and politicians the last 50 years never understood that the experiences of history must be remembered also in Norway. That when a too large population of Muslims set out to conquer huge living space in Europe, which now again is the case, Europeans will strike back, and punish its leaders. Their hold on power will weaken in the long run.
In Serbia, not too long ago, we even experienced that NATO with European participation, sided with the Muslims against Europe’s own population. This policy was lead by the United States, a country without much historical experience, except that they annihilated the native population of North America, almost to extinction
Europe has been through more than a thousand years of continuous Muslim invasions into European territories. From Turkey (the Ottomans), the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and the Golf. Have we forgotten the lessons from the rise of the nazis and fascists in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s? Apparently yes. About what happens in a Europe of large unemployment, poverty and a large and rapidly growing minority population with a very different value system than the Christian enlightened outlook that prevails in Europe. And that if governments ignore the lessons of the past, history will repeat itself.
Norway is no different than Germany. In Norway too, the Nazis were on a solid march forward before the Second World War. And the following of the Nazi party was considerable in Norway during the war. 
What happens now will have Islam as the main background for increasing nationalism. It will be very important for Norwegian politicians to make sure that the conquest of Norway by Islam is stopped. And that those who are already here will be educated into full integration with Norwegian culture and values.

Before and After Hu

United States worries about China’s rise, but Washington rarely considers how the world looks through Beijing’s eyes. Even when U.S. officials speak sweetly and softly, their Chinese counterparts hear sugarcoated threats and focus on the big stick in the background. America should not shrink from setting out its expectations of Asia’s rising superpower — but it should do so calmly, coolly, and professionally.

A semi-finished portrait of incoming Chinese leader Xi Jinping. (Siu Chiu / Courtesy Reuters)

For the first time since 1992, the United States’ and China’s political calendars are syncing up, with presidential elections in the former and a leadership transition in the latter. But unlike in the United States, where Mitt Romney would have had to defeat President Barack Obama in a national election to win the White House, Xi Jinping, who is expected to take office as China’s next president this month, will not face an open contest against the incumbent, Hu Jintao. If the Chinese people were allowed such a choice, however, they would likely ask the perennial question of U.S. presidential elections since the time of Ronald Reagan, albeit in a slightly modified form: Are you better off now than you were ten years ago?

Despite all that is made of China’s spectacular rise, the numbers show that many people in China would likely answer no. As Hu prepares to leave office, China is prosperous but staggeringly unequal, and strong but profoundly insecure. Indeed, in recent years, China has experienced intensifying clashes between bottom-up demands for social equality, individual freedoms, and environmental stewardship and the Chinese Communist Party’s aggressive defense of the status quo. On the whole, Hu and his premier, Wen Jiabao, are handing the new Xi administration an economic legacy that is far from stellar and a society that is shakier than the one they inherited. More important, they are leaving behind a political environment that is likely more corrupt and stifling than the relatively entrepreneurial and liberal era of the 1990s. This is in part because the government’s role in the economy grew, which meant that those who possessed political power could translate it into financial gain. Meanwhile, those lacking political connections — the vast majority of Chinese — saw their economic opportunities shrink as money flowed toward the political classes.


One obvious metric to assess the performance of Hu and Wen is economic growth — and grow China did, from a GDP of $1.5 trillion in 2002 to $7.3 trillion in 2011, while maintaining an average GDP growth rate of ten percent. As the economic pie expanded, overall income surged, with average annual earnings among urbanites increasing from $1,000 in 2002 to $3,500 in 2011. Rural residents saw their incomes rise even more sharply, but given that their earnings averaged a meager $300 in 2002, they had nowhere to go but up.

It is no coincidence that over the same period, China’s exports boomed as industrialization of a monumental scale took place and manufacturing provided income to hundreds of millions of workers who left the farm for higher earnings in the city. Although China’s decade of hyper-industrialization followed its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 — the year before the current regime came to power — the Hu administration played an important part in the story. By standing fully behind the broad political consensus on the “growth imperative” and championing a liberal trade regime, Hu and his associates consistently helped China achieve growth rates that were the envy of emerging markets.

But this massive growth has come at a cost. As China’s trade surplus ballooned to $155 billion in 2011, its economic prospects became excessively dependent on foreign demand, and its growth has come at the expense of domestic consumption. According to official data from the National Bureau of Statistics, over the last decade the decline in the portion of Chinese GDP represented by domestic consumption has been almost entirely offset by the rise in investment. The transformation of Shanghai, whose skyline has become one of the most imposing in the world in less than 20 years, is a testament to the investment addiction. When the financial crisis of 2008-9 swept from Manhattan to Shanghai, the vulnerable Chinese export sector collapsed, prompting Beijing to deploy a hastily concocted $600 billion stimulus package that saved the economy but deepened already significant imbalances. Despite these setbacks, Hu and Wen can claim that they rescued China’s economy from the brink of catastrophe and that average Chinese incomes rose steadily under their watch.

Yet the boom has benefited the Chinese people unevenly while imposing hefty environmental costs on everyone. The amount of energy required to power China’s industrialization led the Hu administration into an aggressive buying spree for natural resources. As a result, China’s total energy consumption more than doubled during the decade, from about 1.6 billion tons of standard coal equivalent in 2002 to 3.5 billion tons in 2011. Moreover, the International Energy Administration reported that China’s energy consumption surpassed that of the United States in 2009 (2.3 billion tons versus 2.2 billion tons), enraging Chinese officials, who vehemently deny that the numbers are accurate. Even more worrying is that energy intensity — the amount of energy it takes to generate one unit of GDP — began to climb in the early 2000s, after having steadily declined throughout the previous decade. In other words, Chinese industry was not only expanding at a breakneck pace; it was also becoming highly energy inefficient.

The bulk of this energy consumption came in the form of coal, whose dominance in China’s energy mix has remained remarkably constant despite increases in the use of natural gas and renewables. To illustrate, in 2010 coal still constituted 70 percent of China’s total energy mix. And this is no minor concern: A coal-powered economy possesses severe built-in flaws. The pollution in China today is so bad that, more often than not, the Chinese capital seems to be wrapped inside a gray cocoon of haze. The result is a growing public health issue, where reported cases of pollution-related lung diseases are on the rise. And there is also the risk of death in coalmines. In 2002, there were reportedly some 7,000 coalmine-related deaths, about 20 per day. To be fair, the Hu administration has cracked down on illegal mining activities to reduce fatalities, which became a focus of public concern and embarrassment to the government. The coal safety campaign has been successful in drastically reducing the number of deaths over the past ten years, yet total deaths still hovered around 2,000 by 2011. As if to remind the Hu administration that the problem is far from fully resolved, an explosion in a coalmine in southwest China claimed another 40 lives in August 2012.

This alarming appetite for energy is indicative of a larger narrative about the Hu administration: In its haste to stimulate economic growth, Hu and his associates sacrificed the Chinese people’s quality of life in the process. Combined with relative openness to the outside world, this trade-off has transformed Chinese society in ways that risk destabilizing the political system, by producing unsustainable social inequality even as prosperity created an emergent middle class. Inequality has become such a major political concern for Beijing that it has stopped publishing an official Gini coefficient — a widely used standard for measuring income inequality. Recently, however, Li Shi, an academic at Beijing Normal University, estimated that China’s Gini coefficient is approaching 0.5, well above the 0.4 level experts consider socially destabilizing.

Beijing now also hides the number of so-called mass incidents — vaguely defined as localized protests, riots, and other violent actions involving at least 100 people. These statistics had historically been reported by China’s Public Security Ministry. The last government figure, from 2005, reported nearly 90,000 incidents. Although Beijing has been officially silent on the matter, one sociologist from Tsinghua University recently estimated that “mass incidents” doubled between 2005 and 2010. Covering up such data merely heightens popular suspicion that social tensions are worsening in China and that labor unrest has become both more frequent and more intense, with the Foxconn factory riots in September only underscoring the point.

The scarcity of public goods such as health care is also a crucial component of worsening social inequality. Although China remains a nominally socialist country, government spending on health care has declined, while personal medical expenditures have risen considerably over the last decade; in 2010, personal outlays represented 35 percent of total Chinese health-care expenditures, compared with less than 30 percent accounted for by government spending. To put it plainly, over the past ten years, Beijing has allocated money primarily to support economic growth, not the welfare needs of the Chinese people. Indeed, from 2002 to 2011 — the same period that China’s economy more than quadrupled — overall health-care spending as a percent of GDP remained constant at 4.8 percent.

Finally, on the foreign policy front, Hu has presided over a number of victories but also some dangerous setbacks. On the positive side of the equation, China has drastically improved its relationship with Taiwan during Hu’s tenure, especially since the election of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in 2008. Once Beijing’s thorniest national security issue — and certainly the one that was most likely to cause a military conflict with the United States — cross-strait relations have entered a period of rapprochement, with economic integration inching Taiwan closer to the mainland every day. Furthermore, Hu’s patronage of China’s space program, which led to the country’s first manned space mission earlier this year, also deserves praise. But Hu’s foreign policy errors have been just as noteworthy as his successes. In Hu’s last two years in office, China flashed its teeth in a show of regional assertiveness, unnerving its neighbors and prompting the United states to rebalance its strategic priorities to Asia. And even as Hu prepares to step down in a couple of weeks, the latest Sino-Japanese tensions continue to boil with no resolution in sight. China’s stable regional security environment, which took at least a decade to build, is on the precipice of disorder.


Under Hu’s watch, China hosted its first Olympics and leapt to become the world’s second-largest economy, inspiring both awe and trepidation. Yet Hu and Wen are leaving office with a slowing economy, increasing popular protests, and a growing credibility gap with the Chinese middle class, which is weighed down not only by inequality but also by constraints on political freedoms. Despite Beijing’s successes over the past decade, it would be difficult to justify a ringing endorsement of the outgoing administration.

That so many domestic problems are coming to a head at the same time reveals that the premises on which China’s economic miracle have rested are proving untenable in the long term. A growth model predicated on investments and exports now faces depressed global demand. A political system that has ostensibly delivered on expanding the economic pie now has to divide that pie more equitably instead of simply enriching itself. And a formerly stable regional security environment is now giving way to fissures that could easily spiral out of control if not properly managed.

It is little wonder that bottom-up social pressures are building in China and that such pressures risk destabilizing the entire political system. Indeed, the most remarkable transformation that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has undergone in the past decade is not its shift toward market capitalism but rather its evolution into an elitist political organization that enjoys preferential access to economic opportunities at the expense of the average member of the Chinese middle class. A recent flurry of reports from Western journalists exposed that top Chinese officials have accumulated immense wealth with little transparency. Even Wen’s avuncular and humble public image has been shaken by revelations that he may have amassed as much as $2.7 billion. Consequently, achieving greater equality and economic fairness — and therefore mitigating instability — has become as much a political concern for Beijing as an economic one.

Rarely has the Hu administration viewed further political liberalization as the answer to growing economic and social ills. If the incoming Xi administration fails to recognize that political changes are necessary to untangle the complexity of China’s mounting challenges, the CCP could well find its own political resilience seriously tested over the course of the next decade. Tolerating more transparency and accommodating the rule of law are among the key reforms that could mitigate the pressures on the political system. But if Beijing continues to resist, when the next major transition comes in 2021, rather than celebrating its 100th birthday, the CCP could be pondering how it let its power slip away.

China, Russia and Obama’s second coming


Barack Obama’s four-year second term in office as the president of the United States will be setting the tone of the final countdown on China’s emergence as a superpower. The power dynamic in Asia-Pacific becomes a crucial template in this historic process.While the US can count on Japan and Australia as time-tested allies, its cogitations with China and Russia are evolving and how they shape up will decisively impact the power dynamic in Asia-Pacific.

The customary messages of greetings and the early reactions from Beijing and Moscow give some clues as to the level of expectations in the two capitals regarding Obama’s second term. Neither capital showed any inkling in the run up to November 6 as

to what result to expect and wore an air of studied aloofness, but both scrambled to react as soon as Obama’s victory sailed into view.

China remains cautiously optimistic that friction in the relations with the US is manageable and need not necessarily degenerate into confrontations. It draws comfort that there isn’t going to be any “unknown unknown” in the overall relationship insofar as Beijing can anticipate what to expect out of Obama’s presidency.

Of course, China’s trump card is that there is great interdependency in the relations between the two countries today, and Beijing is confident that it can play a helpful role in the recovery of the US economy.

The Russian reaction, in comparison, has been somewhat cagey and conditional, rather despondent about what to expect but unsure how to get a new deal either. Meanwhile, Moscow is bracing for some turbulence in the air in the short term.

Absolutely straightforward 
Beijing felicitated Obama at the level of the president and prime minister, underscoring the closeness of the ties going beyond the call of protocol. Interestingly, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping also sent a message of congratulations to Vice-President Joe Biden. Biden had hosted Xi during the latter’s highly successful tour of the United Sates in February during which they reportedly clocked several hours of intense one-on-one conversation.

Biden later recounted that he and Xi forged a close personal relationship despite the differences between the two countries on issues of trade or foreign policy. “He has been absolutely straight forward. He is open. He is, like me, trying to understand the other man’s position. You can’t ask for much more than that… He wants to know the details. I get a clear sense he’s trying to understand what our interests are and what our concerns are” – this was Biden’s recap.

Beijing is evidently giving an early start to Xi’s elevation as the head of state in March by invoking the personal rapport that apparently developed between him and Biden.

Curiously, though, Moscow let a similar wonderful opportunity pass with the Kremlin choosing not to play the “Dmitry Medvedev card”, although the Russian prime minister too apparently enjoyed some chemistry with Obama during his term as president till May.
Thus, it was left to Medvedev to react publicly while on a visit to Vietnam and, in the event, he amply made up for the carefully worded message from President Vladimir Putin, which was restrained while cordial but shorn of any manifest enthusiasm or personal warmth. Medvedev, in comparison, was visibly effusive:

“I’m glad that the biggest and powerful state in the world will be governed by a person who doesn’t consider Russia geopolitical enemy number one. I believe that he [Obama] is a successful president… He is a predictable partner for Russia.

“I don’t conceal that much depends in our country on the US economic situation. Whether we like it or not, whether we are kind to Americans or not, any Russian family depends on how the dollar is valued… We [he and Obama] started ‘resetting’ relations. It succeeded a little… [We] managed to achieve good results. I hope that we will have normal relations with Obama. It is also important for the situation around the world.”

Moscow has apparently spoken in two voices, whether out of design or genuine discord. In fact, when a third voice appeared alongside – that of foreign minister Sergey Lavrov – it easily merged with Putin’s message.

Lavrov said something broadly akin to what Barkis once conveyed through David Copperfield to Clara Pegotty in Charles Dickens’s famous classic novel – namely, Russia is willing to move forward in ties with the US and is ready to do something, provided Washington is interested.

Putin, by the way, has invited Obama to visit Russia and a visit is entirely conceivable in June when the G-20 summit takes place in St Petersburg. Lavrov summed up: “It is natural that we will continue to work with this administration. We are ready to do our best on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect as far as the new US administration is prepared for this.”

Equality, mutual trust and benefit 
The Chinese and Russian reactions regarding Obama’s second term in the White House bring out the two countries’ varying priorities and concerns. Moscow’s predicament is acute. Obama has opted for a selective engagement of Russia, while otherwise ignoring it and not paying heed to Russia’s interests. Beijing, on the other hand, is getting a little too much attention from Obama.

Russia seeks parity (“equality”) in terms of shouldering the heavy burden of the global strategic balance, which it sees as lying at the core of the post-cold war world order, and is unhappy that Washington no more thinks on these lines since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

China on the contrary feels self-assured that the interdependency between it and the US almost makes them joined at the hips and that the two countries have a real need to swim together.

A Xinhua commentary on Obama’s victory boasted on Wednesday, “No US president can avoid relations with China in the next four years, as bilateral trade is likely to top 500 billion US dollars this year and nearly 10,000 people travel between the two countries each day.”

While Moscow assesses that Obama’s “reset” of US-Russia ties has become all but moribund, Beijing draws satisfaction that despite the frictions emanating out of the US’ “rebalancing” in Asia, the Sino-American partnership showed “steady progress” during the past four-year period. Xinhua noted:

Through their common understanding on building a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, the two countries have defined each other’s role and their relationship in a clearer and more positive way. Dialogues between the two countries are smoother and more effective.

The angst in the Russian tone is missing in the Chinese estimation of the future trajectory of ties with the US. Again, there is certain realism borne out of China’s own priorities in the evolving situation. Xinhua adds,

However, disputes between the world’s largest developed and developing countries are apparent and there is always a risk of confrontation… It [China] wants to build a new type of relationship – one defined by mutual benefit and cooperation… If the United States does not change its traditionally hegemonic ways of thinking, there will be more and more conflicts as China continues to develop and protect its own interests.

China has many urgent domestic problems that need tended to… It [China] cannot bear the costs of full confrontation with the outside world. The US needs China as well, not just in terms of economic development but also in other spheres. The global financial crisis revealed how globalization has made countries so interdependent… China and the US have to work together for the sake of future world stability.”

Woods are lovely, dark and deep
Put differently, China is weighing in the woods – how dark and deep (and yet lovely) the woods could be – while Russia is instead doggedly counting the trees. Moscow is bogged down in the thought that the US House of Representatives may be about to enact the so-called Magnitsky List, which its sees as a backdoor replacement of the cold-war era Jackson-Vanick Amendment that restricted US-Russia economic ties.

In the assessment of Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute for US and Canada Studies in Moscow, clouds are gathering for an imminent storm in US-Russia ties, but, “after a while, the Obama Administration may put forward a new agenda for relations with Russia”.

He thinks Obama will have to seek out Russia for cooperation on Afghanistan and on disarmament issues; and some “very serious discussions” may even take place on the vexed question of the missile defense program. But, according to Rogov, the best that can be said is that, “generally speaking, I don’t think the Obama Administration will bring the US-Russian relations to a serious crisis of any kind.” In sum, Moscow can expect more of that same old admixture of selective engagement and benign neglect out of Obama’s second term.

Both Beijing and Moscow are eagerly speculating on Obama’s choice of the next US secretary of state. Both visualize the strong likelihood of Obama’s choice narrowing down to Senator John Kerry.

Of course, Kerry will be new to China ties, while he is a familiar face to Moscow and one that may evoke ambivalent feelings (although it could be much worse if Obama’s choice turns out to be Susan Rice, who has made many an undiplomatic remark about Russian policies.) To be sure, China will lament the departure of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Republicans debate future as 2016 jostling begins – US politics live

LIVEPost-election bloodletting begins within Republican ranks as talk of a Jeb Bush versus Hillary Clinton race in 2016 emerges

2016: Clinton v Bush redux?

The Washington political media abhors a news vacuum – and so it is that a dream contest between Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and Jeb Bush for the Republicans steps into the breach.

The ever-breathless Politico is the first to go large on the subject, with a banner headline of “2016 election: Hillary Clinton v Jeb Bush?” – with the question mark as the only hint of reticence.

“What’s certain,” Politico’s reporters declared, “is that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush loom the largest over their respective parties as the long road toward 2016 begins.”

That may be true in the case of Hillary Clinton, for two reasons. One is that she is most obviously next in line, given here finger-tip loss to Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and her subsequent performance as secretary of state. The other is that – to be honest – the democratic bench is thin otherwise, meaning that there are no obvious Obama-like candidates to compete against.

There is of course Joe Biden, but the biggest barrier at this point to a Clinton nomination is herself: whether or not she wants to run, and it’s not clear that she does.

Besides Biden the candidates being chatted about include New York governor Andrew Cuomo and even Ohio’s blue-collar senator Sherrod Brown. Some tout newly-elected senator Elizabeth Warren. But none of these have the attractions of a Clinton candidacy.

For Jeb Bush the outlook is less certain because of the array of candidates waiting on the GOP sidelines. In the red corner there are a binder-full of plausible candidates of all ideological shapes and sizes.

Chris Christie may have made his chances a lot more difficult with his public embrace of Obama after Sandy – but that had more to do with him winning re-election next year, a necessary condition for a tilt at the GOP nomination in 2016. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Wisconsin’s superstar governor Scott Walker, VP candidate Paul Ryan all stand out as strong contenders whether or not Jeb Bush runs. And that’s not including some attractive long-shots, such as New Mexico governor Suzanna Martinez and even the newly elected senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.

But make no mistake: with his name and track record, Jeb Bush would be a leading contender. As governor of Florida he championed education reform, and had a record of support from Hispanic voters that the GOP desperately needs to emulate. By 2016, his brother’s time as president would have taken on a sepia-tinge, as Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina and Lehmann Brothers all disappeared from America’s rear-view mirror.

So yes, America could well be in for a repeat of 1992 – and a country that spurned aristocracy 240 years ago could have created one by default.

Back to Work, Obama Is Greeted by Looming Fiscal Crisis

Newly re-elected, President Obama moved quickly on Wednesday to open negotiations with Congressional Republican leaders over the main unfinished business of his term — a major deficit-reduction deal to avert a looming fiscal crisis — as he began preparing for a second term that will include significant cabinet changes.

Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Obamas landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. More Photos »

Doug Mills/The New York Times

A block from President Obama’s Chicago home on Tuesday, supporters waited for the president’s motorcade to pass by. Mr. Obama flew back to Washington late Wednesday. More Photos »

Jonathan Ernst for The New York Times

Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday, “We’re ready to be led — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.” More Photos »

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Mr. Obama and Jacob J. Lew, the White House chief of staff, in March. Mr. Lew is said to be a candidate for Treasury secretary. More Photos »

Mr. Obama, while still at home in Chicago at midday, called Speaker John A. Boehner in what was described as a brief and cordial exchange on the need to reach some budget compromise in the lame-duck session of Congress starting next week. Later at the Capitol, Mr. Boehner publicly responded before assembled reporters with his most explicit and conciliatory offer to date on Republicans’ willingness to raise tax revenues, but not top rates, together with a spending cut package.

“Mr. President, this is your moment,” said Mr. Boehner, a day after Congressional Republicans suffered election losses but kept their House majority. “We’re ready to be led — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as president of the United States of America.”

His statement came a few hours after Senator Harry Reid, leader of a Democratic Senate majority that made unexpected gains, extended his own olive branch to the opposition. While saying that Democrats would not be pushed around, Mr. Reid, a former boxer, added, “It’s better to dance than to fight.”

Both men’s remarks followed Mr. Obama’s own overture in his victory speech after midnight on Wednesday. “In the coming weeks and months,” he said, “I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigrationsystem, freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”

After his speech, Mr. Obama tried to call both Mr. Boehner and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, but was told they were asleep. The efforts from both sides, after a long and exhausting campaign, suggested the urgency of acting in the few weeks before roughly $700 billion in automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts take effect at year’s end — the “fiscal cliff.” A failure to reach agreement could arrest the economic recovery.

Corporate America and financial markets for months have been dreading the prospect of a partisan impasse. Stocks fell on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closing down 2.4 percent. The reasons for the drop were unclear, given that stock futures did not drop significantly on Tuesday night as the election results became clear. Analysts cited fears about the economic impact of such big federal spending cuts and tax increases, but also about new economic troubles in Europe.

While Mr. Obama enters the next fray with heightened leverage, both sides agree, the coming negotiations hold big risks for both parties and for the president’s ability to pursue other priorities in a new term, like investments in education and research, and an overhaul of immigration law.

The president flew back to Washington from Chicago late on Wednesday, his post-election relief reflected in a playful race up the steps of Air Force One with his younger daughter, Sasha. At the White House, he prepared to shake up his staff to help him tackle daunting economic and international challenges. He will study lists of candidates for various positions that a senior adviser, Pete Rouse, assembled in recent weeks as Mr. Obama crisscrossed the country campaigning.

The most prominent members of his cabinet will leave soon. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner long ago said they would depart after the first term, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, previously the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, has signaled that he wants to return to California in the coming year. Also expected to depart is David Plouffe, one of the president’s closest confidants.

Mr. Obama is expected to reshuffle both his inner circle and his economic team as he accommodates the changes. For example, Jacob J. Lew, Mr. Obama’s current White House chief of staff and former budget director, is said to be a prime candidate to become Treasury secretary. For the foreseeable future, the holder of that job is likely to be at the center of budget negotiations, and Mr. Lew has experience in such bargaining dating to his work as a senior adviser to Congressional Democrats 30 years ago in bipartisan talks with President Ronald Reagan.

“They’ve been thinking about this for some time and they’re going to have a lot of positions to fill at the highest levels,” said former Senator Tom Daschle, who has close ties to the White House.

Both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ended up replacing about half of their cabinet members between terms, and Mr. Obama could end up doing about the same, especially since his team has served through wars and economic crisis. John D. Podesta, a chief of staff for Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama’s transition adviser, said, “There’s a certain amount of new energy you want to inject into any team.”

There is talk about bringing in Republicans and business executives to help rebuild bridges to both camps. The one Republican in the cabinet now, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, has said he will leave. One possible candidate, advisers say, could be Senator Olympia J. Snowe, a Republican moderate from Maine who is retiring.

A front-runner for secretary of state appears to be Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Democrats said worries about losing his Senate seat to the Republicans in a special election had diminished with Tuesday’s victories. Another candidate has been Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, but she has been a target of Republicans since she provided the administration’s initial accounts, which proved to be wrong, of the September terrorist attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.

While no one in the White House blames her, “she’s crippled,” said one adviser who asked not to be named discussing personnel matters. Another possible candidate, Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, has told Mr. Obama he wants to stay in his current position, according to a White House official.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., once expected to leave, now seems more likely to stay for a while. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, would like to be attorney general and is widely respected in the White House.

Among other cabinet officers who may leave are Ron Kirk, the trade representative; Steven Chu, the energy secretary; Ken Salazar, the interior secretary; Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, and Lisa P. Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency chief. But Valerie Jarrett, the president’s longtime friend and senior adviser, plans to stay, according to Democrats close to her.

It may be weeks before Mr. Obama starts making personnel announcements. His first priority is policy, and its politics — positioning for the budget showdown in the lame-duck session, to try to avoid the fiscal cliff by agreeing with Republicans to alternative deficit-reduction measures.

If Mr. Obama got a mandate for anything after a campaign in which he was vague on second-term prescriptions, he can and will claim one for his argument that wealthy Americans like himself and his vanquished Republican rival, Mitt Romney, should pay higher income taxes. That stance was a staple of Mr. Obama’s campaign stump speeches for more than a year. And most voters, in surveys of those leaving the polls on Tuesday, agreed with him.

Specifically, Mr. Obama has called — over Republicans’ objections — for extending the Bush-era income tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31, only for households with taxable income below $250,000 a year.

“This election tells us a lot about the political wisdom of defending tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of everything else,” a senior administration official said early on Wednesday.

But Mr. Boehner, in his public remarks on Wednesday, sought to avoid a White House tax trap that would have Republicans boxed in as defenders of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Speaking for Republicans after a conference call with his Congressional colleagues, Mr. Boehner said he was ready to accept a budget deal that raised federal revenues, but not the top rates on high incomes. And the deal, he said, also would have to overhaul both the tax code and programs like Medicare and Medicaid, whose growth as the population ages is driving projections of unsustainable future debt.

Instead of allowing the top rates to go up, which Republicans say would harm the economy, Mr. Boehner said Washington should end some deductions and loopholes to raise revenues. The economic growth that would result from a significant deficit reduction compromise would bring in additional revenues as well, he said.

Mr. Boehner entered the ornate Capitol room with none of his usual bonhomie, walked to a lectern and spoke in formal tones from two Teleprompters. He then hastened out of the room, ignoring shouted questions.



How Romney Sabotaged His Own Campaign


By Marc Pitzke in Boston

Photo Gallery: The Republicans Strike Out


Mitt Romney’s defeat is a bitter one. In the end, his campaign was torpedoed by his extremist running mate and the constant flip-flopping that left voters clueless about who the “real” Romney was. His concession speech has only left his supporters feeling empty and confused.


It was still early, but defeat already hung in the air. Mitt Romney had hoped to celebrate his victory here in the ballroom of the Boston Convention Center, but the atmosphere never seemed quite right. Guests were standing around looking somewhat lost, clenching their beer bottles with eyes locked on their smartphones. Some had left their winter coats on as if they were only planning to stay briefly.



“Psst,” a woman in a blindingly bright-red outfit whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “I voted for Obama. Just don’t tell anybody.” 

No, that’s not something that the people convened in Boston want to hear. They’ve come to celebrate their triumph and the return of Republican rule. Some have even brought babies along. A festive buffet has been set up out in the foyer, offering chicken, pork roast and exotic salads. Still, the fact that each person is limited to two alcoholic beverages makes one wonder whether they were expecting from the very start that this wouldn’t exactly be an evening of boozy merrymaking.


It would eventually be a long time before Romney took the stage before his fans and conceded his bitter defeat. Perhaps he didn’t want to face up to it. Perhaps he couldn’t find the right words. He had composed a victory speech of 1,118 words on Tuesday morning. But he deliberately declined to pen a concession speech. 

When he finally did take to the stage, it was already almost 1 a.m. local time. One could see how much the defeat weighed on him. His usual swagger had noticeably vanished. His voice was hollow. His robot-like smile has been reduced to a thin line.

Hurt by Ryan’s Extremism

Romney thanked his aides, his supporters and Paul Ryan, his running mate, saying: “Besides my wife Ann, Paul is the best choice I’ve ever made.” But there’s plenty of reason to doubt it seeing that Ryan and his extremism unquestionably contributed to Romney’s defeat.

On Tuesday, Romney wore a blue sports coat bearing a small elephant, the symbol of the Republican Party. For his speech, he changed into a dark-black business suit and a patriotic tie with red, white and blue stripes. “The election is over,” he said, “but our principles endure.” He congratulated President Obama and called for bipartisanship — although he didn’t provide any other hints as to what the future might hold in store.

The crowd was waiting for an uplifting speech that would numb their pain. It wanted to hear a grand address like the one that John McCain, the highly respected senator and Republican nominee of the last election, gave after losing to Obama in 2008. But Romney didn’t deliver. He stuck to flowery words, merely encouraging the audience to give Obama amiable support. “The nation chose another leader,” he said. “And so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.” Then it was a lot of waving, pained celebration, a family photo — and goodbye.

Now Romney and the Republicans are left facing the ruins of their arrogance. There’s no denying that victory seemed within reach. But, in the end, it was a defeat — and a rather unambiguous one at that.

After such a long journey, this is a bitter end. Romney has been hacking his way through the political jungle for almost two decades as he follows the trail blazed by his father George, who withdrew from the fight to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1968.

It’s also bitter because it fits a pattern of first-time defeats: Romney was defeated in 1994 during his first attempt to become a senator. He was defeated in 2008 during his first attempt to become the Republican presidential nominee. And now he has been defeated in his first — and surely final — attempt to win a ticket to the White House.

The quotation that will remain freshest in the minds of many will be the title that theNew York Times put on a contribution he submitted in November 2008, at the height of the auto-industry crisis: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Detroit would eventually avenge the insult by throwing its weight behind Obama.

And, lastly, it’s a particurly bitter loss for Romney after all the encouraging scenes of recent days. There were the massive crowds of thousands and tens of thousands of supporters hailing Romney wherever he went. It was the enthusiasm of a grassroots movement. The stages he stood on even looked presidential, with their huge, star-studded banners, big-sky backdrops and a sea of American flags stretching to the horizon.

The Chameleon Candidate

So, what caused the defeat? Was it the multiple slip-ups and gaffes that Romney stoically shrugged off? Was it the millions that Obama’s strategists pumped into TV ads depicting Romney as a coldhearted capitalist? Was it the threat to Big Bird, the “binders full of women” or his consistently wooden appearances?

When all is said and done, there is only one person who deserves the lion’s share of the blame: Mitt Romney. For months, Romney continued to change his stances to the point that voters ultimately had no idea who the “real” Romney was. It wasn’t until the very end that Romney dared to be his putative self again. But it was too late. Even Massachusetts, the state that Romney served as governor for four years, would ultimately turn its back on him.

Things had looked different for a while. Romney thought he had pulled things off back during the first TV debate in Denver. At the time, he completed a calculated backwards flip-flop, transforming himself for the last time — from the “strictly conservative” Mitt that he had presented himself as during the primaries to a decidedly more centrist Mitt. It was a bold but transparent maneuver.

On election night, the first exit polls still kept Romney feeling confident. For the majority of voters, the economy had been the most important issue — and it was, after all, Romney who came across as being the numbers guy, the executive who would lead the nation back to health. In the end, though, they said “no thanks”.

The evening ultimately proved to be a nail-biter. Guests in Boston were forced to look on as their hero’s fortunes melted away on two large screens. At some point, the jazz group playing next to the stage put down their instruments.

Romney Loses One State After the Other

Then Florida seemed to lean toward Obama before falling back to Romney. Then it went back to Obama. Back to Romney. Ohio experienced similar shifts in the polls. Romney led in the “popular vote” in the state. Romney captured Utah.

In the end, though, none of it helped.

Romney’s top strategist, Ed Gillespie, came out and continued to express his optimism, saying the party would throw a huge election-night party and that: “We feel very good.” Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of Romney’s closest supporters then appeared in a patchy video feed. “That’s for your hard work,” he said. “I’ve never been prouder.”

But then more and more dominos started to fall. Romney lost Massachusetts, his home state, to Obama. Then he lost Michigan, the state where he was born. Then he had to cede Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and New Mexico to his Democratic Party challenger.

Romney Takes Two Hours to Concede Defeat

Things then grew deadly silent in Boston, and the expressions on peoples’ faces grew solemn. Nobody moved. Just one young boy continued to wave a small American flag.

By then, the rumors were already circulating that Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother and the former governor of Florida, had called to say that Florida had been lost — and, with it, the presidency.

Then Romney’s bodyguard, Garrett Jackson, tweeted a photo from behind the scenes showing the Romney family sitting around on white leather sofas as they took in the results. “Gov and @anndromney having a great time with the grandkids,” Jackson wrote. The expressions on their face, however, told a different story — with Romney looking tense and serious. By then, he seemed to know — after all, this is the numbers guy.


Sarah Palin, the unsuccessful 2008 vice-presidential candidate, also looked distressed. She only appeared in Boston via video — courtesy, of course, of Fox News — and she was greeted with frosty silence. “I’m disappointed,” she said, “but I am still keeping my fingers crossed.” When asked for her thoughts on the possibility of Obama getting re-elected, she responded: “Truly a disastrous setback!” 

At precisely 11:12 p.m., Palin’s worst fears came true as the first US networks called Obama the winner of the election. It took exactly 12 minutes longer for that news to come than it did in 2008.

Afterwards, it took nearly two hours before Romney appeared to give his final speech and concede defeat to Obama.

Like Obama, Netanyahu will win elections only with a focused campaign

Like Obama, Netanyahu will win elections only with a focused campaign
Obama entered the race at a disadvantage, as a consequence of the deep economic crisis, but skillfully exploited the time and resources at his disposal in order to focus on the key states. Israel, too, has a politician who employs this method.
By Aluf Benn | Nov.07, 2012 | 12:49 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, in March 2012. Photo by GPO

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By Aluf Benn | Nov.07,2012 | 12:49 PM | 1
Obama in victory speech: For the U.S., best is yet to come
By Chemi Shalev, Natasha Mozgovaya, Reuters and DPA
Nov.07,2012 | 12:49 PM | 25

President Barack Obama won his second term in office thanks to the successful focus of his election campaign. He entered the race at a disadvantage, as a consequence of the deep economic crisis, but skillfully exploited the time and resources at his disposal in order to focus on the key states.

While Obama’s Republican rivals were wearing each other down in the primaries, the president’s campaign staff was already operating at full capacity and concentrated its efforts in Ohio and a handful of other states in which the American presidential election was decided.

Obama did not waste money on advertising in certain states, such as New York and California, where the voters were in any event going to vote for the Democratic candidate; nor did he make any effort to divert the attentions of voters in the Republicans’ bunker states in the South and the Midwest. His campaign only broke a sweat in places where each vote counted.

Obama and his people correctly assessed that Mitt Romney would be the Republican candidate, and they conducted a prolonged smear campaign against him, aimed at building a negative image of him among voters in Ohio.

The strategy paid off, and Obama won in practically all of the swing states, where voters led him to four more years in the White House. Romney put up a fight, and for a while his victory in the first presidential debate put him in position to take the lead. But Obama recovered, and ultimately the Democratic machine triumphed.

In the focus method, the candidate concentrates his efforts on a single goal: winning the election and remaining in power. He isn’t interested in being viewed as being right, or nice, or demonstrating rhetorical skills. He identifies the match point and strives toward it. As far as he is concerned, everything else is just noise.

Israel also has a politician who employs this method, Benjamin Netanyahu. He knows that elections are not decided at the ballot box, but in the Israeli President’s Residence. In the Israeli system, the Knesset acts like the American Electoral College. There a candidate has to amass 270 electors to win, and here he needs 61 MKs to recommend him as the candidate to assemble a coalition. How can they be secured? Israel does not have any swing states as in the U.S., but rather wavering political parties – Shas and Yisrael Beitenu. Both of them are capable of transferring the reins of power from right to left. Thus, to win the election, one must gain the support of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman.

In the past few years, Netanyahu has been engrossed in a single endeavor: keeping Shas and Lieberman at his side come hell or high water, even if it costs him the loss of his popularity among the general public. In the 2009 election, Netanyahu lost votes to Lieberman, but opted to absorb the loss of a few Knesset seats rather than risk the desertion of Yisrael Beitenu. That is why he avoided attacks on Lieberman. It came at the expense of a defeat at the polls – the Likud received fewer votes than Kadima – but in the real election, the one that takes place in the President’s Residence, Lieberman stood at Netanyahu’s side and ensured him the government. Since then, Netanyahu has repeatedly absorbed the insults of his foreign minister, and repeatedly held himself back from responding.

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden wave at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. AP
In the current campaign, Netanyahu preferred not to take any risks and bought Lieberman and his faction up front, in the “Likud Beitenu” deal. The public opinion polls show that the united list will lose seats, as compared to the situation of the two parties in the outgoing Knesset, but the union consolidates the right-wing bloc around Netanyahu’s candidacy and gives him a crushing advantage on his way toward a third term. Sealing the deal at this early stage is intended to deter Netanyahu’s potential rivals Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni from running against him. Like Obama, Netanyahu also enjoys the advantage of time and early preparation.

The period of indecision ends today, and the time will soon come for Olmert and Livni to decide if Obama’s victory gives them sufficient reason to run against Netanyahu, on the grounds that he has devastated Israel’s foreign relations and undermined American support. Alternately, they will assess that they don’t have a chance to crack the Likud’s protective armor and its “natural partners” among the right-wing parties. The decision they make will herald whether Israelis can expect a turbulent and passionate campaign in the weeks remaining until the election, or a relatively relaxed period, during which Shas, Labor, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi will compete for their places in Netanyahu’s next coalition.