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Obama battles health care chatter

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Obama battles health care chatter

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — This is not the August that President Obama had planned.

Obama, who initially demanded that the House and Senate pass health care overhauls by now, was playing defense at a town-hall-style meeting here Tuesday, his signature initiative under increasingly fierce fire.

The session at Portsmouth High School lacked the chanting and catcalls that has disrupted hometown meetings some members of Congress have held, but the president found himself having to deny his proposals would lead to rationing, socialized medicine or government “death panels” to oversee end-of-life care.

“I’ve seen some of those signs,” Obama said, ridiculing accusations from opponents that he wants to create “death panels that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that it’s too expensive to let her live.

“I’m not in favor of that,” he told 1,800 people inside the hall while about 1,000 demonstrators outside shouted at each other across police cordons.

The fact that Obama felt the need to deny plans to “pull the plug on grandma” and that the White House moved to schedule a trio of town-hall meetings — the president will hold one in Bozeman, Mont., on Friday and another in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday — reflects growing concern within the administration that the most vociferous critics of his health care plans are now dominating the debate.

The reason the White House had pushed for congressional action before the August recess began was precisely to avoid this scenario: critics filling the summer lull with protests and ads that could raise concerns and rally opposition to Obama’s top legislative priority.

“It’s amplified the stakes,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden says of the demonstrations, saying the White House was “late in responding” to them.

“It wasn’t something (the White House advisers) wanted the president to get involved in right away, but they could see what was happening,” says Democratic consultant Peter Fenn. “You’ve got to answer the crazy charges.”

So Obama was a man on a mission in the Granite State, repeatedly trying to reassure the crowd and his broader national audience that a health-care overhaul would make the system work better for them, not worse.

“For all the chatter and the yelling and the shouting and the noise, what you need to know is this: If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options, once we pass reform,” he said. “If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or a government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.”

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ANALYSTS VIEWS – Jakarta hotel bomb blasts

in.reuters.com

ANALYSTS VIEWS – Jakarta hotel bomb blasts

REUTERS – Near-simultaneous bomb blasts ripped through the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta’s business district on Friday, killing nine people and injuring 42 including foreigners and Indonesians, police said.

A car bomb had also exploded along a toll road in north Jakarta, police said. Indonesia’s Metro TV said two people had been killed. No further details on that blast were available.

The bomb attacks, the first in several years, could severely dent investor confidence in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. The Indonesian government had made considerable progress in tackling security threats from militant Islamists in recent years, bringing a sense of greater political stability.

Islamist militants from the regional Jemaah Islamiah organisation were blamed for numerous attacks between 2002-2005 in Indonesia, including bombings on the island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people. Many militants have since been arrested.

CALLUM HENDERSON, CHIEF GLOBAL CURRENCY STRATEGIST, STANDARD CHARTERED BANK, SINGAPORE

“This is a tragic event. Market reaction to date has been relatively muted in anticipation that the government will stay on course and that policies will remain unchanged.

“Indonesia remains a fundamentally good story, thanks in large part to the excellent policies of the government in the last few years.

“It will take time to stabilise again, but we remain overweight on the rupiah.”

SEAN CALLOW, CURRENCY STRATEGIST, WESTPAC, SYDNEY

“I would say it damages foreign investor confidence since the attacks appear aimed at Westerners, but not shatter it, so long as there is no further violence for some time.

“Bank Indonesia should be able to keep a lid on dollar/rupiah short term, but it will have a lasting negative impact multi-week, multi-month.

“It solidifies my short-term bias towards buying dollar/rupiah on dips, especially since the rupiah is still up 18 percent since March.”

TIM CONDON, HEAD OF ASIA RESEARCH, ING, SINGAPORE

“I liken it to North Korea risks to South Korean assets. Typically it causes a short spike in selling pressure — but the operative word is short.

“Indonesia is vulnerable and the attacks are negative but people know these are impossible to predict and they are part of the economic landscape. It doesn’t totally eclipse all of the other investor positives — the economic fundamentals and the political fundamentals.

“The cost of protecting debt from Indonesia , one of the most frequent Asian sovereign issuers in the offshore market, was unchanged at 280/295 basis points.”

RAYMOND TANG, CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER, CIMB ASSET MANAGEMENT, KUALA LUMPUR

“We are still positive on the economy and the developments there, despite the bombings. On a long-term perspective, we have not changed our view.

“We’re positive on the banking, the resources and the consumer sectors.

“You’ll get kneejerk reaction but if you look at how the Indonesian market has responded up to now, it’s down 1.3 percent and the currency is down half a percent … I think people are more positive than negative.”

KEVIN O’ROURKE, POLITICAL RISK ANALYST, REFORMASI WEEKLY

“I think the attacks are devastating for the image of security that Indonesia has built up painstakingly over the past four years.

“The attack is particularly severe for investor confidence because it took place despite strenuous counter-terrorist efforts by the government and has affected the hotels that are seen to be among the most secure in Jakarta and also either killed or wounded numerous prominent expatriate businesspeople.” O’Rourke said he suspected Jemaah Islamiah was responsible.

“It’s an explosion in a hotel. Jemaah Islamiah perpetrate explosions in hotels.”

WAWAN PURWANTO, ANALYST AT NGO NATIONAL EMPOWERMENT BOARD, JAKARTA “It is a high-tension period and it is likely to remain like that until October when the president is inaugurated.

“We already predicted this as we have seen some unknown movements after the election, like the incidents in Papua. So if something like this happens, it’s not a surprise.

“We will not make any assumption (as to who is behind the attacks) before seeing hard evidence.”

PRAKRITI SOFAT, ECONOMIST AT HSBC, SINGAPORE

“After the elections going off so peacefully, the bomb blasts have come as a shock. We don’t have all the details now but investors will be keeping a close eye on this one.”

JOANNA TAN, ECONOMIST, FORECAST PTE, SINGAPORE “I think investor confidence will definitely be shaken after this but ultimately, the positives from SBY continuing a second term and relatively good performance in the economy should keep investor confidence supported.”

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Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

3U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a news conference in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, August 5, 2009.

Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

NAIROBI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Somalia’s president on Thursday, showing U.S. support for a fragile government which is battling against militants including al Shabaab insurgents.

Australian police said this week they had uncovered a plot to attack an army base in Sydney by men with alleged links to al Shabaab which Washington accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

Clinton said she would discuss with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed how the world could help stabilise the Horn of Africa country, which Western security agencies say is a haven for militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond.

“We know we’re facing a very difficult conflict, and we also know that the presence of al Shabaab and terrorist elements within Somalia poses a threat,” said Clinton, ahead of the meeting, on the sidelines of a U.S.-African trade conference.

“It poses a threat to Kenya, poses a threat to the stability of Africa and beyond. So this is an area where we’re going to work even more closely together,” she added.

The United States has offered military aid to Somalia’s government, including more than 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition in recent months, as it battles al Shabaab.

At the meeting, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Clinton is expected to promise more financial aid, including additional shipments of weapons, although these had been scheduled a while ago, a senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton said.

Washington has also offered training for security forces and logistical help.

NO U.S. TROOPS

The Obama administration has ruled out sending U.S. forces to help fight against Islamist militants. The last U.S. involvement in Somalia — during Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton’s presidency — ended in shambles.

In a battle that inspired the film “Black Hawk Down”, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in October 1993, marking the beginning of the eventual withdrawal of a U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force from Somalia.

There is still debate within the Obama administration over how to handle the crisis and whether putting full U.S. support behind Ahmed is wise.

Ahmed was elected in January under a U.N.-brokered process that was Somalia’s 15th attempt to set up a central government since 1991.

Africa expert Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington thinktank, said while Ahmed’s government was seen as imperfect, he was also viewed by many as the only option available.

“I am not sure what she is going to get out of this meeting,” said Cooke of Clinton’s meeting, which is also expected to tackle a rise in piracy off Somalia’s coast.

The Horn of Africa’s coastal waters — vital shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe — have become a focus of pirates who have made off with countless millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels, including U.S.-flagged ships.

Pirates are expected to step up attacks on ships off Somalia’s coast in the coming months as the end of the monsoon season brings better weather.

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