Monday, November 19, 2012

Obama will be visiting a more open and hopeful Burma

RANGOON, Burma — From businessmen chasing new markets to basketball players serving as sports envoys, the past year has seen an unprecedented wave of American visitors to the once-pariah state of Burma. 

On Monday, President Obama arrived.

"This is not an endorsement of the Burmese government," Obama said Sunday in Bangkok, the first stop on a three-nation tour that also takes him to Cambodia Monday night. "This is an acknowledgment that there is a process underway inside that country that even a year and a half, two years ago, nobody foresaw," he said.
Obama's day trip Monday to Burma — when he will meet with President Thein Sein, a former army general, and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi — represents the first visit to Burma by a sitting U.S. president. The U.S. government recently began rolling back economic sanctions against Burma, also known as Myanmar, to recognize its transition from military rule toward a more democratic system.

Obama will set out his message for Burma's future and "extend the hand of friendship" today in a speech Monday at the University of Rangoon, which authorities shuttered for years after student protests against the regime.

"Instead of being repressed, the right of people to assemble together must now be fully respected," the president said in speech excerpts released by the White House. "Instead of being stifled, the veil of media censorship must continue to be lifted. As you take these steps, you can draw on your progress."

U Kyi Win, a lawyer for Suu Kyi and her formerly banned party, the National League for Democracy, noted the significance of Obama's visit.

"In the past, foreign governments didn't care about our country; we were treated with very low status on the world political stage," he said. "Now Western countries deal with us on the same level, and this comes from the co-operation between Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi to solve (Burma's) problems," he said Sunday.
Plenty of challenges remain, including longstanding conflicts in border areas, ethnic violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities, and the continued jailing of political prisoners. Several human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and U.S. Campaign for Burma, have criticized the presidential visit as premature.

Residents of Rangoon, Burma's largest city and former capital, were ready to welcome the U.S. president.
"Many Burmese like Obama. After he comes, there should be more development here," said Aye Nyein San, 26, a receptionist at telecom firm Yatanarpon. 

"He can encourage the political changes here, and the conflicts in Rakhine state and Kachin state can be solved with his support," she said. Rakhine and Kachin are border areas where violence has escalated in recent months. 

Graffiti artist Arker Kyaw recently sprayed a wall mural to welcome Obama in downtown Rangoon, also known as Yangon. Video producer Thu Myat, also a graffiti artist, said the fast growth of street art and slogans reflected the political and social changes here. He disapproved of Kyaw's stunt as too respectful of hierarchy — "I believe police let him do it; it's weird he was not arrested" — but he is confident the lifting of sanctions and Obama's visit will bring benefits. "Obama showed the green light to every country," he said. "Now Burmese people must grab the opportunity for themselves."

Sandy and Bill Hitchcock from Laguna Beach, Calif., flew into Rangoon on Sunday for a nine-day tour. Two other couples they will meet later, in Cambodia, declined to join them in Burma. 

"They don't like the political regime here," said Sandy Hitchcock, 63. "I want to see it before it becomes the next big tourist trap," she said. 

The tide of visitors already threatens to overwhelm Burma's limited capacity for tourism. "The airport now receives twice as many visitors as it was built for," Khin Mi Mi Tin, of the tourism ministry, said Sunday at the Rangoon airport. "We are building more hotels, but even the new hotels are fully booked." 

"All of Myanmar likes Obama," she said. "He is interested in Asia and can help push us further towards democracy."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Exit poll: Union voters power Obama in Wisconsin

The polls have just closed in Wisconsin, which CBS News is reporting leans toward President Obama. The exit poll shows that he has union households to thank: While the candidates are split among non-union households, Mr. Obama has a 66 percent to 33 percent lead among the one in five voters who say someone in their household belongs to a labor union.

There is a big gender gap in Wisconsin: The president leads by 11 points among women, while Romney leads by four percentage points among men. Eighty-seven percent of voters in Wisconsin are white, and Romney is winning them 52 percent to 47 percent. But Mr. Obama holds huge leads among the seven percent of voters who are black (93 percent to 6 percent) and the three percent who are Latino (63 percent to 35 percent).
Thirty-six percent of voters identify as Democrat, 33 percent as Republican, and 31 percent as independent. The two candidates are evenly splitting independent voters. 

Mr. Obama is winning the 43 percent of voters making less than $50,000 by 62 percent to 36 percent. Romney is winning the 21 percent of voters making $100,000 or more 63 percent to 35 percent. 

One in two Wisconsin voters favor increasing income tax rates on those making over $250,000 per year, as Mr. Obama proposes. One in three do not want those taxes increased. 

Seven in 10 voters say the nation's economy is in not so good or poor condition, though more than half blame George W. Bush for the nation's current economic problems. 

Fifty-two percent of voters say they have positive feelings about the Obama administration. Fifty percent of voters say they have an unfavorable opinion of Mitt Romney, and 52 percent say his policies would favor the rich. Fifty-four percent say they approve of Republican Scott Walker's performance as governor. 

Ten percent of voters made up their minds in the past few days. Wisconsin is the home state of Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. 

This is an early exit poll and does not reflect the final exit poll.