The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

November 19, 2012

Obama in Cambodia after rousing Myanmar welcome

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Making history twice within hours, President Barack Obama on Monday became the first U.S. president to set foot in Cambodia, a country once known for its Khmer Rouge “killing fields.” He left behind flag-waving crowds on the streets of Myanmar, the once internationally shunned nation now showing democratic promise.

Unlike the visit to Myanmar, where Obama seemed to revel in that nation’s new hope, the White House made clear that Obama is only in Cambodia to attend an East Asia Summit and said the visit should not be seen as an endorsement of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government.

Indeed, Obama’s arrival in Cambodia lacked the euphoria of his greeting in Myanmar, where tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Yangon to cheer the first American president to visit a country that until recently had long been isolated from the West. “You gave us hope,” Obama declared in Yangon.

In Phnom Penh, small clusters of Cambodians gathered in the streets to watch the motorcade pass by, without any of the outpouring that greeted Obama in Myanmar.

From the airport, Obama headed straight to the Peace Palace for a meeting with Hun Sen that later was described by U.S. officials as a tense encounter dominated by the president voicing concerns about Cambodia’s human rights record. He specifically raised the lack of free and fair elections, the detention of political prisoners and land seizures, officials said.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama told the prime minister that those issues are “an impediment” to a deeper relationship between the U.S. and Cambodia. Rhodes said Hun Sen defended his country’s record, saying unique circumstances motivate its policies and practices. Still, the prime minister expressed a desire to deepen ties with the U.S., Rhodes said.

Earlier in Myanmar, Obama addressed a national audience from the University of Yangon, offering a “hand of friendship” and a lasting U.S. commitment, yet a warning, too. He said the new civilian government must nurture democracy or watch it, and U.S. support, disappear.

The six-hour stop in Myanmar was the centerpiece of a four-day trip to Southeast Asia that began in Bangkok and ends Tuesday in Cambodia, where Obama will visit with Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asia leaders in addition to attending the East Asia Summit with regional leaders.

Obama celebrated the history of what he was witnessing in Myanmar — a nation shedding years of military rule, and a relationship between two nations changing fast.

“This remarkable journey has just begun,” he said.

In a notable detour from U.S. policy, the president referred to the nation as Myanmar in his talks with President Thein Sein. That is the name preferred by the former military regime and the new government, rather than Burma, the old name favored by democracy advocates and the U.S. government.

Rhodes said afterward that Obama’s use of Myanmar was “a diplomatic courtesy” that doesn’t change the U.S. position that the country is still Burma.

On his first trip abroad since his re-election earlier this month, Obama’s motorcade sped him to the lakeside home in Yangon of longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He hugged her and lauded her as a personal inspiration. Suu Kyi spent most of the past 20 years in house detention at her home.

In remarks after their meeting, Suu Kyi echoed Obama’s tone with an admonition of her own, one that could have been directed at her own ruling party as much as to the United States:

“The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight,” she said. “Then we have to be very careful that we’re not lured by the mirage of success.”

Rhodes said Obama was moved the visit with Suu Kyi at her home, and was pleased to see on prominent display a stuffed replica of the president’s dog Bo in the house. Obama gave Suu Kyi the stuffed animal when she visited Washington earlier this year.

Crowds swelled at every intersection in Yangon, yelling affectionately for both Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“You are the legend hero of our world,” one banner read.

Obama spoke at a university that was once the center of government opposition, and his message was as much a call for Myanmar to continue in its promising steps as it was a tribute to democracy in general. He held up the United States as an example of its triumph and its imperfections.

Coinciding with the president’s visit, the government of Myanmar announced further human rights steps to review prisoner cases and de-escalate conflicts in ethnic regions of the country.

But Obama urged even more, calling for a government where, as he put it, “those in power must accept constraints.”

“The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished,” Obama said in the address televised to the nation.

Rhodes said the president was moved by the throngs of people who lined the streets to greet him. The president made one unscheduled stop, at the Shwedagon Pagoda. After seeing the pagoda as Air Force One approached Yangon, then seeing the outpouring of support from people who worship the site, Obama personally decided to make the unscheduled stop, Rhodes said.

As Obama arrived in Cambodia, he was dogged by concerns from human rights groups that have cast Hun Sen as a violent authoritarian and voiced apprehension that Obama’s visit will be perceived inside Cambodia as validation of the prime minister’s regime.

Still, many Cambodians credit Hun Sen with helping the country emerge from the horrors of the 1970s Khmer Rouge reign, when systematic genocide by the communist regime left 1.7 million dead. Vietnam invaded and ousted that regime in 1979. By 1985, Hun Sen had become prime minister.

 

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • 080114 Older worker1_72.jpg Co-workers, friends honor nurse with 50-year career

    Wilma Massey has worked a half century in health care and, even at the age of 74, she’s the first to arrive at work each morning.

    August 1, 2014 2 Photos

  • Scott Branden Smith 080114.jpg Comatose assault victim dies

    A Joplin man left in a coma from an apparent assault died this afternoon at Freeman Hospital West.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Amendment 7 backers tout safety, new jobs; foes say special interests to benefit

    Billions of dollars are on the line when Missouri voters head to the polls on Tuesday to consider Amendment 7.
    The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
    After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
    Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
    The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
    “The whole idea that money is flowing into the campaign, of course it is,” said Sen. John Lamping, a St. Louis Republican who is opposed to the measure. “It would be a smart business decision to do that.”
    Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.  
    Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
    Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
    “Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
    The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
    “We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
    The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”  
    “The ads don’t mention any of the ballot language,” said Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs. “We figure Missourians will see the language when they go to the polls.”
    Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
    “There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
    If approved, Amendment 7 would prevent an increase in the state’s fuel tax, a funding boost opponents of the amendment like Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and some of the state’s social welfare groups have said would be more appropriate because it could pull in revenue from people who use the roads — like the state’s trucking industry.
    The Missouri Truckers Association’s political action committee has contributed more than $27,000 to the effort to pass the measure. Tom Crawford, president of the association, said his members support the amendment because they see the problems on the road and deal with them every day. And passage of the measure does not mean anyone will stop paying fuel tax.
    “We overpay our fair share on the fuel tax,” he said, pointing to statistics by the American Transportation Research Institute that show truckers have accounted for about 14 percent of road usage while paying for 39 percent of all taxes and fees owed by motorists. “We pay sales taxes just like everybody does on goods and products that people buy in the stores.”
    Crawford said truck companies do not pay state sales taxes on the purchase of trucks, but they do pay a federal tax. “So, we won’t be impacted on new equipment purchase, but other areas of our business will be impacted just like every other taxpayer in the state will,” he said.
    Thomas Shrout, who is helping lead the campaign against the tax hike, said that is not good enough and that Amendment 7 lets truck drivers off the hook. “Under Amendment 7, they wouldn’t have to pay any more,” he said.
    Shrout’s opposition campaign has raised just over $27,000 — less than 1 percent of the total money raised by its supporters. They are targeting their opposition at the state’s urban core by spending money on direct mail and targeted robocalls in the final week.
    “We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
    Shrout said the Missouri Department of Transportation and its supporters should go back to the drawing board and consider some of the other options like campaigning for toll roads or a gas tax increase — both based on road usage.
    Representatives for APAC and the Heavy Constructors Association declined requests for comment.

    Tuesday’s election
    Amendment 7 is one of five measures voters will consider when they head to the polls on Tuesday. Statewide, local election officials reported to the Missouri secretary of state that it was their estimate that about 27 percent of the state’s 4.06 million registered voters will show up to vote, including 25 percent of registered voters in Jasper County and 30 percent in Newton County.

    August 1, 2014

  • Brownback names 3 Kansas Board of Regents members

    Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday named a former veteran Kansas House member and two attorneys to the board overseeing the state’s higher education system.

    August 1, 2014

  • Fair to feature goats, chickens and decorated bras

    Along with the usual fair sights, sounds and smells — livestock, poultry, produce and the like — there will be something a bit unusual at the Cherokee County American Legion Free Fair this year: Decorated brassieres. And pink. Lots of pink.

    August 1, 2014

  • Grant to fund solar energy system for PSU’s Plaster Center

    An $80,000 grant from Westar Energy will fund solar panels to provide both energy and education at the Robert W. Plaster Center, now under construction at Pittsburg State University.

    August 1, 2014

  • Detour in Parsons for bridge work begins

    A portion of south U.S. 59 Highway will close at the Parsons, Kansas, city limits on Aug. 4 for drainage work, asphalt resurfacing and a bridge deck repair project.

    August 1, 2014

  • Autism center to break ground on future home

    Ground will be broken Tuesday morning for the future home of the Bill & Virginia  Leffen Center for Autism at 2808 S. Picher Ave.

    August 1, 2014

  • Our View.jpg Our View: Home runs for area

    Baseball fans, there’s something exciting going on today that has nothing to do with the major leagues.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIVE BLOG: Little League Regional Tournament

    Athletes and parents from Joplin and Frontenac are headed to Indianapolis for the Little League Central Region Tournament. Follow their progress here.

    August 1, 2014