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Flamboyant former Argentine President Carlos Menem dies

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Flamboyant former Argentine President Carlos Menem dies

Menem was also supremely flexible as a politician, beginning his career as a self-styled disciple of Gen. Juan Domingo Peron, who founded the populist movement that bears his name and placed the economy largely under state control. Menem, who served two terms as president between 1989 and 1999, transformed the country — but in the opposite direction.

“I don’t know if I’m going to get the country out of its economic problems, but I’m sure going to make a more fun country,” Menem once said. He relished the company of celebrities, hosting the Rolling Stones and Madonna in Buenos Aires, and memorably shrugged off criticism after receiving a red Ferrari as a gift from an Italian businessman in 1990.

“It is mine, mine and mine,” Menem, an auto racing fan, said in front of television cameras. “Why would I donate it?”

Later, he reluctantly agreed to auction off the car for $135,000, with the proceeds going to state coffers.

The son of Syrian immigrants whose family owned a winery, Menem was a folksy, three-time governor of northwestern La Rioja Province, noted for shoulder-length hair and muttonchop sideburns when he came to international prominence.

He won the Peronist Party nomination and surged to victory in 1989 presidential elections, capitalizing on economic and social chaos in Argentina. The country was mired in 5,000% annual inflation and the poor were sacking supermarkets to obtain food.

Under Menem, the economy registered strong growth, inflation dropped to single digits and the peso, the national currency, enjoyed unprecedented stability as it was pegged to the U.S. dollar. The long hair and sideburns were gone and the flashy clothes replaced by imported, hand-made suits.

The core of Menem’s recovery plan, masterminded by energetic Harvard-educated Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, was the withdrawal of the state from the economy.

Menem removed controls on prices and interest rates. He sold the state-owned phone company, airlines, race tracks, steel mills and the oil giant YPF, then South America’s largest company. He cut the state payroll and encouraged foreign investment. He curbed once-powerful labor unions that formed the backbone of the Peronist movement and were angered by state payroll cuts that eliminated jobs.

In foreign affairs, Menem withdrew Argentina from the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War-era structure that had espoused independence from the United States and — less so — the Soviet Union, and forged strong ties with Washington.

Argentine troops participated in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq and joined U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

During Menem’s tenure, Argentina was the scene of deadly bombings — against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and a Jewish center in 1994. Argentina accused Iran of involvement; Iran denied it. Menem was later tried for the alleged cover-up of those responsible for the attack on the Jewish center, but was found not guilty in a trial in 2019.

As president, Menem prevailed in disputes with the Argentine military, whose 1976 coup had led to the extrajudicial killings and disappearances of tens of thousands of people. He trimmed armed forces spending and abolished the highly unpopular military conscription system.

He dismayed human rights groups by granting a pardon to former military junta members serving sentences of up to life in prison for crimes connected to the disappearance of Argentine dissidents during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. The pardon was extended to former guerrillas in what Menem described as a process of national reconciliation.

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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

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Opinion | With No Votes to Spare, Biden Gets a Win Obama and Clinton Would Have Envied

Before you join the chorus, you might want to check in with the last two Democratic presidents. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both landed in office with much bigger majorities, and ended up taking it on the chin anyway. Despite the narrowest of majorities to get anything done, Biden, in fact, may be in a much better position.

When Clinton came to power in 1993, he had wide majorities in both houses: 57 Democrats in the Senate, and 258 Democrats in the House. But the resistance to his key economic package was so intense within his own party that his plan passed by just a single vote in both the House and the Senate, and only after important elements of that plan—like a gasoline tax—were thrown over the side to win the votes of suburban Democrats.

When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Democrats and their independent allies held 59 seats in the Senate, and when Al Franken finally claimed his seat months later, they had a supermajority of 60—enough to overcome a filibuster. But in order to hold those votes, the Obama Administration had to keep the cost of its Great Recession stimulus package under $1 trillion—an amount, his team later conceded, was too small to trigger a robust recovery. Similarly, in order to get reluctant Democrats like Joe Lieberman to vote for the Affordable Care Act, the White House had to kill the public health-insurance option, which left progressive Democrats disheartened. (As Obama accounts in his memoir, “A Promised Land,” the handwringing from members of his own party took much of the shine off his signature achievement as president, the biggest expansion of health care since Medicare.)

The two ex-presidents also share a common, painful experience with the political consequences of their battles. Clinton’s tax and budget initiatives were aimed at reducing the then-unacceptable budget deficit of some $250 billion—a deficit that helped propel independent candidate Ross Perot to 19 percent of the vote in 1992. (I hope you realize we’ve become Eisenhower Republicans, Clinton groused to his staff.) The policy ultimately worked—Washington was running a huge surplus by the end of the Clinton years—but in the short term it was a political liability, leading to the loss of both houses of Congress in 1994.

For Obama, the slow pace of the recovery and the Republicans’ relentless political attacks on Obamacare led to massive midterm losses in 2010 at every level. The House turned Republican, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and 18 state legislatures turned red—a political upheaval that is still tormenting Democrats as they watch those legislatures push through voter suppression laws that will shape American elections for years to come.

But this time, Democrats may be able to provide a more upbeat answer to a question the approach of Passover inspires: “Why is this one-vote victory different from the other one-vote victories?”

This time, the benefits to tens of millions of Americans will be clear: $1,400 in bank accounts; extended jobless benefits; expanded childcare help. Donald Trump understood the impact of such assistance when he insisted his name be on the checks sent to American households. Joe Biden won’t be as blatant, but the direct aid will be a sharp contrast to what happened under Obama’s stimulus, when most Americans didn’t even realize they were getting a tax cut. It’s a sharp departure as well from the impact of Obamacare, where the benefits did not begin until long after the bill was passed, and after the midterm elections as well.

And this time, the bill that was passed was backed by enormous majorities of the citizenry—polls suggest that as many as 75 percent support the Covid plan, including clear majorities of Republicans. This suggests that the unanimous opposition to the plan by Congressional Republicans may leave the party with a political posture at a polar extreme from where they were in 1994 and 2009. The GOP was able to (inaccurately) pin Clinton with the “largest tax increase in history”; they were able to characterize the Obama stimulus and the Affordable Care Act as a giveaway to “those people.” But if the polls are right, Republican efforts to paint the Covid relief as a “blue state bailout” or a “Pelosi payoff” aren’t working.

More significant, if the impact of $1,400 payments, the vaccination assistance and the other elements of the plan are really felt back home—by voters, who notice the difference in their bank accounts and their health—it is actually conceivable that the line “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” could become something other than the punchline of a joke.

It is, of course, possible that all those proposals that fell by the wayside—the $15 minimum wage, higher income limits on the stimulus checks, bigger jobless benefit—will trigger so much grousing from progressives that Biden has trouble keeping his own side of the aisle in line. If they’re thinking about 2022, they should be careful how much complaining they do. With the slimmest possible of majorities, Biden managed to push through something whose potential political payoff his two Democratic predecessors would have envied.

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The Democrats who could take Cuomo’s place

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The Democrats who could take Cuomo's place

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi or another state legislator

Why they can win: Democrats have an extremely deep bench in the state Legislature. Dozens of their 150 members are more viable than state Sen. George Pataki was 20 months before the 1994 election, when he beat Mario Cuomo, and it’s certainly possible that some unexpected rank-and-file member will launch a serious campaign.

The two legislators who are mentioned most often are Biaggi and state Sen. Jessica Ramos. Both are part of the young freshman class that helped their party take an operative majority in their chamber in 2018. And both would have a good chance at winning the support of the Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party. Biaggi has already been acting like a primary candidate, spending recent weeks at the forefront of opposition to the Cuomo administration.

One wild card: Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the highest-ranking lawmaker in the state Senate. Nobody would have a better chance at clearing the room with a campaign declaration than Stewart-Cousins, whose tenure leading the historically factional Democratic conference has been met with rave reviews from moderates and socialists alike.

Why they can’t win: Pataki was able to win by latching onto then-Sen. Al D’Amato’s statewide campaign apparatus. There are some groups with a statewide presence with whom candidates like Biaggi or Ramos can ally — most prominently, the Working Families Party. But their major successes in recent years have come in legislative or congressional campaigns, and they’ve yet to prove they can be the decisive factor in a statewide race.

Candidates can, of course, build their own networks. But particularly for those who have minimal name recognition outside of a district that represents less than 2 percent of the state, that’s the type of organizing they would need to get started on very soon.

As for Stewart-Cousins, the biggest obstacle standing in her way is that she’s never given the slightest hint that she’s interested in statewide office.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick

Why he can win: Myrick might be in a unique position. At 33, he’s already been the focus of numerous effusive national profiles for topics like his recent efforts to enact the most sweeping police reforms in the country, and he would have as good a chance as anybody to win over the newly energized young leftists.

Unlike other progressive candidates who are similarly well-positioned, his tenure as the mayor of an upstate city — albeit a small and atypical one — would put him less at risk of laying an egg north of Yonkers.

Why he can’t win: While he might be able to avoid the attacks that he’s a “New York City socialist,” he’s still pretty far to the left. Democrats might have shifted in that direction in recent years, but there’s still not a lot of evidence that positions like defunding the police and establishing heroin injection sites will win over voters in Hempstead.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

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Trump’s last national security advisor to return to LA law firm

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Trump’s last national security advisor to return to LA law firm

Robert O’Brien, who was former President Donald Trump’s last national security advisor, is rejoining the law firm he co-founded in Los Angeles, according to a person familiar with the matter.

O’Brien recently moved back to LA and is returning to Larson LLP, a litigation firm, with around 30 lawyers, that he started in 2016 with former federal judge Stephen G. Larson. O’Brien will be Of Counsel to the firm and will have an international practice on arbitration. Last month, the Nixon Foundation announced that O’Brien would co-chair its foundation’s monthly foreign policy seminar with former Secretaries of State Mike Pompeo and Henry Kissinger.

O’Brien, who arguably had the lowest public profile of Trump’s four national security advisors, prioritized focusing on America’s geostrategic competition with China and also worked on the Abraham Accords and economic normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, among other foreign policy issues. A fierce advocate on television for Trump’s policies, he also downsized the NSC’s staff. He also drew negative attention in two complaints filed by whistleblowers.

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