Political Notebook

No fallen coconuts mar president’s visit

November 7, 2010

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MUMBAI, India — Staff security checks at the Gandhi museum before President Obama’s visit — check. But the coconut palm trees, too?

A few days before Obama’s visit yesterday, US and Indian security officials visited the small, two-story building and ordered the lopping off of ripe coconuts from the trees to prevent any accidental bonking.

“People do get hurt, or even killed, from falling coconuts. We had the ripe coconuts removed and some dried branches as well. Why take a chance?’’ said Meghshyam Ajgaonkar, executive secretary of the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum, located on a quiet street in this bustling commercial hub.

In preparation for the visit, the museum was shielded from onlookers and neighbors by a high white tent that covered almost the entire building. The street was closed to pedestrians. Police were positioned on neighboring buildings.

The first person to greet Obama as he stepped off his plane was Ashok Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra state. That honor might mark one of Chavan’s final acts in office.

The politician offered his resignation last weekend after media reports revealed that his relatives received coveted apartments in a Mumbai building meant to house wounded Indian war veterans and the widows of slain soldiers.

Chavan’s Congress Party had to decide whether to quickly install another chief minister to greet Obama, or to keep him in office until after the president’s visit. They decided to defer a decision on his fate.

Obama visited a monument honoring victims of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. It’s in a courtyard at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, where Obama is staying. The hotel was heavily damaged in the attacks but reopened in August.

The president and first lady signed a guest book and placed roses at a wall inscribed with names of the dead. Nearby, flowers floated in a small reflecting pool.

On the other side of the Indian border, Pakistan, Obama was criticized for visiting India. Some Pakistanis said he had given priority to New Delhi despite their country’s sacrifices in the US fight against terrorism.

“People are being killed here in bomb blasts and it is only happening because of Pakistan’s support to America in the war against terrorism, but look at the American president, who is visiting India instead of coming here,’’ said Huma Nawaz, 23, a university student in Islamabad.

Javed Rashid, a businessman from the central city of Multan, also said Obama’s visit clearly showed that Washington had better diplomatic ties with India.

“This is the failure of our foreign policy that Obama went to India,’’ Rashid said.

“Obama has insulted Pakistanis by traveling to India,’’ Rashid said.

— Associated Press

Extension of tax cuts again on front burner
WASHINGTON — President Obama is appealing to victorious Republicans to go along with his plan to extend tax cuts for the middle class, saying the election is over and it’s time to get down to business.

But it’s not fair, he says, to make permanent the George W. Bush-era cuts for the wealthiest because that would require the United States to borrow $700 billion more to pay for it.

“The campaign season is over,’’ the president said yesterday in his weekly radio and online address. “And it’s time to focus on our shared responsibilities and work together.’’

Obama’s long-standing position has been that individuals with incomes less than $200,000 a year and couples making less than $250,000 should continue to enjoy the tax cuts enacted during Bush’s presidency, but that those making more should return to the higher rates before Bush took office. The cuts, enacted in 2001 and 2003, are due to expire Dec. 31.

Republicans said last week that they strongly favor renewing all the Bush tax cuts, given the struggling economy.

The White House said after stinging midterm elections for Democrats that Obama is willing to consider a compromise for a one- or two-year extension of all the tax cuts.

Senator-elect Marco Rubio of Florida said in the Republican address that lawmakers owe it to the voters to make a course correction from government spending and deficits.

— Associated Press