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Good news from President Obama, bad news from reality: Obama gave an uplifting speech at Georgetown University yesterday, but bad news from the Labor and Commerce departments made his pep talk sound a little hollow. The president is preparing for a cool welcome at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago at the end of the week, where Latin American leaders will likely interrogate the United States over its responsibility for the global economic crisis. Mexico has its own problems with the United States as it continues to fight the drug violence that plagues the country, but Obama's visit Thursday and his announcement of a new "border czar" could help alleviate the problems. It's a wash—Obama gets no points on the Change-o-Meter.
Obama's speech was part of his somber presidency, which has contrasted with his hope-filled campaign—a change that has drawn criticism from some opposition leaders. But while his speech could have offered comfort to people looking for glimmers of hope, reports that the consumer price index fell by 0.1 percent and retail sales had dropped by 1.1 percent in March (reflecting decreased demand despite low prices) cast a cloud over Obama's attempt to soothe the nation. All these signs point to a continuing downturn, so the 'Meter takes 10 points.
Though Obama was met with smiles and good cheer during his recent visit to London for the G20, a different hemisphere is a different story. At the Summit of the Americas on Friday, Obama will face some of his harshest international critics: Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, and Bolivia's Evo Morales. Many Latin American countries have suffered greatly in the downturn, including Venezuela, whose oil exports have shrunk as demand has declined during the recession. The 'Meter withholds points for now—who knows, maybe the president's charm will draw some thumbs-ups during this summit, too—but the gathering will undoubtedly put Obama's diplomatic skills to the test.
Before the summit, Obama will stop in Mexico, a trip that emphasizes U.S. concern for the violence that continues in that country. Obama also named former U.S. attorney and Justice Department official Alan Bersin "border czar" on Tuesday to tackle drug-related violence and illegal immigration, two major U.S. and Mexican problems. Bersin previously led government crackdowns on illegal immigrants on the California-Mexico border. He has been criticized for his role in these crackdowns, which some say only shifted illegal immigration to more treacherous desert terrain to the east. Given the torrential problems along the border, however, the 'Meter isn't too piqued over having an enforcer on the job. Ten points.
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