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Obama tears into greed in Wall St, Washington

US President Barack Obama has decried a culture of greed and “gaudy short-term” profits soaking Washington and Wall Street that he says sparked a time of “extraordinary” crisis.

business Updated: May 14, 2009 22:19 IST

US President Barack Obama has decried a culture of greed and “gaudy short-term” profits soaking Washington and Wall Street that he says sparked a time of “extraordinary” crisis.

Obama told 9,000 graduating students at Arizona State University (ASU) on Wednesday that they were coming of age in a time of great peril, beset by the two wars — economic turmoil, climate change, nuclear proliferation and the threat of pandemics.

“We gather here tonight in times of extraordinary difficulty, for the nation and for the world,” Obama said.

America’s plight, he argued, could be largely blamed on political and economic elites, and on a culture that prized “me first” materialism as the top measure of success.

“It's in chasing titles and status — in worrying about the next election rather than the national interest and the interests of those who you are supposed to represent that politicians so often lose their way in Washington,” Obama said.

“It was in pursuit of gaudy short-term profits, and the bonuses that came with them, that so many folks lost their way on Wall Street.

“The trappings of success may be a by-product of this larger mission, but it can’t be the central thing. Just ask Bernie Madoff,” Obama said, in a swipe at the disgraced New York financier accused of a massive fraud.

He said the remedy for such excess was a “fundamental change of perspective and attitude,” a new foundation for the economy, healthcare, energy policy and education.

The speech was the first of three commencement addresses Obama is set to deliver this year, several of which have been touched by controversy.

An ASU official said that Obama would not be rewarded an honorary degree because his “body of work is yet to come,” touching off a sharp row over other apparently less qualified people who have received the honour.

Defusing the controversy, the US President said he heartily concurred that “I haven’t done enough in my life.

“Even a title like President of the United States says very little about how well one’s life has been led — that no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there’s always more to do, always more to learn and always more to achieve.”

On Sunday, Obama is due to deliver the commencement address at the famed Roman Catholic University at Notre Dame University in Indiana, where his support for abortion rights is likely to draw protests.