A State of the Union Bounce?

It's still too soon to gauge whether or not Barack Obama received a lasting bounce from his State of the Union address last week -- but we are beginning to get an indication that he has received a short-term-bounce, at the least.

In Gallup polling in the field from January 25 through 27, the last survey in the field almost entirely before Barack Obama's speech, the President's approval rating stood at 47 percent -- matching an all-time low in the poll -- with 46 percent disapproving. 

Today's numbers from Gallup are significantly more bullish for the President. In polling in the field January 30 through February 1, Barack Obama's approval rating is up a net 8 percentage points from before the State of the Union Address, with 51 percent approving and 42 percent disapproving. 

These numbers are volatile, and yet preliminary. But at this point, it appears that President Obama has seen positive movement out of his speech last week.

The Importance (Or Lack Thereof) of State of the Union Addresses

President Barack Obama gave a solid speech two nights ago, carefully explaining his policies and proposing new plans for helping the middle class.

The trouble is that nobody will remember it in a month.

Presidential speeches come in two types: those few that are enduring, and those many that do little more than fill a news cycle. The enduring ones have several things in common: they are generally made in a time of crisis, and they outline themes that constitute a hallmark of the presidency. For instance, in March 1947 President Harry Truman summarized the strategy of containment against the Soviet Union, which would guide U.S. policy for decades to come.

State of the Union addresses almost never fit either condition. One exception was in 2002, when President George W. Bush coined the term “Axis of Evil” – which for better or worse came to symbolize his administration’s policies. But other than that lone exception, not a single address (out of the hundreds given) has made any impression upon history.

Mr. Obama’s speech was not particularly memorable, either. It was not meant to be. The speech focused primarily on domestic issues like jobs and education; stuff like this a great speech does not make. There are probably at least five speeches the president has made which overshadow this one (funny how most of them were written by Obama himself). Indeed, I doubt that half the people at my college even knew that there was the State of the Union address yesterday.

Like last year’s address, this year’s will probably be quickly overshadowed by other news. Its likely that even the most politically passionate can’t recall a word of the 2009 quasi-State of the Union. And as for the 2008 address – most people probably don’t even remember Mr. Bush making it.

-- Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Weekly Mulch: Climate Change On Obama’s Back Burner

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on climate issues only briefly. He called on the Senate to pass a climate bill, but did not give Congress a deadline or promise to veto weak legislation. Nor did he mention the Copenhagen climate conference, where international negotiators struggled to produce an agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s attitude towards climate change still represents a remarkable shift from the Bush years, when global warming was treated as little more than a fairy tale. But in the past year, Congressional squabbling has stalled climate legislation, and international negotiators nearly gridlocked in talks over carbon admissions at the multinational Copenhagen conference. Without strong leadership from the president, work to prevent this looming environmental crisis will stall.

Obama did address global warming skeptics, saying that they should support investment in clean energy, “because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

“And America must be that nation,” Obama said.

No push for climate bill

Despite his combative language,  the president did not challenge Congress to push for real solutions to ballooning carbon emissions and energy consumption. As Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer notes, Obama “uttered the phrase ‘climate change’ precisely once.”

The Senate has already wait-listed the climate bill: Health care came first. With health care reform now in line behind work on jobs and bank regulation, climate legislation has little chance of passing the Senate in the coming months, let alone making it to the president’s desk.

If Congress lets this work wait until after the midterm elections, the United States will show up at international negotiations in December 2010 as a leader in carbon emissions yet again, but with little in hand to show a way forward.

Clean energy, not renewable energy

When the president did bring up climate issues, he focused on their connection between climate reform and potential job creation. Obama highlighted areas for growth, not in renewable energy fields like wind or solar power, but in nuclear power, natural gas, and clean coal.

Yes, these fuel sources could decrease the country’s carbon emissions. But they are not solutions that will revolutionize energy production. Grist’s David Roberts was floored that the speech omitted renewable energy entirely and kowtowed to a more conservative litany of energy projects. “I suppose it was done to flatter conservative Senators that will have to vote for the bill Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham are working on,” he writes. (The three Senators are working on a version of the climate bill designed to appeal to Republicans.)

“But the SOTU is not a policy negotiation,” Roberts says. “It’s a bully pulpit, a chance to shape rather than respond to existing narratives.”

Roberts argues that progressive supporters would benefit from a stronger message. If activists knew that the White House stands behind a real shift in America’s energy policy, they could use that prompt to drive action on climate change.

What was missing

While touting the virtues of off-shore drilling, Obama overlooked other policies that could broker real change. Although he admonished Congress to pass a climate bill, he did not pressure the legislature on what he’d like that bill to include. He did not mention cap-and-trade, the mechanism the House bill relies on to tamp down emissions and dirty energy use.

President Obama did touch on transportation reforms that could decrease the country’s use of fossil fuels.

“There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains,”  Obama said. He cited a high-speed rail project that broke ground on Tuesday in Tampa, FL, as evidence that America could best the rest of the world in creating new energy-efficient technology.

But one or two high-profile projects won’t be enough to challenge Europe’s network of high-speed trains or China’s investments in solar power. The White House could put the country at the forefront of sustainable technologies, but it’ll take more money than the president has committed. In AlterNet’s ideal state of the union, projects like the railway would merit sustained attention and funding. Funding for the high-speed train came from this year’s stimulus bill, and there’s no guarantee that similar projects will find federal funding in the future.

“Continued support is still needed” for green jobs and clean energy, Alternet’s editorial staff argues. “It’s unclear yet how Obama’s new proposal for a three-year spending freeze will apply to this sector, but a boost is what is needed, not cuts.”

Green jobs

Michelle Chen argues for In These Times that the president is right to subordinate climate issues to economic policy. “The jobs angle is more than sugar-coating,” she says. A recent Pew Research Center poll put climate change at the end of Americans’ long list of cares, and a Brookings Institution study found that they’re no longer willing to pay as much for greener products.

Jobless workers need green in their pockets most of all, and so far politicians’ promises haven’t made up for the slack economy.

“No matter how slick the marketing, confidence in green jobs may wilt even further absent real investments in the beleaguered blue-collar workforce,” Chen writes.

Copenhagen accord losing momentum

The small role that climate change played in the state of the union address only emphasized the downward momentum of the issue since the United Nations conference on global warming in Copenhagen. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes talked to six leaders in climate change activism, and none of them offered a different strategy than they had last year.

That same stasis is showing up in Europe, as well. Spain, which currently leads the European Union, proposed that the European Union’s negotiating position should remain the same as its position before the Copenhagen conference, according to Inter Press Service.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who’s working on climate change legislation in the Senate, offered advice to climate activists at a clean energy forum in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Mother JonesKate Sheppard reports that Sen. Kerry encouraged his audience to get angrier, louder, and more active, in the mode of the conservative Tea Partiers, who have earned plenty of attention. After his speech, he also recalled the tactics that pushed landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act through Congress.

If climate change is going to play a larger role in the next state of the union, the citizens and groups concerned about this issue need to do something to put it on the agenda. Otherwise, next year, the president may find it just as easy to skim over it again.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Finding immigration reform in Obama's State of the Union address

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Yesterday, President Obama addressed the issue of immigration reform in his State of the Union speech.

“We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system to secure our borders, enforce our laws and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”

Many in the immigration movement expected a more hard hitting message from the President who has appointed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to lead a bipartisan task force to address the issue – a message that focused on a path to citizenship, fair and just enforcement, family reunification, and workers rights. This mention seemed to indicate a movement by the administration to not lead but rather support immigration reform led by Congress. But not only should the President show strong leadership on the issue because immigration reform is a campaign promise, but also because it is the right and smart thing to do from many standpoints, including an economic one. Our immigration system is broken. Thousands are detained everyday in miserable conditions leading to senseless deaths. Families are separated all over the country. Immigration enforcement is stricken with racial profiling and due process violations.

Rep. Luis Guiterrez, who introduced the progressive CIRASAP immigration reform bill in the House this past December, has responded,

He (the President) did not go far enough for the four million American citizen children whose parents face deportation; the millions of Americans waiting to be reunited with loved ones overseas; hardworking Americans whose security is undermined in the workplace; or the $1.5 trillion lacking from our Gross Domestic Product, all in the absence of real reform.

Though he clearly supports the notion that our laws must reflect the contributions immigrants have made to literally build this country, it is clear to me that Congress cannot wait for the President to lay out our timeline for comprehensive reform.

And there are many who expect more.

12 million undocumented immigrants deserved more than those 38 words. “Continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system.” Does that imply that Congress or the White House have been already busy fixing our broken immigration system? Yes, Department of Homeland Security has been tweaking the system, re-examining Bush-era diktats, looking at the conditions of detention centers. But that’s not fixing a broken system, it’s not even duct taping it. That is just sweeping at the edges with a fly whisk.

There is a broad coalition that supports immigration reform including labor unions, immigration advocates, and faith leaders. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. And even though more and more studies are revealing the economic benefits of reform, it’s going to be a tough fight ahead.

 

Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers

The New York Times takes offense:

The president appeared to have mischaracterized the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn restrictions on corporate-paid political commercials by suggesting that the decision invited political advertisements by foreign companies, too.

[...]

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., a member of the majority in that decision, broke with the justices’ usual decorum to openly dissent. He shook his head no and mouthed the words “not true.”

The majority opinion in the case, Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, specifically disavowed a verdict on the question of foreign companies’ political spending.

“We need not reach the question of whether the government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our nation’s political process,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote. The court held that the First Amendment protected the right of American corporations to spend money on independent political commercials for or against candidates. Some analysts or observers have warned that the principle could open the door to foreign corporations as well.

President Obama called for new legislation to prohibit foreign companies from taking advantage of the ruling to spend money to influence American elections. But he is too late; Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1996, which prohibits independent political commercials by foreign nationals or foreign companies.

You can watch the exchange here:

While The Times' David D. Kirkpatrick, who wrote this brief, believes that he's doing a fact-check here, that he really caught President Obama, he didn't. Last week's Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case does exactly what the President says it does. To say otherwise is to mince words to the point of removing them of meaning.

It is true that the Supreme Court claimed not to be addressing the question of whether foreign money would be allowed in American elections. Yet at the same time, the Court opened up the door to unlimited corporate spending in American elections in a way that would almost undoubtedly lead to a flow of foreign capital into our politics.

Publicly traded corporations based in this country have foreign shareholders just as they have American ones. It is hard to envision a feasible rule going forward -- whether one devised by Congress or one envisioned by this Court -- that could create a genuine firewall to ensure that money originating from foreign shareholders would not seep into American elections. This is true not only for natural persons (actual people) who are citizens of other countries but also for foreign corporations and even sovereign wealth funds owned by foreign governments that own shares of nominally American corporations allowed under Citizens United to spend freely in American elections. Unless the Court were to rule that no American corporation with any foreign ownership was subject to the new rule in Citizens United -- a holding that would remove from the scope of Citizens United virtually any and all publicly traded corporations (presumably all of which have at least a single foreign shareholder) -- it is unclear exactly how Congress or state legislatures would be able to stem the flow of foreign capital into American elections. A subsequent decision that limits are permitted on entirely foreign-owned subsidiaries incorporated in the United States would not go nearly far enough.

So in the fact-check of The Times' fact-check, I give the paper a thumbs down, and firmly believe that the President was correct in stating that foreign money -- including money stemming from foreign corporations -- appear to have been permitted at least to some extent under the recent Supreme Court opinion.

[UPDATE by Jonathan]: And just to add, if you watch the video, it's pretty clear that Justice Alito begins taking offense not at mention of foreign corporations, as The Times asserts, but rather when the President spoke about the decision's strengthening of the position of special interests.

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