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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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IPS Blog

Entries tagged "State Of The Union"

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SOTU: Parsing Obama's 'Clean Energy' Promises

January 26, 2011 ·

Tellingly, President Barack Obama didn't utter the two words "climate change" once in his State of the Union speech. He did, however, mention "clean energy" several times.

Read these sentences carefully:

"So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen."

What's happening behind the scenes is that Democrats and Republicans believe that a so-called "clean energy standard" is the way forward on climate change. It takes the word "standard," which environmentalists had successfully paired up with the two words "renewable energy" — as in "renewable energy standard," and perverts its meaning. What once meant a renewable energy target that the nation should shoot for — reliance on wind, solar, and other truly clean, renewable energy — is now becoming conflated with the same old dirty energy of the past: coal, nuclear power, and natural gas.

Code for 'Clean Coal'

But what Obama suggests is that this is a divide to be bridged, that we can move forward with all the old, dirty forms of energy, and maybe add in some wind and solar. The truth is that "clean energy" in this instance is code for "clean coal" (an oxymoron if there ever was one), nuclear power, and natural gas. And "clean coal" and nuclear power are so expensive that they'll starve truly clean energy options in the cradle, and will saddle future generations with debt, radioactive waste, and climate chaos.

The other goal Obama mentioned that has climate implications is high-speed rail. As oil becomes more expensive, this form of transportation will be desperately needed. So hearing this commitment — "within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car" — is welcome news. Will Congress follow through with funding for such a bold initiative? Don't hold your breath.

So, too, his mention of "one million electric cars" coming online is good news, but only if we have a grid that's largely powered by clean and renewable energy. Otherwise, it simply means a greater growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

It's worth noting that Obama made no mention of the state of scientific integrity and openness within his administration, despite making clear in his inaugural address two years ago that science had become politicized to the point of interference with sound scientific policy. Today, scientific openness remains almost as constrained as it was under the previous administration, when climate scientists were muzzled by their media handlers. Obama must take this issue on from his bully pulpit, and not leave it to the Office of Management and Budget to determine what science passes the "cost-benefit" evaluation of economists and what remains off limits for public discussion.

Scrapping Subsidies

Obama did propose ending subsidies for oil companies, adding, "I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own." He also offered a catchy slogan: "Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s."

However, as long as the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling stands, allowing unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, including large oil companies, it's unlikely that Congress will embrace this proposal.

Obama made no mention of the worst oil spill in U.S. history which occurred less than a year ago. It's also worth noting that the recommendations that emerged from the oil spill commission's findings on the BP oil disaster will require a Congress not beholden to the oil industry to act on those recommendations. Without action, a catastrophe like the BP disaster is likely to recur, according to the commission.

Yet by staying silent on this spill, on the commission's findings, as well as on the disastrous public health and environmental fallout that persists today as a result of the EPA's decision to allow dispersants to be used in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama has let down thousands of fisher-folk and others in the region who are paying for this disaster with their livelihoods and their health.

SOTU: Free the People

January 26, 2011 ·

With 2.3 million prisoners in the United States (about one quarter of all the prisoners on the planet), it's a shame President Barack Obama didn't bring up criminal justice reform.

It's one of the few areas in which the U.S. is still No. 1. We incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, and nearly one quarter of our prisoners are there for nonviolent drug offenses.

Even far right figures like Newt Gingrich have pleaded for prison reform because it's breaking our budgets — especially at the state level. Moreover, Rev. Pat Robertson has called for decriminalizing marijuana because jail is "costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people."

Even though this is a traditional third-rail issue, there's tremendous political cover for Obama to come out for reform. Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all admitted to drug use. Obama himself wrote about his use of marijuana and cocaine.

These facts raise an important question of fairness: Would a good stiff prison sentence have been good for them and their careers? If not, then why is it so good for everyone else (especially poor people and people of color)? What message does that then send to kids? "Don't get caught?"

The budgetary and political stars are finally aligned for serious criminal justice reform. Just yesterday, a group of former world leaders and other dignitaries came out against the drug war. With this much political cover, he would be practically impervious to jabs from the right.

Must we wait for another epoch before they realign to do what is right? Please lead, sir.

SOTU: Really, Mr. President?

January 26, 2011 ·

The following is a summary of the analysis IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis made of President Barack Obama's foreign policy comments during the State of the Union address. It's included in the interactive transcript on PBS NewsHour's website.

President Barack Obama
I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Phyllis Bennis
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, from President Obama’s own party, said just this morning that we have to “look at the war in Afghanistan” when he was asked where he would cut the budget. He’s right.

Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts has called for a very moderate 25 percent cut in the defense budget. If we’re serious about jobs for the 15 million unemployed and health care for still tens of millions without insurance, that 25 percent cut is going to have to be just the first step.

President Barack Obama
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment
has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.

Of course, as we speak, al-Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.

Phyllis Bennis
But there are 50,000 U.S. troops still occupying Iraq. The "new government" has been formed, but it is widely discredited, riddled with corruption, and incompetent and unable to provide even the basics of electricity, security, jobs.

The war will not be over until all the U.S. troops come home, all the U.S.-paid contractors (those paid by the State Department as well as the Pentagon) are no longer on our payroll, and Iraq's people have a government they choose.

President Barack Obama
We have also taken the fight to al-Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Phyllis Bennis
Are we really hearing that the war in Afghanistan – where our own officials admit our top ally is corrupt; where more Afghan civilians and more U.S. troops died last year than ever before; where our other friendly neighbor, Pakistan, continues to shelter guerrilla forces attacking the U.S. across the border – is somehow going well? All our political and military leaders admit this war cannot be won militarily; why do we continue to fight a war as if it could be? We have more than 100,000 U.S. troops occupying Afghanistan, plus another 100,000 or so U.S.-paid mercenaries. They’re not winning. This is a war we cannot win and we cannot afford…

Is President Obama going to say anything about the latest failure in U.S.-brokered peace talks in the Middle East? Or is he just hoping we’re not paying attention, and that we’re fine with paying $30 billion over these ten years directly to the Israeli military, money that could be used for 600,000 new green jobs here at home?

President Barack Obama
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

Phyllis Bennis
It’s about time. The long-time dictator in Tunisia, just ousted by a popular revolt, was backed politically and militarily by the U.S. for more than two decades.

President Barack Obama
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by
enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.

Phyllis Bennis
Let’s really support the troops – let’s end the terrible failing wars in which they are forced to serve, and bring them home. Let’s provide real health care when they return, and rebuild an economy that provides jobs for young people rather than have them drafted by poverty, lack of money for school, lack of jobs, lack of options.

SOTU: Use Newfound Corporate Tax Revenue to Invest in America

January 26, 2011 ·

In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama zeroed in on the ways that corporations have gamed the tax code, saying:

"Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change."

It's encouraging that Obama is zeroing in on the myriad abuses in the corporate tax code.

Unfortunately, he repeats the tired canard of anti-tax groups that complain about our "highest in the world" tax rates. It is true that statutorily, the U.S. has a high 35 percent corporate income tax rate. But the effective rate — the percentage of income actually paid in taxes — is considerably lower than in most industrial countries.

How low? According to a Bush administration Treasury Department report from 2007, U.S. corporations paid an effective rate of 13.4 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes during the years 2000-2005. Corporations in OECD countries on average paid 16.1 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes.

President Obama called on lawmakers to simplify the system, eliminate loopholes and level the playing field. He pressed them to "use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit." By broadening the base and eliminating loopholes, Congress could lower the tax rates without reducing deficits. But revenue shouldn't just go back to corporations in the form of a rate cut. Some of this revenue should be used for long overdue investments in education, health care, and energy retrofits. Citizens for Tax Justice, in a report released shortly before Obama's speech, called for "revenue-positive reform of the corporate income tax."

On the positive side, he called for eliminating tax breaks for the oil industry — and shifting incentives to support clean and renewable energy. He was quiet about the overseas tax havens and global tax-dodging that has gotten completely out of hand.

Cracking down on corporate tax dodgers could be a unifying theme in the new Congress.

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