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FOREIGN REPORTFOREIGN REPORT
Is the State of the Union Strong?
Lim Jae Heun  |  professorcool@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2015.03.04  23:14:48
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 The State of the Union speech, which was delivered on January 20, addressed some serious issues that the United States (U.S.) faces today. It also mentioned what direction the country will take this year. Unlike President Obama’s previous addresses, this speech contained different future policies about the economy, climate change, and national security. As a result, his plans triggered a shift of policy in other countries as well, not just his own.

 

   
▲ Provided by politicalears.com.

Since former President George Washington, the tradition of the State of the Union speech has been going on to this day, and its purpose has stayed the same, which has been to inform the conditions of the nation and the legislative agenda to the citizens. By regularly delivering the speech, the President carries out the rules set by Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Prior to the creation of public media such as radio or television, the President presented a written report to the Congress. The speech broadcasted on Monday covered many important topics such as the cyberattacks last December from North Korea. The subjects addressed include the following: Middle Class Economics, climate change, and confrontation of terror attacks. 

 

The Economic Condition of the Union 

Most of the previous 43 president claimed that the state of the union was “strong” and President Obama stated that the U.S. can now “turn the page” on the financial crisis. During his presidential term, unemployment rates did fall, the national deficit shrank, and the national oil prices plummeted. With these good numbers, President Obama argued that Middle Class Economics worked, which referred to the traditional tactic of the Democratic Party, taxing the rich and helping blue collar workers. In fact, his plan sharply increases capital-gains tax for the wealthy, new taxes on big banks, and the nullification of liability capital-gains taxes on the deceased.


This plan addressed the budget proposal presented on February 3, amidst the great disapproval. The Republicans criticized by arguing that Obama’s big spending will give unneeded economic support to the middle class and ultimately cause even more longterm spending problems such as a national deficit. That is why the Republicans instead recommend huge cuts in spending, commonly known as the “sequester.” Moreover, they want to stop the President from taxing the top one percent.
 
   
▲ State of the Union speech. Provided by forbes.com.

Republicans do have a point. If President Obama’s 4 trillion dollar budget passes, it will produce a 474 billion dollar deficit for fiscal year 2016, amounting to a total deficit of 639 billion dollar. This proposal, however, consists of only about 2.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which indicates that the deficits remain stable compared to the economic output of the nation. In addition, statistics show that it will decrease the long-term debt.

Despite the Republican’s harsh criticism against the proposal, it does manage to parallel itself with Middle Class Economics. According to Kim Gunn, the Deputy Director-General for North American Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “It will help out the middle class citizens by training the work force, providing child care, and making community college free when at the same time funding the nation’s roads and bridges using the taxes levied from the wealthy.” In addition the extra 74 billion dollar will be invested in manufacturing, defense, and medical research, national priorities which will bring back promising results.
 
   
▲ President Obama delivering the speech in front of Congressmen. Provided by thedailybeast.com.

The Status on Climate Change
The President finally decided to give an update on the current status of the nation’s energy situation. He staunchly confirmed the plan to “fight climate change” and strongly declared that he will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany,” indicating that, according to Kim, he now views climate change as a threat to national security. These statements are remarkable in that in the State of the Union address of 2011, climate was not even an issue.

Before the address, President Obama presented his climate action plan on 2013. The goals of the action plan were to curb carbon pollution, prepare for climate change, and lead global efforts to address climate change. All of these ambitious plans were reiterated by the commander-in-chief during the address, and the funding will come from the increase in spending.

Obama’s commitments, however, were half-baked. He raised the climate issue but tapped previously virgin oil sources, thus making the U.S the number one in oil reserves escalated natural gas production. Kim commented that undertaking these tasks at the same time does not make sense because production of one goes against the production of the other. Commonly known fact is that the drilling of oil results in higher greenhouse gases, which renders all the efforts done by alternative energy futile.
   
▲ Polar bear doll holding up a warning sign. Provided by greenpeaceblogs.org.

 
   
▲ Graphical representation of solar power costs. Provided by costofsolar.com.
 
His administration will soon organize offshore drilling in the next five years. Previously undisturbed areas, the Southeastern coast, from Virginia to Georgia, and even some parts of the Arctic will be opened up for oil harvesting. This move was quickly met with harsh criticism from environmentalist groups such as the Alaska Wilderness League. Although it was told that some parts of the Arctic were to be set aside, the executive director, Cindy Shogan, expressed her discontent by arguing that “All Arctic leasing should be off the table.” Basically, President Obama was telling the American citizens a half-truth when he boasted in the speech that “We’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history.”

President Obama, however, has taken some notable action after making the speech. Just about a week after the address, the President made a trip to India to discuss with the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, about collaborating to develop better renewable energy sources and combat climate change. He further revealed that U.S. companies are eager to fund Indian renewable energy projects. This trip, however, was condemned by adversaries that the development of renewable energy sources other than solar and wind power was pointless. Opponents claim that solar and wind power are advancing at such a fast pace that they beat nuclear energy in terms of production cost, energy prices, safety, and environmental impacts.

Just like the claims of the adversaries, solar power, in fact, has been more successful than nuclear energy. The costs have been decreasing for the past 30 years due to developments in advanced materials. In addition, the number of panels has doubled. If solar power continues at this rate, it will meet current consumption standards. President Obama, on the other hand, did not believe in this energy source to the very end, after many of the solar power companies that he supported in the past have failed to bring back promising results.

The President’s efforts, however, are inconclusive. President Obama, a Democrat, has made a climate deal with China that pledges to limit carbon emission, but this treaty was not legally binding in any way,meaning that President Obama’s successor could make it void through an executive action. The President also issued climate change actions in 2013 to curb emissions, but this achievement was challenged by Republicans, who has made numerous lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the new environmental regulations. Republicans and Democrats have disagreed on which direction the country should take in terms of climate change, and the President’s efforts seem to be safe only if the Democratic Party takes over the White House again.

The Situation on National Security
Probably the most important issue of all raised by the President would be the issue of intra-national and international security. As the commander-in-chief, the President is obligated to do whatever it takes to protect the citizens from threats. The most recent threat happened via the Internet on November 24 2014, when Sony Pictures Entertainment was battered by North Korean cyberattacks, which included blackouts of the entire company’s computers and leakage of vital information such as employee emails and upcoming movies.

In response to these blows, the President announced that he will not go soft on the attacks, stating that he will soon propose a new defense strategy that will ensure that America is safe from cyberthreats. After delivering the speech, he flew to the United Kingdom (UK) to discuss with the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, about the creation of a program that will strengthen the cooperation between the two nations.

   
▲ Warning message during 2014 Sony Pictures Entertainment Hack . Provided by dailytech.com.
 
Despite the President’s efforts, Ashton Carter, the nominee for Defense secretary, was not convinced about the security of the nation. During his February four nomination hearing, he claimed that “Not only is our civilian infrastructure susceptible to cyberattack, but we have to be concerned about our military infrastructure.” Moreover, he revealed that a number of countries such as Russia, China, and North Korea all possess a very complex method of cyberattacking and the U.S. should do a lot more if it wants to be safe from these potentially dangerous means of attacking networks.

Obama’s vast propositions also lack the harvesting of white hackers. White hackers, as opposed to black hackers who “violate computer security for little reason beyond maliciousness for personal gain,” break security for harmless, benign reasons, such as to test its own security system and find bugs to fix the system. By training a group of computer hackers as such, the country will be more secure against threats of cyberterrorism.

The Effects of the Address
President Obama made his third State of the Union address, which included the broad topics of the
economy, the environment, and national security. But what do all these policies mean for Korea? In the address, he revealed that he will continuously push for the establishment of “modernized alliances” with Asia-Pacific countries. This modernization is in response to the recent cyber-skirmish between the U.S. and North Korea, and it will strengthen the already strong military alliance between the U.S. and Korea. Moreover, a bipartisan support for the U.S.- Korea alliance was shown in the 114th Congress Committee, indicating that there will not be any huge shift of policies in relation to the address.
 

 

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