SOTU review and reaction


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President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., watch, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., watch, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


President Donald Trump turns to House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watches, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watchrd, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


Trump calls for bipartisanship, a hard line on immigration

By JULIE PACE and CATHERINE LUCEY

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Face to face with emboldened Democrats, President Donald Trump called on Washington to cast aside “revenge, resistance and retribution” and end “ridiculous partisan investigations” in a State of the Union address delivered at a vulnerable moment for his presidency.

Trump appealed Tuesday night for bipartisanship but refused to yield on the hard-line immigration policies that have infuriated Democrats and forced the recent government shutdown. He renewed his call for a border wall and cast illegal immigration as a threat to Americans’ safety and economic security.

Trump accepted no blame for his role in cultivating the rancorous atmosphere in the nation’s capital, and he didn’t outline a clear path for collaborating with Democrats who are eager to block his agenda. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.

Trump is staring down a two-year stretch that will determine whether he is re-elected or leaves office in defeat. His speech sought to shore up Republican support that had eroded slightly during the recent government shutdown and previewed a fresh defense against Democrats as they ready a round of investigations into every aspect of his administration.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he declared. Lawmakers in the cavernous House chamber sat largely silent.

Looming over the president’s address was a fast-approaching Feb. 15 deadline to fund the government and avoid another shutdown. Democrats have refused to acquiesce to his demands for a border wall, and Republicans are increasingly unwilling to shut down the government to help him fulfill his signature campaign pledge. Nor does the GOP support the president’s plan to declare a national emergency if Congress won’t fund the wall.

Wary of publicly highlighting those intraparty divisions, Trump made no mention of an emergency declaration in his remarks. He did offer a lengthy defense of his call for a border wall, declaring: “I will build it.” But he delivered no ultimatums about what it would take for him to sign legislation to keep the government open.

“I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country,” he said, painting a dark and foreboding picture of the risks posed to Americans by illegal immigration.

The 72-year-old Trump harkened back to moments of American greatness, celebrating the moon landing as astronaut Buzz Aldrin looked on from the audience and heralding the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. He led the House chamber in singing happy birthday to a Holocaust survivor sitting with first lady Melania Trump.

“Together, we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history. What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?” Trump said.

The president ticked through a litany of issues with crossover appeal, including boosting infrastructure, lowering prescription drug costs and combating childhood cancer. But he also appealed to his political base, both with his harsh rhetoric on immigration and a call for Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the “late-term abortion of children.”

Trump devoted much of his speech to foreign policy, another area where Republicans have increasingly distanced themselves from the White House. He announced details of a second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un , outlining a Feb. 27-28 summit in Vietnam.

Trump and Kim’s first summit garnered only a vaguely worded commitment by the North to denuclearize. But the president said his outreach to Pyongyang had made the U.S. safer.

“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” he said.

As he condemned political turmoil in Venezuela, Trump declared that “America will never be a socialist country” — a remark that may also have been targeted at high-profile Democrats who identify as socialists.

The president was surrounded by symbols of his emboldened political opposition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was praised by Democrats for her hard-line negotiating during the shutdown, sat behind Trump as he spoke. And several senators running for president were also in the audience, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams , delivered the party’s response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become America’s first black female governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for U.S. Senate from Georgia.

Speaking from Atlanta, Abrams calls the shutdown a political stunt that “defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values.”

Trump’s address amounted to an opening argument for his re-election campaign. Polls show he has work to do, with his approval rating falling to just 34 percent after the shutdown, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

One bright spot for the president has been the economy, which has added jobs for 100 straight months.

“The only thing that can stop it,” he said, “are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations” — an apparent swipe at the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as the upcoming congressional investigations.

The diverse Democratic caucus, which includes a bevy of women, sat silently for much of Trump’s speech. But they leapt to their feet when he noted there are “more women in the workforce than ever before.”

The increase is due to population growth — and not something Trump can credit to any of his policies.

The president also defended his decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan over the opposition from national security officials and many Republican lawmakers.

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said, adding that the U.S. is working with allies to “destroy the remnants” of the Islamic State group and that he has “accelerated” efforts to reach a settlement in Afghanistan.

IS militants have lost territory since Trump’s surprise announcement in December that he was pulling U.S. forces out, but military officials warn the fighters could regroup within six months to a year of the Americans leaving. Several leading GOP lawmakers have sharply criticized his plans to withdraw from Syria, as well as from Afghanistan.

Trump’s guests for the speech included Alice Marie Johnson, whose life sentence for drug offenses was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who has been bullied over his last name. They sat with Mrs. Trump during the address.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC and Catherine Lucey at http://twitter.com/catherine_lucey

The Conversation

Immigration, legislation, investigation and child poverty: 4 scholars respond to Trump’s State of the Union

Updated February 6, 2019

Authors: Matthew Wright, Assistant professor of government, American University School of Public Affairs

Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Chancellor’s Professor of Education and Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

Patricia Smith, Professor of Economics, University of Michigan

Robert Speel, Associate Professor of Political Science, Erie campus, Pennsylvania State University

Disclosure statement: Lisa Garcia Bedolla serves on the boards of Community Change Action, an Washington, DC-based organization that fights for immigrant rights and economic justice, and Courage Campaign, a California organization that advocates for progressive change across a number of issue areas.

Matthew Wright, Patricia Smith, and Robert Speel do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Michigan, Pennsylvania State University, and University of California provide funding as founding partners of The Conversation US. American University School of Public Affairs provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Editor’s note: In his second State of the Union address, President Donald Trump ranged from generous to combative, eloquent to blunt. He unexpectedly complimented the wave of recently elected Democratic women in the House, and they responded by applauding for themselves. And he spent a lot of time on a his favorite topic: immigration and the border wall. We asked four scholars to choose what they saw as key quotes and add context to the president’s speech.

Refugees now and refugees in history

Lisa García Bedolla, University of California, Berkeley

“The lawless state of our Southern Border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all Americans.”

The president framed the status of our southern border as “a moral issue.”

The problem is that his claim of morality flies in the face of history.

It is ironic that, later in the speech, President Trump recognized Holocaust survivors Judah Samet and Joshua Kaufman. Ironic because the international principle of accepting refugees in need arose from the events of World War II.

In June 1939, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all of whom were Jewish refugees, were turned away from the port of Miami.

The ship was forced to return to Europe and more than a quarter of the passengers died in the Holocaust. This was just one of the many stories of Jewish refugees being denied a haven in safe countries and subsequently dying at the hands of the Nazis.

Trump tried to turn this history on its head, arguing that Central American women and children walking thousands of miles to claim political asylum in the United States are a threat to American security and well-being.

He conflated their desperate circumstances to the atrocious crimes committed by human traffickers, drug dealers and those that prey on the innocent attempting to find a better life.

These tropes are not new; they have become standard – and repeatedly debunked – rhetorical fare from Trump.

Investigating doesn’t rule out legislating

Robert Speel, Pennsylvania State University

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

The implication of President Trump’s quote is that Congress will be unable to pass laws while investigations continue of alleged malfeasance related to him, his administration and his 2016 campaign.

However, investigations of recent presidents in U.S. history indicate that is not the case.

In 1973, in the midst of the Watergate investigations of President Richard Nixon, Congress approved and then overrode a presidential veto of the War Powers Act, a law that attempted to redefine presidential military and foreign policy powers in the modern age. During the same period, Congress also passed the Endangered Species Act, signed by President Nixon. Scientists participated in the writing of this landmark environmental legislation, which protected animal and plant species and ecosystems from unregulated development.

July 1974 was a crucial month for the federal government. The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Nixon and the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the president had to turn over Oval Office tape recordings subpoenaed as part of the Watergate investigation.

Something else happened that momentous month: Major legislation was passed by Congress.

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 changed the federal budget process to give Congress more control and prevent the president from refusing to spend funds approved by Congress.

And the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974 was passed to provide legal aid for lower income Americans.

In 1998, Congress and Independent Counsel Ken Starr were investigating allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice by President Bill Clinton.

That year, Congress approved the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act to prevent online marketing to children and collection of information from children. The law today continues to have a significant impact in limiting social media use by children.

Congress also approved that year, and President Clinton signed, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which expanded U.S. copyright laws into the digital world and complied with new international treaties on the issue.

So, while congressional investigations of a president, and “war” between the two branches may not make the legislative process particularly smooth, it is still possible for significant and long-lasting laws to pass.

No sign of a deal on immigration

Matthew Wright, American University School of Public Affairs

“Simply put, walls work and walls save lives. So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.”

Trump wants a “physical barrier” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to recent polling by Morning Consult/Politico, this is something registered voters are divided about in principle.

And it’s something they certainly do not want extracted as ransom for a functioning government. “Where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down,” Trump said.

Leave aside questions of where most illegal immigrants come from, how they arrive in the U.S., and the economic and social consequences of their presence. Forget about asking whether the president’s proposed solution would actually work.

Consider, instead, the politics of the deal President Trump wants to make.

Most importantly, he has offered Democrats nothing in return.

When Congress last seriously considered a bipartisan deal on immigration in January 2018, the Democrats’ price was permanent legal status for “Dreamers,” or children who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Trump refused that deal, which had just under US$2 billion in wall funding attached. He refused again when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, followed up with an offer of even more wall funding.

This January, Trump offered temporary legal status for Dreamers as a means of getting his wall funding and ending what was at that point a 29-day government shutdown. The Democrats rejected it as insufficient.

That deal now seems to be off the table. So besides the president’s word that his latest measure will freeze the Salvadorian street gang MS-13 in its tracks, it is not at all clear what the other side of this “deal” might look like for the Democrats.

The prospect of a deal that includes wall funding are even worse for Trump now than they were after he ended the last shutdown. Democrats remain both a legislative veto and an oversight threat, and they now know that if push comes to shove, Trump will fold. He has even called congressional negotiations a “waste of time.”

Aside from the usual rote appeals to bipartisanship, nothing tonight even hinted in this direction.

So if Trump wants to “get it built,” he will likely declare a national emergency as time runs out. This option is fraught with legal and political challenges, but he has entrenched himself so thoroughly that he may not see any choice.

Missing: A call to fight childhood poverty

Patricia Smith, University of Michigan-Dearborn

“Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children – born and unborn – are made in the holy image of God.”

The president said this while calling for an end to late-term abortions. But to me, as an economist who focuses on relationships between health and socioeconomic status, this reasoning calls on Americans to work harder to end childhood poverty.

Despite an economy that generates great wealth, the poverty rate among children in the U.S. is among the highest in the developed world by a variety of measures. Other developed countries, including those with smaller economies and lower average income, do a lot better than the U.S. in protecting their children from poverty.

About one-fifth of U.S. children are poor, and about 8 percent live in deep poverty – meaning their families must survive on income less than half of the poverty line.

It gets worse for children of color. About 28 percent of African-American children under the age of 6 live in high-poverty neighborhoods. The figure is 18 percent for Hispanics and 6 percent for white children.

But their loss isn’t just personal; it affects every American. The estimated annual economic cost of childhood poverty as result of lost productivity and higher rates of illness, crime and homelessness exceeds US$1 trillion.

I believe cherishing children by making sure poverty does not harm their health and opportunities to develop is a good economic investment.

Greece calls for reopening of Istanbul’s Orthodox seminary

By EMRAH GUREL

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 6

ISTANBUL (AP) — A potential move by Turkey to allow the reopening of a Greek Orthodox theology school on the island of Halki, off Istanbul, would help bring the two countries closer together, Greece’s prime minister said Wednesday.

During a visit to the site, Alexis Tsipras voiced hope that the seminary at Heybeli Island —known as Halki in Greek — can resume teaching after nearly half a century.

The Turkish government shut down the Theological School of Halki, which trained generations of Orthodox church leaders, in 1971 under a law that brought religious schools under state control. The closure of the Theological School of Halki has been one of a range of issues that have divided Greece and Turkey.

“I want to believe we are near the day when . these halls will once again ring with the happy laughter of students,” Tsipras said at the school where he also met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians who was educated at the Halki school.

Tsipras, who is ending a two-day visit to Turkey, became the first serving Greek prime minister to visit the seminary. The visit coincided with the day the seminary celebrates Patriarch Photios, who founded the school in 1844.

“Unfortunately, in the past 48 years, we have been celebrating this day without our professors and without the students,” said Bartholomew, who has long pushed for its reopening.

He expressed hope that the day the school would reopen “will not be far.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey is prepared to reopen the seminary if Greece takes steps to improve rights of Greece’s Muslim minority, including allowing them to elect their own religious leaders.

Bartholomew’s Patriarchate is based in Istanbul — former Constantinople — which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire until its conquest by Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tsipras visited Istanbul’s Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia church, which was converted into a mosque after the conquest and now serves as a museum.

Associated Press writers Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Greece and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

The Conversation

Foreign language classes becoming more scarce

February 6, 2019

Author: Kathleen Stein-Smith, Associate University Librarian; Adjunct Faculty, Fairleigh Dickinson University

Disclosure statement: Kathleen Stein-Smith does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Of all the skills that a person could have in today’s globalized world, few serve individuals – and the larger society – as well as knowing how to speak another language.

People who speak another language score higher on tests and think more creatively, have access to a wider variety of jobs, and can more fully enjoy and participate in other cultures or converse with people from diverse backgrounds.

Knowledge of foreign languages is also vital to America’s national security and diplomacy. Yet, according to the U.S Government Accountability Office, nearly one in four Foreign Service officers do not meet the language proficiency requirements that they should meet to do their jobs.

Despite all these reasons to learn a foreign language, there has been a steep decline in foreign language instruction in America’s colleges and universities. Researchers at the Modern Language Association recently found that colleges lost 651 foreign language programs from 2013 to 2016 – dramatically more than the one foreign language programs that higher education lost between 2009 and 2013. Reasons given for the trend include the lingering effects of the Great Recession, declining enrollment and more colleges dropping language requirements. For the purpose of the Modern Language Association study, programs are course offerings during a given semester, not entire departments.

At the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, for instance, officials announced plans to eliminate 13 majors – including French, German and Spanish – as part of an effort to cut costs.

As an author who has written extensively about the United States’ foreign language deficit, I’m concerned.

Scarce in schools

Part of the problem I see is that so few students in the United States – just 20 percent – study a foreign language at the K-12 level. At the college level, the number drops even lower, with only 7.5 percent of students enrolled in a foreign language course. And that percentage has been steadily declining in recent years. It could be due to the fact that more colleges have dropped foreign language requirements. Or students simply may not see the potential career benefits of studying a foreign language.

To put those statistics into perspective, consider the fact that in Europe, studying a foreign language is a “nearly ubiquitous experience.” This is because most European countries – unlike the United States – have national-level mandates that require foreign language instruction.

New way of thinking

Research shows that Americans’ attitudes toward language instruction may be holding them back. In his book, “Educating Global Citizens in Colleges and Universities,” historian Peter Stearns has written that Americans are “legendary” for being reluctant to learn another language. I suspect this may stem from knowledge of the fact that English is widely spoken and studied throughout the world. However, the fact remains that 75 percent of the world population does not speak English.

Research shows that motivation is essential to learning another language, whether that motivation stems from the desire to communicate with a relative or loved one in a foreign culture, or to better understand literature or works of art, such as an opera, that were originally produced in another language.

Timing is crucial

Another important consideration is the age at which students begin to study a foreign language. Brain scientists say that in order to speak a language as well as a native speaker, children must begin to study the language by age 10. A 2018 study found that this ability to more easily learn a language lasts until about age 17 or 18 – which is longer than previously thought – but then begins to decline.

Most students in the U.S. begin language study in middle or high school. Only 58 percent of middle schools and 25 percent of elementary schools offer a foreign language in 2008, according to a 2017 report by the Commission on Language Learning, which was formed in response to a request by Congress to look deeper into foreign language learning in the United States. And those figures are lower than the 75 percent and 31 percent, respectively, that they were in 1997.

Language immersion programs – growing in popularity since their introduction in bilingual Canada through the Official Languages Act of 1969 – represent one way to teach foreign language to children earlier. Research has shown that immersion students in Canada score higher in reading literacy than non-immersion students.

Research also shows immersion programs in general have many educational and cognitive benefits, as well as cultural, economic and social benefits both locally and globally. They have also been shown to be cost-effective.

Although the number of immersion programs is rapidly increasing, up from three in 1971, there were only 448 immersion schools in the United States as of 2011, the latest year for which I could find data. The number of programs is increasing to meet demand from parents and communities, with 180 dual-language public school programs in New York City alone in 2015.

Teacher shortage

Another issue is there aren’t enough qualified teachers available to teach foreign languages and immersion programs.

“One of the biggest obstacles to improved language learning is a national shortage of qualified teachers,” according to a 2017 report. The report cites federal statistics showing that 44 states and Washington, D.C. have a shortage of qualified foreign language instructors at the K-12 level for the 2016–2017 school year.

Equity, or social justice, is another important consideration. Recent studies have shown that bilingualism benefits low-income children. In order to make foreign language accessible to all children, it is essential to offer more of it in the nation’s public schools.

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., watch, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122270545-f8b0e022129946e49036f2c6b0768f76.jpgPresident Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., watch, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump turns to House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watches, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122270545-5a79a61d045745859a05d0802e47d919.jpgPresident Donald Trump turns to House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watches, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watchrd, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122270545-a31dd41ea74447b990e5e745a9de912f.jpgPresident Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watchrd, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports