Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Environmentalists Damage Credibility With Extreme Positions

Last week’s Earth Day should have been a moment the environmental community came together to celebrate the significant progress that has been made in the U.S. and around the world in identifying environmental problems and providing solutions. The greatest success has been the adoption of a worldwide awareness of the interconnectedness of the planet and its ecology. Add stewardship and sustainability as personal and community values and the 43 years have been remarkable.

But, the tone of much of today’s environmental leadership is shrill and talk is of failure. The future is painted in apocalyptic colors with a multitude of bright black and white choices.

Global warming has come to dominate almost all conversations and rationalize all positions.  Unfortunately, the doomsday approach is reducing public support, damaging the credibility of environmental science and pushing legitimate discussions into the polarized politics that characterize Washington, DC’s advocacy conversation.

The movement is losing adherents and gaining opponents at the very moment people’s concerns about global warming and air and water pollution remains high or is increasing.

Polls show the public supports the Keystone Pipeline and resists the urgency of cap and trade legislation. They also record increased support for domestic energy production and support economic growth due to worry the recovery from the Great Recession is unsteady.

The Washington Post reviewed environmental opinion data and reported:
  1. Global warming, although cited as a priority in President Obama’s 2013 agenda, is not a public priority. Americans are uncertain as to the cause of it and skeptical it will be a critical issue in their lifetimes.
  2. Climate scientists have lost credibility due to recent controversies and questionable climate predictions. Data grandstanding has played into the arguments of critics.
  3. The public will support environmental action, but believe it involves trade-offs and gray areas.  Hence, they support incentives where possible over regulations and are prepared to delay actions for jobs.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bush and Obama: Now and Then

As former President Bush and President Obama came together in Dallas for the Bush presidential library event, their approval ratings also converged to the surprise of most. G.W. Bush left office as poorly thought of as President Nixon after his resignation (33% approval) and President Obama came in with a sky-high 68 percent approval. Today, they are equal in approval (47%) and nearly so in disapproval.

Bush had an extraordinary bad run of low public assent, with approval below 40 percent for 26 months – a historic record – which, of course, contributed to the Democrats taking over Congress in 2006 and sweeping the presidency and much else in 2008.

But, some groups are reevaluating him or, at least, forgetting what most aggravated them. Seniors now approve (57%), as do key Republican constituencies, like non-college whites (also 57% approval). Republicans in general have increased their approval over the four years by 16 points to 84 percent.

Bush has benefited from his steadfast effort to stay out of politics (the gracious president, a sharp contrast with former President Carter) and the generally sympathetic news of his family – father recovering from a holiday illness and birth of a new granddaughter. But mostly Bush benefits from Obama being at least as polarizing a figure. Although Obama’s time at 40 percent or less approval in 2011 was much shorter, it’s hard to see him ever getting above the low 50 percent approval level given today’s partisan divisions and the public’s dislike for Washington.

The timing of this recovery is good. The opening of Bush’s presidential library at SMU provided a friendly backdrop for mostly warm and sympathetic coverage.

See ABC/Washington Post poll: George W. Bush retrospective

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Americans Prefer Energy Security Over Anti-Energy Development Policies

A host of new polls dramatize that the nation’s environmental activists continue to have problems gaining traction for anti-carbon strategies.

The Keystone Pipeline has majority support (74% proceed), largely reflecting American support for developing its continental energy resources, including natural gas (76% support).  It trumps concern about global warming two-to-one (63% reduce oil imports from outside North America is more important vs. 30% reduce greenhouse gases was more important).

See:  Part 1 of energy study – US and Canadian views on energy policy

Earth Day

April 22 was Earth Day. Forty-three years of commemoration.

America’s air is cleaner and water purer due to pollution controls and our contribution to global warming is less due to natural gas replacing coal and some renewable energy.

Compared to the largest cities in the world, America is a paragon of pure air. Even Riverside, California, has clearer skies compared to cities of Asia and the Middle East.

Iran, India and Pakistan dominate the list of most polluted cities. Some of the most polluted cities, due to mostly auto, but also industrial pollution, are:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quotas and Ceilings: The Immigration Bill’s Weak Link

President Obama is supporting the Gang of Eight’s immigration proposal in the face of various interest groups complaining it doesn’t meet their expectations. Obama’s opening statement emphasizes that “no one will get everything they wanted, including me.”
His endorsement will likely help maintain Democratic support for the compromises embedded in the bill on border security, guest worker and visa rules, and the path to citizenship. Each of the areas have tensions that will be illuminated in hearings and floor debates, but the most vulnerable feature will be the guest worker proposal because if it doesn’t work properly, the results will likely be continued illegal immigration. 
The Gang of Eight solution to the problem was the creation of a host of worker categories, ceilings and quotas. To buy-in interest groups, the Gang outsourced the creation of the categories and mechanisms, and the negotiations and deals to big labor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various specified business and advocacy groups, for example, for construction and agricultural employees.
Several of the caps and quotas have, after a period of years, economic and employer demand overrides.  But, the quotas tend to rule for at least four years, and agriculture and construction caps tend to be the most rigid.
This regime may work in the Senate, but beware the House. The Republican majority is much more market-oriented and likely to offer amendments – to create a more flexible and market-oriented approach.
Is there an employer demand driven solution that organized labor and its House allies, especially leadership, will accept?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Market-Driven Guest Worker Program Essential

After months of negotiation, the Gang of Eight has brought forth a comprehensive proposal on immigration. There has been a mostly collective sigh of relief that finally something may be working in Washington. But, of course, the interest groups of the left and especially the right are beginning to see flaws. And, the Chechen brothers didn’t help.

The legislation, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act,” is designed to solve a host of problems that have been trouble since the last run at the issue in 2006. And, it’s politically sophisticated, with major elements of it in alignment with public opinion. The legislation has several aspects aimed as internal security; i.e., border security, identifying 11 million illegals, employment verification and visa tracking.

But if there is a weakness, it’s embedded in the guest worker program.  In a national poll conducted the end of March, voters recognized the guest worker program may be the most critical part to a long-term solution and that the program should be driven by market forces and not government caps and quotas.

Three questions in the recent Ciruli Associates and public Opinion Strategies (POS) national voter poll capture the public’s awareness of the importance of guest workers and their preference for the program to be directed by employer demand.

Without a viable market-driven and employment verified guest worker program, Americans realize border security will fail as the economy ultimately drives most immigration, especially illegal.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Make Immigrants Pay Taxes

The immigration issue that unifies voters across parties, regions and ethnicity is a desire to have immigrants pay taxes. It was the number one goal that voters had in a recent national voter poll by Ciruli Associates and Public Opinion Strategies.

Americans know this is the moment to solve the problem. The program to address the immigration issue must have conditions (pay taxes), be enforceable (reliable e-verify), be long-term and be bipartisan.

A long-term solution, in particular, will require a system that can adapt to variations in the economy.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Polarized Politics

Hillary Clinton is the most favorably regarded politician today according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.  More than half (56%) the public give her a “very” or “somewhat” positive feelings rating out of a list of six politicians, including President Obama, former President G.W. Bush and three who would like to be president. President Obama has a 47 percent total positive.

But, passion and polarization are best reflected in the public’s strongest expression of “very positive” or “very negative” feelings. Using just the most intense expressions of feelings, Hillary Clinton is still the most well-regarded, but discounting his lower name identification, Marco Rubio comes in second (+4%). The President is in third in the difference between positive and negative feelings (+3%) because of his high negative rating (27%).

G.W. Bush wins the most polarization contest with the highest negative-to-positive difference (-14%).  Interestingly, even with sizable numbers of Americans who can’t rate him (27%), Michael Bloomberg is already in second place on the list with a net negative rating of minus seven.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Marijuana Now has National Majority

A recent Pew poll shows that marijuana legalization has gained support nationwide with 52 percent of Americans now saying it should be made legal. In 2002, only 32 percent said it should be legal.
Support has increased among all age groups, but two-thirds (65%) of the Millennial Generation is now in favor of it, up from 36 percent in 2008. As the table shows, strength among younger generations is moving support toward legalization.
As important, some of the fundamental attitudes and behaviors that kept pot illegal in the minds of most Americans have shifted.
  • 48% now say they have tried marijuana, up from 38% 10 years ago
  • 38% say it leads to use of hard drugs, down from 60% who said that in 1977
  • 32% say its morally wrong to use, down from 50% in 2006
  • 72% say enforcing marijuana laws costs more than they are worth
Very important for Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, 60 percent of Americans do not believe the federal government should enforce federal anti-pot laws in states where it’s legal.
Although the U.S. Attorney General is considering the federal approach to state legalization, it mostly appears Colorado is on its own.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Colorado Struggles With Pot Regulation

City Councilman Charlie Brown describes the trials and tribulations of pot regulation for a city the size of Denver in his latest newsletter. The list of issues to resolve, with little guidance from Colorado and no experience from other states, is formidable. The problem is compounded by Colorado’s poor track record of regulation of medical marijuana as documented by a recent state audit.

The initiative passed by 61 percent in Denver and 55 percent statewide last November.  Jeanne Faatz’s more conservative southwest district gave it 52 percent support and Peggy Lehmann’s southeast district passed it by 53 percent. Pot carried north of 6th Avenue by more than 60 percent.

California travel entrepreneurs plan pot trips from the Golden State to Colorado’s best pot houses and growers.  They’re hoping tour buses will pick up the tourists at the airport.

Mayor Hancock, recognizing the perils of a flawed start, advocates for slow implementation, extensive restrictions and a self-financed regulatory structure.

Huffington Post: Mayor Michael Hancock wants marijuana moratorium, ban on pot clubs and public consumption in Denver
Denver Post: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock: Pot should be phased in, no pot clubs

Friday, April 12, 2013

Democrats Take on Business During Last Month

Even the Democratic-friendly Denver Chamber is expressing concern about a host of anti-business bills moving through the state legislature during its last month.
  • Bills that will increase litigation cost (easier to file lawsuits favored by the trial bar)
  • Bills that mandate more renewable energy for rural electrical associations (Denver Post criticized it in editorial)
  • Bills increasing government and business budgets by expanding eligibility to entitlements
  • Bills that restrict lending
And, of course, an aggressive and even hostile approach to one of Colorado’s leading industries – gas and oil.  “Dialogue around these bills leaves impression that many legislators aren’t concerned with…problem solve[ing] but instead are engaging in a vitriolic attack.”

The Chamber, as of April 3, was opposing five anti-business bills (SB202, HB1269, HB1267, HB1273 and HB1275).

In one of the most liberal legislative sessions in modern Colorado history, does the pro-business Democratic governor apply the brakes again?

See Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce newsletter: Ensuring Colorado’s competitive status

Gridlock Produces New Leaders in DC

Politics abhors a vacuum. Washington, DC’s gridlock is providing space for new leaders who are seizing initiatives from party and institutional leadership and proposing compromise that can endanger an incumbent with their base.

In gun control and immigration reform – two of the biggest issues Congress is currently dealing with – a half dozen or so senators, most of whom are not in formal leadership positions, and some who are in their first terms, are leading the effort to develop bipartisan solutions.

First-term Democrat Joe Manchin (W.VA) (elected 2010) and Republican Patrick Toomey (PA) (2010) are now giving gun registration new momentum with a compromise that is less than what third-ranking Democratic member Charles Schumer (NY) has proposed and President Obama has endorsed, but has somewhat better chance of picking up red state Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Although there are some party wheel houses like Schumer, Dick Durbin (D-IL), John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) directing the Gang of Eight immigration compromise legislation, the most interesting members whose support will be necessary to bring along Republican conservatives and Democratic liberals are Marco Rubio (R-FL) (2010), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (2012) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) (2010).

It’s still early to announce if this trend will break the stalemate and if it will be harmful or helpful for a career. But, it does appear gridlock and the public’s hunger for solutions has produced some leaders to break ranks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bankers Rule

With America in retreat, Europe in disarray and the BRICs out for themselves, the bankers have taken over.

When was the last time anyone really cared about a meeting of the Group of Eight or 20 or however many? Except for the entertainment, who would care about a UN session? While the rich might be uplifted at a philanthropy session at Davos in order to find out what’s really going on, they head to the Central Bankers’ panel.

In fact, it’s the Federal Reserve Chairman, the European Central Bank President and the Governor of the Bank of England who make more important decisions than team Obama, Cameron and Merkel.

Toss in a few more players depending on the issue and meeting – the U.S. Treasury Secretary; head of the New York Fed; finance ministers in Germany, France, England and other capitals; head of the IMF; German Bundesbank; and the Bank of Japan – and the key players in the Western financial alliance are assembled.

Bernanke makes clear in his George Washington University lectures that the Feds’ action with Bush-era Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Tim Geithner as both head of the New York Fed and later Obama’s Treasury Secretary saved the U.S. system repeatedly since 2008. Washington Post financial reporter Neil Irwin’s new book recounts the European and world Central Bankers’ effort to manage the Greek and other southern European crises since 2010.
Central Bankers didn’t just decide and implement the key financial decisions of the last decade, even today the essential investment decisions of institutions and individuals are determined by judgment calls on when the Fed will change its stimulus and interest rate policies (Don’t fight the Fed) or the effectiveness and stamina of the ECB. No one has any real hope for an intelligent fiscal policy from gridlocked and easily distracted Washington or from the volatile politics of southern Europe.
Politicians don’t talk about it and the public is still not totally aware of it, but the Central Bankers and other key financial players in the world capitals are largely making decisions of austerity and growth, stimulus and investment, and the politicians are primarily tasked with backing them up.

Immigration Reform Will Benefit Republican Party

Are the stars aligned to pass immigration reform through Congress and have it signed by the President? If it passes, that will be the first sign Washington D.C. is capable of acting when both parties decide fixing a problem is in their long-term interest.

It will be a boon for the poorly regarded D.C. establishment, and especially a significant benefit to Republicans, who have suffered with the image of being extreme (Pew 2013) or uncompromising (Gallup 2013).

In a new national poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Ciruli Associates, voters in both parties made clear they thought immigration reform was a priority and that the solution should be long-term and bipartisan.

Of course, both parties believe border security is a condition precedent. All but a handful of Republicans, in particular, recognize there won’t be deportation, and hence, whatever new status is conferred on 11 million illegal immigrants, it is the conditions that are important to focus on.

Paying taxes, background checks with no criminal history, learning English and civics, and significant waiting periods are a part of the conditions that bring both a majority of Democrats and Republicans to the table.

The three key elements of the legislation are now being settled in the minds of party leaders:
  • Border must be secured. Fortunately, considerable progress has been made and the slack economy has lowered cross-border illegal attempts. The legislation will have some type of border trigger.
  • An effective market-driven guest worker program is essential or, as the economy improves, illegal crossings will begin again.  The program must have conditions, such as security clearance and an identified job.
  • There must be a legal status for the 11 million illegal citizens already here. Conditions are also the key, along with a no advantage over people who apply legally for citizenship.
Republicans want their party to lead on the issue. One reason Marco Rubio is maintaining support among his party members is that Republicans are not interested in President Obama or Democrats dominating the discussion and putting them on the defensive. Rubio will have to slow walk the process to ensure his colleagues have some input, but ultimately this legislation is in the long-term best interest of the party and will contribute to its national performance.

See:  Presentation of Key Findings from a National Survey on Immigration

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Few Americans Believe UN is Doing a Good Job, But Most Believe it has Necessary Role

Americans remain committed idealists in terms of their hope for the efficacy of diplomacy and multilateralism.  In spite of the United Nations’ lack of influence in most of the major conflict areas of the world – Syria, Israel/Gaza and West Bank, the Korean peninsula, and Iran – 66 percent of Americans believe the UN plays “a necessary role in the world today,” although only 35 percent believe it is “doing a good job” solving problems.

Democrats and the Millennial Generation are much more optimistic about the UN, but even a majority of them don’t believe the UN is doing a good job.

See Gallup: Americans say UN is need, but doubt its effectiveness

Monday, April 8, 2013

Keystone Pipeline has Public Support; Fracking Opinions Mixed

As President Obama approaches the Keystone Pipeline decision, Pew Research reports the public supports it 66 percent to 23 percent. Even after several years of anti-pipeline activism by environmental organizations and individuals, Democrats (54%) still support it. The pipeline would transport oil from Canada tar sands across the Great Plains to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast.

But, only 48 percent of Americans support “increased use of fracking,” which drills with high-pressure water and chemicals to release oil and natural gas. Thirty-eight percent are opposed.  The use of the term “increased” in the question makes the text more onerous for fracking.

As the pipeline decision approaches and rumors float that President Obama will approve it, the Democratic left, with the most vociferous of the environmental activists, plan mobilizations and sophisticated political strategies to reverse or stall the decision yet again.
At a recent Obama San Francisco fundraiser, big money contributors and bodies on the street were used to show the administration the fury and power of the anti-carbon wing of the party. Also, Edward Markey, Congress’ leading environmentalist and frontrunner in the Massachusetts Senate race, has become a recipient for anti-pipeline largesse (April 20 primary).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Republican Party Beats or Ties Democrats on Top Jobs

In a new Quinnipiac University poll, the issues judged most important by Americans to decide how to vote for Congress, the Republican Party was competitive or ahead in most.

Republicans tie on the economy, taxes and guns and win on the budget. Democrats won on health care and immigration.

Three Years Out, Rubio is Frontrunner in Wide Field

Sen. Marco Rubio
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida first generation Cuban-American, is slightly ahead (19%) in a five-person field of Republicans for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, was in second place with 17 percent of Republican early support.

There were five candidates out of eight tested in a new Quinnipiac University poll that received doubt-digit support. Joining Rubio and Ryan were Senator Rand Paul (KY) (15%) and governors Chris Christie (NJ) (14%) and Jeb Bush (FL) (10%) in the top tier. Receiving lower levels of support were governors Bobby Jindal (LA) (3%), Scott Walker (WI) (2%) and Bob McDonnell (VA) (1%).

“ObamaCare” Still a Controversy

Will “ObamaCare” help, hurt or be irrelevant to the Democratic cause in retaking the House of Representatives in 2014? After three years, it is a rare Democrat that claims it will help in 2014. The Democrats’ consensus view is that it won’t hurt. It’s summed up as: If it didn’t hurt in the 2012 congressional or presidential races, it won’t in 2014 either.

And, there are a host of factors that support their view:
  • With the Supreme Court decision and the President’s re-election, the law will not be withdrawn and the public doesn’t support repeal
  • With the law now in place, Democrats can join Republicans in complaining about specific provisions or implementation
  • The offer of federal money is tempting many Republican governors to join the Medicaid expansion provision
However, Democrats are vulnerable. The fundamental law is not popular. Only 37 percent of Americans say they favor ObamaCare and 40 percent are unfavorable. If the law’s implementation between now and 2014 has negative consequences, it will reinforce voters’ unfavorable view of it. And, quality and access to health care has risen as a top concern of voters as the economy has improved.
  • Will insurance premiums go up?
  • Will employer coverage diminish?
  • Will Medicare benefits be cut?
  • Will new individual and employer mandates, taxes and regulations be seen as onerous and be resisted?
The bottom line:  The impact of ObamaCare is uncertain and it continues to be controversial. Smart Democrats will maintain some distance from ObamaCare, but because the implementation is taking place the next 12 to 16 months before the election, they will be vulnerable to adverse effects.

Public Opinion Strategies: Obamacare at three: Key health care data
The Hill: Dems no longer fear “ObamaCare”
Kaiser Family Foundation: March 2013 tracking poll
Gallup: Gov’t budget, healthcare join economy as top U.S. concerns

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It’s Time for a Road Trip

When you’re in trouble at home, it’s time for a road trip, and gun control is in trouble.  The passion for stricter gun laws after the Sandy Hook tragedy has diminished and gun control legislation is now gridlocked in Washington.

A failure to get even the modest gun legislation now being considered will be a major defeat for President Obama and Vice President Biden.

Obama lowered his expectations back in January, never really declaring an assault weapons ban essential to his gun agenda, but as of now universal registration, which is widely popular, is in trouble in the Senate.

In general, background checks have near universal support, but assault weapons and large capacity magazines bans have only about 50 percent support.  And, support for gun control in general has declined since early in the year.

Obama’s trip to Colorado is not a surprise.  This state’s rapid passage of a package of gun legislation, including registration and magazine limits, made it a luminary in the gun control universe. But, Obama will have difficulty changing the gun control trajectory. The issue is well below issues the public believes critical, such as the economy, government debt and health care. And, in fact, Republicans are seen as better able to handle gun control than Democrats.
Although a few more states appear to be considering additional laws, Washington, D.C.’s movement appears circumscribed by the 2014 election and NRA’s effective lobbying.
Mayors who, like Michael Bloomberg, are leading the pro-control lobbying effort have yet to find a message or strategy that moves Democratic senators in red states. In fact, senators in North Dakota and Arkansas have declared their independence from Bloomberg’s issue advertising.
Of course, if all else fails, Democrats will try to take the issue into the 2014 election. Will Denver voters and Michael Coffman see gun control ads?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Boulder the Least Religious City, Colorado Springs Not Most Religious

Boulder tied with Burlington, Vermont, for the least religious city out of 189 U.S. metropolitan areas Gallup surveyed in 2012. Only 17 percent of local residents said religion was an important part of daily life and that they attend religious service every week or almost every week.

The most religious cities are mostly in the south, except for Provo-Orem, Utah (77%). Colorado’s most religious cities were Greeley (36% religious) and Colorado Springs (35% religious).

The national average of the “very religious” was 40 percent. Boulder is at the extreme non-religious end comparatively, whereas Colorado Springs and Greeley are near the mean if slightly less religious. So much for the stereotype of Colorado Springs as Colorado’s home of prayer.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Two-Thirds of Americans Want More Emphasis on Natural Gas Production

Now that the environmental community has won the war against coal, it is shifting its attention to natural gas. But, it will have a tougher challenge stopping natural gas usage.

A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans, including Democrats, favor “more emphasis on producing domestic energy” from natural gas.

Most Democratic politicians have abandoned support for any non-renewable energy source. The Sierra Club and Al Gore have begun the campaign against natural gas arguing that its production adds more carbon emissions than it saves over using coal. Evidence for their position is thin, but the main attacks have focused on fracking.
Colorado will be a fracking battleground during the last month of the 2013 term.