Tonight at 9 PM, US President Barack Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. He's expected to focus on the economy, proposing tax reform that would require the very rich to pay more taxes initiatives that would create more manufacturing jobs in the US and changes to the troubled residential mortgage market.
Because 2012 is also an election year, the address will also likely double as a campaign speech. Expect Obama to draw sharp contrasts between himself and Republican policies.
After the speech, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will deliver the Republican Party's response.
10:55 PM: Cain calls on Obama to "stop the class warfare" and - vaguely - to have Obama's surrogates stop "the racial innuendos".
10:53 PM: And ... pizza magnate Herman Cain is also delivering a response to the SOTU, on behalf of the Tea Party Express, a national organisation that's part of the conservative Tea Party movement.
10:48 PM: Tonight we saw income inequality emerge as what will probably be one of Obama's big campaign issues. Even Daniels made some mention of it, when calling for tax loopholes for the wealthy to be pared back. What role did Occupy Wall Street have in making this a national issue? Was OWS merely a symptom of greater concern about the topic that had already existed - or did OWS' rallies and its "We are the 99 per cent" motto help make this into an issue?
10:44 PM: The tone of Daniels' response was much more moderate than the Republican presidential candidates. (Perhaps because they're currently running in a primary election competing for Republican votes, whereas Daniels is speaking to the nation at large.)
No mention from Daniels on Obama's foreign policy.
10:38 PM: Looks like Obama and Daniels are on the same page on a few things. Daniels refers to the United States' "broken, grossly complex tax system", and says the tax system should "stop sending the wealthy benefits they do not need."
10:35 PM: "The only way up" for the poor, says Daniels, "is a private economy that begins to grow and create jobs." He condemns what he calls Obama's "constant disparagement" of people in business. There wasn't much of that at all in Obama's SOTU address (he praised entrepreneurs several times) aside from some jabs at Wall Street.
And, a corny pun on Steve Jobs' name: "What a fitting name he had!"
10:31 PM: Daniels himself had considered running for president briefly. Daniels, speaking from Indianapolis, says he admires Obama's "strong family commitment" that is "sorely lacking in this country".
Daniels goes after Obama for the ballooning national debt. "No nation can survive intact" with debts this big, the Indiana governor claims.
10:26 PM: Given Obama's focus on economic issues, Republicans' choice of Indiana Governor MItch Daniels to deliver the repsonse is apt. Daniels has called for a "truce" on social issues in politics (to the dismay of many on the religious right), saying the country needs to focus on economic issues instead.
10:21 PM: Obama seemed to indicate he'll play hardball with Congress in the coming year, vowing to "fight obstruction with action".
Very little mention of Obama's health care reform bill passed in 2010, which is perhaps understandable, given its relative unpopularity among the public.
10:18 PM: And it's over. Clocking in at about 1 hour 6 minutes, it's in line with the length of his other SOTU addresses, though longer than George W Bush's. By way of comparison, before the Clinton administration, State of the Union speeches tended to be just 30-50 minutes long.
Stay tuned, though, for the Republican response to the SOTU.
10:16 PM: Obama's going in-depth on the bin Laden killing here, to illustrate the importance of unity.
10:13 PM: According to Obama, international opinion of the US is the "highest it's been in years". As of May 2011, that's not the case in the Arab World, says the Pew Research Center: http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/05/17/arab-spring-fails-to-improve-us-imag...
10:11 PM: When it comes to Iran developing nuclear weapons, Obama proclaims he "will take no options off the table" - presumably inculding military options.
10:09 PM: On to foreign policy. Obama lauds US intervention "from Pakistan to Yemen" in fighting al-Qaeda forces.
As for the Arab Spring, Obama's optimistic that it will eventually lead to the downfall of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. "Tyranny is no match for liberty".
10:05 PM: The president says he plans to "consolidate the federal bureaucracy" to make the government "leaner" and "quicker". Again, Obama is co-opting much of what Republicans - especially the conservative Tea Party movement - have been saying for much of the last two years.
10:02 PM: Obama blasts the "corrosive influence of money in politics", and calls for a bill banning insider trading by congressmen. Someone in the crowd is booing, very loudly.
10:01 PM: Obama brings up the Buffett Rule, noting that millionaires often pay less taxes by percentages than middle-class Americans, due to loopholes and lower rates on capital gains. "If you make more than a million dollars a year, you should not pay less than 30 per cent in taxes."
Mitt Romney couldn't have picked a worse day to release his tax returns. Under pressure from Republican opponents, especially Gingrich, he revelead he paid an effective tax rate of under 14 per cent in 2010, despite tens of millions of dollars in income.
9:54 PM: Now Obama's sounding like a liberal, blasting insurance companies' rescission policies, payday lenders, industrial polluters, the BP oil spill, and risk-taking on Wall Street. "We are not bailing you out ever again," Obama states.
And, he says he's directing Department of Justice chief Eric Holder to create a new unit to investigate the financial and mortgage industries' actions leading to the financial crisis of 2008. They might have to act fast, given statues of limitation.
9:50 PM: On the mortgage crisis. "Responsible homeowners shouldn't have to wait for the housing market to hit bottom" to get relief, Obama says. To help, he proposes homeowners be allowed to refinance homes at the current low prevailing interest rates.
One of Obama's catchiest lines of the night so far: "No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts."
9:47 PM: Is the Department of Defense - the world's largest consumer of energy - going green? Obama says the US Navy will purchase enough renewable energy to power 250,000 homes for a year, and encourages Congress to pass a clean energy bill.
9:43 PM: Obama doubles down on off-shore drilling. He says he'll order "more than 75 per cent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources" to be opened to drilling. No mention of the BP oil spill disaster of 2010.
That said, Obama does call for the chemicals used in natural gas fracking to be disclosed.
The president's call for energy independence is drawing the biggest applause of the night so far, from Democrats and Republicans alike.
9:40 PM: Obama's using a lot of traditionally Republican talking points here: the US needs to "tear down regulations" to encourage entrepreneurs, he argues.
9:33 PM: Nothing too controversial here. Obama encourages community colleges to "teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now", prods states to raise standards for students and teachers, and suggests students be made to stay in high school until they're 18 years old, instead of 16. He stresses accountability for public school teachers, but at the same time warns against "bashing" them last year some conservatives have used strident rhetoric against public school teachers whom they say are overpaid.
9:29 PM: Obama takes several jabs at China: "It's not right when another countries lets our movies and music be pirated." He proposes that an agency be set up to ensure other countries' companies don't have unfair advantages in US markets.
9:28 PM: How to bring US manufacturing back? Reform the tax code by getting rid of tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas lower the corporate tax rate have corporations pay some minimum level of taxes. (Last year, General Electric revealed that it paid no income taxes in 2010, despite earning over $5bn that year).
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) looks stonily at the president.
9:24 PM: Just like the Republican presidential candidates, Obama calls for a "renewal" of American values. The president links this renewal to American manufacturing, boasting that automakers General Motors and Chrysler are doing much better in the aftermath of the US government's intervention in the two companies' bankruptcy.
9:18 PM: As expected, Obama talks about increasing income inequality in the US. "A shrinking number of people do really well," he says, "while a growing number of Americans barely get by". Interesting to ponder what the Occupy Wall Street movement's role has been in injecting the issue of income inequality into public discourse.
9:15 PM: Right off the bat, Obama touts his foreign policy achievements: combat troops are out of Iraq, several al-Qaeda leaders have been assassinated, and Osama bin Laden is dead. (That said, a number of US trainers and intelligence agents remain in Iraq.)
9:12 PM: And, after interminable clapping, the speech begins.
9:08 PM: Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head last year and almost killed in an attempted assassination, is present at the SOTU, looking well. She plans on resigning from Congress tomorrow in order to continue to rehabilitate.
8:56 PM: At State of the Union addresses, one member of the president's cabinet is required to not be present, in case of a catastrophic accident. This year, the so-called "designated survivor" is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
8:33 PM: First Lady Michelle Obama has invited several guests to her husband's SOTU address. One of them is Debbie Bosanek, who's worked as billionaire Warren Buffett's secretary at Berkshire Hathaway for two decades. Why? In his speech, Obama plans to tout the so-called "Buffett rule", legislation that would require the super-wealthy to pay the same tax rates as people like his secretary, who currently has to pay a higher portion of her income in federal taxes than Buffett does.
The reason: US tax law permits income made from investments to be taxed at a rate of just 15 per cent, whereas wages and salary can be taxed at a rate of up to 35 per cent.
6:42 PM: Obama's SOTU address comes at a time of deep pessimism in the US: only about 28 per cent of Americans say their country is headed in the right direction, according to Real Clear Politics polling averages. Even fewer - 13 per cent - approve of Congress.
As for Obama himself, his approval ratings remain in negative territory - but he's just a few ticks below 50 per cent, and his numbers have inched up over the past few months.
Why? The economy is probably a major reason. Last month the unemployment rate dropped: It now sits at 8.5 per cent - still quite high by historical standards, but nevertheless the lowest level in almost three years.