The SOTU: Steph Responds (Part III)

Now it’s time to tackle Obama’s foreign policy statements, after which I will discuss my general impression of the whole speech.

America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity. And because we have begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

This is not 100% true. In countries where, arguably, our standing matters most – places like China or Pakistan or Turkey – a plurality of the population is anti-American (at least – in the latter two cases, the majority hate America). Anti-Americanism also persists in Russia and Germany despite the inauguration of your glorious Era of Hope and Change.

Obama then goes on to discuss recent developments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Personally, I worry about what will happen once we do pull out according to Obama’s arbitrary timeline. We should pull out when we’ve completed our mission, not when it is politically convenient. Even if we were wrong to invade in the first place, it’s too late to have that fight now. We are already involved, and the only honorable thing to do is to take full responsibility for that involvement. The worst thing we could possibly do is leave the door open for more extremist elements to take over once we’ve left; that practically invites an increase in anti-Americanism. “Yeah, those Yankees will storm in and break stuff, but they won’t stick around to fix anything.”

On nuclear proliferation, Obama has this to say:

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before.

Even the Associated Press recognizes that Obama is lying through omission here. As the AP fact checker observes: “But what Obama didn’t say was that U.S. diplomacy has failed to persuade Tehran to negotiate over U.N. demands that it take steps to prove it is not on the path toward a bomb. Preliminary talks with Iran earlier this month broke off after the Iranians demanded U.S. sanctions be lifted.”

After this, Obama makes more innocuous statements about strengthening our alliances in Europe and in the Americas and encouraging democracy around the world (including Tunisia), all of which I find relatively unobjectionable. Then he addresses the make-up of our armed forces:

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.

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.

I’ve already made clear my support for the repeal of DADT, so I don’t have much to add here except to say that I’m interested to see how our institutions of higher learning respond to Obama’s challenge. In my observation, the academic objection to ROTC and military recruitment goes deeper than whether or not gays are allowed to openly serve. Many professors are militantly anti-American and believe our armed forces should be completely gutted. I don’t think repealing DADT is going to change this attitude much.

I do have some good news, though: At this point, Obama delivers a peroration about the greatness of the American people and their willingness to do “big things” – also unobjectionable – and mercifully closes for the night.


So what are my thoughts about the speech as a whole? Like many people on our side of the aisle, I find it very unimpressive. While Obama makes the obligatory promises to do something about our debt, those promises are belied by the new spending initiatives he proposes minutes before. He dances around the necessity for entitlement reform, digs in his heels on health care, and refuses to list any specific programs he would be willing to cut. In short, he fails to exhibit any genuine sense of our dire financial situation. The mainstream media is busy trying to push the narrative that Obama is jumping to the center, but as far as I’m concerned, that jump is more like a tiny baby step — or it’s utterly nonexistent.

The SOTU: Steph Responds (Part II)

My reactions to Obama’s big speech continue below the cut.

Within the next five years, we will make it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans. This isn’t just about a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.

Yes – internet connectivity is important these days. That’s one of those things for which I’m willing to shell out some tax money. But when it comes to necessary things like establishing internet coverage or making road repairs, let’s make sure we do it in the most cost-efficient manner possible. No awarding projects to the teacher’s pets.

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.

So you’re going to end the tax breaks for green energy, low income housing, and domestic manufacturing? That’s going to upset a lot of your friends.

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people. That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century… It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, and new rules to prevent another financial crisis.

And that’s why people are losing their free checking accounts. Don’t you just love unintended consequences?

Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.

Ooh! Ooh! I have some ideas:

  • Get rid of costly mandates. Let people shop around for the coverage they need instead of forcing all companies to offer the same things.
  • Let people enroll in plans across state lines. That way, an individual can avoid the aforementioned state-imposed mandates.
  • Enact meaningful tort reform. We’re paying an arm and a leg for medical care in part because doctors have to pay sky-high malpractice insurance premiums.
  • Offer cheap, high-deductible plans to the young and healthy. There’s no reason your average 23-year-old needs to buy into a Cadillac plan. Let them pay for their medical incidentals out-of-pocket and use the insurance for genuine catastrophes.

Can you work with me here, Mr. President? Do these ideas sound doable?

(To be fair, the president does mention tort reform later. That’s one tally in the positive column — assuming, of course, that he keeps his promise.)

What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

Strangely enough, even in the bad old days, I was still able to find an insurance company who would take me on despite my pre-existing condition. Granted, my premiums are ghastly, but upon reflection, I’ve decided that this problem would be better solved with direct government subsidies than with mandated coverage. When you disallow PEC penalties outright, you end up raising everyone else’s rates.

So instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.

Translation: I was lying before when I said I was willing to work with people. I’m only going to allow minor and ultimately meaningless tweaks to the healthcare law. ┌∩┐(◣_◢)┌∩┐

Now, the final step — a critical step — in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit-spending that began almost a decade ago.

Translation: It’s all Bush’s fault. Ignore the fact that Bush’s deficit spending was nothing compared to mine.

So tonight, 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.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *wheeze* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! What a joke. Basically, now that you and your Democrat friends have radically increased government spending, you want that spending to stay where it is. Brilliant!

I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure what we’re cutting is really excess weight.

Here is a list of some of the programs the Republicans want to cut — and a lot of those items really are excess weight. Mohair subsidies? Come on.

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. And we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.

In other words, you don’t want to reform Social Security — at least, not in any genuine way. Here, you essentially pull every alternative but the status quo off the table.

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.

Calling the wealthiest 2% “millionaires” is deliberately misleading. The low cut-off for the wealthiest 2% is $250,000, not a million. What you’re actually proposing is that the government confiscate more money from neurosurgeons, small business owners, and other Americans who got where they are through hard work and, often, years of deprivation. And regardless of your protestations to the contrary, that is punishing success.

The foreign affairs section of the speech shall be tackled in the next post. Stay tuned…

The SOTU: Steph Responds (Part I)

Okay — now that I have some time, I’m going to go through the published text of President Obama’s State of the Union Address and respond wherever I feel moved to respond. Get some popcorn and settle in.

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

You know, I honestly want to believe this sentiment, Mr. President. I really do. But I learned an entirely different lesson in the wake of the Tucson massacre. I learned that many people who seem perfectly decent – people with whom I’ve had countless pleasant conversations over the past few years – secretly believe that I’m a knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, violent, racist idiot. That didn’t put me in the mood to be cooperative, nor did it convince me that “we all just want the same things.”

We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.

Yet housing prices remain in the toilet, wages are stagnant, and the unemployment rate is still above 9%. Something’s not computing here. If you can explain this to me, please do.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today.

Wait — I’m confused. Are you referring to the extension of the Bush tax cuts? First of all, that was not a tax cut; tax rates were maintained, not reduced. Secondly, if I recall correctly, you didn’t agree to sign that tax cut extension into law until we agreed to extend unemployment benefits. Yet now you’re going to take credit for something that was our idea?

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

That solar research facility is run by an American company — Applied Materials. It is true that certain cities and regions in China offer subsidies for green energy, but Applied Materials also elected to set up shop in China because China is a huge market and a great source for cheap engineers.

Moreover, as my co-author pointed out in a previous post, China may be building “green” energy facilities, but that doesn’t mean the Chinese are using those facilities. Why are we holding them up as an example to follow?

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.

As the sibling of a scientist, I certainly acknowledge the role of government in funding research. But has that facilitated innovation or slowed it down? Why, for example, is our space program frozen at the shuttle stage? Why have we stopped going to the moon? And why did it take two tries to get the Hubble telescope to focus correctly? Before we “invest” in your favorite industries, I think questions like these need to be answered.

In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

This sounds great, but where’s the money coming from?

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Ah. I see the plan now. There’s just one problem, though: the supposed “subsidies” we are giving to oil and gas are, in many cases, not industry specific. The provision that allows oil and gas corporations to defer taxes on income earned abroad, for example, is a provision available to all multinational companies based in the U.S. On the other hand, “green” energy is already getting a lot of targeted government cash. Take a look at the subsidies that are funneled into the ethanol industry, for instance. Ethanol was supposed to be a great alternative biofuel. It has failed to deliver, however, so why not make the cut there? Or are you too afraid to piss off corn farmers in Iowa?

Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us — as citizens, and as parents — are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

It seems rather insulting for you to start your education spiel with a lecture to parents about their responsibilities, Mr. President. I think most parents take their children’s education very seriously indeed. That’s why urban charter schools have to turn away thousands of desperate families every year.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.

If that’s true, that’s very sad. As others have pointed out, the few billion dollars we’ve poured into Race to the Top is a drop in the bucket compared to the funding our schools get from the individual states. And, unfortunately, at the state level, teachers unions still have a lot of sway.

You see, we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities.

Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado; located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their family to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said “Thank you, Mrs. Waters, for showing… that we are smart and we can make it.”

Apparently, this miracle came about when Mrs. Waters told the teachers unions to sit on this and rotate. Why omit that fact, Mr. President?

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

I agree 100% with these statements — but do you have any concrete policy ideas? I do. For example, why don’t we end tenure, radically restructure our ed schools so that they focus on content rather than pedagogy, and establish differential pay for math and science teachers? If you’re willing to take on the teachers unions on these issues, I’ll stand behind you.

If we take these steps — if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they’re born until the last job they take — we will reach the goal I set two years ago: by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

But will they actually know anything by the time they get their degrees? Standards are creeping downward at our institutions of higher learning as well. In college, kids can learn how to critique television shows from a Marxist perspective, but can they get solid academic instruction that will properly prepare them for today’s global marketplace? Recent news suggests not.

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.

I actually agree that those individuals who come to the U.S. on legal student visas should be fast-tracked through the citizenship process — especially those who study science, math, and engineering. I don’t believe, however, that we should be rewarding open violations of our laws. It’s terribly sad that many young people must be burdened with the consequences of their parents’ decisions, but if you announce to the world that we as a country will educate the children of undocumented aliens with no questions asked, you will almost surely exacerbate what is already a crisis situation at our southern border. That’s the reality.

Our infrastructure used to be the best — but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

Over the last two years, we have begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. Tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble these efforts.

We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Really? Can you assure me, Mr. President, that infrastructure projects will not be awarded to your union buddies? Personally, I doubt your promises, especially when you propose projects like the following:

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

We Americans have grown accustomed to the flexibility that a car provides — and for longer trips, we generally prefer planes. Amtrak has been propped up by the government for years now because of its piddly transportation market share. High speed rail would have to increase passenger miles by train by a factor of 100 to compete with air travel. Is that really likely? Or is this just another boondoggle designed to put money in your cronies’ pockets?

(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds)

To be continued tomorrow…