Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union: The Rhetoric & The Reality.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

Now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

Last night, I was listening to President Obama's State of the Union Address...

And yes, I saw the complete teabagger train wreck that followed...

So did it all mean? Well, let's start with the good news:

- Obama is proposing a robust clean energy plan to make 80% of our energy sources renewable by 2035.

- He reminded everyone that government investment is necessary to fuel capitalistic achievement.

- He's not in the mood to slash education, and it seems he wants to do more to encourage the kind of robust investment in K-12 and college education that we need for sustained economic recovery and growth.

- To my surprise yesterday, he addressed comprehensive immigration reform.

- And finally, Obama gave the impassioned defense of health care reform that was long overdue. It's too bad he wasn't on offense with this a year ago, but late is nearly always better than never. And now, it will be critical to ensure reform isn't dismantled and/or defunded this year.

Wow. President Obama seemingly took a very difficult hand of a fragile economic recovery and more hostile Congress, and turned it around to use it to his advantage to find common ground on important progressive goals like climate solutions & renewable energy, and education. Again, he reminded us all that government indeed must invest in our economy in order for us all to reap good returns. And interestingly enough, he sought to frame it in a way that boxes Congressional Republicans into a corner. Do they want to cooperate with Obama on investing in continued economic recovery, or do they want to continue obstructing everything and reopening old floor fights on issues like health care reform?

However, not everything was coming up roses last night. Maven gives us a reality check.

Tonight we heard all the usual rhetoric … very well delivered. All designed to put the Republicans on the defensive, if that’s possible since they’re beaming in from an as yet undiscovered planet (can you say Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI ?). Yup, we’re all gonna have flying electric cars one day, and mag-lev rail between Reno and the Bay Area. Right. We’re gonna get all this done with a “spending freeze”.
Gawd help us.
Obama starts out patting himself on the back, for what? Extending tax cuts. Tax cuts create jobs, you know. Sigh. This is simply buying into the ‘new centrism’ and GOP mythology. (Note below, that even individual tax rates in the U. S. aren’t exactly going through the roof.)
The President goes on to talk about cutting discretionary spending to levels not seen since the Eisenhower Administration. I’ve got news for the President, if Eisenhower had seen what we’re dealing with right now, he’d have increased spending. Eisenhower wasn’t stupid.
Typically, no where in the speech was it mentioned that the bulk of our “discretionary spending” is for the military-industrial complex, AKA ‘The War On Terror’, AKA wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I cite,

So here's the bad news:

- Obama seemed way too willing to buy into the GOP/"tea party" "austerity" BS. Here's the problem: We're just emerging from the worst recession since The Great Depression! The last thing our economy needs right now is a "spending freeze" that will just stop the kind of investment we were talking about above, the kind of investment we need to create more jobs.

- Not once in all the talk of "wasteful spending" was war spending mentioned. Speaking of President Eisenhower, he warned us in his now famous 1961 Farewell Address about the dangers of embracing "the military-industrial complex".

Look where we are now. We're mired in two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And "the military-industrial complex" has put us in a more precarious situation than ever before.

- Embedded in Obama's call for more renewable energy was yet another embrace of the "clean coal & nuclear" myth.

Sorry, but it's true. Coal and nuclear are far from "clean", and it makes absolutely no sense to include them as part of our clean energy portfolio.

- And finally, we heard plenty of bluster last night about earmarks. What is often forgotten is that Congress has Constitutional authority over the purse strings, NOT The President. So why should Congress be forced to give up its legal mandate to direct federal funds? Earmarks have virtually no impact on the federal budget, yet they do have a huge impact in ensuring we in
Nevada get our fair share of our tax dollars

Earmarks, otherwise known as “pork barrel” spending, have come to represent the excesses of special interests and cronyism in Washington, especially through spending projects like Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere, or Sparks’ infamous $225,000 pool.
In Nevada, they’ve also been behind projects like the Veterans Hospital in North Las Vegas, opening this year.
“We don’t think that a service for 50,000 veterans is pork barrel,” said Wayne Leroy, Nevada chairman of the Elks National Service Commission. (Nevada Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley secured a $350 million earmark in 2008 to help fund the $600 million project.) “That was about the only way that the hospital could get established,” Leroy said. “Now I’m sure this sort of project will be more difficult to do, if we’re able to at all.”

In 2010, Nevada ranked 11th in the country in earmark per capita spending, according to a survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia by the anti-earmark spending group Citizens Against Government Waste. Its $58.50 per head threshold is still a far cry from chart-topping Hawaii’s $251.78, but it still puts it in the top tier — targeted spending largely credited to the influence of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Earmarks are “our bread and butter, and the most time-tested model of how you win re-election,” UNLV political science professor David Damore said.
Reid certainly seems to think so.

“It’s a lot of pretty talk,” Reid said of the president’s pledge to, as Obama said later Tuesday, assure the American people “that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects” by vetoing any bill with an earmark in it.
“It is only giving the president more power,” Reid said. “He’s got enough power already.”

Again, we're talking about stripping much of Congress' Constitutional authority over the budget, and all for what amounts to less than 1% of federal spending and 100% political grandstanding.

So what's my final take on President Obama's speech last night? Basically, he offered some glimmers of hope for a more progressive vision of a better, stronger America. And he made a strong case for tried and true Keynesian economics. That's a good start.

However, what troubled me was Obama's validation of so many "tea party" memes of "big, bad government". I know he had to delicately thread the needle to get some Republican cooperation, so I understand he had to throw them some bones. Still, don't try to prove their bad, failed ideas right... And don't repeat the same mistakes that got us into this mess in the first place.

And by the way, I don't have anything else to say on the two GOP/teabagger responses. Both of them were total sideshows.

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