Our Non-Fearless Non-Leader

It’s State of the Union time again.

The Constitution requires that the President ‘shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.’  This has now devolved into an annual address before a joint session of Congress, televised to the nation as a major event.  Instead of merely presenting ‘information,’ the President uses the address to put forward his agenda for the coming year. In recent years, the speech has been ‘enhanced’ with PowerPoint-style graphics delivered on a split screen.  (At least they don’t show the PowerPoints in the actual House chamber… yet.)

And this year, President Obama has already been test-marketing his proposals in recent weeks: we already know much of what he’s going to say.  So while on one level it’s kind of pointless, as an informed citizen I feel that I have to sit through it anyway.

But it’s a chance to yell back at the screen what I really think.  Times are from the video of the speech from the White House Web site.

02:46: “More people are insured than ever before.”  Yeah, at great personal cost to themselves, because you forced them to.  And it’s still unclear whether having insurance will actually provide access to good health care.

03:04: “And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in 30 years.”  You didn’t build that, Obama.  Don’t take credit for it.  And your pals in Saudi Arabia are now trying to sweep it all away.

04:34: “The state of the Union is strong.”  Every State of the Union address includes this line somewhere in the first five minutes.  I was a little worried you weren’t going to make it.

06:30: “So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist  of proposals….”  To be followed, of course, by the checklist of proposals.

06:43: Where’s Ben?  The President launches into the story of Rebekah and Ben Erler, married seven years and living in Minneapolis.  Rebekah is in the audience, sitting next to the First Lady.  But Ben is absent.  Was he really too busy to come to Washington?  Did he not have an adequate suit?  Could they not get a babysitter?  Or is it politically incorrect to show a normal heterosexual married couple except on America’s Funniest Home Videos?

09:10: “And over the past five years, our businesses have created over 11 million new jobs.”  The chamber erupts in applause, the Senators and Congressmen clapping like trained seals.  Guys: you didn’t build that, either.

09:50: “And thanks to lower gas prices, and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save about $750 at the pump.”  I can’t see that fuel economy has changed much over the past 10 years at least.  The recent drop in gas prices is not so much a consequence of our new exploration efforts as it is the Saudis lowering the price for their own ends.

10:34: “Today we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts….”  Actually, the only tool we need is for our leadership to stand up and say ‘no.’  But in 2008, we were told that a failure to enact bailouts would result in mass riots and martial law.

14:18: “Because families like Rebekah’s still need our help.  She and Ben are working as hard as ever, but they’ve had to forego vacations and a new car so that they can pay off student loans and save for retirement.  Friday night pizza, that’s a big splurge.  Basic childcare for Jack and Henry costs more than their mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota.”  That’s called, well, the human condition.  Most of us, when bringing up small children, don’t have money for luxuries.  And proper child care is expensive, because it’s labor intensive, and not just anyone can do it.  (And having the government pay for it will make it cheaper?)

16:00: “First, middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.  That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement.”  Mitt Romney’s campaign imploded in 2012 when when a video leaked to the public in which he stated the truth that about 47% of the population receives payments from the Federal government.  Obama apparently won’t be happy until it’s at least 77%.

18:31: “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.  It’s the right thing to do.” Paid for by whom?

18:54:  “That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.” We often hear the figure that women get paid 77 cents to a man’s dollar.  But when one matches men against women at the same levels of experience and responsibility, the difference becomes much smaller.  And equal pay for equal work has been the law since… 1963!  (In fairness, women’s earnings still don’t quite equal men’s for the same work.  But I doubt that Yet Another Government Bureaucracy will help very much.)

22:14: “That’s why I’m sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.”   So now the community colleges will become wards of the Federal government.  And, like everywhere else touched by Federal funds, the colleges will be run to maintain their subsidies.  Whether anyone learns anything is, of course, besides the point.

25:48:  “…we need the new economy to keep churning out high-wage jobs for our workers to fill.”  All I’ve been reading about for the past few years is how people who were laid off from middle-class jobs in 2008-2009 are coming back as burger flippers.  Where are these high-wage jobs of which you speak?

27:13: “So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.  Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”  But Keystone XL (the ‘single oil pipeline’) is to be built with private funds. It’s not the same thing.

30:45:  “Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a reenergized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars.”  Yes, but when?  In the 1960s, when JFK pressed us to go to the moon, we felt there was some urgency.

37:02:  ” Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group[ISIL]….  And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. ”  So we’re not getting into a ground war, but we need a resolution to authorize the use of force… for what, exactly?

38:07:  “… Mr. Putin’s aggression it was suggested was a masterful display of strategy and strength.  That’s what I heard from some folks.  Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters.”  Well, maybe.  Russia isn’t doing so well right now, but they’re used to hardship.  We aren’t, and our vaunted prosperity is mostly pluffage.

41:00:  ” Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran….  There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.  But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense.  And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”  So let me make sure I understand this.  Iran is our adversary.  We’re negotiating with them, but nothing seems to be coming of it.  So if Congress proposes to actually do something that would meaningfully impact Iran, you’re going to veto it.  Is that right?

41:35: ” No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.”  But if our own government invades the privacy of American families, that’s fine.

48:40: ” So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I have not.  As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.  And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”  As long as the NSA is Hoovering up all our electronic communications, it will ultimately be used against us, regardless of what ‘safeguards’ the present administration decides to implement.  Someday, probably in the not-too-distant future, computer power will be abundant enough and cheap enough that it will be possible to sift through the vast pile of data: initially, to protect us against terrorists, but ultimately for God knows what.  The only protection, temporary though it might be, is to turn off the Hoover, and not to build more such facilities.

From there, the speech went on to the usual platitudes, the same as any President might say about how wonderful we are as a nation and a people.  Whatever.

Maybe I’d take it a little more seriously if the audience would stop clapping like trained seals.

6 thoughts on “Our Non-Fearless Non-Leader”

  1. The reality is many women still aren’t paid the same. My last job had this situation where I was better educated and more experience yet they were paid more for being males. They also got the better assignments over me. Being a woman I was often given jobs like counting pencils for my coworkers. It sucked and sexism sucks. When I found out coworkers were paid more I asked for a raise and was abused. However not sure how to fix this problem. Companies that discriminate will still do it. It’s a railroad commuters use so can’t support a boycott.

    My feelings on public college are this and that is we have to make it so qualified students don’t go broke but also college isn’t for everyone. Half of my college classmates had no business being in college and many were dumb. The school had open admission and remedial classes and many of them could barely read and write. I fear free college means more dumb morons attend college which means even more competition. Add in that there aren’t a lot of good paying jobs so you’ll have the idiots competing with intelligent people for crappy jobs.

    Obama is a disgrace. I voted for him and regret doing so.

  2. A point not made in the “free community college” initiative is that much of vo-tech training has been pushed out to the community colleges, where it used to be available at no additional tuition charge at the vo-tech high schools.

    I don’t pay attention to community college rates, so I was surprised to learn how expensive they were in Colorado. It’s $233 a semester hour, $308 if you are taking an online course, and $353 if you are in the dental hygiene program. These rates can be reduced by $75 per semester hour if you get the COF (Colorado Opoortunity Fund?) waiver. Add at least $50 more per semester hour for other fees. (Does the student health fee provide health insurace coveaage that is compliant with the PPACA?)It’s interesting to note that math and English classes have an additional $6.60 fee per semester hour for tutoring. Still, you do well to plan for a three semester hour course to cost at least $700 when books are added.

  3. To NWP’s point, yes, there are still assholes out there who don’t treat their employees fairly. But I don’t believe that Yet Another Government Bureaucracy will fix that, especially if, as in NWP’s case, the employer in question is a government agency.

    Madness is right about community colleges being the new vo-tech high schools. They’re also being pushed to provide training that, in another time, would be provided by employers for new hires.

    When the government made it easier to go to four-year college by facilitating student loans, many people went deep into debt (which, by the way, can’t be discharged in bankruptcy) to get degrees that were, practically, worthless. Meanwhile, the colleges went after the dollars, building fancy new facilities and raising tuition, while education went by the wayside. (If a student leaves because he can’t make the grades, he’ll stop paying.) Apart from the individual student debt, I don’t see an initiative to facilitate community college turning out much different.

    1. A problem of providing job-related training is that the students forget if what they are taught is not used regularly. If I take training in some software program and don’t use it at least a few times per week, I tend to forget a huge amount of what I have been taught.

  4. Okay I can’t be alone in thinking it is bs to charge a tutoring fee for math and English. First off, not every kid needs tutoring. Second if they do then charge something to those kids or add it to the fee. It makes me wonder if this means most of those in community colleges are remedial, which is what I hear. Speaking of remedial, a scam I heard about when I attended a community college was testing kids so they fall into a remedial class. I attended a community college for a year (and every summer)not because I couldn’t get into another college but because I got a free ride. I had everything paid for, including books and even got a stipend. Anyway, when I went to take the asset test I scored in remedial math. I was never great in math but it would require me to take 1-2 remedial classes before I could get into math 101. Every single classmate I spoke to scored into this. Long story short, I later spoke to a professor at the school and somehow the test was written in a way that pretty much everyone would score low. When I went to my four year school I took the math asset test again and you know what? I scored slightly above average, not way below and was placed in the second math that was college level (102 I think).I ended up receiving a B in a class with trig, calc and the like. I should mention the community college got a lot of low income students.

    I Googled my local community college and it’s $333.54 an hour. If I recall when I attended another community college it was something like $30-$40 an hour. To tell how cheap it used to be I took classes over the summer and was able to pay for them (scholarship didn’t include summer). To take 12 credits will cost around $4,000! That is ridiculous and that’s not including additional fees.

    Also, speaking of vocational school, back when I was in high school they had a vocational school where those who weren’t likely to attend college learned a skill. There was hairdressing, mechanics, and many other classes. They usually took classes in the morning I believe then attended school in the afternoon. I think they also got credit for these classes. I wasn’t eligible being an honor student (the assumption was I would attend college)but I knew many who did and got a job out of school. One classmate actually bought a house a few years later while most of us were still in school. They closed the school and merged these with the local community colleges and they became associate degrees, not things to learn in high school.

  5. I just Googled the community college that is actually closer (which considered out of district)and their tuition is more reasonable at $112 a credit, and can’t go any farther than $127 per class.

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