Review: State of the Union, 2012

Finally!

This might be my most favorite series of pasts every year. I love the state of the union and various rebuttals. It gives such an unfettered look at some of the key goals and plans.

In case this is a first for you, I take the transcript of the speech (found here) and then pull out and comment on only the bits that really stand out to me. It’s a stream of conscious post in other words. I don’t edit, I don’t review… I just write. Enjoy!

NOTE: As usual, I did not watch the address. I prefer to read them because I can work through the content faster without all the annoying pauses for applause. The debates, on the other hand, I much prefer to watch because the human interaction between the candidates is vital.

Here we go….

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.

A  couple thoughts… First, I certainly hope that our soldiers have been good ambassadors to the world, but I fear that this is not the case. I believe in our troops (I’m a military brat after all), and you’ll never find me not supporting them. Where I disagree with Obama is on the idea that the world supports our troops. I’m simply not convinced that the majority of the world likes what is essentially the USPD. In this, I agree more and more with Ron Paul.

And yes, I’m grateful that we are no longer in Iraq, though I hope we left that country in a better condition than we found it. I genuinely fear for their future. Same for Afghanistan.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed [our soldiers] example. Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.

One of the issues facing our nation–perhaps the most critical–is the idea that our parties and the ideologies of our parties are too far apart to find common ground. This is false. And yet our parties preach that doctrine and I’ve encountered plenty of people who refuse to see the good in other ideas.

The idea that we could achieve that is indeed possible as Obama says in the next paragraph, but it cannot happen with our current culture of divisiveness. Unfortunately, while Obama is right to preach it, I have seen little from him (or others) to suggest that this is actually a priority. This, more than anything is really just a talking point. It’s cute, it’s wanted, and it gets the applause, but where is the action?

The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.

And now we’re going to disagree…. Obama is taking the greatest generation concept, the unity concept, and is turning it into a commentary on our current economic and class structure. Again, this all plays well and is correct on the surface, but I’m waiting for the twist….

Let’s remember how we got here. Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete. Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.

Right on the jobs leaving our shores. Right on technology growth (wrong to paint that as a negative). Right on the increasing income. And he’s even right that the ability to “keep up” became harder. But where is the personal responsibility?

I was talking to a friend just this morning, and I pointed out to him that I once took a contract job that paid me almost $90,000 a year. It was an incredible income, and I don’t say it to brag. During that single year, Courtney and I realized that we had a huge opportunity to either (1) do what everyone else was doing and rack up the debt and the personal possessions or (2) pay off all our debt, knowing that this was a one-year contract.

We chose #2 and paid off all of our consumer debt and built ample savings. When I lost that job at the beginning of the recession, being debt free allowed us to immediately take the first good job that came my way. It was a huge pay cut for us, but it didn’t matter! Being debt free had truly made us free.

I always get a little annoyed when I hear a politician acting like personal choices are not the responsibility of the person who made that choice.

Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.

Yesterday I read Obama’s first State of the Union. Interestingly, he stated then that in three years (now in other words), he’d triple our internal energy development. Last week he vetoed the Keystone pipeline that would have, pretty much, done just that.

Personally, I think the promises are nice, but they are hollow. Most of them are anyway, and I don’t want to hear more empty promises.

So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back. But we have to seize it. Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.

Interesting concept… what would you actually propose, though?

We should start with our tax code. First, if you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it. Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. Third, if you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut.

In the sake honesty, the previous quote is bunch of snippets from four paragraphs in which Obama outlines greater details. Yes, starting with the tax code is a good idea, but I have a few issues with his ideas. While I agree with the general concept that we should reward business done in America, I don’t agree with the idea of putting those rewards in the tax code. What we’re asking for at this point is another 10,000 pages in the tax code with 10,000 loop holes for key industries. We don’t need a more complex tax code.

How about this: Instead of adding to the tax code, dump it. Replace the corporate tax code with a simple 10% or 15% corporate tax. Period. Take our rate from one of the highest in the world to one of the lowest. The benefit is that business done here is rewarded for doing it here with a low rate. Those companies that do off-shore business will have the incentive to return because of the better rate. Don’t punish companies by making it harder and more expensive to be a business! Reward them by limiting government influence, taxes, and regulation, and you’ll see those businesses naturally respond with growth.

Pretty simple.

Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China.

Good enough, but I want to see the impact on American business from this. The truth is that no man (or company) is an island. The impact of this unit may (or may not) have an impact on other areas.

Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job.

And now we hit at the crux of the issue. The recession never really happened to me. I was laid off for two months, but since that time I’ve had a great job. We are MUCH better today than when the recession started, although most of that I credit to making wise financial choices and avoiding debt of any kind.

However, regardless of my own personal successes, the recession never really happened to a lot of educated workers. The problem here is not a lack of jobs, but a lack of education. A lack of marketable skills that are valued and needed.

I like to think of my life as, as Dave Ramsey would call it, You Incorporated. He refers to You Inc in terms of finances, but I also see it as more a global commentary of life. A company that refuses to maintain or improve the product they offer goes bankrupt. Period. Personally, if we refuse to grow, learn new trades, or expand our offerings, we’ll go bankrupt.

The problem with the recession and specifically the hit on blue collar workers is as much an education problem as it is a manufacturing problem.

It’s time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.

Yeah… So Obama just basically said what I did, and this sentence is kind of the highlight of that long piece. And I agree with the idea in general. Where I’m going to disagree is where Ron Paul would disagree. This is not something to handle on the federal level. Turn this over to the states who, ideally, should turn it over to individual communities.

The few times we’ve turned to the government for assistance, I was always blown away by the paperwork, the reporting, the bureaucracy. We spent more time dealing with unemployment and aid offices than I did looking for a job. And the one-size-fits-all approach was disgusting. I still remember the WIC lady looking at Courtney, who was 8-months pregnant at the time and telling her to basically lay off the Twinkies and the Ho-hos. I should point out that this was when Courtney was experimenting with vegetarianism and was basically eating pure, whole foods.

No… make a community system where my needs can be dealt with directly by the people most capable of dealing with them.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

Okay, but why is this a federal program? This should be done on the community level.

When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college.

Obama goes on to talk about helping keep interest rates low on college debt. How about focusing on eliminating that debt entirely? How about helping more students understand that an English degree from your community college will work just as well as an English degree from a private school when all is said and done.

You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country.

Fair enough, BUT do not require everyone to be benefited. This is where I struggle with some of these ideas. This is the same philosophy that gave us the No Child Left Behind act that didn’t account for the needs of individuals. I’m game, but give this to the states and communities that can actually work with people instead of ideologies.

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy…. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

Can I point out Keystone, Mr. President? You just vetoed that last week due to political pressure. Now, that work, those jobs, that money, and that energy will likely flow due west to Vancouver and off this continent. It could have been ours and it was offered to us.

Bad call….

We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.

And I can agree fully with this. I don’t agree with subsidies in general, especially to profitable companies that don’t need it. However, I do believe that we need to put forth greater efforts to lead the world in clean, reliable energy. We can be the Saudi Arabia of clean energy if we want. I think that’s a worthwhile goal.

Responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.

Why not? Look…. I bought my home knowing that the value would go up and down. I’m intelligent, I weighed the risks and the rewards, and I decided that it was worth it. I did. I don’t want the government to ride in on their charging bronco and “rescue” me. I don’t need to be rescued. And frankly, no one else should be rescued either.

I flat out disagree with the government saving people from their own decisions. Where is the personal responsibility?

That’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates. No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.

So your answer is to charge the banks a fee to lower the interest rates they charge to customers who willingly signed up for the loans they have in the first place? How is this a win? This pushes all the responsibility onto the institutions who took much of the risk in the first place.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.

And yet you seem awfully willing to not insist on responsibility. You blame the wealthy for not paying their “fair share.” You blame the banks for wrecking mortgages and home values. You blame Wall Street for greed and corruption. How about blaming the American people for being so debt hungry and possession hungry that they consciously entered into agreements they couldn’t keep? How about blaming the government for encouraging the banks to do what they did? You are pushing all of this on other groups and other people with little thought of personal responsibility by the citizens you represent.

A call for personal responsibility from you is pretty outrageous.

I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men.

Only one issue here…. Why shouldn’t an insurance company charge women differently from men? The issues both groups face aren’t the same. Insurance companies don’t do it to be prejudiced against one. The rates are based off actuarial tables which predict, with pretty reliable accuracy, the issues that any given sample of the population will face. Guess what? The costs are different.

That’s called business.

And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.

Well that’s an easy one. Start with President Clinton mandating that loans be offered to higher-risk groups. Follow it up with President Bush’s policies that continued that. And let’s be honest; had the housing crisis occurred later, you too would have continued those policies, Mr. President. That was an easy one.

Taxes….

Okay, so that’s not a direct quote, but it was a long piece that I didn’t want to copy over entirely. Plus, you already know what it said: Raise taxes on the wealthy.

Look…. I get tired of the fair share argument. I will agree that millionaires can pay more in taxes if you’ll agree that 47% of Americans paying no tax is also a problem. Can we at least agree on that?

I have long thought that our tax code should be reformed to one of two options:

  1. A very simple flat tax that asks ALL Americans to pay X no matter what the income level is and has NO loopholes or deductions. I love the way the church does it. Tithing is 10%. That’s the “tax code” of the church. Why can’t the nation have a similar tax code? Filing my taxes would be a dream.
  2. Knowing that a true flat tax like I mentioned would never fly, I’d be prepared to look at a graduated flat tax that was still a flat tax by income level. So, for example, $0 to $20,000 a year would pay maybe 5%. Flat. No deductions, not exceptions. For $20,001 to $40,000, maybe it’s 7%. And so on. When you hit that magic million mark or whatever mark is decided on, the rate could very well be 50% or higher. That’d be fine by me. But make it so that I can figure out my taxes on the back of an envelope instead of paying someone $350 each year to do it for me.

I’d be very happy with either of those tax codes.

Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

I admit that I didn’t pull a quote for quite a while and Obama talked about a lot of things. The last… quarter? … of his speech was about unity. About building the nation together, and this quote pulls that together nicely.

I started off talking about how one of the critical issues we face is the inability of many people to recognize the value in other ideas. I also think it’s critical that we step back from these hard lines we’ve drawn in the sand. These hard lines create hard stances and immovable “values.” They create roadblocks and the inability to move. Frankly, I’d be more than satisfied if I could be met halfway.

I recognize that not all of what I believe should happen will happen, and when did that become a bad thing? When did incomplete success become total failure? Instead of building up those willing to compromise and work towards the center, we have people on both sides punishing them for not being obstructionists and holding the line.

I look at the current GOP field. The race is on to be the most conservative. The most unwilling to work with others. Seriously? I’m a Romney fan because he is a centrist. He’s a moderate. Gingrich throws around Massachusetts Moderate like it’s a really long four-letter word. And it’s sad.

If we’d elect more moderates, we’d be a better nation.

If you’re truly tired of the infighting in Washington and the vitriol, stop sending to Washington people who take those hard lines, people unable to recognize the good in other ideas, people unable to see the common ground.

As much as I truly dislike Obama, I’m starting to see something in him that NoSurfGirl has said many times. She’s consistently pointed out to me that Obama is not a great crisis president. My comeback is, of course, when is there not a crisis? But as I really look at that, Obama would have done well in an environment of open, honest communication where both sides are willing to talk. That’s not our environment.

To be honest, I’m eager to see him as ex-president Obama, and not necessarily because I want him out of office but more because I think he’ll be an incredible ambassador for our nation, especially if he takes the role of elder statesman and stays above the petty fighting. Carter’s greatest weakness right now is his inability to see the other side. Had he stayed above that….

Sigh… the opportunities we lose because we can’t see the good are startling.

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One Response to Review: State of the Union, 2012

  1. Sarah L. says:

    It drives me nuts that people haven’t taken more responsibility for the housing crisis. Only they know their budget – the banks don’t. Having sacrificed and stayed in this apartment for so long because we didn’t fool ourselves into thinking we could afford a house, it really bugs and now we’re all suffering together because of what it did to the economy. Most likely Matt and I will eventually score a great deal on a house, but it will be because someone else lost their job or couldn’t sell their home for nearly as much as they bought it for.

    Utah actually has the strongest economy. I know many people here who have taken large pay cuts or have been laid off repeatedly. Soon before my dad retired, he got a 28% pay cut because the company didn’t want to lay anyone off. Meanwhile, the state keeps trying to add new taxes (gas tax, junk food/bottled water tax), and made 520 a toll bridge. Gas is so much more expensive than it used to be and because of that, so it everything else. It really burns my bum when the state can’t figure out how to cut spending and just expects so many people who are suffering to pay even more.

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