Fisking the NSOTU

I didn’t watch it last night. This was partially because my daughter decided that last night’s dinner would look better, in semi-digested form, on the bedroom floor. But the other reason I skipped it was because my tolerance for Presidential addresses to Congress is at a low ebb.

These speeches are boring the crap out of me, no matter how skilled or unskilled the speaker may be. There are too many “killer” lines; too much standing and applauding. I tried flipping over a few times last night and every single time, Congress was applauding. Seriously, we could shorten these speeches to 90 seconds if Congress sat on their hands.

I don’t have time for a full fisking or a coherent response. But I thought I’d put up a few random thoughts as I read through the thing.

First, the doom and gloom of the last year was nowhere to be found. Now that he’s got his stimulus package, the President apparently doesn’t need to terrify us anymore.

This series of quotes aggravated me.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

The thing is that almost all of these problems were aided and abetted by big government. It’s government that is forcing us to pour money into useless projects like ethanol. It is government that has made healthcare so complex and expensive — just ask Obama, who voted in favor of every health insurance mandate that came before the Illinois legislature. I won’t even get started on the debacle that is school funding.

And debt? We just passed a stimulus bill that pads another $800 billion of debt for dubious advantage. And it wasn’t pushed through with reason and discussion, but with panic-laden pronouncement about the disaster that would ensue if it wasn’t passed.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market.

I’m not sure how letting the wealthy keep more of their money become a wealth transfer. It’s pretty difficult to transfer money from people who don’t have it to people who do. And has Obama been paying attention to reality? Bush was one of the biggest regulators in American history.

But I guess we have to keep pushing the Big Lie.

Obama spent a good deal of time praising the stimulus package. While I have no doubt the stuff he praised was in it, what was left unmentioned was the billions of dollars of other crap that came along for the deficit-financed ride. I’m also wondering why we’re supposed to be reassured that Joe Biden is going to be overseeing the stimulus package. People who plagiarize are, generally speaking, not original thinkers.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other.

You know what else could be hurting their confidence? The threat that you’ll allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite their mortgages.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

The thought here is fine. But if he wanted this, he should have insisted on changes in TARP while he was a Senator.

The thing is, the continual bailouts and aide to the housing industry are increasingly crossing me as a solution in search of a problem. Because where home prices have fallen, home sales are rising.

The market is already sorting itself out: home prices have fallen to more reasonable levels; people are saving money, giving banks more capital. As time goes on, I see less and less need for the benign government to step in and solve all our problems.

You already know how I feel about the “green jobs” business. Obama’s bold promises on energy are something we’ve heard from every President since Jimmy Carter. I see no reason to take them seriously now. His promises to double the amount of renewable energy, for example, pre-suppose perfect knowledge of industry, engineering and physics. As the President does not have experience in these fields, they are empty promises.

Maybe we can double renewable energy — if the Universe allows it. But as long as we’re promising non-existent energy technology, why don’t we promise flying cars as well?

Will Wilkinson, on Cato’s liveblog, pointed out that green jobs are really just corporate welfare. I have to agree.

I think it’s amusing that a Democrat is using harsher language with the auto companies than a Republican did. He has that luxury because bailing out the auto industry is very unpopular with the public.

There are several problems with Obama’s rhetoric on healthcare reform. First, he claims that health costs produce a bankruptcy every thirty seconds. Problem: it’s not true. Healthcare costs, generally speaking, don’t bankrupt people who handle money responsibly. What they do is tip irresponsible people over the edge they tend to dance on.

Then there’s his praise of S-CHIP for insuring 11 million kids. According to CATO, 40% of S-CHIP kids already had insurance. So you’ve really insured 6 million kids for the price of 11 million.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the continual flogging of the supposed benefits of electronic records is balderdash. Electronic records are not cheap — as the providers currently investing in them are finding out. Nor is privacy guaranteed. Nor is quality. I took my daughter to a doctor the other day and they entered her height into the computer as 32 cm.

I’m preparing a series of articles on healthcare reform to respond to various myths promulgated by the Left. I suspect, owing to the length and esoteric nature of some it, I’ll be posting parts of it here and parts at Right-Thinking. Stand by.

Obama’s education rhetoric is also unmoving. The problem with early childhood education efforts is that early childhood education is not the problem — late childhood education is. Student performance deteriorates most dramatically in high school, not preschool. And the one ray of hope for our public schools — voucher programs — is on the Democrat chopping block.

Also, Cato has done immense work showing that federal funding and scholarships have more than kept up with the price of college education. In fact, they argue that the open-ended commitment by the government to fund education has been the driving force behind the spiraling cost of college.

The typical college student graduates with a student loan debt of $20,000. The student loan program needs some changes. But 20 large doesn’t seem a huge burden for a college education.

Finally, I’m becoming increasingly dubious of the federal goal of getting everyone a college education. 1/3 of college students drop out. More need remedial classes. How is that a good thing?

About the “Serve America” act — any piece of legislation that has the fingerprints of Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy on it has got to be bad for us.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

Such as increase spending massively.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

It’s easy to pass a budget free of earmarks when the entire thing is one giant earmark. I also wonder if Obama will veto the current Omnibus legislation on his desk — which has 9,000 earmarks.

….

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

I’d love to see all this from the Illinois Senator who has always supported farm subsidies and unquestioned funding of education. But I would point out that what ships jobs overseas is not tax breaks. It’s tax hikes — such as the double taxation of overseas earnings that is rather unique to the United States.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

You can’t cut taxes for people who don’t pay any. That’s called a handout.

There were parts of the speech I liked. Such as this:

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

The games that Bush played with the budget figures were truly disgraceful. Although, I would point out that Obama’s stimulus price tag assumes future cuts in spending.

Then there was this:

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture

Those are words that are almost worth all the other crap Obama is cramming down our throats.

Overall, I didn’t hate it. It’s certainly nice to have a President who can complete a coherent sentence. And most of the stuff Obama wants to do is stuff McCain would have done anyway. But there were very few specifics about his bold promises.

We’ll have to see what happens when the legislation begins to roll out.

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