Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union Highlights

I was at scouts last night and couldn't watch the State of the Union Address, but as I've browsed through it there are several items that I believe are worth highlighting.  The theme was Win the Future, which I guess is the new Hope and Change.  In both cases, President Obama wants to exude optimism, which is something, as I've said before, we dearly lack around here.  So with optimism in mind, here are a few things worth looking at.

As some of you know, I'm a proud and moralistic environmentalist, so I appreciated the renewed emphasis on renewable energy:
Already, we're seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard. Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert's words, "We reinvented ourselves."
That's what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we've begun to reinvent our energy policy. We're not just handing out money. We're issuing a challenge. We're telling America's scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we'll fund the Apollo projects of our time.
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 a 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 — 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.
Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources.
Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
First, there is almost nothing so offensive, in my mind, as the billions of dollars in tax relief that we give to oil companies.  Those should end immediately.  Second, I've been contemplating a post about the world's population crisis, and one of the most important points in that discussion is energy.  Where are the billions of people we are going to be adding to our world's population going to get their energy?  How can we add billions more people to the Earth and not completely destroy the environment in the search for and consumption of cheap energy?  Renewable energy, of course, is the answer, and the longer we wait to make the President's goal a reality the harder it will be.  We simply have no choice but to invest aggressively in renewable energies.  And it will be good for our economy in the long-term, as well.

As to education, and to allay concerns that liberals are masked communists who want to destroy the family:
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. We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.
As a parent of children who are starting to make their way through school, I simply could not agree more that the most important factor in determining whether our schools are successful is the efforts of the home.  We wouldn't be talking about failing schools and teachers if families bore more of the burden and responsibility of education.  That is nearly impossible, however, when parents are facing foreclosure, unemployment, insurmountable medical bills, neighborhood violence, and the like, and where the stresses of oppressive poverty crowd out most other concerns.  The stability of the family is one reason why it is so important to build and maintain a robust social safety net.

Finally, one point that I wish was hit more forcefully.  When the president spoke about reducing the deficit he spent quite a bit of time talking about reducing non-discretionary domestic spending, which he acknowledged made up only 12% of the nation's budget.  Then he blithely stated, concerning the deficit commission:
And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it — in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.
I believe I've linked to this before, but take a look at the a visualization of the budget found at the New York Times.  What jumps out immediately?  National Security and Social Security.  Those are certainly worthy of a lot of money, and we talk all the time about ways to control Social Security costs.  What we never talk about is controlling National Security costs.  It is virtually unheard of for a politician to seriously suggest bringing defense spending down in any meaningful way, which is a travesty.  Here are an assortment of charts to help put our military spending in context

From the Center for Arms Control:

From Think Progress:

From the Daily Mail:

If we want to seriously get the budget under control, we should cut defense spending, which is filled with corruptions, special interests, and waste.  Pres. Eisenhower correctly predicted this in his farewell speech where he warned:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
I thought the State of Union was good.  I think it had the right tone and struck the right balance between government waste and government investment.  A focus on families, peace, and renewable energy, among other things, is the kind of liberalism I support.

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