Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Breaking Down Obama's Speech in Kansas

President Obama gave a campaign speech yesterday in Kansas.  By listening to it, you wouldn't know that he's been President for the past three years.  Once again, he continues to raise the "class warfare" rhetoric.  But wait, I thought he was supposed to be the great uniter?  I thought he was going to bring both sides of the aisle together?  So much for that, I guess.  What did he say?  The full speech can be found here.  Let's break down parts of his speech:
[My grandparents] believed in an America where hard work paid off, and responsibility was rewarded, and anyone could make it if they tried -- no matter who you were, no matter where you came from, no matter how you started out. 
We still have that America, Mr. President.  Example #1:  Oprah Winfrey.
So you could [back then] have some confidence that if you gave it your all, you'd take enough home to raise your family and send your kids to school and have your health care covered, put a little away for retirement.
We still have that confidence, Mr. President.  The problem is that people feel they need more to simply raise their family.  They need big flatscreen televisions and iPhones and computers and designer clothes and a new car every three years.  They prioritize these types of items over things like retirement and health insurance.  Luxuries have become necessities in this day and age.
But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments -- wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren't -- and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.
Most Americans?  Really?  I don't believe that hard work has stopped paying off for "most" or "too many" people.  This is a dangerous road for the President to be traveling down, in my opinion.  Yes, those at the top made higher incomes.  That's the way life works.  The CEO of McDonalds and the franchise owners make more money than the guy flipping burgers at each franchise.  Should they be paid the same?  This isn't a fight about who works harder anymore.  Both may work hard, but in very different ways.  And those investments?  A risk.  The top could lose money on investments.  Also, regarding racking up debt, see my comment above about necessities versus luxuries. 
We all know the story by now:  Mortgages sold to people who couldn't afford them, or even sometimes understand them.
Whose fault is that?  Why were people taking out mortgages they couldn't afford or couldn't understand?  Is this all the bank's fault?  Remember, it was the federal government who decided that everyone should have the right to own a home, and forced the banks to give mortgages to people who probably shouldn't have had mortgages.  Shouldn't the people who were getting the mortgages have thought to themselves "Gee, I don't know if I can afford this?"  If they didn't understand what they were signing, shouldn't they have stopped and not signed it until they did understand?  Of course not, according to the President.  It was all the Big, Bad Banks fault.
Banks and investors allowed to keep packaging the risk and selling it off.  Huge bets -- and huge bonuses -- made with other people's money on the line.
Many of these people had no money on the line, since they were allowed to take out mortgages with little to no money down.  What money did they have on the line?
Regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn't have the authority to look at all.

In fact, the Republicans warned about this happening back in the Clinton days, but the Democrats ignored them in their zeal to make life "fair" for everyone. 
It was wrong.  It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility all across the system. 
I'll raise him "a few."  Anyone who took out a home loan with 0 down was also being greedy.  They wanted a home, but they didn't have to work for it or save up any money to buy it.  Isn't that a little greedy?  And then when the market tanked and their home values dropped, and they wanted to sell, they turned it around and blamed the banks.  Greedy.
It claimed the jobs and the homes and the basic security of millions of people -- innocent, hardworking Americans who had met their responsibilities but were still left holding the bag.
This seems like a vast generalization to me.  Have all of those "innocent, hardworking Americans" met their responsibilities?  Wait a second...didn't he just say they took out mortgages they couldn't afford or understand?  Is that meeting their basic responsibility?  I think not.  I have no doubt that there are certainly innocent, hardworking Americans out there who got screwed by the system or screwed by vast medical bills or unexpected job losses, but let's not pretend that those are the majority.
[The debate over how to restore growth and prosperity has] left Washington in a near-constant state of gridlock. 
You mean the debate between tax the hell out of a subset of people versus cutting federal spending?  That debate?
Because what's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.
In this country you can do all of those things still, provided you act responsibly and draw a line between necessities and luxuries.  What is a "modest" savings?  What does "secure their retirement" mean?  How much money?  
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that's happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
Earth to President Obama:  The government got us into this mess in the first place.  The party you keep criticizing wants to make the federal government smaller.  It wants the federal government out of businesses (like the auto industry) that it has no business being in and no Constitutional authority to be involved in.  Did you see the million dollars that some broadband Internet show was given as part of the stimulus package?  I mean, what?  Why is the government involved in the entertainment industry?  Every day there are news articles about the millions or billions of dollars that are simply wasted by the government.  Yes, Mr. President, we want to go back to when the government wasn't a bloated, wasteful, spending mess with no accountability.  We want a government that doesn't allow Congress to go for nearly three years without passing a budget.  We want our government to do their jobs and nothing more.
I'm here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we're greater together than we are on our own. 
Code language for:  I'm going to take away from the producers and give to those who don't produce.
I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. 
Oh, good gravy.  I'd like definitions on "fair shot," "fair share," and "same rules."  This actually is a country where anyone can do anything.  While someone was majoring in Art History and pontificating in a cafe about Van Gogh, Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook.  Do some people start out more disadvantaged?  Yes.  Blame their parents.  The government simply cannot afford to take care of everyone.  Regarding "fair share," no one who says it will ever define what that means.  To me, it means equal.  I pay the same taxes as anyone else, or at least the same percentage.  Doesn't that sound fair?  Shouldn't we all have some skin in the game?  Regarding everyone doing their fair share, how about this -- I agree to not vandalize anything, commit any crimes, and abide by the laws of society.  You do the same.  Sound good?  Also, last I checked, we are all playing by the same rules, aren't we?  Isn't that why we have laws?  If someone is breaking the laws, have them arrested.  (Unless of course, it is Occupy Wall Street, who seems to be able to get away with not getting permits like every other organization who wants to protest has to do.) 
But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what [Teddy Roosevelt] fought for in his last campaign:  an eight-hour work day and a minimum wage for women -- (applause) -- insurance for the unemployed and for the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax. 
What is this eight hour work day of which he speaks?  Oh, right, that only applies to unions.
Over the last few decades, huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less, and it's made it easier for them to set up shop and hire workers anywhere they want in the world. 
What's next, banning technology?  Banning the Internet?  Oh, and I think some of these government regulations and tax rates have also had a big hand in helping businesses move to other places in the world.  And let's not forget that the majority of the "hardworking Americans" don't seem to want to go to college for STEM majors because they are too hard, leaving a lot of companies left with no other choice but to go elsewhere.
And if you're somebody whose job can be done cheaper by a computer or someone in another country, you don't have a lot of leverage with your employer when it comes to asking for better wages or better benefits, especially since fewer Americans today are part of a union. 
Now he's courting the unions.  I'm sorry, but if your job can be done cheaper by a computer or a person somewhere else, should you have great negotiation leverage?  This is a huge part of the reason why the U.S. automakers have gotten screwed by the unions.  And why is this any of the government's business?
If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger.  Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers.
Ooh -- especially for the wealthy!  He's going all in.
Remember in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. 
I guess he's not going to talk about the excessive spending the Democratic controlled Congress has forced on us since 2007, or about how they are incapable of passing a budget.  Oh no, it's all the GOP's fault.
Remember that in those same years, thanks to some of the same folks who are now running Congress, we had weak regulation, we had little oversight, and what did it get us? Insurance companies that jacked up people's premiums with impunity and denied care to patients who were sick, mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn't afford, a financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy.
I wonder if he's including the Democrats who are still running Congress.  Ooh and those poor people were tricked into buying homes!  Tricked!  Those are fighting words.  Then again, why make anyone take responsibility for anything?
We simply cannot return to this brand of “you're on your own” economics if we're serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. 
No, we are going to rebrand it as "the government will take care of your every need and you don't have to take any responsibility for your life."  Is that really the direction we want to go?
Now, this kind of inequality -- a level that we haven't seen since the Great Depression -- hurts us all.  When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. 
He must have missed the part where we just had the biggest Black Friday in history.  Or about how well Apple is doing.  It seems to me that middle-class famiiles are having no trouble affording the goods and services they want.  Whether they need them is a different story entirely.
Inequality also distorts our democracy.  It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. 
So, he's saying that both he and Congress are incapable of turning down campaign contributions or ignoring the high-priced lobbyists?  Of course people are going to game the system -- we depend on our government to be above that, which he is clearly admitting they aren't.  Is he selling out our democracy to the highest bidder when he goes to these $30,000 a plate fundraisers for the elite?  Maybe he should cancel those and show us that he actually supports not distorting our democracy in this way.
This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that's at the very heart of America:  that this is a place where you can make it if you try.
 I think it actually gives more proof to that promise.  You can be in the 1% if you try.  You can't do that in China.
We tell people -- we tell our kids -- that in this country, even if you're born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do. That's why immigrants from around the world historically have flocked to our shores.
I guess things have gotten so awful here that the immigrants have stopped coming.
It's heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal.  But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? 
Show me a kid in poverty who worked hard, had a part time job, got straight As in school, participated in school activities, and did not get into any trouble who could not fight their way into the middle class.  I'm serious.  Show me one. 
We need to remember that we can only do that together.  It starts by making education a national mission -- a national mission.
Tell me again where education is in the Constitution, because I can't remember.  Oh, right, it's supposed to be a state issue.  Guess the Constitutional law professor forgot that one.
In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class. 
Actually, you can get there quite well through trades such as electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics, etc. also.  But that doesn't help the colleges get more tuition money, now does it?  Oh, and you might have to get dirty if you do those jobs.
We shouldn't be making it harder to afford college -- we should be a country where everyone has a chance to go and doesn't rack up $100,000 of debt just because they went. 
The debt isn't a problem provided you have the foresight to use your $100,000 wisely, in a major that is employable at a decent salary.  Also, living on the high hog during college with your loan money and taking semesters abroad probably isn't very smart either.  Isn't it amazing that you can get a student loan and the bank doesn't investigate at all whether you will ever be able to pay the loan back?
And by the way, if we don't have an economy that's built on bubbles and financial speculation, our best and brightest won't all gravitate towards careers in banking and finance.  (Applause.)   Because if we want an economy that's built to last, we need more of those young people in science and engineering. 
Good on him for mentioning science and engineering.  Boo for insulting those who are in banking and finance.  We do need them, too.
And that's why the over 1 million construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed, they shouldn't be sitting at home with nothing to do. They should be rebuilding our roads and our bridges, laying down faster railroads and broadband, modernizing our schools -- (applause) -- all the things other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores.
Yes, so why aren't we spending money on this instead of on all the earmarks, waste, and nonsense Congress keeps approving?  I'm happy to spend tax money on fixing roads and bridges and railroads.  Why don't we do that? 
Of course, those productive investments cost money.  They're not free.  And so we've also paid for these investments by asking everybody to do their fair share. 
And here we go...back to this vague "fair share" business.
Today that choice is very clear.  To reduce our deficit, I've already signed nearly $1 trillion of spending cuts into law and I've proposed trillions more, including reforms that would lower the cost of Medicare and Medicaid.
Too bad spending isn't up to him.  Too bad he can't even get the Democrats in Congress to get on board with what he wants to do.  Too bad a lot of these "cuts" aren't really cuts at all, but funny accounting tricks.
In the long term, we have to rethink our tax system more fundamentally.  We have to ask ourselves:  Do we want to make the investments we need in things like education and research and high-tech manufacturing -- all those things that helped make us an economic superpower?  Or do we want to keep in place the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in our country?  Because we can't afford to do both.  That is not politics.  That's just math.
Yes, because the only option is to tax the wealthy!  That's it.  Forget about cutting spending.  Cutting spending wouldn't be math, I guess. 
Under President Clinton, the top rate was only about 39 percent.  Today, thanks to loopholes and shelters, a quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of you, millions of middle-class families.  Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent.  One percent.  
Only 39%!  And that doesn't even include your state taxes.  Why don't we stop looking at tax rates and start looking at the amount of taxes paid?  1 percent of a billion is $10,000,000.  God, those cheapass billionaires, only paying ten million dollars in federal taxes.  Jeez.  Let's compare that guy to the guy who pays no federal income taxes.  Is that fair? 
That is the height of unfairness. 
Oh, but he's saying this in the context that the billionaire should pay more than ten million dollars.  It wouldn't be fair otherwise.  I mean, what the hell?
It's wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker, maybe earns $50,000 a year, should pay a higher tax rate than somebody raking in $50 million.  (Applause.)  It's wrong for Warren Buffett's secretary to pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. 
Something tells me Warren Buffet paid a lot more in taxes than his secretary.  This story Obama keeps throwing out there is such a freaking red herring.  Whether or not Warren Buffet's tax rate is lower due to capital gains, he is paying a shit ton of money in taxes.  Way more than his secretary.
And I know that many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute a little more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.
Pay.gov allows anyone who wants to contribute as much as they want to the government.  Have at it, wealthiest citizens.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Oh, but it wouldn't be "fair" if they voluntarily did it.  It's only "fair" when everyone is forced to do it.
This isn't about class warfare.
Bullshit.  How about some thanks to all those wealthy citizens who are running businesses that give people jobs?  How can this guy with a straight face continue to castigate the wealthy, when at the same time he is going to fundraisers for the wealthy few nearly every night?  You want to talk about distorting the democracy?  Look in the mirror, Mr. President.
It's about making choices that benefit not just the people who've done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get into the middle class, and the economy as a whole. 
How about forcing everyone to make responsible choices instead?
Does anybody here think that the problem that led to our financial crisis was too much oversight of mortgage lenders or debt collectors?
It was the federal government sticking its nose where it didn't belong.
Every day we go without a consumer watchdog is another day when a student, or a senior citizen, or a member of our Armed Forces -- because they are very vulnerable to some of this stuff -- could be tricked into a loan that they can't afford -- something that happens all the time. 
He's using that word again -- "tricked!"  It's amazing to me how he completely writes off any responsibility by the person who took on the loan.  They weren't all tricked. 
Consumers deserve to have someone whose job it is to look out for them. 
This is the President telling us we are all too stupid to survive without the government.
I'll be calling for legislation that makes those penalties count so that firms don't see punishment for breaking the law as just the price of doing business. 
Does anyone believe him anymore when he says he's going to do something?
The big banks should increase access to refinancing opportunities to borrowers who haven't yet benefited from historically low interest rates.  And the big banks should recognize that precisely because these steps are in the interest of middle-class families and the broader economy, it will also be in the banks' own long-term financial interest.  What will be good for consumers over the long term will be good for the banks. 
Here he is, sticking his nose into the banking industry, which is what got us into trouble in the first place.  So, I assume when the interest rates go up, he won't have a problem if the banks force people to refinance to the higher rates?  When you sign your mortgage, you agree to the interest rate.  Maybe you can refinance later to lower it, maybe you can't.  So now that it's gone down, he wants to force the banks to change the mortgage contract, possibly to their own detriment. 
A tax code that makes sure everybody pays their fair share.
Sweet, I'm all for a flat tax.
It will require parents to get more involved in their children's education.  It will require students to study harder.  (Applause.)  It will require some workers to start studying all over again.  It will require greater responsibility from homeowners not to take out mortgages they can't afford.  They need to remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.    
This is good, but everyone had probably tuned out by now.
It will require those of us in public service to make government more efficient and more effective, more consumer-friendly, more responsive to people's needs.  That's why we're cutting programs that we don't need to pay for those we do.
We are?  What are we cutting?  He's always so vague.

Eh, that's about it.  At the end he gets into his usual platitudes and the feel good hope and change stuff that got him elected in the first place.  He must be thrilled to be able to campaign again, because that is something he is good at.  He's incredibly focused on being Teddy Roosevelt right now, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. 

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