Wednesday, January 29, 2014

President Obama's State of the Union Address 2014: Pointing in the Right Direction

 I didn't see or hear President Obama's State of the Union address, but I've reviewed the text and found some things worth considering more carefully. Excerpts from the speech follow with some comments from me. (Bold type marks my emphasis.)
The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It's an important debate -- one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy -- when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States -- then we are not doing right by the American people.
 Calling out House Republicans for their shameful behavior (okay, he didn't say "House Republicans", but we all know it) was completely appropriate. He needed to lay down his marker and he did.
And in the coming months -- (applause) -- in the coming months, let's see where else we can make progress together. Let's make this a year of action. That's what most Americans want, for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all, the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America. 
A restatement of the American Dream and ideals, but we have to take a hard look at whether its working as well as it should. I don't think so. 
Now, let's face it: That belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.
Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all.
So our job is to reverse these trends.
It won't happen right away, and we won't agree on everything.
 Growing inequality is a creeping and its insidious. One of the benefits of living in another country is to see how things that you don't understand or appreciate in your own country effect other nations. India suffers from huge chasms of inequality, the rising middle class notwithstanding. If you consider nations with large amount of inequality, you see how they don't make the "best place to live" awards. American has normally been marked by a large degree of social and political equality, and the more we lose that quality, the more our social and political fabric suffers.
But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I. (Applause.) So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do. (Cheers, applause.)
 In other words, "Republicans, you either part of the solution or a part of the problem. You've marked yourselves as problems and its time for you to go." I'm glad to hear Obama taking this type of bold stand, which seems contrary to his instincts, but sometimes you've got to go beyond instincts.
 The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That's what drew our forebears here. It's how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America's largest automaker -- (applause) -- how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House -- (cheers, applause) -- how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth.
Yes, most of us come from modest origins. This is a great strength of our nation. 
Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes -- because in today's global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We'll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. (Cheers, applause.) That can happen.
Infrastructure in the U.S. is beginning to lag, and this a great way--assuming sound projects--to put people to work. That all of us fortunate enough to enjoy some of this prosperity will have to pay some more in taxes doesn't bother me.
Meanwhile, my administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and jobs growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, our communities. And while we're at it, I'll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations. (Applause.)
If you want to find out what poor environment standards mean for day-to-day living, come to India or China, and you'll find out. 
And taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. (Applause.)
But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That's why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.
The shift -- (applause) -- the shift to a cleaner energy economy won't happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way.
But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. (Applause.) And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did. (Cheers, applause.)
Figuring out energy while reducing our carbon footprint is probably the greatest challenge the world faces now. To hear climate change raised in the public sphere in a clear and unequivocal voice is so welcome. We can't fix the problem until we acknowledge it, and the No-Nothing Party (once the proud Republican Party) won't do it. 
Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America's longest war will finally be over. (Applause.)
It should have happened sooner. The complexity and history of Afghanistan are so daunting that we'll never have a "victory", so we need to get out sooner rather than later.  Watch the superb Jaipur Literature Festival panel about Afghanistan if you want some sense of the problems that exist there.
But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our outstanding military alone. As commander in chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm's way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles -- (applause) -- that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us -- large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.
Yes, they do drain us. Thanks for admitting it!  And yes, sometimes I think that the U.S. government is in the terrorist creation business (see under "drones").
So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing. (Applause.) That's why I've imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.
This can't be said often enough: war and democracy don't mix. War kills democracy. If we have to worry about it in an Obama Administration (and we do), then how much more in a future (Heaven forbid!) Bush administration? 
The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. (Applause.) For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.
Super. We have to let all the world know that the U.S. will act in its perceived interests even if they conflict with the interests of any ally or friendly nation, whether it be Canada, the U.K. , or Israel. If Israel foolishly tries to torpedo negotiations with Iran (through the U.S. Congress, no less!), then President Obama is right to say "no". Simple. The war hawks in Congress need a firm "no" on this, and I'm very glad that Obama sent that message. After assuring our own national interest, we must support the State of Israel within the bounds of our interests and not simply follow the policies of any given Israeli government. 

All in all, a good message. Keep after it, Mr. President! 

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