Tag Archives: SOTU

State of the Union

30 Jan

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

The #SOTU and Fun With Time Warner Cable

29 Jan

I watched the State of the Union last night but honestly didn’t stick with it all the way to the end. I heard President Obama identify a lot of problems and propose a bunch of solutions, but it’s doubtful that this year will be any better than the previous five, as far as “Washington gets things done” is concerned. Obama threatened to throw his weight around a bit rather than sit back and watch the House Republicans and tea party block, bully, and bullshit, but it doesn’t matter because they still think in their darkest hearts that the President is a “socialist dictator“. (What they really mean is that they have no idea what a “socialist dictator” is.) 

The state of the union is conflicted right now, and it’s because we don’t have a House of Commons anymore, but two Houses of Lords. We’re being led by the noses by a pack of wild millionaires and billionaires, few of whom know or care about real solutions to real problems. Of course, the so-called “tea party” is nothing more than the willing lumpenprole army for monied interests, so we can’t even get “tea party” right. 

What I did at the end of my day yesterday was give myself a raise of $110/month. 

Until yesterday, I had been paying Time Warner Cable almost $200 per month for two DVRs, digital channels, turbo high-speed internet, and HBO. On Facebook, Kevin Purdy wrote about his experience cutting his monthly expenses by, among other things, cutting out cable to its bare minimum. I called Time Warner and discussed with three reps during one call about reducing my monthly bill to under $100. You’d have thought I had called about partitioning Europe or drilling down the details of the Dayton Accords. 

As it was, I yesterday unceremoniously relinquished two DVR units with associated cords and remotes at the Time Warner office downtown. I have retained high-speed internet at about $60/month (it gets cheaper when you add bundles!), and channels 1-22 (which, given the digital signals the TV reads without a cable box, is not precisely accurate). No more 24-hour mind-numbing cable news. No more HBO. No more Travel Channel or Duck Dynasty or Pawn Stars or Storage Wars. I have local channels and a decent internet signal. 

And with that, I pay Hulu Plus about $8.00/month and I pay Netflix another $8.00/month. I have access on Hulu to almost every basic cable show I enjoy (South Park, Daily Show, Colbert), back episodes of Family Guy and the like, and loads of British comedies and series, which I enjoy. 

With the PBS App on my Apple TV, I am well into season 3 of Sherlock, which WNED has put on hold until February. With Vevo the kids and I can watch actual music videos. With iTunes, I can buy or rent movies that the streaming services don’t have. But they have a lot. If I have a hankering for 24-hour news, Apple TV has Sky from the UK. If I need the Weather Channel, it’s on Apple TV. Hulu has Spongebob for the kids, and I’ve been binge-watching Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look on Netflix and Hulu, respectively. 

Channels “1-22” costs about $19/month. If I wanted some of basic cable, (channels 23 – 98) I’d need to rent a box and pay another $56/month. That’s ok. 

$110 in my pocket every month is well worth it.  Now, if only I could bump my unlimited family plan for 3 smartphones and 6 GB of data down from the $220/month it is now. 

State of the Union Reactions

25 Jan


WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-28) today released the following statement following President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress responding specifically to two tenants of his speech that she has worked on for years: rebuilding America’s manufacturing sector through trade enforcement and passing legislation that would end insider trading among Members of Congress.

“I was delighted to hear the President’s enthusiasm to sign legislation that ends insider trading in Congress and finally reigns in the political intelligence industry that’s been lurking in the shadows of the halls of Congress. I’ve been working on the STOCK Act since 2006 and I say that if the President wants to sign the STOCK Act, let’s get it through the House and send it to him!,” said Slaughter. “It is my hope that the bill that we send to the President is the same bill that has received overwhelming support. The STOCK Act is bipartisan, has enough support to pass the House and is what we should make the law of the land.”

“I was also encouraged that the President shares my desire to strengthen the American economy by rebuilding the American manufacturing sector. For too long American manufacturers have had to compete against illegal trade practices from international competitors and now is the time for bold trade enforcement policies.” Continue reading

Obama and Alito

29 Jan


The Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of government. It is not a delicate menagerie of ultra-fragile prices and princesses who are above the law, above reproach, above criticism, above anything.

The Court majority’s recent decision in Citizens United may be constitutionally valid, but that doesn’t make it right or good. As Obama quite correctly pointed out, that holding will result in unlimited corporate political advocacy without restriction on time, money, or message. Yet corporations don’t have the vote, and their personhood is a convenient legal fiction and nothing more.

For Obama to have criticized the decision as bad for our political system is perfectly valid. The notion that the delicate Court is above criticism at the hands of a President is as ridiculous as suggesting that the Congress is above criticism or discussion in that venue. Every time a Republican President stood up at a State of the Union address and criticized Roe v. Wade, that was the same damn thing, and no one batted an eye.

Because it’s perfectly valid for the chief executive to criticize the judiciary, and vice-versa.

By the same token, it’s no secret that the Court has become supremely politicized in the last few decades. I find nothing wrong with Justice Alito shaking his head or mouthing something back at Obama. Hell, let them stand and cheer if they want to. Decorum for decorum’s sake is stupid, and we should stop playing make-believe.

Obama 2.0

28 Jan

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On Tuesday, WBEN’s Dave Debo called me and asked what I thought Obama had to do during his SOTU speech yesterday.  I don’t think it made it to air because the Collins withdrawal took over the news cycle.  My take was that Obama had to reassure people that we were on the right track, reassert himself into the political process, and remind people that change and progress aren’t easy.  

Clearly the Massachusetts Senate results have people spooked – or cheered, depending on who they are.  While a 100,000 vote margin in an election in which almost 4 million people cast votes isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be, it is significant in the Senate.

In recent history, Presidents have followed a cliched pattern when delivering state of the union addresses.  They recite the prior year’s successes, gloss over the defeats, and set forth a legislative agenda for the year to come.  Obama did that to a certain degree, but he is in a rather unique position.

While the Democrats have majorities in both the House and Senate, not all Democratic Senators are there to help push Obama’s agenda.  The Republican opposition has made the tactical decision to basically act like Obama isn’t president.  They will filibuster everything, give an inch on nothing.  Obama can scold them all he wants about how that is not the hallmark of a functioning democracy, and how saying “no” to everything is not leadership, but they don’t care.

That’s why they remained seated even when Obama called for such typically Republican platform planks as tax cuts, capital gains tax cuts for business, incentives for entrepreneurship, the notion that TARP recipients should pay the money back, and innovation in green energy.  The only items that I saw them cheer for were calls to drill for more oil, (because God forbid we invest in technologies that will move us away from fossil fuels), and nuclear power.

But much as Bush liked to portray himself as a “war president”, Obama is not just that, but also a president who has to preside over an economy obliterated by what he called the “lost decade” where savings, home values, incomes, and investments all stayed the same or went down.

Obama inherited a late 2008 descent into economic depression.  With the help of TARP and a watered-down stimulus which included the largest tax cuts in American history, we avoided depression and instead are trying to dig out of a very deep recession.

Many were predicting that Obama would strike a more populist tone last night, but I didn’t really hear it.  He certainly glossed over health insurance reform, giving it almost no time, but thankfully exhorted Democrats not to run in retreat.  Yes, he wants a jobs bill.  Yes, he wants more investment in smaller businesses and extension of credit to those businesses.  Yes, he would take the $30 billion from TARP repayments and use them to invest in, and stimulate small business.  But he did acknowledge the fact that people have somewhat short memories about the deficit and spending:

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work. We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can’t afford it.

When he called for changes to the student loan system, Obama said that, “no one should go broke because they chose to go to college”.  Democrats cheered.  Republicans sat silently.  Republicans want people to go broke?  WTF?

When he called for deficit reduction, he brought up not only the gimmicky spending freeze on discretionary spending (for which Republicans remained seated and silent), but also made the case for health insurance reform by stating that healthcare is a big chunk of that deficit in future years.  He pleaded with Congress that we must stop shunting costs to future generations.

I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change — or at least, that I can deliver it.

But remember this — I never suggested that change would be easy or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

As he delivered that line, he was looking right at the Republican side of the aisle.  They remained seated.

Because Obama needs to cut the bipartisan thing.  I think his gentle scolding of the Republicans on the filibuster issue, and telling them that just saying “no” to everything is not leadership sets him up to be the grownup in the room, but in the end the Republican platform is to (a) oppose Obama; (b) despise Obama; and (c) betray their core beliefs and policy positions in aid of (a) and (b).

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is election day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent — a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can’t wait.

While the policy proposals were sort of all over the map, mixing liberal agenda items with traditionally conservative ones, as well, none of this will matter when it comes to congress.  If the past year has revealed anything, it’s that congress and the legislative process in Washington is pretty dysfunctional.  Special interests and petty political concerns tend to trump any discussion of whether policy being debated is good for the country.

As a special aside, during a recitation of changes he’d propose to make government more responsible and accountable, he criticized the recent Citizens United SCOTUS decision, predicting that it would open the floodgates for special interests to assert themselves in the political process in a more wide-reaching and insidious way, with unlimited money being used even by foreign corporate entities.  Rarely has a President taken on the Court in such an address.  Rarely has a Supreme Court Justice, in this case Alito, reacted by shaking his head and mouthing, “it’s not true”.

I think the speech’s tone was good, the proposals were good, and I think he managed to reassure people that his agenda will help them, reassert himself as a leader, and remind everyone of what he’s trying to do. Clearly, in 2010, jobs will be the main focus – not health care.

Obama missed the opportunity to explain how the two might be inextricably linked.

Let’s see how year two goes.