Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Some Belated Thoughts on the Oscars I Did Not Watch

Since I don't have a television, I didn't actually get to watch the Academy Awards this past Sunday; however, I did follow its proceedings on Twitter and read many of the none too pleased reviews of Seth MacFarlane's hosting job.  The criticisms of MacFarlane that I read reminded me of why I never took to Family Guy although I've always enjoyed The Simpsons (even though I can't attest to its quality for the past five years).

The difference between The Simpsons and Family Guy, as I see it, lies in the relationship of the animator to his characters.  The humor and storytelling of The Simpsons evokes the attitude of a teenage boy to his family.  He might mock them at times, point out their foibles, and be embarrassed by their eccentricities; however, ultimately, he still loves them.  It comes as no surprise that the show originated in Groenig's cartoons about his own family.  The characters on The Simpsons often do things that are foolish, misguided, obnoxious, insensitive, callous, overly controlling, overly lax, ignorant, or utterly narcissistic.  However, they are ultimately good-natured at heart, even if that goodness only really shines in moments of ethical crisis or resolution.  Groenig loves his characters even as he laughs at them, and he wants you to like them as well, no matter how annoying or foolish they can be.  They are exaggerations or caricatures of human beings, but they are ultimately intended to seem human.

I've never felt that same relationship between author/animator and character on Family Guy.  Seth MacFarlane doesn't seem to bear any particular fondness to Peter, Lois, and the rest of the family.  Their callousness, narcissim, and occasional crassness rarely get balanced or redeemed by an inherent goodness.  MacFarlane is laughing at his characters (Look at those fools!) and wants you to laugh at them, too.  Meg and Chris neither show the camaraderie of Bart and Lisa nor serve as foils to each other in the same way.  Meg is the awkward "black sheep" of the family (although we're never sure why she has that designation), and Chris never manages to muster an iota of competence. Stewie, the baby, is the inversion of the sweet yet clever (if at times impish) innocence of Maggie Simpson; he lacks any genuine affection or moral sense and is only funny in the extent to which he strays from type.  Peter is Homer Simpson with his flaws accentuated:  fatter, more ignorant, and more selfish.   It can be funny to laugh at their mistakes, their ignorance, and their awkwardness, but you develop no fondness for them because their creator has none.  And you don't see the humanity in them that reminds you of people you know in real life (for better or for worse) because that link has been severed.

There are also key differences in the structuring of stories.  Episodes of The Simpsons always have a central plot, which often begins after an unrelated comic scene.  Even if the episodes don't follow each other, an episode has a sense of linearity to it, and its humor comes from both memorable lines and a comical series of often unintended consequences----basically, it is a standard situation comedy rendered by the hand of an animator.  Family Guy episodes lack the same sense of linearity and derive more humor from antics, asides, and flashbacks ("Remember when...").

The Simpsons also aims to satirize society--politics, religion, education, diet, entertainment, family life--as any good sitcom does.  Family Guy, however, doesn't care as much for the exaggerated realism essential to satire and veers more toward a gimmickry and a parody of culture, hence the frequent asides and allusions.  The Simpsons takes society and pokes fun at its cherished institutions.  Family Guy takes the family trope of the sitcom and turns it upside down, denying it the sense of resolution and redemption that can often border on treacle and laughing at sentimentality itself.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How is that Biologically Possible?: Lessons in Grammar

A little while ago, John Boehner told the members of the Senate to "get off their ass" and pass something on sequestration.

Apparently, there is one single "ass" shared by the 100 members of the Senate and upon which all are sitting.  That seems biologically aberrant and physically uncomfortable.  If 100 people had only one gluteus maximus among them, then I think that medical help, not delaying sequestration, should be their first order of business.

While Boehner has some grammar lessons, maybe he and his fellow Republicans could take some math lessons, too, and I'm not just talking about the budget.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

No One Really Cares about the Deficit

The other day, I wrote about a recent Pew poll that demonstrated how the American public thought that the deficit was an important problem to be addressed and that it should be addressed primarily through spending cuts (rather than tax increases). 

Where do the American people want to see those cuts made?  Well, Pew had another poll out yesterday to answer that question.  And the answer is (drumroll please)  nowhere.

Of the 19 budget categories included, spending more or the same was more popular than spending less in every single one.  Only in the case of "aid to the world's needy" (aka THOSE people, as likely perceived) was there a close battle.  For foreign aid, cuts held a plurality of 48%, but the combined total of increased spending (21%) and staying the same (28%) edged it out with 49%.  Spending cuts never managed even a plurality in any of the other budget categories.

A majority favored spending increases in two categories: veterans' benefits (53%-38%-6%) and education (60%-29%-10%).  This demonstrates an understanding of a basic moral obligation to future generations and the weakest among us (the children) as well as to those who have put their lives at risk (the veterans). 

In a number of other categories, the percentage of survey respondents who wanted the government to continue to spend AT LEAST what it is currently doing surpassed 80%: Social Security (87%), natural disaster relief (84%), food and drug inspection (83%), combating crime (82%), Medicare (82%), and roads and infrastructure (81%).

In the other budget categories, there was only one case other than "aid to the world's needy" in which the combined support for spending the same or more was not over double that of spending less:  the State Department (60%-34%).  Unsurprisingly, Americans are fairly parochial.

Pew also provided a breakdown of opinions by party affiliation. 

A majority of Democrats wanted to spend more on health care (58%), environmental protection (52%), Medicare (52%), combating crime (52%), veterans' benefits (51%), and education (75%).  There was no majority Democratic support for cutting any budget category although more wanted to cut defense spending (32%) than increase it (28%). 

A majority of Republicans wanted to spend more on veterans' benefits (55%), and a majority wanted to cut spending only on aid to the worlds' needy (70%) and unemployment assistance (56%).

How about the beloved independents?  They, unsurprisingly, reflect the overall picture.  They want to spend more on education (57%) and veterans' benefits (53%) and less on aid to the world's needy (52%).

The popularity of cutting foreign aid is not surprising but quite disheartening, considering that the U.S. does not spend as much (in terms of potential to give) as most countries in Europe.

The Pew poll also showed evolution over time.  Depressingly, Americans have gotten a lot more selfish since 2009.  In just about every category, the share of the public that wants to spend more has fallen; in some cases, the decline was quite drastic:  Medicare (down to 36% from 53%), health care (down to 38% from 61%), and unemployment assistance (down to 24% from 44%).

Despite the fact that the arc of the American people seems to bend toward stinginess, as a whole, spending cuts are not popular when presented in their specifics.  People like the idea of cutting spending when presented in general terms because of the success of the anti-government rhetoric of the Republican Party over the past 30+ years.  However, when people realize what the government does for them, their spending fetishism disappears into thin air--and good riddance to it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

6 Not-So-Deadly Sets of Proposals for 6 of the Seven Deadly Sins

Lust: More funding for family planning, expanded access to contraception

Gluttony: Increases on the "sin taxes" levied on cigarettes and alcohol, imposition of a new "sin tax" on soda/sweetened beverages, reduction of subsidies to large farms and reallocation of agriculture spending to smaller farms engaging in sustainable agricultural practices, stricter control over marketing to children

Avarice: a more steeply progressive income tax scheme such as that of the 1950s, perhaps even a maximum income, a financial transaction tax such as that being implemented in the EU, stricter regulation of the financial industry

Sloth: a more steeply progressive inheritance tax

Wrath: Cuts to defense spending, an end to the drone war in Pakistan and Yemen, an end to the militarization of the CIA, an assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines

Pride: Campaign finance reform

I can't think of an ideal fit for envy because its negative effects are primarily direct inward, and I see social democratic policies as more focused on curtailing the avarice of capitalism than eliminating envy.

Basically, if politics are to accomplish any good, there must be a strong foundation in morality.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Intellectual Laziness of Polls

I have ranted about the simplistic and deceptive framing of polls during the "fiscal cliff" debate, and I think it's time to rant again in light of the debate over sequestration and ubiquitous deficit-mongering.

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press just came out with a poll on the American public's views on a number of the issues now prominent in the political scene.

In asking about the deficit, Pew gave three options: "only spending cuts," "only tax increases," or "combination of both."

Unsurprisingly, people liked spending cuts a lot more.  19% thought there should be "only spending cuts," and 54% thought "mostly spending cuts" (although the latter still sharply diverges for the current no-compromise position of the GOP).

However, the language of "tax increases" and "spending cuts" remains intellectually lazy.  Spending cuts on what?  Tax increases for whom?  Without providing specifics, Pew is engaging in generalities.

Americans tend to be ideologically conservative but operationally liberal.  In other words, Americans will criticize the government for spending too much and agree that it should "live within its means" or "tighten the belt"; however, when it comes to actually touching government programs, they immediately turn into liberals (and perhaps national security hawks as well).  Republicans play off anti-government rhetoric, demagoging small expenditures as though they made up the entire budget.

If one asked about specific tax increases and spending cuts, one would likely get a different picture.  Americans support raising taxes on the rich and on corporations.  However, the line "only tax increases" makes people think "tax increases on people like me," which is likely not the case.  Because of this, "only tax increases" might rankle their basic sense of fairness as people think that the pollster is suggesting that their taxes have to be raised because of what others have done.  The details about closing tax loopholes, as present in the House Progressive Caucus's plan, would likely be popular even if the phrase "tax increases" isn't.

A similar dissonance exists in the realm of spending as well.  In a Gallup poll from 2011, Americans opposed spending cuts to education, Social Security, Medicare, anti-poverty programs, the military and national defense, aid to farmers, and funding for the arts and sciences.  Only cuts to foreign managed to win a majority support because people will recognize that that spending is not on them or their neighbors (It's on those people)--and thus be fine with slashing it.  However, I wonder how "cut aid to farmers" polls against "cut farm subsidies" or "cut subsidies to large farms."  Likewise, I would think that some of the Progressive Caucus's defense proposals might test well--namely those that involve bringing troops home.  I think that cutting weapons programs might not poll well, though, because American like large, shiny (and clearly phallic) weapons; however, with the right language to frame the question ("outdated" "Cold War"), they might support the cuts.

Moreover, Pew's deficit question ignores the rounds of deficit reduction that have already taken place.  Between 2011 and 2012, Congress and the President enacted $1.7 trillion in spending cuts--why Obama always liked to trumpet his (clearly not liberal) success in hacking away at the discretionary budget on the campaign trail.  Likewise, the "fiscal cliff" package only brought $737 billion in new revenue.   If interviewees were shown this data and asked about a balanced deal, I wonder how they'd respond.  If they said "only spending cuts," we know that their sense of balance is hopelessly awry.

2-21-13  #4

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why I Hate the "Belt-Tightening" Metaphor Revisited: The Belt-Tightening Metaphor Makes No Sense

Politicians often use the phrase "belt-tightening" as a metaphor for fiscal austerity. This refers to the act of tightening one's belt rather than buying a new one if one has lost weight from (presumably) hunger in difficult economic times.

In this metaphor, food would be the equivalent of tax receipts; the emaciated government has not been able to consume enough as it has in the past because of an economic recession or depression. Presumably, then, because of this lowered consumption, the government has lost "weight."

If taxes are the way that the government consumes, then exercise should be the way that the government spends--the expenditure of energy via food or money. The argument for austerity is that, with less food, the government should work less; it should do less of what it had done before because it no longer has the same energy level.

Purchasing or not purchasing clothing, however, just doesn't fit in this extended metaphor. Clothing is the ornamentation or protection of the body; it is not directly connected to the process of eating and exercising, the metaphorical activity of the "body politic." Moreover, not buying new pants doesn't work as a metaphor for budget slashing. It is anti-stimulus, anti-Keynesian for sure, but it is not pro-budget slashing, but rather pro-stasis. It makes a symbolic argument for not starting any new innovative projects during the "difficult economic times," not stopping what you have. The "belt-tightening" metaphor does not say that you have to sell off your pants because you are poor and they no longer fit you.

The "belt-tightening" language conflates two metaphor: (1) government as body (with the adversity of hunger) and (2) government as family home (with the adversity of poverty).

So, let's look at "belt-tightening" again. It says (1) You are poor. (2) You are hungry because you are poor. (3) Because you are poor and (ergo) hungry, your clothing is too big. (4) Because you are poor, you cannot afford new pants for your hunger-induced smaller waistline. (5) As a solution, you tighten your belt and do not buy new pants. (6) You, however, remain hungry and poor, and the lack of new pants does not make you less hungry nor less poor than you were before. (7) Your life still sucks, and you have done nothing to improve it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Lack of a Progressive Foreign Policy in Historical Context

The release of the White House's targeted killing white paper has reignited an ongoing debate among liberals about President Obama's foreign policy, a debate that might actually beat "Is Obama really a liberal/Will Obama sell out progressives?" in terms of how much back-and-forth intense commenting it generates on left-leaning blogs like the Daily Kos.

Conor Friedersdorf, a libertarian writing at The Atlantic, and Alex Parenee, who combines satire and progressive commentary on Salon, both addressed the historical context of liberals and foreign policy.  LBJ's "Great Society" coexisted with his escalation of the Vietnam War, FDR's "New Deal" coexisted with the Second World War, and Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom" coexisted with the First World War.  In each case, the welfare state's advocates advanced the causes of the warfare state.  Especially in the cases of the First World War and the Vietnam War, moderate progressivism at home vanished--or was badly perverted--when going abroad.

The debate--or lack thereof--over imperialism in the first two decades of the 20th century further illuminates this tension among domestic progressives.  The so-called "progressive" Teddy Roosevelt was an ardent nationalist and imperialist; although he received a Nobel Peace Prize for his promotion of international arbitration, he was brutal in his suppression of the independence movement in the Philippines.

The party platform of Teddy's self-created Progressive Party had absolutely nothing to say about the Philippines in 1912, likely a result of an inability to achieve consensus.  The U.S. policy toward the Philippines was by no means a non-issue at the time, as the platforms of the Democratic and Republican Party both show.

The Republicans reaffirmed their commitment to the U.S.'s maintenance of imperial control, framing it as a settled debate:

The Philippine policy of the Republican party has been and is inspired by the belief that our duty toward the Filipino people is a national obligation which should remain entirely free from partisan polities. 

The Democrats reaffirmed their desire for Filipino independence, qualified by a desire for a contradictory desire for continued U.S. presence:

We reaffirm the position thrice announced by the Democracy in national convention assembled against a policy of imperialism and colonial exploitation in the Philippines or elsewhere. We condemn the experiment in imperialism as an inexcusable blunder, which has involved us in enormous expense, brought us weakness instead of strength, and laid our nation open to the charge of abandonment of the fundamental doctrine of self-government. We favor an immediate declaration of the nation's purpose to recognize the independence of the Philippine Islands as soon as a stable government can be established, such independence to be guaranteed by us until the neutralization of the islands can be secured by treaty with other Powers. 

In recognizing the independence of the Philippines, our government should retain such land as may be necessary for coaling stations and naval bases. 

Despite such commitments, anti-imperialism as a movement was never strong and was often fractured by competing visions—whether the U.S. should immediately withdraw from the Philippines or whether the U.S. should stay in the Philippines out of a sense of paternalistic obligation to establish a functioning self-government.  The movement, as the following passage from the New York Post in 1902 displays, had many births, many deaths, and unfortunately little public sway:

It is most provoking, we know, for Anti‐Imperialists to pretend that they are still alive. They have been killed so often. After 1899 we were to hear no more of them. In 1900 they were again pronounced dead, although, like the obstinate Irishman, they continued to protest that, if they were dead, they were not conscious of it. Last year the slain were slaughtered once more, and that time buried as well, with all due ceremony. Yet the impudent creatures have resumed activity during the past few months just as if their epitaphs had not been composed again and again.

When Wilson, another future Nobel Prize winner, gained office in 1912, he did, granted, move forward with the repeated Democratic desire to grant Filipino self-government; however, with words that seem all-too-familiar to political observers today, the Jones Law (or Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916) provided for full independence only "as soon as a stable government can be established,” with the U.S. maintaining the right to decide when that would be. Unfortunately, that would be thirty years and a Japanese occupation away.

Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy vision had little respect for the sovereignty and equality of other nations. In 1915, for instance, Wilson led an occupation of Haiti to protect corporate interests and engaged in military campaigns in Mexico during its Revolution.

The activists who protested the Philippines took notice of the U.S. atrocities in Haiti.  In 1921, as the Anti-Imperialist League was formally disbanding, activists from the League and members of the NAACP joined together to form the Haiti-Santo Domingo Independence Society, centered around Oswald Garrison Villard's The Nation.  They had some political supporters, like Senator William Borah of Idaho, but never attained a strong national presence.  The occupation would continue until 1934.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Back Away and Put Down the Suffix

"Sen. Rubio drowning in 'water-gate'"

Yes, that headline actually exists.  And, yes, it is from CNN.

The use of "gate" as a suffix is one of my many pet peeves.  The Watergate Scandal was not, of course, about H2O.  Wondering how it got to be as ubiquitous as it has become, I consulted my trusted friend The Oxford English Dictionary.  The first recorded example of the use of "gate" as such a suffix is from National Lampoon in August 1972:

‘There have been persistent rumors in Russia of a vast scandal.‥ Implicated in “the Volgagate” are a group of liberal officials.’

In case you didn't know, National Lampoon was a humor magazine.  The use of a "suffix" to name a scandal was a joke.  It is now a media staple.

I continue to wait for a Watergategate scandal to happen someday, so that the suffix can self-destruct in its own contradictions and inanity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

There was Clearly Some Good in the SOTU, But Let's Look at the Bad and the Ugly

Most of the reviews of Obama's State of the Union address have been glowing with praise, describing it as boldly and unabashedly liberal.  I remain skeptical, however, and I know that, although a minority, I'm not alone in that belief.

There were many positive parts of it, such as Obama's call for climate change action, government investment to spur the economy along the lines of the American Jobs Act, gun control, and gender equity.  However, there is more value in engaging critically with the passages that merit attention because of their contradictions or limitations.

 “And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.”

This is logically unsound because it assumes a fixed pool of money that the government has from which to allocate to various programs.

“But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful.”

Notice the importance of the word “entire.”  It implies, as I have explained before, that he still believes that working families and seniors have to undergo some suffering.

“They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.” 

The President loves "fair share" rhetoric--probably because the word "fair" polls well.  However, the rhetoric is hollow.  I’m pretty certain that the CEO of Goldman Sachs and the person who got kicked out of her house because of a faulty mortgage are not and will not be required to suffer equally.  The concept of "fair share" is often both abstract and arbitrary.  At best, one could argue for its relevance in a discussion of taxes (and the fairness of the tax code), but not so much in terms of spending.  I doubt that corporate welfare will pass quickly, as the "fiscal cliff" deal so depressingly demonstrated.

“On Medicare, I'm prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.”  
Simpson-Bowles is the darling of the Beltway media because of its purported "seriousness" and "bipartisanship."  However, a majority of the public does not even know what it is, so it's hardly a good political move to mention it.  Nor, for that matter, is Simpson-Bowles good policy.
“We'll ask….more from the wealthiest seniors."

In other words, the president wants means testing. In order to get savings through means testing, you would have to push the threshold down, and there would likely be a motivation to keep pushing it downward until eventually the program exists no more.  Moreover, means testing creates bureaucratic inefficiencies because the government has to determine who is eligible for benefits and who is not.  It makes a popular, universal program into a maze.

“Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.” 

Tax reform always means cutting corporate taxes, something on which both Obama and Romney agreed.  And that's not likely to bring down the deficit.  Legitimate tax reform would have to entail proposals like Bernie Sanders's Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act, but we all know that's not going anywhere.

“So tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.”

Only 15?  That's bold?

“We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”
This is meaningless. We do not control the price of oil, nor can we demand that what is produced here gets used here.  Oil prices remain high, so the boom has hardly benefited consumers even if it has greatly benefited oil companies.
Domestic production would only matter significantly in the determination of price and "energy independence" if oil production were nationalized.  Clearly, neither party is even considering that.  We all know how much the US loves the nationalization of oil.

“I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”

I’m certain McCain would filibuster his own bill if it were reintroduced verbatim.

These statements do not cohere:
(1) "But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change." 
(2) "...[M]y Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits." 
If climate change is as pressing as an issue as the President rightly acknowledges, then continuing the expansion of oil and natural gas drilling would be counterproductive.  Obama also has an abysmal record of protecting federal lands; even Dubya protected more than Obama has.

“If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.”

Substance aside, this was the funniest line of the whole speech.

“And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.”

Public-private partnerships tend to produce corruption. If private capital wanted to invest in infrastructure, it would be doing so. Moreover, privately-funded ports and roads will probably come with fees for use.

"But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the training to fill those jobs.  And that has to start at the earliest possible age...Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America."

First, as I will revisit again soon, I find the reduction of education to career building very problematic because it assumes that education must be tailored to the needs of employers rather than to broader humanistic and democratic goals.

However, more importantly, I am skeptical of the viability of the universal preschool plan--at least until more details appear.

In the SOTU, Obama claimed that nothing he proposed "will raise the deficit by a dime."  How, then, will universal pre-K be funded?  Will it be through a tax?  If so, on what?  If it will not be funded through a tax, then will the funding for pre-K detract from other programs?  Will the K-12 budget be reduced in order to add in some pre-K money? For universal pre-K to be effective, you would need to have very low student-teacher ratios and very highly-trained professionals in the classroom.  To be worthwhile, it will not and cannot be cheap.

Moreover, universal pre-K does not address the fundamental inequities in our education system.  As public schools receive much of their funds from property taxes, there exist wide gaps in quality between school districts.  The disparity between the Philadelphia school district and that of Lower Merion offers a perfect case study.  The affluent suburban school system of Lower Merion spends $15,484.33 per student, and over 93 percent of its plan to attend college. Philadelphia spends $6,335.26 per student, and only 49 percent of its students plan to attend college.  The disparities in the college rates reflect the economic inequality of school funding and also of the families themselves.  If preschools are funded as K-12 schools are now, the inequities will likely remain.  (And those inequalities are not just in the quality of the classroom, but the economic stability of the home and community--issues that often get tossed aside in discussions of education.)

However, that assumes that the preschools will be run within the public school system.  Will the President force states to expand charter preschools, putting the education of the very young in private hands with minimal accountability?  Will we start to see for-profit preschools, perhaps through the corporate partnerships the President loves?  How can we ensure accountability and quality if we do universal pre-K through vouchers as would be likely?
“We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.” 

(1) Race to the Top has been no blessing for our public schools.

(2) I do not want private companies influencing public school curricula.  Public schools should be a haven from commercialism. Moreover, schools should not have to compete for funding.  The goal of the public education system should be that every child receives the best education possible; introducing competition creates inequities to compound upon those already existing.

(3) Schools should already have math and science classes. Does he want more at the cost of literature, history, foreign language, etc.? If we want to prepare for the “economy of the future,” we really need foreign language education, which schools have begun to drop over the past decade.

(4) One of my biggest pet peeves about how we discuss education policy in this country is the assumption that the purpose of our education system is to train people to be employees, rather than citizens. Now, there is value in encouraging high school students to explore vocations (defined broadly), however not if it comes at the sacrifice of the democratic ethos that underlies the American public school system.

“Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally."

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.”

I've already expressed my concerns with the President's immigration plan. However, what’s especially galling is the “go to the back of the line, you undocumented workers” line paired with the “we need to open up to more engineers line.” "Go to the back, poor folks who are already here; we need to make room for the people we really want in our country."  Emphasizing only the immigrants who can boost corporate profits is a slap in the face of the great American poet Emma Lazarus.  Moreover, we are not lacking in highly-educated graduates in the country as it stands.

“Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”
In his 2008 campaign, he called for raising the minimum wage to $9.50 and indexing it to inflation. So, in other words, he hasn't moved forward, but backward.
“And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.”

Only 20?

“And we'll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn't the ability to conceive a child; it's having the courage to raise one.”

Does this mean anything other than job security?  If he were interested in encouraging responsible fatherhood in low-income communities, maybe he should think about ending the drug war.

“And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

We will still, however, have troops there. The US is that person who comes to the party uninvited and stays the longest. You ask him politely to leave, but he never takes a hint. You impolitely ask him to leave, and he doesn’t take a hint. He decides to move in with you and then pats himself on the back when he decides to leave.

“Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.”

In other words, the US will kill them with drones in clear violation of international law. The US will also kill civilians near them, such as those who try to come to their aid after they have been hit, and we might accidentally hit a wedding or some children. But trust us.

“As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we're doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
This passage is arguably even funnier than the one about trusting CEOs and retired generals.  The administration has not been open with Congress.  There was only talk about creating a set of rules for drone warfare when the White House feared an imminent Romney presidency.  Obama's record on transparency has hardly been admirable, and it's fairly easy to be "even more transparent" when your benchmark is practically zilch.

“Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.” 

"It would be dangerous if Country X got access to a nuclear weapon," says the only country reckless enough to have used one.

And the United States is hardly a model for disarmament.

“America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That's why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.”

I worry that this will lead to more unjustly severe criminal prosecutions of people like Aaron Swartz and Bradley Manning.

“To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

The TPP is an awful program that would give corporations the right to sue national governments in an external court if they thought their environmental and social protections were too strong. Free trade initiatives such as NAFTA have benefited neither the U.S. nor its partners.

“In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy.”

 What about the citizens in Saudi Arabia?  Or Bahrain?

“That's why, tonight, I'm announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I'm asking two long-time experts in the field, who've recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney's campaign, to lead it."

The goal of partisan experts is to game the system, not to fix it.  An election commission, to serve the interests of the democracy, should be nonpartisan.  If not nonpartisan, the commission should have to include all parties, not just the two major parties.  Obama's early appointees have not been promising.