State of the Union: Electric Boogaloo

{bRambles are essays on whatever damn fool thing I choose to talk about.}

Note: my schedule today means that I have to post what I have [at 1.21 noon ET] and update/fill in the blanks when I can. I’ll replace this note with another when I’m finished.

As with every State of the Union (#SOTU, y’all), one can make predictions on the broad themes that the speech will cover in the weeks leading up to the event: it’s generally a confluence of the state of the economy, current military engagements, recent headlines, and the announcements (or breadcrumbs laid by West Wing staff) of planned presidential initiatives. Naturally, I use such knowledge to formulate an annual SOTU drinking game involving Colt 45s. I tend to keep things simple yet still refrain from the topic of ‘the troops’ as that would lead to a blackout drunk.

Take one sip if President Obama mentions:

Economy X*
Extremism I
I went with ‘extremism’ this year but should have stuck with ‘terrorism/terrorist’.
Middle Class VII

Take three sips:
Human Props VI
If the president uses an invitee in the gallery as the basis for a thematically-appropriate anecdote; also counts for television shots and commentary on guests of congresspeople whose presence is intended to make a political statement, such as Ted Nugent or a member of a reality show. 

*All numbers are my count as I watched and wrote; may not actually line up with the text as read.

The italicized sentences below are my real-time notes of the SOTU followed by commentary once I had the chance to sit and review (if you find a wrong fact, let me know). I watched NBC and missed all the pre-game analysis and scanning of the crowd for the more newsworthy people present, hence all of my ‘human prop’ moments this year were courtesy of the President. Also, don’t expect great grammar from any phrase in italics. 

Entire SOTU released directly by the White House before the speech – aides and reporters run into gear even earlier than usual but takes some of the fun out of the pre-game show

This move makes sense in an age where live television analysis contains an omnipresent Twitter bar yet it’s not as entertaining to watch journalists opine on what the speech will cover when they’re sitting with a copy on their laptops that’s already being collated by the interns into key themes for easy digest. 

‘99 was the peak of the bubble though

The US is experiencing its highest job growth since ‘99 but that was also an economic peak and a tech bubble (a bubble with modern-day parallels). The eventual dot-com bust was the lead-in to a recession exacerbated by the 9/11 attacks, so I don’t know if this is the best comparison to make here.

Boehner seems to be humming ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming’ to himself as he stares into distance

I stand by it.


2x mentions of energy already
Makes sense with the recent collapse of oil and gas prices and the US greatly [?] reducing its depence on foreign oil [even if the majority of that comes from Canada and Mexico]

Not a huge fan of individual anecdotes though I understand their power to disseminate a message widely and broadly; if only SOTU came with a white paper translation

I understand the rhetorical need, when speaking to a very wide audience, to flesh out policy prescriptions with the stories of relatable people: it translates abstractions into very real terms. My problem is simply that such stories are anecdotal, which I feel don’t have as much use in a nation of 316 million; though I know I’ll never see the day of a statistic-heavy SOTU. It would be terribly nice, however, if the SOTU was accompanied by a wonky heft of policy outlines for the proposals entailed within the speech.

Oil production increase good but continues to keep myth of president controlling global commodity prices

The boom in American shale oil and liquid natural gas has helped lead to a recession in global oil prices but unfortunately Obama’s trumpeting of that fact masks the fact that issues of global demand also come into play. Economic woes in the EU and slowing Chinese growth have combined with increased production to push prices down. The US lacks the power to unilaterally affect global commodity prices* yet all too often the voters think the president is responsible for the price at the pump. It’s a dangerous myth. Has Obama changed any energy policy at all since the highs of gas a few years ago that angered so many?

Laying out veto in SOTU, how common?

The website OneTwoThree.net has a very handy tool in which one can search all previous SOTUs by a word’s occurrence. Laying out a veto threat in the speech appears to be a mostly post-WWII phenomenon. It’s entirely possible I’m pulling this theory out my ass, but I would posit that, as Americans gained access to mass communications devices and become more attuned to the SOTU, presidents began mentioning the veto threat to appeal to a radio/television audience and define their principles to the public at large. Members of Congress know when the President plans to veto something; such decisions don’t tend to come from thin air.

Screenshot 2015-01-21 at 11.11.45

 

Middle-class economics a lead-in to tax proposal – ah, or childcare, sick and maturity leave

 

Gender wage gap, minimum wage

 

Republican congresspeople could probably stay off the phone – live-tweeting?

Yup, that’s the fashionable thing to do. I’m also sure that Democrats are as well (though they have more impetus to be polite) but it would be nice if every member of Congress could put down their phones during a national address.

Toss-out to unions, don’t expect much follow-up

This seemed like a simple appeal to the Democratic base. I don’t see anything coming of it.

Looks like community colleges coming – called it

 

⅔ need higher skills? source?

 

Community colleges to $0 – odds of follow-up, examples in other countries

 

Boehner still appears to be playing a mental game of Tetris

 

Veterans – response to VA scandal in addition to soldiers’ transition to civilian life

 

Always fun to watch opposition party members make that immediate political judgment on whether or not they should stand up and clap

This is always entertaining, I’ll admit: watching a cynical politico’s eyes for that instant calculus on whether they ought to clap. The President mentions the troops during a policy proposal to which I’m ideologically opposed = damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

Infrastructure investment – yes, US infrastructure is pathetic

I feel I don’t even need to link to anything here, this is a simple, universal fact. American roads are awful, hundreds if not thousands of bridges are in states of decay and structurally unstable, our Internet access is slow and expensive compared to the rest of the developed world (the nation’s size + lack of competition among Internet providers), our ports/border crossings/airports could desperately use upgrades, and our power grid is fragile and vulnerable to attack.

Free trade deal – Trans-Pacific and EU

 

Info on an R&D proposal

 

Free and open Internet

Obama has 

NASA shoutout

What what, shout-out to my nerds at NASA. Y’all don’t get enough love.

Kelly looks a lil’ nervous

Astronaut Kelly definitely appears that he’d much rather be in space than on national television.

Infrastructure and R&D – tax?

 

Close loopholes, reinvest in infrastructure, simplify code?

 

Top 1%

 

Gif of Boehner with his skin the same as that of mahogany [?] podium

I will pay money to see someone with Photoshop skills replace Boehner’s skin tone with that of the wood pattern of the podium.

Awkward cut to Chuck Hagel

This felt uncomfortable as the man was booted out of office. 

Damn, terrorists rather than extremists, unilateral

I called it wrong: ‘terrorists’ and ‘terrorism’ had a lot of mentions in a short time with ‘extremism’ by the wayside. Yet one could have hoped for more mention of extremism outside the Islamic mold such as (off the top of my head) Buddhist violence and ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslims of Burma, the recent bombing of a Colorado Springs NAACP office, Chinese policy towards the Uighurs in Xinjiang, Uganda’s anti-gay legislation…

ISIS attack plan – still a bit hedgy; moderates?

The attack plan against ISIS (which I’ll call by its Arabic acronym – Da’esh – since it has too many English variations: ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, assholes, etc.) is as fuzzy as ever which is disappoiting

Use of force against ISIL = reprisals?

Mentioning Da’esh in such stark ‘we shall destroy them’ speak on such a large stage probably means the publicity-hungry group will do something drastic in ‘response’. Hoping they don’t resort to execution of hostages or another massacre, but they’re dicks, so expect something horrible on the news soon. 

Opposing Russia/support Ukraine – what is Russian reaction?

You can browse the Pravda of the 21st century, Russia Today, for government-sponsored responses to the SOTU. Guess what, they aren’t fans. And yes, I love to hate-read the site sometimes for its general insanity.

Cuba – remove legacy of mistrust

Agree with this 100%. The embargo has failed in its purpose and has served as a catch-all excuse by the Cuban government for its failings. Poor living conditions, bland food? That’s the embargo’s fault. The US plays an easy demon in the Cuban government’s narrative as it’s the most powerful nation in history lined up against its small island neighbor (mention UN votes re:embargo, by removing US as bogeyman Cubans will look to their govs faults, changing pol calc in Fla that makes this move possible)

How does Cuba respond, especially to Alan Gross who it sees as a spy

I couldn’t find any mention of the SOTU on any Cuban news/newspaper site. Instead, the universal leading story is about the ‘historic’ rounds of talks set to take place soon; I detect a tactful silence. It can probably be assumed, however, that the Cuban government saw the wide applause for Alan Gross as confirmation that he was a yanqui spy.

Iran: all options, no guarantees, against new sanctions: veto again

 

Foreign hacking; identity theft?

 

Africa without mention of Ebola? Nope. What about Nigeria? Turns it back to R&D

It was a shame that the only mention of Africa in the speech was in regard to Ebola, the deadly virus that cable news used to pump up ratings. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is preparing for elections next month and just suffered a horrific Boko Haram attack in Baga. Libyan groups are entering talks in an effort to keep the country from collapse. Eritrea remains one of the most repressive countries on Earth. The RDC is in turmoil. I mean, it would be nice to throw the continent a mention for something other than a disease that killed 2 people in America.

Building up allies in Asia, then climate change: something he might enact internationally in lame duck session: touts China accords

 

Civil rights: drones (??? what?), torture, anti-Semitism, Muslims, free speech – it’s the right thing and will make us safer

Nice mention of civil rights although the mention of his drone policy as an  

Guantanamo… again ‘not who we are’

 

Surveillance programs… mehh not terribly convincing

I can’t say I’m buying this 

XHD anti-DC punditocracy

 

Strong ending – more directed at Congress than America

 

Civil rights ending

 

Reform of criminal justice system – big deal

If anything comes about it (incarceration rate, racial disparities, policing tactics & demographics

 

Especially facing a Congress where both houses are controlled by the Republicans, the SOTU reads like a poor child’s Christmas wish list: he’s not gonna get much of anything he’s asked for. 

Joni Ernst is using the same tone of voice and smile found in flight safety videos. I don’t like to comment as it’s more of a way for a rising star to sweat and stutter under klieg lights; how much do they consult w/party & leadership on their speech; how many goddamn rebuttals? only splinters audience.

I don’t prefer to delve too deeply into the opposition party rebuttals to the SOTU. They’re not rebuttals in the proper sense, as they can’t address the points of a speech the speaker has just heard moments before. Rather, they perform the task of plucking up a rising star within the party and placing them on a national stage in a form of brutal natural selection: we all-too-well remember Governor Kenneth the Page or Marco Rubio grasping for a water bottle. Joni Ernst, like so many of those who have gone before, doesn’t yet know how to hold herself and could do with some more camera practice. Her odd prominence of the Keystone XL pipeline is the only thing I can remember of her speech but that’s for the best: again, the point of these rebuttals is to give someone a spotlight and hope that they are memorable for reasons other than gaffes.

PS Why does every woman speaker in these feel the need to introduce herself as a mother? When was the last time you heard a male politician lay forth their ideology in a speech that begins with ‘As a senator and a father’?

Check back later for my collection of international responses to the SOTU

Jan 21, 2015 | Posted by in bRamble | Comments Off on State of the Union: Electric Boogaloo
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