2006 State of the Union

I didn’t watch the State of the Union live, but I watched the streaming video and read along with the transcript at the Whitehouse web site.

I noticed Bush hands Cheney and the speaker two big manilla envelopes. I’m sure I could look it up somewhere, but I wonder what’s in them? Written copies of the speech, maybe? President Jefferson started a tradition of giving a written State of the Union report to Congress. A nice idea, but he didn’t have television to deal with. I wonder if someone in college today will grow up to be President and decide to start a State of the Union Blog. After all, the Constitution just says the state of the union should be given “from time to time.”

Actually, lets’s look at what the Constitution says about the communications regarding the state of the union:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient

In other words, the President is supposed to tell Congress what’s going on and suggest legislation. But that happens every day: Every government agency generates reports and newsletters on a daily basis, and they all lobby Congress for legislation that will help them out. Having an official State of the Union speech is a little silly. It’s not like he’s telling anyone anything they don’t already know:

Tonight the state of our Union is strong–and together we will make it stronger.

Wow. The union is “strong.” Did anybody else see that coming?


Everybody is talking and writing about the speech, and I doubt I have much to add, but let me just see if I can find a thing or two.

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us. Fortunately, this nation has superb professionals in law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and homeland security.

Yeah, we do. But we also have these guys, and these guys, and don’t forget these guys. Then there’s this guy. And I just stumbled across this guy while writing this. We have good reasons for enacting new police powers with great care.

“It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack — based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute — I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. […] If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it[.]”

It’s not a question of whether the government should be able to tap the phone calls of suspected al Qaeda members in America—of course they should—it’s a matter of requiring supervision of an independent court.

If the taps are classified as too sensitive for public consumption, then we should have a secret court with judges that are cleared for handling such matters. Actually, we already do, in the form of FISA courts which are frankly not as independent as I’d like. And if it’s hard to find a judge when you need one, hire more judges and make them work night and weekend shifts.

Getting a warrant from a judge is more trouble than doing without, but that’s the point. If it’s not worth the trouble of getting a judge to sign off, then I don’t believe it’s worth the invasion of privacy either.

In the last five years, the tax relief you passed has left $880 billion in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses, and families — and they have used it to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth.

Um, a growing U.S. economy is normal and expected. It’s caused by increased population, increased capital investment, and improved technology. If the economy shrinks instead of growing, that’s called a recession and everybody bitches about it and votes President Bush’s father out of office. All the government has to do is not fumble the economy too much, and that’s the job of the Federal Reserve board, not the President.

Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security–yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away. And every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse.

It’s going to keep getting worse. I’ve never really been able to follow all the arguments about Social Security. I’m not sure if that’s my fault or the fault of the people making the arguments. Here’s what I do know: The upcoming retirement of the baby boomers means that millions of people will stop producing stuff, but they want to continue consuming stuff.

As a consequence, either some people will have to work a little harder to produce all that stuff, or else some people will have to consume a little less. All the arguments about Social Security, entitlement programs, and private investments are just arguments over the accounting and legal structures used to manage this. It’s not that those aren’t important issues, but almost none of the options will do much to solve the basic problems that will arise.

So tonight, I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This commission should include members of Congress of both parties, and offer bipartisan solutions. We need to put aside partisan politics and work together and get this problem solved.

Who needs a commission? People have been working on this for years, and there is no solution. There is only an argument over who will have to work more, who will get to consume more, and the role of governments in making those decisions. Hard work or reduced consumption will still be the only choices.

Bush hits on the topic of “keeping America competitive” several times. Each time he goes on to describe something important to keeping America competitive:

  • “keeping our economy growing”
  • “be good stewards of tax dollars”
  • “open more markets for all that Americans make and grow”
  • “an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy”
  • “affordable health care”
  • “affordable energy”
  • “We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity”

But wait, isn’t every single one of those things a good idea all by itself? What does competition between nations have to do with any of those things?

Nothing. If the United States was completely isolated from the rest of the world—no trade of any kind—every single one of those things would still be a good idea.

When you hear people talking about America competing against other countries—it used to be Japan, but now Bush is talking about China and India—it’s important to remember that nations don’t really compete against each other, at least not economically. Produceers of goods compete against other producers of similar goods in the same market, regardless of which countries they are in. American companies are in competition against foreign companies, but America itself is not in competition against other nations. The free market is not a war zone.

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