Friday, February 08, 2008

Fact Checking Obama's Seattle Speech

(title link) With facts from his own platform on his website. Source from the Seattle PI.

"The audience also liked what Obama described of his platform if elected, which included: a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in 2009; health insurance for all equal to what he receives as a member of Congress (with a $2,500 annual premium reduction for those already insured); higher taxes on the rich and tax relief for senior citizens, homeowners and the working poor; higher pay for teachers, more spending on early childhood education and a $4,000 yearly tuition credit for college students in exchange for national service; a tax on greenhouse gas emissions and more investment in alternative energy sources; and -- in a pledge that prompted a particularly fervent reaction -- an end to genocide in Darfur."

All sources from the campaign are from

An audio file of the speech, albeit one that's in bad quality in some places, can be heard here.

"Military withdrawal from Iraq in 2009"

At first this sounds like kind of being honest. Here's the web platform, but with one crucial sentence put in bold:

"Bringing Our Troops Home

Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda."

Wait, isn't that what Bush is claiming is a major reason that troops still are in Iraq, to fight Al Qaeda? And doesn't basically everyone admit that Al Qaeda does have a presence in Iraq, with the fight being if they're a minor part of the insurgency or a bigger part of it. So....basically if there are Al Qaeda people in Iraq we won't be leaving.

"health insurance for all equal to what he receives as a member of Congress (with a $2,500 annual premium reduction for those already insured)"
Another interesting thing, but with two things that look kind of odd in there, that I put in bold:

" 1. Guaranteed eligibility. No American will be turned away from any insurance plan because of illness or pre-existing conditions.
2. Comprehensive benefits. The benefit package will be similar to that offered through Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), the plan members of Congress have. The plan will cover all essential medical services, including preventive, maternity and mental health care.
3. Affordable premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
4. Subsidies. Individuals and families who do not qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP but still need financial assistance will receive an income-related federal subsidy to buy into the new public plan or purchase a private health care plan.
5. Simplified paperwork and reined in health costs.
6. Easy enrollment. The new public plan will be simple to enroll in and provide ready access to coverage.
7. Portability and choice. Participants in the new public plan and the National Health Insurance Exchange (see below) will be able to move from job to job without changing or jeopardizing their health care coverage.
8. Quality and efficiency. Participating insurance companies in the new public program will be required to report data to ensure that standards for quality, health information technology and administration are being met.


Ok, so #4 says that it's not universal but that there'd be some sort of tiered plan, that it would be possible not to earn enough money to participate in. No denials based on chronic illness, but what about if you have a chronic illness where you make enough money not to be on medicare but not enough to afford the new plan? You'd get a grant, right? But why would you need subsidies if the policies are guaranteed to be affordable? Is this a universally applicable single payer health care plan, where there would be a single HMO style organization started up by the government? Look at #8

"Participating insurance companies in the new public program". The public program will be run by insurance companies in a partnership of some sort with the federal government, with some sort of compromise between the two, like Obama indicated when he contrasted the cooperation of his program to the more hostile sounding anti-health care industry stand of John Edwards.

Hmm... It would be similar to the plan that Congress members have, the "Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan". While it seems as though this plan is looked on as really good, it's misleading to say it's the plan that Congress members have because All full time employees of the federal government have it. Everyone. He says that it's *similar* to the plan that Congress Members have. Does this mean that it would be on the level of someone on the bottom rung, the working class section of the federal government, or that it really would be just as good as the care that Congress people have? It's misleading to say that it's what he's receiving. In fact it's really deceitful, not quite a lie but a deliberate distortion of what he's actually advocating.

"higher taxes on the rich and tax relief for senior citizens, homeowners and the working poor"

Not quite.

"Reverse Bush Tax Cuts for the Wealthy: Obama will protect tax cuts for poor and middle class families, but he will reverse most of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers."

"Irresponsible Tax Cuts: President Bush's policies of giving tax breaks for the wealthy will cost the nation over $2.3 trillion by the time they expire in 2009."

This is different from raising taxes on the wealthy. He's advocating letting the tax breaks that Bush established run out. He's not saying anything about raising them to a higher level than they were before. It's not so much raising taxes as letting the timer run out. And in relationship to protecting tax cuts for poor and middle class families, the Bush plan has done almost nothing for them, so the barely present crumbs that Bush handed out, like the tax rebate that totaled a hundred and fifty dollars for most people would be maintained.

"Eliminate Income Taxes for Seniors Making Less Than $50,000: Obama will eliminate all income taxation of seniors making less than $50,000 per year. This will provide an immediate tax cut averaging $1,400 to 7 million seniors and relieve millions from the burden of filing tax returns."

Sounds good, and indeed it is good to not tax senior citizens, but bringing Seniors into the picture brings up the issue of Social Security. No where on his policy page does he say that he's going to raise social security payments for poorer seniors. And while it's good that the social security tax cap comes off for people making over $97,500" dollars a year, the consequence of removing it without limiting the amount of social security people can get back means that the extra money in taxes is just going to come back to them in extra social security dollars.

"higher pay for teachers, more spending on early childhood education and a $4,000 yearly tuition credit for college students in exchange for national service"

"Reward Teachers: Obama will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well."

Not quite a blanket "higher pay for teachers", who Obama in his speech described as having to pay out of pocket for school supplies. Very true, but this is a far cry from really upping teacher pay universally.

Even if he did really say that he wanted to increase all teacher pay there'd be a problem in that most teachers aren't paid by the federal government. They're paid from local property taxes, with several states like Texas establishing all state rules fortunately regulating the pay of teachers so that places with low property values actually get money to both pay teachers and help maintain facilities. This brings in the federal government's role. Currently, the federal government gives targeted grants of money to different school districts based on problems that they're having. We don't have an education department and educators don't work for the federal government. What he's mainly focussing on here is reversing the punitive measures in "No Child Left Behind". It's something, but it's not the blanket raise pay for all teachers that he presents it as.

"# Zero to Five Plan: Obama's comprehensive "Zero to Five" plan will provide critical support to young children and their parents. Unlike other early childhood education plans, Obama's plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten. Obama will create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote state "zero to five" efforts and help states move toward voluntary, universal pre-school.

# Expand Early Head Start and Head Start: Obama will quadruple Early Head Start, increase Head Start funding and improve quality for both. "

This is indeed having more money for early childhood education. Because Obama wasn't more specific I won't dissect it any further. If he had been, I would.

On to the $4,000 for service part.

"American Opportunity Tax Credit
Barack Obama will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax
Credit. This universal and fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is
completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college
or university. And by making the tax credit fully refundable, Obama’s credit will help low-income families that
need it the most. Obama will also ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by
using prior year’s tax data to deliver the credit at the time that tuition is due, rather than a year or more later
when tax returns are filed. "

"Require 100 Hours of Service in College: Obama will establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year."

It looks like this is what it says it is, which is good. No doubt that like AmeriCorps, which he mentions increasing, it will concretely help people. And he says the he'll increase Pell Grants while making the application process for financial aid simpler. All these things are really good. That said, and it absolutely needs to be said, why make poor kids volunteer for what people in most of Europe get for absolutely free? Asking people who are poor to contribute 100 hours while people who are richer don't have to do anything is making poor people jump through hoops like trained dogs to get something that they inherently deserve. But just funding universal higher education would be a handout and we don't want that, right?

"a tax on greenhouse gas emissions and more investment in alternative energy sources"

There's certainly more investment in alternative energy sources on Obama's site, but in reference to a tax on greenhouse gas emissions there's something that's treasonous:

"Reduce Carbon Emissions 80 Percent by 2050

* Cap and Trade: Obama supports implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Obama's cap-and-trade system will require all pollution credits to be auctioned. A 100 percent auction ensures that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these emission rights away to coal and oil companies. Some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances will be used to support the development of clean energy, to invest in energy efficiency improvements, and to address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition. "

This isn't a tax on greenhouse gasses in the conventional sense. This is selling pollution permits so that a company that has a plant that generates a huge amount of pollution for it's immediate community and for the environment but makes a lot of money can buy the pollution credits that it needs to not change a damn thing.

"A 100 percent auction ensures that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these emission rights away to coal and oil companies."

But it's an auction, which means that while you're not literally giving the emissions rights away to coal and oil companies they'll be the ones buying the rights to pollute. So yes, they'll pay, but the effect will be inverse to what Obama says will happen. Smaller companies that can't afford pollution credits will cut back on their pollution while richer companies that can afford them will continue on.

There's one big problem with pollution credits, and that is that we already have something that can reduce greenhouse gasses by a drastic degree, in fact just by the degree that he's talking about. It's called the EPA and legislation. It's called passing regulations strengthening limits on what companies can pollute directly while not allowing an easy out by means of the worst polluters being able to buy their way out of cutting their emissions. If we want to reduce greenhouse gasses we should regulate across the board so that the worst offenders as well as lesser offenders both have to share the costs. Taxes themselves are ineffective because people should not be allowed to pay for the right to engage in destructive activity. Would you like to have an FDA food safety contamination credit auction?

They shouldn't pay, they should stop. In fact, what they should be spending their money on is new equipment and fines if they don't become compliant. But that would be big government, or a liberal-esque solution.

"an end to genocide in Darfur"

Glad to see that being anti-genocide is something that the people of Seattle like. Good to know that there's not a large pro-genocide contingent up here.

Obama doesn't say anything about it on his website but Darfur gives Obama an A+ and a special mention for his efforts.

The summary is that Obama is best on his education and his environment stance in the sphere of funding alternatives. While it's not mentioned in the Seattle PI paragraph, he has an idea that's good about making pensions mandatory.

But none of that changes the distortions on virtually every other concrete issue mentioned.

It seems that between the enthusiastic, orgiastic, clapping of the crowd and what Obama actually says there's a significant gap, the very thing that recently prompted a Slate editor to label Obama's speeches Fascistic.

It's really, really, disturbing to hear the peals of applause, one after the other, from people up here when you know that through a couple minutes of internet searching you could poke holes in the very thing that they're applauding for.

Which is one of the reason I keep writing these fucking articles. Over and over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Asking people who are poor to contribute 100 hours while people who are richer don't have to do anything is making poor people jump through hoops like trained dogs to get something that they inherently deserve."

I agree that this initiative will have a larger effect on "poor" people, if you classify anyone as "poor" who will jump at the chance to get $40 per hour, which is basically what we're talking about here. In my estimation this would include the vast majority of college students. Yes, the small percentage of students whose parents can pay their tuition with cash probably won't feel any urgency to participate in the "voluntary" service, but I think that many, many people who aren't "poor," whatever that means to you, will do it.

Really though, I'm curious -- and I'm not trying to be a jerk, I'm really curious why you believe this -- why do you think that everyone "inherently deserves" higher education funding from the government? It would be nice if higher education cost nothing in terms of resources and labor and we could just hand it out for free, but it's not free of costs. Why do people who choose to go to college "inherently deserve" subsidies in the form of taxes from others who choose not to go?