Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to affect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.
MORNING MESSAGE: Mr. President, Americans Agree On Social Security. So Talk To Us, Not Washington.
OurFuture.Org’s Richard Eskow: "Mr. President, you moved a nation today with your words in Tucson… Two weeks from now the State of the Union address will be an opportunity to bring Americans together – Americans who have been bitterly divided by party loyalty and ideology, but who stand united in their support for the social programs that have improved our lives for the past seventy-five years. On that night, will they know that somebody has heard them? Will they feel that someone is talking to them? Will they feel they have a voice inside the Capitol rotunda, in a city where they sometimes seem to have been forgotten? …As you know, Mr. President, leaders of both political parties have been talking about Social Security cuts. …When asked how we should cut the deficit, Americans would rather raise taxes on the wealthy than cut Social Security by more than two to one. These Americans … with a single voice. To paraphrase Third Way, when they talk about Social Security they demonstrate what is true but not always apparent – that we are one nation, not two. …There will be many people in the room with you who want to make these cuts anyway, Mr. President. …But you’ll have an opportunity to show the nation how its leaders can differ with courtesy and grace — and in this case, with a bipartisan majority at your back. You’ll be able explain that you’re not defending Social Security because you speak for Democrats, but because you speak for all Americans."
"How Can We Honor the Fallen?"
President Barack Obma speaks at a memorial for the victims of the tragic violence in Arizona: "We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future. But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."
Rep. Giffords opened her eyes to find herself surrounded by friends: "Just a few hours after attending a memorial service in Arizona, a giddy Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida came back to the press cabin aboard Air Force One to tell reporters about the moment when their friend, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, opened one eye for the first time since she was shot in the head last Saturday. Also in the hospital room at the time, they said, was Mark Kelly, Ms. Giffords’s husband, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi."
The New York Times praises the President’s speech: "It is a president’s responsibility to salve a national wound. President Obama was right to fly to Tucson on Wednesday to speak at the memorial service for the six people who died in last weekend’s terrible parking lot shooting. It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop demonizing their political opponents. But that was not the president’s role in Tucson. He was there to comfort and honor, and instill hope."
At Swampland, Amy Sullivan heard the right message, but at the wrong moment: "I suspect I was not the only one who squirmed uncomfortably at the implicit message: These victims did not die in vain; they died in part so that we might have a reason to call on Republicans and Democrats to cut it out and start acting like adults. That is not to say that polarization and the tendency to de-legitimize those who hold different beliefs aren’t worrisome aspects of our politics and society that need addressing. But in this setting, the call to civility seemed like the solution to a problem only people in Washington connected to the Tucson shooting. It was the message pundits were waiting for Obama to give tonight, and that message was eloquently crafted and delivered. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama’s stirring exhortations struck the average listener as jarring. After all, those who lost their lives on Saturday were killed by a mentally ill man who should never have been able to purchase a gun. Obviously, no one wants to listen to a discussion of mental health policy and gun safety laws at a memorial service. I just wonder if most home viewers were really primed by the tragedy to answer Obama’s challenge to forge a more decent, united country."
All About Sarah
Meanwhile, writes Bob Cesca, Sarah Palin thinks it’s all about … her, again: "Following Sarah Palin’s videotaped statement today, let there be no doubt about her total lack of seriousness — a character trait, in fact, that’s utterly dwarfed by her chronic inability to construct prepared, teleprompter-presented remarks without virtually choking on her own tongue. Sarah Palin could have used her time to be a leader — to take the high road and talk about the heroes and the victims of this terrorist attack. She could have used the time to discuss responsible gun ownership. She could have taken the time to address her people and mitigate the anger and political hatred that’s bubbled up around this tragedy. Instead, she diminished the tragedy by conflating it with the attacks against her and her record of inflammatory statements."
Ruth Marcus writes that Palin introduced words that don’t heal: "Sarah Palin feels victimized by critics who accuse her of helping create an angry political climate that led to the Tucson shootings, and she has a point. She chose a truly unfortunate way to make it, using the phrase blood libel. Here’s the context, from Palin’s eight-minute video statement on the shooting: ‘Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.’ Blood libel is a term with a specific and terrible history. It refers to the scurrilous accusation that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children to use their blood to prepare Passover matzo. Charges of blood libel have spurred massacres of Jews throughout the centuries; the myth was revived by Hitler and persists today from Russia to the Arab world. Using the phrase blood libel is akin to making a Holocaust analogy: It is almost always a bad idea. Very little compares to the murder of millions of Jews simply because of their religion."
Palin’s "Blood Libel" Response hasn’t gotten her much sympathy: "An aide close to Sarah Palin says death threats and security threats have increased to an unprecedented level since the shooting in Arizona, and the former Alaska governor’s team has been talking to security professionals… Palin’s use of the word has triggered some deep emotions, even among those who believe Palin has been a target of unfair criticism since the Tucson shooting. The Jewish Fund for Justice assailed Palin for abusing a tragic episode in Jewish history. ‘We are deeply disturbed’ by her commentary, president Simon Greer said in a statement today. ‘Unless someone has been accusing Ms. Palin of killing Christian babies and making matzoh from their blood, her use of the term is totally out of line.’ The National Jewish Democratic Council called the video a step in the wrong direction. ‘This is of course a particularly heinous term for American Jews, given that the repeated fiction of blood libels are directly responsible for the murder of so many Jews across centuries — and given that blood libels are so directly intertwined with deeply ingrained anti-Semitism around the globe, even today,’ it said in a statement."
Jared Got a Gun
Background checks on handgun buyers are up in Arizona: "The F.B.I. said on Wednesday that federal background checks on people in Arizona seeking to buy handguns had increased sharply since Saturday’s shooting rampage in Tucson that left six people dead and Representative Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life. There were 263 background checks in the state on Monday, the first weekday after the shootings, compared with 164 on a corresponding Monday last year. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the number of background checks initiated did not necessarily reflect gun sales because some people are disqualified, change their minds or do not buy a firearm for some other reason. The shooting also appears to have led people in Arizona to stock up on high-capacity magazines — that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, gun store owners said. "
E.J. Dionne explains how violent talk blocks gun laws: "Instead of promoting a sober conversation about the dangers of violent political talk, it has reinforced divisions between left and right. Even responsible conservatives have dismissed any suggestion that Saturday’s attack is reason enough to condemn the threats of violence that have become standard to the discourse at the extremes of their side of politics. More importantly: We have not focused at all on how the militarized rhetoric on the right is tightly connected to our national failure to enact the gun regulations that might have saved lives in Arizona.
At least congressman wishes there had been one more gun in Tucson: "Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that he wishes one additional person had possessed a firearm in Tucson on Saturday, presumably to use on Jared Lee Loughner. I wish there had been one more gun there that day in the hands of a responsible person, that’s all I have to say," Franks said at a briefing, according to Politico. The argument that more firearms would result in greater security — especially in cases such as the one over the weekend — has been a common argument for gun-rights activists, bolstered by headlines such as this."
Another congressman wishes there were more guns in Washington: "Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert says his office is drafting a measure to allow members of Congress to carry guns in the District of Columbia, including in the Capitol and on the House floor. Gohmert says he and his colleagues need to be able to protect themselves, in light of the mass shooting in Arizona. ‘It’d be a good thing for members of Congress who want to carry a weapon in the District,” he said. “I know friends that walk home from the Capitol. There’s no security for us, ‘he said, adding that the measure would deter people from attacking members. ‘There is some protection in having protection.’ He said there were times during the health care debate last year that he felt afraid, including when a stranger approached him on the street and started screaming at him. Though Gohmert doesn’t have a concealed weapon permit in Texas, he’s long been a strong advocate for Second Amendment rights."
Monica Potts wonders why we call some jobs "green": "So, what is a green job? The two-part BLS definition, which the bureau began working on in early 2010, was released last September. It focuses on the degree of environmental impact: Green jobs must either be in industries that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or must be jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly. Ultimately, the definition, even as it has been debated for the past year, means little until we match it up with the actual workforce."
Kate Shepard asks if we learned anything from the BP oil spill: "The National Oil Spill Commission on Tuesday released a voluminous report on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and its implications for the future of offshore drilling in the United States. The report, a doorstop of more than 300 pages, contains a long list of advice for the oil industry and federal regulators about how to avert a future catastrophe. But many of the commission’s recommendations require action from Congress—and given the current political climate, those changes might be hard to make for at least the next two years. "
2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record: "It’s a tie: Last year equaled 2005 as the warmest year on record, government climate experts reported Wednesday. The average worldwide temperature was 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit (0.62 degree Celsius) above normal last year. That’s the same as six years ago, the National Climatic Data Center announced. Climate experts have become increasingly concerned about rising global temperatures over the last century. Most atmospheric scientists attribute the change to gases released into the air by industrial processes and gasoline-burning engines. In addition, the Global Historical Climatology Network said Wednesday that last year was the wettest on record. Rain and snowfall patterns varied greatly around the world."
A U.S. court denied Texas’ third attempt to delay CO2 rules: "A federal court denied on Wednesday a third attempt by Texas to delay U.S. environmental regulators from imposing regulations on greenhouse gases in the state. Texas, which has refused to adopt rules on emissions blamed for warming the planet, sued the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent it from issuing greenhouse gas permits. The EPA has required states since January 2 to begin issuing greenhouse gas permits for the biggest polluters, such as oil refineries, coal-burning power plants and cement and glass makers. Texas, home to hundreds of plants that would be subject to the regulations, said the rules would hurt its economy. The EPA said it would issue permits for Texas, but ahead of a ruling on the case Texas asked for a delay of the agency’s actions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the delay on Wednesday. It said the state had ‘not satisfied the stringent standards required for a stay pending court review.’"
The Fed says the U.S. economy is growing modestly: "The US economy continued to grow moderately in December, but the weak housing market was still acting as a brake, says the Federal Reserve. In its latest Beige Book report, the US central bank said the manufacturing sector continued to enjoy the biggest upturn, while retailers saw a rise in sales over Christmas. The Fed said the housing sector remained subdued across the US. The data showed the US economy grew by 2.6% between July and September. However, this annualised level is too low to tackle the country’s continuing high level of unemployment. The most recent figures showed that the US jobless rate totalled 9.4% in December."
Foreclosures topped 1 million for the first time last year: "Banks seized more than a million U.S. homes in one year for the first time last year, despite a slowdown in the last few months as questions around foreclosure processing arose, a leading firm said on Thursday. Banks foreclosed on 69,847 properties in December, bringing the year’s total to 1.05 million, topping the prior record of 918,000 homes seized in 2009, real estate data firm RealtyTrac said. The number of foreclosure filings, which includes default notices, auctions and repossessions, was a record 2.9 million last year, including 257,747 filings in December.
Autoworkers will reap dividends from the industry’s rebound, after the government stepped in to bail out the industry: "The sweeping overhaul and surprising recovery of the American auto industry is about to pay off handsomely for the blue-collar workers at Ford and General Motors. The two big Detroit carmakers will announce profit-sharing checks this month for their hourly workers, perhaps the largest in a decade, company officials and industry analysts say. While the payouts — expected to top $5,000 at Ford — underscore the turnaround being celebrated at the Detroit auto show this week, they also foreshadow the enormous challenge awaiting the rebounding companies: how to maintain and build on their financial health while keeping their historically restive work force in line. All three Detroit car companies are preparing to negotiate new contracts with the United Automobile Workers union this summer. Hovering over the talks will be both the dark days leading up to the federal bailouts of G.M. and Chrysler in 2009, and the renewed sense of optimism permeating the domestic industry."
A Palm Springs man was arrested after making threats against Sen. Jim McDermott, over his stand on extending the Bush era tax cuts: "A Palm Springs, Calif., man was arrested on Wednesday on a federal charge that he threatened to kill Rep. James McDermott (D) of Washington because of the congressman’s stance in last month’s debate over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts. FBI agents arrested Charles Turner Habermann for making two late-night cell phone calls to the congressman’s Seattle office Dec. 9. According to an FBI affidavit, Mr. Habermann has a history of contacting elected officials and received a warning from California law enforcement officials in March 2010. ‘Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, if any of them had ever met Jim McDermott, they would all blow his brains out. They’d shoot him in the head, ‘Mr. Habermann, 32, allegedly said in a recorded voice mail message on Mr. McDermott’s office telephone."
The U.S. is drawing up plans for an extended say in Iraq: "Despite Iraqi leaders’ insistence that the US meets its deadline for withdrawing all troops by the end of 2011, the contours of a large and lasting American presence in Iraq are starting to take shape. Although a troop extension could still be negotiated, the politics of Iraq’s new government make that increasingly unlikely, and the Obama administration has shown little interest in pushing the point. Instead, planning is under way to turn over to the state department some of the most prominent symbols of the US role in the war — including several leading bases and a significant portion of the ‘green zone.’ The department would use the bases to house a force of private security contractors and support staff that it expects to triple in size, to 7,000 or 8,000, US officials said."
Sen. Mark Udall wants new seating arrangement for the President’s next speech: "Borrowing an idea from a centrist-Democratic think tank, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is urging members of Congress to commingle, in a bipartisan fashion, during the president’s upcoming State of the Union address. In a ‘dear colleague’ sent out on Wednesday, Udall wrote that instead of sitting ‘in our usual partisan divide’ when President Barack Obama appears before the dual chambers on January 25, ‘let us agree to have Democrats and Republicans sitting side by side.’"