The web is a weird place. It’s at the same time intimate and very distancing. You can have the most intimate conversation with someone, and then never see that person again. It’s not uncommon for web communities to all of a sudden lose long-standing members. Sometimes we find out what happened to them. But often they just vanish, without a trace, and you’re left wondering.
At The Obama Diary we have created a real community. We care for each other. When one of us hurts, we all feel the pain. I can’t describe how gratified I was by the concern and well-wishes expressed by all of you during my wife’s recovery from surgery, and her subsequent search for a new job. And when Dudette vanished for a few weeks, a few of us sprang into action and tracked her down, not to invade her privacy, but to make sure she was well. This is what humans do: we create communities, and those communities bind us together in bonds even stronger than those of family.
Today our own GoBrooklyn gave us some distressing news. It was, quite frankly, life altering for her.
With a strong, optimistic beginning and an unforgettable ending, that may have been President Obama’s best State of the Union speech. Apparently none of the commentators who have been saying his presidency is on its last legs bothered to let him know. He opened with a portrait of the country – not an America gripped by crisis or mired in despondency, but a sunny place where unemployment is falling, school test scores are rising, housing prices are recovering, deficits are shrinking and manufacturing jobs are coming home.
the president’s tone throughout the speech was buoyant, not sour. His defense of the Affordable Care Act was an observation that House Republicans’ first 40 useless votes to repeal the law really should suffice. Even when he bludgeoned the GOP over long-term unemployment benefits or the minimum wage, he did it with a smile. His argument for equal pay and family leave? “It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.” His call for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10? “Join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”
The end of the speech, a tribute to wounded Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, was an indelible moment. To end with such a powerful story of bravery and resilience gave emotional depth to the overall theme of the speech: America is back. I don’t know how much of his agenda Obama will achieve. But I’m pretty sure the last three years of his presidency won’t be boring.
Once again, he was the only obvious president in the room, much good may that do him. He did not rile up the base. He was not combative. He did not dwell on issues that his base wanted to hear. (If you had “Keystone XL,” or “NSA,” or “TPP” in your State of the Union drinking game, you probably wound up as the designated driver.) But he was firm on one thing. He is not going to be a lame duck as long as he can still walk. There were a lot of sentences that began with some variation of, “If Congress won’t act…” And he can still throw a sneaky right hand over the top: Now, I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40- something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda.
He was extraordinarily strong in spots, particularly on voting rights, where he plainly had a lot to say, and said it all, and on the process of getting the country off what he rather daringly described as the “permanent war footing” it had been on since 2001. But, if this speech burned no barns, it didn’t sound anything like a last chance, either. The president seemed to have a pen and one hand, and that well-worn olive branch still in the other. He is what he always has been, the coolest head in the room. You can never say he isn’t that.
Stem cell researchers are heralding a “major scientific discovery”, with the potential to start a new age of personalised medicine. Scientists in Japan showed stem cells can now be made quickly just by dipping blood cells into acid. Stem cells can transform into any tissue and are already being trialled for healing the eye, heart and brain. The latest development, published in the journal Nature, could make the technology cheaper, faster and safer.
The human body is built of cells with a specific role – nerve cells, liver cells, muscle cells – and that role is fixed. However, stem cells can become any other type of cell, and they have become a major field of research in medicine for their potential to regenerate the body. Embryos are one, ethically charged, source of stem cells. Nobel prize winning research also showed that skin cells could be “genetically reprogrammed” to become stem cells (termed induced pluripotent stem cells).
Every winter since 2009, President Obama has stood at the podium of the House and pleaded for the cooperation of Congress. For the last three State of the Union speeches, he has largely been ignored. That has left a growing trail of unfinished business: background checks for gun buyers, immigration reform, a higher minimum wage, tax fairness, universal preschool. This year was different. Mr. Obama’s speech on Tuesday night acknowledged the obvious: Congress has become a dead end for most of the big, muscular uses of government to redress income inequality and improve the economy for all, because of implacable Republican opposition.
“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” he said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.” Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers might benefit only a few hundred-thousand people, but it increases the pressure on other businesses and, ultimately, Congress to raise the wage for everyone. One particularly promising request the president made of Congress was to expand the earned-income tax credit, which now benefits 15 million families a year, to workers without children. That would not only boost the incomes of many at the bottom of the ladder, but it would provide the incentive to work that many Republicans say they support.
Brian Beutler: The Right’s Agenda Is Reviled: The Lesson From Obama’s Confident State Of The Union
Intentionally or otherwise, Obama’s speech was a reminder to Democrats that the storm clouds of Obamacare implementation have obscured their view of the popular platform the party ran on so confidently in 2012. That there are a series of issues that animate Democratic constituencies on the docket, both ahead of 2014 and beyond, and all of them are political and substantive winners for the party.
To the extent that the GOP agenda isn’t in flux or concealed by sensitivity training, it remains broadly less popular than the Democratic agenda. Republicans understand this well enough to recognize that they need to at least pretend to want to narrow inequality, but these ideas don’t layer neatly atop the existing party platform.
And, of course, in the long run, fanatical opposition to national health care isn’t easily compatible with any serious equality agenda. Democrats don’t have that problem. And structurally that puts them in a sound place, even if the politics of the moment feel pretty wobbly.
Annie-Rose Strasser: Obama Goes Full Feminist: ‘Time To Do Away With Workplace Policies That Belong In A ‘Mad Men’ Episode’
President Obama let his feminist flag fly during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Citing pay disparity and paid leave policy, he argued — to loud applause — that women are still unequal in the United States, and that there are policies that can change that: Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship– and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. Let’s work together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.
The President’s ‘Mad Men’-era assessment is apt. Women earn less than their male counterparts in the United States no matter their job, industry, or education. Nationally, women earn 77 cents on a man’s dollar — and that number is not getting better. It affects women right out of college and women at the tops of their fields. Obama is right to call out leave policy, as well, as an issue that keeps women on unequal footing in the workforce. The U.S. is one of the few developed nations without any requirement for paid maternity leave. Over 40 percent of women are forced to take unpaid leave from their jobs when they get pregnant, while about 25 percent quit or are forced out.
USA Today: Obama Unveils New Retirement Savings Plan: ‘MyRA’
A new savings plan will allow Americans to buy savings bonds in a starter retirement account that “guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in,” President Obama said Tuesday evening in his State of the Union address. Details: Safe: The new savings bonds would have its principal guaranteed by the U.S. government, much like a traditional savings bond. Tax benefits: The MyRA bond would be like a Roth IRA: Your contributions would not be tax-deductible, but your earnings would be free from tax when you withdraw it. As with a Roth, your contributions can be taken out tax-free at any time.
Affordable: Minimum initial investment could be as low as $25, and subsequent investments could be as little as $5, through payroll deduction. Savers can keep the same account when they change jobs. Rates: Savers will earn interest at the same variable interest rate as the federal employees’ Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Government Securities Investment Fund. The fund earned 1.74% last year. Availability: The MyRA would be open to households earning up to $191,000 a year through their employers. Employers won’t incur any cost to offer the MyRAs. You’ll be able to save up to $15,000 a year for up to 30 years before transferring to a private Roth IRA.
Ryan Cooper: In The State Of The Union, Obama Pledges Strong Action On Climate Change
During President Obama’s speech tonight, he announced many different ways he would use the executive branch to pursue strong action on climate change. The policy framework hasn’t changed. Instead, this is a good signal that President Obama intends to finish what he has started. To a first approximation, climate change is about coal. The oldest and filthiest coal-fired power plants are already being retired, squeezed by cheap natural gas and ever-cheaper renewables on one side, and the EPA on the other. With a bit of luck, and if the president keeps up the pressure, by the time he hands off to his successor coal will be on a permanently downward trajectory.
Here’s the money quote: Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.
The final sentence is the key one. Remember, the EPA still hasn’t even finalized its rule for carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants, yet it has managed to close down dozens of plants using rules governing mercury and particulate emissions. Should it come out with an even slightly aggressive rule, it could force all coal plants to eventually shut down. Doing that tomorrow would be ill-advised, but if phased in over a decade or so, the long-term benefits would be spectacular.
President Obama during a budget meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 29, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Surrounded by members of Congress, and Lilly Ledbetter, President Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Bill, Jan. 29, 2009
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican member of the Cabinet, feigns being a blocking back for President Obama as he arrives backstage to meet with GOP House leaders before speaking to their issues conference at the Renaissance Baltimore Harbor Place Hotel in Baltimore, Md., Jan. 29, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama is briefed on the events in Egypt during a meeting with his national security team in the Situation Room of the White House, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
The first family walk together to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, Jan. 29, 2012
President Obama delivers remarks on immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nev., Jan. 29, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama signs an accompanying letter to Congressional leaders after signing H.R. 152, which provides fiscal year 2013 supplemental appropriations to respond to and recover from the severe damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Jan. 29, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)