Je suis Charlie. In fact, let's go even further: Nous sommes Charlie Hebdo. Because we are all Charlie, this week.
However, I have to say, most of the American media cravenly allowed the terrorists to dictate their editorial policy this week, which is truly disappointing. People got killed for these cartoons. And the American mainstream media, for the most part (there were a few notable exceptions), refused to show viewers or readers the cartoons in question. Out of fear. That's pathetic.
The proper response to terrorist pressure on cartoonists is to give the cartoons in question the widest audience possible in the largest number of media outlets possible -- that is true solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Kudos to The Huffington Post for not cowering in fear, and actually running the cartoons, which were a major part of the breaking news story.
What made me really pause and think this week, though, was another story in The Huffington Post, about a Saudi Arabian blogger who got a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes because he "insulted Islam on a liberal forum." The whippings will begin today, and continue for the next 20 weeks (50 lashes per week). This sentence, I hasten to point out, comes from a government that the United States considers one of our closest allies in the region. So nous sommes Charlie, to be sure; but I am Raif Baddawi, as well. Freedom of expression -- and the freedom to write a blog post critical of any aspect of society -- should be considered absolutes, in my opinion. No matter who is trying to forcefully restrict this basic human right, friend or foe.
In domestic news, unemployment is down once again, job growth continues, gas prices are down, the stock market's booming, and the rate of uninsured Americans continues to plummet (down to 12.9 percent from a pre-Obamacare high of 18.0 percent) as a direct result of Obamacare. The continuing good economic news (and Obama's rising job approval polling) even got a begruduging acknowledgement from the Wall Street Journal.
At the beginning of the week, I wrote a piece which tried to convince Democrats to start taking some credit for all of this, before Republicans try to horn in and grab all the credit for themselves. Not two days later, Mitch McConnell tried to do exactly that. Sometimes I hit the jackpot in the "being prophetic" department, but usually not this quickly!
McConnell was soundly ridiculed, of course. Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, had the best response:
Hahahahahahahahahahaha. That Mitch McConnell is one funny guy. He likes to remind people all the time that he's not a scientist. Now we know he's not a mathematician or an economist either. The fact is, under President Obama we've had 57 straight months of private sector job growth leading to nearly 11 million jobs added. All Republicans have given us is a government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion. I get why he wants to take credit for the economic recovery. But maybe he should first do something to help contribute to it.
Republicans are so funny. I mean, they always follow pretty much the same playbook: predict doom and gloom, and then when it doesn't happen, claim all the credit. Think this is too harsh? Here's a quick look back at four predictions Republicans were making back in 2012 about how disastrous a second Obama term would be -- gas was supposed to be almost $5.50 a gallon, unemployment was supposed to have stayed at eight percent, and the stock market and the economy were supposed to have crashed by now. Good thing we didn't re-elect Obama, eh?
Back in reality, President Obama is in the midst of unveiling a few policy ideas in preparation for his upcoming State Of The Union speech. Today's proposal is to make community college free for everyone. Can't see Republicans supporting that, but it'll be a dandy issue to run on for all Democrats, come 2016. In a few weeks, the White House will announce a far-reaching and long-overdue rule change on who is entitled to mandatory overtime -- and the even-better news is that Congress won't have much of a say about it.
Speaking of Congress, the 114th such gathering got sworn in this week, and got down to the serious business of passing bills that Obama is absolutely guaranteed to veto. However, we're going to make a conscious decision to punt discussing Congress, for the most part, until next week. Until then, Richard Zombeck has a pretty good rundown of all the mischief Republicans have been up to, and Salon's got a good explanation of why almost all of these efforts will be doomed to fail. We apologize for not getting into these issues, but then this column has been on hiatus for three weeks (two for our year-end awards columns, and last week we ran our monthly "Obama Poll Watch" article because we were still exhausted from the holiday season), so we've just got too much else to cover today.
In fact, this intro is long enough as it is, so let's just quickly note a few odds and ends, and move right along to the weekly awards. Two marijuana stories were in the business news section (which should become a much more common occurrence in the near future): former Senator Mike Gravel announced he'll become the CEO of a marijuana company, and a "high-profile venture capital firm" made a multi-million dollar investment in the company that will soon be marketing marijuana with a Bob Marley ("Marley Natural") brand.
The oldest known time capsule in America was opened this week, which was even more significant because it was originally created by well-known revolutionaries Paul Revere and Sam Adams.
In amusing journalism news, the vaunted New York Times made a major goof by running a story about "Kyrzbekistan" (instead of Kyrgyzstan). Somewhere, Herman "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan" Cain is surely laughing.
And finally, one of the funniest editorials we've ever read was run by the Frederick News-Post in Maryland, in response to a local politician who was angry at one of their articles about him, and who (get this) threatened to sue the paper for their unauthorized use of his name. The editorial, appropriately enough, gratuitously uses his name over two dozen times, from a mere footnote right up to the article's title: "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter." If you want a good laugh, this is the article to read this week!
As previously mentioned, President Obama is enjoying an upward bounce in his poll numbers. If he gets another boost from the State Of The Union, maybe more people will begin taking note. For now, we'll give him an Honorable Mention for this progress.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Senator Barbara Boxer, who just announced she will not be seeking re-election next year.
Now, we could give Boxer an award because she is our senator and she votes a lot closer to our views than California's other senator, but that'd be more of a "lifetime achievement" award, really. Besides, we wrote about that yesterday, so we'd just be repeating ourselves.
Instead, we are handing Boxer the MIDOTW award for her timing. Boxer made her announcement stunningly early in the 2016 election cycle -- so early that even Nancy Pelosi was surprised by it. This insures the maximum amount of time for all other California Democrats to make their case to the public, instead of playing the egotistical game of "maybe I'll run, and maybe I won't" -- which far too many other senators have disgracefully played in the past. Boxer is putting her state and her party before her own self-importance, which is impressive indeed.
What was not so impressive (and we say this with all due respect) was the manner in which she ended her video announcement. She is fond of making rhyming statements, and crafted the following poem to explain why she's stepping down:
The Senate is the place where I've always made my case,
For families, for the planet and the human race.
More than 20 years in a job I love,
Thanks to California and the Lord above.
So although I won't be working for my Senate space,
And I won't be running in that next tough race,
As long as there are issues and challenges and strife,
I will never retire because that's the meaning of my life.
Now, this is normally the moment when we'd make the stock snarky comment "don't quit your day job," but it would just be too ironic to do so (seeing as how that's exactly what she is in the process of doing).
All friendly kidding aside, though, Barbara Boxer will indeed be missed in the Senate. She has been a staunch champion of so many issues, and she has been so reliable in standing up for her convictions that even bad poetry cannot diminish our respect for her. For announcing her plans so early and throwing the race wide open from the very start, Barbara Boxer is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. We can only hope that when it comes time for Dianne Feinstein to do the same thing (two years from now), she'll follow Boxer's classy lead.
[Congratulate Senator Barbara Boxer on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
We're happy to say we had no candidates for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, perhaps an aftereffect of all that holiday good cheer. If you'd like to nominate someone worthy of disappointment that we've ignored or missed, please do so (as always) in the comments section.
Volume 331 (1/9/15)
President Obama is currently out in the country giving some extraordinary speeches. He's doing so to build support for his upcoming State Of The Union address, and it's a pretty sure bet that many of the applause lines in these preview speeches will find their way into the big one later this month.
The speeches are impressive for one big reason: they're optimistic. My (very early) guess is that Obama's State Of The Union speech this year will be compared to Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" campaign speech, in fact.
Now, there will be quibbles from Democrats disappointed that this sort of thing didn't happen before the election, when it might have done a lot more political good. But the hard reality is that six or nine months ago, Obama would have sounded too optimistic if he had given the same speech he just gave in Michigan, to auto workers. Obama -- and, by extension, the Democrats -- would have appeared out-of-touch instead of cheerily optimistic.
But with the last half-year's economic data under his belt, Obama is now free to begin talking up the American economy. He's still treading carefully, you can tell, but he's hitting more positive notes than just about any other politician out there.
Which is why we're taking six of our seven talking points this week from Obama's Detroit speech (a full transcript is available on the White House website). Our third talking point is the only non-Obama one this week, because the president glossed over this point in his speech (devoting only one quick sentence to it) and we felt it needed more emphasis.
All Democrats should be following the president's lead on this: claim some well-deserved credit! If you refuse to, the Republicans will snatch this opportunity away from you, guaranteed.
America is coming back
This is where Obama started, which set the theme for the entire speech. As I said, it's very close to Reagan's "Morning In America" idea. Call it "realistic optimism," perhaps.
One of my New Year's resolutions is to make sure that more Americans in Wayne, more Americans in Michigan, more Americans all across this great country -- that everybody feels like they're coming back. And there is no doubt, thanks to the steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and to rebuild it on a new foundation, we are entering into the New Year with new confidence that America is coming back. Now, you don't have to take my word for it. The facts are the facts. And let's face it, a lot of times the media doesn't like reporting on good news, but every once in a while, it's important for us to hear some good news, not to make us complacent, but to give us confidence that if we work harder, we can make even more good news.
Jobs are coming back
Obama's been doing a good job of blending job statistics with an "American exceptionalism" spin, of late. He gave this speech before December's numbers were out, so he couldn't add something like: "In my first year in office, in the depths of the Great Recession, unemployment hit 10 percent, but it is now down to 5.6 percent." But the rest of it works just fine, even without that added statistic.
Last year, 2014, was the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s. Since the 1990s. We've now had a 57-month streak of private sector job creation. We've created nearly 11 million new jobs. That's the longest stretch in our history of private sector, uninterrupted job creation. Here's another way of thinking about it. Since 2010, we, America, have put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and every other advanced economy combined. Combined. And let me tell you what's leading the way: American manufacturing. After a decade of decline, American manufacturing is in its best stretch of job growth since the 1990s.
Obamacare came back
This is the one Obama glossed over. Again, this speech was likely written before the good news appeared from Gallup, so it's understandable. But it's important enough for me to attempt to put words into Obama's mouth. Here's what he could have said, with the recent data:
"The Affordable Care Act -- or 'Obamacare,' if you will -- is chalking up success after success. The website got fixed. Since then, people have been signing up in droves. About 10 million of them in the past year alone, in fact. Gallup now tells us that the rate of uninsured Americans has fallen sharply since Obamacare went into effect -- and it continues to fall. The quarter before the Obamacare exchanges opened, a full 18 percent of Americans were uninsured. Last quarter, that number had fallen to just 12.9 percent. Obamacare is doing exactly what it was designed to do -- reduce the number of people without health insurance in America. For all the doom and gloom its opponents have been predicting since we started talking about reforming health care, the data trends since implementation have been overwhelmingly positive."
Deficits are way down
The way Obama frames this issue is important, because the gap between reality and what the public assumes is a large one, and it'll only shrink if Democrats point these things out over and over again.
We've cut our deficits by about two-thirds. I'd like people to think about that, because when they do surveys of, like, ordinary folks on the street and they ask them, are the deficits going up or are they coming down, everybody automatically assumes, well, government spending and deficits must be going up. Deficits have come down by two-thirds since I took office -- by two-thirds. They're going down.
Let's rebuild the middle class together
This is likely to be the core of Obama's big speech in a few weeks, which he even points out. He's pivoting from where we are now to where he'd like to lead us.
America's resurgence is real. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. We've got the best cards and we are doing better than just about anybody else on Earth. And now that we've got some calmer waters, now that the worst of the crisis is behind us, if we all do our part, if we all pitch in, then we can make sure that this rising tide is actually lifting all the boats, not just some. We can make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers American prosperity for decades to come. And that's going to be the focus of my State Of The Union address in a couple of weeks -- building on the progress that we've already made.
Auto bailouts have been repaid
This is a big deal, too, because it also fills in one of those gaps between reality and public perception. Of course, this is tailored to the Michigan crowd, but it's still an important point to make.
Last month we actually marked a milestone. Last month, the rescue of the auto industry officially came to an end. The auto companies have now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration invested in you. You paid the taxpayers back with your hard work, with your dedication. And over the past five years, this industry created about 500,000 new jobs. Last year, American autoworkers churned out cars faster than any year since 2005. Ford has brought jobs back from Mexico, created nearly 24,000 new jobs across this country, including 1,800 new jobs right here in this plant.
We come back stronger
And, finally, Obama closes on a high note, once again stoking the American exceptionalism fires.
When our assembly lines grind to a halt, we work together, we get them going again. We don't give up. We get up, we fight back. We come back stronger than before. Thanks to the hard work of people like you, America is coming back. And I'm going to be on your side every step of the way.
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