You need to know this. Tonight, President Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address, and his first since beginning his second term in office. The major points of Obama's speech will likely highlight gun control, immigration, and an economic vision for our nation – with another call for Congress to prevent the sequester. And, an official White House preview of the speech indicates that Obama will announce the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan in the coming year. In addition, the President will address North Korea's recent nuclear test. Progressives are hoping that the President also pushes important issues like infrastructure, immigration, and climate change, and that he takes the same strong tone seen in his inaugural address. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, seemed to acknowledge this, saying "The president has always viewed the two speeches, the inaugural address and the State of the Union, as two acts in the same play. And the fact is, while there was a focus on some of the other elements of the inaugural address, that the core emphasis that he has always placed in these big speeches remains the same and will remain the same, which is the need to make the economy work for the middle class." The Republican response will be given by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will present the official Tea Party response. No word yet on whether or not Rand Paul will look into the correct camera.
In screwed news... If you were delighted to hear that raising the Medicare eligibility age was off the table in the economic debate, you may want to hold off on celebrating just yet. In a White House press conference yesterday, Jay Carney confirmed that the President "would consider the hard choice that included the so-called chain CPI" to calculate cost of living adjustments for Social Security recipients. He says that the chain CPI is on the table, but will only be considered as part of a comprehensive package that "asks the burden to be shared." Chain CPI slows the growth of Social Security benefits paid to seniors over time. It would effectively reduce benefits by about $250 over three years, and could mean about $15,000 less for retirees over time. Sen. Bernie Sanders calls it "an economic and moral disaster." There is no economic reason to even balance the budget, much less should it be done on the backs of seniors and the disabled. Call the White House and demand that chain CPI is taken off the table now!
In the best of the rest of the news... The departing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, just gave a clear directive to his successor – stop the discrimination against same-sex couples in the military. At his direction, the Department of Defense has issued a memorandum granting many new benefits to LGBT partners of our service men and women. Some of the new benefits include child care, legal assistance, and dependent ID cards for spouses. However, because of the Defense of Marriage Act, there are still many benefits LGBT military family members don't receive – including healthcare, hospital visitation privileges, and presentation of the Flag at military funerals. But it appears that the DoD is gearing up to extend those benefits as well, when DOMA is finally repealed – which could happen next month when it comes before the Supreme Court. The memorandum regarding new benefits clearly states that when DOMA is "no longer applicable to the Department of Denfense, it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' without regard to sexual orientation." OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson praised Panetta's decision saying, "We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality – steps that will substantively improve the quality of life for gay and lesbian military families." Kudos to Leon Panetta, and let's hope the Supreme Court overturns DOMA next month.
As you watch tonight's Republican responses to the state of the union, you may want to consider a recent study highlighted by the San Francisco Federal Reserve. The study shows that one of the Republicans' favorite talking points – that taxes and regulation hold back job creation – is pretty much a load of garbage. According to the results, "there was almost no correlation between job growth and the increase of businesses citing regulations and taxes as their primary concern." In fact, the San Francisco Fed said that slow job creation is actually tied to a lack of demand – meaning that when customers don't have money to spend, businesses have no need to hire more people. This is exactly what proponents of governement investment have been saying all along! And just because Rubio and Rand Paul repeat the lie over and over again, that doesn't mean that it ever becomes true.
And finally...Rep. Steve Stockman's date for The State of The Union probably doesn't sit well with the Secret Service. On his official website, the Texas Congressman said "I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama." Yep – you heard that right – Mr. "if-Obama-is-elected-I-will-either-be-dead-or-in-jail" Nugent has been given an official invite to hear the President speak this evening. This is the same man who was brought in for questioning by the Secret Service last April, after making threatening remarks about the President at the NRA's annual convention. With the gun-debate likely to be a big topic tonight, we applaud our democratic leaders for bringing victims of gun vioelence to highlight the need for gun regulations. It's also interesting to see the Republicans bringing Ted Nugent to tonight's event – perhaps to highlight the need for mental health reform.
And that's the way it is today – Tuesday, February 12, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.