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The Buzz

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Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

Election Day speech

In a tone that swayed from conciliatory to chastising, President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address Jan. 27 contained one response to his uneven first year in the White House: "I don't quit." Obama admitted that "our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved." Fearful of being counted out after the recent spate of losses in statewide races, Democrats left to Obama the job of reconnecting with the middle class: "Jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010," said Obama, tellingly burying last year's top priority-healthcare-until late in the speech. "What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day," he said. But that didn't stop him in his speech from taking his own jabs at the Supreme Court, senators, Republicans, and (yet again) the previous administration.

March for life

Politicians and pundits spoke to the tens of thousands of pro-life supporters at the National Mall Jan. 22, but the real heart of the 37th annual March for Life rally could be found in the story of one protestor. Seventeen years ago, Amanda Martis' mother had a choice after becoming pregnant her freshmen year in college: adoption or abortion. And her choice of life is the reason Amanda got to visit Washington, D.C., for the first time in conjunction with the annual rally held on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Standing in front of the Supreme Court building, Amanda, who has never met her biological mother and lives in Toledo, Ohio, with her adoptive parents, held up a poster with the words: "Thanks mom."

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Youth was featured at this year's rally, which seemed to co-opt President Barack Obama's campaign slogan of "hope." Hope, supporters said, because national polls show that the majority of Americans now oppose abortion, because House lawmakers successfully blocked the federal funding of abortion in a proposed healthcare reform bill, and because the growing personhood movement now has promising initiatives to protect life in 32 states.

Campaigns and the court

The primaries for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama in Illinois take place Feb. 2, making it the first race that will test the impact of a January Supreme Court decision Obama strongly opposes-so strongly the president called out for Congress to rewrite the law during his State of the Union speech. The departure from protocol respecting the independence of the judiciary-something the Legal Times called "almost unprecedented"-underscored scorn by Democrats for the high court's 5-4 ruling, issued Jan. 21, that corporations' funding of campaigns no longer can be regulated. The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission allows money to flow from corporations in support of a political issue or campaign, and law experts believe that from now on outside groups will be stronger voices in campaigns. In this ruling, the court overturned its own precedents as well as laws like McCain-Feingold that restricted campaign spending. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, supported by Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia. Kennedy wrote in his opinion that Congress' laws regulating campaign spending "burden speech."

Role reversal

A new Pew Research Center study shows that wives make more than their husbands in 22 percent of households. In 1970 just 4 percent of women earned more than their mates. And today, 28 percent of wives have more education than their husbands-up from 20 percent in 1970. The study says that the current 33 to 44 age group is the first in U.S. history to include more women than men with college degrees. The role reversal means that more men are now enhancing their economic status through marriage: Today median household incomes of married men are about 60 percent higher than in 1970 but just 16 percent higher for unmarried men compared with four decades ago.

Fed head

Not much unites self-described socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., one of the most conservative members of the Senate. But in January they and other senators from both parties joined to oppose the nomination of Ben Bernanke to another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Bernanke's liberal opponents said he had been too cozy with the big banks, and to win the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Bernanke had to promise to "redouble his efforts" to make credit available to the middle class. That's just what troubles many conservatives: Bernanke, as a Fed governor, was instrumental in former chairman Alan Greenspan's easy money policies of the early 2000s, which they claim inflated the housing bubble until it burst. Conservatives worry that he may keep money too easy for too long again. With Bernanke's Jan. 28 confirmation in the Senate, questions linger: Did the Fed chairman box himself in with his promise to Reid? Will Bernanke be able (or willing) to raise interest rates if new bubbles appear likely? And just how politicized has the "independent" Fed become?

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