- Created on 05 December 2013
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama prodded Congress to raise wages and secure the social safety net as he issued an overarching appeal Wednesday to correct economic inequalities that he said make it harder for a child to escape poverty. "That should offend all of us," he declared. "We are a better country than this."
Focusing on the pocketbook issues that Americans consistently rank as a top concern, Obama argued that the dream of upward economic mobility is breaking down and that the growing income gap is a "defining challenge of our time."
"The basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed," the president said in remarks at a nonprofit community center a short drive from the White House in one of Washington's most impoverished neighborhoods.
Though he offered no new initiatives, Obama blended a call for Congress to act on pending short-term economic measures with an ambitious vision aimed at rectifying a growing level of income inequality in the United States. Amid public doubts over Obama's stewardship of the economy, the speech served as a guide for the remaining three years of his term.
Still, by drawing attention to past policy proposals that have dead-ended in a divided government, Obama also laid bare the political failures and economic difficulties he has faced trying to halt widening inequality trends.
He acknowledged his administration's "poor execution" in rolling out the flawed health care website that was supposed to be an easy portal for purchasing insurance, while blaming Republicans for a "reckless" shutdown of the government.
"Nobody has acquitted themselves very well these past few months," Obama said. "So it's not surprising that the American people's frustrations with Washington are at an all-time high." Worse for Americans, he added, are their growing difficulties in trying to make ends meet no matter how hard they work.
The speech coincided with growing national and international attention to economic disparities - from the writings of Pope Francis to the protests of fast-food workers in the U.S. Obama recalled the pope's words, the deeds of past presidents as well as his own personal story as a young boy with a financially struggling mother.
And he noted that in the United States, a child born into the bottom 20 percent of income levels has less than a 5 percent chance of making it to the top income levels and is 10 times likelier to stay where he is - worse than other industrial countries such as Canada, Germany and France.
House Speaker John Boehner blamed Senate Democrats and Obama for the lack of action on jobs-related legislation. He said bills passed by the Republican-controlled House that would help the economy and create jobs have been blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate. "The Senate and the president continue to stand in the way of the people's priorities," he said on the House floor.
Obama conceded that "the elephant in the room" is the political gridlock that has prevented congressional action. But he pointed to the health care law, despite its troubled enrollment launch, as one example that he said is already helping families by providing insurance coverage to more Americans and by pushing down the costs of health care.
Obama specifically called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour. A Democratic bill by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa would raise the threshold to $10.10 an hour in three steps and tie automatic annual increases to changes in the cost of living.
A vote in the Senate is not expected in December, when the chamber will mostly focus on stalemates over the budget and other issues. Whenever it is debated, the measure seems unlikely to win the 60 votes it would need to clear the Senate due to GOP opposition.
Obama also pressed Congress to extend jobless benefits to 1.3 million long-term unemployed people. The benefits are set to expire just three days after Christmas. The additional weeks of benefits have been extended each year since 2009, but a senior Republican lawmaker, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said Tuesday that lawmakers in his party oppose yet another extension.
- Created on 04 December 2013
Anton Gunn (l) and Keli Goff (r) (NewsOne Now)
Though the wrinkles are being smoothed out of the insurance sign-up experience on healthcare.gov, many people are confused about their options and the upcoming deadlines.
Critics say the Obama administration should have done a better job of getting the word out in the months that led up to the launch of the health insurance exchanges on Oct. 1. But Anton Gunn, from the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, insists what's important is that the administration is now getting the messaging right for the people who need it.
"People focus on what's important and right in their face," said Gunn, speaking on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin. "If you can't enroll in a plan, which you couldn't do before October 1, again, effectively, no one was paying attention to what was different. But now that you can enroll in coverage, more people are paying attention. That's why we had such a demand when we opened enrollment on October 1. Four million people [visiting] in the first day or so. And we've seen that continue to grow."
Journalist Keli Goff, who participated in a roundtable discussion with Gunn, was unwilling to let him off the hook. Effective advance communication was vital, she said. "It is completely the fault of the administration if you couldn't get your base to mobilize around this issue until after October, or [reach] the people who use this and see why they couldn't use it."
Looking ahead, Gunn shared what happens after the current open enrollment period for 2014 ends on March 31. "There are some special circumstances — if you lose a job, or if you get married, you have a life event — you can enroll into a special enrollment period that happens after March 31. But for everybody else, the next open enrollment period starts that following October... and it goes until the end of the year."
Listen to the entire exchange in the clip here.
- Created on 03 December 2013
Did you know that the first View-Master was introduced at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair? Like its ancestor the stereopticon, which allowed people to view 3-D pictures of faraway places, the View-Master was originally intended for viewing images of exotic locations and travel postcards, according to "Toy Time." It took off as a toy for children in the 1950s and is still marketed to toddlers.
Editor's note: What's your favorite childhood toy? Share your memories in the comments or on CNN Living's Facebook page.
(CNN) -- Most of us have a favorite toy from childhood that still has the power to make us smile, whether it's a Barbie doll, a Micro Machine or the board game Operation.
What makes them memorable is the subject of a new book, "Toy Time! From Hula Hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hungry Hippos," a collection of some of the most beloved toys of the 20th century.
Author Christopher Byrne crowd-sourced the compilation from readers of the popular website TimetoPlayMag.com and came up with more than 100 beloved toys. The book includes not just the most popular choices, such as Big Wheels and the Etch a Sketch, but also those that prompted the most compelling memories, serving as "a catalyst for the imagination," Byrne said.
Most of our favorite toys came into our lives when we were developing our identity and figuring out the world, he said. Some, like the rampaging dinosaur King Zor (1962), have faded from the cultural landscape, while others, like View-Master and Nok Hockey (which both hit the mass market in the 1940s), have been passed down through generations.
The toys that stick with us are those that allowed us to explore new worlds and create experiences.
"Ultimately, play is something that happens in the imagination," said Byrne, content director of TimetoPlayMag.com. "What makes each Barbie doll unique is how a little girl creates and projects her sense of self and her fantasies onto that piece of plastic."
Other toys create strong memories simply because of their nostalgic appeal.
"Some, just by looking at them, reflect the design sensibility of the time, becoming almost works of art," he said. "We identify with them in the cultural context of their time."
So, how can you tell if a toy will be a hit for your child? When it comes to gift-giving for children, the most important rule of thumb is to know who you're shopping for, Byrne said.
"The hot toys are only hot if they're hot for your child," he said. "The toys that become memorable are the ones that connect with our interests."
- Created on 03 December 2013
Photo by AP/ Hoover Police Department
A woman charged with killing a fellow Alabama fan after the end of last weekend's Iron Bowl football game was angry that the victim and others didn't seem upset over the Crimson Tide's loss to archrival Auburn, said the sister of the slain woman.
Adrian Laroze Briskey, 28, was charged Monday with murder in the killing of 36-year-old Michelle Shepherd.
Hoover police Capt. Jim Coker said both Birmingham women were Alabama fans and at the same party for the annual game between intrastate rivals. With no time left on the clock, Auburn returned a missed Crimson Tide field goal more than 100 yards for a 34-28 victory, dashing any hopes of Alabama playing for a third straight national championship.
The victim's sister, Nekesa Shepherd, said she witnessed the killing and had no doubt it was about football, even though it was unclear to investigators whether the violence was motivated by the game.
"That's one of the things we are investigating," Coker said Monday.
Nekesa Shepherd said Briskey flew into a rage when she saw the sisters and others joking that the Crimson Tide's loss wasn't as bad as if the NBA's Miami Heat had lost a game.
"She said we weren't real Alabama fans because it didn't bother us that they lost. And then she started shooting," Shepherd told The Associated Press.
Shepherd said she and her sister were invited to the party by a mutual friend who also invited Briskey. About two dozen people were on hand.
Shepherd, the mother of three, was shot to death in the parking lot of an apartment complex in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover and the women did not know each other before the party, Coker said.
Court records were not available to show whether Briskey has a lawyer. She has only had a couple of speeding tickets in the past, records show.
Coker said alcohol might have been involved, but investigators are awaiting the results of toxicology tests to make a determination.
Shepherd said Briskey drank multiple shots of liquor during the game and "went crazy" when she heard people joking after 'Bama lost.
"It was over a football game," said Shepherd. "I'm never going to forget it because she died in my arms."
For more information about this story, click here.
- Created on 02 December 2013
Photo by Youtube
One by one, each of Connie's three children died before her eyes in the 1980s from a relentless disease she had suspected was HIV, but didn't have the "courage" at the time to find out.
Today, the grieving mother is working to make sure that no parent makes the same tragic decision.
In Zambia, where Connie lives, and other parts of the sub-Saharan Africa -- HIV and AIDS still carry a pervasive stigma, a stigma so strong that it keeps people from even getting tested.
To read the rest of this story, click here.