Today's edition of quick hits:
* Embracing economic populism with both arms: "President Barack Obama put a spotlight on rising income inequality in a major economic speech on Wednesday, arguing that the disparity poses a 'fundamental threat' to the American dream. Marshaling both the recent papal exhortation by Pope Francis and a flurry of statistics reflecting a growing income gap between the wealthiest Americans and most others, Obama urged Washington to adopt policies to address the economic divide."
* Tim Smeeding, an expert on inequality at the University of Wisconsin, was impressed: "This is a major speech on a topic that American presidents normally stay away from. The fact that a sitting president faced with a crowded agenda had the courage to discuss this overarching problem is historic."
* A transcript of the speech is online.
* China: "Chinese leaders pushed back at visiting Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday over what they assert is their right to control a wide swath of airspace in the bitterly contested East China Sea. But the Chinese also indicated they had not decided how aggressively to enforce their so-called air defense identification zone, which has ignited tensions with Japan."
* If this holds up, it's an extraordinary turnaround: "About 29,000 people signed up for health insurance on the federal government's HealthCare.gov website during the first two days of December -- more than during the whole month of October, a source familiar with the numbers says."
* NSA: "The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals -- and map their relationships -- in ways that would have been previously unimaginable."
* In case you were wondering whether congressional Republicans still have any credibility left on U.S. policy towards Iran: "Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said Wednesday that if the U.S. needs to use the military option against Iran, America should deploy its 'tactical nuclear devices.'"
* Unexpected progress: "Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, emerged from a brief negotiating session with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday to say that a budget deal could come soon. 'We are closer every hour,' she said."
* Don't forget ENDA: "A bipartisan group of 10 House lawmakers is calling on Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring up legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.... House Democrats are hopeful they can pressure GOP leadership to take action. Having rank and file Republicans in on the game, too, is also helpful as they try to make their case."
* Today turned out to be a travel day for me, which is why there were no posts this afternoon. I'll also be out tomorrow and Friday, though I'll pop in on Friday morning when the new job numbers come out.
Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.