Posts Tagged ‘clemency

20
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama prepares to board Air Force One before his departure from Andrews Air Force Base, April 20, 2011

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The President has no public events scheduled today

See here for ‘The Week Ahead’

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Zachary Roth: Obamacare Helping Millions Register To Vote

It’s the right’s worst nightmare: Obamacare working to boost not just the number of Americans who have affordable health insurance — but also the number who are registered to vote. And it could be coming true. Under the terms of an agreement between California and an alliance of good government groups, the state will mail voter registration forms to 4 million people who applied for Obamacare via California’s online exchange. The deal could end up creating 400,000 new registered Golden State voters — the actual numbers will be available later this year.

Nationwide, Obamacare could ultimately be responsible for registering anywhere from 3 to 7 million voters — potentially over 10% of the total number of eligible voters who aren’t registered today — over the next eight years. Here’s why: Under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which aimed to boost voter registration, people applying for public assistance—as well as DMV customers—must be offered the chance to register to vote. That means every state insurance exchange like California’s, as well as the federal exchange, will need to ask people whether they want to register. Even those people who end up getting covered via Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion or through other parts of the law, rather than through the private market, will still be offered the chance to register to vote.

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Washington Post: White House Announces Itinerary For Obama’s Asia Trip

President Obama will meet with the leaders of four Asian nations, answer questions at a town hall-style event at a university in Malaysia and address U.S. service members in South Korea during a week-long trip that begins Tuesday, the White House announced. Administration officials hailed the president’s visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines as a chance to underscore the United States’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific, with an emphasis on regional allies.

“Unlike many of the president’s overseas trips, particularly to Asia, there are no large summits involved,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said while briefing reporters on Obama’s itinerary Friday. “So the agenda in each country can focus intensively on energizing our bilateral relationships and advancing the different elements of our Asia strategy.” The town-hall event at Malaya University will be with young leaders from 10 Southeast Asian nations, and Obama also will meet with civil-rights leaders in Malaysia, as the United States attempts to promote democratic values.

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Wendy George: After 17 Years, I’m Bringing My Little Sister Home From Prison

When we were little, we used to tell our mama she had good ears. My little sister and I would whisper under the covers in our bed after lights out, and somehow mom could always hear us. She’d tell us to quit talking and go to sleep. Tomorrow I’m going to pick up my sister from prison. She’s been away for 17 years, and until last December I thought she would never come home. I can’t wait to drive back to my house, get in bed, and tell each other everything like we used to. You’d think I had a twin. As kids, my sister and I looked a lot alike. Our mom used to dress us the same. Even as we got older, we wore the same kinds of clothes. We raised our small kids together. We both wanted to style hair for a living. Since she’s been gone, a part of me has been missing. A part of me has been locked up for years.

Stephanie was 26 with four small kids when she was sentenced. Even though the judge objected, a mandatory minimum law meant that she got life without the possibility of parole for being “a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder” in a drug conspiracy. When Stephanie was sentenced, I took her kids into my home and raised them. I am grateful I had the strength to keep pushing on to make sure that her kids got to the prison to visit their mom. She told me horror stories of some of the women in there who didn’t have a family outside to help with the kids. It was a rough role, but I thank God for giving me the strength to raise them all. I talked to my sister on the phone last week and joked that once she gets home, I am going to take a month vacation. She said I deserve it. Even when they said she had a life sentence, I never accepted that. I’ve been praying and fighting for this day since day one. And the fighting has paid off. Finally, my sister’s sentence has been commuted by President Obama.

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NYT: Republicans See Political Wedge In Common Core

The health care law may be Republicans’ favorite weapon against Democrats this year, but there is another issue roiling their party and shaping the establishment-versus-grass-roots divide ahead of the 2016 presidential primaries: the Common Core. A once little-known set of national educational standards introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia with the overwhelming support of Republican governors, the Common Core has incited intense resistance on the right and prompted some in the party to reverse field and join colleagues who believe it will lead to a federal takeover of schools. Conservatives denounce it as “Obamacore,” in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls. Other Republicans are facing opprobrium from their own party for not doing more to stop it.

The learning benchmarks, intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English, were adopted as part of a 2010 effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bolster the country’s competitiveness. Unlike the health care law, the Common Core retains bipartisan support and has the backing of powerful elements of the business community. The Republican revolt against the Common Core can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it, particularly his linking the adoption of similar standards to states’ eligibility for federal education grants and to waivers from No Child Left Behind, the national education law enacted by President George W. Bush. “There is a great deal of paranoia in the country today,” said Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, who was also instrumental in creating the program. “It’s the two P’s, polarization and paranoia.”

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Kathy Lally: Ukraine, Short On Military Budget, Starts Fundraising Drive

Ukraine’s new government inherited an army so bereft of modern equipment and training that when Russian troops entered Crimea and agitators stormed government offices in eastern Ukraine, the country proved helpless to protect its borders and citizens. The corruption that had darkened all the nation’s institutions had provoked demonstrators to stand their ground in Kiev until the old leaders fled. But the depth of the damage took the country by surprise when the Crimean Peninsula was easily lost to Russian annexation last month, revealing a military profoundly weakened by theft and neglect. “Our army has been systematically destroyed and disarmed,” Deputy Defense Minister Petro Mehed said at a briefing this past week, “and its best personnel dismissed.” In the east, militants have occupied buildings in more than a dozen cities and on Saturday showed no signs of giving up their positions.

The army was sent in and looked more anemic than ever when small knots of civilians managed to block armored personnel carriers simply by standing in front of them. Ukraine’s position is dire. The new government found the treasury empty when it took over Feb. 27. The Ministry of Defense was so desperate for money that it went to the public for help. People across the country have responded by pulling together for the Support the Ukrainian army fundraising drive, trying to repair the damage done by years of thieving governments. Children have held fairs and bake sales to raise money. Adults have delivered food and water to tent encampments. Community groups have collected shoes, clothes and canned goods. Ukrainian businesses and individuals had raised more than $9 million for the military as of Friday, the Defense Ministry reported. Of that, $2 million came from cellphone users who made 50-cent donations from their accounts by calling a designated number.

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Michael Laris: Voting-Rights Quest In Va. Will Soon Become Easier For Ex-Prisoners Held On Serious Drugs Charges

Those convicted in Virginia of manufacturing drugs, distributing drugs, having the intent to distribute drugs or “accommodating” the sale of drugs will now be put in the same category as those who were found guilty of mail fraud, check kiting, embezzlement or simple drug possession when it comes to processing requests to have their voting rights restored. The drug-dealing and other major drug charges had been on the state’s “violent/more serious” list of offenses. Bumping them to the list of nonviolent crimes will have far-reaching implications. Since McDonnell’s reforms, those types of lesser offenses are processed in a faster, more streamlined fashion, taking weeks or months rather than years. Unlike most states, Virginia requires ex-felons to proactively pursue their voting rights — they are not automatically restored.

Virginia law, the American Civil Liberties Union says, has prevented hundreds of thousands of people — many convicted of drug crimes — from voting, and advocates point to racial disparities. About 45 percent of those arrested for drug offenses are black, said Edward Hailes, general counsel for the Advancement Project, a civil rights group active on the issue. “We should see a large number of African Americans in Virginia getting their rights restored more automatically,” he said, adding that one in five can’t vote because of felony convictions. “Virginia is making progress but is still far behind most of the states in the union.” Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center this year, called for further changes in Virginia and elsewhere. “Eleven states continue to restrict voting rights to varying degrees even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole,” Holder said. “It is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.”

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Lucia Graves: Good News For Obamacare Is Bad News For Conservative Pundits

Conservatives were sure at every turn that Obamacare would fail, but as the numbers roll in, those convictions are looking increasingly ideological. First they said nobody would enroll. Then they said first-year premiums would be through the roof. And later, they warned of a “death spiral,” wherein premiums would go up uncontrollably. My colleague Sam Baker has written an excellent analysis of the situation, the upshot of which is that Obamacare is on a winning streak. The next great frontier of conservative hyperbole concerns premiums for 2015, with critics warning that costs will double or even triple next year. As of this week, we have good evidence to the contrary.

Health insurance premium rates are expected go up just 7 percent—a rate of increase much lower than what critics were predicting. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is predicting that premium hikes will be relatively modest. “The double-rate increases we’ve been hearing are probably exaggerated,” Dave Axene, a fellow with the Society of Actuaries, told USA Today. “That’s not what we’re seeing from the actuarial organizations—I guess we’re being a little bit more optimistic.” “A little bit more optimistic” is something of an understatement. For weeks, pundits have been spouting apocalyptic notions about the costs of insurance premiums, warning Americans that “the worst is yet to come.”

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Derek Thompson: Get Rich, Live Longer: The Ultimate Consequence Of Income Inequality

Brookings economist Barry Bosworth crunches the data on income and lifespans for the Wall Street Journal, and the numbers tell three clear stories. 1. Rich people live longer. 2. Richer people’s lifespans are growing at a faster rate. 3. The problem is worse for women than for men. First, let’s look at the guys. A rich man (top decile) born in 1940 can expect to live 10 years longer after he turns 55 than a poor man (bottom decile). That longevity gap grew by four years in one generation. Women live longer than men, overall. But their inequality gap getting worse. A rich woman at 55 can expect to live a decade longer than a poor woman, too. But this gap grew even more between the Silent and early Boomer generations, by six years.

The typical guy in McDowell County, West Virginia, makes less than $30,000 a year and doesn’t live to 65. Five hours north on the highway, a typical man living in Fairfax County, Virginia, makes more than $100,000 and lives more than 80 years. The two Virginian counties are two different countries. When somebody in Washington proposes raising the retirement age for Social Security or Medicare, he typically says something like: “We can afford it, because we are living longer.” Yes, We can afford it, when the We in that sentence applies to an audience of white rich old men and women who really are seeing their lifespans grow by leaps and bounds. But We doesn’t apply to the millions of poor women whose lifespans are actually declining. Raising the Social Security retirement age disproportionately reduces lifetime benefits for the very people Social Security was invented to protect.

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USA Today: New Data Signal Smaller Jump In Health Care Costs

Several new reports also hint at a bend in the health cost curve — even as health spending picks up with the improving economy. The change after years of large increases in how much health care costs seems to be coming for several reasons, the reports find: Americans are using their prescribed medications more often, which may be keeping them out of the hospital; payment systems have begun to reward quality over quantity, which has encouraged a team-based, data-driven approach; and record numbers of medications have been developed to address chronic disease, while older medications have come off their expensive patents. The week’s findings include a report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics that found that even as health care spending has rebounded with the economy, the growth rate remains lower than usual. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected lower health insurance premiums than originally expected.

Aitkin says people spent more on drugs and less on follow-up visits and hospitalizations, which could be key to keeping the growth rate low. Health experts have long held that if people can afford — and take — prescribed medications, it may keep them safe from heart attacks or low blood sugar levels, and ultimately keep their overall health costs lower. Aitkin says 23% of prescription drugs had no co-pays in 2013, mostly because of provisions within the Affordable Care Act, including the one for coverage of contraceptives as preventive medications. Women saved $483 million in out-of-pocket costs in 2013 for contraceptives alone. And hospitalizations from emergency room visits decreased 14.6%, possibly because consumers were encouraged to try other options first. This week, the CBO downgraded its original premium projections by about 15% lower than projected in the fall of 2009, in part due to “lower projected health care costs for the federal government and the private health sector.”

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Frank Newport: Newly Insured In 2014 Represent About 4% of U.S. Adults

Four percent of Americans are newly insured this year, reporting that they have health insurance now but did not last year. A little more than half of that group, or 2.1% of the U.S. population, got their new insurance through health exchanges. The rest got it using some other mechanism. Overall, 11.8% of U.S. adults say they got a new health insurance policy in 2014. One-third of this group, or 4% nationally, say they did not have insurance in 2013. Another 7.5% got a new policy this year that replaced a previous policy. The ACA envisioned that the new healthcare exchanges would be the main place where uninsured Americans would get their insurance this year, but it appears that a sizable segment of the newly insured Americans used another mechanism.

These sources presumably include employee policies, Medicaid, and other private policies not arranged through exchanges. The newly insured are, on average, much younger than the overall population, with most younger than age 65. Within the 18 to 64 age range, the newly insured are slightly more overrepresented in the 18 to 29 age category than in the 30 to 49 and 50 to 64 age categories. These data suggest that the ACA’s efforts to add previously uninsured young people to the ranks of the insured have been modestly successful. The newly insured who signed up outside of the exchanges are substantially younger than those who signed up through the exchanges.

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Energy.Gov: Energy Department Announces $15 Million To Help Communities Boost Solar Deployment

In support of the Administration’s goal of doubling renewable energy generation for a second time by 2020, the Energy Department today announced $15 million to help communities develop multi-year solar plans to install affordable solar electricity for homes and businesses. The United States continues to be a global leader in solar, with total U.S. solar energy installations reaching 13 gigawatts last year. As the cost of solar energy continues to decline, more states and local communities are deploying solar energy projects to meet their electricity needs.

“As part of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, solar energy is helping families and businesses throughout the U.S. access affordable, clean renewable power,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The Energy Department is committed to further driving down the cost of solar energy and supporting innovative community-based programs – creating more jobs, reducing carbon pollution and boosting economic growth.”

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Maggie Fox: Obamacare Helped Up To 10 Million Get Insurance, Gallup Finds

Obamacare has helped as many as 9.9 million people to get new health insurance, and more than 4 percent of all Americans have gotten health insurance for the first time, according to a new Gallup poll. It’s the largest poll yet to assess the effects of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and the findings add to what’s been reported in earlier surveys and the government tally of how many people signed up through the new online exchanges. The percentage of the U.S. population that has no health insurance has plummeted from an all-time high of 18 percent during the last quarter of 2013 to just 15 percent this past March, says Dan Witters, lead researcher for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

About half got insurance on the new state and federal online health exchanges, the survey found, and half got it through Medicaid, an employer or bought it directly from an insurance company. “We feel pretty comfortable attributing much of this change to the Affordable Care Act,” Witters told NBC News. The survey confirms that people started getting insurance in the last months of 2013 and really started signing up in the first three months of 2014. “There is no evidence that the exchanges only signed up extremely sick people,” said Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. Gallup found younger people aged 18-29 tended to gravitate to buying health insurance directly, not on the exchanges, while those signing up on the new exchanges tended to be in the 50-64 age group. Overall, 30 percent of those getting insurance for 2014 were 18 to 29; 24 percent bought insurance on the exchanges and 37 percent got it elsewhere.

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Christopher Ingraham: Your Taxes Are Really, Low, In One Chart

Taxed enough already? Hardly. According to the Congressional Budget Office, your effective federal tax rates are near historic lows.
One of the great ironies of the rise of the tea party movement was that it coincided with the lowest total tax burdens seen in at least 30 years. The chart below plots effective federal tax rates since 1979 by income group. The key word here is “effective” — these are the tax rates people actually pay after factoring in things like the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the myriad other deductions and credits written into the U.S. tax code. Values for 2011 and 2012 aren’t yet available, but the CBO does provide projections for 2013 tax filings, which I’ve plotted, as well.

Overall the trend is downward. The average filer saw her effective tax rate drop from 22 percent in 1979 to 18.1 percent in 2010. Rates on the bottom 20 percent of tax filers went from 7.5 percent to 1.5 percent, while the top 20 percent of earners saw a more modest decrease, from 27.1 to 24.0 percent over the same period. The effect of crisis-era policy is clearly visible in the sharp drop in rates from 2007 to 2008, mostly from tax provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Tax rates hit rock bottom in 2009, right as the tea party movement was gaining steam.

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National Journal: Obamacare Is On A Winning Streak

The headlines about the Affordable Care Act have turned positive lately, and they’re starting to pile up. The most dire predictions from the law’s critics simply haven’t panned out, and now Democrats are headed into another big health care fight—the confirmation of a new Health and Human Services secretary—with stronger real-world evidence than they’ve had before. Narratives feed on themselves, and there was a time when Obamacare just kept losing. But over the past few weeks, the news has started to roll in the other direction. Enrollment has surged beyond expectations. Costs are coming in lower than predicted. Various reports say the number of uninsured Americans is falling. Now it’s good news snowballing, and it’s critics who increasingly seem to have missed the mark with their warnings of inevitable collapse.

Critics still promise that the law cannot work as intended, but the evidence keeps piling up in the other direction. The opportunities for failure keep falling away, and worst-case predictions keep going bust. There was no death spiral, nor will there be one. And there was never going to be a “death panel.” The next big warning is about premiums for 2015. Critics say premiums will skyrocket because not enough healthy people signed up this year. some insurers are looking to expand their presence in the exchanges next year, and others have indicated they might jump in for the first time, after taking a wait-and-see approach this year. So far, no large plans have said they intend to leave the exchange marketplace. All of that indicates that insurers see the market as stable. And more plans competing for more new customers will likely keep premium increases in check. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans without health insurance has fallen from 18 percent in to 15 percent.

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The Obamas leaving the White House today for Easter Services at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church

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Malia Obama follows her father President Barack Obama, her mother First Lady Michelle Obama and her sister Sasha as they depart for Easter Services at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church.

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WH.gov: The 10 most eggcellent moments from past Easter Egg Rolls

1. That time Bo wore bunny ears


2. Playing H-O-R-S-E with the P-O-T-U-S


3. 30-Love


4. YOU get an egg, and YOU get an egg, and YOU get an egg!


5. That time 30,000 people were on the South Lawn like “NBD”


6. When everyone did the “Wild Rumpus”


7. When we had a Kid POTUS


8. When Bo did an Easter egg hunt and was all like “Found it!”


9. Float like a butterfly, hop like a bunny.

10. And we went “Hip hop hooray!”

See the full Easter Egg Roll program here

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On This Day

Sen. Barack Obama with Caroline Kennedy before addressing supporters at a rally in Scranton, Pa., April 20, 2008

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President Obama with Tiger Woods in the Oval Office April 20, 2009

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On This Day: First Lady Michelle Obama greets students after talking to them about the importance of exercise as part of the “Let’s Move!” initiative at River Terrace Elementary School in Washington on April 20, 2010

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President Obama speaks at a “town hall” at Facebook headquarters, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Palo Alto, California on April 20, 2011

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President Obama signs a proclamation to designate federal lands within the former Fort Ord as a national monument under the Antiquities Act in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, April 20, 2012. Fort Ord is a former military base located on California’s central coast and is a world-class destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts

President Obama greets members of the military and their families during the kick off event for the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House April 20, 2012

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16
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama listens, during a meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the Situation Room of the White House, April 16, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

1:0: President Obama departs the White House

2:30: Arrives Pittsburgh

3:10: With the vice president, tours a classroom at Community College of Allegheny West Hills Center, Oakdale, Pennsylvania

3:45: The President and VP deliver remarks on jobs-driven skills training

5:45: The President departs Pittsburgh

7:20: Arrives White House

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Thursday: The President will welcome the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride to the White House in celebration of the eighth annual Soldier Ride.

Friday: The President will meet with the National Commander and Executive Director of the American Legion. Later, he will welcome the United States Naval Academy Football Team to the White House to present them with the 2013 Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

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Darlene Superville: Obama, Biden To Announce $600M For Job Grants

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are hitting the road to trumpet $600 million in new competitive grants to spur creation of targeted training and apprenticeship programs that could help people land well-paying jobs. The programs that Obama and his Pennsylvania-born vice president are announcing do not need approval from Congress because they will be paid for with money that lawmakers have already authorized for spending. In response to stiff resistance to his agenda from Republican lawmakers, Obama has made it a goal this year to take smaller steps on his own, without support from Congress, to benefit the economy, workers and others, and Wednesday’s program fits that script. The larger of the two grant programs will put nearly $500 million toward a job training competition run by the Labor Department that is designed to encourage community colleges, employers and industry to work together to create training programs that are geared toward the jobs employers need to fill. Applications will be available starting Wednesday.

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The training is part of an existing competitive grant program for community colleges that prepare dislocated workers and others for jobs. A priority will be placed on partnerships that include national entities, such as industry associations, that pledge to help design and institute programs that give job seekers a credential that will be recognized and accepted across a particular industry, signaling to an employer what kind of work the holder can do. The Labor Department is also making an additional $100 million available for grants to reward partnerships that expand apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships are used less widely in the U.S. than in some other countries, said administration officials, who also noted that nearly 9 out of 10 apprentices end up in jobs that pay average starting salaries of above $50,000 a year.

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Dan Witters: Uninsured Rate Drops More In States Embracing Health Law

he uninsured rate among adults aged 18 and older in the states that have chosen to expand Medicaid and set up their own exchanges in the health insurance marketplace has declined significantly more this year than in the remaining states that have not done so. The uninsured rate, on average, declined 2.5 percentage points in the 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have implemented both of these measures, compared with a 0.8-point drop across the 29 states that have taken only one or neither of these actions. Medicaid expansion and state health insurance exchanges — are realizing a rate of decline that is substantively greater than what is found among the remaining states that have not done so. Consequently, the gap that previously existed between the two groups has now expanded.

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Reuters: Americans Increasingly Prefer Democrats On Healthcare: Reuters/Ipsos Poll

Americans increasingly think Democrats have a better plan for healthcare than Republicans, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after the White House announced that more people than expected had signed up for the “Obamacare” health plan.

Nearly one-third of respondents in the online survey released on Tuesday said they prefer Democrats’ plan, policy or approach to healthcare, compared to just 18 percent for Republicans. This marks both an uptick in support for Democrats and a slide for Republicans since a similar poll in February.

…. “In the last couple of weeks, as the exchanges hit their goals, news coverage has been more positive and the support of the Democratic Party on this issue has rebounded,” said Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson.

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Sun Times: At Howard U, Michelle Obama To Meet Chicago Public H.S. Students

First Lady Michelle Obama, a graduate of Whitney Young High School, will meet with Chicago high school students visiting Howard University in Washington D.C. on Thursday, juniors and seniors who will take part in a program called “Escape to the Mecca, ” run by Howard’s  Chicago Peoples Union and  “designed to immerse talented high school students in a college campus environment,” the White House said.

Background, from the White House: “The First Lady’s visit to Howard is part of her higher education initiative, in particular working to achieve the President’s “North Star” Goal, that by the year 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

The First Lady will join the students on a campus tour followed by a roundtable discussion where the students will be joined by their hosts. In the discussion, the First Lady will hear how college tours and similar types of exposure can inspire students to reach higher in their education.

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Kyle Cheney and Brett Norman: Insurers See Brighter Obamacare Skies

Health insurers got their first taste of Obamacare this year. And they want seconds. Insurers saw disaster in the fall when Obamacare’s rollout flopped and HealthCare.gov was a mess. But a strong March enrollment surge, along with indications that younger and healthier people had begun signing up, has changed their attitude. Around the country, insurers are considering expanding their stake in the Obamacare exchanges next year, bringing their business to more states and counties. Some health plans that skipped the new marketplaces altogether this year are ready to dive in next year. “[W]e see 2014 as just the beginning for exchanges,” said Tyler Mason, a spokesman for UnitedHealth Group, one of the nations’ largest insurers. “As the economics, sustainability and dynamics of exchanges continue to become clearer, we believe exchanges have the potential to be a growth market with much to offer UnitedHealthcare and other insurers and consumers.”

State officials and insurance company representatives signaled in interviews that at least 10 states would feature more companies, not fewer, on the Obamacare health plan menu. Those include Kentucky, California, Connecticut and Washington, four states that have enthusiastically supported the health law and built high-performing exchanges. New York’s exchange chief, Donna Frescatore, said her state has had “additional interest” from new insurers, as well. But the list also includes more surprising interest in places like South Dakota, Idaho, Iowa and Michigan, far from diehard fans of the president’s health law. A spokeswoman for one of the companies Haislmaier cited, Michigan-based Physician’s Health Plan, said in an interview that it will indeed join the state’s exchange in 2015. The company had planned to join in 2014 but pulled out at the last minute, citing uncertainty caused by federal delays. New, Obamacare-funded nonprofit insurers are expanding their footprints, as well. Minuteman Health in Massachusetts is expanding into bordering New Hampshire; Montana Health CO-OP will sell plans in Idaho; and Kentucky Health Cooperative is moving into West Virginia.

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USA Today: As MLB Honors Jackie Robinson, Can It Reverse A Trend?

Just when we want to believe that times are changing and prejudice is waning, along comes a ferocious reminder like a Manny Pacquiao punch to the jaw. Sheer racism, exposed in vile letters directed to Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, have poured into the Atlanta Braves offices over the past week. Yes, it was like 1974 all over again, the year Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, with letters laced with the most hateful epithet known to African Americans. “Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)” a man named Edward says in an e-mail to the Braves front office obtained by USA TODAY Sports. Edward invokes the epithet five times in four sentences, closing with, “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).” There are 67 black players in the major leagues, with three teams not represented by a single African-American player: the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals.

Forty years ago, Aaron had the audacity to break Ruth’s home run record. This time, he simply spoke his mind. When asked by USA TODAY Sports last month why he still keeps those hate letters, Aaron calmly revealed his sentiments. “To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record,” he said. “If you think that, you are fooling yourself. A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There’s not a whole lot that has changed. “We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go. “The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.” When I first started playing, you had a lot of black players in the major leagues,” Aaron said last month. “Now, you don’t have any (7.8%). So what progress have we made? You try to understand, but we’re going backward.”

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Clare McCann: CBO Finds Third Consecutive Year Of Good News On Pell Costs

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office announced some more good news for members of Congress: For the third consecutive year, the Pell Grant funding cliff is smaller and further away than we thought. After a few shaky years of funding during the recession, the updated CBO baseline will surely come as welcome news to lawmakers facing midterm elections and a tight budget. Then, starting with the 2013 CBO estimate, there was some surprising news: The program actually cost less than expected. As the rate of growth in the program flat-lined, the expected costs started to drop. Underestimating the numbers for fiscal year 2013 meant Congress could draw on an accumulated surplus in the program. Those funds–which actually come from funding provided in past years but never spent–are large enough that Congress can spread the surplus across fiscal years 2014 through 2017, added to a flat appropriation for the program.

Based on a separate funding formula, the maximum grant also increases with inflation. Here’s where it starts to get tricky. In fiscal year 2017, all that will be left of the surplus is $0.4 billion. And at the same time, the costs of the program are projected to increase as more students become eligible. That means members of Congress aren’t off the hook in ensuring the Pell Grant program–the cornerstone of federal financial aid for low-income students–is financially stable. The CBO report is good news for the immediate future, but it’s not a cure. Lawmakers have bought themselves a few years to figure out the long-term future of Pell Grant appropriations. If they don’t, the Pell Grant funding cliff will come knocking again.

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Jamelle Bouie: What If Bundy Ranch Were Owned By A Bunch Of Black People?

For 20 years the federal government has fined Cliven Bundy for grazing his cattle on protected land. And for 20 years Bundy has refused to pay. Last month this dance came to an end when the Bureau of Land Management sent Bundy a letter informing him that it intended to “impound his trespass cattle” that have been roaming on federal property. It closed off hundreds of thousands of acres, and earlier this month, moved to round up Bundy’s cows. The federal government blinked, and the Bureau of Land Management announced an abrupt end to its cattle roundup, hoping to avoid violence and further confrontations. this entire incident speaks to the continued power of right-wing mythology. For many of the protesters, this isn’t about a rogue rancher as much as it’s a stand against “tyranny” personified in Barack Obama and his administration.

right-wing media ought to be condemned for their role in fanning the flames of this standoff. After years of decrying Obama’s “lawlessness” and hyperventilating over faux scandals, it’s galling to watch conservatives applaud actual lawbreaking and violent threats to federal officials. I can’t help but wonder how conservatives would react if these were black farmers—or black anyone—defending “their” land against federal officials. Would Fox News applaud black militiamen aiming their guns at white bureaucrats as someone who closely follows the regular incidents of lethal police violence against blacks and Latinos, I also wonder whether law enforcement would be as tepid against a group of armed African-Americans. Judging from past events, I’m not so sure.

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Neela Banerjee: U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Obama Administration Limits On Air Toxins

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever limits on air toxins, including emissions of mercury, arsenic and acid gases, preserving a far-reaching rule the White House had touted as central to President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda. In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled that the mercury rule “was substantively and procedurally valid,” turning aside challenges brought both by Republican-led states that had argued the rule was onerous and environmental groups that had contended it did not go far enough.

The EPA welcomed the decision, calling it “a victory for public health and the environment.” Liz Purchia, an agency spokeswoman, said. “These practical and cost-effective standards will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn.” The EPA estimates that the mercury and air toxins rule will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually.

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Josh Gerstein: President Barack Obama Chops 3 1/2 Years Off Pot Sentence

President Barack Obama has issued a commutation to a drug convict, shortening his sentence by three-and-a-half years in what the White House said was an effort to correct a sentencing error. Ceasar Cantu of Katy, Texas pled guilty in 2006 to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and money laundering. He received a 15-year prison term but a White House official said it was subsequently discovered that a presentence report contained a mistake which caused the extra three-and-a-half years to be added to his sentence. “A judge ruled that Mr. Cantu did not discover this error in time to correct it through any judicial means; as a result, it can now only be rectified through clemency,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at the daily briefing, repeating word for word a comment offered on background by another Obama aide earlier in the day.

“The president thought [this] was the right thing to do to commute his sentence….The president wanted to act as quickly as possible. This is a matter of basic fairness and it reflects the important role of clemency as a failsafe in our judicial system,” Carney added. According to the Justice Department, Obama has issued 52 pardons and (now) ten commutations while in office. In recent months, Attorney General Eric Holder and his top aides have been encouraging lawyers for prisoners who believe their sentences are too lengthy to file commutation applications with the Justice Department.

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LA Times: Surging Retail Sales Signal An Economy On The Upswing

Americans rushed out to shop as frigid weather lifted in March, propelling retail sales at the fastest pace in a year and a half. The gauge from the Commerce Department surged 1.1% last month from February in its biggest leap since September 2012. Sales boomed 3.8% from March 2013. The strong sales, which beat economists’ expectations for a 1% increase, bolstered hopes that the economy would continue to gain momentum after struggling through an especially harsh winter. “One month doesn’t answer all the questions, and it’s not like we have all-over-the-place exploding growth,” said NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen. “But we’re beginning to see that the recovery is no longer segmented — it’s broader.” Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic output, making retail sales a strong indicator of the nation’s overall economic health. But other reports this month also signal a rebound.

Employers created a net 192,000 new jobs in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which said that all private sector jobs that were lost in the downturn have been recovered. Initial jobless claims hit their lowest level in nearly seven years. The International Monetary Fund projects that global economic growth will rise 3.6% this year in the strongest increase since 2011, led by expansion in the U.S. Small-business owners surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business believe their sales are set to increase. The government also revised the anemic 0.3% improvement previously reported for February retail sales to a much stronger 0.7% upswing.

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Jonathan Cohn: A New Report On Obamacare Says It’s $104 Billion Cheaper Than Expected

Republicans and their allies keep saying the Affordable Care Act will bankrupt the taxpaying public. Now there’s one more reason to think they are wrong. It comes from the Washington’s official accountant, the Congressional Budget Office, which on Monday released a newly updated projection on how the Affordable Care Act will affect the deficit and insurance coverage. It’s actually the latest in a series of revisions, each one suggesting the law would cost less money than the previous projection had suggested.  And why this latest change? It doesn’t appear to be because the law will reach fewer people. CBO now expects slightly more people to end up with health insurance, at least over the long run. The CBO’s primary explanation for lower costs is that health insurance premiums on the new exchanges—what the administration calls “marketplaces”—are lower than CBO had originally expected they would be.

the federal government is simultaneously providing generous tax subsidies, designed to offset those price increases and, more generally, make health care more affordable for people who couldn’t pay for it previously. Those subsidies, along with the law’s expansion of Medicaid, are the most expensive part of the law—together they account for the vast majority of its spending. The cost of those subsidies depends on the raw, unsubsidized prices that insurers are charging upfront. The higher the premiums, the more expensive the subsidies. And that’s where the law has, so far, outperformed expectations. Insurers are offering plans with lower premiums than CBO and other experts had predicted. As a result, the federal government is on the hook for less financial assistance. Better still, the CBO says that it doesn’t expect across-the-board premium spikes next year, as the law’s critics and even some insurance company officials have speculated would happen.

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On This Day:

Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle wave to supporters after addressing a Women for Obama luncheon in Chicago on April 16, 2007

Senator Obama and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley watch a video highlighting Olympic venues at a rally celebrating Chicago’s selection as the U.S. candidate to host the 2016 Summer Games in Chicago on April 16, 2007

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Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks at a Democratic presidential debate with opponent Sen. Obama at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on April 16, 2008

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President Obama listens as Vice President Biden discusses the Obama administration’s plans for promoting high speed rail service in areas of the United States in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 16, 2009

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President Obama receives an update on the explosions that occurred in Boston, in the Oval Office, April 16, 2013. Seated, from left, are: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor; Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Attorney General Eric Holder; Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; and FBI Director Robert Mueller (Photo by Pete Souza)

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13

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama has lunch with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, Dec. 20, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

2:0: President Obama holds a press conference

6:45: The first family departs the White House en route Andrews AFB

7:0: The first family departs Andrews AFB en route Honolulu

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Dylan Scott: Officials: People Returning To HealthCare.gov ‘In Droves’

Nearly three-fourths of those who have purchased health insurance on HealthCare.gov since early December were people returning to the site after visiting in October and November, according to senior administration officials. A survey on the federal website found that 73 percent of those who had completed enrollment in recent weeks said they had first come to the site in the previous two months, officials said. The Obama administration did not declare the site fully fixed until Dec. 1. The officials touted the figure as evidence that people were giving HealthCare.gov a second chance

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NPR: Tagging Along On A Wisconsin Man’s Odyssey To Buy Insurance

Enrollment is picking up in new health insurance marketplaces. But the 365,000 who’ve signed up as of November 30 is a fraction of just one high-visibility group – those whose previous insurance has been cancelled because it didn’t meet Affordable Care Act standards. They’re people like Doug Normington, a 58-year-old self-employed videographer in Madison, Wis., who has struggled to buy new insurance since late October. “Getting the cancellation letter made me feel kind of nervous because my insurance runs out on December 31,” Normington said when I first talk to him on November 1. “I go on the HealthCare.gov website and spin my wheels for a couple of days and it’s just not working.”

Since Normington has diabetes, maintaining coverage is especially important to him. “I feel all this relief. It’s great!” he says. But he still hasn’t actually enrolled. “So let me click the enroll button, see what happens.” He clicks the button and gets a screen asking him to “confirm your health plan selection.” He hits that button. “The wheel is spinning,” he says. “And ‘Congratulations, you have successfully completed all steps of your application. “This is great!” Normington says. “The ironic twist is that this insurance company is a company that turned me down a year ago because I was diabetic. They can’t now.”

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Jim Stuart’s New Blog: Why So Many Cannot See Obama

Why can’t people see this man? Nancy LeTourneau, aka Smartypants, has just completed a three-part blog series very ably addressing this question (Part I,  Part II, and Part III). She looks at three “lenses” that cloud the perception of many: The Racial Lens - Few of us are able to acknowledge our Racial Lens; and because we can’t, we endlessly generalize about the strengths and weaknesses of another ethnic group or race. We may even think we really like Blacks, or Asians, or Latinos, but as long as the ethnic character of the individual is what we see first, then we look through a Racial Lens. It’s not a Person we see first; it’s a Black….person. If we can admit to ourselves that we do wear, albeit unconsciously, a Racial Lens, we can then notice what generalizations spring unproven from this lens. The two Nancy points to are competence and luck. Obama is always demonstrating incompetence, or he’s about to. And when a success is achieved, it’s luck

What I would like to add to Nancy’s outstanding conversation is this: lenses are largely developmental. As we grow and develop, they change. Following the works and model of Ken Wilber, let me posit five developmental levels, each succeeding level representing a higher level of consciousness and awareness: Integral ( the self-transforming self; the mind sees patterns and thinks holistically; many perspectives can be internalized and held in awareness; paradox is seen as something to embrace, to engage – as a gateway to learning and truth. Obama is an integral leader. Large numbers of people at each of the prior levels cannot truly “see” him

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@AjamLive

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BBC: S Sudan On Precipice Of Civil War, Obama Warns

US President Barack Obama has warned that South Sudan is on the “precipice” of a civil war, after clashes in the capital Juba spread around the country. He said 45 military personnel had been deployed to South Sudan on Wednesday to protect American citizens and property. At least 500 people are believed to have died since last weekend, when President Salva Kiir accused his ex-deputy Riek Machar of a failed coup. An estimated 34,000 people have taken refuge at United Nations compounds.

Three Indian peacekeepers were killed on Thursday when a UN base sheltering refugees came under attack near South Sudan’s eastern border with Ethiopia. Sudan suffered a 22-year civil war that left more than a million people dead before the South became independent in 2011. The recent unrest has pitted gangs from the Nuer ethnic group of Mr Machar against Dinkas – the majority group to which Mr Kiir belongs.

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Washington Post: 93 Percent Of Hospital Executives Think Obamacare Will Make Health Care Better

Hospital executives think health reform is going to make the health care they deliver a whole lot better — and a bit cheaper: Fully 65 percent indicated that by 2020, they believe the healthcare system as a whole will be somewhat or significantly better than it is today. And when they were asked about their own institutions, the optimism was even more dramatic. Fully 93 percent predicted that the quality of care provided by their own health system would improve. This is probably related to efforts to diminish hospital acquired conditions, medication errors, and unnecessary re-admissions, as encouraged by financial penalties in the ACA. On cost control there was similar optimism: 91 percent forecasted improvements on metrics of cost within their own health system by 2020.

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Laurel Snyder: A Rant On Why You Need Decent Health Insurance

Let’s say you have a family of four, and you need to decide whether to pay for a dental plan, and the plan will cost an extra $150 a month.  Does that sound like a lot to you? The plan will cover basic checkups twice a year, or about 85 percent of the cost for them. It will cover 50 percent of major dental work.  So… $150 a month is $1800 a year.  That’s a lot, yeah. And you still have to pay for some stuff. Ugh. But as a parent I assume you plan to go for visits twice a year, right? Because you know that good dental care is something kids need to develop, right?  And modeling that care yourself is the best way to teach them? And you also know that preventative care of your teeth can help with things like heart disease? Now– all you have to do is have one procedure a year among the four of you that costs $600, and your dental coverage has paid for itself.  Right? One kid with a cracked tooth. One root canal.  Maybe two and a half small fillings on regular teeth.  Or an irrigation for gum issues.

But these numbers are actually looking pretty close. So maybe I’m wrong, and you’d do just as well to pay out of pocket, right? Especially in years when you don’t need any fillings? Maybe you’re better off skipping the dental insurance, after all… WRONG! Because the kicker is that you WOULD NOT. You would NOT go to the dentist twice a year if you had to pay $150 bucks just for the visit. You would NOT opt for the X-rays, if you had to pay extra for them. Maybe you’d take the kids in on schedule, because you feel bad not doing it, and the pediatrician might ask, but you’d TOTALLY skip your own visits.  You’d save the $150 and spend it on something else.  You would suffer a tooth ache, and hope it goes away. You would wait… and wait… and wait. You’d wait years. And then, one day, you would find yourself at the ER in the night, because of sudden intolerable pain.  And the doc at the ER would say, “Wow, this is serious. You’ve got a major infection in there. We need to take out these two teeth and you might have a malignancy in the bone.  I SURE HOPE YOU HAVE INSURANCE!” And in that moment you will cringe.  Because what you’re about to have done to your teeth–the surgery that could have been prevented with a $150 visit twice a year–it will  cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

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@AjamLive

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Chicago Tribune: Obama Orders Release Of Man Jailed For Life For Non-Violent Crime At 17

In 1994 when Reynolds Wintersmith, then still a young man, was sentenced to life in prison for dealing crack and cocaine as part of a large street conspiracy in Rockford, the federal judge charged with the task expressed regrets. “… There ought to be some latitude when you have a 17-year-old who gets involved,” U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard said, according to a transcript. “There is not another alternative available. It gives me pause to think that that was the intent of Congress, to put somebody away for the rest of their life, but in any event, it’s there.”

Reinhard, under mandatory sentencing laws in place at the time, had no choice. On Thursday, President Obama commuted the sentences of Wintersmith and seven other men and women who all were sent to prison for lengthy sentences – six of them for life – under drug sentencing guidelines that are now understood to be draconian and unfair. Obama also pardoned 13 people. In a statement about the commutations, Obama concurred with Reinhard, calling the sentences a product of an “unfair system.”

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ABC: States Cite Surge In Obamacare Sign-Ups Ahead Of First Deadline

States running their own Obamacare insurance exchanges are reporting a significant surge in sign-ups just four days before the first major enrollment deadline. The increase has ranged from 30 percent to 40 percent in the past few weeks, according to state officials who briefed reporters Wednesday. Monday is the last day to sign up for a plan that will guarantee health coverage effective Jan. 1. California, which has one of the most successful programs, averaged 15,000 enrollments a day last week, up from an average 7,000 a day the week before, state officials said. In all of November, 80,000 Californians picked a plan; in the first week of December, 50,000 signed up. In Kentucky, enrollments are up 40 percent since Thanksgiving, straining the state’s exchange and forcing administrators to hire dozens of extra call-center workers and application processors.

“We are seeing about 3,000 people a day approved for Medicaid or a [qualified health plan],” Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange executive director Carrie Banahan said. “We started out a few weeks ago at about a thousand per day.” More than 92,000 people have gotten coverage so far. In New York, phones at marketplace call centers are ringing off the hook, averaging between 1,200 to 1,500 calls per hour, officials say.  Roughly 4,500 people are enrolling in coverage each day, state Department of Health counsel Lisa Sbrana said. In the past week alone, they’ve seen a 34 percent increase in people signing up. “We’re really happy,” Sbrana said. “We’re seeing a good mix of enrollees across age groups.” The uptick in demand has also been seen in Connecticut, where 47,000 people have enrolled through the exchange since October and they’re now adding an average 1,400 people a day.

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NYT: Revision Shows U.S. Growing At Fastest Rate Since 2011

The United States economy grew at a torrid 4.1 percent annual pace in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. That is the strongest growth in nearly two years, and only the third time the economy has expanded that quickly since 2006. The Commerce Department revised its estimate of third-quarter growth to 4.1 percent from 3.6 percent in this release. The refined estimate is based on “more complete source data,” the department said, showing personal consumption and investment in things like factories to be higher than previously thought.

Economists had expected the final estimate of growth to be unchanged from that earlier 3.6 percent. But data showed that consumers have stepped up their spending on health care, houses and cars as the strengthening recovery has led to a sharp drop in the unemployment rate and rising home values have improved household balance sheets. The Commerce Department bumped up its estimate of consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity, to a 2 percent rate from 1.4 percent, reflecting higher spending on goods and services.

The growth came from a broad range of sources: personal consumption, exports, investment in new factories and houses, state and local government spending and a rise in business inventories. Federal spending cuts and rising imports were a drag on growth, the department said. “The economy is finishing 2013 in a stronger place than where it began the year,” said Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, in a statement this week. “This is especially notable given the general fiscal environment, including the onset of the sequester in March.”

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First Lady Michelle Obama collects toys from military children during a Toys for Tots event at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Distribution Center in Washington, D.C., Dec. 19, 2013 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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Two Years Ago Today: A Promise Kept

President Obama and VP Biden participate in a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Dec. 20, 2011, marking the return of the United States Forces-Iraq Colors and the end of the war in Iraq.

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