President Barack Obama gestures to lipstick marks on his collar – the aunt of American Idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez kissed the president’s collar and left the lipstick marks just before he gave his remarks at an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month event
President Barack Obama visits the Dubliner, an Irish pub in Washington, D.C., with his Irish cousin, Henry Healy, center, and Ollie Hayes, a pub owner in Moneygall, Ireland, on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama celebrates St. Patrick’s Day at the Dubliner Irish pub in Washington, March 17
Time: The number of people seeking unemployment aid fell to nearly a four-year low last week, an encouraging sign of continued improvement in the job market.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 358,000. That’s the second-lowest level since April 2008.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 366,250, the lowest since late April 2008.
The figures come a week after the government reported that employers added 243,000 net jobs last month. That pushed the unemployment rate down to 8.3 percent, the lowest in nearly three years.
When applications fall consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Steve Benen: The general trend on initial unemployment claims over the last few months has been largely encouraging, though there have been setbacks, and most analysts expected this morning’s report to show an uptick in filings.
The good news is, that didn’t happen. The better news is, initial jobless claims have reached one of the lowest levels we’ve seen in four years.
….. here’s the chart, showing weekly, initial unemployment claims going back to the beginning of 2007 (see above)
Nick Baumann (Mother Jones): President Barack Obama’s decision to require most employers to cover birth control and insurers to offer it at no cost has created a firestorm of controversy. But the central mandate — that most employers have to cover preventative care for women — has been law for over a decade. This point has been completely lost in the current controversy, as Republican presidential candidates and social conservatives claim that Obama has launched a war on religious liberty and the Catholic Church.
Despite the longstanding precedent, “no one screamed” until now, said Sara Rosenbaum, a health law expert at George Washington University.
Gail Collins (NYT): ….. This new rule on contraceptive coverage is part of the health care reform law …. The churches themselves don’t have to provide contraceptive coverage. Neither do organizations that are closely tied to a religion’s doctrinal mission. We are talking about places like hospitals and universities that rely heavily on government money and hire people from outside the faith.
We are arguing about whether women who do not agree with the church position, or who are often not even Catholic, should be denied health care coverage that everyone else gets because their employer has a religious objection to it. If so, what happens if an employer belongs to a religion that forbids certain types of blood transfusions? Or disapproves of any medical intervention to interfere with the working of God on the human body?
Organized religion thrives in this country, so the system we’ve worked out seems to be serving it pretty well. Religions don’t get to force their particular dogma on the larger public. The government, in return, protects the right of every religion to make its case heard.
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Steve Benen: …. the Conservative Political Action Conference will get underway in Washington today, and will feature a cavalcade of Republican leaders and prominent far-right voices…. ….. every member of the Republican congressional leadership and each of the leading GOP presidential candidates will be on hand to shamelessly pander to the right-wing audience.
But they’re not the only ones who’ll be part of CPAC 2012: ….. CPAC is hosting the panel “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American Identity” with Peter Brimelow, the founder and head of VDARE.com. VDARE is a White Nationalist website, run by Brimelow, which frequently publishes the works of anti-Semitic and racist writers….
When BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray asked CPAC organizers if they would renounce Brimelow’s participation at the conference, they chose not to.
Rasmussen: Voter confidence in President Obama’s handling of the economy is at its highest level in a year’s time. That’s in line with the recent upticks in overall economic confidence and in Obama’s job approval ratings as measured by the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll.
Forty percent (40%) of Likely U.S. Voters now rate the president’s performance in the economic area as good or excellent – That’s up from 36% a week ago and is the highest positive finding since the first week in February 2011.