I will not hide it: I’m something of a pop culture maven. Not, perhaps, through active participation. But being at all aware in this culture it does tend to seep into you, if only through osmosis. And as a librarian, I make a concerted effort to keep abreast of things high and low, so that I can converse with and serve my patrons.
I’m certainly not one of those scolds who thinks pop culture has no place in the world. Most of us have grown up enmeshed in it, and have, for the most part, come out no worse for wear. I enjoy my sports, and I enjoy my movie spectacles.
However, we have entered a period of convergence, where the juggernaut which is popular culture collides with and circles around a concerted 50 year effort to make the electorate uninformed, apathetic, and downright hostile to its prime duty, which is to pay attention, educate itself, and govern itself.
First Lady Michelle Obama smiles as she is introduced by Dylan Tete, an Iraq War veteran and executive director of Bastion Community of Resilience, at an event honoring efforts to help homeless veterans in New Orleans. First Lady Michelle Obama and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke Monday to leaders from government, industry and the non-profit sector. The topic was the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, which Obama started last June. She said the city has moved more than 260 veterans into housing since the initiative began
Worth a read: The First Lady and @DrBiden on preventing and ending veteran homelessness in America: bit.ly/1HMgLoJ
This is horrific. Black people are being targeted left, right, and sideways. Get arrested for walking, get arrested for driving, get arrested for riding a bicycle. This country is waging a war everyday against Black people. It’s too much
“Of the 10,000 bicycle tickets issued by Tampa police in the past dozen years, the newspaper found that black cyclists received 79 percent of those citations, despite making up less than a quarter of the city’s population.”
Actually, it’s a story of nearly 20 million, if you count everyone who has health insurance directly thanks to the Affordable Care Act. And it could be the story of nearly 6 million more, who are being denied health insurance by Republicans refusing to fully federally funded Medicaid in states they control. It’s a story of tens of millions more, and millions of seniors who now have better coverage and no yearly limits on coverage. But last week’s big number was 8 million. The President announced that 8 million American have enrolled in private health insurance coverage through the exchanges, and in addition, 3 million more are covered under the Medicaid expansion, 3 million young adults can stay on their parents’ plans, and 5 million who bought ACA compliant plans outside the exchanges. I got an email with links to people telling their stories about finally being able to afford health insurance.
@SenJohnBarrasso you are out of touch. My sister suffers from Parkinson's and SAD. She has to be at hospital daily. Thank God for ACA.
The story of these millions, though, is more encompassing than those who gained coverage. The story of the single dad who can no longer be denied health care because of a pre-existing condition, the story of a small business owner who can no longer be charged more just because she’s a woman, the story of a cancer survivor who no longer has to fret that in the third month of the year, she will have reached her annual limit from her insurer – all these stories are possible because of a story that is told far too rarely in the American discourse. That story begins with a young, charismatic newly elected president of the United States for whom health care reform wasn’t just a campaign promise but a deeply rooted cause from which he wouldn’t waver even when his political advisers wanted him to retreat. It begins with the overwhelming election of a president who, in his own words, was willing to become a one-term president to make sure that never again does a mother have to think twice about taking her sick child to the doctor. It’s a story of courage, of overcoming an unprecedented campaign of obstruction, of decoupling progress from ideological checklists.
Vice President Joe Biden talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk during a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine
Boston Globe: Russia Must ‘Stop Talking And Start Acting,’ Biden Says
US Vice President Joe Biden warned Russia on Tuesday that ‘‘it’s time to stop talking and start acting’’ to reduce tension in Ukraine. Standing alongside acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Biden called on Moscow to encourage pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine to vacate government buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and ‘‘address their grievances politically.’’ Biden said Russia needs to act ‘‘without delay,’’ adding, ‘‘We will not allow this to become an open-ended process.’’ The vice president also announced the United States will provide an additional $50 million to help Ukraine’s beleaguered government with political and economic reforms.
Vice President Joe Biden is greeted by Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting Ukrainian president
The money includes $11 million to help conduct the May 25 presidential election, including voter education, administration and oversight. It also will help fund expert teams from US government agencies to help Ukraine to reduce its reliance on energy supplies from Russia. Other technical advisers will help fight corruption. The White House also announced $8 million in nonlethal military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, including bomb-disposal equipment, communications gear and vehicles. In the most high-level visit of a US official since crisis erupted in Ukraine, Biden met privately with Yatsenyuk and acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov.
Vice President Joe Biden addresses members of the Ukrainian parliament during a meeting
Biden said they have an historic chance now that former President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the country. ‘‘This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution,’’ Biden said in a reference to 2004 protests that overturned a widely criticized election that had given Yanukovych the presidency. Yanukovych later took office but left the country after violent protests in February. Biden added, ‘‘To be very blunt about it, and this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament, but you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now.’’ He mentioned reforming the courts and finding the right balance of power between the president and Rada.
CBS: DHS May Limit Deportations Of Illegal Immigrants
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is considering limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally but without serious criminal records, according to the Associated Press. On President Obama’s orders, Johnson is conducting a politically charged review of U.S. deportation policy. The potential change could shield tens of thousands of immigrants now removed each year solely because of repeated immigration violations, such as re-entering the country after being deported. The possible move was confirmed by two people with knowledge of Johnson’s review: John Sandweg, formerly acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and an immigration advocate who has discussed the review with administration officials but spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential.
Department Of Justice: Department Of Justice Announces University Tour By Administration Officials To Raise Awareness Of Campus Sexual Assault
In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Department of Justice today announced a nationwide university tour by top administration officials to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. From April 23-May 1, senior officials from the Departments of Justice and Education will visit campuses across the country, including public and private universities, community colleges, historically black colleges and faith-based and tribal-affiliated institutions around the nation. Officials will speak with campus administrators, local law enforcement, community partners, local service providers and students about how best practices and lessons learned are playing out in areas such as prevention, public awareness and peer support. Visits will also highlight the role that federal, state and local government, working with university administrators, faculty and students, should play.
Each campus on the tour is a recipient of the department’s Office on Violence Against Women’s “Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking on Campus Program.” The Campus Program funds institutions of higher education to adopt comprehensive responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, creating partnerships among campus entities and with community-based victim services organizations and criminal and civil justice agencies. Campus Program grantees must provide prevention programs for all incoming students; train campus law enforcement or security staff; educate campus judicial or disciplinary boards on the unique dynamics of these crimes; and create a coordinated community response to enhance victim assistance and safety while holding offenders accountable.
President Obama announced Monday that he was naming W. Neil Eggleston, a veteran lawyer with extensive experience representing government officials in congressional and criminal investigations, as his next White House counsel. In choosing a veteran of Washington’s recurring oversight wars, the White House may be signaling that it expects the final two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency to be defined by politically charged hearings, demands for information by Republicans in Congress and legal battles over the scope and limits of executive authority.
Mr. Eggleston, 60, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, one of the nation’s biggest corporate law firms, will succeed Kathryn Ruemmler, who is stepping down after nearly three years. Mr. Eggleston will start the second week of May. “Neil brings extraordinary expertise, credentials and experience to our team,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “He has a passion for public service, is renowned for his conscientiousness and foresight, and I look forward to working closely with him in the coming years.”
Iran will redesign its Arak heavy water reactor to greatly limit the amount of plutonium it can make, the country’s vice president said Saturday, marking a major concession from the Islamic Republic in negotiations with world powers over its contested nuclear program. The comments by Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi come as the talks face an informal July 20 deadline to hammer out a final deal to limit Iran’s ability to build nuclear arms in exchange for ending the crippling economic sanctions it faces.
Iranian state television quoted Salehi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying that Iran has proposed to redesign Arak to produce one-fifth of the plutonium initially planned for it. He said that will eliminate concerns the West has that Iran could use the plutonium produced at Arak to build a nuclear weapon. There was no immediate comment from world powers, which include China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Russia. However, what to do with Arak, a still under-construction 40-megawatt heavy water plant in central Iran, is a key factor in negotiations.
Lauren Rankin: Blackburn Hasn’t Been Right About The GOP And Women Since The 1970s
After appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) made headlines and spurred double-takes with her claim that it is the Republican party — not the Democratic party — that is fighting for women’s rights. If we’re going back through history as Blackburn implores us to do, she’s right. Historically, the Republican party was the stronghold for women’s activists in the early 20th century. But as the two parties essentially switched ideological places from 1970-1973, feminists lost favor with the Republican party. It’s been downhill ever since. So what happened? Well, simply put, the New Right happened. Though initially the New Right was split on women’s issues (some even favored abortion rights and the ERA), they quickly realized the political power of social conservatives who had abandoned the Democratic party as it moved towards racial and gender justice. In order to appeal to disenchanted conservative Democrats, the Republican party trapped itself in a self-imposed ideological jail of religious fundamentalism and extreme conservatism, one from which today’s GOP cannot seem to escape.
Today’s Republican party is basically the embarrassing fanatic uncle of the Republican party of the early 20th century. They have become overtaken by a rabid, radical fringe, one that opposes every single aspect of women’s equality, from abortion and contraception access to equal pay, from access to affordable healthcare to a living wage. What Rep. Marsha Blackburn and other Republicans are banking on by peddling the Republican past as indicative of their present is that no one bothers to pay any attention to the absolutely atrocious record of the Republican party on women’s issues in recent memory, particularly in the last decade. Rather than attempting to beat back the Democratic claims of a “War on Women” by citing history, the Republican party would do well to actually enact some of the current policies they deceptively claim to champion. There isn’t a single women’s rights issue that serves as a bragging right for today’s GOP.
Greg Sargent: No, Dems Are Not Uniformly Running Away From Obamacare
Mary Landrieu is one of the most vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents, and her difficult reelection challenges — like those of other endangered Dems – are said to be all about Obamacare. So it’s curious that Senator Landrieu is aggressively campaigning for a major piece of the law that’s dragging her down: the Medicaid expansion currently being debated in her state. Dems there hope to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to get around Governor Bobby Jindal’s opposition that would ask Louisiana voters if they want billions in Medicaid expansion money to cover hundreds of thousands. Getting it on the ballot is a long shot — it would require two thirds of both houses of the legislature — but the fact is that Landrieu held a conference call last week with local media to push the idea. She has met with state editorial boards to advocate for the expansion, winning a positive editorial in the Times-Picayune. She’s going out with an email to her campaign list urging the constitutional amendment and slamming the “Jindal gap,” i.e., the Medicaid gap. She’ll hit opponent Bill Cassidy over the issue.
Landrieu greeted the recent news of high signups by saying that the ACA “holds great promise and is getting stronger every day.” All of this is not to say that Dems are running aggressively on Obamacare. They aren’t. But the widespread claim that they are uniformly running away from it is too simplistic. It’s more complicated than that. In North Carolina, Kay Hagan is airing a radio ad that hits likely GOP foe Thom Tillis over his equivocations on repeal, and she will hit his opposition to the state exchange and Medicaid expansion to build the case that he is anti-middle class. In Alaska, Dems have run an ad for Mark Begich that features a woman discussing how she benefitted from the law in unusually personal terms. Dem Super PACs have run ads in North Carolina and Michigan dramatizing how the GOP repeal stance would take the law’s benefits away.
At a press conference last week, President Obama announced a figure that was hard to even imagine a month ago: 8 million consumers signed up for private insurance through exchange marketplaces during the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period. Obama also took a moment to chide Republicans for having been wrong about practically every aspect of the debate. “I recognize that their party is going through the stages of grief,” he said, “and we’re not at acceptance yet. ”That sounds about right, though I’m not sure the GOP is “going through the stages of grief” so much as it’s stuck on the first one. If the process is believed to have five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – we have quite a ways to go before “acceptance” is even on the horizon.
Denial still dominates. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said Monday he believes the uninsured rate in his state has increased since implementation of the 2010 health care reform law. There are a wide variety of counts when it comes to determining just how many uninsured Americans have been able to get coverage, but all of the reports have something important in common: they all show the rate of the uninsured going down, not up. But to argue that the number of uninsured people is climbing is comparable to arguing that the federal budget deficit is getting larger; the planet is experiencing global cooling; and Obama has pushed use of executive orders to new heights. Oh wait, conservative Republicans often believe all of those bogus claims, too.
Sahil Kapur: Supreme Court To Hear Case Challenging Ban On Campaign Lies
The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Tuesday in an important case about the validity of an Ohio state law banning false statements about political candidates in campaigns. The challenge was brought by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, which wants to invalidate the Ohio law. In 2010, it sought to put up a billboard claiming Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) supported taxpayer funding of abortion. The advertising company, under pressure from Driehaus who appealed to the Ohio Elections Commission to block the billboard under the statute, refused to put it up. (Driehaus lost reelection anyway.)
A lower court found that the SBA List lacked standing to sue. The 6th Circuit and 8th Circuit courts of appeals have issued split rulings on whether state laws banning false statements are permissible under the First Amendment. There’s a real chance the Supreme Court won’t weigh in on the merits of this case. If the justices conclude that the SBA List has standing, they’re expected to send it back to the lower courts to consider the merits first.
WTSP: FL Same-Sex Lawsuit Couple Attends W.H. Easter Egg Roll
A Florida couple suing the for marriage equality joined the first family Monday for the Annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The Aleniers were one of six couples that joined Equality Florida Institute to file the lawsuit in pursuit of marriage protections for their family. They, along with their son Ethan, were among the 30,000 people crowded on the South Lawn
Reuters: U.S. Secretary Of State Urges Russia To Help Implement Ukraine Agreement
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia on Monday to meet Ukraine halfway in trying to implement an agreement to defuse the crisis in the former Soviet republic. Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by telephone on Monday morning, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States on Thursday agreed on ways to ease tensions in the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
“The secretary urged Russia to take concrete steps to help implement the Geneva agreement, including publicly calling on separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically,” Psaki said at a news briefing. With pro-Moscow separatists showing no sign of surrendering government buildings they have seized in eastern Ukraine, Washington pegged a threat of new sanctions on Russia to how hard Moscow tries to make the Geneva agreement work. “If progress is not made in coming days, we will impose further costs,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Reuters: Conservative Koch-Backed Group Uses Soft Touch In Recruiting U.S. Hispanics
The conservative advocacy groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known mostly for spending millions of dollars to pelt Democratic candidates with negative television ads. But this year, one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population, which has overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections. The group, known as The Libre Initiative, is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters in cities from Arizona to Florida – even as the group targets Democratic lawmakers with hard-edged TV ads. “If they trust us, they may seek our opinion on something else,” said Michael Barrera, a former Bush administration official who now works for Libre, which says it has built a mailing list of 90,000 people during the past three years.
Libre’s task is complicated by Republican lawmakers’ reluctance to act on a proposed overhaul of the United States’ immigration laws and the harsh rhetoric used by some Republicans that many Americans have seen as anti-Hispanic or anti-immigrant, pollsters say. And even as Libre launches an ad campaign that paints President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act as an expensive failure, Obamacare remains more popular among Hispanics than it is in the overall population. At a recent Hispanic business fair in Orlando, Libre set up panel discussions on family-owned businesses and the shortcomings of Obamacare. Neither event drew much of an audience, but by the end of the day Libre had added 150 names to its mailing list. Several of those who signed up said they were drawn in by the chance to win a tablet computer that was raffled off by Libre, rather than any enthusiasm for conservative ideas. None said they were aware of Libre’s conservative agenda. Libre’s only public filing shows that it took in $2.15 million in revenue during the 12 months that ended June 30, 2012. The report does not say where the money came from, but separate filings show two Koch-backed groups, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce Inc. and TC4 Trust, gave at least $3.8 million to Libre during an 18-month period that includes the time covered by Libre’s report.
Brian Beutler: Obamacare’s Success Is Destroying The GOP’s Midterm Strategy
If you’re a decent person, or someone who hasn’t contracted a political bug, the most satisfying thing about the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment total is the knowledge that it’s improved many people’s lives, and contributed to a sizable reduction in the uninsured population. But if you have a lot invested in the law’s success, you’re also relieved to have an answer to everyone trying to create the impression that Obamacare is a slow-rolling fiasco. Republicans won’t stop saying these things, but there’s an amusing tension between calling something a “slow-rolling fiasco” in one breath and then positing that perhaps 10 percent of the millions of new beneficiaries won’t pay their premiums in the next. Or pointing out that the respectable under-35 enrollment rate also includes children. Why nitpick a fiasco?
Taken together, eight million enrollees, lower-than-expected premium increases, and smaller fiscal costs together leave a great void in the political landscape that pathetic enrollment, large premium spikes, and runaway spending were supposed to occupy. In a recent article, conservative political analyst Sean Trende examined how an election that looks so ripe for Republicans could go sour. “The way this could occur is fairly straightforward: The Affordable Care Act improves; there’s no massive rate shock for premiums in September or October; and the economy slowly gains ground. This should propel President Obama’s job approval upward, lifting the collective Democratic boat.” As Danny Vinik has noted, none of this is remotely implausible. And if something along these lines begins taking shape, Republicans would have to revisit the idea that they can just block Democratic legislation, scream “Obummercare!” and let a friendly electoral map do all the work.
Senator Obama holds 10-month-old Claire Von Bergen of Iowa City while shaking hands with supporters after speaking on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa April 22, 2007
Senator Obama gets a hug from his wife Michelle Obama after he spoke at the Roberts Stadium, April 22, 2008 in Evansville Indiana
Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands outside of the P&G Pamela’s Diner in the Strip District section of Pittsburgh on the morning of the Pennsylvania Primary election, April 22, 2008
President Obama and White House staff members prepare to leave Des Moines Airport April 22, 2009, following a visit to Newton, Iowa (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama greets actress Sigourney Weaver after he spoke at an Earth Day reception in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on April 22, 2010
President Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, April 22, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama boards Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport, April 22, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama observes a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, in the Oval Office, April 22, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama looks at a piece of a wood-alternative fuel made from biomass waste while touring projects presented at the White House Science Fair in the East Garden of the White House, April 22, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Trying out a bike that powers a water-filtration system built by young student inventors, April 22, 2013
President Obama greets New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz during the White House Science Fair, April 22, 2013
On This Day: First Lady Michelle Obama participates in an interview with Stephen Colbert during a taping of “The Colbert Report,” at the Colbert Report Studio in New York, N.Y., April 11, 2012 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Today (All Times Eastern)
11:0 President Obama announces the nomination of Sylvia Burwell to be HHS Secretary
12:15: First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden Host a Joining Forces Caregivers Event
1:55: The President and First Lady depart the White House
3:05 Arrive New York City
4:10 The President delivers remarks at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention
11:30 The President and First Lady depart New York
12:40 Arrives White House
People insured under Kathleen @Sebelius: 10+ million
People insured by Republicans: 0 (or NEGATIVE 5M if you count blocking Medicaid)
Caitlin Macneal: Arkansas Free Clinic Closing, Citing More Insured Through Obamacare
A medical clinic in Mena, Ark. announced that it would be closing, citing a large drop in need for the clinic as people have signed up for health insurance under Obamacare. “Because people are qualifying for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, our free medical clinic will not be needed anymore,” Stacey Bowser, the director of the 9th Street Ministries Clinic, told the Mena Star.
“We’ve gone from seeing around 300 people a month on a regular basis, but as people were enrolling in Obamacare, the numbers we were seeing have dropped. We were down to 80 people that came through the medical clinic in February, all the way down to three people at the medical clinic in March. Our services won’t be needed anymore, and this will conclude our mission,” she continued.
LA Times: Bank Of America To Pay $772 Million For Illegal Credit Card Practices
Bank of America Corp. has agreed to refund customers $727 million and pay $45 million in fines for illegal credit card practices, according to a settlement with federal regulators announced Wednesday. The refunds will go to as many as 2.9 million people who were deceived into signing up for products such as credit monitoring and identity theft protection or were improperly charged for such services, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said. The action was part of a crackdown by the bureau on deceptive marketing, enrollment and billing practices related to such so-called add-on products by credit card companies. Bank of America is the fifth financial services company to be hit with fines and refund orders.
“Bank of America both deceived consumers and unfairly billed consumers for services not performed,” said Richard Cordray, the bureau’s director. “We will not tolerate such practices and will continue to be vigilant in our pursuit of companies who wrong consumers in this market.” Bank of America agreed to the refunds and penalties without admitting or denying the allegations. In addition to the refunds, the bank will pay a $20-million civil penalty to the bureau and a $25-million civil penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Meg Finnegan thought she might never be able to afford to have a baby. Finnegan, who is self-employed and has a pre-existing medical condition, was having trouble finding health insurance at all, let alone a policy that would cover pregnancy and childbirth. So she was thrilled to discover that the plan she signed up for last fall under the Affordable Care Act includes maternity coverage. “When you don’t have insurance, you’re afraid of any life event that brings you to the hospital, for a good or a bad reason,” said Finnegan, 37, an Evanston resident. “If I didn’t have insurance, I wouldn’t have a baby. All those doctor’s appointments and tests, and possibly a high-risk delivery — how would you pay for it?” A guarantee of maternity coverage — all new insurance policies must provide it — is just one of a basket of provisions in the federal health law that specifically benefit women. Other guaranteed services include preventive care, which must be covered with no out-of-pocket cost. For most plans, preventive care includes at least one annual “well-woman” visit, breast-feeding support, contraceptives and contraceptive counseling, annual mammograms and cervical cancer screening.
Women’s health advocates also expect women to benefit more from some provisions in the law that apply to people of either sex. For example, the expansion of Medicaid, as well as financial assistance in the form of tax credits and cost sharing, is expected to disproportionately benefit women, who are more likely than men to have low incomes. Insurers also are required to cover mental health screening and treatment, and women have higher rates of depression and other types of mental illness. Kathy Waligora of EverThrive Illinois (formerly the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition) said she considers the law “a huge victory for women.” Finnegan, who said she has a rare condition called Behcet’s disease, is one of 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, which private policies generally did not cover before the health overhaul. Now, by law, insurers may not deny coverage or charge higher premiums on the basis of health status. “I couldn’t get insurance,” said Finnegan, who owns TruFit Personal Training Studio in Evanston. “I tried five different companies. One offered me a policy for $850 a month with a huge deductible and terrible coverage — nothing related to my condition. But all my medical costs are related to that, so basically it meant no coverage.” At the same time, many insurance plans used to consider pregnancy, cesarean section, and even domestic violence and sexual abuse as pre-existing conditions.
USA Today: Man Cleared Of NYC Murder After 25 Years In Prison
A man who spent almost a quarter-century behind bars for murder was freed Tuesday and cleared of a killing that happened when he was 1,100 miles away on a Disney World vacation. Jonathan Fleming was in tears as he hugged his lawyers and family in a Brooklyn courtroom. Relatives said, “Thank you, God!” after he was freed. “After 25 years, come hug your mother,” she said, and he did. Defense attorneys and prosecutors asked a Brooklyn judge to dismiss Fleming’s conviction in the 1989 shooting. A key eyewitness recanted, new witnesses have implicated someone else and a review by prosecutors turned up a hotel receipt putting Fleming in Florida hours before the killing, defense lawyers Anthony Mayol and Taylor Koss said.
“He is elated and stunned, while tempered by the fact that he realizes that this is just the first step in getting his life back,” Koss said before the hearing. Fleming had plane tickets, videos and postcards from his trip, his lawyers said, but authorities suggested he could have been in New York at the actual time of the shooting, and a woman testified that she had seen him shoot Rush. The exoneration, first reported by the New York Daily News, comes amid scrutiny of Brooklyn prosecutors’ process for reviewing questionable convictions — scrutiny that comes partly from the new DA Kenneth Thompson himself. He unseated longtime DA Charles “Joe” Hynes last year after a campaign that focused partly on wrongful convictions on Hynes’ watch. Hynes had created a special conviction integrity unit to review false-conviction claims, but some saw the effort as slow-moving and defensive.
Small-business owners were more optimistic about the economy last month and expected sales to increase as a winter marked by severe weather ended, according to survey results released Tuesday. The confidence index from the National Federation of Independent Business rose to 93.4 in March, from 91.4 the previous month. The measure is one of the few monthly barometers of the small-business sector, which is a key driver of the economy.
About 12% of the those surveyed said they expected higher sales volumes during the next three months, up 9 percentage points from the February survey. Hiring also improved last month. Small-business owners reported increasing their payrolls by an average of 0.18 workers in March, up from 0.11 the previous month. It was the sixth straight month the survey showed an increase in hiring.
Igor Volsky: Kathleen Sebelius’ Biggest Achievement Is The One No One Is Talking About
Kathleen Sebelius wasn’t President Obama’s first choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee the passage and implementation of health care reform. But after Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) dropped out, Obama tapped the two-term Kansas governor and former state insurance commissioner. Sebelius didn’t have much D.C. experience, but had an impressive track record of working across the aisle as a Democratic governor in a red state. And while the united GOP opposition to health legislation eventually overwhelmed any goodwill Sebelius had built up within the Republican party and the rocky rollout of Obamacare has come to dominate the discussion of her tenure as secretary, that bipartisan quality proved essential to the implementation of the law. Sebelius leaves the office having enrolled some 10 million people in health care coverage. This was only possible because she convinced numerous Republican lawmakers in bright red states to extended health care coverage to the poorest Americans. No one is talking about it, but it is her biggest and most impressive achievement as secretary.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision invalidating Obamacare’s compulsory Medicaid expansion, most Republican-controlled states refused to extend health care coverage to residents below 133 percent of the poverty line. But Sebelius traveled the country, urging Republican governors to reconsider. As of today, eight GOP-controlled states have approved expansion — in no small part because of the flexibility Sebelius and her team provided. The flexibility extended beyond Medicaid. Sebelius and her team convinced red states to form partnership health care exchanges in which the federal government and the state would share responsibilities in running the marketplaces. They routinely presented GOP governors with information on all other state models and waivers, assuring them that they could customize reform to their specific state needs. As a result, several Republican-dominated states bucked the national party and chose to run their exchanges either on their own, or in collaboration with HHS.
Josh Israel: Jindal Demands Congressman Resign Over Extramarital Kissing, But Defended Prostitute-Hiring Senator
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) called for Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA) to resign his House seat, after a videotape surfaced of the freshman Congressman kissing a married woman who is not his wife. But in 2007, Jindal defended Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) when he was revealed to be a client of a DC prostitution service. Jindal released a statement on Thursday, calling McAllister’s behavior “an embarrassment” and suggesting that “the best way to get privacy and work on putting his family back together is to resign from Congress.” But seven years ago, then-Congressman Jindal made no such suggestion to the state’s U.S. Senator. After Vitter’s name appeared on the phone list for “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey, he apologized for the “very serious sin in my past.” Yet Jindal’s response was to stand by Vitter
On Thursday morning, Kathleen Sebelius testified before Congress and announced that Obamacare signups had reached 7.5 million people. On Thursday evening, news broke that Sebelius was stepping down as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Implementing Obamacare was never going to be easy. The law is full of compromises that, however politically necessary, weakened regulations and depleted funding that would have made introducing the new insurance system a lot easier. And Sebelius never had the kind of control a chief executive officer would. She was always dealing with a host of other players—from superiors at the White House to underlings at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to Democrats on Capitol Hill to lobbyists for the health care industry. And that’s to say nothing of her war with the congressional Republicans, who were trying actively to sabotage the law through repeal votes, funding cuts, and intimidation of would-be allies.
More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of those early problems. That 7.5 million figure she announced on Thursday is a genuinely big deal—particularly since, from what I hear, the final number is likely to be even higher. Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for those successes, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. But her role in those achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety) is also part of her record. To take one obvious example, Sebelius worked extensively with Republican governors who wanted to expand Medicaid in states with hostile conservative constituencies. Some of those efforts succeeded. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters.
Fem Chat: 6 Things Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler Missed About The Gender Wage Gap
Glenn Kessler presents a very one-sided discussion of the wage gap in this April 9th “Fact Checker” post in which he increased President Obama’s rating on his use of wage gap statistics from one Pinocchio (in the 2012 campaign) to two—he should have lowered it from one to zero. President Obama has correctly used a long standing data series issued every year by the Census Bureau. The 77 percent wage ratio figure is an accurate measure of the inequality in earnings between U.S. women and men who work full-time, year-round in the labor market. Here are some other things to keep in mind about that statistic: 1) Kessler claims that President Obama uses the 77 percent wage ratio figure because it shows the biggest wage gap when other data series available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show slightly smaller gaps.
Leaving aside how Kessler could get inside the President’s head and know why he picked a certain series, everyone who writes about this issue should know that this figure based on median annual earnings is the historical headline figure that allows the longest comparison across time. 2) Kessler claims that the other series—weekly or hourly earnings—are more accurate, but there is simply no basis for saying so. The 77 percent figure actually includes the broadest range of kinds of earnings; for example annual bonus payments are a big part of remuneration in some fields and are included in the 77 percent figure, but are excluded from the weekly or hourly earnings figures.
Brian Beutler: The Right Searches For Obamacare Alternative, Finds Obamacare
The Affordable Care Act’s enrollment comeback has confounded conservatives in many ways. The realization that there happens to be popular demand for something as self-evidently grotesque as Obamacare has given rise to a palpable cognitive dissonance on the right. A growing recognition among Republicans that they can’t bank on organizing the midterm campaign around relentless Obamacare opposition has party elders looking at contingency plans (even if they haven’t exactly gone back to the drawing board). But most importantly, it has thrown the conservative health policy community for a loop, and completely wrong-footed Republicans in Congress who were hoping — against considerable odds and a well-worn historical pattern — to craft an Obamacare alternative that both passes the laugh test and doesn’t create a significantly lower level of welfare.
If enrollment had sputtered, that task would have been considerably easier. The fact it surged in March, and continues to grow today, measurably limits their options. If you accept (or acquiesce) to the need for a large coverage expansion and don’t want a single payer or substantial expansion of existing public systems, you need to make sure private insurers cover the sick, which means you need guaranteed issue and community rating — so that nobody is closed out of the system, and so that risk is spread across large populations, not assigned to individuals. But if you have those two things then you need a coverage requirement, so you’re not just spreading risk among old, sick people. And if you have that mandate, you need substantial subsidies — means tested or otherwise — so people aren’t required to purchase insurance they can’t afford. Of course, that’s just Obamacare.
Obamacare versus Ryanomics. That’s the battle line for 2014. It’s also a battle Democrats can win. Why? Because most Americans are pragmatists. Pragmatists believe that whatever works is right. Ideologues believe that if something is wrong, it can’t possibly work — even if it does work. That’s the Republican view of Obamacare: It’s wrong, so it can’t possibly work. But it now looks like Obamacare may work. More than 7 million people signed up for health insurance by the March 31 deadline, meeting the Obama administration’s original goal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “The Affordable Care Act, whether my Republican friends want to admit it or not, is working.” On April 1, Ryan came out with a 10-year budget plan involving massive cuts in popular federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education, student loans and environmental protection.
Ryan’s proposal would eventually change Medicare — the most popular of all federal programs — from an insurance policy to a “premium support” program, where seniors would be given subsidies to purchase private insurance. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposed doing that in 2012. Look where it got him. Democrats will run against Ryanomics. Republicans will run against Obamacare. Remember the rule of pragmatism: Whatever works is right. If Americans come to believe Obamacare works, they will be reluctant to throw it out. Especially the millions who will already have a stake in Obamacare. On the other hand, Ryan is threatening to do away with programs like Medicare that people know are working. Why? Because he and his fellow Republicans think those programs are wrong. Attacking programs that work is pure ideological bloodlust. And a losing battle for sure.
Ann Sanner: About 106,000 Ohioans Enroll In Expanded Medicaid
More than 106,000 Ohioans have signed up for Medicaid under an expansion of the taxpayer funded health program, while thousands of others are waiting to hear whether they are deemed eligible. Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration moved forward with extending Medicaid eligibility last fall under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Coverage took effect Jan. 1. The safety-net program for the poor and disabled provides coverage for one of every five Ohioans. The Medicaid expansion allows those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to gain health care coverage. For a single adult, that’s about $16,104 a year. Ohio’s monthly report on Medicaid caseloads shows that 106,238 residents had enrolled under the extension as of March 31.
That’s about 29 percent of the roughly 366,000 newly eligible people estimated to sign up by the end of June 2015. Residents have been enrolling in Medicaid through the state’s new benefits website. Potential enrollees can use the site instead of visiting county Job and Family Services offices, where many low-income residents apply for food stamps, cash assistance and other public programs. More than 345,000 people have sought Medicaid coverage through the state’s benefit site since Oct. 1. About 65 percent of the applications have been resolved, while roughly 120,000 are still pending. Many of those cases await eligibility determinations by the state’s largest counties.
Republicans often point out that Obamacare cuts Medicare Advantage and reforms the program. But they fail to mention, as Democrats often do, the benefits the president’s health law has given to current Medicare beneficiaries. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare reports: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently reported that since the passage of the ACA, over 7.9 million Medicare beneficiaries in the Medicare Part D donut hole have saved $9.9 billion on their prescription drugs, an average of $1,265 per person. Also, 37.2 million people with Medicare took advantage of at least one preventive service with no cost sharing, including an estimated 26.5 million people with traditional Medicare, and more than 4 million who took advantage of the Annual Wellness Visit. Ryan’s budget would repeal those benefits while keeping the cuts Republicans have been campaigning against for four years now.
Obamacare reforms have also lowered the growth of Medicare’s costs to zero. If this trend continues, the program would be solvent even through the peak of Baby Boomer retirements, protecting seniors from future benefit cuts. In an effort to balance the budget in 10 years while keeping tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich, Ryan would cut a slew of programs seniors have relied on. “Funding for Older Americans Act programs like Meals on Wheels, family caregiver support, job training, senior centers, and disease prevention programs, would suffer significant cuts when the need for these services is increasing,” the National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports. “Over time, these programs—which are NOT contributing to the federal budget deficit—would be cut by 22 percent below current levels.” Another $137 billion would be cut from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, aka food stamps. Currently, 9 million seniors and people with disabilities receive SNAP benefits.
BBC: Hamid Aboutalebi: US Congress Passes Ban On Iran Envoy
The US Congress has sent a bill to the president that would bar Iran’s pick for ambassador to the UN from entering the country. The House of Representatives passed the measure unanimously two days after the Senate approved it. Hamid Aboutalebi was a part of the Muslim student group that seized the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. The White House has told Iran Mr Aboutalebi was “not viable” but has not taken a position on the bill. Fifty-two Americans were held for 444 days at the height of Iran’s Islamic revolution, which saw pro-American Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi sent into exile and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini take power.
Mr Aboutalebi, who previously served as Iran’s ambassador to Belgium, the European Union, Italy and Australia, told Iranian media his participation in the hostage crisis began only after the initial seizure of the embassy, and primarily involved translation. On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “We’ve made clear and have communicated to the Iranians that the selection they’ve put forward is not viable.” As the host country of the United Nations, the US has previously but rarely denied entry to an envoy or head of state. Those included a previous Iranian diplomat and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. In those cases the applications were withdrawn after the US signalled opposition, or the state department simply declined to process the visas. Those options are available in Mr Aboutalebi’s case.
When it comes to health reform, Republicans suffer from delusions of disaster. They know, just know, that the Affordable Care Act is doomed to utter failure, so failure is what they see, never mind the facts on the ground. Thus, on Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, dismissed the push for pay equity as an attempt to “change the subject from the nightmare of Obamacare”; on the same day, the nonpartisan RAND Corporation released a study estimating “a net gain of 9.3 million in the number of American adults with health insurance coverage from September 2013 to mid-March 2014.” Some nightmare. And the overall gain, including children and those who signed up during the late-March enrollment surge, must be considerably larger. First, there was the amazing come-from-behind surge in enrollments.
Then there were a series of surveys — from Gallup, the Urban Institute, and RAND — all suggesting large gains in coverage. Taken individually, any one of these indicators might be dismissed as an outlier, but taken together they paint an unmistakable picture of major progress. But wait: What about all the people who lost their policies thanks to Obamacare? The answer is that this looks more than ever like a relatively small issue hyped by right-wing propaganda. RAND finds that fewer than a million people who previously had individual insurance became uninsured — and many of those transitions, one guesses, had nothing to do with Obamacare. It’s worth noting that, so far, not one of the supposed horror stories touted in Koch-backed anti-reform advertisements has stood up to scrutiny, suggesting that real horror stories are rare. Republicans clearly have no idea how to respond to these developments. They can’t offer any real alternative to Obamacare.Their political strategy has been to talk vaguely about replacing reform while waiting for its inevitable collapse. And what if reform doesn’t collapse? They have no idea what to do.
President Obama listens during a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at Blair House in Washington, D.C., before a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, April, 11, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with Director of Speechwriting Jon Favreau on the Colonnade outside the Oval Office, April 11, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama returns to the Oval Office through the Rose Garden after surprising students from Altona Middle School in Longmont, Colo., during their White House tour, April 11, 2011. President Obama received a letter from the mother of an Altona student who worried that her son’s trip to Washington, D.C., would be canceled if there was a government shutdown (Photo by Pete Souza)
Sherman and Tammie Gillums look at their pictures with First Lady Michelle Obama as Mrs. Obama continues to greets guests at the Joining Forces Community Challenge event on the South Lawn of the White House, April 11, 2012 (Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)
President Obama holds Chaplain (Captain) Emil Kapaun’s Easter stole in the Oval Office during a greet with Kapaun’s family in the Oval Office, April 11, 2013. The President and First Lady Michelle Obama met with members of Chaplain Kapaun’s family before awarding him the Medal of Honor posthumously during a ceremony in the East Room (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks on the phone with Nicole Hockley and families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., in the Oval Office, April 11, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Holy seven million, Batman! The Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare, has made a stunning comeback from its shambolic start. As the March 31 deadline for 2014 coverage approached, there was a surge in applications at the “exchanges” — the special insurance marketplaces the law set up. And the original target of seven million signups, widely dismissed as unattainable, has been surpassed.
But what does it mean? That depends on whether you ask the law’s opponents or its supporters. You see, the opponents think that it means a lot, while the law’s supporters are being very cautious. And, in this one case, the enemies of health reform are right. This is a very big deal indeed.
Of course, you don’t find many Obamacare opponents admitting outright that 7.1 million and counting signups is a huge victory for reform. But their reaction to the results — It’s a fraud! They’re cooking the books! — tells the tale. Conservative thinking and Republican political strategy were based entirely on the assumption that it would always be October, that Obamacare’s rollout would be an unremitting tale of disaster. They have no idea what to do now that it’s turning into a success story.
Politicususa: Harry Reid Completely Hammers Mitch McConnell On Obamacare Success In Kentucky
During a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tore into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) regarding the success story that the Affordable Care Act has been in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. Days after it was revealed that the number of people who signed up for private insurance plans on the state and federal exchanges under Obamacare exceeded the administration’s goals, Reid pointed out some basic facts in regards to the health care law’s effect in Kentucky.
Steve Benen: Job market continues to show signs of life
After discouraging monthly job reports in December and January, there were broad concerns about which way the job market was headed. Would it remain stuck or start to bounce back?
The latest evidence seems to suggest the latter. In fact, the new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 192,000 jobs in March, roughly in line with economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate remained the same at 6.7%.
For the second consecutive month, public-sector layoffs did not drag down the overall employment figures. Though jobs reports over the last few years have shown monthly government job losses, in March, the private sector added 192,000 while the public sector broke even.
The party that talks the most about the dangers of America going Continental is the one dead set on making it happen. When it comes to economics, the GOP is the party of croissants and lederhosen
The basic Republican critique of President Obama is that he’s Europeanizing America. In the last campaign, Mitt Romney claimed Obama “takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe.” Paul Ryan warned “we will turn out just like Europe if we stick with European policies.” Europe’s continuing economic stagnation—12 percent unemployment, near deflation, tepid growth—is certainly an unattractive model for the United States. You can see why conservative cartoonists like to draw Obama in a beret.
But the policies that created the mess in Europe are not Obama’s policies. They are the policies—especially tight money and fiscal austerity—that Republicans have pushed for America. And where economics is concerned, the GOP is still the party of croissants and lederhosen.
TPM: TV Networks Denied Obama Airtime To Tout Obamacare Enrollment
The White House reportedly wanted to put President Barack Obama on primetime television Tuesday to tout Obamacare’s 7 million enrollees — but network TV officials denied him the airtime.
BuzzFeed had the scoop, citing three sources with knowledge of the request. Details of the request are unclear from the report, but it appears that the White House was seeking primetime space on broadcast TV networks.
NYT: After Push by Obama, Minimum-Wage Action Is Moving to the States
The more President Obama talks about the need to raise the federal minimum wage, the less likely it appears that Republicans in Congress are inclined to do it.
But the stalemate matters less and less. In the last 14 months, since Mr. Obama first called for the wage increase in his 2013 State of the Union address, seven states and the District of Columbia have raised their own minimum wages, and 34 states have begun legislative debates on the matter. Activists in an additional eight states are pursuing ballot referendums this year to demand an increase in wages for their lowest-paid workers.
…. Anybody who had any doubts about whether or not the Kochs have imbibed fully their father’s devotion to the old Birchite view of things can rest easy, This is something out of the collected works of John Stormer, the stuff that was supposed to have died in conservatism with the end of the Goldwater campaign. None Dare Call It Antiquated. But, if you have more money than God and Solomon, you can bring even the most decomposed ideology back to life, I guess.
…..Koch: “….. Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty, and liberty is the essence of what it means to be American. Love of liberty is the American ideal.”
Says the gentleman who’s poured more millions into voter-suppression efforts all over the country. Again, all done out of altruism and in the name of saving America from the tyranny of clean air and insurance-friendly health-care reform. If I’m Harry Reid, I keep pounding on these guys. The public butthurt is getting quite entertaining.
ThinkProgress: Why The Fort Hood Shooter Was Able To Purchase A Gun Despite Serious Mental Health Issues
A gunman identified as 34-year-old Iraq War veteran Ivan Lopez opened fire at the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, Texas on Wednesday, reportedly killing three service members before committing suicide. Officials reported that Lopez was being treated for several mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, and was being screened for possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But despite his ongoing treatment, Lopez wasn’t barred from owning a gun. In fact, he recently purchased the .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol that he used during Wednesday’s shooting spree.
ThinkProgress: Stand Your Ground Is About To Get Even Worse In Florida
Attempts to roll back any of the Florida Stand Your Ground law’s most incendiary elements have foundered more than two years after the death of Trayvon Martin. But a bill to expand the law passed Thursday, mere months after it was introduced. The National Rifle Association-backed bill would expand Stand Your Ground-like protections to those who point a gun at an attacker or fire a gun as a self-defense threat or warning, expanding the scope of the discretion judges and juries retain to exempt shooters from criminal charges for gun violence. The final bill also includes a provision to keep Stand Your Ground records secret. More here
President Obama’s personal aide Reggie Love, left, and White House physician Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman check their notes as they travel in the Presidential motorcade April 4, 2009 in Strasbourg, France (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama makes remarks at a press conference April 4, 2009, following the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France. (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and fellow NATO leaders step down from a photo platform April 4, 2009, following their group photo at the NATO meeting in Strasbourg, France (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama gestures during a fiscal policy meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama addresses United States Secret Service Uniformed Division officers before a group photo at the South Portico of the White House, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden joke together while taping a Joining Forces public service announcement in the East Room of the White House, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama sits alone on the patio outside the Oval Office, following a meeting with his senior advisors, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama jokes with Vice President Biden backstage before the STOCK Act signing event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, April 4, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
On This Day: President Obama greets the Zion Baptist Church Children’s Choir before the Easter Prayer Breakfast, in the Blue Room of the White House, April 4, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama and students from around the country participate in the White House Kitchen Garden spring planting on the South Lawn of the White House, April 4, 2013 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Obama smiles before boarding Marine One helicopter from a field overlooking the iconic golden gate bridge in San Francisco, California, on April 4, 2013
On This Day: April 3, 2013: “The President hugs Sue Connors and Jane Dougherty, right, following his remarks at the Denver Police Academy in Denver, Colo. The women lost their sister, Mary Sherlach, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn.” (Photo by Pete Souza)
Today (All Times Eastern):
3:20: President Obama welcomes the 2014 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House; East Room
4:0: Signs the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act
6:0: Meets with the bipartisan Congressional leadership
Is there any accountability in American politics for being completely wrong? Is there any cost to those who say things that turn out not to be true and then, when their fabrications or false predictions are exposed, calmly move on to concocting new claims as if they had never made the old ones? The fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hit its original goal this week of signing up more than 7 million people through its insurance exchanges ought to be a moment of truth — literally as well as figuratively. It ought to give everyone, particularly members of the news media, pause over how reckless the opponents of change have been in making instant judgments and outlandish charges.
When the health-care Web site went haywire last fall, conservatives were absolutely certain this technological failure meant that the entire reform effort was doomed. If you doubt this, try a Google search keyed to that period relating the word “doomed” to the health-care law. It should be said that the general public was much wiser. A CNN poll in November that Post blogger Greg Sargent highlighted at the time found a majority (54 percent to 45 percent) saying that the problems facing the law “will eventually be solved.” Political moderates took this view by 55 percent to 43 percent, independents by 50 percent to 48 percent. Only Republicans — by a whopping 72 percent to 27 percent — and conservatives (by 66 percent to 33 percent) thought the law could never be fixed.
You have to respect the tenacity of Republicans, especially those who’ve been catering to their benighted primary voters back home by beating the hell out of the ACA. They’ve adhered to a long obstructionist tradition that includes opposition to FDR’s Social Security and LBJ’s Great Society initiatives. They know full well that these “giveaway” programs, as they like to call them, develop faithful constituencies. Once the programs are entrenched, any attempt to destroy them has a way of backfiring on the perpetrator. The Affordable Care Act now boasts over seven million individual advocates, many of whom will be benefiting from preventive health care for the first time in their lives.
As their cancers and other diseases are caught and treated in their incipient stages — before they become fatal — the newly anointed are likely to go out among the multitudes and preach the gospel. The ACA is going to grow, and with each new adherent it will become ever more stable and viable.Meanwhile, the greatest compliment this nation can ever pay to the 44th President of the United States and his legacy will be that, decades from now — when Sasha and Malia are great-grandmothers —America’s national health care plan will continue to thrive and be known by its vernacular title: “Obamacare.”
Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys,” his takedown of high-speed stock trading, may be making headlines this week, but it’s just one of two books on our economic dysfunctions that are flying off the shelves. While “Flash Boys” explains how the fastest-growing form of trading enriches the few at the expense of the many, the other book, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” provides a more fundamental and disquieting explanation: how capitalism itself enriches the few at the expense of the many. Since 1980, however, their fortunes have swelled again — at the expense of everyone else. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher slashed taxes on wealth, workers lost the ability to bargain for wages and, crucially, the population growth of many nations ground nearly to a halt. Capital, again, was accumulating faster than the overall economies were growing.
In the United States, Piketty shows, the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown so high — chiefly due to the linkage of top executive pay to share value, a form of capital — that they soon will create the greatest level of income inequality in the recorded history of any nation. Indeed, Piketty’s book provides a valuable explanatory context for America’s economic woes. Wages constitute the lowest share of U.S. GDP, and profits the highest, since the end of World War II. And with heightened accumulations of wealth come heightened accumulations of political power — a shift toward plutocracy to which Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many electoral campaigns as they wish, adds a helpful push.
Immigration activists have sharply criticized President Obama for a rising volume of deportations, labeling him the “deporter in chief” and staging large protests that have harmed his standing with some Latinos, a key group of voters for Democrats.
But the portrait of a steadily increasing number of deportations rests on statistics that conceal almost as much as they disclose. A closer examination shows that immigrants living illegally in most of the continental U.S. are less likely to be deported today than before Obama came to office, according to immigration data. Expulsions of people who are settled and working in the United States have fallen steadily since his first year in office, and are down more than 40% since 2009. On the other side of the ledger, the number of people deported at or near the border has gone up — primarily as a result of changing who gets counted in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s deportation statistics.
The vast majority of those border crossers would not have been treated as formal deportations under most previous administrations. If all removals were tallied, the total sent back to Mexico each year would have been far higher under those previous administrations than it is now. Until recent years, most people caught illegally crossing the southern border were simply bused back into Mexico in what officials called “voluntary returns,” but which critics derisively termed “catch and release.” Those removals, which during the 1990s reached more 1 million a year, were not counted in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation statistics. Now, the vast majority of border crossers who are apprehended get fingerprinted and formally deported. The change began during the George W. Bush administration and accelerated under Obama. The policy stemmed in part from a desire to ensure that people who had crossed into the country illegally would have formal charges on their records. In the Obama years, all of the increase in deportations has involved people picked up within 100 miles of the border, most of whom have just recently crossed over. In 2013, almost two-thirds of deportations were in that category.
Left my waitress some excellent speech as a tip this morning. She was thrilled as it's virtually the same thing as money to John Roberts.
At the same time, the administration largely ended immigration roundups at workplaces and shifted investigators into targeting business owners who illegally hired foreign workers. “If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it’s just highly unlikely to happen,” John Sandweg, until recently the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview. Even when immigration officials want to deport someone who already has settled in the country, doing so is “virtually impossible” because of a lengthy backlog in the immigration courts, Sandweg said. Once people who have no prior removals or convictions are placed in deportation proceedings, actually removing them from the country can take six years or more in some jurisdictions, Sandweg said.
Democrats who have been expecting a tough slog to defend the implementation of Obamacare in this important midterm election year weren’t just pleased this week with news that 7.1 million people had enrolled in health insurance through federal or state exchanges. They were jubilant, and more than a little relieved. “The Affordable Care Act CRUSHED its first major enrollment deadline!” a fundraising email on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declared Wednesday.
Such caps-lock, exclamatory enthusiasm is reflective of a brightening mood this week among Democrats, who understand that many of their candidates could win or lose this year on the merits of the health care law and its first-year implementation. And for a party that has suffered a long political winter, the creep of cautious optimism is a welcome warming trend.”This is a new political environment where implementation of law is going well. That’s a much better political environment for us,” said Matt Canter, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee deputy executive director.
Andy Kroll: The Supreme Court Just Gutted Another Campaign Finance Law. Here’s What Happened
The Supreme Court on Wednesday released its decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the blockbuster money-in-politics case of the current term. The court’s five conservative justices all agreed that the so-called aggregate limit on the amount of money a donor can give to candidates, political action committees, and political parties is unconstitutional. In a separate opinion, conservative justice Clarence Thomas went even further, calling on the court to overrule Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 decision that concluded it was constitutional to limit contributions to candidates. In their dissent, the court’s four liberal justices called their colleagues’ logic “faulty” and said it “misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake.” The dissent continues, “Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
The Supreme Court protects the right of rich people to donate but not the right of poor people to vote #McCutcheon
How’d this happen? In the 2012 election cycle, a wealthy Alabama businessman named Shaun McCutcheon tried to make donations in the amount of $1,776 to 27 right-leaning congressional candidates. Not so fast, replied the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the nation’s campaign finance watchdog.After this decision, how much can Shaun McCutcheon give? Hypothetically, a single donor can now contribute as much as $3.5 million, to be divvied up between candidates, PACs, and political parties. No single entity could receive any more than the legal limits, and when you add up all the contributions a donor could potentially make without the aggregate limits, you get $3.5 million. (The overall aggregate limit was raised to $123,200 for the 2014 cycle.)University of California-Irvine law professor Rick Hasen, who did not support McCutcheon’s cause, nonetheless has argued that the decision could reinvigorate the parties and maybe scale back the gridlock crippling Congress. What comes next? Although the court’s majority opinion in McCutcheon, written by Roberts, blew up the FEC’s aggregate limits, it did not take a broader swipe at campaign finance restrictions in general. Court watchers feared a decision in McCutcheon that would open the door to future legal assaults on the bedrock of campaign finance law: direct contribution limits, such as the $2,600 limit to candidates, the $5,000 limit to PACs and party committees, and so on.
Dylan Scott: How The White House Is Always Outflanking The GOP On Obamacare
House Republicans will vote on Thursday to repeal yet another piece of Obamacare: the provision that sets 30 hours as the threshold for defining full-time employees, raising it to 40 hours. A company’s compliance with the law’s employer mandate depends on its number of full-time employees, so fewer full-time workers would presumably lighten the mandate’s load on businesses. If that seems like small potatoes for the party after its leaders continued to advocate for full repeal this week, here’s why: The Obama administration has outmaneuvered Republicans on Obamacare, and the opposition party doesn’t have many options left in its quest to roll back any part of the law. The administration already made unilateral alterations to unpopular pieces of the law, drawing bewildered reactions even from supporters.
But by making changes itself, the White House hasn’t let the GOP get in on the game, despite the party’s unending stream of anti-Obamacare bills — therefore denying Republicans the opportunity to extract the high-profile pound of flesh from the law that they’ve been seeking for years. On its face, it’s tough to see the policy rationale for this latest attack on the law. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor explained the GOP’s thinking on the chamber floor Wednesday, arguing that Obamacare’s 30-hour rule had encouraged businesses to cut their workers’ hours and that raising the threshold would restore hours and therefore wages. The Congressional Budget Office projected, however, that the proposal would lead to 500,000 more uninsured Americans and raise the federal deficit by nearly $74 billion over the next 10 years.
Earlier this week, two thirds of the peninsula were left without electricity. Who is to blame is still unclear, but the supply of electricity from the mainland has been substantially reduced. Officials warn that soon the separatists will receive significantly higher electricity bills. The promises to pensioners also turned out to be a myth. Their pensions were never doubled, but simply converted into rubles, reports TSN. Pricing chaos. Empty banks and ATMs. Lines for several days at a time. These are the first results of “improvement,” Crimean-style. All the joys of civilization, which were obvious before, do not work. The lights can be turned off at any time. In one’s passport, an address that doesn’t exist. Salary cards are a bare piece of plastic. Lines for pay, are just like in old Soviet films. For Crimeans, these old films have become a reality.
Olga Kunina does not hesitate to call Yevpatoria her home town, even though she had been living in the Ukrainian capital [Kyiv] for ten years now. She also insists that she will speak Ukrainian on camera. “I want to keep my Ukrainian passport, I want to be proud of being a Ukrainian, I don’t want to be forced to become a Russian because of the situation they are trying to put me in,” she says. Olga’s compatriots – ethnic Russians – dreamed of getting rich immediately after the so-called referendum. They wanted to sell out their citizenship for increased pensions. But the only increase has been in their disappointment. “We got exactly the same [pensions – Ed.], only in Russian rubles,” – explain the retirees. And in coins Russia is withdrawing from circulation. The rubles started causing chaos on the markets and in prices.
After months of pummeling by Republicans and with a grim election season approaching, Democrats on Tuesday had a rare bright day. President Obama’s announcement that the new health care plan had enrolled 7.1 million Americans coincided with the release by Representative Paul D. Ryan of a new Republican budget that proposes changes in Medicare and deep cuts in spending. It’s far too early to say a political turnaround is at hand, but for the first time this election year, Democrats are evincing some confidence that they have at least stanched the bleeding. “It’s changing. If you’ve been around awhile, and I’ve been around awhile, you can sense it,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “You’re not going to turn away seven or 10 million people from insurance coverage — doesn’t work anymore. And then comes Ryan. Thank you, thank you Congressman Paul Ryan, for reminding us what Republicans would do if they had control.”
On the plus side, the president’s announcement that 7.1 million Americans had signed up for private health policies through the law’s exchange is likely to prove understated. Once totals are tabulated to include new Medicaid enrollees, people who signed up for new federally protected policies through private insurance brokers, and young adults who have stayed on their parents’ policies because of the law, the figure is likely to be at least double that. Moreover, the Ryan budget, which was approved by the House Budget Committee on Wednesday night along party lines, will present the Democrats a chance to expand the political conversation. It cuts Medicaid by $1.5 trillion over 10 years, food stamps by $125 billion, education programs by $145 billion — including Pell grants — and makes university students begin paying interest on student loans while still in college.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page owns the deluded self-pitying billionaire screed genre, and today, it brings us Charles Koch. From the outside, Koch would appear to have it pretty good. He owns a vast fortune inherited in substantial part from his father. He commands enormous political influence, with hundreds of politicians and other political elites at his beck and call. But Koch’s view of himself is as a kind of ragtag freedom fighter hunted nearly to extinction. Here is Koch attempting to explain the major source of his grievance: Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.)
This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers. So the trouble is that his critics attempt to “discredit” and “intimidate” him and employ “character assassination.” All these terms appear to be Koch synonyms for “saying things about Charles Koch that Charles Koch does not agree with.” In the kind of “free and open” debate he imagines, Koch would continue to use his fortune to wield massive political influence, and nobody would ever say anything about him that makes him unhappy.
NYT: To Ponder: More Food Is Sourced At Home By Gardeners
The number of American households in which residents are growing their own food — either in home or community gardens — has increased 17 percent over the last five years, to 43 million, or one in three households according to a report to be released Wednesday from the National Gardening Association. While gardening was not so long ago associated with retirees in silly pants, the trend is now driven by Americans from ages 18 to 34 who are tending gardens of all sizes.
The association, which has published annual statistics on food gardening in America since 1978, cited a home gardening campaign by Michelle Obama as one of the factors in the rise. “Six years ago, we planted the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn to inspire a national conversation about food and nutrition,” Mrs. Obama said by email, “and as healthy habits are becoming the new norm in America, I hope that interest in gardening and healthy eating continues to grow.”
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama join staff aboard Air Force One during their flight April 3, 2009, from Stansted Airport in Essex, England, en route to Strasbourg, France (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton aboard Air Force One during flight from Stansted Airport in Essex, England to France, April 3, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama walks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy from the Palais Rohan (Palace Rohan) April 3, 2009, following their meeting in Strasbourg, France (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama, joined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, receives an enthusiastic welcome April 3, 2009, to Palais Rohan (Palace Rohan) in Strasbourg, France (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama meets with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of French President Sarkozy at the Palais Rohan (Rohan Palace) April 3, 2009, in Strasbourg, France (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama reviews his speech to the Turkish parliament with speechwriter Ben Rhodes while eating lunch April 3, 2009, in Strasbourg, France (Photo/Pete Souza)