First Lady Michelle Obama talks with a young patient during a visit to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, December 16. The First Lady read the book “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” before greeting the children along with Santa Claus and presidential dogs Sunny and Bo
Today (All Times Eastern):
10:45: President Obama and VP Biden meet with executives from leading technology companies like Google and Apple to discuss ways to improve the functioning of HealthCare.gov
McMillian, 54, is also one of millions of Americans who will benefit from the Affordable Care Actwhen it goes into full effect on Jan. 1. And she cannot wait to get some Obamacare. “Having the opportunity to get affordable health care is so important to me and others, who have long awaited this kind of break,” she said. The Bellflower, California, resident owns and operates Kiddie Depot, a home-based family childcare business. Her son, now 18, was covered by the state-sponsored Healthy Families program. “I couldn’t afford it. I have a pre-existing condition, which forces me to end up dropping my coverage each time I’ve purchased it, so I’ve been paying out of pocket,” As soon as she was able to, McMillian visited Covered California to get information about the state’s insurance exchange.
“I put in my information and my son’s and I was just floored because the amount to cover us both was in the range of $183 per month,” she said. “That is extremely affordable for me.” Seeing how strongly opposed to the law congressional Republicans are, going so far as to shut down the government, makes her mad. “They have excellent health care and could care less about me and aren’t going to pay my bills,” she said. “They’re trying to do everything they can to hurt the president, but they’re not hurting him — they’re hurting people like me.” It also has charged her up even more to help spread the word. “At a community event I said do not let the Obamacare discussion stop inside your houses. Tell somebody. Think of five people you know and tell them about the [law] and then ask them to tell five more people,” she said.
Elias Isquith: Paul Krugman: Inequality Is “The Defining Challenge Of Our Time”
Paul Krugman’s latest column for the New York Times is a defense of prioritizing inequality as the top issue in American politics today. To begin his column, Krugman writes that while inequality is nothing new — it’s been a topic of conversation in pop culture ever since Oliver Stone’s 1987 film, “Wall Street,” he notes — the willingness to address it being shown by some major politicians (including the president) is. In fact, according to Krugman, concern over inequality has become so widespread that it’s produced “a backlash from pundits arguing that inequality isn’t that big a deal.”
But the truth, according to Krugman, is that inequality is a big deal — both economically and politically. Regarding inequality’s economic impact, Krugman writes, “inequality is rising so fast that over the past six years it has been as big a drag on ordinary American incomes as poor economic performance, even though those years include the worst economic slump since the 1930s.” He also argues that inequality’s influence is partially to blame for the weak post-recession economy, because having so much wealth tied up with so few people reduces consumer demand in the economy as a whole.
County Times: Connecticut Readies for Health Care, Application Rate Soars as Deadline Approaches
Dan Beecher and his wife, Louise Coogan Beecher, unemployed since they lost their jobs in the 2008 housing crash, couldn’t find any affordable health insurance. As a couple older than 50, they were offered premiums of $700 per month, which was too much for them to afford. After being uninsured for five years, the couple recently was insured under the Affordable Health Act. They signed up during an enrollment fair for the Affordable Care Act in Cornwall last Saturday and found they were eligible for a government subsidy. Now they qualify for a free health plan.“We can finally see doctors,” Mrs. Beecher said, wiping her tears.
Mike Sweeney, an ethnographic researcher, paid more than $800 a month for his healthcare premium because of his pre-existing condition. He said the coverage was adequate but not great. After enrolling in the Affordable Care Act, starting in January he will pay $400 a month for better coverage. “It hurt every month to write that $800-plus check,” Mr. Sweeney said, “I was nervous about [Obamacare], because I’ve heard many complaints … but I was blown away when I went from such a high premium a month to half that.”
ThinkProgress: Church Leaders Shame Catholic University For Accepting Koch Dollars
A group of 50 Catholic leaders are criticizing the president of the Catholic University of America (CUA) for accepting a $1 million donation from a foundation controlled by Charles Koch, arguing that his ideological agenda is not in line with Catholic theology.
…. Charles, along with his brother David, run Koch Industries and fund a wide array of front-groups and lobbying efforts to expand their anti-tax, anti-regulatory agenda.
“The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship,” the group of priests, social justice advocates, theologians and other academics write. They point to Pope Francis’ strong condemnation of trickle-down economics and the importance of business serving the common good…
NYT: Pope Replaces Conservative U.S. Cardinal On Influential Vatican Committee
Pope Francis moved on Monday against a conservative American cardinal who has been an outspoken critic of abortion and same-sex marriage, by replacing him on a powerful Vatican committee with another American who is less identified with the culture wars within the Roman Catholic Church. The pope’s decision to remove Cardinal Raymond L. Burke from the Congregation for Bishops was taken by church experts to be a signal that Francis is willing to disrupt the Vatican establishment in order to be more inclusive.
Victor Kaslye. 19, is talking about the need get to health insurance. This comes as a big blow to most people when they turn 18, and cut off from mom and dads. “I know a lot of young people are thinking about it and talking about it,” said Victor. “Even though at that age we think were indestructible we don’t have health probs if something comes along that is serious you want health coverage,” said Roger.
Nearly 120,000 people enrolled in Covered California in November, way up from the nearly 31,000 in October. California is ahead of the game compared to other states. Victor’s just glad he can now get a checkup. “If this wasn’t available. I probably wouldn’t be doing anything about health insurance,” said Victor.
When Dianna Burke lost her job, she and her husband Brian also lost their health insurance. Although Dianna found new work, it didn’t come with benefits. Since losing their insurance plan, the couple has only been able to obtain coverage through COBRA for the hefty price of more than $1,000 per month — and even that insurance expires at the end of this year. Brian and Dianna were thrilled when they found out how much they would save when they shopped for a plan through their state Marketplace, Covered California. After looking at their options, they chose a health insurance plan that would cost just $127 per month.
Reuters: Obamacare Enrollment In California Surges
California’s Obamacare insurance marketplace experienced a surge in enrollment last week, officials said on Thursday, offering welcome news for President Barack Obama’s sweeping healthcare law from a state crucial to its success. Some 144,146 applications were completed and 49,708 people selected commercial plans in the first week of December, compared to 403,323 completed applications and 109,296 enrollments in the previous two months since the Covered California marketplace opened, officials said.
At that rate, California would meet its 2013 enrollment target. “This is a good day for Californians,” Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, told reporters. “We are seeing real momentum.” California is arguably the most crucial state for Obamacare. It has more uninsured people than any other state (7.4 million in 2011), and the law’s supporters are counting on Californians to make up a good fraction of the 7 million people the White House hopes to enroll in health insurance through the law during this first open enrollment period, which runs through March 31.
In the past few weeks, massive protests have transformed Kiev’s central square, the Maidan, into a military fortress guarded by disciplined volunteers-turned-soldiers. People from all over Ukraine came to the square for political reasons, yes, but they also came to support one other and bask in the protest’s strong feeling of community. Every day, thousands of people camped out in tents, braving the bitter cold, or joined the protests after work to chant: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to its heroes!” For every Ukrainian, these words held deep meaning. In defending the square, people defended their rights, their dreams for the future. A new Ukraine of pure values was born on the Maidan.
As the weeks passed by, the Maidan took on a life of its own, as the activists added more and more issues to the Euromaidan agenda. The protesters — who were mostly from Kiev or the western and central parts of Ukraine — complained about economic issues, unemployment, injustice, and corruption. In the headquarters of the Maidan’s military section, Lieutenant Alexander Baranovsky criticized the “shameful pennies” officers received for their military service: just $400 a month. And an engineer from Lviv region, Alexander Grishko, complained about the massive unemployment in western Ukraine. “These people on the square are my family,” he said. “As long as we are here, we feel there is hope for a better future for our country.”
Adrian Karatnycky: Ukraine’s Massed Protesters Have Pushed Their Country To A Tipping Point
For twenty-six days Ukrainians have stood in protest demanding that their president, Viktor Yanukovych, reject the blandishments of autocratic Russia. Instead, they insist that he sign a free trade agreement with – and embrace the democratic standards of – the European Union. The crowds in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) have ebbed and surged from thousands to as many as half a million, defying bracing winter temperatures to stand up for their country’s European future.
With a population of 45 million on the border of the European Union, Ukraine’s sovereignty and its ability to withstand Moscow’s pressures to amalgamate into its military-political space is crucial to ensuring that an authoritarian Russia never reemerges as a world power. The stakes in Kyiv are therefore crucial to securing the future of a peaceful democratic Europe.
Jackie Calmes: An Indispensable Player On Obama’s Team Takes His Leave, At Last
Pete Rouse, President Obama’s “indispensable man” with a low profile and big footprint, is the quirky insider who built the Obama organization, hired nearly everyone from the White House chief of staff on down, plotted strategy and regularly said he was about to leave. Mr. Rouse, 67, swears he finally is leaving at year’s end, nine years after agreeing only to help Mr. Obama, the newly elected senator from Illinois, set up his office. For once, people are starting to believe him — including his boss. “It will be a tough loss,” Mr. Obama said in a brief interview on Wednesday, acknowledging Mr. Rouse’s departure plans. Then he added, “But it may be a situation where he feels more comfortable with some discreet assignments here and there, and certainly I will continue to rely on him for the good counsel and advice that I really can’t get from any other people in this town.”
He has been as crucial to Mr. Obama as any presidential adviser in history. “I trust him completely,” Mr. Obama said in the interview. “He is a model of discretion and he has no ego, and he’s as wise as they come. So I think it’s fair to say that for the remainder of my term in office he will continue to be somebody who I talk to a lot and rely on heavily.” This year, Mr. Rouse internally announced his exit every season, but then always found reasons to stay — to vet second-term personnel, smooth summertime conflicts with senators over Syria policy and a new Federal Reserve chairman, and help with strategy during the fall budget showdowns with Republicans. “I can’t just walk out of here now,” he told a reporter in late summer, explaining another postponement.
Soon after Mr. Obama’s re-election, Mr. Rouse said, he told the president that he would help with second-term staffing issues and then depart. “Four months?” Mr. Obama asked him. Sure, Mr. Rouse replied, he would stay four months. Weeks later, Mr. Obama told advisers in a January meeting that Mr. Rouse had committed to stay the year. As surprised colleagues looked at Mr. Rouse, he objected, “Excuse me, but I thought we said four months.” “Whatever,” Mr. Obama replied.
President Obama meets with, from left, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Special Assistant to the President Gary Samore, Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., regarding arms control and non-proliferation, in the Situation Room of the White House, Dec. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama signs the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House, Dec. 17, 2010 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a “Toys for Tots” service project at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., Dec. 17, 2010 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)
USA Today: Obama applauds congressional budget deal
Don’t be surprised if President Obama addresses the proposed congressional budget deal on Wednesday, and to say good things about it.
In a written statement late Tuesday, Obama called the deal “a good first step” toward a “balanced” budget approach that combines prudent cuts with investments in job-generating programs.
“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like — and I know many Republicans feel the same way,” Obama said. “That’s the nature of compromise. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”
That Congress’ budget chairs – Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray – were able to reach a budget agreement at all is a minor miracle. There was ample reason to believe the negotiations were a fool’s errand and that failure was an inevitability. The assumptions, however, were wrong, and the two leaders last night unveiled their deal to fund the government for the next two years.
Broadly speaking, there are two overarching questions to consider: is the budget agreement any good and can it pass Congress. Neither is easy to answer.
BBC: ‘Volcker rule’ ban on risky trades passed by regulators
All five US financial regulators have approved the Volcker rule, designed to restrict the finance industry in the wake of the 2008-09 financial collapse.
Named after former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, it bans banks from using their own funds for trading activities.
It is considered the centrepiece of the 2010 banking reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank. Banks will have until 21 July 2015 to comply with the rules.
…. US President Barack Obama applauded the passage of a rule proposed more than three years ago.
He said in a statement: “The Volcker Rule will make it illegal for firms to use government-insured money to make speculative bets that threaten the entire financial system, and demand a new era of accountability from CEOs who must sign off on their firm’s practices.”
Kentucky.com: Health enrollment climbs during holiday period
Enrollment through Kentucky’s health benefits website has grown by more than 11,000 in a 10-day period starting Thanksgiving week.
Gov. Steve Beshear’s office says the technology team for the state’s online health insurance marketplace was expecting an increase in traffic, applications and enrollments after Thanksgiving and increased capacity to prepare.
A news release from Beshear’s office says the site enrolls about 1,000 Kentuckians a day.