Steve Benen: After three consecutive weeks of discouraging news, today’s report from the Department of Labor on initial unemployment claims pointed to a sharp improvement in the data.
Indeed, the new numbers not only reverse the discouraging trend, they’re back to the level we saw in mid-March, which is near a four-year low.
…. It’s worth emphasizing that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report. Still, it’s generally heartening when the numbers are at least pointing in the right direction.
E.J. Dionne: We expect some hypocrisy in politics, but it was still jaw-dropping to behold Republicans accusing President Obama of politicizing the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Wasn’t it just eight years ago that the GOP organized an entire presidential campaign — including the choreography of its 2004 national convention — around the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and George W. Bush’s response to them?
Obama’s opponents don’t just think we have short attention spans. They imagine we have no memories whatsoever…
…. On foreign policy, Obama has kept his 2008 promise to turn history’s page. The nation is in no mood to turn it back.
MSNBC: GM posted a profit of $1 billion in the first quarter, beating Wall Street expectations on strong demand in its key North American market.
GM also said the U.S. economy was improving and it expected its core North American results in the second and third quarters to largely match the first quarter due to scheduled downtime at its large truck plants.
President Barack Obama talks with Anand Srinivasan, 15, in the Blue Room, Feb. 7, 2012, during the second annual White House Science Fair celebrating student winners of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. Srinivasan, a sophomore from Roswell High School in Roswell, Ga., was a finalist in the Google Science Fair for his project, which examines the use of electroencephalography (EEG) and prosthetic technology to make a more functional artificial limb. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Bloomberg: The U.S. is the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self-sufficiency, a goal the nation has been pursuing since the 1973 Arab oil embargo triggered a recession and led to lines at gasoline stations.
Domestic oil output is the highest in eight years. The U.S. is producing so much natural gas that, where the government warned four years ago of a critical need to boost imports, it now may approve an export terminal. Methanex Corp., the world’s biggest methanol maker, said it will dismantle a factory in Chile and reassemble it in Louisiana to take advantage of low natural gas prices….
The result: The U.S. has reversed a two-decade-long decline in energy independence, increasing the proportion of demand met from domestic sources over the last six years to an estimated 81 percent through the first 10 months of 2011 … That would be the highest level since 1992.
…. The transformation, which could see the country become the world’s top energy producer by 2020, has implications for the economy and national security – boosting household incomes, jobs and government revenue; cutting the trade deficit; enhancing manufacturers’ competitiveness; and allowing greater flexibility in dealing with unrest in the Middle East.
… The last time the U.S. achieved energy independence was in 1952…. The shift to increased energy independence is also the result of government policies to depress oil demand …. Automakers have agreed to raise the fuel economy of the vehicles they sell in the U.S. to a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 under an agreement last year with the Obama administration.
ThinkProgress: While Catholic leaders and Republicans have distorted the Obama administration’s rule requiring employers to provide contraception at no additional cost, a majority of Americans, including a majority of Catholics, support such a requirement, according to a new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. The requirement garners support from 55 percent of Americans and 58 percent of Catholics, though the number is slightly lower (52 percent) for Catholic voters. As Igor Volsky reported today, many Catholic hospitals and universities already cover contraception in their health plans.
ThinkProgress: … Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception and since 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees “have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control”.
New Yorker: ….. Romney is relying on a media offensive managed by operatives who have long been at the heart of Washington’s Republican attack machine. One of the leaders of this advertising war is Larry McCarthy, a veteran media consultant best known for creating the racially charged “Willie Horton ad,” which, in 1988, helped sink Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President.
First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a tug of war with Jimmy Fallon in the Blue Room of the White House during a “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” taping for the second anniversary of the “Let’s Move!” initiative, Jan. 25. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
** NBC tonight at 12:35 am ET **
AP: The number of available jobs in the United States jumped in December to near a three-year high, supporting other data that show a brighter outlook for hiring.
Companies and governments posted 3.38 million jobs in December, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That’s up from the 3.12 million advertised in the previous month and nearly matches the three-year high reached in September. Job openings in the private sector reached the highest point in almost three and a half years.
…. The report on job openings follows Friday’s optimistic employment figures. Those showed employers added 243,000 net jobs in January, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent.
….. It generally takes one to three months for employers to fill job openings. December’s big jump in postings is likely one reason January’s jobs report was healthy. But it also suggests job growth may continue in the coming months.
Steve Benen: For months, Republican presidential candidates have been eager, if not desperate, to accuse President Obama of waging a “war on religion”….
…. Mitt Romney seems to have settled on a policy to match the attack: the Obama administration’s decision to require coverage of contraception as preventive care under the Affordable Care Act is, according to the former governor, an “attack on religious liberty”.
…. As a substantive matter, Romney’s lying. The administration’s policy already exempts churches and other houses of worship and “doesn’t require any individual or employer to violate a religious belief – it simply ensures that their employees with different beliefs have the same access to birth control as all other women.”
…. he’s not only lying; he’s also denouncing Obama for adopting a policy similar to one Romney used to support …. as governor, a previous iteration of Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
USA Today: Pundits and bishops warn President Obama he could lose the white Catholic vote over requiring a contraception option for insurance plans. But Catholic women say they want birth control covered in employee health plans.
…. The Catholic bishops, backed by conservative evangelicals, say the Obama administration shouldn’t include contraception coverage as part of free preventive care options in employers’ health insurance plans …. here’s where the Catholic women come in. According to the Public Religion Research Institute poll released today:
….58% of all Catholics agree employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception. That slides down to 52% for Catholic voters, 50% for white Catholics.
… the numbers might bring pause to pundits mulling the “Catholic vote”.
Steve Benen: For months, Republican super PACs have been raising vast sums from wealthy donors …. the political world, however, hasn’t heard much from Democratic super PACs, which have raised far less money.
That will apparently soon change … Jim Messina argued overnight that the Obama campaign just doesn’t have a choice.
He added that Republican super PACS, in aggregate, are “expected to spend half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the President.” That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s a reasonable estimate. The Koch brothers alone are prepared to spend $100 million later this year to defeat Obama.
…. Democrats had a choice: stick to principle, refuse to play by the new rules, and make defeat far more likely, or level the playing field …. The only surprise here is that anyone would be surprised by the decision.
NYT: The delicate Karl Rove said he was “frankly, offended” …. (by)…. the Chrysler ad that Clint Eastwood narrated, which many people who don’t share Mr. Rove’s political worldview thought was rather uplifting.
…. he suggested the words were dictated by “the President of the United States and his political minions,” who bailed out Detroit with taxpayer dollars. It’s just another example of “Chicago-style politics,” he said, whatever that means.
The White House said it had nothing to do with the ad, but it had a great deal to do with Detroit’s resurgence, and that’s what’s really offensive to Mr. Rove and other Republicans. They’d prefer to drown out the good news coming from the carmakers, such as these recent headlines…