Pete Souza: The President hands his handkerchief to Nechamia “Chemi” Peres who had become emotional while listening to one of the speakers at a memorial service for his father, former Israel President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem
On This Day: President Barack Obama looks out a cell window as he and First Lady Michelle Obama tour the Maison des Esclaves Museum on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)
10:50 CT: The President delivers remarks on the economy, Lake Harriet Band Shell, Minneapolis
12:20 CT: Departs Minneapolis
3:45 ET: Arrives White House
5:0 ET: Meets with Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D Gibson and Rob Nabors
8:45 ET: Attends the Marine Barracks Evening Parade
“Cynicism’s popular these days, but hope’s better.”
Jonathan Cohn: Health Care Spending Down – One More Promising Sign About Obamacare
People tell me I worry too much. Maybe they are right. Back in April, I wrote a big article warning that we might be on the verge of another surge in health care spending. To critics of the Affordable Care Act, this apparent turn to health expenditure normalcy proved that the law had done little to control costs—and that it would eventually lead to much more spending. But the worrisome reports came with a huge asterisk. They were based on preliminary estimates and a whole lot of guesswork. As economists like David Cutler and Peter Orszag pointed out, other data points were more encouraging. Among other things, the cost of the federal government’s Medicare program was still rising very slowly. That suggested the health care industry really was reinventing itself and becoming more efficient—thanks, at least in part, to incentives that Obamacare had introduced.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis issued new estimates for how the economy and its component parts performed in the first quarter of 2014. The headlines were all about the economy shrinking. But that was expected, as QED’s Danny Vinik pointed out, given some one-time factors. The real surprise was health care. The supposed surge in health care spending was nowhere to be found. On the contrary, relative to the previous quarter, health care spending actually fell by 1.4 percent. it sure doesn’t look like Obamacare is bankrupting the country, as the critics always said it would. Better still, the law really may be nudging health care in the direction of more efficiency.
Benjamin Bell: Obama Calls Boehner Lawsuit Threat A ‘Stunt’ (Videos At Link)
Despite Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s threat this week to sue President Obama over his use of executive orders, the president refused to apologize for his actions during an exclusive interview with ABC News and took the Republican Party to task for what he described as its attempt to interfere with the basic functions of government. “You notice that he didn’t specifically say what exactly he was objecting to,” the president said when asked about the suit by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos during an interview Thursday in Minnesota.
“I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something while they’re doing nothing,” the president added later. What I’ve told Speaker Boehner directly is, ‘If you’re really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, why don’t you try getting something done through Congress?’” the president said. “You’re going to squawk if I try to fix some parts of it administratively that are within my authority while you’re not doing anything?” Obama said, directing his comments toward Republicans.
Chemi Shalev: America’s Bye-Bye Bash For President Peres Was Both Bittersweet And Over-The-Top
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer hosted a gala dinner for President Shimon Peres at the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday, attended by a formidable representation of Washington’s high and mighty. He gave a witty and humorous speech in which he included his personal impressions of the meetings held earlier that day at the White House: “You could not imagine a better relationship than the one between Peres and President [Barack] Obama,” he said. And Dermer should know. He has the right perspective. He is far more familiar than most people with the far frostier relationship between Obama and Dermer’s own superior, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And “far frostier” is probably an understatement. For Obama, Peres might be the last vestige of the kind of Israel that the American left fell in love with until the Six-Day-War, the polar opposite of Netanyahu’s present-day Israel, adored most fervently by Obama’s enemies in the conservative right-wing.
In Obama’s eyes, Peres seeks peace and pursues it, while Netanyahu pays lips service and then runs for his coalition’s life. Why couldn’t things have been the other way round, with Peres as prime minister and Bibi as President, Obama may have wondered, and Peres would probably join him. Peres’ has also been Obama’s chief defender against the waves of criticism and sometimes hostility directed at the U.S. President in Israel. “I learned from Ben Gurion that one must judge people based on their record, not their image,” Peres told Haaretz. “I think Obama is being judged unjustly, based on an image that he did not create – but was created for him. I think people ignore his record. Tell me one thing in which he hasn’t been consistent in his attitude towards Israel and the Jewish people. He’s just added a billion dollars to the military aid for our anti-missile defense. What do people want from him?”
Mike Lillis: Democrats: No Bluff, Obama Will Go It Alone On Immigration
The Obama administration is “not bluffing” in its intent to take executive action on immigration policy if House Republicans don’t act soon, top Democratic leaders warned Thursday. President Obama has delayed any potential changes to his deportation policy to allow House GOP leaders time to bring legislation to the floor this summer. But if the Republicans don’t act in July, the Democrats say, unilateral changes by Obama are inevitable. “We’re at the end of the line,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “We’re not bluffing by setting a legislative deadline for them to act.
“Their first job is to govern,” Menendez added, “and in the absence of governing, then you see executive actions.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) piled on. Noting that a year has passed since the Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill with broad bipartisan support, he urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring a similar bill to the floor. “I don’t know how much more time he thinks he needs, but I hope that Speaker Boehner will speak up today,” Durbin said. “And if he does not, the president will borrow the power that is needed to solve the problems of immigration.”
BBC: EU signs pacts with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed partnership agreements with the European Union, in a move strongly opposed by Russia. The pact – which would bind the three countries more closely to the West both economically and politically – is at the heart of the crisis in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin said making Ukraine choose between Russia and the EU would split it in two. A ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine is due to end on Friday. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in Brussels to sign the pact, said he would take a decision on an extension to the truce when he arrived back in Kiev later on Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would welcome an extension, but not if it were simply an ultimatum for separatists to lay down their arms. Meanwhile the United Nations refugee agency said there had been a sharp rise in the numbers of displaced people in eastern Ukraine in the past week, with 16,400 people fleeing the area. The total number internally displaced has reached 54,400, while a further 110,000 people left Ukraine for Russia this year.
Ariane de Vogue: One Year After Top Court’s Ruling Gay Marriage Is Legal In 19 States
It’s the one year anniversary of a major Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. A lot can happen in a year. In United States v. Windsor, the justices didn’t squarely address the issue of a state ban on gay marriage. Windsor, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, invalidated part of a federal law that denied benefits to same sex couples legally married in their states. But since June 26, 2013 , federal judges have adopted Kennedy’s equal protection language to strike down bans across the country. The latest ruling came Wednesday when the 10th Circuit Court ruled that Utah’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.
Look at the statistics: A year ago same sex couples could marry in 10 states and DC. Today, that number has ballooned to 19 states and DC. Almost 44 percent of the country lives in states where same sex marriage is legal, according to Human Rights Campaign. The Supreme Court ruling fueled a social movement of such rapid pace that even veterans of social movements were taken by surprise: Here’s what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who as a young lawyer fought the battle against gender discrimination, said recently in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: : “I haven’t seen a social change that rapid – ever.”
Health wonks and Dem operatives are quietly mulling the possibility of a new batch of health plan cancellations in October — just before the midterms. Dems believe a round of “cancellation” headlines could greet this development. They think headlines will be out of sync with the actual problem, perhaps dramatically so. But as the gap between last fall’s “horror stories” and subsequent hard data about Obamacare has showed, press coverage of the law tends not to err on the side of proportionality or restraint. According to Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the possibility of more cancellations resides in the fact that an untold number of people may have renewed policies before January 1st,
meaning they did not have to meet Obamacare’s minimum standards. Those people with current plans that don’t comply could get cancellation notices 90 days before the end of this year, i.e., in October. “So much of this debate has been driven by anecdote, which can be misleading,” Levitt says. “When there is no data available to see whether the anecdotes are generalizable, they get reported anyway. This could be another example of a relatively small number of negative anecdotes being used by opponents of the law to discredit it.”
Greg Sargent: The GOP Is Now Officially The Party Of ‘Get The Hell Out’
Exactly one year after the Senate passed an immigration reform bill that built a compromise on an exchange of increased enforcement for legalization for the 11 million, Republicans have now officially abandoned any pretense of a willingness to participate in solving the immigration crisis. Instead, they have committed the party to a course premised on two intertwined notions: There are no apparent circumstances under which they can accept legalization of the 11 million; and as a result, the only broad response to the crisis they can countenance is maximum deportations.
This means it’s now all in Obama’s hands to decide what he can do unilaterally to ease the pace of deportations and address the current unaccompanied migrant crisis. One way to understand what happened here is to trace the evolution of GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chair of the Judiciary Committee. Now fast forward to yesterday. Goodlatte effectively declared immigration reform dead as long as Obama is in office, blaming his decision to defer the deportation of DREAMers for the current crisis of unaccompanied migrants crossing. This tells the entire story. Goodlatte was an early proponent of a form of legalization for the 11 million that could have been the basis for compromise.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, descend the Grand Staircase before delivering remarks at a Hanukkah reception in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Dec. 8, 2011 ( Photo by Pete Souza)
Today (All Times Eastern):
5:15: President Obama delivers remarks at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception, East Room
7:30: The President and First Lady attend the Kennedy Center Honors, Kennedy Center
National Memo: With Unemployment At A 5-Year Low, Will Ted Cruz Finally Stop Using This Lie?
“The single biggest job killer is Obamacare,” Senator Ted Cruz told ALEC on Thursday …. The crowd leapt to its feet.
Cruz was speaking just hours after a new unemployment claims report showed layoffs falling below 300,000 in the last week, only the second time since May of 2007. The next morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell to a five-year low …
For 45 straight months the private sector has been growing, creating 8 million jobs. Essentially, when it comes to the employment market, things have not been this good since before the Great Recession. With more than two million jobs already created, 2013 will be the best year for payroll gains since 2005.
…. The Republican base loves to be lied to about Obamacare — as Ted Cruz has discovered and perfected. So don’t expect him to ever stop doing it.
Michael Hiltzik: Fiscal Idiocy: What States Refusing Medicaid Will Cost Their Citizens
Sherry Glied and Stephanie Ma of the Commonwealth Fund have done the math to show how this calculation is affected by the refusal of 25 states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. (Thanks to Brad DeLong at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth for the tip.) The bottom line is that as a pure fiscal and budgetary matter, refusing the Medicaid expansion is insane. The cost is $57 billion a year. The Act provides for federal funding to expand the state-federal healthcare program to residents earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level. The federal share will be 100% of the expansion cost through 2016, and stay at 90% or above through 2020.
The Supreme Court made the Medicaid expansion optional, and 25 states have turned down the deal. This is entirely the handiwork of Republican governors or legislatures determined to take a dramatic stand against Obamacare. Of the 25 refusenik states, six have governors who support the expansion over the legislature’s objection; four are Democrats, including the governor-elect of Virginia, and two are Republicans. It’s already been established that the failure to expand Medicaid will deprive 5 million residents in those states of the improved access to health coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act.
LA Times: U.S. Unemployment Rate Drops To 7%, Lowest Since 2008
A surprisingly robust gain in new jobs last month helped drop the unemployment rate to a five-year low, fueling optimism about the nation’s economic recovery and raising the prospect that the government may finally start to ease a key stimulus effort this month. In its report Friday, the Labor Department said that the nation’s employers added 203,000 non-farm jobs in November and that a large part of them were higher-paying positions. The unemployment rate fell to 7%, the lowest since November 2008.
“It’s not just the quantity of the jobs but the quality,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. “These are higher-wage jobs, and a shift from a reliance on leisure and hospitality and retail gains we had seen in recent months.” The economy has averaged more than 200,000 net new jobs a month for the last four months. That’s the sustained level that central bank officials have said they wanted to see before starting to reduce the monthly bond purchases, part of their effort to spur the recovery from the Great Recession.
In 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech at the University of Cape Town. He began by stating that he was there to talk about a country settled by the Dutch, which fought a bloody war of independence, and had then become an international pariah for its treatment of black people. He allowed a tense moment to pass and then added, “I’m here tonight to talk about the United States of America.”
To an extent greater than most Americans recognize, but which Nelson Mandela understood implicitly, the United States and South Africa are products of kindred histories: both founded by settlers, both emerged from wars to overthrow British colonialism, both forged national identities on their respective frontiers. Before the election of Barack Obama allowed this country, albeit briefly, to indulge the idea of postracialism, Mandela was revered here as a proxy for the American past. His capacity to emerge from twenty-seven years in prison without bitterness broadcast the hope that this country’s own racial trespasses might be forgiven.
Amidst the weeping and gnashing of teeth from the Prime Minister’s office after the interim agreement on Iran reached in Geneva, it is appropriate to pause to ask how President Obama’s interim agreement actually measures up on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s chosen yardstick. Who can forget Netanyahu’s UN presentation last year where he made his best case to the world about the threat Iran’s nuclear program poses to international security. To vivify this danger, Bibi unveiled a graphic sketch of a bomb on which he demonstrably drew a red line.
Especially in Israel, the Prime Minister’s speech drew withering fire. Many criticized his drawing a red line in this way as a fool’s errand. Obama’s black line bests Bibi’s red line. It pushes Iran back from the line Netanyahu drew, where Iran stood on the threshold of completion of stage 2, 90% of the way to the UEU core of a bomb, to Netanyahu’s stage 1. As a result, on the path the Prime Minister identified as Iran’s fastest track to a nuclear bomb, the Geneva agreement has extended the dash time – the period between any decision by Iran to rush to a bomb and the goal line. Thus, when judged by this bottom line, Obama’s interim agreement leaves Israel and the world safer than we would otherwise be.
Jerusalem Post: Peres Says He’s Willing To Meet Rouhani: “Iran Is Not Our Enemy”
President Shimon Peres on Sunday said that he would have no problem meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “Why not?” he said in an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest at the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv. Israel and Iran are not enemies, he said. Peres also said he believed relations with the United States had not been harmed over the Iran issue, and that US President Barack Obama remained a solid friend to Israel. He stressed the importance of using the next six months to sign a final deal that would ensure Iran would not obtain a nuclear weapon. Asked his stance on gay marriage in Israel, Peres responded that everybody was born equal and had a right to love who they wanted to love.
NYT: Thousands Demand Resignation Of Ukraine Leader
Enraged by a violent crackdown by security forces, Ukrainians took to the streets with new, revolutionary urgency on Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Viktor F. Yanukovich and a realignment of the country away from Russia toward Europe. “I want the authorities to know that this is not a protest; this is a revolution!” Yuri V. Lutsenko, a former interior minister and an organizer of the Orange Revolution nine years ago, told a vast crowd here in Independence Square that many observers said outstripped even the biggest gatherings in 2004. “Revolution!” the crowd roared back. “Revolution!”
Eleven days of intensifying protests over Mr. Yanukovich’s refusal to sign political and free trade accords with the European Union have now directly shaken the president’s prospects of remaining in power. Cracks have begun to emerge in his political base: His chief of administration was reported to have resigned, and a few members of Parliament quit his party and decried the police violence. Many Ukrainians see the agreements with Europe as crucial steps toward a brighter economic and political future, and as a way to break free from the grip of Russia and from Ukraine’s Soviet past. Now, the outcry over Mr. Yanukovich’s abandonment of the accords is pushing Russia into a corner.
Think Progress: What Americans Can Learn From The Constitution Nelson Mandela Signed
In 2012, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the impolitic suggestion that “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a Constitution in the year 2012,” instead pointing foreign constitution drafters to the constitution the late South African leader Nelson Mandela signed in 1996. Her statement received the predictable response from many conservative voices. One publication called for her to resign. The truth, however, is that the United States could learn a great deal from South Africa’s constitution.
As Ginsburg noted, that constitution was drafted much more recently than America’s 226 year-old founding text. Accordingly, its drafters benefited from more than two centuries of human experience that our founding fathers did not have. Ginsburg in no way impugned the genius of George Washington, James Madison or Alexander Hamilton when she suggested that these men could not possibility have known the things that we know today — and that nations drafting new constitutions should benefit from the full range of human experience.
Scott Keyes: Pope Francis Sneaks Out Of The Vatican At Night To Serve The Homeless
The leader of the Catholic Church has been quietly sneaking out of the Vatican at night to minister to homeless residents, according to a new report. “Swiss guards confirmed that the pope has ventured out at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with homeless men and women,” writes The Huffington Post. The report hinted that Pope Francis had sneaked out of the enclave with Archbishop Konrad Krajewski. As Almoner of His Holiness, Krajewski is the Vatican’s point person on giving charity to the poor and visits the destitute nightly.
This isn’t the first time Pope Francis has earned attention and praise for his predilection to serve the needy. Just months after assuming the papacy, he invited nearly 200 homeless people to join him for dinner at the Vatican. He also deplored the plight of homeless people in the first apostolic exhortation of his papacy last week: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
UPI: Colin Powell: Everyone Should Have Access To Quality Healthcare
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Seattle audience universal healthcare would show the world the United States takes care of “all of our citizens.” Speaking Thursday at a fundraiser sponsored by the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Powell said he doesn’t see why the United States “can’t do what Europe is doing, what Canada is doing, what Korea is doing, what all these other places are doing.” “I am not an expert in healthcare, or Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, or however you choose to describe it,” he said, “but I do know this — I have benefited from that kind of universal healthcare in my 55 years of public life.”