11:0 ET: Michelle Obama receives the official White House Christmas Tree at the North Portico. This year’s tree is a 19-foot Fraser Fir from Jefferson, North Carolina. It will be displayed throughout the holiday season in the Blue Room.
2009 – White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
2010 – White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy
The National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, 2009
TPM: The snap reactions to today’s Supreme Court arguments about the constitutionality of the health care law’s individual mandate gave reform supporters a collective case of heartburn. The conservative justices seemed broadly hostile to the law’s requirement that everyone carry health insurance. President Obama’s Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, was widely panned by experienced court watchers for stumbling at key moments. Jeffery Toobin — a seasoned vet of the high court — called it a “train wreck” for the Obama administration.
Here’s some antacid.
Over the first two days of arguments, two of the Court’s five conservative justices have expressed sympathy for key parts of the administration’s arguments. And the administration probably only needs one of their votes to fully uphold the law.
TPM: In a little-noticed exchange Monday, conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts may have tipped his hand that he’s entertaining the possibility that the health care law’s individual mandate can be upheld on a constitutional basis that’s different from the one supporters and opponents have made central to their arguments.
…. In an exchange with a plaintiffs attorney, Roberts suggested he’s skeptical that the mandate and its penalties can be treated separately and may have opened the door to finding that Congress’ power to impose the mandate springs from its broad taxing power.
…. That wasn’t what the challengers wanted to hear.
Michael Tomasky: Conservatives love to say Obama has robbed us of our liberty. But can they name a single freedom that the administration has curtailed?
Behind the challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) being heard at the Supreme Court this week is the idea that Barack Obama wants to take away your freedoms ….. I defy anyone to name for me a specific and precise freedom that Obama has taken away from the American people. You can’t. When they’re not just invented out of whole cloth by multi-millionaire propagandists, all such laments are based on ignorance about what freedom actually means and an equal ignorance about how our system of government works.
…. if you’re healthy and 35 and you don’t buy insurance and you get hit by a bus and you need $10,000 in medical care and you can’t and don’t pay for it, that harms me, because I’m an insured taxpayer and I’m helping to pick up your tab. That is freedom: not just the right to be left alone, but also the obligation to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s own actions on the freedom of other members of society. By that definition, the ACA is enhancing freedom, and personal responsibility – which is why conservatives were for the mandate in the first place.
ThinkProgress: Mitt Romney is trying to make hay about a comment President Obama made to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this week that he needs some “space” on the missile defense issue until after the election this year. Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe,” Romney said, calling Obama’s comment “very, very troubling.”
Politico reports that Medvedev shot back at Romney today at a press conference in Seoul, South Korea:
“I always get very cautious when I see a country resort to phrasings such as ‘No. 1 enemy.’ It is very reminiscent of Hollywood in a certain period of history…. My other advice is to check their clocks from time to time. It is 2012, not the mid-1970s. No matter what party a candidate represents, he has to take the current state of affairs into account.”
Charles Pierce: They’re circling the wagons down in Sanford these days. The defenders of George Zimmerman, the trigger-happy wannabe who clipped Trayvon Martin for the crime of being a black kid in a hoodie with snack foods in the wrong neighborhood, is now being cocooned by his lawyer, by some alleged friends, and by the local police department …. Ask yourself how we suddenly know that the dead kid had been suspended from high school because he got caught with a bag that might once have contained marijuana. Ask yourself why we know that. We know that because this case is Not About Race.
It is Not About Race because It Is Never About Race. Race is the past. Black people can vote. One of them is president. Nothing Is About Race anymore. Just ask Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum – and have I mentioned recently what a colossal dick that guy is? – and they’ll tell you that the president “injected” race into the tragedy. It wasn’t there before the president – who is (shhh!) black, you know – put it there…..
First lady Michelle Obama and Yoriko Fujisaki, wife of the Ambassador of Japan to the United States, commemorate the centennial anniversary of the 1912 gift of cherry blossom trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. by planting a cherry blossom tree near the Tidal Basin in Washington, March 27
Thanks a million to everyone who has donated to Collegekay’s fundraising challenge – if you can help, you can donate here
Washington Post: The White House says a more aggressive effort to nab deceptive government contractors and deceitful Medicare recipients is paying off – to the tune of billions of dollars.
The Obama administration plans to announce Tuesday that the Justice Department recovered more than $5.6 billion in fraud committed against the government in fiscal 2011. Almost $3.4 billion of the funds came in civil fraud recoveries, with more than $2.2 billion tied to criminal fraud, according to administration officials familiar with the announcement who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The announcement is tied to a Cabinet-level meeting to be held Tuesday regarding plans to cut wasteful government spending across federal agencies and departments.
Bloomberg: U.S. economic data are outperforming expectations by the most in nine months, a trend Federal Reserve officials may incorporate into their policy statement tomorrow.
The Citigroup Economic Surprise Index, a daily measure of whether economic data is better or worse than economists’ projections, improved to 85.7 on Dec. 2, the highest since March 9, after the Labor Department reported an unexpected drop in the jobless rate….
“Most of the economists are missing the underlying strength” in the world’s largest economy, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. The Fed will “modestly upgrade the economic outlook but change little else.”
November unemployment at the lowest level in more than two years and manufacturing running at the fastest pace in five months are among data that may dissuade Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and fellow central bankers from pursuing a third-round of large scale asset purchases. At the same time, the Fed may still see “significant downside risks” for the economy as Europe’s financial crisis evolves.
Business Insider: It didn’t get much attention, but this morning the latest NFIB small business optimism survey came in stronger than expected, as more and more corporations see good sales and decent business conditions on the way.
This is important, in part, since small businesses have been rather negative on the economy, even while large companies have reported record earnings.
Chicago Sun Times: President Barack Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, predicted much more scrutiny of GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich, citing the “homespun wisdom” of Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) as he compared Gingrich to a monkey on a pole exposing his butt.
“…. Last week you all left him for dead at the checkout counter at Tiffany’s and now he’s back, a lion in winter,” Axelrod quipped. “That’s L-I-O-N by the way, I don’t want to stir up any trouble here.”
…. “In certain ways [Gingrich] fits the role for this, because as we pointed out earlier in the week he is the original tea partier. You know, he brought that kind of politics to Congress in the early 90s, he led three government shut downs in order to try and roll back environmental protection…roll back the Department of Education and education programs, he wanted to cut Medicare, he wanted to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. He was really a forerunner of what we see today.”
“I told my colleagues yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom that I got from an alderman in Chicago some years ago when one of his …colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he was really dubious. He said:
“Just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt.”
So, you know, the Speaker is very high on the pole right now and we’ll see how people like the view.”
President Obama arrives to speak at a campaign event in Washington, Dec. 13
“If you stay steady, we’re going to win this thing …. This is going to be tough. But, I just want to remind all of you that you didn’t decide to support Barack Hussein Obama because it would be easy.”
Washington Jewish Week: When flames swept through Israel’s Carmel Forest last year, destroying dozens of homes and lives, President Barack Obama didn’t hesitate to help, said Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S….
…. Netanyahu directed his ambassador to, “Quick, go ask President Obama for help.”
That’s when Oren entered the White House and asked to see the president. “I told him the situation and without hesitation, President Obama turned to one of his aides and said, ‘get Israel whatever it needs. Now,’” Oren recalled.
….”America has 11 fire-fighting planes; the next morning, 8 of them took off for Israel, along with a team of fire-fighting commandos.” “Later that night,” Oren continued, “I learned, that the President left the Hanukkah reception and flew secretly to Afghanistan. Upon arriving, he called Washington and the first question he asked, ‘Has Israel gotten its planes?’”…..