President Barack Obama and Pope Francis laugh while exchanging gifts after their meeting at the Vatican
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at Quirinal Palace in Rome
USA Today: Obama’s Gift To Pope Francis: A Seed Chest
President Obama presented Pope Francis with a custom-made seed chest on Thursday, containing fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden. The gift was inspired by the pope’s decision to grant public access to the gardens of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence, according to a White House statement. Obama and Pope Francis met for 52 minutes at Vatican City.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, presented the president with a plaque of some kind, and an encyclical. “I will treasure this,” Obama said. “I actually will probably read this (encyclical) in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.” The seed chest from Obama is made from American leather and wood reclaimed from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals built in the United States.
Jason Millman: Young Adults Signing Up At Higher Rates Off Obamacare Exchanges
A higher rate of young adults and uninsured people are signing up for coverage through a private insurance website as next week’s enrollment deadline approaches, according to information released by the company Tuesday. The enrollment data, issued by eHealthInsurance, provides a snapshot of how some customers are shopping for insurance away from Obamacare exchanges during the law’s first enrollment period. EHealth, a national online insurance broker predating the health care law, operates similar to the Obamacare exchanges, offering customers a selection of health plans from competing insurers.
However, shoppers on eHealth’s website can’t access federal subsidies to help purchase insurance, though the company says it has helped people enroll in subsidy-eligible plans by telephone. Since Jan. 1, about 45 percent of those picking new health plans through eHealth were between 18 and 34 years old, the company says. By comparison, the all-important demographic accounted for 27 percent of signups on Obamacare exchanges the past couple of months. EHealth says its rate of youth enrollment has increased from 39 percent of signups between October and December.The rate of eHealth customers who identified themselves as previously uninsured has also increased since the first three months of the enrollment, the company says. Since January, 51 percent of the website’s shoppers say they were previously uninsured, up from 34 percent between October and December.
America Blog: They Stole Her Photo, Then Claimed She Hated Obamacare. She Doesn’t
Helene isn’t having the best week. The Texas blogger was visiting Las Vegas for a bachelorette party this past weekend, and woke up on Saturday to find that she’d become the latest anti-Obamacare poster child. The thing is, Helene never signed up for the job. In fact, she told me yesterday that she’s quite happy with the Affordable Care Act (ACA),
and with the “affordable” health care it helped her find. “Not only do I not agree with what the image is portraying,” Helene wrote me, “I actually have Affordable Healthcare!” So, if anything, Helene is an Obamacare success story. But that didn’t stop over 17,000 people on Facebook from sharing an image of her face, posted just days ago, with a caption complaining about Obamacare. To add insult to injury, the people who stole her image couldn’t even spell “conspiracy” right.
SmartyPants:President Obama’s Speech In Brussels – One Of The Most Important Of His Presidency
One of the things we know from reading about President Obama’s life story is that while he was practicing law in Chicago, he taught classes on the topic of “power.” I’ve always wished that either he or someone who attended one would outline the content of what he taught. Perhaps the President will do that once his second term is over.
He doesn’t tend to speak directly about the topic, but from listening to him refer to it in other contexts, what I’ve deduced is that he embraces the power of partnership as the alternative to our more traditional concept of the power of domination. Today the President began his speech in Brussels with a history lesson on the power of partnership vs the power of domination.
Noah Smith has the definitive piece on what’s wrong, so far, with the new FiveThirtyEight. For all the big talk about data-driven analysis,what it actually delivers is sloppy and casual opining with a bit of data used, as the old saying goes, the way a drunkard uses a lamppost — for support, not illumination.So what would real data-driven reporting look like (beyond what goes on at the sites Noah mentions, and also at the Times)? Well, here’s an example: Charles Gaba’s ACASignups.net.
Gaba, a website developer, realized that nobody was systematically keeping track of enrollment data for Obamacare, and has turned himself into one-stop shopping on the law’s progress. And he really fills a need: when you read news reports on Obamacare, you can tell right away which reporters have been reading Gaba and know what’s happening and which reporters are relying solely on official announcements — or, worse, dueling political spin.
NYT: Obama Juggles Itinerary In Bid To Ease Tensions Between Two Allies
When President Obama brings together the estranged leaders of Japan and South Korea for a peacemaking session in The Hague on Tuesday evening, it will be the culmination of three months of intense behind-the-scenes American diplomacy. The unusual effort included a phone call from Mr. Obama to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan; a follow-up lunch that the American ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, had with Mr. Abe; a decision to put both Tokyo and Seoul on Mr. Obama’s itinerary when he visits Asia next month; and a plan to resolve this neighborhood quarrel on the ultimate neutral ground: a stately Dutch city accustomed to litigating international disputes.
In this case, Mr. Abe and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea have barely been on speaking terms since coming to power just over a year ago. Their antagonism is complex and deeply personal, rooted in World War II history as well as their own conservative and nationalist political leanings, which make old animosities even harder to overcome. Convinced the two were not going to mend relations on their own, the White House proposed a “trilateral” meeting with Mr. Obama at the nuclear security summit in the Netherlands. The European locale and nonproliferation theme made sense. “It’s a multilateral meeting not in Asia,” said a senior administration official, “and a multilateral meeting about the one thing Japan and South Korea are in agreement on.” Mr. Obama’s participation was critical: In a call on March 6, the president told Mr. Abe he wanted to bring his two allies together. At a lunch that day, Ambassador Kennedy fleshed out the idea.
Sy Mukherjee: Anti-Obamacare Governor Now Encouraging Residents To Enroll Under Health Law
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), an ardent Affordable Care Act critic, is now encouraging residents to transition into new health plans under the very reform law that he once refused to help implement. Walker told the Washington Examiner’s Philip A. Klein that he has instructed state agencies to work with individuals who are transitioning into plans offered on Wisconsin’s Obamacare marketplace. That includes both the previously uninsured and poor residents just above the poverty level who are being siphoned out of the state’s Medicaid program, BadgerCare,
and into private ACA plans under Walker’s conservative alternative to Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion. Just two years ago, Walker was singing a very different tune. He had refused to create a statewide ACA marketplace — thereby also forgoing significant federal funding for Obamacare outreach efforts — and said he wouldn’t lift a finger to help implement the law until the Supreme Court decided the law’s fate. In fact, Wisconsin’s spending on ACA outreach is the lowest in the nation at just 46 cents per capita.
Bloomberg: WTO Panel Sides With U.S. In Dispute Over China Minerals
The World Trade Organization backed the U.S. in a dispute with China, agreeing that limits on exports of rare-earth elements used in hybrid-car batteries and wind turbines violate trade rules. A Chinese industry group said it regrets the ruling against China. A dispute-settlement panel at the Geneva-based trade arbiter yesterday determined that China, the world’s largest producer of the minerals, didn’t adequately justify imposing export duties and quotas on the goods, as well as the elements tungsten and molybdenum. China’s export limits “have been putting American manufacturers at a disadvantage and preventing full and fair competition,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters yesterday on a conference call.
The WTO decision follows a 2011 ruling in which the trade arbiter sided with the U.S. in determining that China’s export limits on raw materials for steel and chemical production, such as bauxite, magnesium and zinc, broke trade law. The U.S., the 28-nation EU and Japan in 2012 filed complaints with the WTO, saying that China’s restrictions on exports of rare-earth minerals — a group of 17 chemically similar elements used in electronics, autos, helicopter blades and other goods — disrupted trade flows and caused global prices to jump, in some cases as much as three times as much as what Chinese companies pay.
Tara Culp-Ressler: Hobby Lobby Inspired New York Lawmakers To Fight To Protect Birth Control In Their State
If the craft chain Hobby Lobby and the furniture company Conestoga Wood Specialties successfully win their Supreme Court challenges, it could open the door to allow businesses across the country to compromise their workers’ access to reproductive health care. In response to that potential future, New York lawmakers are taking the opportunity to reaffirm their state’s commitment to providing insurance coverage for essential preventative health services like birth control.
Earlier this month, New York Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee (D) introduced the so-called “Boss Bill,” which would close a loophole in the state’s existing workplace anti-discrimination laws to protect women’s access to birth control. Under the legislation — which was written in direct response to the multiple lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive provision — New York’s labor law would be amended to prevent employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their reproductive health care decisions, even if those employers are trying to cite their religious beliefs.
President Barack Obama, who has supposedly taken the toughest line in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “aggression,” has merely declared banking sanctions on a dozen Russian businessmen personally close to Putin. But in truth, there’s some deep thinking behind Washington’s sanctions regime, and they could ultimately prove deadly to Putin’s future. The key to the sanctions strategy is to drive a wedge between Putin’s shrinking inner circle and the wider Russian elite. “People aren’t ready to sacrifice their holidays in the Alps and in Antalya for the sake of an idea of a Great State,” says Nina Khrushcheva, a historian at New York City’s New School and a granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who ceded Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. “That was fine in Stalin’s time, but it’s not fine in Putin’s time.”
In other words, the sanctions are smart because they so precisely target Kremlin insiders and personal friends of Putin—men such as such as billionaire Gennady Timchenko, whose Gunvor company trades most of Russia’s oil and who has major interests in gas pipe-building companies, and Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s former judo partner, whose construction company hugely benefited from the $50 billion Sochi Olympics. The share prices of companies associated with the sanctioned billionaires have been badly hit, and Visa and Mastercard suspended operations with two banks linked to those on Washington’s list. In other words, Putin has become a liability for Russia’s rich—and they’re getting nervous.It’s easy to see why Putin’s moves worry them. Even without direct personal sanctions, all of Russia’s businesspeople will pay a price for the Crimea annexation in the form of steeply higher borrowing costs. Most international ratings agencies have downgraded Russia’s outlook from stable to negative. The ruble has slid further; capital is fleeing Russia fast.
Brian Beutler: Republicans Losing It Over New Obamacare Data: Why Their Position Is Collapsing
It’s a complete accident of legislative and administrative history that the fourth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act should fall the week before the end of the law’s first ever, six-month-long open-enrollment period. But it’s a great coincidence for those of us in the business of cutting through all the hyperbole that accompanies each ACA anniversary, because, for the first time since the law passed, there are real data, and real beneficiaries, to hold up against the spin.
And as I’ve been arguing for months now, the GOP’s position on the law can’t actually withstand on-the-ground realities. Case in point: Terri Lynn Land — Michigan’s one-time Republican secretary of state, turned Senate candidate — held a first-ever conference call with reporters to trash the ACA on its fourth birthday. But confronted with the question of what happens to people with preexisting medical conditions if the GOP repeals the law (and thus eliminates the individual mandate) — Land’s press aide, Heather Swift, commandeered the call, and tried to take the whole thing off the record.
Coral Davenport: Obama Turns To Web To Illustrate The Effects Of A Changing Climate
President Obama wants Americans to see how climate change could deluge or destroy their own backyards — and to make it as easy as opening a web-based app. As part of an effort to make the public see global warming as a tangible and immediate problem, the White House on Wednesday inaugurated a website, climate.data.gov, aimed at turning scientific data about projected droughts and wildfires and the rise in sea levels into eye-catching digital presentations that can be mapped using simple software apps. The project is the brainchild of Mr. Obama’s counselor, John D. Podesta, and the White House science adviser, John P. Holdren.
The effort comes as Mr. Obama prepares to announce a set of aggressive climate change regulations aimed at limiting emissions from coal-fired plants.“Localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs action,” Mr. Podesta told a small group of reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “If you’re thinking about this from the perspective of how your local community will be affected, it’s likely to change that question of salience.”
Sahil Kapur: Kagan Throws Scalia’s Own Religious Liberty Arguments Back In His Face
During oral arguments Tuesday about the validity of Obamacare’s birth control mandate, Justice Elena Kagan cleverly echoed Justice Antonin Scalia’s past warning that religious-based exceptions to neutral laws could lead to “anarchy.” “Your understanding of this law, your interpretation of it, would essentially subject the entire U.S. Code to the highest test in constitutional law, to a compelling interest standard,” she told Paul Clement, the lawyer arguing against the mandate for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. “So another employer comes in and that employer says, I have a religious objection to sex discrimination laws;
and then another employer comes in, I have a religious objection to minimum wage laws; and then another, family leave; and then another, child labor laws. And all of that is subject to the exact same test which you say is this unbelievably high test, the compelling interest standard with the least restrictive alternative.” Kagan’s remarks might sound familiar to the legally-trained ear. In a 1990 majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia alluded to the same examples of what might happen if religious entities are permitted to claim exemptions from generally applicable laws. He warned that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”
The Bump: A Message From Michelle Obama For The Bump Moms (Really!)
Back when Barack and I were expecting our first daughter, we were overwhelmed with so many emotions: excitement, wonder, hope… and occasional moments of panic at the prospect of bringing this little person into the world. We had all the usual first-time parent worries: How would we balance the needs of our growing family with the demands of our jobs? How would the stresses of caring for a new baby affect our marriage? Would our little girl be able to tell that we had no idea what we were doing? But there was one thing we never worried about: ensuring that I would have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. That’s because, while we were still struggling to pay off our student loans and pay down our mortgage, we both had jobs that provided health insurance.
So while our finances weren’t perfect, we had the security of knowing that I could get the maternity care I needed. Every mother and every father in this country deserves this kind of peace of mind – and that’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about.Every plan on HealthCare.gov covers maternity care, pediatrician’s visits, preventive care (things like flu shots, mammograms and vaccines for kids), birth control and more. And these plans are affordable – the majority of people without insurance today will be able to get covered for $100 a month or less, and many young adults will be able to get covered for as little as $50 a month. Also, if you’re pregnant now, and you get signed up by March 31st, when your baby is born, you’ll both be covered.
Views of the ACA remain unfavorable, but the gap is narrowing. The new poll finds that in March, 38 percent viewed the law favorably, versus 46 percent who saw it unfavorably. That’s a substantial narrowing from the 34-50 spread during the dark days of January, and a return almost to where opinion was in September (39-43), before the rollout disaster began. – Support for repeal continues to shrink. Only 18 percent want to repeal the law and not replace it, while all of 11 percent want to repeal and replace it with a GOP alternative — a grand total of 29 percent. Meanwhile, 49 percent want to keep the law and improve it, and another 10 percent want to keep it as is — a total of 59 percent.
Among indys, that keep/improve versus repeal/replace spread is 52-31. Republicans are all alone here, with their spread at 31-58. That overall keep-versus-repeal spread has improved for the law since February (when it was 56-31), and even more so since December and October, suggesting a clear trend. – Crucially, a majority, 53 percent, say they are tired about hearing about the law and want to move on to other issues. Only 42 percent think the Obamacare debate should continue. A majority of independents has had enough (51-45). Even 47 percent of Republicans are done with it. – Most of the ACA’s individual provisions are wildly popular. Virtually every one of them — the Medicaid expansion; the preexisting conditions piece; subsidies for low income people’s coverage – has overwhelming majority support, and all of those are even backed by a majority of Republicans.
Jonathan Cohn: John Bohener’s Hypocritical Griping About The Obamacare Deadline Delay. Conservatives’ Real Beef: That People Want To Sign Up
The Obama Administration has made another adjustment to the Affordable Care Act and the critics are making another fuss. The adjustment, first reported (I think) by Amy Lotven for Inside Health Policy, is an extension of the open enrollment period for buying private insurance through the new Obamacare marketplaces. Officially, most people have until March 31 to sign up for a plan. (The exception are people who lose a job or have some other, similar life-altering experience. They can sign up throughout the year.) But on Wednesday, the administration announced that it will be offering some extra time to consumers who don’t finish their applications in time. They’ll be able to use the websites, just like they can now, only they’ll have to check a box attesting to the fact that they started the application process before April 1.
“What the hell is this? A joke?” House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference. “Another deadline made meaningless. If he hasn’t put enough loopholes in the law already, the administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it.”For each one of these extensions or delays, the ultimate question is whether they change the law’s ability to realize its basic goals—which, in this case, means encouraging people to buy new private health plans while maintaining a stable insurance market. Giving people a little extra time to enroll wouldn’t seem to impede this kind of progress. If anything, it would seem to enhance it. And maybe that’s what really bothers some of the law’s fiercer critics.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 to 311,000 last week to mark the lowest level in four months, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total 320,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ended March 22. The average of new claims over the past month declined by 9,500 to 317,750. That was the lowest level since last September, when claims fell sharply because of a major errors related to a computer upgrade in California’s system for processing claims. The four-week average is the lowest since 2007 if the reports distorted by California’s computer problems are excluded. The monthly figure smooths out the jumpiness in the weekly report and offers a better look at the underlying trend.
Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, listens to testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs about the health care needs of returning service members on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27, 2007
President Obama makes a point during an interview in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama preps with staff in the Cabinet Room of the White House before interviews, March 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama laughs as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder jokes about his basketball skills during his ceremonial installation at George Washington University on March 27, 2009
President Obama travels aboard Air Force One en route to Afghanistan, March 27, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama helps to plant a cherry blossom tree during an event celebrating the centennial anniversary of the 1912 gifts of cherry blossom trees to the United States from Japan, in Washington, D.C. on March 27, 2012
President Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani of Pakistan during the Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 27, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon during a break in the Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 27, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine during a pull aside at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 27, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama watches as Vice President Biden administers the oath of office to Julia Pierson, as she is sworn-in as the new director of the U.S. Secret Service, March. 27, 2013, in the Oval Office
Charles Pierce: …. Emboldened by enablers, the bishops have expanded their demands for exemptions from simply Catholic institutions to every business in America. There’s a reason for this …. they’ve been sitting back on their ermined duffs, believing that they were done so very wrong in the investigation of their crimes, and nursing the mother of all grudges, for over a decade. Now they’ve decided to strike back for the power they’ve lost. Women’s health is the issue they’ve chosen, because, in their little unindicted world, women don’t count, and never have….
There were a couple of ways all of this could have been avoided. One … would have been to toss a whole lot of bishops in jail for conspiracy to obstruct justice, enough of them so their power to influence the secular law was destroyed forever. They needed to be humbled, unmercifully, until the hubris was wrung out of every damn one of them. Now, a woman working a low-income service industry job under the supervision of a Catholic boss will have her access to essential health-care truncated by a discredited encyclical to which no Catholic has paid any heed since the administration of Lyndon Johnson. These bastards needed to be broken, publicly, and into a thousand pieces that were scattered to the winds. Instead, they are “voices of conscience” again. It is to weep.
Greg Sargent (Washington Post): Is media getting politics of contraception all wrong?
Since the controversy over the White House’s new contraception policy broke, it’s been widely assumed that the battle is terrible politics for Obama, because it will cost him among Catholic swing voters.
But some polling from August suggests a majority of Americans supports the White House position – and that the opposition to the provision from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops makes no difference to them. Even a majority of Catholic respondents said the same.
….. The White House very well may buckle in this fight. But these numbers do suggest at least the possibility that leading commentators have been far too quick to declare this a certain political loser.
Greg Sargent: Since details of the big foreclosure settlement began leaking out, liberals have been watching to see how New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman would react, as a sign of whether the deal is a giveaway to big banks – or whether it contains the promise of real accountability.
In an interview with me just now, Schneiderman – who has gained a national liberal profile for his insistence on true accountability for financial institutions – conceded the settlement announced today was “small” in financial terms, given the struggles of underwater homeowners and people who lost their homes.
But he insisted that time will show that today’s settlement was a win – that it secured a framework that will ultimately result in a true accounting of the role big banks played in sparking the economic meltdown…..
Attorney General Eric holder listens as President Obama speaks about a mortgage settlement in the Eisenhower Executive Office building
President Obama arrives to deliver remarks on the No Child Left Behind law in the East Room of the White House
Jonathan Bernstein (Washington Post): Today’s economic news is that new claims for unemployment benefits have fallen again, with the four-week average now at the lowest point since spring 2008. That’s not all; the stock market is also at its highest point since spring 2008, and Gallup’s economic confidence numbers are also approaching post-recession highs.
It’s no coincidence that the run of good economic news – and employment is only a part of that – has been accompanied by a climb by Barack Obama in the polls. Indeed, the Pollster average now has Obama with an average 5.5 point lead over Romney.
….. It’s certainly possible that the new economic momentum will, again, dissipate. But the signs are mounting that people are being a bit too pessimistic. And if so, there’s a chance that Democrats and the president could be about to receive a whole lot of unexpected good news indeed.