Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 1:11 pm
As President Obama travels to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service on Tuesday, it might seem as though Mandela was an eternal object of admiration for U.S. presidents and the American public. But that wasn't the case by a long shot.
During Mandela's 27 years behind bars, successive U.S. administrations worked with, or at least tolerated, South Africa's white leaders. Only in his final years of incarceration did he and the anti-apartheid movement become a cause that gained traction in the United States.
An increasing number of people are signing up for health insurance through the government's new exchange, suggesting the Obama administration has made progress in fixing its broken website. But the exchange is just one part of the health care law, which remains politically divisive almost four years after its passage.
With a new White House push to promote the Affordable Care Act well underway, the question is whether an improved HealthCare.gov site and onslaught of positive talking points will be enough to bolster Senate Democrats facing tough races in 2014.
One re-election fight to watch is Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's in New Hampshire, where she's been taking heat for supporting the new health care law.
The national debate about income equality and low-wage labor ramped up this week as fast-food workers across the country rallied for better pay and President Obama assailed the nation's growing income gap as the "defining challenge of our time."
Meanwhile, an $11.50 minimum wage bill was approved in the nation's capital, and giant discount retailer Wal-Mart opened its first Washington stores — accompanied by a flurry of ads defending the company's often-criticized pay and benefits practices.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 9:35 am
When I was coming of age in the late 1970s, as an African-American high-schooler and college student, I had two certainties: Nelson Mandela would die in prison in apartheid South Africa and no black person would become U.S. president in my lifetime.
So much for my youthful powers of prediction.
Little could I have known then that I would become a journalist who would one day get to cover events I once thought would never happen, at least not during my time on Earth.
So the lowest unemployment rate in five years, down to 7 percent. To talk about the economic picture and more from this week's news, I'm joined by our regular Friday political commentators, David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Welcome back to you both.
At the start of the year there was widespread expectation among Latinos that 2013 would bring with it a new immigration law. That hasn't happened and immigration activists in North Carolina are frustrated.
The world wants Syria's chemical arsenal destroyed. But so far, no country has offered to do the dirty work on its soil. Over the past week, an alternative has gained ground: Carry out the destruction at sea. The plan taking shape is complicated and untested, but it just might work.
Workers rallied in 100 cities on Thursday to raise awareness for increasing pressure to raise wages. The push comes as 19 cities and states already raised minimum wages. A report from Berkeley economists finds the low-wage fast food jobs are costing taxpayer billions of dollars in public assistance — everything from food stamps to Medicaid.
Congress still has a long to-do list and not much time left. The House hopes to wrap it up next week — just as the Senate returns from a Thanksgiving break. On many lawmakers' lists are efforts to complete a farm bill before milk prices go off the "dairy cliff." That on top of tough budget negotiations.
For the past three years, there's been a shortfall in the payroll taxes collected for Social Security. And as more baby boomers join the ranks of the 57 million people already receiving benefits, that deficit is bound to keep growing.
At the same time, the overall share of wages being taxed for Social Security is shrinking as the higher wages that are exempt have soared. The Social Security Board of Trustees predicts a nearly $3 trillion trust fund built up over decades will vanish within 20 years.
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 5:08 pm
The White House has acknowledged that as a student at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, the president briefly lived with his Kenyan-born uncle, after it first denied the two had ever met.
Earlier this week, Onyango Obama, 69, faced a deportation that resulted from a 2011 drunken-driving arrest. At the hearing, which he won, the judge asked about his family, and Onyango replied that he had a nephew named Barack Obama, adding, "He's the president of the United States."
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 11:26 am
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is more than a little aggravated with the Senate Conservatives Fund, and who can blame him.
The youngish but well-financed Tea Party organization has targeted McConnell, a five-termer from Kentucky and highest-ranking Senate Republican, by helping to bankroll a primary challenger and using the race as an intraparty, us vs. them proxy.
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 9:07 am
It's Day 4 of the White House's new messaging push for the Affordable Care Act. Today the goal is to tell the stories of people with pre-existing conditions who are now entitled to coverage under the new health care law.
One such story comes from within the White House.
Michael Robertson, deputy assistant to the president and deputy cabinet secretary, was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer 16 months ago. He was 35.
The IRS is taking aim at the growing political role of tax-exempt social welfare groups. It's a category of American politics where spending has increased 80-fold in the last decade. Donors can give as much money as they want to these groups, and their names are not disclosed to the public. The IRS wants to roll back the social welfare politicking, after a summer of controversy over the way it treated Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 7:44 am
A new report says the Justice Department regularly coerces defendants in federal drug cases to plead guilty by threatening them with steep prison sentences or stacking charges to increase their time behind bars.
And for the first time, the study by Human Rights Watch finds that defendants who take their fate to a judge or jury face prison sentences on average 11 years longer than those who plead guilty.
Want to understand why House Republicans aren't onboard with an immigration overhaul? Take a close look at the districts they represent.
Hispanics today make up 17 percent of the nation's population and are the fastest-growing ethnic group. But an NPR analysis of U.S. census data shows they live disproportionately in districts represented by Democrats. The average Democratic district is 23 percent Latino; the average Republican district, less than 12 percent.
Originally published on Wed December 4, 2013 12:48 pm
After voting for him in large numbers in 2008 and 2012, young Americans are souring on President Obama.
According to a new Harvard University Institute of Politics poll, just 41 percent of millennials — adults ages 18-29 — approve of Obama's job performance, his lowest-ever standing among the group and an 11-point drop from April.
In the debate over whether to cut the food stamp program, members of Congress are looking at two pretty arcane provisions in the law. People who want to cut food stamps call the provisions loopholes. People who don't want to cut food stamps say they're efficient ways to get benefits to those who need them most.
1. Categorical Eligibility
People who qualify for one means-tested program — like welfare — can automatically qualify for other programs — like food stamps. This is called "categorical eligibility."
The Obama administration is renewing its sales push for the president's signature health care law. On Wednesday, officials host a "youth summit" at the White House, where young people will be encouraged to sign up for insurance coverage. Their participation is crucial to help balance out the cost of insuring older, sicker people.