Archive for March 2nd, 2014

02
Mar
14

Joy

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Peter Nyong’o embraces sister Lupita Nyong’o after she wins the award for best actress in a supporting role for “12 Years a Slave”

Lupita Nyong’o, best supporting actress winner for her role in “12 years a Slave,” hugs the movie’s director Steve McQueen as actress Angelina Jolie and co-star and producer Brad Pitt look on at the 86th Academy Awards

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02
Mar
14

World Leaders Speak

White House: G-7 Leaders Statement

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02
Mar
14

President Obama To Netanyahu: Seize This Moment

U.S. President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

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Jeffrey Goldberg: Obama To Israel — Time Is Running Out

GOLDBERG: Do you believe he’s the most moderate person you’re going to find?

OBAMA: I believe that President Abbas is sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist, to recognize Israel’s legitimate security needs, to shun violence, to resolve these issues in a diplomatic fashion that meets the concerns of the people of Israel. And I think that this is a rare quality not just within the Palestinian territories, but in the Middle East generally. For us not to seize that opportunity would be a mistake. And I think John is referring to that fact.

We don’t know exactly what would happen. What we know is that it gets harder by the day. What we also know is that Israel has become more isolated internationally. We had to stand up in the Security Council in ways that 20 years ago would have involved far more European support, far more support from other parts of the world when it comes to Israel’s position. And that’s a reflection of a genuine sense on the part of a lot of countries out there that this issue continues to fester, is not getting resolved, and that nobody is willing to take the leap to bring it to closure.

In that kind of environment, where you’ve got a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously, who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel, who has shown himself committed to maintaining order within the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and to cooperate with Israelis around their security concerns — for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake. I’ve said directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu he has an opportunity to solidify, to lock in, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel that is at peace with its neighbors and –

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GOLDBERG: With permanent borders?

OBAMA: With permanent borders. And has an opportunity also to take advantage of a potential realignment of interests in the region, as many of the Arab countries see a common threat in Iran. The only reason that that potential realignment is not, and potential cooperation is not, more explicit is because of the Palestinian issue.

GOLDBERG: My impression watching your relationship with Netanyahu over the years is that you admire his intelligence and you admire his political skill, but you also get frustrated by an inability or unwillingness on his part to spend political capital — in terms of risking coalition partnerships — in order to embrace what he says he accepts, a two-state solution. Is that a fair statement? When he comes to Washington, how hard are you going to push him out of his comfort zone?

OBAMA: What is absolutely true is Prime Minister Netanyahu is smart. He is tough. He is a great communicator. He is obviously a very skilled politician. And I take him at his word when he says that he sees the necessity of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think he genuinely believes that. I also think that politics in Israel around this issue are very difficult. You have the chaos that’s been swirling around the Middle East. People look at what’s happening in Syria. They look at what’s happening in Lebanon. Obviously, they look at what’s happening in Gaza. And understandably a lot of people ask themselves, “Can we afford to have potential chaos at our borders, so close to our cities?” So he is dealing with all of that, and I get that.

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What I’ve said to him privately is the same thing that I say publicly, which is the situation will not improve or resolve itself. This is not a situation where you wait and the problem goes away. There are going to be more Palestinians, not fewer Palestinians, as time goes on. There are going to be more Arab-Israelis, not fewer Arab-Israelis, as time goes on.

And for Bibi to seize the moment in a way that perhaps only he can, precisely because of the political tradition that he comes out of and the credibility he has with the right inside of Israel, for him to seize this moment is perhaps the greatest gift he could give to future generations of Israelis. But it’s hard. And as somebody who occupies a fairly tough job himself, I’m always sympathetic to somebody else’s politics.

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I have not yet heard, however, a persuasive vision of how Israel survives as a democracy and a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors in the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. Nobody has presented me a credible scenario. The only thing that I’ve heard is, “We’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing, and deal with problems as they arise. And we’ll build settlements where we can. And where there are problems in the West Bank, we will deal with them forcefully. We’ll cooperate or co-opt the Palestinian Authority.” And yet, at no point do you ever see an actual resolution to the problem.

GOLDBERG: So, maintenance of a chronic situation?

OBAMA: It’s maintenance of a chronic situation. And my assessment, which is shared by a number of Israeli observers, I think, is there comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?

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GOLDBERG: You sound worried.

OBAMA: Well, I am being honest that nobody has provided me with a clear picture of how this works in the absence of a peace deal. If that’s the case — one of the things my mom always used to tell me and I didn’t always observe, but as I get older I agree with — is if there’s something you know you have to do, even if it’s difficult or unpleasant, you might as well just go ahead and do it, because waiting isn’t going to help. When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?

This is not an issue in which we are naive about the challenges. I deal every day with very difficult choices about U.S. security. As restrained, and I think thoughtful, as our foreign policy has been, I’m still subject to constant criticism about our counterterrorism policies, and our actions in Libya, and our lack of military action in Syria.

And so if I’m thinking about the prime minister of Israel, I’m not somebody who believes that it’s just a matter of changing your mind and suddenly everything goes smoothly. But I believe that Bibi is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for Israel, that he could do it. If he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.

More here

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02
Mar
14

A short primer on Ukraine and what Putin hopes to achieve

Well, it’s been a stomach churning couple of days. All of a sudden, it seems as if the Cold War is back with fury. Russian troops are invading a former Soviet republic. The US is issuing dire warnings. NATO and the UNSC are in emergency meetings. For me, visions of the darkest days of the superpower face off have been filling my head.

So, it’s time to step back, and take a more considered look.

Russia in 2014 is not the Soviet Union in 1986. (And, in many ways, it is, but more on that later.)

Russia has an economy which would make Saudi Arabia’s look diversified. Its industry is ossified. It depends almost exclusively on on exporting energy and raw materials to survive. Vladimir Putin, for all his protestations of his love for his country, has done nothing to make the Russian economy more sustainable. The New Republic has a major piece on how Europe can put the screws to Russia, without firing a shot. Russia is, as it always has been, a Potemkin village, a veneer of affluence masking a roiling pot of poverty. If Russia loses its European markets, it falls apart. If Europe freezes the bank accounts of a couple of dozen oligarchs, Putin, for all his bravado, would find himself in an FSB dungeon.

So why this risk? Why this mad dash for a revanchist land grab?

Continue reading ‘A short primer on Ukraine and what Putin hopes to achieve’

02
Mar
14

The World Speaks

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Continue reading ‘The World Speaks’

02
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office, March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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The Week Ahead:

Monday: President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The Vice President will also attend.

Tuesday: The President will hold an event on the FY2015 budget and the plan to expand opportunity for all in Washington, DC. In the evening, the President will attend a DSCC event in the Washington, DC area.

First Lady Michelle Obama will join Secretary of State John Kerry to honor the recipients of the International Women of Courage Award in the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State.

Wednesday: The President will travel to the Hartford, Connecticut area for an event on the minimum wage. Following this, he will travel to Boston, Massachusetts for two DNC events.

First Lady Michelle Obama will participate in a conversation with Robin Roberts at the Leading Women Defined Summit, hosted by BET Networks. The discussion will be around the Affordable Care Act and a personal reflection on health and wellness. The First Lady will also visit a health center to highlight the work that hospitals, doctors and clinics are doing to educate their patients about the Affordable Care Act and how patients can get insurance.

Thursday: The President will hold an event on the economy and healthcare in Washington, DC.

Friday: The President and the First Lady will travel to the Miami area for an event on expanding opportunity for all.

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Timothy Snyder: Beneath The Hypocrisy, Putin Is Vulnerable. Here’s Where His Soft Spots Are

Russian intervention in Ukraine is directed against the EU, which Moscow has now decided is a threat to its interests and indeed a civilizational challenge. How can Europe respond to the immediate problem of military intervention in Ukraine and the more fundamental political challenge to European values and achievements?  Much of the Russian elite has sent its children to private schools in the European Union or Switzerland. Beyond that, since no Russian of any serious means trusts the Russian financial system, wealthy Russians park their wealth in European banks. In other words, the Russian social order depends upon the Europe that Russian propaganda mocks. And beneath hypocrisy, as usual, lies vulnerability.

Soft power can hurt. General restrictions on tourist visas, a few thousand travel bans, and a few dozen frozen accounts might make a real difference. If millions of urban Russians understood that invading Ukraine meant no summer vacation, they might have second thoughts. If the Russian elites understood that invading Ukraine meant dealing with their disaffected teenagers on an indefinite basis, they too might reconsider. If wealthy Russians understood that their accounts could be frozen, as has just happened to Ukrainian oligarchs, that might affect their calculations as well.

More here

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Andrew Ackerman: Obama To Request 30% Bump In CFTC Funding

President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget plan, set for release Tuesday, will request a 30% funding boost for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Obama is expected to request $280 million for the CFTC, these people said, a $65 million increase above the current-year funding levels of $215 million. The requested increase, which would be the largest in the agency’s history, would be funded through user fees to entities policed by the agency.  An administration official said the funding boost, if enacted, would allow the agency to increase its staff by more than one-third and modernize its technology systems.

“The president is committed to securing sufficient funding to enable the CFTC to effectively oversee the futures and swaps markets,” the official said. The agency, which is responsible for implementing dozens of new rules required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law, has consistently warned it is underfunded. The funding woes prompted the CFTC to furlough employees last year and delay or shelve certain enforcement matters. Under the White House plan, the user fees would ensure taxpayers don’t have to bear the agency’s funding costs and put the CFTC on equal footing with other financial regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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TPM: Hundreds Of Gunmen Surround Military Base In Crimea

Hundreds of armed men in trucks and armored vehicles surrounded a Ukrainian military base Sunday in Crimea, blocking its soldiers from leaving. The outnumbered Ukrainians placed a tank at the base’s gate, leaving the two sides in a tense standoff. In Kiev, Ukraine’s new prime minister urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his military, warning that “we are on the brink of disaster.” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk spoke a day after Russian forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine without firing a shot.

“There was no reason for the Russian Federation to invade Ukraine,” Yatsenyuk said after a closed session of his new parliament in Kiev.  Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced late Saturday that he had ordered Ukraine’s armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of “potential aggression.” He also said he had ordered stepped-up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.

More here

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NBC News: Kerry Denounces Russian ‘Act Of Aggression,’ Warns Of Trade Freeze

Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the Russian movement of troops into Ukraine Sunday as “an act of aggression” and accused President Vladimir Putin of “possibly trying to annex Crimea.” “He’s going to lose on the international stage, Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza,” Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press. He warned that Russia will suffer a loss of trade and investment if Putin does not reverse course.

Russia has “major investment and trade needs” which are bound to suffer if Russian troops don’t leave Ukraine, he said. “There’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday – all of the G-8 and more — that they’re simply going to isolate Russia; that they’re not going to engage with Russia in a normal business-as-usual manner…. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this,” he said.  He also warned that “there could even be ultimately asset freezes,” but did not specify how long it would take for foreign governments and banking authorities to freeze Russian assets held abroad. He also threatened bans on issuing visas to Russians seeking to travel to Europe, the United States and other countries.

More here (Video at the link)

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Hayes Brown: 5 Ways The U.S. Can Respond To Russia Invading Ukraine – Without Going To War

1. Suspend Russia’s membership in the G-8 Russia joining the Group of 7 in 1998, despite being the weakest of the group’s economies at the time, was considered a huge boost to the prestige a country still recovering after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is also due to host the next meeting of the G-8 in Sochi, the site of the recently concluded Olympics, this June. Rather than the U.S. simply boycotting the meeting, the Obama administration could lead the charge along with the other members to suspend Russia’s membership in the group.

3. Enact trade sanctions against Russia As recently as December, Russia was looking to boost trade with the United States — which already stands at about $40 billion annually — though remaining just shy of a free trade deal. Both Russia and the United States are members of the World Trade Organization, which brings with it certain obligations when it comes to tarrifs and trade embargoes. But insofar as those obligations allow, the U.S. can use reduced trade with Russia to show its displeasure.

4. Suspension of NATO cooperation and participation After the collapse of the USSR, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization welcomed in several of the formerly Soviet states, including Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Russia has long seen this expansion as a threat, which is part of the reason Ukraine is not a NATO member state. To help assauge those fears, NATO began outreach to Russia in the late 1990s, including setting up a NATO-Russia Council to frequently meet and exchange concerns. In light of Putin’s move on Ukraine, the U.S. should move to have those meetings suspended and cooperation between NATO and Russia halted.

More here

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Dexter Mullins: The ‘Invisible Man’ In The Age Of Trayvon And Jordan

With his widely read novel “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison ignited a conversation and an awareness of racial alienation in America that had the potential to help bridge the gap between the nation’s races. But as we celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday on Saturday, it is almost staggering to see how little has changed since Ellison published the book in 1952. Black people — and black men in particular — are still viewed and judged as though we are all one person, with one mind, and that we are all either criminals or about to become criminals. We are still treated as if we are less than everyone else, no matter the degrees we may possess, how impressive our job titles or our contributions to society. Indeed, as we celebrate Ellison today, it is a shame to have to say that the black man as an individual is still “invisible” and that the country has a long way to go.

There isn’t a black man or boy in this country who has not been told by someone in his family that while people may say we are equal, the reality is quite different and that — should you find yourself in a situation with any person of authority, or a rogue vigilante who thinks he’s above the law — it is better to hold your tongue and submit to the traffic ticket, search or humiliating line of questioning and get home alive than it is to try and make a stand to prove your point and come home in a pine box. At the end of Ellison’s novel, the main character learns to embrace his individuality after years of conforming to society’s perceptions and expectations of what a black man is supposed to be. Today, it is society that needs to embrace the individuality of minorities and re-examine where our nation’s race relations really are.

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David Remnick: Putin Goes To War

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country’s power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.

Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist and pro-democracy activist who was recently detained by the police in Moscow, described the scenario taking shape as “Afghanistan 2.” He recalled, for Slon.ru, an independent Russian news site, how the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, in 1979, under the pretext of helping a “fraternal” ally in Kabul; to Parkhomenko, Putin’s decision to couch his military action as the “protection” of Russians living in Crimea is an equally transparent pretext. The same goes for the decorous way in which Putin, on Saturday, “requested” the Russian legislature’s authorization for the use of Russian troops in Ukraine until “the socio-political situation is normalized.” The legislature, which has all the independence of an organ grinder’s monkey, voted its unanimous assent.

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Paul Carr: On The Importance Of Keeping Investors Out Of The Newsroom, And Not Treating Your Readers Like Fools

Yesterday afternoon, Pando published a report by Mark Ames showing that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ukrainian opposition groups involved in the overthrow of the country’s government. Even more interesting, given that Omidyar is now publisher ofThe Intercept, a blog which vows to expose American government wrongdoing, is the revelation that his co-investor in the groups was… the US government. This morning, Omidyar Group staffer Glenn Greenwald spent almost three thousand words meticulously not responding to the piece. Whether Greenwald likes it or not, this is an important story and one we will continue to report. There is, however, one aspect of Greenwald’s post that demands a firm rebuttal, and that’s his continuing attempt to shrug off Pierre Omidyar’s $250 million investment in First Look as if it’s business as usual for a media organization.

To suggest Omidyar is just a passive investor in Greenwald, Scahill, Wheeler et al. is as ridiculous as claiming Jesus was just a passive backer of the disciples (“Nah, you’ve got it all wrong. He just gave us the bread and wine, it’s up to us what we do with it.”) Pierre Omidyar is not the dumb money behind First Look, he is the company’s founder and publisher. It was Omidyar who called Glenn Greenwald and personally hired him to head The Intercept, just as it was Omidyar himself who takes credit for having hired Matt Taibbi away from Rolling Stone. Even after making those key hires, Omidyar did not recuse himself from the day-to-day editorial operations.

Pierre Omidyar, First Look’s sole backer, has a vision. A vision he spends his day sharing with First Look’s reporters via their internal messaging. By Scahill’s own admission, Omidyar’s voice is heard more frequently than any editorial staffer at the company. And yet, by Greenwald’s admission, he has spent precisely no time investigating the business deals or conflicts of interest which might shape that vision, or might lead Omidyar to try to influence the reporting by the staff whose paychecks he alone signs. If that’s how Omidyar believes the business of media should be transacted, that’s his choice. And if Greenwald is convinced that he remains entirely incorruptible, despite the constant muzak of his master’s voice playing in the newsroom, that’s fine too. But it’s not how most media companies do things, and it’s not how we do things at Pando. By claiming otherwise, Greenwald is treating his readers as fools.

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Washington Post: Government Expands Help For Buying Health Insurance

With just a month left for Americans to select health plans this year through new insurance marketplaces, the Obama administration is bending some rules to prevent people from being stranded without coverage because of state-run exchanges riddled with computer problems. In states with dysfunctional insurance marketplaces, the government will for the first time help pay for certain health plans that consumers buy on their own. And once people in those states are able to sign up through the exchanges, their insurance can be made retroactive. These rewritten rules, laid out in a three-page memo,

can be used by any state but are aimed primarily at helping people in Maryland and three other states whose exchanges have not been working well. The four states are among 14 that have each created an insurance marketplace under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The rewritten federal rules would allow people to receive federal subsidies for health plans outside exchanges as long as the covered benefits are comparable to those of plans sold through the exchanges. In order to get retroactive subsidies, people will have to start to pay the full price of their health plan, then get the reduction once their state’s exchange is working well enough to determine whether their incomes make them eligible for the help.

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President Obama with Donna Brazile and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz at the DNC Winter Meeting in Washington, Friday

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On This Day:

Senator Obama holds up a baby as he greets supporters during a town hall meeting in  Westerville, Ohio, March 2, 2008

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First Lady Michelle Obama with daughters, Malia and Sasha, sled in the snow on the South Lawn of the White House, March 2, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama boards Air Force One, prior to departure from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with Mona Sutphen, chief of staff for policy, Josh Earnest, assistant press secretary, and Jeffrey Lerner, of the Office of Political Affairs, aboard Marine One en route to the White House, March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama signs H.R. 4691, Temporary Extension Act of 2010, in his private office in the residence of the White House, March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wait in the Blue Room of the White House before greeting recipients of the 2010 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal, March 2, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama shares a laugh with National Humanities Medal honoree Wendell E. Berry, as President Obama talks with National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman in the Blue Room of the White House, March 2, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama greets Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the Colonnade prior to their meeting in the Oval Office, March 2, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a conference call about the “Let’s Move!” Healthier U.S. School Challenge in the Map Room of the White House, March 2, 2011. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack joined Mrs. Obama to speak with education stakeholders about doubling the number of schools participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama is briefed by Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, Special Assistant to the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan, during a meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, March 2, 2011. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon are at right (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama and Vice President Biden talk following a meeting in the Oval Office, March 2, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama embraces members of the Johnson C. Smith ladies’ basketball team during a “Let’s Move!” physical fitness promotion between games at the CIAA basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., March 2, 2012

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02
Mar
14

Early Bird Chat

On This Day: President Obama reads from his book, “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters,” during a visit by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and his family to the Oval Office, March 2, 2011. Joining them, from left, are Justice Breyer’s wife Joanna Breyer, grandson Eli Essiam Breyer and daughter Nell Breyer (Photo by Pete Souza)

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MoooOOOooorning Early Birds – Happy Sunday!




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