Archive for May 15th, 2014

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May
14

Night owl chat – Fazil Say, “Symphony no. 2: Mesopotamia”

I just discovered Mr. Say this week, and I am captivated by his music, which mixes Western tonality with Turkish melody.

And then there’s this, from Wikipedia:

According to the NY Times, on Monday, April 15, 2013 a court in Istanbul handed down a suspended 10-month jail term for Fazıl Say, convicted of insulting Islam and offending Muslims in postings on Twitter. Mr. Say, 42, who has performed with major orchestras around the world in places including New York, Berlin and Tokyo, said during earlier hearings that the accusations against him went “against universal human rights and laws.” The sentence was suspended for five years, meaning that the pianist will not be sent to prison unless he is convicted of re-offending within that period. In recent years, many intellectuals, writers and artists have been prosecuted for statements about Islam and Turkish identity, both of which the pro-Islamic government seeks to shield from criticism. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, however, have rarely figured in previous trials, although Turks are active users of the sites.

The messages cited in the indictment were Mr. Say’s personal remarks referring to a poem by a famous 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, which poked fun at an Islamic vision of the afterlife. The poem was sent to Mr. Say from another user before he forwarded it. In another personal Twitter post, he joked about the rapid call to prayer at a nearby mosque, questioning whether the muezzin who makes the call was running late for a drink.

Let Greenwald dwell on that next time he says free expression is stymied in the US.

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Chat on,  night owls, and dream of ancient civilizations.

15
May
14

Remembering

President Barack Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tour Memorial Hall at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum prior to the 9/11 Museum dedication in New York, N.Y., May 15, 2014 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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May
14

President Obama & The First Lady at 9/11 Museum Dedication

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, and Diana Taylor, tour the Memorial Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum

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Text of the President’s remarks here

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President Obama greets Alson Crowther and Ling Young. Alson’s son Welles died saving Ling and others

President Obama delivers remarks as a picture of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks after saving at least a dozen people, and his mother Allison are seen displayed on a screen

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The President and First Lady return to the White House

15
May
14

Chat On

@PeteSouza: President Obama speaks at Natl 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

15
May
14

Chat Away

President Obama speaks during the dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, May 15

15
May
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the 32nd Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on May 15, 2013

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Today (All times Eastern)

9:40 AM: The President and First Lady tour the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York City

10:0 AM: The President delivers remarks

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Also at White House Live

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11:20 AM: Depart New York City

12:30 PM: Arrive White House

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A quote from Virgil seen during a press preview of the National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center site May 14, 2014 in New York

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Morgan Whitaker: Obamacare Saved Consumers Billions, New Report Finds

A new analysis finds American consumers saved billions in 2011 and 2012 thanks to a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. The report from The Commonwealth Fund released Tuesday finds the medical loss ratio provision, which caps profits for health insurance companies, benefited consumers by about $3 billion over the past two years through a combination of rebates from insurance companies and reduced overhead spending. The law’s provision limits insurance companies to spending a minimum of 80-85% of premiums specifically on treatment and medical costs, rather than overhead and profits.

The rebate receipts sent to consumers hit $1 billion in 2011 and about $500 million in 2012, an indication that insurance providers successfully shifted business models to fit the new spending requirements. In addition to the rebates provided to consumers, insurers reduced profits and spending on general overhead by about $1.4 billion, the report finds. “The medical loss ratio requirement of the Affordable Care Act creates a higher-value insurance product for consumers,” said The Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said in the report. “It ensures that a substantial portion of their premium dollar pays for medical care, as opposed to administrative costs and profits. It also encourages insurers to improve the care their customers receive, by investing in initiatives that will help achieve better outcomes for patients.”

More here

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ABC News: Obama Aide To Oversee VA Review

President Barack Obama is dispatching one of his closest White House advisers to oversee a review of the beleaguered Veterans Affairs Department as the agency grapples with allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at a Phoenix veterans hospital. White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors will be temporarily assigned to the VA to work on a review focused on policies for patient safety rules and the scheduling of patient appointments, officials said Wednesday. The move signals Obama’s growing concern over problems at the department, particularly recent reports that hospital administrators in Phoenix kept an off-the-books list to conceal long wait times as 40 veterans died waiting to get an appointment. Similar problems have since been reported in other states.

“While we get to the bottom of what happened in Phoenix, it’s clear the VA needs to do more to ensure quality care for our veterans,” Obama said in a statement. “I’m grateful that Rob, one of my most trusted advisers, has agreed to work with Secretary Shinseki to help the team at this important moment.” Despite calls for Shinseki to step down, the White House insists that Obama continues to have confidence in the secretary, a retired four-star Army general. Shinseki said he welcomed Nabors’ help in ensuring veterans have access to timely, quality health care. Though Nabors has kept a low public profile, he is one of Obama’s closest advisers and has played key roles in the president’s fiscal battles with congressional Republicans. Nabors, the son of an Army veteran, was appointed deputy chief of staff following Obama’s re-election and previously served as the president’s chief congressional liaison and deputy budget director.

More here

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Rick Ungar: Who Says Obamacare Is Turning Out To Be Good For The Economy? Goldman Sachs Does, That’s Who!

The news just keeps getting better and better for Obamacare. Marketwatch is reporting that an advisory issued by economic researcher Alec Phillips over at Goldman Sachs reports that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) boosted GDP in the first quarter of 2014 and projects that the same will occur in the second quarter. While Phillips—and other Goldman analysts—had initially been quite skeptical about the impact of the government subsidies provided to the many Americans who will now be able to purchase health insurance, the group has turned a corner and now views the subsidies as a major, beneficial contributor to first quarter numbers and what they project to be second quarter growth of 3.9 percent. Of even greater interest is the explanation provided by the Goldman analyst as to why healthcare spending rose 9.9 percent in the first quarter. Phillips pins the rise not on some undesired side-effect of Obamacare but on the fact that people had money in their pocket to spend on the health of their families as a result of $37 billion boost in personal income—something also projected to continue into the second quarter.

While the U.S. Bureau of Economics had predicted a higher spending figure on healthcare for the first quarter than what turned out to be the case, it is worth noting that the Congressional Budget Office—back when first reviewing the Senate bill to reform healthcare—predicted that we would see such a boost following the first enrollment period of Obamacare. Just because healthcare spending increased substantially in the first quarter does not mean that healthcare prices increased—a detail the GOP hopes you will miss. It simply means that more people were able to get the healthcare they were previously unable to afford; not that those of us who already had access to care had to pay more for that care. Phillips sees the trend continuing, suggesting that the positive effects of Obamacare will boost the economy in 2015 and 2016.

More here

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Katie Lobosco: Washington State Defies Minimum Wage Logic

Raising the minimum wage could lift hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers out of poverty, but it’s also a job killer. Right?
Not so fast. In Washington state, small businesses are adding jobs faster than any other state in the country, according to a report from Paychex and IHS. It’s also the state where minimum wage, at $9.32 per hour, is the highest. The federal minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour, and a battle is raging about whether it should be raised to $10.10. Small businesses, often called the engine of the U.S. economy, find themselves at the heart of the debate. Critics of a wage hike say that raising the minimum wage too high and too fast could put them out of business.

But the report from Paychex and IHS, which measured job additions and layoffs at 350,000 small businesses, could dispute that claim. Not only was Washington the strongest state, San Francisco — with a minimum wage of $10.74, the country’s highest — had the greatest job gains in the past year among cities measured. Washington state has been progressive on the issue for years. The state’s minimum wage rate has been tied to inflation since 1998, and the mayor of Seattle is currently pushing to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15.

More here

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Russ Britt: Obamacare Is Good For The Economy, Goldman Sachs Researcher Says

Obamacare is good for the economy? That’s what one venerable Wall Street brokerage is saying. Alec Phillips, economic researcher at Goldman Sachs, said in a note issued late last week to clients that subsidies from the Affordable Care Act boosted gross domestic product during the first quarter and are likely to do the same during the second quarter. Phillips says that he now has a more optimistic view of the second quarter’s GDP growth, with a gain of 3.9% now estimated, and 4.5% annualized growth in real personal consumption.

“While we were initially skeptical of the large estimated effect of the new subsidies on personal income, these now look more reasonable to us in light of revisions, greater enrollment than expected several months ago, and the fact that states are likely contributing to the subsidies on top of the well-known estimates of federal costs,” Phillips said. But the health-care industry won’t be the only one to benefit, Phillips says, as subsidies will free up income for those who had no coverage before, as well as those who had insurance but were paying for it themselves. “Overall, around 40% of the subsidies should find their way to non-health consumption this year,” he wrote.

More here

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America’s Foremost Dumb Dumb

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William Douglas: McCain: Send U.S. Troops To Rescue Kidnapped Girls In Nigeria

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants to see more than hashtag messages voicing displeasure over the abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. He wants to see U.S. troops go into Nigera and rescue the girls, even if it means doing so without permission from the Nigerian government. ‘If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without the permission of the host country,’ McCain said Tuesday. Referring to Nigeria’s president, McCain added: ‘I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan.’

Thus far, the Obama administration has sent a team to Nigeria that includes FBI officials with hostage negotiation skills, five State Department officials, including a team leader, two strategic communications experts, a civiliam security expert and a regional medical support officer. There are also 10 Defense Department planners and advisers who were already in Nigeria and have been instructed to provide support to the kidnapping response, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

More here

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TPM: Federal Judge Denies Governor’s Motion To Put Idaho Gay Marriages On Hold

A federal magistrate judge has refused to put gay marriages on hold in Idaho pending an appeal from the state’s governor. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale wrote Wednesday morning that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s appeal isn’t likely to succeed, and so there’s no reason to keep same-sex couples from seeking marriage licenses or marrying on Friday. On Tuesday, Dale struck down Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban in response to a lawsuit from four Idaho couples.

Dale said Idaho’s law unconstitutionally denies gay and lesbian couples their fundamental right to marry and wrongly stigmatizes their families. She said the state must start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday morning. Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

More here

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Greg Sargent: Time To Revisit Conventional Wisdom About Politics Of Obamacare

The initial conventional wisdom about the Arkansas Senate race — that incumbent Mark Pryor is the nation’s preeminent Dead Dem Walking — is rapidly getting revised in the wake of new polls showing him ahead of GOP Rep. Tom Cotton. So perhaps, in the context of the Arkansas race, it’s also worth revisiting the conventional wisdom that Obamacare is nothing but a hideous liability for Democrats, and can only shower Republicans with political gold from now until election day. One of Senator Pryor’s senior campaign strategists tells me Pryor will not shy away from making the case that the state’s “private option” —

its version of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare — represents Pryor’s brand of good governance, and that Cotton’s repeal stance is extreme and bad for the state. This is particularly relevant right now, as a fascinating new report from David Ramsey of the Arkansas Times demonstrates. Ramsey reports that the bipartisan private option — which uses Medicaid funds to expand private coverage to 150,000 Arkansans — has become a major issue in several state legislative Republican primaries.

More here

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Louise Radnofsky: A Washington State Health Insurer Plans To Cut Rates In 2015

An insurer in Washington state selling plans under the Affordable Care Act is proposing to lower customers’ health premiums next year in what appears to be one of the first such decreases proposed for 2015. The proposal by Molina Healthcare Inc. MOH +0.60% was part of a batch of state rate filings released Monday that included Washington and Indiana. While most carriers are seeking increases, Molina’s filing signals that insurers that priced cautiously for 2014 could face pressure to be more competitive in the second full year of the law’s insurance marketplaces. Molina proposed a decrease averaging 6.8% for Washington customers for 2015. It told state regulators in its rate filing that it was betting that people signing up through the insurance exchange were in better health than the carrier previously thought,

and that it anticipated new entrants when the law’s penalties for not carrying coverage grow next year. Molina, a company that historically has focused on managed Medicaid plans, offered some of the most expensive premiums among insurers selling on the Washington exchange in this year. It said it had only about 1,200 members in 2014. Ben Lynam, vice president for Molina’s actuarial pricing, said in an interview that the company had made conservative assumptions for 2014 about the medical claims likely to be incurred by its enrollees, in part because it hadn’t had much previous commercial experience. “With hindsight and looking at what’s going on across the country…we’ve improved those assumptions and lowered our rates in 2015,” he said.

More here

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Reuters: Jobless Claims Hit Seven-Year Low, Inflation Ticks Up

New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits hit a seven-year low last week while consumer prices recorded their largest increase in 10 months in April, pointing to a firming economy. The economy’s outlook was further brightened by other data on Thursday showing factory activity in New York state expanding at its quickest pace in nearly four years in May. “It conveys the message of solid economic activity. Labor conditions continue to improve and I expect this will be validated by payroll reports over the next few months,” said Anthony Karydakis, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak in New York.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 297,000, the Labor Department said, offering fresh evidence the jobs market was strengthening. That was the lowest reading since May 2007 and brought claims back to their pre-recession level. Economists had forecast first-time applications ticking up to 320,000 last week. In a second report, the department said its Consumer Price Index increased 0.3 percent last month as food prices rose for a fourth consecutive month and the cost of gasoline surged. The rise in the CPI was the biggest rise since June last year and added to March’s 0.2 percent rise. The combination of a strengthening jobs market and an uptick in inflation pressures should give the Federal Reserve ammunition to continue scaling back its monetary stimulus. However, the U.S. central bank is not expected to start raising overnight interest rates, currently near zero, before the second half of 2015.

More here

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On This Day

President Obama takes a stroll through the White House Rose Garden, May 15, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama walks in the White House Rose Garden, May 15, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama meets with former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, in the Oval Office, May 15, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins gives President Obama a Phillies jersey and autographed baseball while Obama welcomes the 2008 Major League Baseball World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies at the White House, May 15, 2009

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First Lady Michelle Obama addresses Spelman graduates at their May 15, 2011 commencement.

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President Obama greets people in the audience at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service, an annual ceremony honoring law enforcement who were killed in the line of duty, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 15, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama presents a birthday cake to Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, during a dinner for Combatant Commanders and senior military leadership in the Blue Room of the White House, May 15, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama and Attorney General Holder attend the 32nd Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on May 15, 2013

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President Obama poses with a souvenir jersey as he is flanked by players David Beckham and Landon Donovan, members of the LA Galaxy, Major League Soccer’s Championship team, at the White House, May 15, 2012

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