Posts Tagged ‘DeGrasse Tyson

30
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama enters the South Portico of the White House following his arrival aboard Marine One on the South Lawn, March 30, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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The Week Ahead:

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Addicting Info: Ted Cruz Tries To Use Facebook To Prove No One Likes Obamacare And It Blows Up In His Face

The Tea Party crusade against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hit a huge snag this week. On March 24, 2014, Texas Tea Party Senator, Ted Cruz, decided to put up a ‘quick poll,’ about the ACA on his facebook page. Problem? The Koch brothers don’t control the conversation on social media, the people do.

Ask a question, get an answer. The question Rafael ‘Ted’ Cruz asked on facebook was simple. Are you better off now than you were before the ACA, also called Obamacare, was signed into law, four years ago? Nearly 40,000 comments later, the resounding answer from people all across the country was YES.

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NYT: New G.O.P. Bid To Limit Voting In Swing States

Pivotal swing states under Republican control are embracing significant new electoral restrictions on registering and voting that go beyond the voter identification requirements that have caused fierce partisan brawls. The bills, laws and administrative rules — some of them tried before — shake up fundamental components of state election systems, including the days and times polls are open and the locations where people vote. Republicans in Ohio and Wisconsin this winter pushed through measures limiting the time polls are open, in particular cutting into weekend voting favored by low-income voters and blacks, who sometimes caravan from churches to polls on the Sunday before election.

Democrats in North Carolina are scrambling to fight back against the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, passed by Republicans there last year. The measures, taken together, sharply reduce the number of early voting days and establish rules that make it more difficult for people to register to vote, cast provisional ballots or, in a few cases, vote absentee.In all, nine states have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013. Most have to do with voter ID laws. Other states are considering mandating proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport, after a federal court judge recently upheld such laws passed in Arizona and Kansas. Because many poor people do not have either and because documents can take time and money to obtain, Democrats say the ruling makes it far more difficult for people to register.

Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a central provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The decision allowed a number of mostly Southern states to alter their election laws without the prior approval once required from the Justice Department. A few weeks later, free of the mandate and emboldened by a Republican supermajority, North Carolina passed the country’s most sweeping restrictions on voting.

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Tara Culp-Ressler: Survivors Of Domestic Violence Now Have Better Access To Obamacare Benefits

Survivors of domestic violence who are living separately from an abusive spouse will now be able to claim tax credits to help them afford an Obamacare plan, thanks to new rules being developed by the federal government. Before the change, these individuals were locked out of federal assistance for health care unless they filed joint taxes with their abuser. Obamacare’s tax credits are intended to ensure that insurance plans on the new marketplaces are affordable for the Americans who may otherwise struggle to pay for health care. But in order for married people to qualify, the health law requires them to file their taxes jointly. If they file separately, they lose out on the federal assistance altogether. Domestic violence prevention advocates argue that policy ends up harming victims of abuse —

particularly because domestic violence is more concentrated among low-income households, and the victims who are financially dependent on their abusers are less likely to be able to extricate themselves from the relationship.  Last week, a group of 79 lawmakers, led by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), urged the Treasury Department to change this policy and safeguard victims of domestic violence. It only took a few days for Treasury officials to agree. “For victims of domestic abuse, contacting a spouse for purposes of filing a joint return may pose a risk of injury or trauma or, if the spouse is subject to a restraining order, may be legally prohibited. Your concerns are consistent to those expressed to us by numerous others in public comments and meetings,” the Treasury Department acknowledged on Wednesday in a written response to Slaughter and Doggett, explaining that the administration will work on finalizing a new rule on this issue.

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Pete Souza: Pres Obama talks on phone to Pres Putin from Saudi Arabia Friday night

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Fareed Zakaria: Obama Pursues The Right Response To Russia’s 19th-Century Behavior

This is not an academic debate. The best way to deal with Russia’s aggression in Crimea is not to present it as routine and national interest-based foreign policy that will be countered by Washington in a contest between two great powers. It is to point out, as Obama did eloquently this week in Brussels, that Russia is grossly endangering a global order that has benefited the entire world. Compare what the Obama administration has managed to organize in the wake of this latest Russian aggression to the Bush administration’s response to Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008. That was a blatant invasion. Moscow sent in tanks and heavy artillery; hundreds were killed, nearly 200,000 displaced.

Yet the response was essentially nothing. This time, it has been much more serious. Some of this difference is in the nature of the stakes, but it might also have to do with the fact that the Obama administration has taken pains to present Russia’s actions in a broader context and get other countries to see them as such. You can see a similar pattern with Iran. The Bush administration largely pressured that country bilaterally. The Obama administration was able to get much more effective pressure because it presented Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to global norms of nonproliferation, persuaded the other major powers to support sanctions, enacted them through the United Nations and thus ensured that they were comprehensive and tight. This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century.

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@GOPIsPoverty

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Guardian: Kerry To Meet Russia’s Lavrov For Ukraine Talks In Paris On Sunday

Halfway home from Saudi Arabia, US secretary of state John Kerry has abruptly changed course. He will now stay in Europe for talks on Ukraine. The news followed reports from Russia that Kerry had spoken to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, by phone, a day after President Vladimir Putin called President Barack Obama. The Russian foreign ministry said Washington had initiated the call between Kerry and Lavrov, adding that they discussed Ukraine and plans for further contact.

Flying from Riyadh to Ireland for a refuelling stop, Kerry decided to turn around after speaking to Lavrov from the plane. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki confirmed on Saturday that Kerry had arrived in Paris and that the meeting would be held on Sunday.

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Kate Nocera: Univision Works Overtime To Get Latinos Enrolled In Obamacare

The Obama administration has been working overtime in recent months to enroll uninsured Latinos — one of the groups most likely to be uninsured — but it’s not just the White House making a concerted effort. For more than a year, the Spanish-language television network Univision has embarked on their own company-wide effort to get Latinos signed up on the exchanges, working through newscasts, special programming, advertising partnerships, and a dedicated health care website. Univision has not only been providing information to their viewers as to how to sign up but openly encouraging them to do so.

The network’s “empowerment initiatives” team — which focuses primarily on health and educational programming — began looking for partners to help their audience find coverage last year. Univision ultimately went with the California Endowment and the Ford Foundation, launching in earnest last April. The company makes no bones about what they were trying to do. Empowerment Initiatives Director Stephen Keppel told BuzzFeed that the company thinks “it’s better to have health insurance than not to have it” and because of the high number of uninsured Latinos, it was an important initiative for them to take on.

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BBC: Vladmir Putin: The Rebuilding Of ‘Soviet’ Russia

On 16 August 1999, the members of Russia’s parliament – the State Duma – met to approve the candidacy of a prime minister. They heard the candidate’s speech, they asked him a few questions, and they dutifully confirmed him in the position. This was President Boris Yeltsin’s fifth premier in 16 months, and one confused party leader got the name wrong. He said he would support the candidacy of Stepashin – the surname of the recently sacked prime minister – rather than that of his little-known successor, before making an embarrassing correction.

If even leading Duma deputies couldn’t remember the new prime minister’s name, you couldn’t blame the rest of the world if it didn’t pay much attention to his speech. He was unlikely to head the Russian government for more than a couple of months anyway, so why bother? That man was a former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, and he has been in charge of the world’s largest country, as president or prime minister, ever since. Few realised it at the time, because few were listening, but that speech provided a blueprint for pretty much everything he has done, for how he would re-shape a country that was perilously close to total collapse.

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Scott Keyes: It Saves Millions To Simply Give Homeless People A Place To Live

It is cheaper to give homeless people a home than it is to leave them on the streets. That’s not just the opinion of advocates working to end homelessness, nor is it the opinion of homeless people themselves. It is a fact that has been borne out by studies across the country, from Florida to Colorado and beyond. The latest analysis to back up this fact comes out of Charlotte, where researchers from the University of North Carolina Charlotte examined a recently constructed apartment complex that was oriented towards homeless people.

Moore Place opened in 2012 with 85 units. Each resident is required to contribute 30 percent of his or her income, which includes any benefits like disability, veterans, or Social Security, toward rent. The rest of the housing costs, which total approximately $14,000 per person annually, are covered by a mix of local and federal government grants, as well as private donors. In the first year alone, researchers found that Moore Place saved taxpayers $1.8 million. These savings comes from improvements in two primary areas: health care and incarceration.

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Sara Fischer: Biden: Undocumented Immigrants ‘Already American Citizens’

Vice President Joe Biden echoed the West Wing’s “we can’t wait” mantra Thursday, telling a crowd at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Summit that “undocumented aliens” are already American citizens. “You know, 11 million people that are living in the shadows. I believe they’re already Americans citizens,” Biden said. “These people are just waiting, waiting for a chance to be able to contribute fully. And by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already Americans in my view.”

Citing the contribution Hispanics have made to the American economy, Biden stressed the importance of passing immigration reform sooner rather than later, arguing, “It’s the single most significant thing we can do. It’s a game-changer financially for the country.”“Just this one act alone, if we pass the Senate bill, can extend Social Security solvency by two years.” Biden said. “Even Republicans think we should pass the Senate bill,” he later added.

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Chris Geidner: Federal Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To Texas Abortion Restrictions

A federal appeals court rejected Planned Parenthood’s challenge to Texas’ restrictive abortion law passed last summer, save for one small exception. Thursday’s unanimous decision of a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a trial court decision from October finding two provisions in the law unconstitutional.

Planned Parenthood challenged two provisions: One required physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges “at a hospital no more than thirty miles from the location where the abortion is provided.” The second provision limited medication abortions by requiring that, with few exceptions, abortion-inducing drugs only be used when they “comply with the protocol authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

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Michael Cohen: Obama’s Not-Another-Cold-War-Vision: Don’t Hate The Players – Play The Game

From the day Barack Obama took office, his approach to American foreign policy has vacillated between a seemingly irreconcilable set of impulses. There’s been the sentimentalist agitating for reductions in nuclear weapons, calling for a more modest approach – and the commander-in-chief ramping up the US drone war, surging in Afghanistan, going far beyond his mandate to affect regime change in Libya. There was the lawyer and internationalist drawing a redline on Syria’s use of chemical weapons – and the hard-headed realist who, to date, has assiduously avoided any policy that would risk miring the US in that country’s bloody civil war. Yesterday in Brussels, as Obama spoke about the proper response to Russia’s seizure of Crimea, those contending instincts were once again on stark display.

Yet rarely has Obama so effectively navigated the middle ground between them – or quite so lovingly embraced Europe as he cast a distinctly icy glare at Vladimir Putin. In the process, the American president offered perhaps the clearest sense of his own vision on international relations: one that upholds the international system for its role in creating a world of greater peace and security – and explaining why, in an era of retrenchment, that system matters more than ever.In Obama’s formulation, peace is a product of universalist ideals, yes. But it is sustained and reinforced by an international system of laws and norms.

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Betsy Phillips: Creationism Is Not Being Ignored On ‘Cosmos’ — It’s The Focus

Danny Faulkner, a “scientist” working for the same group that runs Kentucky’s creation museum was complaining last week that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey doesn’t address creationism.Actually, Tyson is deliberately and straightforwardly giving a whole lot of time to creationism. Why did we have to sit through the history of the eyeball? Creationists love to argue that the complexity of the eyeball disproves evolution. Note how he talked specifically about how the eyeball isn’t actually this perfect mechanism, but something that works well enough for what we need it for, but not as well as it does in fish — the whole idea that the eyeball is a perfect, too-complex thing is a creationist argument.

 Another example: Why did Tyson spend so much time explaining the similarities and differences in how polar bears have evolved through natural selection vs. how dogs have changed in the time we’ve been breeding them for certain traits? Because creationists acknowledge that changes within species happen. They just like to pretend like one kind of organism couldn’t really have brought forth another kind of organism. Tyson isn’t ignoring creationism. Creationists wish Tyson were ignoring creationism. Tyson is instead standing on creationism’s home turf and playing by their rules.Tyson is taking creationists’ claims deadly seriously, and showing all the ways they’re wrong.

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Jon Emont: Can Israeli Business Leaders Push Netanyahu Toward A Palestinian Peace Deal?

In late January, the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began to appear on scores of billboards in Tel Aviv. The caption read: “A strong state signs the deal. Bibi only you can do it!” The message—to work out a peace agreement with the Palestinians—was idealistic. But the money was all business. The 1 million shekel (around $300,000) advertising campaign was paid for by the Israeli wing of Breaking the Impasse, an alliance of more than 150 Israeli corporate executives. The campaign comes at a crucial time. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is one month away from his April 29 deadline to release a framework agreement that will establish the U.S. government’s principles for a final deal.

After nine months of discussion there is widespread worry that the framework agreement will be dead on arrival. Kerry’s demands from the Palestinians might cause Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to withdraw from talks or lose his authority to negotiate. At the same time, Kerry’s demands for Israeli concessions over settlements or East Jerusalem might lead the Israeli right to pressure Netanyahu to withdraw from the talks. Israelis are pessimistic about the peace process, and Netanyahu has little domestic incentive to make concessions to spur negotiations. This worries Israeli business executives. They’re concerned that Israel will face increasing international isolation, including an expanded boycott campaign, if the talks founder. BTI represents these business people. It’s planning a well-funded public campaign to pressure Netanyahu to make concessions and sign a deal.

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Katie Zezima: Just How Popular Was Michelle Obama’s Visit To China?

According to a tally by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, photos, videos and stories about Michelle Obama’s visit to China garnered more than 1 billion page views. Yes, that’s billion with a B.It’s probably not too far-fetched of a notion, according to Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. “This is really Michelle fever in China,” he said.Cheng said Obama and her family –

her mother, Marian Robinson, and daughters, Malia and Sasha, traveled with her — showed respect for Chinese traditions and deftly weaved in diplomacy with lighter moments in a way that made the Chinese want to see what she was doing and where she was going. “Chinese do not only see this leader to leader. They see it family to family and in a broader context the respect of the two great countries,” he said. “This is why people got so excited.”

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Get Covered Illinois: #GCISuccess Stories

Rebecca S.: Rebecca, a 27 year-old Chicago resident, was denied coverage in 2012 because of her pre-existing condition. Upon being rejected in the private market, Rebecca enrolled in a plan for high-risk individuals that was beyond her price range and didn’t cover many of her health care needs. Now, Rebecca is enrolled in a Silver plan that saves her $1,600 per year compared to her previous coverage and covers the majority of her needs. Rebecca sees her new health insurance as more than just comprehensive coverage at a fair price. She believes enrolling in affordable health care is her chance at the American dream to be young and hardworking without the fear that an accident or illness will derail her dreams.

Joe Z.: Joe, a 55 year-old self-employed realtor from Chicago, previously had a COBRA plan that ended in 2013. Preparing for the New Year, Joe enrolled in a Silver plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield through the Marketplace. He was amazed to learn that his premium would be reduced by over 50% and that his new plan offered more extensive coverage. Joe is thankful that he was able to find affordable coverage on the Marketplace, especially with his pre-existing condition. In 2005, Joe underwent open heart surgery and said it was nearly impossible to find reasonable coverage with his medical history until the Affordable Care Act. Since enrolling, he has already used his insurance at his annual checkup with his cardiologist. Joe can rest easy now knowing his medical history will never dictate the type of coverage he can get again.

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On This Day

 Standing on the Colonnade with Phil Schiliro, assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, prior to the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act Bil signing ceremony in the Red Room of the White House, March 30, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

 President Obama walks to a podium in the Cross Hall, Grand Foyer of the White House, before making a statement regarding the American auto industry, March 30, 2009 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)

President Obama walks away from the podium after delivering a statement regarding the American auto industry in the Cross Hall, Grand Foyer of the White House, March 30, 2009 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

 President Obama and Staff Secretary Lisa Brown on the Colonnade prior to the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act Bill signing ceremony, March 30, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

 

 President Obama conducts interviews in the Map Room of the White House, March 30, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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 President Obama walks towards the Oval Office, after returning to the White House from Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Va., March 30, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and Vice President Biden meet with advisors for a health care implementation meeting in the Oval Office, March 30, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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First Lady Michelle Obama greets actress Hilary Swank and other guest mentors in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House during an event celebrating Women’s History Month, March 30, 2011 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama shakes hands with members of the audience following his speech on energy security at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., March 30, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

 President Obama greets James Brady in Press Secretary Jay Carney’s West Wing office at the White House, March 30, 2011. Brady, former President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, was wounded during the assassination attempt on President Reagan 30 years ago. Brady’s wife Sarah, right, and son Scott, center, joined him for the meeting (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with White House correspondents Bill Plante, CBS News, and Savannah Guthrie, NBC News, in the Upper Press Office of the White House, March 30, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama looks out the window of Marine One as he departs the White House South Lawn en route to Joint Base Andrews, Md., for a trip to Vermont, March 30, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Marcelle Leahy aboard Air Force One en route to Burlington, Vt., March 30, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama is reflected in sunglasses as he greets people on the tarmac following his arrival at Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine, March 30, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

 

11
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama waits in the Green Room prior to signing an Executive Order for the White House Council on Women and Girls in the East Room of the White House, March 11, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

10:0: President Obama receives the Presidential Daily Briefing

11:30: Designates the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as a national monument

2:15: Departs White House

3:25: Arrives New York City

5:15: Attends a DNC fundraiser; private residence; New York City

2:15: Delivers remarks and answers questions at a DSCC Event; private residence; New York City

9:10: Departs New York

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Freaking Hilarious. Watch Here

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LA Times: Obamacare Meeting Goal Of Reducing Number Of Uninsured, Data Indicate

Evidence has begun to resolve one of the odder controversies surrounding Obamacare: The new law appears to be achieving its top goal of reducing the number of Americans who lack health insurance. The dispute over that question is a strange one because the answer would seem to be fairly obvious: Under the Affordable Care Act, the government will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize families who decide to buy insurance, a product that the vast majority of Americans value highly. Basic economics would seem to say that those subsidies would have to increase the number of people buying insurance. Gallup, which surveyed about 28,000 Americans concerning their health insurance from Jan. 2 to Feb. 28, found that the percentage who say they lack any form of insurance has dropped significantly, from 18% of the U.S. adult population to 15.9%.

That would translate to between 4 and 5 million fewer people without insurance. As the unemployment rate has dropped, some people may have gained coverage at work, but Gallup’s numbers indicate that employer coverage has ticked downward by about 2 percentage points. Increases have come in the share of Americans buying their own insurance and the share covered by Medicaid, which the new law expanded. Those trends are all consistent with what the new law was expected to do. The other new piece of data comes from the McKinsey Co., which has conducted four surveys of people who are eligible to sign up for insurance under Obamacare. McKinsey found that 27% of those who signed up on the law’s new marketplaces in February were previously uninsured, up from 11% in its earlier surveys.

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NYT: Little Know Health Act Fact: Prison Inmates Are Signing Up

In a little-noticed outcome of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, jails and prisons around the country are beginning to sign up inmates for health insurance under the law, taking advantage of the expansion of Medicaid that allows states to extend coverage to single and childless adults — a major part of the prison population. State and counties are enrolling inmates for two main reasons. Although Medicaid does not cover standard health care for inmates, it can pay for their hospital stays beyond 24 hours — meaning states can transfer millions of dollars of obligations to the federal government. But the most important benefit of the program, corrections officials say, is that inmates who are enrolled in Medicaid while in jail or prison can have coverage after they get out.

People coming out of jail or prison have disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases, especially mental illness and addictive disorders. Few, however, have insurance, and many would qualify for Medicaid under the income test for the program — 138 percent of the poverty line — in the 25 states that have elected to expand their programs. Health care experts estimate that up to 35 percent of those newly eligible for Medicaid under Mr. Obama’s health care law are people with histories of criminal justice system involvement, including jail and prison inmates and those on parole or probation. “For those newly covered, it will open up treatment doors for them” and potentially save money in the long run by reducing recidivism, said Dr. Fred Osher, director of health systems and services policy for the Council of State Governments Justice Center. He added that a 2009 study in Washington State found that low-income adults who received treatment for addiction had significantly fewer arrests than those who were untreated.

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The Detroit News: Dexter Cancer Patient Who Called Health Care ‘Unaffordable’ Will Save More Than $1K

A Dexter cancer patient featured in a conservative group’s TV ad campaign denouncing her new health care coverage as “unaffordable” will save more than $1,000 this year. Julie Boonstra, 49, starred last month in an emotional television ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity that implied Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters’ vote for the Affordable Care Act made her medication so “unaffordable” she could die. Peters of Bloomfield Township is running for an open U.S. Senate seat against Republican Terri Lynn Land.

The Detroit News and fact checkers last month cast doubt on the accuracy of the TV ad. On Monday, Boonstra acknowledged which health plan she chose, offering the first evidence of cost savings. Boonstra’s old plan cost $1,100 a month in premiums or $13,200 a year, she previously told The News. It didn’t include money she spent on co-pays, prescription drugs and other out-of-pocket expenses. By contrast, the Blues’ plan premium costs $571 a month or $6,852 for the year. Since out-of-pocket costs are capped at $5,100, including deductibles, the maximum Boonstra would pay this year for all of her cancer treatment is $11,952.

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Washington Post: Senate Easily Passes McCaskill’s Military Sexual Assault Bill

A bipartisan plan to overhaul the way sexual-assault cases are handled in the military was easily approved by the Senate Monday evening.  The measure written by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was approved 97 to 0 — a rare unanimous vote. But Congress has been quick to respond to the rising rate of assault and rape in the ranks. Last year lawmakers voted to revamp the military’s legal system, ending the statute of limitations on assault and rape cases, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and requiring the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape.

McCaskill’s proposal goes further by eliminating the “good soldier” defense that takes irrelevant factors such as the service record of the accused into account. In cases where there is a dual jurisdiction because the crime occurred off of a military base, the victim would get a say in whether the case would be handled in a civilian or military court. The proposal would extend protections to students in service academies. It also would require that in every decision on every promotion in the military, that commander’s record on the handling of sexual-assault cases would have to be taken into account. Although it passed easily in the Senate, the proposal’s fate remains unclear in the House.

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Simon Shuster: Putin’s Man In Crimea Is Ukraine’s Worst Nightmare

A month ago, when Ukraine’s old regime was just starting to crack under the pressure of a revolution, few people in the country had ever heard of Sergei Aksyonov. He was then a marginal figure even in the local politics of the region of Crimea. His Russian Unity party had only three seats in the regional legislature and no representation anywhere else. But that has not stopped him from taking charge. In late January, as the protesters in Kiev began seizing government buildings, Aksyonov started to form an army on the Crimean peninsula. Now he is the de facto leader of the entire region, a post that has thrust him into the center of the most dire political crisis Europe has confronted in years. From the beginning, the stated aim of his paramilitary force was to defend against the revolutionary wave that was sweeping across Ukraine and, ultimately, to break away from the country entirely.

Its first battalion of 700 men came from the youth group of Aksyonov’s political party, and as he continued calling in the proceeding weeks for a “full scale mobilization,” hundreds of others joined his Crimean self-defense brigades. By Feb. 21, the day the Kiev uprising toppled the Ukrainian government, Aksyonov was in command of several thousand troops. “All of them,” he says, “answer to me.” His rise to power has made him a valuable ally to Moscow and a serious threat to Ukraine and its Western partners. His written appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin is what opened the door for the Russian occupation of Crimea at the beginning of this month, and on March 4, Putin recognized Aksyonov as the legitimate leader of Crimea, apparently without ever having met the man.

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Bloomberg: Ukraine Starts Military Exercises As Russia Warns On East 

Ukraine began military drills as Russian forces tightened their hold on the Crimean peninsula and the Foreign Ministry in Moscow warned of “lawlessness” in the former Soviet republic’s eastern provinces. Ukraine’s armed forces are testing the combat-readiness of troops, the Defense Ministry said today on its website, reiterating the government’s desire for a peaceful end to the standoff in Crimea. Russia, which has vowed to defend the ethnic Russians that dominate Crimea after an uprising in Kiev, accused Ukraine of ignoring radicals in the nation’s east.

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I. LOVE. THE. OBAMA. WHITE. HOUSE.

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Think Progress: Why Obama’s Appearance On ‘Between Two Ferns’ Worked

Usually, Galifianakis is the one making his guests feel incredibly uncomfortable (“I just have never interviewed a 7-year-old before,” he told Justin Bieber when the young star appeared on the show), but that dynamic was mostly flipped with Obama. Yes, Galifianakis did stumble over Obama’s name in the way he does for most guests (‘Bieber’ became ‘Beevers’), but almost immediately Obama was the one making Galifianakis feel awkward. “If I ran a third time, it’d be sort of like doing a third hangover movie,” Obama dug. “It didn’t really work out very well, did it?”

Obama took a risk going on a show as weird as Between Two Ferns; it could have made him look weird and awkward and bumbling. But he hacked it, flipping that dynamic back around on his host. This also made it easy for Obama, who is clearly trying to enroll the youth stoner demographic though his signature health care law, to make his plug for Healthcare.gov. Obama’s presidency has overlapped with the rise of the meme, and both he and Michelle have taken advantage of this. They have both made frequent appearances on late night shows (Obama is one of the politicians who’s slow jammed the news), and his administration is responsible for the pajama boy meme and the McKayla Maroney ‘not impressed’ face picture. Obama even embraced the existing meme of his ‘Not Bad’ faceduring a Reddit “ask me anything.”

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Katie Valentine: Neil DeGrasse Tyson To Science Deniers: ‘Science Is Not There For You To Cherry Pick

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of National Geographic and Fox’s new show Cosmos, said Sunday that he thinks the media needs to stop providing false balance in stories on scientific subjects like climate change. Host of CNN’s Reliable Sources Brian Stelter asked Tyson whether he thought the media had a responsibility portray science correctly, particularly when discussing climate change. “The media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but it doesn’t really apply in science,” Tyson said. “The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view. And then you can be viewed as balanced.”

Stelter showed a clip of President Obama’s climate speech last year, in which he decried climate deniers by saying the country didn’t have time for a “meeting of the flat Earth society.” Tyson said the president’s reference was a good example of how the idea of “balance” in scientific stories doesn’t make sense. “In the clip you showed of the president — you don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say ‘now let’s give equal time to the flat Earthers,” he said. “Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick…You can decide whether or not to believe in it but that doesn’t change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.”

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Philly Mag: NYT: Christie Turned Twin Towers Wreckage Into “Politically Motivated Gifts”

The New York Times reports this morning that Chris Christie’s administration used wreckage from 9/11 as “politically motivated gifts,” part of a politicization of the Port Authority that is coming under increasing scrutiny from federal prosecutors in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal. For a state that lost hundreds of lives on Sept. 11, the gifts were emotionally resonant: pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center. They were presented by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to 20 carefully chosen New Jersey mayors who sat atop a list of 100 whose endorsements Gov. Chris Christie hoped to win. At photo opportunities around the mangled pieces of steel, Bill Baroni, Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, told audiences how many people wanted a similar remnant of the destroyed buildings, and how special these mayors were.

Mayors lower on the list of 100 — such as Mark Sokolich, of Fort Lee, at No. 45 — received other Port Authority perquisites: an intimate tour of the National September 11 Memorial, or the new World Trade Center construction site, or Port Authority money for jobs programs or new firefighting equipment, even in towns far from the port. Turning wreckage of the twin towers into politically motivated gifts before Mr. Christie’s 2013 re-election was only one example. The authority became a means to reward friends (or hire them) and punish adversaries, and a bank to be used when Mr. Christie sought to avoid raising taxes. Major policy initiatives, such as instituting a large toll and fare increase in 2011, were treated like political campaigns to burnish the governor’s image.

More here

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Zach Johnson: Aretha Franklin On President Obama’s “Respect” Flub: “Spelling And Giving It Is A Huge Difference”

Aretha Franklin realizes everyone make mistakes—even the President of the United States. After Barack Obama botched the spelling of “Respect” during the White House’sWomen of Soul Event last week, the Queen of Soul herself released a statement regarding the politician’s flub. “I’m sure the President had much on his agenda and was just a little tired,” Franklin told E! News. “However, spelling and giving it, is a huge difference. The President and I are mutual when it comes to R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

More here

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On This Day:

President Barack Obama greets members of the U.S. Senate youth program at the South Portico of the White House, March 11, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama meets with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss health care reform in the State Dining Room of the White House, March 11, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama delivers remarks before a screening of the HBO ten-part World War II miniseries “The Pacific” in the Family Theater of the White House, March 11, 2010. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, the two executive producers of “The Pacific”, sit in the front row (Photo by Pete Souza)

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First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a “Let’s Move!” and NHL partnership event with Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals players on the South Lawn of the White House, March 11, 2011 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)

President Obama talks with members of the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks following a ceremony to honor the team’s 2009-10 championship season on the South Lawn of the White House, March 11, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama talks on the phone with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai from his vehicle outside the Jane E. Lawton Community Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Sunday, March 11, 2012. The President called to express his shock and sadness over the reported killing of Afghan civilians. (Photo by Pete Souza)

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First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a “Let’s Move!” Twitter Office Hour in the First Lady’s East Wing Office of the White House, March 11, 2013 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)




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