Posts Tagged ‘education

18
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama plays with Leo Chaudhary, son of White House Videographer Arun Chaudhary, right, and Chaudhary’s wife, Laura Moser, prior to a Seder with friends and staff in the State Dining Room of the White House, April 18, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

2:0 EST: The President presents the Commander-in-Chief Trophy to the United States Naval Academy football team

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Paul Krugman: What Eight Million Means

… I shouldn’t let the day pass without mentioning the latest big Obamacare news. Final enrollment for 2014, we now know, will be more than 8 million. The age mix has also improved, with more young people signing up at the end … Goodbye, death spiral.

… the benefits of Obamacare, for all its imperfections, are immense. Millions of people who lived extremely anxious lives now have far more security than before.

More here

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Sara Kliff: Obamacare Succeeded For One Simple Reason: It’s Horrible To Be Uninsured

There’s a very simple reason that Obamacare hit 8 million sign-ups: Being uninsured is horrible. But the political conversation over Obamacare was driven almost entirely by people who had, and knew they would be able to keep, their health insurance. It was filled with a lot of assumptions, theories, and speculations about what people who didn’t have good insurance, or any insurance, would do. Back in December, when the web site’s woes were fresh in everyone’s mind, I made a prediction that sounded strange even to me: Obamacare might still hit its 7 million enrollees. The reason I made that prediction was I’d been talking to the uninsured who’d been spending hours or days or weeks trying to get through the web site. They were frustrated and they were angry. But not one of them had given up. People did give it a serious try. And when the site failed them, they waited a few months and gave it another serious try.

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In March and April, 3.7 million people signed up for coverage, three times as many as the White House had expected. “That’s not a new idea that people want health insurance,” Perry says. “But that they would stick through so much hassle still amazes us. “We know that people gaining coverage through Obamacare tend to be disproportionately young and minority. Urban Institute, for example, estimates that the uninsured rate for people between 18 and 30 has fallen 4.3 percent in the first quarter of 2014 — compared to a 2.3 percent drop among those between 50 and 64. The federal government has also released information on who is signing up for coverage on the exchange. That’s different from Urban’s data, which applies to the newly-insured gaining coverage from both Medicaid and the exchanges. The Obama administration estimates that 25 percent of the people signing up for insurance on the exchange are between 18 and 35. This demographic is watched particularly closely because younger people tend to have lower health care costs — and if more of them sign up, that could help keep premiums slightly lower.

More here

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BBC: Obama Cautious Over Deal To Ease Ukraine Crisis

US President Barack Obama has cautiously welcomed a deal to calm tensions in Ukraine, reached at multi-party talks in Geneva. He said the US and its allies were ready to impose new sanctions on Russia if the situation failed to improve. At the Geneva talks, the sides agreed that illegal military groups in Ukraine must be dissolved, and that those occupying buildings must be disarmed and leave them. The foreign ministers also agreed that there would be an amnesty for all anti-government protesters. But speaking in Washington just hours later, President Obama expressed scepticism as to whether Russia would keep its side of the bargain. “My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that,” he said.

“We have to be prepared that we can actually respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine,” he added. In a telephone call with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the two leaders agreed that the United States and Europe are prepared to take further measures to impose a new round of sanctions if Russia failed to help restore order. “We have put in place additional consequences that we can impose on the Russians if we do not see actual improvement of the situation on the ground,” Mr Obama said. The UK is to provide an additional £1m to support the expansion of the OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine. Washington and the EU have already imposed sanctions on key Russian and Ukrainian political and business officials.

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Jonathan Cohn: Obamacare Signups Hit 8 Million And Both Young And Old Are On Board

President Obama on Thursday announced the final numbers for the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period. Eight million people have signed up for private insurance plans through the new federal and state marketplaces. And within the federal marketplaces, 28 percent of enrollees are ages 18 to 34. This is good news—very, very good news. As for the age mix, you may have heard that about 40 percent of the population eligible for coverage in the marketplaces is between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s true and, obviously, 28 percent is a lot less than 40 percent. The worry has always been that older and sicker people would sign up in unusually high numbers, forcing insurers to raise their prices next year and beyond. But insurance companies didn’t expect young people to sign up in proportion to their numbers in the population. They knew participation would be a bit lower and they set premiums accordingly.

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Only company officials know exactly what they were projecting—that’s proprietary information—but one good metric is the signup rate in Massachusetts, in 2007, when that state had open enrollment for its version of the same reforms. According to information provided by Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and reform architect, 28.3 percent of Massachusetts enrollees were ages 19 to 34, a comparable age group. Yes, that’s right: The overall age mix for the Affordable Care Act is virtually the same as the age mix was in Massachusetts. More important, it vindicates the predictions of experts like Gruber who said, all along, that young people would be among the last to sign up. “To get to 28 percent overall, there had to be a lot of young people among the late enrollees,” says Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “That also bodes well for who is likely to sign up next year.” Thursday’s announcement is more proof of how many people are benefitting from the law—a reminder that affordable health care is within reach for millions that could never get it before.

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Hiphopandpolitics: A Tale Of Two Mothers In America In A Post Racial Society

Catalina Clouser decided to get high and drove for 12 miles with her 2 month old baby on the roof of her car..By the time she realized her baby wasn’t in the car, it was too late.. The baby fell off and was found still in his car seat in the middle of busy freeway.. fortunately unharmed…Clouser was just sentenced and got probation. Shanesha Taylor was homeless and trying to get her life on better footing. She had a job interview and could not get anyone to watch her kids ages 2 yrs and 6 months , so she left them in the car, with window open and went inside to do her job interview.. This mom was arrested and charged w/ a felony, her kids were taken away.. Both women live in Arizona.

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BBC: US Freeing Iran Funds As Tehran Cuts Uranium Stockpile

The United States is to release frozen Iranian funds, saying Tehran has kept commitments made under an interim deal over its nuclear programme. It said $450m (£270m) would be made available in light of a report by the world’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. On Thursday the agency said Iran had neutralised half of its higher-enriched uranium stockpile. The six-month deal saw Iran agree to scale back its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. World powers are concerned Iran is seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons, a charge Iran strongly denies. Talks have started on turning the temporary agreement, which came into effect in January, into a permanent one. The interim deal is due to expire on 20 July.

Iran has diluted half of its higher-grade enriched uranium stockpile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a confidential report. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium to no more than “low-level” 5%, stop enriching uranium to 20% and eliminate its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium. The IAEA report said Iran had so far either diluted or converted nearly three-quarters of its highly-enriched stockpile. The US state department said Washington was releasing the instalment of funds – previously frozen as punishment for Iran’s nuclear programme – because “all sides have kept the commitments” they signed up to.

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National Journal: You May Be Surprised By The States That Support Pre-K

When President Obama called for universal access to pre-K programs in his 2014 State of the Union address, viewers could have been forgiven for thinking this was just another big government initiative that only a liberal could love. But in fact, a look at investments in pre-K education at the state level shows that funding is up around the country–and that some crimson red states like South Carolina and Mississippi are leading the way. The Education Commission of the States analyzed state data on pre-K funding for the 2013-2014 fiscal year and found that of the 40 states that provide state-supported programs for 4-year-olds, 30 of them (plus the District of Columbia) increased their funding for these programs.

And contrary to what you might expect, those increases don’t follow a particular partisan pattern. And there’s another practical reason for conservatives to embrace pre-K education. Advocates of early childhood interventions have always made the moral argument that it’s the just thing to do in order to allow children of all backgrounds to enter school on a level playing field. But now they also lay out the cost-benefit analysis: Spend money now or spend a lot more money later.

More here

(Go check out the map. It’s interesting to see how much red and blue states are genuinely increasing funding)

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Steve Benen: 8 Million

Just five weeks ago, the Associated Press ran an article on the pace of Affordable Care Act enrollments. The White House, the piece said, “needs something close to a miracle to meet its goal of enrolling 6 million people by the end of this month.” Congressional Republicans eagerly passed the AP’s item around. As of April 1, we already knew that miracle had arrived: the initial estimate pointed to 7.1 million Americans enrolling through exchange marketplaces. By last week, that total was revised to 7.5 million. Today, there’s a new number: 8 million consumers signed up for private coverage through exchanges.

As the president want on to explain at a press conference this afternoon, that’s 8 million enrolled through exchanges, another 3 million young adults who’ve gained coverage through family plans, and another 3 million who’ve taken advantage of Medicaid expansion. That’s 14 million American consumers – a number that would be more than 19 million if several Republican officials weren’t deliberately blocking Medicaid expansion out of political spite. In October, the first month of the open-enrollment period, just 106,185 consumers signed up for insurance through an exchange – causing Republicans to not only celebrate, but to openly mock the system by noting a variety of sports venues that hold more than 106,185 attendees. It was obviously proof, we were told at the time, that the Affordable Care Act itself was “hurtling toward failure.” Hmm. Who’s laughing now?

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Christopher Palmeri: Disney Offers Obama Minimum Wage To Florida Theme Park Staff

Walt Disney Co. has offered to raise starting pay at its Florida theme parks by 25 percent to $10 an hour over two years, almost matching the federal minimum wage sought by President Barack Obama. Disney presented the proposal Wednesday to the Service Trades Council, a consortium of six labor groups, the company and union representatives said. They are scheduled to resume bargaining over a contract on May 28. The unions, which represent more than 30,000 employees at Walt Disney World near Orlando, asked for at least $10.10 an hour, the amount congressional Democrats and Obama propose as a new U.S. minimum. Starting pay at the Florida parks is now $8.03 an hour, according to Burbank, Calif.-based Disney.

That would reach the rate Disney is offering by July 2016. “I’m very pleased,” Ed Chambers, president of the council, said in a telephone interview. “We’re well on our way to getting a deal done.” The contract being negotiated covers full-time hourly employees at the world’s most-popular theme-park complex. Disney reported record profit of $6.6 billion on revenue of $45 billion last year from its TV networks, parks, studios and consumer products.

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NYT: Enrollments Exceed Obama’s Target For Health Care Act

President Obama announced Thursday that eight million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, including what the White House said were a sufficient number of young, healthy adults, a critical milestone that might counter election-year attacks by Republicans on the law’s success and viability. The total number of enrollees exceeds by a million the target set by the administration for people to buy insurance through government-run health care exchanges. In particular, the number of young people signing up appears to have surged during the final weeks of enrollment. “This thing is working,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room, in what amounted to a second victory lap after he announced two weeks ago that 7.1 million people had signed up for insurance during an initial enrollment period. “The Affordable Care Act is covering more people at less cost than most people would have predicted a few months ago.”

In the early months of signups, the number of young people between the ages of 18 and 34 — who tend to be healthier — hovered around 25 percent. But as White House officials predicted, many young people appear to have waited until close to the March 31 deadline to enroll, increasing their participation. The overall percentage of young people enrolled is not a guarantee that all of the insurance marketplaces across the country will work perfectly. Individual insurance companies will make decisions about what their premiums are based on the makeup of their own client list. But the higher proportion of young enrollees is a rebuke to the critics of the Affordable Care Act, who had predicted that it would fail to attract younger, healthier customers to buy insurance.

More here

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Beau Biden: A Message From Beau Biden

For the past eight years, you have given me the privilege of serving as your Attorney General. Thanks to a group of extraordinary professionals at the Department of Justice and their tireless work–from protecting our children and getting criminals off the streets, to holding more accountable those responsible for the housing crisis–I believe we have made Delaware a better place to live and to raise a family. I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished. As your Attorney General I have done my best to remain true to the core values I believe define public service–honesty, integrity, and doing right by the people I serve. Part of doing right by you is being straight with you about my future plans.

Over the past few months, as I’ve been planning to run for reelection, I have also been giving a great deal of thought to running for Governor in 2016. What started as a thought–a very persistent thought–has now become a course of action that I wish to pursue. After careful consideration, I have concluded that it is not right to ask for your support in 2014, knowing that my focus would be divided between doing my job as Attorney General while at the same time running as a candidate for Governor. Therefore, I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection as your Attorney General this November.

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Tara Culp-Ressler: Obamacare Enrollment Crushes Goal

President Obama announced on Thursday that 8 million people have signed up for plans through Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges. Although March 31 was originally the final deadline to enroll in Obamacare, administration officials extended the open enrollment period until April 15 to accommodate the people who may have struggled to complete their applications due to technological issues. Just over two weeks ago, the administration announced that Obamacare enrollment had reached 7.1 million — surpassing expectations after HealthCare.gov’s rocky rollout in October. Polling from Gallup released this week found that Obamacare may be having an even bigger impact on the uninsurance rate than initially expected, suggesting that about 12 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since the fall.

That places the uninsurance rate at its lowest point since 2008. According to Gallup’s estimations, about half of the Americans who have gained insurance for the first time this year say they got their coverage through Obamacare’s marketplaces. Other people gaining coverage could have gotten it through the expansion of the Medicaid program, or by signing up directly with an insurer. And despite concerns that Obamacare wouldn’t be able to recover from HealthCare.gov’s disastrous rollout, several major insurers say they’re optimistic about the law, and eager to continue offering plans on the new marketplaces during the next open enrollment period. Insurance companies like UnitedHealth Group, Kaiser Permanente, Molina Healthcare, and Wellmark are interested in maintaining their presences on the state-level exchanges, and some are considering expanding

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On This Day:

President Obama arrives at the South Lawn of the White House after a day trip to Ohio and Michigan, April 18, 2010

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President Obama arrives to presents the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the Air Force Academy football team in the Rose Garden at the White House, April 18, 2011

President Obama receives a football from Air Force’s running back Jared Tew after presenting the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the Air Force Academy football team

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama mark the beginning of Passover with a Seder in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 18, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on April 18. 2013

President Obama talks with Tom Grilk, head of the Boston Athletic Association, as he greets first responders and marathon volunteers at Cathedral High School in Boston, Mass., April 18, 2013. The President and First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Boston to attend an interfaith prayer service dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama Speaks to Volunteers and First Responders in Boston. April 18, 2013

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend an interfaith prayer service dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Mass., April 18, 2013. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is seated at right (Photo by Pete Souza)

08
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama embraces Vice President Biden in the Oval Office after a meeting on the budget, April 8, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

11:45 EDT: President Obama delivers remarks on equal pay, East Room

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@petesouza: Pres Obama takes the stage at Bladensburg High School

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The Week Ahead

Wednesday: The President and the First Lady will travel to Houston, TX. The President will attend a memorial service at Fort Hood. He will attend DCCC and DSCC events. More details regarding the President and First Lady’s travel to Houston will be forthcoming.

Thursday: The President and the First Lady will travel to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, TX. The President will deliver remarks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. The President and the First Lady will return to Washington, DC, in the afternoon.

Friday: The President will travel to New York, NY to deliver remarks at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention.

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Bryce Covert: Obama’s New Move On Gender And Pay Could Have More Impact Than The Lilly Ledbetter Act

President Obama on Tuesday is expected to sign two executive orders that will address the pay disparity between women and men. One will bar federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about their pay with each other. The other will require businesses to hand over data on pay, broken down by race and gender, to the Labor Department. The goal of both steps is to increase transparency, which is more important than it may sound. It’s hard to fight pay discrimination if you don’t even know what other people make. That’s exactly what happened to Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Act is named. She didn’t find out she was being paid less than the men around her until 19 years after she started at Goodyear. Even then, it was thanks only to an anonymous note. While President Obama has touted the fact that his first act as president was to sign that bill, it was a very, very incremental step toward gender wage parity. The law merely gives women more time to bring suits.

The executive orders could start a new wave of progress. About half of American workers are either expressly barred or strongly discouraged from discussing pay with each other. Obama’s action won’t change that fact for everyone, but it will affect 22 percent of the workforce. And it can have ripple effects to other companies that might want to compete for federal contracts, changing standards over time.President Obama has proposed a universal preschool system that includes care for children ages zero to three and would go a long way toward helping parents afford the skyrocketing costs of child care. But many of these ideas are anathema to conservatives in Congress, because they would require government spending and/or interfering with the free market. Until that changes, executive orders like the ones Obama will issue Tuesday may be the best hope for a while.

More here

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Meghashyam Mali: Obama Administration Reverses Planned Cuts To Medicare Advantage

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Monday announced that it would increase payments to insurers offering Medicare Advantage plans by 0.4 percent, reversing a planned cut. The move comes after criticism from insurance groups and Democratic lawmakers who feared the fallout from trimming benefits for seniors in a difficult midterm election year.

CMS had proposed a 1.9 percent rate cut in February. But on Monday, agency officials said that changed estimates allowed for them to reverse the cut. CMS in a statement said that the rate changes would “ensure beneficiaries will continue to have access to a wide array of high quality, high value, and low cost options while making certain that plans are providing value to Medicare and taxpayers.”

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Jamelle Bouie: Jonathan Chait’s Look At Race During The Obama Era Is Missing One Thing: Black Americans

You should contrast this with Jonathan Chait’s most recent feature for New York magazine, where the story of race in the Obama administration is a story of mutual grievance between Americans on the left and right, with little interest in the lived experiences of racism from black Americans and other people of color. It’s a story, in other words, that treats race as an intellectual exercise—a low-stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white conservatives over their respective racial innocence.That might fit the experiences of a mostly white pundit class, but it has nothing to do with race as experienced in the “day-to-day” lives of ordinary people. When a twentysomething black New Yorker talks about race, she isn’t as concerned with the rhetoric of Republicans as she is with the patrol car that trails her teenage brother when he rides his bike to the corner store.

What’s odd about the argument is that Chait clearly shows the extent to which conservatism—even if it isn’t “racist”—works to entrench racial inequality through “colorblindness” and pointed opposition to the activist state. But rather than take that to its conclusion, he asks us to look away.Of course, it’s not accusing conservatives of “racism” to note that particular policies—say, tax cuts to defund the social safety net, or blocking the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act—have a disparate impact. That’s just reality. And it’s not tarring your opponents to note that race plays a huge part in building popular support for those policies. Chait finishes his piece with a note (a hope?) that this dynamic of grievance will become irrelevant with time: “The passing from the scene of the nation’s first black president in three years, and the near-certain election of its 45th nonblack one, will likely ease the mutual suspicion. In the long run, generational changes grind inexorably away.” Yes, the Return of the White President will cause this tension to recede, as arguments over racial innocence—“You’re racist!” “You’re a race baiter!”—fade like the elves of Middle-Earth. But that’s only the end of the story if you’re most concerned with partisan fights.

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Eli Clifton: Exclusive: Shady Double-Agent’s Obamacare Sabotage: Top “Supporter” Quietly Funded Its Opposition

While proponents of the Affordable Care Act took a victory lap on the April 1 signup deadline, opposition to the state-run marketplaces continues to expand across the country through “Health Care Freedom Acts,” bills that would seek to limit state governments’ cooperation with the Affordable Care Act. But the untold story, until now, is that a key White House ally in passing the Affordable Care Act may have helped lay the groundwork for these very anti-ACA legislations being introduced across the country. Billy Tauzin, the president of the pharmaceutical lobby, couldn’t help gloating while delivering a keynote speech at his final PhRMA annual meeting before his 2010 retirement. Reflecting on the industry’s decision to support comprehensive healthcare reform, the mega-lobbyist quipped, “This PhRMA team is a Super Bowl championship team of advocacy.” That comparison might be more accurate if the NFL’s championship team had rigged the Super Bowl.

Tax records show that PhRMA initiated a series of payments to the American Legislative Exchange Council with a $379,192 contribution in 2008. Tauzin’s powerful lobby continued its payments to ALEC throughout its negotiations with the White House. Between 2008 and 2011, those contributions exceeded $1.25 million. ALEC, a conservative group serving as a clearinghouse for state-level legislation, opposed the Affordable Care Act and launched its Health Care Freedom Initiative in 2008, the same year that PhRMA initiated its support. The project promised to “expose the truth about ObamaCare and fight back — one state at a time.” It also armed state lawmakers with “14 specific recommendations to push back against Obamacare” and offered boilerplate legislation with its “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act.”In a previously unpublished “Schedule of Contributors” tax filing, PhRMA is listed as contributing $339,000 to ALEC in 2010, making it ALEC’s second largest donor after cigarette giant Reynolds American. The filing lists Pfizer, a member of the pharmaceutical lobby, as contributing an additional $136,000 on its own.

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Think Progress: Black Women Are Breaking Barriers But Still Not Getting Compensated For It

Black women are graduating high school, attending college, participating in the labor force, and starting businesses at higher rates, but they still aren’t seeing the rewards of their hard work, according to a recent report from the Black Women’s Roundtable, the women’s initiative of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Young black women have increased their high school graduation rate by 63 percent over the past 50 years, more than tripling it and “virtually eliminating the gap with Asian women (down to 2%), and significantly narrowing the gap with white women (7%),” the report notes. That gap between the rates of black women and white women has shrunk from 22 percent in 1960. After they leave high school, black women have begun to dominate college. “Though all women lead their male counterparts in college enrollment and degree attainment,” the report says, “Black women do so at higher rates than any other group of women in America.”

In 2010, they were 66 percent of all blacks who finished a Bachelor’s Degree, 71 percent with a Master’s, and 65 percent with a Doctorate. And they keep excelling after they graduate. “As they have from the beginning of their experience in America, Black women lead all women in labor force participation rates,” according to the report. Their labor force participation rate is higher than all other women, and that continues to be true even after they become mothers. They are also very entrepreneurial, starting businesses at six times the national average and representing the fastest growing segment of women-owned businesses. Black women own more than 1 million firms, employ 272,000 people other than themselves, and generate an estimated $44.9 billion in revenue. But even as they’ve been working harder on their educations and starting more businesses, black women aren’t seeing higher returns. While women working full-time, on average, make 77 percent of what men make, black women make 64 percent of what white men make.

More here

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Michael Cohen: How Putin Is Losing In Crimea: A Reality Check

A funny thing happened on March 21: Russia lost a war and virtually no one noticed. It was precisely this agreement — and the refusal of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to sign it — that led to the bloody demonstrations in Kiev that forced Yanukovych from power and spurred Russia’s seizure of Crimea. It’s the kind of trade that looks bad for Russia on the surface — and will only look worse in the future. Russia’s political influence in Ukraine and its dreams of creating an economic union to compete with the EU lies in tatters. Rather than push the U.S. and EU away from his western border, Putin’s actions have practically invited them in by strengthening the bonds between Kiev and the West. It is yet another reminder that Putin’s decision to seize Crimea, rather than serve as a triumphant moment, is far more likely to end up a disaster.

While Putin clearly imagines Russia to be a great power, the country is a hollow shell of its former self, with waning political and military influence and an economy that is teetering on the brink. Higher inflation, a weakening ruble, huge capital outflows and a lack of economic reforms contributed to a major slowdown in the growth rate last year — from a projected increase of 3.6 percent to a mediocre 1.3 percent clip. The Crimea crisis will only add to these economic woes.The far bigger one is that major financial institutions like Deutsche Bank are recommending that their clients keep their money out of Russia; two of the biggest ratings agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, have downgraded Russia’s investment rating from “stable” to “negative”; and even MasterCard and Visa are ending relationships with key Russian banks to avoid the snare of U.S. sanctions.

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Evan Perez and Steve Katsenbaum: Key Figure In M.J. Traffic Scandal, David Wildstein, Meets With Prosecutors

David Wildstein, a central figure in a political scandal that has upended the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, met recently with federal prosecutors, two U.S. officials familiar with the matter told CNN. The U.S. attorney’s office in Newark is investigating suggestions that top Christie appointees and allies orchestrated traffic tie-ups near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last September. Prosecutors are looking at whether the gridlock was politically motivated.

A state legislative committee is also investigating the matter, which involved sudden closures of access lanes to the nation’s busiest bridge over several days. Lawyers from the Justice Department’s public integrity section have joined the investigation to consult on certain legal aspects, particularly over separate allegations the Christie administration conditioned Superstorm Sandy relief money for Hoboken on the mayor’s support for a redevelopment project backed by the governor, according to one U.S. official.

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NYT: In A Test Of Wills With China, U.S. Sticks Up For Japan

On his first trip to China as the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is finding himself in the middle of a spat that would not be out of place in “Mean Girls,” a movie about social cliques in high school. For the first time, China will host the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, a meeting every two years of countries that border the Pacific Ocean. The W.P.N.S., as it is known in naval circles, counts among its members the United States, Australia, Chile, Canada and a number of Asian countries, including China and Japan. Often at such meetings, the host country organizes an international fleet review, at which the visiting countries can parade their ships and show off some fancy hardware. For this year’s fleet review, China, which is hosting the event in Qingdao, invited all the countries in the symposium to take part — except Japan.

So on the eve of Mr. Hagel’s trip, which includes a visit to Qingdao, Pentagon officials announced that if Japan could not take part in the review, then neither would the United States. The United States will attend the meeting, the Pentagon said, but no American ships will sail in the fleet review. Late last year, China set off a trans-Pacific uproar after it declared that an “air defense identification zone” gave it the right to identify and possibly take military action against aircraft near the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China. Japan controls and administers the islands, but China claims them. Japan refused to recognize China’s claim, and the United States has been defying China ever since by sending military planes into the zone unannounced.

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John W. Gonzalez: Allegation Against Battleground Texas Dismissed

Two special prosecutors have rejected public complaints that Battleground Texas violated election laws while registering voters in San Antonio last year. Three people had alleged that a Battleground Texas staffer violated state election law by mining voters’ personal data. The Democratic group has steadfastly denied the allegation as a fiction from conservative activist James O’Keefe III, who’s been criticized for dubious and even criminal tactics.Based on their finding, a state district court judge dismissed the case on Friday, officials confirmed Monday.

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Brendan Sasso: FCC To Break Up Big TV Stations

Overriding intense Republican opposition, the Democratic leaders of the Federal Communications Commission voted Monday to crack down on media consolidation. The new rules bar multiple broadcast TV stations in the same market from sharing a single advertising staff. Democratic FCC officials argue that major TV companies around the country are using “joint sales agreements” to undermine the agency’s media-ownership caps. The FCC bars any company from owning more than one of the top four TV stations in a market. By selling ads for multiple stations, companies have been able to dodge the FCC’s ownership cap while effectively controlling several stations, the agency officials said.

The goal of the TV ownership cap is to ensure that viewers have access to a diverse range of views in the media and that no single corporation is able to dominate the flow of information. While the TV stations serve local markets, major media companies such as Sinclair own dozens of stations around the country. “The commission has long imposed limits on concentration of ownership for use of the public’s airwaves,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “Today, what we’re doing is closing off what is a growing end run around those rules.”

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Meredith Clark: Kansas Bill Kills Long-Held Teacher Rights

After a weekend of heated debate, the Kansas legislature passed a bill that strips teachers of the right to challenge dismissals and ensures tax breaks for corporations that fund private school scholarships. Despite huge majorities in the state House and Senate, the bills passed narrowly over the objections of hundreds of teachers and activists who packed the galleries to protest the bill. Until now, a teacher with three years of experience was guaranteed the right to receive a written reason for possible termination and the right to appeal the decision. Teachers in Kansas have had the right to due process since 1957. Without it, a teacher could be fired for being gay, or disagreeing politically with an administrator, and have no recourse.

The bill also provides $126 million to address disparities in public school funding. The Kansas supreme court ruled in March that the state’s current funding system is unconstitutional. The court had ordered the legislature to craft a solution before July 1. Some Republican lawmakers sought policy changes like the end of due process in exchange for supporting the funding measure. Republican Governor Sam Brownback has not said whether he will sign the bill. Kansas’ teachers are among the lowest paid in the United States, with the state coming in 42nd in teacher pay. Educators fear that eliminating due process rights for teachers will make it even harder to retain talented teachers. “How do we get great teachers to come to Kansas when they’re already getting paid so little, and now they have no due process?” Aaron Estabrook, a school board member in the city of Manhattan asked msnbc. “How can we recruit them when they won’t be protected?”

More here

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On This Day

Sen. Barack Obama before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the situation in Iraq, Capitol Hill, April 8, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the situation in Iraq, Capitol Hill, April 8, 2008

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President Obama offers a fist-bump to senior staff member Pete Rouse, during a meeting with senior advisors in the Oval Office, April 8, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama admires a tapestry at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, and Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, share a toast during a luncheon at Prague Castle, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with Secretary of State Rodham Clinton following the expanded delegation bilateral meeting with President Medvedev of Russia at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama talks with Vice President Biden in the Oval Office in between meetings to discuss the ongoing budget negotiations, April 8, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama is reflected in a mirror in the Outer Oval Office as talks with Chief of Staff Bill Daley, left, and Vice President Biden in the doorway of the Oval Office, April 8, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama meets with staff in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to discuss the ongoing negotiations on a budget funding bill, April 8, 2011. Pictured, from left, are: National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling; Bruce Reed, Chief of Staff to the Vice President; Phil Schiliro, Assistant to the President and Special Advisor; and Nancy-Ann DeParle, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks on the phone with House Speaker John Boehner in the Oval Office, April 8, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama gestures while meeting with staff in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to discuss the ongoing negotiations on a budget funding bill, April 8, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama delivers a statement in the Blue Room of the White House after Democrats and Republicans reached a short-term budget deal to prevent a government shutdown, April 8, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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