Posts Tagged ‘energy

20
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama prepares to board Air Force One before his departure from Andrews Air Force Base, April 20, 2011

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The President has no public events scheduled today

See here for ‘The Week Ahead’

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Zachary Roth: Obamacare Helping Millions Register To Vote

It’s the right’s worst nightmare: Obamacare working to boost not just the number of Americans who have affordable health insurance — but also the number who are registered to vote. And it could be coming true. Under the terms of an agreement between California and an alliance of good government groups, the state will mail voter registration forms to 4 million people who applied for Obamacare via California’s online exchange. The deal could end up creating 400,000 new registered Golden State voters — the actual numbers will be available later this year.

Nationwide, Obamacare could ultimately be responsible for registering anywhere from 3 to 7 million voters — potentially over 10% of the total number of eligible voters who aren’t registered today — over the next eight years. Here’s why: Under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which aimed to boost voter registration, people applying for public assistance—as well as DMV customers—must be offered the chance to register to vote. That means every state insurance exchange like California’s, as well as the federal exchange, will need to ask people whether they want to register. Even those people who end up getting covered via Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion or through other parts of the law, rather than through the private market, will still be offered the chance to register to vote.

More here

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Washington Post: White House Announces Itinerary For Obama’s Asia Trip

President Obama will meet with the leaders of four Asian nations, answer questions at a town hall-style event at a university in Malaysia and address U.S. service members in South Korea during a week-long trip that begins Tuesday, the White House announced. Administration officials hailed the president’s visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines as a chance to underscore the United States’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific, with an emphasis on regional allies.

“Unlike many of the president’s overseas trips, particularly to Asia, there are no large summits involved,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said while briefing reporters on Obama’s itinerary Friday. “So the agenda in each country can focus intensively on energizing our bilateral relationships and advancing the different elements of our Asia strategy.” The town-hall event at Malaya University will be with young leaders from 10 Southeast Asian nations, and Obama also will meet with civil-rights leaders in Malaysia, as the United States attempts to promote democratic values.

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Wendy George: After 17 Years, I’m Bringing My Little Sister Home From Prison

When we were little, we used to tell our mama she had good ears. My little sister and I would whisper under the covers in our bed after lights out, and somehow mom could always hear us. She’d tell us to quit talking and go to sleep. Tomorrow I’m going to pick up my sister from prison. She’s been away for 17 years, and until last December I thought she would never come home. I can’t wait to drive back to my house, get in bed, and tell each other everything like we used to. You’d think I had a twin. As kids, my sister and I looked a lot alike. Our mom used to dress us the same. Even as we got older, we wore the same kinds of clothes. We raised our small kids together. We both wanted to style hair for a living. Since she’s been gone, a part of me has been missing. A part of me has been locked up for years.

Stephanie was 26 with four small kids when she was sentenced. Even though the judge objected, a mandatory minimum law meant that she got life without the possibility of parole for being “a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder” in a drug conspiracy. When Stephanie was sentenced, I took her kids into my home and raised them. I am grateful I had the strength to keep pushing on to make sure that her kids got to the prison to visit their mom. She told me horror stories of some of the women in there who didn’t have a family outside to help with the kids. It was a rough role, but I thank God for giving me the strength to raise them all. I talked to my sister on the phone last week and joked that once she gets home, I am going to take a month vacation. She said I deserve it. Even when they said she had a life sentence, I never accepted that. I’ve been praying and fighting for this day since day one. And the fighting has paid off. Finally, my sister’s sentence has been commuted by President Obama.

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NYT: Republicans See Political Wedge In Common Core

The health care law may be Republicans’ favorite weapon against Democrats this year, but there is another issue roiling their party and shaping the establishment-versus-grass-roots divide ahead of the 2016 presidential primaries: the Common Core. A once little-known set of national educational standards introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia with the overwhelming support of Republican governors, the Common Core has incited intense resistance on the right and prompted some in the party to reverse field and join colleagues who believe it will lead to a federal takeover of schools. Conservatives denounce it as “Obamacore,” in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls. Other Republicans are facing opprobrium from their own party for not doing more to stop it.

The learning benchmarks, intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English, were adopted as part of a 2010 effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bolster the country’s competitiveness. Unlike the health care law, the Common Core retains bipartisan support and has the backing of powerful elements of the business community. The Republican revolt against the Common Core can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it, particularly his linking the adoption of similar standards to states’ eligibility for federal education grants and to waivers from No Child Left Behind, the national education law enacted by President George W. Bush. “There is a great deal of paranoia in the country today,” said Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, who was also instrumental in creating the program. “It’s the two P’s, polarization and paranoia.”

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Kathy Lally: Ukraine, Short On Military Budget, Starts Fundraising Drive

Ukraine’s new government inherited an army so bereft of modern equipment and training that when Russian troops entered Crimea and agitators stormed government offices in eastern Ukraine, the country proved helpless to protect its borders and citizens. The corruption that had darkened all the nation’s institutions had provoked demonstrators to stand their ground in Kiev until the old leaders fled. But the depth of the damage took the country by surprise when the Crimean Peninsula was easily lost to Russian annexation last month, revealing a military profoundly weakened by theft and neglect. “Our army has been systematically destroyed and disarmed,” Deputy Defense Minister Petro Mehed said at a briefing this past week, “and its best personnel dismissed.” In the east, militants have occupied buildings in more than a dozen cities and on Saturday showed no signs of giving up their positions.

The army was sent in and looked more anemic than ever when small knots of civilians managed to block armored personnel carriers simply by standing in front of them. Ukraine’s position is dire. The new government found the treasury empty when it took over Feb. 27. The Ministry of Defense was so desperate for money that it went to the public for help. People across the country have responded by pulling together for the Support the Ukrainian army fundraising drive, trying to repair the damage done by years of thieving governments. Children have held fairs and bake sales to raise money. Adults have delivered food and water to tent encampments. Community groups have collected shoes, clothes and canned goods. Ukrainian businesses and individuals had raised more than $9 million for the military as of Friday, the Defense Ministry reported. Of that, $2 million came from cellphone users who made 50-cent donations from their accounts by calling a designated number.

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Michael Laris: Voting-Rights Quest In Va. Will Soon Become Easier For Ex-Prisoners Held On Serious Drugs Charges

Those convicted in Virginia of manufacturing drugs, distributing drugs, having the intent to distribute drugs or “accommodating” the sale of drugs will now be put in the same category as those who were found guilty of mail fraud, check kiting, embezzlement or simple drug possession when it comes to processing requests to have their voting rights restored. The drug-dealing and other major drug charges had been on the state’s “violent/more serious” list of offenses. Bumping them to the list of nonviolent crimes will have far-reaching implications. Since McDonnell’s reforms, those types of lesser offenses are processed in a faster, more streamlined fashion, taking weeks or months rather than years. Unlike most states, Virginia requires ex-felons to proactively pursue their voting rights — they are not automatically restored.

Virginia law, the American Civil Liberties Union says, has prevented hundreds of thousands of people — many convicted of drug crimes — from voting, and advocates point to racial disparities. About 45 percent of those arrested for drug offenses are black, said Edward Hailes, general counsel for the Advancement Project, a civil rights group active on the issue. “We should see a large number of African Americans in Virginia getting their rights restored more automatically,” he said, adding that one in five can’t vote because of felony convictions. “Virginia is making progress but is still far behind most of the states in the union.” Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center this year, called for further changes in Virginia and elsewhere. “Eleven states continue to restrict voting rights to varying degrees even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole,” Holder said. “It is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.”

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Lucia Graves: Good News For Obamacare Is Bad News For Conservative Pundits

Conservatives were sure at every turn that Obamacare would fail, but as the numbers roll in, those convictions are looking increasingly ideological. First they said nobody would enroll. Then they said first-year premiums would be through the roof. And later, they warned of a “death spiral,” wherein premiums would go up uncontrollably. My colleague Sam Baker has written an excellent analysis of the situation, the upshot of which is that Obamacare is on a winning streak. The next great frontier of conservative hyperbole concerns premiums for 2015, with critics warning that costs will double or even triple next year. As of this week, we have good evidence to the contrary.

Health insurance premium rates are expected go up just 7 percent—a rate of increase much lower than what critics were predicting. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is predicting that premium hikes will be relatively modest. “The double-rate increases we’ve been hearing are probably exaggerated,” Dave Axene, a fellow with the Society of Actuaries, told USA Today. “That’s not what we’re seeing from the actuarial organizations—I guess we’re being a little bit more optimistic.” “A little bit more optimistic” is something of an understatement. For weeks, pundits have been spouting apocalyptic notions about the costs of insurance premiums, warning Americans that “the worst is yet to come.”

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Derek Thompson: Get Rich, Live Longer: The Ultimate Consequence Of Income Inequality

Brookings economist Barry Bosworth crunches the data on income and lifespans for the Wall Street Journal, and the numbers tell three clear stories. 1. Rich people live longer. 2. Richer people’s lifespans are growing at a faster rate. 3. The problem is worse for women than for men. First, let’s look at the guys. A rich man (top decile) born in 1940 can expect to live 10 years longer after he turns 55 than a poor man (bottom decile). That longevity gap grew by four years in one generation. Women live longer than men, overall. But their inequality gap getting worse. A rich woman at 55 can expect to live a decade longer than a poor woman, too. But this gap grew even more between the Silent and early Boomer generations, by six years.

The typical guy in McDowell County, West Virginia, makes less than $30,000 a year and doesn’t live to 65. Five hours north on the highway, a typical man living in Fairfax County, Virginia, makes more than $100,000 and lives more than 80 years. The two Virginian counties are two different countries. When somebody in Washington proposes raising the retirement age for Social Security or Medicare, he typically says something like: “We can afford it, because we are living longer.” Yes, We can afford it, when the We in that sentence applies to an audience of white rich old men and women who really are seeing their lifespans grow by leaps and bounds. But We doesn’t apply to the millions of poor women whose lifespans are actually declining. Raising the Social Security retirement age disproportionately reduces lifetime benefits for the very people Social Security was invented to protect.

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USA Today: New Data Signal Smaller Jump In Health Care Costs

Several new reports also hint at a bend in the health cost curve — even as health spending picks up with the improving economy. The change after years of large increases in how much health care costs seems to be coming for several reasons, the reports find: Americans are using their prescribed medications more often, which may be keeping them out of the hospital; payment systems have begun to reward quality over quantity, which has encouraged a team-based, data-driven approach; and record numbers of medications have been developed to address chronic disease, while older medications have come off their expensive patents. The week’s findings include a report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics that found that even as health care spending has rebounded with the economy, the growth rate remains lower than usual. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected lower health insurance premiums than originally expected.

Aitkin says people spent more on drugs and less on follow-up visits and hospitalizations, which could be key to keeping the growth rate low. Health experts have long held that if people can afford — and take — prescribed medications, it may keep them safe from heart attacks or low blood sugar levels, and ultimately keep their overall health costs lower. Aitkin says 23% of prescription drugs had no co-pays in 2013, mostly because of provisions within the Affordable Care Act, including the one for coverage of contraceptives as preventive medications. Women saved $483 million in out-of-pocket costs in 2013 for contraceptives alone. And hospitalizations from emergency room visits decreased 14.6%, possibly because consumers were encouraged to try other options first. This week, the CBO downgraded its original premium projections by about 15% lower than projected in the fall of 2009, in part due to “lower projected health care costs for the federal government and the private health sector.”

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Frank Newport: Newly Insured In 2014 Represent About 4% of U.S. Adults

Four percent of Americans are newly insured this year, reporting that they have health insurance now but did not last year. A little more than half of that group, or 2.1% of the U.S. population, got their new insurance through health exchanges. The rest got it using some other mechanism. Overall, 11.8% of U.S. adults say they got a new health insurance policy in 2014. One-third of this group, or 4% nationally, say they did not have insurance in 2013. Another 7.5% got a new policy this year that replaced a previous policy. The ACA envisioned that the new healthcare exchanges would be the main place where uninsured Americans would get their insurance this year, but it appears that a sizable segment of the newly insured Americans used another mechanism.

These sources presumably include employee policies, Medicaid, and other private policies not arranged through exchanges. The newly insured are, on average, much younger than the overall population, with most younger than age 65. Within the 18 to 64 age range, the newly insured are slightly more overrepresented in the 18 to 29 age category than in the 30 to 49 and 50 to 64 age categories. These data suggest that the ACA’s efforts to add previously uninsured young people to the ranks of the insured have been modestly successful. The newly insured who signed up outside of the exchanges are substantially younger than those who signed up through the exchanges.

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Energy.Gov: Energy Department Announces $15 Million To Help Communities Boost Solar Deployment

In support of the Administration’s goal of doubling renewable energy generation for a second time by 2020, the Energy Department today announced $15 million to help communities develop multi-year solar plans to install affordable solar electricity for homes and businesses. The United States continues to be a global leader in solar, with total U.S. solar energy installations reaching 13 gigawatts last year. As the cost of solar energy continues to decline, more states and local communities are deploying solar energy projects to meet their electricity needs.

“As part of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, solar energy is helping families and businesses throughout the U.S. access affordable, clean renewable power,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The Energy Department is committed to further driving down the cost of solar energy and supporting innovative community-based programs – creating more jobs, reducing carbon pollution and boosting economic growth.”

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Maggie Fox: Obamacare Helped Up To 10 Million Get Insurance, Gallup Finds

Obamacare has helped as many as 9.9 million people to get new health insurance, and more than 4 percent of all Americans have gotten health insurance for the first time, according to a new Gallup poll. It’s the largest poll yet to assess the effects of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and the findings add to what’s been reported in earlier surveys and the government tally of how many people signed up through the new online exchanges. The percentage of the U.S. population that has no health insurance has plummeted from an all-time high of 18 percent during the last quarter of 2013 to just 15 percent this past March, says Dan Witters, lead researcher for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

About half got insurance on the new state and federal online health exchanges, the survey found, and half got it through Medicaid, an employer or bought it directly from an insurance company. “We feel pretty comfortable attributing much of this change to the Affordable Care Act,” Witters told NBC News. The survey confirms that people started getting insurance in the last months of 2013 and really started signing up in the first three months of 2014. “There is no evidence that the exchanges only signed up extremely sick people,” said Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. Gallup found younger people aged 18-29 tended to gravitate to buying health insurance directly, not on the exchanges, while those signing up on the new exchanges tended to be in the 50-64 age group. Overall, 30 percent of those getting insurance for 2014 were 18 to 29; 24 percent bought insurance on the exchanges and 37 percent got it elsewhere.

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Christopher Ingraham: Your Taxes Are Really, Low, In One Chart

Taxed enough already? Hardly. According to the Congressional Budget Office, your effective federal tax rates are near historic lows.
One of the great ironies of the rise of the tea party movement was that it coincided with the lowest total tax burdens seen in at least 30 years. The chart below plots effective federal tax rates since 1979 by income group. The key word here is “effective” — these are the tax rates people actually pay after factoring in things like the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the myriad other deductions and credits written into the U.S. tax code. Values for 2011 and 2012 aren’t yet available, but the CBO does provide projections for 2013 tax filings, which I’ve plotted, as well.

Overall the trend is downward. The average filer saw her effective tax rate drop from 22 percent in 1979 to 18.1 percent in 2010. Rates on the bottom 20 percent of tax filers went from 7.5 percent to 1.5 percent, while the top 20 percent of earners saw a more modest decrease, from 27.1 to 24.0 percent over the same period. The effect of crisis-era policy is clearly visible in the sharp drop in rates from 2007 to 2008, mostly from tax provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Tax rates hit rock bottom in 2009, right as the tea party movement was gaining steam.

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National Journal: Obamacare Is On A Winning Streak

The headlines about the Affordable Care Act have turned positive lately, and they’re starting to pile up. The most dire predictions from the law’s critics simply haven’t panned out, and now Democrats are headed into another big health care fight—the confirmation of a new Health and Human Services secretary—with stronger real-world evidence than they’ve had before. Narratives feed on themselves, and there was a time when Obamacare just kept losing. But over the past few weeks, the news has started to roll in the other direction. Enrollment has surged beyond expectations. Costs are coming in lower than predicted. Various reports say the number of uninsured Americans is falling. Now it’s good news snowballing, and it’s critics who increasingly seem to have missed the mark with their warnings of inevitable collapse.

Critics still promise that the law cannot work as intended, but the evidence keeps piling up in the other direction. The opportunities for failure keep falling away, and worst-case predictions keep going bust. There was no death spiral, nor will there be one. And there was never going to be a “death panel.” The next big warning is about premiums for 2015. Critics say premiums will skyrocket because not enough healthy people signed up this year. some insurers are looking to expand their presence in the exchanges next year, and others have indicated they might jump in for the first time, after taking a wait-and-see approach this year. So far, no large plans have said they intend to leave the exchange marketplace. All of that indicates that insurers see the market as stable. And more plans competing for more new customers will likely keep premium increases in check. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans without health insurance has fallen from 18 percent in to 15 percent.

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The Obamas leaving the White House today for Easter Services at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church

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Malia Obama follows her father President Barack Obama, her mother First Lady Michelle Obama and her sister Sasha as they depart for Easter Services at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church.

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WH.gov: The 10 most eggcellent moments from past Easter Egg Rolls

1. That time Bo wore bunny ears


2. Playing H-O-R-S-E with the P-O-T-U-S


3. 30-Love


4. YOU get an egg, and YOU get an egg, and YOU get an egg!


5. That time 30,000 people were on the South Lawn like “NBD”


6. When everyone did the “Wild Rumpus”


7. When we had a Kid POTUS


8. When Bo did an Easter egg hunt and was all like “Found it!”


9. Float like a butterfly, hop like a bunny.

10. And we went “Hip hop hooray!”

See the full Easter Egg Roll program here

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On This Day

Sen. Barack Obama with Caroline Kennedy before addressing supporters at a rally in Scranton, Pa., April 20, 2008

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President Obama with Tiger Woods in the Oval Office April 20, 2009

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On This Day: First Lady Michelle Obama greets students after talking to them about the importance of exercise as part of the “Let’s Move!” initiative at River Terrace Elementary School in Washington on April 20, 2010

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President Obama speaks at a “town hall” at Facebook headquarters, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Palo Alto, California on April 20, 2011

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President Obama signs a proclamation to designate federal lands within the former Fort Ord as a national monument under the Antiquities Act in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, April 20, 2012. Fort Ord is a former military base located on California’s central coast and is a world-class destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts

President Obama greets members of the military and their families during the kick off event for the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House April 20, 2012

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09
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama greets tourists at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Saturday, April 9, 2011. The President made an unannounced stop to thank people for visiting the memorial a day after he and Congressional leaders agreed on a bill to keep the government open (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (all times Eastern):

9:05 AM: The President and First Lady depart the White House

12:30: Arrive in Killeen, Texas

3:0: The President and First Lady attend a memorial ceremony, Fort Hood, Sadowski Field

5:20: The President and First Lady arrive in Houston, Texas

6:0: The President attends a DNC event, Private Residence

8:20: The President delivers remarks and answers questions at a joint DCCC/DSCC dinner, Private Residence

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TPM: Obamacare Might Be Covering Way More People Than Previously Thought

RAND Corp, a non-profit think tank, released the survey. Its eye-opening finding: 7.2 million previously uninsured people have gained health coverage through their employer since mid-September. That’s on top of those people who have purchased private coverage on Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces or enrolled in Medicaid or young adults who signed up through their parents’ plan. Those three groups were the only people that many previous estimates of Obamacare’s impact had accounted for.

In other words, if you take the earlier estimates of 8.3 million to 9.5 million uninsured people who had gotten covered by marketplace plans, Medicaid and their parents’ policies — and then add some of the millions more who RAND found had gotten insured through their employer — then Obamacare could be responsible for reducing America’s uninsured ranks much more than the earlier estimates suggested.It’s safe to say that if Obamacare is leading to that significant a surge in employer-based coverage, it’s an impact that few people saw coming. The Congressional Budget Office didn’t anticipate such an increase — its analysis had projected that employer-based coverage would rise by only 1 million from 2013 to 2014.

More here

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Paul Krugman: Three Legs Good, One Leg Bad

The good news for Obamacare just keeps coming in. Via Charles Gaba, the Rand Survey — which was the subject of a report in the LA Times, but which wasn’t publicly available — is now in. And it says that as of mid-March — that is, before the final enrollment surge — the Affordable Care Act had already produced a net gain of 9.3 million insured adults. Again, that’s a net gain; so much for claims that more people are losing insurance than gaining it.

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Philip Bump: The Source Of Black Poverty Isn’t Black Culture, It’s American Culture

Americans don’t want to imagine that our racist history is actually an ongoing, racist reality. We like to look at racism as a thing that has gotten better (if not gone away completely) and that the way black Americans are treated in society is actually colorblind. So, if forced to pick between the idea that our country’s structures and systems are biased toward white people or the idea that black communities are flawed, many pick the latter. Some doing so, of course, because they’re racist. Believing that black culture is primarily at fault means believing that black cultural attitudes

are why the black unemployment rate has always been at least 50 percent higher than white unemployment. Is black culture why this 2003 study found that job applicants “with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names”? American history demonstrates countless examples of racist obstruction of black economic success. Ongoing examples show countless ways in which black Americans are still obstructed in the same way.

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Alex Pareene: Morning Joe’s Special Privileges: Why Is MSNBC Allowing Him To Help GOP Raise Money?

Joe Scarborough, who is definitely not running for president, is going to New Hampshire next month to deliver the keynote address at the Chesire County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner. This follows another visit to New Hampshire last month, where Scarborough delivered a speech to the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference. Joe Scarborough would like you to know that he is not planning a run for president — he just happens to enjoy New Hampshire, I guess, and who doesn’t? (He also recently visited South Carolina.) But as the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone reports, this totally normal not-at-all presidential campaign-related New Hampshire visit probably violates MSNBC policy on hosts raising money for political parties or candidates. Because it is a fundraiser.

Maybe it doesn’t make a ton of sense to allow hosts to advocate, on-air, for certain parties and candidates, but not to donate to or raise money for them, but those are the rules, and those rules are what got then-MSNBC host Keith Olbermann suspended in 2010, after Olbermann donated money to three Democratic candidates.This year, MSNBC forced liberal host Ed Schultz to withdraw from a Democratic Party fundraiser. This will be Scarborough’s second Republican Party fundraiser of the year. He is delivering the keynote address, not merely moderating a panel. The money raised for the dinner will go to Cheshire County Republicans. It all seems pretty cut and dried.

More here

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Charles Pierce on The Washington Examiner:

“It’s one step above that which you find under your windshield wiper at a flea market.”

Genius.

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NYT: U.S. And NATO Warn Russia Against Further Intervention In Ukraine

As the government in Kiev moved to reassert control over pro-Russian protesters across eastern Ukraine, the United States and NATO issued stern warnings to Moscow about further intervention in the country’s affairs amid continuing fears of an eventual Russian incursion. Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Kremlin of fomenting the unrest, calling the protests the work of saboteurs whose machinations were as “ham-handed as they are transparent.” Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he added:

“No one should be fooled — and believe me, no one is fooled — by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalysts behind the chaos of the last 24 hours.” The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Russia would be making a “historic mistake” by going into Ukraine, and he urged the Kremlin to “step back.” At a news conference in Paris, he said any such actions “would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia” and “would further isolate Russia internationally.”

More here

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Sahil Kapur: Republicans Warn Of New Obamacare Reality: No Repeal Without Alternative

For all the challenges still facing Obamacare and its supporters, conservative health wonks are increasingly cautioning Republicans that the politics of the issue have changed in the wake of the 7 million initial sign-ups. Simply repealing the law is no longer an option, they warn, even if Republicans gain the power to do so. If they want to unwind the law, the least they’ll have to do is coalesce around health care solutions of their own, lest they strip away benefits for millions of Americans without a plan of their own. And the party is far from a consensus on how they’d replace the law. There is internal dissent on whether Republicans ought to come up with an alternative. One congressional GOP health aide, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said his party is as determined as ever to fight Obamacare, and will remain so as long as it exhibits failure. He said devising an alternative is fraught with the difficulty of crafting a new benefits structure that doesn’t look like the Affordable Care Act.

“If you want to say the further and further this gets down the road, the harder and harder it gets to repeal, that’s absolutely true,” the aide said. “As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act. … To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA. You have to have a participating mechanism, you have to have a mechanism to fund it, you have to have a mechanism to fix parts of the market.” It sheds light on why Republicans haven’t yet followed through on the “replace” component of their “repeal and replace” mantra, more than four years after Obamacare was enacted. The popular parts of the law, most notably the preexisting conditions guarantee, are unsustainable without unpopular parts like the individual mandate. Unraveling the parts people dislike means unraveling the whole structure, and rebuilding the well-liked elements is difficult without arriving at a similar place as Obamacare.

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BBC: Ukraine Crisis: Key Four-Way Talks Announced

Senior officials from the EU, Russia, the US and Ukraine are to meet next week to discuss the worsening situation in Ukraine. It will be the first four-way meeting since the crisis erupted. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will join US Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia. Russia annexed Crimea in February and has troops massed along the border. Kiev and the US accuse Moscow of fomenting unrest in the mainly Russian-speaking east of the country as a pretext to possibly seizing more territory – a claim strongly refuted by Russia.

As a war of words between Russia and the West hotted up on Tuesday, Mr Kerry said Russian special forces and agents had been “the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours”. He said the events “could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea”. On Tuesday, an EU diplomatic source told BBC News that the European Commission was setting up a special “Support Group for Ukraine” to co-ordinate assistance. The group will consist of several dozen people and its work could be extended to cover fellow ex-Soviet states Georgia and Moldova, the source added.

More here

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NPR: Wave Of Newly Insured Patients Strains Oregon Health Plan

Millions of Americans who didn’t have health insurance last year now do because of the Affordable Care Act. In Lane County, Oregon, Trillium Community Health Plan is struggling to deal with a huge influx of new patients looking for health care. CEO Terry Coplin says the company figured 26,000 people would sign up in the first few years. Instead, about that many signed up right off the bat. Cheryl Stumph is one of them. She and her husband, Mike, run Green Streak Automotive, an all-service garage in Veneta, Ore. Last November, Stumph’s 27-year-old son had a stroke and died at the wheel of his tow truck. The stroke stemmed from a genetic problem, so Stumph spent the winter worrying about her six other kids.Genetic testing is expensive, and she didn’t have health insurance. But now she and her family get Medicaid through Trillium Health. She’s thrilled to be able to get a mammogram and treatment for a stubborn infection. The kids can get genetic testing.

She says her husband has a chronic medical problem that needs attention, too. Stories like Stumph’s are being repeated across Oregon. Trillium’s Coplin says the health plan has come up with a four-part plan to deal with this unexpected influx. First, it will pay bonuses to doctors who accept new patients covered by Trillium. Second, Trillium is giving Lane County $900,000 to open a new clinic in an existing building. “They have proposed ways that they can get this clinic up and running by mid-year,” says Coplin. Third, Trillium is hiring a consultant to see if existing clinics can increase efficiency, for example, by changing who fills out forms. “Having physicians do clerical work is really a waste of valuable resources,” Coplin says. And finally, Trillium is offering $500,000 to any clinic or group of physicians willing to expand their practice to take on another 5,000 adult patients.

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Tommy Christopher: Anatomy Of A Media Attack: ABC News, Fox News, And CNN On White House And Equal Pay

On this Equal Pay Day, it is instructive to see how the mainstream media constructs an attack on the White House and disguises it as good old-fashioned adversarial journalism. One clip you’ve probably seen all day today is of cable news hosts debating the talking point about a supposed gender pay gap among the White House staff, which conservatives raise annually in an attempt to undermine the President’s commitment to pay equity, and the notion of pay equity itself. The figure that The American Enterprise Institute is using this year, 88 cents on every dollar, comes from comparing the median annual salary of women who work in the White House, to the median annual salary of their male colleagues. The AEI report deliberately ignores whether the men and women at the White House are being paid the same amount for the same jobs, because they’re trying to critique President Obama’s use of a similar statistic in his speeches about equal pay.

Besides, when two different reporters tag-teamed White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about it on Monday, Carney explained, clear as a bell, that women in the White House get paid exactly the same as men for the same jobs. Clear as a bell. Jon Karl brought up the AEI study, and Carney explained the gap as a function of looking at the aggregate of all staffers, including the most junior, but that “men and women in equivalent roles here earn equivalent salaries. For example, we have two deputy chiefs of staff, one man and one woman, and they earn the same salary. We have 16 department heads, over half of them are women, all of whom make the same salary as their male counterparts.” What isn’t fair is for ostensibly objective news organizations to present a Republican talking point, then only play part of the White House’s response.

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Annie-Rose Strasser: Why The Government Just Threw Down $225 Million On Hybrid Electric Trains

The Illinois Department of Transportation signed a contract to bring a total of 32 hybrid electric-diesel trains to the United States last month. The trains will start running by 2016. And the project, when all is said and done, will cost the United States $225 million — a number that may sound enormous but that will actually save a significant amount of both money and the carbon pollution that drives climate change. “The Charger locomotives will be used exclusively in passenger service,” a release from Siemens, the company manufacturing the locomotives, says. The trains “will be manufactured in the U.S. by Cummins Inc., headquartered in Columbus, Indiana,” and, will run in Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri and Washington.

Should all go well with the original 32, there’s an option for an additional 225 locomotives down the line. The hybrid electric engines will make the trains more efficient. The emissions standards, in particular, are what will make the locomotives worth the extra million dollars apiece. Those EPA standards require a 90 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide, a greenhouse gas, and in particulate matter (aka soot), which contributes to pollution and health problems.A similar train in Germany, in fact, reduced carbon emissions and energy use by a full 25 percent compared to standard trains.

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Alec Macgillis: This Is What Life In A Plutocracy Looks Like

2. On Monday, a Senate subcommittee releases a report on the tax avoidance used by Caterpillar, the giant Peoria, Ill.-based heavy equipment manufacturer, which cut its tax bill by $2.4 billion over the past 13 years by allotting $8 billion in revenues from its parts division to a subsidiary in Switzerland, where only 65 of the division’s 8,500 employees work. In an email exchange about whether this was appropriate, a managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was paid $55 million to concoct this arrangement, said: “What the heck, we’ll all be retired when this audit comes up on audit…Baby boomers have their fun, and leave it to the kids to pay for it.” 6. Later on Thursday morning, between 9 and 10 a.m., part of the overhead electric line that powers the Acela train comes down onto the tracks near Bowie, Maryland, between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

Virtually all train traffic between Baltimore and Washington shuts down for hours as undermanned crews struggle to repair the line, thereby severely hampering traffic in the Washington to Boston Northeast corridor that carries 750,000 passengers on 2,000 trains per day and also spelling panic for the Thursday afternoon rail commuters heading north out of Washington.One passenger is left thinking that this country could use some more spending on infrastructure, transportation and the general commonweal. Yes, that risks being “collectivist” and would be opposed by a casino magnate with vast holdings in Macau and would leave less for top-bracket tax cuts in the Ryan budget. But heck, it would also mean some more business for Caterpillar, which might even be prevailed upon to keep some of its income stateside, thus helping pay for said investment in the future of the greatest nation on earth.

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Peter Beinart: Sheldon Adelson’s Culture Of Hate

Imagine this. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren and multiple lesser Democratic notables travel halfway across the country to kiss the ring of a Palestinian-American billionaire who has shown himself willing to spend tens of millions of dollars subsidizing presidential campaigns. The billionaire has some provocative views. Six months earlier, he suggested that if Israel does not end its nuclear weapons program, America should drop an “atomic weapon…in the middle of the [Negev] desert that doesn’t hurt a soul.” If that doesn’t work, America should drop “the next one…in the middle of” Tel Aviv.

The billionaire insists that there is no such thing as the Jewish people. It’s a hoax; the Jews “have fooled the world very successfully.” And he declares that “There isn’t a” Jew “alive who wasn’t raised on a curriculum of hatred and hostility toward the” Palestinians. Change the words “Democrat” to “Republican,” “Israel” to “Iran” and “Palestinian” to “Jewish,” and that’s exactly what just happened. Leading contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination spent last weekend wooing and feting a billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, whose views – if directed at Jews—would put him in the company of Louis Farrakhan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s check the record. Adelson has called for nuking the Iranian desert (which supposedly wouldn’t “hurt a soul”) and then nuking Tehran unless Iran abandons its nuclear weapons program. I’m all for Iran abandoning its nuclear weapons program. But how does threatening Tehran with nuclear annihilation make Adelson any different than those Iranians who have threatened to destroy Israel? Then there’s Adelson’s view that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” Again, flip it around. In 2008, when Tel Aviv University’s Shlomo Sand published a book called “The Invention of the Jewish People,” he was widely called anti-Semitic. When Adelson says the same about Palestinians, he’s a Republican rock star. This isn’t hawkishness. It’s hate.

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Danny Vinik: House GOP Leader Admits His Party Doesn’t Care About The Long-Term Unemployed

Over the past three months, Republicans have offered one excuse after another for not extending unemployment insurance. With the Senate passing a UI extension on Monday night, House Republican leaders are searching for any reason to oppose the bill—and openly admitting that they only care about the politics of the long-term unemployment crisis. Now Representative Tom Cole, the deputy whip, has come up with a new one: House Republicans don’t feel any pressure to pass it. “I don’t think there is a great sense of pressure on our members,” Cole said Monday.

“The prevailing view in our conference is that there aren’t adequate pay-fors and it’s time for this program to come to an end.” In other words, House Republicans will only help the long-term unemployed when they think there is political pressure on them to do so—not because it is sound public policy.Then again, at least Cole is being honest: House Republicans don’t care about the long-term unemployed. They only care about the politics surrounding them.

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The New Zealand Herald: Michelle Obama’s Mother Plays A Crucial Role

It was a rare, almost intimate scene, between Michelle Obama and her mother, played out before the world. When a group of Chinese girls invited the First Lady to skip rope at an event on the ancient city wall during her recent visit to Xi’an, China, she kicked her heels off to slide on a pair of flats. Before an aide could swoop in and pick up her daughter’s shoes, Marian Robinson bent down to grab them. Then, the 76-year-old grandmother beamed as Obama jumped. Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, stood nearby, shyly hanging back as their mother took centre stage. Robinson clapped and smiled. For six days in China, the least-public resident of the White House was a central figure on the public stage. Overseas trips such as the one Robinson took with her daughter and granddaughters last month provide an uncommon glimpse into their family dynamic and the critical role she has continued to play in the first family.

In China, Michelle Obama proudly showed off her mother, and their bond was obvious. Max Baucus, the newly appointed US ambassador to China, tasked with introducing the First Lady to Chinese students at Peking University, offered, “She’s so devoted to her mother, Mrs Robinson.” Her children have said she has built a busy social life, but she still remains a go-to person for ensuring her granddaughters, who’ve grown up as household names, maintain some normality. It was this role she played in China, walking with her granddaughters as their mother drew the world’s attention, or taking them to dinner when the First Lady had other obligations. It is a space in which Robinson has grown comfortable. She smiled brightly at China’s president, Xi Jinping, and outstretched her hand to him during a brief, formal meeting between the two first families. She greeted China’s First Lady, Peng Liyuan, with a wave, and she strolled along as their group toured the Forbidden City, where emperors once dwelled. She chatted with Baucus while walking through the Summer Palace, an enchanting park of gardens, lakes and pavilions in Beijing.

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Susan K. Livio: Most NJ Residents Want To Keep Obamacare Law, Poll Says

Now that Obamacare is here and the first enrollment period has closed, a growing majority of New Jerseyans say want to keep the health care law and fix its flaws, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll released today. About 60 percent of the poll’s participants said they want the law improved, while 7 percent said Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, is fine as it is, but all of them, 67 percent, would oppose an effort to repeal it, according to the poll’s findings.

That’s 8 points higher than the response from a national poll by Kaiser Health poll last month.According to February statistics from the Obama administration, 74,000 New Jerseyans signed up for private health insurance through the online exchange and 123,000 enrolled through Medicaid. Enrollment closed March 31 for 2014, but will reopen in November for the following year.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding the Marine One helicopter, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force base, Md., then onto Fort Hood, Texas for a memorial service in honor of those who died

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk with Col. William M. Knight from the Marine One helicopter to board Air Force One

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On This Day:

Children from Bancroft Elementary School help First Lady Michelle Obama plant the White House Vegetable Garden April 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton) 

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speak together sitting at a picnic table April 9, 2009, on the South Lawn of the White House (Photo by Pete Souza)

Children from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C. help First Lady Michelle Obama plant the White House Vegetable Garden, April 9, 2009 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)

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President Obama talks on the phone with Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, in the Oval Office, after announcing that he would be retiring from the Supreme Court, April 9, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama waves to tourists at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., April 9, 2011. The President made an unannounced stop to thank people for visiting the memorial a day after he and Congressional leaders agreed on a bill to keep the government open (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama plays basketball with former NBA player Bruce Bowen on April 9, 2012, during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll

President Obama does push-ups on the White House Basketball Court after a member of the Harlem Globetrotters made a shot, April 9, 2012. The President participated in “Shoot for Strength”, a game where children did push-ups for every basketball shot made by the pros, during the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll festivities (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama acts out a part of the story while reading from the book Where The Wild Things Are“ with first lady Michelle Obama and his daughter Sasha during the White House Easter Egg Roll, April 9, 2012

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First Lady Michelle Obama introduces Justin Timberlake at a workshop, “Soulsville, USA: The History of Memphis Soul,” in the State Dining Room of the White House, April 9, 2013

“Oh, watching all your faces — priceless. Priceless!” she told the excited group. “Okay, let’s breathe. Come on,” she teased. “Everyone, let’s breathe – even the moms.”

Mavis Staples and Justin Timberlake listen to the First Lady at the “Soulsville, USA: The History of Memphis Soul” workshop

President Obama and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough walk along the South Lawn driveway at the White House, April 9, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with Justin Timberlake in the Blue Room of the White House prior to the “In Performance at the White House: Memphis Soul” concert in the East Room, April 9, 2013. At left, First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Queen Latifah and her grandmother, Katherine Viola Bray (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Malia and Sasha, listen as Eddie Floyd sings “Knock On Wood” during the “In Performance at the White House: Memphis Soul” concert in the East Room of the White House, April 9, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama join musicians on stage during the finale of the “In Performance at the White House: Memphis Soul” concert in the East Room of the White House, April 9, 2013. The program included performances by Alabama Shakes, William Bell, Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd, Ben Harper, Queen Latifah, Cyndi Lauper, Joshua Ledet, Sam Moore, Charlie Musselwhite, Mavis Staples, Justin Timberlake, and Booker T. Jones (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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Rise and Shine

President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon walk along the Colonnade of the White House, March 7, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

11:05: The President and First Lady depart the White House en route Joint Base Andrews

11:20: Depart Joint Base Andrews

1:40: Arrive Homestead, Florida

2:25: The President and First Lady visit a Coral Reef High School classroom

2:40: The President delivers remarks

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Bruce Japsen: Employer Health Cost Increases At 15-Year Low As ObamaCare Comes Into View

U.S. employers this year face their “smallest increases in health care costs in 15 years,” according to a new survey showing the latest evidence of health inflation slowing. The trend comes as employers move to higher deductible health care plans that make workers think twice about choosing expensive tests and procedures, forcing employees to become better health care shoppers. Employers are also installing additional new strategies to encourage wellness activities such as financial incentives to stop smoking.

Most respondents to the survey are “recalibrating their health strategy” with 18 percent having either adopted a new strategy or updated an existing one, the Towers Watson executive summary of the report said. Another 57 percent of respondents are “in process,” the summary added. Two in five respondents cite the Affordable Care Act as the primary driver of their health care strategy.

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TPM: U.S. Employers Add 175K Jobs Despite Harsh Weather

 U.S. hiring improved in February from the previous two months despite a blast of wintry weather, likely renewing hopes that growth will accelerate this year. The Labor Department said Friday that employers added 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January, which was revised up from 113,000. December’s gain was also revised higher. The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from a five-year low 6.6 percent. More Americans started looking for work but didn’t find jobs. That’s still an encouraging sign because more job hunters suggest that people were more optimistic about their prospects.

Some recent reports hint that the economy will accelerate as the weather warms. The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits fell last week and is at about the same level as before the Great Recession. Applications essentially reflect layoffs. The decline suggests that companies are confident about future growth, because layoffs would rise if employers expected business to weaken. Instead, businesses advertised more jobsonline last month, according to the Conference Board. Online job ads rose 268,100 in February to 5.19 million.

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AP: Cummings Says Issa Apologized And He Accepts

Rep. Elijah Cummings said Thursday night that California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa called him and apologized for refusing to let Cummings speak during an IRS hearing. The Maryland Democrat said he accepted the apology. Issa abruptly adjourned a hearing of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. He instructed committee staff to turn off the microphone of the committee’s top Democrat, Cummings.

“This evening, Chairman Issa telephoned me and apologized for his conduct, and I accepted his apology,” Cummings said in a statement. “My sincere hope is that as we move forward, we will respect the opinions of all members of the committee, we will proceed in a deliberate and considered manner to obtain the facts, we will refrain from making accusations that have no basis in fact, and we will seek resolution rather than unnecessary conflict.”

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Washington Post: Community Lenders’ Network Commits To Lend $1 Billion In Support Of ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

A network of community lenders is committing to lend $1 billion in support of President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative that aims to boost the life chances of young African and Hispanic men. The Opportunity Finance Network, which represents more than 225 community development financial institutions, will pledge Thursday it will expand financing for organizations and initiatives working to help young minority men.

Obama launched the initiative to help young minority men last week, saying this group of Americans are disadvantaged in today’s economy and deserve the nation’s attention. Obama’s solicited $200 million in financial commitments from foundations and companies to introduce programs aimed at keeping young men of color in the classroom and out of the criminal justice system. Mark Pinsky, chief executive of the Opportunity Finance Network, said his group was inspired by Obama’s commitment and decided to make their own.

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Igor Bobic: Sen. Harkin: Senate Would Have Confirmed Obama’s Top Civil Rights Nominee If He Was White

The U.S. Senate would have confirmed President Obama’s top civil rights nominee if he was white, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) suggested on Wednesday. “Here’s the message we sent today,” Harkin said. “You young people listen up. If you are a young white person and you go to work for a law firm … and that law firm assigns you to a pro bono case to defend someone who killed eight people in cold blood … my advice from this, what happened today, is you should do that … Because if you do that, who knows? You might wind up to be the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

“However, if you are a young black person and you go to work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund … and you’re asked to sign an appeal for someone convicted of murder, what the message said today is, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it.’ Because you know what? If you do that, in keeping with your legal obligations and your profession, you will be denied by the U.S. Senate from being an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice,” Harkin said.

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NBC News: White House Blocks Visas For Some Tied To Ukraine Crisis

The White House, toughening its response to the crisis in Crimea, said Thursday that it has revoked the U.S. visas of Russians and Ukrainians responsible for “threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

It also threatened financial sanctions against people or companies that the United States determines are responsible for undermining the Ukrainian government. A senior administration official said that the number or names of revoked visas would not be made public. The official also said that no people or companies have yet been sanctioned.

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David Edwards: Paul Ryan At CPAC: Free School Lunches Means Poor Parents Don’t Care About Kids

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) asserted on Thursday that liberals did not understand that kids who got free lunches at school did not have parents who cared about them at home. Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Republican vice presidential nominee argued that conservatives should let Democrats be the “party of personality,” while “we will be the party of ideas.”

“I’m optimistic about our chances because the left, the left just isn’t out of ideas, they’re out of touch,” he explained. “Take Obamacare — not literally, but figuratively here, okay? We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. The left thinks this is a good thing.” Ryan insisted that liberals were only offering people “a full stomach and an empty soul.”

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Boston Globe: US Hiring Improved In February

US hiring improved in February from the previous two months despite a blast of wintry weather, likely renewing hopes that growth will accelerate this year. The Labor Department says employers added 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January, which was revised up from 113,000.

The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from a five-year low 6.6 percent. More Americans started looking for work, but didn’t find jobs. That’s still an encouraging sign because more job hunters suggest that people were more optimistic about their prospects.

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Think Progress: Three More Abortion Clinics Forced To Close In Texas: ‘This Is A State Of Emergency’

Three more reproductive health care facilities in Texas have been forced to permanently close in the wake of a new state law that imposes stringent restrictions on abortion providers. The clinics are located in communities with high rates of poverty and uninsurance, leaving many vulnerable Texas women with no ready access to reproductive services. Two of the shuttered clinics are operated by Whole Woman’s Health, the largest independent abortion provider in Texas. That group used to operate five clinics in the state — but now, that number is shrinking to three. With the closure of another independently owned clinic in Harlingen, the Lone Star State is down to just 19 abortion clinics in the entire state. That’s a dramatic difference from where the reproductive health landscape stood just a few years ago. Back in 2011, there were 44 facilities in Texas that offered abortion care.

New restrictions on abortion providers went into effect at the beginning of November. Now, abortion doctors are required to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, a medically unnecessary requirement that’s often impossible for doctors to meet. Nonetheless, the doctors who continue to practice without admitting privileges are at risk of getting their medical license suspended. So dozens of clinics — including Whole Women’s Health facility in McAllen — were forced to halt their abortion services in the fall. But that’s not the only burdensome restriction in Texas’ new law. Starting this September, abortion clinics will be required to bring their facilities in line with ambulatory surgical centers — which typically involves making expensive and unnecessary renovations, like widening hallways and installing water fountains.

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Washington Post: Crimea Sets Referendum On Joining Russia

Pro-Russian lawmakers in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea sparked a showdown reminiscent of the Cold War on Thursday, accelerating their bid to leave Ukraine and join Russia in a move that President Obama, the new government in Kiev and European leaders described as provocative and illegal. Lawmakers in the autonomous region voted Thursday to join the Russian Federation and hold a referendum March 16 to validate the decision. The regional parliament, now led by Sergei Aksyonov — a businessman and politician known around Kiev as the “Goblin”

because of his alleged ties to organized crime, said it would nationalize Ukrainian state industries and begin setting up government ministries separate from Ukraine, which Crimea joined in 1954 when the nation was still a satellite of the Soviet Union. In Washington, Obama said the world was “well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” as his administration imposed sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians involved in Russia’s military intervention in Crimea. European leaders also sounded alarms, denouncing the referendum plans as unacceptable.

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Damian Paletta: Unemployed Workers Stage Craigslist Fire Sale

Craigslist.org has always represented something of a virtual yard sale, but for many unemployed Americans it’s become something of a fire sale. You name it, they are selling it. Someone in Springfield, Ore., is selling a men’s watch for $100. “Unemployment is running out need money will sell for $100.00. Call before 8pm and after 8amplease be respectful. We can meet anywhere in public.”

And they are asking for it. Another worker in Kissimmee, Fla., whose post says lost benefits when Congress didn’t extend jobless payments Dec. 28, is asking for dog and cat food. “My dogs & cats are not picky,” the person wrote. Washington is wrangling with whether to extend long-term unemployment benefits, which ran out in North Carolina in July and in the other 49 states in late December as discussed in Monday’s Outlook column. But the financial pressures facing many Americans are much more complex than the Washington debate.

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White House: Readout of President Obama’s call with President Putin of Russia

President Obama spoke for an hour this afternoon with President Putin of Russia. President Obama emphasized that Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has led us to take several steps in response, in coordination with our European partners. President Obama indicated that there is a way to resolve the situation diplomatically, which addresses the interests of Russia, the people of Ukraine, and the international community. As a part of that resolution, the governments of Ukraine and Russia would hold direct talks, facilitated by the international community; international monitors could ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians; Russian forces would return to their bases; and the international community would work together to support the Ukrainian people as they prepare for elections in May. President Obama indicated that Secretary Kerry would continue discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the government of  Ukraine, and other international partners in the days to come to advance those objectives.

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James West: What The Ukraine Crisis Means For The Energy Industry

1. The United States is rushing to push more gas onto the market to undercut Putin’s power. Russia’s presence in Ukraine is prompting calls, especially among congressional Republicans, to loosen export restrictions on US natural gas in the hopes of diminishing Russia’s ability to use gas as a diplomatic weapon, like it did in 2006 and 2009. With America’s newfound dominance in gas production (in 2013, the United States surpassed Russia to become the biggest producer of oil and gas, thanks in part to fracking) comes greater power in energy diplomacy.

2. Russia isn’t as powerful as you might think. But for all the Russian posturing, and the canceled energy deal, Ukraine—and Europe more broadly—does have some leverage over Russia to prevent the situation from deteriorating further, says Edward Chow, an energy and security analyst at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “Interestingly, the gas pipelines, as well as critically important gas storage facilities, all go through Western Ukraine,” he says. “Until Russians build additional bypass pipelines…they are still highly dependent on Ukraine to transit gas exports to Europe.”

The United States and European Union are making energy reform central to their aid packages. Bill Gibbons, a spokesman for the US Energy Department, said on Tuesday that the Obama administration is directing part of the $1 billion loan guarantee that John Kerry delivered to Kiev this week to “energy security, energy efficiency and energy sector reform.” The European Union’s $15 billion package is also aimed, in part, at modernizing Ukraine’s gas transit system. With patrons of this much-needed aid linking their help to energy reform, there might well be a bigger chance of success, says Chow. “If you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?” he asks. “Because Russia is not going to be interested in helping individuals from the new [Ukrainian] government extract rent like the previous government unless they can cooperate on other fronts. So this is quite a good opportunity to clean things up.”

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Market Watch: Why Job Hunters Should Cheer The End Of The Winter

The bad weather has done more than give people a case of cabin fever — it’s kept them out of work, which means there’s another reason to cheer for warmer days ahead. While some economists argue that consumer spending and hiring are down for reasons beyond Mother Nature’s control, it’s clear the below-average temperatures have had an impact. For instance, there were 142,000 jobs added to private payrolls in January, about 46,000 jobs short of the four-month average, says Michael Montgomery, a U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight. Some of those jobs were likely held back because of the weather, says Montgomery, adding they may push that hiring to the coming months as the weather gets back to normal.

“Because February stunk too, the makeup is deferred until March or later,” he says. Hiring also tends to pick up in the spring and summer anyway because more people are likely to shop, go out to eat and travel more often when the weather is nice, says Mark Hamrick, the Washington bureau chief for Bankrate.com. Those habits lead to higher demand for workers in the retail and tourism industries, he says. More homeowners also look for help with landscaping and painting the house after the weather warms up, adds Montgomery.

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On This Day:

Sen. Barack Obama at a campaign rally Friday March 7, 2008 in Laramie, Wyoming (Photo by Ken Driese)

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President Obama, Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia, and members of the Australian and American delegations look up at the presidential seal in the Oval Office ceiling following their bilateral meeting, March 7, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama practices passing a football with Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia in the Oval Office, March 7, 2011. Under Australian Football League rules, a player must hold the ball in front of them and punch it with a clenched fist in order to conduct a legal pass to another player (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama greets Davis Marsico, 6, and other supporters upon his arrival at Charlotte Douglas International airport, March 7, 2012

People line the motorcade route as President Obama makes his way to the Mount Holly Truck Manufacturing Plant in Charlotte, N.C, March 7, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Barack Obama gives a thumbs up after signing the Violence Against Women Act as he is joined by Vice President Joe Biden and members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, at the Interior Department on March 7, 2013. The law strengthens the criminal justice system’s response to crimes against women, including domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking




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