Posts Tagged ‘GOP Obstruction

08
Apr
14

Schadenfreude – The Meal Of The Day

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Bloomberg: House Republicans To Delay Obamacare Replacement Plan Rollout

House Republicans are delaying by at least a month unveiling their alternative proposal to Obamacare, according to lawmakers and aides involved in the process. The issue is one of “policy, trying to get it all together,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said in an interview. Republicans had said they would unveil the outlines of their plan to replace the 2010 health-care law over the two-week congressional break in mid-April at town hall meetings with constituents.

They are seeking to draft what could be several bills to replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Instead, a Republican leadership aide said the rollout will occur possibly in May or June. Republican leaders are set to meet later this week to discuss the rollout, McCarthy and Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said. Republicans have held more than 50 votes to repeal, defund or roll back the law since taking majority control of the U.S. House in 2011.

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2012 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

01
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are welcomed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Buckingham Palace in London, England, April 1, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today:

11:35: President Obama honors the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox

12:15: Lunch with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

3:15: Meets with Secretary of Commerce Pritzker

4:15: President Obama announces ObamaCare numbers

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Wednesday: Travels to Ann Arbor, Michigan for an event on his proposal to raise the national minimum wage. Following this event, he will travel to Chicago, Illinois to attend DNC events

Thursday: The President and First Lady will host members of the United States teams and delegations from the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games at the White House.

Friday: The President will host Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa of Tunisia at the White House.

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Brian Beutler: It’s All Over, Obamacare Haters! Why They’ve Officially Lost The Battle

By 11:59:59 p.m. Monday night — the last moment of the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period — sign-ups on Healthcare.gov and 14 state-based exchanges had cleared the symbolic 7 million threshold, according to both administration officials and data experts, and will continue to climb above it over the next few weeks as HHS processes applications from people who were mid-queue when the clock struck midnight. Throw in new Medicaid enrollments, off-exchange enrollments into Qualified Health Plans, young invincibles on their parents’ plans, and the beneficiary total far exceeds 10 million. On net, millions more people — perhaps about 10 million — are now (or will soon be) insured because of Obamacare than were covered beforehand.

That net number will probably be less than initially forecast, but when you account for the fact that almost half of all states didn’t expand Medicaid, and Healthcare.gov effectively experienced a two-month outage last year, you have to be a fanatical Obamacare hater not to call it a comeback. Now that it’s all over but the shouting, conservatives are watching the mechanisms they’ve employed to discredit enrollment numbers shrink away from them. They are left to think wishfully that the new enrollees will not pay their premiums in overwhelming numbers, or deny that they exist altogether. The universe of Obamacare “success stories” is larger than the universe of Obamacare “horror stories” and many of said horror stories fall apart or are revealed to be ambiguous upon mild scrutiny.

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April Ryan: Champagne Celebration As 7 Million Signups Achieved

At 12:01 AM, White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park acknowledged to QSSI, the Columbia, Maryland firm tasked with fixing Healthcare.gov that the ACA enrollments have surpassed the 7 million mark.  Park and QSSI employees celebrated with champagne after the early morning announcement in the lobby of the building as they are not allowed to drink alcohol in the offices at QSSI.

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TPM: BREAKING: Obamacare Sign-Ups On Track To Hit 7 Million On Final Day

Beating expectations, President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance on deadline day Monday, government officials told The Associated Press. Two government officials confirmed the milestone, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter ahead of an official announcement. Seven million was the original target set by the Congressional Budget Office for enrollment in taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance through new online markets created under Obama’s signature legislation. At St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Del., enrollment counselor Hubert Worthen plunged into a long day. “I got my energy drink,” he said. “This is epic, man.”

At a Houston community center, there were immigrants from Ethiopia, Nepal, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and other conflict-torn areas, many of them trying anew after failing to complete applications previously. In addition to needing help with the actual enrollment, they needed to wait for interpreters. Many had taken a day off from work, hoping to meet the deadline. The White House and other supporters of the law were hoping for an enrollment surge that would confound skeptics. The insurance markets — or exchanges — offer subsidized private health insurance to people who don’t have access to coverage through their jobs. The federal government is taking the lead in 36 states, while 14 other states plus Washington, D.C., are running their own enrollment websites. New York, running its own site, reported more than 812,000 had signed up by Sunday morning, nearly 100,000 of them last week.

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Michael Hiltzik: Obamacare Numbers Surging: Here’s A Guide To GOP Excuse-Making

Against all odds and expectations, enrollments in health plans qualified under the Affordable Care Act are surging Monday toward – and maybe beyond — the 7-million figure projected by the Congressional Budget Office before Oct. 1, when the open-enrollment period began. The deadline for starting enrollment applications for 2014 plans is midnight Monday. The surge is creating a big problem for the “train wreck” narrative of Republican opponents of the ACA, who have been holding out hope for Obamacare’s utter failure. So the excuse-making has begun.

Before we examine those excuses: You will recall that the budget office reduced its projection of enrollments on individual insurance exchanges to 6 million earlier this year to account for the botched launch of healthcare.gov, the federal enrollment website. Enrollments blew past that mark days ago. If exchange enrollments meet or exceed the original projection of 7 million despite the loss of some six weeks in website functionality in October and November, that would be a testament to the public’s latent desire for effective healthcare coverage.

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Damon Tucker: U.S. Secretary Of Education Arne Duncan Praises Hawaii’s Education Leadership

Hawaii’s public schools can be a model for the nation, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who visited two schools today before returning to Washington, D.C. Secretary Duncan, Governor Neil Abercrombie and Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi spoke with media in reflecting on the progress made during the last three years based on the Race to the Top (RTTT) federal education reform grant.“When we first did the RTTT grant, there was a huge amount of skepticism in the outside world, and frankly, internally,” stated Secretary Duncan. “Hawaii initially had its challenges; they’ve shown amazing leadership, courage and vision. I can’t overstate how important the Governor’s leadership has been…the leadership of the State Superintendent…they are a profile in courage. The only way you get better is to challenge the status quo. The only way to accelerate the rate of change is to do something different. The progress has been extraordinary.

Hawaii by any objective measure – is one of the fastest improving states in the nation – top five states, that’s top 10 percent in the nation.” Waipahu High is the second-largest high school in Hawaii with 2,450 students. About 70 percent of its students are of Filipino ancestry, while nearly 6 out of 10 students come from economically disadvantage backgrounds. Waipahu High Principal Keith Hayashi, who was appointed in 2009, has led a tremendous academic turnaround at the school. Reading proficiency among 10th graders rose to 69 percent in 2013 from 58 percent in 2011, while math proficiency jumped to 47 percent from 26 percent. College-going rate increased to 58 percent from 49 percent during the same period.

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Examiner: New Poll: More Americans Now Support ‘Obamcare’ Than Oppose It

As the Affordable Care Act open enrollment comes to a close, more people now support President Obama’s health care reform than those who oppose it. Though by a slim margin, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 49 percent of Americans now support “Obamacare,” compared to 48 percent who oppose the law. President Obama has made a strong push over the last few months to encourage those who need insurance, to do so through the open enrollment period than ran through March 31.

When the same poll was taken in November of 2013, only 40 percent of Americans supported the law, while 57 percent opposed it.Two key voting blocks have also been tilting in the direction of Democrats and the Affordable Care Act. The WaPo/ABC poll notes that 57 percent of Hispanics support the law in addition to 52 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29.

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Molly Redden: Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests In Contraception Manufacturers

When Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the company’s owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs. But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm’s owners cite in their lawsuit. Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—

show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k). Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

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Hayes Brown: Zero U.S. Troops Died In Combat In March, The First Time In More Than A Decade

March 2014 marked the first time in more than a decade that there were zero U.S. fatalities among American troops engaging in combat, according to numbers from the Department of Defense. After a decade at war in the post-9/11 environment, with major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and smaller conflicts in the various other countries where the U.S. uses more covert methods to fight against terrorism, the lack of combat deaths in March 2014 marks a milestone.

In Iraq, the death toll reached 4,474 before the last soldier fell in November 2011. For years after the war’s launch in 2003, no months passed where at least one American didn’t die in battle and then only towards the end of the conflict did the numbers taper off enough to have a month where the only fatalities were non-combat related.

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Ellie Hall: Obama Told Military Leaders: Accept Gays In Military Or Step Down, Admiral Says

In a meeting with the heads of the five service branches in 2010, President Obama offered the leaders a choice: Support my efforts to end the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, or resign, the Commandant of the Coast Guard said. In a video obtained by BuzzFeed via a Freedom of Information Act request, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp revealed that Obama was unwilling to compromise with service leaders over DADT during a meeting in 2010. “We were called into the Oval Office and

President Obama looked all five service chiefs in the eye and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I cannot divulge everything he said to us, that’s private communications within the Oval Office, but if we didn’t agree with it — if any of us didn’t agree with it — we all had the opportunity to resign our commissions and go do other things,” he said.The admiral, who will be retiring from active duty on May 30, added that he thought the U.S. military made the right decision by abolishing DADT.

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USA Today: He’s All Ivy — Accepted To All 8 Ivy League Colleges

In the next month, Kwasi Enin must make a tough decision: Which of the eight Ivy League universities should he attend this fall? A first-generation American from Shirley, N.Y., the 17-year-old violist and aspiring physician applied to all eight, from Brown to Yale. The responses began rolling in over the past few months, and by late last week when he opened an e-mail from Harvard, he found he’d been accepted to every one.

School district officials provided scanned copies of acceptance letters from all eight on Monday. Yale confirmed that it was holding a spot for Enin. The feat is extremely rare, say college counselors — few students even apply to all eight, because each seeks different qualities in their freshman class. Almost none are invited to attend them all. The Ivy League colleges are among the nation’s most elite.

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Brian Beutler: GOP’s Self-Defeating Myopia: Why Its Obamacare Mania Is Now A Gift To Democrats

Here’s a riddle for anyone who thinks the politics of Obamacare are straightforward, and toxic for Democrats. How is it possible, in defiance of public rebuke, widespread misinformation and other headwinds, that insurance enrollment is surging in just about every state in the country? I suppose it’s possible that these millions of new beneficiaries were all supporters of the law to begin with and the surge doesn’t hint at a more complex public opinion. But I don’t think that’s right. Over the past several days we’ve been presented with a wealth of evidence that the conventional theory of the Affordable Care Act and the coming midterm elections is flawed.

Going back to last year, before they knew how poor the rollout of the law would be, administration officials knew they’d have to circumvent traditional media to encourage enrollment. But perhaps because the rollout was so bad, the press has been less helpful to the cause of the ACA than the administration expected. Not that it’s the press’s job to encourage enrollment, exactly, but a profusion of glitches and delays has given reporters a lot to write about aside from subsidies and other ACA benefits. Yet despite all that, the enrollment rate is way up over the past several weeks, due almost entirely to external messaging, organizing and advertising on the part of the administration and its allies. And apparently it’s been pretty successful.

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Steve Benen: As ACA Climbs Higher, GOP Denial Digs Deeper

There is not yet an official announcement about exactly how many Affordable Care Act enrollments there were during the open-enrollment period. The Associated Press and others are reporting that the Obama administration believes it’s “on track” to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance, but there’s been no official confirmation.As a practical matter, it really doesn’t much matter whether the total is 6.9 million or 7.1 million – it’s almost a matter of bragging rights at this point, but it doesn’t really affect the structural integrity of the system –

and it’s also worth noting that yesterday wasn’t necessarily the inflexible deadline anyway. Coverage through Medicaid expansion will continue, and those who began the process before the deadline will still be allowed to finish.But the larger takeaway remains the same. First, “Obamacare” is succeeding in ways no one was predicting a few months ago. Second, Republicans are in deep denial over facts that contradict everything they’ve chosen to believe about reality.

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Judy Lin: Deadline Brings High Interest For Health Insurance

A blizzard, jammed phone lines and unreliable websites failed to stop throngs of procrastinating Americans from trying to sign up for health coverage by the midnight Monday deadline for President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative. In Louisiana, wait times for callers lasted up to two hours. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee received nearly 1,900 calls by midday compared with about 800 the previous Monday. And in California, where enrollments surged toward the Obama administration’s original projection of 1.3 million, the deadline day volume forced the state exchange to switch off a key function on its website and encourage people to finish their applications in the days ahead. Across the nation, the interest in getting health insurance and avoiding a federal tax penalty was made clear in interviews with enrollment counselors and consumers.

“I have not had a physical in over 15 years,” said Dionne Gilbert, a 51-year-old uninsured woman from Denver who waited in a 90-minute line to get enrollment assistance. “I told myself, ‘You need to do this. Your daughter loves you and needs you.’” The last-minute rush was expected to significantly boost the number of Americans gaining coverage under the new law, and government officials told The Associated Press late Monday that they were on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance by the deadline. But the months ahead will show whether the Affordable Care Act will meet its mandate to provide affordable health care coverage or whether high deductibles, paperwork snags and narrow physician networks make it a bust.

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Bob Cesca: Please Republicans, Run Against Obamacare This Year And We’ll See You In November

Anyone who tells you the GOP is a lock for holding onto the House of Representatives while taking back the Senate in the midterms doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Why? Because it’s April. The election isn’t for another seven months. That’s a huge block of time, especially knowing how the speed of online media has accelerated news cycles and shortened voter attention spans. Again, if the Democrats can appeal to voters based on each of the very popular line items in the law, they might even be able to swing a few moderate, open-minded Republicans (yes, they exist), and especially those Republicans who happen to have ACA coverage (yes, they exist, too). At the same time, there’s seven months to carpet bomb swing districts with all of the Obamacare success stories such as, you know, my success story.

That’s more than enough time, and there’s more than enough material. This is all to suggest that the Democrats can absolutely meet the Republicans eye-to-eye on Obamacare rather than spinelessly running away from the law. There’s plenty of ammunition, 9.5 million Americans with new policies, along with strengthening poll numbers from which to draw support. If Mr. Priebus wants to make Obamacare The Issue for 2014, bring it on. The Democrats should absolutely stick it to him and make the GOP sorry it bothered. Who knows whether this will change the make-up of Congress or how the numbers will stack up. It’s still way too early to tell. But it’s a good bet the Republicans are making a classic strategic blunder — basing their fortunes upon the diminishing returns of the same old Obamacare myths and demagoguery.

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Media Matters: From “Doomed” To Boom: How The Press Missed The Obamacare Comeback Story

Just three weeks ago the Associated Press reported the Obama administration needed “something close to a miracle” in order to “meet its goal” of enrolling six million people into private health care plans via the Affordable Care Act before the looming April 1 deadline arrived. The article’s premise was telling in that it focused on what the political fallout would be if Obamacare sign-ups fell short. Noticeably absent was any analysis of what an Obamacare deadline success would look like or what the political implications would be. The scenario of success simply wasn’t considered plausible or worth addressing.

Of course, we now know that as many as seven million people enrolled for private coverage through the exchanges established by Obama’s health care law. Thanks to an amazing consumer surge in the month of March, the seven million mark, routinely thought of last year as completely unattainable, and often dismissed this year as not possible, was met. And because of a provision of the Obamacare law, approximately three million young people have been added to their parents’ private insurance plans. Meaning, more than 10 million people have used Obamacare to secure health coverage. The new law, noted the Los Angeles Times, “has spurred the largest expansion in health coverage in America in half a century.” The paper reported, “At least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gotten health insurance since Obamacare started.”

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Aaron Blake: Sebelius: 80-90 Percent Of Obamacare Enrollees Have Paid A Premium

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that insurance companies estimate between 80 and 90 percent of the 6 million people who have signed up for Obamacare have actually paid a premium. “What we know from insurance companies … tell(s) us that, for their initial customers, it’s somewhere between 80, 85, some say as high as 90 percent, have paid so far,” Sebelius said on KWTV-TV. “Lots of companies have different timetables for when their new customers have to send their first payment.”

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ABC: Behind The Scenes With Rosie The Riveters At The White House

Phyllis Gould waited 12 years for the moment when she, one of the six original “Rosie the Riveters,” made it to the White House.
Gould, 92, and her five fellow “Rosie the Riveters,” who worked in a shipyard during World War II, were invited by Vice President Joe Biden Monday after a decades-long letter campaign by Gould that began when Bill Clinton was in office. “I thought we are not going to be here that much longer and we need to get this out,” Gould said of why she asked for a White House invitation. “Because no one else can do it for us.” “Truthfully, I always thought I would drift through my life invisible to anybody,” she said. Instead, Gould’s letter to Biden, in which she said her dream was to take a picture with the president and the vice president in the Oval Office, resulted in an invitation for Gould and her fellow “Rosies” to a week-long visit to Washington, D.C.

 “This was the start of the first women’s liberation movement,” Biden told ABC News’ Lara Spencer as he greeted the Rosie’s. “You see these women working in a factory doing anything any man can do. It began to change everything.” With their motto, “We can do it,” and their famous red bandanas, Gould and the 20 million other American women who went to work during World War II turned gender stereotypes on their heads. The riveters worked as welders, electricians and draftsman at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, Calif., as the men fought in the war. During the women’s visit to the White House, Gould not only got the hug from Biden that she asked for in her letter, they all also got a surprise visit from President Obama.

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@VP: One of the Rosies at [yesterday’s] meeting requested a “Big Biden Hug”. Catch the whole story on [today’s] @GMA.

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On This Day:

Sarah Brown, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Obama and Michelle Obama on the steps of No.10 Downing St on the eve of the G20 summit in London, April 1, 2009

President Obama is welcomed to 10 Downing Street in London by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, April 1, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama talks alone with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prior to President Obama’s Meeting with President Hu of China. Winfield House in London, April 1, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meet for the first time to issue a joint statement announcing their pursuit of a new START treaty, at Winfield House in London, April 1, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama smiles during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Medvedev at Winfield House in London, April 1, 2009

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 President Obama waves to crowd gathered for his arrival in Framingham, Mass., April 1, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, center, at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in Framingham, Mass., April 1, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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The North Portico of the White House is seen through the fog, April 1, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama welcomes Robby Novak, known as “Kid President,” to the Oval Office, April 1, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama reacts to a missed shot on the White House Basketball Court, April 1, 2013. The President participated in a clinic with kids and professional basketball players as part of the 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll (Photo by Pete Souza)

 

 

06
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama signs the prosthetic arm of Sgt. Carlos Evans, USMC, after greeting wounded warriors in the East Room during their tour of the White House, March 6, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

11:0 The First Lady hosts a workshop for students – “I’m Every Woman: The History of Women in Soul”

11:35: President Obama participates in a town hall, Newseum, Washington

7:0: Hosts “In Performance at the White House: Women of Soul”

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Elijah Wolfson: How Obamacare May Lower The Prison Population More Than Any Reform In A Generation

While many have focused on the individual mandate, and the online (and glitchy) insurance exchanges, one of the most potentially impactful elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has flown more or less under the radar. It may be the biggest piece of prison reform the U.S. will see in this generation. In 1980, the number of Americans incarcerated for drug-related offenses was around 41,000. Then, in 1982, the country’s “War on Drugs” officially commenced, and by 2011, that number had shot up to 500,000. In conjunction with funding the front on drug users, President Ronald Reagan defunded federal mental health programs, dropping total mental health spending by over 30 percent. As a result, many of the nation’s mentally ill lost what was essentially their home and place of work, and many ended up on the street.

Today, a good portion of those make their beds in prisons and jails. The last major study on mental health in prisons, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that 64 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons met the criteria for mental illness at the time of their booking or during the twelve months leading up to their arrest. Many hope and believe that change is on its way. The Justice Department estimates suggest that with the expansion of Medicaid, 5.4 million ex-offenders currently on parole or probation could get the health care they need. (It’s important to note that 25 states plus Washington, D.C. have implemented the Medicaid expansion as of 2014. However, many policy experts expect the remaining states to fall in line, citing the historical example of how CHIP was initially rejected by many states when it rolled out in 1997, but is now utilized in every state in the country.)

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Carol E. Lee: Obama To Donors: Don’t Let Democrats Get ‘Walloped’

President Barack Obama pleaded with Democratic donors not sit on the sidelines in the midterm elections, warning them the party could get “walloped” if their voters don’t turn out this November. Mr. Obama indicated at a fundraiser Wednesday that he’s concerned Democrats could suffer losses this fall because they are already so focused on the 2016 presidential campaign. No one will work harder than he will to make sure a Democrat succeeds him in office, he said, because he wants to “consolidate and solidify” the gains he’s made over two terms. But right now, he said, the party needs to focus on 2014.

“I’m going to need you,” Mr. Obama told about 70 donors at a dinner held at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter. “The progress we’ve made is on the ballot.” Mr. Obama said Democrats will stand for policies designed to boost the middle class. He pointed to polls showing broad support among Americans for his proposed increase in the federal minimum wage as evidence of what he described as a political system in Washington that’s not reflecting the views of the country. “This counts,” the president said, imploring the well-heeled crowd to “step up.”

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Catherine Thompson: Pope Signals Church Could Support Civil Unions In Some Cases

Pope Francis signaled that the Catholic Church could support some civil unions, particularly in order to guarantee property rights or medical care for nonmarried couples. The pontiff made the comment in a wide-ranging interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published Wednesday. While the pope’s remark opens the door to support for same-sex civil unions, he did not endorse them outright. The Catholic News Service noted “until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions.”

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Isaac Chotiner: Meet Vladmir Putin’s American Apologist

Given that I don’t watch much Russian state television, I naively assumed it would be possible (and even desirable) to go through an entire day without hearing a solid defense of Vladimir Putin’s warmongering. But when confronted with the figure of NYU Professor Stephen F. Cohen, this becomes impossible. In a piece for The Nationand an appearance on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show, Cohen gave his best defense of Putin’s Ukraine policy, and inadvertantly showed why making excuses for an autocratic regime makes the apologist look worst of all.

Cohen’s discussion with Fareed Zakaria was brief but telling. After first denying that Putin was a “rank dictator” and saying that he is not “a thug” or “anti-American” (would Putin even deny this last bit anymore?), Cohen got to the main point of his argument: Notice that Cohen initially argues that some sort of control over Ukraine is a requirement of Russian greatness. And then, after explaining this, he says the whole crisis was “imposed” on Putin! This is apologetics done well: first you explain why bad behavior is actually sensisble, and then you say that the bad behavior wasn’t really under the control of the bad actor.

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Greg Sargent: Culture War Paranoia Lives On As Dems Sink An Obama Nominee

In a setback for President Obama, the Senate today sank his nomination to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division, at a time when the war over voting is increasingly central to our politics, after seven Senate Dems joined Republicans to vote No. They were apparently spooked by Republican attacks on Debo Adegbile for his role in representing Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose case became an international story after he was convicted of killing a cop in Philadelphia in 1981. The New York Times adds: “As the head of the N.A.A.C.P. legal fund, Mr. Adegbile was not directly involved in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s defense, and the group stepped into the case 25 years after the murder.” Dems who supported Adegbile argued he should not be blamed for the conduct of the man he represented, and that so doing undercuts the foundations of the legal system.

One possible explanation for what happened: Culture war paranoia is alive and well among Democrats. At a time when Dems are increasingly emboldened to take stands on gay rights, gun control, immigration and even abortion that once would have given them far more trepidation, echoes of a battle that feels culturally and politically out of a bygone era were enough to sink a nominee that would have been central to the battle over voting access, which is increasingly important to Dems and their core constituencies in the present. This, even though the once-feared label “soft on crime” seemed to have lost much of its potency against Dems long, long ago.

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National Journal: Americans Cared More About Obamacare Than The Olympics

Nearly six in 10 Americans (58 percent) reported following the health law’s implementation “very” or “fairly” closely in February, according to a new poll, while only 47 percent said they followed the Winter Olympics coverage as intently. Among the most popular health care stories was the decision by CVS to stop selling tobacco products in its stores, as well as news that some employers would have an extra year to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide workers with coverage. More Americans–nearly 70 percent–also paid more attention to the U.S. economy than the Olympics.

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Imani Gandy: Black Women Are An Electoral Voting Force. Recognize

The 2014 midterm elections are fast approaching, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund has just rolled out its campaign to help educate voters about candidates’ positions on women’s health. “We know that women’s health is a winning issue and that no candidate will be able to win without a plurality of women,” the group’s president, Cecile Richards, said in a statement announcing the launch of the effort, dubbed the “Women are Watching” campaign, which is expected to spend more than $18 million in at least 14 states. A week later, the most prominent and well-funded reproductive rights advocacy organization in the nation has demonstrated that it will be relying on the same old campaign formulas designed to educate “key voters” about candidates’ position on abortion and birth control. The problem with this approach is that it is blind to the fact that most women in this country are concerned about more than just birth control and abortion. It’s that broader group of women—Black and Latina women, specifically—who will be delivering electoral victories for Democrats, which, essentially, also means we will be delivering reproductive rights victories in 2014, just as they have in elections dating back to 1980.

Consider the recent election of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. In each of those races, Black women propelled the candidates to victory. Left in the hands of white women, Republican candidate Ken Cucinelli, who would have been a disaster for reproductive rights, would be in the Virginia governor’s mansion right now. Let’s also not forget that if it wasn’t for Black women, we would be face-palming our way through a Mitt Romney presidency right now.  For example, one of the most important issues facing Black women in the 2014 election cycle—as in the 2012 election cycle—is voter suppression. Republican voter suppression efforts target us because they know that we make up the “gender gap” that has, since 1980, helped Democrats win in election after election. Considering that the upcoming midterm elections will be the first major election since theSupreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, and considering the intensity with which lawmakers in states like Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia have pushed barriers to voting, it seems to me that reproductive rights organizations must place voter suppression at the top of their priorities list.

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Josh Marshall: Obama’s Critics Should Put Up Or Shut Up

Do you remember when President Bush’s political adversaries starting ragging on him during the first days after 9/11? Or during the first days of the invasion of Iraq? Me neither. Whatever you think of the holder of the presidential office, if you are actually concerned about the nation’s welfare you don’t go on TV mocking him and saying he’s weak. The President’s critics talk about “resolve” and “leadership” and “toughness” because there are not any actual actions they can point to that they think he should do but isn’t. These phrases are plastic, can mean anything and can be puffed up with all manner of wish-projection and foreign policy fantasy untethered to any concrete and specifics actions.

It recalls the glory days of #RomneyStrength. It’s really that clear. Vague and ambiguous phrases are used to conceal this. What President Obama could do is give Putin an ultimatum to leave Crimea or be forcibly expelled. Then we’d have a real test of strength and Putin would see deep potential costs to his actions. But even the President’s toughest critics recognize this would be insane. It’s really not a good idea to get into a land war with the world’s other major nuclear power on their own terrain. (And whatever we think of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine now they were part of a single country for centuries and in terms of experience, tactics and knowledge it’s home ground for the Russian Army.)

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Jesse Wegman: The Senate’s Hierarchy Of Victimhood

Debo Adegbile did his job, and for that he was deemed unfit by the Senate to become the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. His misstep, specifically, was helping represent a death-row inmate while he was director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. With this excuse in hand, Senate Republicans and seven cowardly Democrats, three of whom are up for re-election in November, managed to shut down Mr. Adegbile’s nomination. The final, shameful vote was effectively 51-48 (Senator Harry Reid supported Mr. Adegbile but voted no for procedural reasons). But wait: didn’t the Senate vote to confirm John Roberts to the Supreme Court, even after learning that he, too, had assisted in the defense of a death-row inmate? That man, John Errol Ferguson, killed eight people. (Despite the help of one of the nation’s top lawyers, Ferguson was executed in Florida last year.)

So why does John Roberts get a pass but not Debo Adegbile? Because Mr. Adegbile represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for killing a Philadelphia police officer named Daniel Faulkner. For three decades the case has reverberated across the region, which now apparently includes the constituency of Delaware Senator Chris Coons, the last and least expected Democratic vote against the nomination. Some have called Mr. Adegbile a “cop-killer advocate.” Another word for that might be “lawyer.” In representing people like John Ferguson and Mumia Abu-Jamal, Chief Justice Roberts and Mr. Adegbile were doing what lawyers everywhere are trained to do. Particularly in death-penalty cases, it is critical to ensure that a defendant has adequate representation and that his trial, conviction and sentence do not violate the Constitution.

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Sulia: Russia Today Anchor Resigns Live On Air Over ‘Whitewashing’ Of Putin’s Actions Against Crimea

RT news called it a ‘self promotional’ stunt, but I call it brave:  “Russia Today America anchor Liz Wahl resigned Wednesday live on air, saying she could no longer work at the Kremlin-funded network after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Wahl said she feels “many ethical and moral challenges” especially since her grandparents fled Hungary during the Soviet era, “ironically to escape the Soviet Union.”

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EJ Dionne: Blaming Obama First

…. Moreover, Republicans were utterly unrestrained in casting opposition to Bush’s policies as disloyalty to the nation. When Nancy Pelosi accused Bush in 2004 of being “incompetent,” Tom DeLay, then the House majority leader, denounced the top House Democrat for being “so caught up in the partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk.”

…. There’s also this. A remarkably broad cross-party consensus has quickly coalesced around two propositions: (1) we will not commit American military forces in this crisis, but (2) we should use every realistic form of pressure at our disposal to contain and then reverse Putin’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Must we pretend to disagree even when we agree?

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Persona Non Grata: The First Victim

It is often said, “In war, the first victim is truth.” It applies just as much today and perhaps even more so given the many means technology now provides us to seek and find information. The information is then problematic because it is increasingly difficult to sort truth from lies, distortion from disinformation, half-truths from wholly fabricated falsehoods. Perhaps no better example of this is the recently leaked audio recording of a conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union.

The recording is being claimed as proof that Kyiv’s new “Euromaidan” government itself hired the snipers who killed dozens in Ukraine in February. If true, this would be a world-shaking revelation. But is it? What does the audio recording reveal to us, actually? Here are some observations: 1. Even diplomatic meetings are today subject to unauthorized interception & retransmission. This not only threatens the freedom of diplomats to freely exchange views and information, it also makes it easy for third parties to use the released information and present it out of context.

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John Harper: Afghanistan Veteran William Kyle Carpenter To Receive Medal Of Honor

President Barack Obama will award medically retired Marine Lance Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter the Medal of Honor later this year in recognition of Carpenter’s heroic actions during a November 2010 grenade attack in Afghanistan. Carpenter, 24, would be the 10th U.S. servicemember — and the second Marine — to receive the Medal of Honor from the war in Afghanistan. Carpenter was nominated for the nation’s highest award for valor following reports that he covered a grenade to save the life of his friend,

Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio, during an insurgent attack in the Marjah district of Helmand province as the two Marines were standing guard on a rooftop on Nov. 21, 2010. Carpenter and Eufrazio survived the blast, but suffered severe wounds. Carpenter lost an eye and most of his teeth and shattered his jaw; his arm was also broken in several places. Damage from shrapnel to the frontal lobe of Eufrazio’s brain left him unable to speak for two years.

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TPM: 41 GOP Senators Try To Filibuster Judge, Then Confirm Him Unanimously

Forty-one Republican senators voted Wednesday to filibuster Pedro A. Delgado Hernandez of Puerto Rico, a nominee to be a U.S. district court judge. Their attempt failed because under new rules established by Democrats, “cloture” on most presidential nominees requires a simple majority, rather than 60 votes. So the nominee moved forward, 57-41. Then the Senate proceeded to a final vote on the nomination, which passed 98-0, capturing the Republican senators who had just attempted to filibuster Delgado.

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Caitlin MacNeal: 5 Year-Old Boy Accidentally Shoots And Kills Himself In California

A 5-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself with a gun he found inside his Riverside County, Calif. home on Tuesday, police told NBC Los Angeles. A neighbor called 911 to report the incident, and police pronounced the boy dead when they arrived at the scene, according to NBC.

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Washington Post: U.S., Allies Slowly Put Squeeze On Russia

The United States and its European allies incrementally tightened the noose of their disapproval around Russia on Wednesday, agreeing to send more money to Ukraine, dispatching international observers and more U.S. aircraft to the region, and edging closer to direct sanctions against Moscow. With little movement reported on the ground in Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian region where Russian troops have taken control, attention focused on a chaotic day of diplomatic meetings in Europe. Secretary of State John F. Kerry held his first direct meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, since street protests in the Ukrainian capital turned deadly last month and led to the ouster of Kiev’s pro-Russia government. No progress was reported after the session, held at the home of Russia’s ambassador to France, but Kerry and Lavrov agreed to keep talking.

No similar quips emerged from a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels. A NATO diplomat, describing the session as “tense,” said alliance members one by one confronted Alexander V. Grushko, Russia’s representative to NATO, with charges that Moscow was violating international law in Crimea and concocting threats against ethnic Russians there to justify its actions. “It was quite an uncomfortable meeting,” said the diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the closed-door session. When it was over, NATO announced that it was suspending collaboration with Russian armed forces on several fronts, including planning for Russia to provide a maritime escort for the U.S. ship that is to destroy Syrian chemical weapons at sea in the spring. E.U. representatives gave preliminary approval to a $15 billion aid package of loans and grants to Ukraine over the next several years, on top of a U.S. announcement Tuesday of $1 billion in energy loan guarantees.

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Reuters: Iran Cutting Sensitive Nuclear Stocks, Much Work Remains: IAEA

Iran is reducing its most proliferation-prone nuclear stockpile as required by its landmark deal with world powers but much work remains to be done to resolve all concerns about Tehran’s activities, the U.N. atomic watchdog chief said. Among measures Iran is taking since the interim agreement took effect on January 20 is the dilution of its stock of higher-enriched uranium to a fissile concentration less suitable for any attempt to fuel an atomic bomb. Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), indicated that Iran had made sufficient progress in this regard to receive a scheduled March 1 installment of $450 million out of a total of $4.2 billion in previously blocked overseas funds. The IAEA has a pivotal role in checking that Iran is living up to its part of the six-month accord in curbing its disputed nuclear program in exchange for some easing of sanctions that have impaired its oil-dependent economy.

“As of today, measures agreed under the Joint Plan of Action are being implemented as planned,” Amano said, referring to the November 24 agreement struck in Geneva between Iran and the United States, Germany, France, Russia, China and Britain. These included “the dilution of a proportion of Iran’s inventory” of 20 percent uranium gas to a lower enrichment level, which “has reached the halfway mark”, he told the IAEA’s 35-nation board, according to a copy of his speech. Under the accord, Iran suspended enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile concentration – a relatively short technical step away from the level required for nuclear bombs – and is taking action to neutralize its holding of the material. In return, Iran is gradually winning access to $4.2 billion of its oil revenues frozen abroad and some other sanctions relief. The funds will be paid out in eight transfers on a schedule that started with a $550 million payment by Japan on February 1. Last month, banking sources said South Korea was set to make two payments in March totaling $1 billion.

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LA Times: Weekly Jobless Claims Drop Sharply To 323,000 As Layoffs Ease

Initial jobless claims fell sharply last week to their lowest level in three months, the Labor Department said Thursday, as a private report showed layoffs eased in February. About 323,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ending Saturday, down from 349,000, the previous week, the Labor Department said. The falloff was steeper than that expected by analysts, who had forecast 338,000 first-time claims. Last week’s figure was the lowest since the end of November.

Weekly jobless claims below 350,000 indicate moderate labor market growth. The four-week moving average dropped by 2,000 last week, to 336,500. Planned layoffs last month were down 24% from a year ago and marked the lowest February total since 2000, Challenger said. Announced job cuts in the first two months of the year were 9.2% less than for the same period in 2013. Banks and other financial firms had the most announced job cuts in February, with 9,791, about double the amount in January.

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Trevor LaFauci: Deafening Silence: Why Conservatives Fear Obama’s Foreign Policy

What’s ironic about the Republican arguments against President Obama’s current course of action is the fact that they clearly aren’t based in reality and only serve to further embarrass the party.  For a political party that used to pride itself on foreign policy victories, today’s Republican Party has officially become paranoid after a string of victories by the Obama administration.  The problem focuses on the fact that diplomacy is now seen as a viable solution to solving major international conflicts.  This undermines the entire Republican foreign policy of flexing our military muscle first and asking questions later.

It also hurts the Republican Party where it matters most:  its wallet.  You see, if there are no boots on the ground or no planes overhead then our friends at Boeing and Haliburton can’t make a few million bucks producing products with that profit then trickling down to their shareholders who just happen to be Republican government officials.  If American diplomacy not only is implemented, but also works, then maybe, just maybe, people might begin to suggest that this tactic always be used first when an international incident occurs.  If that happens, if we actually have dialogue between major world leaders, if we actually have economic pressures and sanctions placed against countries that violate law, if we freeze a nation’s assets, then this could lead to a world where American diplomacy, rather than American destroyers, ends up solving international conflicts. And that, for Republicans, is a very scary world.

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Two Years Ago Today:

President Obama on GOP hawks lusting after war with Iran:

“…. those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be.  Everything else is just talk.”

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On This Day:

President Obama shoots hoops on the White House South Lawn basketball court, March 6, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama walks towards the White House with friend Eric Whitaker, right and Personal Assistant Reggie Love after shooting hoops at the South Lawn basketball court, March 6, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama arrives at Port Columbus International Airport. Columbus, Ohio with Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, and Secret Service, March 6, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama ride in the presidential limousine on the way to attending a parent teacher meeting, March 6, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama shoots baskets on the White House basketball court with Justin Friedlander and his family, July 6, 2010. Friedlander, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in March, 2009, has launched an initiative called “Justin’s Quest,” in which he will shoot 63,000 basketball shots, one for every person diagnosed with a primary brain tumor each year in the United States (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama at a news conference in the White House press briefing room, March 6, 2012

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First Lady Michelle Obama drops by a Partnership for a Healthier America board meeting in the Map Room of the White House, March 6, 2013 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly visit the site of a shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that left her critically wounded, March 6, 2013

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