Posts Tagged ‘kerry



30
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

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

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The Week Ahead:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@GOPIsPoverty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Get Covered Illinois: #GCISuccess Stories

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

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

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On This Day

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

09
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama holds up four-month-old Alia Jawando as her father, William Jawando, Deputy Associate Director of Public Engagement, and her mother Michele look on in the Oval Office, March 9, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today:

The First Family return to Washington DC from Florida

The Week Ahead:

Monday: The President will host a reception for the 2012 and 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Champions.

Tuesday: Travels to New York to attend DNC and DSCC events.

Wednesday – Friday: Attends meetings at the White House.

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Tara Culp-Ressler: Obamacare Is Already Helping Boost Americans’ Personal Incomes

According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the health reform law is having a positive effect on personal incomes and spending. According to the BEA, Obamacare accounted for about three quarters of the overall rise in Americans’ incomes in January. Personal incomes rose by 0.3 percent during the first month of the year — and the BEA explains that’s partly because of the impact of the health law’s consumer benefits. Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion increased public health insurance benefits by about $19.2 billion.

And the new refundable tax credits under health reform, like the subsidies available to help American purchase new plans in Obamacare’s marketplaces, totaled about $14.7 billion. “Personal income in January was boosted by several provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which affected government social benefit payments to persons,” the BEA concluded. The financial impacts of health reform are most evident among the sectors of the population that are struggling to stay out of poverty. A recent study by the Brookings Institute found that Obamacare has the potential to boost the incomes of the poorest Americans by anywhere from five to seven percent.

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Reuters: Kerry Urges Russia To Exercise Utmost Restraint In Ukraine’s Crimea

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia on Saturday that any steps to annex Ukraine’s Crimea region would close the door to diplomacy, a U.S. State Department official said. Kerry’s latest telephone call with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, came as the standoff between occupying Russian forces and besieged Ukrainian troops intensified in Crimea. “He made clear that continued military escalation and provocation in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine, along with steps to annex Crimea to Russia would close any available space for diplomacy, and he urged utmost restraint,” the official said. President Barack Obama sought to reassure nervous Baltic leaders on Saturday about U.S. support for their security and consulted other European allies about the Ukraine crisis.

He convened a conference call with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Latvian President Andris Berzins, and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. It was the first time he has spoken with the leaders of the three Baltic states about the crisis. The countries are NATO members with strong economic ties to Russia, and have expressed nervousness about President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. “The president reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to our collective defense commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty and our enduring support for the security and democracy of our Baltic allies,” the White House said in a statement. The United States has moved to reassure its NATO allies, sending six more F-15 fighter jets this week to NATO’s policing mission over the Baltic states. The jets are on call to respond to any violations of Baltic airspace.

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Baye Adofo-Wilson: [IN MEMORIAM] Who Was Chokwe Lumumba?

The Honorable Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Chokwe Lumumba, an unapologetic revolutionary “New Afrikan” (Black) nationalist, fighting for the human rights and dignity of Black folks in a place that has the reputation of being antithetical to that notion, is dead at age 66. Born, Edwin Findley Taliaferro on August 4, 1947, in Detroit, Michigan. His initial exposure to the issues of human rights and dignity came from his mother, Priscilla.  A native of Alabama, Priscilla showed her children the infamous Jet Magazine cover of a deceased 14-year-old’s bashed in face. It was young Emmett Till, murdered for sassing a White woman. She followed this up with a conversation about racism—Lumumba, an impressible eight years old. He saw his mother organize in their community and raise funds for various causes.  Her strength, discipline and determination gave Lumumba a foundation for organizing and a sense of Black community pride and commitment.

Lumumba’s political watershed moment came as a reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, someone he followed closely throughout high school and college. Already a student leader, Lumumba and other students took over a building demanding more scholarships for Black students and an increase in Black faculty. Lumumba returned to law school and graduated top of his class.  He stayed in Detroit for over a decade, practicing criminal defense and human rights law. His law practice grew, representing political activists such as Bilal Sunni Ali, Mutulu Shakur (Tupac Shakur’s stepfather) and former Black Panther Assata Shakur. In 2009, he was elected Jackson City Councilman and was sitting in the Mayor’s chair by June 2013. As Mayor, Chokwe was just getting started.  Within four months he passed a one percent sales tax increase that is estimated to raise $700 million dollars over the next ten years for infrastructure improvements.  He had plans to make Jackson the greenest city in the South, by retrofitting and using renewable energy on all of the municipal buildings.

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TPM: Obama To Expand California National Monument

President Barack Obama will expand the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a White House official said Saturday. Expected Tuesday, the action will permanently protect some 1,665 acres of federal lands on the Mendocino County coast in Northern California, just north of Point Arena. It will expand a national monument created in 2000 by President Bill Clinton to include coastal bluffs and shelves, tide pools, onshore sand dunes, coastal prairies, riverbanks and the mouth and estuary of the Garcia River.

Obama’s designation would follow recent action by the Environmental Protection Agency to block development of Pebble Mine, a massive copper and gold deposit in Alaska’s treasured Bristol Bay region. Obama pledged in this year’s State of the Union address to use his presidential authority to preserve more federal lands for future generations. The action he is taking next week will bypass Congress, which has been slow to act on proposed legislation to preserve public lands.

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Reuters: Ukraine PM Says He Will Go To U.S. To Discuss Crimea Crisis

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Sunday he would go to the United States this week to discuss the standoff with Russia over Ukraine’s southern region of Crimea. “I am going to the United states to hold top-level meetings on resolving the situation unfolding in our bilateral and multilateral relations,” Yatseniuk said at the start of a government meeting in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

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Henry Austin: Dalai Lama Voices Support For Gay Marriage

The Dalai Lama has come out in support of gay marriage, saying it was “OK” and a personal affair for people of the same sex to commit to each other. “If two people… really feel that way … and both sides fully agree, then okay,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said on Ora.tv’s Larry King Now show. The Nobel laureate was interviewed after he offered the customary prayer that opens each Senate session in Washington D.C.

Ultimately, the Dalai Lama, who like all Tibetan Monks is celibate himself, said gay marriage was up to each government and was ultimately “individual business.” “People who have belief or who have special traditions, then you should follow according to your own tradition. Like Buddhism, there are different kinds of sexual misconduct, so you should follow properly.” “I think (it’s) OK,” he added. “I think that’s an individual’s business.”

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Igor Volsky: Bush’s Defense Secretary Destroys GOP Talking Points Against Obama’s Handling Of Crimea

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back on Sunday against conservatives who’ve blamed President Obama’s “weak” foreign policy for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Crimea. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gates dismissed arguments that Obama’s handling of the conflict in Syria or his efforts to trim the defense budget emboldened Putin, arguing that the Russian president also invaded Georgia during the George W. Bush administration.

“My own view is, after all, Putin invaded Georgia when George W. Bush was president. Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or unwilling to use military force,” Gates, who served as Defense Secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama said. “So I think Putin is very opportunistic in these arenas. I think that even if — even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget — I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.” Earlier this week, Gates told the Washington Post that the GOP lawmakers should “tone down” their criticism and “try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.”

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Sharon Bernstein: California Democrats To Adopt Platform As Election Season Begins

California Democrats meeting in Los Angeles on Sunday were set to adopt a platform likely to call for an inflation-adjusted minimum wage, dramatic cuts in military spending, and tighter campaign finance and disclosure laws. Confident going into the 2014 election season with wide majorities in both legislative houses and control of all statewide elected offices, Democratic leaders at the party’s annual convention aimed to push their statewide success eastward in an effort to retake a majority in Congress.

Some 3,000 delegates and guests thronging the downtown Westin Bonaventure hotel were also scheduled to hear from legislative leaders, including top Democrats in the state senate and assembly. The convention had on Saturday showcased Democratic stars in the most populous U.S. state, including California Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris as well as former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom party leaders are hoping may be able to return to her old job. The draft version of the platform sounds a number of key Democratic themes, including support for anti-poverty programs and increased funding for education.

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Tom Curry: Obama Aide Sees Russian Threat On Arms Inspection As ‘Serious’

Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, said Sunday that a Russian threat to cease inspections of nuclear weapons as required by U.S.-Russian arms control treaties would be “a serious development.” Blinken said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he’d seen news reports of those Russian threats — made in response to U.S. sanctions and other penalties for Russia’s seizure of the Crimea region of Ukraine — but that the Russian government had not communicated directly to the Obama administration on that matter. Asked what Obama had accomplished so far in his efforts to deter or penalize Putin for Russia’s seizure of Crimea,

Blinken said the president has been “mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine and to reassure our allies and partners.” Blinken said Obama has invited Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk to the White House on Wednesday to consult with him and to demonstrate American support for the Ukrainian government. Blinked argued that the decline in value of the Russian ruble and the increased uncertainty about foreign investment in Russia are “exacting a real cost and a real consequence” for Putin’s decision to intervene in Crimea.

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Ian Millhiser: Retired Supreme Court Justice Calls For Constitutional Amendment To Prevent Partisan Gerrymandering

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has a new book out, in which he proposes six potential amendments to the Constitution — including one to prevent lawmakers from drawing legislative maps intended to entrench their own party in power: Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historical boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.

So long as justices with similar views to Scalia control the Court, however, Congress could probably also use this power to gerrymander congressional maps even more than they are currently. Under Scalia’s view, there is little preventing a Congress controlled by one party from redrawing every state’s map (or, at least, every state with more than one representative’s map) in order to maximize the likelihood that the incumbent party would be elected. This problem cannot be warded off by an act of Congress. And, as discussed above, it won’t be solved by a constitutional amendment either. The only sure way to prevent such widespread gerrymanders is to replace justices like Scalia with justices who understand that partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional and that egregious gerrymanders must be struck down by the courts.

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Alasdair Baverstock: After A Month Of Violence, Protesters In Venezuela Try Peace

From behind their riot shield barricade, Venezuela’s National Guard cooly surveyed a scene of frustration. Dressed in white t-shirts representing their pacifism, protesters waved their national flags, pledged their commitment to peaceful protest and banged cooking pots in time to songs of government downfall. Saturday’s “empty pots march” had commenced.  Beneath the scorching Caracas sun, one man held up a banner to those who blocked their passage west to the centre of the Venezuelan capital: “If we all have the same problems, then why are we so divided?” The man’s message was not aimed at the authorities, rather the pro-government chavistaswho suffer under the same rampant inflation, chronic shortages of basic goods and massive murder rates that form daily struggles on both sides of Venezuela’s political divide.

After plotting a route to the Ministry of Food in the city center, Saturday’s “empty pots march” stopped short as protestors entered the pro-government Libertador municipality. In an “adapt or perish” bid to spur momentum into a fourth week of protests, Saturday’s demonstration was the first of its kind to emerge from the opposition districts. “We’re testing the water,” said one masked protester, who held his country’s flag upside-down over the lower tier of a freeway that ferries two million vehicles daily along the Caracas valley. “We want to reach out to those who don’t hear our message so that they can see we aren’t the fascists the government says we are.”

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Alyssa Mastromonaco

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AP: Long-Time Obama Aide To Leave White House

A top White House official who has been with President Barack Obama since he first became a senator nine years ago is resigning. Alyssa Mastromonaco is Obama’s deputy chief of staff for operations and often described as the most influential person inside the White House who isn’t well known outside of it. She is responsible for planning presidential events, hiring staff and overseeing the White House complex.

A White House official said Mastromonaco is leaving in May to look for a job in the private sector. The official said Obama insisted as a condition of her departure that she continue to act as an outside adviser. Mastromonaco joined Obama’s Senate office in February 2005 as scheduling director, and oversaw scheduling and advance for his 2008 presidential campaign and during Obama’s first term at the White House. She was promoted to deputy chief of staff in 2011.

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Your laugh of the day

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On This Day:

President Obama signs an Executive Order on stem cell research at the White House March 9, 2009. By signing the order, Obama reverses a Bush administration policy restricting U.S funding for embryonic stem cell research.

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First Lady Michelle Obama presents her inaugural gown to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History March 9, 2010

First Lady Michelle Obama greets Mrs. Ada Papandreou, the First Lady of Greece, in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House, March 9, 2010 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)

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President Obama talks on the phone with President-elect Vladimir Putin of Russia while aboard Air Force One en route to Richmond, Va., March 9, 2012. Alice Wells, Senior Director for Russian Affairs, listens in on the call. (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at Minute Maid Park, March 9, in Houston

First Lady Michelle Obama participates in the “Bunny Pokey” song and dance with kids in the Kinderbees Activty Room at Penacook Community Center in Penacook, N.H., March 9, 2012 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

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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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Attorney-Debo-Adegbile

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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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02
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office, March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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The Week Ahead:

Monday: President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The Vice President will also attend.

Tuesday: The President will hold an event on the FY2015 budget and the plan to expand opportunity for all in Washington, DC. In the evening, the President will attend a DSCC event in the Washington, DC area.

First Lady Michelle Obama will join Secretary of State John Kerry to honor the recipients of the International Women of Courage Award in the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State.

Wednesday: The President will travel to the Hartford, Connecticut area for an event on the minimum wage. Following this, he will travel to Boston, Massachusetts for two DNC events.

First Lady Michelle Obama will participate in a conversation with Robin Roberts at the Leading Women Defined Summit, hosted by BET Networks. The discussion will be around the Affordable Care Act and a personal reflection on health and wellness. The First Lady will also visit a health center to highlight the work that hospitals, doctors and clinics are doing to educate their patients about the Affordable Care Act and how patients can get insurance.

Thursday: The President will hold an event on the economy and healthcare in Washington, DC.

Friday: The President and the First Lady will travel to the Miami area for an event on expanding opportunity for all.

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Timothy Snyder: Beneath The Hypocrisy, Putin Is Vulnerable. Here’s Where His Soft Spots Are

Russian intervention in Ukraine is directed against the EU, which Moscow has now decided is a threat to its interests and indeed a civilizational challenge. How can Europe respond to the immediate problem of military intervention in Ukraine and the more fundamental political challenge to European values and achievements?  Much of the Russian elite has sent its children to private schools in the European Union or Switzerland. Beyond that, since no Russian of any serious means trusts the Russian financial system, wealthy Russians park their wealth in European banks. In other words, the Russian social order depends upon the Europe that Russian propaganda mocks. And beneath hypocrisy, as usual, lies vulnerability.

Soft power can hurt. General restrictions on tourist visas, a few thousand travel bans, and a few dozen frozen accounts might make a real difference. If millions of urban Russians understood that invading Ukraine meant no summer vacation, they might have second thoughts. If the Russian elites understood that invading Ukraine meant dealing with their disaffected teenagers on an indefinite basis, they too might reconsider. If wealthy Russians understood that their accounts could be frozen, as has just happened to Ukrainian oligarchs, that might affect their calculations as well.

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Andrew Ackerman: Obama To Request 30% Bump In CFTC Funding

President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget plan, set for release Tuesday, will request a 30% funding boost for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Obama is expected to request $280 million for the CFTC, these people said, a $65 million increase above the current-year funding levels of $215 million. The requested increase, which would be the largest in the agency’s history, would be funded through user fees to entities policed by the agency.  An administration official said the funding boost, if enacted, would allow the agency to increase its staff by more than one-third and modernize its technology systems.

“The president is committed to securing sufficient funding to enable the CFTC to effectively oversee the futures and swaps markets,” the official said. The agency, which is responsible for implementing dozens of new rules required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law, has consistently warned it is underfunded. The funding woes prompted the CFTC to furlough employees last year and delay or shelve certain enforcement matters. Under the White House plan, the user fees would ensure taxpayers don’t have to bear the agency’s funding costs and put the CFTC on equal footing with other financial regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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TPM: Hundreds Of Gunmen Surround Military Base In Crimea

Hundreds of armed men in trucks and armored vehicles surrounded a Ukrainian military base Sunday in Crimea, blocking its soldiers from leaving. The outnumbered Ukrainians placed a tank at the base’s gate, leaving the two sides in a tense standoff. In Kiev, Ukraine’s new prime minister urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his military, warning that “we are on the brink of disaster.” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk spoke a day after Russian forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine without firing a shot.

“There was no reason for the Russian Federation to invade Ukraine,” Yatsenyuk said after a closed session of his new parliament in Kiev.  Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced late Saturday that he had ordered Ukraine’s armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of “potential aggression.” He also said he had ordered stepped-up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.

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NBC News: Kerry Denounces Russian ‘Act Of Aggression,’ Warns Of Trade Freeze

Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the Russian movement of troops into Ukraine Sunday as “an act of aggression” and accused President Vladimir Putin of “possibly trying to annex Crimea.” “He’s going to lose on the international stage, Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza,” Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press. He warned that Russia will suffer a loss of trade and investment if Putin does not reverse course.

Russia has “major investment and trade needs” which are bound to suffer if Russian troops don’t leave Ukraine, he said. “There’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday – all of the G-8 and more — that they’re simply going to isolate Russia; that they’re not going to engage with Russia in a normal business-as-usual manner…. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this,” he said.  He also warned that “there could even be ultimately asset freezes,” but did not specify how long it would take for foreign governments and banking authorities to freeze Russian assets held abroad. He also threatened bans on issuing visas to Russians seeking to travel to Europe, the United States and other countries.

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Hayes Brown: 5 Ways The U.S. Can Respond To Russia Invading Ukraine – Without Going To War

1. Suspend Russia’s membership in the G-8 Russia joining the Group of 7 in 1998, despite being the weakest of the group’s economies at the time, was considered a huge boost to the prestige a country still recovering after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is also due to host the next meeting of the G-8 in Sochi, the site of the recently concluded Olympics, this June. Rather than the U.S. simply boycotting the meeting, the Obama administration could lead the charge along with the other members to suspend Russia’s membership in the group.

3. Enact trade sanctions against Russia As recently as December, Russia was looking to boost trade with the United States — which already stands at about $40 billion annually — though remaining just shy of a free trade deal. Both Russia and the United States are members of the World Trade Organization, which brings with it certain obligations when it comes to tarrifs and trade embargoes. But insofar as those obligations allow, the U.S. can use reduced trade with Russia to show its displeasure.

4. Suspension of NATO cooperation and participation After the collapse of the USSR, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization welcomed in several of the formerly Soviet states, including Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Russia has long seen this expansion as a threat, which is part of the reason Ukraine is not a NATO member state. To help assauge those fears, NATO began outreach to Russia in the late 1990s, including setting up a NATO-Russia Council to frequently meet and exchange concerns. In light of Putin’s move on Ukraine, the U.S. should move to have those meetings suspended and cooperation between NATO and Russia halted.

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Dexter Mullins: The ‘Invisible Man’ In The Age Of Trayvon And Jordan

With his widely read novel “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison ignited a conversation and an awareness of racial alienation in America that had the potential to help bridge the gap between the nation’s races. But as we celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday on Saturday, it is almost staggering to see how little has changed since Ellison published the book in 1952. Black people — and black men in particular — are still viewed and judged as though we are all one person, with one mind, and that we are all either criminals or about to become criminals. We are still treated as if we are less than everyone else, no matter the degrees we may possess, how impressive our job titles or our contributions to society. Indeed, as we celebrate Ellison today, it is a shame to have to say that the black man as an individual is still “invisible” and that the country has a long way to go.

There isn’t a black man or boy in this country who has not been told by someone in his family that while people may say we are equal, the reality is quite different and that — should you find yourself in a situation with any person of authority, or a rogue vigilante who thinks he’s above the law — it is better to hold your tongue and submit to the traffic ticket, search or humiliating line of questioning and get home alive than it is to try and make a stand to prove your point and come home in a pine box. At the end of Ellison’s novel, the main character learns to embrace his individuality after years of conforming to society’s perceptions and expectations of what a black man is supposed to be. Today, it is society that needs to embrace the individuality of minorities and re-examine where our nation’s race relations really are.

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David Remnick: Putin Goes To War

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country’s power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.

Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist and pro-democracy activist who was recently detained by the police in Moscow, described the scenario taking shape as “Afghanistan 2.” He recalled, for Slon.ru, an independent Russian news site, how the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, in 1979, under the pretext of helping a “fraternal” ally in Kabul; to Parkhomenko, Putin’s decision to couch his military action as the “protection” of Russians living in Crimea is an equally transparent pretext. The same goes for the decorous way in which Putin, on Saturday, “requested” the Russian legislature’s authorization for the use of Russian troops in Ukraine until “the socio-political situation is normalized.” The legislature, which has all the independence of an organ grinder’s monkey, voted its unanimous assent.

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Paul Carr: On The Importance Of Keeping Investors Out Of The Newsroom, And Not Treating Your Readers Like Fools

Yesterday afternoon, Pando published a report by Mark Ames showing that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ukrainian opposition groups involved in the overthrow of the country’s government. Even more interesting, given that Omidyar is now publisher ofThe Intercept, a blog which vows to expose American government wrongdoing, is the revelation that his co-investor in the groups was… the US government. This morning, Omidyar Group staffer Glenn Greenwald spent almost three thousand words meticulously not responding to the piece. Whether Greenwald likes it or not, this is an important story and one we will continue to report. There is, however, one aspect of Greenwald’s post that demands a firm rebuttal, and that’s his continuing attempt to shrug off Pierre Omidyar’s $250 million investment in First Look as if it’s business as usual for a media organization.

To suggest Omidyar is just a passive investor in Greenwald, Scahill, Wheeler et al. is as ridiculous as claiming Jesus was just a passive backer of the disciples (“Nah, you’ve got it all wrong. He just gave us the bread and wine, it’s up to us what we do with it.”) Pierre Omidyar is not the dumb money behind First Look, he is the company’s founder and publisher. It was Omidyar who called Glenn Greenwald and personally hired him to head The Intercept, just as it was Omidyar himself who takes credit for having hired Matt Taibbi away from Rolling Stone. Even after making those key hires, Omidyar did not recuse himself from the day-to-day editorial operations.

Pierre Omidyar, First Look’s sole backer, has a vision. A vision he spends his day sharing with First Look’s reporters via their internal messaging. By Scahill’s own admission, Omidyar’s voice is heard more frequently than any editorial staffer at the company. And yet, by Greenwald’s admission, he has spent precisely no time investigating the business deals or conflicts of interest which might shape that vision, or might lead Omidyar to try to influence the reporting by the staff whose paychecks he alone signs. If that’s how Omidyar believes the business of media should be transacted, that’s his choice. And if Greenwald is convinced that he remains entirely incorruptible, despite the constant muzak of his master’s voice playing in the newsroom, that’s fine too. But it’s not how most media companies do things, and it’s not how we do things at Pando. By claiming otherwise, Greenwald is treating his readers as fools.

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Washington Post: Government Expands Help For Buying Health Insurance

With just a month left for Americans to select health plans this year through new insurance marketplaces, the Obama administration is bending some rules to prevent people from being stranded without coverage because of state-run exchanges riddled with computer problems. In states with dysfunctional insurance marketplaces, the government will for the first time help pay for certain health plans that consumers buy on their own. And once people in those states are able to sign up through the exchanges, their insurance can be made retroactive. These rewritten rules, laid out in a three-page memo,

can be used by any state but are aimed primarily at helping people in Maryland and three other states whose exchanges have not been working well. The four states are among 14 that have each created an insurance marketplace under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The rewritten federal rules would allow people to receive federal subsidies for health plans outside exchanges as long as the covered benefits are comparable to those of plans sold through the exchanges. In order to get retroactive subsidies, people will have to start to pay the full price of their health plan, then get the reduction once their state’s exchange is working well enough to determine whether their incomes make them eligible for the help.

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President Obama with Donna Brazile and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz at the DNC Winter Meeting in Washington, Friday

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On This Day:

Senator Obama holds up a baby as he greets supporters during a town hall meeting in  Westerville, Ohio, March 2, 2008

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First Lady Michelle Obama with daughters, Malia and Sasha, sled in the snow on the South Lawn of the White House, March 2, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama boards Air Force One, prior to departure from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with Mona Sutphen, chief of staff for policy, Josh Earnest, assistant press secretary, and Jeffrey Lerner, of the Office of Political Affairs, aboard Marine One en route to the White House, March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama signs H.R. 4691, Temporary Extension Act of 2010, in his private office in the residence of the White House, March 2, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wait in the Blue Room of the White House before greeting recipients of the 2010 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal, March 2, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama shares a laugh with National Humanities Medal honoree Wendell E. Berry, as President Obama talks with National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman in the Blue Room of the White House, March 2, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama greets Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the Colonnade prior to their meeting in the Oval Office, March 2, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a conference call about the “Let’s Move!” Healthier U.S. School Challenge in the Map Room of the White House, March 2, 2011. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack joined Mrs. Obama to speak with education stakeholders about doubling the number of schools participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama is briefed by Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, Special Assistant to the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan, during a meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, March 2, 2011. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon are at right (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama and Vice President Biden talk following a meeting in the Oval Office, March 2, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama embraces members of the Johnson C. Smith ladies’ basketball team during a “Let’s Move!” physical fitness promotion between games at the CIAA basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., March 2, 2012

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27
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Rise and Shine

Terrell Anderson Jr, 3, of Detroit, a relative of Rosa Parks, with President Obama after the unveiling of a statue in her honor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, February 27, 2013

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Today (All Times Eastern):

11:0: First Lady Michelle Obama unveils proposal for major changes to food labeling rules

2:0: President Obama meets with foundation and business leaders to discuss his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative; State Dining Room

3:25: Delivers remarks on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative

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Jonathan Easley: Enroll America Adds Muscle To O-Care Push

An ObamaCare enrollment group with close ties to the White House is launching a final, coordinated push to sign people up for health insurance ahead of the March 31 deadline. A spokesman for Enroll America told The Hill the prominent nonprofit had grown its pool of volunteers to nearly 20,000, increased its field reach by 35 percent, hired more than 70 new employees since January, and increased its digital advertising budget from $5 million to $7 million for 2014. The group’s “Countdown to Get Covered” will include a bus tour through Texas and Ohio, with stops at events popular with the young, like the SXSW music festival, and more than 3,000 events assisting people with in-person enrollment.

“All of the work that our dedicated staff, volunteers, and partner organizations have done over the past five months has positioned us for success in this critical final stretch,” said Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America. “Thanks to the data we’ve collected, we know what works, and thanks to the huge coalition we have built, we’re ready to leave no stone unturned as we work right up to the deadline.” Enroll America is also working with the Ad Council on multimedia public service announcements for the Web, television, radio and print. In addition, the group will work with more than 2,200 partner organizations, including Planned Parenthood, MomsRising, Protect Your Care, Organizing for Action and National Congress for Black Women, and with groups participating in events like the National Youth Enrollment Day and Latino Enrollment Summits.

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Yahoo: Obama Embraces A Lifelong Cause: Helping Minority Boys Succeed

On Father’s Day last June, President Barack Obama welcomed 14 teenagers sporting black-and-white T-shirts that read “BAM” into the Oval Office. The letters stood not for the nickname occasionally slapped on the president by big-city tabloids, but for “Becoming a Man,” a program run by a Chicago nonprofit working with at-risk youth in the public schools. The president had met the group of young black men once before, when he dropped by one of BAM’s hourlong group discussion sessions at Hyde Park Academy High School last February. He’d pulled up a chair and sat in the boys’ circle that day, talking with them so long about their lives his aides worried he would blow up his carefully planned schedule during his visit to the city.

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As the teens gathered around the president, one handed him a green and gold Father’s Day card, which all the boys had signed. They had gone out and purchased it the day before, unbeknown to their counselor, Marshaun Bacon, who traveled with them to the White House. “I never signed a Father’s Day card before,” the young man explained as the president opened the card. “I’ve never signed a Father’s Day card, either,” Obama replied, according to an aide, improbably closing the distance between the Chicago teens and the American president. It was an intimate, private moment that moved him.

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The Obama administration’s most ambitious and high profile effort to tackle the systemic problems facing young men of color is rooted in a series of White House conversations led by Obama in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting two years ago. They continued and gathered momentum — including with first lady Michelle Obama — after the random shooting of another teen who lived just a mile from the Obamas’ Chicago home. After his re-election, those discussions began to shape a more serious policy debate as Obama quietly began to bond with the Chicago youngsters. But what started as a second-term presidential bid to confront a vexing social crisis may be turning into a lifelong cause.

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Peter Schroeder: CFPB Sues For-Profit School System For Predatory Lending

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is launching a lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest for-profit college programs. The watchdog announced Wednesday it was suing ITT Educational Services for predatory lending practices, pushing prospective students into costly loans and misleading them about future job prospects. CFPB Director Richard Cordray said the suit should serve as “a warning to the for-profit college industry that we will be vigilant about protecting students against predatory lending practices.”

In a U.S. District Court, the regulator sued the Indiana-based company and charged that the company pushed students into predatory loans without properly explaining what they were signing up for. The CFPB said some students did not even realize they had taken out the loans until they received calls from collection agencies. The CFPB also claimed that ITT credits did not transfer to many other schools. That meant that the company would threaten expulsion and the loss of money already spent on a first year to “coerce” students into taking out more loans.

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USA Today: Chokwe Lumumba, Activist And Jackson Mayor, Dies At 66

Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a longtime civil rights activist, died Tuesday afternoon at a hospital after experiencing chest pains. He was 66. His chief of staff choked up as she announced the news. “It is with heavy heart that we inform you that our beloved brother, human rights activist and mayor of the great city passed away this afternoon,” Safiya Omari said at a news conference Tuesday evening. “We ask that you pray for his children and family, his friends and for this great city of ours.” The national civil rights community took note when Lumumba became mayor last year of Mississippi’s capital city — a place that had seen its share of violence during the civil rights movement. Lumumba, a black nationalist, had worked with mainstream and leftist figures in the civil rights world.

The native of Detroit was born Edwin Taliaferro and graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School. He renamed himself after Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader, and the Chokwe, an Angolan tribe. Lumumba’s activism began early. On the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died, he took part in a student takeover of a campus building at Western Michigan University, where he was a student. He and others were demanding more black educators and scholarships for black students. He also pushed for more black studies programs at colleges and universities in the Midwest. He worked with Julian Bond and Dick Gregory as a leader with the Republic of New Afrika, a social movement that proposed an independent black country in the southeastern United States. He also was a target of the FBI’s counterintelligence operation.

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Steve Benen: Court Rejects Texas’ Ban On Marriage Equality

Opponents of marriage equality have been on a losing streak that’s nothing short of brutal. A federal court struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage two weeks ago, which came on the heels of similar rulings in Kentucky,Oklahoma, and Utah. But today, the trend reached the largest of the nation’s ruby-red states. A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutionally deprives some citizens of due process and equal protection under the law by stigmatizing their relationships and treating them differently from opposite-sex couples.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings as having trumped Texas’ moves to ban gay marriage. “Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” the judge wrote. “Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution.” Does this mean marriage equality has come to Texas? Not quite yet. Garcia concluded that the state ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional, but existing Texas law will remain in place as the appeals process gets underway.

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Joy-Ann Reid: Are The Unarmed Unequal Under Stand Your Ground?

In the wake of the verdict in the case of Michael Dunn, convicted of three counts of second-degree attempted murder and of firing 10 shots at a car containing four teenagers, state Rep. Alan Williams underlined the need to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. One of the teenagers was Jordan Davis, who was killed by Dunn. Williams said recent cases of black teenagers shot to death by strangers in the state “have renewed the argument that this injustice in our laws makes ordinary citizens feel empowered to shoot first and ask questions later; boosting murder rates and justifiable homicides and putting individuals that people too often presumed to be a threat in particular peril.”

Indeed, a January 2013 study by Texas A&M researcher Mark Hoekstra found that homicide rates have increased by 7 percent to 9 percent in the 23 states that have Stand Your Ground-type laws versus those without them.  For young black men in particular, who are more often consigned to societal unworthiness by implicit racial bias with the damning label of “thug” — based on how they dress or wear their hair, or their choice of music — Stand Your Ground effectively demands a specific kind of submissiveness: If they want to live, submit to the invisible authority of virtually any civilian who might believe, like Michael Dunn, per his jailhouse letters, that “if more people would arm themselves and kill these [expletive] idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”

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Daniel Strauss: Davis ‘Pleased’ Texas Judge Ruled Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis (D), the likely Democratic nominee for governor, is pleased with a federal judge’s ruling that declared the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. “She is pleased with the ruling because she believes that all Texans who love one another and are committed to spending their lives together should be allowed to marry,” press secretary Rebecca Acuña said in a statement to TPM on Wednesday afternoon.

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Tony Plohetski: Despite Negative Blood And Breath Tests, Man Arrested For DWI

To Austin attorney Daniel Betts, driving while intoxicated can sometimes be what he calls “an opinion crime.” Law enforcement must decide, sometimes within only a matter of minutes, whether a person is intoxicated and should go to jail — or be allowed to simply drive way. On the night Austin police arrested his client, they made the wrong choice, he says – his opinion bolstered by a voluntary breath and blood test showing Larry Davis wasn’t intoxicated when he was arrested Jan. 13, 2013. He tested 0.00 on a Breathalyzer – the lowest possible reading — and the blood test, which took months to be tested, came back negative.

“My reaction was just shock that it happened,” Betts said of the arrest, after watching a police dash cam video and reviewing the evidence. The arrest meant Davis spent a day in jail, and he was left with a criminal case looming over him for more than a year. Prosecutors last week dismissed the case against Davis. “I was arrested for nothing, really,” he said. “It was suspicion of drunk driving, which I wasn’t so I was surprised and hurt at the same time.” Davis is now working to have his arrest record wiped clean, a process that could take several more months.

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Brett Logiurato: Texas To Appeal Gay Marriage Ruling

Texas will appeal a federal judge’s ruling Wednesday that the state’s ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional, Attorney General Greg Abbott said. Here’s the full statement from Abbott, who is also the Republican frontrunner in the state’s gubernatorial race: “This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides. And, as the lower court acknowledged today, it’s an issue that will ultimately be resolved by a higher court. Texas will begin that process by appealing today’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

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Lalita Clozel: U.S. Vows To Deny Visas To Those Accused Of Wartime Sexual Violence

Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced on Tuesday a ban against issuing U.S. visas to foreigners implicated in wartime sexual violence. “No one at the highest level of military or governance who has presided over, or engaged in, or knew of, or adopted these kinds of attacks is ever going to receive a visa to travel into the United States of America from this day forward,” Kerry said during talks with his British counterpart, William Hague.

Hague applauded the announcement. “The shattering of impunity … is the crucial ingredient so that people know they will not get away with it,” he said. Awareness of the use of sexual violence in conflicts grew after the 1990s war in the former Yugoslavia, where more than 20,000 women and girls were reportedly raped, and the Rwandan genocide, during which the figure is believed to have reached into the hundreds of thousands.

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AP: Child Care Centers To Follow First Lady Guidelines

The nation’s second-largest for-profit child care provider is adopting Michelle Obama’s healthy eating and activity guidelines. The Learning Care Group, based in Novi, Mich., says it will limit TV and computer time for children, eliminate fried foods, serve fruits and-or vegetables at every meal, replace sugary drinks with water or plain, low-fat milk, and provide at least an hour of daily physical activity. It will also allow mothers to provide breast milk for their children and accommodate mothers who want to breast feed.

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The Learning Care Group says it provides early education and child care services to more than 100,000 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 13 years at its 900 centers around the country. The centers operate under five brand names: Childtime Learning Centers, Tutor Time Child Care/Learning Centers, The Children’s Courtyard, Montessori Unlimited and La Petite Academy.  The first lady this week has been marking the fourth anniversary of “Let’s Move,” the initiative to combat childhood obesity that she launched in February 2010. The healthy eating and activity guidelines for child care centers, which were released in 2011, are part of that program. Some 13,000 child care centers nationwide are now following the rules, said Sam Kass, the executive director of “Let’s Move.”

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Daniel Arkin: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Vetoes Anti-Gay Bill

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed a hot-button measure that would have permitted businesses in the state to deny service to gay and lesbians for religious beliefs. At a news conference at the State Capitol Wednesday evening, Brewer said the bill “could result in unintended and negative consequences.” “I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve,” Brewer said.

Gay rights advocates gathered outside the Capitol broke out in loud cheers immediately after Brewer’s announcement. The controversial bill had sparked outcry from LGBT activists and drew vocal criticism from civic leaders, business interests and state economic groups. “Discrimination has no place in Arizona, or anywhere else,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “We’re grateful that the governor has stopped this disgraceful law from taking effect, and that Arizona will remain open for business to everyone.”

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Zachary Roth: Ohio Cuts Early Voting Method Favored By Blacks

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Tuesday he is cutting early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings, dealing another blow to the voting rights effort in the nation’s most pivotal swing state. Husted’s change would spell doom for a voting method that’s popular among African-Americans in Ohio and elsewhere. Many churches and community groups lead “Souls to the Polls” drives after church on the Sunday before the election. There’s little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56% of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, even though they made up just 28% of the county’s population.

“By completely eliminating Sundays from the early voting schedule, Secretary Husted has effectively quashed successful Souls to the Polls programs that brought voters directly form church to early voting sites,” said Mike Brickner, a spokesman for the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, in an email. The news comes days after Republican Gov. John Kasich signed two GOP-backed bills that cut six more days from the early voting period, end same-day registration and make it harder to vote absentee. Together, the restrictions could significantly reduce minority turnout this fall and in 2016.

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Sy Mukherjee: Rand Paul Blocks Surgeon General Nominee For Saying Gun Violence Is A Public Health Threat

On Wednesday — two years to the day after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) placed a hold on President Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, over Murthy’s view that gun violence represents a significant public health threat. “In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence,” wrote Paul in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But Paul is actually out of step with most physicians.

The idea that gun violence is a danger to public health is utterly uncontroversial among doctors’ groupsacademic institutions that focus on public health, and children’s safety advocates. Although Paul criticizes Murthy’s position that physicians and pediatricians should ask patients about the presence of guns in their households, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution in 2011officially opposing any law that bars doctors from having open conversations about gun safety and the risks of having firearms in a household with their patients. In fact, just yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new guidelines recommending that households with children who are diagnosed with depression should remove guns and ammunition from their homes entirely.

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Michael Hiltzik: The Simple Math That Tells You The New GOP Tax Plan Is A Scam

The long-awaited Republican tax reform plan was released today by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich). It’s being hailed as a breakthrough in putting real reform on the table, but also being instantly eulogized as dead-on-arrival in a Congress that wants no part of any tax reform, now or ever.  Still, it’s instructive to examine the Camp plan for a primer on the latest mathematical trickery aimed at making something that preserves, even enhances, tax benefits for the wealthy appear instead to be a tax increase for the wealthy. Nice try, Congressman Dave. Here’s the easiest calculation. Camp says he’s eliminating the preferential tax rate on capital gains, and taxing them the same as ordinary income. That would be a big philosophical change and a big tax hike on the rich, if it were true. It’s not true. Camp’s plan exempts 40% of capital gains (and investment dividends) from any taxation at all.

How does this work out in real numbers? The top marginal tax rate on married taxpayers today is 39.6% (couples with more than $457,600 income). The top capital gains rate is 20%. Camp wants to cut the top marginal rate to 35%. If you tax capital gains at 35%, but exempt 40% of them from any tax, your effective rate on all capital gains works out to (… wait for i t…) 21%. In other words, Camp is raising the standard cap gains rate by a single percentage point. But since he’s also cutting the top rate on all income by nearly five percentage points, rich taxpayers still come out ahead. Camp would make the job of the IRS harder. He would ease the registration process for C-4s, and allow them to keep almost all their donors secret not only from the public, but from the IRS too. This is really sleazy of him. It gives rich political campaign donors more of a shield from the law than they deserve, and much more than is healthy for the public interest. If there were a single reason to laugh this tax “reform” off the table, this would be it.

More here

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BBC: Ukraine Interim Leaders Warn Of ‘Unpopular Steps’ Ahead

Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov and PM-designate Arseniy Yatsenyuk have warned of the need for “unpopular” steps to help restore the country’s economy and politics. Mr Yatsenyuk told the BBC the central challenge for the newly named government was to “stabilise” Ukraine. Ukrainian MPs are expected to vote later on the new cabinet line up. Meanwhile, the regional parliament and government headquarters in Crimea have been seized by armed men. The two buildings in the regional capital Simferopol were seized overnight by a group of at least 50 pro-Russian men who were preventing government workers from entering, regional Prime Minister Anatoliy Mohilyov told AFP news agency.

The Russian flag was seen flying over both buildings. Interim President Turchynov warned the crowds the new government would “have to pass unpopular decisions”. “The government will be criticised, treated like dirt. But they must fulfil their obligations and work to the bone for the sake of Ukraine.” He has promised to resign once the country is back on its feet. Acting government officials predict Ukraine needs $35bn (£21bn) in bailout loans to get through the next two years. On Wednesday, the US said it was considering offering Ukraine’s struggling economy – which faces default – loan guarantees of up to $1bn. Meanwhile, Mr Yanukovych has been put on the international wanted list.

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On This Day:

Before giving a policy speech on Iraq, President Obama places his hand on his heart as the national anthem is played backstage at the Field House in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Feb. 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama attends a Washington Wizards vs Chicago Bulls basketball game at the Verizon Center, Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama holds conference call from the Situation Room of the White House concerning the earthquake in Chile, Feb. 27, 2010. Pictured are, left to right, Tom Donilon, deputy national security advisor, Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID, and Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff. Other Cabinet officials joined the meeting by phone (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden, react while watching Sasha Obama and Maisy Biden, the Vice President’s granddaughter, play in a basketball game in Chevy Chase, Md., Feb. 27, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama and Vice President Biden greet Susannah Flanagan, daughter of Frank Buckles, at Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Chapel in Arlington, Va., March 15, 2011. Buckles, the last surviving American World War I veteran, passed away on Feb. 27, 2011, at his West Virginia home. He was 110. (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama listen as Gladys Knight performs during the Governors Dinner in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama meets with former Chief of Protocol Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt, left, and guests in the Oval Office, Feb. 27, 2012. The President signed a presidential commendation in honor of Roosevelt’s government service (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden talk outside the State Dining Room before addressing the National Governors Association annual meeting at the White House, Feb. 27, 2012 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

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President Barack Obama talks with senior advisors following a meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 27, 2013. Standing, from left, are: Rob Nabors, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy; Pete Rouse, Counselor to the President; Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett; Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer; Mark Childress, Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning; Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Legislative Affairs; Danielle Gray, Cabinet Secretary; Press Secretary Jay Carney; and Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama greets veterans of the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) in the Oval Office, Feb. 27, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama at a “Let’s Move!” event in Clinton, Miss. with Rachael Ray, February 27, 2013

President Obama at the unveiling of a statue in honor of civil rights activist Rosa Parks at the U.S. Capitol, February 27, 2013

17
Feb
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama reads from a tablet computer during a flight aboard Marine One en route to Everett, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today:

2:0 PST: President Obama departs Palm Springs, California

9:0 EST: Arrives Joint Base Andrews

9:15 EST: Arrives the White House

The Week Ahead:

Tuesday: The President will deliver remarks at an event on the economy in the Washington, DC area.

Wednesday: The President will travel to Toluca, Mexico, to participate in the North American Leaders Summit.

Thursday: The President will return from Mexico and attend the Democratic Governors Association dinner.

Friday: The President will meet with the Democratic governors in town for the annual National Governors Association Winter Meeting to discuss his Opportunity for All agenda and the Year of Action.

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Tonyaa Weathersbee: The Extermination Of Jordan Davis: An Empty Verdict, A Hollow Victory

So it looks like Michael Dunn, a white man who fatally shot black teenager Jordan Davis for refusing to turn down his “thug music,” may be going to prison for the rest of his life. But that’s a consolation prize. Not a real victory. It’s not a real victory because the jury that convicted Dunn, 47, didn’t convict him for killing the 17-year-old Davis. They convicted him for almost killing Davis’ three friends who were riding in the Dodge Durango with him. It’s hollow because it underscores what seems to be a scary trend. I guess now any random white man can confront a black teenager whose style of dress or music he doesn’t like or views as suspect.

And when that teenager doesn’t submit to him, or responds to him in a confrontational manner, or in a way that any rebellious teenager is apt to respond, then it’s perfectly fine to exterminate him. What the verdict says is that in this nation, in the 21st century, some white men still believe they have the right to intrude into the space of young black men and make demands. And if the black man is unarmed — with no weapon except his words — those white men can still kill him. And call it self-defense. All they need is a jury to buy it.

More here

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Michael Grunwald: Five Years After Stimulus, Obama Says It Worked

Five years ago Monday, President Barack Obama visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, his $800 billion stimulus bill. At the time, the U.S. economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month. In the fourth quarter of 2008, it had contracted at an 8% annual rate, a Depression-level free fall. “Today does not mark the end of our economic problems,” Obama said on Feb. 17, 2009. “But it does mark the beginning of the end.”And so it did. The Recovery Act increased U.S. GDP by roughly 2 to 2.5 percentage points from late 2009 through mid-2011, keeping us out of a double-dip recession. It added about 6 million “job years” (a full-time job for a full year) through the end of 2012. If you combine the Recovery Act with a series of follow-up measures, including unemployment-insurance extensions, small-business tax cuts and payroll tax cuts, the Administration’s fiscal stimulus produced a 2% to 3% increase in GDP in every quarter from late 2009 through 2012, and 9 million extra job years, according to the report.

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The report also estimates that the Recovery Act’s aid to victims of the Great Recession — in the form of expanded food stamps, earned-income tax credits, unemployment benefits and much more — directly prevented 5.3 million people from slipping below the poverty line. It also improved nearly 42,000 miles of roads, repaired over 2,700 bridges, funded 12,220 transit vehicles, improved more than 3,000 water projects and provided tax cuts to 160 million American workers. The Recovery Act jump-started clean energy in America, financing unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources of electricity. It advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and energy efficiency in every imaginable form. It helped fund the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S., and research into the green technologies of tomorrow. It’s the reason U.S. wind production has increased 145% since 2008 and solar installations have increased more than 1,200%. The stimulus is also the reason the use of electronic medical records has more than doubled in doctors’ offices and almost quintupled in hospitals. It improved more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. It launched Race to the Top, the most ambitious national education reform in decades.

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Dahlia Lithwick: How The Moral Mondays Movement Is Redefining The Left

I spent most of this past weekend answering two questions: “Why are you so interested in what happens in North Carolina?” (Posed mainly by people not from North Carolina.) And: “Why doesn’t anyone care what’s happening here in North Carolina?” (Posed largely by folks rallying in North Carolina.) As state governments limit reproductive rights, gerrymander voting districts, harm workers and the environment, and suppress the vote, we are all North Carolina now. The answer to the second question is that I don’t really know why the major national media, with a few notable exceptions, keeps ignoring this story.

GOP-controlled redistricting and a truly nasty voter suppression bill attempt to ensure that this remains the permanent state of affairs in North Carolina. The legislature promptly raised taxes on the bottom 80 percent, eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 people, slashed education spending, passed radical gun legislation, declined the Medicaid expansion (leaving 500,000 of its poorest citizens without health insurance), and passed a draconian abortion bill that was tacked onto a motorcycle safety law. The state, in short, turned on its own workers, its own minorities, its own teachers, its own doctors, its poor, its women, and its prisoners, with what has looked like unbridled glee.

More here

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Washington Post: Obamacare’s Sign-Up Period Is Ending. Here’s How Enroll America Is Getting Ready

Enroll America is gearing up for its own version of March Madness — one that has nothing to do with basketball. The pro-health law group has spent months now honing its outreach techniques and developing data-intensive maps meant to help their 18,000 volunteers and 2,000 partner organizations reach as many uninsured people before open enrollment on the exchanges ends March 31.

“We’re at this moment now, six weeks out from the end of open enrollment, and we’re looking at every tool that we have at our disposal about how we should be focusing our efforts,” Enroll America president Anne Filipic says. One new tool that the group has begun rolling out to partner organizations are a set of maps that show where, down to the census tract, uninsured Americans live — and how well that does, or doesn’t, line up with where people meant to help them enroll in Obamacare are based.

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Mike Lillis: House Democrats Seek To Force GOP’s Hand On Minimum Wage Hike

House Democrats are launching an effort to force Republicans’ hand on the minimum wage. The Democrats will introduce a discharge petition later this month designed to force a floor vote on a proposal to hike the minimum wage, even in the face of entrenched opposition from GOP leaders. The discharge petition faces a high bar, as it would require at least 18 Republicans to buck their leadership and endorse the measure – a scenario the Democrats readily acknowledge is unlikely.

Still, the Democrats are hoping the extra political pressure will amplify the Democrats’ economic message this election year, while highlighting the stark differences between the parties when it comes to strategy for helping the working class amid an ongoing jobs crisis. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s about time to do it,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for a minimum wage hike; even if the discharge petition fails, it puts Republicans in the tough position of rejecting a popular economic policy in a still-fragile jobs market.

More here

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Alyssa Gerace: Obama Scorecard: Foreclosures Keep Trending Down, Home Sales Strong

The housing market recovery has continued into 2014, indicated by an ongoing downtrend in foreclosures, home sales remaining strong, and home prices notching annual gains, notes the Obama Administration in its January Scorecard. “The January Housing Scorecard shows that the Obama Administration’s efforts continue to have a positive effect on the housing market,” said HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs Kurt Usowski in a statement. “With foreclosures down, home sales up, and equity continuing to grow, the housing market continues to make slow, but steadily improving progress.”

 The number of properties in foreclosure dropped 33% in 2013 compared to the previous year, said the scorecard citing RealtyTrac, with foreclosure starts at their lowest annual level since 2005. Through the third quarter of 2013, the number of underwater borrowers dropped from nearly 7.2 million in the previous quarter to less than 6.4 million, with homeowners’ equity gaining $3.4 trillion since the beginning of 2012.

More here

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Americans waste 33M tons of food each year. Ben decided to change that.

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NPR: For Lower-Income Students, Snow Days Can Be Hungry Days

For many Americans it’s been a harsh, disruptive winter, from the country’s Northern edges to the Deep South. When cold snaps and blizzards shutter schools, kids miss more than their daily lessons. Some miss out on the day’s nutritious meal as well. This recently became apparent to school administrators in rural Iowa, where extreme cold delayed openings two days in a row at Laurens-Marathon Community School, where 59 percent of students who eat school lunch qualify for free or reduced-price meals. On the first day, some students arrived on empty stomachs because parents thought breakfast would still be served that day.

“Two students were found in our lunchroom waiting to be fed,” says Meredith Allen, a teacher at the school. “Several co-workers had stockpiles of food,” but it wasn’t enough.  Last year, more than 21 million children nationwide ate free or reduced-price lunches, according to data from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. That’s 70 percent of the total students who ate school lunches, not counting those who brought meals from home. In the same year, more than 23 million households received SNAP benefits, known as food stamps.

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CBS News: John Kerry Accuses Syria Leader Bashir Assad Of Stonewalling Geneva Peace Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of stonewalling in peace talks and called on Russia to push its ally to negotiate with opposition leaders. “Right now, Bashar al-Assad has not engaged in the discussions along the promised and required standard that both Russia spoke up for and the regime spoke up for,” Kerry said during a press conference in Jakarta with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. He said Assad’s team “refused to open up one moment of discussion” of a transitional government to replace Assad’s regime.

“It is very clear that Bashar Assad is trying to win this on the battlefield instead of coming to the negotiating table in good faith,” Kerry said Peace talks last week in Geneva ended with no progress toward breaking the impasse in the nearly 3-year-old conflict in Syria. Kerry also had harsh words for Assad’s allies in Moscow. “Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they are in fact enabling Assad to double down,” he said. Russia has told the U.S. it was committed to helping create a transitional government, Kerry said, but has not delivered “the kind of effort to create the kind of dynamic by which that could be achieved.”

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Molly K. Hooper: GOP Flocks To Bill Curbing Obama’s Power

Dozens of House Republicans have recently backed legislation that calls for legal action against President Obama. Forty-three Republicans have cosponsored the resolution since Obama’s State of the Union address, where he threatened to enact policies if Congress didn’t act. The “Stop This Overreaching Presidency (STOP)” measure, introduced by Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), now has 104 co-sponsors, Rice explained that STOP resolution is aimed at reversing Obama’s delay of the employer mandate, enactment of the DREAM Act, extension of “substandard” health insurance plans and ending work requirements for welfare.

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Celeste Katz: De Blasio Administration Cuts First Labor Contract – With Environmental Officers

The de Blasio administration has settled its first labor contract, a quick deal with 200 environmental officers that could signal a smoother period of labor relations after the cold war between the unions and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The officers, whose duties include patrolling the city’s watershed upstate, had been working without a contract for an astounding nine years.

Under the new agreement, they will receive an average of more than $50,000 each in back pay. Kenneth Wynder, who represents the officers as head of the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association, praised the de Blasio administration for its “fairness.” “We got treated with respect,” he said. “We felt much better compared to the nine-year battle we had with the old administration,” he told the Daily News.

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On This Day:

Close-up detail of President Obama’s signature on a bill, and a pen used for the signing, aboard Air Force One on a flight from Buckley Air Force Base, Denver, Col. to Phoenix, Ariz., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama meets with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar aboard Air Force One during a flight to Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama salutes, departing Andrews Air Force Base for Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama with Vice President Biden speaks with CEO of Namaste Solar Electric, Inc., Blake Jones, while looking at solar panels at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

A toe marker for President Obama as he prepares to make remarks at the Signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama welcomes King Juan Carlos I of Spain to the White House, just outside the Oval Office, before their lunch in the President’s private dining room, Feb. 17, 2010. At left is Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room of the White House, Feb. 17, 2010. General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, was among those joining the discussion via videoconference (left screen) (Photo by Pete Souza)

Vice President Biden’s personal aide Fran Person holds the door for President Obama as he waits to make remarks during the one-year Recovery Act Anniversary event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House, Feb. 17, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama gestures during a phone call in the Oval Office, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as Vice President Biden talks with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., after a lunch with the Democratic House leadership in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama talks with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg before a dinner with Technology Business Leaders in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011. Also pictured, left to right, are Carol Bartz, Yahoo! President and CEO; Art Levinson, Genentech Chairman and former CEO; Steve Westly, Founder and Managing Partner, The Westly Group; and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman and CEO of Google (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama joins a toast with Technology Business Leaders at a dinner in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama sits in the cockpit of a 767 during his tour of the Boeing Plant production facility in Everett, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama exits a 787 Dreamliner to greet workers and deliver remarks at the Boeing-Everett Production Facility in Everett, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama greets students from Medina Elementary School in Medina, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

…. greeting Beth Hamilton, principal of Medina Elementary School

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Chips: D’you wanna know how awesome Nerdy is? I just had the photos done for R&S last night, then I go back to it this morning and she’s added a whole bunch of wonderful articles, tweets and links. If the woman didn’t love Chelsea, she’d be perfect. Thank you so much legend – and moooOOOooorning everyone!




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