Posts Tagged ‘Ruemmler

22
Apr
14

Rise and Shine

On This Day: President Obama greets members of the audience following his remarks at an Earth Day reception in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 22, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Today (All Times Eastern):

10:05 AM EDT: President Obama departs White House

3:30 EDT: Arrives Paine Field, Washington State

6:50 EDT: Delivers remarks, Oso Firehouse, Oso, Washington

8:0 PDT: Departs Washington for Tokyo, Japan

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Spandan Chakrabarti: The Real Story Of #8Million

Actually, it’s a story of nearly 20 million, if you count everyone who has health insurance directly thanks to the Affordable Care Act. And it could be the story of nearly 6 million more, who are being denied health insurance by Republicans refusing to fully federally funded Medicaid in states they control. It’s a story of tens of millions more, and millions of seniors who now have better coverage and no yearly limits on coverage. But last week’s big number was 8 million. The President announced that 8 million American have enrolled in private health insurance coverage through the exchanges, and in addition, 3 million more are covered under the Medicaid expansion, 3 million young adults can stay on their parents’ plans, and 5 million who bought ACA compliant plans outside the exchanges. I got an email with links to people telling their stories about finally being able to afford health insurance.

The story of these millions, though, is more encompassing than those who gained coverage. The story of the single dad who can no longer be denied health care because of a pre-existing condition, the story of a small business owner who can no longer be charged more just because she’s a woman, the story of a cancer survivor who no longer has to fret that in the third month of the year, she will have reached her annual limit from her insurer – all these stories are possible because of a story that is told far too rarely in the American discourse. That story begins with a young, charismatic newly elected president of the United States for whom health care reform wasn’t just a campaign promise but a deeply rooted cause from which he wouldn’t waver even when his political advisers wanted him to retreat. It begins with the overwhelming election of a president who, in his own words, was willing to become a one-term president to make sure that never again does a mother have to think twice about taking her sick child to the doctor. It’s a story of courage, of overcoming an unprecedented campaign of obstruction, of decoupling progress from ideological checklists.

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Vice President Joe Biden talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk during a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine

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Boston Globe: Russia Must ‘Stop Talking And Start Acting,’ Biden Says

US Vice President Joe Biden warned Russia on Tuesday that ‘‘it’s time to stop talking and start acting’’ to reduce tension in Ukraine. Standing alongside acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Biden called on Moscow to encourage pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine to vacate government buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and ‘‘address their grievances politically.’’ Biden said Russia needs to act ‘‘without delay,’’ adding, ‘‘We will not allow this to become an open-ended process.’’ The vice president also announced the United States will provide an additional $50 million to help Ukraine’s beleaguered government with political and economic reforms.

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Vice President Joe Biden is greeted by Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting Ukrainian president

The money includes $11 million to help conduct the May 25 presidential election, including voter education, administration and oversight. It also will help fund expert teams from US government agencies to help Ukraine to reduce its reliance on energy supplies from Russia. Other technical advisers will help fight corruption. The White House also announced $8 million in nonlethal military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, including bomb-disposal equipment, communications gear and vehicles. In the most high-level visit of a US official since crisis erupted in Ukraine, Biden met privately with Yatsenyuk and acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov.

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Vice President Joe Biden addresses members of the Ukrainian parliament during a meeting

Biden said they have an historic chance now that former President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the country. ‘‘This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution,’’ Biden said in a reference to 2004 protests that overturned a widely criticized election that had given Yanukovych the presidency. Yanukovych later took office but left the country after violent protests in February. Biden added, ‘‘To be very blunt about it, and this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament, but you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now.’’ He mentioned reforming the courts and finding the right balance of power between the president and Rada.

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CBS: DHS May Limit Deportations Of Illegal Immigrants

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is considering limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally but without serious criminal records, according to the Associated Press. On President Obama’s orders, Johnson is conducting a politically charged review of U.S. deportation policy. The potential change could shield tens of thousands of immigrants now removed each year solely because of repeated immigration violations, such as re-entering the country after being deported. The possible move was confirmed by two people with knowledge of Johnson’s review: John Sandweg, formerly acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and an immigration advocate who has discussed the review with administration officials but spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential.

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Department Of Justice: Department Of Justice Announces University Tour By Administration Officials To Raise Awareness Of Campus Sexual Assault

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Department of Justice today announced a nationwide university tour by top administration officials to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. From April 23-May 1, senior officials from the Departments of Justice and Education will visit campuses across the country, including public and private universities, community colleges, historically black colleges and faith-based and tribal-affiliated institutions around the nation. Officials will speak with campus administrators, local law enforcement, community partners, local service providers and students about how best practices and lessons learned are playing out in areas such as prevention, public awareness and peer support. Visits will also highlight the role that federal, state and local government, working with university administrators, faculty and students, should play.

Each campus on the tour is a recipient of the department’s Office on Violence Against Women’s “Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking on Campus Program.” The Campus Program funds institutions of higher education to adopt comprehensive responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, creating partnerships among campus entities and with community-based victim services organizations and criminal and civil justice agencies. Campus Program grantees must provide prevention programs for all incoming students; train campus law enforcement or security staff; educate campus judicial or disciplinary boards on the unique dynamics of these crimes; and create a coordinated community response to enhance victim assistance and safety while holding offenders accountable.

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NYT: Obama Names White House Counsel

President Obama announced Monday that he was naming W. Neil Eggleston, a veteran lawyer with extensive experience representing government officials in congressional and criminal investigations, as his next White House counsel. In choosing a veteran of Washington’s recurring oversight wars, the White House may be signaling that it expects the final two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency to be defined by politically charged hearings, demands for information by Republicans in Congress and legal battles over the scope and limits of executive authority.

Mr. Eggleston, 60, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, one of the nation’s biggest corporate law firms, will succeed Kathryn Ruemmler, who is stepping down after nearly three years. Mr. Eggleston will start the second week of May. “Neil brings extraordinary expertise, credentials and experience to our team,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “He has a passion for public service, is renowned for his conscientiousness and foresight, and I look forward to working closely with him in the coming years.”

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Your LOL tweet of the morning. This is how the GOP “rebrands”

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Washington Post: Iran Vice President Says Row Over Nuclear Reactor Resolved

Iran will redesign its Arak heavy water reactor to greatly limit the amount of plutonium it can make, the country’s vice president said Saturday, marking a major concession from the Islamic Republic in negotiations with world powers over its contested nuclear program. The comments by Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi come as the talks face an informal July 20 deadline to hammer out a final deal to limit Iran’s ability to build nuclear arms in exchange for ending the crippling economic sanctions it faces.

Iranian state television quoted Salehi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying that Iran has proposed to redesign Arak to produce one-fifth of the plutonium initially planned for it. He said that will eliminate concerns the West has that Iran could use the plutonium produced at Arak to build a nuclear weapon. There was no immediate comment from world powers, which include China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Russia. However, what to do with Arak, a still under-construction 40-megawatt heavy water plant in central Iran, is a key factor in negotiations.

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Lauren Rankin: Blackburn Hasn’t Been Right About The GOP And Women Since The 1970s

After appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) made headlines and spurred double-takes with her claim that it is the Republican party — not the Democratic party — that is fighting for women’s rights. If we’re going back through history as Blackburn implores us to do, she’s right. Historically, the Republican party was the stronghold for women’s activists in the early 20th century. But as the two parties essentially switched ideological places from 1970-1973, feminists lost favor with the Republican party. It’s been downhill ever since. So what happened? Well, simply put, the New Right happened. Though initially the New Right was split on women’s issues (some even favored abortion rights and the ERA), they quickly realized the political power of social conservatives who had abandoned the Democratic party as it moved towards racial and gender justice. In order to appeal to disenchanted conservative Democrats, the Republican party trapped itself in a self-imposed ideological jail of religious fundamentalism and extreme conservatism, one from which today’s GOP cannot seem to escape.

Today’s Republican party is basically the embarrassing fanatic uncle of the Republican party of the early 20th century. They have become overtaken by a rabid, radical fringe, one that opposes every single aspect of women’s equality, from abortion and contraception access to equal pay, from access to affordable healthcare to a living wage. What Rep. Marsha Blackburn and other Republicans are banking on by peddling the Republican past as indicative of their present is that no one bothers to pay any attention to the absolutely atrocious record of the Republican party on women’s issues in recent memory, particularly in the last decade. Rather than attempting to beat back the Democratic claims of a “War on Women” by citing history, the Republican party would do well to actually enact some of the current policies they deceptively claim to champion. There isn’t a single women’s rights issue that serves as a bragging right for today’s GOP.

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Greg Sargent: No, Dems Are Not Uniformly Running Away From Obamacare

Mary Landrieu is one of the most vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents, and her difficult reelection challenges — like those of other endangered Dems – are said to be all about Obamacare. So it’s curious that Senator Landrieu is aggressively campaigning for a major piece of the law that’s dragging her down: the Medicaid expansion currently being debated in her state. Dems there hope to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to get around Governor Bobby Jindal’s opposition that would ask Louisiana voters if they want billions in Medicaid expansion money to cover hundreds of thousands. Getting it on the ballot is a long shot — it would require two thirds of both houses of the legislature — but the fact is that Landrieu held a conference call last week with local media to push the idea. She has met with state editorial boards to advocate for the expansion, winning a positive editorial in the Times-Picayune. She’s going out with an email to her campaign list urging the constitutional amendment and slamming the “Jindal gap,” i.e., the Medicaid gap. She’ll hit opponent Bill Cassidy over the issue.

Landrieu greeted the recent news of high signups by saying that the ACA “holds great promise and is getting stronger every day.” All of this is not to say that Dems are running aggressively on Obamacare. They aren’t. But the widespread claim that they are uniformly running away from it is too simplistic. It’s more complicated than that. In North Carolina, Kay Hagan is airing a radio ad that hits likely GOP foe Thom Tillis over his equivocations on repeal, and she will hit his opposition to the state exchange and Medicaid expansion to build the case that he is anti-middle class. In Alaska, Dems have run an ad for Mark Begich that features a woman discussing how she benefitted from the law in unusually personal terms. Dem Super PACs have run ads in North Carolina and Michigan dramatizing how the GOP repeal stance would take the law’s benefits away.

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Steve Benen: Stuck In The First Stage Of Grief

At a press conference last week, President Obama announced a figure that was hard to even imagine a month ago: 8 million consumers signed up for private insurance through exchange marketplaces during the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period. Obama also took a moment to chide Republicans for having been wrong about practically every aspect of the debate. “I recognize that their party is going through the stages of grief,” he said, “and we’re not at acceptance yet. ”That sounds about right, though I’m not sure the GOP is “going through the stages of grief” so much as it’s stuck on the first one. If the process is believed to have five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – we have quite a ways to go before “acceptance” is even on the horizon.

Denial still dominates. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said Monday he believes the uninsured rate in his state has increased since implementation of the 2010 health care reform law. There are a wide variety of counts when it comes to determining just how many uninsured Americans have been able to get coverage, but all of the reports have something important in common: they all show the rate of the uninsured going down, not up. But to argue that the number of uninsured people is climbing is comparable to arguing that the federal budget deficit is getting larger; the planet is experiencing global cooling; and Obama has pushed use of executive orders to new heights. Oh wait, conservative Republicans often believe all of those bogus claims, too.

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Sahil Kapur: Supreme Court To Hear Case Challenging Ban On Campaign Lies

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Tuesday in an important case about the validity of an Ohio state law banning false statements about political candidates in campaigns. The challenge was brought by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, which wants to invalidate the Ohio law. In 2010, it sought to put up a billboard claiming Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) supported taxpayer funding of abortion. The advertising company, under pressure from Driehaus who appealed to the Ohio Elections Commission to block the billboard under the statute, refused to put it up. (Driehaus lost reelection anyway.)

A lower court found that the SBA List lacked standing to sue. The 6th Circuit and 8th Circuit courts of appeals have issued split rulings on whether state laws banning false statements are permissible under the First Amendment. There’s a real chance the Supreme Court won’t weigh in on the merits of this case. If the justices conclude that the SBA List has standing, they’re expected to send it back to the lower courts to consider the merits first.

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WTSP: FL Same-Sex Lawsuit Couple Attends W.H. Easter Egg Roll

A Florida couple suing the for marriage equality joined the first family Monday for the Annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The Aleniers were one of six couples that joined Equality Florida Institute to file the lawsuit in pursuit of marriage protections for their family. They, along with their son Ethan, were among the 30,000 people crowded on the South Lawn

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Reuters: U.S. Secretary Of State Urges Russia To Help Implement Ukraine Agreement

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia on Monday to meet Ukraine halfway in trying to implement an agreement to defuse the crisis in the former Soviet republic. Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by telephone on Monday morning, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States on Thursday agreed on ways to ease tensions in the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

“The secretary urged Russia to take concrete steps to help implement the Geneva agreement, including publicly calling on separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically,” Psaki said at a news briefing. With pro-Moscow separatists showing no sign of surrendering government buildings they have seized in eastern Ukraine, Washington pegged a threat of new sanctions on Russia to how hard Moscow tries to make the Geneva agreement work. “If progress is not made in coming days, we will impose further costs,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

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Reuters: Conservative Koch-Backed Group Uses Soft Touch In Recruiting U.S. Hispanics

The conservative advocacy groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known mostly for spending millions of dollars to pelt Democratic candidates with negative television ads. But this year, one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population, which has overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections. The group, known as The Libre Initiative, is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters in cities from Arizona to Florida – even as the group targets Democratic lawmakers with hard-edged TV ads. “If they trust us, they may seek our opinion on something else,” said Michael Barrera, a former Bush administration official who now works for Libre, which says it has built a mailing list of 90,000 people during the past three years.

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Libre’s task is complicated by Republican lawmakers’ reluctance to act on a proposed overhaul of the United States’ immigration laws and the harsh rhetoric used by some Republicans that many Americans have seen as anti-Hispanic or anti-immigrant, pollsters say. And even as Libre launches an ad campaign that paints President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act as an expensive failure, Obamacare remains more popular among Hispanics than it is in the overall population. At a recent Hispanic business fair in Orlando, Libre set up panel discussions on family-owned businesses and the shortcomings of Obamacare. Neither event drew much of an audience, but by the end of the day Libre had added 150 names to its mailing list. Several of those who signed up said they were drawn in by the chance to win a tablet computer that was raffled off by Libre, rather than any enthusiasm for conservative ideas. None said they were aware of Libre’s conservative agenda. Libre’s only public filing shows that it took in $2.15 million in revenue during the 12 months that ended June 30, 2012. The report does not say where the money came from, but separate filings show two Koch-backed groups, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce Inc. and TC4 Trust, gave at least $3.8 million to Libre during an 18-month period that includes the time covered by Libre’s report.

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Brian Beutler: Obamacare’s Success Is Destroying The GOP’s Midterm Strategy

If you’re a decent person, or someone who hasn’t contracted a political bug, the most satisfying thing about the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment total is the knowledge that it’s improved many people’s lives, and contributed to a sizable reduction in the uninsured population. But if you have a lot invested in the law’s success, you’re also relieved to have an answer to everyone trying to create the impression that Obamacare is a slow-rolling fiasco. Republicans won’t stop saying these things, but there’s an amusing tension between calling something a “slow-rolling fiasco” in one breath and then positing that perhaps 10 percent of the millions of new beneficiaries won’t pay their premiums in the next. Or pointing out that the respectable under-35 enrollment rate also includes children. Why nitpick a fiasco?

Taken together, eight million enrollees, lower-than-expected premium increases, and smaller fiscal costs together leave a great void in the political landscape that pathetic enrollment, large premium spikes, and runaway spending were supposed to occupy. In a recent article, conservative political analyst Sean Trende examined how an election that looks so ripe for Republicans could go sour. “The way this could occur is fairly straightforward: The Affordable Care Act improves; there’s no massive rate shock for premiums in September or October; and the economy slowly gains ground. This should propel President Obama’s job approval upward, lifting the collective Democratic boat.” As Danny Vinik has noted, none of this is remotely implausible. And if something along these lines begins taking shape, Republicans would have to revisit the idea that they can just block Democratic legislation, scream “Obummercare!” and let a friendly electoral map do all the work.

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Photos by Pete Souza

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On This Day

Senator Obama holds 10-month-old Claire Von Bergen of Iowa City while shaking hands with supporters after speaking on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa April 22, 2007

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Senator Obama gets a hug from his wife Michelle Obama after he spoke at the Roberts Stadium, April 22, 2008 in Evansville Indiana

Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands outside of the P&G Pamela’s Diner in the Strip District section of Pittsburgh on the morning of the Pennsylvania Primary election, April 22, 2008

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President Obama and White House staff members prepare to leave Des Moines Airport April 22, 2009, following a visit to Newton, Iowa (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama greets actress Sigourney Weaver after he spoke at an Earth Day reception in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on April 22, 2010

President Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, April 22, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama boards Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport, April 22, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama observes a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, in the Oval Office, April 22, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama looks at a piece of a wood-alternative fuel made from biomass waste while touring projects presented at the White House Science Fair in the East Garden of the White House, April 22, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)

Trying out a bike that powers a water-filtration system built by young student inventors, April 22, 2013

President Obama greets New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz during the White House Science Fair, April 22, 2013

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25
Mar
14

Rise and Shine

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All times US Eastern:

4:15 AM: President Obama meets with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan

4:55 AM: Participates in the Nuclear Security Summit

11:0 AM: Holds a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Rutte

White House Live

12:0: Holds a bilateral meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi

1:30 PM: Holds a trilateral meeting with President Park Geun-Hye of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan

3:35 PM: Departs the Netherlands

4:15 PM: Arrives Brussels, Belgium

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President Obama looks at Rembrandt’s “Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul” during a tour of the Gallery of Honor at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, March 24, 2014 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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Michael Hiltzik: Where Are The Positive Stories About Obamacare?

If there were fairness in this world, Rita Rizzo would be a media star. Rizzo, 60, owns a management consulting firm for nonprofit groups and government offices in Akron, Ohio, with her husband, Lou Vincent, 64. Vincent, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, has gone without health insurance for 10 years. “We got 30 denial letters,” Rizzo told me last week. Three years ago, Rizzo got a hip replacement. Her own insurance premiums were going to rise by $500 a month, to about $800, so she chose instead to triple her deductible to $6,000 to keep the increase to a mere $150 a month. The couple used a $5,000 tax-deductible health savings account to cover her out-of-pocket expenses; Vincent’s medication, which ran to $178 a month; and his blood work-ups, at $2,400 a year. In December, Rizzo signed up for Obamacare. She now has a policy that covers her and Vincent together, including all his meds and lab work, for $379 a month, with a $2,000 family deductible. “I feel like I died and went to insurance heaven,” she says.

While Rizzo was working her way to thousands of dollars in annual savings, for example, Southern California Realtor Deborah Cavallaro was making the rounds of NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, Fox and public radio’s Marketplace program, talking about how her premium was about to rise some 65% because of the “Unaffordable” Care Act. What her viewers and listeners didn’t learn was that she hadn’t checked the rates on California’s insurance exchange, where (as we determined for her) she would have found a replacement policy for less than she’d been paying. The millions of beneficiaries of the measure — families excluded from insurance because of high premiums or preexisting medical conditions, low-income individuals made newly eligible for Medicaid, seniors receiving a new subsidy for prescriptions, women granted the legal right to affordable maternity coverage for the first time — seem to be absent from the news media or political ad campaigns. But you can’t turn on your TV without seeing a well-produced 30- or 60-second spot featuring a purported tale of woe.

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 NYT: Obama To Call For End To N.S.A.’s Bulk Data Collection

The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials. Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.

As part of the proposal, the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle, senior administration officials said. But under the plan the administration has developed and now advocates, the officials said, it would later undergo major changes. The new type of surveillance court orders envisioned by the administration would require phone companies to swiftly provide records in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received, the officials said. They would also allow the government to swiftly seek related records for callers up to two phone calls, or “hops,” removed from the number that has come under suspicion, even if those callers are customers of other companies.

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This is the BEST explanation of the cases, that I have seen. If you want to be educated on the issues, read it

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Jessica Mason Pieklo: The Hobby Lobby And Conestoga Wood Cases. Your Questions, Answered

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases challenging the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s the second time in as many years that conservative business owners have argued to the Court that all or part of the health-care law is unconstitutional. While this challenge may look to be limited to just birth control, there is in fact a lot more at stake.The Supreme Court will hear in one hearing the legal challenges of two for-profit businesses, Hobby Lobby and the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation. Hobby Lobby is a national arts-and-crafts retail chain, while Conestoga is a Pennsylvania-based furniture maker. Both companies object to providing health insurance coverage for some kinds of contraception, claiming that the ACA’s requirement that businesses provide employees equal health insurance coverage violates the companies’ religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood (and the myriad other for-profit businesses challenging the mandate) are arguing that the birth control benefit violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. The RFRA is a federal law that says the government may not “substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion,” unless that burden is “necessary to further a compelling government interest” and uses the “least restrictive means” necessary. Conestoga also claims that the mandate violates its religious exercise rights under the First Amendment generally, citing the Citizens United case for precedent. In plain English, that means the Court will be tasked with answering several distinct questions. The first is the most direct: Do secular, for-profit corporations fit the definition of “individual” under the statute? But to get to that answer, the Court will have to wade into the much more troubling question of whether individual business owners can transfer their religious beliefs to that of their business in a way that allows businesses to exercise religious rights.

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The First Lady in China

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Read about the First Lady’s visit here

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 First Lady Michelle Obama meets students as she visits an English language class at Chengdu No.7 High School in Chengdu in southwestern province of Sichuan, China

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Children wave as the First Lady leaves after her visit to School No.7 in Chengdu

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Rebecca Kaplan: Despite Tensions, No Sign Russia Has Backed Away From Nuclear Security

President Obama’s European trip, which is serving as a de facto background for international meetings around the Ukraine crisis, continues Tuesday with the second day of a Nuclear Security Summit.Though the news out of Monday’s meeting was a move by the Group of Seven (G-7) nations to further isolate Russia on the world stage, the U.S. announced the completion of projects with Belgium and Italy to remove nuclear material and reaffirmed a working relationship with Japan to dispose of highly-enriched uranium and separated plutonium stocks worldwide in order to prevent the materials from falling into the hands of criminals or terrorists.

Although Russia and the U.S. remain at odds – and trading sanctions – over the Russian incursion into the Crimean peninsula, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Friday that the two countries continued to cooperate on the issue. “Nuclear security is an area where the United States has and continues to have an enduring interest in cooperation with Russia and other important countries where the security of nuclear materials remains of concern,” Rice said at a White House briefing last week. “We have every interest in continuing to cooperate with Russia and other countries, even where we have differences with them on other issues, on the issue of nuclear security.”

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Miami Herald: Enrollment Drives Kick Into High Gear As Deadline Approaches To Sign Up For President Obama’s Health Care Law

With a week to go before the March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, South Florida enrollment efforts have surged. Organizers from elected officials to religious institutions are marshaling one last campaign to cover as many eligible consumers as possible. An army of volunteers and federally funded and trained counselors have fanned out across Miami-Dade, setting up shop in community rooms, public parks, local churches and health centers, hosting enrollment drives and health fairs nearly every day. At the Calle Ocho street festival in downtown Miami, a Liberty City health fair and the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church in West Little River, ambassadors for Obamacare have been signing people up for health insurance in South Florida.

Miami-Dade leads all Florida counties in sign-ups and has the nation’s second-highest enrollment rate among counties, according to April Washington, a regional government relations director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who attended the Liberty City enrollment drive. Florida, with the second highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation, leads all 36 states in sign-ups on the federally run exchange, with more than 442,000 people selecting a health plan, and an additional 124,000 assessed eligible for Medicaid. Many, such as Makiesha Victor, 20, bought health insurance for the first time. “I didn’t know anything about health insurance,” said Victor, a server at a McDonald’s restaurant. “I feel good knowing I’m covered. Before, I felt I couldn’t see a doctor.’’ Karina Valdivia, 32, an uninsured single mother of two young children, signed up at the 93rd Street church, too. Valdivia, who lives in Miami’s Brickell area and works for a cleaning service six days a week, found a silver-level plan that she said will cost her $21.36 a month in premiums. “I can afford it now,” she said, a surprised tone in her voice. “I thought it was going to cost more, but it was less.”

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Eliza Thompson: American Nuns Announce Their Support For Obamacare Contraception Access

The National Coalition of American Nuns recently came out in support of the Affordable Care Act’s provision for contraception coverage. In a petition addressed to the U.S. Supreme Court (who will soon hear two cases where employers are denying their employees coverage because they don’t personally support contraception), the nuns wrote, “We want to make clear that the sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families.” Well, that’s awesome.

Sister Donna Quinn, the head of NCAN, told ReligionDispatches.org that “it isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women.” She added, “It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.” The petition (which is extremely close to reaching its goal of 5,000 signatures) also had this to say about religious freedom: “We know that religious freedom means that each person has the right to exercise their own religious beliefs; religious freedom cannot mean that an individual or a corporation gets to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”

More here

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Ignore the Politico outside crap. Focus on the words of Rice, Ruemmler, and Monaco

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Carrie Budoff Brown: President Obama’s West Wing Power Trio

But the case of National Security Adviser Susan Rice, counsel Kathy Ruemmler and homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco — the three women on the couch — offers a unique counterpoint to the argument that only men carry influence in the Obama White House. Nobody in the West Wing outranks them on national security issues, marking the first time that women have occupied all three positions in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. Rice and Monaco are the ones who wake up Obama when something bad happens overnight. Collectively, the three women handle the most sensitive issues that cross the president’s desk — including the administration’s drone policy, military actions and the review of government surveillance techniques, which was the topic of discussion when the photograph was taken.

“The notion that this is an all-male place is a joke,” Rice said, pointing out that women occupy half the seats at the senior adviser meetings. “I’m always struck by the disconnect between perception and reality.” Ruemmler said she had to be persuaded to do the interview, underscoring her point that women, more so than men, tend to shun the spotlight. “That, I think, is the general philosophy for most of the women here and that is just consistent with the way, to be candid, most of us were raised,” Ruemmler said. “It is about doing the work, getting the work done, and the work will speak for itself.” Rice chairs meetings in the Situation Room, where the people around the table are mostly men, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CIA Director John Brennan. But she said she’s generally not conscious about her status as one of a handful women in the room.

The women try to do dinner once a month with the female Cabinet secretaries and White House senior staff. The confabs — part mentoring, part venting — were started by Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary in the first term, and continued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Ruemmler sometimes coaxes Jarrett and Mastromonaco out of the building for Friday afternoon lunches. They said they weren’t particularly struck by the photograph of the three of them sitting on the couch with Obama. That wasn’t an unusual moment, they said. It’s just what they do.

More here

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Adelle M. Banks: Religious Groups Play Key Role In Obamacare Insurance Sign-Up

On one Friday earlier this month, more than 11,000 Muslims in mosques across the country heard a sermon about the Affordable Care Act. Hindu and National Baptist groups, meanwhile, are posting online announcements about the White House’s “Faith and Community ACA Days of Action”. Jewish women’s groups have visited college campuses to get students who think they’re “invincible” to sign up for health insurance. “What other time in our history will we be able to help our communities focus on wellness, to help every citizen access a means to be healthy and treat medical conditions, breaking the trend of making emergency rooms and ‘urgent care’ our primary care physicians?” asked Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Social Action Commission.

The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, has spearheaded information sessions at predominantly Latino churches around the country and radio spots on Hispanic Christian radio stations. Salguero noted that one in four persons who are eligible but uninsured are Latino. “It’s an urgent need in our community,” he said. “It’s a real service to that underserved community.” Salguero said he shares other evangelicals’ concerns about Obamacare’s coverage for what they consider to be abortifacients but nevertheless wants to make sure people have a chance to be educated about what the law does and does not include.

“My position is I’m a pro-life person so I don’t want anybody dying of preventable diseases if they can get health care,” he said. Likewise, in a rare move, the Roman Catholic bishop of San Bernardino, Calif., wrote a letter that was read at Masses in his diocese on March 15-16, noting that undocumented parents should “sign your child up for health insurance immediately” and that opting out could result in fines that will increase over time. “It is true that our Church has raised objection to elements of the law that relate to contraception and abortion services that might be provided through it,” Bishop Gerald R. Barnes wrote in the March 11 letter, “However, these factors do not mean that we, as Catholics, should disobey the new health care law. If we happen to have an insurance plan that includes services that are objectionable to our faith, which most plans in California do, our response is to not utilize these services.”

More here

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On This Day

President Barack Obama rests his foot on a football during the Domestic Policy Council Meeting in the Oval Office, March 25, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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A young woman reacts after seeing President Barack Obama, during his visit to Prairie Lights, an independent bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, March 25, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama greets a boy, whose first name is also Barack, following the President’s remarks on health care at the University of Iowa Field House in Iowa City, Iowa, March 25, 2010. The President spoke about health insurance reform and how it will impact families and small businesses. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Barack Obama surprises Personal Secretary Katie Johnson with a gift and birthday cake in the Oval Office, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama gestures during a briefing with a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress on the situation in Libya, in the Situation Room of the White House, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Md., following a briefing with a bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress, in the Situation Room of the White House, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama greets Medal of Honor recipients on the South Lawn of the White House, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama visits with Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis in the Green Room of the White House prior to a Greek Independence Day reception, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Barack Obama talks with Sung Kim, U.S. Ambassador to Republic of Korea, aboard Marine One during an early morning flight from Osan Air Base to the landing zone at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea walk down the grand staircase following their bilateral meeting at the Blue House in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Barack Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office, March 26, 2013. Pictured, from left, are: Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett; Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations; Kathryn Ruemmler, Counsel to the President; Pete Rouse, Counselor to the President; Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Rob Nabors, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy; and David Simas, Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder Dinner for family, staff and friends, in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, March 25, 2013.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

19
Jul
11

a terrific tuesday

President Barack Obama talks with Counsel to the President Kathryn Ruemmler in the Oval Office, July 19, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Steve Benen: I don’t have high hopes for the legislation – the House majority is still the House majority – but the Obama White House’s support for the Respect For Marriage Act is the latest in a series of encouraging steps on civil rights….

…. it’s a heartening piece that fits into a larger mosaic. After two-and-a-half years, President Obama has successfully repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law; expanded federal benefits for the same-sex partners of executive-branch employees; signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law; cleared the way for hospital-visitation rights for same-sex couples; lifted the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS; ordered the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans; expanded the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship; and hired more openly gay officials than any administration in history…….

….I realize there are still a sizable number of people in the LGBT community who are unsatisfied with the pace of change, and consider President Obama someone who has ignored, and even betrayed, their interests. Some have even vowed not to lift a finger to help with the president’s re-election effort.

I suspect many social-conservative activists, furious with the steps Obama has already taken to advance civil rights for the LGBT community, must find this inexplicable.

Full post here

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Even GreenBeck is waving a white flag, abandoning his ‘Obama is a homophobe!’ hysteria. You can almost sense his despondency:

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President Obama walks to the podium to give an update on the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations at the White House, July 19

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Washington Post: Virtually all health insurance plans could soon be required to offer female patients free coverage of prescription birth control, breast-pump rentals, counseling for domestic violence, and annual wellness exams and HIV tests as a result of recommendations released Tuesday by an independent advisory panel of health experts.

The health-care law adopted last year directed the Obama administration to draw up a list of preventive services for women that all new health plans must cover without deductibles or co-payments. While the guidelines suggested Tuesday by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine are not binding, the panel conducted its year-long review at the request of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Full article here

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MSNBC: …. most Americans want their political leaders to compromise rather stand their ground, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

…. nearly six in 10 favor President Barack Obama’s proposal to lower the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years by cutting federal spending, raising tax revenue from the wealthy and reducing some Medicare spending.

By comparison, only about a third of respondents prefer the House Republican proposal to reduce the deficit by $2.5 trillion over 10 years through cutting spending alone and not raising additional revenues.

….. As far as the differing approaches to raise the debt ceiling, 58 percent favor Obama’s approach to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years by cutting spending, increasing revenue through taxing the wealthy and lowering Medicare’s spending. Meanwhile, 36 percent support the House Republican proposal to reduce the deficit by $2.5 trillion through only spending cuts.

The poll also makes clear that the public is more open to raising taxes to balance the budget than it is making cuts and changes to entitlement programs.

Sixty-two percent support raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy if that’s the only way to get a debt-ceiling agreement in Congress. But 52 percent say they oppose making changes and cuts in Social Security and Medicare if that’s the only way to get an agreement.

…. Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by seven points in a hypothetical 2012 general-election match up, 48 percent to 41 percent. And he leads Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., by 15 points, 50 percent to 35 percent.

More here

ABC: ….By a wide 59-26 percent, the public sees congressional Republicans as more concerned than Obama with protecting the economic interests of Wall Street financial institutions, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds. Americans even more broadly, by 67-24 percent, put the GOP ahead when it comes to looking out for the interests of large business corporations.

The tables turn – albeit with much narrower margins – on other measures. Obama leads the GOP by 18 points in looking out for middle-class Americans, 53-35 percent. He also has a 10-point advantage, 47-37 percent, as being more concerned with the economic interests of “you and your family.” And he leads by 9 points, 48-39 percent, on protecting small businesses.

The president’s advantage on small businesses is particularly notable, given the GOP’s efforts to portray his policies as damaging to small-business job creation. While Republicans are fully aboard, independents, the linchpin of national politics, say by 46-39 percent that Obama cares more than GOP leaders about the economic interests of small businesses, a fairly close call but with a tilt in the president’s direction.

This poll finds that Obama also leads among independents by 19 points on aiding the middle class, 52-33 percent, and by 11 points as caring more about the economic interests of and “you and your family.”

More here

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lodinews: James Henderson was so dismayed that his class lacked enough pencils and paper that he wrote to someone he felt could do something about it.

His principal at Leroy Nichols Elementary School? No.

The Lodi Unified School District board? Too small a government.

Maybe the governor? Still not big enough.

James went straight to the President of the United States of America – and President Barack Obama wrote back.

….In his letter, Henderson told President Obama that he didn’t see how the government could continue to cut education funding when they lacked even the basics.

“I told him they were spending a lot more money on other things than school supplies,” Henderson said. “He told me people like me could change the country.”

The student thinks that could be the case if he puts his mind to it and follows his goals, he said, adding that receiving Obama’s letter was a great honor.

Full article here

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