Posts Tagged ‘Venezuela

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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23
Feb
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama greets audience members after delivering remarks on the economy at the University of Miami Field House in Coral Gables, Fla., Feb. 23, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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The Week Ahead:

Sunday: In the evening, the President and First Lady will host the Governors in town for the winter meeting for a dinner at the White House.

Monday: The President will meet with the National Governors Association.

Tuesday: The President will hold an event on the economy at the White House. In the evening, he will attend an OFA event in Washington DC.

Wednesday: The President will travel to the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area for an event on the economy.

Thursday: The President will host an event on his ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative.

Friday: The President will attend a DNC event in Washington.

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Kathleen O’Brien: Obamacare In NJ: Four Out Of Five Enrollees Have Paid Their Premiums

At least three-quarters of the New Jerseyans who have selected health insurance through the federal marketplace website have followed through by paying their first month’s premium, according to the three companies selling the policies. The state’s rate of paying customers is in line with figures reported across the nation. The figures are seen by some as an important barometer of success in the opening months of coverage.

In New Jersey, an early reading shows the percentage of those who have paid ranges from 75 percent to 90 percent.m”To date, more than 80 percent of enrollees from the federal marketplace have paid their first month’s premiums, said Thomas Vincz, spokesman for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. “We expect that number to increase in coming weeks.”

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NYT: What The Stimulus Accomplished

Of all the myths and falsehoods that Republicans have spread about President Obama, the most pernicious and long-lasting is that the $832 billion stimulus package did not work. Since 2009, Republican lawmakers have inextricably linked the words “failed” and “stimulus,” and last week, five years after passage of the Recovery Act, they dusted off their old playbook again. it prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression.

It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (There are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010. Government spending worked, helping millions of people who never realized it. And it can work again, whenever lawmakers agree that putting people to work is more important than winning ideological fights.

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Leonard Pitts Jr.: White Fear Trumps Black Life

“You can get killed just for living in your American skin.” — Bruce Springsteen. On Aug. 7, 1930, two young black men were lynched in Marion, Ind. A photographer named Lawrence Beitler had a studio across the street from the lynching tree. He came out and snapped what became an iconic photo, which he made into a postcard and sold. It shows Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith hanging dead and their executioners, faces clearly visible, milling about as if at a picnic. Though authorities possessed this damning photographic evidence, they never arrested anyone for the crime. It was officially attributed to “persons unknown.”

This was not a unique thing. To the contrary, it happened thousands of times. And African-Americans carry this knowledge deep, carry it in blood and sinew, the understanding that the justice system has betrayed us often, smashed our hopes often, denied the value of our lives, often. This knowledge lent a certain tension and poignancy to the wait for a verdict in the Jordan Davis trial last week. Mr. Davis was the black kid shot dead by a white man, Michael Dunn. A guilty verdict would seem to have been a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t. Indeed, the verdict was mystifying.

Mr. Dunn was found guilty on three counts of attempted murder — meaning the three other young men in the SUV with Mr. Davis — but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge. It makes no sense: If Mr. Dunn is guilty of the three charges, how can he not be guilty of the fourth? The jury’s inability to hold him accountable for Mr. Davis’ death only validates African-Americans’ grimmest misgivings about the “just us” system. Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, put it as follows on Twitter: “This is not just about jail time. This is about whether white fear legally means more than black life.”

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Catherine Thompson: Federal Court Rules Against Notre Dame’s Birth Control Appeal

A federal court ruled against the University of Notre Dame on Friday in a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, the Associated Press reported. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld a federal judge’s previous ruling that denied Notre Dame’s request for an injunction to prevent it from complying with the birth control mandate. The court noted in its decision that Notre Dame already notified the administrator of its employee plan as well as the insurer for students that the university would not pay for contraception coverage.

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Chicago Tribune: Chicago Wins Bid For $320 Million Manufacturing Hub

Chicago will be the site of a digital manufacturing institute backed by $70 million in government money and another $250 million of private funding, giving the city, once a factory town, a better chance to re-establish its credentials as a modern maker of things. The decision, to be announced officially Tuesday by President Barack Obama, was hotly anticipated by city and state officials who recognized the opportunity to jump start high-tech manufacturing as a core component of Chicago’s economic vision. The city today, while still home to some manufacturing, is better known for its financial markets and convention business. The idea behind the institute is that manufacturing is being transformed by digital design, which replaces the draftsman’s table with the capacity to work and create in a virtual environment.

The city envisions the institute would focus on such projects as the faster and cheaper production of a next-generation aircraft engine; drastically reducing the amount of scrap material associated with small manufacturing runs; and speeding the design process among spread-out suppliers. “This is clearly, without a doubt, one of the most significant things to secure Chicago’s long-term economic future,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a Saturday interview. “It is the best insurance policy you can buy, which is major research capacity.” The $70 million grant will come from the Defense Department. Obama will officially announce the Chicago hub on Tuesday at the White House. The manufacturing initiative follows Obama’s new playbook for dealing with an oppositional Congress unlikely to enact any part of his economic vision. The announcement also delivers on the President’s pledge in his 2013 State of the Union address to set up three new manufacturing institutes from existing government programs.

In the spring of last year, the administration launched the competition. In addition to Chicago’s “Digital Manufacturing and Design Institute,” Obama will announce that Detroit has won an institute of its own focused on lightweight and modern metals manufacturing. The administration set up a pilot site in Youngstown, Ohio, in 2012, and a few weeks ago announced a new institute in Raleigh, N.C. Obama has also pledged to launch four more competitions for new institutes in the coming year in hopes of setting eight institutes in motion without any action by Congress. But Obama’s broader plan is to spur Congress to support the concept. His blueprint calls for a full national network of up to 45 institutes funded in part with new resources approved by lawmakers.

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Adam Searing: How NC (Surprisingly) Became A Leader In ACA Enrollment

While North Carolina has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and many politicians continue to complain about the federal health exchange, the roll-out of Obamacare in N.C. tells a far more positive story. North Carolina is enrolling uninsured people at a rate at least twice that of any other state that has refused to set up its own health exchange and refused to expand Medicaid. In short, among states that are dragging their feet on the Affordable Care Act – no advertising campaigns, no speeches by the governor on how important it is for everyone to have access to health care, no Medicaid expansion that guarantees the lowest income workers coverage – North Carolina is by far leading the pack in private plan enrollment. Even with the federal health exchange’s shaky start, N.C. has already enrolled 107,778 uninsured people in private health plans.  So what’s going on?

There are several answers. Our success starts with North Carolina’s excellent Medicaid managed-care program, Community Care of North Carolina. Even though Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders declined the federal opportunity to expand Medicaid, N.C. Community Care has provided a natural framework to enroll uninsured people in private health plans. Under Community Care, local doctors, hospitals, health centers, health departments, social service offices, legal service providers and other community leaders have been quietly working together every day, every month and every year for a decade to help people access and use health care. Because of this, North Carolina’s Medicaid program is already a huge success both in delivering great care and containing costs. So, when the Affordable Care Act’s health exchange opened for business, there were already networks with proven records of success in helping people get health care. These organizations jumped right in to the enrollment effort because they work with uninsured families every day and know what a huge benefit this is.

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The Globe And Mail: How Putin’s Sochi Dream Was Shattered By Ukraine’s Nightmare

Vladimir Putin has a dream – and for the past two weeks, the world has been helping him to live it. In this dream, Russia is rich again, a place where the reported $51-billion cost of the Winter Olympics in Sochi is no object. It’s a nation of impressive architecture and smiling volunteers who speak English but think like Russians. “Russia – Great, New, Open!” brag the billboards around the Olympic city. (“Open”? Sochi has high fences, surveillance balloons and warships off the coast; every phone call and e-mail is monitored.) Mr. Putin sees a Russia that is once more a global centre of gravity, indispensable on the world stage. Soon, if his plans come to fruition, Moscow will stand as the leader of a new bloc of nations – the Eurasian Union – with borders that look a lot like those of the Soviet empire, whose fall he has openly mourned.

Vladimir Putin also has a nightmare. And this week, it looked a lot like the burning heart of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital where tens of thousands of protesters battled police to bring down their Kremlin-backed, authoritarian government. Dozens died before a tentative truce Friday interrupted the hostilities, but anger remains so high that there is no guarantee it will hold. It’s not just that Mr. Putin fears the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych and the rise of a pro-Western government in Kiev, although that would be a heavy geopolitical blow. He needs Ukraine to take part if his Eurasian Union – currently set to launch next year with only Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus as members – is to look like anything more than a tiny dictators’ club.

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Venezuela Protests

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AP: Venezuelan Government Cuts Internet Access, Blocks Websites In War Against Student Protesters

The battle for Venezuela is being fought as vigorously online as in the streets, with authorities cutting off the Internet to a clash-torn university city and blocking selected websites and a “walkie-talkie” service widely used by protesters. A local TV reporter in San Cristobal, capital of the western border state of Tachira, said Thursday night that she could hear gunshots as teargas-firing police broke up protests just as they had the night before when Internet service was cut. “We’re still without Internet. And some people don’t have water or electricity either,” said the reporter, Beatriz Font. San Cristobal, home to one private and three public universities, is where the current wave of anti-government demonstrations began on Feb. 2, the fiercest unrest since President Hugo Chavez died last March began.

Later Thursday, the U.S. company Zello told The Associated Press that Venezuela’s state-run telecoms company, CANTV, had just blocked access to the push-to-talk “walkie-talkie” app for smart phones and computers that has been a hugely popular organizing tool for protesters from Egypt to Ukraine. Zello supports up to 600 users on a single channel, and company CEO Bill Moore said it became the No. 1 app in Ukraine on Thursday for both the iOS and Android operating systems. In one day this week, Zello reported more than 150,000 downloads in Venezuela. Some believe Venezuela’s information war, which escalated last week as the government blocked images on Twitter after violence in Caracas claimed three lives, is only just beginning. The protesters are fed up with a catalogue of woes that include rampant inflation, food shortages and one of the world’s highest murder rates.

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Douglas Alexander: This Crisis Is About What’s Best For Ukraine, Not Russia

If a week is a long time in British politics, 24 hours has proven to be a long time in this Ukrainian political crisis. The priority must be to prevent further killing, and all sides must play their part in achieving this. The Ukrainian government has in recent months routinely ignored the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people. So it will take time for trust to be rebuilt across Ukrainian society and it will be hard for that progress to be made even after this crisis ends. That is why it is so important that the EU should continue to support Ukraine as the turmoil in Kiev continues. We must remember that this crisis began in November, when President Yanukovych walked away from an agreement with Europe that would have granted Ukraine access to the EU’s single market.

The UK government has had a noticeably low profile as the crisis unfolded. But we must recognise that the number of people killed in Ukraine last week is a tragic expression of the gravity of the crisis. The streets of Kiev have revealed a geopolitical fault line between Russia and the West. President Obama was right to say that Ukraine can no longer be seen as part of a “Cold War chess board”. More than 20 years after the Berlin Wall fell we should not see a new era of 20th-century satellite states take hold on the 21st-century European continent. President Putin is known for his zero-sum approach to foreign affairs – but what happens in Ukraine cannot just be about judging what makes sense for Russia. It must be about what works for the people of Ukraine.

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Gunner Goz: Out Of Hell, A New Hope For A Proud People

Like many of you, our friends, my wife and I have been literally rooted to our chairs as we watched events in our beloved Ukraine roll out, ever since those terrible days in Kyiv last November when Ukrainians began to die because of the brutality of Yanukovych’s Berkut. Since then, many, many more innocents have sacrificed themselves to protest injustice, tryanny and corruption. Ukrainians have been incredibly brave throughout all this. They have withstood freezing cold, Militia attacks, titushki beatings, kidnappings, torture, murder, Berkut Molotov cocktails and finally, an ultimate horror, the cold-blooded, merciless snipers of their own government’s security forces

One little known fact most Americans are not aware of is that Ukraine’s 40 million citizens legally possess more than 2 million private firearms: 400,000 of them are in Kyiv alone. And yet, even in the face of murderous provocation and killings by the police and Berkut, very few of those privately owned firearms were ever raised in anger, even against their tormentors: the ratio of citizens killed to police casualties was over 10 to 1. It tells us that Ukrainians are a people possessing extraordinary restraint and respect for life, because if every private gun in Ukraine had been fired in anger, the dead would be in the many thousands by now.

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On This Day:

President Obama meets with actor George Clooney in the Oval Office, Feb. 23, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Obama listens to staff during a meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 23, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)

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First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden discuss the Military Families Campaign with spouses of U.S. military leadership in the Map Room of the White House, Feb. 23, 2011 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)

President Obama poses for a photograph with Ambassador Jacinth Lorna Henry-Martin of St. Kitts and Nevis during an ambassador credentialing ceremony in the Oval Office, Feb. 23, 2011. Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall and members of Henry-Martin’s family watch from the edge of the room (Photo by Pete Souza)

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First Lady Michelle Obama views the Slave Pen exhibit while touring the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb. 23, 2012. Pictured, from left, are: Dina Bailey, Associate Curator of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center; Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory; Verna Williams; and Allison Singleton (Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

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20
Feb
14

Rise and Shine

President Obama speaks while standing in front of a printed version of a stained glass window known as the Sun Man, from the Cosmovitral Botanical Garden, at a news conference at the state government palace in Toluca, Mexico

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Presidential Schedule (All Times Eastern):

5:35PM EST: President Obama delivers remarks and answers questions at the Democratic Governors Association dinner, Washington

12AM EST: First Lady Michelle Obama will be a guest on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

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USA Today: California Exceeds 2014 Exchange Enrollment Goals

Well before the March 31 deadline to buy insurance, California announced Tuesday it has already exceeded its 2014 enrollment goals for its health care exchange.

By the end of January, 728,410 people had enrolled in private health plans through Covered California, and 100,000 more signed up in the first two weeks of February. About 26% are 34 and younger.

“These enrollment numbers mean that with six weeks to go, California has already exceeded its projected base enrollment for the 2014 open-enrollment period,” said Covered California executive director Peter Lee. “While this is a strong showing, our goal is not pinned to meeting projections, but to making sure every Californian gets covered.”

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NYT: Gap To Raise Minimum Hourly Pay

In a surprising move, Gap Inc. informed its employees on Wednesday that it would set $9 as the minimum hourly rate for its United States work force this year and then establish a minimum of $10 next year. Gap said this move would ultimately raise pay for 65,000 of its 90,000 American employees, including those at Banana Republic, Old Navy and other stores.

Gap is making this move as many states consider raising their minimum wage, and as Republicans and Democrats debate a bill that includes a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016. President Obama has endorsed the increase, and has campaigned for it at stops around the country.

In explaining the wage increases, Mr. Murphy told employees: “We work for a company with a strong set of values, which can be directly linked to our founders, Doris and Don Fisher. They invented specialty apparel retail, but Don also challenged us to live up to our promise to ‘do more than sell clothes.’ ”

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Sun Times: Michelle Obama on “Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” Thursday

A year ago, First Lady Michelle Obama and Jimmy Fallon created a YouTube hit with their dance skit, “Evolution of Mom Dancing.” On Thursday, Mrs. Obama teams up again with Fallon, guesting during his inaugural week of hosting the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”

Mrs. Obama marks this month the fourth anniversary of her signature “Let’s Move” anti-obesity, healthy eating drive and it would not be a surprise to see another high-energy sketch with Fallon.

Mrs. Obama hits New York for Fallon and a high-dollar Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the home of Obama “bundler” Maneesh Goyal. The funder is billed as a roundtable with the tab ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 per person. Mrs. Obama did a California swing for the DNC last month and more DNC events are in her pipeline.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates: Black Boy Interrupted

I think of dying at 17, in my loudness, in my vanity, which is to say in my human youth, and I tremble. I was barely anything. I understood barely anything. When Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis, he obliterated a time-stream, devastated an open range of changes. And somewhere on that American jury, someone thought this was justice, someone believed in the voodoo of shotguns and teleportation. Michael Dunn killed a boy, and too robbed a man of his chance to be.

And this will happen again, must happen again, because our policy is color-blind, but our heritage isn’t. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind denies its rightful inheritance. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind is a drug addict claiming he can walk away after just one more hit. Law and legacy are at war. Legacy is winning. Legacy will always win. And our legacy is to die in this land where time is unequal, and deeded days are unequal, and blessed is the black man who lives to learn other ways, who lives to see other worlds, who lives to bear witness before the changes.

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Jenna Portnoy: Former Christie Staffer Under Subpoena Takes Job With Port Authority

A former aide to Gov. Chris Christie who has been subpoenaed in the George Washington Bridge scandal, recently took a high-level job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, The Star-Ledger learned today.

Nicole Crifo, who served as the liaison from the governor’s office to the Port Authority for three years, was named chief of staff to Deb Gramiccioni, the deputy director of the bi-state agency, last month. Christie selected Gramiccioni to replace Bill Baroni, who has been implicated in the scandal over the closing of access lanes to the bridge in September.

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White House: Statement by the President

In my State of the Union Address, I asked more businesses to do what they can to raise their employees’ wages.  Today, I applaud Gap, Inc. for announcing that they intend to raise wages for their employees beginning this year – a decision that will benefit about 65,000 workers in the U.S.  As a chief executive, I’ve required federal contractors to pay their employees a wage of at least $10.10 an hour, and more states are taking steps to raise their minimum wage as well.  But only action from Congress can make a difference nationwide.  Right now, there is a bill in front of both the House and the Senate that would boost America’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and lift wages for more than 16 million workers – all without requiring a single dollar in new taxes or spending.  It’s time to pass that bill and give America a raise.

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The Atlantic: A Question For Obama’s Syria Critics: What Are The Alternatives?

McCain and others like Anne-Marie Slaughter, formerly of Hillary Clinton’s State Department policy planning staff, have called for more boldness in America’s Syria policy. Slaughter has advocated establishing humanitarian zones, or corridors, inside Syria—but these zones could require U.S. or international forces to establish no-fly zones and use force to halt Syrian military incursions against those seeking refuge in such zones.  

But most of those urging the U.S. to intervene more aggressively in Syria are woefully short on details and shrug off the risks of blowback and escalation. If a strategy existed that would tip the scales toward the rebels with little likelihood of blowback, then skeptics like me might be turned into supporters.

It’s emotionally wrenching to watch killing on the scale that the world is witnessing now in Syria. But the depressing likelihood is that the country will be convulsed with conflict for years to come. Obama is not to blame for that. In fact, he should be commended for the abundant caution he has shown during this tragedy.

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Frida Ghitis: Venezeulan Opposition Tries New Strategy Of Confrontation

The Venezuelan opposition has shifted gears and is steering down a new path, carrying a message that the country is crumbling and there is no time to wait for change. The decision to take a much more confrontational approach comes in an environment of growing popular discontent, with an accelerating downward economic spiral and increasingly harsh living conditions under the rule of the late Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor, President Nicolas Maduro. The move by the opposition is a calculated gamble. It could provoke a much harsher crackdown from the regime, creating an even deeper chasm between the two sides of Venezuela’s already profound political divide. It could trigger a wave of violence that would be difficult to control. And it could also lead to a splintering of the opposition. But it might just have a chance of bringing an end to Maduro’s presidency. The call to take the fight to the streets came from the charismatic and photogenic hard-liner Leopoldo Lopez, a Harvard-educated local mayor who is now under arrest after leading massive anti-government protests.

Economic mismanagement and ad hoc socialist policies are unraveling the economy of oil-rich Venezuela. Yearly inflation is approaching 60 percent. Foreign investment has dried up in the face of the government’s capricious confiscation of private businesses. Currency controls have stoked a red-hot black market for hard currency, with the illegal dollar rate now at 13 times the official exchange rate. Venezuelans who can afford it are buying dollars and taking them out of the country to preserve what they can of their assets. Hard currency shortages are destroying manufacturing by making it virtually impossible for businesses to buy raw materials. Newspapers are shutting down because they cannot find enough foreign exchange to buy newsprint. Car manufacturers are stopping assembly lines, and staples of daily life are disappearing from the shelves amid chronic shortages of basic consumer goods. The government’s response has been to blame the shortages on speculators and saboteurs.

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Washington Post: Truce Fails, 22 More Die In New Kiev Clashes

Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine’s embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee left at least 22 people dead. Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid, trying to protest themselves with shields. Protesters were seen leading apparently captured policemen around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev, or carrying bodies away on sheets of plastic or planks of wood.

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An AP cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters in Kiev. Video footage showed that at least one sniper wearing the uniform of Ukraine’s riot police. President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who demand his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country— mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych’s central government, while many in eastern Ukraine favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler. At least 50 people have died this week in the clashes in Kiev, a sharp reversal in the three-month, mostly peaceful political crisis.

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Steven Lee Myers: Violence In Ukraine Creates Deepening Clash Between East And West

Russian officials denouncing what they called a coup by right-wing extremists, even as the United States and Europe threatened to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence that has erupted in the capital, Kiev, and spread to other cities. The starkly divergent reactions underscored the deepening confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s fate, with each side accusing the other of interference and disputing even the facts of what was happening. Expressing alarm at the escalating death toll, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France blamed the security forces of President Viktor F. Yanukovych and made it clear that they supported a political transition that would allow Ukrainians to elect a new government. Russia, by contrast, vowed to use all its influence to support Ukraine’s government and joined Mr. Yanukovych in accusing his opponents of trying to seize power in what amounted to a coup.

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President Obama, on a visit to Mexico, interrupted his opening meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto to tell reporters that “the United States condemns in the strongest terms” the violence that has claimed lives in the last two days. He pointedly warned the Ukrainian military on Wednesday to stay out of the political crisis that has already ravaged the streets of Kiev and said the United States would hold the government responsible for further violence. The substance of that threat became clear on Wednesday evening, when the Obama administration said it had imposed a visa ban on 20 senior Ukrainian officials whom it accused of playing a role in the government’s crackdown on Tuesday. The State Department declined to say which officials were on the list, but a senior State Department official said it included “the full chain of command responsible for ordering the violence last night.”

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NYT: The Clear Benefits Of A Higher Wage

What Republicans fail to mention is that Tuesday’s report from the budget office, a federal nonpartisan agency, was almost entirely positive about the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, as President Obama and Congressional Democrats have proposed. More than 16 million low-wage workers, now making as little as $7.25 an hour, would directly benefit from the increase, the report said. Another eight million workers making slightly more than the minimum would probably also get raises, because of the upward “ripple effect” of an increase.

That would add $31 billion to the paychecks of families ranging from poverty level to the middle class, significantly increasing their spending power and raising the nation’s economic output and overall income. In fact, the report said, 900,000 people would be lifted from poverty with a wage increase. The income of those below the poverty line would increase by a total of $5 billion, or 3 percent, at no cost to the federal budget. The vast majority of those getting raises would not be teenagers with part-time jobs. Nearly 90 percent of them are adults 20 and older, and 53 percent of them work full time. Women represent 56 percent of them.

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On This Day:

Sen. Barack Obama speaks to supporters during a rally, February 20, 2008, at Reunion Arena in Dallas

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President Obama and Vice President Biden wait in the Green Room of the White House prior to a meeting with U.S. Mayors, Feb. 20, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama arrives at the Department of Transportation February 20, 2009 in Washington to speak with employees about working with President Obama’s administration.

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First Lady Michelle Obama speaks about her campaign to end the childhood obesity called “Let’s Move” at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington February 20, 2010

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@ImAngelaBassett: Hail to OUR chief! @BarackObama @SheilaEdrummer @AlfreWoodard @SandraFluke. Feb 20, 2013

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