Holy seven million, Batman! The Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare, has made a stunning comeback from its shambolic start. As the March 31 deadline for 2014 coverage approached, there was a surge in applications at the “exchanges” — the special insurance marketplaces the law set up. And the original target of seven million signups, widely dismissed as unattainable, has been surpassed.
But what does it mean? That depends on whether you ask the law’s opponents or its supporters. You see, the opponents think that it means a lot, while the law’s supporters are being very cautious. And, in this one case, the enemies of health reform are right. This is a very big deal indeed.
Of course, you don’t find many Obamacare opponents admitting outright that 7.1 million and counting signups is a huge victory for reform. But their reaction to the results — It’s a fraud! They’re cooking the books! — tells the tale. Conservative thinking and Republican political strategy were based entirely on the assumption that it would always be October, that Obamacare’s rollout would be an unremitting tale of disaster. They have no idea what to do now that it’s turning into a success story.
Politicususa: Harry Reid Completely Hammers Mitch McConnell On Obamacare Success In Kentucky
During a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tore into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) regarding the success story that the Affordable Care Act has been in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. Days after it was revealed that the number of people who signed up for private insurance plans on the state and federal exchanges under Obamacare exceeded the administration’s goals, Reid pointed out some basic facts in regards to the health care law’s effect in Kentucky.
Steve Benen: Job market continues to show signs of life
After discouraging monthly job reports in December and January, there were broad concerns about which way the job market was headed. Would it remain stuck or start to bounce back?
The latest evidence seems to suggest the latter. In fact, the new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 192,000 jobs in March, roughly in line with economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate remained the same at 6.7%.
For the second consecutive month, public-sector layoffs did not drag down the overall employment figures. Though jobs reports over the last few years have shown monthly government job losses, in March, the private sector added 192,000 while the public sector broke even.
The party that talks the most about the dangers of America going Continental is the one dead set on making it happen. When it comes to economics, the GOP is the party of croissants and lederhosen
The basic Republican critique of President Obama is that he’s Europeanizing America. In the last campaign, Mitt Romney claimed Obama “takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe.” Paul Ryan warned “we will turn out just like Europe if we stick with European policies.” Europe’s continuing economic stagnation—12 percent unemployment, near deflation, tepid growth—is certainly an unattractive model for the United States. You can see why conservative cartoonists like to draw Obama in a beret.
But the policies that created the mess in Europe are not Obama’s policies. They are the policies—especially tight money and fiscal austerity—that Republicans have pushed for America. And where economics is concerned, the GOP is still the party of croissants and lederhosen.
TPM: TV Networks Denied Obama Airtime To Tout Obamacare Enrollment
The White House reportedly wanted to put President Barack Obama on primetime television Tuesday to tout Obamacare’s 7 million enrollees — but network TV officials denied him the airtime.
BuzzFeed had the scoop, citing three sources with knowledge of the request. Details of the request are unclear from the report, but it appears that the White House was seeking primetime space on broadcast TV networks.
NYT: After Push by Obama, Minimum-Wage Action Is Moving to the States
The more President Obama talks about the need to raise the federal minimum wage, the less likely it appears that Republicans in Congress are inclined to do it.
But the stalemate matters less and less. In the last 14 months, since Mr. Obama first called for the wage increase in his 2013 State of the Union address, seven states and the District of Columbia have raised their own minimum wages, and 34 states have begun legislative debates on the matter. Activists in an additional eight states are pursuing ballot referendums this year to demand an increase in wages for their lowest-paid workers.
…. Anybody who had any doubts about whether or not the Kochs have imbibed fully their father’s devotion to the old Birchite view of things can rest easy, This is something out of the collected works of John Stormer, the stuff that was supposed to have died in conservatism with the end of the Goldwater campaign. None Dare Call It Antiquated. But, if you have more money than God and Solomon, you can bring even the most decomposed ideology back to life, I guess.
…..Koch: “….. Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty, and liberty is the essence of what it means to be American. Love of liberty is the American ideal.”
Says the gentleman who’s poured more millions into voter-suppression efforts all over the country. Again, all done out of altruism and in the name of saving America from the tyranny of clean air and insurance-friendly health-care reform. If I’m Harry Reid, I keep pounding on these guys. The public butthurt is getting quite entertaining.
ThinkProgress: Why The Fort Hood Shooter Was Able To Purchase A Gun Despite Serious Mental Health Issues
A gunman identified as 34-year-old Iraq War veteran Ivan Lopez opened fire at the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, Texas on Wednesday, reportedly killing three service members before committing suicide. Officials reported that Lopez was being treated for several mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, and was being screened for possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But despite his ongoing treatment, Lopez wasn’t barred from owning a gun. In fact, he recently purchased the .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol that he used during Wednesday’s shooting spree.
ThinkProgress: Stand Your Ground Is About To Get Even Worse In Florida
Attempts to roll back any of the Florida Stand Your Ground law’s most incendiary elements have foundered more than two years after the death of Trayvon Martin. But a bill to expand the law passed Thursday, mere months after it was introduced. The National Rifle Association-backed bill would expand Stand Your Ground-like protections to those who point a gun at an attacker or fire a gun as a self-defense threat or warning, expanding the scope of the discretion judges and juries retain to exempt shooters from criminal charges for gun violence. The final bill also includes a provision to keep Stand Your Ground records secret. More here
President Obama’s personal aide Reggie Love, left, and White House physician Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman check their notes as they travel in the Presidential motorcade April 4, 2009 in Strasbourg, France (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama makes remarks at a press conference April 4, 2009, following the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France. (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and fellow NATO leaders step down from a photo platform April 4, 2009, following their group photo at the NATO meeting in Strasbourg, France (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama gestures during a fiscal policy meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama addresses United States Secret Service Uniformed Division officers before a group photo at the South Portico of the White House, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden joke together while taping a Joining Forces public service announcement in the East Room of the White House, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama sits alone on the patio outside the Oval Office, following a meeting with his senior advisors, April 4, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama jokes with Vice President Biden backstage before the STOCK Act signing event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, April 4, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
On This Day: President Obama greets the Zion Baptist Church Children’s Choir before the Easter Prayer Breakfast, in the Blue Room of the White House, April 4, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama and students from around the country participate in the White House Kitchen Garden spring planting on the South Lawn of the White House, April 4, 2013 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Obama smiles before boarding Marine One helicopter from a field overlooking the iconic golden gate bridge in San Francisco, California, on April 4, 2013
Bruce Japsen: Employer Health Cost Increases At 15-Year Low As ObamaCare Comes Into View
U.S. employers this year face their “smallest increases in health care costs in 15 years,” according to a new survey showing the latest evidence of health inflation slowing. The trend comes as employers move to higher deductible health care plans that make workers think twice about choosing expensive tests and procedures, forcing employees to become better health care shoppers. Employers are also installing additional new strategies to encourage wellness activities such as financial incentives to stop smoking.
Most respondents to the survey are “recalibrating their health strategy” with 18 percent having either adopted a new strategy or updated an existing one, the Towers Watson executive summary of the report said. Another 57 percent of respondents are “in process,” the summary added. Two in five respondents cite the Affordable Care Act as the primary driver of their health care strategy.
TPM: U.S. Employers Add 175K Jobs Despite Harsh Weather
U.S. hiring improved in February from the previous two months despite a blast of wintry weather, likely renewing hopes that growth will accelerate this year. The Labor Department said Friday that employers added 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January, which was revised up from 113,000. December’s gain was also revised higher. The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from a five-year low 6.6 percent. More Americans started looking for work but didn’t find jobs. That’s still an encouraging sign because more job hunters suggest that people were more optimistic about their prospects.
Some recent reports hint that the economy will accelerate as the weather warms. The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits fell last week and is at about the same level as before the Great Recession. Applications essentially reflect layoffs. The decline suggests that companies are confident about future growth, because layoffs would rise if employers expected business to weaken. Instead, businesses advertised more jobsonline last month, according to the Conference Board. Online job ads rose 268,100 in February to 5.19 million.
Rep. Elijah Cummings said Thursday night that California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa called him and apologized for refusing to let Cummings speak during an IRS hearing. The Maryland Democrat said he accepted the apology. Issa abruptly adjourned a hearing of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. He instructed committee staff to turn off the microphone of the committee’s top Democrat, Cummings.
“This evening, Chairman Issa telephoned me and apologized for his conduct, and I accepted his apology,” Cummings said in a statement. “My sincere hope is that as we move forward, we will respect the opinions of all members of the committee, we will proceed in a deliberate and considered manner to obtain the facts, we will refrain from making accusations that have no basis in fact, and we will seek resolution rather than unnecessary conflict.”
Washington Post: Community Lenders’ Network Commits To Lend $1 Billion In Support Of ‘My Brother’s Keeper’
A network of community lenders is committing to lend $1 billion in support of President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative that aims to boost the life chances of young African and Hispanic men. The Opportunity Finance Network, which represents more than 225 community development financial institutions, will pledge Thursday it will expand financing for organizations and initiatives working to help young minority men.
Obama launched the initiative to help young minority men last week, saying this group of Americans are disadvantaged in today’s economy and deserve the nation’s attention. Obama’s solicited $200 million in financial commitments from foundations and companies to introduce programs aimed at keeping young men of color in the classroom and out of the criminal justice system. Mark Pinsky, chief executive of the Opportunity Finance Network, said his group was inspired by Obama’s commitment and decided to make their own.
Igor Bobic: Sen. Harkin: Senate Would Have Confirmed Obama’s Top Civil Rights Nominee If He Was White
The U.S. Senate would have confirmed President Obama’s top civil rights nominee if he was white, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) suggested on Wednesday. “Here’s the message we sent today,” Harkin said. “You young people listen up. If you are a young white person and you go to work for a law firm … and that law firm assigns you to a pro bono case to defend someone who killed eight people in cold blood … my advice from this, what happened today, is you should do that … Because if you do that, who knows? You might wind up to be the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
“However, if you are a young black person and you go to work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund … and you’re asked to sign an appeal for someone convicted of murder, what the message said today is, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it.’ Because you know what? If you do that, in keeping with your legal obligations and your profession, you will be denied by the U.S. Senate from being an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice,” Harkin said.
NBC News: White House Blocks Visas For Some Tied To Ukraine Crisis
The White House, toughening its response to the crisis in Crimea, said Thursday that it has revoked the U.S. visas of Russians and Ukrainians responsible for “threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
It also threatened financial sanctions against people or companies that the United States determines are responsible for undermining the Ukrainian government. A senior administration official said that the number or names of revoked visas would not be made public. The official also said that no people or companies have yet been sanctioned.
David Edwards: Paul Ryan At CPAC: Free School Lunches Means Poor Parents Don’t Care About Kids
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) asserted on Thursday that liberals did not understand that kids who got free lunches at school did not have parents who cared about them at home. Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Republican vice presidential nominee argued that conservatives should let Democrats be the “party of personality,” while “we will be the party of ideas.”
“I’m optimistic about our chances because the left, the left just isn’t out of ideas, they’re out of touch,” he explained. “Take Obamacare — not literally, but figuratively here, okay? We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. The left thinks this is a good thing.” Ryan insisted that liberals were only offering people “a full stomach and an empty soul.”
US hiring improved in February from the previous two months despite a blast of wintry weather, likely renewing hopes that growth will accelerate this year. The Labor Department says employers added 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January, which was revised up from 113,000.
The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from a five-year low 6.6 percent. More Americans started looking for work, but didn’t find jobs. That’s still an encouraging sign because more job hunters suggest that people were more optimistic about their prospects.
Think Progress: Three More Abortion Clinics Forced To Close In Texas: ‘This Is A State Of Emergency’
Three more reproductive health care facilities in Texas have been forced to permanently close in the wake of a new state law that imposes stringent restrictions on abortion providers. The clinics are located in communities with high rates of poverty and uninsurance, leaving many vulnerable Texas women with no ready access to reproductive services. Two of the shuttered clinics are operated by Whole Woman’s Health, the largest independent abortion provider in Texas. That group used to operate five clinics in the state — but now, that number is shrinking to three. With the closure of another independently owned clinic in Harlingen, the Lone Star State is down to just 19 abortion clinics in the entire state. That’s a dramatic difference from where the reproductive health landscape stood just a few years ago. Back in 2011, there were 44 facilities in Texas that offered abortion care.
New restrictions on abortion providers went into effect at the beginning of November. Now, abortion doctors are required to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, a medically unnecessary requirement that’s often impossible for doctors to meet. Nonetheless, the doctors who continue to practice without admitting privileges are at risk of getting their medical license suspended. So dozens of clinics — including Whole Women’s Health facility in McAllen — were forced to halt their abortion services in the fall. But that’s not the only burdensome restriction in Texas’ new law. Starting this September, abortion clinics will be required to bring their facilities in line with ambulatory surgical centers — which typically involves making expensive and unnecessary renovations, like widening hallways and installing water fountains.
Pro-Russian lawmakers in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea sparked a showdown reminiscent of the Cold War on Thursday, accelerating their bid to leave Ukraine and join Russia in a move that President Obama, the new government in Kiev and European leaders described as provocative and illegal. Lawmakers in the autonomous region voted Thursday to join the Russian Federation and hold a referendum March 16 to validate the decision. The regional parliament, now led by Sergei Aksyonov — a businessman and politician known around Kiev as the “Goblin”
because of his alleged ties to organized crime, said it would nationalize Ukrainian state industries and begin setting up government ministries separate from Ukraine, which Crimea joined in 1954 when the nation was still a satellite of the Soviet Union. In Washington, Obama said the world was “well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” as his administration imposed sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians involved in Russia’s military intervention in Crimea. European leaders also sounded alarms, denouncing the referendum plans as unacceptable.
Craigslist.org has always represented something of a virtual yard sale, but for many unemployed Americans it’s become something of a fire sale. You name it, they are selling it. Someone in Springfield, Ore., is selling a men’s watch for $100. “Unemployment is running out need money will sell for $100.00. Call before 8pm and after 8amplease be respectful. We can meet anywhere in public.”
And they are asking for it. Another worker in Kissimmee, Fla., whose post says lost benefits when Congress didn’t extend jobless payments Dec. 28, is asking for dog and cat food. “My dogs & cats are not picky,” the person wrote. Washington is wrangling with whether to extend long-term unemployment benefits, which ran out in North Carolina in July and in the other 49 states in late December as discussed in Monday’s Outlook column. But the financial pressures facing many Americans are much more complex than the Washington debate.
White House: Readout of President Obama’s call with President Putin of Russia
President Obama spoke for an hour this afternoon with President Putin of Russia. President Obama emphasized that Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has led us to take several steps in response, in coordination with our European partners. President Obama indicated that there is a way to resolve the situation diplomatically, which addresses the interests of Russia, the people of Ukraine, and the international community. As a part of that resolution, the governments of Ukraine and Russia would hold direct talks, facilitated by the international community; international monitors could ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians; Russian forces would return to their bases; and the international community would work together to support the Ukrainian people as they prepare for elections in May. President Obama indicated that Secretary Kerry would continue discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the government of Ukraine, and other international partners in the days to come to advance those objectives.
US auto sector added 3,400 jobs in February (seasonally adjusted) to 833,300, dealers added 1600 jobs to 1.16 million bls.gov/news.release/p…
James West: What The Ukraine Crisis Means For The Energy Industry
1. The United States is rushing to push more gas onto the market to undercut Putin’s power. Russia’s presence in Ukraine is prompting calls, especially among congressional Republicans, to loosen export restrictions on US natural gas in the hopes of diminishing Russia’s ability to use gas as a diplomatic weapon, like it did in 2006 and 2009. With America’s newfound dominance in gas production (in 2013, the United States surpassed Russia to become the biggest producer of oil and gas, thanks in part to fracking) comes greater power in energy diplomacy.
2. Russia isn’t as powerful as you might think. But for all the Russian posturing, and the canceled energy deal, Ukraine—and Europe more broadly—does have some leverage over Russia to prevent the situation from deteriorating further, says Edward Chow, an energy and security analyst at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “Interestingly, the gas pipelines, as well as critically important gas storage facilities, all go through Western Ukraine,” he says. “Until Russians build additional bypass pipelines…they are still highly dependent on Ukraine to transit gas exports to Europe.”
The United States and European Union are making energy reform central to their aid packages. Bill Gibbons, a spokesman for the US Energy Department, said on Tuesday that the Obama administration is directing part of the $1 billion loan guarantee that John Kerry delivered to Kiev this week to “energy security, energy efficiency and energy sector reform.” The European Union’s $15 billion package is also aimed, in part, at modernizing Ukraine’s gas transit system. With patrons of this much-needed aid linking their help to energy reform, there might well be a bigger chance of success, says Chow. “If you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?” he asks. “Because Russia is not going to be interested in helping individuals from the new [Ukrainian] government extract rent like the previous government unless they can cooperate on other fronts. So this is quite a good opportunity to clean things up.”
The bad weather has done more than give people a case of cabin fever — it’s kept them out of work, which means there’s another reason to cheer for warmer days ahead. While some economists argue that consumer spending and hiring are down for reasons beyond Mother Nature’s control, it’s clear the below-average temperatures have had an impact. For instance, there were 142,000 jobs added to private payrolls in January, about 46,000 jobs short of the four-month average, says Michael Montgomery, a U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight. Some of those jobs were likely held back because of the weather, says Montgomery, adding they may push that hiring to the coming months as the weather gets back to normal.
“Because February stunk too, the makeup is deferred until March or later,” he says. Hiring also tends to pick up in the spring and summer anyway because more people are likely to shop, go out to eat and travel more often when the weather is nice, says Mark Hamrick, the Washington bureau chief for Bankrate.com. Those habits lead to higher demand for workers in the retail and tourism industries, he says. More homeowners also look for help with landscaping and painting the house after the weather warms up, adds Montgomery.
Sen. Barack Obama at a campaign rally Friday March 7, 2008 in Laramie, Wyoming (Photo by Ken Driese)
President Obama, Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia, and members of the Australian and American delegations look up at the presidential seal in the Oval Office ceiling following their bilateral meeting, March 7, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama practices passing a football with Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia in the Oval Office, March 7, 2011. Under Australian Football League rules, a player must hold the ball in front of them and punch it with a clenched fist in order to conduct a legal pass to another player (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama greets Davis Marsico, 6, and other supporters upon his arrival at Charlotte Douglas International airport, March 7, 2012
People line the motorcade route as President Obama makes his way to the Mount Holly Truck Manufacturing Plant in Charlotte, N.C, March 7, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama gives a thumbs up after signing the Violence Against Women Act as he is joined by Vice President Joe Biden and members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, at the Interior Department on March 7, 2013. The law strengthens the criminal justice system’s response to crimes against women, including domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking
An ObamaCare enrollment group with close ties to the White House is launching a final, coordinated push to sign people up for health insurance ahead of the March 31 deadline. A spokesman for Enroll America told The Hill the prominent nonprofit had grown its pool of volunteers to nearly 20,000, increased its field reach by 35 percent, hired more than 70 new employees since January, and increased its digital advertising budget from $5 million to $7 million for 2014. The group’s “Countdown to Get Covered” will include a bus tour through Texas and Ohio, with stops at events popular with the young, like the SXSW music festival, and more than 3,000 events assisting people with in-person enrollment.
“All of the work that our dedicated staff, volunteers, and partner organizations have done over the past five months has positioned us for success in this critical final stretch,” said Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America. “Thanks to the data we’ve collected, we know what works, and thanks to the huge coalition we have built, we’re ready to leave no stone unturned as we work right up to the deadline.” Enroll America is also working with the Ad Council on multimedia public service announcements for the Web, television, radio and print. In addition, the group will work with more than 2,200 partner organizations, including Planned Parenthood, MomsRising, Protect Your Care, Organizing for Action and National Congress for Black Women, and with groups participating in events like the National Youth Enrollment Day and Latino Enrollment Summits.
Yahoo: Obama Embraces A Lifelong Cause: Helping Minority Boys Succeed
On Father’s Day last June, President Barack Obama welcomed 14 teenagers sporting black-and-white T-shirts that read “BAM” into the Oval Office. The letters stood not for the nickname occasionally slapped on the president by big-city tabloids, but for “Becoming a Man,” a program run by a Chicago nonprofit working with at-risk youth in the public schools. The president had met the group of young black men once before, when he dropped by one of BAM’s hourlong group discussion sessions at Hyde Park Academy High School last February. He’d pulled up a chair and sat in the boys’ circle that day, talking with them so long about their lives his aides worried he would blow up his carefully planned schedule during his visit to the city.
As the teens gathered around the president, one handed him a green and gold Father’s Day card, which all the boys had signed. They had gone out and purchased it the day before, unbeknown to their counselor, Marshaun Bacon, who traveled with them to the White House. “I never signed a Father’s Day card before,” the young man explained as the president opened the card. “I’ve never signed a Father’s Day card, either,” Obama replied, according to an aide, improbably closing the distance between the Chicago teens and the American president. It was an intimate, private moment that moved him.
The Obama administration’s most ambitious and high profile effort to tackle the systemic problems facing young men of color is rooted in a series of White House conversations led by Obama in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting two years ago. They continued and gathered momentum — including with first lady Michelle Obama — after the random shooting of another teen who lived just a mile from the Obamas’ Chicago home. After his re-election, those discussions began to shape a more serious policy debate as Obama quietly began to bond with the Chicago youngsters. But what started as a second-term presidential bid to confront a vexing social crisis may be turning into a lifelong cause.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is launching a lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest for-profit college programs. The watchdog announced Wednesday it was suing ITT Educational Services for predatory lending practices, pushing prospective students into costly loans and misleading them about future job prospects. CFPB Director Richard Cordray said the suit should serve as “a warning to the for-profit college industry that we will be vigilant about protecting students against predatory lending practices.”
In a U.S. District Court, the regulator sued the Indiana-based company and charged that the company pushed students into predatory loans without properly explaining what they were signing up for. The CFPB said some students did not even realize they had taken out the loans until they received calls from collection agencies. The CFPB also claimed that ITT credits did not transfer to many other schools. That meant that the company would threaten expulsion and the loss of money already spent on a first year to “coerce” students into taking out more loans.
USA Today: Chokwe Lumumba, Activist And Jackson Mayor, Dies At 66
Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a longtime civil rights activist, died Tuesday afternoon at a hospital after experiencing chest pains. He was 66. His chief of staff choked up as she announced the news. “It is with heavy heart that we inform you that our beloved brother, human rights activist and mayor of the great city passed away this afternoon,” Safiya Omari said at a news conference Tuesday evening. “We ask that you pray for his children and family, his friends and for this great city of ours.” The national civil rights community took note when Lumumba became mayor last year of Mississippi’s capital city — a place that had seen its share of violence during the civil rights movement. Lumumba, a black nationalist, had worked with mainstream and leftist figures in the civil rights world.
The native of Detroit was born Edwin Taliaferro and graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School. He renamed himself after Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader, and the Chokwe, an Angolan tribe. Lumumba’s activism began early. On the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died, he took part in a student takeover of a campus building at Western Michigan University, where he was a student. He and others were demanding more black educators and scholarships for black students. He also pushed for more black studies programs at colleges and universities in the Midwest. He worked with Julian Bond and Dick Gregory as a leader with the Republic of New Afrika, a social movement that proposed an independent black country in the southeastern United States. He also was a target of the FBI’s counterintelligence operation.
Opponents of marriage equality have been on a losing streak that’s nothing short of brutal. A federal court struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage two weeks ago, which came on the heels of similar rulings in Kentucky,Oklahoma, and Utah. But today, the trend reached the largest of the nation’s ruby-red states. A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutionally deprives some citizens of due process and equal protection under the law by stigmatizing their relationships and treating them differently from opposite-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings as having trumped Texas’ moves to ban gay marriage. “Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” the judge wrote. “Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution.” Does this mean marriage equality has come to Texas? Not quite yet. Garcia concluded that the state ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional, but existing Texas law will remain in place as the appeals process gets underway.
In the wake of the verdict in the case of Michael Dunn, convicted of three counts of second-degree attempted murder and of firing 10 shots at a car containing four teenagers, state Rep. Alan Williams underlined the need to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. One of the teenagers was Jordan Davis, who was killed by Dunn. Williams said recent cases of black teenagers shot to death by strangers in the state “have renewed the argument that this injustice in our laws makes ordinary citizens feel empowered to shoot first and ask questions later; boosting murder rates and justifiable homicides and putting individuals that people too often presumed to be a threat in particular peril.”
Indeed, a January 2013 study by Texas A&M researcher Mark Hoekstra found that homicide rates have increased by 7 percent to 9 percent in the 23 states that have Stand Your Ground-type laws versus those without them. For young black men in particular, who are more often consigned to societal unworthiness by implicit racial bias with the damning label of “thug” — based on how they dress or wear their hair, or their choice of music — Stand Your Ground effectively demands a specific kind of submissiveness: If they want to live, submit to the invisible authority of virtually any civilian who might believe, like Michael Dunn, per his jailhouse letters, that “if more people would arm themselves and kill these [expletive] idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”
Daniel Strauss: Davis ‘Pleased’ Texas Judge Ruled Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis (D), the likely Democratic nominee for governor, is pleased with a federal judge’s ruling that declared the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. “She is pleased with the ruling because she believes that all Texans who love one another and are committed to spending their lives together should be allowed to marry,” press secretary Rebecca Acuña said in a statement to TPM on Wednesday afternoon.
Tony Plohetski: Despite Negative Blood And Breath Tests, Man Arrested For DWI
To Austin attorney Daniel Betts, driving while intoxicated can sometimes be what he calls “an opinion crime.” Law enforcement must decide, sometimes within only a matter of minutes, whether a person is intoxicated and should go to jail — or be allowed to simply drive way. On the night Austin police arrested his client, they made the wrong choice, he says – his opinion bolstered by a voluntary breath and blood test showing Larry Davis wasn’t intoxicated when he was arrested Jan. 13, 2013. He tested 0.00 on a Breathalyzer – the lowest possible reading — and the blood test, which took months to be tested, came back negative.
“My reaction was just shock that it happened,” Betts said of the arrest, after watching a police dash cam video and reviewing the evidence. The arrest meant Davis spent a day in jail, and he was left with a criminal case looming over him for more than a year. Prosecutors last week dismissed the case against Davis. “I was arrested for nothing, really,” he said. “It was suspicion of drunk driving, which I wasn’t so I was surprised and hurt at the same time.” Davis is now working to have his arrest record wiped clean, a process that could take several more months.
Texas will appeal a federal judge’s ruling Wednesday that the state’s ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional, Attorney General Greg Abbott said. Here’s the full statement from Abbott, who is also the Republican frontrunner in the state’s gubernatorial race: “This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides. And, as the lower court acknowledged today, it’s an issue that will ultimately be resolved by a higher court. Texas will begin that process by appealing today’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit.
Lalita Clozel: U.S. Vows To Deny Visas To Those Accused Of Wartime Sexual Violence
Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced on Tuesday a ban against issuing U.S. visas to foreigners implicated in wartime sexual violence. “No one at the highest level of military or governance who has presided over, or engaged in, or knew of, or adopted these kinds of attacks is ever going to receive a visa to travel into the United States of America from this day forward,” Kerry said during talks with his British counterpart, William Hague.
Hague applauded the announcement. “The shattering of impunity … is the crucial ingredient so that people know they will not get away with it,” he said. Awareness of the use of sexual violence in conflicts grew after the 1990s war in the former Yugoslavia, where more than 20,000 women and girls were reportedly raped, and the Rwandan genocide, during which the figure is believed to have reached into the hundreds of thousands.
AP: Child Care Centers To Follow First Lady Guidelines
The nation’s second-largest for-profit child care provider is adopting Michelle Obama’s healthy eating and activity guidelines. The Learning Care Group, based in Novi, Mich., says it will limit TV and computer time for children, eliminate fried foods, serve fruits and-or vegetables at every meal, replace sugary drinks with water or plain, low-fat milk, and provide at least an hour of daily physical activity. It will also allow mothers to provide breast milk for their children and accommodate mothers who want to breast feed.
The Learning Care Group says it provides early education and child care services to more than 100,000 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 13 years at its 900 centers around the country. The centers operate under five brand names: Childtime Learning Centers, Tutor Time Child Care/Learning Centers, The Children’s Courtyard, Montessori Unlimited and La Petite Academy. The first lady this week has been marking the fourth anniversary of “Let’s Move,” the initiative to combat childhood obesity that she launched in February 2010. The healthy eating and activity guidelines for child care centers, which were released in 2011, are part of that program. Some 13,000 child care centers nationwide are now following the rules, said Sam Kass, the executive director of “Let’s Move.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed a hot-button measure that would have permitted businesses in the state to deny service to gay and lesbians for religious beliefs. At a news conference at the State Capitol Wednesday evening, Brewer said the bill “could result in unintended and negative consequences.” “I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve,” Brewer said.
Gay rights advocates gathered outside the Capitol broke out in loud cheers immediately after Brewer’s announcement. The controversial bill had sparked outcry from LGBT activists and drew vocal criticism from civic leaders, business interests and state economic groups. “Discrimination has no place in Arizona, or anywhere else,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “We’re grateful that the governor has stopped this disgraceful law from taking effect, and that Arizona will remain open for business to everyone.”
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Tuesday he is cutting early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings, dealing another blow to the voting rights effort in the nation’s most pivotal swing state. Husted’s change would spell doom for a voting method that’s popular among African-Americans in Ohio and elsewhere. Many churches and community groups lead “Souls to the Polls” drives after church on the Sunday before the election. There’s little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56% of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, even though they made up just 28% of the county’s population.
“By completely eliminating Sundays from the early voting schedule, Secretary Husted has effectively quashed successful Souls to the Polls programs that brought voters directly form church to early voting sites,” said Mike Brickner, a spokesman for the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, in an email. The news comes days after Republican Gov. John Kasich signed two GOP-backed bills that cut six more days from the early voting period, end same-day registration and make it harder to vote absentee. Together, the restrictions could significantly reduce minority turnout this fall and in 2016.
Sy Mukherjee: Rand Paul Blocks Surgeon General Nominee For Saying Gun Violence Is A Public Health Threat
On Wednesday — two years to the day after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) placed a hold on President Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, over Murthy’s view that gun violence represents a significant public health threat. “In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence,” wrote Paul in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But Paul is actually out of step with most physicians.
The idea that gun violence is a danger to public health is utterly uncontroversial among doctors’ groups, academic institutions that focus on public health, and children’s safety advocates. Although Paul criticizes Murthy’s position that physicians and pediatricians should ask patients about the presence of guns in their households, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution in 2011officially opposing any law that bars doctors from having open conversations about gun safety and the risks of having firearms in a household with their patients. In fact, just yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new guidelines recommending that households with children who are diagnosed with depression should remove guns and ammunition from their homes entirely.
The long-awaited Republican tax reform plan was released today by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich). It’s being hailed as a breakthrough in putting real reform on the table, but also being instantly eulogized as dead-on-arrival in a Congress that wants no part of any tax reform, now or ever. Still, it’s instructive to examine the Camp plan for a primer on the latest mathematical trickery aimed at making something that preserves, even enhances, tax benefits for the wealthy appear instead to be a tax increase for the wealthy. Nice try, Congressman Dave. Here’s the easiest calculation. Camp says he’s eliminating the preferential tax rate on capital gains, and taxing them the same as ordinary income. That would be a big philosophical change and a big tax hike on the rich, if it were true. It’s not true. Camp’s plan exempts 40% of capital gains (and investment dividends) from any taxation at all.
How does this work out in real numbers? The top marginal tax rate on married taxpayers today is 39.6% (couples with more than $457,600 income). The top capital gains rate is 20%. Camp wants to cut the top marginal rate to 35%. If you tax capital gains at 35%, but exempt 40% of them from any tax, your effective rate on all capital gains works out to (… wait for i t…) 21%. In other words, Camp is raising the standard cap gains rate by a single percentage point. But since he’s also cutting the top rate on all income by nearly five percentage points, rich taxpayers still come out ahead. Camp would make the job of the IRS harder. He would ease the registration process for C-4s, and allow them to keep almost all their donors secret not only from the public, but from the IRS too. This is really sleazy of him. It gives rich political campaign donors more of a shield from the law than they deserve, and much more than is healthy for the public interest. If there were a single reason to laugh this tax “reform” off the table, this would be it.
BBC: Ukraine Interim Leaders Warn Of ‘Unpopular Steps’ Ahead
Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov and PM-designate Arseniy Yatsenyuk have warned of the need for “unpopular” steps to help restore the country’s economy and politics. Mr Yatsenyuk told the BBC the central challenge for the newly named government was to “stabilise” Ukraine. Ukrainian MPs are expected to vote later on the new cabinet line up. Meanwhile, the regional parliament and government headquarters in Crimea have been seized by armed men. The two buildings in the regional capital Simferopol were seized overnight by a group of at least 50 pro-Russian men who were preventing government workers from entering, regional Prime Minister Anatoliy Mohilyov told AFP news agency.
The Russian flag was seen flying over both buildings. Interim President Turchynov warned the crowds the new government would “have to pass unpopular decisions”. “The government will be criticised, treated like dirt. But they must fulfil their obligations and work to the bone for the sake of Ukraine.” He has promised to resign once the country is back on its feet. Acting government officials predict Ukraine needs $35bn (£21bn) in bailout loans to get through the next two years. On Wednesday, the US said it was considering offering Ukraine’s struggling economy – which faces default – loan guarantees of up to $1bn. Meanwhile, Mr Yanukovych has been put on the international wanted list.
Before giving a policy speech on Iraq, President Obama places his hand on his heart as the national anthem is played backstage at the Field House in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Feb. 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama attends a Washington Wizards vs Chicago Bulls basketball game at the Verizon Center, Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama holds conference call from the Situation Room of the White House concerning the earthquake in Chile, Feb. 27, 2010. Pictured are, left to right, Tom Donilon, deputy national security advisor, Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID, and Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff. Other Cabinet officials joined the meeting by phone (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden, react while watching Sasha Obama and Maisy Biden, the Vice President’s granddaughter, play in a basketball game in Chevy Chase, Md., Feb. 27, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and Vice President Biden greet Susannah Flanagan, daughter of Frank Buckles, at Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Chapel in Arlington, Va., March 15, 2011. Buckles, the last surviving American World War I veteran, passed away on Feb. 27, 2011, at his West Virginia home. He was 110. (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama listen as Gladys Knight performs during the Governors Dinner in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with former Chief of Protocol Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt, left, and guests in the Oval Office, Feb. 27, 2012. The President signed a presidential commendation in honor of Roosevelt’s government service (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden talk outside the State Dining Room before addressing the National Governors Association annual meeting at the White House, Feb. 27, 2012 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama talks with senior advisors following a meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 27, 2013. Standing, from left, are: Rob Nabors, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy; Pete Rouse, Counselor to the President; Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett; Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer; Mark Childress, Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning; Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Legislative Affairs; Danielle Gray, Cabinet Secretary; Press Secretary Jay Carney; and Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama greets veterans of the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) in the Oval Office, Feb. 27, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama at a “Let’s Move!” event in Clinton, Miss. with Rachael Ray, February 27, 2013
President Obama at the unveiling of a statue in honor of civil rights activist Rosa Parks at the U.S. Capitol, February 27, 2013
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
BREAKING: President Obama to announce that Chicago will be home to a new research and development institute sun-tim.es/MjKoEu
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yanukovich-allied oligarch, billionaire Rinat Akhmetov issued a statement stressing the need to keep Ukraine “united” nytimes.com/2014/02/23/wor…
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.
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.
President Obama meets with actor George Clooney in the Oval Office, Feb. 23, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama listens to staff during a meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 23, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
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)
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)
So it looks like Michael Dunn, a white man who fatally shot black teenager Jordan Davis for refusing to turn down his “thug music,” may be going to prison for the rest of his life. But that’s a consolation prize. Not a real victory. It’s not a real victory because the jury that convicted Dunn, 47, didn’t convict him for killing the 17-year-old Davis. They convicted him for almost killing Davis’ three friends who were riding in the Dodge Durango with him. It’s hollow because it underscores what seems to be a scary trend. I guess now any random white man can confront a black teenager whose style of dress or music he doesn’t like or views as suspect.
And when that teenager doesn’t submit to him, or responds to him in a confrontational manner, or in a way that any rebellious teenager is apt to respond, then it’s perfectly fine to exterminate him. What the verdict says is that in this nation, in the 21st century, some white men still believe they have the right to intrude into the space of young black men and make demands. And if the black man is unarmed — with no weapon except his words — those white men can still kill him. And call it self-defense. All they need is a jury to buy it.
Five years ago Monday, President Barack Obama visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, his $800 billion stimulus bill. At the time, the U.S. economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month. In the fourth quarter of 2008, it had contracted at an 8% annual rate, a Depression-level free fall. “Today does not mark the end of our economic problems,” Obama said on Feb. 17, 2009. “But it does mark the beginning of the end.”And so it did. The Recovery Act increased U.S. GDP by roughly 2 to 2.5 percentage points from late 2009 through mid-2011, keeping us out of a double-dip recession. It added about 6 million “job years” (a full-time job for a full year) through the end of 2012. If you combine the Recovery Act with a series of follow-up measures, including unemployment-insurance extensions, small-business tax cuts and payroll tax cuts, the Administration’s fiscal stimulus produced a 2% to 3% increase in GDP in every quarter from late 2009 through 2012, and 9 million extra job years, according to the report.
The report also estimates that the Recovery Act’s aid to victims of the Great Recession — in the form of expanded food stamps, earned-income tax credits, unemployment benefits and much more — directly prevented 5.3 million people from slipping below the poverty line. It also improved nearly 42,000 miles of roads, repaired over 2,700 bridges, funded 12,220 transit vehicles, improved more than 3,000 water projects and provided tax cuts to 160 million American workers. The Recovery Act jump-started clean energy in America, financing unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources of electricity. It advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and energy efficiency in every imaginable form. It helped fund the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S., and research into the green technologies of tomorrow. It’s the reason U.S. wind production has increased 145% since 2008 and solar installations have increased more than 1,200%. The stimulus is also the reason the use of electronic medical records has more than doubled in doctors’ offices and almost quintupled in hospitals. It improved more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. It launched Race to the Top, the most ambitious national education reform in decades.
I spent most of this past weekend answering two questions: “Why are you so interested in what happens in North Carolina?” (Posed mainly by people not from North Carolina.) And: “Why doesn’t anyone care what’s happening here in North Carolina?” (Posed largely by folks rallying in North Carolina.) As state governments limit reproductive rights, gerrymander voting districts, harm workers and the environment, and suppress the vote, we are all North Carolina now. The answer to the second question is that I don’t really know why the major national media, with a few notable exceptions, keeps ignoring this story.
GOP-controlled redistricting and a truly nasty voter suppression bill attempt to ensure that this remains the permanent state of affairs in North Carolina. The legislature promptly raised taxes on the bottom 80 percent, eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 people, slashed education spending, passed radical gun legislation, declined the Medicaid expansion (leaving 500,000 of its poorest citizens without health insurance), and passed a draconian abortion bill that was tacked onto a motorcycle safety law. The state, in short, turned on its own workers, its own minorities, its own teachers, its own doctors, its poor, its women, and its prisoners, with what has looked like unbridled glee.
Washington Post: Obamacare’s Sign-Up Period Is Ending. Here’s How Enroll America Is Getting Ready
Enroll America is gearing up for its own version of March Madness — one that has nothing to do with basketball. The pro-health law group has spent months now honing its outreach techniques and developing data-intensive maps meant to help their 18,000 volunteers and 2,000 partner organizations reach as many uninsured people before open enrollment on the exchanges ends March 31.
“We’re at this moment now, six weeks out from the end of open enrollment, and we’re looking at every tool that we have at our disposal about how we should be focusing our efforts,” Enroll America president Anne Filipic says. One new tool that the group has begun rolling out to partner organizations are a set of maps that show where, down to the census tract, uninsured Americans live — and how well that does, or doesn’t, line up with where people meant to help them enroll in Obamacare are based.
Mike Lillis: House Democrats Seek To Force GOP’s Hand On Minimum Wage Hike
House Democrats are launching an effort to force Republicans’ hand on the minimum wage. The Democrats will introduce a discharge petition later this month designed to force a floor vote on a proposal to hike the minimum wage, even in the face of entrenched opposition from GOP leaders. The discharge petition faces a high bar, as it would require at least 18 Republicans to buck their leadership and endorse the measure – a scenario the Democrats readily acknowledge is unlikely.
Still, the Democrats are hoping the extra political pressure will amplify the Democrats’ economic message this election year, while highlighting the stark differences between the parties when it comes to strategy for helping the working class amid an ongoing jobs crisis. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s about time to do it,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for a minimum wage hike; even if the discharge petition fails, it puts Republicans in the tough position of rejecting a popular economic policy in a still-fragile jobs market.
The housing market recovery has continued into 2014, indicated by an ongoing downtrend in foreclosures, home sales remaining strong, and home prices notching annual gains, notes the Obama Administration in its January Scorecard. “The January Housing Scorecard shows that the Obama Administration’s efforts continue to have a positive effect on the housing market,” said HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs Kurt Usowski in a statement. “With foreclosures down, home sales up, and equity continuing to grow, the housing market continues to make slow, but steadily improving progress.”
The number of properties in foreclosure dropped 33% in 2013 compared to the previous year, said the scorecard citing RealtyTrac, with foreclosure starts at their lowest annual level since 2005. Through the third quarter of 2013, the number of underwater borrowers dropped from nearly 7.2 million in the previous quarter to less than 6.4 million, with homeowners’ equity gaining $3.4 trillion since the beginning of 2012.
Americans waste 33M tons of food each year. Ben decided to change that.
NPR: For Lower-Income Students, Snow Days Can Be Hungry Days
For many Americans it’s been a harsh, disruptive winter, from the country’s Northern edges to the Deep South. When cold snaps and blizzards shutter schools, kids miss more than their daily lessons. Some miss out on the day’s nutritious meal as well. This recently became apparent to school administrators in rural Iowa, where extreme cold delayed openings two days in a row at Laurens-Marathon Community School, where 59 percent of students who eat school lunch qualify for free or reduced-price meals. On the first day, some students arrived on empty stomachs because parents thought breakfast would still be served that day.
“Two students were found in our lunchroom waiting to be fed,” says Meredith Allen, a teacher at the school. “Several co-workers had stockpiles of food,” but it wasn’t enough. Last year, more than 21 million children nationwide ate free or reduced-price lunches, according to data from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. That’s 70 percent of the total students who ate school lunches, not counting those who brought meals from home. In the same year, more than 23 million households received SNAP benefits, known as food stamps.
CBS News: John Kerry Accuses Syria Leader Bashir Assad Of Stonewalling Geneva Peace Talks
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of stonewalling in peace talks and called on Russia to push its ally to negotiate with opposition leaders. “Right now, Bashar al-Assad has not engaged in the discussions along the promised and required standard that both Russia spoke up for and the regime spoke up for,” Kerry said during a press conference in Jakarta with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. He said Assad’s team “refused to open up one moment of discussion” of a transitional government to replace Assad’s regime.
“It is very clear that Bashar Assad is trying to win this on the battlefield instead of coming to the negotiating table in good faith,” Kerry said Peace talks last week in Geneva ended with no progress toward breaking the impasse in the nearly 3-year-old conflict in Syria. Kerry also had harsh words for Assad’s allies in Moscow. “Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they are in fact enabling Assad to double down,” he said. Russia has told the U.S. it was committed to helping create a transitional government, Kerry said, but has not delivered “the kind of effort to create the kind of dynamic by which that could be achieved.”
Dozens of House Republicans have recently backed legislation that calls for legal action against President Obama. Forty-three Republicans have cosponsored the resolution since Obama’s State of the Union address, where he threatened to enact policies if Congress didn’t act. The “Stop This Overreaching Presidency (STOP)” measure, introduced by Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), now has 104 co-sponsors, Rice explained that STOP resolution is aimed at reversing Obama’s delay of the employer mandate, enactment of the DREAM Act, extension of “substandard” health insurance plans and ending work requirements for welfare.
Celeste Katz: De Blasio Administration Cuts First Labor Contract – With Environmental Officers
The de Blasio administration has settled its first labor contract, a quick deal with 200 environmental officers that could signal a smoother period of labor relations after the cold war between the unions and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The officers, whose duties include patrolling the city’s watershed upstate, had been working without a contract for an astounding nine years.
Under the new agreement, they will receive an average of more than $50,000 each in back pay. Kenneth Wynder, who represents the officers as head of the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association, praised the de Blasio administration for its “fairness.” “We got treated with respect,” he said. “We felt much better compared to the nine-year battle we had with the old administration,” he told the Daily News.
Close-up detail of President Obama’s signature on a bill, and a pen used for the signing, aboard Air Force One on a flight from Buckley Air Force Base, Denver, Col. to Phoenix, Ariz., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar aboard Air Force One during a flight to Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama salutes, departing Andrews Air Force Base for Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama with Vice President Biden speaks with CEO of Namaste Solar Electric, Inc., Blake Jones, while looking at solar panels at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
A toe marker for President Obama as he prepares to make remarks at the Signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama welcomes King Juan Carlos I of Spain to the White House, just outside the Oval Office, before their lunch in the President’s private dining room, Feb. 17, 2010. At left is Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room of the White House, Feb. 17, 2010. General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, was among those joining the discussion via videoconference (left screen) (Photo by Pete Souza)
Vice President Biden’s personal aide Fran Person holds the door for President Obama as he waits to make remarks during the one-year Recovery Act Anniversary event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House, Feb. 17, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama gestures during a phone call in the Oval Office, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as Vice President Biden talks with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., after a lunch with the Democratic House leadership in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg before a dinner with Technology Business Leaders in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011. Also pictured, left to right, are Carol Bartz, Yahoo! President and CEO; Art Levinson, Genentech Chairman and former CEO; Steve Westly, Founder and Managing Partner, The Westly Group; and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman and CEO of Google (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama joins a toast with Technology Business Leaders at a dinner in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama sits in the cockpit of a 767 during his tour of the Boeing Plant production facility in Everett, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama exits a 787 Dreamliner to greet workers and deliver remarks at the Boeing-Everett Production Facility in Everett, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama greets students from Medina Elementary School in Medina, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
…. greeting Beth Hamilton, principal of Medina Elementary School
Chips: D’you wanna know how awesome Nerdy is? I just had the photos done for R&S last night, then I go back to it this morning and she’s added a whole bunch of wonderful articles, tweets and links. If the woman didn’t love Chelsea, she’d be perfect. Thank you so much legend – and moooOOOooorning everyone!
I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy. Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy. Except the parents of black boys already know this. Except the parents of black boys have long said this, and they have been answered with mockery.
Jordan Davis had a mother and a father. It did not save him. Trayvon Martin had a mother and a father. They could not save him. My son has a father and mother. We cannot protect him from our country, which is our aegis and our assailant. We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.
“We will continue to wait for justice for Jordan.” Those were the powerful words by Jordan Davis’ mother Lucia McBath Saturday night after a 12-person Florida jury could not reach a verdict on the shooting death of her son. The partial verdict in the trial means there is no conviction for killing Jordan Davis, only for shooting at the three other young males in the car the night he was killed. That means at least one juror believed Michael Dunn was justified in killing Jordan Davis, in fleeing to his hotel, in ordering a pizza, in taking his dog for a walk, in misleading his fiancée, and in never reporting the shooting to police. The problem is bigger than prosecutor Angela Corey or her team. It’s even bigger than Michael Dunn, the man who hated “rap crap” and fired 10 shots at a carload of unarmed teenagers.
We have a problem with our attitude toward guns in America. We have a problem with white racial entitlement in America. We have a problem with the objectification and demonization of young Black men in America. And we have a problem with a legal system that enables private citizens to take the law in their own hands and execute Black kids on the street. Dunn’s perceived victimhood personifies white privilege. Young Black men are not allowed the freedom to wear a hoodie, walk in a white neighborhood at night, play loud music in their cars, or get upset in a TV interview without being labeled thugs. And even when they do what society tells them to do, their Black maleness makes them inherently suspicious unless it exists within the ever-changing boundaries that are acceptable for white men who define them.
Those who didn’t watch the trial might not know that Dunn’s testimony was that he had a verbal altercation with Jordan and “thought” he saw a weapon. In response, he started shooting. As the car Jordan was in tried to flee, Dunn got out of his car and continued shooting at it, narrowly missing killing the driver. It was this latter shooting that the jury agreed was attempted murder.
I join those who suggest that Dunn’s account of what happened between he and Jordan is simply not credible. Police found no gun in the car, no one but Dunn heard any threats from Jordan, Dunn fled the scene without calling the police and he didn’t say anything to his fiance about a gun over the next 24 hours as he tried to reassure her. But as I understand the law, the prosecutors had to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that Jordan did NOT have a gun. It is almost impossible to prove a negative. That, my friends, is the result of the odious and racist Stand Your Ground law.
I’m so thankful for being able to tell my story—I’ve cashed in all my karma chips and then some, and I work every day to earn more back. In my eyes, Obamacare literally saved my life. In 2011, I knew something was wrong. And when my neck swelled to the size of my collarbone, I knew something was very, very wrong. They caught the top of my tumor: It was non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The cough I had was the result of my lungs being strangled.
Now, I was 22 when I started going to doctor after doctor. In May 2011, I turned 23—the age that I would have had to go off my parents’ health insurance plan. But luckily that was the year the Obamacare provision allowing children to stay on their parents’ plan until 26 went into effect. I’m in remission now. October was my two year anniversary. Right around then, my mother told me: “Some people are one-issue voters. Well, my issue is that my daughter wouldn’t be alive without Obamacare. The President saved her life.”
Josh Israel: Florida County Eliminates Minority-Heavy Polling Places
On a party-line vote, a Florida county’s Republican majority Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to eliminate almost one-third of Manatee County’s voting sites. The board accepted a proposal by Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett (R) by a 6-1 vote to trim the number of precincts, despite unanimous public testimony against the move — and complaints by the lone Democratic Commissioner that it would eliminate half of the polling places in his heavily minority District 2.
Bennett, in his first term as elections supervisor, proposed reducing the number of Manatee County precincts from 99 to 69. In 2011, while serving in the Florida Senate, he endorsed making it hard to vote: “I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder. I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote. I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles…This should not be easy.”
Vice President Joe Biden seized on disorganization in the GOP to rally House Democrats on Friday at a policy conference in Maryland. “There isn’t a Republican Party. I wish there were, I wish there was a Republican Party,” Biden said. “I wish there was one person we could sit across the table from, make a deal, make a compromise and know when you got up from that table it was done.” “All you had to do was look at the response to the State of the Union, what were there, three or four?” he added. “I’m not being facetious.”
Justin Sink: Obama: Immigration Reform Will Get Done By End Of Presidency
President Obama predicted that Congress would pass an immigration reform bill before the end of his presidency in a Univision Radio interview airing Friday. “I believe it will get done before my presidency is over,” Obama president said. “I’d like to get it done this year.” “The main thing people can do right now is put pressure on Republicans who have refused so far to act,” he said. “And I think sending a strong message to them that this is the right thing to do, it’s important to do, it’s the fair thing to do, and it will actually improve the economy and give people a chance.”
Obama also looked to deflate hopes that he could take executive actions to end deportations if Republicans don’t move a bill. “I’ve been able to prevent deportations of younger people with, the Dream Act kids, by administrative action,” he said. “But the problem is that’s just a temporary action that I’ve been taking. That’s not yet the law that’s been passed by Congress. And it doesn’t help their parents and others who are in the similar situations.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Sunday called on House Republicans to pass immigration reform and said that the GOP needs to pass immigration reform to fulfill any hopes of winning a national election.
“States like mine, over time, the demographics will overtake, not only mine but throughout the whole Southwest and many other parts of the country,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” reiterating his belief that Republicans need to embrace reform in order to win over Hispanic voters.
Becca Aaronson: Without Medicaid Expansion, Hospitals Seek Long-Term Solution
Citing shortfalls in Medicaid financing and billions in annual uncompensated care costs, the president and chief executive of the Texas Hospital Association said Friday that it was time for medical facilities to join together on a long-term strategy to compensate for the program’s shortcomings. “Texas hospitals have the power to work together to propose a solution and shape our own future,” Ted Shaw, the head of the hospital association, said in a statement. “We recognize how contentious this issue is but understand the importance of a hospital-led solution to ensure that the losses are minimized and gains maximized.”
Texas’ Republican leadership decided not to expand Medicaid for low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act, saying that the program needed to be fixed, not expanded. If the state had expanded Medicaid eligibility, it would have received $100 billion in federal funds over 10 years and would have to pay $15 billion from general revenue, according to a report by Billy Hamilton, a tax consultant and former deputy comptroller, for Texas Impact and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc. “With federal health care reform, Texas had an unprecedented opportunity to cover a large portion of the state’s adult uninsured population,” Shaw said. “But because the state’s leadership made a philosophical point of rejecting this option, more than one million Texans will remain uninsured.”
Civil-rights advocates are selling a bill amending the Voting Rights Act as a wholly bipartisan fix and saying it will pass this year, despite the partisan divide over voter-ID laws and other voting-rights issues. “It will pass this Congress,” said Scott Simpson, spokesman for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which has advocated for an update to the law. “If anything can pass this Congress, it’s this.” The bill would revive a portion of the Voting Rights Act that gives the Justice Department final say on all changes to elections—from voter-ID laws to polling place relocations—in states with a history of discrimination.
The provision, known as the “preclearance” requirement, was included in the Voting Rights Act in 1965, but the Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down its outdated method of choosing which states would be placed under that requirement. Rather than choosing states based on discrimination in the 1960s, the new formula would be based on voting-rights restrictions in the last 15 years, and would be updated after every election. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a January interview with MSNBC that many states’ voter-ID requirements are passed by Republicans “for partisan advantage.” Reactions to the new preclearance formula have varied widely. Holder said he did not think the bill went far enough, and was concerned that Justice Department objections to voter-ID laws would not count as violations against states.
NYT: Kerry Says Obama Wants New Options For Syria Strife
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that President Obama had asked aides to develop new policy options to deal with the deteriorating situation in Syria. Mr. Kerry said that none of the policy options had yet been presented to the White House for a decision. “He has asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference during a visit here to meet with China’s leaders about North Korea and other regional issues.
“The answer to the question ‘have they been presented?’ No, they have not,” he said. “But that evaluation, by necessity, given the circumstances, is taking place at this time. And when these options are ripe and when the president calls for it, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about them.” Mr. Kerry’s comments reflect increased concern within the American government and nongovernmental organizations over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria. In an oblique criticism of Russia, Mr. Kerry said the Security Council’s inability to take stronger action than the issuing of the nonbinding request reflected “the opposition of certain countries.”