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Unexpected health insurance rate shock: California Obamacare Insurance Exchange announces premium rates

© Wikipedia
Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House
Every now and again, a political pundit is required to stand up and admit to the world that he or she got it wrong.

For me, this would be one of those moments.

For quite some time, I have been predicting that Obamacare would likely mean higher insurance rates in the individual market for the "young immortals" and others under the age of 40. At the same time, my expectation was that those who fall into the older age ranges would benefit greatly as their premium charges would be lowered thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

It is increasingly clear that I had it wrong.

Yesterday, Covered California - the name given to the healthcare exchange created pursuant to the Affordable Care Act that will serve the largest population of insured citizens in the nation - released the premium rates submitted by participating health insurance companies for the four health insurance program categories (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) established by the Affordable Care Act, along with the catastrophic policy created for and available to those under the age of 30.
Star of David

Mad dogs get even madder: Israeli Defense Minister threatens to attack Russian ships


Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon
Israel's long-standing habit of making bellicose threats in the face of neighbors potentially acquiring defensive weapons has reached a new level today, with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon threatening to attack Russian ships in the Mediterranean if they attempt to deliver anti-aircraft weapons to Syria.

Russia has had a long-standing contract with Syria to provide anti-aircraft defensive systems, and the Assad government is keen to get those shipments completed in the wake of repeated Israeli air strikes against them. The Russian S-300 system, the best the Russian government sells, is seen as being able to foil Israeli attacks.
Heart - Black

'I don't feel sorry for them': Bush risks wrath of injured veterans saying he has no sympathy because they volunteered their service


Outspoken: President Bush said during a 100K bike ride he doesn't feel sorry for injured vets. Here, the former president stands with one of the riders, retired Staff Sargent Matt DeWitt, who lost his arms on duty in Iraq.
George W Bush has risked a backlash from veterans by claiming that he does not feel sorry for soldiers who were injured after he sent them into battle. The former President said that that 'to a certain extent you can't help it' when men got hurt on the battlefield.

He claimed that because soldiers are volunteers it absolved him from blame to a degree - and claimed that none of them were angry about their injuries. Mr Bush said: 'You know, I don't feel sorry for them, because they don't feel sorry for themselves'.

His comments are likely to be seen by Democrats as another attempt to whitewash his legacy as one of the least popular presidents in history. But they risk angering veterans' groups who have long backed him as a former Commander in Chief.

During his presidency Mr Bush embarked on two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan resulting in a total of 6,471 American troops being killed so far. Some 32,000 soldiers were injured in Iraq and 18,000 in Afghanistan, many with horrific injuries such as loss of limbs or psychological scars which will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

At least 132,000 civilians have died in both conflicts.

Mr Bush was speaking to The Huffington Post during his third annual Warrior 100K, a three-day mountain bike ride hosted at his ranch in Crawford, Texas as a way to show veterans he 'still care(s) about them'.
Stormtrooper

'Why did FBI execute my boy?' Father of Boston Bombing patsy's friend displays grisly photos of son's corpse showing unarmed man was shot seven times

The father of Ibragim Todashev, who was shot by an FBI agent a week ago while being quizzed over his links to the Boston bombers, revealed the extent of his son's injuries in gruesome photographs of his dead body today.

Outspoken Abdul-Baki Todashev called for an investigation and possible legal action against the agent involved at a press conference in Moscow where he showed the images of his son's body lying in a morgue with up to seven gunshot wounds, including one to the back of the head.

His angry calls for justice came as a report claimed the 27-year-old native Chechen was unarmed in the clash with a federal agent in Florida on May 22. Previous reports claimed the US citizen went for the agent with a knife while being interrogated in his home. However, a report by the Washington Post yesterday cited law enforcement officials saying he had no weapon.


Comment: This is the FBI's message to the world:
"We do justice the American Way. Those other people in other countries just don't get it that our way is the only way."


Bad Guys

How Obama and Al-Qaeda became Syrian bedfellows

For a president that is executing Bush's "war on terror" against Al-Qaeda and "it's affiliates," it seems odd that President Obama has targeted the secular Syrian government for "regime change."

Equally odd is that Obama's strongest military ally on the ground in Syria- the best equipped and effective fighting force against the Syrian Government - is Jabhat al-Nusra, a group that has affiliated itself with al-Qaeda, and aims to turn Syria into an extremist Islamic state that enforces a fundamentalist version of Sharia law.

It's difficult to know exactly how al-Nursa received its guns, but one can make an educated guess. For example, The New York Times explained in detail how the CIA has been in a massive arms trafficking operation that has already funneled thousands of tons of guns from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Syria:
"The C.I.A. role in facilitating the [weapons] shipments... gave the United States a degree of influence over the process [of weapon distribution]...American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the [weapons] shipments."
Where are the guns winding up in this massive arms trafficking operation? An important question to ask is: which rebels in Syria have guns and which ones don't. The Guardian reports:
"The [secular] Free Syrian Army's shortage of weapons and other resources compared with [jihadist] Jabhat al-Nusra is a recurrent theme... 'If you join al-Nusra, there is always a gun for you but many of the FSA brigades can't even provide bullets for their fighters,'...3,000 FSA [Free Syrian Army] men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition...Al-Nusra fighters rarely withdraw for shortage of ammunition..."
Crusader

EU ends arms embargo on Syria rebels


Foreign secretary William Hague: "This is the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted"
European Union foreign ministers have said they will not renew an arms embargo on the Syrian opposition, due to expire on Saturday.

But there was no immediate decision to send arms to Syrian rebels and all other sanctions remained in force.

Even so, Russia said it would "directly harm" the prospects of an international peace conference on Syria.

Meanwhile, the BBC has heard evidence that 200 people were killed in a massacre in western Syria this month.

Opposition activists said they had documented the civilian deaths in al-Bayda and Baniyas after government troops and militias entered the towns.

The government described the operation as a strike against "terrorists".
Bad Guys

The unraveling of Sykes-Picot

The thrice-promised land it has been called.

It is that land north of Mecca and Medina and south of Anatolia, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

In 1915 - that year of Gallipoli, which forced the resignation of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill - Britain, to win Arab support for its war against the Ottoman Turks, committed, in the McMahon Agreement, to the independence of these lands under Arab rule.

It was for this that Lawrence of Arabia and the Arabs fought.

In November 1917, however, one month before Gen. Allenby led his army into Jerusalem, Lord Balfour, in a letter to Baron Rothschild, declared that His Majesty's government now looked with favor upon the creation on these same lands of a national homeland for the Jewish people.

Between these clashing commitments there had been struck in 1916 a secret deal between Britain's Mark Sykes and France's Francois Georges-Picot. With the silent approval of czarist Russia, which had been promised Istanbul, these lands were subdivided and placed under British and French rule.

France got Syria and Lebanon. Britain took Transjordan, Palestine and Iraq, and carved out Kuwait.

Vladimir Lenin discovered the Sykes-Picot treaty in the czar's archives and published it, so the world might see what the Great War was truly all about. Sykes-Picot proved impossible to reconcile with Woodrow Wilson's declaration that he and the allies - the British, French, Italian, Russian and Japanese empires - were all fighting "to make the world safe for democracy."
Star of David

Torture and human rights violations in Israel and Palestine

Torture allegations against the treatment of Palestinians detainees in Israeli prisons make headlines again. Few days after his arrest, Arafat Jaradat died in Israeli custody. On 27 February 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, called for an international investigation on the death of Palestinian prisoner Jaradat while undergoing interrogation in an Israeli facility. Falk stressed that "the death of a prisoner during interrogation is always a cause for concern, but in this case, when Israel has shown a pattern and practice of prisoner abuse, the need for outside, credible investigation is more urgent than ever. The best approach might be the creation of an international forensic team under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council."

The violations of the human rights of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupying forces have not decreased despite the peace process and there is no difference between the Labor Party and the Likud bloc. The list of the offenses is long: torture, arbitrary killings and arrests, the demolition of houses, the severe restrictions imposed on the freedom of movement by hundreds of check points, violence against Palestinians, land confiscation and the construction of illegal settlements, the "ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians from East Jerusalem, collective punishments, such as the total closure of the territories like Gaza and curfews, and the bombardments of the people of the Gaza Strip.

The list of human rights violations involving Palestinian victims for which the Palestinian Authority (PA) is responsible is similarly long: torture and maltreatment, the denial of fair trials before military courts and the State Security Court, which has the power to issue the death sentence, the intimidation of undesirable persons, the restrictions on the freedom of speech and the press, and the hampering of the work of human rights organizations. Both the Fatah- and the Hamas-led governments use repressive measures in order to control and subdue the population under their reign.1 After Israel began its offensive in Gaza in 2008/09, Hamas took extraordinary steps to control, intimidate, punish, and at times eliminate its internal political rivals and those suspected of collaboration with Israel. The majority of Palestinians executed by other Palestinians during Israel's military operations were men accused of collaboration with Israel.
War Whore

Naming our nameless war

© Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
Marines in Afghanistan, where US forces have been since 2001.
The Long War? The Second Hundred Years War? What we call the ongoing violence is a key to understanding our times

For well over a decade now the United States has been "a nation at war". Does that war have a name?

It did at the outset. After 9/11, George W Bush's administration wasted no time in announcing that the US was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT. With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age.

Upon succeeding to the presidency in 2009, however, Barack Obama without fanfare junked Bush's formulation (as he did again in a speech at the National Defense University last week). Yet if the appellation went away, the conflict itself, shorn of identifying marks, continued.

Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much. Names bestow meaning. When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about. To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations.

With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War. Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even the War of Northern Aggression). The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought - preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states' rights - had been worthy, even noble. So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.
Stormtrooper

City cracks down on sidewalk cafes just in time for summer

© Getty
Forget the great outdoors.

The Department of Consumer Affairs has sent notice to 17 New York restaurants, telling them that that they will have to close their sidewalk seating areas unless they are willing to comply with the city's zoning regulations.

"Please be advised you have 100 business days from and including May 1 to complete one of the following options," the agency notified owners on April 29, reported the New York Post. The restaurants were given the options to get a "certified land survey" to show they're operating on private property, file for a zoning exemption or surrender their permits.
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