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Eric Holder Resigns, Continues Progressive Reforms

Attorney General Eric Holder is resigning. But he is still initiating long overdue policies that have immediate welcome effect.

Yesterday he issued a memo to U.S. attorneys telling them not to use recidivist charges (called 851 charges after the statute number) as a leverage tool or a hammer:

Holder sent a memo to U.S. attorneys Wednesday urging them not to use sentencing enhancements known as "851" tools to gain leverage in plea negotiations with defendants — in essence, threatening defendants into avoiding trial with huge amounts of prison time.

He is also in the process of issuing a memo telling prosecutors not to put appeal waivers for ineffective assistance of counsel in plea agreements (something many districts have banned as unconstitutional). He will issue new racial profiling guidelines that "will make clear that sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion are not legitimate bases for law enforcement." suspicion.

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Obama Speaks at U.N.

President Obama addressed the U.N. today. Here is the full text of his remarks.

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Obama Speaks on ISIS And Ferguson

Here is the transcript of President Obama's remarks today on the Yazidis, ISIS and Ferguson.

He said air strikes would continue in Iraq, but maintains there will be no boots on the ground.

Wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground, we obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation.

On Ferguson, he said the FBI will investigate the death of Michael Brown. As to last night's violence, he said while there are differing accounts: [More...]

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A Night of Pizza, Beer and Pool for Obama in Denver

President Obama drew a large crowd in Denver when he and Governor Hickenlooper stopped by the Wynkoop Brewery for some beer and pool tonight.

Obama clearly had a good time, he even whistled along with "Brown-Eyed Girl" as it played on the stereo system. Earlier he had pizza with some letterwriters from Denver. [More...]

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Republicans Block Apppointment for DOJ Civil Rights

Seven Democrats joined Republicans today to defeat the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head DOJ's civil rights division. The objection was that when head of the Legal Defense Fund, the group had filed briefs in support of overturning the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal based on improper jury instructions. Two appellate courts ruled the jury instructions were erroneous and Abu-Jamal's death sentence was overturned. He was resentenced to life in prison. Adegbile's involvement in the case came after the Legal Defense Fund had taken the case.

Obama's statement:

"The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice -- and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."

The vote was 47-52. Veep Biden was present in case he needed to break a tie vote, but with the Democrats crossing over, it wasn't necessary.

Law enforcement groups lobbied heavily against the nomination.

My view: This is just another example of the country's misguided over-glorification of crime-fighters. Shame on those Democrats who voted against Adegbile, especially Bob Casey of PA. [More...]

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SOTU 2014

President Obama delivers his State of the Union Address. Here's a place for your thoughts.

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State of the Union Prequel

President Obama's State of the Union speech is tonight. He's expected to lay out a strategy for getting around Congress to implement some of his goals.

Obama will make clear in his 9 p.m. (0200 GMT Wednesday) address that he is willing to bypass U.S. lawmakers and go it alone in some areas by announcing a series of executive actions that do not require congressional approval.

..."What you'll hear in the speech tonight is very concrete, realistic proposals as it relates to wages, as it relates to education, as it relates to training, high-tech manufacturing, retirement security, those are the things that he's focused on," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on NBC's "Today Show."

He will mostly focus on economic issues and once again ask Congress to act on immigration reform, and of course, he'll plug ObamaCare. [More...]

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Obama: Pot No More Dangerous Than Alcohol

The New Yorker has an extensive interview with President Obama, on a variety of topics.

On marijuana:

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked. Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

On Colorado and Washington's legalization laws: He said it's important "they go forward." [More...]

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Obama to Present Plans for NSA Reform Next Week

On January 17, President Obama will present a plan for the reform of NSA surveillance practices.

The Pentagon now says Edward Snowden downloaded 1.7 million files.

In related news, the State Department has issued a new FAQ on terrorism classifications.

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Obama Announces Proposed Rule Changes for Gun Background Checks

The White House today announced two actions pertaining to gun purchases. One is a rule change that expands the definition of a mentally defective person prohibited from possessing a gun. The second is an HHS regulation that expands the information HIPPA-covered entities can provide to NICS, the federal background checking system.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is proposing a regulation to clarify who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law for reasons related to mental health, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed regulation to address barriers preventing states from submitting limited information on those persons to the federal background check system.

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Don't Blow Off ObamaCare

Update: Deadline extended until Friday for Colorado, no excuses needed, and on the national exchange until Thursday for those who had trouble logging on today (Official notice here.).

Midnight is the deadline to sign up for a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

I spent a good part of the day checking out the plans and talking to a very helpful Colorado Health Exchange adviser. (Yes, I was on hold for 40 minutes, I was 86th in line, but it was worth it. He spent 40 minutes with me reviewing the best plans for the benefits I wanted.)

There are some great deals available on the Exchange and a ton of plan options. The website for Colorado is fast and easy to navigate. You can also access the details of each plan's coverage so you aren't buying a pig in a poke.[More....]

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American People: Fix ACA

CBS Poll:

Just seven percent of Americans think the Affordable Care Act is working well and should be kept in place as it is. Far more, 48 percent, think there are some good things in the law, but changes are needed to make it work better, and another 43 percent think the law needs to be repealed entirely.

(Emphasis supplied.) Mend it, don't end it.

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Mend It, Don't End It

In terms of ObamaCare, my problems with the "market reforms" is a matter of record - I think the regulatory reform/exchanges/mandate is bad policy. I preferred the expansion of public insurance (such as Medicaid expansion, which is the piece of OCare that is unequivocally good and working. But we are where we are - ObamaCare is under fire and extremely unpopular. What do Dems do now?

ObamaCare is not changing any time soon imo. The President won't support any repeal and the GOP won't support any fixes. This means what to do next will necessarily be a 2016 issue.

Here's my modest proposal -- mend ACA as follows - replace the mandate with autoenrollment in Medicare for those persons who either do not qualify for Medicaid or do not have private insurance, using the existing tax credit/subsidy structure where applicable. Simple and effective imo. And politically feasible.

This would have the effect of providing insurance to as many as possible, improving the solvency of Medicare (improving the health of the Medicare pool will lower costs) and be politically popular.

My two cents.

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In Other News, Medicaid Expansion Works Beautifully

While the wonk created Rube Goldberg contraptions known as the exchanges goes through their problems, one aspect of ObamaCare has gone off without a hitch - Medicaid Expansion:

The underdog of government health care programs is emerging as a rare early success story of President Obama's technologically challenged health overhaul. Often dismissed, Medicaid has signed up 444,000 people in 10 states in the six weeks since open enrollment began, according to Avalere Health, a market analysis firm that compiled data from those states. Twenty-five states are expanding their Medicaid programs, but data for all of them was not available.

[...] The Obama administration plans to release October enrollment statistics this week, but publicly available figures already provide a contrast between a robust start for Medicaid expansion and lukewarm early signups for new, government-subsidized private plans offered separately under the law. "Medicaid is exceeding expectations in most places," said Dan Mendelson, Avalere's president. "It is definitely a bright picture in states that have chosen to expand."

The wonky proponents of the exchanges aren't particularly interested, but it does prove that the public insurance component of ACA is the superior part of the program.

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The Problem With ObamaCare: The Republican Stuff

Alex Pareene:

[T[his is a dumb way to give people health insurance. This is a program that, by design, is going to annoy literally millions of Americans immediately. It will improve most of those people’s lives, but it will do so in a way that feels as coercive as possible. It didn’t have to be that way! No one is ever annoyed that they qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. People may hate paying the taxes that fund those programs, but people always appreciate direct benefits.

The way the ACA deals with people [...] illustrates nearly every problem with attempting to design conservative, “market-based” ways to do things best done by straightforward government programs. It exposes the flaws in both the technocratic wing of the Democratic Party — a too-clever solution to a very simple problem — and the centrist third-way wing — making legislation intentionally worse to shield Democrats from increasingly ineffective accusations of liberalism, or to pick up Republican support that, in this environment, is never coming. So we end up with a program that hides many of its best and most important features, and loudly advertises its most coercive element.

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