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Not-A-Shock: Early Claims Data Shows Obamacare Enrollees ‘Sicker-Than-Average’

Via Kaiser Health News:

Offering a first glimpse of the health care needs of Americans who bought coverage through federal and state marketplaces, an analysis of the first two months of claims data shows the new enrollees are more likely to use expensive specialty drugs to treat conditions like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C than those with job-based insurance.

The sample of claims data – considered a preliminary look at whether new enrollees are sicker-than-average  - also found that prescriptions for treating pain, seizures and depression are also proportionally higher in exchange plans, according to Express Scripts, one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit management companies. . .

Later in the piece, insurers admit "it will be a year before we know what we've got." Well, if Team Obama would release the real enrollment numbers now, we might be able to make an educated guess. - Greg Pollowitz

Video: Watch a Test of the U.S. Navy’s Railgun

Via Mashable:

The U.S. Navy’s latest innovation comes in the form of a 23-pound projectile that can fly at seven times the speed of sound, and it will be ready for testing at sea by 2016.

That’s fast enough to travel from New York City’s Empire State Building to Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell in 180 seconds. The projectile can punch through three walls of reinforced concrete and annihilate just about anything it smashes into. It moves so quickly, in fact, that it doesn’t require a triggered explosion on impact; its sheer force is enough to destroy its targets.

Chris Johnson, a spokesperson for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Mashable these recently revealed projectiles will hopefully be able to hit incoming missiles, overhead planes, other sea vessels and targets on land. The small projectiles come equipped with a navigation system that will let them hone in on incoming rockets and vanquish them before any damage is done.

I want them to test it with 100,000 BBs just to see what happens. - Greg Pollowitz
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Cherry Trees Grown from Pits Sent to Outer Space Grow Faster

Via The Asahi Shimbun:

A tree grown from a cherry pit that traveled in space five years ago with astronaut Koichi Wakata, now commander of the International Space Station, has bloomed far ahead of what is normal–to the astonishment of botanists.

Cherry trees typically take about a decade from the time they sprout from seeds to bloom.

The cherry pit was one of around 265 produced from the fruit of the famous 1,250-year-old “Chujohimeseigan-zakura” cherry tree grown in the compound of the Ganjoji temple here, which traces its roots to the seventh century.

In the “space cherry” project organized by Tokyo-based Japan Manned Space Systems Corp., the space-going pits were rocketed to the International Space Station in 2008, and returned to Earth in July 2009 with Wakata, now 50. . .

I bet if we left the pits in space long enough, they'd grow sentient trees. - Greg Pollowitz

Jesuit Priest Executed in Syria

Via McClatchy:

An activist Jesuit priest who spent three years living alongside besieged civilians and rebels in the Syrian city of Homs was assassinated Monday, according to the Vatican, which said he was abducted by unidentified gunmen who beat him before executing him in front of his monastery.

Father Francis Van Der Lugt, 75, a Dutch Jesuit priest, came to Syria in 1966 and eventually founded a home for children and adults with mental disabilities outside Homs, where he lived before the three-year-old civil war started. After fighting began, he relocated to the rebel-held neighborhood of Bustan al Diwan in Homs Old City, where he worked with refugees and civilians during the more than two-year-old siege by regime forces.

“I can confirm that he’s been killed,” Jan Stuyt, secretary of the Dutch Jesuit Order, told the news agency Agence France-Presse by phone. . .

A "rogue al-Qaeda" group has been blamed for the murder. As opposed to mainstream al-Qaeda groups in Syria? - Greg Pollowitz

USAID Responds to ‘Cuban Twitter’ Controversy

Via USAID.gov:

Eight Facts About ZunZuneo

On Thursday, April 3, the Associated Press published an article on a social media program in Cuba funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The article contained significant inaccuracies and false conclusions about ZunZuneo, which was part of a broader effort that began in 2009 to facilitate “twitter like” communication among Cubans so they could connect with each other on topics of their choice. Many of the inaccuracies have been re-reported by other news outlets, perpetuating the original narrative, or worse.

The article suggested that USAID spent years on a “covert” program to gather personal information to be used for political purposes to “foment” “smart mobs” and start a “Cuban spring” to overthrow the Cuban government.  It makes for an interesting read, but it’s not true.

USAID’s work in Cuba is not unlike what we and other donors do around the world to connect people who have been cut off from the outside world by repressive or authoritarian governments. USAID’s democracy and governance work focuses on strengthening civil society, governance, and promoting human rights.

Here are eight claims made by article, followed by the facts. . .

-
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Cow Tipping? Out. Smart-Car Tipping? In.

Via NBC Bay Area:

Someone’s been vandalizing compact Smart cars in San Francisco, flipping the tiny vehicles on their front and rear ends in the city’s streets.

NBC Bay Area found four of the targeted Smartcars between Sunday night and Monday morning. Two were found in the Bernal Heights neighborhood on Anderson Street, and another was found a bit south on Sweeny and Bowdoin streets, closer to the Portola district. They were either sitting on their headlights, rear bumpers high in the air, or vice versa. . .

LOL. - Greg Pollowitz

Directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier Say the Film is About Obama’s ‘Kill List’

Via Mother Jones:

There are currently no plans to screen Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the White House, as far as the film’s directors have heard. But if it makes it to the White House family theater, President Obama would be watching one big-budget, action-packed, and Scarlett Johansson-starring critique of his controversial terror-suspect “kill list.”

This isn’t me reading things into a mainstream comic-book movie. It’s what the directors themselves will tell you.

“[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller,” Joe Russo, who directed the film with his brother Anthony, tells Mother Jones. “So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience…That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president’s kill list, preemptive technology”—all themes they worked into the film, working closely with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. . .

Now I want to see it even more. - Greg Pollowitz

Kevin Spacey: ‘SOS Venezuela’

Via KevinSpacey.com:

For many weeks now, tens of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets in protest.

These students were standing for basic human freedoms and engaging in the right to protest, which is a sacred right whether in Boston, Belarus, or Venezuela. The government of Venezuela responded with heavy-handed repression. Within two weeks Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of the opposition party, Voluntad Popular, called for nationwide peaceful demonstrations to address the problems facing the country. These problems include chronic food shortages, the highest inflation in the world and ongoing censorship of the media. Even the Oscars were not allowed to be broadcast – for the first time in Venezuelan history.

More than 1,400 students were arrested, there are more than 40 confirmed cases of torture and Leopoldo Lopez still sits in a Venezuelan military prison.  He has urged the students to exercise their legal rights to peaceful protest and free speech and he repeatedly emphasized they must do so without violence. President Maduro has blamed Lopez for the violence that has beset the country and ordered his arrest on charges of murder, arson and terrorism.  To date, the government has presented no evidence of the charges against him and their legal case is falling apart.

Amnesty International said the charges against Lopez recall “politically motivated attempts to silence dissent.”  Human Rights Watch says “the Venezuelan government has openly embraced the classic tactics of an authoritarian regime: jailing its opponents, muzzling the media and intimidating civil society.”. . .

Nice to see someboy in Hollywood who gets it. - Greg Pollowitz

Rahm Won’t End Chicago’s Sister-City Agreement With Moscow

Via the Chicago Sun Times:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday put the quick kibosh on a resolution urging him to suspend Chicago’s Sister Cities agreement with Moscow until Russia withdraws from Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Samuel C. Scott III, board chairman of Chicago Sister Cities International, had already registered his opposition to the resolution, only to be overruled by the City Council’s Committee on Human Relations.

But that was before Emanuel stepped in and called a halt to the idea of punishing Moscow. Instead, the City Council approved a vanilla resolution standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the people of Ukraine, but held the Sister Cities resolution.

“I don’t believe that the city of Chicago should conduct its own foreign policy separate from the United State government,” the mayor said. . . 

Heckuva job, Rahm. - Greg Pollowitz

Putin Divorce Final; Next: SWM Seeks Country to Invade?

Via AFP:

The Kremlin confirmed Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has finalised the divorce from his wife of 30 years Lyudmila following the couple’s sudden split last summer.

Putin’s official biography, which described him as recently as March 27 as “Married. Wife Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Putina,” now states simply that he has two daughters with no mention of a first lady.

The president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to state-owned Itar-TASS news agency that “the divorce has completed.”

The Putins in June of last year delivered a shock announcement that they were splitting up after three decades of marriage, in a choreographed statement to a state television reporter after attending a ballet performance in Moscow.

“It was a joint decision,” Putin said at the time, while his wife said that the marriage is over because “we practically never see each other,” calling it a “civilised divorce.” . . .

I hope Vlad turns his dating life into a Russian reality show of sorts. Ratings gold! - Greg Pollowitz

Gov. Christie, RGA Raise $23.5M in First Quarter

Via Washington Post:

The Republican Governors Association raised $23.5 million during the first three months of 2014, the organization will announce Thursday. It’s a record haul for the RGA, which is chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).

The RGA has nearly $60 million in the bank, money it will need as it seeks to defend 22 seats compared to just 14 for Democrats. Most of the money the RGA raised came from the group’s 527 arm, which hauled in more than $22 million. The 501(c)(4) affiliate raised $1.3 million.

Christie, who has come under intense scrutiny and criticism from Democrats in the wake of a traffic scandal involving his former aides and appointees, has led the RGA since late 2013. Under his watch, the RGA has brought in big bucks. The groups’s previous first quarter best was $9.1 million in 2010. . .

Like or hate Christie, this is an impressive haul and will help the conservaitve cause at the state level. -

Blue Cross/Blue Shield: 15% to 20% Not Paying First Premium

Via National Journal:

One of the biggest players in Obamacare’s exchanges says 15 to 20 percent of its new customers aren’t paying their first premium—which means they’re not actually covered.

The latest data come from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose members—known collectively as “Blues” plans—are participating in the exchanges in almost every state. Roughly 80 to 85 percent of people who selected a Blues plan through the exchanges went on to pay their first month’s premium, a BCBSA spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The new statistics, particularly from such a large carrier, help define how many people are actually getting covered under the Affordable Care Act. 

The Blues’ experience is in line with anecdotal estimates from other insurance executives, who indicated earlier in the enrollment process that they received payments from about 80 percent of people who selected their plans.

The Blues’ latest estimate includes policies that took effect Feb. 1 or earlier, the spokeswoman said.

Some health care analysts have suggested that the payment rate could improve later in the enrollment window, as plans had more time to track down consumers who hadn’t paid. . .

This drops the number enrolled down to around 6 million, but there's still a question -- at least in my mind -- on how many of the 7 million have gotten through the entire process and have actually put a policy in the shopping cart. We shall see. - Greg Pollowitz

Another Unexpected Rise in Jobless Claims

Via Reuters:

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but the underlying trend continued to point to some strength in the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the week ended March 22 were revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 317,000 in the week ended March 29.

The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, nudged up 250 to 319,500. This indicates a firmer bias in the labor market.

A Labor Department analyst said no states were estimated and there were no special factors influencing the state level data.

The government made revisions to the model it uses to smooth the claims data for seasonal fluctuations. It also revised claims data going back to 2009.

Despite last week’s increase, claims have been generally stable in March, which should support expectations of an acceleration in job growth during the month. . .

A good rule for Obamanomics is to always expect the unexpected bad news. - Greg Pollowitz

Oops: Former Ukrainian President Now Thinks Inviting Russian Troops into Crimea was a Bad Idea

Via Sydney Mornng Herald:

In his first interview since fleeing to Russia, Ukraine’s ousted president said on Wednesday that he was “wrong” to have invited Russian troops into Crimea and vowed to try to persuade Russia to return the coveted Black Sea peninsula.

Defensive and at times teary-eyed, Viktor Yanukovych told The Associated Press and Russia’s state NTV television that he still hopes to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to get the annexed region back.

“Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy,” the 63-year-old Yanukovych said, insisting that Russia’s takeover of Crimea wouldn’t have happened if he had stayed in power. He fled Ukraine in February after three months of protests focused on corruption and on his decision to seek closer ties to Russia instead of the European Union.

Mr Yanukovych denied the allegations of corruption, saying he built his palatial residence outside of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, with his own money. He also denied responsibility for the sniper deaths of about 80 protesters in Kiev in February, for which he has been charged by Ukraine’s interim government. . .

Well, maybe he'd like to go back to Ukraine then? - Greg Pollowitz

Paging Sean ‘Spicoli’ Penn: Cuba-Like Food Rationing in Venezuela

Via Fox News:

Battling food shortages, the government is rolling out a new ID system that is either a grocery loyalty card with extra muscle or the most dramatic step yet toward rationing in Venezuela, depending on who is describing it. 

President Nicólas Maduro’s administration says the cards to track families’ purchases will foil people who stock up on groceries at subsidized prices and then illegally resell them for several times the amount. Critics say it’s another sign the oil-rich Venezuelan economy is headed toward Cuba-style dysfunction.

Registration begins at more than 100 government-run supermarkets across the country Tuesday, and working-class shoppers who sometimes endure hours-long lines at government-run stores to buy groceries at steeply reduced prices are welcoming the plan.

“The rich people have things all hoarded away, and they pull the strings,” said Juan Rodríguez, who waited two hours to enter the government-run Abastos Bicentenario supermarket near downtown Caracas on Monday, and then waited another three hours to check out.

Rigid currency controls and a shortage of U.S. dollars make it increasingly difficult for Venezuelans to find imported basic products like milk, flour, toilet paper and cooking oil. Price controls don’t help either, with producers complaining that some goods are priced too low to make a profit and justify production. . .

Sean Penn's line from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" comes to mind: "Learning about Cuba, and having some food." Why yes, Sean -- this rationing plan in Venezuela does look a lot like Cuba's:
 

- Greg Pollowitz

Bible-Impaired Noah Sails, Cruises, Launches, Floats Has $44-Million Opening Weekend

Via The Wrap:

The Biblical epic “Noah” rode a tide of controversy to a $44 million opening, sailing past “Divergent” and into the top spot at the domestic box office this weekend.

Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of the Old Testament tale surged on Saturday and finished well ahead of expectations that had been tempered by months of negative buzz — mainly from church groups wary of the “Black Swan” director’s edgy style and reports that the film strayed too far from Scripture. Distributor Paramount, which backed the film with New Regency, even added a statement at the beginning of the movie noting that it was a dramatic interpretation.

The surprising showing by “Noah” overshadowed a strong performance by Lionsgate’s young-adult sci-fi tale “Divergent.” The adventure tale starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James finished second with $27.7 million, just a 49 percent drop from its big opening last weekend, and will cross the $100 million mark in the next day or two. . .

I understand why Christians were angry at this version of “Noah,” but I don’t understand why they expected something better. It’s Hollywood. Take a film like “Captain Phillips,” for example. Filmmakers changed the actual story for one they thought would be better on screen, and "Phillips" happened mere years ago, with witnesses. - Greg Pollowitz

News Updates: Venezuela, Ukraine, Koreas

Valerie Jarrett Promotes Obamacare on the ‘Single Most Annoying Show on the Internet’

Via Naked DC:

[. . .] Anyway, I know you’ve missed us, but in our absence, it seems that the Obama Administration has ramped  up their health care salesmanship by forcing a host of surrogates to humiliate themselves in “pop culture” arenas in order to convince people under 35 to sign their supple, youthful flesh up on the exchanges before March 31st (which actually isn’t the real deadline) in order to help pay for their parents and grandparents to get free care.  The latest victim of the White House’s communications scheme is Valerie Jarrett, who submitted herself to the whiny whims of PopSugar.com’s “Top That” webcast, which is the single most annoying show on the Internet, hosted by two people who, were it not for utility for entertainment gossip, would be agitating for a doubled minimum wage for their fast food job. . . 

While Venezuela and Ukraine burn, top Obama officials are doing this? Video at the link above, screenshot here: 

- Greg Pollowitz

Details Released on Debris Spotted in Search for MH370

Via the Australian Maritime Safety Authority :

Five aircraft spotted multiple objects of various colours during Friday’s search for the missing Malaysian 
Airlines flight MH370. 
 
Search activities have now concluded. A total of 256,000 square kilometres was searched. 
 
Photographic imagery of the objects was captured and will be assessed overnight. 
 
The objects cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and 
recovered by ships. 
 
A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion reported sighting a number of objects white or light in 
colour and a fishing buoy. 
 
A Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion relocated the objects detected by the RNZAF Orion and reported 
it had seen two blue/grey rectangular objects floating in the ocean. 
 
A second RAAF P3 Orion spotted various objects of various colours in a separate part of the search area 
about 546 kilometres away. 
 
A total of ten planes were tasked by AMSA in today’s search and all have now departed the search area. 
 
AMSA has tasked Chinese Maritime Administration patrol ship, Haixun 01, which is in the search area 
and will be in a position to relocate the objects on Saturday. 
 
Friday’s search area was shifted north after international air crash investigators in Malaysia provided the 
latest credible lead available to AMSA. 
 
This was on the advice of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). 
 
Weather conditions in the area are expected to be reasonable for searching on Saturday. 

 

- Greg Pollowitz

Public Service Announcement: Meet the Picocita, Hangover Cure

Via Gothamist:

. . .Now a picocita is one of those fun beer refreshers, like the Mexican beer cocktail michelada, but better. It starts with a beer, usually Gallo Draft, a lesser quality brew than its popular cousin, simply called Gallo. While both are produced in Guatemala, Draft is only available in Mexico, where it’s sold dirt cheap, so if these guys have it in Antigua, someone’s probably made a ‘daytrip’ north in a pickup.

One of the guys working the truck hands you and your friend a Gallo Draft in a small paper bag and you watch your friend take a few sips before returning it. You follow suit. The bartender/ceviche slinger then fills your Drafts with ingredients in this order—a spoonful of salt, a spoonful of chile/chopped onion/vinegar mix, a generous squeeze of lime, a generous squeeze of Worcestershire sauce and another good dose of lime juice. The beers are handed back to you, the paper bags wet from condensation and a bit of lime juice.

You take a sip. You feel revived. The spice of the chile jolts you out of your fog and the tang from the Worcestershire sauce, lime, and the bubbles from the beer perk up your tongue. The onion settles your stomach and the salt makes you crave water (Hangover Cure 101: Drinking lots of fluids is a good thing). Your friend watches you with knowing eyes, as the power of the picocita takes its effect, instantly changing your outlook on the day. . .

And now NRO readers can go into the weekend full prepared. You're welcome. - Greg Pollowitz

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