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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
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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
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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

Good News: Brazil Reducing Support of Maduro in Venezuela

Via Reuters:

Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy and diplomatic power, has toned down its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro because of disappointment over how he is handling mounting economic problems and opposition-led street protests.

The shift, while subtle, has deprived Maduro of some of the regional backing he wants at a time of food shortages, high inflation and political uncertainty in the OPEC nation.

Broadly speaking, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff remains an ally of Maduro. While Rousseff is more moderate, both are part of a generation of leftist Latin American presidents who grew up opposing pro-Washington governments and believe they are united by a mission to help the poor.

However, Rousseff has been increasingly disappointed by some of Maduro’s actions and has reined in the more enthusiastic support that characterized Brazil-Venezuela relations under his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, according to two officials close to Rousseff’s government. . . 

 

The U.S. is ignoring Venezuela -- where we could make a difference -- in favor of Ukraine. Bad move. And we should be doing more to pressure Brazil to stop supporting Maduro all together, going as far as using the Olympics in 2016 as leverage. -

Meet the Dem Enablers of ‘Shrimp Boy’ and State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco)

Via the Los Angeles Times:

In the years after his release from prison, Raymond Chow insisted he had gone straight and tried to prove it by posting photos with celebrities and endorsements from politicians across his Facebook profile.

The profile shows the organized crime figure known as “Shrimp Boy” rubbing shoulders with the likes of former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, NFL football player Vernon Davis and Randy Jackson of the Jackson Five.

But even by Chow’s standards for mingling with the famous and powerful, the summer of 2012 was a good one for Shrimp Boy.

According to posts he wrote on his Facebook timeline, he gave multiple speeches in June, including one to a middle school he hoped would “help the kids stay positive and out of trouble.”

In July, Chow was honored as a “Change Agent” at an annual “In the Trenches” awards ceremony in San Francisco.

He later posted photos of honorary certificates he received from Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee. Another photo showed he had been recognized in a letter from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“Thank you for your tireless dedication to providing outstanding service to the residents of San Francisco,” Lee wrote.

“Your efforts to turn your life around and help others do the same has been an inspiration to us all,” said Ammiano.

Feinstein wrote: “Serving as an inspiration and a role model to others, you have had a great impact on those in need of guidance.”

But a criminal complaint released Wednesday by federal authorities portrays Chow’s public displays of going straight as nothing more than a façade. . .

If this story gets 1/10th the coverage of Christie and the bridge, Dem heads will roll. If. . . - Greg Pollowitz

Obama: “‘You would have thought’ Putin would not ‘revert back’ to Cold War practices

Via Mark Knoller -- CBS:

 

 

[GP]Some excerpts from Mark Knoller’s Twitter feed this morning. . .

And here’s the analysis of Russia’s troop movement from POTUS. It’s like a coin-flip. . .

Really? I kinda remember somebody predicting this. . .

 

- Greg Pollowitz

George R.R. Martin Releases Chapter from The Winds of Winter

Via GeorgeRRMartin.com:

 She woke with a gasp, not knowing who she was, or where.

The smell of blood was heavy in her nostrils… or was that her nightmare, lingering? She had dreamed of wolves again, of running through some dark pine forest with a great pack at her hells, hard on the scent of prey.

Half-light filled the room, grey and gloomy. Shivering, she sat up in bed and ran a hand across her scalp. Stubble bristled against her palm. I need to shave before Izembaro sees. Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered. Her true name was Mercedene, but Mercy was all anyone ever called her…

Except in dreams. She took a breath to quiet the howling in her heart, trying to remember more of what she’d dreamt, but most of it had gone already. There had been blood in it, though, and a full moon overhead, and a tree that watched her as she ran. . .

Boom. - Greg Pollowitz

Russia Now Controls Ukraine’s War Dolphins and Sea Lions

Via Fox News:

The dolphins and sea lions trained by the Ukrainian navy in Crimea for military operations are now in the hands of the Russian navy following the peninsula’s absorption by Russia.

The Ukrainian navy resumed the program, which was scrapped just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 2012 at one of the two aquariums in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, which is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The center worked on developing new methods of training dolphins and sea lions so they could be used to locate underwater weapons and divers. . .

LET SLIP THE DOLPHINS OF WAR! -

Video: Out-of-Money USPS Sponsors New Spider-Man Movie

Via ECommerceBytes:

The U.S. Postal Service and Sony Pictures are collaborating on a marketing campaign to promote Priority Mail and a movie called “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ due out in theaters nationwide on May 2, 2014.

USPS Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Nagisa Manabe said, “Our Priority Mail products share many qualities with a Super Hero of Spider-Man’s caliber, namely those of speed, agility and reliability. Like Spider-Man, our priority has always been the people we serve. We pride ourselves on our commitment to public service and delivering for our customers, and we are excited about enlisting Spider-Man to help promote our Priority Mail offerings.”. . .

And here's the video:

 

- Greg Pollowitz

Obama Meets the Pope

Via CNN:

U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time Thursday at Vatican City.

The two world leaders greeted each other with a smile and a handshake, and posed for pictures before sitting down across a table from each other.

The tete-a-tete was an opportunity for a reset of sorts between the Obama administration and Catholic leadership following several years of strained relations.

The goal: focus on areas where two of the world’s most influential men agree and gently tread ground where they differ.

That means the President and the Pontiff will, as the White House said in a statement, focus on “shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing (income) inequality” and gingerly navigate such thornier topics as same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion.

“In general, they’ll be looking for areas of conversation where there is great agreement between the Vatican and the administration,” said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. . .

- Greg Pollowitz

Science: Running Marathons Might Cause Heart Disease

Via the WSJ:

. . .A study published in the current edition of Missouri Medicine found that 50 men who had run at least one marathon a year for 25 years had higher levels of coronary-artery plaque than a control group of sedentary men. A British Medical Journal study published this year compared the carotid arteries of 42 Boston Marathon qualifiers with their much-less active spouses. “We hypothesized that the runners would have a more favourable atherosclerotic risk profile,” says the article. As it turned out, that hypothesis was wrong.

A small body of research suggests that heart problems may arise not in spite of extreme-endurance exercise but because of it. That has led some cardiologists to theorize that, beyond a certain point, exercise stops preventing and starts causing heart disease.

“Studies support a potential increased risk of coronary artery disease, myocardial fibrosis and sudden cardiac death in marathoners,” Peter McCullough, a Baylor University cardiologist, wrote as lead author of an editorial in the current Missouri Medicine. . .

 

Glad I dodged this bullet. - Greg Pollowitz

Most of the Ukrainian Military in Crimea Expected to Join Russia Military

Via McClatchy:

Ukraine’s interim defense minister resigned Tuesday, citing the shame of losing Crimea to Russia during his one month in office.

A short time later, the Ukrainian parliament voted in an interim replacement, a colonel-general who earlier this month was briefly kidnapped from his post in Crimea.

The departure of Ihor Tenyukh, a politician who belongs to the right-wing Svoboda party, and his replacement by Col. Gen. Mykhailo Koval, a top officer in the country’s border protection service, came as the depth of the defeat in Crimea _ and Ukraine’s inability to respond to the crisis _ continued to come into focus.

The Defense Ministry said it expected only 4,300 of the 18,000 troops who were stationed in Crimea to remain in the Ukrainian military _ less than 24 percent. Others said they expected that most of the rest would join the Russian army, which has offered much higher pay and more generous retirement benefits to any Ukrainian soldier who switches sides.

“They are Russian, and they will serve Russia,” said Sergey Kunitsyn, a former mayor of Sevastopol in Crimea who’s now a member of parliament representing the region. “What else would they do? They speak Russian. Their heritage is Russian. They accept Russian culture. Their loyalty was to Crimea, not Ukraine.”. . .

How soon until East Ukraine is created? I say by July. - Greg Pollowitz

Copenhagen Zoo Kills 4 Lions

Via CNN:

 A Danish zoo that made international headlines last month when it killed a healthy giraffe is once again in the news after it killed four lions to make way for a new male.

The lions were killed Monday, said Tobias Stenbaek Bro, a spokesman for the Copenhagen Zoo.

Two of those were young lions that were not old enough to survive by themselves and would have been killed by the new male lion if it had the chance, Bro told CNN. He said the zoo had tried to place them elsewhere, “but unfortunately there wasn’t any interest.”

The other two are the youngsters’ parents, described by the Copenhagen Zoo as a “very old” breeding pair.

The new male lion was brought from Givskud Zoo, also in Denmark, to form a breeding group with the Copenhagen Zoo’s two 18-month-old females, born on site in 2012. . .

These are the same lions that got to eat the giraffe this zoo killed about a month ago. I wonder which animal at the zoo gets to eat these lions? - Greg Pollowitz

Girl Shaves Head to Support Her Friend with Cancer, Gets Suspended

Via NBC News 9:

It was meant as a gesture of solidarity: a girl in Grand Junction shaved her head to support her friend, who is battling cancer. However, family members say the girl’s school didn’t see it that way and said it violated the dress code policy. Now, what started as a simple gesture is turning into a battle over whether hair should matter in school.

For the two girls on the playground, though, Monday afternoon was all about sharing fun in the sun and sporting matching bald heads.

“It felt like the right thing to do,” Kamryn Renfro said.

With her parents’ permission, Kamryn shaved her head in support of her cancer-stricken friend, 11-year-old Delaney Clements. She lost her hair because she is undergoing chemotherapy in her fight against neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer.

Delaney loved what her friend did.

“It made me feel very special and that I’m not alone,” she said.

However, when Kamryn tried to go back to school at Caprock Academy in Grand Junction this week, she wasn’t allowed in. Turns out, having a shaved head is a violation of the school’s dress code policy. Delaney’s mom, Wendy Campbell, couldn’t believe it. . .

You don't suspend a kid who support her friend like this -- you give her an award. What idiot is running this school? - Greg Pollowitz

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