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July 17, 2014

Russia probably just shot down a commercial airliner over Eastern Ukraine

Russia has been shooting down Ukrainian planes lately, so this isn't a stretch. U.S. official: Malaysia Airlines plane shot down - CNN.com
(CNN) -- A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in a rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine on Thursday, prompting swift accusations from Ukrainian officials that "terrorists" shot down the aircraft. The United States also has concluded that the plane was shot down, but hasn't pinpointed who was responsible, a senior U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr. The Boeing 777 carrying 295 people fell from the sky near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, according to a Facebook post from a top Ukrainian official, as it flew at about 10,000 meters (nearly 33,000 feet) on the way from Amsterdam to Malaysia. A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, the senior U.S. official said. A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit, the official said. The United States is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to try to learn where the attack came from. . . . Vice President of Malaysia Airlines Europe Huib Gorter told reporters that the 15 crew members on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were all Malaysian nationals. He gave a breakdown of the known nationalities of the 280 passengers: 154 were Dutch, 27 were Australians, 23 were Malaysians, 11 were Indonesian, six were from the United Kingdom, four were from Germany; four were from Belgium, three were from the Philippines and one was Canadian. Authorities were still trying to determine the nationalities of the other passengers. . . .

July 07, 2014

Obama checkmates Republicans on contrception coverage

The crux is that insurance companies *want* to cover birth control. They really, really do. Birth control is incredibly cheap compared to pregnancy, delivery, and actual children. Obama riled up Republicans on contraception, and then delivers a knock-out punch.
After two solid weeks of Republicans rapidly escalating attacks on contraception access under the banner of "religious freedom," Obama finally announced what the White House is proposing: an accommodation of religiously affiliated employers who don't want to offer birth control coverage as part of their insurance plans. In those situations, the insurance companies will have to reach out directly to employees and offer contraception coverage for free, without going through the employer. Insurance companies are down with the plan, because as Matt Yglesias explained at Moneybox, contraception actually saves insurance companies money, since it's cheaper than abortion and far cheaper than childbirth. Because the insurance companies have to reach out to employees directly, there's very little danger of women not getting coverage because they are unaware they're eligible. That's the nitty-gritty. The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women's access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. (As Dana Goldstein reported in 2010, before the religious liberty gambit was brought up, the Catholic bishops were just demanding that women be denied access and told to abstain from sex instead.) With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away knowing they've been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they'll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.

July 02, 2014

Post Hobby Lobby, corporations ask to be allowed to legally discriminate against LGBT people

"Hello, we would like lucrative government contracts but we also hate gay people." Post-Hobby Lobby, Religious Orgs Want Exemption From LGBT Hiring Order
The day after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, a group of religious leaders sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he exempt them from a forthcoming executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. The letter, first reported by The Atlantic, was sent on Tuesday by 14 representatives, including the president of Gordon College, an Erie County, Pa., executive and the national faith vote director for Obama for America 2012, of the faith community. "Without a robust religious exemption," they wrote, "this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom." The leaders noted that the Senate-passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act included a religious exemption: Our concern about an executive order without a religious exemption is about more than the direct financial impact on religious organizations. While the nation has undergone incredible social and legal change over the last decade, we still live in a nation with different beliefs about sexuality. We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability. There is no perfect solution that will make all parties completely happy. The White House announced in June that Obama would issue an executive order forbidding contractors that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender equality after the House had stymied ENDA. The White House declined to comment to The Atlantic on the Tuesday letter and did not immediately respond to TPM's request for comment.