Senate Follies Almost Derail Confirmation Of New U.S. Ambassador To Russia

In the midst of major political turmoil, fiery rhetoric, sanctions, violence in eastern Ukraine and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, America’s new diplomatic envoy to Russia almost didn’t get confirmed by the Senate.

On Thursday night, a Republican senator refused to confirm John F. Tefft as the new ambassador to Russia as payback for a procedural change made by the Democrats last year, The Associated Press reported.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said he blocked the vote for diplomatic appointments, including Tefft, because of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to limit filibusters for most presidential nominations.

“We used to pass ambassadors and all kinds of people en bloc like that, but we have this nuclear option now that the majority chose so it takes a little longer to do that whole process, and on that basis, I object,” Enzi said.

The Moscow post has been vacant since February and at least one member of the Obama administration was livid by this move.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speechwriting, took to Twitter on Thursday to rail against the Senate’s failure:

Tefft, a career foreign service officer and former ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania, was nominated by President Barack Obama only a few weeks ago. A swift confirmation was expected, even though Tefft only had one hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported.

During that hearing, Tefft painted a dire picture of relations with Moscow, Reuters reported.

“Our relations with Russia today are in serious trouble and their future is uncertain,” Tefft testified to the committee. “The United States cannot ignore the fundamental challenge to the international order posed by Russia’s actions in the Ukraine crisis.”

Just as the Senate was preparing to head to recess for the rest of the summer, Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) asked for unanimous consent to bring 25 pending ambassador nominations — including Russia, South Korea and Guatemala — to the floor for a vote en bloc, The Post reported.

That’s when Enzi raised his objections and basically halted the proceeding.

After much back and forth bickering and a bit of procedural maneuvering, the Senate finally confirmed Tefft as the new ambassador to Russia by a voice vote, Roll Call reported. However, many of the other ambassador post nominees remain unconfirmed.

Obamacare Is More Unpopular Than Ever, Poll Shows

A majority of Americans disapprove of Obamacare, the highest share since President Barack Obama’s health care reforms became law more than four years ago, according to survey findings released Friday.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s health care tracking poll for July reveals that 53 percent of people view the Affordable Care Act unfavorably, a jump of 8 percentage points since June. July’s results mark the fifth time since April 2012, and the first time since January, that at least half of Americans are not supportive of the health care reform law.

The poll found that the share of people who view Obamacare favorably fell slightly, to 37 percent, marking the lowest rating the law has received since its passage. Views about the ACA remain sharply partisan.

Most People Don’t Like This Obamacare Thing

obamacare poll

The rising opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the corresponding sinking approval come despite Obamacare’s rebound from the disastrous, chaotic launch of and the first enrollment period that began last fall.

By April, more than 8 million people had used the law’s health insurance exchanges to sign up for private coverage, with 86 percent of enrollees receiving financial assistance. Millions more enrolled into Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which offers insurance to children in families with incomes too high for Medicaid.

The law also appears to be significantly reducing the ranks of the uninsured. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of uninsured people in the nation has dropped by 10 million people because of Obamacare enrollment.

But Obamacare has always had weak support among the American public. Previous Kaiser Family Foundation surveys show only three months since Congress passed the law in March 2010 when more people approved than disapproved.

The list of reasons is lengthy. Republicans have been unrelenting in their attacks, such as the lawsuit planned by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) against Obama for delaying the law’s employer mandate. The public has remained strongly opposed to key features of the law, especially its individual mandate that nearly everyone obtain health coverage, and memories linger of Obama’s broken promise that people would be able to keep their current insurance policies. Polls also show that many Americans, including the uninsured, believe they can’t afford the insurance sold on the Obamacare exchanges, and aren’t aware that financial assistance is available.

And alongside bits of good news for Obama, like the falling number of uninsured Americans, is more bad news, like a federal appeals court ruling last week that would devastate Obamacare, and a federal audit this week concluding the debacle still isn’t fully resolved.

The new Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows how Americans’ perceptions of Obamacare are shaped. Less than half of those polled had discussed the Affordable Care Act with family or friends, and just over half had seen TV ads about it. However, what people did talk about or see was negative.

If People Hear About Obamacare, It’s Likely To Be Something Bad

obamacare poll

More than half of respondents said they hadn’t personally been affected by Obamacare. Of the people who said they had been affected, more were likely to say it had harmed them or their families than helped.

Another Kaiser Family Foundation report, published last month, got markedly different results when polling only those who had enrolled into coverage through the Obamacare exchanges. More than half of the people who used a health insurance exchange, and 60 percent of those who received financial assistance, said they had benefitted from the law.

Even as many people expressed negative opinions about the Affordable Care Act, the poll also found that 60 percent of Americans don’t favor repealing it (the GOP’s standard take when it comes to the law). Instead, people said they want Congress to improve the law. These views also fell along party lines.

Repair, Not Repeal And Replace

obamacare poll

Moreover, Americans seem to want Obama and Congress to work on subjects other than health care reform, the survey shows.

There’s More To Life Than Obamacare

obamacare poll

African-American Sisters Aging With HIV and Co-Morbidities

Imani* was 32 when she contracted HIV. Having watched many of her sister-friends die as a result of the virus, Imani did not expect to reach middle age. Now in her fifth decade of life, Imani has multiple new challenges. She self-manages her HIV — along with her diabetes and hypertension — while searching for employment. The result of these stressors is depression. All of this has gravely impacted her ability to sustain medication adherence and her will to live.

But Imani is not alone. African-American women’s struggle with HIV — from the black community’s stigmatization to the dominant culture’s condemnation of them — has both unduly burdened their daily lives and compromised their quality of care.

While numerous data have surfaced about African-American women living with HIV in their younger years, very little has surfaced about how they age with the disease — until recently. The journal AIDS Patient Care and STDs this month published the qualitative study “Taking It One Day at a Time: African-American Women Aging With HIV and Co-Morbidities.”

A welcome and needed study, it gives voice, validation, and strength to Imani and other sisters of African descent who are living with HIV.

When asked what HIV self-management means to her, a woman named Elana told an interviewer in the study:

I’m taking it one day at a time. First, since my kids are grown, I gotta put me one number first. … Make sure I’m taking my medicine. … I help somebody along my way…. Long as I can help somebody, then I can help myself, you know. … That’s what it means to me, taking it one day at a time ’cause I don’t know what the day gone bring. Just one minute at a time, one second at a time.

In interviewing women like Elana, the study examined HIV and co-morbidity self-management, social-support needs, medication adherence, and future plans for old age.

However, in my opinion, the way the study was promoted is dubious:

“Co-morbidities, including diabetes and hypertension, were perceived to be more difficult to self-manage than HIV,” the study found. “This difficulty was not attributed to aging but to daily struggles such as lack of income and/or health insurance, an inflexible work schedule, and loneliness.” … The majority were managing between one and five comorbidities including arthritis, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis, high blood pressure and tuberculosis.

There is the African-American adage about aging that states that “black don’t crack.” While the surface — our skin and public countenance — might not “crack,” our psyche and our bodies do. The African-American community has lived longer with the above-mentioned stressors — social stressors and other chronic illnesses — than with HIV. And while these diseases are difficult to self-manage in African-American communities, HIV is no cakewalk either.

I wondered what was being promoted by the study and why? As I continued to read the study, I think I might have found my answer.

With five focus groups conducted in Washington, D.C., comprising 23 HIV-positive women of African descent between the ages of 52 and 65, researchers Lari Warren-Jeanpiere, Heather Dillaway, Pilar Hamilton, Mary Young and Lakshmi Goparaju reported that “over time, HIV has become easier to manage in comparison to their other illnesses based on advancements they have experienced in their HIV treatment regimens.”

On the one hand, this is great news. It paints an almost-sanguine picture that there are optimal and user-friendly HIV cocktails out there for African-American women.

But the study skews, if not creates, a fallacious narrative. It implies that HIV as a sole chronic stressor (as if that’s possible in any HIV-positive person’s life, especially people of color) isn’t as unmanageable as the co-morbidities that most African-American women acquire with the disease as they age. And the reason is because of new meds and technological advancement in the field.

The report recognizes that HIV self-management and co-morbidity self-management must go hand-in-hand as a future medical protocol to provide optimal care for this demographic group. And hopefully more African-American women will have access to this new future protocol.

But in now recognizing that for African-American women, HIV management is not really about managing a single disease, why would researchers think for a moment that HIV self-management — even with the new meds and technology — is less difficult in sisters’ lives than everything else they must constantly juggle, and especially as they age?

“Just help me to manage like I do the rest of my ailments and carrying on to, you know, to have a balance in everything,” a woman named Beth told an interviewer in the study.

*Not her real name.

New malware can live inside any USB device undetected

It turns out that the stalwart USB thumbstick, or any universal serial bus device, isn’t as trustworthy as once thought. A pair of security researchers has found we need to worry about more than just malware-infected files that are stored portable…

TrackR bravo is a sleek wafer that keeps track of your gadgets

Are you frequently losing things? TrackR bravo is a new tiny tracking device that will reverse your bad luck, allowing you to keep track of whatever item you’ve attached it to. The tracker connects to your smartphone, giving you a couple options to see where your lost item is located. The TrackR is about the size of a quarter, and … Continue reading

Xiaomi Claims Of Fast Selling Smartphones Now Under FTC Investigation

xiaomi mi 4 640x426When it comes to selling a product, there is no better way than to blow your own trumpet – that is, the speed at which a particular device would actually sell. It seems that the folks over at Xiaomi might be in a spot at the moment, having blown their own trumpet about selling out their supply of Xiaomi Mi3 smartphones in a matter of just 40 minutes in India. How about having sold 10,000 of Xiaomi Redmi Notes in just one second? The Taiwan Fair Trade Commission (FTC) will open an investigation into such claims after receiving complaints.

Touted to be “hunger marketing” campaigns, the Taiwan FTC is rather concerned that such campaigns might be a process to hype up a particular handset in order to make said device look more valuable than it actually is, or harder to find at least. Should the FTC’s investigations point out that Xiaomi’s claims to the number of devices sold within the claimed amount of time are untrue, then the manufacturer could be slapped with a fine of up to $20,000.

This would not so much hurt Xiaomi’s financial situation in the short term, but if its credibility were to be hit, it might take some time to recover and gain the trust of the masses in the future.

Xiaomi Claims Of Fast Selling Smartphones Now Under FTC Investigation

, original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

Amazon Appstore Expands To South East Asia And Other Territories

amazon appstore 565x640There is nothing quite like seeing the country in which you live in gain access to a particular online service or app store. As for Amazon’s Appstore, more joy will be arrive on the doorsteps of another 41 territories across Asia, Africa and Oceania, which would mean the total number of markets where Amazon is currently offering apps to a whopping 236 – which is close to the whole world already.

It must be noted, however, that many of the new territories that will now be able to enjoy Amazon Appstore is not going to be huge revenue earners for Amazon, but it is the brand presence that is important. After all, to know that Amazon is making its way worldwide will add to the aura of power around the company in the eyes of the public.

Some of the markets, however, have the potential to rake in the dough, including Indonesia, Turkey, and Singapore. As for the full list, the new territories that will support the Amazon Appstore include Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Uzbekistan, and Yemen. There will be local restrictions in place, where users could or could not see and download all 200,000 plus apps. [Press Release]

Amazon Appstore Expands To South East Asia And Other Territories

, original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

New Mars Rover Equipped To Perform More Archaeological Digs

next gen mars roverNASA is certainly interested to find out what is happening, as well as what has happened on other planets in the past, with Mars being one of them. Having put their Curiosity and record breaking Opportunity rover there before, this does not mean the brains over at NASA have stopped coming up with new rovers for the future. In fact, their upcoming rover to Mars is said to boast of half a dozen wheels with the ability to carry out experiments there.

It will come equipped with super laser and stereo vision, never mind that it will sport a chassis that is not too far different from that of the Curiosity, ensuring it remains stable as it goes about its daily tasks, and having being tested before on the various terrains on Mars itself. Right now, the upcoming rover will be known as the Mars 2020, where it will be on the lookout for any direct signs of life on Mars, which is also known as bio-signatures. Hopefully the Mars 2020’s scientific tools will work just fine on the red planet’s environment.

Some of the accessories that will accompany Mars 2020 include the Mastcam-Z, a high definition camera that delivers stereo vision and zooming ability.

New Mars Rover Equipped To Perform More Archaeological Digs

, original content from Ubergizmo. Read our Copyrights and terms of use.

Watch #AOLBUILD Live Stream Featuring Ziggy Marley Moderated by @MARCLAMONTHILL


Watch the live stream AOL BUILD with Ziggy Marley of the Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, moderated by the Huffington Post Live’s very own Marc Lamont-Hill. Catch the reggae artist as he talks about his latest album “Fly Rasta” and its upcoming tour, the inspiration behind his music and philanthropic efforts for children’s causes.

Tune in for the live stream at 3PM TOMORROW, August 1st for an exclusive AOL BUILD.

Why Can't Obama Enforce Peace Between Palestine and Israel?

Not long ago, perhaps less than a decade ago, I was one of those Iranians who view Palestinians as terrorists and opportunists. As somebody who was born and raised in Iran, I can confidently tell you that this view is prevalent there; there are many Iranians who view Palestinians in this way.

Tehran is one of the biggest supporters of the Palestinian Hamas movement, and of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, and ultimately it is the Iranian government’s support for such organizations that creates this feeling among the Iranian public.

Iran’s state media coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is characterized by propaganda. The Iranian people have not had the opportunity to hear the real story and view what is happening to the Palestinian people from a moral standpoint. This gives rise to the prevalent view among the Iranian general public of Hamas as an opportunistic group that is coming to Iran for finances and seeking to embroil Tehran in the conflict.

The Iranian public are angered by the regime spending so much money on Hamas and Hezbollah when so many Iranian people themselves are living in poverty. Iranian society respects the principle of helping others, but there are other considerations that must be taken into account.

Iran’s international prestige has been severely damaged by the Islamic Republic’s support of these militias, not to mention the sheer amount of money it has lost.

I could tell you that when I was living in Iran, I was more sympathetic toward Israelis than toward Palestinians. The same goes for many other Iranians I was in contact with in Tehran during this period.

The Iranian public’s knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is miniscule; everything the Iranian people know about it comes directly from the regime. This represents Tehran’s interpretation of events, which they put forward to serve their own interests.

However, I ultimately changed my view about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after I moved from Iran to the U.S. I studied international affairs at New York’s Columbia University, and this brought about a change in my assessment of the situation. It’s interesting to see that the prevalent view among intellectual Americans is one of support for Palestinians and condemnation of Israel. This support doesn’t have anything to do with Hamas or Fatah; rather, it’s a democratic call for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories and abide by the UN Security Council resolution that calls for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.

It was in the U.S. that I learned, and continue to believe, that Palestinians are not a bunch of terrorists who represent a threat to Israeli peace and stability.

This brings us to the current round of conflict between Israel and Palestine, which has seen more than 1,000 Palestinians killed in the Israeli aggression against Gaza. I am sure that many people in Iran are heartbroken by the sight of defenseless Palestinian women and children with no place to hide from the Israeli air strikes on Gaza. The one party that seems to be doing everything to bring about a desired ceasefire is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and not the Iranian side, unfortunately.

Speaking in late July, Iranian Supreme Guide Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to call for the West Bank to follow the approach being taken by Hamas in Gaza — namely, to pick up arms and fight Israel. During a speech to university students on July 23, Khamenei said:

Our belief is that the West Bank should be armed like Gaza. Those who love the fate of the Palestinians, if they can do something, this is it. The people there [in the West Bank] should be armed. The only thing that can uproot the distress of the Palestinians … [is] to have the strongest hand. It is to show strength.

Following Khamenei’s comments, the Iranian, Arab and international media ignited, asking whether it would be better to seek a ceasefire or fight as Khamenei urged.

Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, truly sought to help the Palestinian people, and some argue that if he had not been ousted by the 1979 Islamic revolution, he would have played a major role in ending this conflict. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a different regional goal than that of the former Iranian monarchy. There has been no communication between the Islamic Republic and Israel; in fact, Iran and Israel are each other’s greatest enemy.

If U.S. President Barack Obama believes so strongly in the diplomatic approach, to the point that he has angered Israel — one of America’s closest allies — by making up with Iran over the nuclear dossier, then why can’t he enforce peace between Palestine and Israel?

On the other hand, Iran has the financial and military resources to continue supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and play the role of spoiler in the Middle East, if they so choose. However, how long will they continue to choose to do so?

Edward Said, one of the greatest Palestinian-American intellectuals of our time, focused on the lack of communication between Washington and the Arab world when dealing with the Palestinian cause. Culture and Resistance: Conversations With Edward W. Said quotes him as saying that “the absence of initiative” is “our greatest enemy.”

A version of this post was first published in Sharq Al-Awsat on July 30, 2014.