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Noam Levey at The Los Angeles Times:
More than 5 million people have now signed up for health insurance on marketplaces created by President Obama’s healthcare law, thanks to a surge in enrollment over the last two weeks, the Obama administration announced Monday.

The quickening pace of sign-ups confirms that many Americans are using the new marketplaces as a March 31 deadline approaches for getting coverage this year.
The latest figures indicate that roughly 1 million people enrolled during the last two weeks, surpassing the total for all of February.

If the pace continues, the Obama administration may come close to registering 6 million sign-ups in the first year that Americans are able to get guaranteed health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post:
Republicans obviously are going to make opposition to the Affordable Care Act the main theme of their campaigns this fall. Democrats will be better off if they push back hard — really hard — rather than seek some nonexistent middle ground. [...] They should tell voters that the ACA is a landmark achievement — the biggest expansion of access to health care in decades, fulfilling a long-held progressive dream. They should accuse their GOP opponents of playing voters for fools by cynically pretending that repeal is just around the corner.

Democrats should talk about what’s right with the ACA. They should talk about the millions of formerly uninsured Americans who now have coverage. They should talk about the millions of others who now are covered under Medicaid. They should talk about the young people who are able to be covered under their parents’ policies. They should talk about the diabetics and cancer survivors who now cannot be denied coverage because of their conditions.

The Democratic Party has long taken the position that no one should have to declare bankruptcy because of illness, that no one should have to choose between paying for medicine and paying the mortgage. If Democrats can’t proclaim these beliefs with pride, why on earth are they running?

More on the day's top stories below the fold.

The New York Times calls out the NRA for it's "bizarre crusade" against President Obama's nominee for surgeon general:

The National Rifle Association has mounted an outrageous campaign to torpedo President Obama’s nomination of an outstanding young doctor to be the next surgeon general of the United States because of his attitudes on gun control. The sad part is, the campaign is causing some nervous Democrats whose votes may be needed for Senate confirmation to consider breaking with the president to bolster their own chances for re-election in states where the gun lobby is powerful.

The nominee is Dr. Vivek Murthy, an internist, who has impeccable credentials for the job. [...]  What aroused the N.R.A.’s ire was a letter Doctors for America sent to Congress in January 2013, shortly after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which he co-signed as the organization’s president, and a similar letter sent to Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., as chief of the task force appointed by Mr. Obama to find solutions to gun violence.

The N.R.A. objected to the letter’s support for a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons and ammunition, a buyback program to reduce the number of guns in circulation, limits on the purchase of ammunition, mandatory safety training for gun owners, and mandatory waiting periods before completing a purchase. The N.R.A. also objected to the group’s sensible recommendations that Congress lift restrictions in federal law that effectively block funding of research on preventing death and injury from firearms and federal data collection on gun violence. Such restrictions are intended to prevent the public from understanding the full damage to public safety and health done by guns. These sane, mainstream proposals will not prevent law-abiding citizens from acquiring and keeping firearms. The gun lobby, however, is trying to cast Dr. Murthy as a “radically anti-gun nominee.”

Jack Shafer at Reuters examines coverage of missing Malaysia flight MH370:
The human fascination with disaster has probably always been with us, preserved as it is in folk tales, religious parables and literature. In his new and excellent book, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself, historian Andrew Pettegree writes about the craving the original readers of newspapers in the late 1500s had for earthquakes, floods, other stupendous weather disasters and strange occurrences. The appetite for deadly crime stories — even deadly crime stories taking place far away or years ago — would suffice. In 1586, a London printer named Thomas Purfoot horrified readers with an account of a triple-slaying in northwest France by a Frenchman. The better a story conveyed the dangers of life, the more readily it was consumed.

Sensationalistic accounts of celestial visits by comets, meteors, and the Northern lights, stories about monstrous births and strange animals, and documentary reports about appearances by the Devil — anything potentially dangerous or out of the ordinary — were more than fit to print in these early newspapers. The taste for news of the weird or unusual has never abated.

Now I won’t try to advance a theory out of evolutionary psychology to explain our hunger for peculiar news other than to say that it seems unstoppable. Such news makes some of us more fearful of the world. For others, it brings calm or a sense of normalcy, like the Londoners who lived through the blitz. Combine news of the weird with a mystery, such as an unaccountably missing airliner on the other side of the world, and you have the makings of an itch that no scratching can relieve.

Michael Wolff at The Guardian adds his take:
Well, the plane is somewhere. Although there exists the eerie possibility that it will remain as if nowhere – forever lost.

And that’s just about the best situation that exists for journalism: “missing” stories trump all others for their intensity and stickiness, fueling the imagination of journalists and audiences alike.

Journalism exists to provide information. But what’s really compelling is a lack of information – or what is more particularly being called “an absence of empirical data”.

“It doesn’t mean anything; all it is a theory.” That was the key quote, from an appropriately unnamed “senior American official,” in the New York Times’ front-page story Sunday about the Malaysian government’s sudden conversion to the idea that their plane was snatched. “Find the plane, find the black boxes and then we can figure out what happened. It has to be based on something, and until they have something more to go on it’s all just theories.”

Timothy Noah at MSNBC looks at the plan by workers to sue McDonald's:
What’s unusual here aren’t the claims of labor law violations, which are common enough, but rather, who’s being blamed. The wall that fast food workers hope to blast through with these class-action suits is the franchise system. All of the lawsuits name McDonald’s itself as a defendant, even though most of the targeted restaurants are owned not by McDonald’s but by McDonald’s franchisees. [...] In practice, judges have been reluctant to assign fast-food corporations any indirect responsibility for the employment practices of their franchisees. To make McDonald’s or Burger King or Dominos a target, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the franchising arrangement in question is a sham. If a McDonald’s or Burger King or Dominos exercises more direct control over its franchisees’ workers than the franchise agreement lets on, then these companies may be held directly responsible for violations of federal labor law. That’s what the lawsuits filed last week aim to do.
Frida Ghitis at CNN on the "Orwellian theft of Crimea":
The spectacle of Russia swallowing pieces of a neighboring country while claiming to defend its people would make George Orwell grimace with recognition. This weekend's charade, a "referendum" in which we're told more than 96% voted to join Russia, fits perfectly with the Orwellian narrative.
In this twilight zone of make-believe, Russian troops invade after removing the insignias from their uniforms and Putin explains, "You can go to a store and buy a uniform," claiming they are local "self-defense forces." Maybe Crimean shops also sell machine guns and armored personnel carriers. In this world of double-speak and misinformation, Moscow is manipulating the message, intimidating, twisting facts and lying -- the more absurd the propaganda the better.
Finally, The New York Times examines our broken military justice system and the failure to properly address sexual assault in the military:
The Senate had an opportunity to address the problem but declined to take it. On March 6, the Senate defeated a bold approach championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, that would have removed commanders’ authority to make prosecutorial decisions and vested it in impartial military prosecutors instead. The measure garnered 55 votes — a clear majority but still five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster led by another Democrat, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Advocates of letting military commanders decide whether to investigate and try serious cases have insisted that abandoning this approach would somehow undermine “good order and discipline” and weaken accountability. But how?

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