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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

President Signs Health Care & Reconciliation Act

President Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 expanding educational opportunity for America’s students and families.

Points of the legislation include larger pell grants, more stable funding for Pell Grants, increased support for Minority Serving Institutions to include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  

These institutions are particularly hard hit. They account for nearly one-third of all degree-granting institutions and enroll nearly sixty percent of the 4.7 million minority undergraduates in our nation today. They do more with less and enroll higher proportions of low- and middle-income students. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act provides $2.55 billion in mandatory funding for these institutions – dollars that can be used to renew, reform, and expand programming to ensure that students at these colleges and universities are given every chance to rise to their full potential.

The bill also makes repayment of student loans more affordable with the Expanded Income Based Repayment (IBR) program.

The administration cites that about two-thirds of graduates take out loans with an average student debt of over $23,000. This debt is particularly burdensome for graduates who choose to enter lower-paying public service careers, suffer setbacks such as unemployment or serious illness, or fail to complete their degree.

Also included in the bill will be more investments in community colleges.

The bill signing took place today at Alexandria, Virginia's Northern Virginia Community College where Dr. Jill Biden is a professor.

"I am particularly thrilled that this bill invests in community colleges across our country so that more students can gain the knowledge and technical job skills that they need to compete and succeed", said Dr. Biden.

The president and Dr. Biden are planning to host a summit on community colleges at the White House this fall. "We’re going to bring everybody together, from educators to students, experts to business leaders. We are going to bring everybody together to share innovative ideas about how we can help students earn degrees and credentials, and to forge private sector partnerships so we can better prepare America’s workforce and America’s workers to succeed in the 21st century. 

The bill also makes lending more available from the government and reduces the amount of lending from banks. 

“For a long time, our student loan system has worked for banks and financial institutions,” President Obama said.

“Today, we’re finally making our student loan system work for students and all of our families.” By cutting out the middleman, we’ll save American taxpayers $68 billion in the coming years -- $68 billion. That’s real money, real savings that we’ll reinvest to help improve the quality of higher education and make it more affordable."

Happened At The Event
A White House media pool report states:

"After signing the bill, Obama went down to audience level and shook hands for more than five minutes, chatting with three other cabinet members who’d been seated there – HUD Sect. Shaun Donovan, Interior Sect. Ken Salazar, and Trade Rep. Ron Kirk. Among the lawmakers spotted down there: Reps. Charlie Rangel and Dennis Kucinich.

The president also picked up a baby girl (class of ’31, give or take) and cradled her in his right arm. They ogled and cooed at each other. The girl’s eyes and mouth were wide open."

Related
Health Care: President Reads Letters From Americans

Monday, March 29, 2010

Oh, To Be Republican

And The Tries That Do Not Bind.

The Repubs are at it again - trying to do everything they can to put a wedge between the plans of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to move the country forward.

They voted 'No' (almost holding up medical insurance for American people for over a year) on virtually all phases (and facets) of the newly passed Health Care Bill.


They started the so-called Tea Party Movement, a group of angry US mobsters citizens(across the nation) who have protested the Stimulus Package, continue to get weak minded people riled up in the name of Democracy, been allowed to shout vile (and foul) language to members of Congress, and really set a bad example for our children to follow regarding conflict resolution.

The Republicans have even held up Senate nomimations from President Obama, such that badly needed vacancies have been unfilled for almost an entire year.

“Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate”, said President Obama.

That was then.

The president exercised his right to recess (bypass) the Republican 'ill will', and allow the nominations to be filled.

“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis.”

The White Press office issued the following statement saying,  "the Obama Administration appointees have faced an unprecedented level of obstruction in the Senate."   Adding, the president had a total of 217 nominees pending before the Senate. These nominees have been pending for an average of 101 days, including 34 nominees pending for more than 6 months.
The fifteen nominees President Obama intends to recess appoint have been pending for an average of 214 days or seven months for a total of 3,204 days or almost 9 years
 
Among the nominations the president plans to recess appoint include: Jeffrey Goldstein: Nominee for Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, Department of the Treasury, Michael F. Mundaca: Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Department of the Treasury, Francisco "Frank" J. Sánchez: Nominee for Under Secretary for International Trade, Department of Commerce, Alan D. Bersin: Nominee for Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Rafael Borras: Nominee for Under Secretary for Management , Department of Homeland Security, and Jacqueline A. Berrien, Nominee for Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to name a few.
 
"At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government", explained Obama. 
 
Following their appointment, these nominees will remain in the Senate for confirmation.

Related
President Makes Surprise Stop In Afghanistan

Friday, March 26, 2010

Good News For African American Farmers?

Members Of Congress Take To The Hill With NBFA For Resolution

This week on the Hill members of Congress joined John Boyd, President of the National Black Farmers Association to address the continuing saga of Black farmers who have been denied credit, funds, and their dignity by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Congressman Bobby Scott (along with Congressman Danny Davis) helped the organization introduce a bill that was passed into law in May of 2008 that would have allowed some 80,000 African American farmers have their cases heard based on its merit.   Since then, President Obama put into his budget $1.15b to compensate the farmers.  An agreement was entered into with African American farmers, the USDA, and the Department of Justice for Congress to make those funds available by March 31, 2010.

Congressman Bobby Scott w. BFA's John Boyd.
Photo: CD Brown
"We're days away from the deadline, and the Obama administration (whom Boyd claims he still supports) has not identified the measure as emergency spending, and it has failed to identify offsets for us to help find a home here in Congress."  

Congressman Scott (pictured far left), also present at the presser, stated, "I regret that today's get-together is even necessary", adding that, "Justice delayed is justice denied."

"While we all seem to have agreed it's time to resolve this well established, longstanding case of discrimination against Black farmers by the Department of Agriculture, we're approaching yet another agreed upon deadline that seems that the federal government may not make." 

Scott said he was delighted when the original settlement agreement was made between the government and the farmers of racial discrimination.

"We were so delighted that we had a rally in Richmond celebrating that announcement. All of this started a long time ago when the Congressional Black Caucus had a series of hearings to document the disgraceful discrimination that had been going on for a long time." 

Scott pointed out that due to legal complications and technicalities many farmers were not able to bring any cases at all.  As such, legislation was passed that allowed the statues of limitation be waived so that all cases could be heard.

"I'm embarrassed for our government that we still have not taken the steps necessary to put this sorry legacy of discrimination against Black farmers by our government into the annals of history."

Despite the Pigford Lawsuit Scott says this is only one portion of the legacy of discrimination by the Department of Agriculture that has continued.  Scott cites there have been an additional 15,000 cases that have been filed but have yet to be investigated by the USDA, many within the allotted statute of limitations.

"It is clear that we take another look so that we can get a handle on the situation before we have to have another round of Pigford lawsuits to deal with the problem."

"The Black farmers should not be asked to wait any longer", said Boyd. 

"People, we've waited long enough.  We've waited years for justice.  The environmental working group has released study after study on how Blacks aren't receiving farm subsidies. This is not a new story.  This is a story that continues to resurface because those that are responsible have failed to do what they committed to do."

Boyd says he's met with almost every committee from Appropriations to House Agriculture for justice.  "We're being told the same thing."   Boyd said that while the administration had been focused on healthcare, "they can walk and chew gum at the same time".

"This is a very simple measure where they can attach on any moving train.  We have over 400 members of Congress, the president has all kinds of staff.  They can pick up the phone and call the leadership and say we would like this move."

Boyd, who has spoken to over ten thousand Black farmers, points out that if the deadline is missed again Black farmers will miss yet another planning and harvest season.

"People, these farmers are old", explained Boyd to the assembled media.  "These are not farmers who are twenty-five, and thirty, and thirty-five.  These are farmers that are sixty, seventy, and eighty years of age." 

Boyd cited what will happen if the administration doesn't act immediately.

"Another Black farmer will die. Another Black farmer will lose his land, his livelihood, his way of life. That's what this settlement means to our nation's Black farmers."

Senator Kay Hagen (NC), sponsor of the late filing bill in Congress said, "I'm hear today to call on Congress to correct years of injustice, and appropriate the funding owed to our African American farmers before the March 31st deadline", as she explained to those assembled about the Pigford v. Glickman case.
  
Senator Kay Hagan, Congressman John Conyers (center) with John Boyd.  Above left:  Congressman Bobby Scott
with NBFA's president, John Boyd.  [Photos: CD Brown/Politics. On Point.]

Congressman John Conyers also attended and pressed for a meeting with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak (an Obama appointee). With cameras rolling and mics on, Conyers demanded to Vilsak's people that he and members of the NBFA be seen.
“You realize this is urgent,” Conyers said as he spoke to Vilsak's office aide.  "Get with attorney Keller (House legal counsel who had been trying to reach Vilsak by phone), and let him know where Vilsak is, okay?", demanded Conyers.  "Gee. It's a government employee", stated Conyers as he handed back the phone to Keller. 
As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.  Conyers was able to get a meeting with Vilsak at 5:30 pm that Wednesday evening.
We asked Boyd his thoughts on Conyers scoring the meeting with Vilsak.
"That was excellent", said Boyd. "It's really right on time.  It's really the type of movement that you need from leaders in Congress  --- pick up the phone and call them and see what the 'ham sandwich' is going on here.  And that's basically what he's done here today, which is the right thing to do."
Adding, "He stepped up to the plate today, and we appreciate it."
When we asked Conyers what he might say in the meeting with Vilsak, he was relunctant to answer, and told us our request for that information was a stupid question.
"I'm going to meet with him (Vilsak) on a $1.5b issue and you want me to tell you what I'm going to say to him in advance?"
"I can't tell you in advance on an issue that is sensitive.  I've invited you all to the meeting if you can make it, Conyers told another reported wanting to know the same .  "If you can't, I'll put out a release. "


Related
(Previous Articles)
Settlement Checks Issued To Black Famers In '99
Black Farmers Settlement Fund: Now You See It, Now You Don’t
Harsh Critic Asks:  Why Are Black Famers Whining?
Timothy Pigford v. GlickmanRead About The Case 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care Bill Signed

"On Behalf of My Mother"

President Obama signs the historic health care bill and says the bill is on behalf of his mother who grappled with insurance companies during her illness with cancer.

"She could have been focusing on getting well, not fighting with the insurance companies", said Obama.

"So, yes, this has been a difficult two years. There will be difficult days ahead. But let us always remember the lesson of this day -- and the lesson of history -- that we, as a people, do not shrink from a challenge. We overcome it. We don’t shrink from our responsibilities. We embrace it. We don’t fear the future. We shape the future. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. That makes us the United States of America."
 


What The Health Care Reform Will Mean - As Told By The President

"This year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with a preexisting condition and parents whose children have a preexisting condition will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need. And that means folks like Natoma Canfield will have access to affordable insurance. That happens this year. This year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people’s coverage when they get sick, or place lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care they can receive. This year, all new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care. And this year, young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ policies until they’re 26 years old. That all happens this year."

The president also assured seniors who fall in the coverage gap known as the 'doughnut hole' will get some help to help pay for prescription drugs - without cutting guaranteed benefits.

"So, these are the reforms that take effect right away. These reforms won’t give the government more control over your health care. They certainly won’t give the insurance companies more control over your health care. These reforms give you more control over your health care", added the president.

"And that’s only the beginning".

Springtime In Washington!

It wouldn't be Spring in Washington without touring the White House.

The grounds are perky and sprung with all types and colors of Spring flowers and foilage at Springtime, and even more beautiful in summer.

You can see the White House gardens starting next month.

The White House will open its gardens and grounds to visitors on Saturday, April 17th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and on Sunday, April 18th from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Visitors can view the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, Rose Garden, Children’s Garden and the South Lawn of the White House. The White House Kitchen Garden will also be viewable from the tour route and a visual explanation will be available to help inform tourists about the elements of the garden.

The tours are open to the public; however, a ticket is required for all attendees, including small children. The National Park Service will distribute free, timed tickets at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion located at 15th and E Streets on each tour day beginning at 8:00 a.m. Tickets will be distributed -- one ticket per person -- on a first-come, first-served basis.

What you cannot bring with you: Food and beverages (of any kind)| duffel bags/suitcases/backpacks | animals (except guide dogs) | aerosols (of any kind) | knives (of any size) | mace | Smoking | real or simulated weapons/ammunition | fireworks/firecrackers.

In addition, there will be no smoking.

Tourists can call the 24-hour information line at (202) 456-7041 to check on the status of the event and for cancellations. Tours of the White House will not occur on the dates of the Garden Tours.

Related
Video: Inside the White House Kitchen Garden
Tours and Events at the White House

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vice President Biden Wants To Put Money In Your Pockets!

Launches New Tax Saving Tools

Vice President Joe Biden here with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (left) and IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman yesterday in the EEOB (Eisenhower Executive Office Building).  [Photo:  CD Brown for Politics. On Point.] 

Not to be left out of doing something good for the nation (this guy did have a major accomplishment this week), Vice President Joe Biden introduced the new Whitehouse.gov Tax Saving tool to help taxpayers take advantage of Recovery Act Tax Credits.

Under the plan taxpayers can claim up to $2,500 in college expenses, up to $8,000 for first time home buyers, $1,500 in energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives, and can also deduct state and local taxes on new car purchases.  The Earned Income Credit (EIC) with families with three or more children increases to $5,657.

There will also be up to $800 ($400 for singles) tax savings credit under the Making Work Pay system.

"The big guys know all the credits and deductions to claim during tax season, but we want middle class families to know just how much is out there for them this year thanks to the Recovery Act and how to take advantage of it", said the Vice President.

The average tax refund has reached $3,036 this year.  That figure is up $266 since 2009, a figure IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman related to the media during the briefing.

"The Recovery Act is a major factor behind these larger, record refunds.  About half of all Americans haven't filed their taxes yet, so we urge them to look carefully at these Recovery provisions."

Shulman encourages taxpayers to file their taxes electronically and have the refunds directly deposited into their bank accounts.

Administration officials are planning to take the message cross-country, leading up to the April 15th tax filing deadline.  Tomorrow (Wednesday) Secretary Duncan will meet with students at the NOVA Annandale campus to address the American Opportunity Credit for college expenses. 

Other stops include transportation secretary Ray LaHood hosting a community roundtable on Recovery Act tax relief on March 29th in Chicago.

For more info visit www.whitehouse.gov/recovery.

Haiti: Findings of Human Rights Organizations

From TransAfrica Forum

Despite reports that the situation in Haiti is stable, many human rights organizations report a different story. While USAID and the U.S. Southern Command are now asserting that the demand for food and medical care is not exceeding the capacity on the ground, TransAfrica and its colleagues have found these reports wholly untrue. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are going without food, shelter, sanitation and medical care, and the bureaucratic process to receive help is costing lives. Even though more than $1 billion has been collected for Haiti relief, tens of thousands of Haitians go without nourishment, basic medical assistance and adequate sanitation units.

In response to these and other humanitarian and human right concerns, prominent human rights attorneys will testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the morning of Tuesday, March 23, 2010. Representatives from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux will provide first hand accounts of human rights violations post-earthquake.

Following their testimony and meetings with key Congressional Members, the delegation will answer questions at TransAfrica Forum. Join us on Tuesday, March 23 at 6:00pm and hear a poignant, more personal version, of the present situation in Haiti.

TransAfrica Forum is the leading advocacy organization for Africa and the African Diaspora in U.S. foreign policy. In its 30 year history, TransAfrica Forum helped lead the world protest against apartheid in South Africa. The organization was a key player in the restoration of Democracy in Haiti and limiting U.S. oil company power in Nigeria. Today TransAfrica Forum continues to work for human and economic justice for African people on the continent of Africa, in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Our website is www.transafricaforum.org.

Where: TransAfrica Forum, 1629 K Street, NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20006 (Farragut North Metro Station) | Time: 6:00 - 7:30pm |   Cost: Free and open to the public

Please RSVP to dialogue@transafricaforum.org or call 202.223.1960 ext 131.


Upcoming event: March 26, 2010: Efforts to Combat Impunity in the Chocó and Implement the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Internally Displaced Persons

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Immigration Reform: What Will It Really Achieve?

Immigrants Are Hoping For Change, And A Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

In the wake of the upcoming Immigration reform march near the White House this Sunday, we spoke to a Latina worker, (as we were getting our car washed) who was kind enough to share her thoughts on immigration, and living and working in America.

"Everybody work hard.  That's just our people.", said the lady we'll refer to here in this article as "Esolina". 

'Esolina' wants badly to attend the march this Sunday but tells us she has to work.
POP:  So, you were saying you have to work seven days a week just so you can pay your bills.

E:  "Yes."

"Americans, they think we want to take jobs away from Americans, but that's just not true.  Nobody (Americans) want to work in the carwash and vacuum out the cars in the cold weather, in the sun, you know?  Look at my sunburn (pointing to the area under her eyes).  They say, Oh you been on vacation. No!  It's a sunburn."

POP:  You have a sunburn under your eyes from washing and vacuuming cars in the sun?

E: Yes.


POP: Do you wear sunglasses while you're out there?

E: Yes, everybody wear sunglasses.  But it's hard work.

POP:  How long have you worked here?

E:  Long time.  But I'm happy. I love what I do.

POP: How long.  Three years? Five years? Longer?

E: More than ten years. I love it.

Our conversation took a detour about work to something even more interesting after we asked her the following question.

POP: So, if you could talk to President Obama, what would you say to him?

E:  "Start the cases.  Like if people commit the felony, commit a crime - kick out."

POP: Kick those people out of this country?
 E:  "Yes!" (Answering emphatically).  "And put in the jail.  But in the jail for twenty-five years."

POP: Whether legal, or not legal?

E: "Legal, or no legal, okay?"  "If illegal, it's more reason.  They need to do something. No, catching the people and putting back. No.  It should be something more strict, you know?  The people come back.  The same people.  But the good people, that work hard, let them stay.  I know a lot of people that pay the taxes, do everything correct, but they're punishment is the same.  And it makes the crime hard on the kids.  That's unbelievable. The kids, crying for the father that's in Mexico. That's not good.

POP:  Where are you from?

E: Peru.  Coming to this country from Peru, you need to have a VISA.  You can't come here like from Central America. No.  For me I have a niece and sister in my country.  They need to work.  But they not coming here because the United States not giving them a VISA.

POP:  Why do you think that is?

E:  I don't know why.

Last June, the president assigned Secretary Napolitano to work with both parties and key constituencies around the country to craft a comprehensive approach that president hopes to fix what he called "our broken immigration system".

'E'. offered that she likes being a U.S. citizen, and credits her friends and family (two sons in the military) for working hard to be successful.  She told us she is against people who use the government system for personal gain.

E. "I know people who make $600 a week, and they still apply for government help.  I come here, and take classes to speak English so I can communicate on this job, and didn't ask for any government help."


"See that right there?"  (Proudly pointing across the way to her 2001 Ford Mustang, that she paid for.)  "That's my baby.  I work hard for that."

Related
Thousands expected for Immigration Reform march.



Copyright  2010. This article may not be copied or redistributed without the expressed written consent of Politics. On Point.  For permission (with fee) contact us.

President's Statement on Passing of Stewart Udall

Udall, Interior secretary in the 1960s, died Saturday morning at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. of natural causes.  He had fallen last week and was confined to bed for a time.

President Obama issued the following statement,

“For the better part of three decades, Stewart Udall served this nation honorably. Whether in the skies above Italy in World War II, in Congress or as Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall left an indelible mark on this nation and inspired countless Americans who will continue his fight for clean air, clean water and to maintain our many natural treasures. Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Udall family who continue his legacy of public service to this day.”

Udall was passionate about preserving areas of land, particulary wilderness areas, national parks, and national monuments.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

One Last Rallying Cry. President Obama Talks Health Reform Bill At George Mason University.

Pro-Life Supporters Say Bill Supports Abortion.

To an almost packed Patriot Center (who knew the reason why Sections 109-114 were blocked off, and most of the audience viewed the president either from the side or rear?), President Obama made one last rally cry to plug his health care reform bill before the bill is to be passed this weekend.


President Obama speaking at George Mason University's Patriot Center. Photo/CD Brown.

Amid cheers from the crowd of "Yes, We Can!" and "Fired Up. Ready To Go!" (and a few I Love Yous) Mr. Obama explained to the audience, many of whom were students, that health care reform can't wait.

"George Mason, the time for reform is right now. Not a year from now, not five years from now, not 10 years from now, not 20 years from now, it’s now", said president Obama.

Many who attended the gathering liked what the president is proposing.

Folks we talked to after the rally were particularly in favor of having young adults remain on their parent's health plan until age 26.

"And by the way, to all the young people here today, starting this year if you don’t have insurance, all new plans will allow you to stay on your parents’ plan until you are 26 years old", explained Obama.

"Once I graduated from college I was kicked off my parent's insurance", said Tamika Felder of Tamika and Friends, a non-profit group passionate about women's health and health care reform.  Tameka initially found a job after college, but it didn't offer health coverage.  Upon finding a job that did, she was later diagnosed with cervical cancer.

"Luckily I ended up with a job that had insurance. I had a good job, good health care but I ended up in debt at 25 because once I reached my cap on my insurance, they wouldn't pay for things.  So, I had to pay for some things out right. With a cancer you have some medications that aren't covered, so young adults especially really need health care reform.  We're just getting started in our jobs, we're paying off student loans.  It's very important for the young adult community, especially, that health care reform goes through."

Adding, "The fact that the plan allows students to remain on their parent's plan is phenomenal.  We already are paying back college loans."

Interestingly enough we chatted with a 16 year old who told us his parents don't have health care. He was forced to use emergency care at a hospital after suffering a concussion playing football.  (Our sister blog talked about concussions this week, here).

"We had to pay $3,000 right on the spot", Ayman Ahmed told us after the rally. 

"The ambulance game and I got fixed, and after it was done they talked to her (referring to his mother), she signed some papers and we had to pay.  It took a while."

A few audience members told us while they have healthcare, they are happy that president's plan will cover those who don't.

While most were in favor of the president's health care reform plan, others came out to demonstrate what they think the health care reform bill doesn't reveal.   Jonathan Darnell (left), 28, a friend of the DC metro area grassroots pro-life organization, Defend Life thinks the reform will increase funding for abortions.





Protestors who say the president's health care bill supports
payment of abortions hold signs outside.  Photo/CD Brown.


 "Numerous, neutral fact check organizations have verified that the bill, as it stands right now, especially President Obama's version, will increase funding for abortions through numerous different channels", said Darnell. 

"I oppose that.  I think it should be a litmus test. A deal breaker.  As apparently a lot of pro-life Democrats in the house believe."

"If we would not kill a four or five year old child because the mother was raped, or their home life was terrible, we should not kill an unborn child. I believe they are persons and deserve the same rights", said Darnell.

Hecklers were removed from the event, among them, Ruby Nicdaw, a counselor with LifeGuardSaves.com who repeatedly chanted, "We won't pay for murder!"

When another heckler was removed by security after minutes of booing, he asked them, "What took you so long?"

As it applies to health care reform we ask the same: Washington, what took you so long?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Recovery?

New Transportation Projects Announced  (But We Just Want Our DC Area Potholes Fixed, Please!)

Vice President Joe Biden today announced that 10,000 transportation projects are now under way in all 50 states and the District of Columbia thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Projects are considered under way when a contractor has been hired, the project has received official notice to proceed, and work has begun. This milestone comes just over a year after the Recovery Act was signed into law and as the spring construction season is getting into full swing.

“The 10,000 transportation projects under way are already helping put us on the road to economic recovery, but there is even more to come,” said Vice President Biden. “This spring, Recovery Act projects will pick up the pace across the country, providing even more jobs improving America’s roads, highways and bridges.”

Other major Recovery Act-funded projects under construction include I-4/Selmon Expressway in Tampa. Because of $105 million in Recovery Act funds, construction began earlier this month on the $653 million I-4/Selmon Expressway Crosstown Connector in Tampa. The project will provide direct access for the more than 12,000 commercial trucks that travel through downtown to and from the Port of Tampa every day.

DART Orange Line in Dallas. Recovery Act funds totaling $61.2 million are helping Dallas Area Rapid Transit construct the 14-mile Orange Line, which will eventually link Downtown Dallas and the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Nelsonville Bypass in Southeast Ohio. Ohio is constructing a new, 8.5 mile, four-lane highway to divert freight traffic from U.S. 33, which bottlenecks in the town of Nelsonville. Recovery Act funds totaling $138 million are helping fund this final upgrade of the U.S. 33 corridor in southeast Ohio that will take traffic off local roads, which carry 1,700 trucks a day on one of the busiest truck routes in the state.

Merritt Parkway, near Fairfield, Conn. Recovery Act funds in the amount of $67 million are improving safety for the estimated 60,000 daily drivers who use the Merritt Parkway by widening shoulders and installing or updating guard rails along 9.3 miles of one of the East Coast’s most congested commuter routes.

South Westnedge Avenue Interchange on I-94 near Kalamazoo, Mich. Last fall, the Recovery Act fully funded this $47.7 million project to reconstruct the interchange and ease traffic congestion along this key Midwest corridor that serves an estimated 87,000 drivers daily. One additional lane will be added in each direction to widen the road from four lanes to six, allowing cars and trucks to move through Kalamazoo more safely and easily.

That's fine, and well.  But, as we said in the beginning of this article, "We Just Want Our DC Area Potholes Fixed, Please.  Good deeds (and charity) start at home!

Health Care Reform. Passing The Bill. Will It Happen?

Health Care Reform Now, Please.

What happens if we do nothing?

"We've come too far now to throw this bill out.  That's what the Republicans want us to do. Start all over", said John Conyers in a event during a  WPFW Raucus Caucus radio discussion held this past Tuesday night at Ben's Next Door, a spin-off of the famous Ben's Chili Bowl.

"We've been in this debate for over a year. Now, is the time.  Let's get it done."

[Congressman John Conyers (middle) speaking during a radio sponsored event this past Tuesday on Health Care Reform. Photo by CD Brown for Politcs. On Point.]

"All Democrats are voting for this bill", said Conyers.  "That's a sign of progress.  The fact that all Republicans are voting against it, doesn't mean that the government's broke.  It means we got to kick out the Republicans that are against it, or make some of them come over."

Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich, saying he may be the "deciding vote," announced on Wednesday he will back the Senate-passed healthcare bill that President Barack Obama hopes to sign into law.

Kucinich voted against the bill last year saying, “We have been led to believe that we must make our health care choices only within the current structure of a predatory, for-profit insurance system which makes money not providing health care. We cannot fault the insurance companies for being what they are. But we can fault legislation in which the government incentivizes the perpetuation, indeed the strengthening, of the for-profit health insurance industry, the very source of the problem."

Democrats need 216 votes to win House passage. It is expected that the bill will pass this weekend.

The President will be in Fairfax, VA at George Mason University's Patriot Center for a health care reform rally on this Friday, beginning at 11:00 am.

Related
Kucinich: Healthcare Is A Civil Right - "It's Personal"
Dec, 2009: Senate Passes Health Care Reform

First, Health Care Reform. Then Jobs.

Tax Breaks For Employees Who Hire.

After tackling the massive health care reform bill, the President is now (and has been, in between tasks) trying to get America back to work.

The president plans to sign the HIRE Act, a jobs bill that will encourage businesses to hire and help put Americans back to work and restore the economy.

"Through the eyes of economists, you look at the different stages of recovery. You look at whether an economy has begun to grow. At whether businesses have begun to hire temporary workers or increase the hours of existing workers. At whether businesses, small and large, have begun to hire full-time employees again."

While the economy has seen an uptick in the number of constructions jobs being filled and the number of temporary workers being hired, many cities still face unemployment.

In a radio address on Tuesday, Congressman John Conyers stated his home town of Detroit has a 30% unemployment rate.

To that point, the president says, "The jobs bill I’m signing today – and our broader efforts to achieve a recovery – aren’t about politics. They’re not about Democrat versus Republican. This isn’t some game. They’re about the people in this country who are out of work and looking for a job; they’re about all of the Americans – of every race, region, and age – who’ve shared their stories with me."

What The Jobs Bill Will Mean
The tax bill can be outlined in this fashion.

Forgive the payroll taxes for businesses that hire someone who’s been out of work for at least two months – a tax benefit that will apply to unemployed workers hired between last month and the end of this year. This tax cut says to employers. "If you hire a worker who’s unemployed, you won’t have to pay payroll taxes on that worker for the rest of the year. And businesses that move quickly to hire today will get a bigger tax credit than businesses that wait until later this year."

Encourage smaller businesses to grow and hire by permitting them to write off investments they make in 2010. The bill will allow business to immediately write off business purchases if they hire. In an example, the president used a business that spends $250,000 on factory equipment - which would take years to depreciate - will now under the new jobs bill, be able and write it off right away.

Reform municipal bonds to encourage job-creation by expanding investment in schools and clean energy projects. Using the Build America Bonds as an example for towns that hire to rebuild schools, the bill will make it easier to raise the money. "We’ll give Americans a better chance to invest in the future of their communities and of our country".

Finally, this jobs bill will maintain crucial investments in our roads and bridges as we head into the spring and summer months, when construction jobs are picking up.

The jobs bill may not be enough, as the president points out, but it's a start in the right direction.

Now, where are those companies that are taking advantage of this new bill?  I need a media job.

Employers, advertise your company's jobs on our site.

How You Can Help Stop Childhood Obesity

[Press Release]


Task Force on Childhood Obesity Asks the Public for Ideas to Solve Obesity Challenge

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education and Health and Human Services are asking the public for ideas to help the Task Force on Childhood Obesity come up with recommendations for public and private sector actions to solve the problem of childhood obesity. The work of the Task Force will complement the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama as she leads a national public awareness effort to tackle this critical public health issue.

The First Lady participated in a Newsweek Q&A session titled the “Challenges and Ways to Promote Health and Wellness in America’s Communities” yesterday at the Newseum where she fielded questions on the subject from Newsweek's John Meacham.

"The statistics are clear, you know. We’re seeing rates of childhood obesity go up like never before. And I think the country is also at a point where we’re ready. And I think that's one of the reasons why the “Let’s Move” initiative has been so well received by so many industries and parents and teachers, is because I think we know there’s a problem, and we’re going to have to come together to solve it", explained Mrs. Obama.

On Feb. 9, 2010, President Obama created the first-ever federal task force to enhance coordination between private sector companies, not-for-profits, agencies within the government and other organizations to address the problem of childhood obesity. The Presidential Memo that established the Task Force (available here) directed senior officials from executive agencies and the White House to develop a comprehensive interagency action plan that details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks and goals, describes research gaps and needs, and assists in the development of legislative, budgetary, and policy proposals that can improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and communities.

The Task Force was also directed to review the following objectives:
(a) Ensuring access to healthy, affordable food;
(b) Increasing physical activity in schools and communities;
(c) Providing healthier food in schools; and
(d) Empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.

In addition, the Presidential Memo directed the Task Force to conduct outreach with representatives of private and non-profit organizations, State, Tribal, and local authorities, and other interested persons that can assist with the Task Force's development of a detailed set of recommendations to solve the problem of childhood obesity. The Request for Information published today asks a series of detailed questions that will help the Task Force draft its report.

The Notice of the request for public input, including more specifics, is available in the March 16, 2010 Federal Register, available here.

Comments should be submitted on line at: www.regulations.gov, or by fax or mail to: Director, Office Executive Secretariat, USDA, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Room 116-A Whitten Bldg., Washington, D.C. 20250. Fax number: (202) 720-7166. (All comments will be open to public review.)
_________________________
Here's our idea from Politics On Point.  Why not just rid the nation of fast food places, and packaged and processed foods, forever? A bit ambitious, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

President Plans Trip To Guam, Australia, and Indonesia

The President is planning an overseas trip March 22-26th, 2010 to the Asia-Pacific areas of Guam, Australia, and Indonesia in an effort "to advance America's security and economic interests in a very vital part of the world".

"America has been somewhat absent from the region over the last several years and we are committed to reestablishing that leadership in advance of our interests", said President Obama.

Among the economic interests the president will focus on include doubling exports and achieving balanced and sustainable growth or fighting terrorism and combating climate change.

The president is also planning visits to Bali, and Canberra, and then on to Australia where he'll have talks with Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

"We have very robust cooperation with the Australians on security issues, economic issues, environmental issues. They’re obviously a close partner of us in Afghanistan, where they’ve been steadfast in their support there. We run a very positive trade relationship with Australia that supports American jobs and supports economic prosperity for both Australians and Americans. And of course, we’ve cooperated closely on clean energy issues and efforts to combat climate change", said Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications yesterday in a press briefing via conference call.

Both Indonesia and Australia are US partners participating in common G20 issues.


**Update** The president's trip has been postponed until June, 2010 while he continues to work with Congress on the health care reform bill, which is expected to pass next week.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Oppose the War In Iraq? Any War? Proponent of War? You Should See This!

Please note this video is NSFW (not safe for work).  Please use discretion while viewing.



An anti-war rally is being planned this Saturday (3/20/2010) in front of the White House.

The group 'The Answer Coalition' is spearheading this effort. Many political figures, local activists, along with Cindy Sheehan are expected to attend and, or participate.

For more info go to answercoalition.org.

Also, a new gallery called Images of War by Suzanne Opton is being placed on display at many of our area subway stations to include the Rosslyn, Farragut West, and Metro Center stations. View also http://www.soldiersface.com/for more.

[Photo: The above photo was taken earlier this year just outside the White House by CD Brown for Politics. On Point. This demonstrator was already stating his view on the war. Get out!]

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Violence Among Mexican Drug Cartels Leaves US Official Dead

The death toll is spiraling throughout Mexico as a war between the country's government and the drug cartels intensifies.

A U.S. consulate employee and her husband were killed in a drive-by shooting in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican border city wracked by drug violence. 

The wife and husband were in a car near the international bridge crossing into El Paso, Texas, the newspaper said, and a infant, presumably their daughter, survived the shooting unscathed.

US National Security Council Mike Hammer, in a statement earlier this morning said:
"The President is deeply saddened and outraged by the news of the brutal murders of three people associated with the United States Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, including a U.S. citizen employee, her U.S. citizen husband, and the husband of a Mexican citizen employee. He extends his condolences to the families and condemns these attacks on consular and diplomatic personnel serving at our foreign missions. In concert with Mexican authorities, we will work tirelessly to bring their killers to justice."
The State Department said in a statement Sunday that recent violent attacks have led the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to advise American citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of the Mexican states of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.


Related
Drugs Seized In Venezuela
Border War Erupts
First Lady Plans Solo Trip To Mexico

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vice President Returns From Middle East

Vice President, Joe Biden returned early this morning from his trip to the Middle East.

The Vice President, along with his wife Dr. Jill Biden, traveled to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan to discuss a full range of bilateral and regional issues.

During his visit the Vice President met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where he called his friendship with Netanyahu ``real’.
Vice President Biden called the proximity talks with the Palestinians ``a start.’’

Mr. Biden visited the region over twenty years ago when he was Senator of Delaware and said it was a "privilege to be back", during statements at Tel Aviv University earlier this week.

The Vice President, also planning to visit Egypt during the trip, has postponed the visit, but expects the trip to be rescheduled at a future date.

First Lady To Travel To Mexico

Lady Michelle Obama will visit Mexico City, Mexico, April 13-15.

Mrs. Obama’s international agenda will amplify the President’s commitment to advancing mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual responsibility between nations and peoples around the world.

During this visit, Mrs. Obama will have the opportunity to engage the citizens of Mexico, particularly young people, and build on her recent conversation with Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala de Calderon on the issues of education and economic advancement in both countries.

Earlier this month president Zavala met with the First Lady during her visit to Washington in which the two discussed Mrs. Obama's campaign for childhood obesity, and undocumented Mexican minors in the U.S.

Mrs. Obama's trip to Mexico will be her first solo official trip as First Lady.

It is not known whether the First Lady speaks Spanish.  Meanwhile her husband, President Obama admitted to not speaking a foreign language, says American children should learn to speak Spanish.

"Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, they'll learn English.  You need to make sure your child can speak Spanish", the president said in a town hall meeting in June of 2008 about having an English-only speaking society.

Friday, March 12, 2010

President Donates Nobel Peace Prize Money

President Obama plans to donate a portion of the his Nobel Peace Prize award to various charities. The list of charities (and their amounts) include:

Fisher House ($250,000), a national non-profit organization that provides housing for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers.

College Summit ($125,000), a national non-profit organization that partners with elementary and middle schools and school districts to strengthen college-going culture and increase college enrollment rates, so that all students graduate from high school career and college-ready.

The Posse Foundation ($125,000), a national non-profit organization that identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Posse’s college and university partners award Posse Scholars four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships. The scholars graduate at a rate of 90 percent.

The United Negro College Fund ($125,000). UNCF helps more than 60,000 students each year attend college through scholarship and internship programs to 40 private, historically black, member colleges and universities.

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund ($125,000) is the nation's leading Hispanic scholarship organization, providing the Hispanic community more college scholarships and educational outreach support than any other organization in the country. In its 34 year history, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has awarded close to $280M in scholarships to more than 90,000 students in need.

The Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation ($125,000) a non-profit organization funded by foundations and companies, ALEF supports and enables young men and women from Appalachia to pursue higher education though scholarship and leadership curriculum.

The American Indian College Fund ($125,000)  Indian higher education by funding and creating awareness of the unique, community-based accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities, offering students access to knowledge, skills, and cultural values which enhance their communities and the country as a whole. The Fund disburses approximately 6,000 scholarships annually for American Indian students seeking to better their lives through higher education. The Fund also provides support for tribal college needs, ranging from capital support to cultural preservation curricula.

AfriCare ($100,000). AfriCare was founded in 1970 and has more projects in Africa than any other U.S. based charity, reaching communities in 25 countries, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its programs address needs in three principal areas: health and HIV/AIDS; food security and agriculture; and water resource development.

The Central Asia Institute ($100,000) promotes and supports community-based education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Institute’s co-founder, Greg Mortenson, was also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee this year, whose book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time, recounts his attempt to successfully establish dozens of schools and promote girls’ education in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund ($200,000). The C-BHF works to provide immediate relief and long-term support to earthquake survivors.In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, President Obama asked former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to create the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund to raise funds for long-term relief efforts in Haiti.

President Meets With Caucus Groups

The president met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the economy, job creation and the need to pass health care reform.  During the meeting with the CBC, congress woman Barbara Lee remarked on the impact of the economy in economically distressed communities and the need for additional assistance in these areas, Members presented their concerns and solutions for broadening the impact of the recovery effort.

The office of the Press Secretary is reporting that the participants agreed on what can be done to impact unemployment immediately, and in the long term, including summer youth employment, job training tied to apprenticeships, a review of Recovery Act contracting to ensure access to these opportunities is fair and equitable, and an appreciation for the jobs that can be generated through weatherization programs, and the passage of health care reform."

Earlier this month, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley, both with national platforms that discuss issues relative to African Americans, went toe-to-toe on the issue of the president's seemingly disinterest in addressing African American concerns, or having of a Black agenda that will improve the current issues of African Americans.




"In an interview on NPR yesterday with Michel Martin, Smiley said, "Black folk are getting crushed on issues like the economy, the housing market, education, etc.  So, for Black leaders whose job it is to present the best interest of  Black people to start saying publicly that the president need not focus specifically, or uniquely on  the concerns of Black folk, that was unsettling for me, and I think it's something that Black need to talk about."

Smiley has often stated that "when you make Black America better, you make all of America better."

Smiley plans to hold a 'We Count. The Black Agenda Is The American Agenda' summit at Chicago State University on March 20th, 2010. Panelists scheduled include advertising pioneer Tom Burrell, professors Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux.

Reverend Sharpton is planning a similar summit on April 17th.

The president also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus where he also discussed unemployment, health care. Also discussed in the meeting was the president's strong commitment to fixing the broken immigration system.

The members of the CHC also acknowledged the progress that has been made over the past year, including on expanding health care for children through CHIP, on job creation and economic recovery, and highlighted the Hispanic community’s interest in immigration reform. After a thorough discussion of health care reform, the President and the CHC agreed to continue to work together to make health insurance more affordable and accessible, and to give the American people more control over their own health care.

The President was joined at the meeting by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Phil Schiliro, and White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Haiti's President Visits The White House

Haitian president Rene Préval and his delegation met with president Obama at the White House this week to offer an update on the status of relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts in the earthquake devastated island of Haiti.

On January 12, 2010 the massive earthquake, registering 7.0 on the Richter scale, struck the island Haiti's Port-au-Prince area.

"Your grief is shared by our strong and vibrant Haitian American community, some of whom join us here today and who continue to mourn the loss of their loved ones back in Haiti. To you, and to our fellow Americans, please know that you remain in our thoughts and in our prayers", said Obama.

Shortly after the earthquake U.S. urban search and rescue teams from Fairfax County, Los Angeles County, Miami, Miami-Dade, Virginia Beach, and New York City were deployed and, with rescue teams from other countries, pulled a total of 136 survivors from the rubble.

The President thanked the men and women who answered Haiti’s call in its hours of need, including members of Congress, and many state and local officials to include the Department of State, USAID, Homeland Security, FEMA, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Department of Defense, including our great folks at Southern Command.

"Today I want to thank all of them for leading a swift and coordinated response during one of the most complex humanitarian efforts ever attempted."

The White House is also reporting that Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and International Medical Surgical Response Teams from the Department of Health and Human Services conducted 31,365 patient visits, performed 167 surgeries, and delivered 45 babies while U.S. military medical professionals treated 9,800 patients, admitted 1,464 patient admissions, performed 1,025 surgeries, 2,200 patient transfers and carried out 255 MEDEVACS. Coast Guard aircraft conducted an additional 240 MEDEVACS.

The USAID-led emergency response team has supported government vaccination efforts in IDP camps. To date, 233,251 people have been vaccinated. Among other relief efforts the U.S. purports to have provided are U.S. food aid contributions and the ongoing provision of emergency food assistance to more than 2 million people by the World Food Program and partners through March. 

What Haiti Needs Now
"The situation in Haiti remains dire, and people should be under no illusions that the crisis is over. Many Haitians are still in need, desperate need in some cases, of shelter and food and medicine. And with the spring rains approaching, those needs will only grow. The challenge now is to prevent a second disaster."


The President made a committment that the US will aid in the support of the rebuilding of Haiti.
 
"And that’s why, at this very moment, thousands of Americans, both civilian and military, remain on the scene at the invitation of the Haitian government. And that’s why, even as the U.S. military responsibly hands off relief functions to our Haitian and international partners, America’s commitment to Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction must endure and will endure. This pledge is one that I made at the beginning of this crisis and I intend for America to keep our pledge. America will be your partner in the recovery and reconstruction effort." 

President Preval remarked by saying, "Our priorities are, first and foremost, as you said, protection of those people who today are homeless and who must be relocated. And in parallel, we must prepare the rainy season, which just last week has already caused the deaths of 15 people. 

"And at the same time, much more basically, we must deal with the need of rebuilding Haiti, thanks to an effective decentralization policy -- namely, offering health care, education, jobs to all Haitians, men and women, regardless of where they live in the country, in order to prevent migratory flows towards the big cities, towards Port-au-Prince, and that will help avoid that disaster such as the earthquake would cause so many victims."


On March 31st, there will be at the United Nations an international conference in order to support the reconstruction of Haiti.

"I do hope that all participants will share this philosophy, this vision, of decentralization", said Preval.
 
Lessons Learned  
Preval, during his speech in the White House Rose Garden, added "These are lessons for all of mankind. The Haiti earthquake was immediately followed by the earthquake in Chile, as well as other earthquakes throughout the world. And the countries that have seismic risks are not merely those countries which are located on top of seismic faults. In fact, the tsunamis, which are the repercussions of break in faults, threaten other regions as well as the United States."

Call For Improved Response
While thanking the US for the aid and response to the people of Haiti, Preval said effectiveness can and must be improved.   Several reports have indicated that the US is trying to occupy Haiti and that food and relief have not reached everyone.


"The massive, spontaneous, generous help was a good response to the disaster", said Preval. "However, its effectiveness must be improved, because effectiveness depends on the quality of coordination."


This is why I support the idea of the creation of so-called “red helmets” within the United Nations, and these would be an observatory, a warning system, a provision system for natural disaster, and a humanitarian force which would be the equivalent of the blue helmets. It was proposed that there should be so-called “red helmets,” a humanitarian force in order to intervene, and that would work in a coordinated manner as soon as the first minutes after a disaster, which are fundamental to saving lives.


Related (Relief Status: January To Present)
Food and Supplies Not Reaching Haiti
US Accused of Militarizing Relief Effort in Haiti
US Pulls Out of Haiti Recovery

Still To Come
Our Report On One Man's Visit To Haiti.   We'll share our report with former Redskin, Ken Harvey, as he spoke with us about his mission to help the people of Haiti.



Photo: Reuters