Covering

Covering Washington politics. From our vantage point. One day a time.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Washington, We Have An Agreement

The House and Senate finally approved to extend the payroll tax cut along with unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.  At least for two more months.

"I am grateful that the voices of reason have prevailed and Speaker Boehner has agreed to pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise", said Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader. "Year-long extensions of the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance and Medicare payments for physicians has always been our goal, and Democrats will not rest until we have passed them."

The President, the House and the Senate.  Two days before the Christmas holiday
 an agreement is made to extend tax cuts and unemployment benefits for Americans.
Said President Obama, before leaving the White House to join his family in Hawaii for the Christmas holiday, "I said it was critical for Congress not to go home without preventing a tax increase on 160 million working Americans, and I'm pleased to say that they've got it done.  So I want to thank all the members of Congress for ending the stalemate and making this happen."

The bill also instructs the President to announce his decision on the Keystone Pipeline within the next few months. The president delayed his decision on the pipeline until he could gather more information about the process before agreeing to begin the project.

"Because of this agreement, every working American will keep their tax cut, about $1,000 for a typical family.  And that translates into an extra $40 or so in every paycheck.  Vital unemployment insurance will continue for millions of Americans who are looking for work.  And when Congress returns, I urge them to keep working, without drama, without delay, to reach an agreement that extends this tax cut as well as unemployment insurance through all of 2012."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Justice Department Reaches $335 Million Lending Discrimination Settlement by Countrywide

The Department of Justice today filed its largest residential fair lending settlement in history to resolve allegations that Countrywide Financial Corporation and its subsidiaries engaged in a widespread pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in their mortgage lending from 2004 through 2008. 


More than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers who qualified for Loans were charged higher fees or placed into subprime loans.  The settlement provides $335 million in compensation for victims of Countrywide’s discrimination during a period when Countrywide originated millions of residential mortgage loans as one of the nation’s largest single-family mortgage lenders.

The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in conjunction with the department’s complaint which alleges that Countrywide discriminated by charging more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers in both its retail and wholesale lending.  The complaint alleges that these borrowers were charged higher fees and interest rates because of their race or national origin, and not because of the borrowers’ creditworthiness or other objective criteria related to borrower risk. 

The United States also alleges that Countrywide discriminated by steering thousands of African-American and Hispanic borrowers into subprime mortgages when non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans.  All the borrowers who were discriminated against were qualified for Countrywide mortgage loans according to Countrywide’s own underwriting criteria.

“The department’s action against Countrywide makes clear that we will not hesitate to hold financial institutions accountable, including one of the nation’s largest, for lending discrimination,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “These institutions should make judgments based on applicants’ creditworthiness, not on the color of their skin. With today’s settlement, the federal government will ensure that the more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers who were discriminated against by Countrywide will be entitled to compensation.”

The settlement resolves the United States’ pricing and steering claims against Countrywide for its discrimination against African Americans and Hispanics. 

The United States’ complaint alleges that African-American and Hispanic borrowers paid more than non-Hispanic white borrowers, not based on borrower risk, but because of their race or national origin.  Countrywide’s business practice allowed its loan officers and mortgage brokers to vary a loan’s interest rate and other fees from the price it set based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors.  This subjective and unguided pricing discretion resulted in African American and Hispanic borrowers paying more.  The complaint further alleges that Countrywide was aware the fees and interest rates it was charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but failed to impose meaningful limits or guidelines to stop it. 

“Countrywide’s actions contributed to the housing crisis, hurt entire communities, and denied families access to the American dream,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “We are using every tool in our law enforcement arsenal, including some that were dormant for years, to go after institutions of all sizes that discriminated against families solely because of their race or national origin.”

The United States’ complaint also alleges that, as a result of Countrywide’s policies and practices, qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers were placed in subprime loans rather than prime loans even when similarly-qualified non-Hispanic white borrowers were placed in prime loans.  The discriminatory placement of borrowers in subprime loans, also known as “steering,” occurred because it was Countrywide’s business practice to allow mortgage brokers and employees to place a loan applicant in a subprime loan even when the applicant qualified for a prime loan.  In addition, Countrywide gave mortgage brokers discretion to request exceptions to the underwriting guidelines, and Countrywide’s employees had discretion to grant these exceptions.      

This is the first time that the Justice Department has alleged and obtained relief for borrowers who were steered into loans based on race or national origin, a practice that systematically placed borrowers of color into subprime mortgage loan products while placing non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar creditworthiness in prime loans.  By steering borrowers into subprime loans from 2004 to 2007, the complaint alleges, Countrywide harmed those qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers.  Subprime loans generally carried higher-cost terms, such as prepayment penalties and exploding adjustable interest rates that increased suddenly after two or three years, making the payments unaffordable and leaving the borrowers at a much higher risk of foreclosure.

The settlement also resolves the department’s claim that Countrywide violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by discriminating on the basis of marital status against non-applicant spouses of borrowers by encouraging them to sign away their home ownership rights.  The law allows married individuals to apply for credit either in their own name or jointly with their spouse, even when the property is owned by both spouses.  For applications made by married individuals applying solely in their own name between 2004 and 2008, Countrywide encouraged non-applicant spouses to sign quitclaim deeds or other documents transferring their legal rights and interests in jointly-held property to the borrowing spouse.  Non-applicant spouses who execute a quitclaim deed risk substantial uncertainty and financial loss by losing all their rights and interests in the property securing the loan. 

In addition, the settlement requires Countrywide to implement policies and practices to prevent discrimination if it returns to the lending business during the next four years.  Countrywide currently operates as a subsidiary of Bank of America but does not originate new loans.  

The department’s investigation into Countrywide’s lending practices began after referrals by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and the Office of Thrift Supervision to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in 2007 and 2008 for potential patterns or practices of discrimination by Countrywide.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF). President Obama established the interagency FFETF to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.   The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.   The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.   For more information on the task force, visit www.StopFraud.gov.

A copy of the complaint and proposed settlement order, as well as additional information about fair lending enforcement by the Justice Department, can be obtained from the Justice Department website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing

The proposed settlement provides for an independent administrator to contact and distribute payments of compensation at no cost to borrowers whom the Justice Department identifies as victims of Countrywide’s discrimination.  The department will make a public announcement and post contact information on its website once an administrator is chosen.  Borrowers who are eligible for compensation from the settlement will then be contacted by the administrator.  Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of lending discrimination by Countrywide and have questions about the settlement may email the department at countrywide.settlement@usdoj.gov.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Congresswoman Norton Spreads Holiday Cheer To Disadvantaged Kids

Covenant House, in conjunction with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), welcomed Santa and Mrs. Claus and more than 200 disadvantaged D.C. children to the 21st annual “D.C. Children’s Christmas Party on the Hill”today in the Cannon House Office Building.

The children were provided with food and gifts while being entertained by a puppet show from ACLOWN4U, as well as by Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their elves.

“We hope that by providing these children with some holiday fun not only with toys, but also with some necessities, including hats, gloves and scarves, it will encourage them to believe that things can always get better,” Norton said. “These are tough times for the average American.”

Congresswoman Norton remarked that she appreciated the generosity of the many organizations, businesses and individuals who made donations and volunteered their time to help make the party a success.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Welcome Home!

At Fort Bragg, President Obama and First Lady welcome home soldiers.

The president remarked: "It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success. Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home."

The president visited with five enlisted servicemen, recently returned from deployments, and one Gold Star Family before making remarks.

Nine States Awarded Race To The Top-Early Learning Challenge Grants

Awards To Help Build Statewide Systems of High Quality Early Education Programs

The White House announced that nine states - California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington - will receive grant awards from the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge fund, a competitive grant program jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. 

President Obama asked Congress in his budget to authorize and make permanent an Early Learning Challenge Fund in previous years. Unfortunately, Congress did not act on that proposal, so the Administration took action to ensure this program was funded this year through Race to the Top, because our kids only get one shot at a top-notch education and they cannot afford to wait.
“Education must be our national mission,” said President Barack Obama. “All of us must work to give all our children the best education possible.  And today, we're acting to strengthen early childhood education to better prepare our youngest children for success in school and in life”

Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius made the announcement of state grantees this morning at a White House event with over 100 early learning and development experts, educators, policymakers, and researchers.

“In a matter of months, early education and child development experts throughout the country, together with state and local leaders, worked to build comprehensive plans for expanding access to high-quality early learning,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “All applicants showed tremendous dedication and drive to build stronger foundations and create greater opportunities for more children. Their work will help lead the way in ensuring excellent early learning and support for every child.”

“A strong educational system is critical not just for our children but also for our nation’s economic future,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. “The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge takes a holistic approach to early education, promotes innovation, and focuses on what it takes to help put young children on the path of learning, opportunity, and success.”

Through the competition, 35 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico have created plans to increase access to high-quality programs for children from low-income families, providing more children from birth to age 5 with a strong foundation they need for success in school and beyond.  The number and list of winners was determined both by the quality of the applications and the funds available.

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge will support the work of the nine state grantees to develop new approaches to raising the bar across early learning centers and to close the school readiness gap. Awards will invest in grantees’ work to build statewide systems of high-quality early learning and development programs. These investments will impact all early learning programs, including Head Start, public pre-K, childcare, and private preschools. Key reforms will include: aligning and raising standards for existing early learning and development programs; improving training and support for the early learning workforce through evidence-based practices; and building robust evaluation systems that promote effective practices and programs to help parents make informed decisions.

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge is a key part of the Obama Administration’s comprehensive early learning agenda. Alongside improvements in childcare and strengthening of the Head Start program, the agenda aims to guide all children down a path of success in kindergarten and beyond.

Race to the Top, an education reform initiative announced by President Obama in 2009, has been a catalyst for advancing state-led efforts to improve education. In rounds one and two, eleven states – Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee – and D.C. secured grants to invest in K-12 reform plans that raise academic standards, improve teacher and principal quality, build cradle to career data systems and turnaround persistently low-performing schools.

The fiscal year 2011 budget provided an additional $700 million to invest in early learning and elementary and post secondary education reform. In addition to the $500 million awarded today to Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grantees, seven states - Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – have applied for a share of the $200 million to invest in K-12 education reform. Awards will be announced later this month.
State data relevant to the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge along with peer reviewers’ scores and comments will be posted online later today. Grant awards will range from around $50 million up to $100 million, depending on State population and proposed plans. Budgets will be finalized after discussions between the grantees and the Departments, and states will draw down funds in accordance with their plans.

To learn more about the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, visit here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

First Lady Does Christmas At Children's National Hospital

The First Lady stopped Children's National Hospital today were she visited the center's Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery and the Intestinal Rehabilitation Unit, meeting with patients and families and hospital staff.

First Lady gets escorted by 8 year old Romauld Vital.
While there she read the Christmas favorite, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas' to a group of energetic, and inquisitive young people.

Afterwards, (here's where the real fun starts) she took questions from the group.  Some of the questions asked were what she gives the president for Christmas and what she eats for Christmas dinner.

Mrs. Obama reads 'Twas The Night Before Christmas.

One of our favorite reactions to the First Lady's answer went like this, from 'Alex':

Q    What does your family like to eat on Christmas?

     MRS. OBAMA:  "What do we like to eat on Christmas?  Sometimes we have turkey, sometimes we have steak.  The girls love..."

     Q    Ew!

     MRS. OBAMA:  "Ew? "

     Q    Steak?

     MRS. OBAMA:  "Steak."

     Q    Ew!

     MRS. OBAMA:  'You don’t like steak? "

     Q    We don’t eat any --

Kudos to this youngster, and her family, who apparently have adopted the vegetarian lifestyle!  We love this!

We also love the First Lady's answer to 'Dionne' who asks what she gets the president for Christmas.

     Q    What do you give the President for Christmas?

     MRS. OBAMA:  "For Christmas?  Well, again, we go through this every year.  I’m not going to say because it’s going to be reported in the paper and it won’t be a surprise.   Because he will read it.  And he’ll say, "Oh, that's what you’re getting me."  So, you know I try to get him stuff that he likes to do: sports stuff, clothes.  But the truth is, we generally -- we always say we’re not going to give each other gifts because the gift is the love that we have for each other.  Yes, that's a good thing.   But then he usually gets me something.  And them I’m like, we weren’t supposed to get each other stuff. So, I got him something but I’m not going to say.  All right?  That make sense?  Last year one of the kids suggested that I get him a hot tub.   Remember that?  We didn't get him a hot tub."

Other questions asked of the First Lady included what her favorite Christmas movie is; to which she replied, "It's a Wonderful Life."

QOTD: This Is A Momentous Visit

Our Quote of the Day (QOTD) comes from White House press secretary Jay Carney as he speaks to the press about today's visit between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki.

Said Carney, "This is a momentous visit..."

President Obama shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. AP photo.

Here's a bit more of Carney at the top of today's briefing in the James Brady briefing room at the White House.

As you know, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki is here to meet with the President.  You will be seeing them both fairly soon. 

And if I could just note, this is a momentous visit because, as you know, the Iraq war -- a war that we've been engaged in for 8 and a half years -- is over.  And after eight and a half years of sacrifice, America's war in Iraq is coming to an end.  Since President Obama took office, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have been removed from Iraq and hundreds of bases have been shut down.  In the next two weeks the final U.S. forces will cross the border.  For the first time in over eight years no U.S. troops will be preparing to deploy to Iraq.  We will have no bases in Iraq.  The war is over and the troops are coming home.

We honor all Americans who have served in Iraq.  Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice there; thousands more have been wounded.  Over a million have served, and their families have sacrificed.  Under tough circumstances, our troops and civilians have fulfilled every mission.  As we end the war, we pay tribute to these Americans who have sacrificed so much.



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The war in Iraq began in March of 2003, under the Bush administration, after suggesting Iraq casued the 911 attacks.  Intell given to the President Bush also the country had weapons of mass destruction that could severly harm America.

We know where [the weapons of mass destruction] are, said Donald Rumsfeld, then US Defense Secretary. "They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Since the war began ten years ago more than 2,000 US soldiers have died, and many wounded.

"When I took office, nearly 150,000 American troops were deployed in Iraq, and I pledged to end this war, responsibly.  Today, only several thousand troops remain there, and more are coming home every day", said President Obama today speaking in a joint press conference with al-Maliki. 

"This is a season of homecomings, and military families across America are being reunited for the holidays.  In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq, with honor and with their heads held high.  After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month."

The two men traveled today to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown solider.  This is the Prime Minister's second trip to Washington to visit President Obama.  The two met before in 2009.

Remarks from the Prime Minister

Iraq had a political process established, a democratic process, and adoption of the principles of elections and the transfer -- peaceful transfer of authority.  Iraq is following a policy, a foreign policy, which does not intervene in the affairs of others and does not allow the others to intervene in its own affairs.  Iraq is looking for common grounds with the others, and establishes its interest at the forefront and the interest of the others, which it is concerned about, like from any confusion.

Your Excellency, today we meet in Washington after we have completed the first page of a constructive cooperation in which we also thank you and appreciate you for your commitment to everything that you have committed yourself to.  And anyone who observes the nature of the relationship between the two countries will say that the relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier.  It only started when we signed in 2008, in addition to the withdrawal treaty, the Strategic Framework Agreement for the relationship between our two countries.

And because we have proven success in the first mission, a very unique success -- nobody imagined that we would succeed in defeating terrorism and the al Qaeda -- we must also establish the necessary steps in order to succeed in our second stage, which is the dual relationship under the Strategic Framework Agreement, in the economic sphere, as well as in educational and commercial and cultural and judicial and security cooperation fields.

Iraq now has become -- reliant completely on its own security apparatus and internal security as a result of the expertise that it gained during the confrontations and the training and the equipping.  But it remains in need of cooperation with the United States of America in security issues and information and combating terrorism, and in the area of training and the area of equipping, which is needed by the Iraqi army.  And we have started that.  And we want to complete the process of equipping the Iraqi army in order to protect our sovereignty, and does not violate the rights of anybody -- or do not take any missions that sovereignty of others. 

Related
 US troops in Iraq  ||| Iraq war Timeline  ||| Remarks, in full

Christmas In Washington!

The First Family participated in the annual Christmas In Washington taping last evening at the National Building Museum that included the likes of artist Jennifer Hudson, Victoria Justice and Justin Bieber.  The Band Perry, who also performed at this year's White House Country Music Series that aired last month, made a return visit to Washington for the cause.

However, speaking of Hudson and Bieber, Hudson writes on her Facebook page, "Yes he got me. I have bieber fever too. He is the sweetest n cutest ever! Melted my heart n his lovely mother too."


Conan O'Brian was the host on the evening.  True to form for the late night talk show host, O'Brian, in comedic fashion made a few jokes - Holiday style. "At Christmas, thoughts turn to a miracle child, worshipped by millions around the world. "I'm speaking of course, of Justin Bieber."

Other O'Brian banter included him poking fun at the First Lady's healthy eating initiative.

"It's not easy to be a child at the White House these days", O'Brian said. "Santa's probably not going to stop at a house that leaves out a cup of organic soy milk and a plate of celery cookies."

Other stars, shining on the night, included performer Cee Lo Green, a student orchestra/band from the Maryland suburbs, the United States Naval Academy Glee Club, Washington Youth Choir, and the American Family Choir.

Christmas in Washington, set to air on TNT at 8 pm (EST) on December 16th, is celebrating its 30th anniversary. For details and list of songs sung at the event, click here


Remarks of President Obama, as provided by White House Press Office, are below.
Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Good evening.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Everybody, please, have a seat. 

Good evening, everybody.  I just want to start by thanking all the folks who have joined us at the National Building Museum.  Let’s give it up for our host, who also happens to be the host of the best late night show on TBS, Conan O’Brien.  And I want to thank all the spectacular artists and choirs and glee clubs who have made this such a spectacular evening.  Please give them a big round of applause.  

I want to congratulate 30 years of “Christmas in Washington.”  It’s always such an extraordinary honor to be a part of this event because it benefits such a special place –- the Children’s National Medical Center.  For so many children and their parents, the work that they do to save lives and improve care is nothing short of a miracle.  And that’s fitting, because this is the season to celebrate miracles.

This is the season to celebrate the story of how, more than two thousand years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among cattle and sheep.  He was no ordinary child.  He was the manifestation of God’s love.  And every year we celebrate His birth because the story of Jesus Christ changed the world.  For me, and for millions of Americans, His story has filled our hearts and inspired our lives.  It moves us to love one another; to help and serve those less fortunate; to forgive; to draw close to our families; to be grateful for all that has been given to us; to keep faith; and to hold on to an enduring hope in humanity.


Service to others.  Compassion to all.  Treating others as we wish ourselves to be treated.  Those values aren’t just at the center of Christianity; those are values that are shared by all faiths.  So tonight let us all rededicate ourselves to each other.  And, in that spirit, from my family to yours, happy holidays. 

Merry Christmas.  God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America.

--

A busy week of holiday celebrating for the Obamas.  The annual White House Christmas party was held December 9th.

President Obama Names Commerce Secretary John Bryson, NEC Chair Gene Sperling as Co-Chairs of White House Office of Manufacturing Policy

The White House is reporting that today President Obama announced that Secretary John Bryson would join National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling as co-chair of the White House Office of Manufacturing Policy.  The Office of Manufacturing Policy is part of the National Economic Council in the White House and works across federal government agencies to coordinate the execution of manufacturing programs and the development of manufacturing policy.
“At this make or break time for the middle class and our economy, we need a strong manufacturing sector that will put Americans back to work making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America,” said President Obama.  “I am grateful that Secretary Bryson and Gene Sperling will head up this office to continue our efforts to revitalize this great American industry and fight for American workers and jobs.”

“John Bryson brings to this role decades of business leadership, a passion for manufacturing, and a strong understanding of its importance for jobs and our nation's economic competitiveness. He will play a key leadership role for the President and his economic team on these critical issues,” said Gene Sperling.

Secretary Bryson led Southern California Edison as Chairman and CEO for 18 years, served as Boeing’s longest-serving director, as well as served as an adviser to Coda Automotive.  Secretary Bryson’s business experience, combined with the Commerce Department’s strengths, including promoting U.S. exports, advising small manufacturers, developing tomorrow’s cutting edge standards, commercializing federally funded research, and protecting America’s intellectual property, uniquely position Secretary Bryson to help lead the Administration’s manufacturing efforts.

“Supporting the manufacturing sector will further our ability to innovate at home and compete around the world while generating more high-wage American jobs,” Secretary Bryson said. “Since day one, President Obama has been focused on supporting the entire United States manufacturing sector but especially small and medium sized businesses on the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing. We are introducing an ‘all hands on deck’ approach that coordinates all of our assets - public and private, federal, state, and regional.”

The White House Office of Manufacturing Policy will convene cabinet-level meetings to aggressively implement the Administration’s priority manufacturing initiatives.  Consistent with the President’s focus on small and growing businesses, Administrator Karen Mills will lead efforts on access to capital for small and medium manufacturers.

In his first month in office, Secretary Bryson has led trade talks with China to level the playing field for American companies and workers.   He is reaching out to CEOs, has met with the Steering Committee of the President’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, and has directed the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) housed within the Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to expand their efforts to connect competitive, U.S. based suppliers with upper tier domestic and foreign companies, wherever located.

Upon taking office, the President made the tough choice to provide the auto industry temporary support – assistance which has helped the auto industry add back more than 140,000 jobs and positions the United States to lead the world in advanced vehicle manufacturing.  In addition, the Administration has taken steps to reduce costs for manufacturers, expand markets abroad, and invest in infrastructure and innovation to make our manufacturers globally competitive.

Those actions have included passing three free trade agreements that will significantly boost exports as well as support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs.  These agreements also support the President’s National Export Initiative launched in 2010, with the goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014.  Over 60% of exports are manufactured goods, and exports support over one quarter of all U.S. manufacturing jobs.  The initiative is on track to reach that goal, and has already helped U.S. businesses expand exports 17 percent in 2010 and 16 percent so far this year.

The President has also called on Congress to help revitalize American manufacturing, including continuing to push for an expanded, simplified, and permanent research and development tax credit which would provide the certainty and predictability manufacturers need to invest in innovation.  In addition, the President’s American Jobs Act would extend the 100 percent capital purchase expensing provision signed into law in December 2010 and make an immediate $50 billion investment for highway, highway safety, transit, passenger rail, and aviation activities.

Since the bottom of the recession in 2009, manufacturing production has grown 14 percent while real goods exports have grown 29 percent.  Over this same period, U.S. manufacturing has added over 300,000 jobs, the first time the sector has experienced sustained job growth in over a decade, but more must be done to revitalize American manufacturing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

White House Calls on Communities and Organizations to Nominate Dedicated Volunteers

As the 26th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day approaches, the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) are joining forces to recognize outstanding volunteers nationwide with the MLK Drum Majors for Service program.


The Drum Majors program gives organizations and groups an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate those volunteers who perform extraordinary everyday acts of service with reliability and commitment, but who seldom receive recognition. Drum Major awardees receive an award from CNCS designating that person as a “Drum Major for Service” with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

“As we call upon Americans to honor Dr. King’s legacy through engaging in service, those who set examples for their communities deserve to be honored,” said Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council.  “In challenging times, Americans traditionally come together, support one another, and strengthen their communities, improving their own and their neighbors’ lives.”

In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service and charged CNCS with leading this effort.  Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a “day on, not a day off”.   The 2012 MLK Day of Service will include thousands of projects spread across all 50 states. 

Building off of Dr. King’s quote, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” this award honors those that are mission driven, serving throughout the year. 

“We have seen time and time again as a nation that service is a critical tool of strengthening communities,” said CNCS Acting CEO Robert Velasco II. “In this time of intense economic challenge for the nation, Dr. King’s lessons and vision are more relevant than ever,”

Drum Major Award recipients will be honored at events in their communities.  To submit a volunteer to be recognized as a MLK Drum Major for Service, please visit MLKDay.gov/awards, and please take a minute to tell us about the person you plan to honor, email us at MLKDay@cns.gov.

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Related

President Obama gave remarks at the MLK Dedication this past October.  Click here to view.
See also our PHOTOS:  MLK Dedication.  Memorial groundbreaking ceremony.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fast and Furious A Flop?

US Attorney General Under Fire for Gun Tracking Operation



US General Eric Holder testified on Capitol Hill today in a hearing on about an operation named Fast and Furious, said to be designed to take illegally purchased weapons from Arizona gun stores across the  border for Mexican drug cartel use.

The operation, which began during the George Bush era, came under fire as hundreds of those weapons somehow were lost, untracked, and plainly unaccounted for.  Oddly enough, at least two of the missing weapons were found at a site where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.

Republican members of Congress are calling for Holder's job, alluding to Holder being impeached.

"There is really no responsibility within the Justice Department," Sensenbrenner said. "The thing is, if we don't get to the bottom of this -- and that requires your assistance on that -- there is only one alternative that Congress has and it is called impeachment."

When asked if the operation was flawed, Holder responded, "Under those circumstances, yes.

Fast and furious will continue in its efforts, although its practices will probably come under severe review and modification since Holder's handling of the operation is being heavily criticized.

Representative James Sensenberger, although not accusing Holder of any wrong doing, indicated that he believes "some heads should roll."

Listen in at the 49:00 mark at the exchange, and to hear Holder's response.



One item that will remain constant with F&F, unfortunately, is that more lives may be lost.
Fast and Furious is "going to continue to have tragic consequences," Holder frankly stated.

When Representatives implied that "more people are probably going to die", Holder responsded, "Unfortunately, I think that's probably true."

Coincidentally, as the Justice Department hearings on guns was in session, we learn of another shooting at Virginia Tech were two people were killed, setting off fears from the 2007 campus massacre. Click here for info.

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Holder Also Faced First Amendment Question

In addition to answering questions about Fast and Furious, Attorney General Holder was also asked about First Amendement issues as it pertains to bloggers, and other owners of websites.

Representative Zoe Lofgren commented on ICE seizing web site domain names, in particularly one named Jazz1.com (see 1:29:35 marker), raising issues of due process and free speech.

After the government seized the domain name, the owner filed a request to have the name returned.  It was finally returned, after one full year.

"I assume that you believe that the First Amendment doesn't allow the government to go in and shut down the press for year.. without any due process", said Lofgren.  "Do you think that is consistent with the 1st, 4th, 5th Amendments to the Constitution?", asked Lofgren suggesting there should be a sanction on such practices.



"If we did this to a magazine... people would be outraged, and since this is a blog, it's a Hip Hop artist and seems to me that a Hip Hop artist would have every right to due process and the First Amendement as any other American."

Answered Holder, "I'm not familiar with the reason why that domain name was seized, or the facts of this case. I will certainly look into that and get back to you", said Holder who informed the representative that he has two teen aged daughters who may know more about this issue than he, adding "I will hear about this when I get home."

Hopefully, Mr. Holder isn't too far removed from the Hip Hop generation at all to be concerned with the First Amendment rights of said blogger.

His relationship with that particular genre of the African American community may be in question, and brings to mind the time we witnessed him waving off  (or avoiding) speaking to a young African American journalist at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner as he wisked his wife off to speak with a major network.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Newt Gingrich Will Not Be America's Next President

It's always just a matter of time before presidential candidates put their foots in their mouths and say something insensitive, or just plain stupid.

Gingrich's contract 'against' America's poor.
This time, it was Newt Gingrich's turn (again).  Thankfully, someone on the national level spoke out.  (We need more like that).

Gingrich spoke in Iowa recently, and his remarks about the most vulnerable of our society are deplorable, proving Newt is as far removed from the American populous as a repeat adulterer is from a sex addiction clinic.

Gingrich claims poor children have no work habits unless it's "illegal."

They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal", he said.

(As if working in Congress has yielded no illegal activity among its own 'employed' members).

He further thrusted his foot in his mouth when he said that poor children "have no role model to show them the habits of work."

"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day", were the words this man spoke.

When was the last time Newt spent time with poor families and their children?  Probably not at all. Yet he claims to have all this knowledge about 'poor families', and 'poor children'.

Clearly, Newt has no clue that poor families are some of the hardest working families in America.  They work the longest hours, for the least amount of money.  And get this:  They actually install morals and values in their children, something judging by Gingrich's remarks, was totally lacking in his own upbringing.

Sorrowfully, (or should we say, 'tellingly') this is the human being that Herman Cain has endorsed for the presidency of the United States.

But as the saying goes, 'birds of a feather, do flock together'.

Related
Does Gingrich really work?  Find out here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

If Congress Doesn't Act, Middle Class Taxes Could Go Up

President Obama makes strong push to get Congress pass his proposed tax cut plan, extending the George Bush era tax plan.  Congress has 26 days 9 hours (essentially, before the end of the year to do so).

Speaking today in the James Brady briefing room, President Obama remarked:

"A year ago at this time, both parties came together to cut payroll taxes for the typical American family by about $1,000.  But as soon as this year ends, so does that tax cut.  If Congress fails to renew this tax cut before then, that same family will see a tax hike of about $1,000 a year.  There aren’t many folks either in the middle class or those trying to get into the middle class who can afford to give up $1,000 -- not right now.  And that's why Congress must act", the president said. 

President Obama speaking today in the James Brady briefing room.
"My message to Congress is this: Keep your word to the American people and don't raise taxes on them right now."
"Although the unemployment rate went down last month, our recovery is still fragile, and the situation in Europe has added to that uncertainty.  And that's why the majority of economists believe it's important to extend the payroll tax cut.  And those same economists would lower their growth estimates for our economy if it doesn’t happen. 

Not only is extending the payroll tax cut important for the economy as a whole, it's obviously important for individual families.  It's important insurance for them against the unexpected.  It will help families pay their bills.  It will spur spending.  It will spur hiring.  And it's the right thing to do.

And that's why in my jobs bill I proposed not only extending the tax cut but expanding it to give a typical working family a tax cut of $1,500 next year.  And it was paid for by asking a little more from millionaires and billionaires -- a few hundred thousand people paying a little bit more could have not only extended the existing payroll tax cut but expanded it.

Last week, virtually every Senate Republican voted against that tax cut.  Now, I know many Republicans have sworn an oath never to raise taxes as long as they live.  How could it be that the only time there's a catch is when it comes to raising taxes on middle-class families?  How can you fight tooth and nail to protect high-end tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, and yet barely lift a finger to prevent taxes going up for 160 million Americans who really need the help?  It doesn’t make sense", said Obama.

Remarks of President Barack Obama, Weekly Address,
December 3, 2011
"This week, we learned that our economy added another 140,000 private sector jobs in November. Despite some strong headwinds this year, America’s economy has now created private sector jobs for the past 21 months in a row – almost three million new jobs in all, more than half a million of them in the past four months alone.

We need to keep this growth going and strengthen it.  That’s why we’ve been fighting to pass a series of jobs bills through Congress – bills that independent economists say will create more jobs and grow the economy even faster.  Because now is the time to step on the gas, not slam on the brakes.

Unfortunately, too many Republicans in Congress don’t seem to share that same sense of urgency.  Over the last few months, they’ve said “no” to most of these jobs bills.  “No” to putting teachers and firefighters back to work.  “No” to putting construction workers back on the job.  And this week, they actually said “no” to cutting taxes for middle-class families.
You see, last year, both parties came together to cut payroll taxes for the typical middle-class family by about $1,000.  But that tax cut is set to expire at the end of this month.  If that happens, that same family will see its taxes go up by $1,000.  We can’t let that happen.  In fact, I think we should cut taxes on working families and small business owners even more.

And we’re going to keep pushing Congress to make this happen.  They shouldn’t go home for the holidays until they get this done.  And if you agree with me, I could use your help. 
We’ve set up a simple tax cut calculator on WhiteHouse.gov so that you can see exactly what the stakes are for your family. Try it out. Then let your members of Congress know where you stand.

Tell them not to vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.  Tell them to put country before party.  Put money back in the pockets of working Americans.  Pass these tax cuts. 

We’re all in this together.  The more Americans succeed, the more America succeeds.  And if we remember that and do what it takes to keep this economy growing and opportunity rising, then I’m confident that we’ll come out of this stronger than before."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in today's press briefing along side a visual encouraging
Congress to act within 26 days 9 hours to pass the Payroll Tax Cuts.

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE AMERICAN JOBS ACT
Scranton High School, Scranton, Pennsylvania

"So the problem is not that we’ve been raising taxes.  We’ve actually been trying to give families a break during these tough times.  But here’s the thing:  That payroll tax cut that we passed in December of last year, it’s set to expire at the end of this year, one month from now.  If that happens -- if Congress doesn’t act to extend this tax cut -- then most of you, the typical middle-class family, is going to see your taxes go up by $1,000 at the worst possible time.  A young lady just said she can’t afford that.  It would be tough for you.  It would also be a massive blow for the economy, because we’re not fully out of the recession yet.  Don’t take my word for it; this is what every independent economist says.  We can’t let this tax cut lapse right now. 

And that’s why my jobs bill, part of the American Jobs Act, was to extend this tax cut for another year.  In fact, it does one better.  It says, let’s expand that tax cut.  Instead of a $1,000 tax cut next year, the typical working family under my plan would get a tax cut of $1,500.  (Applause.)  Instead of it coming out of your paycheck, it would be going into your pocket.  Now, that’s money that you can spend on a small business right here in Scranton.  If you’re a small business owner, my jobs bill will cut your payroll taxes in half.  So if you’ve got 50 employees making $50,000 each, you’d get a tax cut of nearly $80,000.  That’s money that you can then use to hire some more workers and get this economy moving again.  That’s a good thing."

Related
See how much your taxes will go up, if Congress doesn't act.

Vice Presidential Personnel Change

The Office of the Vice President announced today that Courtney O’Donnell, Director of Communications to Second Lady Jill Biden, will leave the White House to move to Berlin, Germany with her family where she plans to work on projects based in Europe.

O’Donnell served as Deputy communications director for the Bill Clinton Foundation from 2004 to 2009, and as deputy press secretary for the Elizabeth Edwards, Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004. She also worked as the deputy communications director on the Howard Dean presidential campaign from 2003 to 2004.

She graduated from Georgetown University in 1988.

Dr. Jill Biden said about O'Donnell: “Since Inauguration Day, Courtney has served as a trusted advisor to me and our entire team. Her creativity and strategic thinking helped us build campaigns to showcase the strengths of community colleges, support our nation’s military families, fight breast cancer, and draw attention and resources to the issues in the Horn of Africa. Her expertise, graceful demeanor and tireless work ethic have been invaluable not just to me but to the entire office of the Vice President. Joe and I are extremely grateful for her tremendous contributions and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

O'Donnell will be succeeded by Melanie Fonder Kaye, who most recently worked at a DC-area advertising and communications consulting firm.

Kaye comes to the White House from GMMB, where she provided strategic communications counsel on a variety of issues, including public health topics such as cancer, tobacco and obesity, health care reform, workforce and workplace issues, and education, among others. Before that, she served as Press Secretary to former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, both in his office and during his successful 2006 re-election campaign. Melanie also worked as a reporter for several years for publications including The Hill newspaper.  A native of Wisconsin, Kaye received her Bachelors of Arts from St. Norbert College and began work on her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin’s Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Kaye is also a Georgetown University graduate.   She was a former reporter for the The Green Bay News-Chronicle, a staff writer for The Hill newspaper, and an Associate Editor for WisPolitics.com, and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Government. 

###

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kennedy Center Honorees Hosted at White House Reception

This year's honorees include singer Barbara Cook, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma (an Obama favorite), saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, and actress Meryl Streep.

Rollins received a National Medal of Arts and National Humanities medal award from President Obama last year. Ma received the Medal of Freedom award from the president.  (Click links for our coverage).


In tradition, President Obama and First Lady Michelle hosted the honorees at a White House reception.

"So, each of them have made these extraordinary contributions, and it's worthwhile, then, for us to commit ourselves to making this a place where the arts can continue to thrive", said President Obama, promoting the Arts.  "Because right now, somewhere in America, there is a future Kennedy Center honoree, practicing on some phone books, or writing songs to impress a girl, or wondering if she can cut it on the big stage.  Let's make sure our young people can dream big dreams, and follow them as far as they can go.  And let's make sure the arts continue to be an important, no, a critical part of who we are in the kind of world that we want to live in."

President Obama and First Lady Michelle set to greet, and host,
Kennedy Center honorees. Photo/Pete Souza (White House photog).
Per White House pooler Donovan Slack (of the Globe) a few of the attendees cited included Representative Nancy Pelosi, Motown's Smokey Robinson (2006 honoree), Vicki Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith,  Caroline Kennedy, actress Christine Baranski, actor Stanley Tucci (Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia), actress Michelle Lee (Knots Landing), Rahm Emanuel and Amy Rule, composer Sir Andre Previn, David Axelrod, Rep John Mica (R-FL), violinist Itzhak Perlman, Robert DeNiro, Florence Henderson (Brady Bunch), Sara Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, Diane Sawyer, actor John Krasinski (The Office) and Emily Blunt, john Lithgow, CBS' Julie Chen and Les Moonves. 

The Kennedy Center's web site sums up the Honors this way:

"This year, the Kennedy Center celebrates its 40th anniversary by selecting five extraordinary individuals whose collective artistry has contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world," said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. "With her sublime voice and rich performances, Barbara Cook has defined all that is best and brightest in the Great American Songbook. Neil Diamond’s songwriting genius has created one of the most enduring catalogs of American popular music and his live performances have captivated audiences for five decades. Yo-Yo Ma’s sterling musicianship makes him one of the most versatile and popular classical music performers in the world and his Silk Road Project has inspired students across the world to love and honor music. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ masterful improvisation and powerful presence have infused the truly American art form of jazz with passion and energy. The sheer brilliance and breadth of Meryl Streep’s performances count as one of the most exhilarating cultural spectacles of our time."

Past Honors recipients, as well as members of the Kennedy Center’s national artists committee, made recommendations of possible 2011 Honorees. Artists making recommendations included: Christine Baranski, Harolyn Blackwell, Glenn Close, Denyce Graves, Paloma Herrera, Bill Irwin, Evgeny Kissin, Patti LuPone, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Taylor. Previous Kennedy Center Honorees, including Julie Andrews, Dave Brubeck, Carol Burnett, Plácido Domingo, Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson, Jessye Norman, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Spielberg, and Stevie Wonder also made nominations.

The Kennedy Center should honor our First Lady for
 looking so marvelous in that Vera Wang gown.  Truly a vision of Art.

The 2010 honorees included Oprah Winfrey, ex Beatle Paul McCartney, choreographer Bill T. Jones, and musician Jerry Herman.

The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 34th consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Tuesday, December 27 at 9:00 p.m.

----
Related
Speaking of the Kennedy Center...

We would be remiss if we didn't mention last week's tribute to Nat King Cole, and performance of one of our favorite musicians, Mr. George Benson.  He was fabulous, looked handsome, and sounded just like the jazzy, funky, rhythmic George Benson of our early remembrance. The Grammy winning artist, who performed not only the work of Cole, also gave an audience pleasing fifteen minute 'Benson party' concert of his own masterpieces to include Masquerade, Nature Boy, and To Be Loved.

Simply an amazing artist (who should be invited to the White House to perform).

Energy Retrofits: To The Tune of $4 Billion Dollars

Better Building Initiative Investments

President Obama announced this week nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private sector energy upgrades to buildings over the next 2 years. These investments will save billions in energy costs, promote energy independence, and, according to independent estimates, create tens of thousands of jobs in the hard-hit construction sector. The $4 billion investment announced today includes a $2 billion commitment, made through the issuance of a Presidential Memorandum, to energy upgrades of federal buildings using long term energy savings to pay for up-front costs, at no cost to taxpayers. In addition, 60 CEOs, mayors, university presidents, and labor leaders today committed to invest nearly $2 billion of private capital into energy efficiency projects; and to upgrade energy performance by a minimum of 20% by 2020 in 1.6 billion square feet of office, industrial, municipal, hospital, university, community college and school buildings. This announcement builds on a commitment made by 14 partners at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in June to make energy upgrades across 300 million square feet, and to invest $500 million in private sector financing in energy efficiency projects.



Today’s commitments were announced by President Obama and former President Clinton along with representatives from more than 60 organizations as part of the Better Buildings Challenge. The Challenge is part of the Better Buildings Initiative launched in February by President Obama, and is spearheaded by former President Clinton and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to support job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial and industrial building energy upgrades to make America’s buildings 20 percent more efficient over the next decade, reducing energy costs for American businesses by nearly $40 billion. Last year, commercial buildings consumed roughly 20 percent of all the energy used by the U.S. economy.

“Upgrading the energy efficiency of America’s buildings is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to save money, cut down on harmful pollution, and create good jobs right now. But we can’t wait for Congress to act. So today, I’m directing all federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades over the next 2 years – at no up-front cost to the taxpayer. Coupled with today’s extraordinary private sector commitments of $2 billion to upgrade businesses, factories, and military housing, America is taking another big step towards the competitive, clean energy economy it will take to win the future,” said President Obama.

More here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

DOJ Supports Voluntary Efforts to Promote Diversity and Reduce Racial Isolation in Education

The Departments of Justice and Education released two new guidance documents – one for school districts and one for colleges and universities – detailing the flexibility that the Supreme Court has provided to educational institutions to promote diversity and, in the case of elementary and secondary schools, reduce racial isolation among students within the confines of the law.  
The guidance makes clear that educators may permissibly consider the race of students in carefully constructed plans to promote diversity or, in K-12 education, to reduce racial isolation.  It recognizes the learning benefits to students when campuses and schools include students of diverse backgrounds.

“Diverse learning environments promote development of analytical skills, dismantle stereotypes, and prepare students to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “The guidance announced today will aid educational institutions in their efforts to provide true equality of opportunity and fully realize the promise of Brown v. Board of Education.”

“Racial isolation remains far too common in America’s classrooms today and it is increasing,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  “This denies our children the experiences they need to succeed in a global economy, where employers, co-workers, and customers will be increasingly diverse.  It also breeds educational inequity, which is inconsistent with America’s core values.” 

The guidance is primarily based on three Supreme Court decisions, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, which specifically addressed the consideration of race by educational institutions.  In addition, the guidance provides numerous examples of options that schools and postsecondary institutions can consider to further diversity or reduce racial isolation.  For K-12 schools, the guidance discusses school and program siting, drawing school attendance boundaries, grade realignment and restructuring feeder patterns, among other options.  The guidance for postsecondary institutions describes how race can be taken into account in admissions, in pipeline programs, in recruitment, and in mentoring, tutoring, retention and support programs as efforts to achieve diversity.      

The guidance lays out legal standards under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which are enforced by the Departments.  Previous guidance issued by the Bush Administration in 2008 is being withdrawn today

To review the guidance, please visit:
·         DCL
·         Guidance PSE
·         Guidance ESE

For more information about the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, click here.  For more information about the Educational Opportunities Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt/edo/.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

President Obama Speaks At World Aids Day Event

World AIDS Day is held the first day of December each year as an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day and the first one was held in 1988.


The World AIDs Day web site provides these statistics about the disease.
More than 90,000 people are currently living with HIV in the UK and globally an estimated 33.3 million people have HIV. More than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. Today, many scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. But despite this, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others from HIV, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with HIV. World AIDS Day is important as it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
Speaking today at George Washington University President Obama told a crowd (that included the likes of Alicia Keyes and Bono, who performed at the event): “The rate of new infections may be going down elsewhere, but it’s not going down in America. The infection rate here has been holding steady for over a decade. There are communities in this country being devastated by this disease. When new infections among young, black, gay men increase by nearly fifty percent in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter. When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups; when black women feel forgotten even though they account for most of the new cases among women, we need to do more.”
Since AIDS was identified 30 years ago, the United States has played a leading role in achieving scientific progress, and in translating science into programs. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), established by President George W. Bush and a bipartisan Congress and expanded by President Obama, has put that science into action to save the lives of millions in the developing world. Today, President Obama announced new prevention goals for PEPFAR and more funding for the cure and treatment of the disease.

Tweeted former LA Laker, Magic Johnson, living with HIV for more than twenty years:

Thank you to who announced today increased funding on HIV treatment in the US & abroad.
The president has instituted a World AIDS Day Proclamation. Read it here
A draped pink ribbon adorns the White House in honor of World AIDS day.
Several events to mark the occasion are being planned across the country.  Events in our region to honor the day include a free screening of the movie “The Other City” (a film by former BET owner, now Wizards co-owner, Dr. Sheila Johnson) will be shown at Inova Alexandria Hospital.

The web site DCTakesOnHIV.com has information on where to get free condoms and how to anonymously tell someone in 4 easy steps they may have been exposed to an STD.
On representative Steny Hoyer's web site a search engine is provided to locate various HIV/AIDS services via zip code.

When talking about HIV/AIDs in the DC community, which ranks highest of any major city, you can't forget to mention radio show personality, Darian Morgan (aka Big Tigger).  His tireless effort to bring AIDs awareness to the DC metro area under the mantra 'Know Your Status, Get Tested' has brought together businesses, professional atheletes and city officials in support of the cause.  His two profiled events, the former Big Tigger Classic, a three-day summer weekend sports themed event with professional athletes from the NFL and the NBA, actors and celebrities, and his annual Ride For Life motorcylcle ride through Prince Georges County, MD have both provided awareness to the DC area's young and adult communities.   

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

White House Holiday Tour 2011: Shine, Give, Share

First Lady Michelle Obama invited military families and their children to the White House today to marvel at the White House Christmas decorations, while their children engaged in ornament making in the State Dining room with the First Lady.

Photo by Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT.
Four year old Gerald Hogan, Jr. was the star of the day, all smiles with his ornament of White House dog, Bo.   Gerald tied a green ribbon on his ornament and lifted it up for photographers to see. 

When asked if he was going to put the ornament of Bo on his tree at home, he replied, “We don’t have a tree.” 


Cute four year-old talks about  his White House Christmas ornament.

It may be a bit early yet for the Hogan family Christmas tree, but the White House was decked with boughs of holly, Christmas trees, and more.  Thirty-seven Christmas trees to be exact, to include 30 natural trees, seven made from paper, felt or aluminum.


“It just draws me [in] when you walk in and smell [them], the smell is breathtaking”, said Diana Jackman, who was visiting with a Gold Star military family.
“This is just awesome.”


First Lady with children and the White House gingerbread house.

The 18 foot balsam fir, delivered to the White House last week courtesy of Schroder’s Forevergreens, sits in the East Landing as a tribute to Gold Star military families.  Many military families served as volunteers, helping to decorate it.  The tree is decorated with notes of thanks written to service men and women.  Buttons from soldier uniforms adorned the tree’s blue skirt.
Jennifer Jackman, a Gold Star mother from Kansas, along with another Gold Star mom and a military wife were asked by the First Lady to be volunteers.  

Jackman got the distinct honor of introducing the First Lady who thanked the military families for their service to the country.

Said the First Lady, “And it’s also why we’re using the holiday season here at the White House to highlight our troops and our veterans, and all of their families through this year’s theme, which is “Share, Give, Shine.”
Mrs. Obama also took the moment to talk about why she, along with second lady, Dr. Jill Biden, started their Joining Forces tribute to military families initiative. 

“We don’t all understand what it’s like to be in a military family.  And that’s one of the reasons why Jill and I started our Joining Forces initiative, because we wanted to rally all Americans to honor, recognize, and support our military families.  We wanted to make sure that never again would someone have to ask the question, what is a Gold Star family, and what does that sacrifice mean.  We all should know”, she said. 
White House dog, Bo, not to be outdone by Christmas trees and all the shimmering ornaments, can be seen just as often throughout the White House rooms.  There are five Bo Topiaries made from various materials, in the likeness of the famous Portuguese water dog, to include 35 yards of wool felt, 750 pom poms, 12 marshmallows and 1,911 pieces of licorice.  No material was spared while making replicas of the famous first dog; trash bags were also used (6,850 feet worth).

“So, trust me, our dog has been a little confused walking around the house for the last couple of weeks, seeing himself in gigantic form”, said First Lady Obama. 
A gingerbread replica of the White House graced a table inside the State Dining room.  The gingerbread masterpiece, created with the help of volunteers who began in October of this year, made the work of art with 400 pounds of white chocolate and marzipan.  The House is surrounded with short and tall trees also made with marzipan and with macaroons. The tall trees are made out of almond macaroons, while the shorter trees are made with almond paste shaped into fruit. 

Holiday decorations, in any home, wouldn’t be complete without a Nativity scene.  The White House Nativity scene is a brilliantly shimmering display of color and arrangement displayed in the center wall of the East Room.  It is a late 18th-century Italian presepio (crèche), made in Naples, and has been on exhibit in the East Room of the White House during the holiday season since 1967.   It boasts angels hovering above the manger with Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. 
“It’s absolutely gorgeous”, exclaimed Diana Jackman.  “Absolutely beautiful.” 

To learn more about the holiday decorations, touring schedule throughout the month of December, and even holiday recipe ideas, visit www.WhiteHouse.gov/2011HolidayTour.
Photos at Denver Post.  Watch the video here.