Covering

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



Monday, February 28, 2011

Dr. Biden's Philadelphia Inquirer Op-Ed Lauds Community Colleges

The following op-ed, penned by Dr. Jill Biden, was published today in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Harnessing Community Colleges

I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and a community college instructor for the last 18 of them. Every day in my classroom, I see the power of community colleges to change lives and put students on the path to opportunity and success.

Community colleges are uniquely American institutions, in which anyone who walks through the door is one step closer to realizing the American dream. And they will play a vital role in the nation's economic recovery.

President Obama understands the critical role community colleges will play in getting the economy back on track. They are the key to meeting his goal of making America's workforce the best educated and most competitive in the world by 2020.

Last October, the president asked me to convene a summit of community college leaders at the White House, where students, faculty, administrators, and business leaders shared their promising practices and models for helping students succeed. Now we are launching four regional community college summits, starting Monday in Philadelphia.

Like other American cities, Philadelphia is facing a challenging economy and declining public revenues. That makes it even more important to support and revitalize its community colleges, which can help high school graduates and older adults get the education and new skills they need to compete for high-quality jobs.

Monday's summit at the Community College of Philadelphia will bring together leaders in education, business, labor, government, and philanthropy from Philadelphia and the rest of the Northeast. It's designed to support community colleges' efforts to spur local economic growth through training programs, partnerships, and technology-driven learning. The summit will also deal with strategies for encouraging college completion and helping adult learners make the transition to the workforce.

Last month, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced application criteria for the first $500 million in grants under the four-year, $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program. These grants will support the development and improvement of new postsecondary educational programs to prepare students for careers in emerging and expanding industries.

Pennsylvania's higher-education institutions are guaranteed to receive at least $10 million in these funds over the next four years. Each individual institution can also apply for more, while consortia of two or more institutions are eligible for up to $20 million per year.

The Obama administration has reversed a staggering economic decline and positioned the economy for growth. Our task now is to make those changes real in the lives of all Americans.

On community college campuses across the country, millions of students are eager to build a more secure future for themselves, their families, and the country. We must not let them down.

Philadelphia is the city where the American experiment started, and the community college summit is part of the administration's effort to fulfill its promise to provide opportunity for all.

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Related

Dr. Biden teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College and is the wife of Vice President Biden. The first regional community college summit is scheduled to take place Monday at the Community College of Philadelphia.

Mrs. Biden also works with First Lady, Michelle Obama to continue to support members of the military and their families.  The two spoke today to U.S. governors at the White House, who are in town for the annual Winter Governors' meeting.  (See also video of Presidential toast to governors).

"Over the past two years, we have had the privilege of traveling around the country and around the world, visiting with service members and their families, and hearing their stories firsthand. Many of the stories are about the pride these families have in serving our country. But there are also challenges. We bring the concerns back to the White House, and the President and the Vice President and the Cabinet have responded by committing attention and resources to support our military families."

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

President Obama Remarks On Libya

President Obama remarked once again on the current events happening in Libya.

Said President Obama, "The Libyan government’s continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people, and outrageous threats have rightly drawn the strong and broad condemnation of the international community. By any measure, Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable. These sanctions therefore target the Qaddafi government, while protecting the assets that belong to the people of Libya."

Obama spoke earlier today with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, to discuss the situation in Libya and coordinate efforts to respond to developments and ensure appropriate accountability.

The President stated that "when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now."
Going forward, the President said, the United States will continue to closely coordinate our actions with the international community, including our friends and allies, and the United Nations. We will stand steadfastly with the Libyan people in their demand for universal rights, and a government that is responsive to their aspirations. Their human dignity cannot be denied.  

The President submitted a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate regarding Libya Sanctions.
 
The letter is quoted below:  
Dear Mr. Speaker:  
Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), I hereby report that I have issued an Executive Order (the "order") that takes steps with respect to the situation in Libya.

I have determined that the actions of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and close associates, including extreme measures against the people of Libya, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. The order declares a national emergency to deal with this threat. The order blocks the property and interests in property of persons listed in the Annex to the order, who I have determined meet the first or second of the six criteria set forth below.
The order also provides criteria for designations of persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State:
 *to be a senior official of the Government of Libya;
*to be a child of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi;
*to be responsible for or complicit in, or responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, or to have participated in, the commission of human rights abuses related to political repression in Libya;
*to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of the activities described above or any person whose property and interests in
property are blocked pursuant to the order;
*to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order; or
*to be a spouse or dependent child of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order. In addition, the order blocks the property and interests in property of the Government of Libya.
I have delegated to the Secretary of the Treasury the authority, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA, as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of the order. All executive agencies of the United States Government are directed to take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of the order.


Additionally, the Secretary of State is suspending all existing licenses and other approvals for the export of defense articles and services to Libya.

The order, a copy of which is enclosed, became effective at 8:00 p.m. eastern standard time on February 25, 2011.

Sincerely,
BARACK OBAMA
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During Friday's briefing, Press Secretary Carney gave the following update on US involvement during the Libyan crisis:

The State Department has suspended embassy operations in Libya and will temporarily withdraw all embassy employees from Tripoli.  A ferry with approximately 200 U.S. citizens left this morning.  A charter plane recently took off for Istanbul, Turkey, with remaining embassy personnel and American citizens who had requested evacuation. 

The President spoke to Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, and in separate calls with Prime Minister Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy where he explained the unilateral measures that the United States is implementing, and noted his desire to coordinate on measures that our allies are considering. He will continue these consultations to build international consensus for strong measures in the days to come.

The US has suspended military cooperation it had with Libya.

On Monday, the President will meet with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Washington and will discuss the diplomatic, legal and other actions needed to put a stop to violence against civilians in Libya.  He will also discuss the range of activities that U.N. agencies and the international community can undertake to address the significant humanitarian needs created by this crisis.


More on Qaddafi
Colonel Gaddafi, has been the leader of Libya since a coup in 1969.

From 1972, when Gaddafi relinquished the title of prime minister, he has been accorded the honorific Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Revolution of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in government statements and the official press.
 
With the death of Omar Bongo of Gabon on 8 June 2009, he became the longest serving of all current non-royal national leaders and he is one of the longest serving rulers in history. He is also the longest-serving ruler of Libya since Libya, then Tripoli, became an Ottoman province in 1551. Gaddafi is reported to have amassed a fortune for himself and his family of 60 billion dollars, including shares in Tamoil and one of Italy's largest banks Unicredit. In 2008 a group of more than 200 African kings and traditional rulers proclaimed Gaddafi King of Kings of Africa.
 
Libya, home to several oil reserves, is the fourth largest country in Africa, by area, and the 17th largest in the world.

In February of this year, major political protests (inspired by recent similar events in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world) broke out in Libya against the government of Gaddafi, which quickly turned into a full-scale revolt. Since February 20th, the unrest had spread to Tripoli. 

Related
Timeline of the Libyan revolt.

New Maryland Legislation Focuses on Vehicular Manslaughter

After the hit and run bike accident last September that killed U.S. Senate's green party candidate, Natasha Pettigrew, the state of Maryland is revisiting its vehicular manslaughter law.

Currently, drivers who cause fatalities, when sober, by flagrantly violating the rules of the road, and deviating from the standard of care used by any reasonable person, pay no more than $1000 in fines through traffic court. These cases are dealt with as though they are all situations of simple negligence. The standards for prosecution under the current statute -vehicle (negligent) manslaughter --are very high. Proof of gross negligence is required for this felony offense. Upon conviction, the person would face up to 10 years in a house of correction and/or $5000 fine.

Under the new proposed Manslaughter by Vehicle or Vessel legislation, or House Bill 363, a person upon conviction, would be subject to imprisonment not to exceed 3 years and/or a fine not to exceed $5000.

Natasha's killer, Christy Littleford, has not been formerly charged after driving nearly four miles to her home before calling authorities.

Is the proposed legislation punishment enough for victims like Natasha

Follow this agenda at BikeMaryland.org.

Related
Pettigrew profiled on Fox News

Friday, February 25, 2011

White House Announces Jeremy Bernard as Social Secretary

Openly Gay, First Male To Hold Post As Social Secretary

The White House announced Jeremy Bernard has been named Special Assistant to the President and Social Secretary. He joins the White House staff from the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where he serves as Senior Advisor to the Ambassador. Prior to this role, he worked as the White House Liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Jeremy shares our vision for the White House as the People’s House, one that celebrates our history and culture in dynamic and inclusive ways. We look forward to Jeremy continuing to showcase America’s arts and culture to our nation and the world through the many events at the White House,” the President said.

“I am deeply humbled to join the White House staff as Social Secretary and support President Obama and the First Lady in this role,” said Jeremy Bernard. “I have long admired the arts and education programs that have become hallmarks of the Obama White House and I am eager to continue these efforts in the years ahead.”

“I look forward to working with Jeremy to continue the great work of the Social Office, from fun and educational student workshops to elegant State Dinners that welcome world leaders to the White House. Jeremy’s creativity, perspective and skills will be a welcome addition to our East Wing team, as we showcase the White House and celebrating America’s arts and culture,” said Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama.

“What stood out in Jeremy’s work at the National Endowment for the Humanities was his humor, good will, and high standard of professionalism,” said National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach.

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Bernard currently serves as Senior Advisor to the Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy of Paris. He served as the White House Liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2008 to 2010. Previously, Bernard was a California Finance Consultant for the Obama for American campaign. He was a Principal of B&G Associates from 2007 to 2009, Vice-President of Mapleton Investments from 1999 to 2006 and Director of Government Affairs of Falcon Cable TV from 1996 to 2006.
 
Appointed by President Clinton, Bernard served on the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was a member of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2009.
 
He previously served as a board member of A.N.G.L.E. (Access Now for Gay & Lesbian Equality) and the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. He was also a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's LGBT Advisory Committee, the Los Angeles Police LGBT Advisory Committee and the Los Angeles Mayor's LGBT Advisory Committee.
 
Bernard precedes former female Social Secretary Desiree Rogers and Julianna Smoot, appointed just last March, to become the first male in that role.

Smoot joins Gibbs, former White House press secretary, in 'preparing for the upcoming 2012 presidential campaign'.
 

First Lady Presents Motown Legends At The White House

Yesterday at the White House, media and students from around the country were treated to a workshop and forum on Motown Legends as part of the White House's celebration of Black History Month. In attendance:  Smokey Robinson, Motown founder Barry Gordy, and artist John Legend.

Mrs. Obama speaks to high school students during Motown student workshop.
The event was not only an oral history lesson for the students, but for the media as well. 

Where else could you learn that Smokey Robinson credits shows like American Idol for helping today's talented individuals live their dreams?

"When I was starting out, we didn't have that.  Thankfully, I had Berry Gordy", said Robinson.  "He was a man that I could trust."

Gordy, who created Motown because he "wanted to be heard, wanted to make money, and wanted to get girls", created his empire with a $800 loan from family members that helped catapult the universally indelible Motown sound.  The sound would come from Detroit's finest African American youth:  Dianna Ross, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and others, all who lived within blocks of each other growing up. All friends.

Their sound would permeate American culture.   So much, that even the 'British Invasion' of the Beatles credits the artists of Motown as their inspiration.

"Even though they were British, they were gaining their musical influence from Motown", explained the forum's moderator, Bob Santelli, Executive Director of the Grammy Museum.

Motown legends John Legend, Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy.  Photo/ CD Brown.
"The real answer was Motown", said Santelli.  "And I know that because in interviews with the Beatles and other members of what was then called the British Invasion, I would ask, who were your influences?  And they would say "Motown, of course:  Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops."

In a society where the lives, and society at large, of African Americans and whites was separate, the brilliance of Gordy would be credited with bringing the races together, at least musically.

"It was fun for me", said Gordy."  "I wanted to be great like Joe Louis", the former boxer turned Hitsville, USA music maker said.   But the one piece of advice he offered to the young people who may be pursuing a career in music, "Be yourself. I know that anything I felt, I could write about it, and know that you all could feel it too, whether you're white, black."

"That's why we got to make music for all people", Gordy added.

We asked Lina Christine Stephens, chief curator of the Motown Museum in historic Detroit, Michigan, if she thought there would be a Motown II: i.e.; 'a second version' of the original Motown.

"I don't think there will ever be a Motown like the original Motown", said Stephens.  "I think there will be other artists who will be equally as talented, but there was a naiveté that was going on at that time where they were just making things work, and they were improvising, and they were all young people who had this hard trying attitude. 

Stephens told us her favorite artists of the time were Gladys Knight (Gladys Knight and The Pips), and Levi Stubbs ( The Four Tops) for their "strong" sounding voices.

"I don't think there will ever be a Motown like that again."

 Nick Jonas performs at Motown workshop. Photo/ CD Brown.
In a surprise performance Nick Jonas, one-half of the Jonas Brothers, came out and wowed the young student audience with his version of the Motown classic, Sugar Pie. Honey Bunch.

While Gladys Knight and Nick Jonas where on the guest list to attend the White House Motown appreciation event later in the evening, it was another Motown artist who still remains the favorite of the First Lady.  After naming off several other Motown greats Mrs. Obama asked the young students:   And one of my personal favorites, "I say this all the time, who?  Who’s my favorite?  Stevie Wonder, yes, indeed."

While Motown artists originated in Detroit, Smokey Robinson noted that "even today, there's a Motown in each city. There's somebody in every city that can sing."

Later in the evening, indeed, singers from every city convened at the White House for a live performance with the likes of Jamie Foxx, Seal, and Nick Jonas who help sing a melody of Motown songs with Foxx singing "Get Ready", Jonas singing "The Way You Do the Things You Do"; Seal singing "I Can't Get Next to You"; Ledisi with Jordan Sparks singing "Stop In The Name of Love", and John Legend singing "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."

The evening's performance, The Motown Sound: In Performance at the White House, was aired live, but in case you missed it, here's a quick review, with performance video below.



Other In Performance at The White House events include A Broadway Celebration, a Tribute to Paul McCartney, A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement, a Tribute to Stevie Wonder, and Fiesta Latina.  (See them all here, on the a station that proves funding for public broadcasting should NOT be cut).

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Notes:  


John Legend (center), with high school students, speaks to media after Motown workshop event. Photo/ CD Brown.
Sixteen year-old student, Jared Carr (pictured above, left) is engineer bound, not music bound. Wants to design and build cars. Worked at Motown museum. Described White House event as "inexplicable".

Legend "frustrated" over budget cuts, and "discord" coming out of Washington."

"As an artist, and someone part of community choirs, and arts councils and thing of that nature, those are often the things that get cut first, and I know how big of an impact they had on my life, and how important they were to me", said Legend. "I hope our politicians won't think they're expendable, and just get rid of them, and that nobody will feel the pain.  Society will feel the pain."

Student quote:  "If you can't appreciate the music of the past, you can't appreciate the music of today." 

Congresswoman Norton Unveils Post Office In Honor of Civil Rights Activist

This week Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Mayor Vincent Gray celebrated Black History Month with the renaming of D.C.’s Historic Post Office at 2 Massachusetts Ave NE in honor of the late Dr. Dorothy I. Height.

Norton, whose bill to rename the post office was signed by President Obama at an Oval Office ceremony in December, was also joined by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, civil rights leaders, family members of Dr. Height, and a room full of residents from the city and region. Norton noted that the building is not only a post office but also the home of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and said, “It is especially fitting that the name of an icon for social justice should adorn one of Washington’s most iconic buildings.”

Norton called Dr. Height a mentor of millions and noted her leadership on D.C. voting rights and equality for D.C. residents. “District residents, who are now in the midst of protesting undemocratic actions in Congress that trample on the District’s right to self-government, are acting in the Dorothy Height tradition of standing up against unjust action,” Norton said.

Congresswoman Norton on the effort to get H.R. 6118 passed:

"It takes too long to get most bills through the House and Senate, but H.R. 6118, “To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, in Washington, D.C., as the ‘Dorothy I. Height Post Office,’” passed both houses in record time. My colleagues in the House and Senate may argue about closing the government down or raising the debt limit, but both sides of the aisle knew better than to delay a bill to name a federal building in Washington, DC for Dr. Dorothy I. Height.

Dorothy lived to receive every high honor her country can give. However, today’s honor is different from her Congressional Gold Medal or her Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today’s commemoration is a visible honor for all to see, as Dr. Height becomes the first African American woman whose name graces a federal building in the nation’s capital. This extraordinary building is not simply any post office. This historic building is a part of the Smithsonian and also houses the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, the repository of the postal history of our country visited by millions of Americans every year. It is especially fitting that the name of an icon for social justice should adorn one of Washington’s most iconic buildings.

Dorothy Height was my friend and a mentor, but many in this room and millions of Americans also claim her as a mentor. They identified with the straight line she walked for human rights. She was a mentor to millions because she accommodated no division in the human family. For Dorothy, the word human rights meant what it said, not the rights for some but not for the newest group seeking rights. She made herself a bridge between the civil rights and the women’s rights movement, for example. As women became inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and began their movement, Dorothy Height led by example to allay the confusion among some African-Americans about the new movement. Black women, in particular, quickly understood that if they had two strikes against them, it made no sense to allow either to remain.

How fortunate our country is that Dr. Height lived the longest and most productive life as a leader to help our country throw off so much injustice for so many Americans. Dorothy was intent on putting every bit of her long life to good use. She insisted on a life of activism. Shortly before her death at 98, she entered Howard University Hospital under protest because of pending speaking engagements.

Yet, for all of her national and international acclaim, Dorothy Height, a national human rights leader, made herself local too, “I’m your constituent now, Eleanor,” she would tell me, leaving me with the only appropriate reply that I, of course, had always been her constituent in the movements she led. Dorothy took equal rights for the District of Columbia seriously and often spoke about the necessity for voting rights and for equal treatment for the people of the District. District residents, who are now in the midst of protesting undemocratic actions in Congress that trample on the District’s right to self-government, are acting in the Dorothy Height tradition of standing up against unjust action.

Dorothy’s devotion to the District’s cause and to the cause of equality everywhere gave our city a natural way to commemorate Black History Month this year. We who live in the District of Columbia were fortunate to live with the historic presence of Dorothy Height, as friendly as she was dignified. This month, the residents of this city are proud to join the nation in commemorating the naming one of our most historic places for one of America’s most historic women, Dr. Dorothy I. Height."

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Congresswoman Norton's next bill she plans to get passed hopes to help prevent a government shutdown.

“We have submitted a bill to both House and Senate leaders to allow the District to spend its local taxpayer-raised funds if the federal government shuts down on March 4. We are sure there is no congressional intention to close down the District’s local government because of congressional disagreement over the federal budget. In fact, most Members are completely unaware that the District would have to close if the federal government closes. We are also looking into other ways that the District might remain open in the event of a federal government shutdown. This is not the District’s fight, and there is nothing the District could do to resolve a disagreement over federal spending.”

Other

Norton to hold an IRS Tax Information Fair Offering Free Electronic Filing for Rapid Refund, and Other Services Saturday, February 26, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Washington Convention Center. At the event Robin Westbrook, a local taxpayer advocate, will provide information on taxpayer advocate services and how residents can best resolve issues with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by working directly the IRS.

A resident and another IRS official will also speak. More than 120 tax professionals from the IRS and the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue will provide free tax preparation to District residents. This service is offered to D.C. residents who file basic tax returns. There will be 40 tax preparation stations available to expedite electronic filing.

“The number of D.C. residents who attend the tax fair each year continues to grow with more than 500 in attendance last year,” said Norton. “During this economic downturn residents continue to seek ways to save their money, including giving less money to the IRS and getting more money from the federal government itself. The tax fair is often a proverbial goldmine for residents, and it’s free.”

Tax fair participants will be advised if they qualify for the First-time Homebuyer Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, Child & Dependent Care Tax Credits, and Hope and Lifetime Learning Educational Credit. Financial services will also be offered to those seeking housing and mortgage counseling and credit counseling. Testing for HIV/AIDS will be available, as at all Norton events.

Scott Walker Gets Punked By A Journalist (Doing His Job)

Gets Walker's True Feelings on Wisconsin's CBA

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fell victim to a prank on Wednesday by a blogger pretending to be David Koch.

The blogger, Ian Murphy, spoke to Walker in a 20-minute recorded phone call. Impersonating Koch, Murphy offered to help Walker plant "troublemakers" at the demonstrations.


Ian Murphy/as David Koch: "We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowds was planting some troublemakers."

Gov. Scott Walker: "You know, well, the only problem with—because we thought about that. The problem with—or my only gut reaction to that would be right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them. The public is not really fond of this. My only fear would be, is if there was a ruckus caused, is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the Governor’s got to settle to avoid all these problems."

Walker's team says he did nothing wrong, and said on the phone what he would have said in any public setting.

(Source)

Apparently, getting time on the phone with Walker is an easy feat.  Murphy explains how.

"I politely said hello, not knowing how friendly Gilkes and Koch may be. He was eager to help. "I was really hoping to talk directly to Scott," I said. He said that could be arranged and that I should just leave my number. I explained to Gilkes, "My goddamn maid, Maria, put my phone in the washer. I'd have her deported, but she works for next to nothing." Gilkes found this amusing. "I'm calling from the VOID--with the VOID, or whatever it's called. You know, the Snype!"

"Gotcha," Gilkes said. "Let me check the schedule here...OK, there's an opening at 2 o'clock Central Standard Time. Just call this same number and we'll put you through."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Celebrating The Great Outdoors. And Technology.

President Barack Obama announced the Administration’s action plan, under the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that power our nation’s economy, shape our culture, and build our outdoor traditions. This initiative seeks to reinvigorate our approach to conservation and reconnect Americans, especially young people, with the lands and waters that are used for farming and ranching, hunting and fishing, and for families to spend quality time together. Recognizing that many of these places and resources are under intense pressure, the President established the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative last April to work with the American people in developing a conservation and recreation agenda that makes sense for the 21st century.


The report released today outlines ways in which the Federal Government will help empower local communities to accomplish their conservation and recreation priorities by recognizing that the best ideas come from outside of Washington. Last summer, senior Administration officials held 51 listening sessions across the country to gather input from Americans about the outdoor places and activities that they value most. These sessions drew more than 10,000 participants and more than 105,000 written comments, shaping an action plan that, based on local initiatives and support, which when implemented will result in:


· Accessible parks or green spaces for our children.
· A new generation of great urban parks and community green spaces.
· Newly-restored river restorations and recreational “blueways” that power economic revitalization in communities.
· Stronger support for farmers, ranchers, and private landowners that help protect rural landscapes and provide access for recreation.
· The reinvestment of revenues from oil and gas extraction into the permanent protection of parks, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and access for recreational activities.
· A 21st century conservation ethic that builds on local ideas and solutions for environmental stewardship and connecting to our historic, cultural, and natural heritage.


“With children spending half as much time outside as their parents did, and with many Americans living in urban areas without safe access to green space, connecting to the outdoors is more important than ever for the economic and physical health of our communities,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Through the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, this Administration will work together with communities to ensure clean and accessible lands and waters, thriving outdoor cultures and economies, and healthy and active youth.”


“The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is born out of a conversation with the American people about what matters most to them about the places where they live, work, and play,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “It’s about practical, common-sense ideas from the American people on how our natural, cultural, and historic resources can help us be a more competitive, stronger, and healthier nation. Together, we are adapting our conservation strategies to meet the challenges of today and empowering communities to protect and preserve our working lands and natural landscapes for generations to come.”


“America’s farmlands and woodlands help fuel our economy and create jobs across the rural areas of our country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This plan seeks to work in partnership with landowners, conservation groups, states and others to conserve our working lands and our public lands and to reconnect Americans – especially our nation’s youth – with opportunities to stay active. This blueprint was developed with input from the over 100,000 Americans in all corners of our country who joined our national listening sessions and who contributed their ideas online.”


“This initiative is an effort to reconnect Americans with the valuable resources all around them and shape a 21st century plan for protecting our great outdoors,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “It is important that our waters, lands and green spaces are brought back into our daily lives. President Obama’s initiative will help make these critical resources a national focus once again, and involve people of every background in conservation of the places that we hold dear.”


Specifically, the report calls for fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund; establishing a 21st century Conservation Service Corps to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration; and extending the deduction for conservation easement donations on private lands beyond 2011, among other measures.


The full report and additional information is available here. The president's video remarks can be seen here.

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The President is traveling to the San Francisco Bay area today to meet with technology business leaders.  

The meeting is a part of the President's ongoing dialogue with the business community on how to work together to win the future, strengthen our economy, support entrepreneurship, increasing our exports, and get the American people back to work. 

The President and business leaders will discuss promoting American innovation, his commitment to new investments in research and development, education and clean energy.

The President is expected to meet with the following business owners:

John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Carol Bartz, President and CEO, Yahoo!; John Chambers, CEO and Chairman, Cisco Systems; Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter; Larry Ellison, Co-Founder and CEO, Oracle; Reed Hastings, CEO, NetFlix; John Hennessy, President, Stanford University; Steve Jobs, Chairman and CEO, Apple; Art Levinson, Chairman and former CEO, Genentech; Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO, Google; Steve Westly, Managing Partner and Founder, The WestlyGroup and Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, President, and CEO, Facebook.

The President is expected to have dinner with John Doerr.

This Presidents' Day: Meet All 44


Meet all 44 presidents this President's Day weekend at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in our Nation's Capital.

It seems that former DC Mayor, Adrian Fenty, was partly responsible for the $2M exhibit which will open February 17, 2011.  DC is the only place in the world to feature the exhibit.

From the Madam Tussaud web site:

Mayor Fenty helped unveil artist renderings of the new gallery and spoke briefly while attendees admired the nine new wax figures of U.S. presidents that were on display: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Gerald Ford. Additionally, 30 first grade students were on-hand from D.C. Public School Cleveland Elementary to “meet” the new wax figure of the U.S. president for whom their school is named, Grover Cleveland.

“Among the many museums and entertainment options in Washington, Madame Tussauds uniquely combines art, popular culture and entertainment,” said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. “The presidential gallery now adds the important component of education while celebrating the unique heritage of our city.”

Patrons can also test their 'presidential knowledge' by taking part in the Madam Tussauds US Presidential Trivia Poll.

U.S. First Ladies

While the nation celebrates Presidents' Day, the U.S. First Ladies aren't to be exempt from the celebration.

A new book, out this month by Betty Boyd Caroli, titled First Ladies: From Martha Washington To Michelle Obama, provides an account of all forty First Ladies.  (Trivia: Four U.S. presidents were not married.  Can you guess which ones?)

In Chapter 10, titled A New Generation in the White House (p. 295), Boyd discusses former First Ladies Hilliary Clinton and Michelle Obama, giving particular attention to the nation's first African American First Lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama (p.335), focusing on her own unique, and impecable style.

On the book's cover Boyd writes a brief synopsis of all of America's First Ladies:

Presidents' wives have ranged in age from the earlty twenties to late sixties; some received superb educatons for their time, while others had little or no schooling.  they include the courages and adventurous, the emotionally unstable, the ambitious, and the reserved - and often they did not fit the traditional expectations of a presidential helpmate.

Boyd is also the author of The Roosevelt Women.

Other
President Lincoln: Great American Historians On Our Sixteenth President
Showing His Ignorance: Hannity on The First Lady's Let's Move!
The Recovery Act: A New Way of Doing Business

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Very Poignant Pool Report: Vice President Biden Speaks to African American Officials

We missed this event, but was given a very noteworthy account of the evening by White House press pooler, Sophia Nelson.  

Sophia writes:

Vice President Biden [talked] about the importance of black history month as he reflected on everything from his recent meeting with young pre-teen African American football players at Ft. Campbell (who are the offspring of deployed Afghanistan and Iraq military warriors), to his becoming an attorney in 1968 just after the death of Dr. King (and the subsequent riots), and finally to his train ride with President-elect Barack H. Obama in January 2009 as the newly elected Vice President-elect to the nation's first ever black President.

In prepared remarks that lasted approximately 8 minutes Vice President Biden stayed mostly clear of the politics of the day, except for noting at the outset that many of his friends in the Congressional Black Caucus could not attend because they were preparing for votes on the Continuing Resolution to keep the government from shutting down, and that "they were fighting for some key things important to the black community." He alluded to the fact that if the Republican controlled House of Representatives has its way, the next 18 months will be a "rough ride" and that they seek to cut many programs that are critical to Mayors, state and county officials nationwide who represent struggling communities, which are mostly of color.   He joked, "My recovery act doesn't look so bad now-does it." Everyone laughed and nodded in agreement. 

The Vice President opened his substantive remarks for the evening by talking about the importance of community colleges, particularly to the sustainability of upwardly  mobile, educated blacks in America. He pointed out that his longtime friend from Wilmington, Delaware, Mayor James Baker (who was in attendance at the reception) stood side by side with him on the train platform at Wilmington station in 1968 as they watched the city of Wilmington lay in ruins from the riots in the aftermath of Dr. King's death.  He reflected movingly on how some 40 years later, he stood on that same platform in Wilmington, Delaware waiting to board a train that carried in its cars the newly elected Black President of the United States, Barack H. Obama.  Biden said that he had a moment standing at that station where he remembered the riots and said to himself, "We may have a lot more to do, but damn, we've come a long way." 

The Vice President closed his remarks by saying that "the best way to celebrate history, is to make it".  He offered pointed tribute to the strength of the black men and women who were standing in the room, and who work tirelessly for their communities.  And he also remembered those who had come before.  He talked about Frederick Douglass and the freed Black slaves who in 1862 became union soldiers, and how out of 35,000 who died during the Civil War, 16 of that number were honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor. He talked about how his first case as public defender was in representing two black panthers who were accused of causing the riots in 1968.The most poignant and moving line of the night was offered by the Vice President as he was talking about the sacrifices of all of those who had come before this present generation of accomplished African Americans.

The Vice President spoke of the sacrifice, the struggle (quoting Fredrick Douglass-"no struggle, no progress"), he spoke about the "halting" but continuous struggle for equality in America, and he called on us all to remember that "Sometimes the people most burdened in life, have to add more burdens upon themselves so that others can have their burdens lifted from them." Very fitting words on a day where we all witnessed Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his dedication and sacrifice in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, some 40 years later at the hands of the nation's first Black President of the United States.

--

A well-written piece.

The White House continues its celebration of Black History with a tribute to Motown on February 24th at the White House.  Guest performers scheduled include Smokey Robinson, Seal, John Legend and others.

Medal of Freedom Awarded At White House

Recipients Include A Congressman and Former U.S. President

Fifteen iconic Americans received the prestigious Medal of Freedom award today from President Barack Obama in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. 

President Obama holds a Medal of Freedom award. 
One of 15 awarded in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.  Photo/CD Brown.
Among those awarded:  The Boston Celtics' NBA great Bill Russell; Stan Musial, baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals; Congressman John Lewis, American hero and giant of the Civil Rights Movement; Warren Buffett, investor, industrialist, and philanthropist; Dr. Maya Angelou, author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist; cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Dr. Tom Little (Posthumous); Gerda Weismann Klein, Jewish Holocaust survivor;  artist Jasper Johns; John H. Adams co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council;  Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany; former president George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. president; Sylvia Mendez, Mexican Puerto Rican civil rights activist denied entrance in an all-white school; Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, and John J. Sweeney, President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO.   

The Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor, awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Congressman John Lewis was asked how he thought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might feel about the occasion:

"He would be proud and pleased", said Lewis.  It's an American day.  Black, white, Asian American, Latino, men, women.  In different ways I think we all have made a contribution to humanity.  We all have played our role in helping make America a better place."

Lewis will house his medal in Atlanta, where he has a home there, and says he will wear the medal "from time to time."

"I will put it in a well placed place."

Congressman Lewis, who marched during the Civil Rights era, said today made all the beatings he suffered during that era worth it.  

Before accepting his medal, President Obama stated, "“If not us, then who?  If not now, then when?”  It’s a question John Lewis has been asking his entire life.  It’s what led him back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma after he had already been beaten within an inch of his life days before.  It’s why, time and again, he faced down death so that all of us could share equally in the joys of life.  It’s why all these years later, he is known as the Conscience of the United States Congress, still speaking his mind on issues of justice and equality.  And generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind; an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now."

"It was worth it", Lewis told us.  "It was worth all the beatings, all the sit-ins, all the indecencies.  I'd do it again."

And he almost did. 

During a Tea Party rally late last year after the Health Care bill was passed, Congressman Lewis was spat upon by disgruntled Tea Party members and called a racial slur, giving more credence to the adage, 'we've come a long way, but still have so very far to go.'

Congressman Lewis represents 5th District of the people of Atlanta, Georgia.

Our Photo gallery | Video

More comments from the recipients:   "In route to Washington, DC as I along with fourteen other honored Americans prepare to receive the President's Medal of Freedom tomorrow. I am so blessed and grateful to be considered for this honor. I am grateful." - Maya Angelou on her Facebook wall.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shirley Sherrod Sues

As Well She Should

Shirley Sherrod, the ousted USDA employee is finally having her just desserts. 

After being called something, for which she is not, via a manipulated video last August, Sherrod is finally suing the perpetrator, Andrew Breitbart, for "defamation, false light, and infliction of emotional distress".


Breitbart's infamous video portrayed Sherrod as a racist who wouldn't help white families with saving their land.

"This lawsuit is not about politics or race," Sherrod said in a statement. "It is not about right versus left, the NAACP or the Tea Party. It is about how quickly, in today's Internet media environment, a person's good name can become 'collateral damage' in an overheated political debate."

Sherrod, after refusing the offer from US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak to return to the USDA, said she is unemployed and that no offers of employment are on the table.

"I'm just trying to survive."

Related
True video
Breitbart Still Edits Videos.  See here.

President Obama Explains What It's Like To Be C-I-C

Also Unveils 2011 Budget

Amazing testimony today from President Obama as he spoke to students at Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology  to highlight work the students are doing in math, science and engineering.

He was asked what it's like to be Commander in Chief.

Read the exchange below, that includes some telling information, including what really gets on President Obama's nerves.

Parkville Middle School Student: What does it feel like to be President?

President Obama: "What does it feel like to be the President? You know, some days -- some days you're burdened by some really tough decisions. Some of you may have family members who are in Afghanistan, for example. And I'm the Commander-in-Chief, and so I'm responsible for sending those young men and women over, who are doing an amazing job. Some of them get hurt. Some of them get killed. And so you feel a responsibility that is profound about making that decision. Even though you think it’s the best thing to do for the country, it’s one that carries an unbelievable cost.

There are days where you feel really excited because something that you got done you know is helping somebody. So when we passed the health care bill that we passed and it was controversial. It was a lot of work. It was and some people still don't like it. But I would get letters from people who said, my kid couldn't get insurance before and now I feel secure because they’re able to get health insurance so that when they get sick they’re able to get health care. So that makes you feel good.

Every day I feel proud and privileged to have the chance to work in this office. But I'll be honest with you. There are certain parts of the job that are kind of tough, like I'm kind of in this bubble. I can't go anywhere, I can't just if I want to just go to the corner drugstore and buy some shaving cream or something, or if I just feel like taking a walk with Bo, like I can't do anything spontaneous. And that kind of gets on your nerves.

And the other thing is people know who you are everywhere obviously. So you have to you always have to like shave and comb your hair and you can't just roll out of bed and be out there. So that kind of stuff can be a little tough."

More about Parkville Middle School here

While at the school the president, along with Secretary Arne Duncan and Budget Director Jack Lew also unveiled the president's 2011 budget which includes further investments in education, high-speed rail and high-speed Internet.



"These investments are an essential part of the budget my administration is sending to Congress.  Because I’m convinced that if we out-build and out-innovate and out-educate, as well as out-hustle the rest of the world, the jobs and industries of our time will take root here in the United States.  Our people will prosper and our country will succeed", the president stated.

More on the budget here.

The president also wants to cut the deficit by "living within our means".

"I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term.  The budget I’m proposing today meets that pledge, and puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade. We do this in part by eliminating waste and cutting whatever spending we can do without."

Among those items the president hopes America can do without include superfluous office buildings, and government-owned properties.  Other proposed items to be cut include community action programs in low-income neighborhoods and towns, and community development block grants, and cuts in the Defense Department’s budget.

He likened scaling back on government spending to households that scale back on household spending.

"That’s what families across the country do every day, they live within their means and they invest in their family’s futures. And it’s time we did the same thing as a country. That’s how we’re going to get our fiscal house in order. That’s how we’ll grow our economy and attract new jobs to our shores. And that’s how we will win the future in the 21st century."

Protestor outside the White House gives his take on the President's budget. Photo/CD Brown.
Many oppose the budget, both Democrats and Republicans alike, saying it doesn't do enough to bring down the deficit, but instead raises taxes.

"We need a government that finally does what every other American has to do in their households and their businesses, and that's to live within our means," Eric Cantor (R-VA) said. "Instead, President Obama's budget doubles down on the bad habits of the past four years by calling for more taxes, spending and borrowing of money that we simply do not have."


Related
Talking STEM: 2011 Black Engineer of the Year Awards

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Press Secretary Gibbs Says Goodbye (Kinda)

Gets The Tie Seen Around The World

The events in Egypt may have given the press corp something to talk about at yesterday's 250th press briefing of one Robert Lane Gibbs, perhaps overshadowing his exit, but it was an emotional last White House briefing, nonetheless.

From sounds of "aawww" coming from the press as Gibbs announced that one of his "week ahead" items would include taking his two year-old son, Ethan, to the bus stop - to the applause given after President Obama gave (or perhaps, returned) to his Press Secretary of two and some odd years, a good-bye present encased in a glass picture frame - it was press briefing to remember.

Entering the James Brady briefing room moments before Gibbs was about to end his last briefing of the 2010 Obama Administration, the man himself walks in with a gift for his trusty friend, and confidant.

President Obama returned to Gibbs a tie, or perhaps 'the' tie that helped launch a presidential campaign, secure an election, and an even closer, lasting friendship.


On his last day as Press Secretary, President Obama presents Gibbs with the tie he borrowed, and wore, during his 2004 DNC speech."It, and you, helped me get started", wrote Obama under a picture of the two friends. Photo/CD Brown.
On the tie's history, "We then had this incredible opportunity to speak at the national convention in Boston", recalled President Obama, who earlier addresed the nation on the current development in Egypt.  "And I know that a lot of you think that probably most of the attention was devoted to the speech that I delivered, the keynote speech in Boston, but in fact, actually, the most challenging problem was what tie to wear."

Gibbs, we're told, almost reluctantly loaned the then Chicago senator his tie right before he was to give his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

"And frankly, Robert didn’t want to give it up because he thought he looked really good in the tie", President Obama recounted.  "But eventually he was willing to take one for the gipper.  And so he took off his tie and I put it on.  And that’s the tie that I wore at the National Convention."

"He has not said anything about this tie all these years", the president continued.  "But I have to tell you that I know there’s a simmering resentment that he never got it back", he joked.  "And so, as a consequence, I wanted here today, I wanted this on the record, on camera that I am finally returning Robert’s tie."

Still not saying anything about the tie he loaned his friend, Gibbs, seemingly surprised, accepted the gift with a smile.

"It is a tremendous honor and privilege to do this each and every day, to serve and to take part in days like today that are so momentous.  And I want to thank the president and all of his team for, again, the privilege to serve."

Gibbs announced earlier this year that he wants to trade in his "remarkable privilege, and "opportunity of a lifetime" to "step back a little bit, recharge some" to  "give speeches" and work on the 2012 presidential campaign.

"I've been a member of his staff for almost seven years, and it’s a remarkable privilege", Gibbs said earlier in the year. "It is in many ways the opportunity of a lifetime, one that I will be forever thankful and grateful for."

When asked in what capacity he will still remain connected to the Obama Administration, Gibbs said, "I will continue to provide advice and counsel to this building and to this president. And I look forward to continuing to do that."

Gibbs, not one to have a lot of attention directed his way (not that stating the Democrats will lose in the midterm elections did that in any way), reflected over his last two years, opting not to reflect, however, on the question asked: "What was your fondest moment?", but rather stated, "I don’t intend, today or tomorrow, to tell any of you goodbye, because I don’t intend to go anywhere. You all are forever a part of this experience for me. You’ve become a greater extension of my family. We’ve shared a lot of extraordinary times."

Jay Carney, former Time magazine reporter, and communications director for Vice President Biden, replaces Gibbs on Monday.

"I will miss boring days like today at the White House", to which the assembled press managed yet another chuckle.  "I should tell you that for all of you that are looking for help on your morning shows, that Jay likes calls around 4:15 a.m. in the morning. If you don’t get through at first, just keep dialing".

The celebration continued in the briefing room, this time without  the cameras rolling, as the man of the hour was showered with a gift of champagne, and (wait for it), another tie.  This time, a pink and white striped tie, that actually would look good with the suit he wore on his last day. 

Side Bar

On a personal note, we got most of the press corp to sign a card for Robert -  dog themed, that read "Mutts you leave", and "It's going to be ruff around here without you."

"I wish you all good luck", said Gibbs.

"I will miss you. I had a lot of fun. And I hope, as we covered some very serious subjects and we watched the world change, I hope you had some fun, too."

It was fun, Robert. It was fun watching your expressions as you carefully, yet pointedly, address political questions of the day, as well as those questions that were a bit less than political, and those that didn't get much of your attention at all.  We'll miss how you made the press feel worthy of asking you questions, even if they became a bit off-centered and misdirected along the way.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

President Obama: Opening Up The Lines of Communication


The President travels to Marquette, Michigan today where local businesses have been able to grow as a result of broadband access, with particular benefit in exporting goods to new markets around the world.   He will briefly meet with local business owners who have used broadband access to grow their businesses and four senior technology executives that contributed to the design of the Wireless Innovation Fund.  (Video here).

Prior to delivering remarks at Michigan's Northern Michigan University, the President will participate in a demonstration of how the university’s WiMAX network has enabled distance learning for university and community students.

Currently the WiMAX connection allows professors to contact student teachers in the field to observe and communicate with them about their experience. NMU professors also use the WiMAX to connect to K-12 classes where master teachers are teaching so that education students can observe them in action. For the distance learning demonstration, NMU's Professor, Joe Lubig, will connect to one of his student teachers at Negaunee High School about his teaching experience, and then Professor Joe Lubig will direct the students to turn their attention to the screen so they can observe a master teacher at the Powell Township School.

The visit comes as part of the President's plan to win the future by catalyzing the build-out of high-speed wireless services that will enable businesses to grow faster, students to learn more, and public safety officials to access state-of-the-art, secure, nationwide, and interoperable mobile communications. 

"To do this, though, we have to up our game. To attract the best jobs and newest industries, we’ve got to out-innovate, out-educate, out-build and out-hustle the rest of the world.  That means investing in cutting-edge research and technology, like the new advanced battery manufacturing industry that’s taking root right here in Michigan.  It means investing in the skills and training of our people.  It means investing in transportation and communication networks that move goods and information as fast as possible."

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for a National Wireless Initiative to make available high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of Americans.

Included in the 'Initiative' are plans to provide 98% of Americans access to 4G High-Speed Wireless (many rural areas are without this service); and to develop and deploy a nationwide, interoperable wireless network for public safety.

The president outlines his administration's plans to play for these inititiatives:

"...to make room for these investments, we have to cut whatever spending we can do without.  That’s why I’ve proposed that we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years, which would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and bring that spending to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower was President."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Norton Denied Testimony on H.R. 3

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today was denied the right to testify at a House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution hearing on H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and specifically Section 310 of the bill, which seeks to prevent D.C. from spending its local taxpayer-raised funds to provide abortions for low-income residents. Norton was denied the opportunity to testify by Chairman Trent Franks (R-AZ), although Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) submitted Norton’s request to give testimony in advance, and although members of Congress are routinely given the courtesy to testify at any hearing of their choosing.

“Not only do Republicans seek to trample on D.C.’s rights as a self-governing jurisdiction, they apparently seek to trample on my right as a Member of Congress to participate in the legislative process by giving testimony on a bill that directly affects the District,” Norton said. “We will not give up on our efforts to use every legitimate means to stop all anti-home rule attempts to roll back the progress the District has made over the past four years, including today’s attempt to prevent D.C. from funding abortions for low-income residents.”

--

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton On H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution:

February 8, 2011

First, I want to strongly object to the Committee Majority’s denial of my request to testify today, particularly in light of the fact that H.R. 3 singles out the local law and taxpayer funds of my district. I recognize that no Member panel was contemplated, but in my two decades in the Congress, I have never seen a Member turned away from testifying, and certainly not when her own district was targeted by a bill under consideration.

I strongly oppose the harsh anti-choice H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, in its entirety, but I am specifically compelled to discuss an unprecedented provision of the bill, Section 310, “Application to District of Columbia.” This provision is entirely unrelated to the purposes of the bill, which seeks not only to write the Hyde amendment into federal law and extend it permanently, but to go much further, threatening the health of millions of women. However, H.R. 3 goes haywire and crosses the line between autocracy and democracy to dictate to the self-governing District of Columbia that it may not spend its own local taxpayer-raised funds as it chooses.

The new House Republican Majority that rode into town on the wings of a promise for jobs has yet to introduce a jobs bill. Instead, they quickly reverted to type, giving top priority to controversial social issues. Two of their top bills are aimed uniquely at one local jurisdiction, the District of Columbia. One of these anti-home-rule bills, sponsored by the Speaker, targets the District with D.C.-only private school vouchers, although our residents have created a large, alternative public charter school system that almost half of our children attend and that is so successful, it has long waiting lists. To compound the injury, the new House Majority has included an outrageous provision in H.R. 3 that would federalize the District of Columbia for purposes of denying the city the right to spend its own local funds on abortions for low-income residents.

During the past four years, I worked to carry out the will of D.C. residents and our local government by successfully removing all of the accumulated appropriations riders that eliminated the District’s right to decide how to spend its local funds on behalf of its residents, including for abortion for low-income women.

H.R. 3, however, not only seeks to re-impose the ban on the District’s use of its local funds for abortion, but also to make it permanent. This bill presents a new and expanded way to deny the residents of the District of Columbia their democratic rights. Unlike the prior prohibitions on the District’s use of its local funds, Section 310 states that the “term ‘Federal Government’ includes the government of the District of Columbia.” Declaring that the District is a part of the federal government for the purpose of abortion is an unprecedented violation of the District’s right to self-government.

The District of Columbia is not a colony of the Congress. We refuse to submit the funds we alone raise and decisions about how to spend our own local funds to Members of the House. We will not let the Majority get away with supporting democracy everywhere on earth except its own nation’s capital. The House Majority goes many steps too far when they introduce a bill with such potential harm to all women and then try to make it worse for the women of the District of Columbia by taking down part of the local government’s authority in the process.

The new House Majority says it supports limiting the federal government’s power and devolving that power to the states and localities. This bill does the opposite by using federal power to snatch local authority from the District of Columbia and its people. The time has come to practice what the House Majority preaches.