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



Thursday, March 31, 2011

First Lady Michelle Mentors Washington Youth


I couldn't help be proud of the First Lady's mentoring efforts that not only include her own, but her inclusion of other successful women as well, to assist young women and girls on the journey to adulthood.   Last night more than twelve women came together to mentor and share their successes and challenges during a White House ceremony in honor of Women's History month.

Said First Lady Michelle:  "They found what they were put on this Earth to do, and they realized that it didn’t matter whether they got rich or famous doing it, whether they won any kind of award for it.  What mattered was that they were doing what they loved doing.  And that's key to you, young women.  You want to be good at stuff, but you’re good at stuff that you care about and you love.  So think about that as you move forward.  What mattered was that they were true to what was inside of them."

The First Lady also spent the day at Ballou High School speaking to youth while other mentors spent time at other DC schools including Eastern Senior High School where actor Hilary Swank; playwright and professor Anna Deveare Smith; Grammy Award-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari; Olympic gold medalist and WNBA player Lisa Leslie presided; and H.D. Woodson Senior High School where actor Rashida Jones; Gen. Dana Born; Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes; Lifetime Networks Senior Vice President of Series Programming and Development Nina Lederman participated.  (See Woodson photos here.)

A fitting way to end Women's History Month and recognize the accomplishments of some of today's amazing women, while offering encouragement to future generations of female success stories.



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NOTE:  On a personal note, I have to acknowledge that Ledisi was put on the spot by the First Lady as she made mention of the star having a birthday this week.  Ledisi was also put on the spot earlier today as Jeff Johnson, moderator of today's National Urban League forum on the State of Black America, made her blush as he introduced the singer who posed a question for financial columnist Michelle Singletary, one of the forum's panelists.  Ledisi's Horoscope must have read:  "This week you will shine."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chinese Embassy to get new location?

Bisnow, DC's resident everything business experts, is reporting that the site of the Chinese Embassy at 2300 Connecticut Ave, NW will be torn down early next year to be rebuilt to house 160 residences for its 180 staff (the largest embassy roster here).

Buildings at 2300 Connecticut Ave., and 2312 Conn. will come down to make room. China bought the building in the mid ’70s (it was originally a hotel) when Nixon re-established diplomatic relations with China.

Chris Collins of Holland &Knight's who reportedly worked on the deal, says the embassy hasn't selected a developer yet. The DC architecture firm Esocoff & Associates is handling design. The firm has worked with over 50 embassies where they have the experience usually building or expanding office space, but not so much with multifamily units.

The new building, hoping to be delivered by 2014 will be secure and environmentally friendly, will be set to provide staff housing in one location. It'll include 130 two- and three-bedroom units and 30 smaller “bachelor apartments,” plus 10k SF of chancery (diplomat-speak for office) space.

China's main embassy building is at the International Chancery Center, at the intersection of Connecticut and Van Ness. It has a ground lease along with 20 other countries there, and the ICC's been so successful that Madeleine Albright suggested building another at Walter Reed.

Former Commerce Secretary Gets Street Named After Him

A fitting tribute to Ron Brown, former Commerce Secretary, as he gets a Washington, DC street named after him.

The street, located between Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues at 14th Street NW, near the White House, is named Ron Brown Way.

Brown served as Commerce Secretary from 1993-96.

The honor comes some 15 years to the month when an Air Force plane crashed into a Croatia mountainside killing Brown in April, 1996.

His son, Michael Brown, serves as DC's councilman.

Gary Locke is the outgoing Secretary of Commerce, appointed by President Barack Obama.  Locke has since been named Ambassador to China to replace 2012 presidential candidate Jon Huntsman


Related
Brown's death suspicious
Brown on Arlington Cemetery web site

**Update** President Obama speaks about the legacy of Ron Brown as he dedicates the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building in New York, NY.  (Video).

Pool Report: Vice President At Florida DNC Fund Raiser Event


Vice President Biden, attending an event for Senator Bill Nelson, made the following remarks at a lunchtime fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s 2012 re-election campaign. Items he spoke on include updating and renewing our infrastructure.

“No business is going to build its own ports, its own runways, its own broadband networks. None are able to that,” Biden said. “The government provides seed money. That’s how we built the transcontinental railroad. That’s how we got the Internet", said Biden. "That’s why Sen. Nelson and I both thought the high-speed rail made sense.”

As you know, not everyone is in agreement of the Obama Administration's vision of creating modern, faster rail options.  The state's republican governor, Rick Scott rejected the $2.4b in federal funds offered to Florida for such use, saying the project would lose money and become a state liability.

Biden said the administration’s strategy is to address the national debt long-term, and said Republicans are trying to address it short-term, which he said means eliminating investment in growth. In particular he called in investment in education and technology.

“Does anybody think we can lead the world if we don’t pioneer the next generation of communication technology. IF we don’t invest in research and development in the private sector by encouraging it in the public sector?” Biden said. “This is about more than just jobs. This is our future.”

An estimated 150 people donated a minimum of $500 apiece to hear Biden at the Winter Park home of developer and philanthropist Alan Ginsburg, in a sprawling estate on the south shore of Lake Maitland.

In Ginsburg’s home theater room, against a backdrop of blue curtains and Florida and American flags, Biden gave a 25-minute speech, mostly praising Nelson and the accomplishments of President Barack Obama.

He said he came to raise money for Nelson not just because they are friends and long time political allies but also because, “as goes Bill Nelson in Florida, go Barack Obama and Joe Biden in Florida.”

The vice president has had his hands full lately as the lead White House lead negotiator in the talks with Congress over passage of a new spending bill, which has seen House Republicans press for $60 billion in cuts while Democrats have offered about $10 billion. Meanwhile, Obama has been in South America this past week while the U.S. Joined Great Britain and France in attacking Libya’s air defenses and creating a no-fly zone to protect Libyan rebels.

Biden never mentioned Libya and only talked about the budget fight in broad terms.

Biden said the Obama administration took over the country at a time when the world is changing dramatically, economically and geo-politically. It was the closest he came to discussing Libya, when he noted the sweeping regime changes and protests spreading through the Middle East.

“The world is changing with or without us,” he said.

Biden blasted nay-sayers who claim China’s economy is outpacing the United States.

“I want China to do well. The simple truth is our economy is two and a half times as big as China’s,” he said.

Under the theme of changing strategies for a changing world, Biden declared the federal bail-outs of American banks and auto companies as successes, and predicted faster economic growth.

He said Obama is responding to world geo-political changes the same way.

Also said Vice President Biden, “Today, because of Barack Obama, we’ve regained respect in the world.”
He declared improving situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and predicted good outcomes.

He called Nelson a principled man who brings civility to the Senate.

“He’s a truly, truly decent guy who has the absolute respect of his colleagues, and I’ve heard that from both sides of the aisle,” Biden said.

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More on Nelson

In his own brief remarks, Nelson also raised the issue of high-speed rail, which finally closed last week although Nelson attempted several strategies to convince Scott to change his mind.  (More here).

“If I had to stand up and try to find a way around the governor and still keep high-speed rail going then I was going to do it,” he said. “You give me the privilege of standing up and fighting for Florida and fighting for you.”

The Ginsburgs have long supported Nelson, though their political contributions have been scattered across the spectrum, donating thousands of dollars over the past decade to both Democrats and Republicans, as well as $10,000 last year to the Tea Party of Florida, a group largely disavowed by many Tea Party activists.

Their charitable donations have been more dramatic. In 2007 the family gave $20 million to Florida Hospital for its new cardiovascular institute, now located in a new building named the Ginsburg Tower. The family also has donated millions of dollars to Rollins College and the University of Central Florida, including $4 million to the university’s new medical school.

In introducing Nelson, Ginsburg declared the responsibility of big campaign donors to step up early in that and other races.

“We have a job to do,” Ginsburg said. “If we’re happy with the way things are going and we want to see more changes and more improvements, it’s our job as Americans to try to do what we can to be heard and to help elect people who speak for us.”

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More on Scott

Today, Scott signed teacher merit pay legislation into law.

Under the new legislation,  teacher evaluations and pay will be based onstudent test performance and will eliminate multi-year contracts for new teachers. 

The law comes just one year after former governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill after teacher protests.

"We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher," Scott said, during a signing ceremony at a charter school in Jacksonville.

The new law will immediately impact new hires who come on board starting July 1. They will have to sign only annual contracts. Those new teachers with advanced degrees will not get more money unless their degrees are in the "area of certification."

(Source)

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In Other Governor News

Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell chose not to support legislation requiring elementary students to get a mandated 150 minutes of physical activities per week.

He added that government cannot pass legislation to solve childhood obesity problems, and that children need to be taught to pick active lifestyles by parents, teachers and mentors.

“I have instructed officials in my administration to look for creative and innovative means by which we can promptly help get our children more physically active, and motivated to exercise on their own,” he said.

Since state government (at least Virginia state government) is not in support of elementary physical fitness in schools, that makes The First Lady's Let's Move! initiative all the more necessary.   The initiative has almost everybody (including U.S. Mayors, the NFL and NHL) supporting the effort to get America's children exercising for at least sixty minutes a day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mr. President, Are You Forgetting Your Own?

We've tackled, and we've heard stories about this issue before.  

Has President Obama done enough for the Black agenda?   Is President Obama Black enough?   Has the President forgotten about the African Americans who helped propel him into the White House?

I can't help remember the answer Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave on 'Washington Watch' featuring Roland Martin when she was asked whether or not anything is being done specifically for African Americans to have better health care optiions.  [African Americans are reported as having the highest rate of certain kinds health care issues of any other race, and are also the least likely to receive the same quality health care treatment and options as whites.]

Sebelius answered, "There are no provisions in place for African Americans in health care", and "No talks are on the table geared specifically for African Americans."

Her answer has haunted me ever since.

I've watched this Administration provide 'answers' and try to 'solve' problematic issues that continue to plague Americans the most:  job creation, homelessness, homeless veterans, treatment of gays in the military, support for military families, equal pay for women in the work place.   All of which haven't necessarily had the face of color attached to it when in the spotlight.

On the day the President signed his Health Care Reform bill into law, there standing byside him wasn't the face of an African American, but rather a sobbing white woman who told her story of not having enough health care for her child.

When it comes to joblessness, the face of 'Joe the Plumber' talking to President Obama resonates quite vividly. Not the faces of those who are facing staggering unemployment the most.

During his back yard visits to families across America, where he held discussions on the economy, were where the African American families?

When President Obama visited small businesses to discuss 'the Plan For Small businessess' which African American small business did Obama visit? 

Just last month when the President and First Lady hosted their bullying conference, not one African American face was represented in the entire presentation.  Had it not been for these behind-the-scene photos  most people would think the President hasn't spoken at the White House with African Americans on any issue during his presidency.

Even columnist, Maureen Dawd, a white woman, said the President needs some color in his cabinent, calling his Administration "too white".

And now the latest.  A hometown Chicagoan is saying the President has forgotten his own. 

Publisher Hermene Hartman says even she is feeling a bit neglected since Barack has taken his foothold in the White House. Said Hartman on her relationship with the Obamas:  "It used to be good. It used to be superb before they got to the White House. I haven’t been invited, and I’m insulted."  More here.

Yes, we're aware of the President's Black History Month Proclamation, the Celebration of Motown at the White House tribute, the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative to help underserved students.  We're aware of the president's "if it helps America, then everybody wins" speech.

Yet still, even as the economy appears to be tilting towards recovery, African Americans still remain disportionately unemployed in every major U.S. city, compared to their white counterparts.

It seems the so-called First African American U.S. president, is seen as having less interaction with African Americans than any other U.S. president.

To that point, I'd just like to say to President Obama:  We applaud everything you do to help make this country a better place than when you first took office.   We get that.  We know you have a lot of supporters.

But...

Mr. President, African Americans want to be included too. Young African American children, elder African Americans who rejoice in your history making saga, want their faces seen front and center - in front of the cameras - by your side, receiving hugs, support, and showed recognition on a global scale - just as you do everyone else - perhaps, even just a little bit more.  Not as an afterthought. And not behind the scenes because you don't want to appear as being too supportive of your own people.

You should support your own - without shame. Just as your own have supported you - without shame.

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Question:  When was the last time you saw President Obama on CNN or other major outlets embracing an African American?

Just askin'.

Pool Report: Vice President Biden Visits Japanese Embassy

Pool report from Politico's Abby Phillip.

Vice President Joe Biden arrived at the Japanese Embassy in Washington at 11:14 am for an unannounced visit.

 
Biden was greeted at the door by Japan's Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki and other embassy personnel.

He signed the book of condolences in the Old Residence of the Embassy at a small table in the center of the room next to a single Japanese flag. The book is the same one President Obama signed when he visited last week.

The room is otherwise empty save for a handful of flower bouquets and cards delivered to the embassy from a group of local children. One reads "There is hope," and others have hand drawn images of flowers.

Biden sat writing his message at the table for three minutes before getting to inspect the cards. He picked up one that read “We are thinking of you.”

“Mr. Vice President, this is from a nearby school,” Fujisaki told Biden as he inspected the flowers and cards.

Biden turned to the Ambassador, shook his hand and said. “We're going to stand with you.”

The two had a brief conversation in the room, the Ambassador was overheard thanking Biden.
“It means a lot to us, we really appreciate it,” Fujisaki said.
The two walked out of the room, but returned about 30 seconds later. Biden said that they were having a private conversation and the Ambassador asked him to come back and make a statement to the media.


“It is almost beyond the ability of the human mind to understand the devastation of this natural disaster,” Biden said.

“What is equally hard to understand...is the resolve of the Japanese people,” he continued. “The stoicism in the face just an unimaginable tragedy.”

The Ambassador spoke briefly saying that he believed Biden’s message would be “a very strong message to the Japanese people.”

“I've traveled around the world and I promise you the whole world is looking at the courage, bravery and the resolve being demonstrated by ordinary people,” Biden continued.

He quoted a Irish proverb that said “Too much suffering makes a stone of the heart.”

Biden said the world has been amazed by the “resolve the Japanese people, the orderly way in which they are dealing with” the crisis.

He reiterated that “America will stand with Japan and do whatever we can to be of assistance.”

“I have no doubt the Japanese will bounce back from this,” Biden said before leaving the room again at 11:22 am


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Note:  Dr. Jill Biden was unable to join the Vice President at the Embassy today because she is teaching today at Northern Virginia Community College where she is a member of the faculty full-time.

Easter Roll Poster Contest

Today, the White House is announcing an Easter Egg Roll Poster Contest for local school children. The First Lady will be selecting the winning design, which will serve as the official 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll poster.


The White House invites all elementary and middle school students in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia to submit poster designs by Monday, April 4th at 11:59pm EST for consideration. The poster design selected by the First Lady will be used as part of the White House 2011 Easter Egg Roll program. The winning student artist will be invited to attend the event, along with his or her class.

Students from the Washington, D.C. area have had a special relationship with the White House Easter Egg Roll for generations. In the early 1800s, local children rolled eggs on the Capitol Steps the day after Easter. In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes invited D.C. area children to roll their Easter eggs on the White House lawn and a tradition was born, growing into the national event that it is today. The Easter Egg Roll was the largest public event held at the White House in 2009 (and 2010). Close to 30,000 people from the DC area and across the country gathered on the South Lawn to enjoy the festivities.

This year, the President and First Lady will again open the South Lawn for children 12 years and younger and their families. Activities at this year’s event include cooking stations, storytelling, sports, live entertainment, and the tradition that started it all, Easter egg rolling.

2010 Easter Roll Poster
The 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll is focused on promoting health and wellness with the theme “Get Up and Go!”.  All of the activities will encourage children to lead healthy and active lives, which is a central part of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, a national campaign to combat childhood obesity.

Click here for more information about the poster contest, entry process, or submissions.  The deadline for submissions is Monday, April 4th at 11:59pm EST. Submissions may not exceed 2 megabytes (high-quality scans measuring either 8.5” X 11” at 600 dpi or 20 x 16” at 300 dpi must be available upon request) and should relate to this year’s theme, “Get Up and Go!” Please note: submissions may be made public during the selection process.

For ticketing details for the 2011 Easter Egg Roll visit www.whitehouse.gov/eastereggroll.

A Night Of Living Presidents, Minus One.

You have to wonder why this event couldn't have taken place when the current President of the United States, Barack Obama, was able to attend. After all, the event boasted all of the living presidents (Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bush presidents), except Barack Obama.

Couldn't the event, or the President's travel plans to South America, have been better scheduled so that all of the Presidents - past and present - could be in the same company honoring George H.W. Bush at the same time?

One one hand, it looks like your friends threw a party, but they didn't even bother to invite you.

Honoree George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara are surrounded by former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and George W. and Laura Bush, plus Kennedy Center board chair David and Alice Rubenstein.
On the other hand, one could make the case that on the day George H.W. Bush was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House with a Medal of Freedom Award, neither President Carter, Clinton, or the younger George Bush were in attendance.
 
More importantly than that, I suppose, was that the star studded Kennedy Center event raised more than $1.5 million for the Japanese tsunami/earthquake relief efforts.

In his Inaugural Address, President Bush - the evening's honoree - inspired Americans to be "a thousand points of light," by mentoring and volunteering in their communities.

President and Mrs. Obama also continue to champion the cause by reminding Americans to participate in the National Day of Service.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Obamas Arrive In Brazil

Receive Warm Welcome
 "The presence amongst us of Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha, and of an important delegation with the authorities of the Cabinet, politicians and businessmen and women reinforce the spirit of friendship that we gather here. "  -   President Rousseff of Brazil  at Official toast and luncheon.

President Rousseff points out many 'firsts', and similarities, during the Obama's visit to Brazil.



"As I said today in the morning, it is a fact that we should celebrate that the first woman President of Brazil will receive today and host the first President Afro descent of the United States of America. (Applause.)

And this is even more important and has a greater significance when we remember that the U.S. and Brazil are the two countries that has the largest black population outside Africa. Our countries have common traits to deepen our affinities amongst our peoples, to make our friendship ties even closer and more meaningful and everlasting, a relationship that is based only on formal agreements amongst governments.

We are multi ethnical democracies. We have a long track record of the struggle of the minorities and for the respect in favor of diversity and against discrimination and intolerance. We value freedom, equality and independence of peoples and nations. We have high regards of our sovereignty."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Obama On Jobs: Latin-American Style

The First Family will travel March 19-23rd to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador where the President will meet with the leaders and speak to the peoples of these countries to discuss a broad range of issues including economic prosperity and job creation through increased trade and partnerships, energy and security cooperation, shared values and other issues of regional and global concern. 


The trip will provide an opportunity to engage key bilateral partners, to highlight the President’s engagement with the hemisphere, and to advance our efforts to work as equal partners to address the basic challenges facing the people of the Americas.  The visit will include events in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and San Salvador.

Just as the President's official visit to the Latin American countries is set to begin, he is featured a USA Today op-ed piece entitled: Jobs At Top of Latin America Agenda.

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Op-Ed Piece
USA Today | March 18, 2011 |
By Barack Obama

In recent weeks, we've seen how turmoil and tragedy around the globe can affect our own prosperity and security; how events abroad often have implications for everything from markets on Wall Street to families' wallets on Main Street. And as a nation, we will continue to do everything we can both to promote stability and democracy in the Middle East and help the people of Japan recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

But in this increasingly interconnected and fiercely competitive world, our top priority has to be creating and sustaining new jobs and new opportunities for our people.

Lately, we've seen signs that we're moving in the right direction. Our economy added nearly a quarter of a million new private sector jobs last month, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest level in nearly two years. And to keep that progress going, we've got to keep competing for every new job, every new industry, and every new market in the 21st century.

That's one of the reasons I will travel to Latin America this week — to strengthen our economic relationship with neighbors who are playing a growing role in our economic future.

Nearly 600 million people live in Latin America. The region's economy grew by about 6% last year. Between 2010 and 2015, it's expected to grow by one-third. And as these markets are growing, so is their demand for goods and services — goods and services that, as president, I want to see made in the United States of America.

Every $1 billion we export supports more than 5,000 jobs here at home. That's why last year, I set a goal for this country: to double our exports of goods and services by 2014. And we are on track to meet this goal: exports were up 17% in 2010.

The impressive growth that we've seen in Latin America in recent years is good for the people of the hemisphere, and it's good for us. Thanks in part to our trade agreements across the region, we now export three times as much to Latin America as we do to China, and our exports to the region — which are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world — will soon support more than 2 million jobs here in the United States.

I'll begin my trip by visiting Brazil to work with its new president, Dilma Rousseff, to strengthen the relationship between the hemisphere's two largest democracies and economies. With around 200 million people, a growing middle class, and a per-capita income rising by almost 7% a year, Brazil imports more goods and services from the United States than from any other nation — mainly high-tech, manufactured goods from aircraft to chemicals to clean energy components. In 1990, Brazil was the 16th largest market for our goods. Last year, it was the eighth largest. In 2010, our exports to Brazil grew by more than 30% to just over $50 billion, supporting more than 250,000 jobs here at home.

In Brazil, I'll be joined by hundreds of business leaders from both countries for a forum on how we can create jobs by deepening these economic ties. That's good for large U.S. companies such as Sikorsky, whose helicopter sales to Brazil help sustain a large, skilled workforce in Connecticut, Alabama and Pennsylvania. It's good for small businesses such as Rhino Assembly in Charlotte, N.C., a supplier and repairer of aerospace and automotive assembly tools whose recent relationship with a distributor in Brazil has resulted in new sales and new employees here. And it's good for Brazilian companies that invest in the U.S. — in fact, in 2008, U.S. subsidiaries of Brazilian-owned firms employed more than 42,000 people in the United States.

We'll also work to strengthen our relationship when it comes to energy. Brazil holds recently discovered oil reserves that could be far larger than ours, and as we seek to increase secure-energy supplies, we look forward to developing a strategic energy partnership. We'll also continue our shared leadership in green economic growth and clean energy, including everything from biofuels to renewables such as wind and solar power. And as the host of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil is expected to invest more than $200 billion in upgrading its infrastructure — an area where America is primed to be a partner.

Then, I'll travel to Santiago, Chile, a country with an economy estimated to have grown by more than 5% last year, and expected to grow even faster this year. Since the Chile Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 2004, our exports of goods there are up 300%, supporting an estimated 70,000 jobs in the United States today. We will work with Chile to deepen that relationship and address other common economic, hemispheric and global challenges.

Finally, I will visit El Salvador, a nation where we not only share an economic and trade relationship with great potential for future growth, but also strong ties through one of the United States' largest Hispanic populations.

Our neighbors in the Americas are bound to us by shared history, values and interests. What I will convey this week is that we are partners in progress. Strengthening these partnerships will advance the common prosperity and common security of all our people, creating new jobs and new growth across the hemisphere, and helping our economy remain an engine of strength and opportunity for all our people.

Race To The Top Celebrates Its One-Year Anniversary

Vice President Biden Scheduled to Celebrate The One-Year Anniversary With Visit To Delaware High School


On Monday, March 21st, nearly a year after the U.S. Department of Education announced that Delaware was awarded over $100 million in Race to the Top funding, Vice President Biden will visit Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As one of the first four schools in Delaware to receive Race to the Top assistance, Howard High School has made significant progress, launching a transformation plan that will be fully implemented in the 2011-2012 school year.

The Vice President and Secretary Duncan will highlight key areas of Race to the Top achievement at Howard High School and across the state, as well as the success of teacher collaboration in Delaware. They will also discuss how winning the future in education will continue to require investments that promote a shared responsibility among everyone involved; reform at the state and local levels; and a focus on achieving results.

Vice President Biden Names New Communications Director

The Vice President announced today that Shailagh Murray will serve as his Communications Director, starting in April. Murray succeeds Jay Carney, who was appointed by the President to be the White House Press Secretary. Murray comes to the Vice President’s office as a veteran journalist, most recently at the Washington Post.

“Shailagh’s years of experience covering a broad array of issues ranging from domestic policy to foreign affairs make her uniquely positioned to lead our communications team", Vice President Biden said. "She is as well-respected among her peers as she is versed in the serious issues facing our nation and the world. Her leadership and counsel will be invaluable to me, and to the entire administration.”

Shailagh Murray became a Capitol Hill correspondent for the Washington Post in 2005. She has written extensively about fiscal policy, health care reform, and national security issues, including the Iraq war debate, while also covering the 2006, 2008 and 2010 elections. At the Post, she was assigned to cover Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and has focused since the election on the president's legislative agenda, including health care reform.

From 1999 to 2005, she covered Congress and politics for the Wall Street Journal's Washington, DC, bureau. Previously, she was a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Prague and Brussels from 1992 to 1999. A native of Buffalo, New York, Shailagh grew up in Richmond and Charllottesville, Virginia and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Northwestern University.


The fiesty journalist made news when she defended her use of the term "ultra-conservative" for Rep. Barbara Cubin in a June 7 story on who would succeed the late Sen. Craig Thomas.  Said Murray: "I get irritated with people who assume knee-jerk bias in reporters, based on one story that they happen to read. I actually don't see such terms as inflammatory, but as descriptive, and I'll use them as a I see fit."

Murray joins the Vice President’s communications office, which includes Press Secretary Elizabeth Alexander, Deputy Press Secretary Amy Dudley and Assistant Press Secretary Liz Allen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

DC Mayor and Councilman Receive Award Amid Controversary

DC Mayor, Vincent C. Gray along with Kwame Brown,  Chairman, Council of the District of Columbia received awards last evening at the 39th Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Gala presented by the National Urban League.

This year’s platform introduced the idea of celebrating Washington, DC’s diverse population, as a united community with the theme, “YOU, ME, WE….DC!” 

Both men have been embattled in a series of alleged wrong doings ranging from questionable hiring practices to misuse of city-owned vehicles.  

Mayor Gray, who campaigned under the phrase "One DC", has come under fire for his hiring practices that included one Sulaimon Brown, who allegedly was paid handsomely to discredit former Mayor Adrian Fenty during Gray's mayoral campaign.

In another staffing shakeup, Geri Mason Hall resigned as Gray's Chief of Staff.  Hall was replaced by Paul Quander on an interim basis.

About the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award

Young, a U.S. civil rights leader who spearheaded the drive for equal opportunity for African Americans in U.S. industry and government service during his 10 years as head of the National Urban League (1961–71), the world’s largest social-civil rights organization. His advocacy of a “Domestic Marshall Plan”—massive funds to help solve America’s racial problems—was felt to have strongly influenced federal poverty programs sponsored by Democratic Party administrations in Washington (1963–69).

Other recipients of the 2011 Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award included George Washington University (Gray's Alma Mater), Howard University and Sonia Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School.

Former recipients of the prestigious award include Vernon E. Jordan (Former National Urban League President, 1972 – 1981); Robert L. Johnson (Honorary Gala Chair, Founder and Chairman The RLJ Companies); Walter M. Oliver (General Gala Chair, Senior Vice President Human Resources and Administration, General Dynamics); and current current National Urban League President , Marc H. Morial.

Scholarships were awarded last evening by Charlotte Elizabeth Yancey Eights Trust, GWUL Thursday Network Young Professionals Auxiliary, Pepsi and Safeway/Western Union for local students.

Special guests included the National Urban League's President Marc H. Morial and Miss D.C. International, Chelsey Rodgers.

About The National Urban League

Now in its 72st year, the Greater Washington Urban League continues to provide a wide range of services including education, employment and training; health promotion; food and utility assistance and housing and community development that serve more than 65,000 persons each year. The mission of the League is "to increase the economic and political empowerment of African Americans and other minorities and to help all Americans share equally in the responsibilities and rewards of full citizenship”.

To accomplish its mission, the League uses the tools and methods of social work, economics, law and other disciplines to bring about equal opportunities and equal access to African Americans and minorities in the Washington metropolitan area. One of more than 100 affiliates of the National Urban League, the GWUL is a member agency of the United Way of the National Capital Area.

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Related
Whitney M. Young birthplace a historical landmark.

Jim Tyree Passes

CEO of the financial services firm Mesirow Financial, James Tyree,  passed this week.  He was 53.

"Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Tyree. Jim was a quintessential Chicagoan, a South Side kid from humble roots who worked his way to the top but never left the city behind", said President Obama in a statement.

Tyree, who had received a double-organ transplant, lost his battle with stomach cancer.  He was surrounded by his family at the time of his death.

"He was beloved for what he gave back to the city that gave him so much. From his work with non-profit organizations, to his service on the board of the University of Chicago Medical Center, to his role in giving the Sun Times a new lease on life. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten", continued President Obama.

James Tyree joined Mesirow Financial in 1980 after graduating with an MBA from Illinois State University. In 1994, he became the firm's CEO. During his 30-year career with Mesirow, he helped transform the firm into one of the best run private financial institutions in the country.  He was also chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International from 2006 to 2008 where he was a life member of its board of directors, and was named its 2004 Person of the Year.

He leaves behind a wife, Eve; and three children: a daughter, Jessica; and twin sons, Matthew and Joseph.

President Obama On Japan Earthquake/Tsunami


President Obama made an unnounced visit to the Embassy of Japan today where he signed a condolence book.

In it he wrote: "My heart goes out to the people of Japan during this enormous tragedy. Please know that America will always stand by one of its greatest allies during this time of need. Because of the strength and wisdom of its people, we know that Japan will recover, and indeed will emerge stronger than ever. And as it recovers, the memory of those who have been lost will remain in our hearts, and will serve only to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. May God bless the people of Japan."

He signed his name and wrote "March 2011" after his signature.

He announced that the gesture was to to communicate how "heartbroken," America is over the tragedy.

An 8.9 magnitude earthquake with aftershocks hit off the coast of Japan on March 11 at 2:46pm JST, setting off a devastating tsunami reaching miles inland.

"We are doing everything we can to stand by our great friend and ally, Japan, in this hour of need," said Obama.

The President said he was "confident" Japan will rebuild, praising its "strong" and "dedicated" people.

Ichiro Fujisaki, Ambassador of Japan, remarked, "We are so grateful to the president and the people of the United States."

The President also spoke further on Japan today in the Rose Garden.  



Related
Read the transcript | Video link
UC and Cal State pull all students out of programs in Japan
Video White House Briefing: Press Secretary Carney w. Greg Jaczko (NRC Chair) and Dan Poneman (Deputy Secretary of Energy)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

President Obama On Education To Win The Future

"We Need to Help Every Child Get Ahead." - President Barack Obama

The President spoke to a group of students at Kenmore Middle School  in Arlington, Va on Monday where he stressed the need for every child in America to have a healthy educational start that involves not only the teacher, but the parents.  [And, I might add, not only the parents, but the teacher, as the process works both ways].
"What works for any school is a high level of involvement by both parents and teachers. Technology is great but the level of involvement by parents and teachers make great schools. The plan should be how to get parents move involved in their children's education."
The President also outlined reforms in legislation that will ensure America doesn't leave any child behind, yet but that America help every student get ahead using the following measures:
  • A flexible and focused accountability system that promotes shared responsibility, college and career readiness, and rewards achievement.



  • Support for reform and innovation at the state and local level that will empower both principals and teachers.

  • New efforts to drive resources and reform to the Nation's persistently low-performing schools and those with the greatest achievement gaps, and to ensure there is a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Congressman Ellison Gets Emotional at Muslim Radicalization Hearing.

Peter King's (R-NY) (above) Muslim Radicalization Hearing being held today to foster communication about the controversial Muslim faith, was full of emotion of those who testified.

Among them, Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison.

Watch the video here.

The hearing continued to be a source of hot topic debate with both sides showing the pros and cons of the religious faith.   On one side the subject of Muslims is "the big elephant in the room", as stated by Melvin Bledsoe who's son was converted to the Muslim faith. He said Americans should become more aware of the homegrown terrorist Muslim groups.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), called the profiling of Muslim Americans "an outrage". 

On yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC a response was held by those of the Muslim faith, in response to prior to King's hearing.

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Live video feed.

The White House Conference on Bully Prevention

Watch live here. | New launch:  See a bully.  Stop a bully. |

MTV, the Cartoon Network get on board to help stop the epidemic of bullying.

(White House Official Release).

Today, the President and First Lady called for a united effort to address bullying at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. Approximately 150 students, parents, teachers, non-profit leaders, advocates, and policymakers came together to discuss how they can work together to make our schools and communities safe for all students.

“If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” said President Obama. “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept. As parents and students; teachers and communities, we can take steps that will help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe.”

"As parents, this issue really hits home for us. It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, on the playground, or even online," First Lady Michelle Obama said. "I hope that all of you – and everyone watching online – will walk away from this conference with new ideas and solutions that you can take back to your own schools and communities."

Every day, thousands of children, teens, and young adults around the country are bullied. Estimates are that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year - upwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues. If we fail to address bullying we put ourselves at a disadvantage for increasing academic achievement and making sure all of our students are college and career ready.

The conference encouraged schools, communities, and the private sector to join together to combat bullying. Today the White House also highlighted private, non-profit, and federal commitments to bullying prevention.

Public-Private Partnerships, Commitments and Activities

Formspring and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Formspring is a social network with over 22 million members, and is working with The MIT Media Lab, to develop new approaches to detect online bullying, and designing interfaces which help prevent it or mitigate it when it does occur. This approach uses a collection of common sense knowledge and reasoning techniques from artificial intelligence to understand online bullying at a deeper level than just words. MIT Media Lab and Formspring hope to build self-reflective interfaces that encourage social network participants to think sensibly about their behavior and suggest alternatives and coping strategies. Unlike spam filters, which work by collecting statistics on occurrences of particular words, the new MIT Media Lab and Formspring approach seeks to understand the intent behind the words. In addition, Formspring will discuss their corporate commitment to discovering & supporting the most advanced and meaningful technological innovations that can identify and curb online bullying and harassment.

MTV Networks: “A THIN LINE

As part of MTV’s multi-year, award-winning A THIN LINE campaign, the network will launch a new anti-digital discrimination coalition, which will work with MTV to fight bullying and intolerance online (in partnership with the National Council of La Raza, Anti-Defamation League, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and GLAAD). MTV will also announce the forthcoming premiere of a poignant new feature film inspired by the true, tragic tale of Abraham Biggs – a 19-year-old who battled bipolar disorder and ultimately webcast his suicide after being egged on by a digital mob. The film will illustrate what can happen when we forget there’s a person on the other side of the screen, and serve as a powerful call to action to fight the spread of digital abuse. The network plans six new cyberbullying and digital discrimination public service announcements, encouraging bullying bystanders to support their friends, connect victims of digital abuse to resources, and drive home the serious impact typewritten words can have.

Facebook

Facebook will unveil two new safety features in the coming weeks: a revamped multimedia Safety Center to incorporate multimedia, external resources from renowned experts, and downloadable information for teens. Additionally, they will create a new “Social Reporting” system to enable people to report content that violates Facebook policies so that it can be removed as soon as possible, while notifying parents or teachers of the content so that the reasons for its posting can be addressed.

**Note** at 12:30 pm EST today, Facebook will host A Special "Facebook Live" Event at the Bullying Prevention Summit.  You can watch it live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

SurveyMonkey: www.surveymonkey.com/bullying—a “do-it-yourself” survey tool—allows anyone to survey people quickly and easily. More than 100 million people are interviewed in the education space each. The familiarity with the application, combined with its ease of use, create an opportunity to help students and administrators alike to use SurveyMonkey to collect information about the prevalence of bullying in schools. To facilitate data collection, SurveyMonkey has created a dedicated page for bullying detection which includes a 10 question survey that students can adopt in order to distribute and disseminate via email, on fliers, through Facebook, and elsewhere. The application is free to use.

National Education Association: “Bully-Free: It Starts with Me.”

The National Education Association (NEA) is launching a nationwide anti-bullying campaign entitled Bully-Free: It Starts with Me. Through this new online campaign, the NEA will identify and support caring adults in each school who will listen and act on behalf of bullied students in schools across America. The NEA will invite its members to join the campaign and will work to extend the campaign to the broader community. NEA will also release a new study on bullying in schools – based on a survey of more than 5,000 educators. Findings from the National Education Association’s Nationwide Study of Bullying: Teachers’ and Education Support Professionals’ Perspectives represents the first nationwide study of teachers’ and education support professionals’ perspectives on bullying and bullying prevention efforts.

American Federation of Teachers: “See a Bully, Stop a Bully, Make a Difference”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is launching a national bullying campaign, See a Bully, Stop a Bully. Make a Difference, focused on raising bullying awareness and providing resources, training, and technical assistance for leaders and members. AFT will be hosting regional summits, holding a series of topical webinars, and developing new materials for the campaign, and incorporating it into their Back to School efforts. AFT is also working with various organizations including America’s Promise Alliance, the national PTA, AASA, GLAAD, NASP, ASCA, NEA, and GLSEN to amplify an anti-bullying message. The AFT has accelerated their efforts during the fall of 2010 in response to heightened awareness of bullying as well as the federal guidance issued by the Department of Education detailing the obligations of local school districts and state education departments to address bullying.

"So as parents, we know we need to make a real effort to be engaged in our children’s lives, to listen to them and be there for them when they need us.  We need to get involved in their schools and in their activities so that we know what they’re up to, both in and out of the classroom.  And when something is wrong, we need to speak up, and we need to take action."  - First Lady Michelle Obama
National PTA: “Connect for Respect”

National PTA is launching a campaign called Connect for Respect, asking PTAs nationwide to host a Connect for Respect event in their communities and to share resources with parents about bullying in the schools they serve. The campaign will also encourage parents to talk to their child about bullying and to advocate for policies and practices that create a safe school climate for all children. PTA will launch a communications campaign to promote Connect for Respect with PTA leaders and members across the country. PTA will issue five tip sheets for PTAs and for parents to increase their understanding of bullying, how to prevent it, and how to recognize if your child is the bully; create tools to share how to create a Connect for Respect event; and re-launch PTA.org/bullying, which will house all of the PTA resources.

National Association of Student Councils: “Raising Student Voice and Participation Bullying Challenge”

The National Association of Student Councils (NASC) declares its commitment to foster a national student-led conversation and call to action utilizing its Raising Student Voice & Participation (RSVP) process. Through RSVP, student councils can lead student summits to identify strategies and projects that address the problem of bullying. NASC will also involve its sister organizations, the National Honor Society (NHS) and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) expanding its outreach to some 33,000 student groups in middle level and high schools around the nation. The NASC Raising Student Voice and Participation (RSVP) process was launched during the 2006-2007 school year.

National School Boards Association: “Students on Board for Bullying Prevention

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) will launch a series of student conversations between boards of education and students in middle and high school. The conversations will be about the climate in their schools, and will be guided by questions from the research-based school climate surveys developed by the Council of Urban Boards of Education and by the Pearson Foundation’s Million Voices project.

The Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention

Early in the Obama Administration, six federal agencies (Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, Defense, Agriculture, and Interior) joined together to establish the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Steering Committee to explore ways to provide guidance for individuals and organizations in combating bullying. This interagency group was recently joined by the National Council on Disability and the Federal Trade Commission. In August of last year, the Steering Committee brought together non-profit leaders, researchers, parents, and youth to begin the national discussion and identify issues requiring additional guidance and clarification. Since that convening, the Steering Committee has focused on the following activities:

· Stop Bullying.gov: This website will launch at today’s Conference to provide information from various government agencies on how children, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying. The website will provide information on what bullying is, its risk factors, its warning signs and its effects. It will also provide details on how to get help for those that have been victimized by bullying.

· Enforcing Civil Rights Laws: Last October, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights issued guidance as a “Dear Colleague” letter to clarify issues of bullying and violation of federal education anti-discrimination laws. The guidance explains educators’ legal obligations to protect students from student-on-student racial and national origin harassment, sexual and gender-based harassment, and disability harassment.

· Shaping State Laws and Policies: In December of last year, Secretary Duncan issued a memo to Governors and Chief State School Officers in each state providing technical assistance and outlining key components of comprehensive and effective state anti-bullying laws and policies.

In addition to the Steering Committee’s work, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has also created the Stop Bullying Now! Campaign to raise awareness about bullying; prevent and reduce bullying behaviors; identify interventions and strategies; and encourage and strengthen partnerships. SBN was developed by a steering committee and implementation work group that included more than seventy organizations from in and out of government. The campaign covers ages five to eighteen years old, and includes tool kits to encourage and empower youth to mentor younger children to take action again bullying.

The Department of Education’s Safe and Supportive Schools competitive grant program requires recipient states to measure school safety, which includes issues of bullying and harassment, at the building level by surveying students. Federal funds are available for interventions in those schools identified as having the greatest need. The Department of Education has awarded grants to 11 States for activities under this program
 
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Commentary:  I really hope the teacher organizations get on board with this to help stop bullying in schools.  It is very disheartening to hear a child say to me that their school's principle or teacher said there was nothing he or she could to stop them from being bullying. 

This is unacceptable to me, and needs to change immediately.
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**Update**

See why bullying is never a good thing.

Viral bullying video:  Skinny bully gets body slammed by not-so-skinny kid at school.



The larger kid, who had been bullied a lot at school, fights back and gives the bully a dose of his own medicine.

He gets suspended, as does the bully.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gary Locke Nominated as Ambassador to China


Gary Locke, former White House Secretary of Commerce, has been nominated by the President as U.S. ambassador to China.

Locke replaces former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who has stepped down to (wait for it) possibly challenge President Obama in the 2012 presidential race.

Locke was the first Chinese-American governor and should the Senate approve his nomination, would the be first Chinese-American ambassador to China.  He is a partner in the Seattle office of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine which lists China as one of its specialties.

"Gary has distinguished himself as one of our nation’s most respected and admired public servants.  As our country’s first Chinese-American governor, he worked tirelessly to attract jobs and businesses to Washington State, and he doubled exports to China", said President Obama during this morning's announcement.

"He’s been a point person for my National Export Initiative, and last year, Gary’s department led an historic number of trade missions that helped promote American businesses and support American jobs.  He’s overseen an increase in American exports, and particularly exports to China, a country we recently signed trade deals with that will support 235,000 American jobs."

On his nomination, Locke remarked:  "I’m excited to take on this new challenge, as is my wife and our children to varying degrees among the kids, and we’ll be leaving Washington, D.C., with great memories and many new friends.

Locke said his father, who passed this past January, would mark today's occasion as "one of his proudest moments to see his son named as the United States ambassador to his ancestral homeland."

No mention as of today on Locke's replacement in the role of Secretary of Commerce.

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Notes
On Locke: Locke's daughter, Emily turned 14 today.  We also learned that Elizabeth, the sister of Press Secretary Jay Carney, also shares a birthday today, as does the publisher/founder of Politics. On Point.
 
On Huntsman:  Jon Huntsman was former U.S. ambassador to Singapore. He and his wife adopted a daughter from China. He served as national co-chair of John McCain's Republican presidential campaign.  On accepting President Obama's position as ambassador to China he said he never expected "to be called into action by the person who beat us."

H.R. 1: Still a Heated Debate. White House Stern On Its Stance.

While the Republicans offer a different take on the controversial H.R. 1 topic, the White House makes their stance known, reiterating its position in a statement today:

The Administration strongly opposes Senate passage of H.R. 1, making appropriations for the Department of  Defense and the other departments and agencies of the Government for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, and for other purposes. As stated previously, the Administration is committed to cutting spending and reducing the deficit so that current Government spending does not add to the debt, and has put forward a plan to do just that. However, the Administration does not support deep cuts that will undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world. The unbalanced bill would undermine the Nation’s economic recovery and its ability to succeed in a complex global environment.

If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the President will veto the bill.

The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of the Inouye substitute amendment 149, which responds to the Administration’s call to meet the House half-way in achieving the $102 billion in reductions that advocates for H.R. 1 have proposed. The amendment is a fair compromise and, unlike H.R. 1, does not undermine the Nation’s economic recovery and long-term growth.

The Administration will continue to work with the Congress to reduce spending and do so in a manner that reflects sound economic policy, protects key investments, and allows critical Government functions to operate without interruption for the remainder of the fiscal year underway.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is already thinking ahead by implementing measures that would keep the DC government open, should there be a government shutdown.

Norton announced today that she is working with Senate allies to permit the District to spend its local funds for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.  "..but, regardless of whether the federal government shuts down this year, a permanent solution has become necessary to avoid disruptive, unintended consequences", Norton's press office stated. "The District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act to end the anti-democratic anachronism of Congress appropriating to the District its own local funds in the first place, is, of course, the best long-term solution, but today’s bill is a critical stopgap measure.”

First Lady At White House Women's History Month Reception

"We've Come A Long Way, Ladies!"

It's been one year to the day since we started covering the First Lady here on Politics On Point.  Our very first moment with the First Lady was March 9th, 2010 when the First Lady donated her inaugural gown to the Smithsonian's First Ladies Collection.  (Click here for our coverage).

Over the past year, we have been honored to continue to follow our First Lady and watch the magnificent strides she has taken - from her Let's Move! campaign (which we are so happy about), to her work with military families, to her work with students in our area, to honoring women around the world during this year's Women's History Month.

"These are women who work tirelessly, all of you, every day, to make not just countries more fair, more equal and more free, but often many of these women risk themselves and their families to get this work done", said Mrs. Obama.

"And tonight, I just want to say to all of you that your journeys, that your achievements and your very presence in this room are a perfect illustration of the progress that we’ve made since this day was first celebrated 100 years ago.  We’ve come a long way, ladies!"

The First Lady also joined Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton earlier in the day at the State Department for the International Women of Courage Awards.

Here, though, is more of First Lady Michelle Obama speaking at the White House yesterday in honor of the occasion.




Not only is it our one-year anniversary here at POP, it's also the birthday of our founder. And what a memorable birthday it was in 2010 to have been honored to launch this site covering our First Lady, Michelle Obama.

We hope to continue bringing you more news on America's First Lady, and the current Obama Administration.

Thank you, as always, for reading.

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Related
About Women's History Month
Women's History Month: A Presidential Proclamation
More on Women's History Month
Celebrating First Lady Obama's Style

Monday, March 7, 2011

Keeping Up With. . . The Bidens

As we reported earlier, the Bidens are traveling to Helsinki, Finland, Monrovia and Russia this week.

Here's an account of their first day in Helsinki by White House press pool team member Jonathan Weisman:

At 6:35 pm, motorcade rolled from the Hilton to the Esplanade in the center of Helsinki, where VPOTUS, Dr. Jill Biden and Finnegan made a beeline for Marimekko, the famous Finnish design store.

Finnegan (the Biden's grandchild) and Dr. Jill were drawn to black Converse basketball shoes covered in tear-dropped shaped, interlocking white loops.

The VPOTUS wandered aimlessly like most men do in such shopping occasions, but he did express some skepticism about said shoes."These are Cons," he told your pooler with a shrug. He used to play basketball in the same canvas shoe, not with such a design.

"I'm not sure if she wants to go on the court in that but", said Vice President Biden.

 Finnegan appeared to be going for the low-tops, but no word whether she made the purchase. Shopping done, the three walked down the Esplanade.

VPOTUS shook a few hands, said "Folks, how are you?", then ducked in to a restaurant for dinner.

Colin Powell Wins Image Award

Former secretary of state and retired Gen. Colin Powell received the President's Award at the 42nd annual NAACP Image Awards.

The prestigious award was presented by NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous in recognition of Powell's special achievements and distinguished public service.


"General Colin Powell has led an extraordinary life of public service," said Jealous in a statement. "As the first African American to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later the first to serve as Secretary of State, General Powell holds a unique place in American history. He is a man of conscience and conviction, who uses his vast influence to promote education and self esteem to our country's youth. Although his position on the Iraq War was controversial, he was often the voice of reason in the prosecution of that war. He rose from humble roots as the son of Jamaican immigrants to become a distinguished military leader, a statesman, a humanitarian and a philanthropist. He is an inspiration to us all."

Gen. Powell became the 65th secretary of state on Jan. 20, 2001. He brought extensive experience with him to his office. Before becoming secretary of state, Colin Powell served as a key aide to the secretary of defense and as national security advisor to President Reagan. He also served 35 years in the United States Army, rising to the rank of four-star general and serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989 – 1993).

He is currently a strategic limited partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.  Powell is also helping to raise funds for both the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and for the construction of an education center for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Previous President's Award recipients include Van Jones, Muhammad Ali, Susan Taylor, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ryan White, Bryant Gumbel, Alexis Herman, Venus and Serena Williams, Tavis Smiley, Tom Joyner, Condoleezza Rice, President Bill Clinton, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Ella Fitzgerald.

Prime Minister Gillard Visits The White House

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was met with favor today as she visits the White House to meet with President Obama.

The President and Prime Minister will discuss the strong ties between the United States and Australia, their shared political and economic interests in the Asia political and economic interests in the Asia Pacific region, and our work together around the world, including in Afghanistan and as members of APEC and the G20.

During their meeting today in the Oval Office with the media President Obama began by expressing condolences for those families affected by recent floods in the area.  The President commended Prime Minister Gillard and her government and all the personnel who were involved for their timely response, and reiterated the support of the U.S. to the Australian people.

The President mentioned his upcoming plans to travel to Asia for the East Asia summit, citing the Australian and U.S. shared interest in trade in the Pacific region.

The two also talked about security.   Said Obama, "And I want to once again thank the Australian people and the military families who are making such extraordinary sacrifices in Afghanistan. It is not easy. Australia is our largest non-NATO coalition member making an extraordinary contribution day in and day out. And I want to personally thank Prime Minister Gillard for her strong endorsement of our efforts there. And we discussed the fact that 2011 is going to be a year of transition in which we, more and more, provide the assistance necessary for Afghans to take the lead in that effort."

On the Middle East, President said he and the Prime Minister share "a very firm conviction that the violence that's been taking place and perpetrated by the government in Libya is unacceptable. Australia joined with us in imposing swift and firm sanctions, comprehensive sanctions, against the Libyan government."

Obama explained that the US will continue to monitor the violence there, adding that both the U.S. and Australia "stand shoulder-to-shoulder in sending a clear message that we stand for democracy, we stand for an observance of human rights, and that we send a very clear message to the Libyan people that we will stand with them in the face of unwarranted violence and the continuing suppression of democratic ideals that we've seen there."

Australia and the U.S. have been allies for more than 60 years.  Gillard refers the long-term relationship between the two nations "60 years young."

"There is so much more to do together in the future, including cooperating as America looks at its force posture, including cooperating in our region at the East Asia summit and beyond", said Gillard.

When President Obama was asked if he'd be welcomed in Australia, he replied: "I would love to get there. I’m looking forward to a return visit to Australia. The first time I was there, I was telling the Prime Minister, I was eight years old, and had a wonderful time in Sydney. Everybody treated me wonderfully, and I hope I get a chance to get back there soon."

President Obama and the Prime Minister visited Wakefield School in Arlington, Va.  The two were joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (who admitted he played pro basketball in Australia for four years) where they visited with 11th grade students in a history class taught by Collette Fraley, a 2011 Virginia Teacher of the Year, to emphasize the importance of out-educating the competition in order to win the future.

Wakefield High School has worked to implement rigorous and college-ready standards.  Among the school's signature reforms are a senior project requirement; Spanish-language immersion and study abroad; and a unique cohort program which is designed to increase the enrollment of  African-American and Hispanic males in Advanced Placement Courses. Teachers at Wakefield reach and inspire students through a rigorous curriculum, caring relationships, and a focus on resilience and responsibility-the four "Rs" that make up the "Wakefield Way."

This will make the second time Obama has visited the school since he gave his national 'Back To School' there on September 8, 2009.