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



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

President Obama: Person of the Year

President Obama is Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

An excerpt from Time's managing editor Richard Stengel, White House correspondent Michael Scherer and executive editor Radhika Jones is below.  The trio ask the president about Lincoln, marijuana, the Middle East and Hawaii moments. View the full conversation here.



TIME: So we’ll start right in. In fact, we’re going to go so far ahead. If we were sitting here four years from now and you were looking back on what your legacy is as a two-term Democratic President — we know what Ronald Reagan did and we know what FDR did — what would you want people to say about your two terms?

THE PRESIDENT: I think what I’d want people to say is that having come in at a time when our economy was on the brink of collapse, when we had gone through a decade in which middle-class families were doing worse and worse, and the ladders of opportunity into the middle class for people who were willing to work hard had begun to deteriorate; at a time when, internationally, we were embroiled in two wars but our leadership around the world was being questioned, that we had steered this ship of state so that we once again had an economy that worked for everybody; that we had laid the foundation for broad-based prosperity; and that internationally we had created the framework for continued American leadership in the world throughout the 21st century, while recognizing that the world is changing and that we should encourage the kind of growth and development in other parts of the world, but over the long term will be good for us and good for the world.

It wouldn't be freedom of speech without the vitrolic rant of some people who oppose Time Magazine's decision.

On Twitter several people have expressed their 'dissapoint' over the news.




Congratulations President Obama.

PHOTOS:   Never seen before administration photos.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boehner's 'Plan B' Doesn't Pass The Smell Test

UPDATE:

As the two sides go back and forth to solve the issue of the so-called fiscal cliff, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement today that reveals President Obama is less willing to accept the latest offer from Congress.

States Carney, "The Speaker’s “Plan B” approach doesn’t meet this test because it can’t pass the Senate and therefore will not protect middle class families, and does little to address our fiscal challenges with zero spending cuts."

"The President has put a balanced, reasonable proposal on the table that achieves significant deficit reduction and reflects real compromise by meeting the Republicans halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending from where each side started.  That is the essence of compromise." 

 President Obama continues to work with Republicans to reach a bipartisan solution that averts the fiscal cliff, protects the middle class, helps the economy, and puts the nation on a fiscally sustainable path. 

Added  Carney, "But he is not willing to accept a deal that doesn’t ask enough of the very wealthiest in taxes and instead shifts the burden to the middle class and seniors.  

The American people are hopeful that both sides can work out the party's differences to reach a solution that avoids a tax increase on the middle class that include households making over $250,000.

PIC Announces Start of Inaugural Events Media Credentialing

The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) today announced that members of the media can now apply for credentials to cover official events for the second Inaugural of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, taking place from January 19-January 22 in Washington, DC.


This media credentialing process is separate from any tickets that members of the public may be able to apply for to participate in various Inaugural events. For more information on Inaugural events that are open to the public and how to request tickets, visit www.2013pic.org.

Applications for credentials must be completed by Saturday, December 22 at 5:00 PM EDT. Please note that space is extremely limited at the open press Inaugural events and late requests for credentials will not be accepted. For a full description on how to apply for media credentials, and additional event details, please click here.

Each Inaugural event will require an event-specific media credential to gain access for media coverage. Media organizations interested in covering multiple Inaugural events must apply for each event they wish to cover.

Requests for PIC media credentials do not guarantee access to the event or the space that a media outlet has requested. Applicants will receive written notification from the PIC specifying whether their requests for credentials have been granted.

The PIC does not issue credentials for the ceremonial swearing-in taking place at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, January 21. Per tradition, those credentials are issued by the Senate Media Galleries and overseen by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

The credential deadline for the swearing-in has passed but more information may be found here.

UPDATE:   Inaugural parade participants.

Monday, December 17, 2012

After Newton Massacres Politicians Speak, Debates Spark

Sen. Joe Lieberman offered some very poignant remarks Sunday during the ceremony where president Obama spoke honoring the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which two classrooms of students were shoot by demented killer, Adam Lanza.

As press was getting feed off the wire about the events taking place, this one, in particular caught our eye.

Pool reporters asked Sen Lieberman about the violence commission idea he discussed on the Sunday morning talk shows.




Said Lieberman, “I’m always reluctant about commissions, but I really believe we ought to have a national commission on violence. These events are happening more frequently and I worry that if we don’t take a thoughtful look at them, we’re going to lose the hurt and the anger that we have now.”

Lieberman had also had thoughts about areas that we, too, think need to be examined in our society to avoid events like last Friday's mass shooting.

“And that includes looking at violence in the entertainment culture, mental health services and, of course, gun laws. But I said that shouldn’t stop anything that the president and Congress want to do. Two things I mentioned was to restore the assault weapons ban, which expired, which existed for 10 years, ’94 to 2004, not enough votes to re-authorize it, and it had a significant effect on murders committed with guns. In other words, down. The second was, right now the background checks that the Brady Law has, if you go into a licensed federal firearms dealer, you got to be subject to, are pretty good. But if you go into a gun show or you go and buy a gun from some antique dealer, you’re not checked at all. And those to me are two things that would be important.”

Lieberman is one of several politicians who have spoken out recently on gun laws.  The looming issue that is constant?  Will anything be done change them?

Related
Debate: After Newtown, Will Nation’s Worst-Ever Grade School Shooting Spur Tougher Gun Control?





Saturday, December 15, 2012

Guns. What Are They Good For?

Newton School Shooting Amasses Twenty-Six Victims.

President Obama shared in the sorrowness felt across the country after Friday's horrendous Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of numerous small children in Newtown, Connecticut and ordered that official flags be flown at half mass.

What happened with twenty year old Adam Lanza to make him want to kill his mother, 20 children, 6 school officials, and then himself?

A skeletal, ghostly Adam Lanza.
Law enforcement officials said Lanza had four handguns on his person as he stormed the 600-student school and shot his victims at close range. There was also a rifle found in the car he drove to Sandy Hook.

The shooting in Connecticut follows a trail of recent mass shootings that include:  A shopping mall in Oregon, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Aurora Colorado and countless, seemingly minor, yet just as significant, other day-to-day shootings. 

Schools have increasingly becoming scenes of gun violence across the country.  Images of Columbine and Virginia Tech are still in the forefront of people's minds.

In our area police officers have beefed up patrols at local schools. 

A Fairfax County police officer told us that they are on alert, have more officers on site at area schools and have been briefed at morning roll calls updating them on what to look watch out for.  

Still no school can be completely safe.

Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook elementary, a school that was equipped with a security feature that allowed visitors to be buzzed in from the schools office.

Still Lanza made his way in, and went to two classrooms on a killing spree. 

Investigators are still in the process of determining his motive.  The subject of mental instability has come up, but currently there is no word on whether Lanza, the killer of so many young children, had mental health issues or not, although that is the current suspicion, as is the case in so many of America's high profile mass-style shootings of this type.

Another item that should be addressed when it comes to America's violence are violent video games and television shows.  Not a TV commercial promoting a night time drama series does so without gun violence.  If people think this doesn't have some sort of affect on people, youth especially, then you've been under a rock for quite some time.

Poet laureate, Maya Angelou said this on her Face book account, "Our country is grieving. Each child who has been slaughtered belongs to each of us and each slain adult is a member of our family. It is impossible to explain the horror to ourselves and to our survivors. We need to hold each other’s hands and look into each other’s eyes and say, “I am sorry.”"

So while the nation mourns the loss of victims of mass shootings, let's not forget the victims of every day random shootings, all across the country and the nation, whether it in professional sports, kids walking to and from school, parents of young children being assassinated by estranged boyfriends, drug deals gone bad, all should be remembered - but the bigger picture is what to avoid it in the first place.

While no real action has taken place to ratify the country's guns laws has ever taken place, America knows that the topic should be on the table - and right now.  America can no longer say it needs to just "enforce the current gun laws".  

Lanza was denied a gun for not wanting to go through a background check or waiting period, still he had access to guns.  Reports indicate that Lanza's mother had guns at the home the two shared.

"So we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this", said President Obama of the Newtown tragedy.

"Regardless of the politics."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fiscal Talks Continue

President Obama held a meeting in the Roosevelt Room and a conference call with a bipartisan group of mayors, county officials and community leaders to discuss his proposals in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

The White House is reporting that the president spoke with Tampa, FL Mayor Bob Buckhorn;  St. Paul, MN Mayor Chris Coleman; St. Columbus, OH Mayor Michael Coleman; Bluffton, IN  Mayor Ted Ellis:  Dallas County, TX  Judge Clay Jenkins; Cincinnati, OH Mayor Mark Mallory;  Executive Russ Pry of Summit County, OH; Avondale, AZ Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers and Laredo, TX Mayor Raul Salinas.

Earlier this week, Micheal Steel, speaking on behalf of Boehner and company, made these comments.

"We sent the White House a counter-offer that would achieve tax and entitlement reform to solve our looming debt crisis and create more American jobs. As the Speaker said today, we're still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president is willing to make as part of the 'balanced approach' he promised the American people. The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff."

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in yesterday's briefing the following, "Now, it is entirely our expectation that Republicans may not agree with all of our spending cuts; Republicans may want to propose additional spending cuts.  And the President has said that he is prepared to make tough decisions.  He has said that he's not wedded to every detail in this plan and that he understands that compromise requires all sides to accept something short of the ideal, and he's committed to doing that.  What we haven't seen from Republicans, to this day, is a single specific proposal on revenue, and, in fact, we've seen less specificity from Republicans on spending cuts than the President himself has proposed."


Congress, and the president have just little than more than two weeks to strike a deal that will prevent  taxes from going up on the middle class, while those earning $250,000 and more will not see an increase in their taxes.  Middle class families could save $2200 in taxes should the parties come to a neutral conclusion.

"We can solve this problem.  All Congress needs to do is pass a law that would prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody's income, everybody", the president said speaking last week from a Michigan car manufacturing plant.  

"That means 98 percent of Americans and probably 100 percent of you, 97 percent of small businesses wouldn’t see their income taxes go up a single dime.  Even the wealthiest Americans would still get a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their income.  But when they start making a million, or $10 million, or $20 million you can afford to pay a little bit more."

"You're not too strapped.   So Congress can do that right now.  Everybody says they agree with it.  Let’s get it done."

Related

Reports indicate that the president did make a counteroffer to Boehner & Co. on Monday. The details of the offer aren't readily available, but multiple reports state that it calls for $1.4 trillion in additional revenue. That number is $200 billion less than what the administration initially proposed.




  




Secretary Salazar Provides Update on Resolution to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial

In the wake of the discension around one quote on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial that had some in an uproar, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today provided an update on the path forward regarding the Memorial.

Following discussions with all parties, that included a range of stakeholders, to make alterations to the “Drum Major” quote that had some believing the quote made King seem arrogant, the updated plan calls for removing the quote by carving striations over the lettering to match the existing scratch marks on the sculpture that represent the tearing of the “Stone of Hope” from the “Mountain of Despair.”

The plan to remove, instead of replace, the quote was recommended by the original sculptor, Master Lei Yixin, as the safest way to ensure the structural integrity of the memorial was not compromised.

After close consultation with all parties, Secretary Salazar, the National Park Service, the King family and the Memorial Foundation, and Master Lei Yixin all concur that this is the best path forward.

“The memorial stands as a testament to Dr. King’s struggle for civil rights, and a dream of dignity, respect and justice for all,” said Salazar. “I am proud that all parties have come together on a resolution that will help ensure the structural integrity of this timeless and powerful monument to Dr. King’s life and legacy.”

Said Dr. King's youngest daughter and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, Bernice King, “We are grateful that Secretary Salazar’s office and the National Park Service has taken such care to maintain the spirit and appearance of such an important monument to our country’s history and my father’s memory.” 

The memorial will remain open to visitors during the corrective work; however, due to scaffolding and partial coverage of the sculpture, visitors should expect limited visibility during periods of the process.

In order to ensure the best visitor experience during the Dr. King’s birthday and the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, and to address weather concerns, work will begin February - March 2013, and is estimated to be completed by spring 2013.

“The King Memorial has a special meaning to so many visitors to the National Mall,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We want to make sure that the many thousands of people expected to visit on Dr. King’s birthday are able to see and experience this powerful tribute to Dr. King.”

“Over the past year, The Memorial Foundation has been working with the National Park Service and Sculptor Master Lei to move forward with changes to the MLK Memorial. We have come up with a design solution that will not harm the integrity of this work of art. We are pleased with the recommendation and look forward to its completion," said Harry Johnson, President/CEO of The Memorial Foundation, formerly known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation.

“While our family would have of course preferred to have the entire ‘Drum Major’ quote used, we fully endorse and support the Secretary’s proposal,” said Dr. Christine King Farris, Dr. King’s sister.The plan will be submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission in January for their review as appropriate.

Dr. Maya Angelou, poet emeritus, called for the quotes change.

Dr. King's originial speech stated, "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness."

The Memorial has just a part of the quote, "I was a drum major for justice", a very shortened version of the longer quote that may have not been able to completely fit where the partial quote is placed.

One of Angelou's many famous includes includes “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.”




Friday, December 7, 2012

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AND CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU PLEDGE TO WORK TOGETHER TO PROTECT CONSUMERS FROM CREDIT DISCRIMINATION

The Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) signed an agreement today to strengthen coordination on fair lending enforcement and avoid duplication of their respective federal law enforcement efforts. 


“The Department of Justice welcomes the new tools and resources the CFPB can bring to the fight against lending discrimination,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Cooperation between our two agencies promotes strong and effective civil rights enforcement, and today’s agreement will further our ongoing collaborative efforts.”

“Discrimination undermines equal access to credit,” said Richard Cordray, Director of the CFPB. “Today’s agreement is a critical step to better protecting consumers from illegal and discriminatory lending practices. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Justice Department under this new framework.”

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) can be found here.

Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the CFPB works with the department and other regulators to promote consistent, efficient and effective enforcement of federal fair lending laws. The Dodd-Frank Act also expressly authorizes the CFPB to conduct joint investigations with the department in matters relating to fair lending. Both the CFPB and the Justice Department have authority to protect against discriminatory lending under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).

The ECOA makes it illegal for creditors to discriminate against applicants in credit transactions because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, income coming from a public assistance program or an applicant’s exercise of certain consumer protection rights.  The department has the authority to bring federal lawsuits to enforce the ECOA against any creditor that engages in a pattern or practice in violation of the ECOA or based on referrals of ECOA violations from federal bank regulators including the CFPB.

Today, the CFPB published its first annual Fair Lending Report, which highlights the Bureau’s recent accomplishments in fair lending. The report discusses the bureau’s efforts to fulfill its mandate to ensure fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit for American consumers.  Additionally, the report fulfills the Bureau’s congressional reporting requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act, the ECOA and HMDA.  

A copy of this report is available here

Statement on the Employment Situation in November



Alan B. Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, issued the following statement today on the employment situation in November. You can view the statement HERE.

While more work remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007.

Most pressing, President Obama has proposed, and the Senate has passed, an extension of middle class income tax cuts that would prevent the typical middle class family from facing a $2,200 tax increase at the beginning of next year. In addition, the President has proposed a plan that will enable responsible homeowners to refinance their mortgage and take advantage of today’s historically low interest rates. To create more jobs in particularly hard-hit sectors, President Obama continues to urge Congress to pass elements of the American Jobs Act, including further investment in infrastructure to rebuild our Nation’s ports, roads and highways, and assistance to State and local governments to prevent layoffs and to enable them to rehire hundreds of thousands of teachers.



Today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that private sector businesses added 147,000 jobs last month. Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 146,000 jobs in November. The economy has now added private sector jobs for 33 straight months, and a total of 5.6 million jobs have been added during that period, taking account of the preliminary benchmark revision.

"Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 146,000 in November, and the unemployment rate edged down to 7.7 percent. In 2012, job gains have averaged 151,000 per month, essentially the same as in 2011. In November, employment rose in retail trade, professional and business services, and health care", John M. Galvin acting Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a statement put out by the BLS this week.
The household survey showed that the unemployment rate declined from 7.9 percent in October to 7.7 percent in November, the lowest since December 2008. The labor force participation rate declined by 0.2 percentage point last month. Over the last 12 months, the unemployment rate has decreased by 1.0 percentage point as a result of growing employment, and the labor force participation rate has been essentially unchanged.

According to the establishment survey, in November employment rose notably in retail trade (+52,600), professional and business services (+43,000), and leisure and hospitality (+23,000). Manufacturing lost 7,000 jobs, and construction was down 20,000. However, the manufacturing sector has added jobs in 28 of the last 34 months, gaining half a million jobs over that period, the most for any such period since the mid-1990s.

Government lost 1,000 jobs, as federal government payrolls decreased by 5,000, state government payrolls increased by 6,000, and local government payrolls declined by 2,000.

As the Administration stresses every month, the monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available.

See report here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

VP Doesn't "Need Any Tires"; Watches Maybe

Vice President Biden made a trip to Arlington, VA's grand opening of Costco where he was put some mileage on his newly re-activated Costco card.

Per a White House pool report :

"The Bidens have been Costco members in the past. The Vice President and Dr. Biden’s Costco memberships were re-activated yesterday; they paid the $55 membership re-activation fee to receive their new cards.The Vice President received his own card which he is carrying today while shopping at Costco."

Vice President Biden was greeted by Costco CEO Craig Jelinek and Co-founder Jim Sinegal.

After perusing the store's various departments and indulging in the store's available sorted food samples, he was invited to stop by the tire department but declined the offer saying to the employees, "Hey man I don't need tires, I don't drive anymore."
After delighting Costco shoppers with handshakes and photo ops the VP made his way to checkout where he was seen purchasing the following items: childrens' books, fire logs, a 32 inch Panasonic TV, and a big apple pie.

The pool report indicates he also looked long and hard at watches in the store, but it was unclear if he purchased one a $1,200 one that caught his eye.

The VP also used the opportunity to push the fiscal cliff agenda where mentioned to patrons that he is calling on Congress to extend Bush-era middle class tax cuts, saying that "consumer confidence is growing; the last thing we need to do is dash that."

"Folks don't need to see their taxes go up", said Biden. "It's important Congress acts now, right now."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank Launches “Doing Business in Africa” Campaign in Johannesburg

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank today announced the launch of the “Doing Business in Africa” campaign at an event in Johannesburg, South Africa. This campaign is part of a larger U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which President Obama issued earlier this year. In her remarks, the Acting Secretary emphasized the United States’ ongoing commitment to deepening trade, investment, and economic ties with these nations. She also shared a message from President Obama in support of the campaign.
###
Remarks as Prepared for Rebecca Blank, Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary
Thank you. Good afternoon. It is wonderful to be here in Johannesburg with all of you. I want to thank our sponsors:
First, the Corporate Council on Africa, which represents nearly 85 percent of all U.S. investment on this Continent. Thank you, CCA, for continuing to work with us to raise the profile of Africa in the U.S. business community.
Second, Business Unity South Africa. Thank you for helping ensure that the private sector continues to play a constructive role in this nation’s growth.
I also want to thank Ambassador Don Gips, the U.S. Embassy staff, and the Foreign Commercial Service officers from the Department of Commerce who are based here, including Larry Farris. Thanks also to Undersecretary Francisco Sanchez and Assistant Secretary Michael Camuñez who continue to do such great work throughout Africa.
For decades, people around the world have talked about doing business in Africa. But today, it’s real. It’s happening. And Africa is rising as a result.
Just months after his inauguration, President Obama traveled to Ghana. He laid a foundation for the future of the U.S.-African relationship – a relationship based on mutual responsibility and mutual respect. He called for an era of deeper engagement among our leaders in government, business, and other sectors.
More recently, President Obama said he believes that Africa can be the world’s next major economic success story. He’s absolutely right. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing markets in the world. Economic growth in this region is predicted to be strong – between 5 and 6 percent – in coming years. And – most importantly – millions of Africans are finding a path from poverty to greater security, opportunity, and prosperity.
The United States is committed to helping build on and accelerate this success.
Earlier this year, the President reaffirmed that commitment when he issued theU.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa.
This Strategy directs the U.S. to dedicate greater support for efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, while continuing both to advance peace and security in Africa, and to promote opportunity and development. But most importantly for all of us today, the Strategy commits the U.S. to elevating our efforts to spur economic growth, trade and investment.
But before I discuss this in more detail, let me recognize the successes of the past four years.
The Obama Administration has strengthened democratic institutions and challenged leaders whose actions threaten peaceful political transitions. We continue to support strong, transparent, democratic institutions that are guided by the rule of law.
The Administration has supported regional security, including the support for the peaceful birth of South Sudan, the African Union Mission in Somalia, and working with regional partners to counter the predatory Lord’s Resistance Army. We continue to promote regional stability and security because it is the right thing to do and because it is an essential element for continued growth.
The Administration has heavily invested in development partnerships that promote food security, increase resilience to climate change, and empower communities that are responding to HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other health threats. We continue to lead major efforts like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which aims to lift 50 million Africans out of poverty in the next decade.
And, finally, under President Obama’s leadership, the United States has been the world’s leader in responding to humanitarian crises – such as the famine in the Horn of Africa.
Despite all of these successes, Africa’s dynamic growth and its increasing strategic importance demand that we deepen our engagement even more.
Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is experiencing rapid change. Internet and mobile technologies are dramatically shifting the way business is done – even while population expansion, political instability, and other challenges threaten the positive progress that many nations are making. But economic progress is clearly visible – private investments in Sub-Saharan Africa now exceed direct aid, thereby fostering long-term stability in both large and small countries.
This is our moment to work together to ensure that we both secure Africa’s gains – and build on them. And I believe strongly that one of the ways we can do that is for U.S. businesses to invest in Africa, and to believe – like we all do here – in Africa’s bright future.
That’s why the President’s Strategy to spur economic growth, trade and investment in Sub-Saharan Africa is crucial. Through it we want to support a business climate that enables and promotes trade and investment. We want to support efforts to better integrate Africa’s markets, allowing them to compete more effectively and transparently. We want to support African companies’ ability to access global markets and tap global supply chains. And, woven throughout these efforts, we want to promote Africa as a key destination for American investment and trade.
The good news is, the U.S. commercial and economic relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa has already begun to blossom. Two efforts are particularly praiseworthy in this regard.
First, the African Growth and Opportunity Act – AGOA – continues to support the flow of African goods to the U.S. More than ever before, American businesses and consumers are buying African products such as flowers, fruits, nuts, cocoa, footwear, and wine. Importantly, nonpetroleum exports under AGOA have tripled to nearly $5 billion. Compared to a decade ago, more than twice the number of eligible countries are shipping non-commodity goods under AGOA.
We are building on this by connecting even more African businesses – including small businesses – to global markets and supply chains. For example, the Commerce Department recently worked with X-Chem – a black, woman-owned AGOA exporter – to link her into the Walmart/Massmart supply chain. I believe Angela is here today.
And I was thrilled to see that three months ago, President Obama signed into law the renewal of the third-country fabric provision. This will ensure that we can continue to support apparel manufacturing in less-developed Sub-Saharan countries. This is especially helpful to women, who hold about 90 percent of these jobs.
Looking forward, the Administration will work with Congress to ensure that AGOA is renewed in 2015.
A second example of how commercial ties are already blossoming is President Obama’s National Export Initiative – an effort led by the Commerce Department.
President Obama set the goal of doubling U.S. exports from 2009 to 2014. As we know, the consumer class in Africa and throughout the world is growing, and demand for Made-in-America products has never been greater.
Right now, this Initiative is focusing on countries that are known to be stable, fast-growing markets, with significant commercial opportunities. South Africa, not surprisingly, is one of those. That’s why we are: increasing the number of trade missions, focusing our advocacy efforts on markets like this one, expanding our lending activities, and bolstering our overall engagement on trade policy.
As a whole – due to our efforts under AGOA, the National Export Initiative, and more – the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa reached $95 billion in two-way trade last year, an increase of 16 percent from 2010.
However, U.S. trade with Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 2.6 percent of U.S. total trade with the world. So, we are still far from reaching the full potential of U.S.-African trade – as well as investment. We can and must do more.
As Africa’s wealth increases, so does its demand for improved transportation, telecommunications, housing, energy, consumer goods, financial services, healthcare and more. American companies are poised to bring their entrepreneurial spirit, their expertise, and their know-how, to help meet that demand.
For all these reasons, I am thrilled today to announce the launch of the Doing Business in Africa Campaign.
And I’m pleased to be bringing a message from President Obama himself. He writes the following:
“Sub-Saharan Africa is a region of extraordinary opportunity for growth and economic development. That is why this June, I issued theU.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, a plan aimed at strengthening democratic institutions; spurring economic growth, trade, and investment; advancing peace and security; and promoting opportunity and development in the region.
“To advance the goals of this strategy, and to deepen trade and investment between the United States and the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, I am pleased to support the Department of Commerce’s “Doing Business in Africa” (DBIA) campaign.
“The economies of sub-Saharan Africa are among the world’s fastest growing, and this economic expansion—partly a result of our long-standing investment in Africa—provides an opportunity to lift millions out of poverty and foster long-term stability. Our challenge is to ensure these gains continue and spread, and to enable American companies and the African Diaspora to obtain the support they need to take advantage of these new trade and investment opportunities.
“Many American entrepreneurs and business leaders are unaware of the tremendous trade and investment prospects in sub-Saharan Africa or face challenges establishing business relationships in the region. The DBIA campaign seeks to change this by increasing awareness about key sectors and markets in Sub-Saharan Africa and opportunities to expand trade activities. The initiative promotes enhanced financing opportunities to bolster American exports and provides trade counseling and advocacy for entrepreneurs who want to tap into these growing and dynamic markets. The strategy also aims to further engage the African Diaspora community living in the United States to improve our commercial and economic ties with sub-Saharan Africa.
“Through the DBIA campaign, we are responding to the emergence of African regional economic communities, and working with our partners to deepen integration, reduce barriers to trade and investment, and support existing and new investments by American businesses. By doing so, we continue the work of creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity that will help drive our economy and support the growth of our African trading partners.”
I am pleased to share just a few of the many efforts that we are immediately undertaking as part of this new campaign.
First, the Commerce Department has a powerful network of U.S.-based Export Assistance Centers as well as Commercial Service Officers in strategic embassies around the world. Through this campaign, we are going to train these counselors on how to help businesses start or expand their exports to Africa. Importantly, we will also ensure that these counselors have timely information about new opportunities that are arising on this Continent.
Second, we will place a special focus on empowering the African Diaspora in the United States – one of the world’s largest. We know there is significant untapped potential for commercial interaction in these communities. We plan to reach out to the businesses in this community, making sure they not only know about opportunities… but that they can also find the tools they need to trade and invest in Africa.
Third, we will work with organizations such as CCA and the Business Council for International Understanding to launch a series of Africa Global Business Summits in the U.S. in 2013. These Summits will bring U.S. Ambassadors and commercial service officers from Sub-Saharan Africa back to the U.S. to share strategies and tips with entrepreneurs and business owners to help them successfully enter key markets.
Fourth, for the first time ever, we will partner with the State International Development Organization to train economic development leaders at the state and regional levels in the U.S., with a special focus on the opportunities and possibilities for doing business in Africa.
And fifth, we will bring business leaders to visit each others’ countries and find new opportunities, because more than anything else, mutual economic growth is dependent on person-to-person relationships. For example, I’m happy to know that next week, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Terrence McCulley, will lead a Nigerian business delegation to a number of U.S. cities to see some of our biggest trade shows. And here in this room, I am delighted to note that person-to-person connections are being made today. As part of a trade mission led by Undersecretary Sanchez, we have brought a diverse group of both small and large U.S. firms to Zambia and now to South Africa. These companies have traveled here because they have rightly discarded the old and false perceptions about Africa. They understand that the commercial opportunities in Africa are too compelling to ignore – and they want to help the Continent grow and thrive.
There are over a dozen on this mission, ranging from a Midwest-based agricultural and construction equipment manufacturer, to a Florida-based well-water treatment company, to a California company that integrates GPS and laser technologies with application software and wireless communications.
Could all of the companies that are on this mission stand and be recognized? [I hope your conversations here in Africa are fruitful.]
I have one final announcement to make as part of the Doing Business in Africa campaign – and it’s related to the important area of financing.
I am traveling today with leaders from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Each of these agencies has dramatically increased their investments and activities in Africa in recent years.
In the past four years, OPIC has committed more than $2 billion in financing, insurance, private equity, and other support to Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past year alone, Ex-Im Bank supported $1.4 billion in authorized transactions with Sub-Saharan Africa. And USTDA has conducted studies, workshops, and reverse trade missions, while also supporting over $1 billion in U.S. exports in partnership with African project sponsors.
So thank you for all that these agencies are doing here in the region.
All of us here know that having energy in people’s homes and businesses is crucial to development. We also know that Africa has abundant clean energy resources just waiting to be harnessed.
Notably, the South African government has made extraordinary progress in this regard. It has increased access to electricity from 15% of the population to about 85 percent today, making it a leader in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet there is more to be done both here and throughout the region.
Here’s our key challenge. One of the main obstacles to accelerating clean energy investment in Africa is an inability to fund project development costs. Even projects that have clear potential for broad impact and strong financial returns to investors often fail to secure financing.
So, as part of the Doing Business in Africa campaign, I’m pleased to announce today that the Obama Administration will work through these agencies – OPIC, USTDA, and Ex-Im – to establish the new U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Development and Finance Center.
The Center will operate out of the U.S. Consulate General here in Johannesburg. Its mandate is two-fold: to help implement clean energy projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, and to promote U.S. private-sector participation as this sector continues to grow.
Specifically, the Center will provide technical and financial support for projects related to solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydro, ocean and natural gas.
Starting in March, Peter Ballinger will be spearheading this effort as OPIC’s representative in Africa – working side-by-side with Larry Farris as well as Jason Nagy of USTDA, also here today. And I should note that Peter will be the only OPIC employee not based in the United States. Congratulations Peter, and thank you all in advance for the work you will be doing. [I should note that in a few moments, you will be hearing from a panel of our agency partners who will discuss this and other efforts.]
So, the Doing Business in Africa campaign starts now. We have no time to waste.
In fact, this afternoon I will be meeting with the U.S. Chiefs of Mission stationed in several countries: including Ambassadors Gips of South Africa, Cretz of Ghana, Gavin of Botswana as well as Deputy Chief Fox of Lesotho. They are here today, and I want to thank them for serving as crucial partners and advocates for this campaign.
In the coming days, months, and years, even more Administration officials will be working and traveling to raise the visibility both of this campaign and of the U.S. Strategy overall.
I, myself, will be going to Nairobi tomorrow for the East African Community’s annual heads of state summit. We will be working with the EAC – among other things – to establish a regional investment treaty, to provide trade-capacity building assistance, to build a more open and predictable business climate, and to launch the EAC-U.S. Commercial Dialogue – America’s first Commercial Dialogue in Africa.
Overall, we must continue to find new ways for both business and government leaders throughout the U.S. and Africa to form powerful linkages that lead us all to greater prosperity.
And as I look around this room, I am confident of what we can achieve – together. It is significant that we are launching the Doing Business in Africa Campaign here in South Africa with all of you – in a country where U.S. companies have strong ties, as evidenced by those represented here. This nation has grown and diversified its economy and it serves as a crucial gateway to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.
You have already paved the way for the success and prosperity of businesses, workers, and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.
And yes, as our new campaign confirms, U.S. firms are excited to be doing business throughout Africa from the Kentucky-based, water pump company now working with a South-African distributor to help small towns curb pollution, to major U.S. firms like GE which is supplying Kenya Airways with 20 jet engines for their new planes.
We want more stories like those.
Let me close with a quote from Nelson Mandela. Mandela once said: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
The U.S. and Africa have reached a wonderful moment – a moment where we are working with each other, learning from each other, and building on each other’s prosperity – every single day.
As commerce flourishes between us and as our nations become more intertwined economically, it feels as though we have indeed reached the summit of a great hill.
Now, let us press on. Let us continue our journey together. And let us ensure that the United States is a strong partner in the rising prosperity of Africa in the 21st century.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION’S OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS RELEASES FOUR-YEAR REPORT ON CIVIL RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT AND EDUCATIONAL EQUITY

 
Today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a report describing OCR’s progress and activity over the last four years on civil rights enforcement and educational equity.
The report, “Helping to Ensure Equal Access to Education,” describes how OCR has transformed its enforcement approach to better promote and advance educational equity for all students, while maximizing the office’s efficiency and impact, even as the number of complaints received by OCR has grown by almost a quarter over the last four years. OCR both received and resolved over 28,500 complaints during this time period, a record figure compared to past four-year periods.
The report also discusses OCR’s work to:
· support the equal rights of students to a safe school environment and to resources and programs they need to be prepared for college and careers;
· revamp the Civil Rights Data Collection to provide educators and the public with a clearer picture of the “equity health” of schools; and
· align its efforts with President Obama’s goal of restoring this nation’s position as a global leader in the proportion of college graduates by 2020, by improving educational equity and excellence.
“OCR’s work over the last four years has moved us closer to equal access and opportunity for all students, no matter what their race, sex or disability status,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The OCR team has accomplished a lot through its innovation and its passion for equity.”
In addition to investigating resolving complaints, OCR has protected students’ civil rights by launching over 100 proactive, systemic investigations at schools and colleges across the country. In both its complaints and its proactive investigations, OCR has placed a priority on developing robust remedies that attack discrimination at its roots.
OCR has also catalyzed improved compliance across the education community by issuing groundbreaking policy guidance on questions regarding the civil rights laws OCR enforces, such as the obligations of schools and colleges to prevent and address bullying, harassment and sexual violence; the equal rights of all students to a public education regardless of their race, national origin or citizenship status or that of their parents; and the obligation of schools and colleges to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the new technologies that are playing an increased role in classrooms.
The report also documents a range of systemic improvements OCR has made in how it operates, and highlights the impact of those improvements by describing numerous important cases OCR has resolved during the last four years.
“We have transformed our approach to enforcement to make it more targeted and efficient, while fielding more complaints than ever before. We’ve revamped our technical assistance, and expanded our outreach to new heights,” said Assistant Secretary Russlynn Ali. “Removing barriers to equal educational opportunity will help ensure all students have a fair chance at a good education – a goal that is not just a moral imperative, but an economic necessity as well.”
Today’s report fulfills a requirement of Section 203(b) of the Department of Education Organization Act of 1979, Pub. L. No. 96-88, which provides that the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights shall make a report to the Secretary and the President “summarizing the compliance and enforcement activities of the Office for Civil Rights and identifying significant civil rights or compliance problems as to which such Office has made a recommendation for corrective action and as to which, in the judgment of the Assistant Secretary, adequate progress is not being made.”
The mission of the Office for Civil Rights, which comprises nearly 600 staff located in a headquarters office in Washington, D.C., and 12 regional offices around the nation, is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. Among the federal civil rights laws OCR is responsible for enforcing are Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Treasury Awards $18 Million to Institutions Serving Economically Distressed Communities


Yesterday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) provided 59 FDIC-insured depository institutions with awards for serving economically distressed communities across the nation that totaled nearly $18 million.
The awards were granted through the CDFI Fund’s Bank Enterprise Award Program (BEA Program), which recognizes and seeks to expand the important role that banks and thrifts play in community development activities. The program provides monetary awards to institutions that increased their investments in communities where at least 30 percent of residents have incomes below the national poverty level and 1.5 times the national unemployment rate. This year’s awardees increased their investments in such areas by more than $383 million.
BEA Program awardees are required to reinvest their awards into low-income and distressed communities, helping to create economic opportunity for Americans throughout the country. Well over half of this year’s awardees are certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) which means that they already have a primary mission of promoting community development.
Receiving a BEA Program award encourages an institution to expand its lending, investing, and services to low-income residents. City FirstBank of D.C., a certified CDFI, has received seven awards since 2000 totaling more than $6.4 million. In 2012, City First was selected to receive an award of $415,000 for its support of CDFIs and for providing affordable housing development loans and project investments in Washington, D.C.
City First works in many areas of economic development in Washington, providing financing for such organizations as Bread for the City, a comprehensive center that provides services to low-income D.C. residents. Bread for the City also provides free food, clothing, medical care, legal, and social services to low-income D.C. residents — approximately 10,000 clients each month. City First also helped finance Bread for the City’s expansion to a second facility that includes a dental clinic and a rooftop vegetable garden that allowed the organization to double its food storage and distribution capacity.
Many of this year’s awardees are equally involved in the economic development of their neighborhoods. In addition to their more than $383 million increased investment in distressed communities, the 2012 BEA Program awardees accomplished the following:
  • Increased their loans, deposits, and technical assistance to CDFIs by $21.1 million;
  • Increased their equity, equity like loans, and grants to CDFIs by $258,000; and
  • Increased the provision of financial services in distressed communities by $5.5 million.
The 59 BEA Program awardees are headquartered in 18 states and the District of Columbia. And just about a third of the awardees are minority-controlled institutions.
More information about yesterday’s announcement can be found at www.cdfifund.gov.
Article by Kimberly Beauman, Legislative and External Affairs Specialist at the CDFI Fund at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fiscal Cuts Threaten Health Care

Forget the 'fiscal' cliff. Maybe those calling the so-call economic demise of American economics as we know it, the 'physical cliff', had a point.

Physical as in naked bodies showing up in the halls of Congress and all their physical glory in an effort to protest cuts in social programs.

Activists highlight the 'naked truth' about proposed Congressional tax cuts. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
While Boehner and House republicans want to reform the tax code by eliminating special interest loopholes and cut spending for such services that support HIV/AIDS services, naked AIDS activists with painted slogans on their bodies, protested inside the lobby of the Capitol Hill office of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, prior to World AIDS Day, Dec. 1 to show they're not buying what he wants to sell.

The Speaker remains speechless about the unwanted visitors (at least for today) but reporters can expect a mouthful from Boehner during the Speaker's weekly meeting in Congress with reporters on Wednesday.

Both Democrats and Republicans have until year's end before the Bush-era tax cuts expire.

Related
White House press briefing: Heated exchanges with press over fiscal cliff.