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Friday, March 25, 2016

It's Easter. Let's Celebrate.

This is Easter weekend. Time to polish off the shoes (or buy new ones), get out the springtime dresses, attend an Easter service (or two) and participate in all that celebrates the Easter holiday - which, of course, includes attending the annual White House Easter Egg Roll happening Monday.

This year's White House Easter Egg Roll theme is Let's Celebrate. With this year officially being the last Easter Egg Roll for the Obama family, the White House has taken every step to ensure it's the best White House Easter celebration ever.

We noticed an incredibly long list of items this year.   The lineup has everyone... but Beyoncé (update: she attended), Bruno Mars and a few late night (or daytime) talk show hosts. Take a read to see who is planned to participate, as communicated by a press release from the White House Visitors' Office.

Visitors Office
March 25, 2016

White House Announces Full 2016 Easter Egg Roll Program and Talent Line-up

The White House announces the full program, activities, and talent line-up for the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll, a tradition in its 138th year and the largest annual public event at the White House. 

Photo credit: National Park Service

The Easter Egg Roll will take place Monday, March 28, on the South Lawn of the White House and in honor of the final Easter Egg Roll of the Obama Administration, this year’s theme is “Let’s Celebrate.” The event will feature live music, sports courts, cooking stations, storytelling and, of course, Easter egg rolling. In support of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative, this year’s event will also include the first-ever White House Fun Run, where First Lady Michelle Obama will join 250 children on a short run to promote active and healthy lifestyles for kids.

To learn more about the Easter Egg Roll visit Tune in for live streams from the South Lawn on March 28, 2016 on You can also join the conversation online using the hashtags #LetsCelebrate and #EasterEggRoll and get the latest updates by checking out Let’s Move! on Twitter and Facebook.

Talent Line-up

This year’s special guest is Tony Award Winning, Multi-Platinum Recording Artist, Idina Menzel. Menzel will sing the National Anthem as well as perform on the Rock ‘n’ Egg Roll Stage

Silento, Daya, Echosmith, Chloe x Halle, Trevor Jackson, DJ Mel, Mack and Moxy, and Sesame Street will also perform on the Rock ‘n’ Egg Roll Stage.  The Official Emcee of the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll is Tommy McFly.

Readers on the Storytime Stage will be Bear Grylls, the cast of Black-ish, Trinitee Stokes and the cast of Bunk'd, Genevieve Goings, La La Anthony, Robin Roberts, Sesame Street, Shaquille O'Neal, Shonda Rhimes, and Loni Love, Adrienne Bailon and Jeannie Mai from The Real.

Chefs Kwame Onwuachi, José Andrés, Roblé Ali, Spike Mendelsohn, Mikaila Ulmer, Pati Jinich, Sunny Anderson, and Ted Allen will prepare healthy eating demonstrations in the Play with your Food station.

In the Eggtivity Zone, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition as well as players and coaches from professional sports teams will teach kids how to play sports and show kids easy, fun ways to stay active and fit. 

Athletes participating in the Eggtivity Zone and the Basketball and Tennis Courts include:

Antione Bethea - San Francisco 49'ers
Ben Bratton - USOC / Fencing
Ben Olsen - DC United
Bobby Boswell - DC United
Brandon Williams - Baltimore Ravens
Buck Williams - NBA
Caitlin Cahow - PCFSN
Chanda Rubin - USTA
Chukwuemeka "Emeka" Okafor - NBA
Cornell McClellan - PCFSN
Curtis Pride – PCFSN
DC Divas – Women’s Football Alliance
Dominique Dawes - PCFSN
Donna Richardson - PCFSN
Donovan Carter - Cast of Ballers"
Dr. Risa Lavizzo - Mourey - PCFSN
Dr. Stephen McDonough - PCFSN
Gus Kenworthy - USOC / Freeskier
Jameel McClain - NFL Free Agent
James Blake - USTA
Jamie Loeb - 2015 NCAA Women's Singles Champion
Jason Collins – NBA/PCFSN
Jayne Greenberg - PCFSN
Jazmyn Simon - Cast of Ballers
Jeneba Tarmoh - USOC / Track and Field Sprinter
Kamerion Wimbley - Retired NFL
Katrina Adams - USTA
Lamar Neagle - DC United
Lynette Woodard - WNBA Hall of Fame
Mark Hertling - PCFSN
Markus Halsti - DC United
Michael Thomas - Miami Dolphins
Natasha Cloud - Washington Mystics
Nick Sundberg - Washington Redskins
Patrick Nyarko - DC United
Preston Smith - Washington Redskins
Reilly Opelka - 2015 Wimbledon Boys' Singles Champion
Ricky Jean Francios - Washington Redskins
Robert Thomas Shepardson - PCFSN
Roman Harper - Carolina Panthers
Ryan Kerrigan - Washington Redskins
Ryan Shane - 2015 NCAA Men's Singles Champion
Scout Bassett / USOC / Athletics Paralympic hopeful
Shaquille O'Neal - NBA
Steve Birnbaum - DC United
Swintayal Cash - New York Liberty
Taylor Townsend - USTA
Tommy Paul - (2015 Roland Garros Boys' Singles Champion)
Tony Massenburg - NBA
Tress Way - Washington Redskins
Tristan Nunez - NASCAR
Vicky Duval - USTA

The Hop To It Stage will offer a variety of interactive dance and other physical fun including Hip Hop Public Health, Kid Tribe with Mack and Moxy, PopFitKids, Soul Cycle, The Happiness Club, Troops for Fitness.

The Ellipse will have an entertainment stage and guests can enjoy musical acts and other activities from Ballet Petite presents Taptricity, Chuck Flayhart (Stilt walker), Harvard Din & Tonics, Tennis Pandas Bam and Boo, Zumba WSC as they prepare to enter the South Lawn.

This year’s costume characters include:

Angry Birds
Bam the Panda
Boo the Panda
Buddy from Dinosaur Train
Captain Planet
Catboy, Owlette and Gekko from PJ Masks  
Charlie & Checkers
Charlie Brown & Snoopy
Cheer Bear from the Care Bears
Cookie Monster
Curious George
Daniel Tiger
Darth Vader and the Storm Troopers
DC United's Talon
Doki the Dog
Duck from WordWorld
Eddie is A Yeti
Fairy Twinkletoes
Freddie the Frog  
Hatching Chick
Jet from Ready Jet Go!  
Mama, Papa, Junior Bunnies
Mascot DJ Bunny  
Miffy the Bunny
Mop Top the Hip Hop Scientist
Nature Cat  
Nutbrown Hare
Paw Patrol
Peg + Cat
Peppa Pig + George
Po from Kung Fu Panda 3
Power Panther
Powerpuff Girls
Princess Presto
Puppy and Sis   
Sid the Science Kid
Smokey Bear
SpongeBob SquarePants
Super WHY!
The Cat in the Hat
The Minions - Bob, Stuart and Kevin
The Rainbow Fish
Washington Capitals' Slapshot
Washington Kastles' Topspin and Slice
Washington Nationals' Racing Presidents - Abe
Washington Nationals' Racing Presidents - Bill
Washington Nationals' Racing Presidents - George
Washington Nationals' Racing Presidents - Teddy
Washington Nationals' Racing Presidents - Tom
Washington Nationals' Screech
Washington Wizards' G-Wiz  
Woodsy Owl
YooHoo and Pammee from YooHoo and Friends

Statement by the President on Easter 
Michelle and I join our fellow Christians in observing Good Friday and celebrating Easter this weekend.  This is a time to remember the sacrifices made for us and hold all who suffer close to our hearts.  Yet it is also a time to rejoice, give thanks for the Resurrection, and unite with Christians around the world in proclaiming, "Christ has risen; He has risen indeed."  We wish all who celebrate a blessed and joyful Easter.

Full List of Easter Egg Roll Events

With the “Let’s Celebrate” theme, this year’s event will honor the final Easter Egg Roll for the Obama Administration. The activities include obstacle courses, yoga, dancing, playing sports with professional athletes, and of course, the traditional egg roll.  The full list of events is below:

Egg Roll Classics
An Egg Hunt & the traditional Egg Roll

Rock ‘n’ Egg Roll Stage
Live musical performances for all ages

Storytime Stage
Listen as celebrities bring books to life

Hop To It!
An instructional dance party on the South Lawn!  Get up to dance and more

Eggtivity Zone Obstacle Course
An ultimate all-in-one obstacle course! Climb, jump, and run your way through a variety of sports drills

Basketball and Tennis
Get hands-on training from basketball and tennis pros on the President’s court

Yoga Garden
Come enjoy a session of yoga from professional instructors

Eggspress Yourself
Hatch your inner artist with arts and crafts fun! Egg dying, egg decorating, and more

Play with your Food
An entertaining activity center filled with opportunities to learn about healthy eating

Eggsperiment Zone
Interactive, educational activities designed to spark scientific curiosity and creativity

2016 Official Program and Souvenir Poster Artwork

First Lady Michelle Obama has chosen the winning artwork from this year’s White
House Easter Egg Roll Design Contest. Elementary and middle school students from 19 states and two foreign countries submitted artwork related to this year’s
theme, “Let’s Celebrate.” Posters will be handed out as a prize to children who win the
Easter Egg Roll and Egg Hunt.
Felicity Ng is a 10-year-old in 4th grade at Audubon Elementary School in Redmond,
Washington. Her artwork was chosen as the 2016 Easter Egg Roll Program Cover. Felicity enjoys drawing, writing, and playing piano, and wanted to create a patriotic egg design to commemorate President and Mrs. Obama’s final Easter Egg Roll.

Alexia de Costa is an 11-year-old in 5th grade at Queen of Apostles Catholic School in
Alexandria, Virginia. Her artwork was chosen as the 2016 Easter Egg Roll Poster. Alexia enjoys painting, reading, and writing and is excited to participate with the White House in whatever ways she can.

Additional Information about the 2016 Easter Egg Roll

In total, more than 35,000 people have received tickets for the event. In 2009, the Obama Administration created an online lottery system to distribute a portion of these tickets, and for the eighth straight year, this lottery has helped open up the White House Easter Egg Roll to guests from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
This year’s event will begin at 7:30 AM and end at 6:45 PM EDT.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the White House Easter Souvenir Eggs. 


This year’s White House Easter Egg Roll features five souvenir eggs, designed by graphic designer and blogger Joy Cho. The collection features four colored eggs with stamped signatures of the President and First Lady on the back, and one gold “Bo and Sunny” egg, with stamped “signatures” and “paw prints” of Bo and Sunny on the back.

The National Park Foundation (NPF), the official charity of America’s national parks, produces and sells the commemorative White House Easter eggs. Each child 13 years and younger who attends the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn, which sits on President’s Park, will also receive a souvenir egg.

To place your order for the full collection of 2016 White House Easter Egg (all 5 eggs), please visit

Monday, March 21, 2016

The U.S. - Cuba Relationship

If you are wondering what could come out of President Obama's visit to Cuba this week, the White House has put together a Fact Sheet explaining why the president's visit is historic, and worthy.

President Obama and the First Family arrive in Cuba. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

FACT SHEET: United States-Cuba Relationship

President Obama’s trip to Cuba marks a historic milestone in the normalization process between the United States and Cuba.  Since President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced that the two countries would initiate a new era of relations 15 months ago, we have expanded cooperation across a range of areas for the benefit of the citizens of both the United States and Cuba.  We are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined – and divided – our relationship.  The President’s Cuba policy now allows us to more effectively improve the lives of the Cuban people, advance our interests and values, and build broader ties of cooperation across the Americas.

[Read: Ted Cruz on President Obama's visit to Cuba]

Normalization will be a complex, long-term process and challenges remain, but President Obama believes that engagement offers a path toward success where isolation has failed for more than 50 years.  We will engage and work through challenges in order to empower the Cuban people and advance the interests of the United States.

Connecting the U.S. and Cuban People 
As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, we have sought ways to increase opportunity for Americans and improve the lives of the Cuban people, including by opening the door to increased travel and commerce between our two countries. The President fundamentally believes that the best way to achieve that goal is by facilitating more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and through more access to information. We have great confidence the steps we have taken over the past year will lead to a better future for both the American and Cuban people.

On March 15, the Department of the Treasury authorized Americans to travel to Cuba provided that, among other things, the traveler engage in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba.  Previously, Americans were required to travel to Cuba under the auspices of an organization and be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring organization. 

The United States and Cuba in December 2015 reached an arrangement to re-establish regular, direct flights between the United States and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.  U.S. carriers have applied to the Department of Transportation for an allocation of the new opportunities to provide scheduled flights, which will begin later this year.  Thirteen U.S. carriers have applied to provide direct flights to Havana from 20 U.S. gateway cities, as well as one-stop flights from three additional U.S. cities.  In addition, seven U.S. carriers have applied to provide scheduled flights to the other nine international airports in Cuba from five U.S. gateway cities. For more information about authorized travel to Cuba, including the 12 categories of travel permitted by law, please visit Department of the Treasury’s page.

The United States and Cuba have re-established the direct transportation of mail between the two countries.  On March 16, the first direct flight of mail from the United States arrived in Cuba after 53 years.  One letter sent on the first direct mail flight was a personal letter from President Obama to Ileana R. Yarza, in response to a letter she sent to the White House. 

The United States and Cuba have begun to collaborate on port security and have conducted reciprocal port visits.  The U.S. Coast Guard assessed that Cuban ports meet international port security standards and lifted the Port Security Advisory on Cuba.  This step helps clear the way for ferry and cruise ship services between the United States and Cuba to begin. 

The United States and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that recognizes the mutual interests and challenges of both countries in improving services for maritime navigation safety to protect the marine environment and promote safe maritime economic activities.  The MOU will facilitate the exchange of data to update nautical charts, monitor and forecast tides and currents for ports, and other related activities.  Improved navigation services are important for commercial mariners and recreational boaters alike, particularly as travel and trade increases between the two countries.

Educational Exchanges
For the first time, Cuba will be included as a participating country in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, which brings 200 outstanding mid-career professionals from developing countries to the United States for non-degree study and related professional experiences, and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which offers grants for U.S. undergraduates of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or internships abroad.

The goal of 100,000 Strong in the Americas, the Presidents signature education initiative in the Western Hemisphere, is to increase the number of student exchanges in the Americas to 100,000 in both directions by 2020.  As part of the President’s visit to Cuba, the United States is proud to announce a new $1 million commitment from the Cuban American community to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, which provides opportunities to create university partnerships that enhance regional competitiveness and provide new study abroad opportunities. This funding will support Cuba-specific Innovation Competitions in both countries, to advance student exchanges focused on entrepreneurship, with a secondary focus on agricultural management, business and social innovation, environmental and sustainable energy, language learning, international trade and development, study abroad infrastructure, and cultural collaborations. 

The 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund will also launch the 10th Innovation Competition: Promoting Study Abroad Partnerships for Innovation and Collaboration.  This competition is supported through a contribution from Santander Bank as part of their $1 million commitment to 100,000 Strong in the Americas.  All higher educational institutions in the Western Hemisphere that promote study abroad programs between the United States and other countries in the hemisphere are eligible to compete.

At the request of and in coordination with the Cuban Government, the United States will send English-language specialists to work with the Cuban Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education for programs to support English teacher training this spring and summer. We also will offer a selection of online courses for Cuban teachers of English from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education later this year.

Over 250 young leaders from the United States and the region will take part in Youth Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) fellowships this year that enable them to develop joint business and civil society initiatives while at universities, businesses, and other institutions in the United States.  The United States will welcome 10-15 Cuban participants among the 250 YLAI Fellows who will be in the United States in the fall of 2016.

The United States will invite up to 10 Cuban entrepreneurs to this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Silicon Valley June 23-24.  The event will include 700 entrepreneurs, representing every country in the world.  A total of 100 entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean will participate.  GES provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to build new skills, grow their networks, and connect with peers, mentors, and investors from around the globe. 

In June 2016, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal will travel to Cuba for a Sports Envoy Program focusing on youth in Havana.  The program will be the first in which U.S. Embassy in Havana will partner with the Cuban Ministry of Sports.  In November 2016, Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre’s first Principal Dancer of color, will travel to Cuba to conduct master classes and speaking engagements.  She will also lead dance clinics for minority youth and hold inclusion workshops for coaches, with a special focus on building athletic programs for female youth. 

Expanding Business and Commercial Ties

The Administration has taken a number of steps to ease certain travel, trade, and financial transaction restrictions applicable to Cuba.  These regulatory changes have made it easier for U.S. businesses, educational entities, and NGOs to engage with Cuban counterparts to provide resources, share information, and help the private sector grow.  Regulatory changes by the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce are encouraging more engagement by U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies in Cuba to support better connectivity and access to information for the Cuban people.  We have also made it easier for Cuban entrepreneurs to access resources and best practices from the United States. 

Empowering Civil Society and Standing Up for Human Rights

In March 2015, the United States and Cuba held the first planning session in Washington, D.C., for a Human Rights Dialogue at which both governments raised issues to pursue.  Our commitment to universal human rights and support for democratic principles in Cuba is unwavering.  We will continue to call out the Cuban Government’s violations of human rights and will advocate for the respect of universal human rights including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  We remain convinced the Cuban people would be best served by being able to freely choose their leaders, express their ideas without fear, practice their faith, hold institutions accountable, and participate in civil society groups.

The United States and Cuba agree on the importance of combating human trafficking. As such, the United States and Cuba have each agreed to invite the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons to conduct an official visit in their respective countries.

Health and Science Cooperation

The United States and Cuba have committed to deepen scientific and public health cooperation, focusing on communicable diseases including arboviruses such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya, as well as on the prevention and treatment of chronic non-communicable diseases such as cancer.  In the coming months, the United States and Cuba intend to work toward finalizing arrangements to strengthen our collaboration in these and other scientific and health areas.

The President’s policy change has increased the ability for American and Cuban experts to collaborate on important science and technology issues of mutual interest such as sister parks, oceans conservation and disease monitoring and reduction.  Foundations and philanthropies in the United States have been critical to the funding of a wide range of joint research projects.  The Department of State plans to convene a working group with U.S.-based philanthropies and the scientific community to investigate areas where they might work to enhance collaboration between our two research communities to tackle common challenges.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture developed an MOU to increase bilateral cooperation in agriculture, recognizing the mutual interest of both countries in advancing agricultural technologies, agricultural productivity, food security, and sustainable natural resource management.  Additionally, USDA is working with the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture to schedule a visit to the Caribbean Climate Sub Hub in Puerto Rico in late May of 2016.  The hub supports applied research and provides information to farmers, ranchers, advisors, and managers to support climate-related decision making.  During this visit, USDA and the Ministry of Agriculture will exchange information on tools and strategies for climate change response that help producers cope with challenges associated with drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons, and changes in pest pressure.  Cuba has long had institutional and legal frameworks to address climate change and has established a robust national disaster risk reduction framework that supports its early warning system for extreme weather events.

USDA will also allow industry-funded Research and Promotion (or “Check-off”) programs and Marketing Order Committees to use their resources for certain authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba. Research and Promotion and Marketing Order Boards, Committees and Councils have an opportunity to participate in this partnership as certain information exchanges with Cuban Government and industry officials, and industry-funded health, science, nutrition, and consumer-oriented research activities with Cuba will be permitted.

Climate, Energy, and the Environment
The United States and Cuba recognize the threats posed by climate change to both our countries, including worsening impacts such as continued sea-level rise, the alarming acidification of our oceans, and the striking incidence of extreme weather events. Cooperative action to address this challenge is more critical than ever.  The United States welcomes opportunities to work with Cuba to enhance our bilateral cooperation on climate change, and also work together to play a positive role in addressing this urgent global challenge through international fora.

Building on the successful conclusion of the December 2015 Paris Agreement, the United States and Cuba intend to sign and join the Paris Agreement as soon as feasible this year.  The United States will also work with Cuba to pursue cooperation in the areas of disaster risk reduction, addressing ocean acidification, advancing climate-smart agriculture, and sharing best practices and lessons learned through international initiatives focused on adaptation and low emissions development.

Also recognizing the importance of secure and efficient energy supplies for both countries.  The United States is pleased to invite Cuba to join Caribbean and Central American countries at the Energy Summit on May 3-4 in Washington, D.C. to be chaired by Vice President Biden.  The Energy Summit focuses on enhancing energy security, regional cooperation, renewable integration, and coordination of international partners. 

Law Enforcement

U.S. and Cuban Government representatives held technical exchanges on counternarcotics, fraud identification, human smuggling, and cybercrime, and we continue looking at better ways to share information and coordinate law enforcement activities.  The United States and Cuba are also working toward an arrangement  to combat illicit trafficking in drugs.  In addition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban Ministry of Interior are working toward finalizing an MOU to establish a working group, nestled within the framework of the Law Enforcement Dialogue, focused on trade, travel security, and border security.


Background on President Obama's meeting with entrepreneurs (from the White House)

President Obama’s Cuba policy is focused on helping the Cuban people improve their lives. Since charting a new Cuba policy, the United States has made regulatory changes to open up commercial ties between our countries at a time when a growing number of Cubans are self-employed.  In Havana, the President will meet with Cuban entrepreneurs, or cuentapropistas, to hear their experiences. The event will include American entrepreneurs who will share their own experiences with their Cuban counterparts and look for opportunities to build long-term relationships.

The Cuban government expanded licenses for private sector employment in 2010, leading to an increase in non-state sector employment from 145,000 in 2009 to approximately 500,000 in 2015.  However, licenses are still restricted to 201 service-oriented jobs like restaurant owner, hairdresser, sign painter, and taxi driver. U.S. regulatory changes since 2011 facilitated the increased flow of resources and information to the island and allowed entrepreneurs to access tools, materials, and training from the United States. Cuba’s removal of exit permit requirements in 2013 also allowed more Cubans to travel abroad and hand-carry raw materials and inputs for their businesses back to Cuba.

Cuba’s five-percent internet penetration rate is among the world’s lowest.  The Cuban government stated its intent to increase access and develop a national broadband strategy that lays out goals and timelines, including making wireless connectivity available to 60 percent of the population and internet connectivity at home available to 50 percent of the population by 2020.  Over the past year, Cuba began to make halting progress towards these goals, having established over 50 public Wi-Fi hotspots across the island.  Even with hourly access rates equal to about 10 percent of the average monthly salary in Cuba, these spots are enormously popular, with about 150,000 Cubans logging onto to the internet daily through these hotspots.  There are now approximately 700 public internet access points, includin,h,Hahn,JB g these hotspots, internet cafes, government youth centers, and hotels.

The United States is working to improve and increase internet connectivity in Cuba through advocacy for policy changes that would allow for increased investment, including foreign direct investment and joint ventures, in wired and wireless telecommunications infrastructure and for more affordable and widespread internet access.