National Scene 4/21 – 4/28/09
By Linnie Frank Bailey
As the Administration completes the first one hundred days, the President continues his campaign promise of bringing change, common sense, and competence to Washington. Addressing middle-class concerns such as improving credit card practices, and access to student loans, Obama kept up his pace which included meeting with a world leader, as well as students at a Southeast D.C. High School. The President added another item to his packed agenda with concerns rising over the Swine Flu outbreak. He assured the public that he is personally monitoring the possible spread of the disease, and that his Administration will make every effort to keep Americans healthy.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act – “Connecting Deeds to Needs”
Students from the SEED school in Washington, DC were excited to see entertainer Usher at their school, however their most enthusiastic applause was for their President, Barack Obama. The school of mostly African-American students, located in the Southeast section of the city, is a campus and dormitory for college-bound teenagers which includes public service as a key part of its curriculum. The President—joined by former President Bill Clinton, Congressional leaders, and community activists—addressed the students after a rousing introduction from Senator Edward Kennedy.
Obama announced a major call to community service prior to signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, stating: “We need your service, right now, at this moment in history….I’m asking you to stand up and play your part. I’m asking you to help change history’s course. Put your shoulder up against the wheel. And if you do, I promise you – your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.”
Encouraging Americans who wish to serve their community to sign up on the website Serve.gov, the President said now is the time to “connect deeds to needs.”
Obama meets King Abdullah of Jordan
The President held a one-on-one meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan in the Personal Dining Room at the White House, followed by an expanded meeting in the Oval Office. King Abdullah, the first Arab leader to meet Obama in the White House, offered “warm thanks on behalf of many Arabs and Muslims who really had an outstanding response to the President's outreach to the Muslim Arab world.”
First Lady Michelle Obama hosted Abdullah’s wife—Queen Rania in the Yellow Oval Room in the White House Residence.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Obama Returns to Iowa on Earth Day
The Obama Administration celebrated Earth Day with the President in Iowa laying out his vision for creating a new clean energy economy, including independence from foreign oil, reduced pollution of our air and water, and finally addressing climate change. Meanwhile, African-American “Green” activist, Van Jones, who serves the Administration as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the Council on Environmental Quality, released a video describing an emerging green economy.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The President Remembers the Holocaust
President Obama spoke at a Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony, asking, “How do we ensure that ‘never again’ isn't an empty slogan, or merely an aspiration, but also a call to action?” He went on to say, “ I believe we start by doing what we are doing today -- by bearing witness, by fighting the silence that is evil's greatest co-conspirator.”
The President Versus The Credit Card Industry
The President joined the fray over reported abuses by credit card lenders by bringing in
representatives from the credit card industry to discuss the need for greater consumer protections and fairer practices.
The Administration released the following statistics which illustrate the problem:
- Almost half of American families currently carry a balance, and for those families the average balance was $7,300 (in 2007 the median was around $3,000).
- Penalty fees on credit cards are around $15 billion annually, an estimated 10 percent of total credit card industry revenue.
- Approximately one-fifth of those carrying credit card debt pay an interest rate above 20 percent.
After acknowledging that neither credit cards nor credit card companies are inherently bad, President Obama made clear “some new lines in the sand needed to be drawn.” These include:
- Protections that ban unfair rate increases and forbid abusive fees and penalties. “The days of any time, any reason rate hikes and late fee traps have to end.”
- All the forms and statements that credit card companies send out have to be written in plain language and be in plain sight. “No more fine print, no more confusing terms and conditions. We want clarity and transparency from here on out.”
- Allow consumers to comparison shop for cards without being afraid that they're going to be taken advantage of. “It's important to require firms to make all their contract terms easily accessible online in a fashion that allows people to shop for the best deal for their needs.”
The President ended the session by calling for more accountability in the system with “effective oversight and more effective enforcement so that people who are issuing credit cards but violate law, they will feel the full weight of the law.”
Take Your Child to Work Day at the White House
First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated Take Your Child to Work Day with about 150 children of executive office employees. After welcoming the group, the First Lady answered questions on life in the White House and then grouped the children with volunteers for a tour—including stops at the South Lawn garden and throughout the West Wing. Other activities for participants included a mock swearing-in ceremony and a chat with Secret Service agents.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Increasing Access to College
President Obama spoke at the White House Diplomatic Room with Stephanie Stevenson, an African-American junior at the University of Maryland. After an introduction by Stevenson, who is also a first-generation college student and struggling with the cost of school, Obama took the podium to discuss his efforts to make college more affordable.
Obama started off by repeating his view that the future of America’s economy depends on the quality of our education. “America cannot lead in the 21st century unless we have the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world,” he said as he discussed ways to fund programs that increase college enrollment Obama is calling for eliminating fees in the federal student loan program by cutting out banks and private lenders as middlemen. Obama said he knows he will face a battle from the banking interests “who have reaped a windfall from these subsidies” however, he will “fight for Stephanie, and other American students and their families.”
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sojourner Truth Statue Unveiled
The National Congress of Black Women fought for over a decade to get a statue of Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and woman's rights activist, in the U.S. Capitol Building. The project (originally started by their late president, Dr. C. Delores Tucker) became reality at an unveiling ceremony at the Capitol Visitors Center's Emancipation Hall. Guests for the event included the First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who years ago co-sponsored legislation with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to bring the statue to the Capitol.
Remarking on the 10 years it took to place the statue in the hall, Representative Lee remembered C. Delores Tucker’s determination, stating, “She must have had this exact time in mind. Who could have imagined that the presidency would be held by Barack Obama, and that the First Lady would be here today?”
Added Secretary Clinton, “What a wonderful day, when Sojourner Truth takes her rightful place alongside the heroes who have helped shape America.” She briefly recounted the story of Sojourner Truth, born a slave and without the ability to read or write, but who rose to become a well-respected leader for the causes of abolition and woman's suffrage, counting Presidents Lincoln and Grant among her associates.
“Dr. Tucker's driving force for this was that she didn't want children to come to the Capitol and not be told the truth, that African-American women were not involved in the suffrage moment,” said Representative Lee.
During the ceremony, actress Cicely Tyson gave a powerful reading of Sojourner Truth’s most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” The hall was filled to capacity with visitors who witnessed this historic event.