Friday, May 31, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 18 - 'The Bromance'

"How far will this Obama-Christie thing go? The term 'bromance' was used this past week almost as often as the word 'scandal' was used the weeks before. Should Hillary be jealous?" 

President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk with local residents at the Brigantine Beach Community Center, which is serving as a shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy, in Brigantine, N.J., Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

That's What Friends Are For

The President visited the Jersey Shore to see Hurricane Sandy recovery progress and was joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The two interacted like old friends and as a result the term 'bromance' was used this week almost as often as the word 'scandal' was used the weeks before. 

Truthfully, after so much partisan gridlock, it is good to see people from the opposite sides of the aisle who seem to like each other and enjoy each other's company.

A Wall Street Journal article on the 'friendship' said:
With handshakes, a little ribbing and a few tosses of a football along the Jersey shore on Tuesday, President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed they still put a lot of faith in bipartisan chumminess.                   Read More

One big photo op? Sure. Obama helping Christie out for his 'support' during the Presidential campaign? Maybe. 

Doesn't look like Christie needs any help in his reelection campaign for Governor. Some reports have him leading by as much as 30 points over his Democratic challenger, State Senator Barbara Buono. In addition, it appears he has the support of some of the state's Democratic leaders.

Both Christie and Obama understand the importance of 'likability' in any campaign. Because when it's all said and done, after nearly a billion is comes down to who's the most likable, personable, and friendly (at least on the outside). As evidence:

Clinton vs Bush 1
Clinton vs Dole
Bush 2 vs Gore
Bush 2 vs Kerry
Obama vs McCain
Obama vs Romney

So how far will this Obama-Christie thing go? 

As with any potentially treacherous relationship, at some point the lines will have to be drawn. The President is holding the cards right now....Christie will continue to bask in Obama's limelight to help with independent, minority, and women voters. Again, the question is...what is Obama getting out of this? Obamacare implementation support from a Republican Governor?

There is doubt the relationship will last. The Christian Science Monitor reports in the article, 
"Obama-Christie bromance, Part 2: A win-win for both,"
"....But the Obama-Christie lovefest may not last forever. Christie is widely expected to win a second term in November, and after that, he may well turn his attention to the 2016 presidential race. Obama isn’t allowed to run again, but will naturally want to be replaced by a Democrat.

If Christie runs, and can make it through the primaries – a big “if,” considering the muscle-flexing of the GOP’s right wing, and his controversial, gushing praise of Obama during Sandy on the eve of the 2012 election – he could be a formidable challenger. Already, Christie has shown major crossover appeal. Polls of the gubernatorial race show him winning a sizable portion of Obama’s 2012 voters in New Jersey and crushing Senator Buono."                             Read More
Even Mitt Romney, still trying to be relevant (see below)...yet STILL out of touch, chimed in by saying: 
"I don't believe Chris is trying to project an image of being close to President Obama," adding,  "But if the president is willing to pay attention to what's happening to the reconstruction of his state, that's a good thing for the governor."
To be clear, both Christie...AND Obama...are politically astute enough to recognize the votes that come with an Obama pat on the back. Not the conservative, right-wing votes....but the votes Christie would need to win the Presidency (if he can get past the primaries.)

Could it be these guys, Obama and Christie, just like each other and don't care what people think? Nah -- this never happens in politics. 

Wonder how the 'family' is taking this relationship? Should Hillary (or Joe) be jealous?

And the real question...because it is who will dump the other one first?

Bye, Bye Bachmann

Folks seems to be standing in line to say goodbye to Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn), and wish her godspeed to wherever. Few believe she is leaving the public limelight and it's only a matter of time before we see her again...probably doing something more lucrative...cable news? radio? reality show? heading an 'official' tea party organization? leading the charge against the implementation of Obamacare? or, investigating the President's birth certificate?  

She's not on it.

Also Not Done with the Limelight

Surprise, surprise...seems losing Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is not happy with President Obama's first 100 days of his second term.  Maybe because they weren't HIS 100 days?  You think?

Reporting on Romney's interview with the Wall Street Journal, a recent HuffPo article entitled: "Mitt Romney 'Disappointed' With Obama's Second Term" says:
Romney lamented that he wasn't able to implement his own planned agenda for the first 100 days, which included proposals to get "legislation filed, regulations rewritten, executive orders rewritten."
Sounds like Romney's agenda for his first 100 days was to undo everything Obama did in his first term. Then what? Still waiting to hear. Maybe he's getting his binders ready.

Could Romney really be thinking about another shot at the BIG prize? He would probably have to use a lot of his own money...but he's got it, and what else does he have to do?

The 2016 Republican primaries could really be fun if Romney's ego won't let him sit on the sidelines and he dukes it out with Jeb Bush and Obama buddy Chris Christie. Then there's the second tier of Ryan and Paul (who would never consider themselves second-tier). Not to be outdone, the far right will return with their offering, which might include some retreads ... Bachmann, Perry, Palin, and Herman Cain again? (Don't laugh Anthony Weiner is running strong for NYC mayor.)


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 18 - 2009:

(Excerpts from my blog National Scene -- Week 18)

May 27-June 1, 2009: The Administration began the week addressing right-wing concern over his candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court – Judge Sonia Sotomayor. It is expected that Sotomayor will win confirmation in the Senate, despite the protests. In other news, the President commented on the bankruptcy of General Motors by assuring Americans a new, stronger GM will emerge. 

Celebrating Solar Power in Nevada. President Obama visited Nellis Air Force Base, in Las Vegas, Nevada to highlight what he called “the largest solar electric plant of its kind in the entire Western Hemisphere!”
The President Addresses the End of an American Icon.  Automobile manufacturer General Motors, thought to be one of the bedrock companies of American culture, filed for bankruptcy today, however the President assured us that the company would begin again.


And Finally.....back to 2013:

First Lady Michelle Obama harvests vegetables with students in the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn, May 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 17 - "The Drones"

The Drones are Coming...the Drones are Here

This past week, President Obama delivered a major foreign policy speech at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. He addressed the nation's counter-terrorism strategy, including the use of drones for national defense, saying:
"From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation -- and world -- that we leave to our children." 
It was also released last week that drones have killed at least four Americans.  

Many, on both sides of the aisle, are more concerned with domestic -- particularly civilian use of drones for illegal surveillance.  No doubt there will be some good uses for drones in many areas, such as agriculture, but there are also some more threatening scenarios when citizens can use drones for their own purposes. 

A little known fact...drones have been used in the real estate industry for awhile.  The Los Angeles Times reported in January of last year that the LAPD issued a warning to real estate agents on the use of drones.

"Federal regulations prohibit the operation of unmanned aircraft in U.S airspace without specific permission, though the rules do allow hobbyists to fly model planes in designated areas.
Real estate agents have been posting aerial photos and video of homes for sale in the Los Angeles area, according to the LAPD. The pictures have been taken from several hundred feet off the ground in the city's crowded airspace -- an altitude at which police helicopters often fly.
Seeking to maintain the safety of their pilots as well as people on the ground, LAPD officials are first notifying those who are in the market for photos taken by drones "so they make informed decisions and don’t hurt anybody," Gonzalez said."
In a story this year, "Drones Go Mainstream," CNNMONEY reported:

While the American Civil Liberties Union is still finalizing its position on drones, the group has some reservations about how the technology could infringe on citizens' rights.
"The technology of surveillance is becoming retail, and that will pose real challenges to our traditional notion of privacy," said Catherine Crump, an ACLU attorney.
With ever-shrinking size and ever better camera technology, the group is concerned that people acting under the assumption that they're in the privacy of their own homes or yards could be wrong.
While stalking laws or other measures would likely prevent someone from hovering a drone outside your bedroom window, "the airspace is something that anyone can fly through," Crump said. "It's not clear that there's anything restricting someone from flying a drone over the property of others."

The popularity of drones is growing and our leaders in government need to catch up.

Fallout from the Sequester continues. 

Some enlightening polls this week:

A growing number of Americans are being affected by sequester budget cuts and they are not happy about it, as reported by ABC News in a poll released this week.

"The federal budget sequester may be dampening a rise in economic optimism: Nearly four in 10 Americans now say sequestration has hurt them personally, up substantially since it began in March – and they’re far less sanguine than others about the economy’s prospects overall.
Thirty-seven percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’ve been negatively impacted by the budget cuts, up from 25 percent in March. As previously, about half of those affected say the harm has been “major.”

Still, according to the same poll, more and more Americans see the economy growing!

Also this week, a joint Washington Post /  ABC Poll shows the President's approval rating holding steady amidst the so-called 'scandals' that have come forth. The Republicans in Congress don't fare as well, with the President given a higher percentage when the question was:  "Who do you trust to do a better job handling the economy - (Obama) or (the Republicans in Congress)?" Obama received 46%, versus 37% for Congressional Republican's.

On another question which asked: "How about the Republicans in Congress - do you think they are mainly concentrating on things that are important to you personally, or on things that are not important to you personally?"  Sixty percent said the Republicans in Congress were concentrating on things NOT important personally.

Of course...polls are just a snapshot in time and not always accurate, as evidenced in a report in HuffPo from Mark Blumenthal on 2012 election polling: "Gallup Review To Show New Details On What Went Wrong."

Immigration Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee.

Christian author Jim Wallis summed it up best in a HuffPo piece, "Nothing Happens in Washington -- Except For This," saying:

"What I have heard after visiting 18 cities in six weeks is that people around the country believe that nothing can happen in Washington, D.C. They are basically right. So I am very grateful today to report the one exception.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new comprehensive immigration reform bill with a bipartisan vote. Did you hear that: "bipartisan." Amid heartbreaking news of the destruction, grief, and heroism we have seen in Moore, Okla., from one of the worst tornados in American history, millions of Americans found a reason to be hopeful.
This historic immigration bill now goes to the full Senate, where it has a real chance of passing and changing the lives of 11 million aspiring Americans." 


The race to be the next President is starting soon....actually, it has already started:

2016 Campaign Has Begun For Republicans Like Rand Paul, Scott Walker

Hillary Clinton Leads In Iowa 2016 Poll

Pay Attention Democrats.

Chris Christie Reelection Backed Increasingly By Democrats

New LA Mayor-to-be Eric Garcetti, got it..... he and his African-American surrogates touted his early and strong support of Barack Obama during Garcetti's recent campaign for Los Angeles mayor. They blasted it all over the air-waves. Garcetti endorsed Obama in Spring of 2007 and became his Southern California Campaign Chairman....not a popular move at the time.

Some Dems may have underestimated the strength of Obama's coattails in 2012.

Obama is not running anymore. At least not 'Barack.'


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 17 - 2009:

(Excerpts from my blog National Scene -- Week 17)

May 19-May 26, 2009:  A busy week for the President as he signed into law major bills designed to, make home refinancing easier; end mortgage fraud; reform credit card policies; and monitor defense procurement. He also met with his economic advisory board to gauge progress, and took on former Vice-President Dick Cheney on national security. Obama created a couple of “firsts” this week by naming an African-American as his choice to lead NASA, and in a move applauded by Latino activists across the country—nominated a Hispanic woman for the Supreme Court.

African-American Business Leaders Attend White House Briefing. Senior Obama Advisor Valerie Jarrett hosted a meeting at the White House for over 150 African-American business leaders. The purpose of the meeting was to lay out the administration’s agenda for the year, and to encourage the leaders to implement the policies in their home areas.....
Obama versus Cheney.After being rebuffed by the Senate, which voted against funding to close the controversial base—Guantanamo, the President gave a major foreign policy speech while standing alongside the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.....Obama Greets McCain’s Son at Graduation. Following his signing of the McCain supported defense procurement law; the President joined the McCain family in Annapolis, Maryland where the President spoke at the US Naval Academy Commencement.....
President Signs Credit-Card Legislation. Describing the need for “common-sense” reforms in the credit-card industry, the President signed a sweeping bill—the “Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009”  .....
African-American Nominated to Lead NASA. Former Astronaut, and retired Marine Corps Major General, Charles Bolden Jr., was chosen by President Obama to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)....Obama Nominates Hispanic Woman to Supreme Court. President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. Solamayor, of Puerto Rican ancestry, rose from a housing project in the South Bronx, to Princeton and Yale.....
For more on Week 17, 2009 CLICK Here


And Finally.....back to 2013:

This Memorial Day -- honoring all of our fallen heroes and those who continue to serve our great country!

President Barack Obama participates in the U.S. Naval Academy commencement at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, May 24, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 16 - "The 'Scandals'"

Week sixteen of the Obama second-term Presidency found the administration playing 'whack-a-mole' and the term 'Scandal' being thrown around even when it came to the President asking Marines to hold umbrellas for himself and a visiting head-of-state during a rainy-day press conference. 

Critics of the Administration, many of them in Congress, are chomping at the bit to cast aspersion on the man they couldn't beat at the polls. (And then there are those southern ultra-conservative school board members who are probably looking for ANY reason to keep President Obama's name out of future textbooks.)

Where's Olivia Pope When You Need Her?

Olivia Pope (played by actress Kerry Washington) is the lead character in ABC's juicily-delicious drama Scandal. She runs a crisis management firm that specializes in restoring reputations...or hiding the facts that could destroy them. She calls herself a fixer.

Week sixteen of the Obama Administration's second term needed a fixer.

I hate to add to the media outcry by calling all of the revelations that were brought into the public eye recently 'scandals.' When that kind of feeding frenzy starts everything is questioned. Hence an article in the Washington Post:  Even Obama’s umbrellas are a scandal now.

These 'scandals' will be on-going political battles that won't go away because....What else does the Republican-led Congress have to do? Certainly not GOVERN!

Instead of scandals, let's call these, "Items that need fixing."

Item #1 -- The revelation that the IRS targeted conservative groups for added scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. Apparently, these included 'tea party' activist groups. 

During the Bush Administration, it was liberal groups like the NAACP that received scrutiny from the IRS.  Alex Seitz-Wald reminds us of this in a couple of articles in SALON this past week. The first takes MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to task for his hypocrisy with this matter, and the second piece examines "When the IRS Targeted Liberals.

The IRS itself, should be non-partisan and non-political.  So...heads are rolling, including the acting Director of the IRS, and investigations are starting.

The President's response? (I think Olivia Pope would approve.) .....expressing righteous indignation right along with those who will try to mire him in the muck with this.

Not only that...the President suggested that the law for determining if these 'activist' organizations should be tax-exempt is vague and should be looked at.

The Los Angeles Times summed up the problem the Federal Election Commission is having in monitoring the activities of such groups in an article entitled, IRS problem started with vague tax exemption rules, which says:
"At the heart of the issue is the murky role occupied by nonprofit "social welfare" organizations, set up under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code, which are allowed under IRS regulations to engage in a certain amount of campaign activity, as long as politics is not their "primary" purpose. The groups pay no tax on the money they bring in. They can accept unlimited donations and, unlike political committees, can keep their contributors secret.
That status became especially valuable three years ago with the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which lifted the ban on direct campaign spending by corporations, including many nonprofit groups. The ruling triggered the boost of applicants to the IRS."
The potential fallout from this?
  1. Republicans will try to link it to the President's 2012 election campaign and see how high they can take the 'Who knew what, when' link. 
  2. Smearing the IRS will help them to try and repeal Obamacare...which they voted to derail for the 37th TIME last week!!  The IRS is tasked with overseeing portions of health care reform, including implementing the mandate that everyone purchase coverage or pay an income-based fee.
  3. 2014. Republicans will most likely hold on to the House and will make a major grab for the Senate by suggesting the Administration is corrupt and the country would be in better hands with the GOP.
  4. Overreach...some think the GOP will go too far...even conservative Newt Gingrich is warning Republicans not to make the same mistakes they made during the Clinton impeachment process. However, chances are they will because they are tone deaf to what Americans...everyday Americans, are concerned with....their families, their jobs, and thriving, safe communities.

Still...the IRS is not popular with Americans and the President is right to jump on the side of those expressing 'outrage.'

Item #2  -- The seizing of phone records from Associated Press (AP) journalists. The Attorney General, Eric Holder, in a testy exchange at a House Committee meeting, implied the action was a matter of National Security...determining the source of a leaked CIA operation.

More 'righteous indignation'  from all sides, but Holder's tact was to stand his ground at a Congressional hearing which covered The AP action, the IRS, and even the nomination of 
the Justice Department's Thomas Perez as Secretary of Labor.

"In one of the sharpest exchanges, Holder defended Thomas Perez's tenure as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and said he would make a great secretary of the Labor Department.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was critical of Perez and repeatedly pressed Holder, who at one point refused to stop talking and accused Issa of repeatedly mischaracterizing the work of the Justice Department.
"That is inappropriate and is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It's unacceptable and it's shameful," Holder told Issa."
He wasn't done....
"Toward the end of the hearing, in another fierce exchange with a Republican lawmaker, Holder said that despite any personal animosity toward him, the office of attorney general deserved some respect.
He bemoaned the "toxic partisan atmosphere" and said "a level of civility doesn't exist."

The fallout from this?  The AP story appears to be losing interest already -- remember the media seems to only push one major story at a time these days and the IRS controversy is getting the majority of the press.

Item #3 -- The Benghazi tragedy, and again-- 'Who knew what, when?' The major point seems to be, when was it called a 'terrorist' activity? This 'controversy' may be more directed at Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions. I doubt anyone believes the Administration knowingly put diplomats in harm's way or didn't try to protect them. 

So these are the items that had Washington abuzz this past week. 

The DC pundits led the chorus on using the word 'Scandal' (I wonder if the TV show is causing the frequent use of the word these days.)  

Some say this was the worst week of the Obama Presidency, however Chris Cilizza of The Fix says no...there were others in a piece, called "The Worst Week of Obama's Presidency? Close, But No.  

The question is -- where will all of this go?  'Derailed agenda' is a phrase some are using to describe the President's second if there is anything getting done is Washington anyway!

Keep in mind, while some perch upon their pedestal of manure and start throwing stones, there are real issues that need fixing, including:

1. The sequester -- budget cuts are still happening. Workers are still being furloughed and Congress is nowhere near a solution on this debacle.

2. Health care for all is coming soon...which is a good thing...BUT people need to know what's coming and what to sign up for.

3. The economy IS improving but many are still out of work.

And what about immigration reform!

Thinking about it -- this might be a good time to play some offense for the Administration and Democrats.  Harry Reid's got the right idea by saying he just might go the 'nuclear option' to change filibuster rules. He will use a simple majority to bring about reform and therefore make it easier to get some of the President's judicial nominees approved.

HuffPo reports Reid is looking at July to implement his plan:

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told top advisers that he is prepared to take action if Senate Republicans block three upcoming nominations, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Reid is reportedly focusing on the month of July to approach filibuster reform and possibly execute the "nuclear option," which would change the Senate rules and no longer require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
“This would take away the right to filibuster on nominations,” a senior Senate Democratic aide told the Washington Post. “All executive branch and judicial nominations would be subject to majority votes. He would not do it on legislative items.”

Go Harry!!

Should be a 'fun' hot summer in DC, while the TV show Scandal is on hiatus.


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 16 - 2009:

(Excerpts from my blog National Scene -- Week 16)

  • Poetry Jam at the White House -- In the East Room of the White House, the President and the First Lady hosted an evening celebrating poetry, music and the spoken word. With a coffeehouse, jazz-club-like, atmosphere – the East Room was transformed for the event with small, candle-laden tables and dim lights. Speakers and musicians included, Joshua Bennett, Eric Lewis, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Mayda Del Valle, Esperanza Spalding, and James Earl Jones—who gave a mesmerizing speaking performance from “Othello.”
  • "Healthcare Reform This Year" --The President met with members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Education and Labor Committee Chair Rep. George Miller, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Henry Waxman, and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Charlie Rangel—to discuss his desire to pass healthcare legislation in the House by July 31, before their August recess. Calling the meeting encouraging, the President stressed that “urgency and determination” are needed to achieve “what I believe will be historic legislation!”
  • "Protecting the Country Comes First" -- Stating, "This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values,” President Obama restarted a Bush-era military trial system for a small number of Guantanamo detainees.
  • Joined by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as auto industry executives, President Obama announced new auto emissions and mileage rules designed to combat pollution from greenhouse gasses. The National emissions standard is patterned after policies in California sought by the Governor.


And Finally.....back to 2013:

Surrounded by portraits of Washington and Lincoln, and busts of Lincoln and King.......

The President
President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting in the Oval Office, May 14, 2013.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 15

Graduating With a Mountain-Load of Debt

The President gave the first of his three 2013 commencement addresses at Ohio State this past week. (He will also speak at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and Morehouse College in Atlanta.) He encouraged the students to engage in public life and join the national debate on issues of concern.

They may want to take heed...especially when it comes to student loan debt. Back in February of this year HuffPo described two reports on the mushrooming debt

An analysis released on Tuesday of 10 million credit files from Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO) found the average student debt load ballooned 58 percent from 2005 to 2012 -- from $17,233 to $27,253. In the same period, the number of consumers with two or more open student loans on their credit report grew from 12 million in 2005 to 26 million in 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This past week, Politico ran an op-ed by Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, entitled - Excessive student loan debt drains economic engine. Chopra describes the fall-out from the high student debt load and how it affects the economy in the areas of housing, career choice, employee retention, entrepreneurship  and even retirement security.

A CNN Report this week continued the story, even suggesting students are putting off getting married because of student loan debt:
About three-quarters of student loan borrowers surveyed said they -- or their children -- have been forced to make sacrifices in order to keep up with student loan payments, according to a survey from the American Institute of CPAs.
Forty-one percent of the more than 200 people surveyed said they have delayed saving for retirement, 40% have put off buying cars, while 29% have postponed home purchases. Even marriage has been put on hold, with 15% of respondents saying they delayed tying the knot because of student loan debt.
The majority of borrowers said they didn't anticipate having such a difficult time repaying their loans, and 60% feel some amount of regret about the decision to fund their education this way.

African American and Latino students may be carrying even more student loan baggage, as reported by the Center for American Progress last October:
African American and Latino students are especially saddled with student debt, with 81 percent of African American students and 67 percent of Latino students who earned bachelor’s degrees leaving school with debt. This compares to 64 percent of white students who graduate with debt. With $864 billion in federal loans and $150 billion in private loans, student debt in America now exceeds $1 trillion.
The rate on new subsidized loans is set to DOUBLE on July 1 -- from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Last July 1, an election year, students were given a one-year reprieve.  Probably not so lucky this year....

It would require an agreement by Congress -- and we know those are hard to come by these days.

There is a movement in Washington to reduce the interest rate on student loans. Newly elected Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) wants students to get the same rates offered to big banks by the Feds -- .075 percent. Warren has introduced a bill calling for this action.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) is proposing the Student Loan Fairness Act of 2013 and a permanent cap of 3.4 percent on student loans. In a HuffPo piece entitled, Time To Get Serious on Student Loan Debt, she says:

I have proposed the Student Loan Fairness Act of 2013 as an initial step toward a comprehensive fix to the student loan debt crisis. This bill attacks the problem in a number of ways including allowing borrowers to have their loans forgiven up to $45,000 after making 10 years of payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. Interest rates would permanently be capped at 3.4 percent and eligible borrowers would be able to convert their private loan debt into federal direct loans.
Will there be any changes?  Students and their parents may need to lead the outcry. This is one of those 'national debate' issues that cries for public involvement. 

Still Trying to Get Along

The President golfed with two Republican Senators this past week -- Sen. Saxby Chambliss  (R-Ga) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn). They say 'business' wasn't discussed much.  (Yeah right...and if not what a waste). The biggest news that came from it was a hole-in-one by Chambliss.

Maybe the President had better luck at mutual agreements during last week's visit to Mexico and a first appearance in Costa Rica. He stressed joint economic interests at each locale.

Women Presidents

Speaking of Costa Rica... While there, President Obama met with their President Laura Chinchilla.

Also, this past week he met with the President of South Korea....President Park Geun-hye of the Republic of Korea.

Hmmmmm. Two women Presidents. What does our future hold?

Hillary Clinton? Condoleezza Rice? And here's one to ponder...would African-American women...a sizable and DEPENDABLE voting bloc for the Democratic party... consider Ms. Rice?

This week, Emily's List, an organization which supports women candidates, launched its Madam President Campaign. Check out the video:


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 15 - 2009:

(Excerpts from my blog National Scene -- Week 15)

  • It was a week of significant meetings for President Barack Obama, beginning with a trilateral conference with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss stabilizing the region, and ending with a first-of-its-kind coming together of all of the major players involved in healthcare to discuss reform. Not to go unnoticed, was an Oval Office chit-chat between Obama, Al Sharpton, and Newt Gingrich to discuss education reform. This President is surely building bridges!
  • Bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Table. The President was joined by Vice-President Joe Biden in a meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan and President Zardari of Pakistan. Initially, President Obama met separately with each leader, followed by a trilateral conference. Pakistan and Afghanistan are considered critical to America’s ‘war on terror’ and the President signaled the importance by saying, “We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan…to achieve that goal, we must deny them the space to threaten the Pakistani, Afghan, or American people.”
  • Sharpton, Gingrich, and Obama – Huh?. “You're probably the only President who can make this happen,” the Reverend Al Sharpton told President Obama as he and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich met with the President in the Oval Office. The far-left civil rights activist, and the far-right former House speaker, shared a sofa as they discussed improving education. Expressing the need for a spotlight on the nation’s educational issues, Obama joked, “these are the two guys who know more than anybody how to get attention.”
  • Town Hall in Spanish. President Barack Obama held the first-ever Spanish language town hall meeting to address the Hispanic community's concerns on the impact of the H1N1 virus.
  • Sykes Socks-It-To-Them. This Sunday morning found Washington abuzz discussing comments made by comedian Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner the night before. Some feigned shock and displeasure, while others thought Sykes’ pointed jabs, particularly those aimed at Rush Limbaugh and former Vice-President Dick Cheney, were right on target. During the routine, Sykes herself summed up the reaction to some of her jokes by saying: “You’re not laughing now, but you’ll be retelling this tomorrow!”
  • Historic, Unprecedented Meeting to Address Healthcare. President Obama made a major step toward health care reform by bringing together all of the major players and getting them to agree to changes that can bring about savings of more than $2 trillion on health care costs. Representatives from hospitals, the insurance industry, medical device and pharmaceutical companies, labor and physicians came to the White House to discuss major steps to lower health care costs across the board.
For more on Week 15, 2009 CLICK Here


And Finally.....back to 2013:

The Obamas entertained a royal visitor this week...Prince Harry of Wales.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, and Prince Harry of Wales help military children create Mothers Day cards and other crafts in the State Dining Room of the White House, May 9, 2013. The children presented the gifts to their moms during the Joining Forces Military Mother's Day Tea in the East Room. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 14

This past week saw the release of data sure to affect our daily lives and our voting for years to come! 

The first report concerns Obamacare -- aka the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Health Care Reform. The Republicans use the term 'Obamacare' derisively....however during the 2012 campaign many Democrats embraced it as showing "Obama Cares." Nevertheless, whatever you call it, as we discussed a few weeks ago....there is still little information on the ACA that is making its way to the masses.

It seems many do not know -- THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT IS LAW and its major provisions will be implemented SOON!

This past week, Kaiser released its April Health Tracking poll with the heading:
"Six Months Before Open Enrollment Begins, Many Americans Remain Unaware Of, Or Confused About, The Affordable Care Act As Federal and State Officials, Community Organizations and Advocates Gear Up For Consumer Information and Assistance Efforts."
The summary of findings includes:
  • Four in ten Americans (42%) are unaware that the ACA is still the law of the land, including 12 percent who believe the law has been repealed by Congress, 7 percent who believe it has been overturned by the Supreme Court and 23 percent who say they don’t know enough to say what the status of the law is.
  • About half the public (49%) says they do not have enough information about the health reform law to understand how it will impact their own family.
  • The share of the public that says they lack enough information to understand how the ACA will affect their family is higher among the two groups the law is likely to benefit most – the uninsured (58% of whom say they lack enough information) and low-income households (56%).
  • When it comes to where they are getting information about the law, Americans most commonly cite friends and family (named by 40%), “newspapers, radio news or other online news sources” (36%), and cable news (30%). About one in ten report getting information from a health insurer, a doctor, an employer, or a non-profit organization. Similar shares say they have gotten information from “federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services” (9%) or “state agencies such as your state Medicaid office or health department” (8%).

Obamacare is sure to be a point of contention in the 2014 and 2016 campaigns. Some expect the President's own party to do their usual duck and cover on this issue as reported by Politico in an article entitled: Democrats fret over Obamacare as 2014 looms. 

The Hill quotes one of the bill's writers, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont), who said:

"I just see a huge train wreck coming down," he told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Wednesday hearing. "You and I have discussed this many times, and I don't see any results yet."
Baucus pressed Sebelius for details about how the Health Department will explain the law and raise awareness of its provisions, which are supposed to take effect in just a matter of months.
"I'm very concerned that not enough is being done so far — very concerned," Baucus said.

Baucus is retiring in 2014, but it will be interesting to see how Democratic candidates who are running for office will treat the bill. 

Again...IT IS LAW!

The Administration could use some 'communications' help. Maybe they need Bill Clinton. After his rousing speech at the DNC last year, Obama mentioned the ex-President should be in-charge of "explaining stuff."  Clinton is indeed needed to explain the health care roll-out and options to everyday Americans.

Responding to criticism of the application form, which was compared to complicated tax forms, the Administration recently rolled-out a simplified version of the form. HuffPo reports:

"After a storm of complaints, the Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled simplified forms to apply for insurance under the president's new health care law. You won't have to lay bare your medical history but you will have to detail your finances.
An earlier version of the forms had provoked widespread griping that they were as bad as tax forms and might overwhelm uninsured people, causing them to give up in frustration.
The biggest change: a five-page short form that single people can fill out. That form includes a cover page with instructions and another page if you want to designate someone to help you through the process."

Someone needs to explain to the American people what's here and what's coming... otherwise Republicans will continue their efforts to block and repeal the Affordable Care Act. They will do this at the state and federal level. Not sure what kind of offense the Democrats will provide -- especially in swing states. If the Republicans gain traction with painting health care reform as confusing, not needed, or expensive, will Democrats fight back?

Overturning Obamacare would be a major blow to middle-class and poor families struggling with health care costs.... as well as to the nation's over 45 million uninsured and those with pre-existing conditions.

This week, I tried to see what information the Administration is putting out on Obamacare. Starting at the White House website --, I navigated to their health care site --, and from there I found a somewhat useful page called Information for You .  Clicking on your state provides some preliminary information.  

One of the first items on state's page says:  "Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, individuals in every state will be able to shop for health insurance and compare plans through the Marketplace."

So what is 'The Marketplace' and why do they assume people know this?  

Also -- the average person may not know the meaning of commonly used health insurance phrases like 'grandfathered in' or 'donut hole.' 

So, I went on a quest through the site to see: What is this 'Marketplace' that they speak of?

I did manage to find a page with information on 'The Marketplace' again by state... But not all states! Some states aren't going along with setting up the exchanges and will have to partner with HHS (Health and Human Services) to provide alternatives. (Not sure what this will mean for those states...mostly Republican governors who are saying NO. Will their residents suffer because they won't go along with ANYTHING the Administration supports?)

Here is the page with preliminary Marketplace info... Your State Marketplace. From there I was led to my home state's (California) page, called California Benefit Exchange. Okay.

Click on it and see if you better understand what is coming. Okay.

Remember beginning Oct. 1, 2013 we can start signing up!

Vested interests, both pro and con, are starting to release their own information on Obamacare. Okay.

What to do?

I think there will be a lot of confused people unless this whole process gets a lot simpler to understand. No doubt many will decide to stick with what they have rather than wade through paperwork. Others will take the first plan they are offered. Some unfortunately will continue to do without. 

Hopefully... understandable, ACCURATE information will get out to the masses SOON. October is fast approaching.

Stay Tuned....

Are Black Voters Appreciated? 

Another research project gaining media coverage this past week was an Associated Press Analysis which shows the significance (and dare I say POWER) of the BLACK vote, now and for years to come.  To summarize... WE VOTE. Maybe it is memories of the obstacles our ancestors faced to be able to go to the polls. Maybe it's the recurrence of these obstacles by those who are STILL trying to disenfranchise voters who don't look or think like them.  Or, maybe it was the chance to elect and re-elect the nation's first African-American President. At any 2012 blacks voted at a higher rate (percentage-wise) than any other minority group and "surpassed the white vote for the first time."

The HuffPo's Helen Yen offers the following:
"....the numbers also offer a cautionary note to both Democrats and Republicans after Obama won in November with a historically low percentage of white supporters. While Latinos are now the biggest driver of U.S. population growth, they still trail whites and blacks in turnout and electoral share, because many of the Hispanics in the country are children or noncitizens.
In recent weeks, Republican leaders have urged a "year-round effort" to engage black and other minority voters, describing a grim future if their party does not expand its core support beyond white males."

The questions to be answered in the months and years ahead include:

  • Will other Presidential candidates be as successful as Obama in securing (and turning out) the black vote?  (Many suggest Hillary Clinton might.)
  • Should African-Americans be more strategic in their voting?
  • Is either party addressing the needs and concerns (and they are many) of blacks?
  • Will Republicans...who many view as the party of Limbaugh, Palin, and Bachmann...ever make any traction with black voters?
Again, Stay tuned....


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 14 - 2009:

  • The Administration began the week with the confirmation of the President’s cabinet pick for the Department of Health and Human Services—former Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius was the last of Obama’s picks to be confirmed (by a vote of 65-31) and the new Secretary had to hit the ground running as the nation dealt with the swine flu pandemic. The vote came after Democrats urged quick action so that Sebelius could get to work leading the federal response to the world-wide flu outbreak. The week ended with reassurances that the flu was not as severe as first suggested. However, the Administration vowed to keep close tabs on the outbreak as it spread across the country.
  • President Obama marked the actual one hundredth day of his administration at a town hall meeting in Arnold, Missouri. During a moment of retrospection, he recalled, “Now, back in November, some folks were surprised that we showed up in Springfield at the end of our campaign. But then again, some folks were surprised that we even started our campaign in the first place. They didn't give us much of a chance. They didn't think we could do things differently. They didn't know if this country was ready to move in a new direction. But here's the thing -- my campaign wasn't born in Washington. My campaign was rooted in neighborhoods just like this one, in towns and cities all across America; rooted in folks who work hard and look after their families and seek a brighter future for their children and for their communities and for their country.”


And Finally.....back to 2013:

In case you haven't seen it is..... the President's Remarks at the Annual White House Correspondent's Dinner: