Rep. Amodei and the GOP’s House of Cuts

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Articles I’ve Been Reading: 2013-03-04

THE BOEHNER-QUESTER
Sequester: The Finger on the TriggerRichard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: Today is the day the package of budget cuts they call the “Sequester” takes effect. There will be endless postmortems and real-time analyses. But as its draconian effects, there’s one thing to remember above all: Congress did this. Let’s hold the guilty parties accountable, especially as the chaos they’ve created rains down around us. Let’s not forget that the Sequester is really a weapon—a weapon whose purpose is to harm government and those it serves. In the end, that includes all but the most powerful among us. Let’s respond in a measured, appropriate and high-minded way to this act, but let’s not forget who’s committing the act.

The Truth and Consequences of Sequestration

Terrance Heath, Op-Ed: What if someone told you that a disastrous event is just days away from happening; one that will play havoc with the economy and bring pain and hardship to millions? What if the same someone told you that our government set this disaster in motion, and could easily stop it, but appears unable or unwilling to do so? You’d call them crazy, right? Well, welcome to the insanity called “sequestration.” Here’s why and how it could trickle down into your life. Here’s the truth and consequences of sequestration.

Of Sequester, Squander, and How Congress Sold Out the People

Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Back in the days when I used to be a legislative reporter for Mississippi’s NPR affiliate, I was covering a story where Gov. Haley Barbour refused to stop cuts to mental health programs and schools in Mississippi with money from the rainy day fund. My favorite Southern legislator, Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, had this to say: “There’s hay in the barn, but we’re not feeding the horses.”

Robert Reich | The Sequester and the Tea Party Plot

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population. Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government. Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Obama on Sequester Impact: No Exaggeration to Struggling Families Facing a Pay Cut

Isaiah J. Poole, Op-Ed: “So I want to be very clear here. It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the kind of crisis we talked about with America defaulting and some of the problems around the debt ceiling. I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have – and there are lives behind that. And that’s real. And it’s not necessary – that’s the problem.”

ECONOMY

How Inequality Is Killing the Dinosaurs

dinosaurSalvatore Babones, Truthout: What killed the dinosaurs the first time around? Meteor? Global warming? Smoking? The culprit for the loss and destruction of what little is left of the dinosaurs today is economic inequality. Collectors argue that as long as they break no laws they should be free to collect what they want, be it art, coins, fossils. But let’s be serious: Who really wants a 40-foot long tyrannosaurus for the living room? Even if you’re allowed to buy one, who would?
According to CBS News legal correspondent John Miller, the buyers are “wealthy people who want something really interesting for their friends to talk about put under their key light in their basement for their 70 dinner guests.”

After the Sequester: Can We Create Better Jobs for Military Employees?

James Trimarco, Op-Ed: The sequester, a set of massive budget cuts required by the ongoing debt ceiling deal, will slash billions from Medicare, education, and other programs that benefit our society’s neediest if it goes through. That’s bad news if you care about those people. But there’s also something to like about it: the largest share of the cuts would come from the military. Many of us have been calling for such cuts for decades, and we should celebrate the possibility of finally getting what we’ve been asking for—even if it comes as the result of Republican demands for austerity. But we should also stand with those who will lose their jobs as a result of defense-budget cuts.

Debt” Campaign Exposed

Amy Goodman, Video Report: With the Capitol Hill showdown over the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts taking effect this Friday, The White House and analysts fear the so-called “sequester” could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree the cuts are ill-advised, they are far from reaching any sort of agreement. President Obama wants Republicans to end tax breaks, mostly for the wealthy; Republicans are insisting government spending be cut first.

While Republicans Warn Against ‘Greece,’ That is Exactly Where Austerity Budgeting Will Lead U.S.

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Joe Conason, Op-Ed: Indebted America is in danger of turning into destitute Greece, or so congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have been warning us for years now. For many reasons, this is an absurd comparison — but it may not always be quite so ridiculous if Washington’s advocates of austerity get their way.

HEALTH
4 Common Dangers Lurking in Your ‘Health’ SupplementsAnthony Gucciardi, News Report: In a world where health consciousness is increasingly more popular each day, major corporations have entered the health supplements marketplace under new ‘health’ brands in an attempt to soak up some of the profits. In doing this, these corporations that truly do not have any concern for the actual quality of their products tend to cut costs by using dangerous fillers and additives that pose a serious risk to your health. A risk that is particularly concerning when considering that these supplements are supposed to enhance your health.

Native American Women Demand Rightful Access to Emergency Contraception

imageBy Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project & Charon Asetoyer, CEO, Native American Community Board at 2:31pm

Imagine being denied emergency contraception after a sexual assault; to not even be informed about the steps you can take to prevent an unwanted pregnancy; and to later find yourself pregnant as a result of the rape.

For thousands of Native American women this is reality.  Read the full article here

Price-gouging in ‘Free Market’ Medicine

Froma Harrop, Op-Ed: When folks pan the Affordable Care Act for being nearly 3,000 pages long, here’s a sensible response: It could have been done in a page and a half if it simply declared that Medicare would cover everyone. The concept of Medicare for All was pushed by a few lonely liberals. And it would have been, ironically, the most conservative approach to bringing down health care costs while maintaining quality. Medicare bringing down health care costs? “Ha, ha, ha,” says the program’s foes, citing the spending projections for the government health plan serving older Americans.

CULTURE WAR / HUMAN RIGHTS / VOTING RIGHTS

“A Racial Entitlement” – The Right to Vote

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Written by  Benjamin Jealous; Joan Walsh | Portside

“It no longer surprises me when extremist state legislators try to restrict our voting rights. I don’t like it and we fight against it, but I’m no longer surprised by it.” “What surprises and outrages me is that yesterday a Supreme Court Justice said that the protection of the right to vote is a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement.'” Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP

Report: Campaign Law Changes Hasten Power Imbalance Between Rich, Poor

Dave Levinthal, News Report: The U.S. political system is increasingly gamed against Americans of modest means—a situation exacerbated in recent years by major changes in the nation’s campaign laws. That’s the overriding takeaway from a new report slated for release today by Demos, a left-leaning nonprofit public policy group “working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.” The 39-page report, entitled “Stacked Deck,” paints a picture of corporate powerhouses and wealthy businesspeople dominating political discourse and exacting disproportionate influence over policy incomes.

Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act Headed for President’s signature

Kristen Lombardi, News Report: The House of Representatives passed federal legislation aimed at combating campus sexual violence on Thursday, including it in a bipartisan renewal of the Violence Against Women Act following months of congressional gridlock. The Senate has already approved the measure, which means passage is virtually assured; President Barack Obama could sign it into law as early as next week. In a vote of 286 to 138, House members approved a reauthorization of VAWA that incorporates, as Section 304, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as Campus SaVE.

AGRICULTURE

Monsanto’s Patents on Life

Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, News Analysis: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a seed patent infringement case that pits a small farmer from Indiana, 75-year old Vernon Hugh Bowman, against biotech goliath Monsanto. Reporters from the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee dissected the legal arguments. They speculated on the odds. They opined on the impact a Monsanto loss might have, not only on genetically modified crops, but on medical research and software.

Maine Quietly Mounting Massive Support for Historic GMO Labeling Bill

imageFrits Kreiss, News Report: For many months legislators and community leaders in the State of Maine have been quietly building broad and unprecedented support for passing a historic first-in-the-nation Right-To-Know GMO Labeling law. This week the bill, LD 718, jointly sponsored by the bi-partisan team of Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) and Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln), was introduced to Maine citizens and legislators.

ENVIRONMENT / CLIMATE

Will ALEC Block EPA Coal Pollution Safeguards at Illinois’ Controversial Prairie State Energy Campus?

Connor Gibson, News Analysis: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the Illinois-based Prairie State Energy Campus, a combined coal mine and power plant spearheaded by Peabody Energy, co-owned by eight public power companies based in the Midwest. Numerous cost overruns from construction delays and equipment problems at the Campus resulted in customers in several states having to pay for power well above market price. While Peabody defends Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC) from SEC scrutiny, a corporate front group has developed copycat legislation that could exempt dirty projects like PSEC from national clean air and water laws.

U.S. Security Establishment Increasingly Worried about Climate Change

Joe Hitchon, News Report: More than three dozen national security officials, members of Congress and military leaders are warning of the threat climate change poses to U.S. national security, the latest in an indicator that U.S. intelligence and national security circles are increasingly worried about a warming planet. In a new bipartisan open letter, they stress the need for urgent action and call on both public and private support to address issues that included forced migration and the displacement of vulnerable communities, as well as the dangers related to food production during extreme weather events.


8 Ways Corporations are Poisoning Our Food, Water, the Earth
Mike Barrett, News Report: While we may be under the impression that our system of government is here to protect us, corporations—and the politicians getting paychecks from them—do a fair job of making that difficult. This manner of “legislative capture” is manifesting itself in a host of appalling ways far beyond those listed here. Here are 8 ways corporations are poisoning our food supply, humans, and mother earth.

ENERGY

Cape Wind Still Hopeful to Construct America’s First Wind Farm

imageAshley Curtin, News Report: Harnessing the power of wind off the coast of Cape Cod was the vision business owner Jim Gordon had in mind to provide renewable clean energy to the New England area. And in 2001, Gordon and his independent power company, Energy Management Inc., pursued the idea of converting solar energy into mechanical power and Cape Wind was born. The energy conservation project, which began development in 2001, will be America’s first offshore wind farm, but legal battles and potential federal budget cuts might stall the construction of the wind farm.

It’s Tar Sands, Not Just the Pipeline, that Threaten the Climate

William Boardman, News Analysis: The same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was promising a “fair and transparent” review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, the CEO of the company building that pipeline, TransCanada’s Russ Girling, was reported as saying that his company’s “Plan A” was finishing a different pipeline that would take the same tar sands oil to Canada’s east coast. TransCanada’s plan to establish a pipeline to the Atlantic coast has received little attention since CEO Girling’s February 6 interview on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg’s later report.

Millions of Acres of Land — Larger Than California and Florida Combined — Already Leased to Oil and Gas Industry

Amy Mall, News Report: According to a new NRDC analysis, at the end of 2011, seventy of the largest oil and gas companies operating in the U.S. held leases covering at least 141 million net acres of American land—an area greater than California and Florida combined. Given the sordid environmental history of oil and gas development that has already occurred across the U.S., NRDC is extremely concerned about the additional harmful environmental, health and safety impacts that oil and gas development of this magnitude will bring in the future.

NATIONAL SECURITY / DOD / WAR

‘Homeland Security’

Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, Op-Ed: Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit. Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm. For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone.

The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

imageCora Currier and Justin Elliott, News Analysis: Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.”

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

Cora Currier, News Report: Earlier this week, we wrote about a significant but often overlooked aspect of the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen: so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. kills people whose identities aren’t confirmed. While President Obama and administration officials have framed the drone program as targeting particular members of Al Qaeda, attacks against unknown militants reportedlymay account for the majority of strikes.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Poland, in Crisis, Cuts Public Transport, Stranding Thousands

Pawel Wita, News Analysis: Poland was widely praised as the European state least touched by the financial crisis in 2008. Its economy grew even when all of its neighbors, including Germany, were in recession. With the wave of funds provided by the European Union in recent years, the country managed to connect its major cities by freeway and improve its infrastructure with shiny new sports fields. But these types of development are only one side of the coin. In Poland’s version of modernization, like in many other places, the biggest advantages have gone to cities while the countryside has become ever more marginalized.

(And if you look around the U.S., most of the infrastructure builds have taken place in urban instead of rural areas.  Is the GOP taking us the way Poland just chose to go?)

CONGRESSIONAL ACTIVITY (AND INACTIVITY)

Under Obama, More Appointments Go Unfilled

Theodoric Meyer, News Analysis: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services haven’t had a Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006. The Federal Labor Relations Authority has had only a single member since January and can’t issue decisions. And the Election Assistance Commission hasn’t had any commissioners at all since 2011. All presidential administrations have vacancies. But an analysis of appointments data by ProPublica shows that President Obama hasn’t kept up with his predecessors in filling them. A greater share of presidentially appointed positions that require Senate confirmation were sitting vacant at the end of Obama’s first term than at the end of Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s first terms.

Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand Against Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

imageNorman Solomon, Op-Ed: For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing. While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

THE NRA

NRA to African Americans: You’ll Need Guns to Protect Yourselves From the Government
Igor Volsky, News Report: The National Rifle Association (NRA) is increasing its outreach to African Americans with a new campaign that links the Civil Rights struggle and nonviolent resistance to gun ownership, arguing that blacks need firearms to protect themselves from the government. The video is part of an effort by the gun lobby to grow the organization’s appeal beyond a mostly white, middle-class membership and attribute high rates of gun violence in some African American communities to “culture” rather than the prevalence of guns.(Yeah … and then once you have those guns … they’ll turn around and vilify you as a criminal. Humor me — Just do a Google search for “guns NRA” … how many “black gun owners” do you NOT see?  Is that a subtle racist meme … if a white guy has a gun, he’s a protector, a hunter … but if a black guy has a gun … he’s a criminal and should be locked up.)

Under the Reading Lamp — 4/27/2012

Why Your Prius Will Bankrupt Our Highways

Gas taxes have funded our roads for decades. But our fuel-efficient cars and tax-allergic Congress are leading to an infrastructure break-down. Since back in the Eisenhower era, the federal government has maintained a Highway Trust Fund, paid for mostly by taxes on fuel, that helps cover the repair and construction of our country’s roads, bridges, and mass transit. The idea was that drivers themselves should bear some of the cost of the roads they used. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax since 1993. Since then, inflation has eaten away at least a third of its value.

Could New Argument Against SB1070 Prove Law Is Unconstitutional?

Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: “Margaret Hu, an assistant professor at Duke University, argues that by making laws like SB1070, Arizona ‘represents an attempt to control the terms of what federal resources and officers must be appropriated to accommodate a myriad of state immigration enforcement programs.’ While it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to do this under the ‘anti-commandeering principle,’ Hu argues that it should be unconstitutional for states to do it as well. She calls the attempt by Arizona to use federal resources for its enforcement goal ‘reverse-commandeering.'”


Budget Control Act Military Cuts Will Cover the Social Security Shortfall

Robert Naiman, Truthout: “But if you look at the claims advanced on behalf of cutting Social Security benefits, a common theme is the claim that ‘the country can’t afford’ the Social Security benefits that we have been promised. That claim has nothing to do with the method of financing. Well, if the country can’t afford to pay the Social Security benefits that we were promised, then the country can’t afford to maintain current levels of military spending, and the level of military cuts in the sequester must stand. Because the two things are the same size.”

Disabled People Protest to Preserve Their Benefits

Rose Aguilar, Truthout: “We should all be outraged over how people with disabilities are treated in a country with so much wealth. For many of these activists, just leaving the house is a chore. But if they don’t travel to the nation’s capitol to speak out and raise awareness, who will? They could lose their in-home supportive services; they could lose the right to stay in their homes. And that’s why, year after year, they make the trek, knowing they might be arrested and won’t get much media attention unless a celebrity joins them.”

Romney’s Magical Capitalism

NationalMemo_300x250_1EJ Dionne:  Mitt Romney has a utopian view of what an unfettered, lightly taxed market economy can achieve. He would never put it this way, of course, but his approach looks forward by looking backward to the late 19th century, when government let market forces rip and a conservative Supreme Court swept aside as unconstitutional almost every effort to write rules for the economic game. This magical capitalism is the centerpiece of Romney’s campaign, and it may prove to be his undoing.

Are States’ Rights More Important Than Human Rights?

Dekker Dreyer, Op-Ed: “Two modern examples of States’ Rights being used as an attack on ethnic minorities are the numerous citizenship checkpoints which dot the interior of South-Western states and Arizona’s identification check laws enacted in 2010 which allows police officers to demand proof of citizenship from any person at any time. When my wife and I were stopped on a recent drive through New Mexico so that we could have our citizenship checked our hearts sank for every person living in that state who doesn’t “look” American.”

Gov. Rick Scott’s Drug Testing Regime for State Employees Declared Unconstitutional

Ian Millhiser, News Report: “It’s important to note that these drug-testing laws are not just unconstitutional, they are also completely unnecessary. Only one percent of Florida workers who took drug tests tested positive, and only two percent of state welfare recipients subject to Scott’s other drug testing law failed their drug tests. Yet, while these tests are both unconstitutional and a solution in search of a problem, there is still some risking that they could be upheld by an increasingly partisan Supreme Court.”

Is CISPA SOPA 2.0? We Explain the Cybersecurity Bill

Megha Rajagopalan, News Analysis: “The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, up for debate in the House of Representatives today, has privacy activists, tech companies, security wonks and the Obama administration all jousting about what it means – not only for security but Internet privacy and intellectual property. Backers expect CISPA to pass, unlike SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act that melted down amid controversy earlier this year. Here’s a rundown on the debate and what CISPA could mean for Internet users.”

When Half a Million Americans Died and Nobody Noticed

Alexander Cockburn, Op-Ed: “In September 2004, Merck, one of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies, issued a sudden recall of Vioxx, its anti-pain medication widely used to treat arthritis-related ailments. There was a fair amount of news coverage after the recall, but it was pretty slim considering the alleged 55,000 death toll. A big class-action lawsuit dragged its way through the courts for years, eventually being settled for $4.85 billion in 2007.”

Is There Room for Accountability in a Society Plagued by Everyday Corruption?

Shelly Bernal, Op-Ed: “Our political system is structured in such a way as to include money and influence as vital and integral components of the election process. Any elected official on local or national levels is required to accept money to pay for activities that will get him/her elected. The average winner of a U.S. House race in 2008 spent about $1.4 Million. The Senate? About $8 Million. I suspect that an untold number of promises must be made to motivate enough people to separate from that amount of money.”

Halfway Through the Lost Decade

Robert Scheer, Truthdig Op-Ed: “Without resurgence in housing value, consumer confidence will remain moribund and a woefully weak labor market will persist. Every time housing seems to be rebounding, the banks and the feds unload more of their toxic mortgages and prices edge lower. The only thing preventing a complete collapse, one that would plunge us into deep recession or worse, is the Fed’s extremely low interest rate, which Wednesday’s report reiterated will remain at near zero until late 2014.”

Millennium Scholarship gets no new aid from Nevada lawmakers

With the state in recession, legislators over the past two sessions have reduced funding for higher education and have had to find funds to keep the Millennium Scholarship solvent. Gov. Brian Sandoval has vowed not to make any additional cuts to education in 2013.

Killing the Messenger: The Downsizing and Death of the Postal Service

Dean Baker, Op-Ed: “If the Postal Service had a more reasonable prefunding requirement and were allowed to invest its pension in the same way as private companies, it would have run a profit over the last decade. This does not change the fact that the Post Service faces enormous challenges going forward. First class mail volume, the system’s bread and butter, has collapsed. Some of this is due to the recession, but most of it is clearly technological. It’s easier and cheaper to pay bills online.”

Senate Passes Postal Service Reform: Sanders Provisions Strengthen Bill

News Report: “The Senate bill would keep open more than 100 mail processing plants that were on the Postal Service chopping block. It also would prevent the closing of many of the more than 3,600 mostly rural post offices from being closed and would require additional reviews before a facility could be shuttered.”

Citizens Sue Iowa Plant Over Air Pollution

Chris Hamby, News Report: Grain Processing Corp. spokesperson Janet Sichterman said the company, known as GPC, hadn’t received a copy of the lawsuit and had no comment on it. As the Center documented, GPC reported releasing more acetaldehyde — a substance the Environmental Protection Agency considers a probable carcinogen — than almost any plant in the country in 2010. A state inspector has repeatedly noted a “blue haze” coming from some of the plant’s smokestacks that could indicate the presence of acetaldehyde.

White House Office of Public Engagement Weekly Update

On Veterans Day, we recognized the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans. Ensuring our nation’s veterans get the opportunities they have earned is a top priority for President Obama, as well as for government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Department of Transportation.  President Obama’s announcement of executive actions to help middle class families in this difficult economy included new initiatives to get Veterans back to work.

clip_image001 Leading veteran services organizations joined President Obama last week to announce their support for the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits, two provisions in the American Jobs Act. The President also announced a series of executive actions that will provide new resources for veterans and  help them translate military experience to the private sector job market: These initiatives include a Veterans Gold Card through the Department of Labor, which will provide the intensive and follow-up services veterans need to succeed in today’s job market, and the creation of a veterans job bank designed to put veterans in contact with companies that need their skills and are eager to hire them.

The President continued to take executive actions this week because we can’t wait for Congress to act. In addition to the actions for veterans, he signed an Executive Order to cut waste and promote efficient spending and announced new Head Start reforms that will strengthen the program and provide better education for our children.

Last Wednesday, The White House hosted more than 150 civic, academic, social, state and local leaders for the African-American Policy in Action Leadership Conference. President Barack Obama addressed the participants, acknowledging that black Americans have faced “enormous challenges” with unemployment, and appealed for their support in pursuing solutions that he can implement without help from Congress. President Obama went on to describe ways his Administration is working to address challenges facing the African American community.

Blog Highlights

We Can’t Wait to Invest in Our Infrastructure
November 4, 2011

John Robert Smith says we can’t wait to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. Smith, the former Republican Mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, and president of a coalition called Reconnecting America, believes that easy access to transportation is critical because it connects people to their communities and to resources like jobs, health care, education, and more. Plus, well-planned infrastructure links towns and cities with others, creating a vibrant network of connected communities.

Dr. Jill Biden Addresses the 2011 PFLAG National Convention
November 4, 2011

Dr. Jill Biden delivered a passionate and powerful address at the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 National Convention of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) last week. As an educator and parent, Dr. Biden knows firsthand the importance of family support in providing a safe school and community, and understands the challenges that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people face. Along with the President, Vice President, and First Lady, Dr. Biden has been a part of a team that has made safety and security for LGBT people a priority.

Read Dr. Biden’s full remarks as prepared and watch “It Gets Better” messages from the President, Vice President, and other members of the Administration
Progress at the G-20
November 4, 2011

World leaders gathered last week in France to discuss the global economy and necessary action for recovery from the recession. The debt crisis in Europe has put stress on the continent’s banking system, and countries like Greece and Italy are struggling to restore fiscal order. To counter these threats, the G20 leaders in France pledged to coordinate actions and policies to reinvigorate the global economy through job creation. The United States pledged to deliver a timely implementation of a package of near-term measures to sustain the recovery, through public investments, tax reforms, and targeted jobs measures, consistent with a credible plan for medium-term fiscal consolidation.

Vice President Biden Talks College Affordability in Pennsylvania
November 4, 2011

On Friday November 4th, Vice President Biden spoke to a group of students at the University of Pittsburgh and focused on the President’s initiative to cap student loan payments. Last year, following a recommendation from the Middle Class Task Force, the President proposed, and Congress enacted, a plan to lower payments even further starting in 2014, but many students can’t wait until 2014 for relief. In an executive action announced last week, federal loan payments will be capped at 10% of discretionary income and the forgiveness timeline will be shortened to 20 years starting next year. You can learn more about our plan to help students here.

By the Numbers: 500,000
November 7, 2011

President Obama believes that no veteran should have to fight for a job after fighting for our nation overseas. That’s why he’s introduced a host of new tools to help connect veterans to jobs in the civilian workforce, including the Veterans Job Bank, which has more than 500,000 job listings from private sector employers looking to hire vets.

By the Numbers: $3.5 Billion

By the Numbers: $500 Million

White House Champions of Change Program
The Champions of Change series is designed for people to look into their communities and nominate everyday heroes who are demonstrating commitment to improving their own communities, their country, or their fellow citizens. That is why we are looking for you to nominate someone who is doing extraordinary things to make a difference in your community as a “Champion of Change.”

In honor of Veterans Day, the White House recognized six individuals as Champions of Change who are committed to helping veterans and military families. These individuals represent organizations and businesses who are working to improve the lives of veterans and military families by providing vital services or jobs to veterans. Watch the video from the Champions of Change discussion with White House and Joining Forces officials which focused on how these individuals were able to provide such critical services and jobs to our veterans and military veterans. Take a moment to learn more about Champions of Change or nominate Champion in your own community.

Get Involved
Get involved in the Holiday Mail for Heroes program, run by the American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes. This program, now in its fifth year, encourages all of us to send a holiday card to a service member this season. Making a card is a simple act of kindness that means the world to our soldiers and their families. Check out more information about how to get involved.

For more information about ways to get involved now, check out the Office of Public Engagement’s blog, which is updated daily with upcoming engagement opportunities. Take some time browse our Engage webpage, or email Public@who.eop.gov for more information. Also check out Serve.gov for opportunities to personalize your long-term service.

For the latest updates, follow Jon Carson, the Director of the Office of Public Engagement on Twitter: JonCarson44.

Get Updates
For more information, visit the White House Office of Public Engagement website and blog and sign up for additional opportunities.  We welcome your thoughts and feedback at public@who.eop.gov

Time to Cut Defense Appropriations, End the Wars & Bring Our Troops Home

Yesterday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting released its final report.

The Commission reported that between $31 billion and $62 billion of the tax money spent on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted.  It also said that between $10 billion and $19 billion of what contractors billed and received was fraudulent.  In fact, $360 million of our tax dollars went straight to . . . the Taliban.

Wow.  Who could have imagined that?

When former Representative Alan Grayson saw that the Bush Administration was doing nothing about fraud in Iraq, he revived a law going back to the Civil War that allowed whistleblowers to bring lawsuits in the name of the U.S. Government.  I filed case after case, which were promptly greeted by the Bush Administration with gag orders – gag orders that they kept in place for years.  They didn’t want any more bad news coming out of Iraq.

So he went on CNN, spoke to the New York Times and the Washington Post, and told America whatever he could say without violating those gag orders.  And when the Bush Administration finally let one case out from under those gag orders – and declined to prosecute it – Alan Grayson took that case to trial, and won a $14 million judgment.  It was the third-largest judgment for whistleblowers in the 143-year history of that law.

Those contractors built bases without hooking up the plumbing.  A general testified that when he went there, he felt like throwing up.

The Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page article that Alan Grayson has been “waging a one-man war against contractor fraud in Iraq.”  The national organization Taxpayers Against Fraud named him “Lawyer of the Year.”  And people started to think, “what is going on over there?”

After Alan Grayson left Congress in January, he begain working against contractor fraud in Iraq again.  As a result, he won an $8.7 million settlement from DynCorp and the Sandi Group.  The defendants paid his attorney’s fees last Friday.

Here’s some simple arithmetic.  We’ve budgeted $159.3 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, through next month.  (The true cost is much more, but let’s leave that aside.)  That’s:

$159,300,000,000.00.

You could take all that money and create 5,310,000 jobs here in America paying $30,000 a year, rebuilding our bridges, our roads, our schools, instead of the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.  That would immediately lower the unemployment rate from 9 percent to 5.5 percent, and get money flowing in our communities again.  Now, that’s a job program.  That’s what President Obama should be proposing next week.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed more than 8,000 Americans, and who-knows-how-many Iraqis and Afghans.  War has destroyed our economy, just as the war in Afghanistan destroyed the Soviet economy.  According to the calculations of Nobel Prize-winner Professor Joseph Stiglitz, the war in Iraq alone has cost us around 8% of our $50 trillion national net worth, all of the wealth that America built up over two centuries.  Over $13,000 for every single American, young and old.

We’ve taken our inheritance, and effectively dumped it into a wood chipper.