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The National Scene

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By Linnie Frank Bailey

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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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. The meeting was well attended by MBA’s, with the Harvard Business School’s African-American Alumni Association serving as the lead organizer, and members of the National Black MBA Association in attendance. The group participated in a question-and-answer session with Ms. Jarrett and members of her staff. She stressed that the White House will “always be open” to hearing new ideas.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama Meets With Economic Recovery Advisory Board

The President held his first official quarterly meeting with members of his economic advisory board to discuss policy, and the status of the recovery. Members of the board* include (in alphabetical order):

·         Anna Burger, Secretary-Treasurer, SEIU

·         John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers

·         William H. Donaldson, Former Chairman, SEC

·         Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President & CEO, TIAA-CREF

·         Mark T. Gallogly, Founder & Managing Partner, Centerbridge Partners L.P.

·         Austan Goolsbee, Staff Director and Chief Economist

·         Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO, GE

·         Monica C. Lozano, Publisher & Chief Executive Officer, La Opinion

·         James W. Owens, Chairman and CEO, Caterpillar Inc.

·         Charles E. Phillips, Jr., President, Oracle Corporation

·         Penny Pritzker, Chairman & Founder, Pritzker Realty Group

·         David F. Swensen, Chief Investment Officer, Yale University

·         Richard L. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO

·         Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Dean, Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley

·         Paul Volcker, Chairman

·         Robert Wolf, Chairman & CEO, UBS Group Americas *as listed on whitehouse.gov President Signs Laws to Help Families

The President signed two pieces of legislation to help cash-strapped families across America. Obama described the “The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act,” as “advancing the goals of our existing housing plan by providing assistance to responsible homeowners and preventing avoidable foreclosures….to help families who found themselves “underwater” as a result of declining home values—families who owed more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.” The bill is designed to remove the bureaucratic hurdles that keep eligible families from applying for much needed assistance, including providing homeowners with FHA mortgages the opportunity to refinance to more affordable rates. Stating, “Any plan is only as effective as the number of people who take advantage of it,” the President encouraged all concerned homeowners to visit the website:

MakingHomeAffordable.gov to determine eligibility for new federal programs.  The President also signed the “Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act” into law, which gives the government the tools to crack down on consumer scams, mortgage fraud, and questionable lender policies at all levels. Addressing communities hard hit by consumer and mortgage fraud, the President stressed, “This bill nearly doubles the FBI’s mortgage and financial fraud program, allowing it to better target fraud in hardhit areas.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

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. While stating that the protection of the American people will always come first, Obama went on to describe the post 9-11 “season of fear” that caused the country to sway from the values it was founded on. He addressed past policies by saying, “Too many of us—Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens -- fell silent. In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone.  It was an assessment that was shared by the American people who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach—one that rejected torture and one that recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.”

Following Obama’s speech, former Vice-President Dick Cheney gave an address to the conservative think-tank The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Cheney’s policy speech revisited much of the “neo-conservatism” which gained ground post 9-11, during the first term of the Bush administration. Following the talk, it was noted by many pundits that although Cheney addressed his national security disagreement to the Obama administration, much of what he argued against had taken place during the second term of the Bush administration—of which he served.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama Signs McCain-Supported Law

The President signed the “Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act” to implement defense procurement reform. Designed to review defense project spending, the bill had bi-partisan support, and has been championed as needed legislation for years by former Presidential candidate John McCain. The President acknowledged his former rival by saying, “Defense procurement reform was one of the issues that John McCain and I discussed in our first meeting after the election. We pledged to work together to get it done, and today I’m extraordinarily proud to stand here and sign a bill that passed with unanimous support from both parties at every step of the way.”

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. Senator McCain’s son—John Sidney McCain IV, commonly known as Jack, became the fourth McCain to graduate from the Naval Academy, and the fourth with the same name.

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” that he says will:

·         Ban unfair rate increases;

·         Prevent unfair fee traps;

·         Require plain language in plain sight for disclosures;

·         Increase accountability all around;

·         And institute protections for students and young people.

Furthermore, the President stated, “Because of this new law:

·         Statements will be required to tell credit card holders how long it will take to pay off a balance and what it will cost in interest if they only make the minimum monthly payments.

·         We will put a stop to retroactive rate hikes that appear on a bill suddenly with no rhyme or reason.

·         Every card company will have to post its credit card agreements online, and we’ll monitor those agreements to see if new protections are needed.

·         Consumers will have more time to understand their statements as well:

Companies will have to mail them 21 days before payment is due, not 14.

·         And, this law ends the practice of shifting payment dates.”

He continued: “Lastly, among many other provisions, there will be no more sudden charges—changes to terms and conditions. We require at least 45 days notice if the credit card company is going to change terms and conditions. So we’re not going to give people a free pass; we expect consumers to live within their means and pay what they owe. But we also expect financial institutions to act with the same sense of responsibility that the American people aspire to in their own lives.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

Obama and Memorial Day

After spending family time at Camp David, the President honored all who have served our country in the military. Obama participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and spoke at the cemetery’s amphitheater, saying: “Here lies Presidents and privates; Supreme Court justices and slaves; generals familiar to history, and unknown soldiers known only to God…I laid a wreath at their tomb to pay tribute to all who have given their lives for this country.”

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). Bolden, has flown on four Shuttle missions and previously served as NASA’s assistant deputy administrator. Once he wins the expected approval of the Senate, Bolden will be the first African-American to lead the agency.

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