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Children Say Goodbye to their First Lady Final Obama White House Events

WASHINGTON -- Children from all over the nation, some who had never ventured past their street corners and others who had never traveled outside their cities, stood in the White House and cried, the tears streaming down their face.

They also laughed and giggled and hugged.

They were a diverse group, black, Hispanic, Native American and gay, ages 12 to 18, They had traveled to Washington from as far away as Alaska and San Francisco to receive awards for their special arts organizations.

They also got a chance to say goodbye to the first lady, Michelle Obama, a woman who they said made them feel like they too are a part of America.

“I’m more than happy,” said Noemi Negron, 15, after giving Obama a huge hug and mugging for the cameras. “As a woman of color, it just makes me so happy to see Michelle up there fighting for everybody’s rights. She thinks everyone should be equal and that’s how it should be and. I think she’s so amazing.”

Ian Aquino, an autistic 9-year-old, hugged Obama four times and wore an ear-to-ear smile throughout the hour-long program.

The children and their programs were there to receive awards from the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program, which uses the arts to address the needs of youth with special needs.

Aquino, for example, is with Subway Sleuths, a New York City program for autistic children. Negron is part of Inquilinos Boricuas En Accion’s Youth Development Program in Boston, which helps low-income youth prepare them for college and careers.

The program included speeches, a special appearance from Cuban Ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, and music.

A string quartet of young men smartly dressed in black performed as part of the event. They represented the Sphinx Overture, a program that provides free music education, violin lessons and instruments to students in underserved communities in Flint, Mich.

Traeshayona Weekes told the audience that she “had been waiting to wrap her arms around Mrs. Obama all day.” Weekes is with True Colors: OUT Youth Theater, a Boston theater group for lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual children.

It was not only children who were excited.

“Oh my God, it’s like an explosion in my heart,” said Lizt Alfonso, who was honored as founder of the Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba School in Havana. “It’s such a delight. I was a little nervous because -- you see between two countries you have a lot of differences, but no, we’re the same. We’re at the same point, with the same things and it feels so good to me.”

Obama embraced, thanked and took photos with each child. The presentation was one of her last official duties as first lady.

“So many lasts we’re having, but this one was the best yet,” she said. “I am proud of you guys. You make this job worth doing, but if we don’t invest in our youth as a nation, we lose.”

Obama said the tenor of the day’s program reflected an effort on her part to make the White House inclusive.

“We made it a priority to open up this house for as many young people, because we wanted them to understand that this is their house too,” she said.

“There are kids all over this country and the world that think that places like this aren’t for them, so they’re intimidated by it. We worked to change that. They should always feel at home within these walls and so many important institutions all over the world.”

“These kids represent the very best of America. We’re a country that believes in our young people -- all of them. We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they’ve come from or how much money their parents have.

We believe that each of these young people is a vital part of the great American story. It is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours, not as them, not as other, but as ours. So, don’t ever feel fear, because you belong here.”

The programs awarded for their work also included,

AileyCamp Miami, a Miami summer camp that uses dance to increase self esteem discipline before entering high school:

Baranov Museum Youth History & Film Summer Intensive, a documentary film making in Kodiak, AK.:

Next Gen, a San Francisco organization that help teens tell their stories via video, music and film;

Screen It!, an Austin, Texas program that exposes to art that promotes socio-cultural awareness and development;

St. Louis ArtWorks, which provides jobs, art, and workforce development training for primarily for African-American teens;

Teen Arts + Tech Program, a free Michigan program that offers urban high school students a chance to develop critical thinking skills in arts and technology;

The Reading Road Show - Gus Bus in Harrisonburg, Va., which brings literature to low-income children via two buses free books in various communities;

Tribal Youth Ambassadors in Santa Rosa, Calif., which engages Native American youth to educate others about their culture.

Photo by Cheriss May, HUNS: Scores from around the nation gathered for what was one of the final White House events for the Obamas


Facts About Obama’s Presidency Most People Don’t Know

Publishers Corner…by Clifton Harris…Publisher

Obama’s Presidency: The Facts

People have many perceptions of how the US economy or the country as a whole has done in recent years. Depending on your political views, you may think the country is doing exceptionally well or is teetering on the verge of collapse.

Listed below are fourteen objective facts, without interjected opinion, about the state of America under the leadership of President Obama. Every statement is followed up with a link to a reputable source where you can verify the fact for yourself.

1. We’ve now had 65 straight months of economic expansion.

That’s right: For sixty-five consecutive months, the US economy has gotten progressively better. That includes fifty-six consecutive months of private sector job growth. Forbes magazine (which is no fan of President Obama) crunched the numbers and demonstrated how the economic recovery under President Obama has been better in just about every measurable way than the recovery under President Reagan.

Source: Obama Out-Performs Reagan on Jobs, Growth, and Investing; Forbes magazine.

2. We are currently enjoying the longest period of private sector job creation in American history.

This statistic also comes from the Forbes magazine article listed above. In fact, we’ve enjoyed 63 straight months of private sector job creation. That is the longest period of job creation since the Department of Labor has been keeping statistics.

Source: Obama’s Claim That Businesses Are in the “Longest Uninterrupted Stretch of Job Creation”: The Washington Post.

3. Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% in October of 2009 to 5.4% in the spring of 2015.

Not only has the unemployment rate dropped significantly, but since the recession ended, the US economy has gained over twelve million new jobs. (You can refer to the Forbes article above or check the article below.)

Source: Democratic Presidents Bring It: Obama Shatters Clinton’s Record For Private Sector Job Growth: PoliticusUsa.

It is also worth noting that during the 2012 presidential election, Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, promised to lower the unemployment rate to 6% by the end of 2016. President Obama succeeded at lowering unemployment to under 6% two full years earlier than Romney had promised.

Source: Romney vows to lower unemployment to 6% by the end of 2016: The Hill

4. The stock market continues to set new record highs since President Obama took office.

Since early 2009, there has been a steady upward trend in stock market growth. The Dow Jones Industrial average’s reached an all-time high of 18,098 in August, 2014. Since most Americans have 401K retirement investments in the stock market, this growth benefits millions of middle class Americans.

Source: Dow Jones Industrial Average Last 10 Years: Macro trends.

5. The Federal budget deficit is shrinking. It’s been reduced by two-thirds since 2009.

The $1.4 trillion federal budget deficit that Obama inherited in 2009 was in a large part due to the high rate of unemployment. When millions of people were put out of work in 2008 and 2009, it resulted in far less income taxes and less economic activity to generate federal revenue. As ten million people have regained employment, there have been billions more tax dollars generated. As a result, the deficit has been shrinking each year. The 2014 deficit was below $500 billion, the smallest deficit since 2007, and roughly a third of what it was in 2009.

Source: What is the Deficit?:

6. Under President Obama, government spending has increased only 3.3% annually, the lowest rate since Eisenhower was president.

You may have heard critics say that President Obama is spending money wildly and running up our debt. According to this article from Forbes, Obama has increased spending by 1.4% annually, far less than President Reagan (8.7%) or George W. Bush (8.1%). According to a more recent article from the Washington Post, Obama has increased spending 3.3% annually. In either case, Obama has increased spending less than any president since Eisenhower.

Sources: Who Is the Smallest Government Spender Since Eisenhower? Would You Believe It’s Barack Obama? Forbes magazine.
The Facts About the Growth of Spending Under Obama: Washington Post.

7. For 95% of American taxpayers, income taxes are as low as or lower than they were at almost any point in the last 50 years.

After President Obama took office, thousands of Tea Party members all over the country held rallies protesting Obama’s tax increases. At that time, President Obama had actually passed several tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Most of the Tea Partiers who were protesting had only seen their taxes decrease under Obama, yet polls indicated that most Tea Party members wrongly believed their taxes had gone up.

In fact, the only people whose income taxes have gone up during Obama’s presidency are those making $400,000 per year or more. That’s less than 2% of the population. Today, for the vast majority of people, tax rates are lower than or exactly where they were when Obama first took office. The article below from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains this in greater detail.

Source: Federal Income Taxes on Middle-Income Families Remain Near Historic Lows, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

By Jazelle Hunt

NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – It’s an open secret that Black-sounding names can hinder employment, housing, and loan applications. Apparently, basic emails to public servants have snuck onto that list.

So concluded a recent study published by the Institute for the Study of Labor, an international research center based in Germany.

“Discrimination by providers of public services not only has a potentially detrimental impact on the economic and social lives of those affected, but is also illegal,” the study concluded. “While deregulation and globalization may have increased competition in the U.S. economy, thus placing pressure on discriminatory attitudes in the private sector … this has certainly been much less the case for the public sector.”

To test this hypothesis, researchers sent emails asking for basic information to more than 19,000 local public offices around the United States over two non-consecutive weeks. The emails used four names: Jake Mueller, Greg Walsh, DeShawn Jackson, and Tyrone Washington.

Public offices responded to 72 percent of emails each from Jake and Greg. For DeShawn and Tyrone, who had slightly different levels of response, 68 percent of their emails received replies.

“Our results show that emails signed with a distinctively Black name are less likely to receive a reply than identical emails signed with a distinctively White name, thus indicating the presence of discrimination in access to public services,” the report stated.

And while the offices that did respond took roughly the same amount of time and used the same amount of words for everyone, the responses to DeShawn and Tyrone were “less cordial;” 72 percent of the responses to Jake and Greg addressed them by name or included a salutation such as “Hello,” “Dear,” or “Thank [you].” For DeShawn and Tyrone, 66 percent of their responses included such pleasantries, despite having the same amount of words.

During the second week of emails, all the names included “real estate agent” in their signatures to test for socioeconomic bias. The results remained the same as the first week without the career mention, leading the researchers to assert that the responders were discriminating by race, not class.

The study also found that the emails from Black names were less likely to be ignored if the recipient was also Black. The researchers argued that if the email senders were being discriminated against because of social status or some other, non-racial prejudice, “White and Black recipients should have a similar propensity to respond to names conveying low socioeconomic background, i.e., Black names.”

Since the researchers had no way to record the identity and race of each of the 19,000 responders, they used the demographics in each profession plus a racial database of last names to infer the recipients’ race, to test the idea.

And they found that, “where the probability that a recipient is Black becomes more substantial, the predicted response rates for the two races become indistinguishable.”

In rural areas, the difference in response was almost double that of urban areas. The Northeast had the smallest racial gaps in responses, and the Midwest had the largest; but the researchers point out that the Midwest is home to more rural counties than the Northeast, South, and West. The South had the second-lowest incidence of discriminating against DeShawn’s and Tyrone’s emails – the researchers believed this is because more Black people hold public jobs in the South than in other parts of the country.

In terms of professions, the responses from sheriff offices showed the widest racial gap, responding to 46 percent of the Black senders, and 53 percent of the White senders. School districts had the smallest gap of 3 percent higher for White senders. Job centers were the only agencies to respond more to Black senders than White senders.

Roughly half of all the emails were sent to school district employees, and another 25 percent were sent to library workers. The rest were spread among sheriff offices, state and county treasurers, job centers, and county clerks. Sample emails included: “My partner and I would like a marriage license. Could you please tell me what your opening hours are?” and, “I am about to purchase a house. Could you please explain how I can check whether there are unpaid taxes on the house? If there are unpaid taxes, who would be liable for them?”

The report cited a few examples from past research in which Black and low-income Americans access social services and opt into programs at higher rates when they are given more information. So while being stingy and/or unfriendly with public information doesn’t necessarily mean less access to these services, this behavior can seriously affect Black Americans’ ability to take action and make decisions about their lives.

“Making it more difficult for a citizen to obtain information about a service is not merely a nuisance, but can also have an important impact on whether and how the citizen engages with the service,” the researchers wrote. They also pointed out that it’s unlikely that these discriminatory behaviors only happen in responding to emails, without spilling over into the general and unspoken ways of operating a public office.

The study concluded, “Besides being illegal, discrimination by public service providers is particularly startling, since governments could be major players in the effort to eradicate discrimination in American society.”


Obama OKs, Expedites Huge $29M Payout to Agencies Assisting Charleston Victims

The Obama administration is fast-tracking a huge payout to the agencies helping victims of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, giving the families of those slain millions more in potential assistance than victims from Sandy Hook, Boston, and other mass murders.

The White House will send $29 million to South Carolina in the wake of the June 17 shooting that left nine people dead in a historic black church, according to a Reuters report.

According to Reuters, a chunk of the $29 million — which was allocated as part of the government’s national Crime Victim Assistance Formula Grant program — can help provide services to the families of those killed. Among the dead was Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who also served as a South Carolina state senator.

The $29 million payout is significantly more than what was given to assist the victims of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting ($2.9 million); the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting ($1.5 million); and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing ($8.3 million).

The Department of Justice press release detailing the payout for the Aurora victims read, “The total number of victims of this crime is more than 1,500. This includes the twelve killed, sixty-nine wounded and their families, other people in the theater complex at that time, people evacuated from an apartment complex where explosive devices were discovered, and first responders to the emergency.”

Typically, the funds go through a variety of first responder units and groups involving everything from grief counselors and funeral assistance that swoop in after momentous tragedies.

In the case of Colorado, for instance, the money went to The Colorado Department of Public Safety. That agency provided funding to other Colorado agencies, including the 18th District Attorney’s Office, Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, the Aurora Mental Health Center, Denver and Aurora Police Departments, and Jefferson and Arapahoe County Sheriffs’ Departments.

The release pertaining to the Sandy Hook shooting makes no mention of the number of victims, but the massacre did result in the death of 20 children and seven adults. The shooter, Adam Lanza, shot and killed himself after the shooting.

Three spectators at the Boston Marathon were killed in the 2013 bombing, and roughly 280 people were injured. A manhunt for the two bombers resulted in the death of one and the arrest of the other just days later. The surviving bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was sentenced to death in May.

The announcement regarding the Sandy Hook payout came a year after the shooting; the Aurora announcement occurred seven months after that shooting; and the Boston payout announcement came nine months after the bombing.

The Reuters story announcing the Charleston payout came just two days after the shooting.

According to InvestmentWatch, the government made other payouts to the Sandy Hook victims following the initial $1.5 million, and the total amount of federal assistance given to them now adds up to $14.3 million — still less than half of what was given to Charleston.

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