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October 9, 2009

President Obama — Nobel Peace Prize Winner!

Obama Nobel  This morning, while most Americans slept the Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway announced that President Barack Hussein Obama had been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.  The Nobel Committee awarded this honor to President Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The committee also pointed out our President’s efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, “He has created a new international climate, the committee said.

There are many cynics who choose to pretend that they are naïve by saying that our President does not deserve this honor.  I disagree.  Our world has been in a state of turmoil with the potential of war bubbling to the surface in the Middle East and Asia for the past several years.  Our President was courageous enough to go to South America, Egypt and Africa and Europe and speak peace to the world.  He did the same thing at the United Nations.  By his words and actions he has smoothed the feathers of leaders and put out fires that could easily be ignited in the East and West from North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il to Cuba’s Raul Castro to Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas to Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Whether the cynics want to believe it or not, the fact is, our world is safer because of President Barack Obama and therefore this honor bestowed upon him is not premature.

Which other world leader has put their reputation on the line and has spoken peace and responsibility to the world in this bold manner?

Obama Nobel  Today in the Rose Garden President Obama said he was “surprised and deeply humbled” by the committee’s decision, and quickly put to rest any speculation that he might not accept the honor. Describing the award as an “affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations,” he said he would accept it as a “call to action.” 

Here are President Obama’s own words:

OBAMA: Good morning. Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning. After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, “Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s birthday!” And then Sasha added, “Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.” So it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build — a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action — a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

These challenges can’t be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that’s why my administration has worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek. We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people. And that’s why we’ve begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.

We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children — sowing conflict and famine; destroying coastlines and emptying cities. And that’s why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy.

We can’t allow the differences between peoples to define the way that we see one another, and that’s why we must pursue a new beginning among people of different faiths and races and religions; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own.

We can’t accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for — the ability to get an education and make a decent living; the security that you won’t have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.

And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to confront the world as we know it today. I am the commander in chief of a country that’s responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies. I’m also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work. These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American people.

Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone. This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration — it’s about the courageous efforts of people around the world.

And that’s why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity — for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometimes their lives for the cause of peace.

That has always been the cause of America. That’s why the world has always looked to America. And that’s why I believe America will continue to lead.

Thank you very much.

Congratulations President Obama!

October 7, 2009

Michelle Obama’s Roots — A Complex Path From Slavery

Fraser and Marian Robinson with Craig and Michelle

In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery

By RACHEL L. SWARNS and JODI KANTOR

WASHINGTON — In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.

In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.

In the annals of American slavery, this painful story would be utterly unremarkable, save for one reason: This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, marked the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House.

Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the first lady.

Viewed by many as a powerful symbol of black advancement, Mrs. Obama grew up with only a vague sense of her ancestry, aides and relatives said. During the presidential campaign, the family learned about one paternal great-great-grandfather, a former slave from South Carolina, but the rest of Mrs. Obama’s roots were a mystery.

Now the more complete map of Mrs. Obama’s ancestors — including the slave mother, white father and their biracial son, Dolphus T. Shields — for the first time fully connects the first African-American first lady to the history of slavery, tracing their five-generation journey from bondage to a front-row seat to the presidency.

The findings — uncovered by Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and The New York Times — substantiate what Mrs. Obama has called longstanding family rumors about a white forebear.

While President Obama’s biracial background has drawn considerable attention, his wife’s pedigree, which includes American Indian strands, highlights the complicated history of racial intermingling, sometimes born of violence or coercion, that lingers in the bloodlines of many African-Americans. Mrs. Obama and her family declined to comment for this article, aides said, in part because of the personal nature of the subject.

“She is representative of how we have evolved and who we are,” said Edward Ball, a historian who discovered that he had black relatives — the descendants of his white slave-owning ancestors — when he researched his memoir, “Slaves in the Family.”

“We are not separate tribes of Latinos and whites and blacks in America,” Mr. Ball said. “We’ve all mingled, and we have done so for generations.”

The outlines of Mrs. Obama’s family history unfolded from 19th century probate records, yellowing marriage licenses, fading photographs and the recollections of elderly women who remember the family. Ms. Smolenyak, who has traced the ancestry of many prominent figures, began studying the first lady’s roots in earnest after conducting some preliminary research into Mrs. Obama’s ancestry for an article published in The New York Times earlier this year.

Of the dozens of relatives she identified, Ms. Smolenyak said, it was the slave girl who seemed to call out most clearly.

“Out of all Michelle’s roots, it’s Melvinia who is screaming to be found,” she said.

When her owner, David Patterson, died in 1852, Melvinia soon found herself on a 200-acre farm with new masters, Mr. Patterson’s daughter and son-in law, Christianne and Henry Shields. It was a strange and unfamiliar world.

In South Carolina, she had lived on an estate with 21 slaves. In Georgia, she was one of only three slaves on property that is now part of a neat subdivision in Rex, near Atlanta.

Whether Melvinia labored in the house or in the fields, there was no shortage of work: wheat, corn, sweet potatoes and cotton to plant and harvest, and 3 horses, 5 cows, 17 pigs and 20 sheep to care for, according to an 1860 agricultural survey.

It is difficult to say who might have impregnated Melvinia, who gave birth to Dolphus around 1859, when she was perhaps as young as 15. At the time, Henry Shields was in his late 40s and had four sons ages 19 to 24, but other men may have spent time on the farm as well.

“No one should be surprised anymore to hear about the number of rapes and the amount of sexual exploitation that took place under slavery; it was an everyday experience, “ said Jason A. Gillmer, a law professor at Texas Wesleyan University, who has researched liaisons between slave owners and slaves. “But we do find that some of these relationships can be very complex.”

In 1870, three of Melvinia’s four children, including Dolphus, were listed on the census as mulatto. One was born four years after emancipation, suggesting that the liaison that produced those children endured after slavery. She gave her children the Shields name, which may have hinted at their paternity or simply been the custom of former slaves taking their master’s surnames.

Even after she was freed, Melvinia stayed put, working as a farm laborer on land adjacent to that of Charles Shields, one of Henry’s sons.

But sometime in her 30s or 40s, census records show, Melvinia broke away and managed to reunite with former slaves from her childhood on the Patterson estate: Mariah and Bolus Easley, who settled with Melvinia in Bartow County, near the Alabama border. Dolphus married one of the Easleys’ daughters, Alice, who is Mrs. Obama’s great-great-grandmother.

A community “that had been ripped apart was somehow pulling itself back together,” Ms. Smolenyak said of the group in Bartow County.

Still, Melvinia appears to have lived with the unresolved legacy of her childhood in slavery until the very end. Her 1938 death certificate, signed by a relative, says “don’t know” in the space for the names of her parents, suggesting that Melvinia, then in her 90s, may never have known herself.

Sometime before 1888, Dolphus and Alice Shields continued the migration, heading to Birmingham, a boomtown with a rumbling railroad, an iron and steel industry and factories that attracted former slaves and their children from across the South.

Dolphus Shields was in his 30s and very light skinned — some say he looked like a white man — a church-going carpenter who could read, write and advance in an industrializing town. By 1900, he owned his own home, census records show. By 1911, he had opened his own carpentry and tool sharpening business.

A co-founder of First Ebenezer Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist Church, which later became active in the civil rights movement, he supervised Sunday schools at both churches, which still exist today, and at Regular Missionary Baptist Church.

“He was the dean of the deacons in Birmingham,” said Helen Heath, 88, who attended church with him. “He was a serious man. He was about business.”

He carried his family into the working-class, moving into a segregated neighborhood of striving black homeowners and renters. In his home, there was no smoking, no cursing, no gum chewing, no lipstick or trousers for ladies and absolutely no blues on the radio, which was reserved for hymns, remembered Bobbie Holt, 73, who was raised by Mr. Shields and his fourth wife, Lucy. She said the family went to church “every night of the week, it seemed like.”

He carried peppermints for neighborhood children, Mrs. Holt said, and told funny stories about his escapades as a boy. But his family struggled.

His first wife, Alice Easley Shields, moved around after they split up, working as a seamstress and a maid, and two of their sons stumbled.

Robert Lee Shields, Mrs. Obama’s great-grandfather, married Annie Lawson in 1906 and worked as a laborer and a railroad porter, but disappeared from the public record sometime around his 32nd birthday.

Willie Arthur Shields, an inventor who obtained patents for improving dry cleaning operations, ended up working as a maintenance man, Mrs. Holt said.

As for his ancestry, Dolphus Shields didn’t talk about it.

“We got to the place where we didn’t want anybody to know we knew slaves; people didn’t want to talk about that,” said Mrs. Heath, who said she assumed he had white relatives because his skin color and hair texture “told you he had to be near white.”

At a time when blacks despaired at the intransigence and violence of whites who barred them from voting, from most city jobs, from whites-only restaurants and from owning property in white neighborhoods, Dolphus Shields served as a rare link between the deeply divided communities.

His carpentry shop stood in the white section of town, and he mixed easily and often with whites. “They would come to his shop and sit and talk,” Mrs. Holt said.

Dolphus Shields firmly believed race relations would improve. “It’s going to come together one day,” he often said, Mrs. Holt recalled.

By the time he died in 1950 at age 91, change was on the way. On June 9, 1950, the day that his obituary appeared on the front page of The Birmingham World, the black newspaper also ran a banner headline that read, “U.S. Court Bans Segregation in Diners and Higher Education.” The Supreme Court had outlawed separate but equal accommodations on railway cars and in universities in Texas and Oklahoma.

Up North, his grandson, a painter named Purnell Shields, Mrs. Obama’s grandfather, was positioning his family to seize the widening opportunities in Chicago.

But as his descendants moved forward, they lost touch with the past. Today, Dolphus Shields lies in a neglected black cemetery, where patches of grass grow knee-high and many tombstones have toppled.

Mrs. Holt, a retired nursing assistant, said he came to her in a dream last month. She dug up his photograph, never guessing that she would soon learn that Dolphus Shields was a great-great-grandfather of the first lady.

“Oh my God,” said Mrs. Holt, gasping at the news. “I always looked up to him, but I would never have imagined something like this. Praise God, we’ve come a long way.”

Jim Sherling contributed reporting from Rex, Ga. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

This article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/us/politics/08genealogy.html

 

October 5, 2009

Healthcare: Do Americans Understand? Or Even Care?

Does the average American really know what’s best for the ‘greater good’ of all Americans or do they even care? 

Looking back in history Americans have lamented the passing of many laws because they some how thought that it would impact their community in some conceived negative manner without looking at the long term benefits and how it benefited the majority for the ‘greater good’.

grand-canyon

There are too many  laws to mention that are now celebrated and their authors who were visionaries are now viewed as heroes decades later. But while these laws were before Congress there were those who didn’t have the vision to see their worth and fought tooth and nail to defeat them.  The 19th Amendment (gave women the right to vote), the Social Security Act of 1965, Theodore Roosevelt created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve by proclamation in 1906 and Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 are just a few – there are sooo many others. Another law which was far-seeing but created battles and brawls was the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservative Act.

Mount Denali

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (or ANILCA) was a United States Federal Law passed in 1980 by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on December 2 of that same year. 

The law provided for the creation or revision of 15 National Park Service properties and set aside public lands for the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The act provided for the designation of 79.53 million acres (124,281 square miles) of public lands, a third of which was set aside as pure wilderness area where flora and fauna could thrive in their natural habitat and not be disturbed. The act provided for the creation or expansion of Denali National Park (home of North America’s tallest mountain).

The legislation was initially introduced into Congress in 1974 in several different bills, each outlining a single proposed park, monument, or other area. Several of these, in particular Lake Clark and Kenai Fjords, were quite controversial in Alaska. Little action was taken on any of them, so that by 1975 the National Park Service (NPS) and conservationists conceived the idea of a single bill that would cover several separate areas. The election in 1976 of Jimmy Carter kept afloat hopes that Alaskan conservation would finally get a fair hearing. However, several members of Congress, particularly Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, remained strongly opposed to the absorption of such a large amount of land by the National Park Service — which would take the land off the market and, Gravel felt, damage long-term economic development plans for Alaska. Gravel became the primary opponent to the act.

The Interior Department and NPS became concerned as 1978 dragged on that no action would be taken at all on the “national interest lands” included in the proposals mining and forestry claims, among other issues, were beginning to be levied against the lands and time was running out. The National Park Service and Interior lobbied President Carter to use the Antiquities Act to designate the proposed lands as National Monuments by executive order, which Carter did on December 1, 1978.

Carter argued that he had been forced to use the Antiquities Act by Congress’ failure to act in a reasonable time, but his actions nevertheless caused wide protest across Alaska.

President Carter was burned in effigy (a representation of his person) in Fairbanks. Residents in the Cantwell area undertook a large act of civil disobedience known as the Great Denali Trespass. Alaskan citizens went up into the park, fired off guns, made campfires, and did a number of other things that were officially prohibited by the National Park Service. The towns of Eagle and Glennallen produced official proclamations stating that the towns would not support National Park Service authorities, not enforce NPS regulations — such as not allowing open fires, skydiving, hunting, alcohol, and numerous other formerly popular activities in the parks and monuments — and would shelter and protect individuals who broke the regulations and protesters marched in the streets and called Jimmy Carter a socialist and a communist.

These protests continued for some time, the designation of the monuments broke the legislative opposition to ANILCA. Senator Gravel continued to obstruct passage of the bill, but in the wake of Carter’s proclamations most opponents recognized the need to work toward passage of an acceptable bill, rather than no bill at all.

In early November 1980, Jimmy Carter lost re-election to Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party won a majority of seats in the Senate. Conservationists recognized that if they did not accept the compromise then on the table, they would be forced to begin again in the next Congress with decidedly less support. The bill was passed in late November, and signed into law in December.

Mike Gravel, meanwhile, was blamed in Alaska for forcing Carter’s hand with the Antiquities Act. Though Carter was hardly held blameless for the creation of the new national monuments, Gravel was taken to task for the unpopular decision as well and was denied his party’s nomination for his Senate seat in the 1980 election.

Despite all these past hysterics most Alaskans and Americans and citizens of the world now strongly support the ANILCA, to the point of celebrating its creation, especially within the population center of Anchorage. To them the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act represents a successful example of wilderness conservation for the benefit of future generations.

The same will be said about healthcare reform in the decades to come.  Healthcare reform will be viewed as a humanitarian right that is a quintessential part of what makes America a great democracy and in the future Americans will ask why there was even a debate about healthcare being a right for citizens in the United States.

Sometimes in life, if we are not experts on a subject or if we are not farsighted and resourceful we have to step back, get out of the way and let our visionaries help us do what’s right today for our future and for the  ‘greater good’.

September 21, 2009

Watch President Obama’s Healthcare Plan In 4 Minutes!!!

The details President Obama outlines in this video are those that every American needs to know. No matter your political party or whether or not you have insurance, his plan for health care security and stability matters to all of us.

Millions of American citizens cannot get health insurance — and 14,000 are losing their insurance every day. If we do nothing, half of Americans under the age of 65 will lose their health insurance at some point in the next ten years.

That’s not right. Plain and simple. For Americans with insurance as well as those without it, inaction is not an option.  In America, no one should go broke because they get sick.

Bottom line — health insurance reform will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance, coverage for those who don’t, and will lower the cost of health care for our families, our businesses, and our government.

As the President says, now is the time to deliver the change we need on health care.

Please pass on this information to your family, friends and social networks.

Please take four minutes and watch this video.

September 17, 2009

9/17/09: President Obama FIRED UP About Healthcare Reform at the University of Maryland in College Park

President Barack Obama continued his nationwide health care reform tour today by paying a visit to the University of Maryland.  As during then Senator Obama’s campaign, many in attendance arrived at the crack of dawn to hear the President’s speech. Students from the University of Maryland and other universities expressed an overwhelming amount of support for President Obama which was evidenced by the mass wave of supporters who gave a standing ovation before the President had even arrived to make his speech. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley described Obama’s health care reform speech as historic and the students in attendance showed a tremendous amount of support for Obama’s clarification of his position.

President Obama spoke to those in attendance in an effort to clarify how his proposed policies would have an effect on young adults. During his speech, he said, “More than one-third of all young adults have trouble paying their medical debts. In the United States, nobody should go broke because they get sick. The time has finally come to provide affordable, accessible, quality healthcare to every single American.”

Obama touched on familiar themes in this address, including a call for the public option, or a government-run health insurance plan. The public option has been the most contentious point of the health care debate and it would force private insurers to lower costs and be more competitive while Republicans blast it as a government takeover of health care.

The president also pointed to the “unprecedented” coalition of doctors, nurses and hospitals that have backed the Democratic health care overhaul.

“It was good to have a campaign-like rally outside of a campaign,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who attended the event. Ulman said Obama struck a chord that had been echoed during the campaign trail — fixing health care won’t be easy, but it must get done.

September 14, 2009

9/13/09: President Obama on 60 Minutes Re: Healthcare

September 11, 2009

Healthcare: Senator Edward (Teddy) Kennedy’s Letter To President Obama

Please read the Honorable Edward Kennedy’s letter to President Obama below.  The letter was delivered to our President after Senator Kennedy died.  Senator Kennedy said it all in his letter.

Let’s get this bill signed for Uncle Teddy.  It’s simple, click on the link below, plug in your zip code and the list of all your elected officials that you should call will pop up with their phone number.  Call each of your elected official’s office and simply say, “I am calling to express my support for President Obama’s healthcare reform plan” or something like that.  They’ll ask for your zip code – that’s it.  They won’t ask for any personal information — and if they do you don’t have to share it.  They are logging calls to keep count of  support for healthcare reform- you can also call more than once. 

When I worked in news and we got calls because a story impacted the public in some profound way each call was calculated as 100 people because they figure for every call they receive from the public 100 people were thinking of making that call.   We are trying to get 5,000 individual calls to every elected official.  Please call and encourage your friends to call as well…please.  Pass this information on.  Let’s get this done.

Let’s be able to look back one year from now and marvel at our tremendous accomplishment.  

Democracy is not a spectator sport – we all have to participate for it to work. Please participate today.

Let’s do this for the late and great Senator Edward M. Kennedy.  Click the link below.

Add your voice: Ask your representatives to support my plan for real health reform in 2009.

 

Edward M. Kennedy

May 12, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to write a few final words to you to express my gratitude for your repeated personal kindnesses to me – and one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth.

On a personal level, you and Michelle reached out to Vicki, to our family and me in so many different ways. You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life.

You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country.

When I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the President who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me-and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.

There will be struggles – there always have been – and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat – that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.

And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will – yes, we will – fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.

In closing, let me say again how proud I was to be part of your campaign- and proud as well to play a part in the early months of a new era of high purpose and achievement. I entered public life with a young President who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young President inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.

So, I wrote this to thank you one last time as a friend- and to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become.

At the Denver Convention where you were nominated, I said the dream lives on.

And I finished this letter with unshakable faith that the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.

With deep respect and abiding affection,

Ted

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