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Weekly Address: President Obama – It’s Time for Congress To Pass a Responsible Budget

The President’s Weekly Address post is also an Open News Thread. Feel free to share other news stories in the comments.

From the White HouseWeekly Address

In this week’s address, the President discussed the significant progress we have made in our economy since the financial crisis seven years ago this week, and the steps we can take to build on that momentum and strengthen the economy for the long term. Thanks to the hard work and resilience of folks around the country, our businesses have created over 13 million jobs over the past 66 straight months, housing is bouncing back, manufacturing is growing again, and the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in over seven years. We’ve come a long way from the darkest days of the financial crisis, but there is still more to be done. To keep our economy growing, we must avoid self-inflicted wounds and damaging brinksmanship: that starts with Congress passing a responsible budget before the end of the month. The President has called on Republicans in Congress to stop playing games with our economic progress and instead do its job and pass a budget that reverses the harmful cuts known as the sequester and avoids shutting down the federal government.

From the White House: Faster FAFSA – Helping Make College More Affordable

On Monday, President Obama traveled to Des Moines Iowa to talk about FAFSA. What is FAFSA, you ask? I asked it and found the answer on the Internets! FAFSA is “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” and is the form that parents and kids need to fill out to get federal aid for college.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

… here’s the thing — just as higher education has never been more important, let’s face it, it’s never been more expensive. And that’s why [Secretary of Education] Arne [Duncan] and I have been working to try to make college and post-high school education more affordable. We’ve increased scholarships. We reformed our student loan system that funneled billions of taxpayer dollars into big banks — we said, let’s cut out the middleman, let’s put that money directly to students. We created a new tax credit of up to $2,500 to help working families pay for tuition and books and fees. We’re helping people cap their federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. So if you want to be a teacher, or you want to be a social worker, or some other profession that may not make a huge amount of money, you can still do that, knowing that you’re not going to go — you’re still going to be able to afford to support yourself and your family while doing it. And we’re fighting for two years of free community college for any student that’s willing to work for it. (Applause.)

The bottom line is, is that no young person in America should be priced out of college. They should not be priced out of an education.

(Transcript below the fold)

FACT SHEET: FACT SHEET: The President’s Plan for Early Financial Aid: Improving College Choice and Helping More Americans Pay for College

A higher education is one of the most important investments Americans can make in their future. To help students and families make that investment, the Obama Administration has taken steps to make it easier than ever before to apply for and access federal grants and loans. […]

The President will announce a new initiative to allow students and families to apply for financial aid earlier – starting in October as the college application process gets underway – rather than in January. In addition, students filling out the FAFSA will be able to electronically retrieve tax information filed for an earlier year, rather than waiting until tax season to complete their applications. Learning about aid eligibility options much earlier in the college application and decision process will allow students and families to determine the true cost of attending college – taking available financial aid into account – and make more informed decisions.

Good Government: Prosecuting People, Not Just Corporations

One of the more frustrating aspects of the prosecutions related to the Great Cheat that led to the Great Recession was that many of those perpetrating the fraud got off scot-free while their companies were simply levied fines, often a fraction of the profits they received from their cheating.

While it is important to seek penalties and restitution so that those harmed by high level corporate crimes can be made whole again, it has always seemed wrong that the people who devised and promoted the fraudulent schemes are rarely charged. Some faceless corporation pays a fine equal to 1/1000000th of its annual revenue and those behind the scenes are left in place to come up with a new ways to defraud consumers.

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced a new policy on individual liability for corporate crimes that seeks to address that concern.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates spoke at the New York University School of Law:

Crime is crime. And it is our obligation at the Justice Department to ensure that we are holding lawbreakers accountable regardless of whether they commit their crimes on the street corner or in the boardroom. In the white-collar context, that means pursuing not just corporate entities, but also the individuals through which these corporations act. […]

In modern corporations, where responsibility is often diffuse, it can be extremely difficult to identify the single person or group of people who possessed the knowledge or criminal intent necessary to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is particularly true of high-level executives, who are often insulated from the day-to-day activity in which the misconduct occurs. […]

Americans should never believe, even incorrectly, that one’s criminal activity will go unpunished simply because it was committed on behalf of a corporation. We could be doing a bang-up job in every facet of the department’s operations – we could be bringing all the right cases and making all the right decisions. But if the citizens of this country don’t have confidence that the criminal justice system operates fairly and applies equally – regardless of who commits the crime or where it is committed – then we’re in trouble. […]

Effective today, if a company wants any consideration for its cooperation, it must give up the individuals, no matter where they sit within the company. And we’re not going to let corporations plead ignorance. If they don’t know who is responsible, they will need to find out. If they want any cooperation credit, they will need to investigate and identify the responsible parties, then provide all non-privileged evidence implicating those individuals. […]

We are going to continually reexamine our practices to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable. Despite this, there will still be cases where we don’t have the evidence necessary to establish an individual’s criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt. And regardless of public demand, we will never bring charges against anyone unless we are satisfied that the individual is in fact guilty of a crime. That is the core of our responsibility and promise to the American people. And I should be clear: while these policy shifts are effective immediately, the public won’t see the impact of these steps over night. […]

We make these changes recognizing the challenges that they may present. Some corporations may decide, for example, that the benefits of consideration for cooperation with DOJ are not worth the costs of coughing up the high-level executives who perpetrated the misconduct. Less corporate cooperation could mean fewer settlements and potentially smaller overall recoveries by the government. In addition, individuals facing long prison terms or large civil penalties may be more inclined to roll the dice before a jury and consequently, we could see fewer guilty pleas.

Only time will tell. But if that’s what happens, so be it. Our mission here is not to recover the largest amount of money from the greatest number of corporations; our job is to seek accountability from those who break our laws and victimize our citizens. It’s the only way to truly deter corporate wrongdoing.

Bolding and underlining added

Full transcript below the fold.

Things That Actually Matter: Campaign Finance Reform

While everyone was off chowing down on the nothingburger being served by the bored press (“not sorry?” “sorry” “but are you really really sorry?”), Hillary Clinton was rolling out more of her 2016 presidential campaign platform. On Tuesday, it was campaign finance reform, something that is personal for her.

Did you know Citizens United was started by a conservative group lobbying against Hillary Clinton? Watch as Kristina Schake of the Hillary For America campaign explains why Hillary is passionate about overturning Citizen United, and stoping the flow of dark unaccountable money in campaigns.

Secretary Clinton:

“We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans,” Clinton said in a statement. “Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee. It starts with overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and continues with structural reform to our campaign finance system so there’s real sunshine and increased participation.” […]

David Donnelly, the president and CEO of Every Voice, a campaign finance reform group, praised Clinton’s plan, noting it was as comprehensive and bold on the issue as the proposals he has seen from any presidential candidate.

“These proposals get us 90 percent to 95 percent there to address the issue of money in our elections,” he said, adding that the additional 5 to 10 percent comes down to enforcing the rules.

To those who call this call for changes hypocritical since Hillary Clinton’s campaign will benefit from Super-PACs:

“Those candidates that are competing in the current system have to play under the rules as they are rather than the rules as they should be,” [Donnelly] said. “Hillary Clinton has chosen to come out with a serious plan to address a major problem that every voter and every candidate knows exists, and the alternative is to basically clam up and not talk about it and accept the way things are.”

Secretary of Labor Tom Perez: Let’s Hear Your Voice

Secretary Perez sent the following message to the White House email list on Labor Day.

Labor Day is about more than barbecues and a three-day weekend.

It is a day owned by every one of us, to honor our contributions to America’s strength and prosperity. Today, we’re looking at more than 13 million private-sector jobs created since 2010, and 66 consecutive months of private-sector job growth. That is prosperity that we created together. And it deserves to be recognized.

The problem is that far too many Americans still aren’t sharing in that prosperity.

As we continue to emerge from the depths of the great recession, the challenge before us is to make sure more Americans get a slice of the pie that they helped bake. America, after all, is stronger when more people have more.

(There’s something every one of us can do to create change in our workplaces, and it always starts with a conversation — with colleagues or with decision makers. Make a commitment to start that conversation today at whitehouse.gov/worker-voice)

Last month, I hit the road to meet hardworking Americans standing together to raise their voices. Whether it’s making sure an honest day’s work earns a fair day’s pay, or insisting that no one should have to choose between the job they need and the family they love, Americans across this country are showing that small conversations at the lunch table can lead to big changes at the boardroom table.

It starts with a conversation. And you can commit to start one today right here.

You can tell us about how you or someone you know stepped up in your workplace to push for a change, whatever your issue may be — from better wages to workplace fairness to greater equality.

And here’s what’s next:

On October 7, we’re hosting a Summit on Worker Voice at the White House. The Summit will rally workers, employers, unions, organizers and others to bring attention to both the new, innovative ways that workers are coming together to have a voice in their workplaces, as well as the proven practices — like collective bargaining — that have sustained the middle class for generations.

As history has shown time and time again, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish when we speak up with one voice. We are, after all, stronger together.

So add your voice: Say you’ll start the conversation.

Happy Labor Day.

Thanks,

Tom

Hillary Clinton: “Everyone deserves a chance and everyone deserves a champion”

Yesterday, in a speech in New Hampshire, Democratic presidental candidate Hillary Clinton launched her campaign initiative: “Women for Hillary” … it was also “Hillary for Women” and men:

(FULL Speech: Hillary Clinton speaks at campaign event in New Hampshire 09/05/15 ) (Looking for transcript)

NPR:

“What’s good for women is good for America,” [Secretary Clinton] said, adding that equal pay, childcare, and family leave are not just women’s issues, but economic ones.

“Too often these are called women’s issues,” Clinton said. “If you can’t afford to go to work or find a safe place to leave your kids, you’re not gonna have the kind of economic opportunity you deserve.”

Clinton said men also have a stake in such policies, pointing out that many men are now caring for children and aging parents. […] Speaking in New Hampshire, Clinton said she’s been talking about issues affecting families and children for years.

“I believe that raising incomes and supporting families is the defining economic challenge of our time,” Clinton said. “And these are not new fights for me.”

She was also commemorating the 20th anniversary of her speech to the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing (video and transcript below the fold).

“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,” Clinton famously said 20 years ago in a speech confronting Chinese leaders over their poor record on women’s rights. Clinton talked about poverty, violence, and lack of access to health care.

President Obama’s Email to Me from Alaska

President Obama has been in Alaska the past few days. On his first day, he renamed a mountain and made a fiery speech before the GLACIER conference.

Since then he has been visiting Alaska and sending emails to his friends (like me!) about his doings. Today’s email:
Hi, everyone — checking in on day two. Right off the bat, I’ll note that I’ve got to come back here once I’m done being President.”

You just can’t see Alaska in three days.

I spent the day hiking through Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park — where the mountains collide with the ocean and fields of ice. When the team handed over the camera, I did my best to do this place justice:

(Standing in front of Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, President Obama spoke about how climate change is causing Alaska’s glaciers to recede and accelerating rising sea levels. September 1, 2015.)
Transcript: Remarks by the President at Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, AK

Visitors from around the world come here to see its Harding Icefield — one of the largest ice fields in the United States — covering hundreds of square miles. As the climate warms, glaciers are shrinking more and more rapidly — and throughout the park, there are signs marking where the glacier line used to be.

This is as good of a signpost as any when it comes to the impacts of climate change.

I also had the chance to tour the area by boat and experience the beauty and wildlife of Resurrection Bay. It was spectacular to see the horizon of ice and snow, but it’s melting. And if we don’t act, this simply won’t be here for future generations to enjoy.

Glaciers in Alaska, and the greater Arctic, are shrinking and it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live. Since 1979, the summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by more than 40%, a decrease that has dramatically accelerated over the past two decades.

One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons — that’s 75 billion tons — of ice each year. What does a gigaton look like? To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington — from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument. Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks.

That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose…each year. And the pace of melting is only getting faster.

It’s now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 — twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago. And it’s one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they’re projected to rise another one to four feet this century.

If we do nothing, temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, triggering more melting, more fires, more thawing of the permafrost, a negative feedback loop, a cycle — warming leading to more warming — that we do not want to be a part of.

The fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That must change — and we’re not acting fast enough.

President Barack Obama”

More from President Obama’s trip below …

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Meanwhile in Tennessee:

Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton denied the divorce petition last week after hearing from seven witnesses and going through 77 exhibits.

snip-itty-doo-dah…

Atherton said the Supreme Court must clarify “when a marriage is no longer a marriage.” Otherwise, he contended, state courts are impaired from addressing marriage and divorce litigation altogether.

“The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces,” Atherton wrote.

Maybe Santorum was right… next comes dogs and cats living together?!?!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Barack Obama has decided, by the executive order, to rename Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest peak, Denali. That is the traditional name of the mountain, but it was changed back in 1917 or so to honor President McKinley.

The Alaska Delegation, including the Republicans, wanted it to go back to Denali. The Ohio delegation was blocking the legislation. President McKinley was from Ohio.

Coyote Canyon Mammoth Site, digging for Science & Education

Columbian Mammoth by Stev Ominski

Columbian Mammoth by Stev Ominski

August, 2015,
The Horse Heaven Hills,
Southwest Washington State

The Columbian Mammoth, (Mammathus columbi) once ranged all across the US, from its northern border to as far south as Costa Rica.The Columbian species evolved from the Asian elephants (Steppe Mammoth) that crossed the Bering land bridge approximately 1.5 million years ago.

The Mammoth became extinct about 11,000 years ago with the ending of the Pleistocene era. The Columbian’s cousin, the Woolly Mammoth entered North America about 100,000 years ago and occupied much of Canada. The ranges of these two species overlapped somewhat and there is evidence of cross breeding.

Exactly what led to their demise is unclear although we know that paleoamericans hunted them on their arrival some 13,000 or 14,000 years ago and up until their extinction. Climate and habitat change were also likely involved.

These huge creatures standing 13 feet tall and weighing 20,000 lbs were quite plentiful based on the number of remains found throughout the country. The remains of forty five mammoths have been documented in Benton County, WA alone, with most found in the Horse Heaven Hills where this site is located. The Columbian Mammoth is the official fossil of Washington State even though these bones are not yet fully fossilized.

 

The Coyote Canyon dig is located in the Horse Heaven Hills, just a few miles south of Kennewick Washington, also home of the famous, or infamous, 9,000 year old Kennewick Man who was found along the Columbia river. The photo below looking north shows Coyote Canyon with a sliver of the Columbia River in the mid ground. Finding mammoth remains is relatively common in this region.

Coyote Canyon, Kennewick WA

Coyote Canyon, Kennewick WA

As with most such paleontological sites, this one was found inadvertently during a quarrying operation on the edge of Coyote Canyon in 1999/2000, when excavating equipment dug up some large bones (a Mammoth mandible). Fortunately, after covering up the site the excavators moved elsewhere to dig. Eventually the land was sold to a local farming family who wanted the site to be preserved and developed as an educational site for K – 12 teachers, students, community volunteers and as an intern site for college students.

In 2008, an initial group of volunteer scientists and educators formed a non-profit foundation to pursue both educational and scientific goals. The Foundation was called the Mid-Columbia Basin Old Natural Education Sciences” (McBONES). Its professional leaders include: Paleontologist, Bax Barton, from the Burke Museum at the University of Washington; Geologist, George Last, with Pacific Northwest National Labs, and, High School educator, Gary Kleinknecht. Two weekends each month from March through October the site volunteers survey, map, dig, wash, screen, sort, process, and label their findings. Tours for school classes and community adults are regularly provided on these dig days so they can observe the ongoing dig process.

2015-08-08 Mammoth 027

Educator, Gary Kleinknecht leads a tour for an enthusiastic audience in the dig house

2015-08-08 Mammoth 035 The dig site from above

The dig process moves at a glacial pace, especially when all work is done by volunteers on a bare bones budget. They proceed slowly and meticulously as they are inventorying everything that comes out of the site in order to document all of the geology and biology buried in these flood sediments. When completed they will not only have the mammoth skeleton but a detailed catalog of the stratigraphy and paleoecology of all of the flora and fauna that lived and died here over the past 17,000 years.

Digging began in late 2010. After the site was surveyed and laid out in 3-D grids, incremental digging and scraping began. Now in its 6th year, progress is inching along in terms of uncovering skeletal remains. Here is a photo of the site in 2011, its second year when their trophies were just a few rib bones.

IMG_1379
The site in 2011

Today, considerably more of the mammoth has been excavated as shown below. The colored pieces in the graphic are those that have been found to date although some remain in the ground.
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As the skeleton is relatively articulated, they expect to find most if not all of the skeleton relatively in place. It must have arrived in one piece likely having floated down stream after being swept up in one of the Ice age floods that roared through this area about 17,000 years ago. Supporting this hypothesis it is of interest is that there are several erratic pieces of granite that must have rafted along in ice bergs and were found within the same sediments as the mammoth bone bed. Granite is not found locally and these erratics are likely from British Columbia.

Once recovered and removed from the sediment bed, the bones are sorted, identified, cleaned, and preserved before being put on display in the dig house for students and for tour participants. 2015-08-08 Mammoth 017

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2015-08-08 Mammoth 039 The dig site, August 2015

All soil and remnants are put into labeled buckets for later washing, and drying before being sent to the lab for sorting and identification. From the buckets, the soil is washed over a fine mesh to separate the fragments. Then it is laid out to dry.

2015-08-08 Mammoth 0522015-08-08 Mammoth 0492015-08-08 Mammoth 029

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2015-08-08 Mammoth 042
Close up of current findings: Humerus, Scapula to the left, Vertibra in the back wall

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Close up of two humeri and a rib bone

So far the findings from this site have provided data for several poster presentations at various scientific meetings such as the Geologic Society of America and the Northwest Scientific Association.

2015-08-08 Mammoth 023

2015-08-08 Mammoth 012

Although as noted above, Mammoth remains are not rare in Washington State, this particular dig stands out in that it is so well documented and that its goal is not simply to dig up some old bones. Rather it is highlighted as an institution providing an outdoor laboratory in which to involve community members, teachers, and students in an ongoing example of how the scientific method is used to examine, explore, and describe the area’s ancient history. By the time the task is complete, thousands of K- 12 and college students, as well as teachers and community members will have observed this process and many will have gotten their hands dirty in the dig. They will have participated in detailing the paleoecology of all the flora and fauna that lived here as well as the geologic history of the area. This is truly a community based science education project.

Reference sites:

http://www.nwptv.org/watch-video/access-northwest/mcbones-coyote-canyon-mammoth-site/ (A three part TV documentary on the dig site)

http://www.coyotecanyonmammothsite.org/CCMSBrochure/index.html

(for tours of the site, call the numbers in the above brochure)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbian_mammoth

https://depts.washington.edu/qrc/BRB1998WG.pdf