Our Top Stories
January 05, 2010
05:13 PM EDT
I appreciate the choice Webster's New World College Dictionary has made in selecting "distracted driving" as their Word of the Year 2009. I think its rapid intrusion into our national vocabulary shows what an epidemic distracted driving has become.
There's no denying that this phrase became part of my vocabulary this past year. Below is Webster's Editor-in-Chief Mike Agnes explaining their choice:Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
Now, as interesting as it is to talk about what "distracted" really modifies here, it's probably much more important to focus on what "distracted driving" says about our common sense.
On its website, Webster's explains its choice further:
A sign of the times surely, distracted driving is another reflection – and consequence – of our ongoing romance with all things digital and mobile and the enhanced capabilities they provide. While it now may be easier and quicker to feed our multitasking habits, it is not always safe, and many jurisdictions are formalizing that position by making it a crime to text or otherwise use a cellphone while driving.
Ray LaHood is Secretary of Transportation
Dr. Jill BidenJanuary 05, 2010
03:16 PM EDT
As a community college instructor, I feel right at home in the classroom – and so I was thrilled to spend time this morning with local students at DC's Banneker Senior High School to talk with them about their goals of pursuing a college education. It was a great morning - I joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island to showcase the new and more streamlined Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which is now available to students.
I know first-hand as a parent and as a former high school and current college instructor just how challenging and overwhelming all of the financial aid forms and paperwork can be - and it was great to see how the current forms have fewer questions, easier navigation and are more user-friendly. I spoke with students at the computer lab who expressed relief to be working on the more user-friendly FAFSA.
President Obama has challenged the nation to have the highest percentage of college graduates by 2020, and simplifying the FAFSA form is a huge step toward removing barriers to financial aid and access to higher education for all.
If you are considering applying for financial aid, you can learn more here: www.fafsa.ed.gov
January 05, 2010
12:50 PM EDT
[Ed. Note: Learn more about the Educate to Innovate campaign.]
It has been a pleasure to work with so many students and their families over the past year as a mentor, helping them awaken to their natural but perhaps undernourished interest in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM). Witnessing students take positions of leadership as they apply their STEM knowledge and make significant differences in their local communities has been immensely rewarding for the students and for myself.
The simple definition of a mentor is a trusted or experienced advisor, and although it gets less attention than formal teaching in much of America today it is a familiar tradition among American Indians like me. Within our Tribal communities, our ceremonies, histories, languages, and everything else we place value on has long been passed orally through an intricate system of mentoring. In American Indian culture, no one is too young to serve as a mentor. Meaningful mentoring relationships can exist between junior high and high school students, amongst peers, between high school and college students, between college or graduate students and faculty, and at a professional level between colleagues.
In fact, mentoring is one of the most inexpensive and effective strategies for increasing the success of any and all students. A good mentor can inspire students to find their own path, regardless of those students' circumstances, background, or level of academic preparation. We all know from experience that the significance of relevant knowledge and information is often missed if it is simply written and stored until a worthy individual stumbles upon it. A written or cataloged set of words simply cannot compete with the passion that mentors can bring to ignite and excite us about their work and what they know.
Many of the people who I have mentored either throughout high school or through college today serve their local American Indian Tribe in critical areas, such as natural resources management. For Tribes, of course, connections to the natural world and preserving these precious resources for future generations are long-term priorities. The students' academic and research experiences, their work ethic, and their dedication are helping local Tribes to use technology—in some cases along with traditional knowledge—to preserve and manage precious resources such as water, land, air, and timber.
For example, tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have helped the students I have worked with develop scientific models so future decisions relating to health of the local land, availability of water, access to electricity and communications grids, and use of emerging technologies from alternative energy, can improve the overall quality of life for all of the people in a community.
It seems like a very small thing, but to have students I have mentored be right in the middle of these decisions—becoming experts and leaders, providing inspiration and hope in communities that are very desolate, depressed, and despondent—is very gratifying. It means that each and every one of us can dramatically impact and improve the future of our local communities, our states, and our nation, by getting out of the silos of our offices and our labs and making the personal effort to mentor individuals.
Stacy Phelps is Chief Executive Officer of the American Indian Institute for Innovation and is being honored tomorrow with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring
Dan PfeifferJanuary 05, 2010
10:18 AM EDT
With Congress now needing only to combine ideas from the House and Senate versions of health insurance reform into one final bill to send the President, there is an unavoidable temptation among the media to focus on the five percent of differences between the two versions, instead of the remarkable 95 percent the bills have in common. But, even as difficult work does remain, it is important not to lose perspective of how far we have come and how close we are to the enacting health reform.
The reality is that the two versions of reform legislation are vastly similar – built upon a shared foundation that will provide stability and security for Americans with insurance, affordable options for those without, and lower costs for families, businesses, and the government.
Both the House and Senate versions of health insurance reform rest upon the following building blocks:
- Insurance reforms to protect consumers from insurance company worst-practices – like denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, capping total coverage, and dropping or watering down coverage when you get sick and need it most
- Consumer protections that will restrict how much of your premium dollars insurance companies can spend on marketing, profits, salaries.
- Creation of a health exchange to increase consumer choice and guarantee coverage
- A commitment to expanding health coverage
- Affordable health options, with subsidies for working families and a hardship waiver
- Tax credits to help small businesses afford coverage
- Improvements in the health status of our population by investing in prevention and chronic disease management
- Making preventive care completely free – with no copayments or deductibles
- Lowering the cost of health care for our seniors
- Improving the quality and extending the life of Medicare
- Strengthening our primary care workforce
- Reforming the delivery system
- Ensuring that reform is not only fully paid for, but actually significantly reduces the federal deficit.
So as you follow the health reform debate in the media, don't fall prey to the cynicism and pessimism of a lot of the chattering class and remember that we are on the precipice of a historic accomplishment that will make a real difference in the lives of American families.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Secretary Gary LockeJanuary 05, 2010
10:06 AM EDT
Yesterday, I started my new year in Rockefeller Center on the Today Show to kick off our huge push to get people to take part in the 2010 Census.
One of my resolutions is to help make this the best, most accurate Census count ever.
The Commerce Department's Census Bureau spends 10 years planning how to best count everyone living in America and then New Years comes – and the rubber hits the road! Which is literally what’s happening this year.
Today, we're sending out a small fleet of 13 vehicles – which we’re calling the Portrait of America Road Tour – that will drive across the United States and Puerto Rico to get the word out about the 2010 Census.
We're doing this for the oldest of reasons – because our Constitution tells us to. Every 10 years, since 1790, we've counted ourselves – every single person living in America. This count determines how we divvy up about $400 billion in federal aid to states to help pay for things like schools, roads, hospitals and police and firemen.
For the 2010 Census, we've added some high tech twists to the traditional Census process. Everyone is still going to receive a Census questionnaire in the mailbox, so please – FILL IT OUT, and mail it back. The form is very simple, and has only 10 questions that should take about 10 minutes to complete, and the questionnaire comes in numerous languages.
I’m counting on the Road Tour to get the word out and encourage people to participate. Our little armada of vehicles will drive more than 150,000 miles, be seen by an estimated 18 million people and stop at more than 800 community gatherings, celebrations and sporting events.
Anybody who wants to can learn about the Census and how to fill out a Census form. If you want, you can explain why you’re taking part in the Census, and then you can upload your story onto an interactive website. And you can follow the tour and see other people’s stories by tracking the Road Tour on Twitter, Facebook or through the Road Tour blog. Happy New Years and make sure to follow the Portrait of America Road Tour on the web at:
- Twitter: @2010Portrait
- Facebook: Facebook.com/USCensusBureau
- MySpace: MySpace.com/USCensusBureau
- Flickr: Flickr.com/USCensusBureau
- YouTube: YouTube.com/USCensusBureau
Gary Locke is the Secretary of Commerce. He can be followed on Twitter at @SecLocke
January 05, 2010
09:00 AM EDT
In support of the President's Open Government Initiative -- and in keeping with a 40-year history of bringing government information to the public -- GSA's Office of Citizen Services is hosting the dialog, Your Voice Matters.
USA.gov has evolved over the years in a continuing effort to provide quick and easy access to government information and services. Now, with this online dialog tool, the public can more fully participate in USA.gov's re-design and development that will allow GSA's Office of Citizen Services to better shape the website in response to posted ideas and comments.
Join the dialog and let us know how you prefer to access information and services on USA.gov. Are there tools we should be using but aren't? What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the website? We're listening and stand ready to make changes.
Your Voice Matters is open through January 15, so please share your thoughts on how to make USA.gov work for you.
David L. McClure is Associate Administrator Citizen Services and Communications at the U.S. General Services Administration
Nancy-Ann DeParleJanuary 05, 2010
06:00 AM EDT
Today we got a striking reminder of what defenders of the status quo are defending, and the future that lies ahead if opponents of reform get their way. And this isn't fear-mongering based on some deceptive distortion as we so often hear from those opponents, it's cold hard facts.
Today, the actuaries at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a report and new data on health spending that confirms what families and businesses around this country already know: The need for health insurance reform is urgent. Rising health care costs are eating into family budgets, forcing employers to cut back; and health spending is taking up a greater and greater percentage of America’s economic output. The report, published in the journal Health Affairs, shows that health spending as a percentage of GDP has increased from 15.9 per cent in 2007 to 16.2 per cent in 2008. That means more than one in six dollars in this country is tied up in the health care system. The growth of health care spending is unsustainable. The time to act is now. America cannot wait any longer.
There is a glimmer of good news in the report: Health spending slowed somewhat compared to the the year before. The numbers are still shocking: National health spending reached $2.3 trillion, or $7681 per person in 2008: The highest in the world. And the reason the rate of spending slowed in this year was because of the economic slowdown. Employers and families were simply forced to cut back. Employers are spending less on health insurance because many no longer provide benefits to their workers. We know that many employers simply can’t afford the high cost. Many families who have lost their jobs and health insurance went without the care and prescription drugs they need.
Families are struggling to keep up with the cost of health care. The share of family income spent on health care grew from 5.3% to 5.9% in one year.
Government was also handed a higher bill. Health spending on Medicare grew by 8.6 percent, driven in part by the high cost of private Medicare Advantage plans. Health insurance reform legislation will eliminate wasteful overpayments to insurance companies while protecting guaranteed Medicare benefits and strengthening the Medicare Trust Fund.
The data make clear that our economy and our families can no longer afford the health care status quo. The reform proposals being considered in Congress will help drive down the cost of health care while strengthening Medicare for our seniors and improving the quality of care for all Americans. Changing the way we handle hospitalizations to prevent mistakes and unnecessary readmissions and creating incentives in the payment system to reward quality of care rather than just the quantity of care are just some of the important reforms that will help us achieve this critical goal.
And we are closer to passing these reforms than ever before. President Obama’s leadership and the hard work of members of Congress have brought us to an historic moment. After decades of waiting, 2010 will be the year we make health reform a reality.
Nancy-Ann DeParle is the Director of the White House Office of Health Reform
Jesse LeeJanuary 04, 2010
06:01 PM EDT
Last week we shared some examples of how mayors across the country have stood up and given voice to their towns and areas by holding community jobs forums. But of course this is not just about mayors and other public officials, so we also wanted to share a story that really demonstrates exactly what this whole process is about. It also comes out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the President spent his day after the initial jobs forum here at the White House. Incidentally, it will unfold in about a half hour if you're in the area.
From The Morning Call:
Anne Horosky, a lifelong Republican who voted for John McCain in the presidential election, never imagined she would be working on the same side as President Barack Obama.
But when the 53-year-old South Whitehall Township woman lost her career in June, her politics suddenly shifted.
''I'm seeing what it's all about on the other side and now I understand how government can really work for someone who is in need,'' Horosky said.
So, when Obama scheduled his December visit to Allentown, she e-mailed the White House to share her story.
In response, the White House invited Horosky to host her very own jobs forum in Allentown and to report back the concerns of the people in her community. She will be holding it Monday night at 6:30 in the clubhouse at the Cedar Creek Farms community, where she lives.
A little more:
Frank Costanzo, the community manager at Cedar Creek Farms, said the clubhouse where the forum will be held can hold 115 people, but he hopes so many come that ''it flows into the parking lot.''
Costanzo said the forum is an opportunity to bring together the local unemployed to share their experiences, their hardships and their successes. There are former CEOs now working at Home Depot, he said, and there is a plumber in the neighborhood who has been unable to get work since he was laid off two years ago.
''I think a lot of good will come of it,'' Costanzo said. ''Maybe something we pass on will be something that is planted.''
It's not too late to sign up to hold your own, but the deadline is closing in -- sign up by January 7th, and we'll be taking feedback for a couple weeks after that.
January 04, 2010
03:30 PM EDT
President Obama has made job creation a top priority in the nation's continuing economic recovery, hosting a jobs forum at the White House and calling for similar meetings across the country to make sure every good idea is explored. The Recovery Act continues to be instrumental in providing funds to states and municipalities to keep Americans working and, at the same time, make needed improvements to the nation's infrastructure and prepare workers for the economy of tomorrow. Reports of these successes are coming in from media across the country:
Ohio Gets Billions From ARRA, Enabling It To Balance Its Budget And Save The Jobs Of Many State Employees, As Well As Invest In Energy And Environment Projects. "When the federal stimulus program was announced last year, Ohio figured it would get around $8.2 billion. But the state already has surpassed that by $1 billion and could get another billion before the program ends... Experts say the money that helped Ohio balance its budget saved the jobs of many state employees."
Stimulus Funding Goes To Bay Area Jobs Program That Is 'Almost Too Good To Be True.' "The federal stimulus bill set aside $5 billion to subsidize jobs for needy families. California gets $1.8 billion of that to dole out to counties which can use the money to get unemployed people into jobs. San Francisco was one of the first to get the program off and running."
More Than $1 Billion From ARRA Is “Flowing Freely” Into The Bay Area, Flooding University Research Coffers, Boosting Transportation Projects, Improving Infrastructure, And More. "More than $1 billion from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is flowing freely into the Bay Area, flooding university research coffers and boosting transportation projects such as the long-awaited Caldecott Tunnel expansion and the BART-Oakland Airport people mover, funding high-tech baggage screening equipment at San Francisco International Airport and improvements to Caltrain in San Mateo County.”
Missouri Gets $1.2 Million Stimulus Grant For Green Jobs. "Missouri has won a $1.2 million grant funded by the federal stimulus package for research on ‘green’ occupations and the skills needed for these jobs... Nearly 5 percent of Missouri’s total employment, or more than 130,000 positions, are now tied to the green economy, according to a report released this month."
Stimulus Funds Go To 14 Road Improvement Projects In Ouachita Parish. "Fourteen road improvement projects in Ouachita Parish being funded with federal stimulus monies have been scheduled to go out for bids in February. The state Department of Transportation and Economic Development will let projects in February for Monroe, West Monroe and in the parish as part of the state's expenditure of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds...West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris expects his city's six projects to be under construction in the spring."
Jesse LeeJanuary 04, 2010
03:16 PM EDT
This morning the President and his family returned from Hawaii. The President was plenty busy even on "vacation," but will be hitting the ground running on the economy, health reform, national security and a number of other issues this week.
January 04, 2010
02:30 PM EDT
[Ed. Note: Learn more about the Educate to Innovate campaign.]
During my professional career, I have been rewarded with many honors. I have received wonderful pictures and letters from my incredible students, amazing thank-you letters from parents, and words of encouragement from colleagues. All of those honors have humbled me and encouraged me to work harder to become a better educator. But the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is the highest honor I have ever received in my professional career and the highest honor I can imagine receiving as a science teacher. When I told my students about my trip to Washington DC to receive my award, they were so excited and proud of me. They had more questions than I could answer. Most of my students asked, “Do you think you’ll meet the President?” I told them I hoped so, and if I saw President Obama in person I would ask to shake his hand.
From the grocery store to NASA, science is an integral part of our everyday lives. Whether we realize it or not, science is all around us, and it influences decisions we make every day. A quality science education is imperative for our students to become successful, productive citizens who can make good decisions and compete in the global economy. That is why I believe it is essential that young students have meaningful science experiences in the classroom. Teachers should satisfy their students’ natural curiosity about science and inspire them to learn.
Like my students, I am curious about and fascinated by science. I believe students learn best when they are involved in their learning. I institute a system of hands-on, minds-on. In my classroom, I actively engage my students to facilitate learning. My students work in cooperative learning groups to complete different science activities and experiments. They use the scientific method to hypothesize answers to different scientific problems. Then they conduct experiments and observe closely to discover the empirical answers to those problems. My students must think critically to understand the results of their experiments and draw feasible conclusions from those results. For example, instead of telling my students how electrical circuits work, my students use science equipment and materials to discover different ways they can make an electrical circuit work. Then we have scientific discussions about the implications of their findings. Other ways I assist my students to master different science skills are by observing, classifying, dancing, producing art, researching scientific topics, using different forms of media, and creating models.
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching demonstrates the United States’ dedication to math and science education. Over the past 25 years, this award has acknowledged outstanding math and science teachers who find creative and innovative ways to motive their students to learn. I am truly honored to be in Washington this week to receive this award and to meet and network with other exceptional math and science educators from around our great nation.
Kendra Pullen is a fourth-grade science teacher at Riverside Elementary School in Shreveport, LA and is being honored this week with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching