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President Obama on Health Reform

The President shakes hands after his health care address.

President Barack Obama greets audience members after delivering remarks on health care reform during the Catholic Health Association Conference at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Yesterday, at the Catholic Health Association’s annual assembly, President Obama outlined the state of health care in America, now that the Affordable Care Act has become part of the fabric of our health care system.

“Everything we’ve done these past six and a half years to rebuild our economy on a new foundation… has been in pursuit of that one goal, creating opportunity for all people,” the President said. “And health reform was a critical part of that effort.”

Watch the President’s full remarks, and learn more about the history of health care reform in our country.


My Day One: From the Streets of Lahore to the Heart of Texas

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, and people across the country are sharing their American stories. Manar Waheed — the Deputy Policy Director for Immigration here at the White House — shared her own story this morning.


The First Lady Celebrates the Class of 2015

Last night, the First Lady delivered her final commencement address of the season at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Preparatory High School (King College Prep) in Chicago. This spring, Mrs. Obama also celebrated the graduates at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, AL, and Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH as a way to shine a spotlight on students who have gone above and beyond to reach higher, and help others do the same.


At the G7: President Obama’s Trip to Germany

This weekend, the President traveled to Krun, Germany — a small village in the Bavarian Alps — to meet with the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7). The G7 is an organization of world leaders, finance ministers, and heads of state from seven of the largest economies in the world — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. — as well as the European Council, EU Commission, and International Monetary Fund.


Why The Middle Class Needs Unions


a repost

New Data Shows That Union Membership Continues To Decline

The rate of unionization among wage and salary workers went down in 2014, from 11.3 percent to 11.1 percent, according to annual data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today. The number of unionized workers, at 14.6 million, was unchanged from 2013.

From the national debate over how to address income inequality, to President Obama talking about “middle class economics” in his State of the Union address, unions are more important than ever. In CAP’s recent report on inclusive prosperity, one of the key recommendations was to expand worker voice by making procedures governing collective bargaining fast and fair and remove the atmosphere of conflict that can surround representation elections and bargaining over initial contracts.

Check out the infographic below to see why the middle class needs unions.

Random things to see and do in July …

 USflagPrepare your pout for International Kissing Day. (July 6)  So you gave yourself some lovin’ on July 3. Now, today is all about giving love to others! Put on your favorite lipstick and pucker up.


Get up and move on National Dance Day. (July 25)  We just found the perfect excuse for an impromptu dance party. Started by So You Think You Can Dance co-creator Nigel Lythgoe in 2010, National Dance Day is all about embracing dance as a way to stay healthy and fight obesity.

Treat yourself with something sweet for National Ice Cream Month. Cup or cone, chocolate or vanilla—it doesn’t matter. Cool down with a scoop of your favorite flavor any (or every) day this month.


~~ Sky-Watching.co.uk  site recommends

Monday 6th July – Our planet Earth is at aphelion today (the furthest point our orbit takes us away from the Sun) at a distance of 152 million kilometres (94.5 million miles)

Wednesday 8th July – This evening our Moon will be seen at Last Quarter phase

Saturday 11th July – A firm summer favourite of ours, double star Albireo is currently high to the south around

And to help identify the constellations you can see throughout the month, below we’ve provided guide images for both southern and northern skies in July

Displaying the night sky midway through the month, this image can help you identify the constellations you’ll see in the northern sky in July (click to enlarge) – Credit: Sky-Watching/Stellarium

Tuesday 21st July – The Moon is at Apogee today at a distance of 404,835 km (251,553 miles), the furthest point its orbit will take it away from the Earth this month

Thursday 23rd July – Inner planet Mercury is in Superior conjunction today, so is currently unobservable

Friday 24th July – Today the Moon can be seen at First Quarter phase

Tuesday 28th July – Remember that July is a great time of year to look for noctilucent clouds, which sometimes appear low down in the northwest (after sunset) and northeast (just before sunrise)

 Noctilucent clouds as captured over Sweden (click to enlarge) – Credit: P-M Hedén

These clouds are in the upper atmosphere and are usually too faint to see, becoming visible only when illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon while the lower layers of the atmosphere are in the Earth’s shadow

Friday 31st July – When a second Full Moon appears in a month it is sometimes known as a Blue Moon

It saw you standing alone

As usual, if you take any photos throughout July you’d like to show us, please tweet them to us using the link below! We’d love to see your efforts and we’ll re-tweet them to your fellow sky-watchers!




New thinking about the Caribbean

June 14, 2015

In North America and Europe there are from time to time international conferences that quietly enable new thinking. It is mostly an unseen process whereby governments, foundations or think tanks facilitate conversations, in ways that variously attempt to address intractable problems such as those in the Middle East, form a consensus on future policy, or enable the participants to look over the horizon.

These events allow invited participants to escape from their day-to-day responsibilities and usually in a group of 50 or less, debate and explore new ideas or solutions in private. The value is not just in the dialogue and the outcome, but in the freedom to say what you think knowing that no one will quote you, in the personal contacts made in the margins, and the associated trust that develops which can last throughout a career.

Such events rarely focus on the Caribbean, but a little over a week ago about sixty invited guests from the Caribbean as a whole, the UK and North America met at Wilton Park in the English countryside.

The objective of ‘Caribbean 2030: new thinking for a new generation’ was to bring together a mix of voices, young and more experienced, to consider what the region might look like fifteen years from now, and to hear in particular how younger participants from politics, government, the private sector, academia and civil society see the Caribbean’s future and how they might play a role in taking it there.

The conference, which was developed in conjunction with the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) and Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was wide-ranging in its scope, but a number of general themes emerged which suggest a different Caribbean in fifteen years time.

One of the more significant discussions that ran throughout the conference was whether the future fortunes of the region lay in economic convergence between complementary economies. It was suggested that rather than politically-led solutions, it was trade, investment and financial services between networked groups of nations that would create future growth and integration. One consequence was that participants from the northern Caribbean, and in particular from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, argued that there was greater value in Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic having a stronger economic relationship that might also involve Cayman as a financial hub. The view of some was that such an approach would enable the Caribbean to escape being defined through its colonial past.

This was not to say that in terms of foreign relations and on issues of international or thematic importance that the region should not act through Caricom, nor for most was it to suggest that Caricom should be set aside; but many participants felt there were better opportunities for growth through a more rational approach to economic integration linked to improved infrastructure. The suggestion was that this thinking ought to drive policy across the region.

FYI: Caricom members include

 Antigua and Barbuda 4 July 1974
 Bahamas 4 July 1983 Not part of customs union
 Barbados 1 August 1973
 Belize 1 May 1974
 Dominica 1 May 1974
 Grenada 1 May 1974
 Haiti 2 July 2002 Provisional membership on 4 July 1998
 Jamaica 1 August 1973
 Montserrat 1 May 1974 British overseas territory
 Saint Kitts and Nevis 26 July 1974 Joined as Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla
 Saint Lucia 1 May 1974
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1 May 1974
 Suriname 4 July 1995
 Trinidad and Tobago 1 August 1973 Founder of the Organization before handing over to Guyana
Associate  Anguilla July 1999 British overseas territory
 Bermuda 2 July 2003 British overseas territory
 British Virgin Islands July 1991 British overseas territory
 Cayman Islands 16 May 2002 British overseas territory
 Turks and Caicos Islands July 1991 British overseas territory
Observer  Aruba Country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
 Curaçao Country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
 Dominican Republic
 Puerto Rico Commonwealth of the USA
 Sint Maarten Country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

There were of course dissenting voices, particularly in some of the working groups. Some in particular from the Eastern Caribbean and from academia objected and declared themselves all but wedded to making what the region already had work, though when it came to the detail there was little to demonstrate how this might take the Caribbean beyond where it is today.

A second prevailing theme was that of the new economy and the growing irrelevance of borders.

These thoughts came especially from some of the younger participants involved in information technology, new media, tourism and the private sector more generally, who made clear that what they were doing made traditional geographic concepts and the size of the Caribbean irrelevant.

The conference was also notable for leaping the language and cultural divide with participants from the Dominican Republic being able to demonstrate in a neutral setting how their experience in many areas from alternative energy to tourism had relevance to most of the region. It also allowed them to set out the country’s thinking in terms of how it might be better connected with and work more closely with the nations of Caricom.

As you might expect there were detailed exchanges on energy security, the environment, and education which all agreed was a development priority if the region was to succeed. There were interesting mentions of the blue economy − the region’s largely unrealised offshore resource − and important exchanges on governance and security about which more in a future column.

There was not a stand-off between the politicians and the private sector. In fact there was a surprising degree of consensus that both needed one another and that the region had to end this false dichotomy if growth were to be achieved. It was suggested that as the generations changed this may no longer be so much of an issue. However, for some, the balance between the competing interests of social equity and the role of the market in Caribbean development needed to be resolved if the region was ever to experience significant economic growth.

For some of the younger participants the real problem that the region has to face in the next fifteen years was to escape from the dead hand of the region’s public sector. In a rarely voiced opinion it was suggested that it is the public sector and those who work with it who have a vested interest in ensuring that thinking and their influence remain the same.

The suggestion was that this was holding the region back.

Strikingly the relationship with the UK, Europe and the US was little mentioned by the younger participants. It was as if the Caribbean had moved on and had a much more balanced view of when and on what issues it wished to relate to a much broader range of external partners. In this context it was unclear whether China’s presence in the region was a threat, an opportunity, or both.

The downside of the meeting was that there was no authentic Cuban voice able to discuss the way it saw the region, the way in which detente with the US may change the Caribbean’s political and economic centre of gravity.

These are of course personal observations, and in due course there will be a report with suggested actions.

The value, however, of this quite different conference will only be known if the synergies, new thinking and the relationships established begin to change the Caribbean for the better.

Previous columns can be found at www. caribbean-council.org