August 21, 2014 - August 27, 2014


The President Gives an Update on Iraq and the Situation in Ferguson, Missouri

 

By Press
Office of the White House

August 14, 2014 President Obama updated the nation on two issues that he's been monitoring closely over the past several days -- America's military operations in Iraq, and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

Speaking first on Iraq, the President noted the progress the U.S. has made in carrying out "targeted military operations" in the country:

Last week, I authorized two limited missions:  protecting our people and facilities inside of Iraq, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded on a mountain.

A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yezidi men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter.  We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving Yezidi civilians in their custody, and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice -- starve on the mountain, or be slaughtered on the ground.  That’s when America came to help.

Over the last week, the U.S. military conducted humanitarian air drops every night –- delivering more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water.  We were joined in that effort by the United Kingdom, and other allies pledged support. Our military was able to successfully strike ISIL targets around the mountain, which improved conditions for civilians to evacuate the mountain safely.

Yesterday, a small team of Americans -– military and civilian -– completed their review of the conditions on the mountain.  They found that food and water have been reaching those in need, and that thousands of people have been evacuating safely each and every night.  The civilians who remain continue to leave, aided by Kurdish forces and Yezidis who are helping to facilitate the safe passage of their families.

"The bottom line," President Obama said, "is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts."

Because of the skill and professionalism of our military –- and the generosity of our people –- we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives.  Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain.  The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Iraq in the coming days.  And I just want to say that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the men and women of our military who carried out this humanitarian operation almost flawlessly.  I’m very grateful to them and I know that those who were trapped on that mountain are extraordinarily grateful as well.

The President also noted, however, that the situation is still dire for Iraqis that are "subjected to ISIL's terror throughout the country," including minorities like Yezidis and Iraqi Christians, as well as Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds.

We’re going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in northern Iraq wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground.

We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well.  We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq.  We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines.

And, perhaps most importantly, we are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against ISIL –- above all, by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new, inclusive government under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Abadi.  I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister-designate Abadi a few days ago, and he spoke about the need for the kind of inclusive government -- a government that speaks to all the people of Iraq -- that is needed right now.  He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.

Turning to the situation in Ferguson, the President acknowledged that many Americans this week have been "deeply disturbed" by the images of police clashing with protestors -- adding that we should all "take a step back, and think about how we're going to move forward."

This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team.  I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground.

The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation.  I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.

I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri.  I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward.  He is going to be traveling to Ferguson.  He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.

Of course, it’s important to remember how this started.  We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.  He was 18 years old.  His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.  And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.

"There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting," the President said. He added, however, that "there’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights."

Here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.  Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.

"I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson," he said, "and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened." He added that even though there will be differences in both the accounts of how this event occurred, as well as what needs to happen going forward, we should still "remember that we're all part of one American family."

We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.

"Now is the time for healing," the President said. "Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done."

The President has directed the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney on the scene in Ferguson to continue working with local officials to "move that process forward." They will be reporting back to the President over the next few days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.

 

Attorney General Eric Holder also released a statement on his meeting with the President today:

At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities. Also atmy direction, the Department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force. The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.

Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community. The latest such meeting was convened in Ferguson as recently as this morning. Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities

All the while, the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations. Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.


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Continued Demand for Farmers Markets

 

By Press Officer
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2014 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo announced over the weekend that USDA's National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 markets, an increase of 76 percent since 2008. The data reflects continued demand and growth of farmers markets in every region of the country. Alonzo also announced that AMS is developing three new local food directories that will expand USDA's support for local and regional foods by providing easy access to the most current information about the local food market.

Alonzo made the announcements at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin, the country's largest producer-only market, where she kicked off the 15th annual "National Farmers Market Week", from Aug. 3 through Aug. 9, 2014.

"The National Farmers Market Directory numbers reflect the continued importance of farmers markets to American agriculture. Since its inception, the directory has proven to be a valuable tool for accessing up-to-date information about local farmers markets," Alonzo said. "Farmers markets play an extremely important role for both farmers and consumers. They bring urban and rural communities together while creating economic growth and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods."

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory, available at farmersmarkets.usda.gov, provides information about U.S. farmers market locations, directions, operating times, product offerings, and much more. The data is collected via voluntary self-reporting by operating farmers market managers and is searchable by zip code, product mix, and other criteria. The National Farmers Market Directory receives over two million hits annually.

In addition to USDA's National Farmers Market Directory, AMS is adding:

USDA's National Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) Enterprise Directory - A CSA is a farm or network/association of multiple farms that offer consumers regular deliveries of locally-grown farm products during one or more harvest season(s) on a subscription or membership basis.

USDA's National Food Hub Directory - A Food Hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products to multiple buyers from multiple producers, primarily local and regional producers, to strengthen the ability of these producers to satisfy local and regional wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.

USDA's National On-Farm Market Directory - An On-Farm Market is a farm market managed by a single farm operator that sells agricultural and/or horticultural products directly to consumers from a location on their farm property or on property adjacent to that farm.

USDA invites local food business owners who fall within these categories to list their operational details in the new directories www.usdalocalfooddirectories.com. These new directories will be available online early in 2015, giving potential customers, business partners, and community planners easy, one-stop access to the most current information about different sources of local foods.


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PG County is the Best Location for the FBI

 

By PRESS OFFICER
Office of Steny Hoyer

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5) delivered remarks at a press conference with U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin, Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, and Prince George’s County Council Chair Mel Franklin today to applaud the inclusion of two proposed sites, Greenbelt and Landover, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on the General Services Administration’s (GSA) short-list of eligible sites to serve as the future home of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Below are his remarks:

“I am pleased to be here. I am pleased to be here with our County Executive Rushern Baker, with the president of our County Council, Mel Franklin, who have done such extraordinary work with my partner [Rep.] Donna Edwards who represents Prince George’s County. Both of these sites, of course, are in Prince George’s County, where our two Senators said the FBI ought to be.

“The Maryland Congressional Delegation – Team Maryland – has worked tirelessly over the past several months to highlight the benefits of locating this new headquarters in Prince George’s County.

“I would call your attention to the map over here. All of these facilities that are approximate to the two sites that have been selected in Prince George’s County are extraordinary assets to [the] FBI mission and an FBI location.

“Today, our efforts have taken another step forward, as these two sites have been selected as two of the three sites. They have much to commend themselves to the FBI as it carries out its mission of keeping Americans safe from crime and terrorism.

“Not only are they conveniently located near I-95 and public transit routes, but they are also easily accessible to and from BWI, National, Dulles, Marc, and Amtrak. Not to mention Andrew’s Air Force Base, which I will mention in just a second.

“Prince George’s County and the surrounding area is home to top-notch institutions of higher learning. Senator Mikulski referred to them, but the University of Maryland, College Park, Bowie State, UMBC, UMUC, Prince George’s Community College, and Anne Arundel Community College. An extraordinary asset for our FBI agents in terms of not only continuing education but in terms of criminal expertise, particularly at the University of Maryland, College Park, but also at these other institutions. And defense installations like the Joint Base Andrews. An FBI agent can get to any place in the world in minutes from Andrew’s Air Force Base. Hours or however long it is away, but my point is, in minutes [an agent can get to] Andrew’s Air Force Base [and] can get on a plane to get them where they need to be in a moment of crisis. Fort Meade, the NSA, and Cyber Command are all in close proximity to both of these sites.

“Prince George’s County continues to have the fewest leased federal office facilities of any county in the greater Washington area. ‘Left out,’ is what Senator [Mikulski] said. Ignored, overlooked. That should not happen. This jurisdiction is one of the most dynamic jurisdictions in America. Under the leadership of our County Executive Baker, it is a growing, vibrant, wonderful place to live, to work, and to establish an FBI consolidated headquarters.

“Our county has a talented workforce, 40 percent, as Senator Cardin indicated, I think Senator Mikulski mentioned it as well, [of the] workforce lives in Maryland. So, from a transportation standpoint this makes great sense for the community.

“I and my colleagues will continue to work with the delegation to reach out to stakeholders and provide the GSA and FBI with the information they need to make the correct decision. Is there any doubt what the correct decision is?

“We will make certain that the GSA and FBI see all of the advantages of Prince George’s County. “I am confident – I really am confident – that their decision will reflect how competitive Prince George’s County is, how much more it offers than the alternatives, and how good a deal Prince George’s County is. Senator Cardin talked about value, and we have value to give."

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PG County Council Approves Agreement with MGM

 

By PRESS OFFICER
PG County Government

The Prince George’s County Council, meeting during the Council’s final session prior to the August recess on Wednesday, July 23, 2014, voted to approve CR-68-2014, a landmark Community Benefit Agreement(CBA) between Prince George’s County and MGM Resorts International.

 Council Resolution 68-2014 establishes requirements regarding County-based business participation; County-based minority business participation; employment opportunities for County residents during the construction and operation; and local investment opportunities for County residents at the new billion-dollar MGM National Harbor Resort Casino project.

 “This is the first and only Community Benefit Agreement with one of Maryland's six approved casinos. I would like to thank my colleagues and our Council staff for their hard work and dedication in this endeavor, and applaud the leadership and partnership of County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and his staff,” said Prince George’s County Council Chairman Mel Franklin (D) – District 9. “We look forward to working with MGM during the construction and operation phases of this new facility to ensure that the components of this historic agreement are fully implemented and that County residents reap the economic benefits of this world-class destination resort scheduled to open in the summer of 2016. We are bringing the world to Prince George's County and MGM National Harbor is a great beginning.”

The historic Community Benefit Agreement also includes a host of additional benefits including summer internships, a new culinary program, and local philanthropy contributions.

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Maryland Neighborhoods with Lowest Incomes Spend the Most on Lottery Tickets

 

By LEJLA SARCEVIC, ETHAN BARTON and LAUREN MCLENDON
Capital News Service

BALTIMORE - Boarded-up homes, crumbling store fronts and police cameras with blue lights line the streets of Park Heights. It’s in one of Baltimore’s poorest ZIP codes, where the median household income is about $35,000.

Yet people spent $34 million on lottery tickets here in calendar year 2012 -- more than any other ZIP code in the state, a Capital News Service analysis found.

Evert Chapman, a truck driver from Park Heights, said he’s not surprised.

“We play to make some extra money,” said Chapman, 34, as he jotted down numbers on the back of a Keno ticket inside Hoffman’s Liquors on Park Heights Avenue. “I want some extra money. We all do.”

The Maryland Lottery has become the fourth largest source of revenue for the state, contributing $545 million last fiscal year, according to the lottery agency’s comprehensive financial report.

But a Capital News Service analysis found that lower-income ZIP codes contributed a disproportionate share. The analysis also found more than a third of the revenue came from Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. Baltimore City led the state in average dollars spent on lottery tickets per adult, followed by Charles County and Prince George’s County.

Lottery officials said they do not know the reasons for the disproportionate spending from those communities.

“It’s not something we analyze or look at,” Jackie Vincent, the director of gaming research and chief of staff at the gaming agency, said.

Agency officials say that their job is to raise revenue for the state, but they don’t set policy. “That’s sort of where we struggle, too. We’re a state agency and a business,” Vincent said.

When told about the CNS findings, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller declined to comment through their spokespersons. House Speaker Michael E. Busch did not respond to interview requests.

However, the findings are not a secret to Maryland officials: A 2011 state-funded study found that low-income residents, African-Americans and people with lower levels of education are more likely to gamble weekly on lottery games and in casinos than other Marylanders.

The study was commissioned by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and was required under the law that allowed casinos to open in Maryland.

The state legalized casino gambling in 2008. Four casinos have opened, generating $608.7 million in state revenue in fiscal 2013, with two more scheduled to open in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. Combined with lottery sales, gambling now contributes more than $1 billion annually to the state.

Vincent said that an agency program -- though not directed specifically at low-income residents -- allows problem gamblers to sign up for a two-year or lifetime ban on playing the lottery. They are blocked from cashing winning tickets when they enter their Social Security numbers to collect.

As of March, she said, 41 people had signed up.

State Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, who represents Park Heights, said that she is a lottery player and, while she might like people to spend their money differently, it’s not up to the legislature to decide for them.

She added the state wouldn’t need the lottery if lawmakers would raise taxes enough to pay for state services.

“It’s a poor trade and we shouldn’t do it that way, but we do,” she said.

The state sends about $20 million a year from lottery revenue back to Baltimore to pay off bonds on the Orioles’ $205 million ballpark and the Ravens’ $229 million football stadium, both built in the 1990s. Beginning this year, $20 million a year in lottery money also will help pay for a Baltimore public school construction program.

The legislature ought to consider creating a local impact fund that gives neighborhoods like Park Heights a share of the money, similar to the local impact grants that come from casino revenues, said Will Hanna II, CEO of the New Park Heights Community Development Corporation, who unsuccessfully challenged Gladden for her Senate seat in June's primary.

Gladden also said that lottery money should benefit the communities that contribute the most revenue.

“If we have to pay for it, we ought to get something back,” she said.

“Pleasant way” to pay taxes

The state entered the lottery business in 1973, after voters approved a constitutional amendment. In the debate over gambling that preceded the vote, Del. Joseph W. Sachs, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, called it a “pleasant way for people to pay taxes.”

But Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut, a Montgomery County Democrat, warned that “it’s the poor person who will be supporting the lottery.”

Four decades after her prediction, CNS examined lottery sales data to see if she was right.

The news service filed a public records request to obtain sales data for calendar year 2012, the most recent full year available at the time.

Players spent $1.69 billion on lottery tickets in 2012, the data show. The state paid about $943 million of that in claims.

CNS broke down the gross sales revenue by county and by ZIP code. Using census data, the ZIP codes were ranked by median household income and then evenly divided by population into five income groups, or quintiles. Each quintile represented 20 percent of the population.

A clear trend emerged: The lower the income group, the higher the lottery sales.

The largest share came from ZIP codes in the lowest fifth, such as 21215 which includes Park Heights. They represented 20 percent of the population but contributed 27 percent of the total lottery ticket sales revenue.

The second fifth -- ZIP codes still below the state’s median household income of $70,000 -- accounted for 25 percent of sales.

ZIP codes in the third and fourth quintiles generated 19 and 17 percent, respectively. The smallest share of sales, 12 percent, came from the top fifth of ZIP codes, with median household incomes of over $100,000.

The analysis reflects where tickets are sold, because information on where players live is not available.

The 2011 state-funded study surveyed nearly 6,000 residents on their gambling habits. The study found that the very poor gamble more frequently than others. Those with incomes less than $15,000 are nearly 50 percent more likely to gamble on a weekly basis than those with incomes greater than $35,000, on average.

A study of fiscal year 2005 Maryland lottery sales data by researchers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County also found a disproportionate share came from socio-economically disadvantaged groups.

“Our results show that the voluntary tax collected by the Maryland lottery comes disproportionately from census tracts populated by African Americans and low-income residents,” the study said.

Researchers cited previous studies that showed evidence that lotteries are regressive and suggested that “for the current public policy debate to be fully informed it is important to have information about who pays the ‘voluntary tax’.” The researchers urged state officials to consider whether the lottery was “consistent with their broader social policies.”

Per-capita spending was highest in Baltimore in calendar 2012, an average of $579 a year for every adult 18 and older, while the state average is $382 -- although that may be due in part to commuters and tourists who play while in the city.

Prince George’s County was third highest with an average of $529 per adult, just behind its neighbor to the south, Charles County, which averaged $547 per adult per year.

The smallest per capita spending came from counties in Western Maryland, where there is competition from county-regulated games of chance -- such as tip jars, commonly found in bars and fraternal halls, in which players pay a dollar for a chance to draw a winning number from a container.

Prince George’s County contributed the most overall, $348 million, followed by the City of Baltimore with $281 million.

10 games to choose from

Chapman, the truck driver from Park Heights, said he has been playing the lottery for more than 13 years and plays every day -- in the morning before work and in the afternoon after his shift ends.

“That’s the only way you can win: Got to play hard,” he said.

His biggest win came a few years ago when he hit $15,000 playing Pick 4, he said.

“I invested it,” he said. “Put it in my savings like a retirement fund. It helped to pay the bills, too.”

Players can choose from 10 different games in Maryland, ranging from traditional lotteries like Pick 3 and Pick 4 to multistate drawings like Powerball, from instant scratch-offs to video terminal games like Keno and Racetrax, an animated horse race.

The most popular games are scratch-offs, Keno, Pick 4 and Pick 3, in that order. Scratch-offs provide instant prizes. With Pick 3 and Pick 4, players choose numbers for twice-daily drawings. With Keno, players pick up to 10 numbers for drawings that are broadcast every four minutes to computer monitors in stores around the state.

The odds of coming out ahead in the long-term are low. Players can expect to win back about 60 cents for every dollar spent on Keno, and about 50 cents for Pick 3 and Pick 4.

The CNS analysis could not calculate the expected return for scratch-offs, the top most played lottery game in the state, due to the complexity of the game. Maryland’s lottery currently offers 84 different scratch off games, ranging in price from $1 to $20 with the most expensive games carrying top prizes of $1 million.

“I can tell anybody that the odds are against you,” said Carl Nickens, a retired government worker in Temple Hills. “That’s why they call it gambling and luck.”

He was playing at Marlow Winghouse, a local restaurant that was recently renovated to feature televisions displaying electronic lottery games, a large seating area and fluorescent light covers with the Maryland Lottery logo.

With more than $5.66 million in lottery sales last calendar year, Marlow Winghouse was the top lottery retailer in Prince George’s County and number two in the state. (Sodapop Shop, a convenience store just outside of Baltimore City, was number one with just over $5.72 million in sales.)

“I originally started for fun, but then I hit it big years ago, and then I got hooked on it,” said Nickens, who described himself as a retired government worker and regular player.

“I think everybody’s hooked. I hit $20,000 years ago from Pick 4, but they’ve got that back by now,” he said as he sat near the serving area playing Bonus Match 5.

The zip code that includes Temple Hills has a median household income of about $64,000, placing it in the second lowest income group in the CNS analysis.

Market demand and saturation are the main considerations when the agency approves applications from retailers, Vincent said. The agency also doesn’t target particular areas in its advertising.

“Our marketing dollars get spread evenly across the state,” Vincent said. She added the agency’s marketing is focused on trying to get new players in the 18-to-35 age range.

Lottery retailers follow the money, said Donald F. Norris, director of the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, who co-authored the 2010 and 2011 studies.

“Lottery retailers know where to go,” he said. “They don’t locate in places where people are less likely to play the lottery. So there’s a much higher incidence of lottery where there are high proportions of poor people and African-Americans.”

Hyon-Young Kim and Amirah Al Idrus contributed to this article.

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