By Ermira Babamusta, Ph.D., Political Scientist, Foreign Affairs Expert /
6 June 2013, New York – My latest response from the White House is a letter by President Obama on June 6, 2013 addressed to Ermira Babamusta, in response to my “Letter to the Editor: How will the sequester hurt my state” sent to several prestigious media, including New York Times. The Letter to the Editor was published in March 2013 in several media in New York, Minnesota, West Virginia and Florida.
Being part of the Obama Administration in both 2008 and 2012 presidential elections in conjunction with the Democratic Party has been an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to witness first hand issues and concerns that the American people care about. I also met with local leaders in FL, PA, WV, CO, NY and OH and organized volunteers using grassroots efforts in support of Obama’s campaign.
President Obama has been very open and transparent with the American people in every step of his journey to strengthen America. His leadership and continued efforts in health care, immigration reform, education, jobs, etc., reflect the interests of the citizens and protect the welfare of this country.
President Obama is keeping open lines between Washington and the American people for a more transparent White House. Every Wednesday I am pleased to join the Policy Updates Briefings, organized by “Organizing for Action” with executive director Jon Carson and policy advisers, mayors, congressional leaders and other concerned citizens. These policy updates focus on the
White House priorities, in an effort to move the bipartisan debate forward on key issues such as gun violence, immigration reform, federal budget, cuts, etc. I believe that President Obama unlike any other leader, has taken community outreach in a different level. His progressive agenda is what this country currently needs in moving forward issues discussed by both the Democrats and Republicans.
The President’s Legislative Agenda
On Education: ConnectEd
On June 6, 2013 President Obama visited North Carolina and visited classrooms of Mooresville Middle School to talk about to bring innovation and incorporate technology in classrooms across the country. At 3:30 pm the “National Show and Tell” was held to demonstrate how students and teachers are using cutting edge technology in high tech schools. The President revealed his new plan, called “ConnectEd” to connect 99 perfect of students across America to high-speed wireless and broadband within five years. Aiming at classrooms and libraries, this new initiative brings new ways of learning, including interactive class demonstrations, live feedback from experts and building partnerships with other national school curriculum either across US.
The digital learning effort has been pioneered by individual organizations such as the reputable “One World Youth Project” (OWYP) in Washington DC. Since 2004 OWYP has become a success story in revolutionizing digital learning across the world by connecting with students in Kosovo, US, Turkey, Guyana, Pakistan, etc, in facilitating a global competence curriculum. (To learn more visit http://www.oneworldyouthproject.org; For additional information also read my exclusive interview with Anjali Daryanani, Communications Director, “A Digital Education Revolution: OWYP reforming programs in Kosovo and around the world”, http://prishtinapress.info/a-digital-education-revolution-owyp-reforming-programs-in-kosovo-and-around-the-world/ ).
Military and Veteran Affairs: Commitment from First Lady Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama on April 30th 2013 announced a Joining Forces employment initiative that challenges the private sector to hire and train veterans for the next five year. The goal was set to hire and train 100,000 unemployed veterans and spouses by the end of 2013 and another 435,000 over the next five years. The First Lady mentioned that under the Obama administration, business in U.S. have tripled the goal set by the President and 290,000 veterans and spouses have already been trained and hired in the private sector. Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Dr. Jill Biden and President Obama were present at the event.
Michelle Obama, Jill Biden and Hillary Clinton have been the strongest voices in many empowerment initiatives, including jobs for military spouses, transition to civil careers, education opportunities for the children of military families who are always on the move, and improving their quality of life. As co-founder of ‘Joining Forces”, First Lady Michelle Obama has challenged business leaders to create new jobs and opportunities. First Lady Obama is truly making a difference in the lives of the military troops and their families.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is continuing this commitment at the “Clinton Global Initiative America” (CGI America) in Chicago, June 13-14. The event will be hosted by former President Bill Clinton, where both Hillary and Chelsea Clinton will be participating, along with nearly 1000 business and government leaders. The focus will be economic recovery and long term goals for United States. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel along with President Bill Clinton are hosting a series of meetings on job creation, as part of their Infrastructure Financing for Cities Task Force (IFC Task Force) launched in April 2013.
Under the leadership of first Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden the Obama administration has responded to the challenges military family face. Female military spouses which account for 95 percent (out of 860,000) experience employment challenges, including licensed jobs such as teaching and nursing (Michelle Obama and Jill Biden White House Report, February 2013, “The Fast Track to Civilian Employment). The report pushes for legislation on occupational license that covers multiple occupations and a broader approach like the state of Washington that applies to health care, business occupations etc.
Environment and Climate Change
On Wednesday, May 22, 2013 I joined the policy briefing on climate change, where Navin Nayak, senior vice president of campaigns with the League of Conservation Voters joined the conversation. This policy update was organized by organized by Abby Witt and Brandon Thompson of Organizing for Action (OFA). During the week of action of May 29, over 100 discussions took place across the country, highlighting the real threats of climate change. Jack Shakiro, National Deputy Director of OFA stressed the need to change the conversation on climate: “Currently there is no bill at the floor in Congress. Climate is real, caused by activities by all of us. It poses real threat to our families and public health”.
Navin Nayak expressed his concern that dozens of Congress members deny that climate change is happening and urged the need for a new political debate: “First we got to change the policy on the issue. Just like the gun issue, we are at the same place. We need to make it unacceptable for so many members of Congress who hold these extreme positions. Climate Deniers have become the most vocalist in the issue. That’s what we have to change. We can’t get to the policy solutions, until we get to the issues. The good news is that the public opinion has not changed. Public believes that climate change is happening.”
There is a push for cheaper and cleaner renewable sources of energy, however the oil industry is the biggest blocker of this. Environmentalists are concerned that drilling, spills and oil fires are environmental dangers that pose a real threat. The recent debate has focused on the threats of burning fossil fuels as one of the greatest local threats. The burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming (rise of temperature, carbon emission, melting polar ice); the pollution of air, water and land. Those cities near water such as Baltimore face serious risks and are urging the president for Carbon tax.
President Obama has continued to lead in this climate change issue. He expressed these concerns at his Address of the Union speech. The President can use his authority under Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution and combat climate change.
“We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar — with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen. But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Now, the good news is we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.” (President Barack Obama remarks, State of the Union Address, February 2013).
On the global front, former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives captured the attention of global superpowers in the Copenhagen summit and UN meetings, urging the leaders for climate change. (For additional information watch a very interesting PBS documentary titled “The Island President”.) Maldives plans to implement floating solar panels for its 28 islands in an effort to provide new renewable energy.
Gun Violence: President Obama and Joe Biden on Reduction of Gun Violence
Vice President Joe Biden teamed up with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to challenge lawmakers to support this issue and public safety. Bloomberg and Biden called for expanding background checks and school safety funds. On April 17, 2013 Vice President Joe Biden held a conversation with mayors from around the country to discuss steps in reducing gun violence. He pointed out that the proposed gun bills did not violate the constitutional rights.
President Obama and Joe Biden are leading the effort in developing policy proposals in reducing gun violence across the country. On January 15, 2013 both leaders unveiled the specific plan aiming at: requiring background checks for all gun sales; strengthening the background check system for gun sales; limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds; making schools safer with better emergency response plans; banning military style assault weapons; better tools for law enforcement in preventing and prosecuting gun crimes, etc. “The administration is proposing a new, $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train their teachers and other school staff to implement these strategies.” (President Obama Plan, Jan 16, 2013, White House Report, p. 12).
Currently America is faced with the problem of 11 million undocumented immigrants. Concerns range from lengthy backlogs in the immigration system, border security, deportation, amnesty, education and job opportunities. The biggest accomplishment on the Immigration Reform issue has been a bipartisan effort of the “gang of 8” comprised of 4 republicans and 4 democrats. The comprehensive immigration reform led by Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont was approved on a 13-5 senate vote in May 2013. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, favoring a comprehensive immigration reform in bringing millions of illegal immigrants to a clear path of citizenship.
President Obama’s plan proposes eliminating backlogs by temporary increasing annual visa numbers; creating ‘start up visas’ for job creating entrepreneurs; “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates and new visa categories for federal science programs.
At the Wednesday Policy Briefing held in February 16. 2013, I joined the tele-town hall discussion hosted by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, leading the about the President Obama’s jobs plans.
Foreign Policy: US-Kosova Bilateral Relations
United States has remained a good friend for Kosova and has fully supported its aspirations to be integrated in the Europe. Prime Minster Hashim Thaçi during the visit of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed Kosova’s determination for further progress, interest of peace and regional stability. Kosova has shown significant progress in the areas of rule of law, combating corruption and minority rights. During my productive meetings with EU, UN, NATO officials, as well as local parliamentary leaders, and high officials in Kosovo I was impressed with the progress made in the areas of foreign policy, women and minority rights and rule of law. However challenges still remain.
I urge President Obama and his administration to put pressure on EU and Serbia to hold Serbia up to its task. The recent April 2013 agreement, mediated by High Representative Ashton looks good on paper, however leaves much to desire in terms of implementation and undermines Kosovar sovereignty/authority. In particular the issue of the four Serbian municipalities in Northern Kosova, although on paper give the Kosovars “full authority”, in reality the plan fully favors the Serbs (not Serbian minority integration under Kosovar rule of law) and further hinders the Albanian-Serbian relations. For instance the northern regional police commander will be a local Serb, picked from a list provided by Serbian leaders. This puts to question the ‘Kosovar authority’ that the plan calls for as well as highlights the issue that not all Serbs follow Kosovar law, given the fact that Serbia has yet to accept Kosova’s independence. Serbia has supported parallel institutions, hindering the democratic process in Kosova and its sovereignty. These illegal institutions have also been the main cause of violence, corruption, illegal dealings in that part of the region. Additional pressure is needed by US on EU for Serbia to not block Kosova joining the UN.
Biography of Author:
Ermira Babamusta served as training director and GOTV director in the 2008 & 2012 presidential elections. She also served as faculty adviser for the Congressional Youth Leadership Conference (GYLC) held in Washington DC and New York in 2009 and 2010. In 2008 she served as community outreach coordinator and capacity building with the AmeriCorps in conjunction with Homeland Security, Red Cross and NYPD in Philadelphia and New York. Her previous foreign affairs experience includes working at the Peacekeeping department in United Nations Headquarters in New York, working in the areas of foreign affairs for Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Kennedy in Washington DC.
Ermira Babamusta received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Waldorf College, Iowa and her two masters in Political Science from Long Island University in New York and Public Administration from Minnesota State University in Mankato. She also received an advanced post graduate degree in ‘United Nations Diplomacy’ from Long Island University. Her doctoral areas of study at West Virginia University (WVU) include: political science (foreign policy); comparative politics (EE Law/national security & defense policy) and public administration).
In 2010 Ermira Babamusta completed the Strasbourg program in European Law and Institutions via WVU and University of Strasbourg in France. She has also completed two cultural and diplomatic missions in Kosova in 2008 & 2012 in her efforts for peace and stability in the Balkan region and strengthening of the US-Kosova-Albanian relations. She has received several awards, including “International Woman of Courage Award” by Kessel Peace Institute. She studied Albanian, French, Spanish, Japanese and German.