Read all posts from July 2009

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    The President announced his nominee for the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, today at the White House. Dr. Benjamin has an extensive and distinguished career in medicine. She is the Founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Alabama, which aims to provide primary care to people of any age regardless of their financial situation. She previously served as Chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, and as the Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. Additionally, she was chosen as President of the Medical Association of Alabama in 2002, becoming the first African-American woman to be president of a state medical society.  She was also the first African-American woman and physician under 40 to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees. She received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, among other honors.
    The President emphasized this experience in his remarks, chronicling her dedication to providing health care for her rural community in the face of adversity:
    And that's why, even though she could have left the state to make more money as a specialist or as a doctor in a wealthier community, Regina Benjamin returned to Alabama and opened a small clinic in Bayou La Batre.

    When people couldn't pay, she didn't charge them. When the clinic wasn't making money, she didn't take a salary for herself. When Hurricane George destroyed the clinic in 1998, she made house calls to all her patients while it was rebuilt. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed it again and left most of her town homeless, she mortgaged her house and maxed out her credit cards to rebuild that clinic for a second time. She tended to those who had been wounded in the storm, and when folks needed medicine, she asked the pharmacist to send the bill her way.

    And when Regina's clinic was about to open for the third time, and a fire burned it to the ground before it could serve the first patient, well, you can guess what Dr. Benjamin did. With help from her community, she is rebuilding it again. One disabled patient brought her an envelope with $20 inside. Another elderly man said simply, "Maybe I can help. I got a hammer."

    For nearly two decades, Dr. Regina Benjamin has seen in a very personal way what is broken about our health care system. She's seen an increasing number of patients who've had health insurance their entire lives suddenly lose it because they lost their jobs or because it's simply become too expensive. She's been a relentless promoter of prevention and wellness programs, having treated too many costly and -- diseases and complications that didn't have to happen. And she's witnessed the shortage of primary care physicians in the rural and underserved areas where she works.

    But for all that she's seen and all the tremendous obstacles that she has overcome, Regina Benjamin also represents what's best about health care in America -- doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients; those Americans who would do anything to heal a fellow citizen.

    (President Barack Obama with Surgeon General nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 13, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
     
    As the President explained, through this personal experience working with the poor and uninsured, Dr. Benjamin understands firsthand the urgent need for health care reform.  As Surgeon General, she will be the people’s health advocate, and will play a key role in health care reform.  In her remarks, Dr. Benjamin explained how she sees her role:
    My hope, if confirmed as Surgeon General, is to be America's doctor, America's family physician. As we work toward a solution to this health care crisis, I promise to communicate directly with the American people to help guide them through whatever changes may come with health care reform. 
     
    (Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Barack Obama's Surgeon General nominee, at the announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House,  Monday, July 13,  2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

  • Check out USA.gov, the official portal into the U.S. government, to see an innovative display of 211 fabulous photos showing Americana at its patriotic finest: picnics, fireworks, servicemen, kids and dogs in festive costumes, traditional foods, and more. These resulted from USA.gov inviting the public to post photos showing how they celebrate the 4th.

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    Today, the President gave a speech in Accra, Ghana. He laid out his vision for human rights and democracy in Africa’s future, and he described what America’s role in promoting better governance in Africa will be. The speech was entitled, "A New Moment of Promise." 
    We made sure that speech would be as accessible to as many Africans as possible on the radio, TV, and by SMS. These are the speech excerpts that we sent out to thousands of SMS subscribers in Africa and around the world.
    • It is an honor for me to be in Accra & to speak to the representatives of the people of Ghana. I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the US.
    • The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.
    • I will focus on four areas that are critical to the future of Africa and the entire developing world: democracy; opportunity; health; and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
    • Governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.
    • With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base for prosperity.
    • People must make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease… promoting public health in their communities and countries.
    • America will support these efforts through a comprehensive, global health strategy.
    • Africa’s diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division
    • We must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology.
    • I am speaking to the young people. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people.
    • I can promise you this: America will be with you. As a partner. As a friend. Freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom’s foundation. 
    The President speaks in Ghana
    (President Barack Obama addresses the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra, Ghana July 11, 2009. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
     

     

  • The President explains how the Recovery Act helped end our economic free fall, and how his agenda is helping to set a new foundation for our economy.  From health reform, to energy, to creating the jobs of the future, the President’s proposals will make our economy stronger for both the current generations and our children, all in a way that will get our deficits under control.
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  • Tonight, President Obama arrives in Ghana in his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the United States. Over the past week, we have been collecting questions, comments and words of welcome for President Obama via SMS, Twitter, Facebook and from newspapers across Africa. We shared these responses with 3 journalists in Africa, Ms. Angela Quintal of Independent Newspapers in South Africa, Mr. Mamadou Thior of Radio Television Senegal (RTS) and Mr. Peter Kimani of The Standard in Kenya. These journalists, in turn, picked a few of the questions for the President to answer.  We'll post a video and audio recording of those answers on Monday.
    Tomorrow at 8:40 AM EDT the President will address the Ghanaian Parliament -- you can listen live at WhiteHouse.gov/live. We'll also post the transcript and the audio of the speech soon after on our site, and get video up in the coming days.

    In the meantime, we thought we'd share an interactive map which samples some of the questions.

  • The President traveled to Rome today where he met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Take a look at the President and First Lady’s visit to the Vatican.

    (Pope Benedict XVI greets President Barack Obama at the Vatican, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
     

    (President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are escorted by Swiss Guards and Vatican ushers at the Vatican, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


    (President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI enter the Pope's study at the Vatican, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


    (President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI meet in the Pope's study at the Vatican, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


    (President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

     

  • Though Vice President Biden singled out Recovery Act-funded projects in Ohio and New York yesterday, the rest of the country has been busy as well. The Recovery Act is creating jobs in hundreds of different ways, but today we present a snapshot of how our transportation infrastructure is being moved into the 21st Century across the country:
    "The Sacramento Employment and Training Agency received $90,000 to train people for transportation-related careers, officials announced Thursday. The federal stimulus money is part of a $6.7 million U.S. Department of Transportation award to fund similar apprenticeship programs in 14 states."
     
    "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says Cobb and Gwinnett counties will receive a total of $18.5 million in federal stimulus money for mass transit. LaHood announced Thursday that Cobb Community Transit will receive $9.1 million for rehabilitation, renovation and construction of a maintenance facility to expand the transit system's multi-use transit facility. Funds will also be used for preventive maintenance, engineering and design, and management of paratransit services."
     
    "The Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District will receive $3.3 million in federal stimulus funds for replacing some of its bus fleet and for transit improvements at the Quad-City International Airport. The grant, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will fund the purchase of eight 40-foot replacement buses for Metro and the installation of a passenger shelter bus stop at the airport in Moline."
     
    "Federal stimulus money will finance a job-training program for people in northeast Kansas who are interested in building highways. The educational effort will be financed with $200,402 from the federal government, as part of the $6.7 million in financing going to 14 states through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act."
     
    "More than $43 million in federal stimulus money will flow into the state for commuter rail improvements, including projects to improve service on the Haverhill and Fitchburg commuter lines, the governor's office said today. "We are committed to improving the quality and reliability of commuter rail service throughout the Commonwealth," Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement. "These recovery investments will help create jobs, improve our infrastructure and strengthen our long-term economy.""
     
    "The state will receive millions of federal stimulus dollars to boost public transit, including more than $10 million to improve service on the Fitchburg line, state and federal officials announced yesterday.  Massachusetts will get more than $64 million for public transit, of which more than $43 million will be used to improve commuter rail, according to a statement released yesterday from Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s office. That includes $10.2 million for interlocking work on the Fitchburg line, which should improve reliability and on-time performance. The work will prepare the Fitchburg line for a double-tracking project, which also will be funded by stimulus dollars."
     
    "Officials say federal stimulus funds will provide more than $60 million to transit improvements in Minnesota. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in Washington Thursday that the money includes about $50 million for the Metropolitan Council, Minneapolis-St. Paul Region, to pay for hybrid electric buses, biodiesel capable buses and other vehicles."
     
    "U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that Minnesota will receive $64.3 million for transit improvements. The following agencies will receive Federal Recovery Act funds: The Metropolitan Council will receive $51.3 million to replace 117 buses, including 30 hybrid buses, and purchase three new buses.  The Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Transit will receive $7.4 million to replace 84 buses and five intercity motor coaches."
     
    "Some $1.2 million in federal Recovery Act dollars will go to the Great Falls Transit District to buy four 29-foot low-floor buses and two vans. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the grant Thursday. "By quickly moving federal dollars to the cities and towns across the country, we are putting people back to work now and ensuring that our nation will have reliable and efficient transit systems for generations to come," LaHood said in a news release."
     
    "U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $13.4 million in stimulus funding for several small Pennsylvania transit agencies Thursday, including $4.1 million for Western Pennsylvania counties. Fayette County will get $923,540 toward the engineering, design and construction of a transit center, park and ride, and vehicle storage facility; Cambria County will get $1.3 million to renovate its transit center in Johnstown and purchase a new hybrid bus; and the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority will get $1.9 million to buy six new buses."
     
    "Articulated buses designed to give riders an experience that resembles train service will be used on East Lancaster Avenue beginning next year, after $20 million in federal stimulus funding was awarded Thursday to the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. The T wasn’t the only winner. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $159.6 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for 18 Texas projects, including $6 million for buses in Arlington, Cleburne, Parker County and other area jurisdictions that run specialty services, such as mobility programs for seniors."
     
    "Two Virginia cities are getting $1.5 million in federal stimulus funds for transit upgrades.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday that Danville and Williamsburg are getting the money."

  • [UPDATE: Read more from Terrell McSweeny, Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President.]

    As the Vice President was beginning his roundtable with HHS Secretary Sebelius and White House Health Reform Director DeParle, the Middle Class Task Force was releasing its new report : "Why Middle Class Americans Need Health Reform."

    It may seem to go without saying that the middle class needs health reform as much as anybody, but the report reveals statistics that put the urgency of that need in a new, harsh light. The report’s analysis of diminishing coverage for the middle class is a good example:
    Diminishing Coverage
    Middle class Americans and their families are facing a growing challenge in obtaining or maintaining their health insurance coverage.
    • Over a quarter of the uninsured are middle class Americans.
    • The number of non-elderly middle class Americans who are uninsured has grown over time, from 11.1 million in 2001 to 12.5 million in 2007. Looking forward, without health reform, the number of middle class Americans without health insurance could be as high as 18.2 million in 2019.
    • In part, high rates of the uninsured among middle class Americans arise because middle income workers have a higher chance of not being offered health insurance through their job. In fact, of the 10.7 million non-elderly adults in the middle class bracket who are uninsured, nearly 90 percent are employed.
    • Nearly one in four middle class employees are not offered health insurance by their employers – and of those that are not, more than half remain uninsured. In comparison, only one in six high-income employees are not offered health insurance by their employers.
    • Part of the reason that middle income Americans are less likely to be offered coverage is because they are more likely to work in small businesses – 53 percent of middle income Americans work in small businesses, compared with 46 percent of higher income Americans. Of those who work in small business, 40 percent are not offered insurance.
    Vice President Biden and Secretary Sebelius speak
    (Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius speak at a healthcare roundtable in room 350 of the EEOB, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
     

  • Vice President Biden highlighted both the short- and long-term investments provided by the Recovery Act this week, hosting conference calls with Mayors and County Executives from across the country on Monday and travelling to Ohio and New York today. 
     
    Speaking this morning from the American Can Building in Cincinnati, a formerly abandoned factory that is being converted to a multi-use economic development project with funds provided by the Recovery Act, Vice President Biden outlined how the Recovery Act is helping Ohio:
    "Roads plus teachers plus cops plus jobs equals a community — and that equals paychecks and prosperity.  In other words, it equals a better future right here in Southwest Ohio."
     
    Biden in Ohio
    (Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a recovery act event outside the American Can Factory building in Cincinnati, Ohio, Thursday, July 9, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    Later in the day in Saratoga County, he announced the release of over $275 million in unemployment insurance (UI) modernization funds authorized by the Recovery Act. Vice President Biden was joined in New York by Congressman Scott Murphy, who noted that in addition to addressing workers’ immediate needs by financing unemployment benefits, the Recovery Act is addressing the nation’s long-term needs as well:
     "By improving our roads, bridges and water infrastructure, we are not only creating jobs in the short term, but building a base upon which we can attract businesses to our area and foster long-term economic growth."
     
    Biden in New York
    (Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands after a recovery act event at Shenedehowa High School in Clifton Park, New York, Thursday, July 9, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
     For additional information on the Recovery Act, including breakdowns by category, state and agency, please visit Recovery.gov.

     

     

  • I just returned from a great trip to Germany and France and thought I would share some highlights and photos with you all.

    (Sgt. Israel Bryant of the 54th Engineer Battalion, right, and wife Sabine pose for a picture with Dr. Jill Biden during Biden's visit to U.S. military communities in Germany over the Independence Day weekend. The 54th Engineer Battalion returned to Bamberg July 1 from a nearly 14-month long deployment to Iraq. 
    Photo credit US Army.)
    It was truly an honor to celebrate the July 4th weekend with our soldiers at the US Army Garrisons in Bamberg and Schweinfurt in Germany. In Bamberg, I had the chance to welcome home several hundred soldiers who just returned from Iraq. It was an emotional experience and I thanked them and their families for all they do for our country. In Schweinfurt, I toured the base with soldiers and joined in the July 4th festivities which included meeting the horseshoe tournament champions, cheering on players in the softball game, and meeting many families and children. I even bumped into one of my former students from my community college in Delaware! I hope through visits like this I can do my part to raise awareness and show appreciation for our troops and their families. As a military mom myself, this is personal – but it’s also the duty of all Americans to support our troops. It can be as simple as saying "thanks."
    Dr. Jill Biden speaks with Hannah, left, and Abby Williamson, daughters of Army Chaplain (Cpt.) Donald Williamson
    (Dr. Jill Biden speaks with Hannah, left, and Abby Williamson, daughters of Army Chaplain (Cpt.) Donald Williamson, during Biden's visit to U.S. military communities in Germany over the Independence Day weekend.  Photo credit US Army.)
    From Germany it was on to Paris where I gave a keynote address to over 1,000 participants at the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education. As a community college professor for the past 16 years, I was thrilled to be able to speak about the community college model and its relevance on a global scale and showcase our Administration’s commitment to higher education. The reception from the audience was very warm, and many countries approached our American delegation to talk about ways they could explore similar efforts in their own regions. It’s exciting to think about community colleges playing a role in economic development around the world, and I look forward to continuing these efforts.
     
    (copyright : ©UNESCO/Michel Ravassard)
    So as you can see it was a great trip – and I truly appreciated the warmth from our hosts in both Germany and France. And now, it’s great to be home.

     

  • Colonel Emma Coulson, US Army, is the Military Director of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues in the Services (DACOWITS).  She is also the designee on the White House Council on Women and Girls from the Department of Defense.  Col. Coulson was invited to the White House by the Council and asked to blog about her experience:  
    What a great day for our military Sisters in Blue last week.  However, they were not singing the blues, but rather celebrating, with their 'senior' women pilot counterparts from WWII.  Together, in the Oval Office, they looked over the shoulders of President Obama signing into law S. 614, a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).  As one of the WWII pilots said "well, that only took 66 years" :-), one could not help but be touched by the excitement and unbelief of the grandmotherly-aged women, who represented the WASPs, for hundreds who have since passed on. 
    Equally touching was our Commander in Chief's gracious and respectful response to their shared stories and comments.  From the Green side of the house, I was proud and privileged to both be witness to the ceremony, and witness to our Commander in Chief setting right a long overdue recognition.  His actions lend strength to the understanding that honor, duty and selfless service to our Nation has nothing to do with gender, and neither does saying thank you.
     
    (WASP pilot Bernice Falk Haydu pulls back the chair of President Barack Obama after signing S.614, a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, in the Oval Office Wednesday, July 1, 2009. At far left is WASP pilot Elaine Danforth Harmon, and at right is Lorraine H. Rodgers. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is at right in green. Current US Air Force pilots are in the background. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than a thousand women joined, flying sixty million miles of non-combat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)
     

    (President Barack Obama signs S.614, a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, in the Oval Office Wednesday, July 1, 2009. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than a thousand women joined, flying sixty million miles of non-combat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Flanking the President are Bernice Falk Haydu, far left, Elaine Danforth Harmon, and Lorraine H. Rodgers, right. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is at far right. Behind the President are active duty US Air Force pilots. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
     

    (President Barack Obama with WASP pilots Elaine Danforth Harmon, left, Bernice Falk Haydu and Lorraine H. Rodgers, right, after signing S.614, a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, in the Oval Office Wednesday, July 1, 2009. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than a thousand women joined, flying sixty million miles of non-combat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Also pictured are active duty US Air Force pilots and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
     
    Army Strong.  COL Emma K. Coulson

  • All day today the Administration is holding a summit on H1N1 to prepare as flu season approaches.  As the President had made clear over and over, if we see a return of H1N1, which is still taking a heavy toll in places like Argentina right now, it will be everybody’s responsibility to be informed and responsible.  That is what the HHS PSA contest is all about.
    But make no mistake, your government is taking every step to do its part and ensure we are prepared as possible.  Watch a live stream of the summit throughout the day via Flu.gov.

    The President also called into the summit from Italy this morning, thanking Secretaries Sebelius, Napolitano and Duncan along with other key federal personnel for their diligence:

    SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Mr. President?

    THE PRESIDENT: Hi. Kathleen, can you hear me?

    SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Buongiorno.

    THE PRESIDENT: Buongiorno! (Laughter.)

    SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Welcome to the flu summit.

    THE PRESIDENT: Is Napolitano there?

    SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Duncan, and I are -- and 500 eager state and local leaders, education leaders, health leaders are here. We're delighted you could join us.

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, just let me tell you that everybody is asking about Janet, including President Napolitano here. (Laughter.) And I'm very appreciative that all of you are there, and my remarks are going to be very brief.

    I think it's clear that although we were fortunate not to see a more serious situation in the spring when we first got news of this outbreak, that the potential for a significant outbreak in the fall is looming. And Kathleen, Janet, John Brennan, Arne Duncan, and our entire team have tried to engage in the most rigorous planning exercise to make sure that anything that may occur in the fall, we're prepared for.

    And so I won't go through the details of this. I'm sure that Kathleen and Janet and others have laid out what the potential consequences are of a renewed outbreak of H1N1. We want to make sure that we are not promoting panic, but we are promoting vigilance and preparation. And the most important thing for us to do in this process is to make sure that state and local officials prepare now to implement a vaccination program in the fall, but also that they are working on an overall public communications campaign with the White House and the possibilities that we may need to be dealing with schools that are seeing significant outbreaks of H1N1.

    And we've looked at past cases of this being properly handled and situations like this being improperly handled, and one of the most important differences is where it's well handled, state and local officials have complete ownership over this issue, they are providing good ideas to the federal government, they are critical links to inform us what's working and what's not.

    And so I'm just very grateful that all of you are taking this seriously. We may end up averting a crisis. That's our hope. But I think that if we are all working together in a thoughtful, systematic way based on the best science possible, that even if this turns out to be a serious situation, we can mitigate the damage and protect our neighbors and our friends and coworkers.

    So again, my main message to you is to say thank you. You are working with a outstanding team in Kathleen, Janet, Arne, and John. And if there are any issues at all that you think we have not raised, any T's we have not crossed, or I's that we have not dotted that affects either our general approach or your specific community, please let us know. We don't want to find out after the fact that there's some things that we could have done better. We want to find out now and make sure that we're planning ahead.

    So Kathleen, good job as always, and I want you to know that in conversations with world leaders about this issue, what's clear is, is that we are way ahead in terms of our planning. And in fact, we may need to provide some guidance and direction to other public health officials in other countries who may not have done such excellent preparation as you have done.

    SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, thank you, Mr. President. Travel safely. We'll see you back here soon. And now I'd like to --

    THE PRESIDENT: Sounds good. Thank you very much everybody.

    SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Great to have you with us. (Applause).
     

     

  • The Declassification Policy Forum continues over at the Open Government blog with a run-down of the very-thoughtful suggestions that have come in so far, as well as a new set of questions for you to weigh in on regarding the intersection of technology and classification issues.

  • Today, as the Administration holds a day-long summit on H1N1, we're excited to announce that HHS is launching a new PSA campaign contest to encourage more Americans to get involved in the nation's flu preparedness efforts by making a 15, 30 or 60 second video Public Service Announcement (PSA). The goal of the contest is to tap into the nation's creativity to help educate Americans about how to plan for and prevent the spread of the flu and the H1N1 virus.
    The videos can be funny, cute, dramatic, but most of all, they should help make a positive impact. HHS is organizing an expert panel to evaluate submissions and will present the best PSAs to the public so everyone can vote on their favorite submission. The winning PSA will receive $2,500 in cash and will appear on national television. To learn more about the contest details, as well as our larger effort to plan and prepare for the flu season, please go to www.flu.gov.  To take a crack at the PSA contest, just post a response to Secretary Sebelius' video below, but skim over the rules first.

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  • In his post today, Orszag highlights the testimony of OMB Deputy Director Rob Nabors on a new report from the Government Accountability Office.  The report's conclusion? "GAO found that Recovery Act spending was ahead of schedule and was helping to mitigate the economic downturn."  

    Read the rest.

  • Check out two new videos from the 4th of July barbecue at the White House this past Saturday. The USO put on a great party for some 1200 service members and their families on the South Lawn...and Jimmy Fallon still can't believe he got the invite.

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  • On Saturday the President gives a major speech in Ghana, setting the tone for his policy towards Africa over the coming years. Last week the President previewed the vision he will lay out in an interview with AllAfrica.com. The President made clear that he is a student of African history, that he is well aware of the legacy of colonialism and the lingering impacts it had, but at the same time called himself "a big believer that Africans are responsible for Africa." Asked why Ghana was chosen as a location, he cited the successful transfer of power after even a close election to President Mills, who he said "has shown himself committed to the rule of law, to the kinds of democratic commitments that ensure stability in a country." Asked if would "like to see a lot more Ghanas in Africa," he replied "Absolutely."  Watch Part I below, or Part II here.

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    [Read the transcript.]


     

    As with the President’s speech in Cairo, the White House will be doing everything it can to make the President’s message as accessible as possible to the people of the region. We have a media resources page that will be updated as the President’s trip continues and has all of the details available now, but there is an extensive text message program for those living in Africa, as well as a Facebook event page and a Twitter hashtag:  #obamaghana. Tangentially, the President was asked about how aid, investment, and technology intersect in Africa during the interview:
    Q    Development assistance will presumably be an important piece of your Africa policy.  Now, development assistance is pretty fragmented whether you look at the United States or you look at it globally in the sense of varying countries have varying approaches.  And now you, more than any President, are associated with using technological tools, and I can't help but wonder if you have in mind or have thought about using technology to bring some coherence, if you will, like tracking how aid works or goes and where it goes, et cetera.
    THE PRESIDENT:  Look, I think you make a very important point and that is that even just within the U.S. government, our aid policies have been splintered among a variety of agencies, different theories embraced by different people depending on which administration, which party is in power at any given time.  Trying to create something steady and focused on -- and always basing our policies on what works and not on some ideological previous position is going to be very important.
    And technology can play a very important role in streamlining our aid to countries, making sure that we're tracking how that aid is being applied, making sure that it's reaching the people it's intended to reach.  One of the concerns that I have with our aid policy generally is that western consultants and administrative costs end up gobbling huge percentages of our aid overall.  And it seems to me that what we should be doing is trying to minimize our footprint and maximize the degree to which we're training people to do for themselves.  So I think using the Internet, using software, using modern technology, to improve delivery systems is important.
    Now, I also think on the ground in many of these countries, how we think about not high-tech stuff but low-tech technologies to, for example, improve food production is vitally important.  And I'm still frustrated over the fact that the green revolution that we introduced into India in the '60s, we haven't yet introduced into Africa in 2009.  In some countries, you've got declining agricultural productivity.  That makes absolutely no sense.  And we don't need fancy computers to solve those problems; we need tried and true agricultural methods and technologies that are cheap and are efficient, but could have a huge impact in terms of people's day-to-day well-being.
    The President gives an interview to AllAfrica.com
    (President Barack Obama gives an interview to AllAfrica.com in advance of a major speech in Ghana on Thursday, July 2, 2009.  Official White House Photo, Pete Souza)

     

  • This morning marked another major milestone for health reform, as Vice President Biden, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and representatives of the hospital industry came together to announce a major investment from hospitals in the effort.  The contribution is yet another step towards ensuring reform will be deficit-neutral and a key to long-term fiscal sustainability.
    "As part of this agreement," the Vice President explained, "hospitals are committing to contributing $155 billion -- $155 billion -- in Medicare and Medicaid savings over the 10 years to cover health care cost reform -- over the next 10 years." He further explained how the agreement is another example of how reform is in everybody’s interest: "As more people are insured, hospitals will bear less of the financial burden of caring for the uninsured and the underinsured, and we'll reduce payments to cover those costs, in tandem with that reduction."
    Having warmly welcomed the hospital CEOs and representatives, Vice President Biden honed in on the significance of this latest step towards consensus:
    Folks, reform is coming.  It is on track; it is coming.  We have tried for decades -- for decades -- to fix a broken system, and we have never, in my entire tenure in public life, been this close.  We have never been as close as we are today, and things remain on track. 
    We have these hospitals working with us, and we have the pharmaceutical industry working with us; we have doctors and nurses and health care providers with us; we have the American public behind us.  And everyone sees that we need change.  And in my view, we're going to get that change, and we're going to get it this year.
     
    Vice President Biden announces an agreement with hospital representatives
    (Vice President Joe Biden announces that the nation's hospitals will give up $155 billion in future Medicare and Medicaid to help defray the cost of President Obama's health care plan, in room 350 of the EEOB, Wednesday, July 8, 2009.  Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    And he explained how the agreement came about:
    The hospital industry knows, and the people with me here today know, and the President knows, that the status quo is simply unacceptable.  Let me say that again -- the status quo is simply unacceptable.  Rising costs are crushing us.  They're crushing families, crushing businesses, crushing state budgets -- and they are crushing the health care industry itself. 
    Hospitals have acknowledged that significant health care savings can be achieved by improving efficiencies, realigning incentives to emphasize quality care instead of quantity of procedures.  And in the last several weeks, they've been working with Chairman Baucus and are coming forward with a proposal that produces real savings in federal health care spending -- savings that will be applied toward the President’s firm goal -- firm goal of enacting health care reform that is deficit-neutral -- health care reform that is deficit-neutral.  

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in a live chat yesterday following the Vice President’s announcement about the key findings of the Food Safety Working Group. They took your questions from Facebook and WhiteHouse.gov, and discussed steps we can take to make our food safer. If you missed it, you can watch the complete chat here:

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  • As we noted earlier, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack joined the Vice President today to announce the key findings of the Food Safety Working Group. Take a look at some of the other projects the Cabinet members have been working on this week:
    • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Hondurian President Manuel Zelaya at the State Department today.
       
      (U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with His Excellency Jose Manuel Zelaya, President of the Republic of Honduras at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC July 7, 2009.)
    • The EPA announced the winners of their water quality video contest. They received over 250 entries for the contest which aims to help educate the public on ways individuals can improve water quality in their communities. Watch some of the best videos here.
    • Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced accelerated efforts to develop renewable energy on public lands and offshore areas, such as wind farms on the Atlantic Ocean and solar facilities in the Southwest.
    • Also working to combat climate change, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack testified in front of the Senate about the important role rural America can play in addressing climate change. As you may remember, Secretary Vilsack has been traveling to rural communities across the country as part of the Rural Tour. On Monday, he held a community forum in New Hampshire to discuss the administration’s efforts to revitalize rural America.
    • HHS Secretary Sebelius announced $40 million in grants to help more children enroll in state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs. These funds are part of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which was one of the first acts signed into law by the President.
    • Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the extension of the California high-speed rail corridor from the Los Angeles area to Las Vegas, which will help traffic congestion, help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create jobs.
    • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan is helping keep families together by providing 2,500 rental assistance vouchers. The funding is through the Family Unification Program, which provides assistance for families whose lack of adequate housing is the primary cause of parents being separated from their children.
    • Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spent last week traveling in Europe and the Middle East. She met with European leaders to discuss coordination on pressing international issues.  She concluded her trip with a visit to U.S. Coast Guard units in Kuwait.

     

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