Read all posts from August 2009

  • During this time of economic crisis, the President and I believe that trade can be an important element of the global economic recovery.
    Trade with Africa is significant to the U.S. economy, and it represents major opportunities for African economies as well. There is great promise in U.S.&ndashAfrica trade relations. This is due in part to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) program.
    The AGOA program allows 40 sub-Saharan African countries to export to the U.S. duty-free. Four regional trade hubs are set up through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help provide training and technical assistance to exporters, helping these exporters to take advantage of AGOA opportunities. In 2008, U.S. total imports from sub-Saharan Africa were more than quadruple the amount in 2001 – exceeding $86 billion – while U.S. total exports to sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled to $18.6 billion during this period.
    This week I am in Nairobi, Kenya at the AGOA Forum, where I will talk about how trade can help solve the economic crisis. Our focus will be on how to help African countries strengthen and diversify their exports.
    The President and I are committed to being a strong partner to developing countries, especially the least developed countries. When we work to strengthen our partners, we strengthen America and the world economy.
    To keep track of USTR at the AGOA Forum, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter page throughout the week. And you can follow my travels at USTR.gov.
    Ambassador Ron Kirk is the United States Trade Representative
     

  • The President and First Lady hosted a reception for ambassadors to the United States at the White House last week. The night featured dinner and plenty of dancing, thanks to four pairs of spontaneous tango dancers. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the night's festivities.
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  • President Obama has made smart investment and smart growth a top priority for his administration. Not for its own sake, but because the President believes that we ought to be investing in what’s good for America’s future. Last year the President said to the nation’s mayors at their annual conference, "we need to promote strong cities as the backbone of regional growth….we also need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution…strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America…" This in a nutshell is why the Office of Urban Affairs was created. Our job is to advance a new federal vision that recognizes cities and metropolitan areas as dynamic engines for our economy, and develop federal policy built on these strengths.
    This task is far more urgent than ever before because for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities. By the middle of this century this figure will likely grow by 37 percent. In the United States, 83 percent of people and 85 percent of jobs are located in the nation’s 363 metro areas. Beyond the numbers, the overwhelming majority of the nation’s assets — airports, hospitals, universities, financial institutions, infrastructure, manufacturing plants — are concentrated in metropolitan regions and generate almost 90 percent of the nation’s economic production.
    Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative Innovators and Cabinet Secretaries participate in Town Hall event moderated by White House Office of Urban Affairs Director, Adolfo Carrion
    (Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative Innovators and Cabinet Secretaries participate in Town Hall event moderated by White House Office of Urban Affairs Director, Adolfo Carrion. Pictured from right to left: Carrion, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, Secretary Locke of Commerce, Dep. Secretary Sims of HUD, Secretary Vilsack of Agriculture, Rep. Dwight Evans, Jeremy Nowak from the Reinvestment Fund, Lucinda Hudson from the Parkside Community Association, Jeff Brown from ShopRite, and Yael Lehman from the Food Trust. Photo Credit: Shasti Conrad.)
    The President has asked us to lead a conversation about what makes sense for the future of cities and metros, given the new realities we face. I’m thrilled that President Obama has asked us to take this conversation to the experts. The experts, of course, are the people in communities who have figured out how to rebuild neighborhoods, build businesses, educate their kids, make their communities safe, clean up the environment, or come up with the latest technological or scientific innovation, in spite of government. The President says that "Washington can’t solve all our problems…change in this country comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom up." President Obama believes that government should serve to support American ingenuity and creativity.
    In that spirit, we kicked off the National Conversation on the Future of America’s Cities and Metropolitan Areas on July 23rd in Philadelphia, PA. The tour takes the discussion of a new vision for urban America outside of the Beltway and into cities and metro areas that are working on innovative ideas and integrated solutions to address the challenges we face today. For example, in Philadelphia, we highlighted Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), an effort that brings fresh food to underserved communities, both rural and urban – also known as "food deserts". The FFFI is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Reinvestment Fund, The Food Trust, and the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, that provides a statewide grant and loan program for grocery store development. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Deputy HUD Secretary Ron Sims traveled with us to learn more about the FFFI and the impact on communities across Pennsylvania.
    We toured Jeff Brown’s Parkside ShopRite supermarket in the Park West Town Center, where we witnessed the success of the FFFI in providing jobs, healthy food, economic benefit and uplifting the morale of this community. The first display we encountered was a beautiful spread of bright green peppers, squash and tomatoes grown by students from the local Martin Luther King High School. ShopRite partnered with the high school to sell produce grown by the students. The supermarket not only offers fresh produce, delectable store-baked sweet potato pie, and virtually every product that a family shopper could want, but it also boasts a well-trained professional workforce that lives in the surrounding neighborhood.
    ShopRite employee serves Town Hall audience members fresh food
    (ShopRite employee serves Town Hall audience members fresh food. Picture Credit: Shasti Conrad.)
    On our walk, Secretary Locke noted the importance and personal significance of this effort. As a kid who grew up in public housing and whose parents owned a grocery store, he knows that something as simple as a clean and welcoming place to purchase nutritious food for a reasonable price can change lives and transform a community. The ShopRite has not only provided that physical space, but has engendered business investment and affordable housing development in the surrounding Parkside community. Parkside Community Association President Lucinda Hudson asserted that before efforts like the FFFI, her neighborhood had been overlooked for far too long.
    Following the tour, more than 300 people from the community joined us for a conversation with Jeremy Nowak from The Reinvestment Fund, State Representative Dwight Evans, who provided the visionary leadership for FFFI, Jeff Brown, Lucinda Hudson, Yael Lehmann from the Food Trust, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. We had a lively exchange among the panelists that spanned the inspiring local story of the ShopRite and the FFFI to the federal agencies’ current initiatives to lift communities in similar circumstances. We discussed the Department of Agriculture’s "Know your Farmer, Know your Food" program and Ron Sims explained Secretary Donovan’s commitment to put the "UD back in HUD," along with lots of questions from the audience and suggestions for ways the federal agencies could help to support urban innovations like this.
    The Philadelphia Conversation was a great start to the "National Conversation on the Future of America’s Cities and Metropolitan Areas." At each stop on the tour we will bring local innovators together with Obama Administration staff to discuss ways in which Washington can be a partner and catalyst for community-based solutions, instead of a bureaucratic obstacle. We look forward to the next stop and the opportunity to hear from people who are working every day to ensure that their cities and neighborhoods are places of opportunity.
    For questions or ideas for the Urban Tour, please feel free to send a message to urbanaffairs@who.eop.gov.
    Adolfo Carrión, Jr. is the Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs and Deputy Assistant to the President
     

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    We're moving full speed ahead toward a 21st century, clean energy economy. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we've already invested more than $60 billion toward the green jobs of tomorrow. But as we're moving ahead, we've got to make sure we're not leaving others behind.
    That's what makes programs like the Green the Block campaign so important. Green the Block is a partnership between Green for All and the Hip Hop Caucus to educate and mobilize low-income, traditionally under-served communities to ensure they have the resources and platforms needed to access the benefits and opportunities of the growing clean energy economy.
    Today, several Obama Administration officials – including Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and Department of Energy Under Secretary Kristina Johnson – and members of Green the Block held a press conference outside the West Wing offices of the White House to discuss opportunities in the new green economy and announce the first major initiative of Green the Block.
    "From policy creation to community implementation, the Green the Block campaign wants to see access and opportunity created for all Americans, to build prosperity and a healthier planet for future generations," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus. "The first milestone for Green the Block will be on our National Day of Service, September 11, 2009, where we will organize Green the Block service events around the country in coordination with the President's initiative, United We Serve."
    "We are ready to work, ready to serve, and ready to green our blocks," added Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins of Green for All.
    Learn more about our efforts toward building a clean energy economy today at 3pm EDT during the live chat on Facebook or at WhiteHouse.gov/live/discuss with CEQ's Van Jones and Christine Glunz.
    [UPDATE: This event has now concluded.]
     

  • Last week, the Office of Public Engagement brought over eighty interns to the White House for a briefing on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in public service. The interns got to hear from a variety of professionals from the White House and other agencies as they shared their experiences and discussed what led them to a career in public service. You can read more about the event over at the OPE blog.
     

  • UPDATE: The President addressed concerns from Americans who have received letters of policy cancellations or changes from their insurance companies in an interview with NBC News, watch the video or read a transcript
    Opponents of health insurance reform may find the truth a little inconvenient, but as our second president famously said, "facts are stubborn things."
    Scary chain emails and videos are starting to percolate on the internet, breathlessly claiming, for example, to "uncover" the truth about the President’s health insurance reform positions.
    In this video, Linda Douglass, the communications director for the White House’s Health Reform Office, addresses one example that makes it look like the President intends to "eliminate" private coverage, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
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    For the record, the President has consistently said that if you like your insurance plan, your doctor, or both, you will be able to keep them. He has even proposed eight consumer protections relating specifically to the health insurance industry.
    There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.
    Here are the complete videos that Linda refers to. First from the AARP:
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    And then from the President's news conference:
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  • To follow on the President’s speech today marking the launch of the post-9/11 GI Bill, we wanted to offer the following update on what health reform means for veterans.
    The President is committed to ensuring that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides America’s veterans the highest-quality health care possible. His budget requests the largest single-year increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs in three decades, and significantly expands coverage, extending care to 500,000 more veterans who were previously excluded.
    Health reform will only build on the President’s commitment to veterans’ health care. The VA Healthcare system will continue to be available for all eligible veterans. Also, veterans and their families will have additional choices for high-quality, affordable health care, with consumer protections that prevent insurance companies from denying coverage or setting a limit on the coverage they will provide.
    The health reform legislation that the House of Representatives is considering would enable those who are covered by VA care, including dependents of certain veterans enrolled in the CHAMPVA program, to meet the individual responsibility mandate; thereby exempting such veterans and dependants from being assessed penalties. If enacted, the President will ensure that this exemption is implemented aggressively. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs would continue to maintain sole authority over the system and for enhancing the quality and access for all eligible veterans.
     

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    The President met with His Highness Shaykh Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait today in the Oval Office. The President explained that the two leaders discussed strengthening Kuwaiti-U.S. relations during their meeting:
    Kuwait and the United States enjoy very strong bilateral relations. We are looking to make those relations even stronger. Kuwait has been an outstanding host for the United States Armed Forces during its operations in Iraq. And as we transition our operations in Iraq, it's important for us to emphasize not only our gratitude to Kuwait, but also our ongoing commitment to Kuwait's security.
    We're also discussing important regional issues ranging from the importance of moving the Arab-Israeli peace process forward, to the situation in Afghanistan, our joint counterterrorism efforts, and our need to emphasize Iran meeting its international obligations. And I'm confident that, based on this conversation and ongoing work between our two countries, that we can strengthen not only Kuwaiti-U.S. relationships, but also to create a more stable region of peace and security in the region.
    (President Barack Obama welcomes Kuwait Amir Shaykh Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah to the Oval Office Monday, August 3, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
    (President Barack Obama meets with Kuwait Amir Shaykh Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah in the Oval Office, August 3, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
     

  • The First Lady was in Norfolk, Virginia on Friday to celebrate the safe return of the United States Naval Ship Comfort and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. In her remarks, she noted that the brave men and women who were aboard the two ships are American heroes, but they truly had a global impact. The crew of the USNS Comfort provided aid during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and most recently, provided medical and dental care to countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and South America. The sailors aboard the USS Eisenhower helped support the mission in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world:
    The Comfort embodies our values by changing lives around the world. The Eisenhower defends our values in the world's most dangerous places. To the nearly 6,000 sailors who deployed with the Eisenhower Strike Group to Afghanistan and the Middle East and are returning to their home ports, we thank you for your service. Each of you have courageously served our country and demonstrated your commitment to upholding America's highest ideals. Your service is emblematic of the values we hold most dear.
    And to the crew of the Comfort, with the help of the Department of Defense, the State Department, the USAID, the U.S. Public Health Service, and the health ministries of seven different countries you sailed through rough waters and calm seas, you met people from all walks of life, you healed, you helped and gave hope and represented the best of America's humanitarian efforts. There's a saying that "a ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for." Well, the Comfort may have been built as an oil tanker, but as soon as those red crosses were painted on, it realized its full potential, and that is to bring comfort to those in need, to bring hope to the hopeless, to bring healing to the sick, and security to the insecure.
    (First Lady Michelle Obama addresses the sailors returning from the USS Eisenhower and USNS Comfort battle group at the Norfolk Naval Station in Norfolk, Va., Friday, July 31, 2009. Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
    The First Lady also addressed the struggles of military families, a cause she has taken on personally. She urged all Americans to do their part to support the families of those who serve:
    So as we welcome home the men and women of the Comfort and the Eisenhower from deployment, and as we celebrate their reunion with their families, let us make a pledge right here today to honor their service by doing more to serve them in our own communities. Let's do simple things, like offer to help with a carpool. Simple things, like bringing over dinner. Simple things, like being a shoulder to cry on or a friend to talk to, be a neighbor, be a friend.
    If you own a business or run a company, or help run a business or a company you can help a military spouse get a job or keep a job despite a move across the country, so he or she can continue to build a meaningful career as they sacrifice for our nation. If you have a professional skill such as being a lawyer, a mental health professional, or an accountant, you can provide pro bono services to military families who need your help. If you have the opportunity, just reach out and simply say thank you – sometimes that goes a long way – say thank you to the spouses and the children of our military members and thank them for their sacrifice because it is real and it is powerful.
    Let's all take the time to be aware of the heroes right in our midst. And by following the examples of the men and women we honor here today, we can all be emissaries of comfort to someone right in our own community.
     

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    You can get more information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill through www.gibill.va.gov, and about transferability specifically through the DOD website. Also check out a guest blog post from Staff Sergeant Jim Miller.
    At George Mason University today, the President explained why the Post-9/11 GI Bill is so critical to our country. "We do this not just to meet our moral obligation to those who have sacrificed greatly on behalf of our country. We do it because these men and women must now be prepared to lead our nation in the peaceful pursuit of economic leadership in the 21st century."
    This is a particularly important issue for the President, who was a co-sponsor of the Post-9/11 GI Bill while in the Senate. Now, he is dedicated to seeing the bill successfully implemented as President. Today’s event marked the launch of the bill; the Department of Veterans Affairs began distributing tuition payments to schools participating in the program on August 1. The bill provides comprehensive education benefits to our veterans, and assures people like Staff Sergeant Jim Miller, who introduced the President, are able to go to school after their service. In his remarks, the President praised our veterans for their great sacrifices:
    And we do this not just to meet our moral obligation to those who've sacrificed greatly on our behalf and on behalf of the country. We do it because these men and women must now be prepared to lead our nation in the peaceful pursuit of economic leadership in the 21st century.
    This generation of servicemen and women has already earned a place of honor in American history. Each of them signed up to serve, many after they knew that they would be sent into harm's way. Over the last eight years, they have endured tour after tour of duty in dangerous and distant places. They've experienced grueling combat – from the streets of Fallujah to the harsh terrain of Helmand Province. They've adapted to complex insurgencies, protected local populations, and trained foreign security forces. So by any measure, they are the authors of one of the most extraordinary chapters of military service in the history of our nation.
    And I don't make that statement lightly. For we know that anyone who puts on the uniform joins an unbroken line of selfless patriots that stretches back to Lexington and Concord. The freedom and prosperity that we enjoy would not exist without the service of generations of Americans who were willing to bear the heaviest and most dangerous burden.
    But we also know this: The contributions that our servicemen and women can make to this nation do not end when they take off that uniform. We owe a debt to all who serve. And when we repay that debt to those bravest Americans among us, then we are investing in our future – not just their future, but also the future of our own country.
    The Post-9/11 GI Bill is modeled after the GI Bill that President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law in 1944. It turned out to be one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history, and not only provided an education to millions of veterans, but helped define a generation. The President explained that today, it is even more important that we give our veterans the tools to succeed:
    The GI Bill was approved just weeks after D-Day, and carried with it a simple promise to all who had served: You pick the school, we'll help pick up the bill. And what followed was not simply an opportunity for our veterans – it was a transformation for our country. By 1947, half of all Americans enrolled in college were veterans. Ultimately, this would lead to three Presidents, three Supreme Court justices, 14 Nobel Prize winners, and two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners. But more importantly, it produced hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers, doctors and nurses – the backbone of the largest middle class in history. All told, nearly 8 million Americans were educated under the original GI Bill, including my grandfather.
    No number can sum up this sea change in our society. Reginald Wilson, a fighter pilot from Detroit, said, "I didn't know anyone who went to college. I never would have gone to college had it not been for the GI Bill." H.G. Jones, a Navy man from North Carolina, said, "What happened in my rural Caswell County community happened all over the country ¼ going to college was no longer a novelty." Indeed, one of the men who went to college on the GI Bill, as I mentioned, was my grandfather, and I would not be standing here today if that opportunity had not led him West in search of opportunity.
    So we owe the same obligations to this generation of servicemen and women, as was afforded that previous generation. That is the promise of the post-1911 [sic] GI Bill. It's driven by the same simple logic that drove the first GI Bill – you pick the school, we'll help pick up the bill. And looking out at the audience today, I'm proud to see so many veterans who will be able to pursue their education with this new support from the American people.
    And this is even more important than it was in 1944. The first GI Bill helped build a post-war economy that has been transformed by revolutions in communications and technology. And that's why the post-1911 – 9/11 GI Bill must give today's veterans the skills and training they need to fill the jobs of tomorrow. Education is the currency that can purchase success in the 21st century, and this is the opportunity that our troops have earned.
     

  • Today, the President will be marking the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill at an event at George Mason University. Staff Sergeant Jim Miller was asked to introduce the President because he is a beneficiary of the bill, which honors our veterans by providing them with comprehensive education benefits. On August 1st, the Department of Veterans Affairs began distributing tuition payments to schools participating in the program. Through the program, Staff Sergeant Miller will be attending classes at George Mason University in the fall. Head over to the OPE blog, where you can read Staff Sergeant Miller's personal story about his experience in the Marines, and what the GI Bill means to him.
    (Staff Sergeant James "Jim" Louis Miller stands in front of an American flag in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq last year while deployed with the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom)

     

  • The groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 19 years ago last week, on July 26, 1990. The wide-ranging law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.
    In conjunction with the anniversary, the Department of Labor has re-named and re-launched DisabilityInfo.gov as Disability.gov. The site aims to connect the disability community to information and opportunities. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis explains, "Far more than just a directory of federal resources, Disability.gov is a meeting ground for Americans to learn, respond and communicate about a wealth of critically important disability-related topics. The new site has been vastly enhanced to provide more information in as efficient and interactive setting as possible."
    The revamped site features a Twitter feed, RSS feeds, a blog, and more user-friendly ways to obtain answers to your questions. Make sure to check it out.
     

  • Tens of thousands of letters, faxes, and emails from Americans across the country arrive each day at my office, the Office of Presidential Correspondence. We do our best to reply to these in a timely fashion, and a handful—just ten a day—are chosen for President Obama to personally read and respond to.

    The "Letters to the President" video follows the journey of your message as it winds its way from your home to the President’s desk in the Oval Office. This is the first in a series of exclusive "Inside the White House" videos that will be available here at WhiteHouse.gov.

    Download .mp4 (58.5 MB)

    Every day I try to pick a sample of messages that are representative of all those addressed to the President, are representative of things happening in the news, or which contain particularly compelling stories.

    President Obama has said these messages help him stay in touch with what is happening in our Nation. Some writers are critical of the President or his agenda, others express their agreement, while still others say they want to provide their unique perspective. They tell the President what is happening in their lives right now on health care, the economy, energy, the environment, national security, veteran’s issues and a host of other topics.

    We appreciate your feedback on this video and, of course, your continued correspondence with President Obama.

    Mike Kelleher is the Director of Presidential Correspondence

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