Read all posts from September 2009

  • (First Lady Michelle Obama greets gymnast Nadia Comaneci, her husband gymnast Bart Connor, left, and other former Olympians before the Chicago 2016 Dinner in Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday, September 30, 2009.  From left in the background, athletes Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Bob Berland, David Robinson, and Paralympic athlete Linda Mastandrea. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
    First Lady Michelle Obama brought American pride to the Danish capital today, her visit only adding to the Olympic-sized fervor reverberating throughout Copenhagen—also in attendance was Chicago’s other first lady, talk show host Oprah Winfrey. The First Lady, eager for the torch to shine brightly stateside, shared some favorite childhood Olympic moments and reflected on how the importance of Olympic ideals in every child’s life:
    We need all of our children to be exposed to the Olympic ideals that athletes from around the world represent, particularly this time in our nation’s history, where athletics is becoming more of a fleeting opportunity. Funds dry up so it becomes harder for kids to engage in sports, to learn how to swim, to even ride a bike. When we’re seeing rates of childhood obesity increase, it is so important for us to raise up the platform of fitness and competition and fair play; to teach kids to cheer on the victors and empathize with those in defeat, but most importantly, to recognize that all the hard work that is required to do something special.
    I remember watching the Olympics when I was little. I remember it to the T, some of those memories. And Nadia Comaneci is here, who – (applause) – and so many incredible Olympic athletes. But I remember, I told this story, when you scored that perfect 10, you bounced off the balance beam, off the parallel bars. I thought I could do that. (Laughter.) I didn’t know then that I would be 5'11". (Laughter.)
    But it was – it was an activity in our household when it was time for the Olympic Games, all of us gathered around the TV cheering on and being inspired by people who were doing things that were beyond belief. And I just think, wouldn’t it be great if that kind of spirit was happening right down the street in our community? Just think of that. Kids and communities across the city, in Austin, kids who grew up in Cabrini, kids who live so far from the city. Now just imagine if all of that was happening right in their own backyard. That’s what I think about. (Applause.)
    It does something to a kid when they can feel that energy and power up close and personal. And for some kids in our communities and our city, around the nation, around the world, they can never dream of being that close to such power and opportunity.
    (First Lady Michelle Obama  during a break in her one-on-one meetings with International Olympic Committee members in Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009  Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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    download .mp4 (171 MB) | read the transcript

    Amidst some of the brightest and most innovative minds in the medical field, the President spoke this morning about his commitment to making a "lasting difference" in the health of the American people—and how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will play a role in creating those differences:
    Now, today I'm here to talk about our nation's commitment to research.  I want to thank Dr. Collins and his team for showing me and Kathleen some of the extraordinary groundbreaking research being done at the National Institutes of Health. 
    The work you do is not easy.  It takes a great deal of patience and persistence.  But it holds incredible promise for the health of our people and the future of our nation and our world.  That’s why I’m here today.  For decades, the NIH has been at the forefront of medical invention and innovation, helping to save countless lives and relieve untold suffering.  And yet, if we’re honest, in recent years we’ve seen our leadership slipping as scientific integrity was at times undermined and research funding failed to keep pace.
    We know that the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector.  Some research does not lend itself to quick profit.  And that’s why places like the NIH were founded.  And that’s why my administration is making a historic commitment to research and the pursuit of discovery.  And that’s why today we’re announcing that we've awarded $5 billion -- that's with a "b" -- in grants through the Recovery Act to conduct cutting-edge research all across America, to unlock treatments to diseases that have long plagued humanity, to save and enrich the lives of people all over the world.  This represents the single largest boost to biomedical research in history.  (Applause.)
    Now, one of the most exciting areas of research to move forward as a result of this investment will be in applying what scientists have learned through the Human Genome Project to help us understand, prevent, and treat various forms of cancer, heart disease, and autism.  And having been a leader of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Collins knows this promise all too well.  And it's a promise that we've only just begun to realize.
    In cancer, we're beginning to see treatments based on our knowledge of genetic changes that cause the disease and the genetic predispositions that many of us carry that make us more susceptible to the disease.  But we've only scratched the surface of these kinds of treatments, because we've only begun to understand the relationship between our environment and genetics in causing and promoting cancer.
    So through the Recovery Act, the NIH is expanding the Cancer Genome Atlas, collecting more than 20,000 tissue samples to sequence the DNA of more than 20 types of cancer.  And this has extraordinary potential to help us better understand and treat this disease.  Cancer has touched the lives of all Americans, including my own family's; 1.5 million people will be diagnosed in the next year.  Half a million people will lose their lives.  We all know the terrible toll on families and the promise of treatments that will allow a mother to be there for her children as they grow up; that will make it possible for a child to reach adulthood; that will allow countless people to survive a disease that's claimed far too many lives.
     
    (President Barack Obama talks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a tour of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009. Listening are Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, and Dr. Francis Collins, left, Director of NIH, third from left. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
    A critical part of the President's desire to make strides in medicine is the Recovery Act—under the President’s plan, tens of thousands of jobs will be created in the medical sector:
    Now, we know that these investments in research will improve and save countless lives for generations to come.  And as I was taking a tour with Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci and others, just listening to the possibility of a HIV/AIDS vaccine, or hearing the latest treatments of cancer that allow people who previously only had resort to the most violent types of radiation or chemotherapy, now being able to take pills and seeing extraordinary progress, it is something that is entirely inspiring.  But we also know that these investments will save jobs, they'll create new jobs -- tens of thousands of jobs -- conducting research, and manufacturing and supplying medical equipment, and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities all across America. 

  • It's no secret that institutions of all stripes focus their communications on certain messages day to day. We thought it would all be a little more open and transparent if we went ahead and published what our focus will be for the day, along with any related articles, reports or documents.

    Supporting Report: "The Cost of Failure to Enact Health Reform," Roberts Wood Johnson Foundation, 9/30/09

    Talking Points: New Report – The Cost of Inaction
    ·         Even as we continue to debate exactly what health insurance reform will look like in its final form, it’s critical to remember one thing: doing nothing is not an option.  The cost of inaction is too high.
    ·         A new report out today from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation underscores that cost.
    ·         It finds that "if federal reform efforts fail, over the next decade in every state, the number of uninsured will increase, employer-sponsored coverage will continue to erode, spending on public programs will balloon and individual and family out-of-pocket costs could increase by more than 35 percent."
    ·         Under even the best case scenario, their analysis predicts a tremendous economic strain on individuals and businesses in all 50 states and the District of Columbia if reform is not enacted.
    ·         And in the worst case scenario the results would be absolutely devastating:
    o   In 29 states, the number of people without insurance would increase by more than 30 percent.
    § The number of uninsured could grow by at least 10 percent in every state. All told, the number of uninsured Americans would reach 65.7 million.
    o   Individual and family spending would increase significantly—from $326.4 billion in 2009 to $548.4 billion in 2019.
    § Individual and family out-of-pocket costs would increase by more than 35 percent in every state
    o   Businesses would see their premiums continue to increase – more than doubling in 27 states.
    § Even under the best case scenario, employers in nearly every state would see premium costs increase by more than 60 percent.
    o   Every state would see employer-sponsored coverage continue to erode, and half would see the number of people with employer sponsored coverage fall by more than 10 percent.
    Talking Points: Patient Centered Health Research
     
    ·        Health care is a complicated subject and sometimes it’s easy to get confused by terms we haven’t heard before – like the "comparative effectiveness research" being debated on Capitol Hill today.
    ·        But when you get past the jargon, the idea here is really quite simple:   Patient centered health research gives doctors and patients the best medical information to help them make the best decisions. 
    o   To facilitate higher-quality health care, this research pulls together the evidence on treatments available for a given medical condition and summarizes the risks and benefits of various options to help doctors and patients choose the treatment that’s best for their individual needs.
    ·        This research expands choices for patients.
    ·        Right now, less than one percent of our health care spending goes to examining what treatments are most effective.
    o   And even when that information finds its way into journals, it can take up to 17 years to find its way to an exam room or operating table.
    o   Don’t you want your doctor to have more information, not less?
    ·        The research will never be used to ration care or dictate medical decisions – it simply provides medical research. 
    o   In fact, the objective medical research actually  empowers doctors and patients and helps them fight insurance company decisions to deny treatment and ration care
    ·        Many physician and patient groups recognize that this research is important and support it.
    ·        Opposing this research keeps doctors and patients in the dark and strengthens insurance companies at the expense of doctors and patients.

  • Last night, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden hosted a reception at the U.S. Naval Observatory honoring the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). A range of groups that support the fight against domestic violence and sexual assault joined the gathering to celebrate the accomplishments of what the Vice President calls his greatest legislative achievement in his 36 years in the Senate. 
    "You help so many women step out of the darkness; you help so many young girls expect a different future, expect a different treatment, demand a different way of being dealt with by young men. You've inspired them to speak out against the once unspeakable tyranny of domestic violence," the Vice President said in applauding the many who have fought for awareness over the years.

    (Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a reception commemorating the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, at the Naval Observatory, Tuesday, September 29, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann.)
    Dr. Biden added, "As I have traveled around this country, I have heard so many heart-breaking stories about the impact of domestic violence on women and their families. But I have also heard how much the passage of the Violence Against Women Act has meant to those who have suffered from domestic violence."
    The Act, passed in 1994, provides federal funding for courts, law enforcement and specialized prosecutors, shelters that house battered women, rape crisis centers, and a national hotline for victims. It also increased confidentiality protection for victims and led to a unit in the Department of Justice solely focused on the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault. Since then, domestic violence rates have fallen significantly, largely thanks to this landmark legislation. 
    Yet, there is still much work left to do. "We cannot let this slip from the consciousness," the Vice President said. And we won’t. Our next objective is to reauthorize the original Violence Against Women Act in 2011 and to take steps to address the terrible violence faced by women around the world. In a time of economic stress for many in our country - periods when victims become more isolated and violence tends to escalate - our national campaign to increase awareness cannot let up. This is an issue that affects all men, women, and children in this country and we have to continue to change the culture surrounding domestic abuse and sexual assault.
    On a night on which we toasted the passage of an historic act, we look to the future confident that more can and will be done to curb the abuse and actually end domestic violence and sexual assault before it starts. We have an opportunity to ensure that all girls grow up without the scars of violence and abuse, and that all women are free to realize their true potential. As the Vice President put it, "We stand committed." 

    Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Adviser on Violence Against Women

  • Reality Check
    Last night Fox News continued its disregard for the facts in an attempt to smear the Administration's efforts to win the Olympics for the United States. In the past, hosting the Olympics has been a source of pride and unity for the country, but once again Fox News' Glenn Beck program has shown that nothing is worthy of respect if it can be used as part of a partisan attack to boost ratings.
    RHETORIC:          BECK SAID VANCOUVER LOST $1 BILLION WHEN IT "HAD THE OLYMPICS."   Glenn Beck said, "Vancouver lost, how much was it? they lost a billion dollars when they had the Olympics."  [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]
    REALITY:              VANCOUVER'S OLYMPICS WILL NOT TAKE PLACE UNTIL 2010.   Vancouver will host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games from February 12 – 28, 2010 and March 12-21, 2010, respectively. [Vancouver2010.com, accessed 9/29/09]
     
    RHETORIC:          VALERIE JARRETT "WAS LAST SEEN WITH THE NEA."  Beck's guest, FOX News contributor Pat Caddell, said, "[Obama] is going to go [to Copenhagen] with Valerie Jarrett who was last seen with the NEA pumping up their use of, you know, money." [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]
    REALITY:              VALERIE JARRETT WAS NOT ON THE NEA CONFERENCE CALL.   Valerie Jarrett was not a participant in the August 10, 2009 United We Serve/NEA conference call.
     
    RHETORIC:          CHICAGO IS CLOSING THE GOVERNMENT SEVERAL DAYS A WEEK BECAUSE THEY CANNOT AFFORD TO BE OPEN. Beck's guest Caddell said, "Chicago is closing the government several days a week because they cannot afford to be open. They are going to go and reward -- this is the biggest scandal." [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]
     
    REALITY:              CHICAGO HAS HAD ONE REDUCED-SERVICE DAY IN 2009, AND WILL HAVE TWO MORE ON THE FRIDAY AFTER THANKSGIVING AND ON CHRISTMAS EVE.  On August 17, 2009, CBS Chicago reported, "If you planned to check out a library book, visit a city clinic or have your garbage picked up on Monday, you're out of luck.   The City of Chicago is basically closed for business on Aug. 17, a reduced-service day in which most city employees are off without pay. City Hall, public libraries, health clinics and most city offices will be closed.  Emergency service providers including police, firefighters and paramedics are working at full strength, but most services not directly related to public safety, including street sweeping, will not be provided.  That also includes garbage pickup. Residents who receive regular collection on Mondays should expect trash to be picked up on Tuesday. Some other customers may experience a one-day delay as collectors catch up.  As part of the 2009 budget, three reduced-service days were planned for 2009, days which are unpaid for all affected employees -- the Friday after Thanksgiving; Christmas Eve; and New Year's Eve. The City Council recently approved moving the reduced-service day planned for New Year's Eve to Monday.  The 2009 budget anticipates saving $8.3 million due to the reduced-service days.   In addition to reduced service days, all non-union employees were asked to take a series of furlough days and unpaid holidays, and most non-sworn union employees agreed to similar unpaid time off." [CBS Chicago, 8/17/09]
    RHETORIC: VALERIE JARRETT WILL BENEFIT FINANCIALLY. Beck asked, "Is it possible that she is going to benefit if the Olympics come to Chicago?" Caddell responded, "Well, that’s the word. She has certainly had a lot of dealings going on in real estate." [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]
    REALITY: UPON ENTERING GOVERNMENT, VALERIE JARRETT DIVESTED ALL HER REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT HOLDINGS EXCEPT FOR A SINGLE INVESTMENT THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE OLYMPIC BID. Valerie Jarrett divested all her investment real estate holdings upon entering government except for a single real estate holding that she was unable to sell. This single real estate investment has been determined by White House Counsel and the independent Office of Government Ethics to present no conflict of interest in performing her duties as a White House advisor.  It has nothing to do with the Olympic bid.
     
    --

    For even more Fox lies, check out the latest "Truth-O-Meter" feature from Politifact that debunks a false claim about a White House staffer that continues to be repeated by Glenn Beck and others on the network.

  • As part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) webcast series "Know What to Do About the Flu," today’s 1 pm webcast will highlight information for individuals and organizations working with seniors.  Discussing seasonal and H1N1 flu information, the event’s panel of government experts includes:
    • Dr. Anthony Fiore, Medical Officer, Influenza Division, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    • Ms. Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging, U.S. Administration on Aging
    • Ms. Sandra Markwood, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
    • Mr. James Firman, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Council on Aging
    Watch the event as it is streamed live on Flu.gov, your central resource for government information on seasonal, H1N1, avian, and pandemic flu.  Stay connected with ongoing Flu.gov news, events, and announcements by: signing up for email updates, subscribing to the RSS feed, or participating in Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube activities.

  • Today, President Obama is announcing $5 billion in grant awards to fund cutting-edge medical research in all 50 states. To put this investment in context and better understand how it will create jobs and fuel advancements, check out this video of experts from NIH, including Director Francis Collins:

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    download .mp4 (60 MB)


    In addition to supporting the full spectrum of medical research, the 12,000+ grants will create tens of thousands of jobs over the next two years.  In the President's words:

    We know that this kind of investment will also lead to new jobs: tens of thousands of jobs conducting research, manufacturing and supplying medical equipment, and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities. I’ve long said, the goal of the Recovery Act was not to create make-work jobs, but jobs making a difference for our future. There is no better example than the jobs we will produce or preserve through the grants we are announcing this morning.
    The President will speak at the NIH shortly, which you can watch live from NIH's site.

  • Today, the tax subgroup of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) will hold a meeting to gather ideas on tax reform.  It will be the first of several such meetings.  The meeting will center on tax simplification and will be live streamed at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
    I wanted to take the opportunity to explain why we assembled this subgroup, what areas the PERAB tax reform subgroup will focus on and what it has been tasked to produce.
    Tax reform is important to the President and a priority for many members of Congress. As the President said when he announced his international tax proposals in May, "It's a down payment on the larger tax reform we need to make our tax system simpler and fairer and more efficient for individuals and corporations."
    The Administration wanted a report on options for tax reform from an outside group so they asked the PERAB to take on the role. The PERAB is comprised of industry and labor representatives, and academic experts and is chaired by Paul Volcker.  It is made up of voices from outside the government.  The tax subgroup's focus is on gathering as many ideas and options as possible and identifying the pros and cons of each option in three specific areas:
    • Tax code simplification
    • Enforcement
    • Corporate tax reform
    The materials gathered and compiled by the tax group will be presented to the full PERAB board and discussed at a future PERAB meeting.  The final report that the board puts forward in December will not be a recommendation of a specific direction in tax policy.  It will present a view of the pros and cons of different options.  It will be an important step in the process of studying the many ways we can reform and improve our tax code.
    It will not  represent the view of the administration.  The PERAB is an advisory group representing a wide range of viewpoints from outside the administration and we expect the options it presents to represent a range of views and opinions on tax reform. 
    Everyone knows that tax reform is a complicated undertaking. In preparation for this series of public meetings, the members of the tax subgroup have spent the last several months familiarizing themselves with the options already out there, through individual conversations with experts from academia and the tax field, members of Congress and members of the Administration.
    The PERAB and the administration both want the public to provide their insight, ideas and comments to help educate the group and they invite anyone to visit the webpage and submit their own ideas or comment on other proposals. We will also post the tax presentations made by the attendees following the meeting.
    I look forward to providing updates on future meetings and seeing the work on various tax reform options that comes out of the PERAB in December.

    UPDATE: This event has now concluded but you can watch the full video of the meeting below:

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.

    Austan Goolsbee is a member of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board and the Council of Economic Advisers

  • Check out the Official White House Photostream for an inside look at the month of September. Take a look.

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    (President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden pose with the full Cabinet for an official group photo in the East Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2009. Seated from left: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. Standing second row, from left: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan E. Rice, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Back row, from left: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)




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    (President Barack Obama makes remarks during the leaders' lunch at the G-20 Pittsburgh Summit at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Penn., Sept. 25, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)




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    (President Barack Obama and his national security team meet Sept. 29, 2009, in the Situation Room at the White House with Undersecretary of State Bill Burns, right, as Burns departs for P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva on Thursday. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is seated at center. Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
    And we simply couldn't resist a Bo-nus shot from August:

    (View Full Size)
    (Bo, the Obama family dog, sits with members of the White House staff during a helicopter flight to Martha's Vineyard, Aug. 23, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

  • The President's day today was consumed with keeping the nation safe, meeting with members of his national security team as well as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
    President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
    (President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during the expanded delegation meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
    After his meeting with the NATO Secretary General, they addressed the press together, emphasizing the tremendously important challenge in Afghanistan as well as NATO-Russian relations:
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody. I just want to welcome Secretary General Rasmussen to the Oval Office. He and I had the opportunity to get to know each other at the NATO summit in Strasbourg, at which he was nominated and then selected as the new Secretary General of NATO.
    I can say that, given his experience as a head of state, that everybody had confidence in his decisive and effective leadership abilities. That confidence has proven justified. In the brief time that he has been in NATO, I think he's already shown himself to be an active and effective Secretary General, interested in reforming and renewing the NATO Alliance, and always rooted in the understanding that this is the most successful military alliance in history and the cornerstone of transatlantic relationships.
    We had a very fruitful discussion while he was here. We talked about, obviously, the most important NATO mission right now, and that is Afghanistan. And we both agree that it is absolutely critical that we are successful in dismantling, disrupting, destroying the al Qaeda network, and that we are effectively working with the Afghan government to provide the security necessary for that country.
    This is not a American battle; this is a NATO mission, as well. And we are working actively and diligently to consult with NATO at every step of the way. And I'm very grateful for the leadership that Secretary General Rasmussen has shown in committing NATO to a full partnership in this process.
    We also discussed missile defense, and we both agreed that the configuration that we have proposed is one that ultimately will serve the interests of not only the United States, but also NATO Alliance members most effectively. It allows for a full collaboration with NATO members, and we are very optimistic that it will achieve our aims and deal with the very real threat of ballistic missiles.
    We also agree that it is important for us to reach out to Russia and explore ways in which the missile defense configurations that we envision could potentially lead to further collaboration with Russia on this front; and that we want to improve generally not only U.S.-Russian relations, but also NATO-Russian relations, while making absolutely clear that our commitments to all of our allies in NATO is sacrosanct and that our commitment to Article 5 continues.
    Finally, we discussed the process that we're putting forward for a strategic concept review. NATO has been so successful that sometimes I think that we forget this was shaped and crafted for a 20th century landscape. We're now well into the 21st century, and that means that we are going to have to constantly renew and revitalize NATO to meet current threats and not just past threats.
    There has been a process that has been put forward; we are fully supportive of it. I am confident that under Secretary General Rasmussen's leadership that it will ultimately be successful, and that we will continue to see NATO operate in a way that is good for U.S. national security interests, good for our allies, and good for the world.
    So, Mr. Secretary General, thank you for the excellent work that you're doing and we appreciate it very much. And please feel free to share a few words.
    SECRETARY GENERAL RASMUSSEN: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your kind words.
    The President and I have had a very constructive meeting. I have thanked the President for his strong support. I look very much forward to cooperating with the President and his administration on reforming, transforming, and modernizing NATO. We are going to elaborate a new strategic concept, which I hope can serve as leverage for renewal of NATO.
    Of course, our main focus today has been our cooperation in Afghanistan. I say "our" focus deliberately because our operation in Afghanistan is not America's responsibility or burden alone. It is and it will remain a team effort. I agree with President Obama in his approach: strategy first, then resources. The first thing is not numbers. It is to find and fine-tune the right approach to implement the strategy already laid down, and all NATO allies are right now looking at McChrystal's review.
    I'm convinced that success in Afghanistan is achievable and will be achieved. And don't make any mistake – the normal discussion on the right approach should not be misinterpreted as lack of resolve. This Alliance will stand united and we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job.
    As the President mentioned, we have also discussed missile defense. I welcome the new U.S. approach, which will allow all allies to participate, which will protect all allies. And in fact, I think the proposed new system can serve as an instrument to bind all allies – new and old – even stronger together.
    Thank you.
    President Barack Obama and his national security team meet
    (President Barack Obama and his national security team meet Sept. 29, 2009, in the Situation Room at the White House with Undersecretary of State Bill Burns, right, as Burns departs for P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva on Thursday. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is seated at center. Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
     

  • The Distracted Driving summit we announced in August convenes tomorrow, and I can't wait to get started.
    Folks, it's simple: a driver operating a cell phone or texting while driving is SIX times more likely to be involved in an accident. SIX times.
    If you're driving down the road, trying to dial a number or text, you cannot pay appropriate attention to the car in front of you or the car behind you or the traffic and pedestrians around you.
    How do we know this? Because over 80% of car accidents occur while drivers are distracted in some way.
    Americans are waking up to the danger distracted drivers pose to themselves, to us, and to our loved ones. We can no longer afford to ignore new technology's impact on road safety.
    Suddenly, everyone–automakers, safety advocates, motorists' associations, insurance companies, school officials, trucking industry groups, parents of victims, children of victims, law enforcement agencies; newspapers, websites, bloggers, editors, television networks–is saying the same thing: distracted driving needs to stop.
    We've all observed the rise of this hazard, and I want to spend these two days seeing what we can do to stop this deadly epidemic on America's roadways.
    The summit will gather senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives, private sector representatives, and academics–an array of folks whose expertise can help us meet this challenge.
    We'll clarify the scope and various sources of the problem, then look at ways to manage it–whether through education and public awareness initiatives or legislative and regulatory approaches and enforcement.
    A great feature of the 2-day meeting is that we're webcasting it. And viewers of the live webcast can submit questions online to the panelists they're watching. It's quite an opportunity for the public to get involved in this historic dialogue.
    Look, we're not out to take anyone's technology away; we just want people to drive safely. And it's not just texting and cell phones and navigation systems; driving with your attention anywhere but on the road–for any reason–is just too dangerous.
    So, please join us this Wednesday and Thursday either at the summit or for the live-stream online and figure out the best way to move forward on this.
    Ray LaHood is Secretary of Transportation
     

  • Cross-posted from the DHS blog.
    We've harped on it for 29 days - September is National Preparedness Month. We've directed you to ready.gov, provided tips on how to be prepared and stay informed, and asked you more than once to cough into your sleeve.
    No one likes to spend that much time thinking about what could happen – be it a natural disaster or otherwise – but the steps you take to prepare for the unthinkable can make the difference for your place of business, your school, and especially your home. And, it’s the American way: being ready and resilient has helped our nation surmount its biggest challenges for two centuries
    So as National Preparedness Month comes to a close, the Secretary has one more request of you: ask a question. Stand up at school, or at work, or at home, and ask, "What's our plan?"
    The Secretary will deliver a speech at The American Red Cross National Headquarters this afternoon at 2:15 PM EDT on preparedness, and wants to make one final pitch to the American public during the month of September. Bring it up the next time you attend a meeting at your child's high school, or at church, or around the dinner table. This is a shared responsibility, and we all have a role to play in building a culture where these questions, and this dialogue, are commonplace.
    Watch the speech LIVE at http://www.dhs.gov/ starting at 2:15 PM EDT.
    Then visit ready.gov to learn more.
    Graves Spindler works for the Department of Homeland Security
     

  • It's no secret that institutions of all stripes focus their communications on certain messages day to day. We thought it would all be a little more open and transparent if we went ahead and published what our focus will be for the day, along with any related articles, reports or documents.
    Talking Points: Common Ground on Health Insurance Reform
    • As we continue to move closer and closer to reform, one encouraging sign is the striking degree of consensus between the various bills making their way through Congress.
    • The common features in these bills underscore the level of fundamental agreement about what health insurance reform should look like and offer a clear outline of what it will mean for Americans:
    •  
      Unprecedented security and stability
    • Each bill would put an end to some of the insurance industry’s worst practices, like denying you coverage because of a pre-existing condition, or dropping or watering down your coverage when you get sick and need it most.
    •  
      Expanded access to affordable care
    • Each bill would provide affordable options by creating an exchange where you can leverage the purchasing power of a large group to get reasonable prices and choose the option that’s best for you and your family.
    •  
      Lower costs for all Americans – including seniors
    • Each bill would increase choice and competition in the health care market.
    • For seniors, each would protect and strengthen Medicare while making prescription drugs more affordable in the "donut hole."
    •  
      Improving quality of care by bolstering prevention and primary care
    • Each bill invests in both prevention and building the workforce of primary care providers.
    • Insurance companies would be required to fully cover preventive care and checkups.
    •  
      Talking Points: The Real Health Care Tax
    • Not surprisingly, as health insurance reform continues to gain momentum, its opponents continue to hurl baseless attacks in the hopes that something will stick.
    • The latest en vogue assault in their last-ditch effort to preserve the status quo is an alleged tax that reform will impose on middle-class families.
    • But here’s the reality: Right now, under the system they wish to preserve, hundreds of millions of Americans who get insurance through their job or buy it on their own are paying a hidden tax of $1,000 to cover the costs of caring for Americans without health insurance.
    • And that figure is growing by the day as more and more people lose their insurance.
    • What President Obama is proposing is not a tax, but a requirement to comply with the law.
    • People are required to obey the speed limit and have to pay a penalty if they get caught speeding? Does anyone consider that a tax?
    • People are required to have car insurance and can be fined if they are caught without it. Is that a tax?
    • What we’re talking about is a penalty for the few people who will refuse to buy health insurance – even though they can afford it – and who expect the rest of us to pick up the tab for their care.
    Q: But what about the fees on insurance companies, drugmakers, devicemakers? Won’t that be passed on to consumers as a hidden tax?
    A: No, for at least three reasons:
    1. First, the fees are lump sum, not per unit, so you should not expect that manufacturers will pass them on.
      • Do critics really think the drug companies are holding back their prices today out of the goodness of their hearts and would decide to raise them to make up for this lump sum - but couldn't raise them today to get higher profits?
    2.  
    3. Second, these fees are intended to recapture part of the benefits these businesses will get from reform, as they acquire tens of millions of new customers.
      • If you believe the lump sum tax put pressure on them to raise prices, then the fact that they are getting lots of revenue from new customers will reduce that pressure.
    4.  
    5. Third, the fees are all going to ensure that we are increasing the numbers getting affordable coverage and thus reducing the $1,000 hidden tax that millions of Americans pay for the uncompensated care of the uninsured.
      • So even if you believed that somehow companies would find a way to pass them along, that would be more than outweighed by the benefits middle-class families would get from not only hundreds of billions of dollars in health care tax credits but from reducing the hidden tax they currently pay for the uninsured.
     

  • Climate is changing all across the globe. The air and the oceans are warming, mountain glaciers are disappearing, sea ice is shrinking, the great ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are slipping, and sea level is rising. And the consequences for human well-being are already being felt: more heat waves, floods, droughts, and wildfires; tropical diseases reaching into the temperate zones; and coastal property increasingly at risk from the surging seas.
    All this is happening faster than was expected. Sea level is rising at twice the average rate for the 20th century. The coverage and thickness of the sea ice in the Arctic at its summer minimum have been shrinking at a pace far faster than the projections of just a few years ago. The average area burned by wildfires in the Western United States annually has increased four-fold in the past 30 years.
    We know the primary cause of these perils – it is the emission of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants from our factories, our vehicles, and our power plants, and from land clearing. We also know that failure to curb these emissions will bring far bigger impacts in the future than those experienced so far.
    But we also know what we can and must do to avoid the worst. We must work together – East and West, North and South – to transform our energy technologies from polluting and wasteful to clean and efficient. We must create new incentives and agreements to accelerate this transformation and to reduce deforestation and other destructive land-use change around the world. And we must invest in adaptation, to reduce our vulnerability to the degree of climate change that can no longer be avoided.
    We can do this together. And when we do, we will benefit not only by avoiding the worst damages from climate change, but also by reducing our dangerous overdependence on petroleum, alleviating the air pollution that afflicts our cities, preserving our forests as havens for biodiversity and sources of sustainable livelihoods, and unleashing a new wave of technological innovation – generating new businesses, new jobs, and new growth in the course of creating the clean and efficient energy systems of the future.
    How aggressive must these efforts be? The science is increasingly clear that holding the global average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius is likely to be essential for keeping climate change to a manageable level. It is likewise clear that having a good chance of meeting this goal requires that global emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants should level off by about 2020 and shrink thereafter to something like 50 percent of the current levels by 2050, with continuing declines after that. Economic and political realities, including recognition that emissions from the industrialized countries have caused the largest part of the problem up until now, suggest that the United States and other industrial nations should take the lead in this effort, reducing our emissions to well below current levels by 2020.
    President Obama understands this challenge with crystal clarity, and under his leadership the United States is moving rapidly to do what is required to meet it. The Recovery Act has provided the largest boost in history in Federal support for research, development, demonstration, and deployment of clean and efficient energy technologies. New cooperative efforts to help developing countries move in this direction have been launched. And, most importantly, the Administration is working with Congress to get comprehensive energy-climate legislation that, by rewarding energy options that don't harm the climate, will unleash American ingenuity to tackle this challenge in ways that will create jobs and help drive economic recovery while showing the whole world the way toward a climate we can live with.
    John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
     

  • Ed. Note: Thanks to the Council on Women and Girls for keeping us updated.
    The status and role of women and girls was featured prominently in official events throughout the week in New York, during the opening of the 64th session of the UN General Assembly. Ambassador Rice was pleased to welcome Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council of Women and Girls, to UN Headquarters to participate in several key events such as meetings with the newly-nominated UN Congressional and Public Delegate teams, roundtables on public-private partnerships, and dinners with key groups to discuss women's and girl's development.
    These events build on significant developments which have taken place at the UN in recent weeks. Of particular importance is the UN General Assembly's unanimous vote on September 14th to combine several UN offices and agencies into a new, more powerful agency for women – an initiative which was strongly backed by the United States, under the leadership of Ambassador Rice. Not only will the new agency streamline women's and girl's issues into one agency, but it also raises the office to be a part of the Secretary General's core team – elevating women's issues to their rightful status.
    We are excited by this announcement and congratulate the General Assembly on taking this important step in promoting women's rights. Dedicated UN staff are doing great work on behalf of women and girls all around the world – fighting for equality, advancing educational and economic opportunities, and working to prevent domestic violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. However, there is always room for improvement to better support those in the field. We need to be more focused, coordinated, and efficient – so that the programs and initiatives that support women can be more effective.
    The General Assembly's decision to combine four existing offices into one greater office was a first step in this direction – but it is only a first step toward making a strong women's agency what it needs to be. The General Assembly's vote requested that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon produce a comprehensive proposal over the next year on the new agency's mission, organization, funding, and management. We now need to dig in and work hard to make the vision a reality on behalf of all of the world's women and girls.
    As President Obama said in his speech to the General Assembly earlier this week, "this Assembly's Charter commits each of us 'to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women.'" And the President made a point of specifically citing among those fundamental rights "the opportunity for women and girls to pursue their own potential." Streamlining work on women's rights and equality into a single empowered office fits with our broader interest in making sure that the UN is able to deliver on this vital part of its mandate. We are facing increasingly interconnected global challenges – poverty, disease, climate change, violence, conflict – that demand a top notch UN, one that is able to make real differences in people's lives around the world. The newly created women's agency is an important part of this broader vision.
    Jennifer Simon is a senior advisor at the State Department and serves as Ambassador Susan Rice's liaison to the Council on Women and Girls
     

  • Reality Check
    One of the funny things about the debate over health insurance reform has been watching people who have for years clamored for cutting waste from Medicare contort themselves trying to find ways to oppose our efforts to do exactly that.  As the President noted in his Address to a Joint Session of Congress:
    Now, these steps will ensure that you – America's seniors – get the benefits you've been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pockets for prescription drugs. (Applause.) That's what this plan will do for you. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut, especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past and just this year supported a budget that would essentially have turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will not happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare. (Applause.)
    In case you don’t want to take the President’s word for it, here’s what the AP reported in an article headlined "SPIN METER: Once Medicare's foe, GOP now boosts it":
    Last spring, most Republicans voted in favor of a budget proposal that would end Medicare in its current form for people under 55, offering vouchers instead to pay for private health care accounts.
    You can read more about this switcheroo, as it were, from a Washington Post story out this morning, and from the New York Times editorial referenced here earlier.
    A more recent attack has come from Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, directed at the Director of our Health Reform Office Nancy-Ann DeParle. He leads off his attack citing various problems that various companies she’s been associated with have had, declaring that "We can thank Investigative Reporting Workshop of the American University School of Communication for this information." Well, Moore shouldn't be too thankful if his goal was smearing DeParle – here's what the report actually says about DeParle's direct involvement:
    "There is no reason to think that DeParle was directly involved in any of the actions that led to the investigations and sanctions. DeParle was a member of the board of directors of these companies, not the chief executive officer managing day-to-day operations. It is rare for directors to be held legally accountable for illegal dealings by management."
    Moore also claims that when DeParle ran Medicare during the 1990's, she did nothing to halt the waste and abuse that President Obama is fighting against now: "By the end of the Clinton administration, Medicare fraud was estimated by the U.S. General Accounting Office to costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year. This happened on Ms. DeParle's watch. It makes one wonder how this czarina is going to root out waste when so much of it piled up the last time she was in charge."
    Unfortunately for Mr. Moore's argument, the reality is quite the contrary – DeParle helped cut errors and waste in half and saved taxpayers billions during her tenure. Again, the very report that Moore so graciously thanks includes this:
    The investigations and lawsuits are at odds with DeParle's reputation in Washington as a progressive, highly respected health policy analyst. During the late 1990s, when she ran Medicare, she pushed hard to raise medical quality standards and to clamp down on fraud and waste in the massive federal health plan for the elderly.
    "In my experience, she's the one administrator who really was tuned into the fraud issue," said William J. Mahon, a former director of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association. "She distinguished herself in putting fraud on the agenda."
    A few more examples:
    DeParle Headed Aggressive Campaign To Fight Medicare Fraud Cut Improper Payment Rate In Half In Just Two Years. "Medicare's aggressive campaign to fight fraud and overbilling has cut the improper payment rate in half in just two years, but the giant health program for the elderly still paid health care providers $ 12.6 billion last year for services that cost too much or were never provided, federal auditors said Tuesday. In 1996, when the government began systematically auditing a sample of claims by doctors, hospitals and other agencies, its erroneous payment rate was estimated at 14%...'We have turned the corner and we are heading in the right direction,' said Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, who heads the Health Care Financing Administration, which runs Medicare. She pledged to 'continue the aggressive effort to fight waste, fraud and abuse.'" [L.A. Times, 2/10/99]
    Medicare’s Error Rate Had Fallen From 14% To 6.8% By Final Year Of Clinton Administration. "The US Department of Health and Human Services said on Friday that the rate of improper Medicare payments was stable over the past 2 years. HHS said the projected percentage rate for 2002 was about 6.3%, the same figure reported for 2001 and a significant decrease from the 13.8% rate estimated in 1996, when the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) began calculating the number. In 2000, the error rate was about 6.8%." [Reuters, 1/24/03]
    Medicare Lost $23.2 Billion To Fraud, Abuse And Errors In 1996. "In all, government auditors told Congress that 14 cents of every dollar spent last year by Medicare, the nation's health care program for the elderly, was lost to such instances of fraud, abuse, or simple error. That amounted to $ 23.2 billion of the $ 168.6 billion Medicare paid last year to hospitals, doctors, laboratories and other health care providers." [AP, 7/18/97]
    Medicare Lost $11.9 Billion To Fraud, Abuse And Errors In 2000. "Medicare lost an estimated $11.9 billion to waste, fraud and mistakes last year, half of what was lost five years ago from improper payments to doctors and hospitals, auditors said Tuesday. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson praised efforts to reduce the improper payments, which could range from innocent mistakes to outright fraud and abuse." [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/7/01]
    DeParle Convened HCFA’s First Conference on Combating Medicare Fraud and Abuse. "One of the first things Nancy-Ann Min DeParle did after taking over as head of the federal agency that administers Medicare was to visit South Florida with Sen. Bob Graham. Graham had promised DeParle, administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, that shewould be able to witness Medicare fraud first-hand. He was right. During the trip in January, Graham and DeParle stopped in clinics where patients were being seen - and Medicare was being billed - but no licensed doctors were on site. They visited community mental health care programs where bingo games were being charged to Medicare as therapy. DeParle, 41, returned to Washington pledging to make the fight against Medicare fraud, estimated at $ 23-billion each year, her top priority. This month, DeParle sponsored a first for HCFA - a meeting of about 300 health care providers, private insurers, prosecutors and public officials on combating fraud and abuse." [St. Petersburg Times, 3/30/98]
    One would expect somebody who claims to be a principled conservative, who has talked for years about eliminating waste and abuse in the system, to praise DeParle's record and to embrace President Obama's attempt to do what Moore and other conservatives have called for year after year. But perhaps principles are of less importance than partisan hit pieces to some.
     

  • It's no secret that institutions of all stripes focus their communications on certain messages day to day. We thought it would all be a little more open and transparent if we went ahead and published what our focus will be for the day, along with any articles, reports or documents they refer to.
    Talking Points: New York Times Debunks Medicare Scare-mongering
    • Yesterday, the New York Times decried and debunked Republican "scare-mongering" on what health insurance reform would mean for Medicare.
    • As the Times says, for Republicans to "posture as vigilant protectors of Medicare" reeks of "cynicism and hypocrisy," considering that they have "in the past tried to pare back Medicare."
      As recently as this past April, Republicans in Congress voted overwhelmingly to end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher program that provides a fixed sum of money to buy private insurance.
    • With their recent scare tactics, the paper says, Republicans have been "obscuring and twisting the facts and spreading unwarranted fear."
    • In fact, the Times points out, "the various reform bills now pending should actually make Medicare better for most beneficiaries — by enhancing their drug coverage, reducing the premiums they pay for drugs and medical care, eliminating co-payments for preventive services and helping keep Medicare solvent, among other benefits."
    • President Obama believes Medicare is a sacred trust with America’s seniors. Reform protects Medicare. It doesn’t use dime of the Medicare trust fund to pay for reform and it strengthens the financial health of the program.
     

  • A few more photos of the First Lady's time in Pittsburgh during the G20 Summit:
    First Lady Michelle Obama and the spouses of the G20 leaders tour the Andy Warhol Museum
    [Download Full Size] (First Lady Michelle Obama and the spouses of the G20 leaders tour the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Penn., Sept. 25, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)



    A group photo after a performance by students of CAPA High School
    [Download Full Size](First Lady Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva, wife of Brazilian President Luiz da Silva, pose for a group photo after a performance by students of CAPA High School in Pittsburgh, Penn., Sept. 25, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)



    First Lady Michelle Obama and the spouses of the G20 leaders pose for a group photo
    [Download Full Size] (First Lady Michelle Obama and the spouses of the G20 leaders pose for a group photo at CAPA High School in Pittsburgh, Penn., Sept. 25, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

  • Recorded literally on his way back from the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, the President uses his Weekly Address to recap the progress made during the intensive discussions with world leaders. From an historic agreement to reform the global financial system, to groundbreaking commitments on reducing subsidies to fossil fuels worldwide, to unity in standing against threats to world peace -- engagement produced tangible results in several areas.
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  • Tomorrow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will co-host an event on global food security – an issue that affects us all, especially the over one billion people suffering from chronic hunger.
    Secretary Clinton also gave a speech today highlighting the consequences of this dire situation: chronic hunger causes job insecurity, and children struggle to learn. In the best traditions of the United Nations, Secretary Clinton focused on how we can work together to eradicate this ever-increasing problem:
    Massive hunger poses a threat to the stability of governments, societies, and borders. People who are starving, who have no incomes, who can’t care for their families, are left with feelings of hopelessness and desperation. And so we know that desperation of that magnitude sows seeds of its own—of tension, conflict, and even the violence we saw in the film. Since 2007, there have been riots over food in more than 60 countries.
    Agriculture—which encompasses not only crops, but livestock and fish—is critical to economic growth around the world; for more than three-quarters of the world’s poor, farming is their only source of income and avenue to prosperity. Food is linked to energy security: when the price of oil spikes, the cost of transporting food rises, while the increased demand for biofuels also affects prices. And it’s linked to climate security; droughts and floods caused by climate change destroy cropland and send food prices higher.
    So food security is not merely a question of getting food to hungry people. And it is not simply a moral imperative. It represents the convergence of complex issues that have a direct bearing on economic growth, energy and environmental factors, and our strategic interests. And as such, it demands a comprehensive response.
    If we can build partnerships with countries to help small farmers improve their agricultural output and make it easier to buy and sell their products at local or regional markets, we can set off a domino effect. We can increase the world’s food supply for both the short and the long term; diminish hunger; raise farmers’ incomes; improve health; expand opportunity; and strengthen regional economies.
    To learn more, watch this short film the State Department put out in advance of the Secretary's push:
     

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