Read all posts from October 2009

  • It's been a very busy couple of days but I wanted to make sure to write about an inspiring day I spent in North Carolina last Wednesday, where I visited with our Marines at Camp Lejeune and met students and faculty at Coastal Carolina Community College. I am always honored to meet our men and women in uniform, and on this day I felt so proud to be both a community college teacher and a military mom.

    Jill Biden with Marines at Camp Lejeune

    Jill Biden spends time with Marines from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion and their families prior to deployment. October 14, 2009. (by Cpl. Jessica Martinez, US Marine Corps)

     After stopping into a classroom on campus at Coastal, I spent some time with college instructors and students. I always say that I am inspired by my own community college students because they work so hard to get an education while dealing with many of life's other challenges, like working full time and raising families. These students were no exception, they truly inspired me. They were all veterans, active duty Marines, or military spouses – working and raising families, serving our country, and training to be teachers on top of it all. It was incredible to see firsthand how Coastal is ensuring our service members and their families have access to higher education.

    At many community colleges, students can complete the first two years of a baccalaureate degree at an affordable price, and then transfer on to a four-year university. Coastal Carolina Community College and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington are working together to make that transfer as easy as possible. Students in the cooperative "2+2" teacher education program can study for two years at Coastal, and then walk across the hall to complete their junior and senior years at UNCW extension classrooms, right on Coastal’s campus. One student told me she had wanted to be a teacher since she was a kid but between her husband's deployments and raising children, she never got the chance to go to school. Now she is studying to be an elementary school teacher through the schools' 2+2 program.

    From the community college I went to Camp Lejeune where I met with almost 150 Marines who were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. When I arrived I could not help feeling some of the same pride and anxiety I felt when my son Beau deployed to Iraq. But I was also so grateful to have the opportunity to thank these young Marines for their service. I admire their courage and strength, and I pray for their safe return.

    I met more heroes at lunch, where I ate Carolina barbecue with wounded warriors and learned about how injured marines rely on each other while they heal. It was an emotional visit. I hope to continue raising awareness about the wonderful men and women in our military. I want them all to know how much we appreciate them while they are here, while they are deployed, and when they return, especially when they are recovering from injuries.

    I always say that a simple "thank you" to a marine or a soldier, or a warm hug to a military mom can mean so much – and I saw this power first-hand at Camp Lejeune. I hope you will join me in thanking our men and women in uniform, and doing what you can to support them and their families. It’s the simple things that can make a big difference.

    -Jill

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (117MB) | mp3 (8.5MB)

    The President opened his remarks today remembering Sergeant First Class Jared Monti, who he recently awarded the Medal of Honor, nation's highest decoration for valor, for his heroic actions in Afghanistan sacrificing his life for his fellow soldiers.  Today the President was bestowing the Presidential Unit Citation, similarly prestigious honor, on the entire Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry -- known as the Blackhorse Regiment.

    As with Sergeant First Class Monti, the President took all due time to recount their bravery.  He also left no doubt that any and all disrespect directed towards our Vietnam veterans was nothing short of disgraceful:

    Now, these men might be a little bit older, a little bit grayer. But make no mistake -- these soldiers define the meaning of bravery and heroism.

    It was March 1970, deep in the jungles of Vietnam. And through the static and crackle of their radios Alpha Troop heard that another unit was in trouble. Charlie Company, from the 1st Calvary Division, had stumbled upon a massive underground bunker of North Vietnamese troops. A hundred Americans were facing some 400 enemy fighters. Outnumbered and outgunned, Charlie Company was at risk of being overrun.

    That's when Alpha Troop's captain gave the order: "Saddle up and move out."

    As these men will tell you themselves, this isn't the story of a battle that changed the course of a war. It never had a name, like Tet or Hue or Khe Sanh. It never made the papers back home. But like countless battles, known and unknown, it is a proud chapter in the story of the American soldier.

    It's the story of men who came together, from every corner of America, of different colors and creeds. Some young -- just 18, 19 years old, and just weeks in the jungle; some older -- veterans hardened by the ugliness of war. Noncommissioned officers who held the unit together and the officers assigned to lead them.

    It's the story of how this team of some 200 men set out to save their fellow Americans. With no roads to speak of, they plowed their tanks and armored vehicles through the thick jungle, smashing a path through bamboo and underbrush, mile after mile, risking ambush and landmines every step of the way, and finally emerging from the jungle to the rescue -- what one member of Charlie Company called "a miracle."<

    It's a story of resolve. For Alpha Troop could have simply evacuated their comrades and left that enemy bunker for another day -- to ambush another American unit. But as their captain said, "That's not what the 11th Cavalry does."

    And so, ultimately, this is a story of what soldiers do -- not only for their country, but for each other: the troopers who put themselves in the line of fire, using their tanks and vehicles to shield those trapped Americans; the loaders who kept the ammunition coming, and the gunners who never let up; and when one of those gunners went down, the soldier who jumped up to take his place.

    It's about the men who rushed out to drag their wounded buddies to safety; the medics who raced to save so many; the injured who kept fighting hour after hour. And finally, with dark falling, as the convoy made the daring escape back through the jungle, these soldiers remained vigilant, protecting the wounded who lay at their feet.

    The fog of war makes a full accounting impossible. But this much we know. Among the many casualties that day, some 20 members of Alpha Troop were wounded. And at least two made the ultimate sacrifice -- their names now among the many etched in that black granite wall not far from here. But because of that service, that sacrifice, Alpha Troop completed its mission. It rescued Charlie Company. It saved those 100 American soldiers, some of who join us today. And those soldiers went on to have families -- children and grandchildren who also owe their lives to Alpha Troop.

    Now, some may wonder: After all these years, why honor this heroism now? The answer is simple. Because we must. Because we have a sacred obligation. As a nation, we have an obligation to this troop. Their actions that day went largely unnoticed -- for decades -- until their old captain, John Poindexter, realized that their service had been overlooked. He felt that he had a right to wrong. And so he spent years tracking down his troopers and gathering their stories, filing reports, fighting for the Silver Stars and Bronze Stars they deserved and bringing us to this day.

    Thank you, John.

    We have an obligation to all who served in the jungles of Vietnam. Our Vietnam vets answered their country's call and served with honor. But one of the saddest episodes in American history was the fact that these vets were often shunned and neglected, even demonized when they came home. That was a national disgrace. And on days such as this, we resolve to never let it happen again.

    Many of our Vietnam vets put away their medals, rarely spoke of their service and moved on. They started families and careers. Some rose through the ranks, like the decorated Vietnam veteran that I rely on every day, my National Security Advisor, Jim Jones.

    Indeed, I'm told that today is the first time in 39 years that many from Alpha Troop have pulled out their medals and joined their old troop. Some of you still carry the shrapnel and the scars of that day. All of you carry the memories. And so I say, it's never too late, we can never say it enough. To you and all those who served in Vietnam, we thank you. We honor your service. And America is forever grateful.

    Today also reminds us of our obligations to all our veterans, whether they took off the uniform decades ago or days ago -- to make sure that they and their families receive the respect they deserve, and the health care and treatment they need, the benefits they have earned and all the opportunities to live out their dreams.

    And finally, if that day in the jungle, if that war long ago, teaches us anything, then surely it is this. If we send our men and women in uniform into harm's way, then it must be only when it is absolutely necessary. And when we do, we must back them up with the strategy and the resources and the support they need to get the job done.

    This includes always showing our troops the respect and dignity they deserve, whether one agrees with the mission or not. For if this troop and our men and women in uniform can come together -- from so many different backgrounds and beliefs -- to serve together, and to succeed together, then so can we. So can America.

    I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to these men, who fought in what came to be called The Anonymous Battle. Troopers, you are not anonymous anymore. And with America's overdue recognition also comes responsibility -- our responsibility as citizens and as a nation, to always remain worthy of your service.

    God bless Alpha Troop and the 11th Armored Cavalry. God bless all those who wear this nation's uniform. And God bless the United States of America.

    Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

  •  

    President Obama and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

    President Barack Obama listens to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during their meeting in the Oval Office, Oct. 20, 2009. October 20, 2009. (by Pete Souza)

    Today, President Obama sat down with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to discuss how the relationship between the United States and Iraq will progress in the coming months and years. In statements after the meeting, the leaders touched on upcoming Parliamentary decisions in Iraq, US troop withdrawals, and  the economy, trade, and commerce:

     

    I am grateful to have the opportunity to see Prime Minister Maliki once again. We had a wide-ranging discussion about the continuing progress that Iraq is making. We have seen in the last several months a consolidation of a commitment to democratic politics inside of Iraq. We are very interested, both of us, in making sure that Iraq has an election law that is completed on time so that elections can take place on time in January. That is consistent with the transition that has been taking place, and I reemphasized my commitment to Prime Minister Maliki that we will have our combat troops out of Iraq by August of next year, and all of our troops out of Iraq by 2011.

    But we didn't just talk about military and security issues. What is wonderful about this trip is that it represents a transition in our bilateral relationship so that we are moving now to issues beyond security and we are beginning to talk about economy, trade, commerce. The business and investment conference that's taking place is going to be very well attended. It includes not only Prime Minister Maliki but business leaders from both the United States and Iraq. We've seen over the last several months progress being made on providing clarification about investment laws inside of Iraq. There are obviously enormous opportunities for our countries to do business together.

    And so I just want to congratulate Prime Minister Maliki on what I'm confident will be a successful conference and to reemphasize my administration's full support for all the steps that can be taken so that Iraq can not only be a secure place and a democratic country, but also a place where people can do business, people can find work, families can make a living, and children are well educated. And that broader sense of a U.S. relationship with a democratic Iraq is one that I think all of us are confident we can now achieve.

  • 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, documents, or reports.

    Supporting report: "The Economic Effects of Health Care Reform on Small Businesses and Their Employees," Council of Economic Advisers, July 25, 2009

    Talking Points: American Small Businesses Need Health Insurance Reform

    The Health Care Status Quo is Untenable for American Small Businesses.

    • The same skyrocketing costs that are devastating family budgets and exploding our national deficit are also threatening the viability of American businesses.
       
    • The current health care system is especially untenable for small businesses and their employees.
       
    • Lacking the bargaining power of large firms, small businesses pay as much as 18 percent more for the same health insurance.
      • They are also at risk for the possibility that one of their workers will become seriously ill – which can dramatically increase their premiums in subsequent years.
         
    •  As a result, fewer and fewer small businesses are choosing to offer insurance to their employees.  And those that do offer coverage tend to have less generous policies and are less likely to offer a choice of plans.
      • Entrepreneurs and small business employees are nearly three times as likely to be uninsured as their counterparts are large firms.
         
    • And each year that goes by without reform, the disproportionate burden that our health care system places on small businesses is growing.

    Health Insurance Reform will Spur Job Creation

    • Reform will reverse the disturbing trends in our current system and spur job creation in small businesses.
       
    • By creating a health insurance exchange, reform will give small businesses and their employees more affordable options.
       
    • Small firms that choose to offer health insurance to their employees will be eligible for tax credits.
       
      • And small businesses that don’t offer coverage will not be penalized.
         
    • Reform will also crack down on some of the insurance industry's worst practices.
      • They will no longer be able to arbitrarily penalize small businesses if one or more of their employees become seriously ill.
         
      • Nor will they be allowed to deny coverage to small businesses or their employees because of pre-existing conditions.
         
    • And because potential entrepreneurs will no longer be discouraged from pursuing the dreams due to a lack of affordable and reliable health insurance options, reform will also lead to the creation of more small businesses.
      • This is crucial given the economic downturn that began almost two years ago, as we know that small businesses and new startups are the drivers of job creation as the economy pulls out of recession.

     

  • No importa qué idioma hable, su familia debe aprender a estar preparada antes y después de un desastre.

    La Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, por su sigla en inglés) ha lanzado un nuevo sitio web en español donde podrá encontrar la información que necesita y asistencia para después de un desastre o emergencia. En DisasterAssistance.gov usted podrá llenar un cuestionario que le ayudará a conocer a que programas de ayuda usted puede ser elegible. Podrá crear una cuenta y solicitar asistencia por internet así como verificar el estado de su solicitud.

    También encontrará guías sobre cómo estar preparado para los desastres y emergencias, información local y recursos comunitarios, como también aprender que deben hacer los ciudadanos estadounidenses que sean afectados por desastres en el extranjero.

    Visite DisasterAssistance.gov hoy e infórmese. Comparta esta información con familiares, amigos y compañeros de trabajo. Estar preparado es responsabilidad de todos. 

     
    -----------------------------------
     

    Disasters Assistance now available in Spanish

    No matter what language you speak, your family needs to know how to prepare for a disaster, and how to respond one.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has launched a new website in Spanish that will help you get the information you need and assistance after a disaster or emergency. On DisasterAssistance.gov you can answer a quiz that will help you find out what programs you could be eligible for. You can create an account and request assistance online or verify the status of your request.

    Also, you'll find guidelines about how to be prepared for a disaster or emergency, local information and community resources and learn what an American citizen should do if affected by a disaster in a foreign country.

    Visit DisasterAssistance.gov today and get informed. Share this information with your family, friends and coworkers. Being prepared is a responsibility we all share.

     

     

  • With the release of the report this morning showing that 250,000 teachers have either been hired or saved through the Recovery Act, it seems like a good time to highlight the Department of Education's latest video.  

    In 2008, the St. Louis Public Schools faced a significant deficit in its budget due to the hurting economy. The district was able to address key needs by using funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to save the jobs of 85 teaching and learning facilitators. This is the story of three of those teaching and learning facilitators.

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

    The President also had some time to spend with students today.  In the morning, he met with winners of the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in the Oval Office, then stopped by Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD.

    President Obama and Entrepeneur Challenge Winners

    President Barack Obama with Youth Entrepreneur Challenge winners, from left; Scott Paiva, 18, New Bedford, MA, is Zoe Damacela, 17, from Chicago, and Kalief Rollins, 17, from Carson, Ca, in the Oval Office, Oct. 19, 2009. October 19, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Obama at Viers Mill Elementary

    President Barack Obama talks to third and fourth grade students at Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md., Oct. 19, 2009. October 19, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    He led the Silver Spring students in an impromptu rally for reading:

    THE PRESIDENT:  Here's the reason that I wanted to stop by for lunch today, and that is, I have heard great things about this school.  I hear everybody here is reading all the time.  Right?  The motto here is?
     
    PRINCIPAL DEVAN:  Viers Mill, what's our goal?
     
    STUDENTS:  Read!  Read!  Read!
     
    PRINCIPAL DEVAN:  Viers Mill, what's our goal?
     
    STUDENTS:  Read!  Read!  Read!
     
    PRINCIPAL DEVAN:  Because great readers have?
     
    STUDENTS:  Great choices!
     
    THE PRESIDENT:  So you guys are readers.  And so, being a reader myself, I wanted to come meet all these outstanding readers.  Because you guys are reading so much and you're working so hard, you guys are doing great in terms of your test scores and how this school is doing.  And so this was just a great example of how much improvement a school can make just in a really short time when you've got motivated kids.
     
    So I wanted to come by and introduce myself, to say I'm very proud of you.  I am hoping that you guys will continue to read, read, read, and that all of you are going to be really working hard not just this year but all the way through high school and then all the way through college, because how many people here plan to go to college?  Everybody, right?  I just wanted to make sure everybody's going to college.  But that means everybody's going to have to work hard.
     
    So here's what I'm going to do.  I didn't want to give a long speech.  What I'm going to do is I'm just going to come around, I'm going to shake people's hands, I'm going to say hi to folks, and I'm sure that somebody out there is going to be taking a bunch of pictures.  (Laughter.)  And you guys can tell me what you've been reading.  All right?  So get ready to tell me what you've been reading lately and what's going on.  All right?  Okay, guys.

     

  • [Ed. Note: Due to scheduling conflicts, the PERAB will begin its Monday, November 2nd public meeting at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time instead of 10:00 a.m. This blog post has been modified to reflect that change.]

    The President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board will hold its next public meeting on November 2, 2009, in the White House Roosevelt Room beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.  The meeting will be open to the public via live webcast at http://www.whitehouse.gov/live.

    The purpose of this meeting is to continue discussion of the issues impacting the strength and competitiveness of the Nation’s economy.  The discussion will include an update on the research and preparatory work conducted in the PERAB subcommittees.  The PERAB will provide information and ideas obtained from across the country to promote the growth of the American economy, establish a stable and sound financial and banking system, create jobs, and improve the long-term prosperity of the American people.

    The public is invited to submit written statements to the Advisory Committee by any of the following methods:

    • Send written statements to the PERAB’s electronic mailbox at PERAB@do.treas.gov; or
    • Send paper statements in triplicate to Emanuel Pleitez, Designated Federal Officer, President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, Office of the Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, Room 1325A, Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20220

    In general, all statements will be posted on the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov) without change, including any business or personal information provided such as names, addresses, e-mail addresses, or telephone numbers.  The Department of the Treasury will also make such statements available for public inspection and copying in the Department’s Library, Room 1428, Main Department Building, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20220, on official business days between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  You can make an appointment to inspect statements by telephoning (202) 622-0990.  All statements, including attachments and other supporting materials, received are part of the public record and subject to public disclosure.  You should submit only information that you wish to make available publicly.

    You also view the memo and minutes following the May 20 meeting.

  • To help raise awareness among all Americans, the President has designated October as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.  Last week, I wrote about some of the specific threats we face every time we use a computer.   However, we are not helpless against these threats.  In a video released last week, President Obama identified some basic things that all computer users can do to improve their cybersecurity and better protect themselves online.  In this post, I would like to expand further on these tips that computer users can adopt to improve their "cyber hygiene." 

    Keep your security software and operating system up-to-date.  At a minimum, your computer should have current anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall to protect yourself from hackers and malicious software that can steal sensitive personal information.  Hackers also take advantage of Web browsers and operating system software that do not have the latest security updates. Operating system companies issue security patches for flaws that they find in their systems, so it is important to set your operating system and web browser software to download and install security patches automatically.

    Protect your personal information online.  Millions of people become victims of identity theft each year.  One way that cyber criminals convince computer users to divulge their confidential personal information is through fake "phishing" emails, which are often cleverly disguised to look like authentic emails.  Be wary of clicking on links in emails that are unfamiliar and be very cautious about providing personal information online, such as your password, financial information, or social security number.

    Know who you are dealing with.  It is remarkably simple for online scammers to impersonate a legitimate business, so you need to know who you are dealing with.  If you are thinking about shopping on an unfamiliar website, do some independent research before you buy.  Similarly, before you download software, be sure that the software developer is trustworthy.  Cyber criminals will often embed the capability to steal passwords and files into free software. 

    Learn what to do if something goes wrong.  If your computer gets hacked, the effects may be obvious (e.g., deleted or corrupted files), or they may be subtle (e.g., slow computing performance).  As a first step, you should scan your computer with updated anti-virus software.  You may wish to get professional assistance through your computer’s manufacturer, computer retail store, or local computer technician.  You can also alert the appropriate authorities by contacting your Internet Service Provider or the Internet Crime Complaint Center.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can assist if you are subject to identity theft.  You can also forward spam or phishing emails to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

    To learn more about cybersecurity tips please visit www.onguardonline.gov and www.dhs.gov/cyber

    John Brennan is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

  • This morning Secretary Clinton announced the results of this Administration’s Sudan policy review, accompanied by Ambassador Rice and myself. The strategy is the result of months of serious and extensive deliberations and considerations of the complex challenges by the most senior levels of this Administration. It provides the integrated and comprehensive approach that the issues in Sudan require, and it is focused on achieving verifiable progress on the ground.

    This strategy includes three primary strategic objectives: first, a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses, and genocide in Darfur; second, implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that results in a peaceful post-2011 Sudan, or an orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other; and third, ensuring that Sudan does not provide a safe haven for international terrorists.To achieve these objectives, we are committed to using all levers of American influence. Fundamental to our approach is a policy of broad, deep engagement for lasting change on the ground. That includes engagement with the National Congress Party (NCP), the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Darfuri armed movements and civil society, as well as countries in the region and the broader international community. Crucial to these efforts will be a frank dialog with the Government of Sudan about what needs to be accomplished, how the bilateral relationship can improve with verifiable improvements in conditions on the ground, and how strong pressures will be exerted on Sudan if conditions remain the same or worsen.

    The situation is urgent. Time is short. Failure is not an option. The United States is committed to working for a sustainable, lasting peace in Darfur and full implementation of the North-South CPA. We are focused on verifiable progress on the ground.

    If you want to read more information about our new comprehensive strategy for Sudan, I encourage you to read President Obama's statement, Secretary Clinton’s remarks, and the public strategy document.

    Scott Gration is the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan.

    Ed. Note: The public strategy document is also available in Arabic. Also watch the full video of Secretary Clinton's remarks below:

  • At 2:30pm ET today, the Council of Environmental Quality’s Michelle Moore and Christine Glunz will be chatting up the GreenGov Challenge and fielding your questions.  Check out the new program at Whitehouse.gov/GreenGov and join the chat at Facebook or Whitehouse.gov/live/discuss.

    [UPDATE: This event has now concluded]

  • 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, documents, or reports.

    Supporting report: "Health Care Reform: The Perils of Inaction and the Promise of Effective Action," the Business Roundtable, 9/29/09

    Supporting article:"GOP Launches Strategy to Trip Up Health Bill," Roll Call, 10/19/09

    Talking Points: Insurance Companies' Last-Ditch Defense of the Status Quo

    • For decades – even as rising health care costs have unleashed havoc on families, businesses, and the economy – insurance companies have done everything in their considerable power to prevent reform.
       
    • Now – as we're closer to reform than ever before – the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest for one last fight to save the status quo.
      • They're filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads.
      • They're flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions.
      • And they're funding studies designed to mislead the American people.
         
    • The evidence is clear.  The status quo is unsustainable.
      • In the past decade, premiums have doubled.
      • Over the past few years, total out of pocket costs for people with insurance rose by a third.
      • A new report for the Business Roundtable – a non-partisan group that represents the CEOs of major companies – found that without significant reform, health care costs for these employers and their employees will well more than double again over the next decade.
         
    • And despite the insurance companies' misleading claims that reform will cause premiums to rise, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that reforms will lower premiums in a new insurance exchange while offering consumer protections that will limit out-of-pocket costs and prevent discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.
       
    • There remain significant details to work out.  But today reform is closer – and more necessary – than ever before.  So we urge every member of Congress to stand against the power plays and political ploys – and to stand up on behalf the American people who sent us to Washington to do their business.

    Talking Points: Republican Leaders' Plan to "Delay, Define, and Derail" Reform Unmasked

    • Republican leaders in Congress have, unfortunately, decided to join the insurance industry in their last-ditch stand to protect the status quo.
       
    • A new article in Roll Call today unmasks their "comprehensive political strategy to delay, define, and derail" reform.
       
    • The article warns that Republican leaders will resort to the time-honored tactic of attempting to stall reform to death – raising arbitrary and disingenuous hurdles under the guise of wanting further debate, when in reality they have no intention of offering constructive proposals.
       
    • It also sheds light on their intention to continue joining the insurance companies in misleading Americans about what reform will mean for them.
      • Republican leaders intend to repeat their claims that reform "will raise insurance premiums on individuals and families, while failing to lower the overall amount of money that the U.S. spends on health care… even though the nonpartisan CBO predicted the [Senate Finance Committee] bill would reduce the deficit and lower the cost curve, even as it extends coverage to millions of uninsured Americans."
         
    • The status quo Republican leaders and the insurance companies are fighting so hard to defend is unsustainable for American families, businesses, and the country as a whole.
      • They're fighting to allow insurers to continue discriminating against those who have preexisting conditions and to continue dropping or watering down coverage when you get sick and need it most.
      • They're fighting to defend a system that has seen premiums double over the past decade and will see them double again over the next decade.
      • They're fighting to protect insurance industry profits while millions of Americans are one illness or injury from losing everything and thousands are losing their insurance each day.
         
    • They're fighting to protect insurance industry profits while millions of Americans are one illness or injury from losing everything and thousands are losing their insurance each day.

  • Vice President Biden and the Middle Class Task Force just finished unveiling the Recovery Through Retrofit Report, at a public event inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Joining the Vice President at the announcement were Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy, Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Karen Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

    Last May in Denver, CO the Vice President asked the White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) to report back to the Middle Class Task Force with a plan to make sure that the unprecedented Recovery Act investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy lay the groundwork for a self-sustaining home energy efficiency retrofit industry -- which will create good, green jobs and save middle class families money on their energy bills. CEQ answered this call by bringing together eleven Departments and Agencies and six White House offices to develop today’s report.

    The report identifies three barriers that have prevented a national market for home retrofits from taking off. First, consumers don’t have access to reliable information about retrofits. Second, the upfront costs of home retrofits can be high but consumers don’t have access to financing. Finally, there aren’t enough skilled workers to serve a robust national retrofit market.

    Recovery Through Retrofit is an action plan to address these barriers without new money and by using authority the federal government already has.

    Here’s how we will take steps toward breaking down each barrier:

    1. To give consumers the information they need, the federal government will develop a standardized measure of home energy performance that is applicable to every home as well as a home performance label to signal that a home is energy efficient – like ENERGY STAR® does for appliances.
    2. We will make it easier for homeowners to pay for home retrofits by promoting accessible and affordable financing options.
    3. We will establish nationally recognized standards for worker training and certification so when you decide to invest in a home retrofit, you can rest assured that the work will be done right. 

     

    With almost 130 million homes in the United States, there’s plenty of work to be done.   Building a nationwide home retrofit market will create good jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Right now, homes generate more than 20 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions.

    Today’s announcement is just the beginning. The Agencies, Departments and White House offices involved with this report will continue their collaboration. An interagency Energy Retrofit Working Group will submit an implementation plan to the Vice President within thirty days. In the coming months, this group will keep track of the progress we are making on the report’s recommendations and report back to the Vice President on a regular basis.

    As the Vice President said this afternoon, "when we recover—and we will recover—we will come out of this a much stronger nation, better prepared to lead the world in the 21st Century as we did in the 20th."

    We’ll come out a little greener, too.

    Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Adviser to the Vice President.

     

  • The White House South Lawn was lined with telescopes and science exhibits featuring moon rocks, mars rocks, meteorites and more for Astronomy Night earlier this month. The President and First Lady invited local middle school students to star-gaze and welcomed space heroes Buzz Aldrin and Sally Ride, as well as two remarkable science students, Caroline Moore and Lucas Bolyard to come share some of their wisdom. Caroline was just 14 years old when she became the youngest person ever to discover a supernova and Lucas, a high school sophomore, discovered an extremely rare kind of star called a pulsar.

    See Astronomy Night through the eyes of young discoverers Caroline and Lucas.

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (210MB) | mp3 (9MB)

    Caroline and Lucas shared some reflections following the event. Caroline reminded adults and kids alike to take chances and "always reach for the stars":

    Going to the White House has been one of the most exciting experiences of my life. It was an honor, and not just to meet the President, but also to know that I was selected to be a role model and to show kids that education is important and that success can be achieved at any age. I loved how the President, the First Lady, daughters, and grandma really got involved, even with the family climbing a ladder to get up to a 24-inch telescope! Having the opportunity to meet amazing people like Buzz Aldrin and Sally Ride was incredible.

    This year was the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) and I feel that they could not have picked a better time for this event. IYA is all about inspiring the public to get involved in astronomy, especially kids, and that’s just what this event did. It inspired the kids that science can be fun and learning more about it can be quite a pleasurable experience. My message to all the kids out there is to remember that no matter what age, you can always make a difference, and never let any one stop you from chasing for your dream. Remember to always reach for the stars. And for the adults, if you take a chance, and put an opportunity in front of a child they can and will achieve great things.

    And even though Lucas has discovered a Pulsar, he learned something new on his visit to the White House:

    Well, my favorite part was getting to meet the people there, they were all very nice, especially President Obama.  Also, it was a great honor to simply be there at the White House. The main thing I learned was something I never really thought about; what we are looking at actually happened many years ago because light only travels at a certain speed to our eye.  My message to other students interested in astronomy is to simply stick to it, the opportunities are out there and all you have to do is act on them.

    In case you missed it, watch the live chat with Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, here and the President's full remarks here.

  • The Recovery Act, which the President signed in February, is having positive impacts on almost every conceivable sector of our economy, both in the short term and in terms of creating a new foundation for the future.   But one of the areas that might be felt even more directly by families than most – again, in both the short and the long terms -- is in education.  A new report out today from the Domestic Policy Council documents just how broad the impact has been.

    Read the Report: "Educational Impactof the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" (pdf).

    From the introduction:

    Immediately after President Obama signed ARRA into law on February 17th, the Department acted swiftly to move the first phase of these funds to states in response to drastic budget shortfalls. Over $67 billion in formula grants have been disbursed as of September 30th. As part of the unprecedented transparency requirements of ARRA, the first quarterly public accounting of all expenditures to date will be posted by the Recovery, Accountability, and Transparency Board on October 30th. Initial reporting from states find that the October 30 release will show at least 250,000 education jobs created or saved across the nation that are supporting our students and fueling our economy.

    The report meticulously looks at the impact the Recovery Act had on state budgets, which had legislators facing awful choices on how to close massive shortfalls. And as it goes on to explain, the benefits of the Recovery Act ended up going to virtually every student in the schools that were affected, since teacher layoffs effect virtually every student:

    Saving and generating jobs for teachers has had clear effects in the classroom. As local school districts are faced with budget shortfalls in a slowing economy, the number of teachers employed may decline.

    However, the need to educate students does not decrease. Fewer teacher jobs, without fewer students, may lead to larger and often unacceptable class sizes.

    Faced with these circumstances, some school districts have chosen to use ARRA funds to avert such class size expansion. For example, reports indicate that Peoria, IL used ARRA funding to focus on increasing the number of teaching positions and reducing class sizes in kindergarten, and at the first- and second-grade levels. At the Rothschild Middle School in Columbus, GA, the principal was able use ARRA funds to hire more math teachers to deliver individualized attention to students through smaller classes.

    ARRA has also provided significant funding for low-income students ($10 billion Title I ARRA appropriation) and for students with disabilities ($12.2 billion under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). These funds have all been disbursed by the Department and are currently supporting essential special education professionals and programs throughout the nation and bolstering schools in many of our poorest communities.

    Along the lines of the aforementioned "new foundation," the Recovery Act funds have also helped our schools move towards the kind of reform that the President has spoken about, and which has been embraced across the political spectrum:

    The overall goals for education in the ARRA are to stimulate the economy in the short term and to invest in education advancements to ensure the long-term economic health and success of our nation.

    Currently ARRA is, in fact, providing urgent fiscal relief to states and restoring education budgets in school districts, while also advancing the Administration’s four reform priorities:

    • Rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students;
    • Pre-K-to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;
    • Improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students; and
    • Intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools.

    Media and direct accounts from districts across the country provide examples of local initiatives that are focusing ARRA funds towards one or more of these reform priorities.

    It's always hard to step back and gauge the entire impact of the Recovery Act, but this is one area where the benefits to the country and our children are beyond dispute.

     

  • To harness the collective wisdom of America's more than 1.8 million Federal and military personnel, we’re launching the GreenGov Challenge – an online participatory program that challenges federal and military personnel to take part in implementing the President’s Executive Order on Federal Sustainability by submitting their own clean energy ideas and suggestions and voting on others.

    In coordination with National Energy Awareness Month, any Federal employee or military member can submit a clean energy idea to WhiteHouse.gov/GreenGov from October 19th through October 31st.

    At the beginning of November, some of the top ideas will be presented to the Steering Committee on Federal Sustainability – a group comprised of a senior official from each agency who is responsible for delivering each agency’s sustainability plan. Though anyone can see the ideas, only Federal and military personnel can participate – so this is their chance to positively impact how their agencies will meet their 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.

    If you're a Federal employee or one of our brave men and women in uniform, take a look at Council of Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley’s kick-off video and get started greening government at WhiteHouse.gov/GreenGov:

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

    download .mp4 (44 MB)

  • With the leaves changing color, the air crisper, and the days shorter – fall is fully upon us (well, depending on where you live) - and many Americans are putting the heat back on in their homes.  In that spirit, the Vice President is holding a Middle Class Task Force event at the White House on Monday morning to unveil our "Recovery through Retrofit" report.

    The report offers a plan that builds on the Recovery Act’s unprecedented investments in energy efficiency to make it easier and more effective for middle class families to retrofit their homes – helping them save money and creating jobs, while reducing carbon emissions. It’s a plan agreed to by 11 different agencies and departments – which means the federal government will lead a coordinated effort to make American homes more energy efficient.

    So, be sure to check back in with us Monday to read the report and watch the event at WhiteHouse.gov/live.

    Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President.

  • As the health insurance reform debate enters into its final stages in Congress, the President denounces the desperate and deceptive last-ditch efforts of the health insurance companies to derail it.

  • Here at the White House, those of us on team Recovery Act put a very high premium on transparency and accountability.  Like they say, "sunlight’s the best disinfectant," and when it comes to tracking the $787 billion economic stimulus plan, our view is that we should let the sunshine in. 

    Well, today, we’re happy to report that the independent Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board—they’re the folks who bring you www.Recovery.gov—has taken yet another step toward showing the American people their money at work.  The board released its very first report on the small portion of Recovery Act spending that recipients have reported on so far, and these preliminary data show that the Act is doing just what it’s supposed to do: helping to put Americans back to work, while partially offsetting the ongoing job market impact of the worst recession in decades.

    The RAT Board (sorry, but that’s the acronym) reported today that the first $16 billion of Recovery Act spending—that’s about 2% of that total Act—saved or created more than 30,000 jobs.   That’s $16 billion in direct jobs from contracts the Federal government has bid out to private-sector contractors. 

    Here, for example, are some of the projects and jobs recipients are telling us about:

    • In Stockton, California, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission reports that they’ve contracted for 125 workers to lay rail track and do signal work on the Union Pacific Railroad. 
    • Down in Florida, Hamilton Roofing, inc. reports that they have 40 roofers, sheet metal workers, and crane operators at work repairing the roof at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
    • In South Plainfield, New Jersey, Sevenson Environmental Services, Inc. reports that they have 37 laborers and heavy equipment operators working at good union jobs, with living wages and health benefits, cleaning up a heavily polluted Superfund site.
    • At the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, the Syska Hennessy Group reports that they’re employing 36 electricians, roofers, and other workers installing solar panels on the roof of 16 buildings at the base.

    Reports like these demonstrate a level of accountability never seen before in tracking a national project of this magnitude—we’re tracking Recovery Act spending down to the project, down to the job, down to the street address where the work was done.  The Board has really raised the bar here.

    Again, these are preliminary data—we’ve got a lot more data collection and analysis to do—but they point to a couple of positive outcomes.  First, if you extrapolate from this reporting to the bigger picture, this data appears to confirm that we’ve created or saved around one million jobs so far, which is just about what our own estimates and those of private sector forecasters have found using the types of methods our Council of Economic Advisors describes here

    Second, these reports cover only direct, tangible jobs created by recipients, which means there are even more jobs created when those folks go out and spend their new earnings—the so-called multiplier effect. 

    There’s a lot more of this kind of reporting to come.  The Board will be making a much more significant announcement, covering about 10 times as much money and including more different types of Recovery Act spending (like spending directly by the states), on October 30th.  With that release, we’ll be able to give you an even more detailed picture of the Recovery Act at work.  

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economist to Vice President Biden, and Executive Director of the Middle Class Task Force

  • Greetings from Washington. It's a real thrill to see that the worldwide blogosphere is turning its attention to an issue as important as climate change. And it's fitting because this is an issue that has the World and the United States captivated more than at any other time in history. The evidence of such a sea change in public awareness around this issue can be found in this very effort – key governments, including our crucial partners at 10 Downing Street, non-governmental organizations, individuals and stakeholders in the global discussion on climate change are all taking part in historical action around addressing this challenge and seizing the opportunities it presents. A growing consensus in our country is building that the time to forge a new clean energy economy is now. I'm proud to be a part of this movement and proud to share some of my experience with you today.

    This morning, I addressed the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a large group of businesses who, like many of you, understand the imperatives we have to reduce our dependence on oil, cut the carbon pollution that is changing our climate and build the clean energy technologies that will drive global markets for decades to come. This council of businesses represents an important voice in the American discussion on clean energy – one that understands the world's future prosperity must be built with a foundation anchored in sustainability, low-carbon technology and environmental stewardship.

    Here's some of what I shared with the group:

    President Obama is committed to energy and climate change legislation for the same reasons you have convened this meeting today. Because it will: create jobs; put us back in control and lower our dependence on foreign oil, and lessen the impact of climate change.

    That is why our commitment to clean energy has been staid through the nearly ten months we’ve been in office.

    We started with a Stimulus that included more than $80 billion in measures to support the development of a new clean energy economy – an economy that will lay a new foundation for our global economic leadership for years to come.

    From the President's desk, this Administration has mandated an unprecedented level of leadership and stewardship:

    An executive order that commits the U.S. government to lead by example in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency and conservation and reducing consumption. A mandate for more aggressive energy standards for common household appliances. Programs to cut our imports of oil and diversify our energy portfolio – like the one President Obama announced on Earth Day that opens our outer continental shelf to renewable energy development for the first time in history, or the one the President announced a month later that streamlines more stringent fuel economy standards and the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards in our cars and trucks. We are laying the groundwork for a future in advanced vehicle technology, and we're building an electric grid that will connect our country's renewable resources to our cities and relieve the congestion that costs us billions of dollars every year. 

    And this is a challenge that is being taken seriously outside of government and around the world, too, because people see the economic opportunities taking root.

    [...]

    As we head to Copenhagen, we know that the United States – thanks in large part to your efforts – will bring valuable contributions to the negotiations. In April, President Obama launched the Major Economies Forum (MEF), creating a new dialogue among developed and emerging economies to combat climate change and promote clean energy.

    The United States also understands the imperative to create strong one-on-one relationships, through bilateral diplomacy. To this end, the United States is accelerating its collaboration with China, India, the EU, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and other key international partners to combat climate change, coordinate clean energy research and development, and support the international climate talks.

    Already, we've had success engaging in global agreements that will make our economies less dependent on oil and our energy portfolios more diverse. For example, reflecting the adverse impacts fossil fuel subsidies have on sustainable development, President Obama led the G20 heads of state in agreeing to phase out these subsidies at the Pittsburgh summit last month. The benefits of taking such action are not academic; we have real-world success stories to show how to effectively reduce fossil fuel subsidies.
    Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies worldwide could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 10-12% by 2050. This reduction represents a significant down payment on the effort needed to reduce global emissions in half by 2050 as the G8 leaders called for in Italy this summer.

    If we are to be successful in the global effort to combat climate change, it is because we change the way we grow our economies so that we can still enjoy the fruits of continued development while lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. It is neither politically viable nor economically desirable to sacrifice our economic growth for a smaller carbon footprint. This is true for developed and developing countries alike. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies is the first smart step we can make along these lines. The second is for us to put a price on carbon.

    Pricing carbon throughout the economy creates the incentive for small entrepreneurs and multinational corporations alike to seek out and exploit the lowest cost ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will spur new investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, shale gas fields, and technology to capture carbon dioxide from smokestacks before it can enter the atmosphere. By making clean energy investment profitable, putting a price on carbon rewards ingenuity in the business sector.

    And on this front, everyone is engaged. And the world is now looking to the U.S. for leadership and guidance.

    And because of businesses like yours, I'm confident we will deliver. We will deliver because you are making your voices heard and because you know we cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. You did so in your Open Letter to Congress because you know that business needs certainty and predictability to be successful. You know that market-based incentives are key for stimulating growth. And you know that securing our children’s future prosperity means laying down the pavement of a sustainable path forward today.

    That’s why we're listening to you and taking our guidance from the business community. I don’t need to tell you that energy, climate change and our economy are tightly interwoven issues. You know this and because of it you are out in front building the foundations of a new clean energy economy. We are standing at a momentous time in History. It’s a time when we face great challenge; but also historic opportunity.

    Let's not let it get away.

    Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

  • Last week, I joined Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle for a tour of the Crave Brothers Farm and Dairy in Waterloo, WI. The Crave brothers, Charles, George, Thomas and Mark, showed us some of the ways they are using modern sustainable technology to power their farm and make tasty cheese at the same time!

    The brothers power their farm and cheese factory using an anaerobic digestion system, which turns organic waste into fuel, and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.  When the process is finished, there is even enough power left over to heat the surrounding homes in the Waterloo area!

    As we toured the farm, we discussed opportunities for farmers to lead the way in renewable energy jobs, sustainable farming techniques, and healthier living. I would like to thank Governor Doyle and the Crave Brothers for giving us the chance to see, first-hand, how science and technology are shaping a sustainable future for America.

    The tour reiterated some of the issues we had discussed that day at the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference in Madison, WI. In the morning, I had participated in a panel entitled "Countdown to Copenhagen" and after the tour, I returned to the conference and spoke with Secretary Vilsack on a panel entitled "Meet Your New Bosses" about the Obama Administration’s environmental policy goals.

    Nancy Sutley is the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

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