Our Top Stories
December 22, 2009
10:36 AM EDT
Each year, the White House Pastry Team comes together with other members of the White House staff to work on a favorite holiday tradition: The White House Gingerbread House. Because this project requires so much space, the gingerbread house is usually assembled in the China Room of the Residence instead of the pastry shop. Everyone from White House carpenters to plumbers to electricians lend their expertise to help make this project a success.
Weeks were spent planning out the details, studying James Hoban’s original architectural designs and blueprints, gathering ingredients and creating a time line.
And then the real work begins. More than 150 pounds of gingerbread dough is made and this year the recipe called for White House Honey! After baking the gingerbread, it is cut into pieces that become the house’s foundation. The gingerbread is so thick that a band-saw is used to create the bricks for the gingerbread replica. More than 250 lbs of white chocolate is then used for everything from the adhesive to the decorative elements. The white chocolate provides the flexibility needed to create details like the rosettes and the banisters, the windows and the wreaths.
This year we have two special features.
The first is a shadow box view of the State Dining Room – the room that the completed gingerbread house sits in throughout the holiday season for visitors to view. This shadow box even includes the famous painting of President Lincoln by George PA Healy that hangs over the fireplace. This room is where you’ll find the only inedible parts of the gingerbread house – the light fixtures!
We also include the new White House Kitchen Garden and our favorite four-pawed friend, Bo. Both are made out of marzipan. In the garden, you’ll find baskets of carrots, eggplants and cabbage as well as other seasonal vegetables.
We have such a great time planning, baking and decorating, but each year the best part is always seeing the reactions of visitors from across the country when they first see our gingerbread house on their tour of the actual White House.
We hope that you’ll enjoy this video of our gingerbread house as much as we enjoyed making it.
Happy holidays and best wishes for a sweet start to the New Year!
Bill Yosses is the White House Executive Pastry Chef
Macon PhillipsDecember 22, 2009
07:30 AM EDT
Today the White House announced the President’s new White House Cybersecurity Coordinator, Howard Schmidt.
With some forty years of experience in government, business and law enforcement, Howard brings a unique and deep experience to this important issue. Watch this video to learn more about his background and approach:
Cybersecurity matters to all of us – and it’s our shared responsibility to mitigate the threats in this space. You can take cybersecurity into your own hands with these tips for protecting yourself online:
- 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 email@example.com.
Here’s the full-text of the announcement email sent to the White House email list by John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism:
Cybersecurity matters to all of us. Protecting the internet is critical to our national security, public safety and our personal privacy and civil liberties. It’s also vital to President Obama’s efforts to strengthen our country, from the modernization of our health care system to the high-tech job creation central to our economic recovery.
The very email you are reading underscores our dependence on information technologies in this digital age, which is why it seemed like a fitting way to announce that the President has chosen Howard Schmidt to be the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Howard will have the important responsibility of orchestrating the many important cybersecurity activities across the government.
Howard is one of the world’s leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement. Learn more about Howard's background and approach to cybersecurity.
Howard will have regular access to the President and serve as a key member of his National Security Staff. He will also work closely with his economic team to ensure that our cybersecurity efforts keep the Nation secure and prosperous.
Moving forward we will use WhiteHouse.gov, this email program and our other communications tools to keep you posted about our progress in this important area.
John O. Brennan
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
P.S. You can play an important role in cybersecurity as well. Learn more about the issue and steps you can take to ensure your own security.
December 21, 2009
07:10 PM EDT
As part of her ongoing commitment to community service, First Lady Michelle Obama spearheaded an effort among White House staff this holiday season to support Toy for Tots, a program that donates toys to children for Christmas.
Just last week, she visited the Quantico Toys for Tots warehouse in Stafford, VA to drop off some of the toys donated by White House employees. Take a look:
Toys for Tots is a program run by the U.S. Marine Corps reserve that has distributed more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million needy children over the past 62 years. In 2008 alone, the program was active in 657 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Learn how you can be part of the Toys for Tots program in your local community by visiting ToysforTots.org.
Jesse LeeDecember 21, 2009
06:16 PM EDT
In an interview today with American Urban Radio Networks in the Oval Office, the President made clear that the time for adults to get their H1N1 shots is now and that it is safe. From ABC News' write-up of the interview:
"People need to understand that this vaccine is safe," Obama said. "Michelle and I just got the shots ourselves... we wanted to make sure nationwide that children were getting it before adults did. And now there's enough vaccine so that adults should get it as well."
The President spoke about how his daughters received the vaccine in October, when it was first being made available to school-age children. He said that it’s important for parents to vaccinate their children.
"That's the most important population because this flu, unlike seasonal flu, disproportionately affects children and young people -- healthy children and young people as well as people with underlying conditions like asthma or neurological diseases. So it is so important and, frankly, the African American vaccination rate has been lower, substantially lower so far than the general population," he said. "I think people just need to understand: If I had the two people that are most important in my life, my two daughters, get it right away -- and they've been just fine with it and in fact haven't gotten sick this entire flu season -- then you need to know that you need to make sure your children get it as well."
As always, learn more about H1N1 and your family at Flu.gov.
Jesse LeeDecember 21, 2009
05:00 PM EDT
The President made clear early on that part of the way he intended to change the way Washington does business is by looking in every nook and cranny of government both for waste and abuse, and for ideas on how to root it out. Speaking in the Diplomatic room today, he had a chance to highlight both. He was joined by Nancy Fichtner, the Veterans Affairs employee who won the SAVE Award contest for the most popular cost-saving idea from a federal employee. In addition to commending her after meeting with her in the Oval Office, he also announced progress on his order earlier this year for departments and agencies to identify billions in saving through contracting waste and abuse:
I am pleased to be joined this morning by my Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Ric Shinseki; my budget director, Peter Orszag; and our special guest, last but not least, the winner of the first annual SAVE Award -- and that's Nancy Fichtner of Loma, Colorado.
Having met with Nancy a few minutes ago, I can tell you Nancy means business. She is a single working mom; she's a clerk with the VA; she's an artist; she's an outdoorswoman; and she is an avid hunter. In fact, somewhere in the western United States, there is an elk that is breathing a sigh of relief because Nancy is here instead of where she would have been: hunting with her kids. (Laughter.) And I believe her children are here -- where's Nancy's kids? There they are right there. It's great to see you guys. Nancy's daughter -- she skins and guts her elk, so don't mess with her either. (Laughter.)
We're all here for a simple reason. At a time when we face not only a fiscal crisis, but also a host of difficult challenges as a nation, business as usual in Washington just won't cut it. We need a government that's more efficient, that's more effective, and far more fiscally responsible.
When my administration walked through the door, the country faced a growing economic downturn as well as a deepening fiscal hole. Washington had passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and an expensive new entitlement program without paying for any of it. Health care costs continued to rise, year after year. And little effort was made to cut wasteful spending. As a result, over the previous eight years, the national debt doubled -- doubled. In January, the deficit stood at $1.3 trillion. And we had to make the difficult decision to add to the deficit in the short term to prevent the potential collapse of our economy.
But as I've said, in the long run, we can't continue to spend as if deficits don't have consequences; as if waste doesn't matter; as if the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people can be treated like Monopoly money. That's what we've seen time and time again. Washington has been more concerned about the next election than the next generation. It's put off hard choices in spending bill after spending bill, budget after bloated budget.
Government contracting is a perfect example. Between 2002 and 2008, the amount spent on government contracts more than doubled. The amount spent on no-bid, non-competitive contracts jumped by 129 percent. This is an inexcusable waste of money. And that's why, back in March, I ordered federal departments and agencies to come up with plans to save up to $40 billion a year in contracting by 2011. And over the past six months, agencies have been making cuts by looking for better deals, by ending contracts and doing work in house, and by opening up no-bid contracts to competitive bidding. Because of these efforts, I'm proud to announce today that we are on track to meet our goals. Twenty-four departments have identified more than $19 billion in savings for this year alone.
December 21, 2009
11:16 AM EDT
Last week, I had the opportunity to join Vice President Biden and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue in Dawsonville, Georgia for the announcement of the first $183 million in Recovery Act funding for projects to bring broadband service to communities where it is lacking. These projects can help companies like Impulse Manufacturing, a family-owned business in Dawsonville, to compete not only locally, but globally. Impulse is a 150-employee precision metal fabrication company that wants to expand its services but needs better broadband to do so. Without improved broadband capabilities, the family owners of Impulse had been concerned they may even have to relocate in order to keep customers.
In some areas of North Georgia, like too many communities across the nation, there is little or no access to the high-speed broadband technology needed for businesses to succeed in the 21st century. Schools and hospitals – and the citizens they serve – are cut off from the latest advances in education and healthcare. That is why folks like Bruce Abraham, board member of the North Georgia Network Cooperative, have worked for nearly three years with local economic development agencies and a university to address the broadband gap in their area. Not until the passage of the Recovery Act, however, were they able to find the funds to help build their project, the North Georgia Network. It illustrates a concept we call “comprehensive communities” --projects that focus on building out local Internet infrastructure and connecting key anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, hospitals, and government facilities, to that infrastructure.
Last Thursday, NTIA awarded the North Georgia Network Cooperative $33 million to lay broadband lines in northeast Georgia. The project promises to help revitalize a region where jobs are really needed. Bruce knows how vital broadband is to the community’s future and told me, “We’re not going to let you down.”
Dawsonville, Georgia is just the beginning. Over the next 75 days, we, along with our partners at USDA, will continue to announce awards on a rolling basis to bring a brighter and more connected future for communities across the country. Stay tuned on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates.
Lawrence E. Strickling is Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the executive branch agency principally responsible for advising the President on communications and information policies.
Jesse LeeDecember 21, 2009
09:00 AM EDT
The popular blogging community focused on women, BlogHer, has been collecting questions over the weekend from their readers for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and today the Secretary answers some of those questions live. Last week HHS released a new report documenting in detail the extensive benefits reform will hold for families.
UPDATE: This event has now concluded, watch the full video below.
Aneesh ChopraDecember 20, 2009
01:15 PM EDT
To emerge from the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, we are depending on entrepreneurs and start-ups -- young and small businesses -- to do what they have historically done for the United States: fuel economic growth by creating a disproportionate share of the new jobs we need. As President Obama's Chief Technology Officer, I devote much of my energy to creating a fertile environment for high-technology start-ups in areas like information technology, clean energy, biotech, transportation, manufacturing, and robotics.
To get a better understanding of their needs and concerns, I've met with entrepreneurs, CEOs, and venture capitalists from Silicon Valley to Chicago to Virginia. And I've gotten one message repeatedly: The high cost of health insurance is inhibiting our growth. We can't afford to provide the same health benefits as larger companies -- or, in the case of many new start-ups, any health benefits at all. Due to the burden of health insurance, we can't hire the people we need to grow. There's even a term for this: "Job lock."
In other words, America's innovators -- those who are creating the jobs of the future -- are being held back by our health insurance system. They find it hard to launch, hard to hire top talent, hard to expand, and hard to compete internationally. The reasons are clear: Premiums have more than doubled in the last decade. Small businesses pay 18% more for coverage than their larger counterparts, and their premium rates can rise precipitously depending on the health of the workforce. Rather than spend their money to create a new product, hire new workers, or pay higher wages, start-ups and small businesses have to finance increasingly expensive health benefits.
This dynamic -- the negative effect of our health insurance system on innovation -- was captured earlier this week in a New York Times piece, "If Health Care Reform Fails, America's Innovation Gap Will Grow." And America's entrepreneurs agree.
Here, for example, are observations from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, who wrote Senate Leader Harry Reid (PDF) with his personal endorsement of reform just today:
"I write as part of an industry that prides itself on attracting the best, innovative talent. All os us in Silicon Valley are noticing two disturbing trends: people are staying in their jobs because they can't take their health insurance with them. Others are choosing jobs with established companies that provide health care rather than taking risks to start or join new companies.
"It is precisely those start-up companies that generate most of the new jobs and are the laboratories for new technologies that will keep out country competitive globally."
From the energy sector, Conrad Burke, President and CEO of Innovalight, a pioneering solar energy innovator, reports that:
"As a leading US solar energy company here in Silicon Valley, we’re facing health costs that have doubled in the past decade. As a startup company, we’re spending an unreasonable and disproportionate amount on healthcare costs that might otherwise be used to accelerate development of our products or hire new employees."
And for one more perspective, Amit Chatterjee, CEO of Hara Software talks about the challenges unique to growing, but small businesses:
"Hara is a green company that helps organizations grow and profit while optimizing natural resource consumption and minimizing environmental impact. We continually look at providing our employees the best possible benefits to enable them to focus on growing the company. As a small but fast growing company, insurance costs are higher than the cost savings offered to larger organizations. The high cost of benefits limit our ability to provide fully comprehensive benefit options. Having limited benefits to offer to our employees limits our ability to recruit and retain employees due to the higher cost of benefits in comparison to large organizations. The constant struggle between funding more competitive benefits for our employees and focusing on growing the business to remain innovative and competitive overall in the market, overall comes at a high cost due to benefit cost being so high."
Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer
Nancy-Ann DeParleDecember 19, 2009
03:22 PM EDT
Congress has been working hard for months to shape health insurance reform legislation that will bring down costs, expand coverage, increase accountability for insurers, and attack our mounting deficit. We got good news today on all those fronts, as fresh statements of support from the Small Business Majority, the American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association amongst others make clear.
We learned today from the Congressional Budget Office that this bill will reduce the deficit by $132 billion over the first decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that. That makes it the biggest deficit-reduction effort in over a decade. All while expanding coverage to 30 million more Americans.
But bringing down the deficit and expanding coverage are only part of what insurance reform will do. And today the Senate introduced a package of changes to their bill that will make critical progress in ensuring competition, providing affordable choices, and holding the insurance companies accountable. These improvements were bundled together in what’s called a manager’s amendment – and here are some of the highlights:
- Penalizing insurers for unfair rate hikes. If insurers who arbitrarily jack up rates before the exchanges come online, they won’t be allowed to participate in them – they’ll miss the opportunity to compete for millions of new customers. That creates a strong incentive to keep premiums low before the exchanges are up and running in 2014.
- Making sure your money goes toward care, not administrative costs. Insurers will be required to spend a greater portion of your premium on the care you receive, rather than administrative costs or salaries. And if they don’t, they’ll have to pay you a rebate.
- Ending discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Once the exchanges are open in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage because you have a pre-existing condition. In the meantime, the legislation immediately creates a high-risk pool where adults with pre-existing conditions can purchase affordable coverage. And for families with kids, the news is even better: insurers will immediately be prohibited from denying coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions. Period.
- Protecting your access to care. Lifetime limits on benefits will be banned right away.
- Annual limits will also be banned once the exchanges are up and running. The manager’s amendment ensures that in the meantime, the use of annual limits will be tightly restricted until we can do away with this unfair practice entirely.
- More help for small business. The bill now includes additional help for small businesses. The health insurance tax credit for small businesses will now start in 2010, eligibility for the credit will be expanded, and small businesses will see improved purchasing power to make sure employees are getting good coverage at a good value.
- Choice and competition. Insurers will now offer multi-state plans under the supervision of the Office of Personnel Management. That means more choice and more competition in your state.
- Focusing on quality, not quantity. Health care providers will be reimbursed by Medicare for the quality of care, not just the quantity of tests and treatments. Shifting the way we reimburse for care is one of the most important things we can do to rein in spiraling health care costs – and it means a renewed focus on what’s best for the patient.
All told, it’s been a landmark day in the health insurance reform effort. There’s a lot more hard work to be done, and we’re confident that the Senate and House will continue to work hard to get this bill across the finish line and to the President’s desk. For the millions of Americans who don’t have coverage, for those who are struggling with costs or being mistreated by their insurance company, every day counts. It’s time for us to deliver.
UPDATE: The statements of support continue to roll in, here's a sample:
American Diabetes Association (ADA): “The Bill Makes Health Care More Accessible And Affordable…We Urge You To Advance The Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act...” In a letter to U.S. Senators, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) wrote, “On behalf of the nearly 24 million Americans with diabetes and the 57 million more with pre-diabetes, we thank you for your tireless commitment to reforming our nation’s health system. We understand the tremendous amount work that has gone into H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and are grateful for your efforts. The progress that has been made thus far has brought us closer than ever to achieving the goals of health reform. Specifically, the bill makes health care more accessible and affordable to the millions of Americans who are currently uninsured and underinsured, including those with diabetes who have been denied coverage or charged exorbitant amounts due to their preexisting condition. The bill also includes many important provisions in terms of prevention, insurance reform, and the delivery of quality and affordable health care. These are but a few of the long overdue improvements to our broken healthcare system…We urge you to advance the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and look forward to working with you and members of the House of Representatives in Conference to make certain that our country receives a final Health care package that will make a real and positive difference in the lives of people with diabetes. [American Diabetes Association Letter to U.S. Senate, 12/19/09]
American Cancer Society (ACS): Health Reform Bill’s Provisions Banning Coverage Limits Would “Afford Patients With Serious Health Conditions The Strong Financial Protections They Deserve…We Thank The White House And Senate Leaders For Hearings [Our] Concerns.” In a statement, the American Cancer Society (ACS) said, "We are enormously pleased that the manager's amendment bans annual coverage limits after 2014 and ensures that any annual limits in plans issued before then are set high enough to cover essential health benefits for patients. That language, coupled with the amendment's immediate ban on lifetime coverage limits, would afford patients with serious health conditions the strong financial protections they deserve in the face of major medical expenses. We thank the White House and Senate leaders for hearing the concerns of cancer patients and strongly strengthening these important provisions." [American Cancer Society Statement, 12/19/09]
Small Business Majority: “It’s Clear That [Senators] Have Heard The Voices Of Small Business Owners…Many Of The Recently Proposed Amendments Contribute To An Overall Bill That Will Be Even More Helpful To Small Business Owners And The Self-Employed.” In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid, Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer wrote, “We appreciate the tremendous amount of work that you and your colleagues in the Senate have put into crafting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act so that it will both meet its original goals and gain enough support for passage. Although the necessary compromises have been disappointing and frustrating for some, it’s clear that you and your fellow senators have heard the voices of small business owners, who so desperately need relief from an unfair, overly expensive health insurance system. Many of the recently proposed amendments contribute to an overall bill that will be even more helpful to small business owners and the self-employed. Small Business Majority will continue to support the effort to bring this measure to the Senate floor for a final vote and passage…Again, thank you for your continuing hard work on this vital issue. You can count on Small Business Majority to work to get this bill to conference committee and ensure that final legislation is passed that meets the needs of America’s small businesses and the economy.” [Small Business Majority Letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid, 12/19/09]
Doctors For America: “We Wish To Express Our Support For Senate Passage Of The Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act…[It] Represents A Historic Step Toward Improving The Health Care System For Us And Our Patients.” In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid, Doctors For America President Vivek Murphy wrote, “On behalf of Doctors for America and its 16,000 physician and medical student members across all 50 states who are committed to building a better health care system for our patients, we wish to express our support for Senate passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This landmark piece of legislation provides increased access to affordable health coverage, implements market reforms to protect our patients, invests in the primary care physician workforce and public health system, and begins to reform the payment and delivery systems so doctors can focus on providing high quality care for our patients…As doctors and medical students, we see the urgent need to fix our broken health care system first hand every day – which is why a majority of physicians support health reform this year. We are fighting to ensure that all Americans receive access to high quality care - the kind of care that we, as physicians, want for our patients. While we know that this legislation will not fix all the problems of our broken health care system, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act represents a historic step toward improving the health care system for us and our patients.” [Doctors For America Letter to U.S. Senate, 12/19/09]
Community Catalyst: “We Strongly Encourage Passage Of The Bill Because We Believe It Will Positively Impact The Lives Of Millions Of Americans.” In a statement, Community Catalyst said, “Today, the U.S. Senate has brought us even closer to the finish line of passing landmark health reform legislation that will improve access to quality affordable health care for millions of Americans. As a national advocacy organization actively working in more than 40 states to ensure consumers have a strong voice in improving America’s health care system, we are very pleased 60 Senators from states where we have focused our efforts have pledged their support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We thank these Senators for hearing the concerns of consumers across the country and allowing this important process to move forward. The Manager’s amendment released today builds on the strengths of the bill through critical consumer protections such as programs to contain health costs and make insurance policies more affordable, greater accountability from health insurance companies, improved choice and competition, and better access to quality affordable health care for vulnerable populations. We strongly encourage passage of the bill because we believe it will positively impact the lives of millions of Americans. As the only national consumer organization that has on-the-ground experience implementing comprehensive health reform at the state level, Community Catalyst understands the benefits of this bill and the important ongoing role consumer advocates will need to play to ensure its success. We encourage the Senate to pass this critical legislation, and to continue to work with the House to ensure that all Americans have access to quality health-care they can afford.” [Community Catalyst Press Releaee, 12/19/09]
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO): “We Applaud [The Senate’s] Recognition Of The Importance Of Preserving Quality, Compassionate And Cost-Efficient End-Of-Life Care.” In a letter, the National Hospice And Palliative Care Organization (NHPC) wrote, “On behalf of hospice and palliative care providers and the more than 1.5 million patients, and their families, served by hospice each year, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) would like to express our strong support for the national effort to enact health care reform. We acknowledge the enormity and complexity of the task facing Congress, and we applaud your recognition of the importance of preserving quality, compassionate and cost efficient end-of-life care as a critical component to the nation’s health infrastructure.” [National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization letter, 12/19/09]
Nancy-Ann DeParle is the Director of the White House Office of Health Reform.
Jesse LeeDecember 19, 2009
12:00 AM EDT
The President looks back to the bipartisan Patient's Bill of Rights, a bill that was defeated in Congress at the hands of special interests and their supporters, and notes that health insurance reform covers the same ground and much more in terms of giving the consumers the upper hand over their insurance companies. He calls on the Senate to allow an up-or-down vote, and for those opposing reform to stop using parliamentary maneuvers to drag it out.
Jesse LeeDecember 18, 2009
06:57 PM EDT
In a much-anticipated United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, the President arrived after nearly two weeks of work with the firm intention of seizing the opportunity to get something solid done. And as he explained in remarks at the end of the day, defying many expectations, the world will not leave empty-handed:
Today we've made meaningful and unprecedented -- made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen. For the first time in history all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.
Let me first recount what our approach was throughout the year and coming into this conference. To begin with, we've reaffirmed America's commitment to transform our energy economy at home. We've made historic investments in renewable energy that have already put people back to work. We've raised our fuel efficiency standards. And we have renewed American leadership in international climate negotiations.
Most importantly, we remain committed to comprehensive legislation that will create millions of new American jobs, power new industry, and enhance our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
That effort at home serves as a foundation for our leadership around the world. Because of the actions we're taking we came here to Copenhagen with an ambitious target to reduce our emissions. We agreed to join an international effort to provide financing to help developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, adapt to climate change. And we reaffirmed the necessity of listing our national actions and commitments in a transparent way.
These three components -- transparency, mitigation and finance -- form the basis of the common approach that the United States and our partners embraced here in Copenhagen. Throughout the day we worked with many countries to establish a new consensus around these three points, a consensus that will serve as a foundation for global action to confront the threat of climate change for years to come.
This success would have not been possible without the hard work of many countries and many leaders -- and I have to add that because of weather constraints in Washington I am leaving before the final vote, but we feel confident that we are moving in the direction of a significant accord.
In addition to our close allies who did so much to advance this effort, I worked throughout the day with Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, who was representing Africa, as well as Premier Wen of China, Prime Minister Singh of India, President Lula of Brazil, and President Zuma of South Africa, to achieve what I believe will be an important milestone.
Earlier this evening I had a meeting with the last four leaders I mentioned -- from China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. And that's where we agreed to list our national actions and commitments, to provide information on the implementation of these actions through national communications, with international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines. We agreed to set a mitigation target to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and importantly, to take action to meet this objective consistent with science.
Taken together these actions will help us begin to meet our responsibilities to leave our children and our grandchildren a cleaner and safer planet.
Now, this progress did not come easily, and we know that this progress alone is not enough. Going forward, we're going to have to build on the momentum that we've established here in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time. We've come a long way, but we have much further to go.
To continue moving forward we must draw on the effort that allowed us to succeed here today -- engagement among nations that represent a baseline of mutual interest and mutual respect. Climate change threatens us all; therefore, we must bridge old divides and build new partnerships to meet this great challenge of our time. That's what we've begun to do here today.
For energy holds out not just the perils of a warming climate, but also the promise of a more peaceful and prosperous tomorrow. If America leads in developing clean energy, we will lead in growing our economy, in putting our people back to work, and in leaving a stronger and more secure country to our children.
And around the world, energy is an issue that demands our leadership. The time has come for us to get off the sidelines and to shape the future that we seek. That's why I came to Copenhagen today, and that's why I'm committed to working in common effort with countries from around the globe. That's also why I believe what we have achieved in Copenhagen will not be the end but rather the beginning, the beginning of a new era of international action.
He then proceeded to take questions, read the rest of the transcript for more details.
December 18, 2009
06:50 PM EDT
There was a time that the Situation Room was known not as Wolf Blitzer's evening newscast, but a nerve-center of information for the President of the United States. Created by the Kennedy Administration in 1961, the "Sit Room" serves as a conference facility, a processing center for secure communications, a hub of intelligence gathering, and a center for emergency operations. It's staffed by men and women from the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community, and the military, all of whom are committed to ensuring that the President of the United States is provided all the information and intelligence he needs to do his job.
Have a look at this rarely-viewed space.
December 18, 2009
05:00 PM EDT
Visitors who camp in National Forest Campgrounds are required to pay a fee to cover the costs of the services (toilets, trash removal, etc) they receive while camping. If a Forest Ranger isn’t present to collect these fees in person, campers are directed to deposit their fee into a fee tube.
When a Forest Ranger visits the campground, s/he unlocks the fee tube and collects the envelopes with registration info and fees. Then s/he visits with all of the campers to make sure that everyone has paid his/her fee.
While there is no question in my mind about the importance of proper handling and accounting of the money collected, I have complained for years about the process the Forest Service uses to deal with this money. In a nut shell, we have to turn the cash into a money order, complete paperwork, and then mail everything (certified) to a bank in California every week no matter how much money is collected. It boggles my mind to think about how much money the Forest Service must spend to collect money. Salary time, money order fees, postage – it all adds up.
So, when the email came around announcing the SAVE Award and encouraging us to submit ideas, I typed up my idea of depositing these collections into local banks and then allowing our national financial center to transfer the money via internet banking. I submitted the idea and then, to be quite honest, forgot about the contest as I carried on with everything we do.
A few weeks later, I had a voice mail message from the “White House - Office of Management and Budget” asking me to call them. Since these are the folks who typically audit the Forest Service, I immediately thought about what I’d done lately that could have caused OMB to want to talk with me. Then I listened to the voice mail a few more times trying to recognize the voice so that I’d know who was pranking me. When I called OMB back, I was surprised to learn that my SAVE Award idea was being seriously considered. I mean it sounded like a good idea to me, but for it to out compete all of the rest of the great ideas out there? About two weeks later, I was even more surprised to learn that my idea made it to the final four. Amazing.
As word got out about the “Final Four,” I started to receive emails from Forest Service employees all around the nation thanking me for submitting this idea because they are just as frustrated with our collections process as I am. Those emails (from folks I don’t even know) and good wishes from present and former Forest Service co-workers and friends (as far back as college) really made this time special for me.
While I'm bummed that my idea didn't win (so I'm not going to meet with President Obama), I am totally psyched that there are already serious discussions higher up in my agency about how this process can be streamlined.
Julie Fosbender is the North Zone Recreation Manager on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia
December 18, 2009
01:17 PM EDT
While President Obama and key members of his Administration work to address global climate change issues in Copenhagen, here at home the Recovery Act is funding a wide array of projects to increase energy efficiency, develop new clean energy technologies, and train workers for the green jobs of the future. The President recently spoke about how the Recovery Act is helping retrofit existing homes and businesses to take advantage of new energy-saving technologies, and news outlets and officials across the country are reporting on new Recovery Act-funded clean energy projects in their communities. A sample of these stories are linked below, detailing new projects in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee and Washington:
Solar Energy Projects Will Receive Funding Through Georgia’s ARRA-Supported Clean Energy Property Rebate Program: “State officials say solar energy projects are receiving $4.5 million through Georgia's Clean Energy Property Rebate Program. A bill aproved by the Georgia Legislature this year created a commercial clean energy rebate program for solar, wind, energy efficiency and geothermal heat pump projects, with funding contingent on the availability of federal stimulus money. Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority executive director Phil Foil says his agency received $82.5 million in stimulus funds for the state energy program and obligated $4.5 million for clean energy rebates.”
Senator Harkin Announced More Than $45,000 In Recovery Act Funding For Energy Efficiency And Conservation Block Grants: “Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced today that Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa will receive a total of $46,600 in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG) from the Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Recovery Act)... Specifically, this funding will be used for: energy audits and building retrofits in the residential and commercial sector, the development and implementation of advanced building codes and inspections and the creation of financial incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements.”
The City Of Ouray Was Awarded A Stimulus-Funded Grant To Install A 20 Kilowatt Micro-Hydro Generating Unit; The System Is Expected To Save The City Approximately $12,000 In Annual Electricity Expenditures: “The City of Ouray has been awarded a $30,000 grant from the Colorado Governors Energy Office to install a 20 kilowatt micro-hydro generating unit to be located at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool... The electrical output from the system will be net-metered to offset the electricity use of the pool complex, saving the city approximately $12,000 in annual electricity expenditures. The powerhouse for the project will be constructed by a shop class from Ouray High School. Once completed, the project will provide an added tourist attraction to visitors to Ouray Hot Springs"
Tennessee Career Center Will Use Stimulus Funding To Train Displaced Workers In Business Information Technology, Solar Panel Installation/Welding, Practical Nursing And Physical Therapy: “Displaced workers from General Motors' Spring Hill facility and the plant's associated suppliers may benefit in $1 million worth of new grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Wednesday... Training will be available in business information technology, solar panel installation/welding, practical nursing and physical therapy, among other areas. Training providers include the Tennessee Technology Center at Hohenwald, the Tennessee Technology Center at Pulaski and Columbia State Community College.”
Stimulus Will Fund Projects To Build Or Enhance Clean Water Infrastructure In Washington State, Create Nearly 1,280 Construction Jobs: “Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Washington Department of Ecology have approved the last four projects to share part of $66 million in Recovery Act funding to build or enhance clean water infrastructure. They will share $9 million and provide nearly 80 short-term construction jobs. They bring to 17 the state’s total of clean water projects funded through the Recovery Act. Together, they are estimated to create 1,280 construction jobs and retain 21 jobs in the state…’This is an incredibly fast time frame for communities to get contracts bid and signed in the next two months, and I thank everyone for pitching in to move this along,’ Gregoire said. ‘The hard work of our communities will lead to job creation, economic recovery and environmental protection…Clark County’s Upper Whipple Creek habitat protection and runoff control project, which will receive $850,000 to protect five acres of critical wetland habitat. The project will reduce flooding and protect downstream reaches of the creek from runoff erosion…Cowlitz County’s failing sewer system in Ryderwood, which will receive $2.9 million to replace defective sewer mainlines and pipes. The project will rehabilitate or replace 28 sewer manholes…Rock Island wastewater treatment facility in Douglas County, which will receive $3.4 million to help construct a new wastewater collection system that will serve approximately 270 residents. The subsidy is a forgivable-principal loan. The city has applied for additional low-interest loan funding from the Clean Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund.”
Dan PfeifferDecember 18, 2009
12:10 PM EDT
When President Obama first took on health insurance reform, he made it clear he hoped to reach out across the aisle to produce a bipartisan plan. He even kicked off the health reform effort by bringing a wide array of folks from across the political spectrum to the White House to share ideas and find common ground.
For months, though, we've watched as opponents of health reform executed their self-professed strategy to "delay, define, and derail" reform.
And in the past few days their stunts and obstruction have reached a new low. On Saturday at midnight, money for the Department of Defense – including the money that funds our troops overseas – is set to run out. Thanks to Republican obstruction on health reform, the Senate delayed passing a bill to continue that funding. The bill includes, among other things:
- More than $100 billion operations and maintenance, and military personnel requirements for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to support preparations to continue withdrawal from Iraq.
- More than $23 billion for equipment used by our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan – including critical funds to accelerate the deployment of new mine-resistant vehicles
- More than $150 billion to increase readiness and training of our troops.
- Nearly $30 billion for health care for service members and their families.
- A 3.4% pay increase for our brave service men and women.
This is not a controversial bill – nearly 400 house members supported it and the vast majority of Republicans are expected to vote for it. It’s political gamesmanship at its worst.
The depth of the hypocrisy involved is stunning. Back in 2007, when Congress was debating how to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible close, many of these same folks launched blistering accusations about Democrats' commitment to our troops. Here are just a few of the things they said:
"Playing politics with the critical funding that our troops need now is political theater of the worst kind." – Sen. John Cornyn, [Press Release, 4/26/07]
"We have plenty of time and plenty of opportunity to have political debates... but it’s just unconscionable to me to tie the hands of the very troops that we all say we support." – Sen. John Cornyn, [Transcript, Senate Republican News Briefing, 4/10/07]
"Every day we don’t fund our troops is a day their ability to fight this war is weakened." – Sen. Mitch McConnell, [Press Release, 3/31/07]
"No way to treat the troops, and it is entirely inconsistent with [Senators’] expressions of support for the troops." – Sen. Mitch McConnell, [Congressional Record, 10/4/07]
"I don't understand this attitude of, ‘We can play with; we can risk the lives of these troops by waiting until the last possible minute to get the funding to them." – Sen. Jon Kyl, [FOX News Transcript, 4/10/07]
"Our obligation to those troops must transcend politics." – Sen. Jon Kyl, [Press Release, 11/8/07]
Now though, as we debate not foreign policy but health care, the Department of Defense funding can wait? Incredible.
We've been talking about fixing the broken health care system in this country for decades. Each day reform was delayed this year, an average of 15,000 Americans lost insurance. Since the last time heath reform failed, premiums have doubled and national health care expenditures have nearly tripled. The time for political games is over. Now it’s time to act.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communicaitons Director
December 18, 2009
11:39 AM EDT
Ed. Note: See previous installments from Interior Secretary Salazar, EPA Administrator Jackson and Assistant Secretary of Energy Sandalow, Secretary of Commerce Locke, Secretary of Energy Chu, and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack.
With the President's arrival, a quick look back at what's been going on. Secretary of State Clinton arrived in Copenhagen late, late Wednesday night and delivered remarks to hundreds of press members. The Secretary underscored the historic progress President Obama has made in an effort to build a clean energy economy and prosperity for the future. She noted that while real difficulties remain in these final negotiating days, the resolve of the United States to come to the table and produce a strong global outcome has never been more determined. .
Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack announced the U.S. partnership with Australia, France, Japan, Norway and United Kingdom to contribute a combined $3.5 billion in the context of an ambitious and comprehensive outcome in Copenhagen, as initial public finance towards slowing, halting and eventually reversing deforestation in developing countries. This funding will help facilitate immediate actions in REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) for the years 2010-2012.
Yesterday was the last official keynote event at the U.S. Center in Copenhagen, one day ahead of the President's arrival in town. Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality headlined the event and made news announcing a strategy to reduce black carbon emissions affecting the Arctic. Black carbon is essentially soot, which settles on white snows in the Arctic making the pole a little darker and thus diminishing its overall ability to reflect sunlight back into space. Keeping snow in the Arctic unpolluted is a near term mitigation effort to keep global temperatures down.
Chair Sutley also talked about clean energy jobs and the great potential we have to create new American jobs with comprehensive energy reform and strategies in efficiency and retrofitting. Demonstrating the global interest in this conference, questions were taken via satellite and e-mail from Germany, Gambia and Austria.
Stay tuned for an update from the U.S. Center with NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.
Jack Levine is with the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change
December 18, 2009
11:00 AM EDT
Back in September when I submitted an idea for the SAVE Award program, I never thought that I would be selected as one of four finalists. I honestly didn’t expect it to be forwarded for someone to actually read. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call in early December telling me I was in the “final four” out of more than 38,000 entries!
It didn’t stop there. Over the course of the next few days there were newspaper and radio interviews as well as the on-line voting competition to pick a winner. It was a whirlwind of activity that, to say the least, I was very much unprepared to handle.
My colleagues at work were stunned once I had shared the news and at first thought that I was joking. Once they got past the fact my idea was in the final four, they went out and voted. I hope they voted for me, but I told them to vote for the idea they liked best.
My family and friends were pretty excited for me once I had explained the contest to them. My wife says that I am her “favorite celebrity”.
I received many congratulatory emails and phone calls from people across the nation that I had never met both within the Federal Government and the public. I had a voicemail message from a young lady in Atlanta who had read the article in USA Today and voted for me. She manages a large senior citizen complex and hoped my idea would win.
Watching a video online that the President made announcing the four final ideas was surreal. Several top members of the HUD staff contacted me to say congratulations even Secretary Donovan took time out to call and express his thanks for my idea.
All in all it was an overwhelming but exciting event to be involved in. I think that everyone that worked on the project submitting ideas or reviewing them and organizing everything should be very proud of themselves. As we begin to see some of the ideas implemented in the next few months or years, I can look back and smile as I know that I had a part in it.
It was fun to be “famous” for a little while, but to be honest I am glad the voting is over.
Thanks to everyone who voted for me!
Huston Prescott works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Anchorage, AK
December 18, 2009
10:00 AM EDT
Starting at 2:00 PM EST today, the subcommittee on tax reform for the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) will hold its next public meeting. Wach the meeting live at www.whitehouse.gov/live. The speakers today include:
- IRS Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (read the panel's public response to PERAB's Request for Public Comment on Tax Reform )
- Eric Toder, Urban Institute Fellow
- Allen R. Taylor, small business owner
Please submit your ideas to the subcommittee on tax reform or direct your comment to other PERAB subcommittees through our Public Comment page.
December 18, 2009
12:00 AM EDT
Nearly every day this month, streams of visitors pass through the White House doors to get a firsthand glimpse of the holiday decorations dressing the Executive Residence. By the end of the holiday season, some 100,000 guests will have visited the White house to see the 27 trees, 61 wreaths, and about 2,700 yards of ribbon canvassing the house. For those of you who didn’t have the chance to see the spectacle, check out this year’s décor:
- 92 volunteers from 24 states assisted in the decorating for over 3,400 volunteer hours.
- There are 6 live trees with their roots balled and wrapped in burlap at the East Wing, West Wing and North Portico Entrances. These trees will be adopted by the National Parks Service after Christmas is over and hopefully replanted in a new home.
- The official White House Christmas in the Blue Room is a Douglas Fir that stands 18 ½ feet high and is nearly 13 feet wide. The tree is lit with environmentally sound LED lights.
- 500 stems of dried hydrangea were used, many of which were used in fresh arrangements first and then dried later for use in the holiday decorations.
Eddie LeeDecember 17, 2009
06:24 PM EDT
The U.S. Department of Education announced this week that the following students are winners of its “I Am What I Learn” video contest: Rene Harris, Alex Hughes and Jordan Lederman. Watch the web chat between Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the winners below:Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
The contest, launched Sept. 21, asked students to create videos, up to two minutes long, about the importance of education in achieving their personal goals. Students across the country submitted more than 600 videos, which featured stories from diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach carefully reviewed each of the videos and narrowed the group to 10 finalists, which were announced on Nov. 16. More than 28,000 votes were cast between Nov. 16 and Dec. 4. The winners were the top three vote getters and will each receive a $1,000 cash prize from the U.S. Department of Education.
The videos of the winners and the rest of the finalists can be viewed at www.youtube.com/iamwhatilearn.
Eddie Lee is Confidential Assistant in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education