Our Top Stories
Dan PfeifferMay 11, 2010
11:15 AM EDT
When you hear about "Wall Street Reform" or the "army of lobbyists" descending on Washington, it may feel disconnected from your day-to-day life.
But the consumer financial protection agency is one area of reform where the direct impact on the lives of American families is easier to see.
Whether you’re talking out a mortgage, an auto loan, payday loans, or just holding a credit card, this agency will make sure lenders deal squarely with you, lay out the terms in plain English, and stop using hidden fees to fatten their profits. It will make sure that all financial firms play by the same basic rules of the road.
Last week the Senate wisely defeated a massive Republican amendment that would have decimated this agency in one fell swoop. But now the lobbyists are working overtime to insert specific loopholes in the bill.
We recently discussed one of best examples of this -- the lobbyists' push for an auto lenders loophole, and the push against such a loophole from military families who are too often targeted by their deceptive practices. Now, with efforts to insert this loophole headed toward the Senate floor, it's worth taking yet another look.
A USA Today editorial last week debunked the main argument lobbyists are making that reform should only protect consumers against Wall Street banks, pointing out that "While auto loans were not the prime generator of the recent credit bubble, many were sold and securitized the way subprime mortgages were. That's a recipe for excess."
But again, this is not some theoretical debate, if included they could cost countless American families their stability. Last week, a story out of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave an example of the kinds of auto lending abuses that reform aims to stop:
Robert Mims . . . works two jobs to make the car payments on a 2005 Ford Taurus he bought four years ago for about $13,000. The payments - about $17,000 so far - already amount to more than what the car is worth, but he's nowhere near paying off his car loan.
Mims. . . left the dealership under the impression that the lender would lower his 24.9% interest rate if he made his payments on time for six months. He says he kept his end of the bargain, but the dealer did not. Four years later, he still hasn't been able to negotiate a lower rate despite making his payments on time, and most of the payments he's made continue to go toward interest.
As Diana Farrell, Deputy Director of the White House National Economic Council, said, "Why should a bank be treated differently than an auto dealer in providing you money? If they're offering good, transparent, fair financing products to their customers, they have nothing to worry about." Responsible dealers will fare better if irresponsible dealer-lenders are stopped from inflating their profits through deceptive pricing and side payments from Wall Street.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Melody BarnesMay 11, 2010
10:00 AM EDT
Today, the Childhood Obesity Task Force is excited to release our action plan to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. The First Lady will be holding a press conference this morning to talk about the report, and you can tune in and watch it live at 10:30AM EDT at www.WhiteHouse.gov/live. And make sure to take a look at the report HERE! It will serve as a roadmap for the work we need to do together to make sure that our kids grow up healthy and have the opportunity to live active lives.
The report reflects input from 12 federal agencies as well as the 2,500 submissions we got from parents, teachers, doctors, nurses and others. It includes 70 recommendations for public and private sector action, as well as concrete metrics and benchmarks to measure our progress towards our goal. Very broadly, the report makes recommendations in 5 key areas:
- Getting children a healthy start on life, with good prenatal care for their parents; support for breastfeeding; limits on “screen time”; and quality child care settings with nutritious food and ample opportunity for young children to be physically active.
- Empowering parents and caregivers with simpler, more actionable messages about nutritional choices based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans; improved labels on food and menus that provide clear information to help make healthy choices for children; reduced marketing of unhealthy products to children; and improved health care services, including BMI measurement for all children.
- Providing healthy food in schools, through improvements in federally-supported school lunches and breakfasts; upgrading the nutritional quality of other foods sold in schools; and improving nutrition education and the overall school environment.
- Improving access to healthy, affordable food, by eliminating “food deserts” in urban and rural America; lowering the relative prices of healthier foods; developing or reformulating food products to be healthier; and reducing the incidence of hunger, which has been linked to obesity.
- Getting children more physically active, through quality physical education, recess, and other opportunities in and after school; addressing aspects of the “built environment” that make it difficult for children to walk or bike safely in their communities; and improving access to safe parks, playgrounds, and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities.
Many of our ideas can be implemented right away, at little or no cost. With the First Lady’s leadership and working in strong partnership with states, local communities, and the private sector, we look forward to moving without delay to get this plan into action. Let’s Move!
Secretary Ray LaHoodMay 11, 2010
09:36 AM EDT
In 2008, when Darin Rupinski graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, he did not envision a career aboard deepwater oil rigs. But, fortunately for his crewmates aboard the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon, that's where he landed.
Because on April 20, when an explosion rocked the Transocean Ltd. oil rig, instead of fleeing for his own safety, Darin put his Kings Point training and leadership into action and helped facilitate the orderly evacuation of the Horizon.
"I ran up to the bridge and grabbed some radios, a flashlight, a bullhorn and ran back down toward the lifeboat deck," Darin recounted to Newsday's Bill Bleyer. "I used the bullhorn to get people into the boats and calmed down."
Amid the yelling and screaming, Darin worked with his supervisor to restore order from the chaos that spread among the crew after the explosion.
Eventually, they filled the supervisor's lifeboat and lowered it into the Gulf. 10 minutes later, the lifeboat Darin commanded was filled and motoring toward a supply ship nearby, but safely removed from the inferno.
Looking back on the oil rig, Darin says he saw, "basically, a huge torch in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico."
I can't express how proud I am of Darin's exceptional demonstration of courage and leadership.
But, while the Merchant Marine Academy is also understandably proud of Darin's actions, they see his behavior--though exemplary--as par for the course. As Capt. Timothy Tisch, one of Darin's safety course professors observed:
"He did what he was supposed to do. What we teach them in their Safety of Life at Sea course is how to be in charge of the crew during shipboard emergencies and specifically abandoning ship: mustering the crew, being a leader and keeping everybody calm and focused, and getting away from the ship."
Darin himself downplayed his bravery. "We did lifeboat drills every weekend," he explains. "I'd been taught what to do, and I did it."
I understand where Capt. Tisch and Darin are coming from, but I'll bet none of the 100+ crewmembers aboard the lifeboats Darin helped load and remove to safety are taking his actions for granted.
Where I come from, there's no way around it: Darin Rupinski is a hero.
Ray LaHood is the Secretary of Transportation.
May 11, 2010
06:15 AM EDT
Today marks an important milestone in our work to create a healthier and safer America. The newly released 2010 National Drug Control Strategy serves as a blueprint for action to address drug use and its consequences. Emphasizing collaboration and innovative strategies, it outlines five-year goals for reducing drug use and its consequences through a balanced policy of prevention, treatment, enforcement, and international cooperation.
The new Strategy, the inaugural drug control plan for the Obama Administration, was created with input from a nation-wide listening tour and will be implemented through a coordinated National, State and local effort. This collaborative approach will maximize Federal resources and enhance information sharing. And there is no time to waste in addressing this ongoing concern.
Drug use affects millions of American families, strains our economy and healthcare system, and harms the well-being of young people and our returning veterans. The recent violence in Mexico serves as a tragic reminder of the threat that drug trafficking presents and the need for every nation to take steps to protect its people from violence, corruption and instability caused by illegal drug trafficking. Successfully addressing these issues will mean continuing the Administration’s unwavering support for law enforcement and the criminal justice system, disrupting domestic drug traffic and production, and working with partners to reduce the global drug trade while also reducing our Nation’s demand for drugs.
Informed by consultations with State and local officials, community-based organizations, practitioners, and researchers, the Strategy outlines a balanced approach that emphasizes community-based prevention, integration of evidence-based treatment into the mainstream health care system, implementation of the Southwest Border Strategy and other international partnerships to disrupt transnational drug trafficking organizations, as well as innovations in the criminal justice system that help people get the treatment they need and reduce rates of recidivism.
Specifically, the Strategy outlines five-year goals to reduce drug use and its consequences:
- Reduce the rate of youth drug use by 15 percent;
- Decrease drug use among young adults by 10 percent;
- Reduce the number of chronic drug users by 15 percent;
- Reduce the incidence of drug-induced deaths by 15 percent; and
- Reduce the prevalence of drugged driving by 10 percent.
These are ambitious goals and there are many challenges ahead, but there are also many good reasons to be optimistic. We have a variety of tools to confront substance abuse and its consequences and, thanks to the efforts of countless organizations and dedicated citizens, millions of Americans have already overcome addiction and drug abuse and are now in recovery. Together, we can work to reduce drug use and its consequences to create a safer, healthier Nation.
For more information about the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, please visit the Office of National Drug Control Policy website.
R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy
Jesse LeeMay 10, 2010
05:09 PM EDT
Here's a run-down of the reaction so far to the President's nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court.
ABC News: Kagan “Is Considered One of the Finest Legal Scholars in the Country. “Kagan, 50, is considered one of the finest legal scholars in the country, dazzling both fellow liberal and conservative friends with her intellectual and analytical prowess but also her ability to find consensus among ideological opposites.” [ABCNews.com, 5/10/10]
Fox News Channel’s Shannon Bream: Kagan Will Garner Bipartisan Support in the Senate “Because She’s Had a Very Distinguished Career. No One Would Argue Anything But That She is a Brilliant Individual – She’s Got a Fantastic Resume. And She Is Known as Being a Consensus-Builder.” Fox News Channel’s Shannon Bream: “So I would think that this is the kind of nominee that will have [Sen. Reid’s] full backing, his full support, and that of many, many other top Democrats and even some Republicans in the Senate, because she’s had a very distinguished career. No one would argue anything but that she is a brilliant individual – she’s got a fantastic resume. And she is known as being a consensus-builder, I mean, something that’s been discussed with her before. When she was a dean at Harvard she brought together a lot of people, students and faculty, and was really seen as somebody who was a bridge builder.” [Fox News Channel via Media Matters, 5/9/10]
Associated Press: “In Nominating Kagan to Replace Justice John Paul Stevens, President Barack Obama Has Chosen and Brilliant Legal Scholar.” “In nominating Kagan to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, President Barack Obama has chosen a brilliant legal scholar with liberal views and conservative friends. Kagan, 50, already has won Senate confirmation once, after Obama nominated her to be solicitor general, the administration's top Supreme Court lawyer.” [Associated Press, 5/10/10]
CBS News’ Jan Crawford: “The Justices Really Like Her. You Should See Justice Scalia, a Conservative, and Kagan Going Back and Forth. So the White House Sees That as a Real Plus. And They Expect Her to Be a Very Effective Jurist on That Court.” “I’ve known her for a long time, she was a professor of mine at the University of Chicago Law School and she’s very engaging, quite dynamic in her personality. And you see that when she’s arguing cases before the Supreme Court. The justices really like her. You should see Justice Scalia, a conservative, and Kagan going back and forth. So the White House sees that as a real plus. And they expect her to be a very effective jurist on that court.” “CBS Early Show,” 5/10/10]
Associated Press: Kagan “Has Enjoyed a Blazing Legal Career.” “Kagan is known as sharp and politically savvy and has enjoyed a blazing legal career. She was the first female dean of Harvard Law School, first woman to serve as the top Supreme Court lawyer for any administration, and now first in Obama's mind to succeed legendary liberal Justice John Paul Stevens.” [Associated Press, 5/10/10]
USA Today: Kagan Is “A Highly Credentialed Lawyer,” “Had a Reputation for Bringing Together Ideological Factions.” “In choosing Kagan, Obama has turned to a highly credentialed lawyer who has spent her career in the corridors of legal power, including the past year as the government’s advocate before the justices. As former dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan had a reputation for bringing together ideological factions. That style might help her bridge differences on the divided court. If confirmed, she will be the third woman on the current bench — and the fourth woman in the court’s 221-year history.” [USA Today, 5/10/10]
Jesse LeeMay 10, 2010
05:00 PM EDT
Needless to say it was a busy day here at the White House, but the President has not taken his eye off the BP spill in the Gulf. This afternoon the President met with a number of Cabinet members and senior staff in the White House Situation Room to review BP efforts to stop the oil leak as well as to decide on next steps to ensure all is being done to contain the spread, mitigate the environmental impact and provide assistance to affected states, including individuals, businesses, and communities.
Katelyn SabochikMay 10, 2010
12:34 PM EDT
On Sunday, President Obama delivered the commencement address at Hampton University. The President reflected on Hampton’s history and the importance of education to Hampton’s first students – escaped slaves – and this year’s graduating class:
[W]e meet here today, as graduating classes have met for generations, not far from where it all began, near that old oak tree off Emancipation Drive. I know my University 101. There, beneath its branches, by what was then a Union garrison, about 20 students gathered on September 17th, 1861. Taught by a free citizen, in defiance of Virginia law, the students were escaped slaves from nearby plantations, who had fled to the fort seeking asylum.
And after the war’s end, a retired Union general sought to enshrine that legacy of learning. So with a collection from church groups, Civil War veterans, and a choir that toured Europe, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was founded here, by the Chesapeake –- a home by the sea.
Now, that story is no doubt familiar to many of you. But it’s worth reflecting on why it happened; why so many people went to such trouble to found Hampton and all our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The founders of these institutions knew, of course, that inequality would persist long into the future. They were not naïve. They recognized that barriers in our laws, and in our hearts, wouldn’t vanish overnight.
But they also recognized the larger truth; a distinctly American truth. They recognized, Class of 2010, that the right education might allow those barriers to be overcome; might allow our God-given potential to be fulfilled. They recognized, as Frederick Douglass once put it, that “education…means emancipation.” They recognized that education is how America and its people might fulfill our promise. That recognition, that truth – that an education can fortify us to rise above any barrier, to meet any test –is reflected, again and again, throughout our history.
Jesse LeeMay 10, 2010
12:12 PM EDT
In noting that Solicitor General Elena Kagan would have legendary shoes to fill at the Supreme Court when confirmed, the President described the career of Justice John Paul Stevens:
For nearly 35 years, Justice Stevens has stood as an impartial guardian of the law, faithfully applying the core values of our founding to the cases and controversies of our time.
He has done so with restraint and respect for precedent -- understanding that a judge’s job is to interpret, not make law -- but also with fidelity to the constitutional ideal of equal justice for all. He’s brought to each case not just mastery of the letter of the law, but a keen understanding of its impact on people’s lives.
He followed by describing Kagan's career upholding many of the same values while blazing a path as one of the most respected legal minds in America:
Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost legal minds. She’s an acclaimed legal scholar with a rich understanding of constitutional law. She is a former White House aide with a lifelong commitment to public service and a firm grasp of the nexus and boundaries between our three branches of government. She is a trailblazing leader -- the first woman to serve as Dean of Harvard Law School -- and one of the most successful and beloved deans in its history. And she is a superb Solicitor General, our nation’s chief lawyer representing the American people’s interests before the Supreme Court, the first woman in that position as well. And she has won accolades from observers across the ideological spectrum for her well-reasoned arguments and commanding presence.
But Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament -- her openness to a broad array of viewpoints; her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing”; her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder.
These traits were particularly evident during her tenure as dean. At a time when many believed that the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus. And she encouraged students from all backgrounds to respectfully exchange ideas and seek common ground -- because she believes, as I do, that exposure to a broad array of perspectives is the foundation not just for a sound legal education, but of a successful life in the law.
This appreciation for diverse views may also come in handy as a die-hard Mets fan serving alongside her new colleague-to-be, Yankees fan Justice Sotomayor, who I believe has ordered a pinstriped robe for the occasion. (Laughter.)
But while Elena had a brilliant career in academia, her passion for the law is anything but academic. She has often referred to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked, as her hero. I understand that he reciprocated by calling her “Shorty.” (Laughter.) Nonetheless, she credits him with reminding her that, as she put it, “behind law there are stories -- stories of people’s lives as shaped by the law, stories of people’s lives as might be changed by the law…”
That understanding of law, not as an intellectual exercise or words on a page, but as it affects the lives of ordinary people, has animated every step of Elena’s career -- including her service as Solicitor General today.
During her time in this office, she’s repeatedly defended the rights of shareholders and ordinary citizens against unscrupulous corporations. Last year, in the Citizens United case, she defended bipartisan campaign finance reform against special interests seeking to spend unlimited money to influence our elections. Despite long odds of success, with most legal analysts believing the government was unlikely to prevail in this case, Elena still chose it as her very first case to argue before the Court.
I think that says a great deal not just about Elena’s tenacity, but about her commitment to serving the American people. I think it says a great deal about her commitment to protect our fundamental rights, because in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.
For her part, Kagan expressed a profound sense of patriotism in her experience as Solicitor General:
I have felt blessed to represent the United States before the Supreme Court, to walk into the highest Court in this country when it is deciding its most important cases, cases that have an impact on so many people’s lives. And to represent the United States there is the most thrilling and the most humbling task a lawyer can perform.
She spoke about "the joy of teaching" she felt at Harvard Law, and the experiences she has learned from throughout her career. She closed on a personal note:
I'm thankful to my brothers and other family and friends for coming to Washington to be with me here today. And much more, I am thankful for all of their support and loyalty and love, not just on this day but always.
If this day has just a touch of sadness in it for me, it is because my parents aren’t here to share it. They were both, as the President said, the children of immigrants and the first in their families to go to college. My father was the kind of lawyer who used his skills and training to represent everyday people and to improve a community. My mother was a proud public schoolteacher, as are my two brothers -- the kind of teachers whom students remember for the rest of their lives.
My parents’ lives and their memory remind me every day of the impact public service can have, and I pray every day that I live up to the example they set.
Mr. President, I look forward to working with the Senate in the next stage of this process. And I thank you again, Mr. President, for this honor of a lifetime. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
May 10, 2010
11:20 AM EDT
As families around the country celebrate high school and college graduations this month, they can also cheer another piece of good news: as part of the Affordable Care Act, our Administration is issuing regulations today that will allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.
This change is long overdue. For years, getting a diploma also meant losing your health insurance. And whether you went on to college or not, it was often hard as a young person to find affordable coverage. Overall, Americans in their twenties were twice as likely to go without health insurance as older Americans.
I saw this firsthand as a mom. When my sons graduated from college, they both found jobs. But like a growing number of employers, neither of theirs offered health insurance. Fortunately, they were both healthy and could afford to buy coverage. But I often wondered: what if one of them had a preexisting condition like diabetes? What if our family had fewer resources?
For too many young Americans over the years, the answer to these questions was simply to go without health insurance and hope that you stayed healthy.
Thanks to the rule we’re establishing today, no young American will have to take that risk ever again. Under this policy, insurers will be required to allow any American under the age of 26 who doesn’t get health insurance through their job to stay on their parents’ plan. To get more details, you can read this fact sheet or Q&A.
This provision was scheduled to go into effect in September. But we didn’t want any young person to needlessly go without health insurance this summer. So over the last few weeks, we’ve reached out to insurance companies and asked them to make this change immediately. And to their credit, we’ve gotten a terrific response.
So far, every major insurance company – more than 65 in total – and several major self-insured organizations have said they will provide continuous coverage for young adults this summer. That’s great news for graduating seniors and their families who will get added security in exchange for premiums that are only expected to rise by .7%.
And it’s not a bad deal for insurance companies or employers either. Insurers will save the administrative costs that would have added up as they dropped people in May only to sign them back up in September. And businesses have already been notified that the tax exclusion for employer health benefits will apply to all the young adults who choose to stay on their parents’ plans.
It’s only been seven weeks since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, but Americans are already seeing the benefits. In addition to this new security for young adults, small business owners have been notified about a new tax credit to help them provide health coverage for their employees.
Seniors who have hit the prescription drug donut hole will begin getting $250 rebate checks next month to help them afford their medications. And we’ve been working closely with states for weeks to develop a new insurance option for uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions.
After years of feeling like they were losing control over their health care, Americans are finally getting a glimpse of a better future. And in the months to come, we’re going to continue to work diligently with our partners across the country to deliver the promise of this new law and make our health care system work better for the American people.
Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services
Jesse LeeMay 10, 2010
10:00 AM EDT
The President has always viewed nominating new Justices to the Supreme Court as one of his most important responsibilities, and his nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan reflects the results of a careful and thorough search across America’s exceptional pool of legal talent.
Widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading legal minds, Solicitor General Elena Kagan has forged a path-breaking career in the law and in government service, distinguishing herself throughout by her penetrating intellect, unwavering integrity, sound judgment and prodigious work ethic. Her family taught her the value not just of education, but of service, and instilled in her an understanding of how the law affects the lives of working Americans.
She was the first woman to serve as Dean in Harvard Law School’s 186-year old history. And she was the first woman to serve as Solicitor General – the lawyer who represents the United States Government before the Supreme Court. Of the 111 justices who have served on the Supreme Court, only three have been women. Kagan would be the fourth, and this Fall, for the first time in history, three women would take their seats on our nation’s highest court.
As an academic, her scholarship focused on issues ranging from freedom of speech to government policy making – issues with a profound effect on our daily lives. As a White House lawyer and policy aide, she played lead role in working with Democrats and Republicans on legislation to prevent tobacco companies from targeting children with deceptive advertising practices and addictive products. As a law school Dean, she turned a fractious institution into a united one, and inspired students to use their legal training to serve their communities. And as Solicitor General, she has defended before the Supreme Court Congress’s efforts to protect shareholders’ rights, to implement bipartisan campaign finance reform, and to preserve the national security interests of the United States.
With an unparalleled ability to bring together people of different backgrounds and beliefs, she has earned praise across the political spectrum for her fair-mindedness, even-handedness, and insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing. Every Solicitor General over the last quarter century – Democrats and Republicans – wrote a letter of support for her nomination as Solicitor General, noting her “brilliant intellect,” “candor,” and the “high regard in which she is held by persons of a wide variety of political and social views.” And her nomination to the Supreme Court is receiving similarly wide support from members of the legal community across the ideological spectrum.
Elena’s father was a housing lawyer devoted to the rights of tenants. Her mother was a public school teacher committed to helping her students realize their potential. They sent Elena to an all-girls public high-school where she learned that she could achieve any goal she sought. Following in her parents’ footsteps, Elena became a lawyer like her father, using her legal training to serve others, and a beloved teacher like her mother, inspiring the next generation of students to use their legal training to improve lives and communities.
Craig FugateMay 07, 2010
06:37 PM EDT
Ed. note: Follow FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on Twitter for more updates at CraigatFEMA.
At the request of the President, I’m in Tennessee for the second time this week to meet with local officials and assess the damage from the severe weather and subsequent flooding that swept through this state and other parts of the Southeast this week, and to ensure that all the needs of the state and local governments – as well as communities and individuals – are being met. I met with Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean yesterday and reiterated our commitment to bring every federal resource to bear in response to this – as Governor Bredesen described – “unprecedented” storm. FEMA was on the ground from the beginning and is leaning forward to ensure a swift federal response to this disaster.
We’ve been engaged with the affected states since last Saturday when the rain began to fall, and currently have representatives on the ground in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana to measure the damage and provide federal assistance where needed.
On Monday night I met with Governor Bredesen of Tennessee, and on Tuesday, the Governor requested, and the President signed, a federal disaster declaration for the state, standing up federal assistance by way of temporary housing and home repair grants, loans to cover losses from uninsured property, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover. The President signed a similar declaration for Alabama the day before.
To date in Tennessee:
- 27 counties have been declared as federal disaster areas;
- Approximately 12,000 individuals have registered for FEMA assistance;
- FEMA has approved over $1.5 million in federal assistance for housing and other needs.
We’re working to make sure that every request is processed rapidly, and that individuals and business owners in the affected areas have all the information and resources they need to quickly recover from these storms.
I’ll join Secretary Napolitano tomorrow in Nashville, where we’ll meet with state and local officials and receive briefings on the coordinated federal, state, and local response efforts underway.
Individuals who live in the affected area can register for federal assistance by calling the FEMA hotline at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov. You can also visit http://m.fema.gov from your mobile device for more information.
Individuals should always be prepared for a disaster like this. Visit ready.gov for information to prepare for the unexpected.
Craig Fugate is the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
More information and resources on the floods and severe weather in the Southeast:
- Statement by the President on Severe Weather and Flooding in the Southeast
- Statement by the White House Press Secretary on the President's Southeastern Flooding Briefing
- President Obama Signs Tennessee Disaster Declaration
- President Obama Signs Alabama Disaster Declaration
- Conference Call on the Flooding in Tennessee with FEMA Administrator Fugate, Governor Phil Bredesen, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, SVP American Red Cross Joe Becker
- Read out of the President's Calls with Tennessee Governor
- White House Press Secretary on the Response to the Southeastern Flooding and Severe Weather
- Senior Administration Officials Visit Tennessee to Support Response and Recovery Efforts
- Guest Editorial by Craig Fugate, FEMA joins state, local team
- Tennessean Editorial
May 07, 2010
05:52 PM EDT
In honor of Mother’s Day, the First Lady hosted an event at the White House this afternoon, joined by Dr. Jill Biden and Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter. She also recognized that today is Military Spouses Appreciation Day and told the spouses and mothers of service members that “we are forever grateful for your service and inspired by your strength.”
Talking about the love and care that mother figures give every day, she said that there is no way to quantify how important mothers are in our lives, asking, “Do 15 or 20 sleepless nights during high school equal a bouquet of flowers?” The First Lady was joined by her own mother, who she described as her “rock.”
She has pulled me up when I’ve stumbled. She’s pulled me back when I’ve run out of line, talking a little too much. She’ll snap me up. She really does push me to be the best woman that I can be, truly, as a professional, and as a mother, and as a friend. And she has always, always, always been there for me. And as our family have grown, she’s managed to expand her love for all of us.
And raising our girls in the White House with my mom -- oh, not going to do this -- (laughter) -- is a beautiful experience. And the opportunity to have three generations living in the White House, it’s beautiful. And I’m pretty sure the President is happy about it, too. In this world there is so much going on, we know that we’re blessed, the Obamas.
The First Lady also discussed the White House Leadership and Mentoring Initiative, which she said was created because she believes “in the importance of giving our young mentees a piece of ourselves.” She explained that the program is about helping women realize that they can be leaders and create their own opportunities, recognizing that the room was filled by women who had done just that. “[T]here are so many of these stories right here in this room. Now, they may have different characters and soundtracks, right, but whether you grew up on Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin or Beyonce, each story here is important,” she said.
She described Mother's Day as “a day to enjoy one another,” and closed by telling her mother, “Thank you, Mommy. I love you.”
May 07, 2010
04:50 PM EDT
In the interest of transparency, we are posting a limited waiver of the Ethics Pledge that was granted today to Robert Bauer, Counsel to the President. Counsels to the President of the United States ordinarily are in contact with the personal lawyers to the President on a range of matters, including, for example, preparation of the President’s financial disclosure forms. Counsels to the President also ordinarily work on issues, such as evaluating campaign finance litigation, that are also of interest to the national committee of their political party, and have to work on issues that require contact with the national party or its lawyers. Mr. Bauer, the Counsel to President Obama, is in the unusual situation of having been, before he joined the Administration, both the personal lawyer to the President and counsel to the Democratic National Committee, and his former firm continues in those roles. Literal application of Paragraph 2 of the Ethics Pledge would prevent Mr. Bauer from performing roles that someone in the Counsel’s position ordinarily performs. The Executive Order allows for a waiver when the literal application of the Pledge does not make sense or is not in the public interest, and so we are granting the waiver on that basis. As always, we are posting the waiver.
Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform
Secretary Steven ChuMay 07, 2010
04:23 PM EDT
I’m in Georgia today to deliver the commencement address at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and I just finished a tour of the University Center of Excellence in Photovoltaics (UCEP).
With longstanding support from the Department of Energy, and under the direction of Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi , this Center at Georgia Tech has become a premier site for silicon PV research in the U.S. The company that evolved from this work – Suniva – is an American success story.
Suniva has created more than 150 clean energy jobs manufacturing high-efficiency silicon solar cells and modules, using technology developed at UCEP. Fifty of those jobs are the direct result of a clean energy tax credit that was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
America pioneered solar PV technology, and, as recently as the mid-1990s we had about 45 percent of the world market share, but we have let that lead slip away. Today, we have only about 5 percent of the world market. The U.S. needs to jump back into the clean energy race and play to win. That is the work we have started with investments like the Recovery Act and companies like Suniva. In fact, last year, Suniva exported more than 90 percent of its product to Asia and Europe.
This center and this company are powerful examples of how clean energy technology can drive job creation in the U.S. and increase our competitiveness.
Steven Chu is the Secretary of Energy
May 07, 2010
12:59 PM EDT
Text4baby, a free program that provides pregnant women and new moms with information they need to take care of their health and give their babies the best possible start in life, is growing up fast! A public-private partnership that includes the White House, text4baby provides free SMS text messages timed to a pregnant woman’s due date or baby’s date of birth. Women who sign up for the service by texting BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to 511411 get health tips, reminders, and information about community resources available to them.
Announced by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra on February 4, 2010, text4baby has already delivered more than 1 million free text messages to over 36,000 moms across the country. We are hearing stories about moms making prenatal appointments, using their seatbelts more safely, following safe sleep practices, and making other changes to keep themselves and their babies healthy. In a novel use of the underlying program, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies—the non-profit that runs text4baby—issued an extra message this week to alert moms to the recent recall of a number of pediatric medicines.
One of the most important things that text4baby can do is provide information on how moms and moms-to-be can access additional resources. For example, one of the Spanish messages reads:
Aunque te sientas bien, es importante tener cuidado medico todo el embarazo para mantener sanos a ti y a tu bebe. Llama 800-504-7081 para cuidado. (Even if you feel great, it’s important to get medical care through your pregnancy. It helps keep you and your baby healthy. Call 800-504-7081 for care.)
Hotlines, including the National Hispanic Prenatal Helpline (1-800-504-7081) and National Hunger Hotline (1-866-348-6479) are reporting increases in calls linked to text4baby. Top issues that moms ask about are WIC services (which provide Federally supported food assistance), prenatal care services, and free or low-cost cribs.
And communities across the nation are getting into the action! This week, I joined Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Donald Schwarz and other partners to launch an extraordinary text4baby outreach coalition in Philadelphia. The high-energy event at that city’s Please Touch Museum—organized by the Maternity Care Coalition and with support from ClearChannel Radio—featured several moms-to-be who shared their experiences with text4baby. One woman spoke through a translater about her appreciation for having the service in Spanish, and how useful it is to have reminders and tips coming directly to her phone because she is busy with two other small children as well.
Pennsylvania already ranks 9th in the nation in terms of the percentage of pregnant women and new moms using text4baby, and officials say they intend to climb further in the rankings by getting the word out through state and local government offices, non-profit organizations, and the media. (Click here to find out how your state ranks.)
Text4baby is made possible through a broad, public-private partnership that includes government and tribal agencies, corporations, academic institutions, professional associations and non-profit organizations.Founding partners include the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, Johnson & Johnson, Voxiva, the CTIA Wireless Foundation, and WPP. U.S. government partners include the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services. Johnson & Johnson is the Founding Sponsor, and Premier Sponsors include WellPoint, Pfizer and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. The mobile health platform is provided by Voxiva and free messaging services are generously provided by participating wireless service providers. Implementation partners include BabyCenter, Danya International, Syniverse, Keynote Systems and The George Washington University.
Hillary Chen is a Policy Analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Jesse LeeMay 07, 2010
11:52 AM EDT
As CEA Chair Christina Romer laid out earlier this morning, "Today’s employment report shows the strongest signs yet of healing in the labor market." The economy created 290,000 jobs in April, the vast majority of them private sector, and with new data incorporated April became the fourth consecutive months of positive job growth. Flanked by his economic team, the President spoke about the news in the Rose Garden:
On what seems like a daily basis, we’re barraged with statistics and forecasts and reports and data related to the health of the economy. But from the first days of this administration, amidst the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, I’ve said that the truest measure of progress would be whether or not we were creating jobs. That’s what matters in people’s lives. What matters is whether someone who needs a job can find work -- whether people can provide for their families and save for the future and achieve some measure of economic security.
Everything we’ve done has been with this goal in mind. And today, I’m happy to report that we received some very encouraging news.
The President laid out the numbers, but made clear that while the trends are encouraging, work continues and many of the programs the President has put together are only now taking effect:
What government can do is help create the conditions for companies to hire again. What it can do is build the infrastructure and offer the incentives that will allow small businesses to add workers, that will help entrepreneurs take a chance on an idea, that will lead manufacturers to set up shop not overseas but right here in United States of America.
And that’s what we’ve been doing. Right now, a series of tax incentives and other steps to promote hiring are taking effect. Because of a bill I signed into law a few weeks ago, businesses are now eligible for tax cuts for hiring unemployed workers. Companies are also able to write off more of their investments in new equipment. And we’re spurring additional investments in school renovation, clean energy projects, and road construction, which will create jobs while laying a new foundation for lasting growth.
In addition, as part of health reform, 4 million small businesses recently received a postcard in their mailbox telling them that they’re eligible for a health care tax cut this year. It’s worth perhaps tens of thousands of dollars to each of these companies. And it will provide welcome relief to small business owners, who too often have to choose between health care and hiring.
So that’s what’s already come online. But we still have more to do. In my State of the Union address, I called for a $30 billion small business lending fund, which would help increase the flow of credit to small companies that were hit hard by the decline in lending that followed the financial crisis. And obviously small businesses are a major source of job creation.
This morning, we sent draft legislation to Congress on this fund, which now includes a new state small business credit initiative. This state initiative, which was designed with the help of governors and members of both the House and the Senate, will help expand lending for small businesses and manufacturers at a time when budget shortfalls are leading states to cut back on vitally important lending programs.
In addition, with state and local governments facing huge budget gaps, we’re seeing layoffs of teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other essential public servants -- which not only harms the economy, but also the community and the economy as a whole. So we are working with Congress to find ways to keep our teachers in the classrooms, the police officers on the beat, and firefighters on call.
A few months ago, I also proposed giving people rebates to upgrade the energy efficiencies of their home. This will not only save families money, it will create jobs in the hard-hit construction and manufacturing sectors, since things like windows and insulation are overwhelmingly made in the United States of America. I was gratified to see a bipartisan vote to pass this proposal, called “Home Star,” in the House of Representatives yesterday. I’m calling on the Senate to act as well. And I’m urging Congress to expand the clean energy manufacturing tax credit, which is helping create jobs across America building wind turbines and solar panels.
He concluded with this vow to those still having a tough time: "I won’t rest until you, and millions of your neighbors caught up in these storms, are able to find a good job and reach a brighter day."
Christina RomerMay 07, 2010
09:38 AM EDT
Today’s employment report shows the strongest signs yet of healing in the labor market, as private nonfarm payrolls expanded substantially. At the same time, the rise in the unemployment rate reminds us of how far we still have to go before the economy is fully recovered.
Payroll employment increased by 290,000 in April--the largest one month employment gain since March 2006. Of this total, 231,000 was in the private sector. Hiring related to the decennial Census contributed 66,000 to the total. The payroll employment numbers for February and March were also revised up substantially (by 53,000 and 68,000, respectively). The current numbers now show that employment has grown in each of the past four months.
The job gains were spread widely across sectors. Construction, manufacturing, professional and business services, education and health, and hospitality and leisure all added jobs. Indeed, the rise in manufacturing employment of 44,000 was the largest since August 1998. One area of weakness was state and local government, which reduced employment by 6,000. Temporary help employment grew more slowly than in previous months (+26,000), suggesting that firms may be moving to more permanent hiring. The average workweek for all employees on nonfarm payrolls increased by 1/10 of an hour and is up 3/10 of an hour since December.
In the household survey, the unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent. This is obviously a very high rate, and reducing it must remain the fundamental focus of policy. Importantly, the rise in the unemployment rate in April was driven largely by a surge in the labor force. The labor force increased by 805,000, while employment as measured by the household survey increased by 550,000. Since December, the labor force has increased by 1.9 million.♦ Such a rise in the labor force often occurs in recoveries as workers who had dropped out of the labor force are drawn back in by improved employment opportunities.
While today’s report clearly suggests that we are moving in the right direction, it also shows how much work remains to be done. The unemployment rate is painfully high, and payroll employment is still nearly 8 million below its level at the start of the recession. It will take many months of robust job growth to restore the labor market to genuine health. Further targeted actions to spur private sector job creation are critically needed to ensure a more rapid, widespread recovery.
The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative. It is essential that we continue our efforts to move in the right direction and generate sustained, strong job gains.
May 07, 2010
08:00 AM EDT
Ed Note: Starting at 9 AM EDT the Energy Innovations Summit will be streamed live on WhiteHouse.gov/live.
Throughout our history, American innovation has driven economic growth and helped solve the great challenges that confront us. One of the greatest challenges of the modern era is transforming the ways we produce and consume energy. Not surprisingly, technology is the key enabler of that transformation. As President Obama has said, “No area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.”
Today, leaders from the private sector, nonprofits and government are gathering at an Energy Innovation Conference at the White House to discuss how they can work together to accelerate energy innovation, and support entrepreneurs and small businesses in the energy sector.
As part of that effort, Small Business Administrator Karen Mills and I are announcing a partnership between the SBA and the Department of Energy to encourage investments in small businesses that are focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Small businesses have long been key contributors to America’s energy sector. Where larger firms and corporations provide the heft to help energy technologies reach global markets, small businesses thrive at the other end of the spectrum, in the innovation of new energy products and services. They’re quicker to adopt new approaches, and more willing to take on technology challenges. Given that, it is little surprise that small businesses create 13 times more patents per employee than their corporate counterparts.
Yet even when a company has a great idea, commercial success doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to transition all the way from idea to product. The challenge is one of staying power, or ensuring that small businesses have the resources to graduate to each stage in the development process—from idea to marketplace.
Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to ensuring that small businesses are empowered to stay in the game long enough to help solve our energy challenges, and, in the process, jumpstart a thriving, private market for energy innovation.
But that’s not all. By promoting scientific discovery and technological innovation, we can make America the leader in the global marketplace for clean energy technology, create thousands of new jobs, and strengthen the health of our planet with a more responsible, sustainable approach to energy. Following today’s conference, we will be announcing a series of regional follow-on meetings in order to continue this dialogue in communities across the nation
Dr. Kristina Johnson is Under Secretary of Energy.
Arun ChaudharyMay 07, 2010
12:00 AM EDT
Thanks for checking out the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This week, walk step-by-step with the President as he monitors and then visits areas affected by the BP Oil Rig incident, delivers a commencement address at University of Michigan, attends the White House Correspondents Dinner, presents the Commander-in-Chief trophy to the Navy Midshipman, ushers in Cinco de Mayo and much more.
Friday, April 30th
Saturday, May 1st
- The President Speaks at the University of Michigan Commencement
- President Obama’s remarks at the White House Correspondents Dinner
Sunday, May 2nd
Monday, May 3rd
- The First Lady and Secretary Chu at the National Science Bowl
- President Obama congratulates the U.S. Naval Academy Football Team on their victory over the Air Force Academy
Tuesday, May 4th
Wednesday, May 5th
- The President signs the Caregiver and Veteran Act
- The President and First Lady host a Cinco de Mayo Celebration
Thursday, May 6th
- The President holds a meeting with his National Security Team to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Go Inside the White House Situation Room
- West Wing Week: “Doing the Math”
- West Wing Week: “Competing the Old-Fashioned Way”
- West Wing Week: “The Interpreter’s Lounge”
- West Wing Week: “24 Tiny Marzipan Beaks”
- West Wing Week: “Future Planes of the Future”
Arun Chaudhary is the official White House videographer