Read all posts from November 2010

  • If you heard that a proposed bill got 58 votes in support and 41 votes against, you'd think that would be a good thing, right? Not in the United States Senate, where the Paycheck Fairness Act died when a vote to move the bill forward failed by just that count -- 58 to 41, two votes short  of the 60 votes required.  It is the very same bill that passed in the House with bipartisan support in January 2009. Today, only Democratic senators voted to support Paycheck Fairness for women -- not a single Republican voted to allow the Senate to move forward. It is notable that the first vote after the election in which the American people sent a clear message that they want Washington to work better, the Republicans blocked a common sense measure aimed simply to help ensure that women get the pay they deserve.

    This afternoon, I participated in an inspiring meeting with leading advocates for women and girls who have been working tirelessly for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. This meeting included women who have dedicated their careers to the fight for equal rights for women, including Lilly Ledbetter, who became a relentless advocate for equal pay after fighting her own battle against discrimination. I was joined by senior women in the Administration including Melody Barnes, the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Tina Tchen, Director of the Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss today’s Senate vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Administration’s ongoing efforts to promote equality and economic security for American women and their families.

    Shortly after the start of the conversation, President Obama joined the meeting and offered thanks to Lilly and the advocates for their incredible hard work and dedication. He expressed his disappointment and frustration, but noted the Administration’s past support of the bill and our commitment to closing the wage gap. Watch a video from the meeting:

    Download Video: mp4 (16MB)

    Despite today’s vote, the Administration will continue its fight for equal pay for women – an issue that in these trying economic times is even more pressing given American families’ reliance on women’s income. The National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, with representatives from the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Office of Personnel Management, (“OPM”) continues its pursuit of pay equity for women. The agencies are strengthening their own enforcement efforts and working together, building regional partnerships to promote earlier and more effective collaboration on investigations. And with leadership from OPM, we will continue to improve the federal government’s role as a model employer.

    This Administration will keep fighting to improve the economic security for women and their families. This includes working hard in this session and the next Congress we will keep fighting for things such as an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other measures we have supported that must now be extended. The President is committed to working with the women who joined us today and people around the country to support women and their families.

    Valerie Jarett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls

  • Earlier this year, President Obama called on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create new rules for Medicare and Medicaid hospitals that would allow patients the right to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay. The Presidential Memorandum instructed HHS to develop rules that would prohibit hospitals from denying visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

    Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued that rule – a rule that will let patients decide whom they want by their bedside when they are sick – and that includes a visitor who is a same-sex domestic partner. The rule presents an important step forward in giving all Americans more control over their health care.

  • Today, President Obama named fifteen recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom -- the Nation’s highest civilian honor -- presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

    "These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place," said President Obama. "I look forward to awarding them this honor next year."

    The following individuals will receive the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom:

    President George H. W. Bush
    George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st President of the United States.  Prior to that, he was Vice President in the Reagan Administration, Director of Central Intelligence, Chief of the U.S. Liaison’s Office to the People’s Republic of China, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and a Member of the House of Representatives from the 7th District of Texas.  He served in the Navy during World War II.  President Bush and President Clinton worked together to encourage aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel
    Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. She is the first woman and first East German to serve as Chancellor of a unified Germany, which this year marks its 20th anniversary.  She has often said that freedom is the happiest experience of her life.  Chancellor Merkel was born in Hamburg but was raised in what was then Communist East Germany after her family moved to Templin.  Her political career began when she joined the new Democratic Awakening party in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  In 1990, as West and East Germany merged into one reunited country, her party joined with the Christian Democratic Union, and she was elected to the German parliament.  She has been chairman of the CDU since April 2000 and was recently reelected to another term.  
     
    Congressman John Lewis
    John Lewis is an American hero and a giant of the Civil Rights Movement.  He served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helped to organize the first lunch-counter sit-in in 1959 at the age of 19, and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.  In May 1961, he participated in the initial Freedom Ride, during which he endured violent attacks in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Montgomery, Alabama.  In 1964, he helped to coordinate the Mississippi Freedom Project, and, in 1965, he led the Selma-to-Montgomery march to petition for voting rights where marchers were brutally confronted in an incident that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”  Eight days later, President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress, condemned the violence in Selma, and called for passage of the Voting Rights Act, which was enacted within months.  Since 1987, John Lewis has continued his service to the nation as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th District, which encompasses all of Atlanta.  

    John H. Adams
    John H. Adams co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970.  Adams served as Executive Director and, later, as president of the nonprofit environmental advocacy group until 2006.  His tenure is unparalleled by the leader of any other environmental organization.  Rolling Stone writes: “If the planet has a lawyer, it’s John Adams.”

    Maya Angelou­­
    Dr. Maya Angelou is a prominent and celebrated author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist, who is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.  She has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.  
     
    Warren Buffett
    Warren Buffett is an American investor, industrialist, and philanthropist.  He is one of the most successful investors in the world.  Often called the “legendary investor Warren Buffett,” he is the primary shareholder, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.  Mr. Buffett has pledged that all of his shares in Berkshire Hathaway – about 99 percent of his net worth – will be given to philanthropic endeavors.  He is a co-founder of The Giving Pledge, an organization that encourages wealthy Americans to devote at least 50 percent of their net worth to philanthropy.
     
    Jasper Johns
    American artist Jasper Johns has produced a distinguished body of work dealing with themes of perception and identity since the mid-1950s.  Among his best known works are depictions of familiar objects and signs, including flags, targets and numbers.  He has incorporated innovative approaches to materials and techniques, and his work has influenced pop, minimal, and conceptual art.

    Gerda Weissmann Klein
    Gerda Weissmann Klein is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who has written several books about her experiences.  After Nazi Germany took over her homeland of Poland, Klein was separated from both her parents:  they were sent to Auschwitz and she to a series of labor and concentration camps.  In 1945, she was sent on a forced 350-mile death march to avoid the advance of Allied forces.  She was one of the minority who survived the forced journey.  In May 1945, Klein was liberated by forces of the United States Army in Volary, Czechoslovakia, and later married Army Lieutenant Kurt Klein, who liberated her camp.  A naturalized citizen, she recently founded Citizenship Counts, an organization that teaches students to cherish the value of their American citizenship.  Klein has spoken to audiences of all ages and faith around the world about the value of freedom and has dedicated her life to promoting tolerance and understanding among all people.  

    Dr. Tom Little (Posthumous)
    Dr. Tom Little was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan.  Dr. Little and his wife, Libby, lived and worked  in Afghanistan for three decades beginning in 1976, raising three daughters and providing vision, dental and mother/child care to the people of that country through the NOOR program (Noor means “light” in Persian) that Dr. Little ran for the International Assistance Mission.  
     
    Yo-Yo Ma
    Yo-Yo Ma is considered the world’s greatest living cellist, recognized as a prodigy since the age of five whose celebrity transcends the world of classical music.  Born in Paris, Ma was a child prodigy who went on to study with Leonard Rose in New York.  He made his Carnegie Hall debut at age nine.  He was the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize in 1978, and, in 1991, Harvard awarded him an honorary doctorate in music.  He serves as Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project, and has won sixteen Grammy awards.  He is known especially for his interpretations of Bach and Beethoven, and for his ability to play many different styles of music, including tango and bluegrass.  He serves on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
     
    Sylvia Mendez
    Sylvia Mendez is a civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent.  As an eight-year-old, her parents attempted to enroll Mendez in an all-white school in their community, but were denied entry at and were told to go to the school for Mexican children.  Her father and other parents sued and prevailed.  The Mendez v. Westminster case was a landmark decision in the civil rights movement against segregation.  Mendez currently travels around the country giving speeches on the value of a good education.  
     
    Stan Musial
    Stan “The Man” Musial is a baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals.   Musial played 22 seasons for the Cardinals from 1941 to 1963.  A 24-time All-Star selection, Musial accumulated 3,630 hits and 475 home runs during his career, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player three times, and was a member of three World Series championship teams.  Musial also served as the Cardinals’ general manager in 1967, when the team once again won the World Series.

    Bill Russell
    Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics’ Captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball.  Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of eleven championships in thirteen years and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times.  The first African American to coach in the NBA—indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States—Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights.  He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.
     
    Jean Kennedy Smith
    In 1974, Jean Kennedy Smith founded VSA, a non-profit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center that promotes the artistic talents of children, youth and adults with disabilities.   From 1993 to 1998, Smith served as U. S. Ambassador to Ireland, and played a pivotal role in the peace process.  Smith is the youngest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and is the Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center.
     
    John J. Sweeney
    John J. Sweeney is the current President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO, and served as President of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009.  The son of Irish immigrants, a domestic worker and a bus driver in the Bronx, he worked his way up in the labor movement to become President of the Service Employees International Union, growing the union to serve as a strong voice for working people.  As President of the AFL-CIO, he revitalized the American labor movement, emphasizing union organizing and social justice, and was a powerful advocate for America’s workers.

    See the 2009 Medal of Freedom recipients here.

  • Today, Bloomberg News reported that big insurance companies – companies like UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp – spent $86.2 million to fight health insurance reform in 2009.  Insurance companies and their allies were desperate to preserve their ability to discriminate against you if you had a preexisting condition, drop your care when you got sick and limit the amount of care you could receive in a year or a lifetime.

    Thankfully, they didn’t succeed, but some folks still want to take us back to the bad old days when insurance companies had all the power and doctors and patients took a back seat. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that since the law was passed, opponents of reform spent $108 million on negative television advertisements about the law. And these powerful interests may spend millions more opposing reform in the future.

    Millions of Americans are already benefitting from the law.  Americans like Dawn Josephson of Florida, whose child finally received comprehensive health insurance coverage, even though he had a pre-existing condition and Jennifer Restemayer of North Dakota, whose daughter Allison was diagnosed with a rare disease. Jennifer feared hear daughter would hit her lifetime benefit cap until reform made those benefit caps illegal. You can read their stories and many more by visiting our 50 States/50 Stories map on WhiteHouse.gov/HealthReform.

    Some may be willing to spend millions to take us backwards, but we will continue to move forward by fighting for Americans like Dawn and Jennifer and delivering the benefits of reform to the American people.

    Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President for Special Projects

  • Ed. Note: This week the Obama Administration celebrating America’s entrepreneurs and small businesses as part of National Entrepreneurship Week. Join Commerce Secretary Gary Locke this Friday at 1 p.m. for a live chat on entrepreneurship and innovation.

    National Entrepreneurship Week follows Veterans Day, the annual moment for Americans to honor all who served.  This week, let’s remember that Military Veterans gain valuable experience from their service to our country, making them a sought-after member of the American workforce.  They are innovative, dedicated, and trained in the most cutting-edge technologies.  Their leadership skills often drive them to entrepreneurship in America’s start-up economy where more jobs are created than in any other sector.

    Entrepreneurship is an attractive option for Veterans, but the challenges of starting a new business can be tough.  Therefore, across the federal government, a wide array of options serves Veterans interested in overcoming these barriers and starting their own businesses – call them Vetrepreneurs.

  • Ed. Note: Watch the President award recipients at the National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation Ceremony live on Wednesday, November 16 at 5:25 p.m. EST on WhiteHouse.gov/live.

    This evening, President Obama will award recipients of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors.

    Yesterday, three National Medal recipients joined us for Tuesday Talks – including Steven Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera; Marye Anne Fox, a pioneer in organic photochemistry and electrochemistry; and Warren Washington, a leader in climate change research. They answered your questions on a range of topics – from the evolution of digital photography to careers for women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) -- in a live video chat on WhiteHouse.gov and Facebook. 

    You can check out the full video of the chat or use the links below to jump directly to the questions you're interested in.

    Download Video: mp4 (324MB) | mp3 (31MB)

  • Yesterday I picked up my Wall Street Journal and read an opinion piece “Washington’s Equal Pay Obsession” arguing that the Paycheck Fairness Act is unnecessary because, in a nutshell, women don’t face rampant pay discrimination. Instead, the author asserted, the wage gap exists because women are mothers. 

    So let’s break this down. 

    First, there is ample evidence that women – regardless of their parental status - do face pay discrimination.  Yes, part of the wage gap is a result of occupational choices and other factors. No one denies that. Most economists agree, however, that no matter how many variables you control for an unexplained wage gap between men and women persists. For example, Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn did an excellent breakdown of the wage gap in 2007 and identified that 41% of the wage gap between men and women could not be explained by controlling for variables. Regardless of the precise percentage of the wage gap, we have a responsibility to ensure that no one in this country makes less as a result of his or her gender.

    Wage discrimination is real.