Read all posts from February 2011

  • Earlier today, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden spoke to the meeting of the National Governors' Association here at the White House about an issue important to both: military families. Over the past two years, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden have traveled around the country and around the world, visiting with service members and their families, hearing their stories firsthand. Today, they called on America's Governors and all Americans to join their effort. 

    "So we’re going to need your help," said First Lady Michelle Obama, "We’re going to need your support and encouragement to make this a reality.  We’re very excited about this initiative because we think that this will not only help our troops and their families, but it will help us as a nation link together and be even stronger."

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (190MB) | mp3 (18MB)

  • Editor's note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the work of African Americans from across the Administration who are contributing to the President's goals for winning the future.

    Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to serve people in need around the world.   The eager response to Peace Corps ignited one of the signature service movements of our times.  Since 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have volunteered through the Peace Corps to fight poverty, disease, illiteracy and a host of other challenges in 139 countries around the world.   Although times have changed, the Peace Corps remains true to its mission or promoting world peace and friendship through 3 goals:  1. Helping the people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women; 2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served; 3. Helping promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans. 

    Every day, I am asked what it is like to volunteer.  Like most returned Peace Corps volunteer I know, we serve as recruiters to the next generation of volunteers through our actions, anecdotes and cross-cultural understanding.  For me, when I was coming out of college a few years ago, I was motivated by the legacy of public service as promoted by President Kennedy and Sargent Shriver.  I was eager to try something new.  The Peace Corps was the beginning of everything.  It was the door to the rest of my life.  I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and I was the first person in my family to finish college.  My family expected me to do something practical with my degree, to start my teaching career.  But I found myself drawn to the kind of public service that I had heard President Kennedy speak about. 

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (282MB) | mp3 (27MB)

    This morning the President & Vice President addressed America's Governors, following the First Lady and Dr. Biden.  They touched on topics ranging from rebuilding America's infrastructure to the changes in the health care law that the President endorsed, which would move the date up to 2014 when states could establish their own alternate systems outside the Affordable Care Act provided they can achieve the same results.  The President laid out his fundamental approach this way:

    You see, part of the genius of our Founders was the establishment of a federal system in which each of our states serves as a laboratory for our democracy.  Through this process, some of the best state ideas became some of America’s best ideas.  So whether it’s through Race to the Top, or improving the Affordable Care Act, or reforming the way that we approach social programs by ensuring that spending is tied to success, our approach has been to give you the flexibility that you need to find your own innovative ways forward.

  • Editor's note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the work of African Americans from across the Administration who are contributing to the President's goals for winning the future.

    As Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Policy and Special Projects for the First Lady, I help oversee the broad issue portfolio of the First Lady, including her work on childhood obesity, military families, mentoring, and work-family challenges.  This role provides a unique vantage point from which to advance the President’s vision, particularly the goal of improving and strengthening the lives of young people.  In our Let’s Move! initiative, we focus on educating youth about living healthy lives and making healthy choices.  In our military families work, we focus in part on ways to improve the educational opportunities and experiences of military children, and ensure they have the supports they need with one or both parents serving in the military.  In our mentoring initiative, we focus on exposing young people to new educational, career, and skills-building opportunities.  In all of this work our goal is to inspire young people to be all they can be, to take advantage of every educational opportunity, and to remind them that they are not defined solely by their circumstances but have unlimited potential.

    As a native of Washington, DC, working in the White House today is a special privilege -- something I dreamed about doing as a young person but was never quite sure truly would be possible.  My greatest influences growing up were my parents, both of whom worked for the federal government like so many in DC, and family members.  All believed in a strong work ethic and the power of education.  My parents made huge sacrifices to give me a wonderful education, from the National Cathedral School here in Washington, to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Harvard Law School.  Along the way I met teachers and professors and colleagues who encouraged and challenged me and helped open my eyes to new opportunities.   

    What sustained me then --  and now -- were those values instilled by my parents early in life.  Those that stressed the importance of fairness and mutual respect, commitment to community and our obligation to give back, having a healthy dose of humility and recognizing our own imperfections, and reaching for your dreams.   

  • As a former Governor, state legislator, and insurance commissioner, I know the ingenuity of state leaders to shape policies that fit the individual characteristics of their people, their industries, and their economies.  The Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama almost a year ago, provides states with the flexibility, resources and tools they need to improve the health of their residents, reduce the growth of health care costs, and invest in the prevention strategies that will make our nation healthier and more productive. Many of the ideas contained in the Act were modeled on reforms initiated by states like my home state of Kansas. And you can read a report on the resources and flexibility available to states here.

    Today, President Obama announced his support for another crucial step in empowering states to lead – the bipartisan “Empowering States to Innovate Act,” sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts), and Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana). The President said:

    "This recognition – that states need flexibility to tailor their approach to their unique needs – is why part of the law says that, beginning in 2017, if you can come up with a better system for your state to provide coverage of the same quality and affordability as the Affordable Care Act, you can take that route instead…

    A few weeks ago, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, they proposed legislation that would accelerate that provision,  so it would allow states to apply for such a waiver by 2014 instead of 2017. I think that’s a very reasonable proposal.  I support it.  It will give you flexibility more quickly, while still guaranteeing the American people reform.  If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does – without increasing the deficit – you can implement that plan, and we’ll work with you to do it.  I’ve said before, I don’t believe that either party holds a monopoly on good ideas.  And I will go to bat for whatever works, no matter who or where it comes from." 

  • Last week, President Barack Obama announced the Administration’s action plan, under the America's Great Outdoors initiative, to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that power our nation’s economy, shape our culture, and build our outdoor traditions. This initiative seeks to reinvigorate our approach to conservation and reconnect Americans, especially young people, with the lands and waters that are used for farming and ranching, hunting and fishing, and for families to spend quality time together.  Recognizing that many of these places and resources are under intense pressure, the President established the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative last April to work with the American people in developing a conservation and recreation agenda that makes sense for the 21st century.

    This report is the product of 51 listening sessions across the nation—21 specifically with young people—consisting of more than 10,000 participants spanning all ages and backgrounds, plus more than 100,000 comments from citizens across the nation sharing with us your priorities for the lands and waters that you know best. We built this plan with your input and your involvement doesn't stop there.

    On March 3, 2011, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and I will continue the conversation by hosting the first America’s Great Outdoors live chat.  You can join by video before the chat or by Facebook during the chat.  You can post your YouTube video questions by responding to the video above, or by sending your questions to policyoutreach@ceq.eop.gov.  To submit by Facebook during the live chat, sign on to our Facebook chat application on Thursday March 3rd at 4:30 pm (EST).

    We look forward to talking to you!

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Cross-posted from the Department of Energy blog.

    President Obama has recently been talking about his plan to “Win the Future.” Whether it’s taking steps to reform our education system, rebuilding our infrastructure, or encouraging breakthroughs in technology, the phrase is about marshaling the country’s best and brightest to solve today’s problems. As the President put it, “To win the future, we have to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world, tapping the creativity and imagination of our people."

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

    The ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit that kicks off today just outside of Washington, D.C. highlights the amazing ingenuity of our citizens and businesses. This annual summit showcases the most advanced and revolutionary breakthroughs in energy technology today. These aren’t base hits. They’re the potential home runs – the breakthroughs in clean energy innovation that could make it affordable to put solar panels on every house in America, put millions of electric vehicles on the road or even harness wind energy that’s miles and miles above the ground a lot sooner than you might think is possible. We’re talking about truly changing the world – and making the U.S. the global leader in clean energy technologies.

  • Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    Nearly 35 years ago, as a newly minted law school graduate, I moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., to begin my dream job as a prosecutor in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.  Very quickly, I learned that the Justice Department was – and still is – an exciting and fascinating place to be. As a young lawyer, I was fortunate to work alongside some of the nation’s most talented and committed public servants: colleagues who cared deeply about advancing the Department’s critical mission, as well as mentors and supervisors who were committed to my professional growth and success.

    My early experiences at the Department enabled me to begin looking beyond my next assignment and next case, in order to reflect on the larger responsibilities that guide every Justice Department employee.  I came to realize that these obligations are much larger than any one attorney – and certainly any one Attorney General. Put simply, our chief responsibility is the pursuit of justice – and not justice for some, but justice for all.  Living up to this responsibility begins by focusing on our number-one mission: protecting the safety of the American people.  It also guides our efforts to prevent and reduce violence, crime, fraud, and abuse; to combat the causes and consequences of hate; to safeguard civil rights; to protect the environment; to strengthen the rule of law; to ensure access to legal services; and to maintain the integrity of a system founded on a simple but powerful idea that all people are created equal and deserve the same treatment in the courtroom and in all corners of our society.

    For well over two centuries now, we, as a people, have been striving to build the more perfect union underlying every one of these responsibilities – an America where the words and ideals of our Constitution reach the full measure of their intent.  Black History Month is an important opportunity to reflect on these responsibilities. In that spirit, it is also a critical time to reflect on how far our nation – and, especially, our African-American communities – have traveled on the long road toward equality and freedom.  Although in my own lifetime extraordinary progress has been made, we still have miles to go.  It may be tempting when you look at the diversity of people serving in the highest levels of government – or at the man sitting in the Oval Office – to think that equality has been achieved for all Americans.  But it will take more than my appointment as the first African-American Attorney General – and even more than the election of the first African-American President – to build a nation that in every respect is, in Dr. King's words, "an oasis of freedom and justice."

    Realizing that vision is, and will continue to be, my greatest responsibility – and the paramount duty of our nation’s Department of Justice.  This is a collective responsibility – one that I urge each of my colleagues and fellow citizens to help fulfill.  During this year's Black History Month, let’s commit to this work and to that nation that, together, we can build.

    Eric Holder is the Attorney General of the United States.

  • The President discusses his recent travels and the examples he’s seen of how America can win the future. He urges Congress to heed these examples in the coming budget debate and to tighten our belts without eliminating investments in innovation, education and infrastructure.

  • The President has just signed an Executive Order regarding Libya Sanctions. In addition, he sent a letter to Congress on the matter and issued the following statement:

    The Libyan government’s continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people, and outrageous threats have rightly drawn the strong and broad condemnation of the international community. By any measure, Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable.  These sanctions therefore target the Qaddafi government, while protecting the assets that belong to the people of Libya.

    Going forward, the United States will continue to closely coordinate our actions with the international community, including our friends and allies, and the United Nations. We will stand steadfastly with the Libyan people in their demand for universal rights, and a government that is responsive to their aspirations. Their human dignity cannot be denied.

    Press Secretary Jay Carney also discussed the sanctions and broader context earlier in the day.

  • Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. President Obama's focus on strengthening small business has included reaching out to entrepreneurs and small business owners, asking them what's working and what needs to work better. Through Advise the Advisor, and this week's Winning the Future Small Business Forum in Ohio, the President has heard from thousands of Americans.

    Tax cut tweet

    One of the questions we've seen is about what the Obama Administration has done to cut taxes for small businesses. On Twitter, lindismith asked @whitehouse, "What are the 17 new tax cuts for small businesses Obama signed into law?" Well, we took that question to some of the President's top economic advisers, and here's what they had to say.

  • Take quick look at the week of February 21, 2011:
     
    Small Business Forum: President Obama travels to Cleveland, Ohio, to visit the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business. He met with dozens of small business leaders, and even stopped by a live online chat with Austan Goolsbee to answer your questions. Also, SBA Administrator Karen Mills chaired a breakout session on entrepreneurship.
     
    Behind-the-Scenes Video: President Obama hosts a screening of Thurgood at the White House movie theater -- an HBO film about the life and career of Thurgood Marshall, the remarkable Civil Rights lawyer and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.
    Download Video: mp4 (27.3MB)

    Turmoil in Libya: President Obama says the violence in Libya is "outrageous" and "unacceptable," and that his Administration is looking at the "full range of options we have to respond to this crisis." Watch the video.

  • At the second White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 16, 2010, President Obama, numerous Cabinet Secretaries, and many senior Administration officials met with tribal leaders to continue delivering on the President’s commitment to ensure that tribal nations are full partners with his administration. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar delivered the opening remarks, laying out challenges facing the partnership between President Obama and Indian Country and emphasizing presidential initiatives in five main areas: (1) restoring tribal homelands; (2) building safer Native communities; (3) building strong, prosperous tribal economies; (4) fostering healthy communities; and (5) developing a structured and meaningful consultation policy.

    President Obama also addressed the conference.  He highlighted the progress made in the nation-to-nation dialogue since last year’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, while also acknowledging that a great deal of work remains to be done in Indian country. The President emphasized the importance of improving tribal economies and increasing the number of jobs in Indian country by investing in infrastructure, expanding access to high-speed internet, and developing clean energy initiatives.  President Obama also underscored the need to continue building on advances in health care and education.  He said that addressing health disparities in Indian country was “not just a question of policy, it’s a question of our values; it’s a test of who we are as a nation.”

  • In September 2009, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would routinely release visitor records. Today, the White House releases visitor records that were generated in November 2010. Today’s release also includes visitor records generated prior to September 16, 2009 that were requested by members of the public in January 2011 pursuant to the White House voluntary disclosure policy. You can view them all in our Disclosures section.

    Ed. Note: For more information, check out Ethics.gov.

  • Cross-posted from the USDA blog.

    Today is an historic day for USDA.  Working with colleagues at the Department of Justice, we launched a program that provides a path to justice for Hispanic and women farmers who believe they were discriminated against by USDA between 1981 and 2000.  Many of these farmers and ranchers have waited and fought to get relief, but until now their only means of getting their complaints heard was to file an individual case in federal court.  Today we are providing folks with a simpler path that enables them to file a claim for compensation that will be resolved by a neutral party without the involvement of the courts.

    When I was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture two years ago, President Obama and I made a commitment to mend USDA’s troubled civil rights record.  Since then, we have taken comprehensive action to turn the page on past discrimination.  Last year we entered into a settlement with black farmers in Pigford II to address pending claims, and finalized a historic settlement agreement with Native American farmers under Keepseagle that faced discrimination by USDA.

    With today’s announcement, we are continuing work to build a new era for civil rights at USDA: correcting our past errors, learning from our mistakes, and outlining definitive action to ensure there will be no missteps in the future.  The process has been long and often difficult, but my staff and I have been working hard every day to make USDA a model employer and premier service provider that treats every customer and employee fairly, with dignity and respect.

    If you are a woman or Hispanic farmer or rancher and feel you were discriminated against by USDA between 1981 and 2000, you must request a claims package to participate in the claims process. To begin this process, you can either call 1-888-508-4429 or visit www.farmerclaims.gov to submit your information online.

    Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of Agriculture.

  • Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This week, President Obama held events in Oregon and Ohio focused on winning the future through investments in innovation and small business, and convened his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness at the White House.

    Download Video: mp4 (165MB)

  • In 2009, the President signed an Executive Order creating the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB), which for two years under the leadership of Paul Volcker provided outside advice and counsel to the administration on recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  The PERAB’s term expired on February 6, 2011, but recognizing that we still have a long way to go to get Americans back to work and strengthen our economy, the President signed a new Executive Order creating a new board, the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which is focused on finding new ways to promote growth by investing in American business to encourage hiring, to educate and train our workers to compete globally, and to attract the best jobs and businesses to the United States. 

    Chaired by Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman of GE, the Council met for the first time today, and the President gave opening remarks explaining his vision for both the meeting and the Council as a whole:

    So my main purpose here today at this first meeting I think is to listen, to get a sense of where all of you think the economy is right now, what kinds of steps we need to be taking.  As I talked about during the State of the Union, we want to remove any barriers and any impediments that are preventing you from success and from growth.  At the same time, we want to put a challenge to America’s businesses that even as we're working with you to streamline regulations, to reform our tax system, to take other steps that have been sitting on the shelf for quite some time under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, we want to make sure that we're also putting a little pressure on you guys to figure out how do we make sure that the economy is working for everybody; how do we make sure that every child out there who’s willing to work hard is going to be able to succeed; how do we make certain that working families across the country are sharing in growing productivity and that we're not simply creating an economy in which one segment of it is doing very well, but the rest of the folks are out there treading water.

    So, Jeff, again, I want to thank you for your extraordinary work.  I want to thank all of you for agreeing to participate. 

    Last point I'll make is that I'm not interested in photo ops and I'm not interested in more meetings.  I've got enough photo ops and enough meetings.  I have a surplus of that.  So I expect this to be a working group in which we are coming up with some concrete deliverables.  I don't think that we have to be trying to hit homeruns every time.  I think if we hit some singles and doubles, if we find some very specific things that this group can help us on and we can work on together, then we can build on that success, and in the aggregate, over time, this will have really made a difference at a critical juncture in our economy.

    President Obama meets with CJC

    President Barack Obama meets with the members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, February 24, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Obama at CJC Meeting

    President Barack Obama meets with the members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Feb. 24, 2011. From left are; General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, chair of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness; President Obama; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Download Video: mp4 (27.3MB)

    President Obama recently hosted a screening of Thurgood at the White House movie theater -- an HBO film about the life and career of Thurgood Marshall, the remarkable Civil Rights lawyer and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Among those in attendance were Justice Thurgood Marshall's two sons, "Goody" and John, and writer George Stevens, Jr. In behind-the-scenes interviews, they discuss Justice Marshall's greatest accomplishments, lessons from his life's story and the particular significance of viewing this film in the Obama White House during African American History month.

    Moments before joining President Obama for the feature presentation John Marshall said, "As we focus on today and focus on moving forward I think it's so important, particularly during African American History Month that we remember those who worked tirelessly and sacrificed so much to enable us to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we do today and my father was one of those."

  • Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    As United States Trade Representative, I am a member of President Obama's Cabinet and serve as the President's principal trade advisor, negotiator and spokesperson on trade issues.  In this role, I have led the office in developing trade policies that are proactive, responsible, and more responsive to American families' interests – recognizing that trade can be a job-creating pillar of economic recovery in the United States and around the world.

    My story begins in the south –the segregated south, to be specific. I was born in 1954, the year of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in Austin, Texas – an otherwise progressive city, but still a city that was segregated and lived by the rules of Jim Crow.  When I was born, my parents were denied their right to vote.   Like so many other black families throughout the south at the time, they were faced with literacy tests for “colored people.”

    Nonetheless, my mother and father made sure that my brother and sister and I attended church, recited our Bible verses, studied hard and made good grades, because they knew that education would be essential to our success.  Thanks to my parents’ efforts to ensure I had educational opportunities, I was able to attend college, to obtain a law degree, to launch and build a successful legal career, and eventually, to have the privilege of serving as Texas Secretary of State, under Governor Ann Richards, in the same state that once forced my mother and father to endure a literacy test. 

    I went on to become the first African-American mayor of the City of Dallas, Texas.  I was elected twice with support from communities of every size, shape, and color.  And today I am the first African-American United States Trade Representative, appointed to serve in the Cabinet of the first African-American President of the United States. To say the least, I feel extraordinarily blessed.

  • On Tuesday, I joined President Obama in Cleveland to meet with small business leaders and get their ideas on how we can support their work in clean energy. America’s small businesses are engines of innovation and job creation. In fact, they create two out of every three new jobs in this country. Their ingenuity is essential to win the clean energy race and grow our economy, so I wanted to hear their unfiltered thoughts on our country’s approach to clean energy, what we’ve done well and where we can do better.

    During a two-hour discussion, I heard excitement for the opportunities offered by the President’s agenda. Folks around the room supported the President’s bold goal of generating 80 percent of America’s electricity from clean sources by 2035. As I told the group, a Clean Energy Standard would create a guaranteed market for clean energy, one in which the best technologies and the most innovative approaches will break through and find investment capital that might have otherwise sat on the sidelines.

    By growing the domestic market for clean energy, we’ll create jobs and nurture our clean energy industries, including manufacturing, so we can compete in the rapidly growing global clean energy economy.

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