Our Top Stories
June 24, 2011
01:58 PM EDT
On Thursday, June 23 the First Lady spent the day in Cape Town, South Africa — where she toured a local museum, talked with students at the University of Cape Town, and met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Because of inclement weather the First Lady was unable to visit Robben Island, and while we were all hoping to see this historic prison we were fortunate to visit the District Six Museum instead. The museum offers insight into the racial segregation during the 1970s, chronicles Cape Town's complex history, and celebrates the diverse culture of the area. After touring the exhibits, the First Lady and her family met with Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid icon and former Member of Parliament, who brought to life many of the exhibits and illuminated what life during apartheid was like for those striving for freedom. Mr. Kathrada’s story was so inspiring, and all of us were touched by his courage and determination to strengthen his country.
The First Lady then visited the University of Cape Town where she spoke with high school students from nearby townships. She talked with them about the importance of working hard in school, knowing they each have the ability to achieve their dreams, and how each of us is connected. She said, “I can see the same promise in all of you as I do in my own girls. That's what keeps me motivated. When I see you, I see them. When I see them, I see you. And I see it in the students that I’ve met all across my country in America, and in all of the young men and women I see as I travel around the world.”
Later in the afternoon, the First Lady and her family met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Mrs. Obama was briefed on HIV/AIDS education, prevention, and support programs. The briefing included a discussion on how grassroots organizations use soccer as a convening mechanism, to draw young people together to learn about making healthy choices. At Cape Town Stadium, Mrs. Obama and Archbishop Tutu spoke with young people about this, and the importance of staying healthy. They then got everyone up and moving by participating in soccer skill stations, and the First Lady and Archbishop Tutu even did push-ups together!
Watch the video of the First Lady and Archbishop Tutu doing push-ups here.
As we continue this journey, we are all continually inspired by the spirit and energy of the young Africans we are meeting with and we are looking forward to what tomorrow brings.
Kristina Schake is Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the First Lady.
June 24, 2011
10:44 AM EDT
Imagine seeing this in your rear-view mirror!
The look of that vehicle isn't the only cool thing about it: it's also the product of a new approach to manufacturing, which has the potential to reduce the overall process by a factor a five. Rather than the usual contracting model that takes several years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (known as "DARPA") asked a small company in Arizona, Local Motors, to fulfill the challenge in a little over four months. With only four weeks for planning, Local Motors democratized the process by receiving 162 high quality designs from hundreds of entrepeneurs and spent fourteen weeks building the car. The efficiency of the DARPA challenge reveals the potential impact of crowd-sourcing and small businesses on advanced manufacturing at the Department of Defense.
The vehicle illustrates the reason President Obama is heading to Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University to kick-off the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a national collaboration between the government, industries, and universities to invest in cutting-edge technologies. WhiteHouse.gov will have live video of the President's remarks at 11:00 AM EDT.
The AMP is geared towards helping U.S. manufacturers reduce costs and speed ideas from the drawing board to the manufacturing floor, creating high quality jobs and increasing U.S. global competitiveness in manufacturing.
At Carnegie Mellon, the President will tour various next-generation technology projects that accelerate the manufacturing process and support the creation of good jobs. These cutting-edge products highlight the potential of advanced manufacturing in critical national security industries, the development of materials for small businesses, and innovative technology.
Kori SchulmanJune 24, 2011
10:30 AM EDT
Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This week, President Obama addressed the nation on his plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, delivering on a promise he made to the American people in December of 2009. He also traveled to Fort Drum in New York to meet with soldiers and their families, welcomed young elected officials to the White House, and talked to mayors from across the country about job creation and economic growth.
Watch West Wing Week here.
Find out more about the topics covered in this edition of West Wing Week:
Kori SchulmanJune 24, 2011
10:01 AM EDT
Watch the President's full remarks here.
Yesterday, President Obama visited Fort Drum to thank soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division who had returned from Afghanistan this spring and meet with Gold Star Families. In an address to the nation a day earlier, the President announced his plan to remove 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 by next summer.
June 24, 2011
09:50 AM EDT
This week, the President announced his plan to responsibly draw down the number of troops in Afghanistan. After a long decade, the men and women of our armed forces – many of whom have served multiple tours of duty overseas – will soon begin to come home for good. They have worked hard, served bravely, and sacrificed much. I know because I was honored to serve alongside them. But we have not endured these challenges alone. Every time our troops are called to action, so too are their families. From day one of this conflict, America’s military families have been steadfast in service and support for their loved ones and their country. We owe it to these families to be just as steadfast now in our service and support for them.
The war in Afghanistan is just beginning to wind down, but the challenges faced by our military families will remain. And whether these challenges are related to employment, education, wellness, or any of a range of other issues, this Administration and this country will stand by our military families and support them. This is not a commitment that can be met solely within the confines of the White House. It will require the efforts of all of us – from every community, every sector of industry, and every walk of life – working together to make sure that the service of these brave families is not forgotten, and they do not face obstacles alone. At JoiningForces.gov, you'll find lots of ways to get involved. You can find service opportunities in your area, send a message of support to military families, or tell us your own story of service.
Part of bringing our troops home responsibly is standing by those who serve. We must enlist those who have defended America abroad in the effort to build America at home – by giving our troops and their families the care, benefits, and opportunity that they deserve.
LTC Jason Dempsey is a White House fellow in the Office of the First Lady. He served in Afghanistan from 2009-2010, and will deploy again in 2012.
June 24, 2011
09:28 AM EDT
Ed. Note: At 11:00 AM EDT today, the President will deliver remarks on the need to focus on cross-cutting technologies that will enhance the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing and speed up ideas from the drawing board to the manufacturing floor. Watch live on WhiteHouse.gov/live.
While President Obama is talking about manufacturing in Pittsburgh today, cities around the country are working to link education and industry to create innovative products and high-tech jobs. This week, we heard from several cities about how an educated workforce is helping to grow the advanced manufacturing economy in their communities.
Cincinnati, Ohio Mayor Mark Mallory tells us about the importance of manufacturing in the local economy:
Advanced manufacturing is significant to Cincinnati's economy. GE aircraft engines are designed and built in the Cincinnati area and Cincinnatians created the cutting edge manufacturing techniques involved in the creation of Procter and Gamble paper products found in homes throughout the world. The advanced manufacturing sector will continue to be a key job creator for Cincinnati and I am encouraged by the President's continued focus on jobs.
In Atlanta, Georgia, Mayor Kasim Reed says:
Nikki SuttonJune 23, 2011
06:41 PM EDT
Tomorrow, the President will speak at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the importance of American manufacturing to grow the economy and create new jobs.
As the President spoke about earlier this month in Toledo, manufacturing is picking up all across the country. For example, Rhett Crooks is the owner of a precision tooling manufacturer in Vandergift, Pennsylvania that recently turned around and is rehiring. The President explained how manufacturers both large and small like Rhett’s are putting more Americans back to work:
And what's most important, all three American automakers are now adding shifts and creating jobs at the strongest rate since the 1990s. So far the auto industry has added 113,000 jobs over the past two years. In Detroit, Chrysler added a second shift at its Jefferson North plant. GM is adding a third shift at its Hamtramck plant for the first time ever. In Indiana, Chrysler is investing more than $1.3 billion in its Kokomo facilities. And across the country, GM plans to hire back every single one of its laid-off workers by the end of the year -- every single one.
And that makes a difference for everyone who depends on this industry. Companies like a small precision tooling manufacturer in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, have brought back many of the employees they had laid off two years ago. Manufacturers from Michigan to Massachusetts are looking for new engineers to build advanced batteries for American-made electric cars.
So this industry is back on its feet, repaying its debts, gaining ground. Because of you, we can once again say that the best cars in the world are built right here in the U.S. of A., right here in Ohio, right here in the Midwest. And each day when you clock in, you’re doing more than earning your pay by churning out cars. You’re standing up for this company. You’re sticking up for this way of life. You’re scoring one for the home team and showing the world that American manufacturing and American industry is back.
As a piece to the bigger picture of the auto industry's turnaround, Rhett's company, Carbi-Tech, makes dies and stamps brass-plated parts used in throttle and brake controls for Ford, Chrysler, suppliers in Canada, and Delphi Automotive LLP. Rhett's company felt the effects of the downturn beginning in the second quarter of 2008 and had to lay off 40% off his workforce. However, since the past year, Carbi-Tech is now back to full capacity at 15-20 employees and is in the position to hire more. To continue the positive trend, Rhett recommends industries to stay competitive and believe in the quality of the American worker. Listen to Rhett share his story:
Ben RhodesJune 23, 2011
04:40 PM EDT
Our troops have provided extraordinary service and sacrifice in both Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly ten years. Last night, the President spoke to the American people about the way forward in Afghanistan, and outlined his plan to remove 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 by next summer, with reductions continuing after that at a steady pace. He also put the drawdown in the broader context of the last decade, and our effort to wind down these wars while keeping America safe. As President Obama said:
Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.
Take a look at this infographic that lays out how we're winding down these wars.
Ben Rhodes is the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.
Austan GoolsbeeJune 23, 2011
03:08 PM EDT
The White House recently unveiled plans by 30 different federal agencies to make sure that the regulations they enforce are protecting Americans’ health and well-being without imposing unnecessary or excessive costs.
These agencies will rewrite or remove regulations that have been on the books for decades to achieve their goals at lower costs and abolish regulations that have become obsolete. Examples of changes now underway include:
- Removing regulations that require outdated technologies, such as film-X-rays instead of digital.
- Eliminating the regulation requiring some gas stations to install vapor recovery systems on their hoses, because vapor recovery is now built into the gas tanks of cars, saving gas station owners about $670 million over the next decade.
- Eliminating 1.9 million annual hours of redundant reporting requirements at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and harmonizing its hazard classifications with other countries to save $585 million or more per year for employers.
The Administration has committed to completing this thorough review and ensuring that the United States has a regulatory system that protects Americans’ health and well-being, while promoting innovation, competition, and economic prosperity – “A 21st Century Regulatory System.”
Getting rid of outdated regulations and making regulations smarter benefits America. But abolishing all regulation, even the ones that provide important benefits, is not smart. Some regulations are critically important for the country and have benefits that far outweigh the costs.
Take the 1990 changes to the Clean Air Act. The benefits to America have been estimated to outweigh the costs of these rules by a factor of 25. These rules prevented over 150,000 premature deaths, 86,000 emergency room visits, and 13 million lost work days. And that’s just for 2010.
Some regulations, by establishing consumer confidence in an industry, can actually make them better off. It helps the American beef industry thrive, for example, that consumers know that the Department of Agriculture inspects meat for safety. In fact, American beef producers volunteer for the government’s quality grading system, and pay for the privilege.
The administration has been smart about regulations. It conducts a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of individual regulations before they are put into effect and it often opts for lower cost rules when they generate greater net benefits. If you look at the benefits and costs of major regulations issued by this administration in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the estimated benefits are over five times larger than the estimated costs. The net benefits are over ten times those during the first two years of the Bush Administration, and over three times those during the first two years of the Clinton Administration.
Furthermore, there has been no increase in rulemaking in this Administration. On the contrary, the number of rules issued in the first two years of this Administration is approximately the same as the number of rules issued in the first two years of the Bush Administration.
Some people are throwing around scary numbers about the costs regulations are imposing on the US economy. One group is even claiming that the regulations currently on the books cost the U.S. economy $1.75 trillion in 2008. The Council of Economic Advisers has looked at those claims and the $1.75 trillion figure is utterly erroneous. In fact, their own data (which come from the World Bank) show that countries with smarter regulations have higher standards of living, and the United States has one of the best regulatory systems in the world. And beyond that, their number completely ignores the benefits of regulation.
We must do everything we can to streamline regulation and make it smarter. But we should also not forget that the rules of the road are important for the health, safety and economic growth of the United States.
Kori SchulmanJune 23, 2011
02:51 PM EDT
During a breakout session with participants in the Young African Women Leaders Forum, First Lady Michelle Obama discussed an inspiring visit with 92-year-old Former South African President Nelson Mandela and offers some advice to the young leaders.
Watch the First Lady's full remarks here.
June 23, 2011
01:42 PM EDT
This week, First Lady Michelle Obama is visiting South Africa and Botswana, focusing on youth leadership, education, health and wellness. Today, Mrs. Obama met with organizations dedicated to combating HIV/AIDS in South Africa, including groups that use soccer to convene and educate children about HIV/AIDS. Tomorrow, she will meet with a Teen Club in Botswana that teaches teens about leadership and how to educate others about HIV.
During her meetings with African youth, Mrs. Obama is highlighting the importance of youth leadership in fighting HIV/AIDS. These young men and women grew up watching family members and friends taken by this devastating virus. But today they know there is hope. They have seen dramatic change in recent years – thanks to strong leadership from their Government with support from the American people – where people who were once dying are now living. These youth can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS.
The United States is proud to be supporting South Africa, Botswana and countries around the world in leading their fight against HIV/AIDS. In South Africa, there are more than one million people on life-saving HIV treatment today, a far cry from the 50,000 people on treatment in all of sub-Saharan Africa in 2003. And Botswana is now closing in on the goal of eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission.
These successes are being replicated in countries around the world thanks to support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Globally, the United States is supporting more than 3.2 million people on life-saving treatment. In 2010, PEPFAR directly supported 11 million people on care, including 3.8 million orphans and vulnerable children. And PEPFAR-supported programs reached over 600,000 mothers with services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, leading to more than 114,000 infants being born HIV-free in 2010 alone. For millions of youth around the world, these numbers represent parents, friends and community leaders who are now living with HIV instead of dying from it. As we focus on results, America is also supporting countries so they can lead their fight in the future and continue to save even more lives.
The Obama Administration is more committed than ever to build on the successes of the last decadeand to continue to work with other governments and partners as we all work toward our shared goal of a world without HIV/AIDS. And we hope the millions of lives saved to date will inspire youth in Africa and around the world to continue their fight for an HIV-free future.
Ambassador Eric Goosby is the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State.
Kori SchulmanJune 23, 2011
10:53 AM EDT
Last night, President Obama addressed the nation on the way forward in Afghanistan and his plan to remove 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 by next summer.
To put this decision in a larger context, Vice President Biden took a few minutes to share his thoughts about the promises this Administration has made – and kept – when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and our commitment to defeat al Qaeda.
Watch the Vice President's full remarks here.
June 23, 2011
10:53 AM EDT
Watch the First Lady's full remarks here.
The First Lady and her family spent Wednesday, June 22 in Soweto, Johannesburg -- the sprawling South African township of over a million, once home to such giants as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and scene of so many dramatic events of the struggle against apartheid -- including those that occurred at Regina Mundi church, where the First Lady gave the keynote address at the US-sponsored Young African Womens Leaders Forum. Regina Mundi, like Soweto itself, was the beating heart of the anti-apartheid movement, a place where those involved in the struggle gathered to find faith, build support and makes plans to free their country. On June 16, 1976, 35 years ago this month, as Soweto's youth came together to demonstrate against apartheid laws, police opened fire, killing some, wounding others, and leaving bullet holes in the walls of sacred Regina Mundi, where a group of students sought refuge. That day, now called Youth Day in South Africa, galvanized the anti-apartheid movement and international awareness of the struggle.
Katelyn SabochikJune 22, 2011
09:40 PM EDT
Watch the President's full remarks here.
Tonight, President Obama addressed the nation from the East Room of the White House about the way forward in Afghanistan and his plan to remove 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 by next summer.
The President reflected on the difficult decision he made in December of 2009 to order 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan, and keeping his commitment to begin the drawdown of troops this summer:
Valerie JarrettJune 22, 2011
05:41 PM EDT
Over the past several days, I had the opportunity to take part in two inspiring events that addressed the subject of workplace flexibility. Last week, I spoke to representatives of an organization called Corporate Voices for Working Families, and yesterday, I was interviewed by Niloufar Molavi, the Chief Diversity Officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, as part of summit for executives from all across the country.
Organizations and businesses such as Corporate Voices and PricewaterhouseCoopers are leading advocates for workplaces that are both models of efficiency, and also responsive to the family lives of their workers. As members of the business community have shown, these goals are not only compatible – they are inextricably linked.
Several studies show that flexible workplaces strengthen businesses, and so do stories from firms around our country. Take the example of Ryan LLC, a tax services firm based in Dallas. Managers at Ryan noticed talented employees leaving their positions at the company to spend more time with their families, and they decided to do something about it. They created a program called myRyan, which measured employees based on results achieved instead of hours worked. Turnover decreased, and many former employees actually returned to the firm. Ryan LLC and companies like it have demonstrated that supporting a healthy work-life balance can provide a business with a key competitive edge.
June 22, 2011
05:37 PM EDT
Earlier today, Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Carolyn Maloney re-introduced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I am proud to serve in the Obama Administration, as this is one of so many policies important to women that the President strongly supports.
When I lived in Springfield, Illinois in 1978, I was transfixed by the ERA debate in the General Assembly. It amazes me that the ERA has been painted as a radical idea, not only upon its introduction in 1923, but even when it passed both houses of Congress in 1972. Its premise is quite simple: men and women shall have equal rights under the law. It is hard to imagine an argument against this basic concept. I remember wearing a 59 cent pin to represent the wage gap at the time — and to show my support for ratification. It was the first time I learned about the importance of public engagement, and saw firsthand some of the frustrations of the political process. In 1982, the ERA ultimately failed when it fell three states short of the 38 states required for ratification before the deadline. Since then, women have broken countless barriers, and we have taken huge strides to strengthen our position in society. But the fact remains: women are still underpaid and underrepresented in our country.
It is a source of pride for me and my colleagues that President Obama has a proven track record of supporting the ERA. As an Illinois State Senator, he was a sponsor of a joint resolution ratifying The Equal Rights Amendment, and as a United States Senator he was a cosponsor of the Women’s Equality Amendment. Under then-Senator Obama’s leadership, the 2008 Democratic Party Platform also reaffirmed support for the Equal Rights Amendment and laid out a strong stance to ensure women’s rights.
It is no secret that President Obama has placed an emphasis on supporting women and girls throughout his career and, in particular, since the day he took office. The first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and he created the White House Council on Women and Girls, whose aim is to ensure that the Federal Government takes the interests of women and girls into account, particularly as we consider and amend public policy.
Recently, President Obama said “History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.” This principle rings true in every country and every era. Of note, that recent quote originates from a speech he was making about the Middle East and North Africa. This basic truth resonates just as strongly at home. That is why this Administration is committed to protecting and advancing the role of women and girls in every aspect of society. From protecting women’s health to helping women realize their full economic potential; and from ending violence against women to promoting international women’s rights, I am gratified to know and report that this Administration is working each day to improve the lives of women and girls in the United States and around the world.
Tina Tchen is Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls
June 22, 2011
03:43 PM EDT
Ed. Note: Cross-posted with USDA Blog.
On Friday afternoon, I sat down with business leaders from York County, Pennsylvania to get their input on how the Federal government can work with them to improve economic conditions and create jobs. Among the participants were members of the York Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as representatives from marketing, computer technology, and renewable energy manufacturing industries.
The session, the most recent in an ongoing series of White House Business Council meetings, was hosted by Alan Shortall, CEO of Unilife Corporation, a manufacturer and supplier of advanced safety medical syringes. Have you heard people talk about companies moving off-shore to China? Well, Alan told the reverse tale, as he kicked off our meeting. His company moved their manufacturing operation from China to the United States because of our high-end engineering expertise, which Alan argued, is an unmatched core competency of the United States. Since it set up shop in Pennsylvania in 2006, Unilife has employed 200 people and this number is expected to double by 2015. Not only are these good jobs and critical to the economy of York, but Alan said he will be spending at least $40 million on US purchases of equipment in the next year. Now, that’s stimulus!
I was glad to hear of the Unilife success story, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided an $18 million guaranteed loan for construction of its custom-built, global headquarters completed last year. So top of my mind as we sat around discussing the economy, was identifying other ways in which the Federal government can help.
Kori SchulmanJune 22, 2011
02:08 PM EDT
This week, the First Lady is on an official visit to Africa focused on youth leadership, education, health and wellness. Have a look at photos from the first day of the trip:
June 22, 2011
12:01 PM EDT
For just a few minutes on Tuesday afternoon, the lobby of U.S. Mission headquarters was home to the original United Nations Charter. There, flanked by guards and inscribed with the names of the world’s most notable mid-century diplomats, sat the UN’s original founding document, an open book on the aspirations of the post-war generation.
Later, the Charter survived the trip across New York’s 1st Avenue for the swearing-in of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In welcoming the Secretary-General’s reappointment, Ambassador Susan Rice said that Ban has “understood that an institution built in the wake of World War II must renew and reform itself to meet the challenges of a very different world.”
June 22, 2011
11:06 AM EDT
It's been an incredible first day traveling in South Africa with the First Lady and her family!
I had often heard South Africa described as a country of stark contrasts, powerful history and inspirational leaders - with a culture of hospitality, warmth and song. We had a long and varied day today, and all of us on the First Lady's staff feel like we got a true taste of it all!
The First Lady started her morning meeting with leaders from across South Africa. Through various meetings, we encountered leaders from government and industry, non-profit and education. We had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Presidential Residence to greet First Lady Ntuli-Zuma and her children. I felt inspired being in the presence of many leaders making such an impact on this country.