Our Top Stories
Colleen CurtisAugust 09, 2011
10:47 AM EDT
President Obama today will announce new fuel efficiency standards that will save American businesses that operate and own commercial vehicles approximately $50 billion in fuel costs over the life of the program. These work trucks, buses, and other medium- and heavy duty vehicleswill be required to meet fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards for the first time ever beginning in 2014.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the standards in close coordination with the companies that met with the President today as well as other stakeholders, following requests from companies to develop this program.
“While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks, something interesting happened,” said President Obama. “We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks. They were from the people who build, buy, and drive these trucks. And today, I’m proud to have the support of these companies as we announce the first-ever national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium-and heavy-duty trucks.”
August 08, 2011
06:01 PM EDT
Ed note: This article is being cross-posted from the Department of Labor's Work in Progress blog
I know communities that have faced hard times. I grew up in one. I’ve lived in one, and until last week I was the mayor of one. Helping my community get back on its feet has been my passion for as long as I can remember. But I also know that Youngstown is just one city that needed help. Now as the new director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, I have the chance to give back to not just my own community, but many throughout the nation that continue to face challenges as the auto industry and American manufacturing emerges from the deepest recession in decades.
Nikki SuttonAugust 08, 2011
06:00 PM EDT
This afternoon, while speaking to the press from the State Dining Room, President Obama addressed the news from Friday that the United States received a downgrade by one of the credit rating agencies:
The fact is, we didn’t need a rating agency to tell us that we need a balanced, long-term approach to deficit reduction. That was true last week. That was true last year. That was true the day I took office. And we didn’t need a rating agency to tell us that the gridlock in Washington over the last several months has not been constructive, to say the least. We knew from the outset that a prolonged debate over the debt ceiling -- a debate where the threat of default was used as a bargaining chip -- could do enormous damage to our economy and the world’s. That threat, coming after a string of economic disruptions in Europe, Japan and the Middle East, has now roiled the markets and dampened consumer confidence and slowed the pace of recovery.
Colleen CurtisAugust 08, 2011
05:58 PM EDT
The President today outlined a series of steps Congress can take to quickly add momentum to our nation's economic growth. Click on the links below to find out more about how each of these proposals can help propel our economy forward:
- Extend the payroll tax cut so that middle class families have more money in their paychecks next year. If you've got more money in your paycheck, you're more likely to spend it, and that means businesses of all sizes will have more customers. They'll be in a better position to hire.
We also need to make sure that millions of workers who are still pounding the pavement looking for jobs to support their families are not denied needed unemployment benefits.
If Congress fails to extend the payroll tax and unemployment insurance it could mean one million fewer jobs and half a percent less growth.
Pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill. There are over a million construction workers out of work after the housing boom went bust, just as a lot of America needs rebuilding. We can connect the two by helping private companies rebuild our roads and bridges and railways.
Pass the patent reform bill to give our entrepreneurs the chance to get their job-creating ideas to market faster by streamlining the patent process.
- Pass the trade agreements that will help businesses sell more American-made goods and services to Asia and South America, supporting tens of thousands of jobs here at home.
Secretary Arne DuncanAugust 08, 2011
04:41 PM EDT
When I was superintendent in Chicago, I never looked forward to a call from Washington telling me what I have to do. Now that I'm in Washington, I try not to make those calls.
Our job is to support reform that is good for students at the state and local level. We need to get out of the way wherever we can. We need to be tight on the goals but loose on the means of achieving them -- providing as much flexibility as possible, while maintaining meaningful accountability for improving student outcomes and closing achievement gaps.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) got it backwards -- it was loose on the goals but tight on the means -- and today it's forcing states into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work.
The President understands this and he has directed the Department of Education to move ahead in providing relief in return for reform.
With the new school year fast approaching and still no bill to reform NCLB, it’s time to create a process for states to gain flexibility from key provisions of the law, provided that they are willing to embrace education reform.
Courtney O'DonnellAugust 08, 2011
11:07 AM EDT
Today, Dr. Biden traveled to Kenya where relief operations are underway to help the thousands of refugees affected by the devastating famine in Somalia. Visiting with women and children at the Dadaab Refugee Complex, Dr. Biden – joined by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz, and Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith– witnessed firsthand the effects of one of worst droughts in 60 years and the resulting famine in Somalia. 29,000 children under the age of five have died in the past three months and more than 12 million people across the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of care. Emergency assistance and investments in long-term development are saving lives and making a difference. Visit www.USAID.gov to learn more and find organizations that are doing life-saving work in the region.
Courtney O'Donnell is Communications Director for Dr. Jill Biden.
Samantha PowerAugust 06, 2011
07:04 PM EDT
In the decades since the world first pledged “never again,” the U.S. response to mass atrocities and genocide has confronted several challenges. First, governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide often arrives late, when opportunities for prevention have been missed. Second, senior decision-makers are often not personally engaged because there is a government-wide assumption that there is little that can or will be done. And third, too few other international players step up to try to prevent atrocities, and come under little domestic pressure to do so. As a result, too often, we and the rest of the international community have later regretted not taking diplomatic, political, economic, legal, and military steps that might have prevented the loss of tens of thousands of lives. In 2008 the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretaries Madeleine K. Albright and William Cohen, found that preventing genocide was an “achievable goal” but one that required a degree of governmental organization that matches the kind of methodical organization that accompanies mass-killings.
This week, President Obama directed a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities. The President’s directive states plainly that: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” The directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities. The directive recognizes that preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that all nations share and that other countries must also be enlisted to respond to particular crises. Therefore, the directive calls for a strategy for engaging key regional allies and partners so that they are prepared to accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to crimes against humanity.
Over the past two years, the Obama Administration has devoted enormous time and energy to better equipping our Government, and the international community as a whole, to be able to respond meaningfully to potential (and actual) atrocities. He is the first president to establish a position at the White House responsible for policy on war crimes and mass atrocity. In Sudan, we launched a full court diplomatic press that helped ensure that the South Sudan referendum occurred on time, thereby preventing the outbreak of mass violence that would have accompanied a delay. In Kyrgyzstan, through engagement at the highest levels, we helped bring about the creation of a formidable international commission of inquiry to investigate the causes of the ethnic killings there and to prevent relapse into conflict. In Cote d’Ivoire, we facilitated a robust international effort to protect civilians, while maintaining firm resolve that strong-man Laurent Gbagbo had to step down. In Libya, as civilians were being targeted by their own leader for ruthless attack, we mobilized – with unprecedented speed -- an international coalition, operating with a mandate from the Security Council and at the request of the Libyan people and the Arab League, to protect civilians endangered by Qadhaffi. When indicators of a potential relapse into conflict emerged around the constitutional referendum in Kenya, we worked with international partners and Kenyan leaders to support a peaceful and credible process.
We know that often holding those who have carried out mass atrocities accountable is at times our best tool to prevent future atrocities. As such, we have engaged in an intensive effort to create a variety of international mechanisms charged with uncovering the facts and identifying those responsible for gross human rights abuses in Syria, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Cote d’Ivoire, and have announced our commitment to accomplish the same in Burma. We have also intensified our focus on finding the world’s most wanted fugitive war criminals, mobilizing interagency focus and resources towards apprehending those who must face justice. We offered our full support to the Government of Serbia as it successfully pursued the final remaining fugitives from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, who were apprehended this year.
In addition to the Presidential directive, which makes clear the level of priority attached to preventing mass atrocity, we are taking another important step forward in our effort to hold accountable human rights abusers by, for the first time, barring entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in mass atrocities, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or other serious violations of human rights. Existing U.S. law renders specific classes of human rights violators inadmissible to the United States – such as participants in genocide, torture, or extra-judicial killings. However, before today, the United States did not have an explicit bar to admission on the basis of participation in other serious human rights or humanitarian law violations or atrocities. The President’s Proclamation fills this gap, and by enumerating these grounds for denying admission to the United States, policymakers will have a new tool to warn groups that have carried out, or may be about to carry out crimes against humanity, war crimes, and related abuses , that their conduct falls within explicit standing bans on admission to the United States. As such, we will be able to more effectively shame those who are organizing widespread and systematic violence against civilians based on ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics. In banning would-be organizers of human rights violations as well as perpetrators, it allows the United States to act expeditiously before planned atrocities metastasize into actual ones.
We know that the steps this administration has taken are not panaceas to the horrifying violence being perpetrated around the world against civilians. Even today, we see violence against civilians from Syria to Sudan. But President Obama has directed us to scrub every option and bring as many levers as possible to bear in trying to influence the calculus of those promoting ethnic, religious and other forms of mass violence. The Obama administration takes very seriously its responsibility to do everything that we can to prevent atrocities, and -- with the President’s Directive and his Proclamation barring human rights violators from entering the United States -- President Obama has given the US government two new tools in the effort to meet this responsibility.
Read the Fact Sheet
Nikki SuttonAugust 06, 2011
05:30 AM EDT
August 06, 2011
05:00 AM EDT
[Ed. Note: To celebrate the first six months of the White House-led Startup America initiative, this week we are highlighting the stories of real entrepreneurs who are creating jobs across the country.
The Startup America initiative aims to create the right policy environment for entrepreneurs to flourish. For example, the President signed into law a 100% capital gains tax cut for investment in small businesses made throughout 2011. The President’s budget would make this tax incentive permanent.]
I am a molecular biologist with a Ph.D. from Ohio State University, and a serial entrepreneur, having started several venture-backed biotech companies in Pennsylvania. I founded TheraVasc two years ago in Cleveland, OH because I want to bring a promising new therapy from the lab to the marketplace. My team of a dozen leading researchers and clinicians from around the country is developing a drug that has the potential to increase new blood vessel formation and promote wound healing when used continuously at very low doses, which could have major benefits for diabetic patients with limb problems and patients with peripheral artery disease.
In fact, once the research that was done on this drug at Louisiana State University was published, it became very clear that there was a tremendous unmet medical need. We received calls from across the country inquiring about where to obtain the drug, including one from an 84-year-old woman in Shreveport. She had been ranked 7th on the U.S. tennis circuit in her youth, had walked a mile a day when she was 80, but now, because of peripheral artery disease, she couldn’t even walk down to the mailbox without pain.
This is exactly the kind of person we’re trying to help, but unfortunately, the only way we can currently administer the drug is an injectable formulation at doses that are unsafe for the continuous use required for treating vascular diseases. Given the need for truly effective therapies and the properties of this drug, we set up TheraVasc to extend the work initiated at LSU Health Sciences Center to develop a low-dose, oral formulation of the drug for patients like our neighbor in Louisiana.
This kind of research and testing is extremely expensive. But – in large part because of the Obama Administration’s tax incentive for small business investments -- we were able to raise over $2 million for these early clinical trials from individual “angel” investors. In fact, when the incentive was set to originally expire on December 31, 2010 (The President has signed a one-year extension, and wants to make it permanent), one individual wired us $20,000 on December 30 to ensure that they didn’t miss the deadline!
These funds allowed us to complete our Phase I study showing the safety of a single dose, and will allow us to carry out our Phase IIa study, where we believe we will show safety of continuous administration and evidence of biological activity. And this means that patients are now receiving this drug, which we hope will provide a true therapy for these serious problems and provide a much better quality of life.
Although TheraVasc is a small biotech startup with relatively few employees, this investment has allowed us to hire a contract research organization to manage the trial, manufacturing and analytical companies to produce the drug, and up to 10 clinical sites to carry out the Phase IIa clinical trial -- creating and supporting numerous jobs, all in the U.S.
Equally important, the 5-year holding requirement for this tax incentive encourages our investors to build a sustainable company, and not simply pursue a “quick flip.” This means that once we obtain positive Phase IIa results, new jobs will be created at TheraVasc and within our partner organizations, as development continues and the trial size is expanded. Since clinical trials generally take a minimum of 5 years, this holding period will help to ensure that TheraVasc is still an ongoing entity by the time the drug is approved for use in humans.
My father-in-law also has peripheral artery disease and he is anxious to begin receiving our drug. This tax incentive was important to me in raising the funds necessary to carry out our clinical research and hopefully providing my father-in-law, the ex-tennis star and many others the treatment they desperately want. Making the tax incentive permanent would be a tremendous incentive for angel investors to back other longer-term drug development companies, providing more new therapies for poorly treated diseases.
Matt FlavinAugust 05, 2011
04:29 PM EDT
This morning, President Obama challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. The White House also announced a list of companies who are taking action to help put our veterans to work. Here’s what some of these companies are saying:
- Siemens: At the launch of the White House’s Joining Forces initiative in April 2011, Siemens Corporation pledged to fill 10 percent of the company’s 3,000 open positions with veterans. Today, at an event with President Obama, it was announced that Siemens exceeded its goal and will increase its commitment to actively seek and hire the best and brightest from the nation’s military by reserving an additional 150 positions for veterans.
- Microsoft: We applaud the President for continuing to draw attention to this very important issue, supporting veterans, as they move from the military to civilian life, and ensuring they are fully supported and see great success along the way. Microsoft also understands the need in this area. In response, we will step up our existing efforts.
August 05, 2011
02:51 PM EDT
To celebrate the first six months of the White House-led Startup America initiative, this week we are highlighting the stories of real entrepreneurs who are creating jobs across the country.
The Startup America initiative aims to create the right policy environment for entrepreneurs to flourish. For example, the President signed into law a 100% capital gains tax cut for investment in small businesses made throughout 2011. The President’s budget would make this tax incentive permanent.
Dr. Kyle Hansen is an Army veteran who served our country in Afghanistan. He is also the founder and CEO of “Heal the VET,” a company that has created software that enables and encourages veterans to proactively care for themselves between physician visits. Like all of America’s veterans, Dr Hansen developed strong leadership and management skills during his military service but even the most complicated battlefield assignments don’t prepare people for navigating the world of business plans, angel investors, venture capitalists and tax codes.
That’s where Veteran Entrepreneurial Transfer (VETransfer) comes in. Located here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we are the first ever Veteran-focused business incubator, and we launched in March 2011, after the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) — whose mission is to identify, fund, and evaluate new and improved ways the government can serve Veterans— selected our proposal to assemble a team of experienced entrepreneurs to found the first business accelerator focused solely on supporting the Veteran entrepreneur.
Our mission at VETransfer is “to improve veteran entrepreneurs’ outcomes by providing resources and support as they build and accelerate their businesses.” We believe that veterans possess unique skills that, when supported in entrepreneurship, can lead to powerful outcomes. Dr. Hansen is currently part of our Incubation program, where he is learning lean business model startup techniques specific to software offerings. Next up for “Heal the VET” is offering recommendations based on health risks associated with the specific time and theater of a veteran’s service.
Erin LindsayAugust 05, 2011
02:26 PM EDT
Earlier this week, the administration announced a series of new policies and outreach efforts that will help fuel the nation’s economy by making it easier for high-skill immigrants to start and grow companies and creates jobs here in the United States.
For more information about the new policies and efforts announced read the blog post from earlier this week from Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas.
These new policies will have a major impact on the U.S.’s ability to out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world in the global economy but also on a personal level for potential and current immigrant entrepreneurs and their employees.
To find out what these new policies mean to you, we’re bringing back the White House Asks series, where we pose a question to our Facebook fans and Twitter followers to see what you have to say about important issues.
Next week, we’ll highlight some of the responses on the White House blog.
This week the White House Asks:
What do these new policies enabling immigrant entrepreneurship mean to you?
[Please note that the username, personal identifier or icon affiliated with responses may be posted on the White House blog.]
Ezra MechaberAugust 05, 2011
11:07 AM EDT
Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This week, President Obama announced a bi-partisan compromise to reduce the deficit and avoid default (infographic), announced a historic fuel efficiency standard that will save American families money, welcomed the crews of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and International Space Station expedition 26, held a cabinet meeting, and celebrated his 50th birthday. That's July 29th to August 5th, or West Wing Week.
Matt FlavinAugust 05, 2011
10:30 AM EDT
I am a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I left the military in 2007, I went through something called the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). It was a memorable experience, if only because I hadn’t seen overhead projectors and transparencies used since I was in grade school. There was probably some valuable information covered in the three-day course, but I couldn't tell you what it was. And, what any veteran could tell you is that this outdated program serves mostly as a cursory check in the box on your way out the door to civilian life.
In the military, I never felt unprepared. I went through training for everything I might encounter on a deployment (and many, many things I would not). But, when it came time to separate from the military, for the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t prepared – at least not in the way I had been in the military.
In my TAP class, I was with men and women who had led in battle – making life and death decisions on a daily basis. There were engineers, pilots, mechanics, logisticians - great Americans who had served and sacrificed, the men and women who make our military the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.
So, given what these men and women have proven they can do in the most extreme circumstances, how is it that there are currently 1 million unemployed veterans? And how is it that the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is at 13.3%? Does it make any sense that a combat medic who saved lives on the battlefield would have trouble finding work as an EMT back at home? Or, that we ask our young Marines and soldiers to be warriors and diplomats, to deploy time and time again into harm’s way, but cannot help them when they ask something of us – even something as easy as leveraging their skills, talents and unparalleled experience into a job?
Secretary Ray LaHoodAugust 05, 2011
10:20 AM EDT
I am thrilled this morning that the Senate has approved an FAA bill. It is a tremendous victory for American workers everywhere.
I'm thrilled for our dedicated FAA employees who will be able to go back to work on Monday. And I'm thrilled for the tens of thousands of hardworking workers who can go back to airport construction sites around the country.
As a matter of fairness, we will also do everything we can to get Congress to provide our furloughed employees with the back pay they deserve.
Nikki SuttonAugust 05, 2011
10:20 AM EDT
The President believes that we have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America and serve our country. He has said, "It's a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end." That's why this morning President Obama will visit the Washington Navy Yard to discuss the Administration's work to prepare our nation's veterans for the workforce.
Tune in to watch the President's remarks live beginning at 11 a.m. EDT at WhiteHouse.gov/live. And find out how you can join forces with members of your community to help support our service members and their families.
August 05, 2011
09:47 AM EDT
Today’s employment report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 154,000 in July and the unemployment rate ticked down to 9.1 percent. The economy has added 2.4 million private sector jobs over the past 17 months, despite a slowdown in economic growth from substantial headwinds in the first half of the year.
While the better than expected report is welcome news, the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high and faster growth is needed to replace the jobs lost in the downturn. Bipartisan action is needed to help the private sector and the economy grow – such as measures to extend both the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, as well as passing the pending free trade agreements with re-employment assistance for displaced workers, the patent reform bill, and a bipartisan infrastructure bill to help put Americans back to work. This week we averted an economic catastrophe by avoiding a default and putting in place an important down payment on long term deficit reduction. We will continue to work with Congress to build on these efforts to achieve a broader balanced deficit reduction agreement that instills confidence and allows us to live within our means without shortchanging future growth.
Jon CarsonAugust 04, 2011
07:36 PM EDT
Tuesday’s budget compromise creates a joint committee of Congress, which you might have seen referred to as the “super committee.” This committee is responsible for developing a bipartisan plan for reducing our deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. (That’s on top of about $1 trillion from the down payment that was included in the first phase of the deal.)
At the White House Office of Public Engagement, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about exactly how the joint committee will work. We've created an infographic that illustrates the process, but I’d also like to answer a few of those questions below.
Q: Who’s on the joint committee?
A: Six Democrats, and six Republicans. Each of four party leaders in Congress will choose three members of the committee, so half will come from the House, and half from the Senate.
August 04, 2011
07:27 PM EDT
Earlier this week, top Silicon Valley executives, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, AOL co-founder Steve Case, venture capitalist John Doerr and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings joined Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States, on a panel to discuss how private and public sectors can collaborate to encourage business growth. In addition to conversations on the unique spirit of entrepreneurial innovation that drives the Silicon Valley's success, Aneesh Chopra announced three clarifications to existing immigration policies that can enable entrepreneurs to start companies here:
“First, we're clarifying what it means to declare entrepreneurship in the national interest. Second, in an H1B visa, typically temporary in nature, the question is: Can you come in as an immigrant founder? If there's a way to demonstrate that there's a separation between your role as founder and that role as employee, you have the ability to pursue that existing avenue. Third, we have a category that exists called the EB5 visa for immigrant investors. If you're willing to invest 1 million dollars in the United States and create 10 new jobs you have the authority to come in under this condition. But it's a complicated process and we only use half the alloted slots. So we're streamlining the process and making this more attractive for folks who want to create jobs in industries for the future”
Chopra also discussed the contributions immigrants make in terms of job creation and the economy. John Doerr talked about the role of education and identified the “uniquely American asset” of innovation that enables great economic growth, while Sandberg spoke on the lack of women in technology and the need for a greater focus on STEM education for girls.
Colleen CurtisAugust 04, 2011
07:22 PM EDT
On August 4, 2011 President Obama turns 50 years old. He’s not the first Commander in Chief to earn his AARP card while in the Oval Office – take a look at some other Presidents who celebrated this milestone while serving our country.