Read all posts from December 2011

  • We can have clean air and reliable electricity at the same time. That’s the clear conclusion from a new report by the Department of Energy (DOE) released today. This confirms what the United States has always experienced in the 40 year history of the Clean Air Act – namely, the ability to safeguard public health without compromising the ability to keep the lights on in communities across the country.

    Over the past few years, to build on four decades of success under the Clean Air Act, the Obama Administration has taken a series of historic actions to reduce harmful air pollution and promote public health. The new standards that we have established to slash mercury emissions, curb cross-state pollution, and make cars and trucks more efficient will result in enormous economic and health benefits to society. For example, the recently finalized cross-state air pollution rule alone is expected to prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths each year.

    These are all appropriate and necessary steps to protect families and the environment that can and must be implemented in a way that maintains reliability of the electric grid. Historically speaking, the electric utility sector has a strong track record of providing both safe and reliable electricity to American consumers. Grid operators, states, generators, and federal agencies have developed tools, procedures, and technologies to ensure the continued reliable delivery of electricity to consumers.

    Nonetheless, a few industry voices argue that the Administration’s new standards will undermine grid reliability. Many of those claims have been based on early or incomplete predictions about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules. That’s why the independent analysis carried out by DOE is so important. Their analysis modeled a “stress test” scenario that deliberately went well beyond the requirements of the new clean air standards being put into place by the EPA. The point of the analysis was to test whether even under extreme conditions there would be enough power generating capacity to meet peak electricity demand throughout the country. The result: the power grid passed with flying colors.

    Additionally, the DOE report finds that the law allows enough time for utilities to upgrade their power plants or add new generation – and that in specific cases where localized issues do arise, the Clean Air Act already provides the tools and necessary flexibility to address those concerns on a plant-specific or local basis.

  • Right now, Congress is appropriately focusing on putting money in the pockets of middle-class families by extending and expanding the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance – both of which are critical to our economic recovery. Yet beneath the radar, there’s another important debate heating up over how we fund all the things that government does year in and year out – from financing education to inspecting our food, equipping our military, and helping those down on their luck afford a decent meal. And if it’s not resolved in a balanced, bipartisan way, Congress could be forcing a costly government shutdown, inflicting on the economy a shock that we do not need and cannot afford. 

    This debate is not about how much we spend; it’s about what your taxpayer dollars are spent on. In August, Congress and the President agreed on overall package that puts what is called discretionary spending on a path to its lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower Administration. Some wanted to cut less, some more, but that was the deal. The debate now is about how Congress allocates your tax dollars, and if Congress chooses to use funding bills to make policy in areas that have nothing to do with dollars and cents.

    The President supports a balanced approach that cuts waste where we can so that we are able to invest in areas critical for job creation in the short term and winning the future over the long term. He believes that responsibility should be broadly shared, and that we should not burden the most vulnerable Americans, while rewarding millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations.

    Unfortunately, some Republicans in Congress want a different approach. Some want to break the deal we shook hands on in August and make deeper cuts, forcing a third of the budget to bear the whole burden of deficit reduction. Others want to ignore a critical provision designed to ensure victims of natural disasters, like Hurricane Irene, get the help they need. Some want to slash funding for programs critical to the middle class and our economic future such as President Obama’s Race to the Top education reform initiative, health reform, environmental protection, and critical research and development in clean energy and advanced manufacturing. They want to deny funding and use other provisions to stop Wall Street reform which will make sure that taxpayers are never again on the hook for Wall Street’s failures, hold Wall Street accountable, and protect consumers.

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (132MB) | mp3 (13MB)

    Watch President Obama's full remarks here.

    President Obama today marked World AIDS Day, speaking at an event called "The Beginning of the End of AIDS" where he outlined the progress that has been made in the global fight against the pandemic:

    Because we invested in anti-retroviral treatment, people who would have died, some of whom are here today, are living full and vibrant lives. Because we developed new tools, more and more mothers are giving birth to children free from this disease. And because of a persistent focus on awareness, the global rate of new infections and deaths is declining. So make no mistake, we are going to win this fight. 

    AIDS has claimed 30 million lives over the past three decades, and while the rate of new infections is going down in many countries, the President acknowledged that it is not declining in America:

    The infection rate here has been holding steady for over a decade. There are communities in this country being devastated, still, by this disease. 

    When new infections among young black gay men increase by nearly 50 percent in 3 years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter. When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups, and when black women feel forgotten, even though they account for most of the new cases among women, then we’ve got to do more.

    So this fight is not over. Not for the 1.2 million Americans who are living with HIV right now. Not for the Americans who are infected every day. This fight is not over for them, it’s not over for their families, and as a consequence, it can’t be over for anybody in this room -- and it certainly isn’t over for your President.

    20111201 POTUS World AIDS Day

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks on World Aid's Day event at George Washington University in Washington, Dec. 1, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    The President announced that he is directing $50 million in increased funding for domestic HIV/AIDS treatment and care -- an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program for HIV medical clinics across the country. and an additional $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. He also pledged that America will continue to be a leader in the global fight against the pandemic: 

    Now, as we go forward, we’ve got to keep refining our strategy so that we’re saving as many lives as possible. We need to listen when the scientific community focuses on prevention. That’s why, as a matter of policy, we’re now investing in what works -- from medical procedures to promoting healthy behavior.  

    And that’s why we’re setting a goal of providing anti-retroviral drugs to more than 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women over the next two years so that they have the chance to give birth to HIV-free babies. 

    We’re not going to stop there. We know that treatment is also prevention. And today, we’re setting a new target of helping 6 million people get treatment by the end of 2013. That’s 2 million more people than our original goal.

    Today’s event was sponsored by the ONE and (Red) campaigns and also featured remarks from Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, via satellite. 

    20111201 Bono

    Musician Bono, center, listens as President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a World AIDS Day event at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Dec. 1, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Today President Obama was part of a very special World AIDS Day event. It is a day for solemn observance, to remember all those who have been lost to this disease over 30 years, and those still living with HIV today. 

    Yet today’s event was a joyous occasion as well, as it celebrated all those who have done – and are doing – so much to respond to HIV/AIDS. Despite all the challenges, the history of this virus is also one of remarkable people coming together to make a difference. 

    The PEPFAR program – a program created by one president and handed off to another - has benefited from widespread support, and today’s event demonstrated American unity in this fight. The ONE Campaign and Product (RED), who have done so much to get people involved, were our hosts. President Obama was joined by President George W. Bush and President Clinton, each of whom played key roles in the AIDS fight while in office and continue their efforts today. Bono and Alicia Keys represented the artistic community that has been so important in the response, while Kay Warren represented the commitment of people of faith. Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Barbara Lee represented both the critical role of Congress in this effort and the power of bipartisanship of our work. The African leadership that has played such a vital role was exemplified by Dr. Patricia Nkansah-Asamoah of Ghana and Florence Ngobeni of South Africa.  And last but by no means least, many of the advocates and practitioners from the AIDS and global health communities were in attendance, making clear the fact that every individual’s contribution makes a difference. 

    As President Obama said in his remarks and his World AIDS Day Proclamation, scientific advances have provided us with a unique opportunity for dramatic gains in the global response to HIV/AIDS. The concept of ‘combination prevention,’ through which we rely on multiple prevention interventions tailored to needs in the countries where we work, is at the center of this effort. The President outlined plans to expand our combination prevention work, including prevention of mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision, and condoms. 

  • Last summer at the UNITY youth conference in Minneapolis, President Obama issued a challenge to young people across Indian Country – send us your stories of leadership and service in your communities and representatives from across the country would be invited to the White House to share those stories.

    Hundreds across Indian Country answered that challenge and yesterday 11 young Native American "Champions of Change" came to the White House to share their stories of leadership and service. They are being honored as Champions of Change because they have found unique and creative ways to address the daily challenges that face American Indians and Alaska Natives in diverse communities across America.  On Friday, these leaders of tomorrow will attend the 2011 White House Tribal Nations Conference to learn firsthand about the issues and challenges that are currently facing Indian Country.

    From Alaska to Connecticut, these 11 young people have worked to improve their communities with unique talents, including building suicide prevention programs, preserving traditions and languages, creating sustainable development practices to preventing bullying and building safer communities. They exemplify how thousands of other Native American youth across the country are improving life in their own communities. Their stories and their plans for tomorrow demonstrate the spirit of a generation that is working hard to win the future for Indian Country.

    Each of them shared their unique stories of leadership and community service during a White House event on Thursday, December 1, 2011. Click here to watch the full event, or check out the video below.

  • Watch President Obama's remarks on National HIV Testing Day here.

    Today is World AIDS Day. In the United States, roughly 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV and about 50,000 become newly infected each year.  Since the beginning of the epidemic 30 years ago, more than 600,000 Americans have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS.  Today, there are more than 200,000 Americans living with HIV who don’t know it. Regular testing is important: If people know they are HIV positive, they can take steps to protect themselves and their partners, and live longer and healthier lives.

    During a visit to Kenya in 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle highlighted the importance of testing for HIV by getting tested themselves at a local clinic.

  • Tuesday night in Talequah, Oklahoma, SBA’s Deputy Administrator Marie Johns and I had the chance to talk with nearly 20 young Native American entrepreneurs.  They had great ideas for building businesses, ranging from construction to IT, to defense contracting.  As someone who grew up in a small-business family on a reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina, I could relate to their needs, concerns, and questions.

    Today, I work with Native entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout the U.S., helping them find the tools they need to grow and create jobs. For example, we helped over 500 firms owned by Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians to get SBA loans and microloans in the fiscal year that just ended.

    Today, the most important way we can continue to help these small businesses is through the President’s proposals in the American Jobs Act.  For example, President Obama has proposed cutting in half payroll taxes, which will help more than 20,000 Native American owned businesses as they continue to grow and create jobs.

    In addition, about 1.5 million Native American workers – throughout urban, rural, reservation and village communities – will benefit from the extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut, giving them and their families more money to keep our local economies strong at this critical time.

    This Friday, the SBA’s Administrator Karen Mills and other leaders throughout the Administration will be hosting the third White House Tribal Nations Conference to discuss these and other issues affecting our communities.

    I will be excited to share with them the accomplishments that SBA has made in recent years: from high-intensity training for over 200 Native American entrepreneurs, to technology transfer partnerships between tribal colleges and local businesses, to counseling for Native American veterans, and more.Also, last month, as part of National Native American Heritage Month, I hosted SBA’s web chat with Native business owners throughout the U.S. to underscore economic growth and job creation for Native Americans.

    Looking forward to 2012, we will be working even harder, with new primers and distance learning courses targeted at increasing the strength and number of successful Native-American owned businesses.

    Last night, as I listened to the young entrepreneurs that I met, I was reminded again of the power and strength of America’s entrepreneurial spirit in Indian Country.  Let’s make sure that both today’s and tomorrow’s Native American job creators have the tools they need to build a business and create jobs.

    Christopher James is the Assistant Administrator for Native American Affairs, U.S. Small Business Administration.

  • This week more than 2,000 government, civil society and private sector leaders have gathered in Busan, South Korea with one goal: to improve the quality and effectiveness of development aid. 

    The setting is especially significant; 50 years ago, South Korea was largely a country of peasant farmers. It was poorer than North Korea and than two-thirds of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and its people barely lived past the age of 54.  

    Today, South Korea is a high-tech hub, an emerging donor and its people have some of the longest life expectancies in the world. South Korea also happens to be the seventh largest market for American goods; we sell more to the South Koreans than we do to the French. The free trade agreement President Obama recently signed with South Korea means we’ll be selling even more to Seoul in the future, leading to high-paying American jobs. 

    South Korea’s economic miracle—from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the most advanced —serves as a powerful example of how effective foreign assistance can be, if delivered well and used wisely to catalyze growth. With a focus on transparency, mutual accountability, strong private sector engagement and meaningful results, development assistance can help developing countries thrive. 

    President Obama, Secretary Clinton, CEO Yohannes, and I have worked hard to reform the way America delivers assistance abroad. As part of our nation’s first ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, we’ve made our assistance more transparent, accountable and effective.