Read all posts from May 2012

  • This week, the President honored Memorial Day and the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, signed bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, and welcomed Former President Bush and Former First Lady Laura Bush for the official unveiling of their portraits.

    Watch the West Wing Week here.

    Tell us what you think about West Wing Week by taking a short survey at http://www.whitehouse.gov/westwingweek

  • President Obama hosts a ceremony to unveil the official portraits of former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush (May 31, 2012)

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a ceremony on the occasion of the unveiling of the official portraits of former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, in the East Room of the White House, May 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    Today marked a rare moment in White House history -- three different Presidents came together to unveil the official portraits of President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.

    President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the event. President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush were in attendance.

    And as Presidents 44 and 43 spoke, each had warm words for the other.

    "George, I will always remember the gathering you hosted for all the living former Presidents before I took office, your kind words of encouragement," President Obama said. "Plus, you also left me a really good TV sports package."

    When it was President Bush's turn to speak, he also had a thought for his successor.

    "I am also pleased, Mr. President, that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, what would George do?" he said.

    By tradition, the paintings are commissioned by the White House Historical Association, which in turn presents the portraits to the White House. Each President chooses the artists tasked with painting his likeness.

     

  • Back in March, a group of students from across the country joined First Lady Michelle Obama to plant a new crop in the White House garden.

    Check out this video of the planting of the White House garden here:

    Today, a new batch of students stopped by to harvest some of the lettuce, broccoli, peas, and garlic that have been growing ever since.

  • Ed. Note: This op-ed first ran in The Grio

    Throughout his distinguished career, Bob Herbert has helped shine a spotlight on the lives of Americans living in poverty – a group that is too often ignored. That was certainly true of his May 21st column, in which he told the story of 20 poor children from the Bronx who are growing up in truly appalling conditions. It was heartbreaking to hear about the children Mr. Herbert met: The girl who told him, “I never feel safe.” The child who said she felt there was no purpose to her existence. The stories they told about too many shootings, and too few jobs.

    Mr. Herbert expressed understandable frustration that our political discourse rarely focuses on the notion that the American dream is closed off to far too many of our citizens. But when Mr. Herbert suggested that President Obama has “given up” on the idea of opportunity and upward mobility, he was simply wrong.

    There’s a basic bargain in America. It says that no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you’re willing to work hard and play by the rules you should be able to find a good job, feel secure in your community, and support a family. I have worked in the White House since the day President Obama took office. At every juncture-every big decision, every major policy development, every negotiation -- I have seen President Obama fight for the things that help our country preserve that bargain for all Americans, rich or poor.

  • Summer Jobs+ is a call to action for businesses, non-profits, and government to work together to provide pathways to employment for young people in the summer of 2012. It's about helping people find their first jobs.

    Today John Holdren is the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In the video below he talks about his first job -- working on the Midas satellite project. Holdren explains that he was responsible for keeping track of transistor and capacitor stock, and even though his work wasn't always that interesting, he enjoyed learning from the people he met on the job.

    Watch John Holdren talk about his first job:

    So far, employers have listed more than 300,000 jobs, mentorships, and other employment opportunities this summer through Summer Jobs+.

    • Vice President Joe Biden Arrives at Military Academy

      Cadets from the class of 2012 line the road as Vice President Joe Biden's motorcade pulls in, the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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    • Female Cadet sits in Front row at Commencement

      A female cadet sits in the front row at the 2012 commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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    • Vice President Joe Biden Delivers the Commencement

      Vice President Joe Biden delivers the commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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    • Vice President Joe Biden Delivers Diplomas

      Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands and delivers diplomas during commencement ceremonies at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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    • Hats in the Air

      Newly commissioned 2nd lieutenants throw their hats in the air during the 2012 commencement at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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    • Exuberance

      Newly commissioned 2nd lieutenants hug after the 2012 commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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    Last weekend, Vice President Biden delivered the commencement address to the graduating seniors at U.S. Military Academy.

    He told the Class of 2012 that they are joining a proud tradition:

    West Point has prepared you to lead us to face these new challenges, some of which we have yet to even contemplate, let alone encounter.  Because as I said at the start, you are not only strong and committed, you are also some of our nation’s sharpest minds, with the training to take today’s missions -- counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, training foreign armies -- and the minds to adapt to tomorrow’s horizons, from cyberspace to outer space.

    There is such a proud history here. Such a proud tradition. And I have no doubt that many of you in this class are not only going to make extraordinary contributions to the military but also to civilian life because West Point is in the business of producing -- not only great officers –- it produces great leaders and great Americans.

    As President Theodore Roosevelt said, upon West Point’s Centennial, 110 years ago next month, he said: “Your duty here at West Point has been to fit men to do well in war.  But it is a noteworthy fact that you also have fitted them to do singularly well in peace. The highest positions in the land have been held, not exceptionally, but again and again by West Pointers.” West Pointers who have risen to the first rank in all occupations of civilian life.

    Were he here today he’d only alter that quote slightly –- young men and women are prepared to do that. 

    Read the Vice President's full remarks here.

     

  • President Barack Obama signs the Export-Import Bill (May 30, 2012)

    President Barack Obama signs the Export-Import Bill during a ceremony in South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, May 30, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Through the course of the past twelve months, U.S. companies exported $2.15 trillion worth of goods.

    That figure breaks a record -- it's a 36 percent increase from the level of exports in 2009, and in fact, it's the most we've ever exported in one, 12-month period. Some 9.7 million people went to work because of these exports -- which is itself an increase of 1.2 million export-related jobs since 2009.

    And part of the reason for that success has been the Export-Import Bank. The Bank, which is 78 years old, offers assistance to companies around the world that buy American products -- in order to help boost the sale of those goods.

    The Bank's charter was set to expire at the end of the month, but with a bipartisan agreement from Congress, the President was able to extend the Bank's mandate through September of 2014.

    "By reauthorizing support for the Export-Import Bank, we’re helping thousands of businesses sell more of their products and services overseas," the President said. "And in the process, we’re helping them create jobs here at home."

  • When President Obama presented John Glenn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he highlighted the incredible contributions the Senator from Ohio -- and former astronaut - has made to this country:

    On the morning that John Glenn blasted off into space, America stood still. And for half an hour, the phones stopped ringing in Chicago police headquarters, and New York subway drivers offered a play-by-play account over the loudspeakers. President Kennedy interrupted a breakfast with congressional leaders and joined 100 million TV viewers to hear the famous words, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn became a hero in every sense of the word, but he didn't stop there serving his country. As a senator, he found new ways to make a difference. And on his second trip into space at age 77, he defied the odds once again. But he reminds everybody, don’t tell him he’s lived a historic life. He says, “Are living.”  He’ll say, “Don’t put it in the past tense.”  He’s still got a lot of stuff going on."

    Watch as John Glenn describes his hope that the example set by the Medal of Freedom winners will encourage children to embrace their curiosity:

  • When President Obama presented Madeleine Albright with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he praised her remarkable acheivements:

    As the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat, Madeleine’s courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world.  And as an immigrant herself -- the granddaughter of Holocaust victims who fled her native Czechoslovakia as a child -- Madeleine brought a unique perspective to the job. This is one of my favorite stories. Once, at a naturalization ceremony, an Ethiopian man came up to her and said, 'Only in America can a refugee meet the Secretary of State.'  And she replied, 'Only in America can a refugee become the Secretary of State.'  

    Watch as Secretary Albright talks about her proudest accomplishments in the service of her adopted country:

  • Last week, state and district education leaders from across the country traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to share their stories, strategies, and best practices around a topic in education that seldom sees the spotlight: labor-management collaboration. For a second time, the U.S. Department of Education partnered with national education organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of the Great City Schools, Council of Chief State School Officers, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association, to host a major convening centered on changing the way that school administrators, board members, and union leaders work together to improve teaching and learning.

    While news headlines tend to focus on the challenges of collaboration among these parties, for the State and school district teams journeying to Cincinnati, collaboration is an essential “part of the job”—and one that helps them meet the needs of both teachers and students. Particularly in today’s tough economic climate, these leaders maintain that increased collaboration, shared responsibility, and joint decision-making all produce thoughtful and creative solutions to meet a common agenda.

    Like last year, the conference’s national co-sponsors are not only encouraging and supporting states’ and districts’ collaborative efforts—they are modeling the same student-centered, action-oriented relationships at the national level. At the opening of the event, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined leaders of the seven other co-sponsoring organizations in signing a shared vision for the future of the teaching profession that sets out common goals around increased student achievement, equity, and global competitiveness, and addresses seven core elements of a transformed teaching profession, including a culture of shared responsibility and leadership, continuous growth and improvement, professional career continuums with competitive compensation, and engaged communities.

  • President Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Pat Summitt (May 29, 2012)

    President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former University of Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, May 29, 2012. Looking on at left is author Toni Morrison who also received the Medal of Freedom. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    Today, President Obama honored 13 Americans with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    This year's recipients include cultural icons like Bob Dylan and Toni Morrison, as well as groundbreaking pioneers like former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Pat Summit, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history. Also honored were Dolores Huerta, who cofounded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, and Jan Karski, whose work in the Polish resistance allowed him to share a first-hand account of the Holocaust with Western Allies.

    The President said:

    Together, the honorees on this stage, and the ones who couldn’t be here, have moved us with their words; they have inspired us with their actions. They’ve enriched our lives and they’ve changed our lives for the better. Some of them are household names; others have labored quietly out of the public eye. Most of them may never fully appreciate the difference they’ve made or the influence that they’ve had, but that’s where our job comes in. It’s our job to help let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives. And so today we present this amazing group with one more accolade for a life well led, and that’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    The Medal of Freedom is highest honor awarded to civilians in the United States. It was established in 1963 by President Kennedy and is presented to those who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

    See the full list of honorees here.

  • This week, President Obama didn't just celebrate Memorial Day. He spoke at the Vietnam Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that war and those who served in it.

    We've put together a video to show you some of the highlights from the President's speech and to help tell the patriotic and courageous story of those who served in Vietnam.

    Check it out:

  • President Obama participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery (May 28, 2012)

    President Barack Obama, with Major General Michael Linnington, Commanding General Military District of Washington, participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, May 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Obama earlier marked Memorial Day with two separate events. 

    This morning, he visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and highlighted the connection shared by each of the heroes who rest at the site: 

    These 600 acres are home to Americans from every part of the country who gave their lives in every corner of the globe. When a revolution needed to be waged and a Union needed to be saved, they left their homes and took up arms for the sake of an idea. From the jungles of Vietnam to the mountains of Afghanistan, they stepped forward and answered the call. They fought for a home they might never return to; they fought for buddies they would never forget. And while their stories may be separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles, they rest here, together, side-by-side, row-by-row, because each of them loved this country, and everything it stands for, more than life itself.   

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall (May 28, 2012)

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are joined at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall by Rose Marie Sabo-Brown, the widow of Medal of Honor recipient Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., U.S. Army, during the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemoration ceremony in Washington, D.C., May 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    This afternoon, he visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that conflict and to celebrate those who served: 

    [We] come to this wall -- to this sacred place -- to remember. We can step towards its granite wall and reach out, touch a name.  Today is Memorial Day, when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of spring. And today begins the 50th commemoration of our war in Vietnam. We honor each of those names etched in stone -- 58,282 American patriots. We salute all who served with them. And we stand with the families who love them still.  

    At both events, the President noted another reason for celebration -- for the first time in nine years, there are no U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. 

  • President Barack Obama greets U.S. troops in Afghanistan (May 1, 2012)

    President Barack Obama greets U.S. troops following his remarks at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Earlier this month, President Obama visited Afghanistan, where he met with President Karzai and signed an historic agreement that lays the groundwork for the next phase of our relationship with the country as we bring a responsible end to years of war. 

    While in Afghanistan, the President also paid a surprise visit to American troops at Bagram Air Base. He wanted to thank the men and women serving there for the sacrifices that they and their families have made. He paid tribute to their successes, saying "You guys represent what is best in America." Some 3,200 American servicemen and women were assembled to hear the President offer his thanks for their service.

    But there was another group of service members who could not be in attendance at the event. These were the men and women behind the scenes, providing security, manning radios and maintaining operations to ensure that the President's visit went smoothly. President Obama wanted to thank these individuals as well. So, after visiting wounded warriors at the base hospital, the President used a nearby radio to broadcast his thanks to all the service members who could not be at the event. 

    "I just wanted to say how proud I am of you, how grateful I am to you, and just wanted to let you know that everyone back home knows what you guys are doing and cares deeply about it. And I know your families are sacrificing just like you are. So please do me a favor and let them know how much  I appreciate them as well." 

    "Just know that you're making a difference here. You're keeping America secure," the President said. He went on to add, "All of us are grateful for everything you do and all the sacrifices you make."

    You can listen to the President's remarks below. In the coming years, as we bring the war in Afghanistan to a responsible end, thousands of veterans will be returning home to their families. These veterans and their families have earned our thanks and our support. This administration is committed to ensuring that they receive the benefits and opportunities they have earned. To find out how you can help our Veterans and military families, visit joiningforces.gov.

    Watch President Obama Thank the Troops in Afghanistan, here.

    Darienne Page is the Assistant Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

  • President Obama pays tribute to our men and women in uniform who have died in service to our country.

    Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

  • Feed the Future kits that Peace Corps Volunteers Utilize in the Field (May 25, 2012)

    Feed the Future kits that Peace Corps volunteers utilize in the field.

    For more than 50 years, Peace Corps volunteers around the world have taken an active role in addressing critical food security issues, working with one farmer, one family, and one community at a time.

    President Obama and other G8 Leaders met last week to address food security and nutrition in Africa. The President also announced a new alliance with the G-8, African leaders and private sector partners to drive investment in sustainable African agricultural development and lift 50 million people out of poverty.  This landmark meeting underscored the importance of the President’s Feed the Future initiative, and last summer, the Peace Corps and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) pledged to provide enhanced food security training to more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers.

  • Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden address the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (May 25, 2012)

    Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden address the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) National Military Survivor Seminar in Arlington, Virginia, May 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    My husband Joe and I spent the morning with some of our nation’s bravest heroes -- kids, spouses and parents who have lost loved ones who have served in the military.
     
    We were honored to kick off the 18th annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors. TAPS is a national nonprofit organization providing care to families of the fallen, including peer emotional support, grief and trauma resources and information, casualty casework assistance and crisis intervention, for all those affected by the death of a loved one who served in the military.

    This weekend, TAPS will help children and families of fallen service members build relationships that will last a lifetime. They will bond over their shared experiences, support one another, learn ways to cope with their grief, and also have a little fun touring our Nation’s capital.  The camp is really making a difference in the lives of the children who attend – many of whom come back year after year, and some go on to become counselors themselves.  I met a teenager who lost his father when he was nine, and this weekend he is attending the camp for the fifth time. He is heading off to college in the fall, and I am certain he will continue to inspire and support people he meets throughout his life.  

    These families have endured so much – and yet they are pillars of strength that inspire us all.  The months and years ahead will not be easy for them, and some days will be better than others.  But they have one very important thing to help get them through – the military family.  And as an Army mom, I know that means they will never be alone.  It is my hope that on Memorial Day – and every day – these families will know that our entire Nation mourns alongside them, and that we will never forget their loved ones.

    Dr. Jill Biden greets children at the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar (May 25, 2012)

    Dr. Jill Biden greets children at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors in Arlington, Virginia, May 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

  • Download Video: mp4

    Here's a quick glimpse at this week on WhiteHouse.gov:

    An Affront to American Values: At the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security President Obama addressed how world hunger does not receive the attention it deserves from the global community, including our own nation. He mentions that, “When tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we’ve still got a lot of work to do.  It’s unacceptable.  It’s an outrage.  It’s an affront to who we are."

    G8 Summit: This past weekend the U.S. hosted leaders from the eight largest nation’s in terms of economy at Camp David in Chicago. At this summit, world leaders held conversations about world hunger, as well as on the priority of growth in jobs in the world economy.

    The Final Chapters: President Obama participated in the International Security Assistance Force meeting on Afghanistan, with more than 60 countries where he reiterated that troubles in Afghanistan were not over, but that serious progress has been made towards solving issues with Al Qaeda.

    Resilience in the face of Tragedy: Then President Obama made his way to Joplin, Missouri to attend the town’s high school graduation. This visit nearly coincided to the day with the one year anniversary of the tornado that devastated the town. President Obama remarked on how the spirit of Joplin was commendable, and a testament that the American people are in it together, even in the toughest of times.

    The Future of Energy: President Obama’s last stop this week landed him in Newton, Iowa where TPI Composites manufactures wind turbine blades. Here he restated the importance of cleaner, renewable energy and pushed Congress to act on his To-Do-List. "If Congress doesn’t act, companies like this one will take a hit," he said. "Jobs will be lost. That’s not a guess, that’s a fact. We can’t let that happen." The President followed up this talk up with a session of live tweeting to people, answering thier questions in less than 140 characters.

  • In September 2009, the President announced that—for the first time in history—White House visitor records would be made available to the public on an ongoing basis. Today, the White House releases visitor records that were generated in February 2012. Today’s release brings the total number of records made public by this White House to more than 2.3 million—all of which can be viewed in our Disclosures section.

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

  • Kudos to USAID for launching a Food Security Open Data Challenge!  This announcement kicks off an exciting few months, during which USAID will bring together technologists, food security experts, entrepreneurs, and others to work with key datasets and determine how they can support solutions to the most pressing issues in food security. 

    There is a lot of talk about data these days.  Much of the conversation so far has focused on data availability, but new efforts like this one are focusing on data utilization.  The Challenge aims to stimulate the creation of new applications, services, and insights by creative entrepreneurs to improve access to nutritious food for the nearly one billion people who go hungry around the world.

    It’s surprising how many types of data can be relevant to agriculture.  Already weather data from NASA satellites are being used in drought forecasting programs such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network(FEWS NET) and SERVIR.  We could do more with this data, and explore utilization of GIS, market, crop, nutrition, infrastructure, and other data to improve global food security.

    Over the next few months, the Food Security Open Data Challenge will have three key components:

    • an Ideation Jam where technologists and agriculture stakeholders will identify key innovation opportunities by focusing on the overlap of food security priorities and the potential of available data;
    • a Codeathon to create and finalize solutions that are available for investment; and
    • a Datapalooza, hosted by USAID Administrator Raj Shah, to announce challenge winners and showcase some of the best ideas for data-based solutions to food security.

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