Michael DanielDecember 21, 2012
09:58 AM EDT
Last Friday, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) ended without broad agreement regarding proposed revisions to a major international telecommunications treaty. Why? Because what should have been a limited effort to modernize quarter-century old telecommunications regulations turned into an attempt to legitimize greater state control over the Internet. The United States has consistently opposed such efforts based on core principles: that the Internet’s social and economic benefits come from the free flow of information and ideas and that the technical innovation enabling this information flow comes from the full engagement of civil society, industry, and governments in the process.
The United States went to the WCIT prepared to negotiate revisions to a telecommunications treaty, last revised in 1988. These changes would have reflected the realities of the modern world while staying true to the charter of the Conference. Unfortunately, a small number of vocal states at the WCIT which do not endorse the principles of economic opportunity and free expression sought, in proposal after proposal, to instead focus on the Internet. Because of those efforts, the Conference missed a significant opportunity to encourage economic growth through greater broadband deployment.
December 21, 2012
06:00 AM EDT
Ed. Note: Today, the White House responded to a number of petitions on We the People asking the Administration to take action to reduce gun violence in our country. The response is below and can be viewed on We the People here.
In the days since the tragedy in Newtown, Americans from all over the country have called for action to deter mass shootings and reduce gun violence. Hundreds of thousands of you have signed petitions on We the People.
I'm writing you today to thank you for speaking up, to update you on an important development, and to encourage you to continue engaging with the White House on this critical issue.
First, you should know that President Obama is paying close to attention to the public response to this tragedy. In fact, he sat down to record a message specifically for those of you who have joined the conversation using We the People. Watch it now:
On Wednesday, the President outlined a series of first steps we can take to begin the work of ending this cycle of violence. This is what he said:
We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides. And as I said on Sunday night, there's no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. We're going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun. We're going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.
But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence, and prevent the very worst violence.
Vice President Biden has been asked to work with members of the Administration, Congress, and the general public to come up with a set of concrete policy proposals by next month — proposals the President intends to push swiftly. The President asked the Vice President to lead this effort in part because he wrote and passed the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime in America. That bill included the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
As the Vice President's Chief of Staff, I'm going to do everything I can to ensure we run a process that includes perspectives from all sides of the issue, which is why I wanted to respond to your petition myself. Two decades ago, as domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House, I first worked with Joe Biden as he fought to enact the Crime Bill, the assault weapons ban, and the Brady Bill. I will never forget what a key role the voices of concerned citizens like you played in that vital process.
The President called on Congress to pass important legislation "banning the sale of military-style assault weapons," "banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips," and "requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all."
An issue this serious and complex isn't going to be resolved with a single legislative proposal or policy prescription. And let's be clear, any action we take will respect the Second Amendment. As the President said:
Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that's been handed down from generation to generation. Obviously across the country there are regional differences. There are differences between how people feel in urban areas and rural areas. And the fact is the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible — they buy their guns legally and they use them safely, whether for hunting or sport shooting, collection or protection.
But you know what, I am also betting that the majority — the vast majority — of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war. I'm willing to bet that they don't think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas — that an unbalanced man shouldn't be able to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily; that in this age of technology, we should be able to check someone's criminal records before he or she can check out at a gun show; that if we work harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one in Newtown — or any of the lesser-known tragedies that visit small towns and big cities all across America every day.
The President said it best: "Ultimately if this effort is to succeed it's going to require the help of the American people — it's going to require all of you. If we're going to change things, it's going to take a wave of Americans — mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals — and, yes, gun owners — standing up and saying 'enough' on behalf of our kids."
So let's continue this conversation and get something meaningful done. If you have additional ideas and are interested in further engagement with the White House on this issue, please let us know and share your thoughts here:
Thank you for speaking out and staying involved.
Adam GarberDecember 21, 2012
12:00 AM EDT
Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This week, the President addressed the national tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and promised meaningful action to address gun violence. The White House also hosted some of its newest Pinterest followers, and the President spread some holiday cheer.
December 20, 2012
03:24 PM EDT
The House Republicans introduced a bill last night, The Spending Reduction Act of 2012, that would negatively impact the American people in several ways. Let’s take a quick look:
- It entirely eliminates the Social Services Block Grant, which serves 1.7 million seniors through programs like Meals on Wheels. This would also cut federal funds for child care and related assistance for 4.4 million children; services for nearly 1 million disabled individuals; and child protective services which serve 1.8 million at-risk children
- They also dismantle programs that help homeowners and prevents foreclosures, one of the most critical sources of federal assistance for homeowners who are struggling with foreclosure and need loan modifications. Not only would this limit the home preservation options available to struggling homeowners but would also undermine efforts to support the housing market’s fragile recovery
- And they eliminate guaranteed funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, significantly weakening its ability to make sure that the financial products and services that Americans depend on every day —including credit cards, mortgages, and loans—work better for the people who use them.
The bill also advances Rep. Paul Ryan’s approach to domestic discretionary spending, cutting the discretionary cap level far below the bipartisan Budget Control Act total for 2013. The Ryan Budget approach would ultimately impose deep cuts on federal support for education, scientific and medical research, clean energy programs, key infrastructure investments, public safety protections, women’s and public health programs, and critical services for families in need.
This bill is a step backwards and it’s nothing more than a dangerous diversion.
There’s a big, balanced deal on the table that the Speaker should take. It’s reasonable, and it meets them more them halfway. This bipartisan deal reduces the deficit in a balanced way that is consistent with our values and lays the foundation for middle class job growth. That means certainty for businesses so they can plan around their strategic growth objectives. That means that everyone, including millionaires and billionaires, does their fair share. That means security for middle class families. And that means our government lives within its means and doesn’t mortgage our children’s future. It’s time for Speaker Boehner to come to the table and take action that’ll benefit the American people.
Megan SlackDecember 20, 2012
02:30 PM EDT
With tax cuts for middle-class families set to expire soon, Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation known as “Plan B” that not only raises taxes on 25 million middle-class families, but cuts taxes for households making more than $1 million each year.
We've put together a graphic to help explain what's in the proposed legislation. Check it out:
December 20, 2012
11:45 AM EDT
This holiday season, the official White House Christmas tree honors our troops, veterans, and military families. Decorated with ornaments handmade by military children from U.S. bases all over the world, the Joining Forces tree stands 18-feet and 6-inches tall in the Blue Room. The tree represents what is best about America, and it reminds us how grateful we are for our service members’ courageous service. At the 2012 Holiday press preview, the First Lady called the Joining Forces tree one of her favorites in the White House:
This very special Joining Forces tree is covered with hand-decorated ornaments made by military children living in U.S. bases around the world. We have spent months and months gathering these beautiful ornaments, and guests will be able to take the time and read the messages and hear from these kids directly as they tour the White House.
As a nation, we must serve these brave members of our American family as well as they have served this country. To join in the spirit of service and connect with members of our armed forces, veterans, and their families in your community, please visit: JoiningForces.gov.
See the complete White House Holidays coverage at WhiteHouse.gov/holidays.
To learn more:
Colleen CurtisDecember 19, 2012
02:56 PM EDT
Five days after the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama said that he is committed to reducing the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day.
At a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, the President announced that Vice President Joe Biden will lead a new initiative that has been tasked with identifying concrete proposals for real reform by January. The Vice President, who wrote the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime and included the assault weapons ban, will work with members of the Cabinet and outside organizations on this effort, and President Obama urged the new Congress to hold votes on the proposals early next year:
The good news is there’s already a growing consensus for us to build from. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.
Dan PfeifferDecember 19, 2012
10:04 AM EDT
The American people have been clear that they will not accept an economic approach that places too big of a burden on the middle class, seniors, students and the most vulnerable Americans while asking too little of the wealthiest Americans. The Congressional Republican “Plan B” legislation continues large tax cuts for the very wealthiest individuals - on average, millionaires would see a tax break of $50,000 - while eliminating tax cuts that 25 million students and families struggling to make ends meet depend on and ending critical incentives for our nation’s businesses. It would also cut off a vital lifeline of unemployment assistance to 2 million Americans fighting to find a job just a few days after Christmas, while deeply cutting Medicare. The deficit reduction is minimal, and perversely, given its authors, solely through tax increases with no spending cuts. This approach does not meet the test of balance, and the President would veto the legislation in the unlikely event of its passage.
The President believes this moment presents both sides an opportunity to reach a significant, balanced deal that is good for American families, the economy and for our nation’s future. He has put forward a proposal that meets the Speaker halfway on both taxes and spending, offering to work with Republicans to cut spending by an additional more than one trillion dollars beyond what he has already signed into law. The President urges the Republican leadership to work with us to resolve remaining differences and find a reasonable solution to this situation today instead of engaging in political exercises that increase the possibility that taxes go up on every American. The American people are watching closely and deserve no less.
In addition to the statement, the White House released a fact sheet detailing the harmful impacts of the Congressional Republican “Plan B” legislation.
December 18, 2012
02:48 PM EDT
First Lady Michelle Obama stopped by the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. last week to spread some holiday cheer. At her side as she greeted the children and their families was the First Dog, Bo.
In the spirit of the season, the First Lady read the classic “’Twas the Night before Christmas.” She also answered the children’s questions on topics ranging from her favorite holiday traditions to what she is getting the President for Christmas to how Santa gets past the Secret Service to visit the White House every year.
Does he have to go through Secret Service? Well, Santa is probably one of the only people in the world that has his own Secret Service pass. I mean, everybody knows Santa -- even the Secret Service. So they give him a pass.
Megan SlackDecember 17, 2012
05:07 PM EDT
Following Friday's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the Department of Education has provided a number of resources to help parents in the wake of traumatic events, as well as a host of resources to help schools prepare for and recover from crisis.
Below is a list of resources specifically designed for parents and guardians to provide guidance on talking to children after a traumatic event:
Ezra MechaberDecember 16, 2012
10:44 PM EDT
Today, President Obama traveled to Newtown, CT to meet with the families of those who were lost in Friday's tragic shooting, and to thank first responders for their work.
This evening the President spoke at an interfaith vigil for families of the victims, and all families from Sandy Hook Elementary School. He offered the love and prayers of a nation grieving alongside Newtown:
Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it.
Newtown -- you are not alone.
As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy -- they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances -- with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.
We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying “wait for the good guys, they’re coming”; “show me your smile.”
And we know that good guys came. The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.
And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, “I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.”
As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.
Colleen CurtisDecember 15, 2012
05:45 AM EDT
Megan SlackDecember 14, 2012
03:34 PM EDT
This afternoon, President Obama made a statement from the Briefing Room on the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would -- as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.
The majority of those who died today were children -- beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers -- men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.
So our hearts are broken today -- for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.
As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight. And they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans. And I will do everything in my power as President to help.
Colleen CurtisDecember 14, 2012
09:52 AM EDT
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday welcomed friends and leaders from the Jewish community to celebrate the sixth night of Hanukkah. In his remarks, the President remembered the enduring story of resilience and optimism that is the essence of this holiday:
Over 2,000 years ago, a tyrant forbade the Israelites from practicing their religion and his forces desecrated the Holy Temple. So Judah Maccabee gathered a small band of believers to fight this oppression, and against all odds, they prevailed. And the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem and restored the faith of its people. And when they went to reclaim the Temple, the people of Jerusalem received another gift from God -- the oil that should have lasted only one night burned for eight. That miraculous flame brought hope and it sustained the faithful.
To this day, Jews around the world honor the Maccabees' everlasting hope that light will overcome the darkness, that goodness will overcome evil, and that faith can accomplish miracles.The celebration this year was a tribute to more recent examples of resilience and optimism as well. The 90-year-old menorah used in the ceremony came from the Temple Israel synagogue in Long Beach, New York, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. It served as a symbol of perseverance, and as a reminder of those who are still recovering from Sandy’s destruction.
This was not the first year that Rabbi Larry Bazer, the Joint Forces Chaplain for the Massachusetts National Guard, was asked to light the candles at the White House Hanukkah celebration. Last year, Rabbi Bazer was unable to attend because he was four months into his deployment in Afghanistan, and he spent every night of Hanukkah with a different group of soldiers. As President Obama noted, "he had a pretty good excuse" for turning down that invitation.
Update: Learn more about the 2012 White House Menorah in this video:
Adam GarberDecember 14, 2012
12:00 AM EDT
Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This week, the First Family attended the annual Christmas in Washington concert, the Vice President talked #My2k over lunch with middle-class Americans and attended the Army Navy football game with Dr. Biden, while the President signed the Child Protection Act into law, visited the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant, joined conference calls with Latino leaders and Mayors, and invited regional television reporters to the White House for a series of interviews.
Samantha PowerDecember 13, 2012
04:00 PM EDT
During Human Rights Week, we reaffirm our commitment to upholding human rights and human dignity at home and abroad, and we recognize the need to build a world in which everyone can pursue their dreams free from violence and discrimination.
Last week at the Human Rights First summit, I described how advancing the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world is central to, not separate from, our comprehensive human rights agenda. With LGBT people facing death, violence, persecution, and discrimination around the world, the stakes could not be higher. Seventy-eight countries have laws that criminalize consensual same-sex acts between adults, resulting in unchecked human rights abuses and exploitation by police, security officials and private citizens. In at least 5 countries, the death penalty can be applied for being gay. Even where being LGBT is not a crime, violence by state and non-state actors alike often goes unpunished and LGBT communities live in fear and isolation.
As President Obama has said, “no one should be harmed because of who they are or who they love”. To ensure a comprehensive U.S. response to these threats, one year ago, President Obama issued the first ever Presidential Memorandum to advance the human rights of LGBT persons, requiring all U.S. agencies engaged abroad to “ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” and to report annually on their progress.
We are continuing to lead a government-wide effort to oversee implementation of the Presidential Memorandum and ensure effective coordination across different agencies and offices. Highlights from progress made across the U.S. Government include:
Strengthening U.S. Government capacity:
- Departments and agencies are establishing new coordination mechanisms, strengthening training of key personnel, and raising internal awareness among staff and partners about LGBT issues. Secretary of State Clinton and USAID Administrator Shah have instructed U.S. embassies and USAID missions to meet regularly with the LGBT community in their host countries. The Department of State has also established a taskforce that meets monthly to oversee the implementation of its LGBT strategy, created and distributed a resource toolkit to all embassies, and established a rapid response mechanism to address emerging crises in different countries. USAID has established a new LGBT senior coordinator position and internal task force, developed e-tools including an LGBT resource page and internal listserv, and directed all USAID missions to appoint a focal point to follow LGBT issues.
- The Peace Corps is implementing LGBT training sessions for Volunteers and staff to raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by local LGBT populations as well as LGBT Peace Corps Volunteers in the field. In 2012, the Peace Corps also facilitated a regional workshop to help overseas posts foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for LGBT Volunteers and staff.
Acting Secretary Rebecca BlankDecember 13, 2012
01:48 PM EDT
Editor's note: This post was originally published on Commerce.gov.
Yesterday, I spoke at the National Veteran Employment Summit hosted by Monster and Military.com. I announced that Monster has signed up to participate in the Joining Forces effort to help hire or train 250,000 veterans and military spouses. The companies participating in Joining Forces know that hiring veterans is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good business. America’s veterans have the leadership, the character, and the team-oriented approach that employers want and need.
Under the President’s leadership, the Administration is working hard to make sure veterans find job opportunities. We’re making improvements in how the military transitions service members from the battlefield to the workplace. We're also ensuring that the post-9/11 GI Bill stays strong. And, through Joining Forces - led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden - we're ensuring that veterans and military families have the support they need to land a job when they return to civilian life.
The Commerce Department is particularly proud to support the efforts of companies who are hiring men and women who have bravely served our nation.
Moving forward, the Department will encourage even more businesses to make hard commitments to hire veterans and we will actively share the "best practices" we find in veteran hiring. More broadly, we will continue to give veteran-entrepreneurs, veteran business owners, and veterans in the workforce the tools they need to succeed.
I believe that America’s capacity to innovate and compete in the 21st century is tied to our commitment to unleash the full potential of our veterans. We must continue to do everything we can to provide them with paths to good jobs that will help our nation maintain and strengthen its global leadership.
Megan SlackDecember 12, 2012
06:22 PM EDT
Today, President Obama held a conference call with a bipartisan group of mayors and community leaders from around the country to discuss preventing an income tax increase on middle-class families. Several of the mayors asked some of their constituents who had shared what a $2,000 tax increase next year would mean for their familes to join the call as well.
Check out some photos and tweets from leaders who listened in from cities and towns nationwide below, or on Storify:
Jonathan GreenblattDecember 12, 2012
12:41 PM EDT
Working together to strengthen our communities is at the core of our national values. New research indicates that this commitment to service burns brighter than ever
In the latest version of the Volunteering and Civic Life in America (VCLA) report published today by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), we see a series of encouraging trends.
According to the report, the national rate of volunteering has reached a five-year high. Other indicators all point toward rising levels of civic participation.
President Barack Obama, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Craig Robinson, participates in a service project at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Colleen CurtisDecember 11, 2012
05:05 PM EDT
First Lady Michelle Obama is escorted by SSgt Joel Vazquez as she arrives with a sack full of toys at the Toys for Tots Distribution Center at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., Dec. 11, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
First Lady Michelle Obama today stopped by a Toys for Tots service project at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling -- a naval installation along the Potomac River in Washington DC -- with “boxes and boxes” of gifts that were donated by White House staffers, American CEOs, and even First Daughters Malia and Sasha.
As she thanked the volunteers and donors working to make this holiday season special for those who are less fortunate, Mrs. Obama noted that it was especially meaningful to attend the event on a military base, since Toys for Tots was started by a military family -- a Marine reservist and his wife who decided that they wanted to make the holiday just a little bit better for kids in need.
Since then, so many Americans -- including so many military families like all of you -- have spent countless hours bringing gifts and holiday cheer and everything else that is wonderful about the holidays to children all across this country.
And this is just one of many examples of how our military families are always going that extra mile to serve our communities and our countries -- I talk about this endlessly. You know I'm working on Joining Forces, but the military families are what inspires my work. Because even though all of you are dealing with your own hardships and challenges and struggles, you're moving from base to base every couple of years; even though you've endured deployment after deployment, the miraculous thing about you all and your spirit is somehow you always are the first people to volunteer for something. It could be as simple as the car pool, or the PTA, or a food pantry, or you're stepping up for a neighbor or friend; family members of your own. But somehow you're always the ones who find the extra hours in the day to give back, above and beyond what life has thrown your way anyway.
A unique view of 2012