Read all posts from August 2013
August 31, 2013
03:56 PM EDT
Just now, President Obama laid out the case for a targeted military action against Syrian regime targets as a result of their use of chemical weapons that killed over one thousand people--including hundreds of children. The President also made clear that this would not be an open-ended intervention, and there will be no American troops on the ground.
While the President was clear on the need for action, he announced he would seek Congressional authorization for the use of force.
Watch the President's statement now in his own words or read a transcript of his remarks:
August 30, 2013
07:00 PM EDT
50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: On Wednesday, President Obama spoke from the Lincoln Memorial at the “Let Freedom Ring” Ceremony, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. President Obama was joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with members of the King family, civil rights leaders and other dignitaries. Thousands converged from across the country to join in this historic event. In his remarks, President Obama honored the heroes that marched in 1963, but stressed that while the nation has come far in the past fifty years, there is still work to be done.
But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency.
In recognition of the historic March on Washington, Administration officials wrote blog posts reflecting what the civil rights movement meant for the country, the urgency of continuing that march, and what lies ahead.
For more information, check out six videos that capture our favorite moments of the President with icons of the Civil Rights Movement.
“The Powerbroker” Screening: A day before the President spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a screening of “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” a documentary detailing the life and achievements of the civil rights leader. The First Lady also spoke to a group of students who attended the screening.
The thing I want you all to remember, as you watch this film, is that we are here because of that struggle. I'm here because of that struggle. And even though you may think you have some struggles, your paths are a whole lot easier because of the work these men and women did.
Cecilia MuñozAugust 30, 2013
06:50 PM EDT
Earlier this week, as part of a series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I attended the White House Ladders of Opportunity Forum. As I responded to questions about inequality, housing, jobs, and a host of other issues that affect the middle class and those striving to reach the middle class, I got a couple of questions that come up frequently in the course of my work. The first question was about how the current immigration debate affects these economic issues. And the second was from an African immigrant wondering what a new immigration law might mean for her.
There’s a reason that President Obama describes immigration reform as an economic imperative, and now that the Senate has passed a bill with a strong bipartisan vote, we can actually measure what the economic impact of this bill will be. The numbers are impressive: the Senate-passed immigration bill would:
- Strengthen the overall economy and grow U.S. GDP by 3.3 percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent in 2033 – an increase of roughly $700 billion in 2023 and $1.4 trillion in 2033 in today’s dollars.
- Increase real wages by 0.5 percent in 2033 relative to current law – the equivalent of about an annual $250 increase today for a median household.
- Reduce the federal deficit by nearly $850 billion over the next 20 years.
It’s clear that immigration reform fits squarely in the President’s agenda to make sure that policymakers in Washington do everything they can to build a better bargain for the middle class, growing our economy in a way that ensures that we all benefit.
Megan SlackAugust 30, 2013
06:30 PM EDT
Today, President Obama hosted Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, and Latvian President Andris Bērziņš for a meeting at the White House.
The visit underscored the close ties between the United States and the Baltic states, which are grounded in our shared values, ideals, and interests. The leaders highlighted ongoing cooperation on issues including defense and security, trade and investment, energy and the environment, and global development.
Matt ComptonAugust 30, 2013
03:00 PM EDT
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 May 2013. This release brings the total number of records made public by this White House to more than 3.34 million—all of which can be viewed in our Disclosures section.
Ed. note: For more information, check out Ethics.gov.
Secretary Thomas E. PerezAugust 30, 2013
12:15 PM EDT
Ed. note: This is crossposted from Work in Progress, the official blog of the Department of Labor. See the original post here. Learn more about the history of Labor Day, and the history of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Labor Day 2013 is special. This year marks the centennial of the U.S. Department of Labor – 100 years of working for America’s workers. And this past week, our nation reaffirmed the ideals of the 1963 March on Washington. This transformational event, exactly 50 years ago, was just as much about labor rights as it was about civil rights.
For me, just like so many others then and now, these two movements are inextricably intertwined, their interests converging time and time again, their goals united in creating opportunity for all.
For a guy like me who grew up in an immigrant family from Buffalo, the past few days have been pretty heady. At the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday, I couldn’t help but wonder if The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ever imagined that half a century after he stood on these steps, another African-American man would stand there – as president?
For a moment, I celebrated how far we have come. And then I remembered that we also have a long journey still to complete.
I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on at the Labor Department 50 years ago. What was my predecessor doing and thinking, as the March on Washington began right outside his office windows, and on the eve of Labor Day 1963?
Well, it turns out, President Kennedy’s labor secretary, Willard Wirtz, was in the thick of it. Immediately after the march, Wirtz joined Kennedy and Vice President Johnson at an Oval Office meeting with Dr. King and other march leaders. A few days later, over Labor Day weekend, Wirtz was asked on a Sunday news talk show what was “most urgently on the minds” of the marchers. He replied: “Equality of opportunity in general, but the necessity particularly of equality of opportunity for work.”
Opportunity. Then and now, it’s about opportunity.
Adam GarberAugust 30, 2013
10:16 AM EDT
This week, the President hit the road for a College Affordability bus tour in New York and Pennsylvania, conferred the medal of honor for conspicuous gallantry, and reflected on what the Civil Rights Movement has meant for the country on the anniversary of the March on Washington 50 years ago, at the Let Freedom Ring ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
August 29, 2013
05:51 PM EDT
Today the Bureau of Economic Analysis revised up its estimate of second quarter GDP from 1.7 percent to 2.5 percent. This stronger estimate of growth was a result of an upward revision in net exports, with the trade data showing that a key part of the revision is because the trade deficit in petroleum fell to a record low in June. This is yet another reminder that the President’s focus on increasing America’s energy independence is not just a critical national security strategy, it is also part of an economic plan to create jobs, expand growth and cut the trade deficit.
The President established a national goal in 2011 to reduce oil imports by one third by 2020 and elevated the goal in 2012 to reduce them by one half by 2020. We are currently on track to meet this ambitious goal if we continue to follow through on the policies that are critical to achieving it.
Heather ZichalAugust 29, 2013
03:10 PM EDT
Energy efficiency is one of the clearest and most cost-effective opportunities to save families money, make our businesses more competitive, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In President Obama’s first term, the Energy Department established new minimum efficiency standards for dishwashers, refrigerators, and many other products. Through 2030, these standards will cut consumers’ electricity bills by hundreds of billions of dollars and save enough electricity to power more than 85 million homes for two years.
To build on this success, the President set a new goal in his Climate Action Plan: Efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings set in the first and second terms combined will reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 – equivalent to nearly one-half of the carbon pollution from the entire U.S. energy sector for one year – while continuing to cut families’ energy bills.
Today, the Energy Department is taking steps towards achieving this new goal by issuing two proposed rules that could cut energy bills by up to $28 billion and cut emissions by over 350 million metric tons of CO2 over 30 years. This reduction in CO2 emissions would be the equivalent of taking nearly 109 million new cars of the road for one year. Or put another way, the energy saved from these proposed rules would be equal to the amount of electricity used by 50 million homes in a year.
Tobin MarcusAugust 29, 2013
02:52 PM EDT
Even as Congress fails to act on common-sense proposals to reduce gun violence, like expanding criminal background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, President Obama and Vice President Biden remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make our communities safer.
Today, as part of that commitment, Vice President Biden swore in B. Todd Jones as the first permanent Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in seven years. As the Vice President said, “ATF is the key agency enforcing our gun laws, and they need a permanent director in order to do that and to do the job to the best of their ability.” The Vice President was joined by Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole.
First, ATF is closing a loophole that has allowed machine guns and other particularly dangerous weapons to get into the wrong hands. This loophole allows prospective buyers to license these weapons to shell corporations, which lets them bypass a required background check. ATF is proposing a rule to change that, requiring anyone associated with those corporations to go through the very same kind of background check process. Closing this loophole will make a difference—last year alone, there were more than 39,000 requests for transfers of these restricted firearms to trusts or corporations.
Secretary Shaun DonovanAugust 29, 2013
01:17 PM EDT
This week marks the 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Although a number of years have passed since that devastating storm hit the Gulf Coast, none of us will ever forget the tragic events that unfolded in its aftermath and the incredible pain inflicted on the region.
That is why President Obama has made improving the way the federal government prepares for, responds to, and recovers from natural disasters a priority for his Administration.
Shortly after he took office, the President tasked the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and me with rethinking the federal approach to disaster recovery. This work resulted in the creation of the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), which was first fully deployed following Hurricane Sandy.
The NDRF allowed us to quickly organize a massive and coordinated federal, state and local response to Hurricane Sandy – we had over 17,000 federal responders on the ground within seven days of the storm making landfall.
However, the President recognized that the response to Sandy also required an additional level of cabinet-level coordination so he created the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which I’ve had the honor to chair. Last week, the Task Force released a Rebuilding Strategy that marks the next step in improving how we approach natural disasters – this time with a focus on building stronger communities in an era of climate change.
Kori SchulmanAugust 29, 2013
11:14 AM EDT
A day before celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the First Lady invited local students to the White House to watch “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” a film that chronicles the life and legacy of the civil rights leader.
"What this documentary shows us is that there are so many unsung heroes in our history whose impact we still feel today," said Mrs. Obama. During her remarks, the First Lady shared one of her favorite quotes by Young:
It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.
"How are you going to be the agents of change for the next generation?" the First Lady asked. "We’re counting on you all to be ready to take the helm and be the next agents of change, because there is still a lot of work to do."
The First Lady has a personal connection to the civil rights leader. In 1981, Michelle Robinson graduated from the Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago. Take a look some archival photos from the First Lady's time at Whitney Young High School:
Photos courtesy of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School.
Valerie JarrettAugust 28, 2013
07:52 PM EDT
Watch: President Obama's speech from the Lincoln Memorial
Fifty years ago, the heroic voice of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. rang out across our capital, our country, and the world, and called on us to become the more perfect union he believed we were destined to be. A country which endows every man, woman and child with unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These are words which we repeat so often, that their depth and relevance today can easily be missed.
Any nation which pledges to honor its citizen’s right to “life” should enact and protect laws which ensure high quality and affordable access to the doctors, treatment, and preventative care we need to live full and healthy lives.
Any country committed to defending “liberty” should protect our fundamental right as Americans; the right to vote. Our liberty is dependent upon free and inclusive elections, and our ability to peacefully hold our leaders accountable, while directing the course of our country. Dr. King was the first to tell us that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice.” President Obama went further today, to remind us all that "the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn't bend on its own."
The right to “pursue happiness” is most secure when we put the education of all of our children, the growth of our economy, the health of our businesses, the creation of jobs, and the stability of our markets ahead of self-interest, and political posturing. Every American deserves to feel the pride of a hard-earned paycheck, and the opportunity to achieve their dreams, regardless of who they are, or the zip code of their birth.
Grant T. HarrisAugust 28, 2013
02:30 PM EDT
Today, President Obama appointed Ambassador Donald Booth as the new U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. A former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Zambia, and Liberia, Ambassador Booth is one of our most experienced diplomats and has extensive experience promoting peace and prosperity across the African continent. He is seasoned, determined, and deeply committed to pursuing peace between and within Sudan and South Sudan.
Ambassador Booth joins our Sudan and South Sudan team at a critical time. Working closely with the African Union and our other international partners, he will play a vital role in urging Sudan and South Sudan to make progress on resolving outstanding issues, including the status of the disputed region of Abyei. He will continue U.S. efforts to press for a peaceful and definitive end to the conflicts in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile as part of a holistic solution to Sudan’s human rights, humanitarian, and governance crises. And he will urge South Sudan to stay focused on protecting its people, meeting their needs, and realizing their aspirations for a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future.
Adam GarberAugust 28, 2013
12:30 PM EDT
Since taking office, President Obama has welcomed many icons of the civil rights movement to the White House, including Tuskegee Airmen, Freedom Riders, Negro League Baseball players, artists, musicians and activists. Today, with President Obama set to speak from the Lincoln Memorial to mark the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we present some of our favorite behind the scenes moments of the President with these icons of African American history and the civil rights movement.
Be sure to tune in at 2:45 ET today to watch the President's remarks live at whitehouse.gov/live
Ruby Bridges visits her portrait in the White House
Ruby Bridges visited the White House to see how a painting commemorating her personal and historic milestone looks hanging on the wall outside of the Oval Office.
Tuskegee Airmen visit the White House
The President and the First Lady host Tuskegee Airmen along with cast and crew members of the movie Red Tails for a screening at the White House.
Cecilia MuñozAugust 27, 2013
01:50 PM EDT
Ed. note: This is part of a series of blog posts written by Administration officials in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. Read more here.
As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, much has been said about what has changed in fifty years – and what has not changed enough. As Congressman John Lewis reminded us – at both the 1963 and 2013 marches - we have work to do on voting rights, on jobs, on equality of opportunity in this country.
He’s right about that, and about another thing: he used part of his brief speech to call out the need to pass an immigration reform measure, to “bring [immigrants] out into the light and set them on a path to citizenship.”
In saying those powerful words, he places the immigration issue squarely in a civil rights frame, which is right where it was 50 years ago, as Congress took up a series of civil rights proposals under President Johnson’s leadership: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This latter bill dramatically changed the way that immigrants were admitted to the United States, undoing a policy which allocated visas according to notions of racial superiority. You heard that right: for most of the 20th century, our immigration laws were based on the “racial” notion that some Europeans were superior to others. Think about what that meant to the rest of us.
As Johnson pointed out in signing the act, under the old system, “…only three countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants. Families were kept apart because a husband or a wife or a child had been born in the wrong place. Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents.” Signing that bill into law was viewed at the time – correctly – as one of the great accomplishments for civil rights in America.
Secretary Kathleen SebeliusAugust 26, 2013
05:00 PM EDT
Ed. note: This is part of a series of blog posts written by Administration officials in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. Read more here.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the March on Washington, he described a “fierce urgency of now.” He reminded a divided nation that we need one another, and that we are stronger when we march forward, together. “We cannot walk alone,” he said. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
A half century later, Dr. King’s words have renewed meaning.
For every little boy or girl in America whose health lies in the balance, there is an urgency of now.
For every one of our neighbors who lives day-after-day in fear because they do not have insurance, there is an urgency of now.
For every mom or dad who has faced bankruptcy because of a mounting medical bill, there is an urgency of now.
Without the opportunity to live a healthy life, there is no opportunity to live the American dream or participate fully in our communities. Without the freedom which comes from having access to quality health care, there is no freedom to reach our full potential in the workforce or watch our kids or grandkids grow up. Without the security of health insurance, there is no economic security for middle-class families, and so many other families working their way into the middle class.
The time for division and debate has passed. Now is the time to march forward.
Megan SlackAugust 26, 2013
04:19 PM EDT
Today, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter.
For this is a historic day -- the first time in nearly half a century, since the Vietnam War, that we’ve been able to present the Medal of Honor to two survivors of the same battle. Indeed, when we paid tribute to Clint Romesha earlier this year, we recalled how he and his team provided the cover that allowed three wounded Americans -- pinned down in a Humvee -- to make their escape. The Medal we present today, the soldier that we honor -- Ty Carter -- is the story of what happened in that Humvee. It’s the story of what our troops do for each other.
Carter was one of 53 American soldiers who woke up the morning of October 9, 2009 as the outpost where they were stationed -- one of the most remote and vulnerable in Afghanistan – came under attack by more than 300 Taliban fighters.
President Obama told the story of Carter's actions in battle that day, which he called the "essence of true heroism – ‘not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.’”
Ty jumped out of bed, put on his boots and his helmet and his Kevlar vest, grabbed some ammo and he ran -- into bullets coming down like rain, for a hundred meters -- to resupply his comrades out in that Humvee. When they needed more, he ran back, blasted the locks off supply rooms and sprinted yet again -- dodging explosions, darting between craters -- back to the Humvee.
The ferocious fire forced them inside. And so it was that five American soldiers -- including Ty and Specialist Stephan Mace -- found themselves trapped in that Humvee, the tires flat, RPGs pouring in, peppering them with shrapnel, threatening to break through the armor of their vehicle. And, worst of all, Taliban fighters were penetrating the camp. The choice, it seemed, was simple -- stay and die, or make a run for it.
So once more, Ty stepped out into the barrage, and along with Sergeant Brad Larson, he laid down fire, providing cover for the other three -- including Stephan -- as they dashed for safety. But in those hellish moments, one man went down, and then another. And Stephan disappeared into the dust and smoke.
Valerie JarrettAugust 26, 2013
01:52 PM EDT
Today, August 26th, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day. We commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. It’s hard to believe that less than 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote. Advocates such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida B. Wells devoted decades of hard work to ensure that women’s voices could be heard. As a result, historic change occurred, forever transforming our nation as we took another step toward a more perfect union.
This past year, I received a very special birthday present from President Obama. He gave me an original copy of two historic documents—the “petition for universal suffrage,” dated January 29, 1866; and the Congressional resolution for the 19th amendment— “extending the right of suffrage to women,” dated May 19, 1919. Over half a century passed between the petition and women actually receiving the vote. And goodness knows there were numerous setbacks along the way. Many who started the journey handed the baton to others to finish it, but the effort continued, and was ultimately successful.
I share this to remind you—and myself—that in the era of tweets and texting, the fierce urgency of now must also be tempered with patience, grit, determination, persistence, resilience and courage. So change often takes time.
This year, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, where Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a crowd of hundreds of thousands, and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Among those visionary civil rights leaders were courageous women, like Dr. Dorothy Height, whom you can see standing on the podium supporting Dr. King as he speaks.
Whether through the Women’s Suffrage Movement, or the Civil Rights Movement, we are reminded of those women, and men who have worked so hard to make our country more equal. We look back at our history to inspire our future.
As President Obama said in his Second Inaugural address earlier this year:
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall.”
And just last week, in advance of today’s anniversary, the President paid a visit to Seneca Falls, New York, where the First Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848, launching the movement for women’s equality. Today, the site is home to the National Park Service’s Women’s Rights National Historic Park. He acknowledged the leadership of the women celebrated in our history, and made a contribution of his own to that history – he presented the Park with a copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the first bill he signed into law, making it easier for women to bring forward pay discrimination claims, as well as a copy of the remarks he made during the bill signing ceremony.
His visit last week, and the progress we celebrate on Women’s Equality Day, reminds us all of the work that remains to be done, and the commitments we are making to achieve a more perfect union for all our people. The White House Council on Women and Girls, and all of our federal agencies are making strides every day to make sure all of our programs, policies, and our staff reflect the needs and concerns of women and girls. And President Obama is leading the way – here are just a few of the key issues we continue to work on: