Thursday, April 30, 2009

Celebrating our Teachers

Thursday, April 30th, 2009 at 6:04 pm
Celebrating our Teachers
On Tuesday the President welcomed the Teachers of the Year to the White House, Dr. Jill Biden tells us about the time she spent with them.

It’s been a really inspiring week in Washington– because the teachers are in town! This week I had the true honor of welcoming some very special guests to Washington DC: the 2009 Teachers of the Year. 55 of them traveled to DC representing all of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense, American Samoa, the Marianna Islands, and the Virgin Islands. I’ve been a teacher for 28 years, so I know how hard these teachers work and was thrilled to meet them and welcome them to our home, the Vice President’s Residence.

(Dr. Jill Biden, an educator of 28 years, addresses the 2009 National Teachers of the Year reception at the Vice President's residence in Washington D.C. Photo by Joshua Hoover)

On Monday night – all of the teachers came (by bus of course) for a reception and a "class photo." I felt so at home with this group – we could have talked for hours about our work, our students, and our teaching experiences. Our dog Champ Biden even made an appearance to congratulate the teachers. As I told the group on Monday, each of these teachers deserves recognition for being the best in their state or region - but I must say that every teacher is a ‘teacher of the year’ in my experience, and I have nothing but admiration for all of my colleagues around the country.

(Dr. Jill Biden poses with the 2009 National Teachers of the Year at a reception in their honor at the Vice President's Residence in Washington D.C. Photo by Joshua Hoover)

On Tuesday morning, I taught two English classes at my community college in Virginia, quickly changed in the school bathroom, and raced to the White House so that I could be there to celebrate the teachers and congratulate Anthony Mullen, the final winner along with President Obama, Michelle Obama, and Arne Duncan. Anthony teaches Special Education to 9-12th graders in Connecticut. I used to teach at-risk students in the high schools, so I was truly excited to spend time with him and his family. It was a beautiful day in the Rose Garden and I know that everyone there left feeling inspired.

As I told the group of teachers on Monday night, the greatest thing about this Administration is that the President and my husband Joe not only believe in education, they are investing in it. I know that teachers have many challenges in their classrooms, but we’re going to keep working together to make things better. I hope someone reading this post might even be inspired to become a 2010, 2015, or 2020 Teacher of the Year. You won’t regret it and our country needs you.

The President’s Remarks on H1N1

Thursday, April 30th, 2009 at 10:58 am
The President’s Remarks on H1N1

As a PSA, here are the President’s remarks on the H1N1 flu virus during the opening of last night’s press conference:

Before we begin tonight, I just want to provide everyone with a few brief updates on some of the challenges we're dealing with right now.

First, we are continuing to closely monitor the emergency cases of the H1N1 flu virus throughout the United States. As I said this morning, this is obviously a very serious situation, and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations. Our public health officials have recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of this flu strongly consider temporarily closing. And if more schools are forced to close, we've recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if their children do have to stay home.

I've requested an immediate $1.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress to support our ability to monitor and track this virus and to build our supply of antiviral drugs and other equipment, and we will also ensure that those materials get to where they need to be as quickly as possible.

And finally, I've asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: Keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick.

We'll continue to provide regular updates to the American people as we receive more information, and everyone should rest assured that this government is prepared to do whatever it takes to control the impact of this virus.

(President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference in the White House on April 29, 2009.
White House Photo/ Chuck Kennedy)

He was also asked about the government’s response during the question-and-answer portion:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. With the flu outbreak spreading and worsening, can you talk about whether you think it's time to close the border with Mexico, and whether -- under what conditions you might consider quarantining, when that might be appropriate?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, as I said, this is a cause for deep concern, but not panic. And I think that we have to make sure that we recognize that how we respond -- intelligently, systematically, based on science and what public health officials have to say -- will determine in large part what happens.

I've consulted with our public health officials extensively on a day-to-day basis, in some cases, an hour-to-hour basis. At this point they have not recommended a border closing. From their perspective it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States. We have ramped up screening efforts, as well as made sure that additional supplies are there on the border so that we can prepare in the eventuality that we have to do more than we're doing currently.

But the most important thing right now that public health officials have indicated is that we treat this the same way that we would treat other flu outbreaks, just understanding that because this is a new strain we don't yet know how it will respond. So we have to take additional precautions -- essentially, take out some additional insurance. That's why I asked for an additional $1.5 million, so that we can make sure that everything is in place should a worst-case scenario play out.

I do want to compliment Democrats and Republicans who worked diligently back in 2005 when the bird flu came up. I was part of a group of legislators who worked with the Bush administration to make sure that we had beefed up our infrastructure and our stockpiles of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu. And I think the Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond. For example, we've got 50 million courses of antiviral drugs in the event that they're needed.

So the government is going to be doing everything that we can. We're coordinating closely with state and local officials. Secretary Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, newly installed Secretary Sebelius of Health and Human Services, our Acting CDC Director -- they are all on the phone on a daily basis with all public health officials across the states to coordinate and make sure that there's timely reporting, that if as new cases come up that we are able to track them effectively, that we're allocating resources so that they're in place.

The key now I think is to make sure that we are maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up. And individual families start taking very sensible precautions that can make a huge difference. So wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school. If you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don't get on an airplane. Don't get on any system of public transportation where you're confined and you could potentially spread the virus.

So those are the steps that I think we need to take right now. But understand that because this is a new strain, we have to be cautious. If this was a strain that we were familiar with, then we might have to -- then I think we wouldn't see the kind of alert levels that we're seeing, for example, with the World Health Organization.

Taking Stock

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 9:30 pm
Taking Stock
A lot of people were taking stock today of the change that the President has so far. But throughout the federal government change has been unfolding at the agency level in thousands of ways you have likely never even heard about. Take a look at the agency reports for whatever issues you are most interested in:

Department of Agriculture
Department of Commerce
Department of Defense
Department of Education
Department of Energy (pdf)
Department of the Interior
Department of Health and Human Services (pdf)
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Department of Justice
Department of Labor
Department of The Treasury
Department of Transportation
Environmental Protection Agency
United States Trade Representative (pdf)
United States Mission to the United Nations (pdf)
We will update this list as more come in.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Retrospective in Missouri

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 4:53 pm
Retrospective in Missouri
Today the President was in Arnold, Missouri for a town hall, and took a moment to be retrospective in his opening remarks:

Today marks 100 days since I took the oath of office to be your President. (Applause.) One hundred days. It's a good thing. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, back in November, some folks were surprised that we showed up in Springfield at the end of our campaign. But then again, some folks were surprised that we even started our campaign in the first place. (Laughter.) They didn't give us much of a chance. They didn't think we could do things differently. They didn't know if this country was ready to move in a new direction.

But here's the thing -- my campaign wasn't born in Washington. My campaign was rooted in neighborhoods just like this one, in towns and cities all across America; rooted in folks who work hard and look after their families and seek a brighter children -- future for their children and for their communities and for their country.

He spoke at length of progress he believed he had made in this short time, from the Recovery Act to the Budget Resolution, but quickly added: "I want to warn you, there will be setbacks. It will take time. But I promise you I will always tell you the truth about the challenges that we face and the steps that we are taking to meet them."

(President Barack Obama addresses a town hall at Fox High School in Arnold, Missouri on April 29, 2009.
White House Photo, Pete Souza)

The questions covered a wide range of topics. On the auto industry, and Chrysler in particular, he made clear that he strongly believes America should have a vibrant auto industry:

We don't know yet whether the deal is going to get done. I will tell you that the workers at Chrysler have made enormous sacrifices -- enormous sacrifices -- to try to keep the company going. One of the key questions now is, are the bond holders, the lenders, the money people, are they willing to make sacrifices, as well? We don't know yet, so there's still a series of negotiations that are taking place.

Asked about the challenges facing America’s educational system, he noted how impressive the Teacher of the Year he spoke with last night was, and discussed how he believed we could make sure more teachers are like him:

The deal I've got to strike with teachers, though -- I may not get as much applause on this -- (laughter) -- is I would like to work with teachers and the teachers unions, because I'm a union guy, but I do believe -- (applause) -- but I do believe that it's important for the unions to work flexibly with school districts in a consensual fashion to find ways so that if you've got a really excellent teacher, after 15, 20 years, they can get paid a little bit more -- right? -- if they're doing a really good job. (Applause.) And now the flip side -- I'm telling you, I'm getting to the point where I'm not going to get applause. (Laughter.) If you've got a bad teacher who can't -- after given all the support and the training that they need is just not performing up to snuff, we've got to find that person a new job. (Applause.)

Asked about the future of Social Security, he reiterated his long-standing support for raising the cap on the payroll tax for wealthy Americans and saying that Social Security is actually the easy fix compared to health care costs:

What we face long term, the biggest problem we have is that Medicare and Medicaid -- health care costs are sky-rocketing, and at the same time as the population is getting older, which means we're using more health care -- you combine those two things, and if we aren’t careful, health care will consume so much of our budget that ultimately we won't be able to do anything else. We won't be able to provide financial assistance to students; we won't be able to help build green energy; we won't be able to help industries that get into trouble; we won't have a national park system; we won't be able to do what we're supposed to do on our veterans. Everything else will be pushed aside because of Medicare and Medicaid. That's the problem that we really confront.

That's why I've said we've got to have health reform this year -- (applause) -- to drive down costs and make health care affordable for American families, businesses and for our government. (Applause.)

So, you know, when you see -- those of you who are watching certain news channels that -- on which I'm not very popular -- (laughter) -- and you see folks waving tea bags around -- (laughter) -- let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we're going to stabilize Social Security. Claire and I are working diligently to do basically a thorough audit of federal spending. But let's not play games and pretend that the reason is because of the Recovery Act, because that's just a fraction of the overall problem that we've got.

Having taken questions directly from the public this morning, the President returns to the White House tonight for a prime time press conference. Watch it streamed at 8:00 at

UPDATE: The President met with several people who submitted their stories of service through our site after the town hall.

"Words and Deeds"

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 12:10 pm
"Words and Deeds"
Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, drops by to talk about progress on ethics and transparency since the President was sworn in.

The President promised across-the-board change in Washington and all of us in the White House have been pleased to help deliver. In the ethics and government reform arena, we have worked hard to help the President impose strict new ethics rules for all employees; foster a culture of compliance and respect for the law; promote greater transparency (including through our first-ever instant electronic release of personal financial disclosure forms); and implement historic revolving door limits for lobbyists and others.

But don't just take our word for it. Members of the government reform community have issued a statement praising the President for the "groundbreaking government integrity reforms he has put in place" and recognizing that "the President has demonstrated in his first hundred days through words and deeds that he is serious about changing the rules of the game in Washington and increasing the voice of citizens in the governing process."

Click through and read the complete statement by members of the government reform community acknowledging the administration's historic opening efforts.

Service with the Gators

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 10:43 am
Service with the Gators
The National College Football Champion Florida Gators visited the White House last week. Joe Kennedy of the Office of Public Liaison discusses the visit and introduces a video where they discuss why they are so dedicated to service in their community:

Thursday was one of those days where I pinch myself. As a former baller on the Northwestern basketball team (although a lot of my time was watching not playing), sports is a major part of my life. Thursday was the first event where the President welcomed a sports championship team to the White House during his Administration!

What was especially inspiring for the staff in the Office of Public Liaison was that the President’s call to service was already being heeded in Gainesville. The Gators football program does hundreds of hours of community service, based mainly around working with local schools and children. The players talk about healthy living, personal development, and the importance of staying in school. And there is no doubt the players care about their community. Just look at the video form after the event…

These kinds of activities and leadership, "Community Champion" behavior as they call it, is echoed in much of the community work the Florida Gators have done, like the Gator Club service at Shands Pediatric Unit where they visit the kids in the pediatric unit. In Gator Literacy, which is designed to promote reading and literacy in Alachua County, players will read stories to children during their lunch time. They have also worked at local schools interacting with schools about programs designed to promote fitness and physical activity, and reading skills.

In addition to celebrating the great accomplishment achieved by the Gator Nation, what's especially inspiring is all the work the Gators do off the field. The President has always spoken about personal empowerment and the importance of being a good neighbor, being involved in your community, and when possible being a "Community Champion." It's clear they get at least as much out of it as the people they lend a hand to.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Necessity of Science

Monday, April 27th, 2009 at 2:15 pm
The Necessity of Science
Speaking at the National Academy of Sciences, the President paid due tribute to the wonder, history, and inspiration of science in America. But he also made the connection between science and the news being discussed all across America right now to make clear that science is no afterthought or hobby:

At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before. (Applause.)

And if there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it's today. We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. And this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm. The Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively. And I'm getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies. And the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people. And Secretary Napolitano will be offering regular updates to the American people, as well, so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take.

But one thing is clear -- our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community. And this is one more example of why we can't allow our nation to fall behind.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened.

The President gave the all-too-familiar statistics about math and science education, and lamented the politicization of science that has too often stunted American ingenuity. He pledged to address those problems head on:

I believe it is not in our character, the American character, to follow. It's our character to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. So I'm here today to set this goal: We will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science. (Applause.)

This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.

Just think what this will allow us to accomplish: solar cells as cheap as paint; green buildings that produce all the energy they consume; learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again; an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us. We can do this.

And of course as mentioned earlier, the President also pointed people to OSTP's revamped site where a conversation is ongoing on the President's memo on scientific integrity. Read much more about the President's commitment to science in the White House fact sheet, and meet the members of his Science and Technology Advisory Council.

Update on Lobbyist Contacts Regarding the Recovery Act

Monday, April 27th, 2009 at 1:03 pm
Update on Lobbyist Contacts Regarding the Recovery Act
In the spirit of transparency, Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, asked us to pass along this update on the President’s restrictions on lobbyist contacts regarding the Recovery Act.

President Obama has made historic commitments to putting the public interest first and to cracking down on special interests and, in particular, lobbying abuses. To accomplish that, he has put forward the toughest rules in history closing the revolving door between K Street and the Executive Branch and putting contacts with lobbyists regarding projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on the internet for all Americans to see.

We know some people think the Administration has been too tough in keeping lobbyists out of government jobs, and too tough in making lobbyist contacts about Recovery Act projects fully transparent. We don’t think so. We think our restrictions are correct to promote the public interest ahead of special interests. As the President has noted, one of the hallmarks of being tough is that you not only talk to the people you agree with—you talk to the ones you disagree with. So we want to hear from everyone affected during the 60-day initial evaluation period for the stimulus lobbying restrictions. We have heard from those that support these rules. On Friday, we met with several groups who disagree with the rules. These groups included Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American League of Lobbyists (ALL). Present at the meeting were the following, each representing the entity noted:

Michael W. Macleod-Ball, Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Melanie Sloan, Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); Adam Rappaport, Senior Counsel, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); David Wenhold, President, American League of Lobbyists (ALL); Kenneth A. Gross, Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (representing ALL);


Norman Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform; Preeta Bansal, General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Management and Budget; Michael Mongan, Deputy Counsel to the Vice President; and members of their staffs.

We told them we believed the restrictions were tough but fair to make sure that lobbyist communications are as transparent as possible, and that stimulus decisions are based on the merits. They agreed with our objectives -- any differences we have are over the best means to achieve those goals. They took exception to some of the specifics of the restrictions and we had an honest exchange about our differences. We noted that others, including in the reform community, strongly support the restrictions and we have heard from them too as part of the 60 day evaluation period mandated by the President's Memorandum.

Give Your Comments on Scientific Integrity

Monday, April 27th, 2009 at 9:47 am
Give Your Comments on Scientific Integrity
As the President delivered his remarks to the National Academy of Sciences this morning, the Office of Science & Technology Policy was launching its new blog around a push for conversation and public comment on the President’s memorandum on scientific integrity issued in March.

Go give your comment, and have a look around the new OSTP blog.

The President gave the context in his remarks:

On March 9th, I signed an executive memorandum with a clear message: Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over. Our progress as a nation – and our values as a nation – are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy. It is contrary to our way of life.

That’s why I have charged John Holdren in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with leading a new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information. I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions – and not the other way around.

As part of this effort, we’ve already launched a website that allows individuals to not only make recommendations to achieve this goal, but to collaborate on those recommendations; it is a small step, but one that is creating a more transparent, participatory and democratic government.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Weekly Address: Calling for Fiscal Discipline

Saturday, April 25th, 2009 at 5:30 am
Weekly Address: Calling for Fiscal Discipline
This week the President reiterates a theme that has been a hallmark of his career, namely that "old habits and stale thinking" will simply not help us solve the new and immense problems our country faces. Listing off several specific changes he intends to bring, he describes his guiding principle: "To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative. That will demand new thinking and a new sense of responsibility for every dollar that is spent."

Student Loans: Cutting Out the Middle Man

Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 5:42 pm
Student Loans: Cutting Out the Middle Man

Today the President waded into a battle:

Now, some of you have probably seen how this proposal was greeted by the special interests. The banks and the lenders who have reaped a windfall from these subsidies have mobilized an army of lobbyists to try to keep things the way they are. They are gearing up for battle. So am I. They will fight for their special interests. I will fight for Stephanie, and other American students and their families. And for those who care about America's future, this is a battle we can't afford to lose.

The proposal he was talking about would cut the middle man out of student lending by shifting federal support entirely to the Direct Loan program, and away from the program that cushions bank profits. The proposal follows on significant action already taken: together, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the President’s Budget provide about $200 billion in Pell Grant scholarships and tax credits over the next decade, including giving millions of families up to $2,500 each to help pay for college. The Middle Class Task Force also held their most recent meeting going in depth into precisely this issue of college affordability.

He once again explained that he was not motivated by any ideology from the right or the left, but by simple common sense:

In the end, this is not about growing the size of government or relying on the free market -- because it's not a free market when we have a student loan system that's rigged to reward private lenders without any risk. It's about whether we want to give tens of billions of tax dollars to special interests or whether we want to make college more affordable for eight and a half million more students. I think most of us would agree on what the right answer is.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cracking Down on Credit Cards

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 at 6:58 pm
Cracking Down on Credit Cards
Having long argued that credit card practices need to be cleaned up, this afternoon the President brought representatives from the credit card industry in to talk about the need for greater consumer protections, a need made all the more urgent by the economic crisis.

A few facts: Almost half of American families currently carry a balance, and for those families the average balance was $7,300 at last check in 2007 (the median was $3,000). Meanwhile, penalty fees on credit cards are around $15 billion annually, an estimated 10 percent of total credit card industry revenues -- one-fifth of those carrying credit card debt pay an interest rate above 20 percent.

Against that backdrop, with Congressional negotiations on legislation getting off the ground, and having acknowledged that neither credit cards not credit card companies are inherently bad, President Obama made clear that some new lines in the sand needed to be drawn.

There are going to be some core principles, though, that I want to adhere to, and I mentioned these to all the credit card issuers involved.

First of all, I think that there has to be strong and reliable protections for consumers -- protections that ban unfair rate increases and forbid abusive fees and penalties. The days of any time, any reason rate hikes and late fee traps have to end.

Number two, all the forms and statements that credit card companies send out have to be written in plain language and be in plain sight. No more fine print, no more confusing terms and conditions. We want clarity and transparency from here on out.

Number three, we have to make sure that people can comparison shop when it comes to credit cards without being afraid that they're going to be taken advantage of. So we believe that it's important to require firms to make all their contract terms easily accessible online in a fashion that allows people to shop for the best deal for their needs.

Not every consumer is going to have the same needs. And some may want to take on a higher interest rate because it provides them more convenience or it provides them with a higher credit line. But we want to make sure that they can make those comparisons themselves easily. And we think that one of the things that needs to be explored is the possibility that every credit card issuer has to issue a plain vanilla, easy to understand, simplest terms possible credit card as a default credit card that the average user can feel comfortable with.

Finally, we think we need more accountability in the system. And that means more effective oversight and more effective enforcement so that people who are issuing credit cards but violate law, they will feel the full weight of the law.

A New Ambassador to Iraq

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 at 2:04 pm

A New Ambassador to Iraq

The White House has issued the following readout on the President’s meeting with Ambassador Chris Hill:

Earlier this week, Ambassador Hill was confirmed by the Senate to serve as our Ambassador to Iraq. Ambassador Hill will head to Iraq this week, and the President wanted to speak with him before he leaves for his important new post. They discussed the current situation in Iraq and the need to make political progress.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

“A Choice Between Prosperity and Decline”

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 at 5:12 pm
“A Choice Between Prosperity and Decline”
Speaking at a wind tower production facility in Iowa today, the President laid out his vision for a new clean energy economy, independence from foreign oil, keeping pollution out of our air and water, and finally addressing the climate change problem that has been neglected for decades in Washington. The President was introduced by Richard Mulbrook, the current Maintenance Manager there -- and a former Maytag employee before the company closed its operations at the same plant. As the President explained, the transformation that happened at this plant in Iowa was a sign of the transformation that America can undergo with the right vision and the right investments:

I just had a terrific tour of the facility led by several of the workers and managers who operate this plant. It wasn't too long ago, as Rich said, that Maytag closed its operations in Newton. And hundreds of jobs were lost. These floors were dark and silent. The only signs of a once thriving enterprise were the cement markings where the equipment had been before they were boxed up and carted away.

Look at what we see here today. This facility is alive again with new industry. This community is still going through some tough times. If you talk to your neighbors and friends, I know they -- the community still hasn't fully recovered from the loss of Maytag. Not everybody has been rehired. But more than 100 people will now be employed at this plant -- maybe more, if we keep on moving. Many of the same folks who had lost their jobs when Maytag shut its doors now are finding once again their ability to make great products.

Now, obviously things aren't exactly the same as they were with Maytag, because now you're using the materials behind me to build towers to support some of the most advanced wind turbines in the world. When completed, these structures will hold up blades that can generate as much as 2.5 megawatts of electricity -- enough energy to power hundreds of homes. At Trinity, you are helping to lead the next energy revolution.

The President placed what was happening in Iowa in the context of two centuries of energy innovation in America, but noted America’s leadership in innovation had always been coupled with an alarming rise consumption. The President ran down the all-too-familiar list of problems our energy consumption and oil dependence brings, from those people face every day like prices at the gas pump, to those that have a broader but equally serious impact like the trade deficit, constraints on foreign policy, and the prospect of irrevocable climate change left as a burden for out children.

(President Barack Obama is given a tour of the Trinity Structural Towers Manufacturing Plant by Senior
Vice President, Mark Stiles, Wednesday, April 22, 2009, in Newton, Iowa. White House Photo/Pete Souza)

As the President has stated again and again, these problems also represent a fundamental weakness in our economy which will prevent long term stability as long as we refuse to address them. And while those interests who have profited off of this weakness have aligned to defend the status quo and paint change as a danger, the President forcefully framed what this choice is all about:

We can't afford that approach anymore -- not when the cost for our economy, for our country, and for our planet is so high. So on this Earth Day, it is time for us to lay a new foundation for economic growth by beginning a new era of energy exploration in America. That's why I'm here. (Applause.)

Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world's leading importer of oil, or we can become the world's leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.

America can be that nation. America must be that nation.

The President readily acknowledged that this is no easy task at hand, but for those who contend that this is idle idealism, the President offered a dose of reality:

Think about this. I want everybody to think about this. Over the last several decades, the rest of the country, we used 50 percent more energy; California remained flat, used the same amount, even though that they were growing just as fast as the rest of the country -- because they were more energy efficient. They put in some good policy early on that assured that they weren't wasting energy. Now, if California can do it, then the whole country can do it. Iowa can do it.

He also pointed to benefits already being reaped from the Recovery Act, and the $15 billion dedicated each year in his budget for the development of clean energy sources that would amplify those gains. He discussed the jobs and other long-term economic gains of his investments in high-speed rail and other mass transit. And he also made news with one more specific announcement: "Through the Department of Interior, we are establishing a program to authorize -- for the very first time -- the leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources."

The President then went on to address an issue generating heated debate in Congress right now, namely climate change. While agreeing that the economy and jobs are the most urgent priority right now, he also left no doubt that climate change is extremely serious and not to be ignored any longer – he offered his solution:

I believe the best way to do it is through legislation that places a market-based cap on these kinds of emissions. And today, key members of my administration are testifying in Congress on a bill that seeks to enact exactly this kind of market-based approach. My hope is that this will be the vehicle through which we put this policy in effect.

And here's how a market-based cap would work: We'd set a cap, a ceiling, on all the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that our economy is allowed to produce in total, combining the emissions from cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants, energy-intensive industries, all sources.

And by setting an overall cap, carbon pollution becomes like a commodity. It places a value on a limited resource, and that is the ability to pollute. And to determine that value, just like any other traded commodity, we'd create a market where companies could buy and sell the right to produce a certain amount of carbon pollution. And in this way, every company can determine for itself whether it makes sense to spend the money to become cleaner or more efficient, or to spend the money on a certain amount of allowable pollution.

Over time, as the cap on greenhouse gases is lowered, the commodity becomes scarcer -- and the price goes up. And year by year, companies and consumers would have greater incentive to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency as the price of the status quo became more expensive.

What this does is it makes wind power more economical, makes solar power more economical. Clean energy all becomes more economical. And by closing the carbon loophole through this kind of market-based cap, we can address in a systematic way all the facets of the energy crisis: We lower our dependence on foreign oil, we reduce our use of fossil fuels, we promote new industries right here in America. We set up the right incentives so that everybody is moving in the same direction towards energy independence.

As he often does he closed on a hopeful note, reminding the audience that no problem can be solved by government alone, and expressing his faith that in the spirit of Earth Day Americans will also take responsibility on themselves. He discarded the argument that Washington is simply too intractable to address problems of this magnitude, as well as "the even more dangerous idea" that there simply is no solution:

I reject that argument. I reject it because of what you're doing right here at Trinity; what's happening right here in Newton after folks have gone through hard times. I reject it because of what I've seen across this country, in all the eyes of the people that I've met, in the stories that I've heard, in the factories I've visited, in the places where I've seen the future being pieced together -- test by test, trial by trial.

A Busy Earth Day: Van Jones Video, All-Day Live-Blog

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 at 8:46 am
A Busy Earth Day: Van Jones Video, All-Day Live-Blog
Today is the first Earth Day of the Obama presidency, and that carries a special significance for the White House in light of the President’s goal to create a clean energy economy that can serve as a pillar of our recovery. Green jobs were a central focus of the Recovery Act, and the President’s proposed budget will also help ensure that new industries around energy efficiency and renewables will become part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come. Needless to say, making a big move towards energy independence is much more than a fringe benefit.

The President will be speaking broadly about those goals with workers at Trinity Structural Towers in Iowa, the former Maytag plant which now houses a green manufacturing facility producing wind towers. But we also asked Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the Council on Environmental Quality, to walk us through a local player in the emerging clean energy economy, as just one example out of thousands of what the future holds:

But that’s just the beginning for the White House and federal agencies, and we will keep a running log all day as things come in. For just a few examples: Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who testified in the Senate yesterday on green jobs training for workers, will join CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley to shine a light on the important role that women will play in our green economy at a roundtable with 35 representatives from every imaginable sector of the economy. Several members on the cabinet will also be testifying on the Hill today in special hearings. Interior Secretary Salazar, meanwhile, will turn his focus to the National Parks and nearly $750 million in investments they got to create jobs through the Recovery Act. And of course the EPA has been running their photo and video projects all month, with much more to come today.

Check back throughout the day.

7:41: Finishing off the day, we have the Interior Department, which was already busy celebrating National Parks Week, holding a rooftop press conference with Secretary Salazar announced an investment of $750 million in the national park system under the Recovery Act. The Secretary also gives us this message on the connection between America's natural beauty and America's economic future:

5:43: The USDA expands on "the People's Garden": "The People's Garden is designed to provide a sampling of USDA's efforts throughout the world as well as teach others how to nurture, maintain and protect a healthy landscape. If practiced, these garden concepts can be the general public's, government's, or business' contribution to providing healthy food, air, and water for people and communities... Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan officially kicked off the Earth Day event at the Whitten Building with Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Brings Plenty who performed a traditional song and planted seeds at a ceremonial Three Sisters Garden to celebrate American Indians' contribution to American agriculture. Merrigan led volunteers and USDA staffers in planting vegetables, herbs and flowers to complete the first phase of The People's Garden." Get more background here.

2:50: The State Department's DipNote blog is churning out Earth Day posts faster than you can read them. For just a taste, Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern talks on video about the "Focus the Nation" Clean Energy Town Halls. The Question of the Week is posed: "How Should Western Hemisphere Nations Leverage Combined Resources To Address Shared Challenges?" And Belinda Yong, an intern at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, claims her post is "arguably, the greenest diplomatic facility overseas of any country in the world." Sounds like a challenge.

12:10: The President's Proclamation.

11:57: Can we still celebrate Earth Day even if we are not actually on Earth? Yes, we can. Also download the free NASA Earth Day, 2009 poster (6.7 MB pdf).

11:25: The Energy Department goes all-in. Firstly, just go to and see what you see. Secondly, Vice President Biden announces $300 Million in Recovery Act Funds for the Clean Cities Program, an Energy Department-led pilot program to expand the nation’s fleet of clean, sustainable vehicles and the fueling infrastructure necessary to support them. Thirdly, Secretary Chu joins Labor Secretary Solis in an op-ed run in several papers today on building the American Clean Energy Economy: "We have an enormous, urgent environmental and economic task ahead of us, and it is one that we have ignored for far too long. If we are going to create clean energy industry jobs in this country, break the stranglehold that foreign oil has on our economy and punish the polluters who are devastating our natural resources, then we’ve got to be honest about the difficult tasks and tough choices ahead. It’s going to mean telling the special interests that their days of dictating energy policy in this country are over. It’s going to mean refusing to settle for the status quo and the same ineffective policies that have held us back for over 30 years, created price shocks and fostered energy dependence. This president is committed to tackling these challenges head on to create a clean energy policy that works for all Americans, so that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren not just a stronger economy, but a cleaner planet."

10:05: Pick 5! The EPA rolls out their feature Earth Day program with a productive idea worth clicking through for. There are a lot of tips floating around on little things you can do in your own life to reduce your impact on the environment, but not every lifestyle tweak will fit every lifestyle. So the EPA provides us a little focus -- take a look at their list of 10 and pick 5 that work for you.

9:20: First installment. The US Coast Guard has an Earth Day Twitter campaign today talking about the various ways they're trying to preserve the environment while safeguarding the open seas, including plenty of green building and energy. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack marked the day by announcing 56 communities in 34 states will get $144.3 million in loans and grants for infrastructure improvements around water availability and quality -- see the list.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Call to Service

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 at 4:31 pm
A Call to Service
The President has just signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, joined by Senator Kennedy, President Bill Clinton, the Congressional leaders who supported the legislation, and countless others dedicated to passage of the bill at the SEED School, where service is a core part of the curriculum. Appropriately, the President announced a major call to service:

A week from tomorrow marks the 100th day of my administration. In those next eight days, I ask every American to make an enduring commitment to serving your community and your country in whatever way you can. Visit to share your stories of service and success. And together, we will measure our progress not just in number of hours served or volunteers mobilized – but in the impact our efforts have on the life of this nation.

Find the right opportunity for you, or tell us your story of service – then come back in the coming days and weeks and we will highlight some of the best of what we hear.

He spoke to Senator Kennedy, and his entire family, commending them as an icon of service and self-sacrifice in America. He spoke to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch for his role in conceiving of the bill. And he spoke to those in Chicago who taught him the virtues of service as a community organizer.

He spoke to the youth, and all those who are already engaged:

I’ve met countless people of all ages and walks of life who want nothing more than to do their part. I’ve seen a rising generation of young people work and volunteer and turn out in record numbers. They’re a generation that came of age amidst the horrors of 9/11 and Katrina; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; an economic crisis without precedent. And yet despite all this, or more likely because of it, they have become a generation of activists possessed with that most American of ideas – that people who love their country can change it.

He spoke to those who are not yet engaged:

It’s as simple as that. All that’s required on your part is a willingness to make a difference. That is, after all, the beauty of service. Anyone can do it. You don’t need to be a community organizer, or a Senator -- or a Kennedy – or even a President to bring change to people’s lives.

And he spoke to the larger moment our country faces:

We need your service, right now, at this moment in history. I’m not going to tell you what your role should be; that’s for you to discover. But I’m asking you to stand up and play your part. I’m asking you to help change history’s course. Put your shoulder up against the wheel. And if you do, I promise you – your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.

As the President explained, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is about "connecting deeds to needs" – it will open tremendous new avenues of opportunity for Americans to help their country get back on the right track in those many areas where government cannot do it all.

Get involved, and let us know what you’re doing.

The President and King Abdullah on Peace in the Middle East

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 at 2:17 pm
The President and King Abdullah on Peace in the Middle East
Today the President held a one-on-one meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan in the Personal Dining Room at the White House, followed by an expanded meeting in the Oval Office.

(President Barack Obama is seen having tea with King Abdullah of Jordan in a one-on-one meeting
Tuesday, April 21, 2009, at the White House. White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Having discussed a wide range of issues concerning the Middle East during the meeting, from terrorism in the region, to Afghanistan, Iran, and the global economic crisis, the two leaders then gave remarks to the press. The President said King Abdullah "represents a modern approach to foreign policy-making in the Middle East," and King Abdullah in turn offered "warm thanks on behalf of many Arabs and Muslims who really had an outstanding response to the President's outreach to the Muslim Arab world." The bulk of the time, however, was spent on questions regarding Israel and Palestine:

Q I just want to follow on the previous question. You sent Senator Mitchell to the region to listen. Is he done with the listening now and -- because all the signals we have from the Israeli government basically that they are not in favor of the two-state solution. The opposition is strongly advocating that.

So I wanted to ask also His Majesty, President Obama said that there is positive elements within the Arab Peace Initiative, but he didn't say what he disagree about. Can you tell us if you have noticed any tangible results, what the disagreement with that, and can the Arab Peace Initiative be the base now for a peace process in the Middle East?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it is very important to recognize that the Israelis now have had a government for a few weeks and it was a very complicated process for them to put a coalition together. So I think more listening needs to be done. They are going to have to formulate and I think solidify their position. So George Mitchell will continue to listen both to Arab partners, to the Palestinians, as well as the Israelis.

But I agree that we can't talk forever; that at some point, steps have to be taken so that people can see progress on the ground. And that will be something that we will expect to take place in the coming months and we will help hopefully to drive a process where each side is willing to build confidence.

I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution. I have articulated that publically and I will articulate that privately. And I think that there are a lot of Israelis who also believe in a two-state solution. Unfortunately, right now what we've seen not just in Israel but within the Palestinian Territories, among the Arab states, worldwide, is a profound cynicism about the possibility of any progress being made whatsoever.

What we want to do is to step back from the abyss; to say, as hard as it is, as difficult as it may be, the prospect of peace still exists -- but it's going to require some hard choices, it's going to require resolution on the part of all the actors involved, and it's going to require that we -- we create some concrete steps that all parties can take that are evidence of that resolution. And the United States is going to deeply engage in this process to see if we can make progress.

Now, ultimately, neither Jordan nor the United States can do this for the Israelis and the Palestinians. What we can do is create the conditions and the atmosphere and provide the help and assistance that facilitates an agreement. Ultimately they've got to make the decision that it is not in the interests of either the Palestinian people or the Israelis to perpetuate the kind of conflict that we've seen for decades now, in which generations of Palestinian and Israeli children are growing up insecure, in an atmosphere of hate.

And my hope is, is that -- that the opportunity will be seized, but it's going to take some more work and we are committed to doing that work.

KING ABDULLAH: I couldn't have said it better myself, Mr. President. I think we're looking now at the -- at the positives and not the negatives and seeing how we can sequence events over the next couple of months that allows Israelis and Palestinians and Israelis and Arabs to sit around the table and move this process forward.


Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 at 10:03 am
Last week the White House hosted a meeting of presidents and CEOs of disability organizations. We asked Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, to tell us about it.

(Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, meets with presidents and CEOs of major disability organizations in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 15, 2009. Photo credit: Yosi Sergant)

Unprecedented. That seemed to be the theme of Wednesday’s White House meeting with over 60 presidents/CEOs of almost every major national disability organization in the United States.

Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s Senior Advisor, kicked off the day by discussing the importance that the disability rights movement had to both her and the President personally. And even though she had a scheduled flight that she should have left for a good half-hour before the start of the event, Valerie decided to attend anyway. It was an honor to see Valarie make that time commitment as a reflection of this administration’s commitment to the disability community.

(Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison,
meets with presidents and CEOs of major disability organizations in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building
on April 15, 2009. Photo credit: Yosi Sergant)

The First Lady’s Office was next in the line-up. The Deputy Policy Director, Trooper Sanders, was terrific in his presentation because he set the tone for the rest of the day. After speaking for a few minutes outlining the First Lady’s intimate relationship with people with disabilities and her dedication to furthering the cause, Trooper turned the presentation over to the crowd and began asking for their input and suggestions. It became very clear early on that this was not going to be your typical White House lecture. This was a White House discussion, where those present weren’t just attendees, they were participants. The Obama administration recognizes that it doesn’t have all the answers. This event set out to lay the foundation toward developing those critical solutions.

Don Gips, Director of Presidential Personnel, spoke next. He addressed the progress this administration has already made in hiring senior officials in the White House and federal agencies, as well as touching on plans to appoint more people with disabilities than ever before. He also announced new appointments, including Christine Griffin as Deputy Director at OPM and Henry Claypool as Director of the Office of Disability at HHS, to name a few. These appointments are extremely critical to improving the lives of people with disabilities related to employment and healthcare. Jeff Crowley, Senior Advisor on Disability Policy on the Domestic Policy Council, followed Don by highlighting legislative achievements made by this administration, such as the Christopher and Dana Reeves Paralysis Act and signing of CHIP legislation which provides funding to children with disabilities.

Beth Noveck from the Office of Science and Technology provided insight into just how groundbreaking this administration has been and will be in making the government more accessible and transparent. Robert Gordon from the Office of Management and Budget perfectly segued into the significance of this administration’s transparency, saying at one point, "Whenever I want to know what’s going on, I don’t ask my colleagues, I go to" Jason Furman, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, discussed the important role the disability community has in getting our country back on the right track, pointing out specific inclusions in the recovery plan. He also announced that his Policy Director is a person with a disability that will be starting with Jason in a few weeks. Tina Tchen, Director of the Office of Public Liaison, closed out the meeting by stressing the importance of working together and her plans to include the disability community in every major White House public event. They all gave great presentations. But more importantly, every one of our speakers engaged the audience, asking for advice and taking notes. Change was in the air.

Monday, April 20, 2009

“What Makes the United States Special”

Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 7:50 pm
“What Makes the United States Special”
Last week the President released memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. The memos discussed techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, techniques that President Obama has disavowed. Today the President visited CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia to speak to CIA employees directly. Telling them of his great faith in them, and the faith that the American people have in them, he went on to discuss precisely why he has decided to change interrogation policy for the United States:

Now, I have put an end to the interrogation techniques described in those OLC memos, and I want to be very clear and very blunt. I've done so for a simple reason: because I believe that our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values –- including the rule of law. I know I can count on you to do exactly that.

There have been some conversations that I've had with senior folks here at Langley in which I think people have expressed understandable anxiety and concern. So I want to make a point that I just made in the smaller group. I understand that it's hard when you are asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples and would willingly and gladly kill innocents. Al Qaeda is not constrained by a constitution. Many of our adversaries are not constrained by a belief in freedom of speech, or representation in court, or rule of law. I'm sure that sometimes it seems as if that means we're operating with one hand tied behind our back, or that those who would argue for a higher standard are naïve. I understand that. You know, I watch the cable shows once in a while. (Laughter.)

What makes the United States special, and what makes you special, is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it's expedient to do so. That's what makes us different.

So, yes, you've got a harder job. And so do I. And that's okay, because that's why we can take such extraordinary pride in being Americans. And over the long term, that is why I believe we will defeat our enemies, because we're on the better side of history.

So don't be discouraged by what's happened in the last few weeks. Don't be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we've made some mistakes. That's how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be President of the United States, and that's why you should be proud to be members of the CIA. (Applause.)

$100 million there, $100 million here

Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 3:31 pm
$100 million there, $100 million here

Today the President held his first cabinet meeting, and made clear that relentlessly cutting out waste was part and parcel of their mission to make the investments necessary for recovery and long-term stability. Speaking to the press afterwards, he began his remarks expressing his pride in his Cabinet and the work they have been doing to start creating jobs again, then turned to the central message of the day for them:

Many of the agencies have already taken some extraordinary steps to consolidate, streamline, and improve their practices. Just a couple of examples: Veterans Affairs has cancelled or delayed 26 conferences, saving nearly $17.8 million, and they're using less expensive alternatives like videoconferencing. The USDA, under Secretary Vilsack, is working to combine 1,500 employees from seven office locations into a single facility in 2011, which we estimate will save $62 million over a 15-year lease term. Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security estimates that they can save up to $52 million over five years just by purchasing office supplies in bulk.

So there are a host of efficiencies that can be gained without increasing our personnel or our budget, but rather decreasing the amount of money that's spent on unnecessary things in order to fund some of the critical initiatives that we've all talked about. Obviously, Bob Gates just came out with a historic budget proposal with respect to the Pentagon, and we expect to follow up with significant procurement reform that's going to make an enormous difference.

He laid out a specific undertaking as a first step:

So one of the things that -- messages that I delivered today to all members of the Cabinet was: As well as you've already done, you're going to have to do more. I'm asking for all of them to identify at least $100 million in additional cuts to their administrative budgets, separate and apart from the work that Peter Orszag and the rest of our team are doing to go line by line with the budget and identify programmatic cuts that need to be made.

And in the next few weeks we expect to cut at least 100 current programs in the federal budget so that we can free up those dollars in order to put them to use for critical areas like health care, education, energy, our foreign policy apparatus, which is so important.

Read our fact sheet to go deeper into savings being found across government, ranging from rooting out fraud perpetrated on the USDA, to eliminating an international attaché at the Department of Education, to energy efficiency at DHS to going paperless at DOJ and the State Department.

The President took a key question at the end of his remarks:

Q A hundred million dollars, isn't that a drop in the bucket, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: It is, and that's what I just said. None of these things alone are going to make a difference. But cumulatively they would make an extraordinary difference because they start setting a tone. And so what we're going to do is line by line, page by page, $100 million there, $100 million here, pretty soon, even in Washington, it adds up to real money. All right, thank you, guys.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

To Learn from History, Not Be Trapped by It

Saturday, April 18th, 2009 at 5:35 pm
To Learn from History, Not Be Trapped by It
At the Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago where leaders from virtually every nation in the hemisphere gathered, President Obama addressed the opening ceremony of the Summit of the Americas on Friday night:

All of us must now renew the common stake that we have in one another. I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time. While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. (Applause.) There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I'm here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration. (Applause.)

To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements. I am very grateful that President Ortega -- (applause) -- I'm grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. (Laughter.) Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. And we've heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people.

I didn't come here to debate the past -- I came here to deal with the future. (Applause.) I believe, as some of our previous speakers have stated, that we must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it.

The President reiterated areas of opportunity for new partnerships, from stimulating the economy throughout the hemisphere, to alleviating poverty, to using the hemisphere’s vast resources to revolutionize energy use as we know it. Once again he addressed the need to stop the flow of drugs and guns across borders, saying that he is "making it a priority to ratify the Illicit Trafficking in Firearms Convention as another tool that we can use to prevent this from happening."

(President Obama during the group photo at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain,
Trinidad and Tobago, on April 18, 2009. White House photo by Pete Souza)

The President closed his remarks on issues that have long dominated relationships between the Americas, and which have already seen broad change in these first few months:

There's been several remarks directed at the issue of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, so let me address this. The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know that there is a longer -- (applause) -- I know there's a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day. I've already changed a Cuba policy that I believe has failed to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people. We will now allow Cuban Americans to visit the islands whenever they choose and provide resources to their families -- the same way that so many people in my country send money back to their families in your countries to pay for everyday needs.

Over the past two years, I've indicated, and I repeat today, that I'm prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues -- from drugs, migration, and economic issues, to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform. Now, let me be clear, I'm not interested in talking just for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction.

As has already been noted, and I think my presence here indicates, the United States has changed over time. (Applause.) It has not always been easy, but it has changed. And so I think it's important to remind my fellow leaders that it's not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look towards the future. (Applause.)

I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere. That's part of the bargain. (Applause.) That's part of the change that has to take place. That's the old way, and we need a new way.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weekly Address: Efficiency and Innovation

Saturday, April 18th, 2009 at 5:30 am
Weekly Address: Efficiency and Innovation
With the process of going through the budget line by line in full swing, the President uses his Weekly Address to give some examples, big and small, of how the Administration is working to cut costs and eliminate waste. The President also announces two new key appointments, Jeffrey Zients as Chief Performance Officer and Aneesh Chopra as Chief Technology Officer, who will be invaluable in streamlining the way government functions through efficiency and innovation.

Jeffrey D. Zients - Chief Performance Officer
Zients has twenty years of business experience as a CEO, management consultant and entrepreneur with a deep understanding of business strategy, process reengineering and financial management. He served as CEO and Chairman of the Advisory Board Company and Chairman of the Corporate Executive Board. These firms are leading providers of performance benchmarks and best practices across a wide range of industries. Currently, he is the Founder and Managing Partner of Portfolio Logic, an investment firm focused primarily on business and healthcare service companies.

Aneesh Paul Chopra - Chief Technology Officer
Chopra serves as Virginia’s Secretary of Technology. He leads the Commonwealth’s strategy to effectively leverage technology in government reform, to promote Virginia’s innovation agenda, and to foster technology-related economic development. Previously, he worked as Managing Director with the Advisory Board Company, leading the firm’s Financial Leadership Council and the Working Council for Health Plan Executives.

Middle Class Task Force Report: College Affordability

Friday, April 17th, 2009 at 12:56 pm
Middle Class Task Force Report: College Affordability
To see why the Middle Class Task Force is holding its third official meeting in St. Louis on "Making College More Affordable for our Families," you need only look at this chart from the staff report showing the rise of median family income over the past 30 years compared to the rise in tuition costs:

The Vice President and others from the Task Force, joined by 28-year educator Dr. Jill Biden, are delving deep into these issues at their meeting. And for those with kids in college, or even just experiencing a sense of dread as tuition costs skyrocket year after year while your children grow up, the full report is worth a read. It examines the causes of the rise in costs, and addresses them head on. It discusses the fundamental shift in the treatment of government assistance in the President’s budget proposal, from increasing loans and grants to protecting them from political back-and-forth in the budget process year to year, ensuring families will always be able to count on the help they expect. The report also examines innovative ways that colleges can cut down on their costs, which are a primary factor in tuition costs alongside state budget cuts. This is all related to the President’s goal that by 2020, America should once again lead the world in the proportion of adults with a college degree.

(Vice President Joe Biden listens as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan answers a question from the audience
during a Middle Class Task Force event on College Affordability at the University of Missouri St. Louis,
Friday, April 17, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

For those who have been through the process, or are facing the daunting task of applying for aid, the section on simplifying that process may be of particular interest:

Simplifying the Application Process for Aid

Another obstacle to federal student aid is the unnecessarily complicated application process that is often intimidating to families and students seeking loans. In order to qualify for aid, students or their parents must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which contains well over 100 questions on income, assets, family characteristics, personal characteristics, and other items. Completing the FAFSA requires families to sift through paperwork and transfer numbers from tax forms that they may or may not have readily available.

The fact that well over one million students who could qualify for aid went without it during the 2003-2004 school year is one indication that the application process is too complicated. Furthermore, students who do not apply for aid due to the complexity of the process may be discouraged from applying to college at all, reducing college attendance rates. As a result, the complicated process works at cross-purposes with our goal of increasing college attendance and completion. Experts widely agree that the system is in need of change. There are two broad strategies to simplify the financial aid application process that are currently under discussion.

One strategy is to make it easier to complete the current form. For example, according to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), about two-thirds of the questions on income and assets that are included in the FAFSA form can be automatically answered using IRS data. This means that the U.S. Department of Education could obtain this information directly from the IRS, and the student or family would only be required to answer the remaining questions. TICAS contends that a simplified process would have the added benefit of reducing errors among filers who erroneously transfer data by hand from their tax returns to the FAFSA form. It would also remove the burden of requiring colleges and universities to verify the income information on the FAFSA form using tax returns. The use of IRS data is also an attractive option because it can make the financial aid application process more efficient on its own or can be combined with other FAFSA simplification proposals. Importantly, compelling new research suggests that FAFSA simplification can substantially increase applications for student aid as well as subsequent college enrollment.

While appealing, simplification of the application process may not substantially address the length and complexity of the FAFSA for some, such as those who do not file tax returns with the IRS. Furthermore, even after removing the 22 questions that could be completed with data directly from the IRS, the form still would include nearly 100 questions. As a result, a second strategy for simplifying the application process for student aid is to shorten the form by reducing the number of questions asked. The scope of such simplification could be small or large, depending on the number of questions eliminated. The advantages of a short form would include greater transparency and the ability to make earlier determinations of aid. As an extreme example, economists Susan Dynarski and Judith Scott-Clayton have advocated for a form based on adjusted gross income and family size alone.14 Combined with IRS data, such an application would provide immediate, verifiable feedback on the amount of aid for which a student would be eligible. They argue that this would likely facilitate more timely decisions for families concerning higher education financing, and it would do so with only modest changes to the distribution of aid. This proposal represents just one possibility, but even a much less radical simplification would substantially ease the burden of filing the FAFSA on students and their families.

Strategies for simplifying the financial aid application process have potential merits, potential impacts on financial aid awards, and potential challenges in implementation. However, it is clear that simplification makes good policy sense, and that it would help families benefit from important resources available to help cover the cost of college.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Towards the Summit

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 at 6:27 pm
Towards the Summit
This afternoon the President landed in Mexico, where he met with President Felipe Calderon in anticipation of the Summit of the Americas. Even before leaving, this morning he reached out to all of the nations who will be in attendance with an op-ed published in English, Spanish or Portuguese in the following papers: Trinidad Express (Trinidad & Tobago); St. Petersburg Times (USA); Miami Herald (USA); El Nuevo Herald (USA); La Nación (Argentina); O Globo (Brazil); El Mercurio (Chile); El Tiempo (Colombia); La Nación (Costa Rica); El Comercio (Ecuador); El Universal (México); El Comercio (Perú); El Nuevo Día (Puerto Rico); El País (Uruguay); and El Nacional (Venezuela).

The President laid out his vision for the Summit in the op-ed:

As we approach the Summit of the Americas, our hemisphere is faced with a clear choice. We can overcome our shared challenges with a sense of common purpose, or we can stay mired in the old debates of the past. For the sake of all our people, we must choose the future.

Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors. We have been too easily distracted by other priorities, and have failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas. My Administration is committed to the promise of a new day. We will renew and sustain a broader partnership between the United States and the hemisphere on behalf of our common prosperity and our common security.

But the President made clear that this commitment would be more than rhetorical. He pointed to the dramatic and long overdue shift in policy towards Cuba, and forthrightly pointed out that there are many other issues that will be difficult to grapple with: "The United States will strongly support respect for the rule of law, better law enforcement, and stronger judicial institutions. Security must be advanced through our commitment to partner with those who are courageously battling drug cartels, gangs and other criminal networks throughout the Americas. And our efforts start at home. By reducing demand for drugs and curtailing the illegal flow of weapons and bulk cash south across our border, we can advance security in the United States and beyond."

(President Barack Obama bids farewell to the family of Mexican President Felipe Calderon following their
meeting in Mexico City, Thursday, April 16, 2009. White House Photo/Peter Souza)

Indeed, even at his welcoming ceremony was joined by President Calderon when he immediately pledged to work together in new ways to crack down on the drug cartels tied to so much tragedy on both sides of the border: "At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders, it is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue, both through initiatives like the Merida Initiative, but also on our side of the border, in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south."

The two countries also announced the "US-Mexico Bilateral Framework on Clean Energy and Climate Change," which will focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, adaptation, market mechanisms, forestry and land use, green jobs, low carbon energy technology development and capacity building. Specific areas of joint cooperation under the Bilateral Framework may include:

· Collaborating on training/workshops and information exchanges for government officials to explore possible cooperation on greenhouse gas inventories, various greenhouse gas reduction strategies, and market mechanisms;
· Through our collaboration in the Border 2012 program, working with our respective border states to provide opportunities for information exchange and joint work on renewable energy, such as wind and solar, that could include technical and economic project feasibility studies, project development, and capacity building in the border region. Other border work could include a bilateral border crossing planning group to develop strategies to reduce emissions from idling vehicles, among other initiatives that may be deemed appropriate;
· Expanding our extensive bilateral collaboration on clean energy technologies to facilitate renewable power generation including by addressing transmission and distribution obstacles between our countries; fostering Energy Service Company market development; and highlighting existing and proposed areas for cooperation on clean energy and energy efficiency under the North American Energy Working Group;
· Promoting academic and scientific exchanges on renewable energy;
· Pursuing projects on adapting to climate change, including coastal or disaster risk reduction activities as well as adaptation in key sectors; and
· Working jointly with other countries to take advantage of growing Mexican expertise on greenhouse gas inventories, adaptation and project planning. This work could also possibly include a shared US/Mexican initiative to help developing countries in the Americas create low carbon development strategies plans for adaptation to climate change, and monitoring and accounting for the results.

The Summit of the Americas will get underway tomorrow (don’t forget to check out Secretary Clinton’s digital town hall right beforehand at 11:15 AM Eastern) – but today was a good start to the trip.

A Vision for High Speed Rail

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 at 12:20 pm
A Vision for High Speed Rail

"I'm happy to be here. I’m more happy than you can imagine," said the Vice President, a noted rail enthusiast, before introducing the President for the release of his strategic plan for high speed rail in America. Revolving around the $8 billion in the Recovery Act and the $1 billion per year for five years requested in the President’s budget to get these projects off the ground, the President painted the picture that will become a reality as a result of these investments:

What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.

Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here.

In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now. And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next: a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. So it's being done; it's just not being done here.

There's no reason why we can't do this. This is America. There's no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system –- and everybody stands to benefit.

The inclusion of high speed rail in the Recovery Act was one of many symbols of the new vision for America and its economy that guided the plan. As the Vice President explained in his introduction, joined by Transportation Secretary LaHood, in addition to putting Americans to work across the country it went towards several the Recovery Act’s key goals:

And we're making a down payment today, a down payment on the economy for tomorrow, the economy that's going to drive us in the 21st century in a way that the other -- the highway system drove us in the mid-20th century. And I'm happy to be here. I'm more happy than you can imagine -- (laughter) -- to talk about a commitment that, with the President's leadership, we're making to achieve the goal through the development of high-speed rail projects that will extend eventually all across this nation. And most of you know that not only means an awful lot to me, but I know a lot of you personally in this audience over the years, I know it means equally as much to you.

With high-speed rail system, we're going to be able to pull people off the road, lowering our dependence on foreign oil, lowering the bill for our gas in our gas tanks. We're going to loosen the congestion that also has great impact on productivity, I might add, the people sitting at stop lights right now in overcrowded streets and cities. We're also going to deal with the suffocation that's taking place in our major metropolitan areas as a consequence of that congestion. And we're going to significantly lessen the damage to our planet. This is a giant environmental down payment.

The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding. Those lines are: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Release of the President and Vice President’s Tax Returns

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 4:34 pm
Release of the President and Vice President’s Tax Returns
As another demonstration of the President’s commitment to openness and transparency, today the White House issued the following releases making the President and Vice President’s tax returns public:

For the President:

Office of the Press Secretary

April 15, 2009

President and First Lady Release 2008 Income Tax Returns

Today, the President released his 2008 federal income tax returns. He and the First Lady filed their income tax returns jointly and reported an adjusted gross income of $2,656,902. The vast majority of the family’s 2008 income is the proceeds from the sale of the President’s books. The Obamas paid $855,323 in federal income tax.

The President and First Lady also reported donating $172,050 – or about 6.5% of their adjusted gross income – to 37 different charities. The largest reported gifts to charity were $25,000 contributions to Catholic Relief Services and the United Negro College Fund.

The President and First Lady also released their Illinois income tax return and reported paying $77,883 in state income taxes.

Copies of the returns are available below:

Download the President’s Federal 1040 form (pdf)

Download the President’s Federal 709 form (pdf).

Download the President’s Illinois State income tax return (pdf)

For the Vice President:

Office of the Vice President

April 15, 2009

The Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden Release 2008 Income Tax Returns

Today, the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden released their 2008 federal and state income tax returns. He and Dr. Biden filed their income tax returns jointly and reported an adjusted gross income of $269,256 and an after-tax income of $183,315. The family’s primary sources of income were salaries from the United States Senate, Widener University, Delaware Technical & Community College, as well as royalties from the audio rights to the Vice President’s book. The Bidens paid $46,952 in federal income taxes; $11,164 in Delaware state income taxes; and donated $1,885 to charity. The charitable donations claimed by the Bidens on their tax returns are not the sum of their annual contributions to charity. They donate to their church, and they contribute to their favorite causes with their time, as well as their checkbooks.

Real Tax Cuts Making a Real Difference

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 1:02 pm
Real Tax Cuts Making a Real Difference
The Wrights from Marrietta, Pennsylvania, and the Kirkwoods from Lynchburg, Virginia supported then-candidate Obama during the campaign as he was touting his promise of a Making Work Pay tax credit. Chris and Guenna Wright just bought a new home with their four-year-old son after seven years in their previous house. Kelly Kirkwood is a part time Nursery School teacher at Randolph College in Lynchburg, and her husband Scott is a graphic designer for a small local company – together they are living paycheck-to-paycheck during this economic downturn. Today all of them came to the White House to meet with now-President Obama on tax day, with the President having made good on his pledge.

Clark Harrison from Preston, Maryland and Latoya Malone from West Hempstead, New York both made good on the $8,000 home-buyers tax credit. For Clark it was exactly the breathing room he needed to be able to settle bills and make the fixes to the house, allowing him to get out on his own. For Latoya, who moved from the Virgin Islands to New York City to be close to her mother, the home-buyers tax credit helped put a house that had seemed just out of reach under contract for her.

Those stories, and others like them, were what the President heard in his meeting today with families from across the country. He asked them to join him on stage afterwards when he spoke to the press:

Good morning. I decided not to bring Bo today -- because he stepped on my economic speech yesterday. (Laughter.)

Good morning. I know that April 15th isn't exactly everyone's favorite date on the calendar. But it is an important opportunity for those of us in Washington to consider our responsibilities to the people who sent us here and who pay the bills. And I've brought some friends of mine who sent me here and pay the bills.

Across America, families like the people who join me have had tough choices forced upon them because of this economic downturn. Many have lost a job; many are fighting to keep their business open. Many more are struggling to make payments, to stay in their home, or to pursue a college education. And these Americans are the backbone of our economy, the backbone of our middle class. They're the workers, the innovators, the students who are going to be powering our recovery. So their dreams have to be our own. They need a government that is working to create jobs and opportunity for them, rather than simply giving more and more to those at the very top in the false hope that wealth automatically trickles down.

And that's why my administration has taken far-reaching action to give tax cuts to the Americans who need them, while jump-starting growth and job creation in the process. We start from the simple premise that we should reduce the tax burden on working people, while helping Americans go to college, own a home, raise a family, start a business and save for retirement. Those goals are the foundation of the American Dream, and they are the focus of my tax policy.

The President went through the tax changes enacted just in these past few months, including: 1) The Making Work Pay credit for 95% of American families; 2) allowing small businesses to offset their losses during this downturn against the income they’ve earned over the last five years; 3) a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college; 4) the $8,000 for credit for first-time home buyers. He also made clear that while the tax code is being made right, the federal government will also do its part to tighten its belt, reiterating that his Administration has identified two trillion dollars in deficit-reductions over the next decade: "That’s why we’re cutting programs that don’t work, contracts that aren’t fair, and spending that we don’t need."

He stood by his long-standing intentions to end tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas, and for people like himself who have made enough money not to need them. Lastly, he pledged as a long-term goal to greatly simplify the tax code and filing process, recognizing that this can be a hardship in itself at this time of year. He closed explaining that his tax policies are guided not by ideology but by the real experiences of people like those he met with today:

Now, I just had a conversation with these wonderful Americans, and like people I talked to all across the country, they're not looking for a free ride. Every single person here is working hard and deserves a chance to get ahead. And they're a family like -- families like the Kirkwoods, who just want to own their own business and put away some money away for their kids' college tuition. And they're workers like Clark Harrison, behind me, who has worked hard and wants to be able to purchase that first home. They're business owners like Alan Givens, who wants his company to sustain itself through bad times as well as the good. And I was encouraged to hear that Alan's business is going strong on a whole bunch of clean energy measures that he's helping to promote in his area.

For too long, we've seen taxes used as a wedge to scare people into supporting policies that actually increased the burden on working people instead of helping them live their dreams. That has to change, and that's the work that we've begun. We've passed tax cuts that will help our economy grow. We've made a clear promise that families that earn less than $250,000 a year will not see their taxes increase by a single dime. And we have kept to those promises that were made during the campaign. We've given tax relief to the Americans who need it and the workers who have earned it. And we're helping more Americans move towards their American Dream by going to school, owning a home, keeping their business and raising their family.

Secretary Clinton’s Digital Town Hall for Summit of the Americas

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 10:22 am
Secretary Clinton’s Digital Town Hall for Summit of the Americas
Dipnote, the State Department blog, gives us the details:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will conduct Digital Town Hall of the Americas, a live web-based discussion, from the Dominican Republic on Friday, April 17, 2009, in anticipation of the Fifth Summit of the Americas to be held April 17-19 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The event will provide an opportunity for Secretary Clinton to launch a conversation with citizens from across the Western Hemisphere to discuss the Summit’s themes of securing our citizens’ future by promoting human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability, as well as the situation in Haiti, where she will visit and attend meetings on Thursday, April 16.

The State Department has their Social Media Hub dedicated to the Summit, which will host 34 democratically elected leaders from the Western hemisphere. Catch the webcast there on Friday and go over and get engaged with the questions in the meantime.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Reaching Out to the Cuban People

Monday, April 13th, 2009 at 7:04 pm
Reaching Out to the Cuban People
Today Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was joined by Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council Dan Restrepo -- who spoke in Spanish -- in announcing a change in US policy towards Cuba at the Daily Press Briefing:

MR. GIBBS: Good. Before we do our regularly scheduled program, I’ve got a short announcement. And I am joined for the bilingual portion of this announcement by Dan Restrepo, a Special Assistant to the President and a Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council.

Today, President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country’s future. The President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba, and to send them remittances. He’s further directed that steps be taken to enable the freer flow of information among the Cuban people and between those in Cuba and the rest of the world, as well as to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian items directly to the Cuban people.

In taking these steps to help bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and to promote the increased flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people, President Obama is working to fulfill the goals he identified both during his presidential campaign and since taking office.

All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens. President Obama believes the measure he has taken today will help make that goal a reality. He encourages all who share it to continue their steadfast support for the Cuban people.

MR. RESTREPO: Thanks, Robert.

Buenas tardes.

Hoy, el Presidente Obama ha ordenado que se tomen ciertas medidas, ciertos pasos, para extender la mano al pueblo cubano, para apoyar su deseo de vivir con respeto a los derechos humanos y para poder determinar su destino propio y el destino de su país.

El Presidente ha dado instrucciones a los secretarios de Estado, Comercio y Tesoro para que pongan en marcha las acciones necesarias para eliminar todas las restricciones a individuos para que puedan visitar a sus familiares en la isla y mandar remesas. Además ha dado instrucciones para que se tomen pasos para permitir el flujo libre de información entre el pueblo cubano y entre quienes están en Cuba y el resto del mundo, y para facilitar la entrega de recursos humanitarios enviados directamente al pueblo cubano.

Al tomar estas medidas para ayudar a -- cerrar la brecha -- la brecha entre familias cubanas divididas y promover el flujo libre de información y artículos de ayuda humanitaria para el pueblo cubano, el Presidente Obama está esforzándo por cumplir los objetivos que fijó durante la campaña y desde el asumio del cargo.

Todos aquellos que creen en los valores democráticos básicos anhelan una Cuba que respeta los derechos humanos, políticos, económicos, básicos de todo su pueblo. El Presidente Obama considera que estas medidas ayudarán a hacer realidad ese objetivo. El Presidente - El Presidente alenta a todos quienes comparten este deseo, que sigan cometidos a su firme apoyo para el pueblo cubano.