Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Celebrating LGBT Pride Month

TUESDAY, JUNE 30TH, 2009 AT 10:28 AM
Celebrating LGBT Pride Month
Posted by Katherine Brandon

The President and First Lady hosted the first-of-its-kind LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House yesterday. On the heels of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the reception brought together LGBT families, volunteers, community leaders, lawmakers and heads of LGBT organizations to celebrate the LGBT community.

In his remarks, the President stressed that although we’ve made progress towards equality and fairness for all, there are still more challenges to face:
Now this struggle, I don't need to tell you, is incredibly difficult, although I think it's important to consider the extraordinary progress that we have made. There are unjust laws to overturn and unfair practices to stop. And though we've made progress, there are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbors or even family members and loved ones, who still hold fast to worn arguments and old attitudes; who fail to see your families like their families; and who would deny you the rights that most Americans take for granted. And I know this is painful and I know it can be heartbreaking.
And yet all of you continue, leading by the force of the arguments you make but also by the power of the example that you set in your own lives -- as parents and friends, as PTA members and leaders in the community. And that's important, and I'm glad that so many LGBT families could join us today. (Applause.) For we know that progress depends not only on changing laws but also changing hearts. And that real, transformative change never begins in Washington.
He continued to say that even though these struggles continue today, the administration has refused to put aside issues of basic equality, and continues to fight against discrimination in a variety of ways:
And I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It's not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago.
But I say this: We have made progress and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps. And by the time you receive -- (applause.) We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration. (Applause.)
Now, while there is much more work to do, we can point to important changes we've already put in place since coming into office. I've signed a memorandum requiring all agencies to extend as many federal benefits as possible to LGBT families as current law allows. And these are benefits that will make a real difference for federal employees and Foreign Service Officers, who are so often treated as if their families don't exist. And I'd like to note that one of the key voices in helping us develop this policy is John Berry, our director of the Office of Personnel Management, who is here today. And I want to thank John Berry. (Applause.)
I've called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act to help end discrimination -- (applause) -- to help end discrimination against same-sex couples in this country. Now, I want to add we have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides. And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law. I've made that clear.
I'm also urging Congress to pass the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, which will guarantee the full range of benefits, including health care, to LGBT couples and their children. (Applause.) My administration is also working hard to pass an employee non-discrimination bill and hate crimes bill, and we're making progress on both fronts. (Applause.) Judy and Dennis Shepard, as well as their son Logan, are here today. I met with Judy in the Oval Office in May -- (applause) -- and I assured her and I assured all of you that we are going to pass an inclusive hate crimes bill into law, a bill named for their son Matthew. (Applause.)
In addition, my administration is committed to rescinding the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status. (Applause.) The Office of Management and Budget just concluded a review of a proposal to repeal this entry ban, which is a first and very big step towards ending this policy. And we all know that HIV/AIDS continues to be a public health threat in many communities, including right here in the District of Columbia. And that's why this past Saturday, on National HIV Testing Day, I was proud once again to encourage all Americans to know their status and get tested the way Michelle and I know our status and got tested. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to say a word about "don't ask, don't tell." As I said before -- I'll say it again -- I believe "don't ask, don't tell" doesn't contribute to our national security. (Applause.) In fact, I believe preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security. (Applause.)
The President concluded by honoring the Stonewall protests, which occurred 40 years ago this week. A group of citizens, two of which were in attendance at the White House, stood up to defy an unjust policy at the Stonewall Inn, and this small protest inspired others to stand up against discrimination, helping to spark the gay rights movement. The President closed saying that we "must continue to do our part to make progress -- step by step, law by law, mind by changing mind," because even seemingly small gains can add up to monumental change for our families and our communities

Improving Energy Efficiency

MONDAY, JUNE 29TH, 2009 AT 7:15 PM
Improving Energy Efficiency
Posted by Katherine Brandon

Amidst the tremedous progress being made in Congress on legislation to create a clean energy economy, today the President led by example and did his part here in the Executive branch. The President and Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today several innovative actions that will promote energy efficiency while saving Americans billions of dollars annually. This announcement highlights the fact that clean energy not only makes environmental sense, but it also makes smart economic sense. The President explained that this is why the administration has put energy at the forefront of our economic recovery, working to build a new, clean energy economy for the future:

So we've gotten a lot done on the energy front over the last six months. But even as we're changing the ways we're producing energy, we're also changing the ways we use energy. In fact, one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to make our economy stronger and cleaner is to make our economy more energy efficient. And that's something that Secretary Chu is working every single day to work through.

This announcement, which takes effect in 2012, includes major changes to energy conservation standards for household and commercial lighting. It mainly focuses on General Service Fluorescent Lamps, commonly found in residential and commercial builds, and Incandescent Reflector Lamps, commonly found in recessed and track lighting. Although these changes may not sound exciting, the President explained, the effects will be substantial:

The first step we're taking sets new efficiency standards on fluorescent and incandescent lighting. Now I know light bulbs may not seem sexy, but this simple action holds enormous promise because 7 percent of all the energy consumed in America is used to light our homes and our businesses. Between 2012 and 2042, these new standards will save consumers up to $4 billion a year, conserve enough electricity to power every home in America for 10 months, reduce emissions equal to the amount produced by 166 million cars each year, and eliminate the need for as many as 14 coal-fired power plants.

The President and Secretary Chu also announced that $346 million from the Recovery Act will go towards accelerating the development and use of energy efficient technologies in new and existing commercial and residential buildings. Improving building efficiency will not only create jobs, but it will also be a crucial step in reducing carbon emissions:

And if we want to make our economy run more efficiently, we've also got to make our homes and businesses run more efficiently. And that's why we're also speeding up a $346 million investment under the Recovery Act to expand and accelerate the development, deployment, and use of energy-efficient technologies in residential and commercial buildings, which consume almost 40 percent of the energy we use and contribute to almost 40 percent of the carbon pollution we produce.

We're talking about technologies that are available right now or will soon be available -- from lighting to windows, heating to cooling, smart sensors and controls. By adopting these technologies in our homes and businesses, we can make our buildings up to 80 percent more energy efficient -- or with additions like solar panels on the roof or geothermal power from underground, even transform them into zero-energy buildings that actually produce as much energy as they consume.

If you’d like to learn more about today’s announcement and how it will improve energy efficiency, you can read the White House fact sheet.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Streaming and Interactive at 5:00: Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle

MONDAY, JUNE 29TH, 2009 AT 4:32 PM
Streaming and Interactive at 5:00: Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle
Posted by Jesse Lee
At 5:00 today watch, discuss, and engage with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the Office of Health Reform, through our Facebook live-stream chat application, or alternatively watch and drop us your comments here at WhiteHouse.gov/live/discuss.

We're two days away from President Obama's National Discussion on Health Care Reform, and questions are still coming in as quickly as we can watch them. Get your question in, but in the meantime get some direct feedback from one of the leaders of Health Care Reform here in the White House.

"Still Thriving and Excelling Long After Helen Keller"

MONDAY, JUNE 29TH, 2009 AT 3:32 PM
"Still Thriving and Excelling Long After Helen Keller"
Posted by Kareem Dale
Another day at the White House, another chance for President Obama to make history for people with disabilities. And, he did just that.

On Friday, June 26, 2009, President Barack Obama became one of the very few sitting American Presidents to personally greet and welcome persons who are deaf-blind to the White House Oval Office.

(President Barack Obama meets with a group from the Helen Keller National Center in the Oval Office
June 26, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The group featured five young adults (Crystal Morales, Kelvin Crosby, Virginia Jordan, Divya Goel, and Jason Corning) affiliated with the Helen Keller National Center ("HKNC") including a musician with two CDs to her credit, a surfer and aspiring field goal kicker, a Cum Laude graduate who wants to start a school, an aspiring restaurant manager, and a winner of the Wisconsin Council for Exceptional Children "Yes I Can" award for Advocacy and Independent Living. Two staff members and 3 volunteers from the HKNC also joined the young adults.

They were in D.C. to celebrate Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week. This year’s theme for the week was Deaf-Blindness Didn’t Stop with Helen Keller. The focus of the week was to demonstrate that successful deaf-blind persons are still thriving and excelling long after Helen Keller.

The week culminated with their visit to the White House. They visited the White House in the morning, where they received a tour of the public residence. From hanging out in the First Lady’s East Reception Room, to playing the same piano played by Stevie Wonder, to visiting the China Room, the tour was a major hit with the young adults. They returned in the afternoon for the icing on the already incredibly rich cake to take a photo with the President in the Oval Office. The President congratulated the young adults on their accomplishments and reminded them that we remain committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

This visit was not and should not be viewed as a sympathetic thing for the President to do. Rather, it reflects this President’s commitment to, and understanding of, the desire for all people with disabilities to be fully integrated into society. These young adults are proof that if provided with the necessary supports and services, people with disabilities can and will achieve anything they desire. Recognizing Deaf-Blind Awareness Week by inviting these young adults to the White House further solidifies the extraordinary commitment of this entire administration to all people with disabilities.

Kareem Dale is Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy.

Blogging to the Middle: Simplifying Financial Aid Applications

MONDAY, JUNE 29TH, 2009 AT 3:18 PM
Blogging to the Middle: Simplifying Financial Aid Applications
Posted by Terrell McSweeny
Here at the Middle Class Task Force, we have been working on ways to make college more affordable for families in America. The President, the Vice President and the Middle Class Task Force are committed to making sure that every student has the opportunity to earn a college degree.
In April, the Vice President hosted a Middle Class Task Force Meeting on college affordability in St. Louis, Missouri to discuss ways to expand opportunities and help make the dream of a college education a reality for more families. In Missouri, we released a staff report on ways that the administration can work to increase college affordability.
For high school seniors or aspiring college students facing the daunting task of applying for financial aid, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form can be a needlessly difficult obstacle on the path to higher education. Previous versions of the FAFSA have included as many as 153 questions, most of which had no relevance to financial aid packages.
On Wednesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – a Task Force Member - followed up on our Missouri findings and announced a shorter, simpler, and more user friendly FAFSA form that will make it easier to apply for financial aid. Starting this summer, students will be able to access the new web based FAFSA that dramatically simplifies and shortens the application form, and by next January, the FAFSA application will be streamlined with the IRS for a one stop, easy and pain free application.
The new version will make it easier and less intimidating to apply for aid, and will increase access for hundreds of thousands of students who are eligible, but do not apply for aid.
Simplifying the financial aid application is a policy that members of the Middle Class Task Force believe will help families benefit from important resources to cover the cost of college. We are continuing to work with Congress, the Treasury Department, the Department of Education, and the Administration to strengthen and affirm the opportunity for every student to pursue higher education.
As always, please continue sharing your ideas by visiting the Middle Class Taskforce Website.

Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Your Turn: Join the National Online Discussion on Health Care Reform

SATURDAY, JUNE 27TH, 2009 AT 3:40 PM
Your Turn: Join the National Online Discussion on Health Care Reform
Posted by Macon Phillips
The weather isn't the only thing heating up in DC this summer. Health care reform is already a hot topic, and as legislation moves through Congress, Americans across the nation have questions about how costs will be brought under control to make quality affordable health care accessible to everyone.

That's why the White House is taking another step to connect with people outside of Washington and answer some of the most common questions you have. In the coming days, we're going to focus on your questions about health care, with President Obama and some of his top health care advisors providing answers.

On Wednesday, the President will hold another online town hall to answer more of your questions. This online town hall will be a little different than the last one. This time around, we are engaging online networks outside of WhiteHouse.gov, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

You can get started today by watching the President's video and posting your video response here:

On Monday, Nancy-Ann DeParle will be hosting a live-streamed, online chat to discuss health care reform (like the recent one with Van Jones). Join the White House's Facebook page to get the time once it is finalized.

It is safe to say that we are going to get a ton of questions from a lot of sources and won't be able to answer every one. But over the coming days, we'll use this blog, online chats and the President's town hall on Wednesday to address some of the most common issues we see.


Some tips:

Don't know how to respond to the President's video with your question? Check out this tutorial from YouTube about how to create your own and add it as a response.

If you are a Twitter user, you can also ask your question with this hashtag: #WHHCQ or head to Facebook and ask your question there.

Get Tested

SATURDAY, JUNE 27TH, 2009 AT 9:51 AM
Get Tested
Posted by Cammie Croft
For the 14th commemoration of National HIV Testing Day, we wanted to share this video of the President and First Lady with you:

One in five Americans currently living with HIV doesn't know it. If our President and First Lady can get tested -- you can too.

To find a testing site near you visit http://www.hivtest.org or text KNOWIT to 566948.

And to learn more about HIV testing and what you can do to spread the message, visit cdc.gov and aids.gov.

Weekly Address: Opening the Door to a Clean Energy Economy

FRIDAY, JUNE 26TH, 2009 AT 11:59 PM
Weekly Address: Opening the Door to a Clean Energy Economy
Posted by Jesse Lee
The President praises historic energy legislation passed by the House of Representatives. The legislation will help America create green jobs, ensure clean air for our children, move towards energy independence and combat climate change.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Health Reform for Every Region, Every State, Every American

Health Reform for Every Region, Every State, Every American
Posted by Jesse Lee
During the course of the spring, the White House Health Reform team went on the road to engage every part of the country, traveling to Michigan, Vermont, Iowa , North Carolina and California to hear out people’s concerns and get their input on how to lower costs, ensure choice, and provide access to quality coverage for everybody.
Today the President met with Governors Jennifer Granholm (D-MI), Jim Douglas (R-VT), Jim Doyle (D-WI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Christine Gregoire (D-WA), all of whom helped co-host forums in their regions. Speaking to the press afterwards, he explained why he wanted to revisit that profoundly enlightening tour as Health Care Reform heads into yet another pivotal period in Congress:
THE PRESIDENT: …And so they've reported back to me. There's no perfect unanimity across the table in terms of every single aspect of reform. I think everybody here wants to make sure that governors have flexibility, that they have input into how legislation is being shaped on the Hill. But they have done my administration and I think the American people a terrific service in bringing some of these individual stories to us. And we're committed to working with them in the weeks and months to come to make sure that when we get health reform done, it is in partnership with the states where the rubber so often hits the road.
And one of the advantages they have, as Joe Biden put it, they've planted a mole inside our administration. (Laughter.) Kathleen Sebelius, very recently a governor, knows exactly what all of them are struggling with, and she and Nancy-Ann are going to be interacting with them on a regular basis as we move this agenda forward.
So I want to thank them publicly. And I look forward to working with them to get this done for the American people and for the people of their respective states in the weeks to come.
Thank you.
Q Is there any give in your deadline, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: We need to get it done.
Q This year?
THE PRESIDENT: We need to get it done this year.
Those forums were also led by working people in their respective regions who could give a snapshot of the problems people were facing there. Joyce Shilakes took that role in the Michigan forum. As the wife of a General Motors employee who knows his future is uncertain, and whose own health care coverage is uncertain as a result, one of her central motivations for supporting comprehensive reform is as fundamental as it is ubiquitous in America: the desire for peace of mind.
It is worth reading the remarks she gave in Michigan back in the spring as a reminder of what the fight here is really about:
Hello. As you have heard, my name is Joyce Shilakes and I am very honored to be here with you today and to be asked to share my personal experiences that lead me to form a health care discussion group with my family and colleagues last December.
As a clinical social worker, every day I work with individuals who are struggling with mental and physical illness. One of the most frustrating and disheartening aspects of my job is watching my clients struggle to pay for treatments and medications that would stabilize their illness and help them to maintain productive lives. All too often, they are forced to choose between buying the expensive medications they need or paying for the basic needs of survival such as food, shelter and gas for themselves and their families.
This is a choice that no person should have to make. I have watched as they place their healthcare on hold only to have their symptoms worsen, their lives placed at risk, their jobs and families suffer – all because they have no insurance or were unable to afford the co-pays.
But my desire for a changed health care policy does not arise from my professional experiences alone. On a personal basis, my husband and I live with the very real threat of falling into the ranks of the uninsured if my husband’s job with General Motors were to be eliminated. This is especially anxiety provoking considering the fact that we are both Cancer survivors and under the current system we would be unlikely to find affordable medical coverage.
While I'm sure you can imagine, Cancer is a difficult disease to face under the best of circumstances. Facing it without insurance would be a horrendous burden. My breast cancer treatment alone ran over $100,000 eight years ago. Someone without insurance and faced with this disease today would likely be forced to choose between a chance at life bought by bankrupting themselves and their family, or choosing to die.
But speaking to a much larger issue, as someone who lives in the Detroit area and whose community, life and livelihood and benefited by the success of the Big 3, I have watched as our struggling automakers lose ground to foreign manufacturers who are not faced with the same health care responsibilities. The health care issue is now beginning to undermine the very fabric of our nation as our automaker and large businesses employing thousands are forced to close their doors and lay off employees, in part due to the lack of sustainable health system.
These are some of the reasons that I, and my colleagues, jumped at the chance to become involved in last December’s health care discussion. For the first time, we felt that we had a president who was receptive and encouraging of input from all Americans. We wanted to lend our voices to the chorus of others who have been clamoring for change. Today, I must admit to having more than a glimmer of hope that we can work together to bring about a comprehensive American system of health care that will provide high quality health services for all citizens of our nation. I look forward to participating with you in that endeavor.

Green Jobs for a Green Future: Weatherization

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24TH, 2009 AT 11:25 AM
Green Jobs for a Green Future: Weatherization
Posted by Jesse Lee
We have heard from Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, on some of the seedlings of a clean energy economy before. And back in May he introduced us to the enormous potential of weatherizing buildings and homes. Today, as part of a week where the Cabinet is out in force pushing through key energy-related projects and initiatives, Van comes back again to show us how weatherizing homes will be a major source of jobs in neighborhoods like yours as the President’s vision for a clean energy economy becomes reality. See if you can watch the video and not be excited about what the future holds here.
Van Jones will also be back with us for a live-streamed chat through Facebook and WhiteHouse.gov at 3:00 this afternoon to talk about the future of green jobs in America. Join us.

UPDATE: Good, related new from the Labor Department. An excerpt from their release:

During a visit to Memphis today, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced five grant competitions, totaling $500 million, to fund projects that prepare workers for green jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.

"Emerging green jobs are creating opportunities for workers to enter careers that offer good wages and pathways to long term job growth and prosperity," said Secretary Solis. "Workers receiving training through projects funded by these competitions will be at the forefront as our nation transforms the way we generate electricity, manufacture products and do business across a wide range of industries."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The President's Opening Remarks on Iran, with Persian Translation

TUESDAY, JUNE 23RD, 2009 AT 4:06 PM
The President's Opening Remarks on Iran, with Persian Translation
Posted by Jesse Lee
The President discusses Iran during his opening remarks at the Press Conference today at the White House:

Transcript in English:

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon, everybody. Today, I want to start by addressing three issues, and then I'll take your questions.

First, I'd like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran's affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in Iran -- some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the election. These accusations are patently false. They're an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran's borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won't work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they -- and only they -- will choose.

The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That's precisely what's happened in the last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests [sic] of justice. Despite the Iranian government's efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we've watched what the Iranian people are doing.

This is what we've witnessed. We've seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence. We've seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard. Above all, we've seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we've experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion. That's what Iran's own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

Transcript in Persian:

And finally, read an Arabic translation as well (pdf).

Streaming and Interactive at 2:30: Title IX Event with Valerie Jarrett, Billie Jean King and More

TUESDAY, JUNE 23RD, 2009 AT 12:52 PM
Streaming and Interactive at 2:30: Title IX Event with Valerie Jarrett, Billie Jean King and More
Posted by Jesse Lee
Today the White House will be holding a roundtable on the 37th Anniversary of Title IX featuring Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and an all-star line-up of women athletes and scientists. In addition to the roundtable participants, which include Billie Jean King and Dominique Dawes, 30 local high school aged girls will be in the audience along with several professional athletes and well-known Title IX advocates.
We are once again using our "White House Live" Facebook application, which will allow you to discuss the Roundtable and watch the live-stream at the same time. The participants at the Roundtable will also be kept up to date with your questions and comments.
· Watch and discuss with the "White House Live" Facebook application
[UPDATE: This event has now concluded.]
If you are not a Facebook user, you can also watch it live at WhiteHouse.gov/live/discuss, and we will have a special comment form you can use to communicate with us there as well.
Over the past few days women athletes (current and former) have been submitting photos of themselves in action, which we are featuring now in this new kind of photo gallery below. You can still submit your own photo to be a part of it.

Streaming Live at 12:30: The President's News Conference

TUESDAY, JUNE 23RD, 2009 AT 11:40 AM
Streaming Live at 12:30: The President's News Conference
Posted by Katherine Brandon
The President will be holding a news conference today at 12:30 at the White House. He will be discussing topics ranging from the energy legislation moving through Congress, to Iran, to health care and the economy. As always, watch it streamed at WhiteHouse.gov/live, or go to our "White House Live" Facebook application where you can watch and discuss it with others.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Around Town: United the Cabinet Serves

MONDAY, JUNE 22ND, 2009 AT 5:05 PM
Around Town: United the Cabinet Serves
Posted by Katherine Brandon
It’s been a busy Monday for members of the President’s Cabinet, with members traveling across the country to kick off United We Serve. Here are some highlights of what the Departments did today -- check back in a couple days for a full multimedia profile:
U.S. Trade Representative Kirk fed the homeless at The Stewpot Second Chance Cafe in Dallas.

Secretary of the Interior Salazar traveled today to Shanandoah National Park where he joined volunteer groups to help remove exotic plants that are harmful to the natural environment.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Donovan was in New Orleans today to help volunteers rebuild a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Commerce Secretary Locke went to the La Mesita Homeless Shelter for Families in Arizona to read to children and serve lunch.
Secretary of Defense Gates visited our veterans at Walter Reed Medical Center.
Ambassador Kirk fed the homeless at The Stewpot Second Chance Cafe in Dallas.
The Treasury Department announced $268 million in Recovery Act funds to develop affordable housing units in Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. for families that have been affected by the housing crisis.
HUD is joining the USDA to utilize their cutting edge geospatial project. HUD will upload Recovery Act data into the USDA’s web tool to allow Americans to see exactly where HUD is spending money allocated by the Recovery Act.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced a funding opportunity which aims to create Aging and Disability Resource Centers in every state. These will serve as a "one-stop-shop" for information, counseling, and access to programs and services that can enable people with disabilities to remain in their own homes.

Protecting Our Children from the Dangers of Smoking

MONDAY, JUNE 22ND, 2009 AT 3:16 PM
Protecting Our Children from the Dangers of Smoking
Posted by Jesse Lee
The President expressed his appreciation for Senator Ted Kennedy above all today. Lamenting that the senator could not be there for the signing of Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, he called it "change that's been decades in the making." By all accounts, it is the strongest measure protecting children from the dangers of smoking to date -- read the fact sheet for all of the details.

He recounted the all-too-familiar statistics: that more than 400,000 Americans now die of tobacco-related illnesses each year; that more than 8 million Americans suffer from at least one serious illness caused by smoking; and that almost 90% of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday.

He spoke on his personal experience:

I know -- I was one of these teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time. And I also know that kids today don't just start smoking for no reason. They're aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry. They're exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting.

We've known about this for decades, but despite the best efforts and good progress made by so many leaders and advocates with us today, the tobacco industry and its special interest lobbying have generally won the day up on the Hill. When Henry Waxman first brought tobacco CEOs before Congress in 1994, they famously denied that tobacco was deadly, nicotine was addictive, or that their companies marketed to children. And they spent millions upon millions in lobbying and advertising to fight back every attempt to expose these denials as lies.

Fifteen years later, their campaign has finally failed. Today, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, health care and consumer advocates, the decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious. Today, change has come to Washington.

This legislation will not ban all tobacco products, and it will allow adults to make their own choices. But it will also ban tobacco advertising within a thousand feet of schools and playgrounds. It will curb the ability of tobacco companies to market products to our children by using appealing flavors. It will force these companies to more clearly and publicly acknowledge the harmful and deadly effects of the products they sell. And it will allow the scientists at the FDA to take other common-sense steps to reduce the harmful effects of smoking.

This legislation is a victory for bipartisanship, and it was passed overwhelmingly in both Houses of Congress. It's a victory for health care reform, as it will reduce some of the billions we spend on tobacco-related health care costs in this country. It's a law that will reduce the number of American children who pick up a cigarette and become adult smokers. And most importantly, it is a law that will save American lives and make Americans healthier.

Making clear that this legislation does not represent the end of the road on fighting back the health risks of smoking, the President nonetheless described it as another very significant sign of change in Washington:

Despite the influence of the credit card industry, we passed a law to protect consumers from unfair rate hikes and abusive fees. Despite the influence of banks and lenders, we passed a law to protect homeowners from mortgage fraud. Despite the influence of the defense industry, we passed a law to protect taxpayers from waste and abuse in defense contracting. And today, despite decades of lobbying and advertising by the tobacco industry, we've passed a law to help protect the next generation of Americans from growing up with a deadly habit that so many of our generation have lived with.

As always, get more information on tobacco and your health from HHS and the FDA, including new widgets out today.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Collaboration -- Achieving Better Results by Working Together

FRIDAY, JUNE 19TH, 2009 AT 3:02 PM
Collaboration -- Achieving Better Results by Working Together
Posted by Michele Heffner
The 21st Century poses challenges of unprecedented complexity. No single person, department, agency, or government can single-handedly end climate change or revive the global economy. We must work together to effectively and efficiently solve the toughest problems.

Take just one example – green jobs. Green jobs promise to strengthen the middle class, decrease energy costs, and preserve the environment for future generations. But, driving a smart green jobs agenda demands the expertise of a broad range of federal agencies, including the Department of Energy (future of energy technologies), Department of Labor (training a green workforce), Department of Education (preparing today’s students to grow a green economy), and many more. Moreover, delivering those opportunities to Americans in towns and cities across the country requires intense coordination with state and local governments. Recognizing the critical importance of collaboration on this issue, the Vice President has convened top-level administration policy makers from across government in the Middle Class Task Force. As a result of this collaboration, Energy, Labor and Education worked to reconfigure workforce development using tools to connect skilled workers to jobs created. Housing and Urban Development and Labor established pathways to jobs for public housing residents, and Housing and Urban Development and Energy signed an MOU designed to cut through red tape and make weatherization assistance programs readily accessible, saving energy and creating jobs. The Vice President’s work demonstrates the power and potential of breaking down the walls that separate agencies and the silos that limit effectiveness.

On this front – and many others – the success of our policy will turn on effective collaboration and coordination. We know that many of you face a similar challenge –fast-growing companies, not-for-profit communities, and state and local governments. We want to hear from you about your experiences that might inform the processes, policies and tools government needs to reap the benefits of greater collaboration.

What We Learned in Phase I
Many of you shared initial ideas with us during the Phase I Open Government Brainstorm. Some suggested creating a government-wide intranet and social networking tool to share contact information, resources, and otherwise facilitate collaboration. Others looked to flexible, third-party Web 2.0 tools, such as Wordpress, Wikimedia, Ning, and Drupal to strengthen collaboration. Still others recommended the use of Strategy Markup Language (StratML) to enable potential partners to more easily discover each other based upon common missions, visions, values, goals, objectives, and stakeholders. You can find a more complete summary in the Collaboration Wrap-up. You can also see examples of Collaboration in the Open Government Innovation Gallery.

How You Can Help
As we seek to identify immediate actions that will strengthen collaboration within and across government, we need to know from you:

1. What are examples of successful collaboration in government and the private sector? What was the key to their success? For example, what tools and practices do the most successful companies use to collaborate across departments?
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of various technology platforms recommended to strengthen collaboration efforts? Are there other approaches or tools that should be considered?
3. What governance structures and/or processes might be needed to ensure consistent collaboration and communication across related projects and programs? What functions could be centralized or standardized to facilitate collaboration?
4. How do we build and sustain a culture of collaboration?
5. How can we measure success?

Thank you for your thoughts and ideas. As always, you can share them on the OSTP blog.

Michele Heffner is Director of the Interagency Policy and Management Division in the Office of Governmentwide Policy of the General Services Administration. Ms. Heffner joined the Open Government Initiative in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in February-May 2009.

Faith, Immigration, and the American Character

FRIDAY, JUNE 19TH, 2009 AT 12:24 PM
Faith, Immigration, and the American Character
Posted by Jesse Lee
This morning the President addressed the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference. He spoke at length of the role faith has played in America’s history, and the role it will play in America’s future. He spoke of the role prayer played in Abraham Lincoln’s life, adding, "But prayer is more than a last resort. Prayer helps us search for meaning in our own lives, and it helps us find the vision and the strength to see the world that we want to build."
The President went on to discuss immigration, which he described as another fundamental element of America’s character:
The American people -- the American people believe in immigration, but they also believe that we can't tolerate a situation where people come to the United States in violation of the law, nor can we tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to drive down wages. That's why we're taking steps to strengthen border security, and we must build on those efforts. We must also clarify the status of millions who are here illegally, many who have put down roots. For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line behind those who played by the rules. That is the fair, practical, and promising way forward, and that's what I'm committed to passing as President of the United States. (Applause.)
We must never forget that time and again, the promise of America has been renewed by immigrants who make their story part of the American story. We see it in every state of our country. We see it in our families and in our neighborhoods. As President, I've been honored to see it demonstrated by the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.
Last month, I had the honor of welcoming a group of our service members as citizens for the very first time. In that crowd, there were faces from every corner of the world. And one man from Nicaragua -- Jeonathan Zapata -- had waited his whole life to serve our country even though he was not yet a citizen. "By serving in the military," he said, "I can also give back to the United States." He's done so in Afghanistan, and he even helped man the 400,000th aircraft landing aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
And Jeonathan's story is not unique either. He's part of a proud legacy of service. For generations, Hispanic Americans have served with great commitment and valor, and there are now nearly 150,000 Hispanic Americans serving under our flag. And today we are proud -- (applause) -- today we are proud to welcome several of them who are wounded warriors recovering at Walter Reed. Please join me in honoring their service, and in keeping them and all of our troops in our thoughts and prayers -- please. (Applause.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Ethic of Service

An Ethic of Service
Posted by Katherine Brandon
The First Lady addressed the Greater DC Cares Annual Business and Non-profit Philanthropy Summit yesterday, where she thanked community leaders for their hard work, but let them know that their work is far from over. Earlier today, the President announced United We Serve, a call to action for all Americans to volunteer this summer, and in these challenging times, help rebuild the foundation of America. The First Lady explained that in facing these challenges, we have an unprecedented opportunity to spark volunteerism as Americans are eager to do their part to rebuild their communities:
As has been the case throughout our history, communities are built and rebuilt by regular people: folks working in businesses, philanthropists, foundations, and volunteers, all of them coming together to find solutions to these types of challenges. And during this time we are going to need everyone, and that -- everyone to rededicate themselves to this type of community-building, and we're going to need people to basically take hold of this kind of ethic of service and make a personal commitment to helping get this country back on the right direction.
And I believe that we're in a unique moment in history. Maybe you're seeing the same thing. I'm feeling it as I'm traveling not just around D.C. but around the country. But people really want to get involved. They really want to. They're looking for a way to turn their frustration, excitement, anxiety into action. And the recent passage of the Serve America Act -- the federal government is tripling its contribution to volunteerism, and people are responding to that investment. Applications, as we're seeing for service opportunities, are up by record numbers, and that's a very good thing.
And with the knowledge that, as Barack said throughout his campaign and throughout his presidency, that ordinary people can do some extraordinary things if they're given the proper tools and support, my husband is asking us to come together to help lay a new foundation for growth.
Greater DC Cares is the largest and leading coordinator of volunteerism and service in the DC area. The First Lady told the crowd of 500 civic leaders that she understands the challenges associated with non-profit work through her own first-hand experience running an organization in Chicago:
When I look over this room, I think about my days when I worked at Public Allies. I headed that program in Chicago before I moved into the university, and that organization allowed me to work with more than 30 Chicago organizations every single year, placing AmeriCorps members with them so that they could expand their services. We placed young people with organizations working on education and youth development groups, environmental groups, neighborhood, economic development groups, all types of groups all throughout the city of Chicago. And I saw first-hand through that work the variety of neighborhood and community needs that exist out there, and how hard it is for these groups to meet that need with the resources that they have. So they were excited to get these young people. However naïve and untrained they were, they ate these Allies up.
And we recruited some of the best kids across the city of Chicago. For every young person that we recruited at a great institution like Northwestern, DePaul or the University of Chicago -- we even recruited kids from Harvard Law School -- we also recruited someone from Cabrini Green or from Little Village or North Lawndale. And through my work with Public Allies I realized that the next generation of leaders was just as likely to come from poor and working-class neighborhoods as they were to come from some of the top colleges around the country.
She explained that Public Allies also taught her that all communities are filled with assets that should be recognized and mobilized by bringing together young people from diverse backgrounds. Working together to realize the needs of communities gives young people the ability to build relationships no matter what community they’re in, an essential life skill. "These are the gifts we can give people through service," the First Lady said.
The First Lady concluded her remarks by telling community leaders to support one another, and to capitalize on Americans’ desire for engagement by providing meaningful volunteer opportunities that can not only change the way the nation views service, but also how the world views us:
We need foundations and philanthropists to provide the integral support for our community organizations. But we also need those community organizations to provide support for all these volunteers we're recruiting now. We need to harness this amazing amount of goodwill that we're generating through this administration in a way that ensures that we serve all Americans to the best of our ability.
So once again, we're going to need you. As tired as you may be, we're going to need you. So that's why I'm here -- (laughter) -- to say thank you, because we're going to be tapping you more and more. (Applause.) Now is the time that we have to connect with one another and share good ideas and hold each other up and give each other that private counsel when the dollars are running short and hope is a little harder to find.

Prizes as Incentives for Public-Private Partnerships

Prizes as Incentives for Public-Private Partnerships
Posted by Thomas Kalil
In recent years, there has been a renaissance in "incentive prizes" – which reward contestants for achieving a specific future goal.

The Ansari X Prize, for example, provided a purse of $10 million for the first team to fly a privately built spaceship to 100 kilometers twice in one week, and the X Prize Foundation has launched prize competitions for lunar landers, super-efficient cars, and a device that can sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days. The Sunlight Foundation launched a Data.Gov Challenge with a prize purse to the creators of the most compelling applications that provide easy access to and understanding of government data. Government agencies such as DARPA, NASA, and the Department of Energy are backing prizes in unmanned ground vehicles, high-efficiency lighting, and green aviation. A broader range of prizes (and different goals and models for incentive prizes) are described in a recent report by McKinsey.
Under some circumstances, prizes have a number of advantages over traditional grants and contracts, and can allow the government to:
· Only pay for results.

· Establish a bold and important goal without having to choose the path or the team that is most likely to succeed.

· Attract new entrants such as small entrepreneurial firms.

· Stimulate private sector investment that is larger than the size of the purse.

· Capture the public imagination and change the public’s perception of what is possible.
The Open Government Initiative is interested in exploring how the government might partner with foundations, non-profits, philanthropists, and the private sector to support additional high-impact prizes, and to harness the power and reach of "innovation marketplaces" to achieve important goals. For example, one non-profit is offering a $1 million reward for techniques for measuring the progression of Lou Gehrig’s disease that could accelerate the development of new drugs. Some prizes are more modest, such as the $5,000 prize offered by the Chicago Chamber of Commerce for the best ideas to reduce greenhouse gases by increasing mass transit ridership.
What prizes do you think the government should consider sponsoring? Give us your comments at the OSTP blog.

Thomas Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy with the Office of Science and Technology Policy and author of a 2006 paper for the Hamilton Project on prizes.

New Foundation, New Stability

New Foundation, New Stability
Posted by Jesse Lee
Over the past decades, government has often haphazardly weakened and jettisoned the regulations on the financial sector that were designed to bring stability to the economy. The result has been what the President refers to as a "bubble and bust" economy, leaving American families at the whim of greed and excess far beyond their control and hundreds of miles away. As the President said today, it is indisputable that this peril was a leading contributor the economic breakdown America has seen over the past years.

Today marked a culmination of a months-long process in which the President consulted with the most expert and experienced regulators, leaders in Congress, and his entire economic team to craft a revamping of the system, a "new foundation" on which our economy can grow for decades to come. Many of them joined him today as he announced the principles they had agreed upon.

The President began his remarks by diagnosing the problem:

In recent years, financial innovators, seeking an edge in the marketplace, produced a huge variety of new and complex financial instruments. And these products, such as asset-based securities, were designed to spread risk, but unfortunately ended up concentrating risk. Loans were sold to banks, banks packaged these loans into securities, investors bought these securities often with little insight into the risks to which they were exposed. And it was easy money -- while it lasted. But these schemes were built on a pile of sand. And as the appetite for these products grew, lenders lowered standards to attract new borrowers. Many Americans bought homes and borrowed money without being adequately informed of the terms, and often without accepting the responsibilities.

Meanwhile, executive compensation -- unmoored from long-term performance or even reality -- rewarded recklessness rather than responsibility. And this wasn't just the failure of individuals; this was a failure of the entire system. The actions of many firms escaped scrutiny. In some cases, the dealings of these institutions were so complex and opaque that few inside or outside these companies understood what was happening. Where there were gaps in the rules, regulators lacked the authority to take action. Where there were overlaps, regulators lacked accountability for their inaction.

He spelled out in depth the prescriptions he is proposing. For those who would like to read about the plan in the greatest possible detail, may we suggest the exhaustive White Paper produced by the Treasury Department (pdf). For the briefest possible overview, try the event announcement. And for those with more specific interests, the fact sheets below are also available on each of the core principles:

· Requiring Strong Supervision And Appropriate Regulation Of All Financial Firms (pdf)
· Strengthening Regulation Of Core Markets And Market Infrastructure (pdf)
· Strengthening Consumer Protection (pdf)
· Providing The Government With Tools To Effectively Manage Failing Institutions (pdf)
· Improving International Regulatory Standards And Cooperation (pdf)

The President concluded by making clear the necessity of the solution:

There's always been a tension between those who place their faith in the invisible hand of the marketplace and those who place more trust in the guiding hand of the government -- and that tension isn't a bad thing. It gives rise to healthy debates and creates a dynamism that makes it possible for us to adapt and grow. For we know that markets are not an unalloyed force for either good or for ill. In many ways, our financial system reflects us. In the aggregate of countless independent decisions, we see the potential for creativity -- and the potential for abuse. We see the capacity for innovations that make our economy stronger -- and for innovations that exploit our economy's weaknesses.

We are called upon to put in place those reforms that allow our best qualities to flourish -- while keeping those worst traits in check. We're called upon to recognize that the free market is the most powerful generative force for our prosperity -- but it is not a free license to ignore the consequences of our actions.

This is a difficult time for our nation. But from this period of challenge, we can once again tap those values and ideals that have allowed us to lead the global economy, and will allow us to lead once again. That's how we'll help more Americans live their own dreams. That's why these reforms are so important. And I look forward to working with leaders in Congress and all of you to see these proposals put to work so that we can overcome this crisis and build a lasting foundation for prosperity.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The President Meets with Prime Minister Berlusconi, Comments on Iran

MONDAY, JUNE 15TH, 2009 AT 7:55 PM
The President Meets with Prime Minister Berlusconi, Comments on Iran
Posted by Jesse Lee
Just before 6:00 this evening, the President emerged from his meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, and they fielded questions from the press together. They discussed the strong alliance between the two countries, demonstrated in their meeting by the Prime Minister's agreement to accept three Guanatanamo prisoners in Italy. The first question that was asked, not surprisingly, concerned Iran though:

Q Mr. President, on Iran, does the disputed election results affect -- there's been violence in the street -- in any way change your willingness to meet with Mr. Ahmadinejad without preconditions? And also, do you have anything to say, any message to send to people who are on the streets protesting, who believe their votes were stolen and who are being attacked violently?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Obviously all of us have been watching the news from Iran. And I want to start off by being very clear that it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be; that we respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran, which sometimes the United States can be a handy political football -- or discussions with the United States.

Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence that I've been seeing on television. I think that the democratic process -- free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent -- all those are universal values and need to be respected. And whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they're, rightfully, troubled.

My understanding is, is that the Iranian government says that they are going to look into irregularities that have taken place. We weren’t on the ground, we did not have observers there, we did not have international observers on hand, so I can't state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election. But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed. And I think it's important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views.

Now, with respect to the United States and our interactions with Iran, I've always believed that as odious as I consider some of President Ahmadinejad's statements, as deep as the differences that exist between the United States and Iran on a range of core issues, that the use of tough, hard-headed diplomacy -- diplomacy with no illusions about Iran and the nature of the differences between our two countries -- is critical when it comes to pursuing a core set of our national security interests, specifically, making sure that we are not seeing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East triggered by Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon; making sure that Iran is not exporting terrorist activity. Those are core interests not just to the United States but I think to a peaceful world in general.

We will continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we'll see where it takes us. But even as we do so, I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on the television over the last few days. And what I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was. And they should know that the world is watching.

And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.

Around Town: June 15, 2009

MONDAY, JUNE 15TH, 2009 AT 7:00 PM
Around Town: June 15, 2009
Posted by Katherine Brandon
It’s been a while since we updated you on what the President’s Cabinet is up to, but from developing international agreements to allocating Recovery Act funds here at home, they’ve been keeping busy. Here are just some of their most recent activities:

Today, the Department of Homeland Security launched The Blog @ Homeland Security, which will be updated frequently with news on the Secretary’s activities and events, and will discuss emerging technology that the department is developing. The inaugural post features a video from Secretary Napolitano, and declares that the primary mission of the blog is transparency.
The State Department announced the adoption of a joint statement by the United States and the European Union supporting the closure of Guantanamo Bay by January 22, 2010, as well as future counterterrorism cooperation. The statement declares that individual EU member states may accept detainees. This afternoon, the President announced that Italy will be taking three detainees.
The Department of Justice announced a new major initiative to increase engagement, coordination and action on tribal justice in Indian Country. Attorney General Holder will hold a Tribal Nations Listening Conference later this year to address concerns about public safety in Indian Country. The President also announced today the appointment of Kimberly Teehee as Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs.
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack attended the Western Governors Association meeting, where he highlighted some Recovery projects for wood-to-energy and biomass utilization, which will help create markets for low value trees. He joined several other senior officials in the Administration to discuss ways to tap into renewable energy opportunities in the West.
Secretary of Education Duncan spoke to the nation’s governors and state education leaders at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium. He announced that $350 million in Recovery funds will support states to develop rigorous assessments which will ensure the success of common standards. These common standards will be research-based, and aligned with international standards.

Why Reform, Why Now

MONDAY, JUNE 15TH, 2009 AT 4:19 PM
Why Reform, Why Now
Posted by Jesse Lee
This afternoon the President gave a landmark, sweeping speech on health care reform to the American Medical Association in Chicago. More so than at any time before, he explained his vision for comprehensive reform that addresses every weak point in our health care system. It is a vision that implements best practices that have allowed some towns and companies to cut costs by as much as half compared to others. It is a vision that makes sure everybody has access to quality, affordable coverage, whether your family hits a rough patch or you have a pre-existing condition. It is a vision in which patients’ and doctors’ interests are aligned. And it is a vision where Americans’ choices of doctors and coverage are maintained, and they also have a choice of a public option that can help keep private insurers honest. It is a vision that focuses on prevention, making sure Americans stay healthy throughout their lives.
It is well worth the while to read through the entire speech, but here are a few key excerpts, including some key points you may not have heard before:
On the costs of inaction:
If we fail to act -- (applause) -- if we fail to act -- and you know this because you see it in your own individual practices -- if we fail to act, premiums will climb higher, benefits will erode further, the rolls of the uninsured will swell to include millions more Americans -- all of which will affect your practice.
If we fail to act, one out of every five dollars we earn will be spent on health care within a decade. And in 30 years, it will be about one out of every three -- a trend that will mean lost jobs, lower take-home pay, shuttered businesses, and a lower standard of living for all Americans.
And if we fail to act, federal spending on Medicaid and Medicare will grow over the coming decades by an amount almost equal to the amount our government currently spends on our nation's defense. It will, in fact, eventually grow larger than what our government spends on anything else today. It's a scenario that will swamp our federal and state budgets, and impose a vicious choice of either unprecedented tax hikes, or overwhelming deficits, or drastic cuts in our federal and state budgets.
So to say it as plainly as I can, health care is the single most important thing we can do for America's long-term fiscal health. That is a fact. That's a fact. (Applause.)
On incentives for doctors:
There are two main reasons for this. The first is a system of incentives where the more tests and services are provided, the more money we pay. And a lot of people in this room know what I'm talking about. It's a model that rewards the quantity of care rather than the quality of care; that pushes you, the doctor, to see more and more patients even if you can't spend much time with each, and gives you every incentive to order that extra MRI or EKG, even if it's not necessary. It's a model that has taken the pursuit of medicine from a profession -- a calling -- to a business.
That's not why you became doctors. That's not why you put in all those hours in the Anatomy Suite or the O.R. That's not what brings you back to a patient's bedside to check in, or makes you call a loved one of a patient to say it will be fine. You didn't enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers. You entered this profession to be healers. (Applause.) And that's what our health care system should let you be. That's what this health care system should let you be. (Applause.)
Now, that starts with reforming the way we compensate our providers -- doctors and hospitals. We need to bundle payments so you aren't paid for every single treatment you offer a patient with a chronic condition like diabetes, but instead paid well for how you treat the overall disease. We need to create incentives for physicians to team up, because we know that when that happens, it results in a healthier patient. We need to give doctors bonuses for good health outcomes, so we're not promoting just more treatment, but better care.
On making sure doctors and patients have all the right information:
A recent study, for example, found that only half of all cardiac guidelines are based on scientific evidence -- half. That means doctors may be doing a bypass operation when placing a stent is equally effective; or placing a stent when adjusting a patient's drug and medical management is equally effective -- all of which drives up costs without improving a patient's health.
So one thing we need to do is to figure out what works, and encourage rapid implementation of what works into your practices. That's why we're making a major investment in research to identify the best treatments for a variety of ailments and conditions. (Applause.)
On America’s relationship with doctors:
But my signature on a bill is not enough. I need your help, doctors, because to most Americans you are the health care system. The fact is Americans -- and I include myself and Michelle and our kids in this -- we just do what you tell us to do. (Laughter.) That's what we do. We listen to you, we trust you. And that's why I will listen to you and work with you to pursue reform that works for you. (Applause.)
Together, if we take all these steps, I am convinced we can bring spending down, bring quality up; we can save hundreds of billions of dollars on health care costs while making our health care system work better for patients and doctors alike. And when we align the interests of patients and doctors, then we're going to be in a good place.
On the Health Insurance Exchange and a public option:
Now, if you don't like your health care coverage or you don't have any insurance at all, you'll have a chance, under what we've proposed, to take part in what we're calling a Health Insurance Exchange. This exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that's best for you and your family -- the same way, by the way, that federal employees can do, from a postal worker to a member of Congress. (Applause.) You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package.
Again, this is for people who aren't happy with their current plan. If you like what you're getting, keep it. Nobody is forcing you to shift. But if you're not, this gives you some new options. And I believe one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices -- (applause) -- and inject competition into the health care market so that force -- so that we can force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest. (Applause.)
Now, I know that there's some concern about a public option. Even within this organization there's healthy debate about it. In particular, I understand that you're concerned that today's Medicare rates, which many of you already feel are too low, will be applied broadly in a way that means our cost savings are coming off your backs.
And these are legitimate concerns, but they're ones, I believe, that can be overcome. As I stated earlier, the reforms we propose to reimbursement are to reward best practices, focus on patient care, not on the current piecework reimbursements. What we seek is more stability and a health care system that's on a sounder financial footing.
And the fact is these reforms need to take place regardless of whether there's a public option or not. With reform, we will ensure that you are being reimbursed in a thoughtful way that's tied to patient outcomes, instead of relying on yearly negotiations about the Sustainable Growth Rate formula that's based on politics and the immediate state of the federal budget in any given year. (Applause.)
And I just want to point out the alternative to such reform is a world where health care costs grow at an unsustainable rate. And if you don't think that's going to threaten your reimbursements and the stability of our health care system, you haven't been paying attention.
So the public option is not your enemy; it is your friend, I believe.
Perhaps the most rousing moment of the speech came about half way through, as he stated the underlying moral basis for health reform:
We are not a nation that accepts nearly 46 million uninsured men, women and children. (Applause.) We are not a nation that lets hardworking families go without coverage, or turns its back on those in need. We're a nation that cares for its citizens. We look out for one another. That's what makes us the United States of America. We need to get this done. (Applause.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

The United States of America - Will we STOPlasticBags - Yes we will - YES WE CAN.


Sign here ……… http://www.greenhouseneutral.net/blog.asp

Introduced just over 30 years ago in 1977, the ugly truth about our plastic bag addiction is that society's consumption rate is now estimated at well over 500,000,000,000 (that's 500 billion) plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute.

The Greenhouse Neutral Foundation and its many friends and allies all around the world on Saturday September 26 2009 will call for the world to BAN THE BAG. Our vision will be that by the turn of the clock at midnight on December 31st 2010 they will be BANNED forever globally.

Sign here ……… http://www.greenhouseneutral.net/blog.asp

By signing this petition today you will have taken a simple step to make this happen.

Why is this so important?

Some of the ugly facts:

Once brought into existence to tote your purchases, they'll accumulate and persist on our planet for up to 1,000 years.
The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags. That’s more than 1,200 bags per US resident, per year. Four out of five grocery bags in the US are now plastic.

The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.

Australia, a country of only some 22 million or so, consumes about 6.9 billion plastic bags each year, that's 326 per person. According to Australia's Department of Environment, an estimated 49,600,000 annually end up as litter.

Every single piece of plastic ever manufactured is still on the planet.
It is in use, intact in landfills, as windblown litter, and also toxically contaminating global river systems and oceans.
There is an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic in each square mile of ocean. Plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food.

There are over 3,300 deaths of children each year in the US alone who die from asphyxiation from plastic bags.

WSJ Target, the second-largest retailer in the U.S., purchases 1.8 billion bags a year. In the U.S. alone $4 billion per year is spent by retailers giving away free plastic bags.

The simple act of saying NO to plastic bags is something every global citizen can do.

We have the choice and, the reasons to are clear.

Throughout the ongoing campaign Countries will be petitioned to implement a total ban on the use of plastic bags and confirm a date for their eradication.

Companies who presently support the use of plastic bags will be highlighted for their environmental impact and disregard to the outcome of their actions.

Consumers who support the use of plastic bags will be educated on the outcome of their choice and encouraged to say NO to plastic bags. Each high quality reusable bag used has the potential to eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime.

By signing this petition today you will have taken a simple step to make this happen. Spreading the word to BAN the BAG will be an environmental achievement you can, and will be proud of.

Sign here ……… http://www.greenhouseneutral.net/blog.asp

Thank you from all at the Greenhouse Neutral Foundation and the global team of STOPlasticBags. And from all the Global Politicians who wish to be Statesmen and Stateswomen to change to a future safe for YOUR Children

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nashala's Story

Nashala's Story
Posted by Jesse Lee
In today’s speech in Cairo, the President outlined his personal commitment to engagement with Muslim communities, based on mutual respect. He also emphasized that Islam and America are not competing identities and that the U.S. has a long history of defending freedom of faith, including going to court over it if need be. All of these aspects of the American tradition are woven into the story the President referenced of our Justice Department arguing for the right of a Muslim student to wear the hijab to school:

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. (Applause.)

In 2004, Nashala Hearn was beginning sixth grade in Muskogee, Oklahoma. At the time, the 12-year-old began wearing a hijab – a Muslim headscarf – to school. While not all Muslim girls wear headscarves, some Muslims interpret the Islamic requirement of modesty to require the headscarf.

After wearing the hijab to school for several weeks without incident, Nashala was told by school officials that her headscarf conflicted with the school’s "no hats" policy, and that she could not continue to wear it. She and her parents told school officials that wearing the hijab was required by her faith and that she could not stop wearing it. When she continued to come to school wearing the headscarf, she was suspended from school twice.

Nashala’s decision to wear a headscarf was protected by the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and religious freedom. Public primary and secondary schools, as well as public colleges and universities, should be open to all members of the public, regardless of their faith. Students should not face discrimination or harassment because of their faith background, beliefs, religious expression, or distinctive religious dress.

And so, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division stepped in to protect Nashala’s rights to equal protection of the law to wear a hijab.

The court-ordered agreement reached by the Justice Department with the school board permits Nashala, and any other child in Muskogee whose religious beliefs and practices conflict with the school dress code, to receive an accommodation. This decree reflects the principle that children should not have to choose between following the requirements of their faiths and their right to a public education, and is just one of the ways the American government ensures the rights of all of its citizens every day.

Judge Sotomayor’s Questionnaire - A New Modern Record

Judge Sotomayor’s Questionnaire - A New Modern Record
Posted by Greg Craig
Judge Sotomayor has delivered detailed and substantive answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questions, which are available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website. The answers demonstrate how Judge Sotomayor’s three decade career and her significant contributions to the law and her community provide her with unique and unprecedented qualifications to be the next Supreme Court Justice.

In an effort to advance her nomination through the Senate as swiftly as possible, Judge Sotomayor has completed her questionnaire faster than any Supreme Court nominee in recent history – in just 9 days. For historical context, it took Chief Justice Roberts 13 days, Justice Ginsburg 15 days and Justice Alito 30 days from the time they were designated to the time they completed their questionnaires. With her record of 17 years on the bench, this historically fast completion of the exhaustive questions is no small feat that will hopefully lead to her swift consideration by the Senate and enable her to be a member of the Supreme Court by the time they begin selecting cases in September.

The best guide in determining the type of Supreme Court Justice that Judge Sotomayor would make is her judicial record. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a record of judicial excellence, frequently grappling with a broad range of legal issues and demonstrating a sophisticated grasp of legal doctrine. On the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, one of the most demanding circuits in the country, she has participated in over 3,000 panel decisions and authored more than 230 majority opinions. She has handled difficult issues of constitutional law, complex procedural matters, high-profile criminal cases, and lawsuits involving complicated business organizations. At every turn, she has upheld the rule of law, and demonstrated herself to be an impartial, non-ideological jurist. She takes each case as it comes, narrowly applying the law to the particular facts of the case.

Judge Sotomayor also served for six years as a trial judge on the federal district court and as a big city prosecutor for five years. She would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the Court in the past 70 years.

As the U.S. Senate weighs her confirmation, it is important that she be judged by her extraordinary record.

But to examine as much information about Judge Sotomayor as possible, we encourage you to take a look at the more than 60 speeches and writings that can be found on the Judiciary Committee website.

Since her college days, Judge Sotomayor has been an active speaker and prolific writer on some of the greatest issues of our time, including the roles of race and gender in our society and in our courts. She is also a Lecturer at Columbia University Law School and was an adjunct professor at New York University Law School until 2007.

Throughout her work, Judge Sonia Sotomayor consistently demonstrates not only her brilliance in the law but also a commonsense understanding of how the law works. Her distinguished record includes a body of legal essays that show a sophisticated grasp of legal doctrine and a keen awareness of the law’s impact on the everyday lives of ordinary Americans.

The writings and remarks you will find on the Senate Judiciary Committee website include:

Impartiality in Judging: Judge Sotomayor said "It is very important when you judge to recognize that you have to stay impartial. That’s what the nature of my job is. I have to unhook myself from my emotional responses and try to stay within my unemotional, objective persona." [Latinos in Law: Wonderful Life, 2000]

Role of Diversity and Ethnicity: Judge Sotomayor said, "[D]iversity and ethnicity shapes who we are and the contributions we make to the world but they don’t and shouldn’t define our humanness or limit the giving to the larger community of people we share this planet with... On September 11, fire-men and women, police-men and women, and other heroes gave their lives without taking note of the colors of the faces they were trying to save. Countless people stood on blood giving and food lines, hundreds if not thousands of people volunteered their time and donated resources to the rescue effort and none asked about the race, color or religion of the people they were helping." [Unity Day at the FBI, 5/1/02]

Diversity on the Courts: Judge Sotomayor has written and spoken frequently about how life, including gender and race, can impact how judges understand cases. Similar to remarks by Justice Ginsberg, Justice Alito and other Supreme Court justices and nominees, Judge Sotomayor believes that life experience can inform the process of judging. Judge Sotomayor said "First, if Prof. Martha Minnow is correct, there can never be a universal definition of ‘wise.’ Second, I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion. What is better? I, like Professor Resnik, hope that better will mean a more compassionate, and caring conclusion." [March 17, 1994, Conference on Law Reviews] [Note: This speech was included in Judge Sotomayor’s 1997 Judiciary Committee questionnaire for her nomination to the 2nd Circuit.]

Citizenship: Judge Sotomayor said, "But with freedom and liberty and opportunity comes responsibility. As citizens we all share the responsibility of working together within our democratic system of government -- to strengthen it – to ensure that the promise of America and its freedoms shall endure for us and for all generations to come. You are now citizens. Remember to make your voices heard. It is your right and your obligation to vote because voting is your fundamental way of expressing your views. Remember, however, that voting is not enough. Write your elected officials and express your views. Volunteer your time and talents to civic or social activities and become an active part of our community. When called for jury service, come and serve. This is one of the most central and important obligations of citizenship." [Naturalization Proceedings, August 27, 1993]

On Checks and Balances: Judge Sotomayor said, "Few political events bring to the general public’s attention and fascination the dynamic dichotomy and interplay of our system of separation of powers than does the confirmation process. A supreme court confirmation is a historical snapshot moment that exposes to the public the delicate balance and checks that our constitution creates in the relationship among the branches of government." [Federalist Society Panel, February 28, 2009]

In the text of the speeches Sotomayor delivered from Buffalo to Brooklyn and from Princeton to Yale, you will get to know an inspiring woman with an incredible legal mind who will make a great Supreme Court Justice.

Commitment to Service: Judge Sotomayor is deeply committed to her community, and serves as a role model for young people from all walks of life. In addition to speaking at local high schools and community events, Judge Sotomayor is active in the Development School for Youth program, which sponsors workshops for inner city high school students. Every semester, approximately 70 students attend 16 weekly workshops that are designed to teach them how to function in a work setting. The workshop leaders include investment bankers, corporate executives and Judge Sotomayor, who conducts a mock trial workshop in which the students play various roles, including the parts of the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the defendant and witnesses, and in the process they get to experience openings, closings, direct and cross-examinations.

Through this questionnaire, and throughout Judge Sotomayor’s record, it’s clear to all how Judge Sotomayor earned a reputation as a sharp and fearless jurist. She’s inspired so many others – through her words and her deeds – to work hard and reach for their own dreams, and to give back to our country.

Greg Craig is White House Counsel.



Office of the Press Secretary



Cairo University
Cairo, Egypt

1:10 P.M. (Local)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum. (Applause.)

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there's been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today -- to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities -- (applause) -- it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. (Applause.)

I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. (Applause.)

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared. (Applause.)

Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: We must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths -- but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who've been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future -- and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them -- and all of us -- to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It's about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)

I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action -- whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. (Applause.) I know –- I know -- and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now, let me be clear: Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. (Applause.)

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations -- including America -- this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- (applause) -- and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I'm emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It's easier to start wars than to end them. It's easier to blame others than to look inward. It's easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Applause.)

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

2:05 P.M. (Local)