Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sneak Peek of the Commencement Challenge Finalists

Sneak Peek of the Commencement Challenge Finalists
Posted by Lauren Paige on April 24, 2010 at 01:09 PM EDT
Starting on Monday the public will have a chance to weigh in on the six finalists in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, but we wanted to give you a sneak peek of the schools today.

Over the past few weeks students from the six finalist schools worked with Get Schooled to create a short three minute video demonstrating how their school best meets the criteria of the Commencement Challenge. We’ll debut those videos and a short essay by each school on Monday morning on WhiteHouse.gov/Commencement. Visitors to the site will have a chance to rate each finalist on a scale of 1-5 and President Obama will choose one of the top three highest rated schools to visit and deliver the commencement address. Be sure to check back Monday morning to weigh in on the finalists!

Lauren Paige is Director of Special Projects for White House Communications.

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Weekly Address: Good News from the Auto Industry

Weekly Address: Good News from the Auto Industry
Posted by Jesse Lee on April 24, 2010 at 06:00 AM EDT
As the auto industry and financial markets begin to stabilize, the President says the government’s emergency interventions are now winding down. He pledges that real reform, particularly on Wall Street, must now begin.


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Friday, April 23, 2010

Navy’s Green Initiatives Take Flight on Earth Day

Navy’s Green Initiatives Take Flight on Earth Day
Posted by Tony Russell on April 23, 2010 at 05:24 PM EDT
Yesterday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and hundreds of other onlookers witnessed a major step forward in the Navy’s initiatives to improve our energy independence and safeguard our environment. In honor of Earth Day, the Navy conducted a test flight of the Green Hornet, an F/A-18 Super Hornet multirole fighter jet powered by a biofuel blend. Check out video of the flight on Navy.mil.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus noted the Navy’s commitment to exploring alternative energy solutions:

The alternative fuels test program is a significant milestone in the certification and ultimate operational use of biofuels by the Navy and Marine Corps. It's important to emphasize, especially on Earth Day, the Navy's commitment to reducing dependence on foreign oil as well as safeguarding our environment. Our Navy, alongside industry, the other services and federal agency partners, will continue to be an early adopter of alternative energy sources.

This is the latest sign of progress in the work taking place across the Administration to encourage the development of advanced biofuels. These efforts simultaneously strengthen the economic recovery in rural America and enhance our national security by decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and addressing the challenge of climate change.

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (April 22, 2010) The Navy celebrates Earth Day by showcasing a supersonic flight test of the "Green Hornet," an F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighter jet powered by a 50/50 biofuel blend. The test, conducted at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., drew hundreds of onlookers that included Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who has made research, development, and increased use of alternative fuels a priority for the Department of the Navy. April 22, 2010. (by U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler/Released)
Tony Russell is Communication Advisor for the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change.

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TIME’s Take on the Actuary’s Report

TIME’s Take on the Actuary’s Report
Posted by Dan Pfeiffer on April 23, 2010 at 05:15 PM EDT
You may have seen an Associated Press story published this morning about the new report from the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. The AP took a decidedly breathless tack in describing the report – and of course their story is now popping up in some familiar outlets that always opposed reform.

In reality, the Actuary’s report is little changed from a previous report issued months ago by the same office, and it underscores many of the major strengths of the new health reform legislation, as we noted here.

If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a piece from TIME Magazine on the same report. It offers a lot more context on the report itself, and should help put to rest some of the concerns kicked up by the AP’s coverage.

"Another Critical Health Reform Report," Kate Pickert Friday, April 23, 2010

Health reform proponents got another round of bad headlines today, as the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a report saying that the new law will increase costs. According to an AP story by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, the report is "a worrisome assessment for Democrats," showing that while cost savings could come sometime after 2020, there is little hope of reducing spending in the next ten years. This sounds pretty bad, right?

Well, it is - if you consider it in a vacuum. The truth is the actuary who wrote the report, Richard S. Foster, authored a nearly identical report released January 8, 2010. Some of his figures changed in the interim - he wrote about the Senate bill in January and this week's report includes changes made by the reconciliation package that altered the Senate bill - but overall, Foster's assessment is the same.

The health reform law will increase overall spending in the near future because more people will have insurance and therefore access to medical care. Those who are now going without care because of cost will, post-implementation of reform, seek care, insurance or Medicaid card in hand. Reductions in Medicare reimbursements to providers may cause some to limit the Medicare patients they accept; future cuts to Medicare reimbursements called for in the bill may never happen due to political pressure; the long-term care insurance program created by the law may be unsustainable. This is all important, truthful information and provides a worthy counter-balance to those celebrating the health reform law's less contentious implications. But it's worth stressing what this report is not - surprising new information that was kept under wraps during the health reform debate. For instance, I wrote a story back in December about the potential pitfalls of the long-term care program.

Ezra Klein, who supports health reform, says he thinks "the report makes health-care reform look pretty good." I don't know if I'd go that far, but Klein does point out a few more things to consider when evaluating Foster's report - and news coverage of it:


The Congressional Budget Office's estimates look at the deficit. CMS is looking at total national health expenditures. This often confuses people into thinking that there's conflict between the two sets of numbers when there isn't: CBO says that federal spending is going to go up to pay for the coverage expansion, but that savings and revenue will go up by even more, leading to a net reduction in the federal deficit.

CMS is looking only at the spending side. And here's what it finds: In 2019, implementation of the Affordable Care Act will reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 34 million people and increase nation health expenditures by 1 percent.

One percent.

And that 1 percent is actually 1 percent and falling: When the legislation is fully implemented in 2016, the spending increase will be 2 percent. But cost controls kick in over those years and bring it down to 1 percent. Assuming the trend holds, the second decade will see national health expenditures fall below what spending would've been if the bill hadn't passed. So that's the bottom line of the report: We're covering 34 million people and come 2019, spending is expected to be one percentage point -- and falling -- above what it would've been if we'd done nothing.

The bottom line is that no one knows for sure if health reform will "bend the curve" of increasing medical spending. The law will experiment with cost controls that economists and health policy experts think could curb spending, but there's little certainty and a lot of politics likely to interfere while reform is being implemented and tweaked. Here's what Karen and I wrote recently about cost controls called for in the law.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

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24 Service Members Who Became Americans Today

24 Service Members Who Became Americans Today
Posted by Secretary Janet Napolitano on April 23, 2010 at 04:23 PM EDT

Today, I was humbled to join the President at the White House to administer the oath of allegiance to 24 American service members as they became citizens of our nation. These men and women were born in 16 different countries, but they came to the United States sharing a common purpose, and chose to defend their adopted country even before they became citizens.

These men and women are shining examples of the energy, talent, and commitment that immigrants have always brought to our country. I am proud to call each of them fellow Americans.

President Barack Obama, lower left, looks on as 24 active duty service members raise their right hands during a naturalization ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
All of today's new citizens joined or reenlisted in the military after 9/11, and made a commitment to defend America and its ideals even though they could be deployed to a hostile combat zone. But they stepped forward anyway to defend America’s safety and our nation’s ideals. For some of them, this meant serving three tours of duty in Iraq, or celebrating Mother’s Day with their children over videoconference.

While the sacrifice that these men and women have given – even while noncitizens – is extraordinary, their stories are not unique. Since 9/11, 58,000 members of our Armed Forces have become American citizens, oftentimes taking the oath of allegiance while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama presents Marine Sgt. Ledum Ndaanee, originally from Nigeria, the Outstanding American by Choice award during a naturalization ceremony for active duty service members in the Rose Garden of the White House. Ndaanee served two tours in Iraq where he was wounded by an IED in 2007. April 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Americans are born in every part of the world, yet – like these men and women who became citizens today – they come to America because of their commitment to our ideals and their belief in the American Dream. Many of them risk their lives for their country even before they officially become citizens. The 24 service members who became Americans today remind us that immigrants like them have always been a tremendous strength of our country. This is a strength that we must continue to foster in the 21st century.

Janet Napolitano is Secretary of Homeland Security
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A New Beginning: Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

A New Beginning: Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship
Posted by Jenny Urizar on April 23, 2010 at 02:15 PM EDT
In his June 4th, 2009 address in Cairo, President Obama announced that the U.S. would host a Summit on Entrepreneurship to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world. The Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship will be held this coming Monday and Tuesday, April 26-27th at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.

Co-hosted by the Departments of State and Commerce, the Summit will bring together more than 275 participants from over 50 countries around the world – from Morocco to Indonesia, Uganda to Kazakhstan, France to India. They include men and women from many different walks of life – business leaders from diverse sectors, educators, community organizers, and social entrepreneurs among others. With attendance by the President and various Cabinet Secretaries and senior U.S. Government officials, this Summit is meant to highlight the importance of entrepreneurship to fostering economic opportunity and community development. And, as the President said in Cairo almost one year ago, education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and the Summit will help build relationships that lead to greater opportunity at home and abroad.

We have some amazing participants from all around the world attending the Summit. They’re here to identify ways to advance economic and social entrepreneurship, build networks among stakeholders in entrepreneurship, and provide an opportunity to establish partnerships that advance entrepreneurship. Check out some great coverage of the participants here and get additional information at www.entrepreneurship.gov/summit.

We want you to be able to participate in this discussion, too. At the Summit on Entrepreneurship, GOOD, an independent media platform and community for the globally-conscious people, businesses, and NGOs will interview featured entrepreneurs to capture their perspectives on how to advance entrepreneurship around the world. You can also watch the President’s remarks here on whitehouse.gov/live.

Jenny Urizar is Director for Global Engagement at the National Security Council
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Another Perspective on the Actuary's Report on Health Reform

Another Perspective on the Actuary's Report on Health Reform
Posted by Nancy-Ann DeParle on April 23, 2010 at 01:00 PM EDT
Yesterday, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of the Actuary released its analysis of the Affordable Care Act. The analysis was requested by Congressional Republicans and is largely similar to previous analyses done by the Actuary. This report examines features in the new law that will help strengthen our health care system and found that under reform, Medicare will be stronger, with premiums decreasing by nearly $200 per person per year by 2018 and that the life of the Medicare Trust fund is extended by an additional 12 years. The Actuary also noted that an additional 34 million Americans will gain health insurance by 2019.

But there are some areas where we disagree with the Actuary, particularly when it comes to the new law and the growth of health care costs. Even the Actuary states that its predictions aren’t set in stone, and notes that the estimates are “subject to much greater uncertainty than normal.” And as a former CMS Administrator, I helped implement the Balanced Budget Act and saw how both the Office of the Actuary and the Congressional Budget Office substantially underestimated the savings that were achieved.

Most importantly, the analysis discounts proposals that other independent experts credit with getting at the root causes of health care cost growth. The Affordable Care Act, for example:

•Creates a health insurance exchange that will demand accountability from insurers and set up a competition choice system that would pressure insurers to lower premiums.
•Establishes ways for Medicare to adopt cutting-edge payment reforms, such as the new Innovation Center that will transform Medicare payment policies, whose benefits will spill over to the private sector.
•Creates Accountable Care Organizations and other ways to promote value – so that beneficiaries are getting better care not just expensive care. The plan gives health care providers incentives to coordinate care to improve the quality of care as well as efficiency.
Health policy experts and economists who have studied the bill have agreed that the new law will help bring down health care costs, and that it utilizes almost all the possible tools to reduce health care costs. In fact, a broad coalition of economists wrote to President Obama and Congress calling for reform, precisely because it will help bring down health care costs.

The analysis also raises questions about whether reform will lead to a shortage of doctors and hospitals for Medicare patients. But contrary to the Actuary’s speculation, there is no evidence that providers would not continue to serve Medicare patients, and the report ignores key provisions that will strengthen our health care workforce. And when the Actuary raised similar concerns months ago, hospital leaders reaffirmed their commitment to serving America’s seniors. Moreover, organizations like the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association supported reform and would have been unlikely to back the law if they believed it would hurt their own viability.

Now, the President and his administration are fully focused on the next challenge: making sure the law is implemented quickly and effectively. As we continue this important work, we will be answering your questions about the new law. Yesterday, leaders from AARP and the Department of Health and Human Services took your questions in a live town hall and we’ll continue to providing important information about the benefits of reform for all Americans.

Nancy-Ann DeParle is Director of the White House Office of Health Reform
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A Practice That Will Soon Be Illegal

A Practice That Will Soon Be Illegal
Posted by Dan Pfeiffer on April 23, 2010 at 11:45 AM EDT
Just yesterday, we read with great alarm a news report that WellPoint, one of the country’s largest health insurers, is routinely dropping coverage for women that are diagnosed with breast cancer.

These are the kinds of scenarios that motivated the President to work so long and so hard to pass health reform. And because of the health reform legislation passed last month, the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry – including what WellPoint is said to have done -- will soon be reined in by new tough consumer protections.

Yesterday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter to WellPoint’s CEO urging her company to immediately end this harmful practice:

April 22, 2010

[To: Angela Braly, WellPoint]

Dear Ms. Braly:

I was surprised and disappointed to read media accounts indicating that WellPoint routinely rescinds health insurance coverage from women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Today’s report from Reuters indicating that your company “has specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies” is disturbing, and this practice is deplorable.

As you know, the practice described in this article will soon be illegal. The Affordable Care Act specifically prohibits insurance companies from rescinding policies, except in cases of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of material fact.

WellPoint should not wait to end the unconscionable practice of deliberately working to deny health insurance coverage to women diagnosed with breast cancer. I urge you to immediately cease these practices and abandon your efforts to rescind health insurance coverage from patients who need it most.

Breast cancer is the second-leading type of cancer among women, has touched millions of families, and will affect one in eight American women during their lifetime. This year alone, an estimated 192,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

I hope you will consider these women and their families as you work to end this harmful practice.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Sebelius


Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

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Earth Day Round Up from Across the Administration

Earth Day Round Up from Across the Administration
Posted by Katelyn Sabochik on April 22, 2010 at 07:15 PM EDT

It’s been a busy Earth Day here at the White House and around the Administration. Yesterday Vice President Biden kicked off the Administration’s Earth Day Celebration by announcing $452 million in Recovery Act funding to support a “Retrofit Ramp-Up.” This program will create thousands of jobs and allow these communities to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses while testing out innovative strategies that can be adopted all over the country. President Obama also issued a Presidential Proclamation on Earth Day calling on Americans to join in the spirit of the first Earth Day forty years ago to take action in their communities to make our planet cleaner and healthier.

This afternoon, Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, hosted a live chat on WhiteHouse.gov to answer your questions about how the Administration is working to improve the environment and build a clean energy economy that supports the jobs of the future. This evening, the President hosted an Earth Day reception in the Rose Garden at the White House where he discussed some of the challenges that lie ahead in achieving a clean energy economy:

I think we all understand that the task ahead is daunting; that the work ahead will not be easy and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take your leadership. It’s going to take all of your ideas. And it will take all of us coming together in the spirit of Earth Day -- not only on Earth Day but every day -- to make the dream of a clean energy economy and a clean world a reality.

Over on the Social Innovation and Civic Participation blog, guest blogger and former Peace Corps volunteer Kelly McCormack shares here story about a community solution to an environmental problem in Gautemala.

Finally, President Obama’s cabinet and other senior government officials fanned out across the country as part of the Administration’s 5-day celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. From live chats, to announcing major investments in renewable energy, to appearing on the David Letterman show - all-in-all a busy day!

•Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson
Both EPA and Earth Day celebrate their 40th birthdays this year! On Earth Day, Administrator Jackson joined Green For All at the Grant Houses Community Garden in Manhattan to take a tour of the garden, deliver remarks to students and volunteers and participate in a planting activity with volunteers. Later tonight catch her on the David Letterman Show to talk about the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and the President’s clean energy and green jobs agenda. Check out EPA’s Earth Day website to learn more about what they are doing to celebrate 40 years of going green!
•Energy Secretary Steven Chu
On the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department will invest more than $200 million over five years to expand and accelerate the development, commercialization, and use of solar and water power technologies throughout the United States.

•Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Secretary Locke spoke in Jersey City, N.J., at the Lincoln Park restoration project that is turning a landfill into a healthy wetland. NOAA funded this habitat restoration project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

•White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley
Chair Sutley will deliver remarks at the Earth Day Network’s 40th Anniversary of Earth Day festivities on the National Mall this Sunday. Today she shared her personal reflections on Earth Day on the White House blog.

•Labor Secretary Hilda Solis
Earlier today Secretary Solis hosted a webchat to discuss issues and opportunities related to Earth Day. The Department of Labor also issued a report detailing green job training opportunities made available over the past year, including $490 million in Recovery Act funding for green jobs training.

•Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki
Secretary Shinseki awarded $20.2 million to install solar energy systems at 18 VA medical centers through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

•Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus celebrated Earth Day by attending a flight test of the "Green Hornet," an F/A-18 Super Hornet multirole fighter jet powered by a biofuel blend. Secretary Mabus has made the exploration and adoption of alternative fuels a priority for the Navy and Marine Corps.

•Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
Secretary Salazar joined hundreds of children on the National Mall for a Buddy the Bison Hike sponsored by the National Park Service. Later he joined the Earth Day Network event on the mall to talk the need to address urgent environmental crises such as climate change.

•Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
Secretary LaHood celebrated Earth Day at a rally in Chicago with Mayor Daley and the Chicago Climate Action Plan. You can read more about his day on his blog Fastlane.

•Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered remarks at a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day Thursday at the National Mall in Washington.

•Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen
Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen reflected on his blog "iCommandant" on the Coast Guard’s mission of saving lives and saving the planet by helping to protect and preserve marine life and habitats.

•Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren
OSTP Director John Holdren hosted a free, public, evening lecture on the topic of: “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being: Priorities and Policies in the Obama Administration” at Sibley Auditorium in the Bechtel Engineering Center at the University of California, Berkeley. He also engaged in a number of Earth Day activities during the day arranged with UCB’s Energy and Resources Group, an interdisciplinary graduate degree-granting arm of the University.
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West Wing Week: “Competing the Old-Fashioned Way”

West Wing Week: “Competing the Old-Fashioned Way”
Posted by Arun Chaudhary on April 23, 2010 at 06:00 AM EDT
Thanks so much for checking out the West Wing Week, your guide to all things 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This installment takes you step-by-step with the President as he hosts the Great Outdoors Conference, holds a meeting of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, meets with his Special Envoy to the Sudan, discusses Supreme Court nominations with congressional leadership, travels to New York City to talk Wall Street Reform, and celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day in the White House Rose Garden.

We also pulled out a clip from a Martin Luther King Jr. Day discussion that President Obama held in the Roosevelt Room. One of those present was Dr. Dorothy Height who passed away last week at the age of 98, a hero of the civil rights movement and an inspiration to all Americans.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Making Healthy Decisions for Myself and My Family

Making Healthy Decisions for Myself and My Family
Posted by Noelle Pikus-Pace on April 22, 2010 at 04:13 PM EDT
As an Olympic athlete I had the opportunity to visit the White House yesterday and meet President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Vice President Biden and his wife Jill Biden. I was impressed by the gratitude that they shared with us for representing our country in the Olympic Winter Games as well as the architecture and the history within the White House. What an amazing experience.

I chose to participate in the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative to combat childhood obesity from the moment that I heard about it. As an athlete, moving around and staying fit is critical to my performance. Just as importantly, as a mom, I move around and stay active not only for myself, but also to be an example to my daughter Lacee. It is so important for her to move around now, at 2 years of age, in order to form healthy, lifelong habits that will help to prevent childhood obesity in her life. Along with moving around, as an athlete, mom, and individual, it is very important to make healthy food choices. The choices that I make may impact Lacee's life for better or worse.

Everyday as an athlete I wake up and decide to either make good healthy decisions that will lead me toward my goals or I can choose to make poor decisions that will lead me away from my goals. Athletes are not the only ones faced with these health-wise decisions. Everyone of us has a choice to make everyday. We need to make good choices not only for ourselves, but to be examples of healthy living for kids as well so that they we can teach them the importance of moving around and eating healthy foods.

Noelle Pikus-Pace is a 2010 Winter Olympian, Skeleton

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Take Your Child to Work Day

Take Your Child to Work Day
Posted by Kori Schulman on April 22, 2010 at 03:38 PM EDT
Today the First Lady welcomed children of Executive Office employees to the White House for the annual “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” event. In a question and answer session in the East Room, the First Lady fielded the children’s questions with Bo at her side.



Here are a few of highlights, or read the full remarks here.

Q Do you like living in the White House?

MRS. OBAMA: The question is: Do I like living in the White House? And yes, it’s fun living in the White House.

(Bo barks.) (Laughter.) Bo likes it, too. Bo likes living in the White House, too. Some of the most fun parts about living in the White House is getting to share the house with so many people. I mean, we have thousands of people who come here every month just to visit, and it’s really fun to meet a lot of people and to make sure that they feel like this house is special for them, and to share it with everybody else. So it’s been a lot of fun. There are a lot of good things about it.

Q What inspired you to become so involved in child obesity?

MRS. OBAMA: You know, it was just watching how children’s diets and habits change. Then I saw it in my household, just how easy it was with schedules being as busy as they are, and parents working a lot of hours. And we get into the habit of giving you guys what’s easy sometimes, Mac and Cheese every night, and driving through the drive-thru a little bit too much. And time is just short.

And I noticed it in my own household. And I thought, well, if I’m having these kind of challenges, it must be hard for the average family who doesn’t have a lot of resources and things like that.
Q How is the obesity cure going?

MRS. OBAMA: How’s that going, that cure thing? (Laughter.) Yeah, yeah, well, we haven’t quite solved it yet -- (laughter) -- but we’re on our way.

There are some people who think that -- some scientists who say that the link to obesity is genetic, like it’s something that you’re born with. But what we’re trying to figure out is how do we change behavior, particularly in kids, to just teach them different habits, right?

So my theory is that kids can learn to love vegetables just as much as they can learn to love the taste of candy. I truly believe that. You may not agree, but I think that if you guys are eating healthy things on a regular basis, you start to like them, and you start making choices about a snack so that instead of a snack being a piece of candy, a good snack could be a nice bunch of grapes. Right? How many people like grapes?

So that’s one of those learned things. So instead of saying, Mom, Mom, I’m hungry, can I have a bag of chips? You’ll say, Mom, Mom, I’m hungry, can I have a bunch of grapes? And if you say that I guarantee you she’ll say yes every single time, and they’ll be just as good.

So if we start teaching different habits, if you guys ask for different things, then eventually that will help with your health. And if you’re moving and exercising, that will make you healthy and that will help cure the -- solve the problem of obesity. But we’ve got a lot of work to do and we’re going to need all of you to help us do it.

Q What is your favorite part about being the First Lady and having the power to change like the world and stuff?

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, did you hear that? I have the power to change things.

Q Yeah.

MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, yeah. My favorite thing is, you know, the feeling that with even small gestures you can impact people’s lives in ways -- I mean, sometimes it’s not even doing anything, but the fact that I can go to a school just for a visit and bring attention to what they’re doing just by coming to visit. I can use this platform to highlight issues that are important and to point out people that are already doing really good things.

So it’s not always anything that I can do, but it’s helping other people get the attention around the good things that they’re already doing -- hard work and sacrifice, people who are doing things for their families. It’s an exciting opportunity to be able to shine the light.

Like, today we’re getting to see how smart you guys are, the whole country is getting to see just how bright and engaging you guys are and how eager you are to ask questions and to learn. And that’s important for us to remember every day, just how important our young people are and just how curious and ready to do anything you all are. So that’s fun.

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The President Speaks to Wall Street, Republicans, and All of America

The President Speaks to Wall Street, Republicans, and All of America
Posted by Jesse Lee on April 22, 2010 at 01:23 PM EDT
Ed. Note: Austan Goolsbee of the Council of Economic Advisers will take your questions following up on the President's speech in a live video discussion Friday at 2:00PM EDT. Watch at WhiteHouse.gov/live or join the conversation via UStream.

At noon today the President spoke to an audience that included many from the financial sector at Cooper Union in New York City, a place where he spoke about reforming Wall Street and financial institutions two years ago:

As I said on this stage two years ago, I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings. That’s part of what has made America what it is. But a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That’s what happened too often in the years leading up to this crisis. Some -- and let me be clear, not all -- but some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged there’s family looking to buy a house, or pay for an education, open a business, save for retirement. What happens on Wall Street has real consequences across the country, across our economy.

The President applauded the House for having passed reforms, and the Senate for working through their own version, despite “the furious effort of industry lobbyists to shape this legislation to their special interests.” He then spoke directly to those in the audience and the area who might be paying those lobbyists:

And for those of you in the financial sector I'm sure that some of these lobbyists work for you and they’re doing what they are being paid to do. But I’m here today specifically -- when I speak to the titans of industry here -- because I want to urge you to join us, instead of fighting us in this effort. (Applause.) I’m here because I believe that these reforms are, in the end, not only in the best interest of our country, but in the best interest of the financial sector. And I’m here to explain what reform will look like, and why it matters.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on Wall Street reform at the Cooper Union in New York, New York, April 22, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The President focused on four key elements of his plan for reform:

Now, first, the bill being considered in the Senate would create what we did not have before, and that is a way to protect the financial system and the broader economy and American taxpayers in the event that a large financial firm begins to fail. If there’s a Lehmans or an AIG, how can we respond in a way that doesn’t force taxpayers to pick up the tab or, alternatively, could bring down the whole system.

He acknowledged that there might be legitimate debate about the best way to approach that issue, but made clear that he had no patience for those making the false claim that somehow reform would lead to more bailouts: “In other words, a vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to taxpayer-funded bailouts. That’s the truth. End of story. And nobody should be fooled in this debate.” He then moved on to the second component:

Number two, reform would bring new transparency to many financial markets. As you know, part of what led to this crisis was firms like AIG and others who were making huge and risky bets, using derivatives and other complicated financial instruments, in ways that defied accountability, or even common sense. In fact, many practices were so opaque, so confusing, so complex that the people inside the firms didn’t understand them, much less those who were charged with overseeing them. They weren’t fully aware of the massive bets that were being placed. That’s what led Warren Buffett to describe derivatives that were bought and sold with little oversight as “financial weapons of mass destruction.” That’s what he called them. And that’s why reform will rein in excess and help ensure that these kinds of transactions take place in the light of day.

The President applauded the Republican Senator who crossed the aisle to support Democratic efforts on reining in derivatives, and moved on to the third major priority in reform:

Third, this plan would enact the strongest consumer financial protections ever. (Applause.) And that's absolutely necessary because this financial crisis wasn’t just the result of decisions made in the executive suites on Wall Street; it was also the result of decisions made around kitchen tables across America, by folks who took on mortgages and credit cards and auto loans. And while it’s true that many Americans took on financial obligations that they knew or should have known they could not have afforded, millions of others were, frankly, duped. They were misled by deceptive terms and conditions, buried deep in the fine print.

Speaking on the fourth and final main component, the President addressed one of the biggest sources of anger across the country over the past years:

Number four, the last key component of reform. These Wall Street reforms will give shareholders new power in the financial system. They will get what we call a say on pay, a voice with respect to the salaries and bonuses awarded to top executives. And the SEC will have the authority to give shareholders more say in corporate elections, so that investors and pension holders have a stronger role in determining who manages the company in which they’ve placed their savings.

Now, Americans don’t begrudge anybody for success when that success is earned. But when we read in the past, and sometimes in the present, about enormous executive bonuses at firms -- even as they’re relying on assistance from taxpayers or they’re taking huge risks that threaten the system as a whole or their company is doing badly -- it offends our fundamental values.

Not only that, some of the salaries and bonuses that we’ve seen creates perverse incentives to take reckless risks that contributed to the crisis. It’s what helped lead to a relentless focus on a company’s next quarter, to the detriment of its next year or its next decade. And it led to a situation in which folks with the most to lose -- stock and pension holders -- had the least to say in the process. And that has to change. (Applause.)

The President urged the audience to recognize that there are legitimate issues at hand, even if all parties will not always agree on everything, and to join him in supporting commonsense reforms.

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Title IX: Giving Girls a Sporting Chance

Title IX: Giving Girls a Sporting Chance
Posted by Valerie Jarrett on April 22, 2010 at 01:00 PM EDT
As Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, I was honored and excited to join world-class women athletes, the Vice President, and the Secretary of Education in a Title IX Announcement event Tuesday afternoon at George Washington University.

Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Title IX at George Washington University in Washington DC, April 20, 2010. Also present are Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and former intern Joy Cheek. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
.Title IX was enacted in 1972 and mandates that all educational institutions receiving federal funding create equal opportunities, for both boys and girls, in both academics and all other school activities. The announcement by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan enhances and strengthens the standards for Title IX compliance.

In the 38 years since enactment, we have seen how Title IX has helped women compete at all levels, producing real benefits for them later in life. For example, Title IX has been critical in improving the health of women and girls. New economic research has found that the increase in girls' athletic participation caused by Title IX was associated with a seven percent lower risk of obesity for those girls 20 to 25 years later. No other public health program can claim similar success. Title IX has also contributed to improving the economic well-being of women and girls. A recent study by the Wharton Business School shows that being a high school athlete is associated with 14 percent higher wages for women. Learn more about Title IX and the strengthened standards by reading Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali's blog post.

At the event highlighting Title IX and women's athletics, girls participate in sports clinics with collegiate and professional athletes. (Photo by Joshua Hoover, U.S. Department of Education)
.But there is perhaps no better evidence of the benefits of Title IX than seeing young girls interact with the WNBA players, the members of the Silver Medal-winning USA Women's Olympic Hockey Team, and the many skilled collegiate athletes who participated in Tuesday's event. These all-star women shot hoops and practiced their volleyball serves in clinics during the program, and in doing so, may have inspired the next great WNBA player or Olympian.

This event was not only a reminder as to why Title IX is important, but more broadly, it was a reminder as to why the Council's work through the agencies remains relevant and continues to make a difference in the lives of women and girls.

Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls

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Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day!
Posted by Nancy Sutley on April 22, 2010 at 10:52 AM EDT
Today, as we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, I find myself thinking about some of my favorite childhood places, and how they continue to inspire me to work toward a healthier planet.

Many of my fondest memories took place outside. I recall playing in my small backyard in Queens, NY, and sledding with friends in our many neighborhood parks. I also remember my family’s annual vacations to the beach or the mountains, and how I marveled at their beauty. Our outdoor spaces provide a sense of peace and add immeasurably to our quality of life. They give us a chance to experience nature and to be around wildlife, and they fuel our imaginations and our spirits. These places and experiences embolden our sense of duty to protect the environment and our planet from the threat of pollution.

The Obama Administration has taken great strides to keep our air and water clean, and understands that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. We have made a historic investment through the Recovery Act in clean energy that will create the jobs of tomorrow and lay the foundation for long-term economic growth. In March 2009, the President signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, the most extensive expansion of land and water conservation in more than a generation. And just last Friday, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to promote and support innovative community-level efforts that will help us build a community-centered 21st century conservation agenda that protects the many beautiful places and outdoor traditions of our great Nation from the ground up. We are developing recommendations for a national ocean policy to protect our oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes; we are working to protect and restore Louisiana and Mississippi coastal ecosystems; we have renewed our commitment to restore the California Bay Delta and to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

And that’s just a snapshot of our efforts. But, while the Federal Government must and will play a role, we also need Americans to help lead. The story of the last four decades is about innovation. It’s about the American spirit of ingenuity that we called upon to answer the environmental and public health challenges of 40 years ago, and that will also meet the challenges of today.

This Earth Day, we can all learn about the environmental issues of today, and how to take action in our own homes or communities. www.whitehouse.gov/earthday is a valuable resource where you can begin. Happy Earth Day!

Nancy Sutley is the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

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Bringing Down Health Care Costs for America’s Businesses and Seniors

Bringing Down Health Care Costs for America’s Businesses and Seniors
Posted by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on April 22, 2010 at 10:27 AM EDT
For too many older Americans, early retirement has meant losing access to affordable care and the peace of mind that comes with quality, affordable health insurance. When retirees try to purchase coverage on their own, they are left with plans that are prohibitively expensive with astronomical out of pocket costs. Some go without insurance, leaving them at a higher risk of contracting a chronic disease that can be expensive to treat. Others delay retirement, just to keep their health insurance.

Businesses suffer too. Employers across the country want to provide their retirees with health benefits, but skyrocketing health care costs have forced many to curtail or eliminate benefits for their retirees altogether.

One of our major goals in enacting health reform was to help lower costs for families and businesses and ensure everyone -- including retirees -- has access to care. Now, thanks to the new Affordable Care Act, many older Americans who have stayed awake nights worrying about losing benefits and many employers who are trying to help provide security for their work forces can breathe a sigh of relief. Help is on the way.

The new law provides help for many older Americans over the age of fifty-five through an early retiree reinsurance program available to businesses starting this June and some critical resources for employer-based plans.

Here is how it works. The early retiree reinsurance program created in the new law provides $5 billion for temporary financial help for employer plans to continue to provide valuable coverage to certain retirees. For more details, including what types of employer-sponsored plans are eligible and how payments will be made, check out this fact sheet.

Reinsurance programs have a proven track record of helping lower health care costs for businesses. Reinsurance has been successfully used by a number of states to lower premiums for small businesses. It is an idea that has been advocated by large businesses, who wanted it to be part of the Affordable Care Act because they believe it will defray the high and often unpredictable cost of early retirees, helping them to maintain retiree benefits at affordable levels.

This program will provide many employers with the assistance they need and will help ensure they can continue to cover their retirees, and it's one of many benefits of the new law that I will discuss today at 1:00pm EDT during a special online web chat that you can watch live at www.hhs.gov/live. Health experts from HHS and AARP answer your questions about the benefits health reform brings for America’s seniors, so send your questions about the early retiree reinsurance program or any other questions you have to healthreform@hhs.gov and we’ll do our best to answer them during the chat.

Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Building a New Foundation for Energy and the Environment

Building a New Foundation for Energy and the Environment
Posted by Anthony Russell on April 13, 2010 at 05:34 PM EDT
In the last 15 months, President Obama and his Administration have made significant progress in changing the way America thinks about energy and the environment, making the vision of a 21st century clean energy economy a reality. From historic investments in clean energy infrastructure and technology; improved efficiency for buildings, appliances and automobiles; more diverse energy production from domestic and renewable sources; and reduced emissions that contribute to climate change – the President’s comprehensive strategy has put Americans back in control of their energy future, created new jobs and laid the foundation for long-term economic security, and led by example in exercising good stewardship of our environment.

To continue the progress, we need your help. President Obama believes, "...that change won’t come from Washington alone. It will come from Americans across the country who take steps in their own homes and their own communities to make that change happen." So today, in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, President Obama is challenging Americans to take action to change our nation’s energy and environmental future.

Visit WhiteHouse.gov/earthday to learn more about what you can do in your homes, communities, schools and businesses to answer the President’s call-to-action to help lay a new foundation for energy and the environment.

Anthony Russell is the Communication Advisor for the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change

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Health Reform and the Recovery Act: Unprecedented Tax Cuts for the Middle Class

Health Reform and the Recovery Act: Unprecedented Tax Cuts for the Middle Class
Posted by Dan Pfeiffer on April 13, 2010 at 04:20 PM EDT
It’s that time of year where we’re all filling out our tax forms to get them in under the deadline, so we thought it would be worth taking a step back and looking over how two of the President’s top priorities – health reform and the Recovery Act – are helping to give a little relief to middle class families. While some critics and media outlets may want to mislead the public, or cherry-pick provisions to give another impression, there is no debating the fact that making the tax code more fair for the middle class, and helping working families get through these tough economic times has been the central plank of the President’s agenda.

Health Reform: The health reform legislation signed into law by President Obama includes the largest health care tax cut in history for middle class families, helping to make insurance much more affordable for millions of families. Here’s a more extensive list of how health reform helps ease the financial burden on the middle class:

The largest health care tax cut in history for middle class families.
Americans buying the same coverage they have today in the individual market will see premiums fall by 14 to 20 percent compared to what they would pay without health insurance reform and by as much as 3% for those who get coverage through their employers.
The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit can cover up to 35 percent of the premiums a small business pays to cover its workers. In 2014, the rate will increase to 50 percent
Reduces out-of-pocket expenses so insurance doesn’t still leave families holding the bag
Bans lifetime limits on coverage
The Recovery Act: As the President noted in his last Weekly Address, you can get a good handle on how the Recovery Act might help you out on your taxes through our Tax Savings Tool. Here’s a glance at how the numbers break down nationwide:

Over $160 Billion - Tax relief provided through the Recovery Act so far to families and businesses.
Nearly $3,000 - The record average tax refund taxpayers are seeing this tax season, something the IRS says is largely due to the Recovery Act.
Nearly 10% - The percentage average tax refunds are up this year - something the IRS says is largely due to Recovery Act tax credits.
95% - The percentage of working families benefiting from the Recovery Act's Making Work Pay tax credit, making it the broadest tax credit in the history of the country.
$800 - The amount most married couples are collecting through their paychecks this year thanks to the Recovery Act's Making Work Pay tax credit. Individuals collected $400 this year thanks to Making Work Pay.
Up to $2,500 - The expanded amount eligible taxpayers can collect with the American Opportunity Credit to help cover college expanses thanks to the Recovery Act.
Up to $8,000 - The amount new homebuyers can collect this year for purchasing their first home thanks to the Recovery Act's expansion of the First-Time Homebuyers Tax Credit.
Up to $1,500 - The amount homeowners can collect this year on improvements made to their homes like energy-efficient windows, doors and insulation thanks to Recovery Act tax credits.
65% - The amount by which the Recovery Act cut the cost of COBRA health insurance premiums for unemployed workers last year through an up-front tax credit.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

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False Criticisms to Obscure Clear Choices

False Criticisms to Obscure Clear Choices
Posted by Jen Psaki on April 13, 2010 at 04:15 PM EDT
As we continue to work toward reforming Wall Street and making it accountable, we’re going to see the usual suspects try to misrepresent the legislation.

These same opponents of reform are pushing for loopholes and carve-outs in the bill large enough to drive a truck through.

The reality is that there’s a clear choice in this debate: to stand with American families or stand on the side of the big Wall Street banks and their lobbyists who are defending the status quo. Opponents of reform are protecting the big banks at the expense of American families -- so they’re going to do whatever they can to keep the present system in place and leave the American taxpayer with the bill.

One false criticism we’re hearing is this: that the Senate bill will allow endless taxpayer-funded bailouts of financial firms. What they won’t tell you is that they are taking their marching orders from a partisan political consultant who has told them that the best way to oppose real reform is to link it to the bank bailouts. In fact, the polling memo they’re working from explicitly states that “the best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout.” No matter what the bill actually does, they’re going to call it a bailout because that’s what the polls tell them to do.

Here are the facts: this bill does the exact opposite of what these critics say it does. The Senate bill explicitly mandates that a large financial firm that faces failure will be allowed to fail, and it explicitly prohibits the use of any funds to “bail out” a failing firm. Under the Senate bill, large financial firms facing insolvency in times of crisis will be shut down or broken apart. Management will be replaced. Creditors will suffer losses. Equity holders will be wiped out. And large financial firms, not taxpayers, will be required to bear the costs. Under the Senate bill, the taxpayers will never be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s irresponsibility.

President Obama has been committed to enacting real Wall Street reform since well before taking office, and he believes that momentum is on the side of greater accountability for Wall Street and strong protections for consumers. The idea that we would walk away learning no lessons from this financial crisis – after over 8 million Americans lost their jobs and trillions in household wealth disappeared – is simply unacceptable. It’s time to set new rules of the road to fix the behavior that led to this crisis, because the American people have suffered too much to enact reform that does too little. Inaction is simply not an option.

Jen Psaki is Deputy Communications Director

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"An Opportunity -- Not Simply to Talk, But to Act"

"An Opportunity -- Not Simply to Talk, But to Act"
Posted by Jesse Lee on April 13, 2010 at 01:53 PM EDT

Today the President and delegations from 46 other nations are working to address the most dire threat of our time: nuclear terrorism. It is the second day of the Nuclear Security Summit, following a first day during which several nations made significant commitments which will strengthen the global effort to maintain nuclear security and nonproliferation. For instance:

Chile has shipped its highly enriched uranium to the United States; Ukraine has agreed to ship its highly enriched uranium out of the country within two years; and Canada has agreed to ship its used highly enriched uranium to the United States.
The United States and Russia have reached an agreement on plutonium disposal, a deal that has been stalled since 2000, and which commits both countries to eliminate enough total plutonium for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons.
Recognizing the importance of this summit, and that its goals require a long-term commitment, South Korea has agreed to host the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012.
And of course this summit follows two major steps on the issues of nuclear security, non-proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism: the release of the Nuclear Posture Review and the signing of the New START Treaty with Russia. This morning the President addressed the first of two major Plenary Sessions, offering his condolences to the people of Poland for their recent losses, and once again laying out the scope of the threat before closing on his vision for progress.

So today is an opportunity -- not simply to talk, but to act. Not simply to make pledges, but to make real progress on the security of our people. All this, in turn, requires something else, which is something more fundamental. It will require a new mindset -- that we summon the will, as nations and as partners, to do what this moment in history demands.

I believe strongly that the problems of the 21st century cannot be solved by any one nation acting in isolation. They must be solved by all of us coming together.

At the dawn of the nuclear age that he helped to unleash, Albert Einstein said: “Now everything has changed…” And he warned: “We are drifting towards a catastrophe beyond comparison. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

That truth endures today. For the sake of our common security, for the sake of our survival, we cannot drift. We need a new manner of thinking -- and action. That is the challenge before us. And I thank all of you for being here to confront that challenge together, in partnership.

And with that, I’m going to ask that we take a few moments to allow the press to exit before our first session.

UPDATE: From the course of the day, read the President's statement on Russia shutting down its final plutonium reactor, as well as the Trilateral Announcement Between Mexico, the United States, and Canada on Nuclear Security.

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First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden visit Haiti

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden visit Haiti
Posted by Katie McCormick Lelyveld on April 13, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT
Moments ago First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – a visit to underscore to the Haitian people and the Haitian government the enduring U.S. commitment to help recover and rebuild, especially as we enter the rainy and hurricane seasons. Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden will thank the women and men across the whole of the U.S. government for their extraordinary efforts in Haiti during the past three months and reach out to the UN and international relief communities in recognition of the truly global effort underway to help Haiti.

Check back later tonight for photo and video updates from the trip.

Katie McCormick Lelyveld is Press Secretary to First Lady Michelle Obama

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