Saturday, February 28, 2009

Office of the Press Secretary

February 27, 2009

- - - - - - -


Sixty-two years after its founding, the Red Cross was instrumental in what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the "greatest single crusade of mercy in all of history." In 1943, at the height of World War II, President Roosevelt called on the American people to support the troops by supporting the Red Cross, which provided food, blood, and supplies to American troops, allies, and civilians across the world. President Roosevelt asked Americans to donate funds to the Red Cross, setting a goal of $125 million for 6 weeks of fundraising. The American people responded with characteristic generosity, opening their hearts and wallets. The Red Cross met this goal in less than 6 weeks. During that season of generosity and unity, President Roosevelt proclaimed March 1943 as the first Red Cross Month.

The Red Cross has continued to serve those suffering from large- and small-scale disasters. The organization is best known for its work helping communities deal with major disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. These large-scale disasters represent a major part of the work of the American Red Cross. Just as important are the tens of thousands of small-scale disasters that occur every day in communities nationwide, and the volunteers who respond to them.

These efforts include supporting our military and their families, collecting and distributing blood, helping the needy, delivering health and safety education, and providing aid abroad.
In every response, volunteers are the key to Red Cross efforts. Volunteers represent 96 percent of the Red Cross workforce. Without their giving spirit, disaster relief operations would fall short, blood donations would fail, and the mission of the Red Cross would go unfulfilled. Whether helping military families stay connected with service members around the world, teaching CPR and first aid, or supporting other members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, volunteers are critical to the success of each and every Red Cross endeavor. These individuals epitomize the generosity and community spirit of the American people.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America and Honorary Chairman of the American Red Cross, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States do hereby proclaim
March 2009 as American Red Cross Month. I encourage all Americans to support this organization's noble humanitarian mission.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
twenty-seventh day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.

# # #


Friday, February 27, 2009

President Obama Outlines U.S. Iraq Departure

Tells Troops: "You Got The Job Done" !


Office of the Press Secretary



February 27, 2009

Remarks of President Barack ObamaAs Prepared for Delivery

Responsibly Ending the War in Iraq

Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Friday, February 27, 2009

Good morning Marines. Good morning Camp Lejeune . Good morning Jacksonville . Thank you for that outstanding welcome. I want to thank Lieutenant General Hejlik for hosting me here today.

I also want to acknowledge all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan . That includes the Camp Lejeune Marines now serving with – or soon joining – the Second Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq ; those with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force in Afghanistan ; and those among the 8,000 Marines who are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan . We have you in our prayers. We pay tribute to your service. We thank you and your families for all that you do for America . And I want all of you to know that there is no higher honor or greater responsibility than serving as your Commander-in-Chief.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Ryan Crocker, who recently completed his service as our Ambassador to Iraq . Throughout his career, Ryan always took on the toughest assignments. He is an example of the very best that this nation has to offer, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude. He carried on his work with an extraordinary degree of cooperation with two of our finest Generals – General David Petraeus, and General Ray Odierno – who will be critical in carrying forward the strategy that I will outline today.

Next month will mark the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq . By any measure, this has already been a long war. For the men and women of America ’s armed forces – and for your families – this war has been one of the most extraordinary chapters of service in the history of our nation. You have endured tour after tour after tour of duty. You have known the dangers of combat and the lonely distance of loved ones. You have fought against tyranny and disorder. You have bled for your best friends and for unknown Iraqis. And you have borne an enormous burden for your fellow citizens, while extending a precious opportunity to the people of Iraq . Under tough circumstances, the men and women of the United States military have served with honor, and succeeded beyond any expectation.

Today, I have come to speak to you about how the war in Iraq will end.

To understand where we need to go in Iraq , it is important for the American people to understand where we now stand. Thanks in great measure to your service, the situation in Iraq has improved. Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq ’s Security Forces, and through our partnership with Sunni Arabs. The capacity of Iraq ’s Security Forces has improved, and Iraq ’s leaders have taken steps toward political accommodation. The relative peace and strong participation in January’s provincial elections sent a powerful message to the world about how far Iraqis have come in pursuing their aspirations through a peaceful political process.

But let there be no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq . Too many fundamental political questions about Iraq ’s future remain unresolved. Too many Iraqis are still displaced or destitute. Declining oil revenues will put an added strain on a government that has had difficulty delivering basic services. Not all of Iraq ’s neighbors are contributing to its security. Some are working at times to undermine it. And even as Iraq ’s government is on a surer footing, it is not yet a full partner – politically and economically – in the region, or with the international community

In short, today there is a renewed cause for hope in Iraq , but that hope rests upon an emerging foundation.

On my first full day in office, I directed my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of our strategy in Iraq to determine the best way to strengthen that foundation, while strengthening American national security. I have listened to my Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and commanders on the ground. We have acted with careful consideration of events on the ground; with respect for the security agreements between the United States and Iraq ; and with a critical recognition that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political – not military. Because the most important decisions that have to be made about Iraq ’s future must now be made by Iraqis.

We have also taken into account the simple reality that America can no longer afford to see Iraq in isolation from other priorities: we face the challenge of refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan ; of relieving the burden on our military; and of rebuilding our struggling economy – and these are challenges that we will meet.

Today, I can announce that our review is complete, and that the United States will pursue a new strategy to end the war in Iraq through a transition to full Iraqi responsibility.

This strategy is grounded in a clear and achievable goal shared by the Iraqi people and the American people: an Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant. To achieve that goal, we will work to promote an Iraqi government that is just, representative, and accountable, and that provides neither support nor safe-haven to terrorists. We will help Iraq build new ties of trade and commerce with the world. And we will forge a partnership with the people and government of Iraq that contributes to the peace and security of the region.

What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq ’s streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq ’s union is perfected. We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars. America ’s men and women in uniform have fought block by block, province by province, year after year, to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future. Now, we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it.

The first part of this strategy is therefore the responsible removal of our combat brigades from Iraq .

As a candidate for President, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops. Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq . We will proceed carefully, and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government. There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments. But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.

After we remove our combat brigades, our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its Security Forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country. As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq . Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.

Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.

As we responsibly remove our combat brigades, we will pursue the second part of our strategy: sustained diplomacy on behalf of a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq .

The drawdown of our military should send a clear signal that Iraq ’s future is now its own responsibility. The long-term success of the Iraqi nation will depend upon decisions made by Iraq ’s leaders and the fortitude of the Iraqi people. Iraq is a sovereign country with legitimate institutions; America cannot – and should not – take their place. However, a strong political, diplomatic, and civilian effort on our part can advance progress and help lay a foundation for lasting peace and security.

This effort will be led by our new Ambassador to Iraq – Chris Hill. From his time in the Peace Corps, to his work in Kosovo and Korea , Ambassador Hill has been tested, and he has shown the pragmatism and skill that we need right now. He will be supported by the courageous and capable work of so many American diplomats and aid workers who are serving in Iraq .

Going forward, we can make a difference on several fronts. We will work with the United Nations to support national elections, while helping Iraqis improve local government. We can serve as an honest broker in pursuit of fair and durable agreements on issues that have divided Iraq ’s leaders. And just as we will support Iraq ’s Security Forces, we will help Iraqi institutions strengthen their capacity to protect the rule of law, confront corruption, and deliver basic services.

Diplomacy and assistance is also required to help the millions of displaced Iraqis. These men, women and children are a living consequence of this war and a challenge to stability in the region, and they must become a part of Iraq ’s reconciliation and recovery. America has a strategic interest – and a moral responsibility – to act. In the coming months, my administration will provide more assistance and take steps to increase international support for countries already hosting refugees; we’ll cooperate with others to resettle Iraqis facing great personal risk; and we will work with the Iraqi government over time to resettle refugees and displaced Iraqis within Iraq – because there are few more powerful indicators of lasting peace than displaced citizens returning home.

Now, before I go any further, I want to take a moment to speak directly to the people of Iraq .

You are a great nation, rooted in the cradle of civilization. You are joined together by enduring accomplishments, and a history that connects you as surely as the two rivers carved into your land. In years past, you have persevered through tyranny and terror; through personal insecurity and sectarian violence. And instead of giving in to the forces of disunion, you stepped back from a descent into civil war, and showed a proud resilience that deserves respect.

Our nations have known difficult times together. But ours is a bond forged by shared bloodshed, and countless friendships among our people. We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.

There are those who will try to prevent that future for Iraq – who will insist that Iraq ’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing. They represent the forces that destroy nations and lead only to despair, and they will test our will in the months and years to come. America , too, has known these forces. We endured the pain of Civil War, and bitter divisions of region and race. But hostility and hatred are no match for justice; they offer no pathway to peace; and they must not stand between the people of Iraq and a future of reconciliation and hope.

So to the Iraqi people, let me be clear about America ’s intentions. The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources. We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country. We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country. And going forward, we can build a lasting relationship founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect as Iraq takes its rightful place in the community of nations.

That leads me to the third part of our strategy –comprehensive American engagement across the region.

The future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader Middle East, so we must work with our friends and partners to establish a new framework that advances Iraq ’s security and the region’s. It is time for Iraq to be a full partner in a regional dialogue, and for Iraq ’s neighbors to establish productive and normalized relations with Iraq . And going forward, the United States will pursue principled and sustained engagement with all of the nations in the region, and that will include Iran and Syria .

This reflects a fundamental truth: we can no longer deal with regional challenges in isolation – we need a smarter, more sustainable and comprehensive approach. That is why we are renewing our diplomacy, while relieving the burden on our military. That is why we are refocusing on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing a strategy to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world. And that is why we have named three of America ’s most accomplished diplomats – George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke – to support Secretary Clinton and me as we carry forward this agenda.

Every nation and every group must know – whether you wish America good or ill – that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East . And that era has just begun.

Finally, I want to be very clear that my strategy for ending the war in Iraq does not end with military plans or diplomatic agendas – it endures through our commitment to uphold our sacred trust with every man and woman who has served in Iraq .

You make up a fraction of the American population, but in an age when so many people and institutions have acted irresponsibly, you did the opposite – you volunteered to bear the heaviest burden. And for you and for your families, the war does not end when you come home. It lives on in memories of your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who gave their lives. It endures in the wound that is slow to heal, the disability that isn’t going away, the dream that wakes you at night, or the stiffening in your spine when a car backfires down the street.

You and your families have done your duty – now a grateful nation must do ours. That is why I am increasing the number of soldiers and Marines, so that we lessen the burden on those who are serving. And that is why I have committed to expanding our system of veterans health care to serve more patients, and to provide better care in more places. We will continue building new wounded warrior facilities across America , and invest in new ways of identifying and treating the signature wounds of this war: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, as well as other combat injuries.

We also know that service does not end with the person wearing the uniform. In her visits with military families across the country, my wife Michelle has learned firsthand about the unique burden that your families endure every day. I want you to know this: military families are a top priority for Michelle and me, and they will be a top priority for my administration. We’ll raise military pay, and continue providing quality child-care, job-training for spouses, and expanded counseling and outreach to families that have known the separation and stress of war. We will also heed the lesson of history – that those who fight in battle can form the backbone of our middle class – by implementing a 21st century GI Bill to help our veterans live their dreams.

As a nation, we have had our share of debates about the war in Iraq . It has, at times, divided us as a people. To this very day, there are some Americans who want to stay in Iraq longer, and some who want to leave faster. But there should be no disagreement on what the men and women of our military have achieved.

And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government – and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life – that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.

There are many lessons to be learned from what we’ve experienced. We have learned that America must go to war with clearly defined goals, which is why I’ve ordered a review of our policy in Afghanistan . We have learned that we must always weigh the costs of action, and communicate those costs candidly to the American people, which is why I’ve put Iraq and Afghanistan into my budget. We have learned that in the 21st century, we must use all elements of American power to achieve our objectives, which is why I am committed to building our civilian national security capacity so that the burden is not continually pushed on to our military. We have learned that our political leaders must pursue the broad and bipartisan support that our national security policies depend upon, which is why I will consult with Congress and in carrying out my plans. And we have learned the importance of working closely with friends and allies, which is why we are launching a new era of engagement in the world.

The starting point for our policies must always be the safety of the American people. I know that you – the men and women of the finest fighting force in the history of the world – can meet any challenge, and defeat any foe. And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and provide you with the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That is the most important lesson of all – for the consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable.

You know because you have seen those sacrifices. You have lived them. And we all honor them.

“Semper Fidelis” – it means always being faithful to Corps, and to country, and to the memory of fallen comrades like Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter. These young men enlisted in a time of war, knowing they would face great danger. They came here, to Camp Lejeune , as they trained for their mission. And last April, they were standing guard in Anbar. In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives. These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck. When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved fifty Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path, but Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter lost their own lives. Jonathan was 21. Jordan was 19.

In the town where Jordan Haerter was from, a bridge was dedicated in his name. One Marine who traveled to the ceremony said: “We flew here from all over the country to pay tribute to our friend Jordan, who risked his life to save us. We wouldn’t be here without him.”

America’s time in Iraq is filled with stories of men and women like this. Their names are written into bridges and town squares. They are etched into stones at Arlington , and in quiet places of rest across our land. They are spoken in schools and on city blocks. They live on in the memories of those who wear your uniform, in the hearts of those they loved, and in the freedom of the nation they served.

Each American who has served in Iraq has their own story. Each of you has your own story. And that story is now a part of the history of the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar . You teach us that the price of freedom is great. Your sacrifice should challenge all of us – every single American – to ask what we can do to be better citizens.

There will be more danger in the months ahead. We will face new tests and unforeseen trials. But thanks to the sacrifices of those who have served, we have forged hard-earned progress, we are leaving Iraq to its people, and we have begun the work of ending this war.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America . Semper Fi.


Want To Work In


Apply for an internship

If you’re interested in applying for a White House internship, the application process is now open.

Take a look at the instructions for how to apply for a White House internship, download the application, and learn more about the White House departments you could work in.

Applications are due March 22, 2009. A couple of important things to keep in mind:

In addition to normal office duties, interns will supplement their learning experience by attending a weekly lecture series hosted by senior White House staff, help at White House social events, and volunteer in community service projects.

White House Internships are unpaid positions and participants are responsible for arranging their own transportation and housing for the duration of the program.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama's Honor Stevie Wonder

During White House Concert

(It's A New Day !)

The Obamas honored Stevie Wonder on Wednesday night during a concert in the East Room of the White House held to celebrate the musician being awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

The president candidly discussed the importance role that Wonder played in his own romantic life with the First Lady, calling it "the essence of our courtship," explaining that if he had not been a Stevie Wonder fan, Michelle would never had dated him, let alone married him. (huffpost)

Here is the lengthy pool report:

Love was in the air at the White House tonight, as the President and First Lady hosted a concert to honor Stevie Wonder, a man whose music they said brought them together.

FLOTUS opened the event, and explained that she grew up listening to Stevie Wonder's music with her grandfather. Years later, she said she "discovered what Stevie meant when he sang about love. Barack and I chose the song, 'You and I' as our wedding song." A chorus of "awws" from the crowd. FLOTUS continued, that Wonder's music has been connecting with fellow artists and fans for 40 years, adding that he recently performed with the Jonas Brothers, "thrilling a new generation of young girls, including our own."

The pool left the room as a series of artists (list below) played various hits from Wonder's collection. We returned to the room in time for POTUS to present the Gershwin award. He called Stevie Wonder's music "the soundtrack of my youth," saying he found in it "peace and inspiration, especially in difficult times." He then mirrored his wife's comments, saying: "I think it's fair to say that had I not been a Stevie Wonder fan, Michelle might not have dated me. We might not have married. The fact that we agreed on Stevie was part of the essence of our courtship."

The award was presented, and after a long ovation, Wonder spoke. "President and Mrs. Obama, I'm so excited to know that I was a part of" - he said, pausing for some laughter from the audience. "I needn't say more." POTUS, standing to Wonder's left, sported a broad smile, and then looked down to his wife in the front row.

Wonder thanked his friends and family, and said he accepted the award for his mother. If she were here, Wonder said, "She'd say, 'Let me give him a peach cobbler.'" Wonder then spoke of his excitement over the president who honored him tonight, saying that through him "America has a chance to again live up to the greatness that it deserves to be seen and known as."

He closed by saying that he looked forward to the president being able to unite the world, "so that in my lifetime I can write some more songs about love, about unity, and real songs of passion." And then he added: "You know, maybe I'll be a part of creating some more of those babies." The audience roared with laughter and applause.

Pool exited shortly after, but as we were leaving we could hear Wonder saying that he had thought about inviting POTUS to sing "Michelle My Belle" with him. Sadly, he did not. Instead, Wonder struck up "Signed Sealed Delivered," a staple of the campaign trail.


The event was to award the 2nd annual Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Library of Congress. The entire event will be broadcast tomorrow night on PBS as part of its "In Performance at the White House" series, according to a White House release.

In addition to some famous faces from the DC social scene, guests included (per Katie McCormick Lelyveld) People from the Berklee School of Music, Jeffrey Kimpton from Interlochen in Michigan, the president of Juilliard, the head of the Grammy's foundation, a number of creative arts and music conservatory teachers and students, and folks from music programs via the DC public schools, including the woman who runs Duke Ellington in NW.

KML also explained that the event was an extension of the continuing plan by the Obamas to open the White House to the greater community, and bring different groups together.

Spotted in the crowd when the pool first entered the East Room: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Donna Brazille, Valerie Jarett, David Axelrod. Other faces in the crowd spotted as the night wore on: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Attorney General Eric Holder.


Pool gathered just after 7 pm to be escorted up to the East Room. En route, we passed the Diplomatic Reception room, where I spotted and other guests.

At 7:10 pm, we arrived in the East Room, which had been transformed, lighting and all, into a concert venue. A stage had been set up against the wall in between the paintings of Mary and George Washington, facing out in the direction of Cross Hall. There were three rows of chairs in the center, with another small group of five rows angling out on the left and right side of the stage.

According to a program waiting on the chairs for guests, the program was to include the following performances: Kathleen Battle, Tony Bennett, Wayne Brady, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Diana Krall, Mary Mary, Martina McBride, Paul Simon, Esperanza Spalding, and A supplementary card informed that Battle and Edmonds would not be participating, but that India Arie had been added.

At 7:24, the vice president and Dr. Biden were introduced (VPOTUS' forehead by now showing no signs of the ashes he had sported during the day) At 7:29, the president and first lady were introduced. POTUS was wearing the same suit he had worn to work during the day; FLOTUS was wearing a very nice green dress (I apologize to those who would like greater detail about the ensemble, but that's about the extent of my fashion reporting).

FLOTUS then introduced the program:

"Good evening everyone, and welcome to PBS' "In Performance At The White House.' Tonight it is a huge thrill for me as we honor a man whose music and lyrics I fell in love with when I was a little girl. The first album I ever bought was Steve Wonder's 'Talking Book.' I'd go to my grandfather's, because he was a real music junkie. He'd blast music throughout the house. And that's where he and I would sit and listen to Stevie's music together. Songs about life, love, romance, heartache, despair. He would let me listen to these songs over and over and over and over again.

"And then there was the album cover, a first that was in Braille. Years later, I discovered what Stevie meant when he sang about love. Barack and I chose the song, 'You and I' as our wedding song. For nearly 40 years, Stevie's music and powerful lyrics have inspired his fellow artists and connected with generations of fans. And he's still connecting, even today. He recently performed with the Jonas Brothers, thrilling a new generation of young girls, including our own.

"So it is with tremendous pride and delight that I now introduce one of the world's greatest artists, and one of my favorite people in the whole wide world, Stevie Wonder - in performance at the White House."

Almost immediately, your pool was ushered out of the East Room via the Green Room, which as it should happen was actually serving as the green room for the artists waiting to perform. We could hear "Sir Duke" being covered as we made our way back to the briefing room. Once in the briefing room, your pool was able to watch some of the show on monitors behind the podium. Cameras occasionally cut to the first couple, who seemed to be genuinely enjoying the performances, FLOTUS occasionally even singing along.

The pool held there until 8:19, when we returned to the East Room for the presentation of the award. POTUS took the stage, and started by joking that FLOTUS asked why they always had to have the podium on stage.

"I would have been satisfied with any of these microphones," he said, looking around the stage. "But we have protocol enforcers in the White House."

He then began his remarks, saying he wanted to first thank "the most accomplished cover band."

POTUS: "Stevie has always drawn on the incredible range of traditions in his music. From them he's created a sound that at once uniquely American, uniquely his own, and yet somehow universal. Indeed, this could be called the American tradition - artists demonstrating the courage and talent to find new harmonies in the rich and dissonant sounds of the American experience."

"Tonight's prize is also personal for me. As Stevie knows, I'm a huge fan. And he has been a great supporter. When I was first discovering music, just like Michelle, it was Stevie's albums that I found and his songs became the soundtrack of my youth. Through them I found peace and inspiration, especially in difficult times. And I think it's fair to say that had I not been a Stevie Wonder fan, Michelle might not have dated me. We might not have married. The fact that we agreed on Stevie was part of the essence of our courtship.

"And I'm not alone. Millions of people around the world have found similar comfort and joy in Stevie's music, and his unique capacity to find hope in struggle, and humanity in our common hardships. This gift that music affords us, transporting us from the here and now, relieving us of our burdens, even if it's just for the length of a song. And this gift given to us by artists like Stevie is something we can all share.

"So, it is my extraordinary privilege to present the Lbirary of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular song to an artist who has stirred our hearts and our souls for a generation, whose music knows no boundaries, an inspiration to us all. Please give it up for Mr. Stevie Wonder."

POTUS then gave a big bear hug to Stevie Wonder, patting him on the back and then clasping his hands. The two then held up the prize - which I have to admit I could not see from my vantage point behind the standing crowd, being slightly vertically challenged.

An extended standing ovation followed. Then Mr. Wonder then delivered remarks:

"Wow! I want to first of all thank God for this moment because only through him could all of this happen. President and Mrs. Obama, I'm so excited to know that I was a part of - [LAUGHTER] -- I needn't say more." [APPLAUSE]

POTUS smiles widely, and looks down at his wife.

Wonder: "There are so many people that I want to thank. So many people I am thinking about. I want to thank all of you, my family, my loved ones and friends, all of whom made it possible for me to stand here this day, this time. I accept this in memory of my mother. I know that Lula Mae is smiling right now. Mr. President, I know that if she were here, she'd say, 'Let me give him a peach cobbler.' She would say peach cobbler.

"But what's really exciting for me today is that we truly have lived to see a time where America has a chance to again live up to the greatness that it deserves to be seen and known as, through the love and the caring and the commitment of a president, as in our president, Barack Obama. [APPLAUSE] It's exciting 'cause I know my children will be able to say, 'I was born when there was the first African American president. Yeah, I can do that too!' But not only can they do that, but all children of all various ethnicities understand that they can speak in truth. They can talk about loving and caring about this country. They can talk about being a united people of the United States of America. They can live that dream that Dr. King talked about so long ago. And if those in this country and throughout the world - you can put down your spirits of hate and open up your hearts to receive God's ever commitment of love, then we can be a united people of the world. If we can think that big, and feel that strong, then I believe, as is said to me by my God, impossible is unacceptable. We don't know the miracles that will be bestown on us because of that.

"So I'm looking forward to you doing that, so that in my lifetime I can write some more songs about love, about unity, and real songs of passion. You know, maybe I'll be a part of creating some more of those babies. [LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]

"I want you to know that I love you til my last breath. Thank you."

Pool was then immediately taken out of the East Room again at 8:30. As we left, Wonder joked that he had thought of inviting POTUS on stage to sing "Michelle My Belle" to FLOTUS, but did not.

After we returned to the briefing room, your pool again watched the rest of the show on monitors. It was from there that I watched as POTUS and FLOTUS then took the stage one last time, at 8:50.

POTUS said: "I hope, and Michelle hopes that all of you have had an extraordinary evening celebrating a true American master. Please give it up one more time for Mr. Stevie Wonder."

After another round of applause, the first couple left the room.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Officials: US Troops

To Exit Iraq By August 2010 !

(The Troops Are COMING HOME !)

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by August of next year, administration officials said Tuesday, ending the war that helped define his upstart presidential campaign — although a little more slowly than he promised.

The withdrawal plan — an announcement could come as early as this week — could help Obama turn his attention to another campaign pledge: Deploying more troops to Afghanistan, a region he calls the central front in the war on terrorism.

The timetable is a compromise. Removing so many people and tons of equipment presents logistical difficulties. Some commanders and advisers worry that security gains could backslide in Iraq if troops are brought out too soon, while others think the bulk of U.S. combat work is long since done.

Obama built enormous grass-roots support for his White House bid by pledging to withdraw troops from Iraq 16 months after taking office. That schedule, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, was predicated on commanders determining that it would not endanger U.S. troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.

Obama expects to leave a large contingent of troops in Iraq, between 30,000 and 50,000 troops, after August, 2010 to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public. The contingent will include intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, such as unmanned aircraft.

The withdrawal of American forces is set to be completed by December 2011, the period by which the U.S. agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.

A senior White House official said Tuesday that Obama is at least a day away from making a final decision. An announcement on Wednesday was unlikely, he said, but added that Obama could discuss Iraq during a trip to North Carolina on Friday.

About 142,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, roughly 14 brigades, about 11,000 more than the total in Iraq when President George W. Bush announced in January 2007 that he would "surge" the force to put down the insurgency. He sent an additional 21,000 combat troops to Baghdad and Anbar province.

Although the number of combat brigades has dropped from 20 to 14, the U.S. has increased the number of logistical and other support troops. A brigade is usually about 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

The White House considered at least two other options — one that followed Obama's 16-month timeline and one that stretched withdrawal over 23 months, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.

Some U.S. commanders have spoken more optimistically in recent months about prospects for reducing the force.

Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who just left his job overseeing U.S. operations in Anbar Province, said Tuesday that he saw violence drop to an almost "meaningless" level over the past year.

Kelly told reporters Tuesday that in the area that was the home ground of the Sunni insurgency, American combat forces don't have enough to do and most could have pulled out months ago.

"There is still a security issue there, but in the province I just left the (Iraqi) army and the police are more than handling the remnants of what used to be al-Qaida," Kelly said. "There's other parts of Iraq that aren't going quite as well but all of Iraq is doing pretty well."

According to officials, Obama had requested a range of options from his top military advisers, including one that would have withdrawn troops in 16 months. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently forwarded withdrawal alternatives to the White House for Obama's consideration.

In addition to the U.S. troops to be withdrawn, there is a sizable cadre of contractors who provide services to them who would pack their bags as well. There were 148,050 defense contractor personnel working in Iraq as of December, 39,262 of them U.S. citizens.

There are more than 200 U.S. military installations in Iraq. According to Army officials interviewed by the Government Accountability Office, it can take up to two months to shut down small outposts that hold up to 300 troops. Larger entrenched facilities, like Balad Air Base, could take up to 18 months to close, according to the GAO.

As of Monday, at least 4,250 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. More than 31,000 have been injured. An additional 35,841 have received medical air transport due to non-hostile incidents.

Congress has approved more than $657 billion so far for the Iraq war, according to a report last year from the Congressional Research Service.

Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven, Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor, Steven Hurst, Anne Flaherty, Richard Lardner and Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.

B4B Note.....YES !


The 44th President



Office of the Press Secretary



February 24, 2009

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

Address to Joint Session of Congress

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States :

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That’s why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington , we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being. You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America ’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea .

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America . And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America . We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America .

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq , and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan . For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America . That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay , and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America . We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself.”

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. “The tragedy was terrible,” said one of the men who helped them rebuild. “But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity.”

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon , South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.”

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America .


Yes We Did !